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September 2005

The Brothers K

I loved The Brothers K by David James Duncan.

Here are just a few random quotes and excerpts that I just happened to like for one reason or another.

I wish there really was such a thing as a Time-Clock Puncher, though. I wish some gigantic, surly, stone-fisted Soap Mahoney-type guy went around the world smashing every clock in sight till there weren't any more and people got so confused about when to go to the mill or school or church that they gave up and did something interesting instead.
She had carried Christian literalism to its logical extreme: she'd become a holy inanimate object.
I suspect only fools understand prayer. (note: here the emphasis is that prayer cannot be understood.)
Witch-hunters think they're right, they think you're wrong, and they think that as long as they can prove it, how they prove it doesn't matter.
In a head-on collision with Fanatics, the real problem is always the same: how can we possibly behave decently toward people so arrogantly ignorant that they believe, first, that they possess Christ's power to bestow salvation, second, that forcing us to memorize and regurgitate a few of their favorite Bible phrases and attend their church is that salvation, and third, that any discomfort, frustration, anger or disagreement we express in the face of their moronic barrages is due not to their astounding effrontery but to our sinfulness?
"Anyone too undisciplined, too self-righteous or too self-centered to live in the world as it is has a tendency to 'idealize' a world which ought to be."
Strong families like mine kept fighting for a family identity, and strong characters like my brothers and sisters still struggled to come of age in nonfarcical ways. But our lives were being violated, trivialized, and in tens of thousands of cases terminated by the trite machinations of these sickeningly powerful men.
But once your life had acquired meaning, all it really meant was that you'd doomed yourself to hurt like a twice-hammered thumb once Unmeaning came along, as it always does, and knocked the teeth, brains and stuffing out of your puny meaning.
"Is this war a tragedy? Is it a farce? Or is it a blend far too deadly, sad and delicate for mere mortals to separate or define?"
Papa's first stop after leaving the asylum was a 7-Eleven, where his first purchase was a quart of Colt-45 malt liquor and his second a carton of Lucky Strikes. Toss an old ballplayer into a Kafka nightmare and the least he'll do is try to poison it back around into something recognizably American. (Note: isn't that last sentence spectacular?)
the lap is one thing: a ground, a region, an earth.

Festival Etiquette

Attending ACL this last weekend I found the attendees to often be obnoxious and inconsiderate. Last year there were a few, but quite a few more this year. So, I thought I'd clearly state a few guidelines that can serve as etiquette for attending an outdoor music festival. I am constantly amazed by people's inability to observe the obvious.

10) It is best to show up for a set before it begins and wait to leave until it is over.

9) If you come late or plan on leaving early, you should sit to the back or along the edges, so that you do not inconvenience others.

8) If you find yourself having to walk along the rows of people watching the show, it is best to look for natural gaps and not force your way where there isn't one. The best approach is to work parallel to the stage and head either for the outer edge or behind the sound booth (where there is always open space to work through). NEVER try to head perpendicular to the stage through the rows and rows of chairs, people, and things.

7) If you are someone who doesn't carry a chair and things and comes to take the standing room during a set, be respectful of the persons who may have been sitting there staking out their position and view before you got there, especially if they've set there for hours, enduring a number of bands they don't like, just to see the band they've loved for many years, only to have you, who are taller of course, come stand directly in front of them five minutes into the performance.

6) People who read the Bible know that you should be considerate of others, so throw your own trash away.

5) When someone is clearly into the performance, zoned out, dancing their silly dance, or whatever, walk past someone else, don't interrupt that person's joy, unless, of course, you follow the teaching of the Marquis de Sade or like taking candy from babies.

4) If you pay a hundred dollars to come to a music festival in order to hang out with your friends and talk during all the musical numbers, at least show that you aren't completely lacking in rational faculties and sit where you won't bother people who care about seeing the show and listening to the music that they've paid a hundred dollars to experience. This especially goes for the people who get in the middle of the crowd, form a circle, never look at the stage, and talk to each other the entire time.

3) Holding what appears to be a frat party in the middle of a Wilco performance in front of a group of Wilco fans who have been staked out in this spot all day in one hundred plus heat roasting from the intense heat of the sun, is inhumane.

2) To then start drunken chicken-fighting, while the band is playing, is even worse.

1) To then bend your girlfriend over, start acting like you are spanking and fucking her, when there are two boys eight and ten years old only three feet behind you who are actually more into the concert than you are but who are now staring at you with the look of "what is he doing?", just simply goes too far.

That is until one of your gang, while packing up to leave, gives the guy who is scowling at you for almost ruining his experience, a thumbs up and a nod of the head. This was clearly meant to infuriate and could have been interpreted as an act of war according to the standards of the administration that you probably voted for.

A Coming Meltdown?

Over the weekend, I read "Countdown to a Meltdown" in the July/August issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It presents a scary picture of a possible future for the United States economy. A future played out only over the next eleven years.

I had hoped when reading it that Katrina had awakened us to many of the issues raised in the essay. Though I believe it has, it appears that in the early-going, Katrina has actually made matters worse.

What the Atlantic essay considers is "How will the United States handle a sudden economic collapse?" Its conclusion is "not very well." There is currently no wiggle room in the economy and will be even less so in the next decade. If we were to have a sudden collapse it would have dramatic effects. Industry is currently in decline. Look at the airlines, many of which are currently going bankrupt. The auto industry hasn't actually made money on the sell of cars since 2002. We are in a housing bubble, where many people, especially in cities and growth areas, have paid more for their homes than they are worth. With a depression, property values would drop and folks mortgages would be higher than the value of their homes (this is one of the things that happened in the '30's). Consumer spending is still suffering, and continues to with rising oil prices. Governments local, state, and federal don't have any saved money currently when the economy is doing well, and it would be difficult to raise new revenues if there was an economic collapse. American families aren't saving anymore, either, and would have no cushion. As the article states:

The evaporation of personal savings was marveled at by all economists but explained by few. Americans saved about eight percent of their disposable income through the 1950's and 1960's, slightly more in the 1970's and 1980's, slightly less and then a lot less in the 1990's. At the beginning of this century they were saving, on average, just about nothing.

This essay bases its conclusions and projections on a series of studies done in recent years. It is the kind of "what if" thinking that we expect out of think tanks, the governement, and academics.

So, then, could America be suddenly throw into a financial depression? Do the circumstances exist in the world currently to make that happen? With a lot of interesting, but reasonbaly possible, speculation, the article answers "yes."

The series of circumstances it finds likely centers on one sobering fact that is gaining commentary in recent months -- our growing indebtedness to China. The current GOP philosophy is to cut taxes, spend heavily, and borrow to pay for it all. Government spending has increased dramatically under this administration. Instead of the expected surpluses, we've ended up with increased debt. Though 9/11 explains an increase in some spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office the largest percentage increase in the debt was due to tax cuts (48%) with only 37% coming from increased spending post-9/11 on warfare and security. According to the article what mattered was that since 2001 the government was taking in a smaller share of taxes as a percentage of GDP than at any point since the late 50's just as government commitments were growing dramatically (war, new Medicare prescription drug benefits, the highway bill, aging Baby Boomers, now Katrina). If the Bush tax cuts are made permanent, which the GOP is still insisting on, and tax revenue remains at the same level as a percentage of GDP, then by 2015 that means that interest, social security, Medicare and Medicaid will take up almost all government revenue and that we'll have to borrow to fund everything from the Pentagon to Education. Awareness of this situation led David M. Walker, comptroller general of the US government to say in 2003 about adding the prescription drug benefit that that year was "the most reckless fiscal year in the history of teh Republic."

How does China figure in? To fund our deficit spending, we have to borrow. But since Americans are not saving, they are not the ones privately funding the government's deficit spending. To fund it, we must look abroad. Though other foreign governments, companies, and individuals have purchased American securities, China has increased its funding the most.

In China there is a mass migration of rural workers into the cities. In order to find jobs for these workers, China has determined to keep the price of its currency, the yuan, low. If the yuan is low, it encourages investment in China by foreign and domestic companies, thus the surprising economic growth of China in recent years. How has China kept the yuan low when it should have been rising as part of standard economic forces? The central bank of China has fixed the yuan-dollar exchange rate, instead of allowing it fluxuate. As Americans (and others) bought cheap Chinese goods in dollars, the Chinese banks piled up huge amounts of dollars. But, they didn't exchange them back into their own currency. Instead, they used the dollars to buy U. S. Treasury notes. Here is the problem:

If any one of hte Asian countries piling up dollars (and most were doing so) began to suspect that any other was about to unload them, all the countries would have an incentive to sell dollars as fast as possible, before they got stuck with the worthless currency.

In effect we've seen this happen before. Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary and now Harvard President, said in 2004, "Fixed exchange rates with heavy intervention have enormous capacity to create an illusory sense of stability that could be shattered very quickly. That is the lesson of Britain in 1992, of Mexico in 1994, of emerging Asia in 1997, of Russia in 1998, and of Brazil in 1998." These various currency and, thus, economic collapses (and other potential ones) were usually bailed out by other countries, mainly the United State riding its 1990's economic boom (remember Time magazine's cover after the 1997-98 crises that called Greenspan, Rubin, and Summers "the committee that saved the world" by keeping U. S. interests rates unreasonably low in order to bail out these collapsed economies?).

So, one potential for throwing the US into a financial depression, is if China ever has any reason to stop funding our indebtedness and start selling off its holdings in dollars. It would cause our currency to collapse, then our over all financial picture, then our industry, ultimately affecting American individuals who are deeply in debt, not saving, mortgaged above their means, and unwilling to be taxed to fund government programs that provide a social safety net. It is unreasonable, and poor thinking, to rule out such as move which might be in China's strategic interests at some point, especially if provoked by some action of America that it opposes. (the article itself hinges the episode on our over-consumption of oil and angering of the governments that control oil production, particularly Venezuela, who could work out an agreement with China that would hobble the United States).

In essence, a number of our current practices are bringing us very near the edge, with little to no wiggle room in case there is a crisis. And some of those practices are making it such that another country and potential strategic competitor could flip the switch. And some of those practices seem hell-bent on creating situations that would anger foreign countries into flipping the switch.

Now, I understand that this is all speculation. We've had doom and gloom images before over the federal finances, especially in the early 90's. That time we were saved by the economic growth that resulted from the burgeoning new technologies associated with the internet and computing. So, it is not for certain that we are headed down a dark path, but we seem to be playing a risky game of chance, quite close to the edge.

I recommend HIGHLY that you read this very long, informative, and ultimately quite scary essay.

Dust Bowl: ACL 2005

Thursday night Phil, Nathan, and I headed to Austin. We went to get our supplies for the weekend, but had difficulty finding water; every place we went in Dallas had sold out. For some reason, Dallas people were paranoid about Hurricane Rita. As we headed south, word had already come in that the storm had turned and that central Texas would be spared. Nonetheless, as we drove south, the north bound lanes looked like rush hour.

Friday night was probably the best day of the festival. I started with a little Leo Kottke -- great guitar. Then some Steve Earle -- powerfully political lyrics. Next was Lucinda Williams. This was my second time to see her. She played a lot of new music; it was good, but I missed many of my favourites. I think it was a good set. While Phil and I were wondering around getting some food and looking at the Art Market, we could hear Thievery Corporation playing in the background. They are amazing. If I had it to do over again, I would have gone to sit and listen to them. Their crowd kept growing throughout their set. I loved the music so much, I went and purchased the cd. It is more mellow than the live performance, but builds.
Next was Keane, who sounded great. Finished the evening off with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. Their set was a lot of fun and a great way to cap off the first evening.

Saturday morning we took it easy. Austin has this new Whole Foods super store that is amazing. It makes Central Market look like a convenience store. Oh, how I miss great grocery stores -- OKC doesn't even have one good grocery store (I knew that before I moved back).

Then to the festival. The day began with Buddy Guy, who was incredible. My second time to see him too. After only two bars, I was ready for sex. This was the second best set I actually attended. "You are Goddamn Right I've Got the Blues" was fucking amazing. Then a little Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Death Cab for Cutie. If I had the rest of the evening to do over again, I would. I went to set up for Oasis that evening and save seats for other folk, but when the time came, no one could get to me, the crowd was so packed. It almost meant that I had to endure Jet and miss The Walkmen. I did get to hear Bloc Party playing at the next stage, but would rather have been down there. During all this, I did get a lot of good reading done. I enjoyed Oasis simply because this band that recorded one of the greatest albums of my life performed the four songs you really wanted to hear. However, I think they phoned it in and were real pricks.

What I have failed to mention are the conditions. Friday when we arrived, the grounds were in worse shape than they had been last year by the end of the three days. By Friday evening, there were dustclouds hanging over the festival, and my eyes were very irritated. It was also really hot, over 100. Saturday was a little cooler. Fortunately both of the first two days we had partly cloudy skies, so you got a reprieve now and then. The dust was less annoying to me on Saturday, but moreso to Joel, Phil's brother. Clearly, though, I had inhaled lots of dust, because Sunday morning I had quite a coughing fit. We didn't get any of the rain predicted for Saturday.

Sunday was miserable. So hot that you couldn't enjoy the music. Really. And this year I had taken tons of more precautions. Last year I had assumed late September wouldn't be so bad, yet it was the hottest three days of the year. So, this year I had an umbrella, my dorky cowboy hat, a bandana to protect my neck, I applied sunscreen constantly (once an hour on Sunday), etc. Despite all the precautions, I roasted on Sunday. Saw Eiseley and the Doves early. Then The Arcade Fire, which was highly recommended to me and for good reason -- they're really good. Chris Martin, of Coldplay, later went on and on about the Arcade Fire performance. I'll probably have to buy their album too. Unfortunately, I was baking so -- the sun was beating down on us as we watched the stage, having now moved to directly ahead of us -- that I ended up first sitting down and then cowering under my umbrella such that I could not see the stage. But, then the sun moved behind the stage, and we were fine for Wilco. For the second year in a row, Wilco was the best set I saw. Incredible. We were distracted by the ass holes having a frat party right in front of us (more on that in a following post), but that didn't keep me from really getting into the zone and doing my silly dancing I do when I'm really into music. Thank goodness they played "War on War" this year and followed it up with "Jesus, Etc." During "The Man I Love" I was really, really into it. It gave energy to thoughts I was having over the weekend (more on that in a later post).

So, we then moved over to the back of the crowd for Coldplay. By this point it was dark, so the misery-inducing heat was gone. But, you could see the dust hanging heavily over the grounds. It was so thick, that people just 30 or so feet away from you were fuzzy. It was pretty much impossible to make out anything on the stage and the video screen was difficult to see as well. Their production looked amazing, what we could make out. We were afraid to move closer, because of the dust sitting in the plain below the little rise we were sitting on. The dust was becoming more and more difficult. We were sitting with our bandanas in front of our noses and mouths and were having trouble breathing. I kept applying eye drops. Finally, Joel asked if we were up to leaving, even though we didn't really want to. It was difficult to experience the show, we were tired after the miserably hot day, and we couldn't breathe. We decided it wasn't worth getting sick. To explain how miserable it was, I got up and walked away from a performance of one of the world's leading bands (currently) while they were performing my favourite song of theirs. It was really that bad.

When we got to the car, a mile away, it and all the ones around it were covered with a thick layer of dust, which they hadn't been the two days before. When I got home and after I showerd, I blew my nose and everything that came out was dark brown. And continued to be brown for a while. Even today I can still feel the effects.

So, we aren't sure we are going back next year. We'll have to see if the line-up is worth it. I enjoyed the festival, but it was physically miserable. Those who did endure the dust and stayed through the set and up close thought it was amazing.


When I left Oklahoma early Tuesday morning, it hadn't registered that this weekend while I'm in Texas, I'll be dealing with the hurricane. And I'll be at an outdoor rock festival! Phil, Nathan, and I are going this afternoon to buy supplies in preparation for this new turn in the plot.

This House

Five months ago I moved out of this house, though most of my stuff is still here. It feels SO weird being in it. It does every time I come down, but this trip particularly so. I slept here last night for the first time since June. There is no tv, nothing in the kitchen to use other than one plate and a couple of cups. I've got one set of work clothes and towels that I use when I'm here.

It is like this place both alien and familiar. I've loved this house, but was glad when I had a contract back in June. At the time I packed it all up and thought it would be the last time I'd stay here. I told John at the time that I was glad to be leaving, because though I had loved the house, it had been filled with so much pain. I was worried yesterday that I would encounter that pain again by staying here, but it doesn't seem like it. Maybe that is all successfully fading into the past? I never know for sure.

Well, I guess I've taken enough of a mowing break. It is much hotter here than in OKC the last week or two.

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?
Matthew 20:1-16
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
18 September 2005

My boyfriend is a good churchman, but he is also an accountant. He’s a church accountant, so he must often work at the nexus of two things that are vastly different from one another. Accounting as a discipline isn’t exactly known for grace and overwhelming generosity. So, John has developed a joking line that he uses occasionally when working with church folk. The line is “Step away from grace!”

I suspect that often we want to do exactly that. Because true grace is just too much for us. I have been preaching about the Christian life being like a journey. It is a journey that requires us to develop various skills and learn to practice virtues that don’t come naturally for us. We’ve talked about courage, forgiveness, humility, and nonviolence. And now we’re talking about this revolutionary image of grace.
This is the point in the trip when the kids, sitting in the backseat, start asking, “Are we there yet?” They are bored. Maybe they’ve played with every toy or game they brought. Maybe they’ve started picking at each other and are now annoyed by this trip. Or they could simply be tired. They didn’t realize how long the journey is or what will be required of them. I suspect that sometimes when we reflect on exactly what all is involved in the Christian journey that we end up being like those kids and want to jump ahead to the destination and get the journey over with. “Are we there yet?”

When I first moved to Dallas I was driving one morning down Royal Lane near Josey and encountered an intersection full of men just standing around in parking lots and along the streets. These were day labourers, mostly Hispanic. They didn’t have regular jobs, but would wait at this and other locations for contractors, landscape businesses, and others to come by and employ them for the day. They would be employed at some of the most physically demanding, hot, and dirty jobs in the city. In fact, the very jobs that make life in the city possible for everyone else.

Jesus’ story is about these kinds of workers. The first grace in this story is that any of them get a job to begin with. It is completely possible that none of them would have worked that day. Plus, they are going to be paid a denarius, which was actually a living wage for a day’s work. Over the course of the day, this odd vineyard owner keeps coming back and hiring more labourers. We would say that he is a generous and kind man to employ all these people and promise them a fair wage.

Then Jesus surprises us. Jesus’ lesson isn’t simply to be kind and generous to the poorest of the poor. No that message, Jesus thinks, is too easy, too obvious. That isn’t the point of this story.

The vineyard owner gives each man a day’s wage, whether he worked the full day or just an hour. Those who worked all day are angry. And we are shocked. What is the meaning of this story? One reading wants to spiritualize this story too much, by saying the point of this story is that all of us receive the same reward in God’s reign whether we were among the first disciples or those who come later. Whether we are a Christian all our lives or become one on our deathbed. But I think that over-spiritualizes the parable. And the attempt to spiritualize it is motivated, I believe by people who don’t want to face the implications of the story.

Jesus is saying that justice and fairness, which so many don’t receive, are themselves not enough. Yes, we should make sure that every person receives what they deserve. That’s basic human decency. But it also isn’t enough. If you’re going to follow Jesus then you have to treat people even better and give them even more.

It means that our human rules and reasons are not of ultimate importance. The life of grace is not a life governed by rules and policies and logical arguments. That’s probably one reason that my accountant boyfriend occasionally wants folk to “step away from grace.” And it is one reason we’d love to get to the end of the journey without all the hard work of the trip. What the vineyard owner demonstrates is an overwhelming generosity that violates our rational impulses.

This Sunday we have begun a four week Commitment Campaign during which church members will share their stories about why they come to Cathedral of Hope and why they are committed to its ministries. This church has an amazing ministry in this community. All the time we hear stories about some person in need whom we have helped. We know that there are many more people out there who need to hear a message of radical inclusion, relentless compassion, and, yes, extravagant grace. Too many people have experienced church as a place of rules and regulations, of judgment and exclusion. In order to continue in our ministries, we need people committed to the life of this church. We need people willing to commit their time and talents and energy and creativity. As we expand our ministries it becomes essential that we recruit and train new leadership, because for so long the burden has fallen on the same folk who often are performing five different roles.

Our ministry also requires that people be committed with their generosity. Talking about money is always a sensitive issue. There are always some people who cannot afford to support the church financially, and we understand that. And some people are already giving so much that they feel insulted when the topic comes up. Plus, at this time I am even more sensitive to this issue. Right now our country needs to be generous in supporting those in need whose lives have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. The financial impact of Katrina is affecting each of us; we may be headed into an economic downturn. So, with all that sensitivity, I come timidly to this topic.

The truth is that we are a mission church five years old. We do not currently support our own ministries. For instance, 69% of my salary is paid out of an offering taken last spring at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. For fiscal year 2004-2005 our receipts fell something like $20,000 short of our expenses, with the extra being picked up by our generous sisters and brothers in Dallas.

Here is the honest picture. Our current average attendance in worship is something like 83 people. If you take our anticipated expenses for 2005-2006, divide that by 52 weeks, and then divide that by 83 people, then the cost per person per week to sustain the current ministries of this church is $27. Now, some of you can’t afford that and some of you are currently giving more than that. But what if 83 people were able to pledge $5 more a week. Five dollars is less than many of us spend on lunch. It’s about the cost of a latte or a smoothie. Just that amount would bring us over 21000 more dollars for the year and close the gap that we had between expenses and receipts last year.

I don’t want you to think that I am saying that giving money to the church is the only way to be generous or even the most important way. I simply want to be direct and honest with you about our needs. And with that, I’m done with the church money talk.

Generosity – of time, money, emotions – is a spiritual discipline. It is a way of life. It is a way of approaching other people with grace, love, and compassion. The Rev. John Claypool said that “generosity is God’s deepest characteristic” that it is the “source out of which all creation comes.” Expanding on these thoughts Claypool said,

I had an old mentor say once that there are only two realities finally. There is love and there is fear. Love is the confidence that there is enough and fear is the suspicion that there isn’t enough. He said if you live your life out of the sense of scarcity, then you are always trying to get. You are always trying to hoard. You are always being stingy and you can at times even become violent. But if you are living out of a sense of the fullness of creation, which I think is the heart of the biblical vision, then you can be generous. . . . So I really think the most creative people are the ones who are the most grateful and the most confident about where life comes from and what life is. They’re not driven by this sense that there’s not enough, that I’ve got to get something from you; I’ve got to keep something from you or even got to take something from you.

John Claypool was one of the greatest American preachers of the twentieth century. He was a longtime Southern Baptist, serving some of the most prestigious Baptist churches in the South. In 1986 he left the Southern Baptist Convention and became an Episcopalian serving as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama for almost fourteen years.

I first encountered John Claypool when I was a freshman at Oklahoma Baptist University. Jacob Zimmer, who lived across the hall from me in Brotherhood Dormitory gave me a cassette copy of a sermon. Jacob had grown up at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where Claypool had been pastor in the sixties. In the early ‘90’s he returned to preach a sermon on one of the church’s anniversaries. At the time that sermon was the single greatest I had ever heard, and still may be. I kept the tape and listened to that sermon often. Because I loved it, I would loan it to people, one of whom eventually never returned it. That sermon was preached on the Parable of the Day Labourers.

John Claypool died on September 3 of this year after a battle with cancer. I had planned for some time to reference to his sermon when preaching this week. So, out of gratitude and tribute, I want to conclude this sermon of mine by quoting extensively from John Claypool’s sermons on this gospel passage.

I think Jesus is trying to say to us here: The goodness of God is never seen through the eyes of envy. It is only seen through the eyes of wonder and of gratitude.
I want to give you a sure-fire formula for how to be utterly miserable at the place at which you find yourself today. that is do what those who were hired first in the morning chose to do with their lives. If they had stayed in touch with the primal grace that had surrounded that event at 6:00 a.m., if they had realized that before they woke up they could not have made work happen but it had been given to them, if they had stayed in touch with that, then they would have had reasons to rejoice all the day long. The problem was they shifted their focus from that primal grace and began the side-long glance of comparing. They looked at what others had gotten instead of what they had received and when they began to compare, lo the side-long glance of envy turned the joy of the morning into curdled resentment at the end of the day.
Now that same thing can happen to each one of us. If you want to look at your aliveness in terms of the particularities of what you have: your kind of body, your financial resources, your intellectual capacities, and then compare yourself side long with what other people have, you will always find people who have more than you do and, therefore, you can be indignant. You can say life is not fair. If you compare yourself to others, there is always going to be somebody that seems to have life different.
I was helped in understanding what I think is Jesus' main point in this parable when I heard a later parable. It came from an 18th Century Jewish Rabbi. And when I lay it alongside this story, perhaps it will help you see what I think was the real issue that Jesus was getting at. In this parable, a poor Jewish farmer was awakened one night and was startled to find an angel standing at the foot of his bed. And the angel said, "You have found favor in the eyes of God. He wants to bless you as he did your ancestor Abraham. Therefore, he has sent me to say you can make any three requests that you will of the Almighty, and he will grant them. There is only one condition. Your neighbor will be given a double portion of whatever is bequeathed to you."
Well the farmer didn't know what to do. He was startled because the angel disappeared. He woke up his wife -- she was far more practical than he -- and when he told her what had happened, she said, "Well let's put it to the test. It wouldn't be hard to find out if this is just a dream, illusion or reality." And so because they were poor, it's not surprising when they dug deep that their first desire was for something material. And so he kneels down and says, "Lord God of the universe, give me a thousand cattle. If I just had that, I could break the cycle of poverty. It would make all the difference in the world." And no sooner had he said the words, than he heard noises outside. He went and the sun was just beginning to come up, and there in the dawn, he saw a thousand magnificent animals, exactly what he'd asked for.
Well he spent the next 24 hours praising God for his surprising grace and beginning to make provisions for this newfound affluence. And the next afternoon, he was up on a hill trying to decide where to build a barn to help shelter these animals, when for the first time he looked across, and on his neighbor's field were two thousand magnificent cattle. And for the first time since this wonderful grace had happened to him, his joy evaporated and a sense of resentment filled his heart. He came home that night in a terrible mood, refused to eat or talk to his wife, went to bed early. Every time he shut his eyes, all he could see was his neighbor's good fortune, and it galled him to the core. But late in the night, he remembered that the angel had said he had three requests. And so he took his focus off the neighbor and [put it] back on his own situation and began to ask, what do I really want? And it soon came clear that some link to the future had always been a great desire of his. Some child that could be his way into the next generation. So he bows and asks God, if possible, to give him an heir. Because of his experience with the cattle, he was not all that surprised a few weeks later when his wife came in and said, "I am bearing in my own body a life not my own."
Well the next eight months were passed in great delight. He was enjoying the new affluence that the thousand cattle had brought him. He was anticipating parenthood. On Friday, right before Sabbath began, a child was born into that circle of love. He was overjoyed. He went to Synagogue the next morning. When it came time for the prayers of the people, he stood up and said, "God is indeed gracious. Let me tell you that last night a long dream of ours was fulfilled. We now have a child to live on into the future." And a whole murmur of delight went over the whole little congregation, and he sat down. On the other side of the Synagogue, his neighbor gets up and says, "God is indeed good, because last night twins were born to our house." And the minute he hears this, the same thing that happened on the hill behind the house once again happened. His joy evaporated; resentment filled his heart. He went home from the Synagogue in a very different mood than he had gone, and these dark feelings did not abate.
Late that night when Sabbath was over, he knelt beside his bed and made his third and final request. He said, "Lord God of the universe, I beg you gouge out my right eye." There was this long silence, and then the angel who had started the whole process materialized and said, "Why, oh son of Abraham, have you turned to such dark desiring." With fire in his eyes, he said, "I will gladly sacrifice half of my vision for the satisfaction of knowing that my neighbor will not be able to look at all on his. I cannot stand the good fortune that has come to him." A deep silence enveloped the room, and the farmer looked, and there were tears forming in the eyes of the angel, and he said, "Let me say to you that your last request will not be granted, not because God lacks integrity, but because God is full of mercy. But know this, son of Abraham, what you have chosen to do with God's desire to bless has not only brought sadness to your heart, but it's brought sadness to the heart of God."
There's another, even later parable, this one in the 20th Century, that helps me understand the vineyard owner, who is, I think, here the image of God.
The parable . . . is about . . . another Jewish farmer, who had two boys. As soon as they were old enough to walk, he took them to the fields. He gently taught them everything he knew about growing crops and raising animals. He taught them how to work together beautifully. When he got too old to work, the two brothers took over the farm. And when the father died, they found such joy in their joint partnership that, instead of dividing the inheritance, they simply stayed in partnership, each contributing what he was best at. And at the end of every harvest, each would take half of what they had produced. The older brother never married and stayed an old bachelor. The younger brother married and had eight wonderful children born to him.
Years went by, and during a particularly bountiful harvest season, the bachelor brother was thinking one night: You know I only have one mouth to feed, and my brother over there has 10 mouths he's responsible for. He really needs more of this harvest than I do. But I know, he's far too fair to renegotiate. I know what I'll do. In the dead of the night while he and his family are asleep, I'll take some of what I've already put in my barn and I'll go over and I'll slip it into his barn, so he'll have more to feed his family.” And at the very time the old bachelor was thinking those thoughts, the younger brother was saying to himself: "You know God has granted me these wonderful children. They'll care for me when I'm old. My older brother hasn't had that good fortune. He really needs more of this harvest to prepare for the future, but I know he's too fair to renegotiate. I know what I'll do, in the depths of the night, I'll take some of what I've harvested and put it in his barn, so he'll have more for his old age." So as you may have already anticipated, one night when the moon was full, those two brothers came face to face, each on missions of generosity.
And the old Rabbi said, "Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, a gentle rain began to fall." Do you know what it was? God weeping for joy because two of his children had gotten the point. That there is enough, always has been and always will be. And living in self-absorption is the way to misery. Living in compassion and awareness and generosity to others, that is the secret of joy, because it is the very essence of God likeness. That's why the vineyard owner did what he did at the end of the day. He had other concerns than justice. He was concerned with the generosity that is the first cousin of incredible grace.

We are travelers on a journey together. A journey of boldly proclaiming God’s good news to the world. A journey that requires us here and now to live God’s way. A journey that can only be faithfully completed if we learn how to interact with other people and live a life of extravagant generosity, grace, and joy.

Time for a Break

So, I've pretty much been running non-stop since February, and it is time for a break. This weekend is the Austin City Limits Music Festival, and I'm quite excited. I had such a blast last year, and this year looks like it will be even better.

I am really tired. Though busy, during the early summer I wasn't stressed much. But the stress has been building lately. The house not selling and still being at Mom's is draining. I sold my first house in two weeks and my second in three and now this one has been on the market since mid-April. And I haven't been somewhere that isn't OKC or Dallas, basically, all of this year. That's quite different from my usual series of travels during the summer months. I've got a couple of trips planned this fall with the parents. When we planned them, we didn't think we'd still be living together, so I'm not sure how much like a vacation they will feel when the time comes.

John and I have rarely been able to see each other the second half of this summer. With his truck stolen, high gas prices, work schedules and stress, illness, and other things, we've had trouble getting together. The last time we were together, he was sick. It is fine taking care of one's sick boyfriend, but when it is the only time you spend together in an seven week period, it isn't all that fun.

Though church continues to go well, I've been here long enough that the new is wearing off and I'm settling more into the routine with all its bumps. Some of that is just that I'm tired and need to recharge to bring my enthusiasm and energy.

How much better EVERYTHING would be if I had my own house to live in!

Election Reform

A private commissioned chaired by President Carter and Secretary Baker has proposed election reform that is so common sensical that I'm sure it won't become national policy. From the NYTimes article:

These are the main recommendations:

¶States, not local jurisdictions, should be in charge of voter registration, and state registration lists should be interconnected so voters could be purged automatically from the rolls in one state when they registered in another.

¶Voters should be required to present photo ID cards at the polls, and states should provide free cards to voters without driver's licenses.

¶States should make registration and voting more convenient with innovations like mobile registration vans and voting by mail and on the Internet.

¶Electronic voting machines should make paper copies for auditing.

¶In presidential election years, after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, the other states should hold regional primaries and caucuses at monthly intervals in March, April, May and June, with the order rotated.