Sunday, February 28, 2010

Going to the Dogs... or a Bake Sale?

Some soldiers have been deployed two, three or more times. Here in Oregon, a large number of our fellow citizens will be returning from their latest deployment come April. Over 800 will not have jobs and not much to live on when that happens.
Senator Ron Wyden wants to do something about that by giving them the "soft landing" of 90 days of paychecks upon their return. It could go a long way toward easing the transition while the Fort Oregon effort helps them to find jobs.
Small problem: Sen. Wyden's effort doesn't have a single other sponsor. Not one. Read more about this at:
There are 535 members of Congress. Why doesn't this bill have 535 sponsors? Would this be "wasteful, big government spending", "socialism", "nanny state welfare?" Or the right thing to do?
What else should we call it when only 1 percent of the population bears the burden of wars we have said are essential for our security and survival? Aren't we the welfare recipients, the ones who are letting big government fight wars for us by hiring "volunteers" so that, as our governor says, wars are "just news stories" to the majority of us?
Maybe we shouldn't let things go to the dogs this way. Maybe we should resolve to:
1. Hold nationwide bake sales, rummage sales and car auctions to provide every returning solider with at least 90 days' pay.
2. Put open 55-gallon drums in all our churches, at every grocery store and sporting event, at every Tea Party rally and tell ourselves that we can't go home until the barrel is full with our donations.
3. All stand up, salute the flag and take the Pledge of Sufficiency. That is, we would pledge that all future conflicts in which our military is deployed will be sufficiently funded as we go without borrowing or deficit spending by asking every American to sacrifice each day instead of laying it at the feet of those who are not old enough to vote.
It's a thought.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

George The First

Last Saturday it was Paul's memorial service. He was a veteran of World War II, an Army medic in India, China and Burma. He came back to become a Fuller brush man, then a sales rep for health and cosmetic products.
I could see Paul as the Fuller man going door-to-door. He had that infectious grin and offbeat humor to disarm any wary prospective customer. Impish 'til the day he died.
Yesterday it was George's service. He served as a submariner in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. Always smiling, always the most handsome man standing next to his charming wife at church, George was the most gracious and affirming veteran.
Even before 9/11 he urged me to apply for a Cold War recognition certificate. I should find that paperwork and finally do it some day.
Yesterday at his service, I learned that George was his middle name. I guess if I'd been named Caspar, I'd want to be known as George also. But who needed a name with a smile like his?
But something else occurred to me. I can still count on my eight fingers and two thumbs the number of people who have said "Thank you!" to me for my military service. Not that any of us really expected that to happen back when there was a military draft and service was mandatory--unless you were Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton or female.
The burden borne by Vietnam veterans sent into war at a time when America was at war with itself will never be fully known or repaired within their lifetimes. It carried over to those of us who served in the Vietnam era but in other parts of the world. To this day I have never framed my Honorable Discharge nor the recognition letter from President Nixon.
No one ever said to me the words "Thank you!" until the Veterans Day following 9/11. But even before 11/11/01, George gave me that smile, that recognition, that warm handshake that did all the things a word of thanks should do and more.
To me, he will always be George, the first to say "Thank you!" George The First.
Today I return the honor. Thank you, George, for your service and your life. And welcome home.
Peace be with your family. Amen.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Old Rugged Cross

Matthew 6 was written in a time of persecution to a bunch of Christ followers really unfamiliar with their own Hebrew history. That's why Matthew spends so much time citing references from the Hebrew scriptures with the tag line "this was to fulfill the words of the prophet...", etc.

Chapter 6, vv. 1-21, are also an excellent guide for how to live faith that is genuine on the streets of an increasingly hostile world. It's sorta what a figure skating coach has to create in the skater all alone on the ice.

It has to come from inside. You can't fake it in front of the crowd. Because when it's fake, when it's not really coming from the inside, you fall apart for all the world to see.

Faith has to be lived for real, not for show.

Doing compassionate things in the neighborhood has to come from inside. It's about them, about all of us together, not how we look in front of the cameras.

Prayer is the same deal. It's not about how many words we pray but how honestly we pray. We may have to do it in the quiet and in the dark, not in the spotlight and before the microphones.

Forgiveness is like love. It only works when it's given away. It ain't genuine unless it is--given away, that is.

Our hearts are always wrapped up with what we treasure. Matthew advises: 1) Don't treasure that which isn't really treasure. It will abandon you and let you down; kill you instead of giving you life. 2) Don't pretend to treasure what you really don't. Living a life inconsistent what where your heart really is leads only to things that are not good.

There is reward in these examples. The Father who sees in secret and who sees the heart will not let it be overcome. Honest compassion, honest prayer, honest forgiveness, honest treasure of the enduring things of God will result in life in us--which is the only place that life can ever be, of course. That's where God put it in the first place.

Thanks be to God!

Wanna see and read something real on the inside? Read the guest post by Hugh H. at my friend Karen's blog site:

Oh, that tree in the picture? It's at the 7,000' elevation at Moraine Lake campsite near South Sister, Oregon where I camped and climbed last August. Sorta looks like a really rugged cross, doesn't it? The only thing that's alive is the moss on the bare trunk and the carpenter ants slowly dismantling the whole thing. Tough environment there in the wind and ice, the cold and the heat. Trees take a beating just like we do in the world. But they don't stop growing there. Neither can we.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ashes, Dust and Clay

Ash Wednesday began the six week season of Lent that will take us through Holy Week and Easter. Even in Lent, however, Sundays are considered sacred space and are little Easter outposts amid the journey of recollection and contemplation.

Or maybe just mindfulness. In order to fully live as humans, we are mindful of our mortality even as we are mindful of the God of Life.

Here's a poem prayer from Lent 16 years ago:

Ashes, Dust and Clay

Long ago, in dust and clay
you saw, O Lord, a flowered Spring
You saw the birth of life deep green
long ago in dark of night.

With no eye yet on earth to see
You saw, O Lord, a joyous light,
the break of earth’s first day to be.
You saw, O Lord, where I have been
chose love and breath to me to bring
Long ago of dust and clay.

And long ago to dust and clay
You made, O Lord, first blooms to fade
You brought again to ash and rust
All grasses green and living ones.

When my eye, too, shall fail and dim
as strength no more within me runs
Then deal with me as once with Him,
Your Son in whom I hope and trust,
Restore to life all Thou hast made
of ashes, clay and dust.

--Roger Fuchs

We pray. I remember that I am but dust. Be for me the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

COMMENT: Beginning Lent with Ash Wednesday, we confront our own mortality, the dust and ashes to which we all return. Yet of these same things and less, the Creator has made the glorious wonder of all life. We place ourselves safely into our Maker’s hands, from whence comes life that does not die.

© 1994, 2010 by Roger D. Fuchs. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Give Us Your Poor. . . For Lent or for good?

A couple of Minnesota pastors have taken on a new discipline for Lent: living for 40 days out of a suitcase packed in 10 minutes:

It's a good start. Jean and I lived out of very small suitcases for a month in 1973 after my overseas discharge. We had two meals a day and walked nearly everywhere. We came home to the U.S. very skinny.

On the blog post above, there is a photo of one suitcase that a youngster had crawled into. The bag is on nice, clean carpet in front of a coffee table. That living room photo made me see again just how much I take for granted. And how easily.

Take away the living room, coffee table, the carpet, the electric lights, heat we take for granted like the automatic thermostat. Take away the coffee maker, the fridge, the kitchen, the windows, the doors, the roof. Take away the bed, the shower, the toilet and the paper.

Take away the sink and the towels, the washer and dryer. Take away the closet and the clothes. Take away the car, the TV, the laptop and the phone. Take away the paycheck, the ATM and the health insurance card.

Take away the address where you can be reached. Take away home.

Take away the hugs and daily recognition we take for granted. Take away the reliable love of another human being. Now we're getting down to it.

Add darkness, the weather, the cold, the snow, the rain, the heat and the sun. Add the police. Add tired feet in wet shoes. Add recovering from a cold and the flu in these conditions. Add bedbugs, rats and body lice, sometimes. Add signs that several times a day warn, "FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY." Add signs that say, "No Loitering", "No Camping". "Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted."
Add a family history that likely includes violence, abuse, addictions, abandonment and maybe time spent in war. Add losing all your stuff several times a year to thieves or to the police. Mental illness.

Now live, not for 40 days but for the foreseeable future. And don't forget to smile because Jesus loves you although your community doesn't.

Some folks come to Operation Nightwatch worship with their stuffed backpacks. Sometimes it's a loaded roller bag weighing 115 pounds. One man has a Zoomer covered with a tarp. It's nearly as large as the Honda 600 sedan I used to drive.

The title of that CD in the photo? It evokes a line from Emma Lazarus' 1883 poem "The New Colossus":

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

For years we've heard that first line tossed about like a plastic shopping bag in the wind. Out of context, the emphasis always ends up on the adjectives: tired, poor, huddled masses, etc.

Sure. Name me a municipality or a neighborhood whose goal is not to make all those adjectives go somewhere else.

But in its entirety, in context, the poem has exactly the opposite emphasis. It paints a stark contrast between the aristocratic, closed societies of Europe where the few were wealthy and the many were under the feet of the few. With hopeful pride in the different way of doing things in America, the writer emphasizes the pronoun me.

"Send 'em to ME!" America says. "Send ME your human trash, your throw-aways, your worn out junk seen as way beyond salvage. Send ME your waste humanity--by the boatload."

Of this lot of refuse, America promises, "We will build something that outshines all your castles, kingly wealth and imperial vastness. We will build what human beings have always been envisioned by God to be. We will succeed where others have failed because it's different here. We are different."

Comes pretty close to being a working definition of Jesus' hallmark message about the good news of the kingdom of God. Do we still believe that?

Every journey can only begin with the first step, however small. If you're not sure what that is, dial up a link or two and purchase a music CD for 15 bucks, probably less than many of us spend on coffee in a week.

Journey safely and well these 40 days. Here's hoping that we all arrive somewhere that is not where we were before. And thanks.



Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Wood Gatherer

My neighbor Sam, the wood gatherer. . .

Sam reminds me a bit of living in Turkey. I occasionally would go on solo motorcylce rides in the hills above our coastal town of Yalova. In later years as I looked at these hills, it dawned on me that I was seeing a denuded landscape that had once been covered mostly by forest. It wasn't like the lush, mossy forersts of the Cascades.

People had lived in the hills of Turkey so long that most of the trees had been cut centuries ago. But in some of the higher hills and foothills of the mountains to the south, there were still areas where people cut wood, mostly for use in the locally fabricated sheet metal cookstoves that doubled as heaters in the humble homes of farmers and shepherds that lived in the hill towns.

It's shocking to think that much of Afghanistan, a place that we think of today as being mostly rocky, barren and treeless, was once forested. We higher beings, we do leave traces of where we have been. They aren't always improvements.

The wood being cut in the Turkish hills was not big enough to require splitting: small trees, mostly, 2-3 inches in diameter. So it's striking to me that Sam, the eccentric boarder who lives in the house of my backyard neighbor Ed, is out every day with a wheelbarrow brining home small loads of similarly sized firewood.

Ed heats with wood. His '60's-era split level house with high ceilings was built with electric heat that is now too expensive for him to operate. So he burns piles of wood each season. When I replaced the aged wood fence (stained cedar) around two sides of our yard in 2008, it all got burned in Ed's fireplace. He's again gone through quite a stack of split firewood that was delivered to his lawn last fall.

And now Sam supplements that depleted stack with what she salvages from trees recently cut in a nearby 15-acre field that has remained unbuilt as long as we have lived here. It's like the third world has come back to suburbia. The other night as I walked down the street warming up for my usual run, I got a whiff of wood smoke and a slight cooking aroma. For just an instant, my senses were put back to a similar temperature, light level and moistness in the air.

I was in Yalova, Turkey again just for an instant. It was 1971 or 1972 again.

Sam just now returned with a wheelbarrow load of wood and her cat named Louie. She whistles a few bars of that old Kingsmen song "Louie, Louie" to her cat. After all, the song was born here in Portland. Sam's whistling helps Louie know that he is home.

The faint wood smoke aroma helps me know I am home here. It's a little like Yalova, Turkey every now and then. Home. Still and always.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Buena Vista Social Club

Ry Cooder. A most unusual name. I'll bet there wasn't one in your high school. Mine either.

But he's a gifted guitarist, one who appreciates the rich traditions and roots of music that we take for granted. That's why he and his son journeyed to Cuba around 1996-97. They were looking for vestiges of the Afro-Cuban style that developed in Cuba in the first half of the 20th century.

Up until 1959, Cuba was ruled by an aristocratic military dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Batista welcomed wealthy tourists from the United States. They went to Cuba looking for romantic flings, drinking, dancing, gambling and all that music. They left their dollars there and came home with lots of Cohiba cigars. We didn't seem to care about human rights abuses, vice, rampant corruption and the poverty of ordinary Cubans so long as this dictator blew in our ear, said the right things and allowed the money to flow freely our way.

Things changed radically after the 1959 revolution. Fidel Castro, educated in New York City as a lawyer, went back to Cuba to take his country back from the aristocracy. At first, Castro and the United States were buddies. Then we had a falling out, and it's never changed. Castro went to the Soviet Union for help.

Cuba went communist. It still is. And ever since, Americans have been prohibited from traveling there. We do almost no business there. We are estranged. Two generations of Cuban Americans have grown up in the "little Havana" section of Miami, Florida. Everybody once knew Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. She's not Mexican-American.

Ry Cooder and his son faced sanctions from our government for traveling to Cuba. But what a treasure they found! Not only music but also some of the aged musicians and singers from those days long ago. They gathered in the Egrem Studios in Havana and began to play and record. There was Compay Segundo with his amazing voice and zest for life, seemingly as energetic in his 90's as many 40-year-olds. There was Barbarito Torres who can play--behind his back-- the laud, the Cuban variant of a lute-guitar with origins tracing back through Moorish Spain all the way to Arabia. There was Ruben Gonzalez, an extraordinary pianist with arhtritis in his fingers, so poor that he had no piano of his own and hadn't touched a keyboard in 10 years. And finally, there was Ibrahim Ferrer with his thrilling voice and spirit. Cooder said, "It was like Nat King Cole just walked in off the street. We didn't even know about him."

With many others, they recorded music. And they performed in public first in Amsterdam to a rapt audience. Only after achieving international acclaim were these muscial treasures allowed to come to the USA and play at Carnegie Hall. The documentary film Buena Vista Social Club has footage I will never forget. The sight and sound of Ruben Gonzales' amazing fingers on the gleaming black grand piano and his sense of style are truly works of art. Thank you, Ry Cooder!

Funny. Cuba is right off our shores, but they are our enemy. Fidel Castro is no longer in power. His younger but aging brother Raoul is, but not forever. Canadians have been able to go to Cuba and trade with Cuba for two generations. Doing so has not brought fire and brimstone from the sky, hasn't caused their brains to rot.

"But Cuba is Communist! There are human rights abuses there!" our leaders protest. In the words of Dick Cheney, "So?" Those very things haven't stopped us from not only going to China, trading with China and embracing China. We have, in fact, mortgaged our very souls to China. Our country can no longer exist without China because over 90% of the stuff we sell in our stores is made there, and we depend on China to finance the debt we have racked up in order to fight wars we have said are necessary for our nation's survival. Your car is probably riding on Chinese tires.

There are no prospects for changing this anytime soon--if ever. This we have done by choice because we are lazy and addicted to cheap and abundant stuff, even if it means selling our nation's stability and future security. We are truly hypocrites about communism.

Meanwhile, we hold Cuba at arm's length and hold our noses. For God's sake, why? They are our neighbors while China is not. Why? Because we are afraid of losing electoral votes in presidential elections since everybody knows you don't win the White House without Florida's electoral votes--even if you have to rig the elections (Katherine Harris) and get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that a rigged result is legitimate.

As we contemplate Communist Cuba and Communist China, whom we love and whom we hate, we might ask this question. When was the last time we suspected that Cuba had hacked into the computers of the Pentagon, the financial and telecommunications systems and major utilities in the U.S.? When was the last time Cuba sent toxic children's toys, counterfeit music and medicines, jewelry laced with heavy metals and contaminated foodstuffs to this country? Whom should we really fear? Which nation has nuclear weapons and unclear ambitions in the world? Which nation effectively has us by the throat?

When will we have the wisdom and grace to do the right thing with our neighbors? We make more friends by being friends than by being enemies.

Meanwhile, thank God for ambassadors like Ry Cooder who won't be stopped. Buy the (now) old CD Buena Vista Social Club and enjoy the extraordinary music. Rent the movie if you can. Most of the major artists are no longer alive. Sometimes, you only get one chance in life to do the right thing even if you're 50 years late in doing so.



Monday, February 8, 2010

Hopey-changey... Try...

Sarah Palin continues to make hay. Which they don't do much of in Alaska, I realize.

Even as some other GOP women pulled out of speaking slots at the Tea Party Convention, Palin said she would keep her commitment to deliver the $105,000 keynote speech saying, "It's important to keep faith with those who put a little of their faith in you."

I guess that's why she could resign the office of Governor of the State of Alaska in favor of being self-appointed Governor of the State of Book Tour. And Fox journalist. She has more of us to keep faith with than the "largest, most diverse state" (her words) of Alaska. She has the presidency to run for, which is what I'm convinced she is doing. She's already got the book thing behind her.

So, OK. Let's take her and her words seriously. At the Tea Party Convention, she asked, "How's that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?" There must have been uproarious applause.

So, I'm wondering what her solutions would be in contrast? No hope and no change? Ya think?

Here in Oregon we've had a disastrous tax structure that has needed to change for as long as we have lived here. Political gridlock and ideological trench warfare have kept that from happening. Schools have been cutting budgets for 30 years. We just had two ballot measures to raise some taxes. They passed, but they were no solutions because they pit one Oregonian against another. Victors cheered, "We won." They are naive.

The new measures will not take effect without effect. There will almost certainly be consequences unforeseen. They may not be in our liong-term interest. Two folks who followed the trends in the lead-up to the vote had this to say:

Cautious consumers and a weak housing market will slow the economic recovery and curb the growth of state revenues. Federal stimulus dollars will be replaced with spending freezes. Big losses in the stock market will translate into higher costs for the public pension system. Put this all together, and the 2011-13 budget will prove a heavy lift. And if we don't get health care inflation under control, the rest of the deacde looks just as bleak.

Health care inflation...

Next time you sit down to coffee with someone, just lay those three words out and see what happens. Nothing else, just those three words: health care inflation.

Maybe if we could start talking about health care inflation instead of all of the explosive terms below:

socialized medicine
government-run health care
big government
welfare state
nanny state
death panels . . .

. . . maybe we could actually find more of ourselves, this "one nation under God, indivisible," actually on the same page. Or at least in the same book or the same library.

I occasionally swap comments with Elizabeth Hovde who writes commentary for The Oregonian newspaper. She describes herself as a right-of-center person. She's not an employee but an independent contractor. So she buys her own health insurance. She shared last week that she had just been slapped with another annual premium increase: 20 percent. To make ends meet, she'll have to shop for, as she put it, even thinner coverage and higher deductibles. This buys her a year of paying more for less than she had last year.

I don't want uncontrolled health care inflation, the most insidious job-killing tax I know, to kill any more jobs or further cripple this country. And by the way, tort reform and greatly reducing medical malpractice awards would only change the picture of total health care costs in our country by about .005 of what we spend, 1/2 percent. I also don't want rampant health care inflation to simply be papered over by subsidizing it, by playing fiscal shell games that obscure it. We can't simply default on this.

So, OK, Ms. Palin--and anyone else out there who would lead us--whatcha gonna do about health care inflation that really gets the job done? You don't get off by just presenting yourself as "Not Mr. Hopey-Changey".

Meanwhile, my fellow Americans, do we ourselves know enough about the true costs, the true implications and the true choices? Do we have enough solid information to justify the strength of our opinions?

Or are we just living in hopey-changey land ourselves, convinced that if another political party had all the votes happy days would be here again and everything would be just the same? Only different...

Oh, and I wonder this. Does the Palin family now buy health insurance on the open market? If so, what does it cost them? How's health care inflation workin' out for ya?

If you have an answer, write back.

Meanwhile, instead of thinking about all the Molotov cocktail words that divide us and have brought us to a standstill, maybe we could all try thinking and talking about health care inflation.

Like the artist who wrote the word on the Steel Bridge, we could


We could,


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Super Sunday USA

Right across the street from Kentucky Fried Chicken and right between the play area of McDonald's and the drive-thru entrance of Taco Bell is Jody's.

It used to be Jody's Hot Country. After a brawl and police action some years back it became Jody's Bar and Grill. The thing that has remained constant is the women--the nude dancers that spend time on stage and then make house calls doing table dances or "lap dances".

So I understand. I've never been there and will never go. If you wouldn't wish it for your own child, why would you want that career for someone else's child?

Beneath it all is a human being, one of the creatures created in God's image. That is still true even if the client or service being purchased is a magazine, a DVD, an Internet download.

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. An unbelievable amount of money will change hands tomorrow. Some of it will get factored into what we hope for here: economic growth. Jody's has been marketing it for all its worth, advertizing naked cheerleaders all through the NFL playoffs.

With everything like that, we might pause and ask the question from the screenplay of the film Kramer vs. Kramer from two decades ago:

At what cost, and to whom?

Jesus said that knowing the truth would free us. Pilate asked what truth was. Might be worth a ponder even as we worship economic growth. Or at Jody's. Or not.

Besides, I can make tacos cheaper at home.


Pastor Roger