Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Beverly Birdwell Blair, diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia Labor Day weekend 1999, searched fruitlessly for a bone marrow donor for weeks afterward. Various drug therapies failed her and by November, after suffering through a course of Interferon, she despaired of life itself.

Her husband Bob, always thoughtful, but disheartened as well, set up a five-foot somewhat straggly spruce for a Christmas tree that year. The two-story atrium in their living room dwarfed the tree.

Despite the obstacles, through prayers and tears Beverly determined that she wanted to live. She asked Bob to get another tree.

Bob delivered with 10-foot tall silk tree.

As the weeks went on, Bev, empowered by the love of her family, by the prayers of hundreds, and her desire to live, followed every possible lead for an effective treatment. She discovered Dr. Charles Schiffer’s study of the drug Gleevec going on at Karmonos Cancer Center in Detroit. Persisting until granted an opportunity to try the drug, Bev’s hopes soared.

Since beginning this drug in 2000, every test for cancerous cells has been negative including molecular level screenings. She emailed me a link to today’s New York Times piece, “Slowly Cancer Genes Tender Their Secrets” describing the development of cancer treatments based, “not on blasting cancer cells with harsh chemotherapy or radiation but instead of using a sort of molecular razor to cut them out.”

Becoming relentless fund-raisers for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Bev’s brother Barry Birdwell and his wife Michele, train themselves and mentor more that seventy others though the Leukemia Team in Training program. Their goal this year is to run the Musical Marathon Series which includes four marathons. Barry serves on the Central Florida board of the society.

Beverly, my best-friend since childhood, thrives this Christmas of 2005. When she entertained the faculty from Warren, Michigan’s Lincoln High School, where Bob serves as principal, someone commented that Bev's tree was the most beautiful tree they had ever seen.

Under that ten-foot tree Bev celebrated the holidays with family including Bob’s sister Dr. Rhonda Blair, a drama teacher at SMU; her oldest son Jesse, a teacher and coach at David Lipscomb High School in Nashville, completing an MBA; her second born son, Zachary, a missionary in Guatemala this year and a likely law school student next year; her youngest son, Alex, an undergrad at Harding University; her brother Barry and his wife Michele working and running in Melbourne,Florida; and her mother Lois, living close by loving Bev and the boys.

From the age two until our twenties and marriage took us away, we spent every Christmas of our lives together. When I read the headline today, “Cancer Genes Tender Secrets…” I thought of the secrets tendered by best friends over the years. A flood of love and memories overwhelmed me and I had to pause to say thanks to God for the grace of friendship and for each day of life he has afforded us.

I know for Beverly Birdwell Blair thankfulness to God for his grace and Gleevec dwarf chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Iced oatmeal, brand-X vanilla crème sandwich, and very small, very round, very hard sugar cookies-this fare along with gallons and gallons of Kroger lemonade set the stage for a celebration at Greater Atlanta Christian each December of my last ten years.

At the yearly Festival of Cheap Cookies, entertainment consisted of a video primarily written, produced, and directed by Balloon Calves Productions featuring timeless characters like The Finch, Spartan Boy, GAC Man, and the Men’s Drill Team. Along with actions films, dramas occasionally emblazoned the festival screen. Dramas like the David and Angie Fann wedding drama.

Matt Elliott, Mr. Balloon Calves himself, part chaplain and part comic, extraordinary at both, launched the careers of a diversity of dancers and actors including Christopher Dowdy, Aaron Paul, Jared Thomas, Wade Roberts, Jimmy Chupp, Dana Davis, David Fincher, and Donna Strickland.

In between exams, for a short forty minutes, the GAC senior high gathered for bad cookies, weak lemonade, and riotous laughter.

Other traditions at GAC exuded more dignity, but the Festival of Cheap Cookies possessed a certain store-bought baked goods charm that I am missing right now.

Actually I miss a great deal about GAC. Not because there is anything wrong with Memphis Harding Academy, but because I feel like I never really got to say good-bye to my friends and to the students I love so much.

The other day I was in an assembly at church or school singing a song Matt taught us our first year at GAC. I felt myself a little short of breath. Not the short of breath one experiences from exercise, but more like the what I think folks may experience in a panic attack.

One moment I was in GAC chapel singing “Day by Day” while Chris, Afro and all, sang with the freshman a few rows back. A fifth grader, Trevor, just yards away, was singing praises too while wading through Alpha-psi-whatever and collecting pogs.

In dream-like time ten years passed. Now Chris, 24, and Trevor, turning 21, make their life music miles away and I too have left GAC.

The years in that moment enrich my life with memories of teaching politics, history, and high school psychology in a double wide trailer with Dr. Alan Henderson in the room next door leading minds to ponder Jeus and world religions.

Recollections of praise songs, debate trips, Rock for___ Concerts, presidential elections, Dana Davis Eagle conferences, faculty singing, construction projects, trips to the Czech Republic, senior trips to Orlando, valedictory speeches, and graduation ceremonies rush through my consciousness.

I cry when I remember saying goodbye to Doc Love.
I cry when I remember the class of ’99 and the loss of Melissa Davis.

I sense the sweetness of victories and the sting of disappointments and failures that dot the landscape of those years.

I embrace the precious moments in which I worked at GAC alongside my sister Kim and her husband Ted with all of our children here together. Sometimes my mom, JoJo answered the phones and we enjoyed what I think are God greatest blessings-family, community, meaningful work, and spiritual passion.

In those days, I would have worked at GAC for free. Every day was a delight.

I see Atlanta from Stone Mountain and relive the senior class devotional we shared the same week Lincoln Hamilton was baptized. I can almost feel the cold water in the Gulf of Mexico, a lake in Covington, Georgia, and a swimming pool in Birmingham, as I recall the baptisms of dozens of GAC students.

I hear Trevor telling me, "The guys in 8th grade guys are really happy I am going out for spring football. Mom, they are as excited as when I was baptized."

I count ways Matt Elliott, Clif Jones, Brad Kinser, Uncle Ted Thames and others inspired, loved, and encouraged my boys, but time constrains me.

My friends' faces appear in frames. I imagine them animated like the HP printer ads and wish they were here with me.

I recount the gifts from the faculty Christmas luncheons, although admit I still startle when the little reading lamp from last year starts to open.

I take some pleasure that in all that transpired, I escaped without ever receiving a gift from Brad Kinser and Thom Jacquet at Christmas.

I thank God for grace shown to me by this dynamic community of believers, full of lovers of God and doers of his Word.
I cherish the committment to quality education in a Christian environment.

I smile when I think of Matt Elliott and Balloon Calves Production moving to Buford, going from 0 to 3 in a few short years. But what a legacy, Matt--The Festival of Cheap Cookies.

So, today, in honor of a grand tradition, I eat iced oatmeals here in Memphis as I run off my final exams and raise a plastic cup of weak lemonade to my friends at GAC.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


After imbibing chili with church members we gathered in the den to chat. As one of the fellow guests got up to leave I saw black letters from his orange t-shirt glaring “Club Gitmo.”

I asked him where he got his shirt. Smiling, assuming I was admiring it, he said, “Rush Limbaugh’s website.”

It was one of those moments.

It’s been said if someone is saying or doing something evil, and you don’t respond you are implying agreement.

I pondered.
Can Christians really make light of Gitmo?
Can Christians really advertise for Rush?
Should I disrupt the Christian chili-klatsch with what might be considered “liberal hand-wringing”?
Am I exchanging social grace for complicity?

Ryan Bieler, a web editor for Sojourners, links readers to Rush Limbaugh's recent remarks in response to the capture of four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams:

“…part of me that likes this. And some of you might say, "Rush, that's horrible. Peace activists taken hostage." Well, here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality. So here we have these peace activists over there. I don't care if they're Christian or not. They're over there, and as peace activists, they've got one purpose. They're over there trying to stop the violence.”

Bieler comments, “His (Limbaugh’s) reference to reality is intriguing, coming in support of an administration now widely regarded as out of touch with the reality in Iraq. Promises that we would be greeted as liberators, that Iraq would pay for its own invasion with oil revenue, that we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were, that only a few troops would be needed - all evaporated in the face of a reality that the likes of Limbaugh can only imagine, while the men and women of the armed forces, CPT members, and the people of Iraq experience its horror on a daily basis.”

Frequently conservatives decry an appalling lack of outrage on the part of Muslims throughout the world to attacks on civilians. Beiler’s essay emphasizes that Muslim politicians and clerics have called for the release of these hostages.

As the Bush administration sends Bush confidante Karen Hughes to listen to the Muslim world to help the US mission to win hearts and minds, they recognize that military force and buying the Iraqi press isn’t going to be enough to make things right.

Is it possible that courageous Christians actively pursuing peace through non-violence might speak to the Muslim world?

Undoubtedly, lovers of Jesus concerned about genuine threats to America’s security from Muslim extremists have opposing views of how to deal with these vital concerns.

Yet regardless of how you think about policy, how can Christians embrace the commentator Rush Limbaugh who says he “likes it just a little when he sees them blindfolded with guns pointed to their heads”?

I have to wonder what it will take for Christians to distance themselves from this man and his form of entertainment. How can some Christians have the energy to fuss and fume over the president’s greeting cards saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and yet not be screaming that Rush Limbaugh is a little gleeful over this kidnapping?

Several gatherings remain on the holiday horizon. Otherwise sweet church-going folks sporting or spewing Rush-isms may abound.

Is silence at a party complicity?

"It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it."
Martin Luther King, Jr.