Monday, November 27, 2006


As Baghdad braces for more violence, pockets of Sunnis and Shiites plan the slaughter of each other while others risk death to protect their neighbors and friends.

Almighty God
Hear the cries of Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more.

O LORD as blood runs the rivers of Baghdad; violence shakes Gaza; murderous rape dominates Sudan; and civil unrest threatens around the globe; bring to the table of nations leaders committed to and capable of peacemaking.

As the father through whom all families and generations find their origin--bring peacemakers to the dinner tables of the world, inoculating those who imbibe from hate filled hearts, vitriolic tongues, and violent hands.

Quench the passion for the revenge by the exercise of justice.

Make us into a people in whom love overpowers hatred and hope overwhelms despair.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Once in the early 90s I heard Ralph Reed explain to the National Press Club that the Christian Right did not have a narrow agenda--the press only covered gay rights and abortion. In his recent dialogue with Jim Wallis he calls the narrow agenda observation a "straw man."

The claim that religious conservatives focus on one or two issues or somehow believe that other issues lack a moral component is a straw man. Conservative people of faith have worked on a broad agenda, including anti-poverty measures and minority home ownership. Nearly 2 million minority families have purchased their first home under President Bush's home ownership initiative.

Yet, again and again, in spite of Ralph Reed's assertion and perhaps his vision, his legacy is political posturing on two issues: abortion and gay rights. The Straw Man of the Year Award may go to The Christian Coaltion, receiving the resignation of their newest leader, even before his term began,

President-elect of Christian Coalition resigns
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Reverend elected to take over as president of the Christian Coalition of America said he will not assume the role because of differences in philosophy.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, of Longwood's Northland, A Church Distributed, said Wednesday that the national group would not let him expand the organization's agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage.

This is the latest setback for the group founded in 1989 by religious broadcaster the Rev. Pat Robertson. Four states - Georgia, Alabama, Iowa and Ohio - have decided to split from the group over concerns it's changing direction on issues like the minimum wage, the environment and Internet law instead of core issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

Hunter, who was scheduled to take over the socially conservative political group Jan. 1, said he had hoped to focus on issues such as poverty and the environment.

"These are issues that Jesus would want us to care about," Hunter said.

He resigned Tuesday during an organization board meeting. Hunter said he was not asked to leave.

"They pretty much said, 'These issues are fine, but they're not our issues, that's not our base,'" Hunter said.

A cousin to this straw man--the Bush admininstration's faith based initiatives.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


He came to church last Sunday. On the way he apologized that he had not had a haircut for a while. His white hair made him look older than his 57 years. His forgetfulness, brought on by a stroke, embarrassed him. As we sat in church, he took his jacket off. During one part of the service, he picked his jacket up and folded it. As he did, his finger rubbed over a hole the size of a pencil eraser. He startled just a little, folded over the hole, and grasped his jacket tightly.

He never put it back on.

During the song service, a tear rolled down his cheek as the congregation sang in rounds “Love One Another.” He came back again this week.

It was colder, but he didn’t wear a jacket.

O Lord, we long to be more like Christ. May those who suffer from illness or poverty never feel ashamed when in the presence of the Body.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Gone to churches everyone?

My favorite Malibu librarian, James Wiser, posted this article from The Hotline, a blog of the National Journal Group, an organization committed to providing non-partisan publications and services.

November 16, 2006
Putnam Wants To Know: Where Were The Rednecks?

“White rednecks” who “didn’t show up to vote for us” partly cost GOPers their cong. majorities, Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL) told fellow Republicans today. And Putnam, seeking the post of GOP conference chair, chided ex-Chair J.C. Watts (R-OK) for ruining the conference’s ability to serve its members.

Three Republicans in the room independently confirmed to the Hotline the substance and context of Putnam’s remarks. But Putnam’s chief of staff insists that the remarks were taken out of context.

Examining the 2006 midterms, Putnam blamed the GOP defeat on “the independent vote, the women vote, the suburban vote.” He said that “heck, even the white rednecks who go to church on Sunday didn't come out to vote for us.”

Putnam’s chief of staff, John Hambel, said his boss has used the word “redneck” only in the context of sharing polling data from last week’s elections. Hambel said Putnam was listing off different constituencies and ended with saying: “Heck, we even had rednecks who go to church who didn't come out to vote.”

...Putnam, the current chair of the Republican Policy Committee, is the House’s second-youngest member and an Episcopalian.

According to the Almanac of American Politics, Putnam represents a district that’s mostly urban and 72% white. His voting record is reliably conservative. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Southern Democratic budget hawks like Phil Gramm casually referred to themselves as the “Redneck Caucus.”

Though some Southerners take “redneck” as term of endearment, it is not a word that Republicans generally use to describe part of their base.

Church going=rednecks? Ouch.

The Pew Research Center gave the centrists credit for the Democrats win, and unlike Putnam, concluded the church-goers were pretty much faithful. The Pew Research group, by the way, did not refer to religious conservatives as rednecks.

...there are few signs that the Republican base deserted the party. Christian conservatives, and conservatives generally, voted as Republican as they did in '02. Nor did white evangelical Protestants defect to the Democrats in any substantial number, as a number of post-election news stories have suggested. True, somewhat fewer white evangelical Protestants voted for Republican Congressional candidates than in 2004, when Bush was at the top of the ticket, but white evangelical protestant backing of G.O.P. candidates was just as great in 2006 as it was four years ago, when the Republicans won the popular vote by a sizable margin.

The real religion story of this election is that the least religious Americans -- voters who attend church rarely or never -- made the biggest difference to the outcome of the election. This group gave Democrats an even greater share of their vote -- 67%, up from 55% in 2002.

The Republican Party didn’t lose the support of religious conservatives. So, I think church going folks should take a bit of offense. They did show up and got called rednecks anyway.

Since the independents may decide the next one, it will be very interesting to see what the Repbublicans will use to keep the Christian conservatives in their camp. It will be hard to forget Jerry Falwell saying that Christians had to vote for George Bush and support the Republican Party while they served up Guiliani and Scwharzenegger at the convention. There will be a lot more of that fare to come.

Looks like John Kerry isn’t the only politician out there making condescending remarks.

I wonder if George Bush will call on Putnam to eat his words?

Monday, November 13, 2006


Picture taken at Memphis Harding Academy last fall when Harold Ford, Jr., came to speak.

Dear Congressman Ford:

The number one reason for my writing you today is to repeat my plea for you to use your influence to encourage a dramatic, UN led response to the situation in Darfur. The killings there besmirch us all. As Nicolas Kristof so aptly wrote this weekend,
“After more than three years of such brutality, it seems incredibly inadequate for the international community simply to hand out bandages when old women are roasted in their huts and young men have their eyes gouged out. What we need isn’t more bandages, but the will to stand up to genocide.”

Secondarily, I wanted to write my response to your concession speech.

Last year your presence at Harding Academy, your demeanor, your focus on each student’s questions, and your serious and articulate response captured the student body’s attention.

I believe that your presence in the school gave these students a chance to see you, as you are, not as a caricature created by political opposition. In a classroom poll, on Election Day, you won by large margin.

Your concession speech left many of them speechless. Your quotation from Ephesians reflecting the reality of the battle faced today-not a battle of flesh and blood, but one against authorities, rulers, principalities and powers of darkness got their attention. Such talk kindles a spirit in children of deep faith and biblical training.

I have observed, over the years, tapping into the sensitivity of the devout, from segrationists of the 50s and 60s to David Gerson’s rhetoric in Bush’s speeches, can be like darkness disguising itself as an angel of light.

I encourage my government students to understand themselves as the objects of political consultants. I tell my students about how Christianity Today in 2000 described the day that George W. Bush decided to run for president. CT reported that within hours of his decision Bush called Ralph Reed to ask how he could capture the evangelical vote.

Obviously, Bush captured that vote. Figures released by Pew Research after last week’s election show evangelicals solidly in the Republican camp. This was no surprise to me based on my experience in Georgia. For ten years, I lived in Newt Gingrich’s district and taught near the neighborhoods of John Linder, Bob Barr, and Ralph Reed. Along with Saxby Chambliss, all of these were guest speakers at our school. I experienced first hand the influence of the Republican Party and the religious fervor with which it was embraced.

I see tremendous darkness in this loyalty in the face of the Bush administration’s willingness to justify torture, dissemble on the nature of the Iraq war, inflame backlash against immigration, and make a pretense compassionate conservatism as public policy.

So why am I writing to you? Because of your concession speech.

Because I listened to Paul Begala and James Carville’s book on Democratic strategy and know that religious folks are the object of political consultants.

Because we need leaders who will establish social justice, peace, and an orderly society in which evildoers are restrained by a just, merciful legal system. We need leaders like Daniel and Joseph—like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., -- whose faith shaped their leadership and justice guided their policies.

Because you asked people to pray.

Here’s my prayer:

I pray for you to find a clear, unequivocal voice on controversial social issues that fall into areas of deep religious reflection.

Because I believe passionately that poverty, healthcare, immigration, prisons, and peace are moral issues, I pray for you to be a prophetic voice on these issues. I pray for the formulation of public policies that will address these issues effectively.

Though these prayers actually invite danger, it seems better to wage life as a God-fearing, justice driven, peacemaking leader than to settle for less.

I pray you can be strong, resilient, and forgiving in the ugliness of the fray.

I pray for the days ahead to be productive and high profile.

I believe, as you stated, there is a pitched battle not of flesh and blood, but one against authorities, rulers, principalities and powers of darkness. I don’t believe that one party or another intrinsically holds the key to this, but a civil authority exercising power justly, matters. From Darfur, to Baghdad, to Memphis, violence and exploitation must be and replaced by peace and justice.

I am glad that you took the time to come to Harding Academy last year. It was a pleasure to meet you and to introduce you. Although I won't be introducing you as Senator Ford his year, I expect that this, or another auspicious title, to be yours in the future.

With best regards,

Beverly Choate Dowdy

Other articles by Bev on politics and religion:
"When Red and Blue Meet in the Pew" published in New Wineskins magazine.

Bush-An Example to the World?

Rush Limbaugh and Silent Saints

Prayers without Borders

Injustice Anywhere

Don't DeLay, Morality is on its Way

Single Issue Senselessness

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Lightning struck the home of Julia and Don Elliott Thursday, September 28 burning it, and all of its contents, to the ground.
If you don't know her, let this picture introduce you to Julia Elliott. She's on the back row, on the far right. On the back row, center, find Paige Elliott, her oldest child. Next to Paige, stands JoJo, Julia's youngest child. Jeremy was away at school at the time, and Don--well, he just wouldn't be in a photo like this. The other five mates are the Schwieps, Julia's sister's family whose names I don't know in proper order.

The oversized kitchen window at the Elliott's house extended a foot on each side of the double kitchen sink, and on the sill dozens of frames displayed Julia’s children, nieces, sisters, and the children of her friends. No ordinary run of the mill pictures framed that window. A talented amateur photographer, Julia Elliott displayed shots of events like this one when Julia, her girls, and the Schwiepes dressed up like pirates for a day and went around Miami saying, “Arggg.”

A look over the pictures and out the window of their home provided a vista of trees, cars, and homes from one of the highest points in Georgia’s East Cobb County.

One could often see visitors coming up the driveway.

After a steep drive up to the Elliott’s contemporary style multi-level house, a guest could count on seeing a few of Don’s cars and at least one cat. If you went into the garage, you would see Julia’s shiny purple VW bug with a flower in the vase, another of Don’s cars, tons of auto parts and paraphernalia, and maybe one of Julia’s projects, such as the nesting of earthworms headed for the garden.

I don’t think Julia really liked for guests to step into the garage. I will always consider it an honor that she showed me her earthworms.

A step inside the entry hall and a walk up a steep staircase would bring you to the great room-a combination dining and living room--with a piano at one end and a fireplace at the other. A wall of windows and sliding glass doors on each side kept the sense of being in the woods sans Georgia’s heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.

Golden oak tables, curio cabinets, and leather chairs invited you into the room. If I recall correctly, Don’s collection of matchbook cars and some assorted antique and collectible pieces filled a curio or two. Framed artwork, except the original painting of a rural home over the fireplace, consisted mostly of old sepia-toned family photos and much more recent shots of Julia’s family taken by her famous 35 millimeter camera.

Placed prominently on the coffee tables and other occasional tables, Julia’s neatly assembled albums chronicled much of our East Cobb Church of Christ family life. Besides hundreds of pictures of camping trips Julia led us on, there were albums full of mission trips, including a yearly trip to St. Vincent.

Julia leads a team to Awia, St.Vincent each summer to put on a vacation bible school.

I think she may have nearly as many pictures of my children as I have. Most of the portraits on this blog are credited to Julia.

What house might be most likely for a gathering of the entire youth group? What family would be most likely to make a home for the church youth group’s summer interns? Who cooked spaghetti nearly every Sunday for her family and guests?

The Elliott’s house, warm and inviting, housed multitudes of memories for dozens of families.

Even as teenagers, it seemed like the Elliott kids possessed a sense of community and playfulness rare in our world of electronic entertainment. Never pretentious, always open, the Elliott family comforted, celebrated and entertained us in their house in the woods.

Paige, the eldest, now lives in Athens; Jeremy and his wife, work on their masters degrees at Florida State; JoJo studies at Harding University. Over the past two years, Julia had hardwood floors installed and updated a bathroom, sprucing up the empty nest. Taking some time to enjoy the fall in Colorado, Don and Julia were vacationing last week. Late Thursday night Laurie Kalet, Julia's closest friend, wrote to me, “The house is pretty much gone, as well as everything in it and all of the cars except the Corolla. We are all just in shock and don't even know what to do. I've talked to Julia several times and I think she is unable to even process what has happened. I don't even know what we should pray for, but please pray.

P.S. all of her photos and the negatives are gone.”

Laurie loss in this includes the deck on the side of the house where she and Keith exchanged their wedding vows.

I have known friends to experience fires—all awful and disruptive. But the total destruction of a contemporary house, in town, is a first. When I called Laurie to talk to her, I could hardly speak.

Everyone, I am sure, including Don and Julia, is grateful that no one sustained injuries. Knowing Don and his financial prudence, I am sure they have insurance to cover losses and they will be able to build another house.

But, the shock and the sadness over losing so much--especially the many pictures in a place filled with such sweet memory--remains so intense for me, I can't quite imagine how they feel.

To Don and Julia, Paige, Jeremy, and Jo Jo-thank you for making that house such a grand home. With all of the mini-mansions erected in East Cobb, possessing opulence and grandeur, there was not a structure more grand or richer than your house to your friends.

I wish Ken, my mom, and I were there to weep with you this weekend. I wish we were there to pick up some pieces and to give you something purple.

Yet, we are confident that your faith and hope in Christ will comfort you and direct your energies.

We know your home will remain strong no matter what happens to your house.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


After a summer traveling from to Tallequah, Atlanta, Abilene, back to Memphis and then to Boston; after adventures in Cherokee geneology, preparation to teach AP United States, loving listening Trevor's music at ACU, an indepth look at the Holocaust with Facing History and Ourselves, and an apartment hunting trip with Chris and Lauren in advance of his studies at Harvard, I am back teaching at Harding Academy.

No government textbooks arrived so I delved into a more detailed unit on the Middle East than usual using materials from the Southern Center for International Studies.

Since August 1, Ken and I have examined books picked up from a lecture by a Messianic Jew, dined with a Christian medical ethicist recently returned from Israel having observed medical services for Palestinians, dined with Muslim Palestinians from Jordan, watched the news, and read periodicals.

Today I pray with more heart than ever the Lord's prayer:

Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done
On earth as it is heaven.

walking paths
thinking a journey
trudging through words
chopping back rhetoric

desperate to discover
passionate to purvey
hope for justice
a vision for peace
a path to shalom

in a world bent on violence
in the name of God

Saturday, August 05, 2006


"The United States should be an example to the world, sir," Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, judge advocate general of the Army, told Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Reciprocity is something that weighs heavily in all of the discussions that we are undertaking as we develop the process and rules for the commissions, and that's the exact reason, sir. The treatment of soldiers who will be captured on future battlefields is of paramount concern."

This quote from yesterday's Washington Post article leads me to wonder how Americans, in particular Christians, can stand by as the administration asserts its position on the treatment of detainees? This is our values candidate? This is our security man?

The lack of listening, the low moral ground on this issue, and the persistence in the face of highly credible opposition increases my deep disappointment with our President and his appointees.

In today’s Commercial Appeal Paul Krugman points out something I have been berating myself about for the last several years. He says, "Those who cling to the belief that polictics can be conducted in terms of people rather than parties are kidding themselves." My ill cast vote for the self proclaimed "uniter," George Bush, in 2000 helped put in place a divider--the "Decider--" and thus a regime finding no grounds for healthy compromise or debate. I prided myself on thoughtful nonpartisanship for many years, but I am see clearly that in today’s politics, there is no effective place for the moderate non-partisan with type of leadership that has evolved.

What was it my momma said? "You didn't just vote that man, you voted for all of the people he'll bring in with him."

And what Bush hath brought.

The Bush regime thumbing its nose at the international community in the run up to war in Iraq, now determines to do ANYTHING it chooses regardless of the voice of the Congress. It declares its intention to enforce only parts of laws it wants and we the people stand for it.

This administration ignores the values, the advice, and the very men who wear the uniform of our country, to perpetrate their agenda.

It is not unpatriotic, it is not partisan, to question an administration that has compromised all of us by its violation of human rights.

Today the leaders of our military legal system object to the nature of the administration's approach to detainees because it besmirches our international stature and endangers our soldiers.

It strikes me as ironic that Christians who claim to follow immutable laws of justice would buy into the "9-11 changes everything" mentality.

Mr. Bush: “We should be an example to the world, sir.”

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Summer time and living’s easy? No? Not for you? Are the vicissitudes of family life and work draining your joy?

Are you aching after adding up the number dead this week in Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and Darfur?

Are you unsettled by the specter of missiles shooting from North Korea and a burgeoning war in Somalia?

Are you disquieted by today’s Washington Post report that Ayman al-Zawahri, second in command to Osama bin Laden, now sees "all the world as a battlefield open in front of us."? I mean everyone knows Al-Qaida would attack anywhere, but isn't it just like the liberal press to create a Debbie Downer moment and publish the quote?

If all the reporting of all these negative events depresses you, lap up this good news!

Shell Oil Company’s second-quarter profits are up 40 %, because, thankfully, prices at the pump have been able to compensate for production problems in Nigeria and the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s the really great part, “Net profit rose to $7.32 billion from $5.24 billion a year earlier. Sales rose less than 1 percent to $83.1 billion from $82.6 billion.” So without even significantly increasing sales they have been able to increase profits because of pump prices. I think it’s just precious really that we can all be a little part of the success of this company.

“Exxon Mobil’s Second Quarter Profits increase 36%” The Washington Post reports, “Exxon Mobil Corp. said Thursday it earned $10.36 billion in the second quarter, the second largest quarterly profit ever recorded by a publicly traded U.S. company.”

Exxon gives us another pause in days of such dark news across the world.

So in a world characterized by Newt Gingrich as in the throes of World War III, when we had all believed we were actually of the last throes of the insurgency in Iraq, in a world torn by violence, in a world in which our own personal woes may be getting us down, we can be pumped by the way we have all pitched in and contributed to the rousing success of the oil companies this quarter!

Monday, June 19, 2006


My dad was gigantic.

He could skip rope so fast that I could hardly see the rope. He got good at that during the war. He boxed while in the navy.

My dad’s biceps were so big and bulgy you could walk on them and it wouldn’t hurt him.

By dinner time black and scratchy whiskers grew out his coppery skin. I was in 4th or 5th grade when he traded his blue-collar shirts with Herb appliquéd over the pocket for a white shirt and tie. He left the union to supervise a team of machinists who repaired BIG machines. Every minute those units were off the assembly line cost the company a fortune. Daddy’s team saved millions of dollars for GM cause they would study the problem and fix ‘em fast. My dad was a genius.

Daddy drove a red Chevy Caprice to the Chevrolet Gear and Axle Plant in Hamtramck Michigan. He talked about how fast he could get to the plant with new Chrysler Freeway open between our home in Warren. That car had a 396-cubit inch engine and an air-conditioner. We could ride all the way to Arkansas and Oklahoma during summer vacation to see our relatives and no crayons would melt in our car. We were rich.

Daddy’s mother, Grandma Choate, was a full-blood Chippewa from Minnesota and his dad was a Cherokee from Oklahoma. While out one night during Daddy’s stint in the navy, a guy called him “chief”. Dad socked the guy.

When he I heard that story, I said, “Daddy, why did you hit him for calling you chief? He probably didn’t mean anything by it.”

Daddy said, “Oh yes, he did.”

I looked up at Daddy and thought, wow that man must have been very dumb to say something mean to my Daddy because he’s so big and strong.

I remember Daddy had a binder entitled, The English Language and the Command of Words. filled with lessons that came each week in the mail. The lessons urged speakers to articulate avoiding lazy tongued talk like “Marzeat dotes and dozeeat dotes and liddle lambs eat divy. A kiddleat divy too, wouldn’t chou?”

A neighbor swearing loudly prompted Daddy to observe, “There are many words available to express strong emotions. That man suffers from a lack of vocabulary.”

In 8th grade my teacher, a man, shocked Linda Greene, my Baptist friend, and me by swearing in the classroom when he became angry. Apparently noticing our expressions, he proceeded to write, “damn” and “hell” on the board and said, “Don’t tell me you don’t hear your parents say these words all of the time.” After class I told my teacher that I had never heard my Daddy swear. My teacher did not believe me.

When I was in the 8th grade, my sister was in college and her friends came over. We joked back and forth with put-downs. It was before the song “Dueling Banjoes” hit the airwaves; else we might have named these fests “Dueling Putdowns.” My Daddy called me aside and commented that I was particularly good and fast at the putdowns. I tingled with pride for a second or two when he added, “You are so good, in fact, and that it concerns me. Sharp words can be weapons. If you hone your skills at this, I shudder to think what you will be able to say when you are angry. Maybe you should stop.”

In 10th grade I came home telling what we called “Polack” jokes. He stopped that cold. No ethnic slur was acceptable to him. I told him the Polish kids told them too. He did not care.

In 11th grade I repeated some expression I heard at school that, unbeknownst to me, alluded to some sexual act, and he sent me away from the table. My mom told him that she was sure I didn’t know what I was saying. He argued that I was way too smart not to know that. Although he was in the navy, he didn’t want a daughter of his talking like a sailor.

My dad was a linguist.

Daddy reasoned that if Jesus had been living in 1970, he would be able to converse with anyone from the drunk on skid row to with President of the United States. He saw education as a way of sharpening one’s witness. Once I picked up the Detroit Free Press finding the sports section on top, obscuring my beloved front-page news. I announced, “I NEVER read the sports page.”

Daddy suggested that along with studying biology, English, and math for Him, I should start reading the sports page for Jesus.

Daddy was a disciple.

In the fall of my senior year listening to me speculate on career possibilities, he repeated his mantra on life priorities. “Honey, I am sure you will be US senator or President, just keep God first, your family second, and your education and career third.

Daddy was a feminist.

On November 7, 1970 Daddy suddenly and unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

Today is Fathers Day, June 18, 2006.

A couple of weeks ago, my sisters and I were doing some research on Daddy’s family tree at the Cherokee Nation Heritage Center in Tahlequah. We discovered in Daddy's ancestry chiefs who stood before King George II, grandparents educated in law and theology, and a cousin who developed the Cherokee alphabet. Debi, Kim, and I talked about these revelations. We talked about our perceptions of Daddy. The conversation shifted to physical stature.

Mother said Daddy stood just a little over 5’8”. I was astounded.

How could I be 53 years old and not know that my dad might have been considered a relatively short fellow?

Because, my Daddy was gigantic.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


"If it's perfectly legal and there's nothing going wrong there - well, why don't they have it in America ... ?"

- Harriet Harman, U.K. constitutional affairs minister, advocating the Guantanamo Bay prison be put under U.S. court supervision or closed. Source: BBC

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Right now at Greater Atlanta Christian School the sun is setting on the Class of 2006. Parents, friends, family, and faculty are seated in the quadrangle looking up to the second floor of the Zenobia Tye Lyles Media Center watching robes of red walk on the candlelit balcony.

David Fincher just gave his eight minute speech telling one joke, the names of the colleges and universities the ‘06ers will be attending, and the millions of dollars worth of the scholarships these high achieving kids have earned. He gave a few tidbits of sage advice and in one of the great traditions of GACS, begun by Jesse Long, ceased his thoughtful address to allow the focus to be on the students.

A few moments before Dr. Fincher waxed eloquently, Sandy Spiceland, wearing a black suit and a red wrist corsage, spoke into the microphone loudly and clearly reading the dozens of achievements of Allison Turner.

Now I am starting to cry.

I always knew Allison would be valedictorian. I looked forward to listening to her speech and telling her to speak VERY slowly after all of the years in debate encouraging her to speak SO quickly.

Knowing Allison, I imagine every word well spoken and meaningful.

I believe Judge Turner would allow no objections to my testimony on this.

I miss seeing a turning point in a life lived with such curiosity, intensity, and competence. I miss the seeing the turning point in a life so reflective on things spiritual and ethical. I miss seeing the turning point in a girl so willing to work, to love and to laugh.

I miss Allison Turner and Lisa Warren the dozens of others students like them who have blessed me. It's such a joy to see such wonderful kids, growing, sharing, serving and learning together.

I miss Jenny Runkel and Melaney Cost and all the senior sponsors making graduation activities come together. I miss handing out honor cords and shawls.

I miss setting up the candles and roses on the balcony with Donna Strickland and thinking of nice ways to keep folks from saving seats too early. After all, even Jesse and Marilyn Long don’t save seats early.

I miss hearing the majestic sound of the music filling the sky through Mike Garner's amazing system.

Truthfully, I could get weepy over the dollars of scholarships in the speech.

Now it's dark, the candles are glowing and the caps are flying in the air.

A small civilization is ending.

Someone in the class through whom the light of Christ has shown is offering a benediction.

So I’ll offer mine.
In the words of Paul
“May the God of peace make you holy through and through. May you be kept in soul and mind and body in spotless integrity until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what you have set out to do.”


The rage shown by Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi may seem overblown to some. Today’s Washington Post editorial says as much. Disturbed enough by the unprecedented seizing of records from the office of Representative William Jefferson to do something jointly, the two have gotten the attention of President Bush. According to the Associated Press, the President has ordered that documents seized from the congressman’ s office be sealed for 45 days in an attempt to calm the tempest.

The President acknowledges the concerns of the House leaders, but has certainly not admitted that any mistakes or missteps were made by the administration.

The Post reasoned that a search warrant and subsequent seizing of records was all done appropriately.

After all, items seized had been subpoenaed months ago.

Isn’t this an odd bunch to be hard on folks who are slow about handing over evidence to investigators?

And isn’t it mind-boggling that this administration now bearing intense criticism from James Dobson, 11 retired generals who served in Iraq, 40 Nobel Laureates, and David Frum of the National Review, has even provoked Nancy Pelosi and Dennis Hastert to cooperate?

I heard today that the Dixie Chicks have recanted their apology offered to President Bush for disrespecting the Office of the President.

I wonder how many the Chicks would roil if they said today what they said in 2003?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


"FBI checking reporters' phone records"

According today's Christian Science Monitor, the FBI "acknowledged that it was seeking reporters' phone records to investigate leaks about secret prisons in Europe and warrantless wiretapping."

Up until today, I believed that the President's warrantless wiretapping activities would not work against them in the eyes of many average Americans. The response among my students, middle to upper middle class white Christian conservatives for the most part, reflect the I am not doing anything wrong, therefore I am not concerned about privacy; the President is keeping us safe by surveillance, so I don't mind.

There seems to be a belief among people I meet that the President and his men can be trusted to work for our security and are not violating rights.

This story today may tip the balance. Not that a large white middle class Christian minority will be overly bothered at first. Many seem to think having secret prisons in Europe to torture U.S. prisoners is necessary to our national security and telling on the government for doing this was wrong.

However, the freedom of the press to tell what the government is doing in an open democratic society is a basic right.

This may a turning point.

If the mainstream American press becomes convinced that this administration will violate all known standards to press its agenda to and prosecute members of the press, the administration may have to fight an uphill battle from the cub reporter to the evening anchor. It may be the Walter Cronkite moment.

I think this, and then I rethink. In the days that Cronkite turned against the war in Vietnam and the support of ordinary Americans turned away from the war, there was no Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. There was no powerful alternative to the networks or mainstream press.

It may be now that conservative talk radio has such a strong hold on the thinking of many Americans, a wholesale rejection of this administration--this regime--by the mainstream press would lack the ability to influence the supporters of the administration.

So, we will see. We will hear.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi and former chairman of the National Republican Party, stands to distinguish himself as “the first governor in U.S. history to refuse to pardon a man he has publicly proclaimed as innocent." I could hardly believe my eyes as I read this tonight on The New York Times website. The report quotes Barbour’s spokesman, 'The governor hasn't pardoned anyone, whether they be alive or deceased.''

Trumped-up charges of selling $25.00 worth of stolen chicken feed landed Clyde Kennard in jail for seven years. The NYT story explained the only witness against Kennard in the chicken feed case recanted his testimony.

What lies beneath the chicken feed is the story of Clyde Kennard’s offense of trying to enter the University of Southern Mississippi in the late 50s.

So what lies beneath Haley Barbour’s thinking in this case?

The Governor of Mississippi, of all places, must be responsive to the calls of justice.

My experience on Wednesday, May 3 at the University of Memphis intensifies my concern for this matter. Jerry Mitchell, reporter for the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi, spoke of his experiences in uncovering evidence leading to 20 convictions of Klansmen and others involved in civil rights era murders. I left inspired not simply because of the justice done in these cases, but in Mitchell’s unequivocal witness to the power, grace, and redemption of God in these affairs.

In government class today at the private Christian school where I teach in Memphis, I challenged my students to see themselves as able to work for justice and to be witness to the grace of God in any number of fields. I told them about Jerry Mitchell the journalist.

Two weeks ago we listened to voice of John Kamm who, while president of the Hong Kong Chamber of Congress, began speaking truth to power in China regarding oppression of religious persons. NPR reports that scores of political prisoners have been released.

Thursday we read about the Governor of Montana, Brian Schwietzer ending the “silence—and for some families, the shame” connected to the convictions of their parents and grandparents on charges of sedition during War War. He posthumously pardoned 75 men and women this week.

A journalist, a businessman, and a governor. All in secular jobs. All acting in the spirit of the prophets and of Christ.

I baited my students, “Why should politicians and others bother with these acts? Why not let the dead be dead?”

One 17 year-old boy suggested it would increase the legitimacy of the government if leaders took steps to right wrongs. Another young man said it could change generations of those families who might always be sad, silent, or cynical.

I mentioned hearing Jerry Mitchell’s voice on a Memphis radio interview Wednesday quoting Solomon, “When justice is done, it is a joy.”

From the mouth of babes-Justice creates legitimacy for the generations.
Justice, says the sage, fosters joy.

Barbour's distinction among America's governors and his alliance with Mississippi's governors-none of whom have given a posthumous pardon-begs the insight of children, the wisdom of Solomon.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I read this today on Sojourner’s website:

"My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions - or bury the results."

- Marine Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold, former director of operations at the Pentagon's military joint staff, writing in Time magazine. Newbold resigned four months before the invasion of Iraq, but has only now gone public with his criticism of the war.

This quote reminds me of how I felt before the US attacked Iraq. I believed that idea that it would be a “cakewalk” smacked of arrogance and ignorance of the complexities of the Muslim world in general and Iraq specifically. I believed that Saddam was already contained and that further cooperation with the international community would be advantageous to us.

I was afraid to say what I thought.

If I am to write, I must cultivate courage.

I must also get settled in my new home.

We have sold and bought houses. We have been forced to think think think about money. What's a good price? What's a good offer? What's the wisest move? What if we lose? We sold our house with four bedrooms and a green room. The green room, our spare room, served at various times, as an office, a bedroom, and a sitting room.

We bought a house with two bedrooms and have kilzed a 1950s wood paneled room in our new-to-us-home into a green room. With all the tossing and paring I thought I did all summer, we bulge from the insides at this new address.

If I am to make a home, I must cultivate simplicity.

Today I was honored by Nick Michael, a senior graduating from our school. He asked me to be seated by him in chapel as a representative of our congregation who has had a positive spiritual influence. His invitation touched me and made me feel that I may still be a shadow of myself. We became acquainted when I taught the high school Sunday school class this winter. I am thankful that God made something good from that rough offering of the winter. After spending months sifting through stuff, thinking of houses, and meeting new folks, I find myself starving for quiet, for imbibing deeply in the Spirit of God, and being strengthened by his spirit within me.

If I am to be fully alive, I must renew discipleship.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


We all know that people aren’t made to be lonely
They’re made to be trusted and loved by one only
That one special who’ll just let it be
And remember that Jesus gave love away for free

lyrics by Stephen Stills

Rolling along through the Ohio Valley into the hills of Western Pennsylvania in our yellow circa 1972 Volkswagen Beetle, Stephen Stills and his band, Manassas, wailed these lyrics from the 8-track player through the vents of the 2-55 air conditioner. (2-55 AC stands for two windows down while driving 55 mph.)

When Ken Dowdy, my groom of two weeks, taught me how to drive that VW, he never fussed or sighed when I ground the gears or rolled backwards for a few feet trying to get into first. He just taught me what was happening when I pushed down on the clutch and engaged the gears.

I found the environs of Carlisle Pennsylvania, our first home, breathtakingly beautiful.

I found the springtime of 1972 at Harding University, which followed our first Valentine’s Day, abloom with azaleas, dogwoods, and cherry blossoms, breathtakingly beautiful.

At the end of our freshman year of college when Ken took me to the hills of Huntsville, Alabama, where his family lived, the beauty there left me breathless too.

Or maybe it was just Ken.

We’ve shared 32 Valentine Days. We don't always give each other very good Valentine cards or gifts. We sold the VW a long time ago.


He still gives me the center of the cinnamon roll.
He still gives me the last bite of his Snickers.
He still makes me laugh at wadded up napkins expanding at the table.
He still holds me and says prayers over me when I am anxious.

He shows the same kindness and patience with our children as he showed me when we drove around hills of Carlisle.

He still plays good rocking music in when we are on the road.

He still sings “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” better than Elvis.

We still use a Realistic receiver with an 8-track player.

And he still leaves me breathless.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Basement cinderblock walls painted light blue boasted a sink with a plain white base cabinet. Cold, damp air cloaked the children seated around the plywood table top mounted on pipes with black rubber casters. Roger, David, Diane, Bev and I sat, happy to have moved up from the ladies’ bathroom with the knotty pine décor. Singing "This Little Christian Light of Mine" and "Jesus Loves Me" we marked workbook pages in a series called Gospel Treasures with Mrs. Waldrep, our teacher. With dark wavy hair and glasses she seemed about as old as my grandmother--about 150 years old.

I couldn’t wait to be four, because my neighbor, whom I called Aunt Betty--Mrs. Betty Whitlock, would be our next teacher. My heart beat a little faster when she opened her purse at church. She always found a piece of Juicy Fruit gum to share, something my mother never did. (I have forgiven my mom for this failure on her part.)

Mrs.Waldrep taught us that God’s church was not made with human hands. God’s church was made of his people. It was not a building. Somehow all of this confused me.

I imagined huge hands moving appartion-like shaping the people within the brick building-somewhat like the Invisible Man on TV. There were grease marks on the giant ghost-like hands as was common among the men who worked in the shops. Our dads, uncles, and neighbors all worked in shops. The ghostlike digits hovered over about half of the church's 300 seat auditorium. I believe we used theater seats because pews would be sort of denominational. Theater seats, I guess were not really spiritual, but I got the impression it was better to be like a movie theater than worship like another denomination of so-called Christians.

Sometimes I would sit in a grown-up’s lap and play a finger game: Here is the church; here is the steeple; open the church and see all the people

I couldn’t understand the game really because my Bible class teacher said the church was the people, and given our movement’s commitment to austere buildings in the 1950s, I thought only denominations had steeples.

One day the only preacher I had ever known, Brother Connie Wyatt announced his resignation. He intended to go preach at a Church of Christ in Kirksey, Kentucky. I got a chokey feeling and my eyes stung with tears. I recall one sermon by Brother Wyatt. He spoke of folks who followed God, but in ways not in accord with scripture. In the judgment, those folks would come up short and they would say, “But, ye, I thought.” Sadly, they thought wrongly, and found themselves in torment. Brother Wyatt said, "Ye, I thought" in a very kind, but sad southern voice about one million times.

The first grown up songbook song I remember was called “Trust and Obey.”

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.

A tract in the back of the building with a sepia-toned bride on the cover was entitled, I Married a Catholic. Mom explained the problem was if one married a Catholic the church required a vow on the part of the non-Catholic to rear any children in the Catholic Church. Mom didn’t say this, but I had the clear impression that all Catholics were bound for hell, including the children of that sepia-toned bride.

I made a note to self--don’t marry a Catholic.

It saddened me to think of all the Catholics going to hell, because everyone at my school was Catholic except me; Suzie Smiley, a Lutheran; Linda Greene, a Baptist; and Sherry Hill, a Jehovah’s Witness. Sadder yet was thinking those other three were hell-bound as well. Linda Green’s church, the Van Dyke Baptist Church, even had a cross-shaped neon sign that read, “Jesus Saves.” Ouch! They didn’t realize they were just saying, “Lord, Lord” and not doing what God had commanded. They thought Jesus saved them before they were immersed, so whoever put up that sign must have been “sent a delusion and believed a lie.”

The Jehovah’s Witness part saddened me, but I thought at the time hell couldn’t be a lot worse than life on earth with no birthdays, Easter bunnies, or Santa Claus. At least Catholics had birthdays, Easter, Christmas, and First Holy Communion. First Holy Communion was particularly cool due to the white dresses, veils, and gifts of money.

My dad’s mother was a Methodist. After he became a member of the Church of Christ, once my Dad tried to convert his mother from the Wesleyan way to the Campbellite way. She thrilled at the way folks flipped through scriptures at our worship services, but was saddened that after all her years of following Jesus, praying to him, and trusting Him, Dad would suggest she be re-baptized. She told my Dad on the Chippewa reservation Epicopalian and Methodist missionaries baptized them every summer. She believed God accepted least one of those baptisms.

I used to have bad dreams about my Grandmother Choate being in a coffin and wishing so much that such a wonderful woman was going to heaven. In the dreams there was only darkness and a light brown pine coffin and me wondering why this was so.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was safely baptized, properly, of course, by the interpretation of our tribe. Yet, since I was still just a child, I found myself in a scary little mind game I began after I heard a sermon about the “unpardonable sin.” This was the game: if Dad drives past that light pole, that means I have committed the unpardonable sin.

Dad drove by the light pole.

So, I was condemned. But then, so was everyone else I knew except the people at my church. I anguished over my lost state. I bargained with God. If I would become a missionary and baptize hundreds and hundreds of people would he then forgive the unpardonable sin?

Finally, I heard a sermon on adding to God’s word. Adding to God’s word was a sin. So, saying that driving by a light pole was adding to God’s word. Nowhere in God’s word does it say if your Daddy drives by the light pole at Van Dyke and Nine Mile will you go to hell for committing the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin after all was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Whew. I thought, at lease someone in the Church of Christ can receive forgiveness for adding to God’s word if they repent and ask forgiveness.

I finally disclosed to my mother this entanglement of sin and guilt. She seemed shocked because I think she thought I was smarter and more well adjusted than all that. She assured me if I were blaspheming the Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t really care if I was saved or lost anyway.

When I was a young teen, Arkansan Jimmy Allen, a fiery preacher and author of What is Hell Like? preached to thousands in Detroit's Cobo Arena. Over 300 people were baptized. It might have only been 10% of the harvest of Pentecost, but it was a dramatic experience for the Motor City congregations.

My freshman year at Harding University at the College Church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas the same fiery orator, Jimmy Allen, preached, from Romans, a sermon on the grace of God.

For the first time in my life I heard that perfect knowledge and perfect obedience elude us all, but God's grace saves us through faith in Christ.

My Campellite life took a turn for the better that day, because though I had enjoyed many good memories on this spiritual walk, few of which I have recounted in this essay, I had never truly, to core of my being, experienced the gospel as good news until that night.

After studying Romans, Galatians, and the Bible in general, my sense of the gospel, grace, and salvation matured into a much sounder, much more joyful theology. Jesus did not come to judge but to save. He healed. He challenged sinners. He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. Sharing the yoke of teaching and serving is a much lighter burden that taking on the mantle of judgement that even Jesus reserved for God.

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To happy be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey