Friday, January 29, 2010


Magical words. That is all we need. This seems to be the message I am hearing at every turn lately. The president of the USA used them in his state of the union speech Wednesday night. A fluctuating percentage of the population parrot those magical words to improve our national image worldwide, provide complete, low cost health care for everybody, create new jobs while increasing taxes and restrictions on businesses. Clients used them during counseling last night. Citizens writing to the editor of the Montgomery Advertiser use them. The judge quoted on the front page of today's paper used them to make violations of the "sunshine law" disappear.

Most of you who are close to my age probably know the word "abracadabra" and the word magicians shouted with a flourish when something was made to appear or disappear. If you look a little farther back, it was apparently written in an inverted triangle and worn as an amulet to ward of evil spirits and disease. Sounding a little like an idol, faith was placed in a magical charm to provide protection. Of course, in 2010 we are FAR too sophisticated and intelligent to fall for such silly superstition--right?

Hmmmmm, I am not so sure. Please, please understand. I, too, like the idea of a nation that once enslaved a majority of a race passes through decades and centuries of granting, freedom, rights, help, and eventually preferential treatment to members of that race to the point that education, intelligence, integrity, and abilities are achieved and acknowledged enough that we elect a man of mixed race to he highest and most respected office in our nation. I love that story, I really do. Here, it the rub for me, however. Although I marvel at President Obama's oratory abilities and his skill at framing a conversation to suit the outcome he desires, we have to maintain the ability and right to not accept that a word spoken it the same as an act completed. I think I will say that again; a word spoken is not the same as an act completed. If you don't stop and think about that for a minute, I might say it a third time! If it were the same, I would already be slim, strong, and athletic. I would be doing 100 mile bike rides at 20 mph. I would be completing sprint triathlons in a little over an hour. The reality, though, is that my sincere desires and intentions--even if well-stated and warmly received--do not translate into achievements until much work is done. Having attempted to reach goals over several decades I realize that often the image never materializes even with hard work. The goals and priorities of others, conflicting goals of my own, and laws of nature are a few of the obstacles that can cause visions to go unrealized.

Why, then, do we accept what a charismatic, powerful individual says at a realized truth just because it sounds desirable, without realizing there are costs to be considered and conflicting goals and priorities ALWAYS present for all of us?

This is not an attack on the president. I like the guy. I would have him over for a burger and enjoy a chat with him. Really. This is an attack on YOU and me. Why do we continue to fall for "us vs. them" perspectives whenever discussing important issues? Why do we tolerate a two-party system? Why do we allow race relations to be the 300 pound gorilla in the room? Why would we ever accept any statement, no matter how eloquently presented, without question and honest debate. I am going to try it one more time. ABRACADABRA--I have ridden 35 miles already!
Shoot, didn't work again.

Friday, January 01, 2010

The Last Chapter

Many years ago I stopped believing in coincidences as accidental and meaningless. It is a funny line repeated over and over in the movie "Forrest Gump" that causes us to chuckle at the simple-minded Forrest when he says about many amazing events "then for no particular reason". Still, it is easy to miss that God is speaking to us when people, events, and circumstances combine to send a "multi-media message". I feel that I am experiencing that this week. First, here are some highlights; 1) my daughter is getting married tomorrow, 2) at the beginning of the week, I returned from a great Christmas visit with my mom and my brother and his family, 3) yesterday, I helped move my son and his wife into their new home, 4) Wednesday I was invited to share in the high-tech progress check of my son and daughter-in-law's baby--the one most folks refer to as "learning the gender of the baby" (it is a girl), 5) Wednesday nights I shared thoughts from my study of the Exodus story about the nature of God and what that means to me (us) 6) last night I was invited by good friends to share their home and food with other Christian friends as we said goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010. These are just the highlights. Of one week. Of course there was more--much more--of routine--things done and things that had to be left undone.

But there is one more significant event that happened exactly in the middle of the week. It was a funeral for the father of my friend and co-worker, Debra. Debra is a counselor with a big, loving heart. When we gather in the office of Dr. Guest before sessions of the District Attorney's Pre-Trial Diversion counseling program, Debra is the most willing--no insistent, actually--to share a hug with each of us. She is perceptive and driven to help others even when they seem determined to harm themselves. I like Debra a lot, but I had never met her father. When I learned of the arrangements, I did not hesitate to make plans to attend. As the time neared, however, and some of the items on the list above were added unexpectedly I began to count hours. It was going to be really, really tight. I decided to attend the funeral because Debra means that much to me. I was blessed by my attendance much, much more than Debra was. As I entered the New Life Church of God in Christ building and realized there was a line just to get in and the sound of a powerful band was reverberating through the walls, I thought "this is going to take longer than I planned". I will not recount the entire two hours but the large, powerful choir and the energetic band were engaging, to say the least. Energy and celebration were the key words. This was truly, as billed, a "Home-going celebration". I did not know Elder Mumpfield before that day, but I felt as if I did by the time I left. There is so much I could say about the celebration and how appropriate it seems to lift a grieving family in that way, but I want to focus on one point from one speaker that spoke to me in a powerful way Wednesday and has not left me as the other events of the week unfold. That message was about the last chapter of the last book of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses). Terry Ellison pointed out that most accept that Moses recorded all of these five books, he could not have written Deuteronomy 34 because it gives details of the death and burial of Moses. Someone else (probably Joshua) had to write it. The point he made very well was that we need to be mentoring others--like James Mumpfield did--to carry on after we are gone. The words he said were true and helpful. But I heard something else. During that celebration of this Godly man's life it occurred to me that he had, indeed, written this last chapter. I am not talking about the theology of "saved by works", I am talking about the celebration of his life, after his life, was made possible BECAUSE of his life.

When I observed hundreds of people that had given most of a day to make that event happen--seamlessly--and hundreds more who gathered for 2-3 hours to be part of it, I knew some things about the life of James Mumpfield. I was encouraged and inspired to live a life that would cause folks to gather and celebrate when the short chapter is written about my death. SO....that has been on my mind as LaWanna and I celebrate the continued growth of the 8 ounce fetus that will be our granddaughter, as we prepare to give our daughter in marriage, and as we witness our children grow in multiple ways, and as we turn a calendar to a fresh start on resolving to do better. Thank you James E. Mumpfield. Although you died in 2009, your final chapter has served to make me a better person in 2010. So, in a very real sense your final chapter is still being written.