Monday, August 24, 2015

PCUSA ... and PRO-Fossil Fuel ... Part 1

Consider how Christians might respond to a call for a blanket divestment from Christianity, inspired by a variety of things that have taken place in the past, or are taking place right now ... things that had (or have) nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus Christ and the kingdom He proclaimed, yet were done (or are being done) in His name, and in pursuit of a very worldly and wrongful pursuit of His kingdom.

How might Christians respond to such a call?

Me? My response is that a blanket divestment from Christianity is NOT the answer ... and would suggest, rather, a reinvestment. That process would begin with a thoughtful and considered look at Christ’s message, and how that message – and Christ’s love – is being lived and shared by others. Based upon that search, and upon what that search revealed about other Christian gatherings, I would reinvest my heart and my mind, my body and soul into where those others are gathered, and join them in their mission.

This is what comes to mind when I read about those within the Presbyterian Church USA who demand an immediate and total, blanket divestment of the denomination’s investment funds from “fossil fuel producers.” I have to ask ... is blanket divestment the answer? Shouldn’t we, instead, consider reinvestment of those funds into responsible – even moral – fossil fuel producers?

Before I go any further, let me give you some idea of the context in which I am composing this post. It’s important to the consideration – if any! – that you will give to what follows ...

For the past 31 years, I have lived and worked in and around the city of Midland, in the western region of Texas ... smack-dab in the middle of what they call ‘the oil patch.’ There is some cattle and some cotton in the foundation of this community, but most of Midland today is built upon the energy industry, and the production of oil and natural gas plays a major, even predominant role in our local economy.

I do not work directly for the energy industry ... though I have been happily married those same 31 years to someone who is. As for me, I first worked in in this part of Texas as a contract archaeologist ... but my vocation has changed more than once with the ups and downs – especially the downs! – in the energy industry over the past three decades. So I have also worked as a television writer/producer, a newspaper reporter/editor, a website/social media manager, and for the past seven years in the public information and media office of a community college.

This has given me a tremendous opportunity to observe the industry ‘up-close and personal,’ as we used to say in the news business. I suggest that I might have more insight than some others into the industry, its people, its technology and practices, and the changes in said technology and practices. I have seen, reported-on and learned from – to borrow a phrase from a movie title – the good, the bad and the ugly of fossil fuel production ... and the beautiful, as well.

Let me qualify that last paragraph, though ... my experience observing fossil fuel producers has been exclusively with oil and natural gas. I have no such experience with the coal industry, and I am not qualified to comment upon changes that may have taken place in their technology and practices. When it comes to coal, all I have to go on are the 50-year-old memories I have of that industry – actually, the remnants of that industry – in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area of northeastern Pennsylvania ... which helped set my course down the environmentalism path as a teenager way-back-when.

Anyway, that is where I come from. Where I am going, in the weeks ahead, is to develop my pro-fossil fuel thesis, and to suggest options for a position within the Presbyterian Church USA that still promotes protection and restoration of God’s creation, yet encourages responsible – even moral – energy production that includes fossil fuels. Beyond that, I am hoping that those options might make their way into a ‘fossil fuels reinvestment’ overture that would be submitted to the next PCUSA General Assembly for their consideration/approval.

Thank you for your time in reading the above. I welcome any comments you wish to make in the space below ... regardless of your stance on fossil fuel production. It is my hope that this will be the start of a discussion among those who ultimately share a common goal, a common destination ... though for now, we may be reaching it by different paths.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day's first light

... breaks over the horizon and shines on the Midland College campus just as I am arriving for work.

"For the mind disturbed, the still beauty of dawn is nature's finest balm."

Edwin Way Teale

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Added to my bookshelf ... "The Purple Heart Detective Agency"

Chapter 1 of "The Purple Heart Detective Agency" opens with many of the trademarks of a classic Dashiell Hammett whodunit ... it's a sun-drenched day on the streets of L.A., and hard-boiled detective Clayton Grace is sitting across the desk from a beautiful dame who is offering him what appears to be a simple and straightforward 'missing person' case.

Fans of detective fiction will know, of course, that there's bound to be much more to the case ... you know there will be a colorful and entertaining array of supporting characters popping-up in the chapters that follow ... and there will be speculation that the dame may be offering Grace more than a retainer at some point.

It isn't long, though, before author Rock Neelly begins following his own path, and taking us along for a journey that will have more than its share of surprising twists and unexpected turns. In fact, he first sets foot on that path BEFORE the start of Chapter 1 ... whatever else you may skip in your reading, do NOT pass over the prologue.

It will go a long way to understanding Grace and his partner, Roddy O'Mallery. A pair of Iraq War veterans, wounded in body and spirit, they have lost so much in the course of their service ... but they have also gained much of what they will need to see an increasingly-complex, increasingly-dangerous case to the end

I say 'complex' ... perhaps 'bizarre' might be more appropriate at times. More than once, I was reminded of the fiction of Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte as our protagonists must deal with the something that may be more than charade or showmanship, but may actually be supernatural.

If I have a complaint, it may be that there is too much of a good thing ... to many plot lines, too many characters, too many back stories and flashbacks to the war, too much time taken to get to the story's conclusion.

My recommendation? Read every page, start to finish ... go ahead and speculate about what awaits you down that path, before you arrive at the denouement ... and enjoy the journey whether you're right or wrong about the final destination.

NOTE: I received a copy of this work through LibraryThing
in exchange for a review.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A precious moment at 1st Prez

A big day at 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas a couple weeks back ... THE day, really ... not just for Christians, but for all people ... Easter Day, Resurrection Sunday, Empty Tomb Day, whatever.

It was also a day of added significance for me, in a small personal way ... it's the one time I have the courage to go up front and sing in public. As I have noted before, little remains of the fine tenor voice I carried into high school. If maturity had replaced it with an equally fine baritone, I wouldn't have minded so much ... but, alas, such was not the case. I still sing in public, but only that one time each year, and in the particular circumstances we have at 1st Prez that day ... when I am surrounded by a large choir, accompanied by chamber orchestra and organ, and singing for a packed house of people feeling more than the usual level of Christian charity and forgiveness.

On that day, a notice in the church bulletin announces that, "Those who have sung the 'Hallelujah Chorus' and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of the closing hymn" ... so I do.

I do the best I can with the voice I have ... or maybe it's not the voice I usually have. I remember a quote by Edward Hoagland that I have shared before, about positive expressions of mob behavior ... "It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires," he once wrote. "The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can't see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing ... it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality."

Maybe that's why I am no longer mindful of my voice, or that lump in my throat - not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhilaration. What can I say? For me, it is a tear-maker as I near the end, "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords ..." It is a wonderful moment. It IS "a great anthem." And even as I mangle this note or that, I didn't care ... I am part of making a genuinely joyful noise, nonetheless.

Easter comes just a week or so before the anniversary of the that night in 1742, in Dublin, Ireland, when George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" oratorio premiered. It's presentation has grown over the centuries, particularly in the expansion of the musical accompaniment. It's reputation and popularity has grown, as well, especially the Hallelujah Chorus. At the moment, historians say that England's King George II probably did not stand during the performance of the chorus ... but the tradition of standing continues to this day, and was observed by all in the pews at 1st Prez-Midland on Easter Sunday, followed by a long and enthusiastic ovation ...

YES, that's right, Presbyterians were clapping and cheering in church!!! For one precious and all-too-brief moment, we were of one voice, one mind and one spirit.

And that made the moment all-the-more precious to me. You see, 1st Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas is not so much a building or an organization as it is a family ... and like all families, there are times of sharing and times of bickering, times of accord and times of discord. Lately, the discord has become more pronounced. We are part of the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. Actions by that denomination's General Assembly have been in the news over the last several months, as have the reactions of the denomination's individual congregations. Those reactions run the full range from enthusiastic acceptance to outraged rejection, and everything in between.

Right now, we're somewhere in between. Several weeks back, our congregation voted to enter into the 'discernment process' with Tres Rios Presbytery (our regional council of PCUSA congregations in western Texas). For now, a team from our congregation will discuss agreements and disagreements, problems and solutions with a team from the Presbytery. When all is said and done, we could be facing another vote by our congregation, deciding upon reconciliation, disaffiliation or something in between. While they discuss these matters at the official level, we in the congregation discuss them among ourselves at the unofficial level ... how we feel, what path we might take, the consequences of taking one path or another, and the issues that - through the thoughts and actions of others - have brought us to this point.

Please keep our church family in your thoughts and your prayers ... that as we consider and discuss, debate and - yes - argue, we will keep in mind that we are brothers and sisters and that, for our occasional bickering, within us all are shared memories of precious moments in which we have stood up as one, sung as one, and offered praise - to God and one another - as one.

Alleluia, amen.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

... the day before The Day ...

Big day, tomorrow ... and not just for all Christians, but for all peoples ... that's what I believe.

"We are the Easter people," Pastor Jim Miles of First Prez-Fort Stockton would remind us, and not just in the days leading up to Easter, but throughout the year. And that is what we affirm tomorrow, the day for which we have been preparing over the past six weeks, the day for which we live - or at least try to live - at all times.

A promise was made on a joyful, star-lit night, in a stable in Bethlehem ... but that promise was kept on a bloody, storm-darkened day, on a hill outside of Jerusalem ... and later in a place of tombs in the early morning.

On a highway north of Mason, Texas.
Big day tomorrow, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ ... big day ... THE day, really. But I find myself wondering what it was like the day before The Day ... what was it like during those long hours that passed between Christ's crucifixion and his resurrection? I can't help but think it's easier for us, two-thousand years later, with the benefit of hindsight, with the Word in our hands, our minds, our hearts. But back then ... right then, right there? What was it like for the followers of Jesus on THAT very first day before The Day?

I've always felt a little sorry for Peter, one of the first (and perhaps the greatest) of Jesus' disciples. How many times have I listened to some discussion in Sunday school that included talking some smack about Peter and his shortcomings ... it's especially pronounced now, as we are reminded for the umpteenth time of his denial of Jesus outside the house where Christ was being held. What must it have been like - that day before The Day - for Peter?

Of course, that was Peter before The Day, and before Pentecost. The man that emerges from all that is someone and something else entirely. There is still a growing, learning, developing spirit and awareness in him ... but there is no longer any doubt, or any denial.

But before that? I can only imagine ... because I know, now, and I believe ...

He is risen ...
Christ is risen, indeed ...
Alleluia! Amen!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Added to my bookshelf ... "Learning to Float: Memoir of a Caregiver Husband"

There is so much that so many of us could gain from reading Allan Ament's book, "Learning to Float," taking his words to heart and putting them to work in our lives, our relationships and our community.

The book is sub-titled "Memoir of a Caregiver Husband," and documents the days, then the months, then the years that followed his wife's stroke ... a time that brought dramatic changes to their lives and their relationship with one another. It is also a time that challenged Ament personally in so many ways. His book - which emerged from his regular emails to family and friends, updating them on Deloris' condition - is a frank look at those challenges and how he dealt with them ... sometimes successfully, and sometimes not.

For many of us reaching that point in life where we find ourselves caring for aging parents or spouses, there is much to be gained from "Learning to Float" ... not just in our approach to caring for others, but also in caring for OURSELVES as we care for others. An attorney and educator, Ament is not a medical or healthcare professional, and finds himself like so many others who are suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver without warning, without training, without even a clue of what might lie ahead.

He must 'learn to float.'

So what qualifications does Ament bring to his role as caregiver and his book about that experience? Well, again, he is an attorney and an educator and is comfortable with asking questions, doing research and documenting his experience in order to better understand what he is doing, and what he could be doing. This includes application of long-established medical practices, and advocacy for new applications of medical practices from other fields. Some of his information comes from medical journals and the internet, but also from the counsel of friends, a support group and the first-hand experiences of other caregivers, advice from a Zen master on traveling through life. But at the base of all this is family ... and more. He writes briefly about his parents and how their example, their work with the less-fortunate, reinforced his religious teachers' lessons on the Judaic tradition of Tikkun ha-Olam, an ethical injunction, a command that humanity must restore and redeem a broken world.

Ament notes that these habits, traditions and teachings - along with the "in sickness and in health" part of his marriage vows, led him to assume primary care responsibilities for his wife when she became ill, saying, "it never occurred to me to do otherwise."

All of this is delivered in a straightforward and clear manner, in language that is more an informed discussion rather than a lecture or medical thesis. I am a relative newcomer to Early Reviewing for LibraryThing, and "Learning to Float" is my first review to earn a full five stars. I strongly recommend this book to everyone - whatever your age or place, whatever the challenge you or someone you know is facing or might someday face, in your family or in your community, whatever has you 'learning to float.'

NOTE: I received a copy of this work through LibraryThing
in exchange for a review.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Upward Devotional: "Sharing the Fun"

As I noted before, during the first two months of the year, part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. The Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is well underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for this past Saturday, inspired by what I observed of the youngsters on the court …

Hello, everyone, and thank you for being here today for the kiddos ...

One of the reasons I volunteer for Upward Basketball is to enjoy a chance to watch kids at play ... there is something spontaneously joyful about children at play ... and that joy can be contagious.

A few weeks back, a timeout was called during one of the games, and a coach signaled to his team to circle around ... and most of them did ... except for one little boy, off by himself, just outside the circle, going like this ... (at this point I'm spinning around in a tight loop while waving my arms)

As the father of two young men, I know there will come a time when sports, and everything else in a youngster’s life will become so serious, a point where a child’s every move will determine whether or not they will have a future as a professional athlete, or a scientist, or a successful business owner.

And of course you are there to support or encourage your kiddos in whatever path they take into their future ... but that might include their choice to abandon that path if all they joy has been sucked-out of it, and pursue another path.

There may be some future NBA or WNBA stars out there ... or there may not. I don’t know, and I don’t care because, for now, at this stage, there is still the fun, the joy.

Jesus told us – more than once, that we can learn something from children.

In the Book of Mark, we read about a time when people brought their children to Jesus ... “And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them ... But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

I guess the disciples needed reminders sometimes, because in the Book of Matthew we read about them quizzing Jesus ... “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

Now, I'm not saying 'all fun at all times' ... we still need to make sure they get a good bedtime, eat a good meal, mind their manners and other 'un-fun' things. But when we can, let them have their fun, and let's share that fun, that joy with them.

Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the game!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Added to my bookshelf ... "Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies

There's no denying that Jessica Robinson has an obsession with zombies, and that said obsession is shared by people of many ages in many parts of the world ... myself included.

Proof of her obsession can be found in the time and effort that obviously went into research for, and writing of her book, "Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies." My reading of the book, however, left my own obsession unsated ... which is not necessarily the fault of the book ... obsessions, after all, can be very, VERY personal matters.

Robinson traces the start of her obsession with viewing George Romero's 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead," filmed just a few hours' drive west of the movie theater in Pennsylvania where my own obsession was launched by watching the same film. Yet, in spite of the importance she places upon such films - she begins the first chapter of her book with the line, "Zombie films serve as a great lens to examine concerns society has about modern science." - most of the ensuing examination relies upon a surprisingly limited repertoire of films, and a television series.

And that's a shame, because much of what she cites is used to address another obsession of hers ... "our fears of science and what could happen if science gets out of hand." And while that is a good discussion in and of itself, little or no attention is paid to films that address the fun of zombies ... yes, the FUN.

True, Robinson does refer briefly to films such as "Zombieland" and "Warm Bodies" that manage to find the humor of life in a zombie apocalypse ... but those references are selective and address our fear of science, and authority, and so on. I can't help but wonder why a host of funny/campy/silly films - from "Juan of the Dead" to "Fido," from "Redneck Zombies" to "Poultrygeist," from "Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies" to (my all-time favorite) "Shaun of the Dead" - were left out of the mix.

What if zombie films not only stoke the fires of our fear of science, and our resentment of authority ... what if they also tickle our funny bone? I really, really, REALLY wish Robinson could have spent more time on the fun of zombies, and less time on long, detailed and (for me) numbing descriptions of the science and technology of zombie/virus transmission.

Perhaps Robinson will again tackle zombies in a book, and MAYBE have a little FUN ... I will keep an eye out for it, and I most certainly WILL read it.

ADDED NOTE: Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies was added to my virtual bookshelf as a free Early Reviewers Copy from

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Cooler, with a chance of snow ...

... a lot of photos from around town, taken during last week's snowfall. Here's one of mine, with a quote that expresses very well the quiet, the calm that morning around the campus of Midland College, where I work. It was a 'delayed opening' day, for our college students as well as the Midland ISD students who attend Early College High School on our campus ... which left the campus to me and our gorunds crews ... and contributed more-than-a-little to the sense of peace ildan writes about in the quote above.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Upward Devotional: Looking Inside, Underneath

As I noted before, it’s the start of a new year, and that means part of my Saturdays are spent in gymnasiums … one in my church, and another in the public high school across the street. The Upward Basketball and Cheerleading season is well underway here, in Midland, Texas. Volunteers are helping the program in a lot of different ways … as coaches, referees, time/scorekeeprs, and delivering devotionals to the fans during halftime breaks … I’m one of the volunteers doing the devotionals, and here was my presentation for today, inspired by the story of a an alumnus of the college where I work …

Hello, everyone, and thank you for being here today for the kiddos ...

There's an old, old saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And that's true, really ... too many people rely upon outward appearance, not taking the time or the effort to find out what's underneath, whether it's a book, or a car, or a person.

I work at Midland College, and over my years there, I have met some good people, had some good experiences, and heard some good stories ... one of my favorite stories involves a young man who came to Midland College to play basketball.

Anthony Webb was born in poverty, in the Dallas, Texas area. From an early age, he enjoyed playing basketball. He was quick, and he could really jump. But he was also short ... too short, many people said, to play basketball. He might never have gotten a chance to play even junior high basketball if two other players hadn't failed to meet exam requirements.

When he played, he played well. But over and over again, he had to work hard to prove to the skeptics that he could play basketball at the next level. He graduated from high school with an impressive varsity basketball record, averaging 26 points-per-game. But colleges - certainly the big schools - weren't interested ... except for Midland College, a two-year junior college, out in the middle of nowhere West Texas.

So, what happened? A national junior college championship for the team, and an MVP award and write-up in Sports Illustrated for Webb ... all of which attracted the attention of Coach Jim Valvano at North Carolina State University ... a chance for Webb to continue his education and his basketball at a four-year school.

The pro's came next .... with many scouts finding him too short to play professional basketball. But he was finally drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Anthony "Spud" Webb played well enough to start for the Hawks, to be selected for the NBA All-Star game, and even compete in the Slam Dunk Contest ... which he won.

Not bad for someone who is five-foot, seven-inches tall.

You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Don't focus solely on outward appearances.

In the second book of Corinthians, we read ...
"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NKJV)

Not a bad idea for basketball or anything you do in life, and what lies beyond ...

Thank you, everyone. Enjoy the game!