Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thinking in short supply

There are always difficulties when a new man/woman comes on the job. It is only natural that he would use his personal talents and traits as he shares his own vision in his own way. His skills and manner may be different from his predecessor. And there are always those who are "put off" from the new guy's ways. This is nowhere more true than in the delicate choosing of a new pastor in those Protestant churches who "call" their new shepherd.

Two years ago D. James Kennedy, the founding pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and known throughout the country as the preacher of the television worship program, The Coral Ridge Hour, died. He founded the church in 1960. Today it sits on a multi-million dollar campus with well over 2,000 members in attendance.

Kennedy, according to the Miami Herald, was also a co-founder of the Christian lobby known as the Moral Majority and declared he wanted to "reclaim America for Christ.''

Last March, after two years of searching for a shepherd for the flock, 91 percent of the voting members chose Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham.

Pastor Tchivdijan -- his full name is William Graham Tullian Tchividjian -- was named after Tertullian, a Christian theologian of the second and third centuries.

That high an acceptance vote is a welcome sight for a pastor beginning a new pastorate. But the majority is nothing but the majority, nothing more (see today's Democrats in House and Senate for an example). Sometimes the smaller the dissent, the more power the dissenters are able to engender, especially when the famous founding pastor's daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, is among those objecting to the Pastor Tchivdijan.

Mrs. Cassidy, along with a few hundred, was upset, according to Religious News Service, that Tchividjian, unlike her father, shunned a clerical robe and the fact he had chosen not to focus on political issues from the pulpit. He also insisted on an invitation at the close of the service for those wishing to join. One of his first actions irked some longtime members when he unplugged the TV program. (Just a wild guess: Mrs. Cassidy may not have known how to pronounce his rather different name.)

My thought was anyone as closely related to the best known and loved evangelist of the 20th century, and already an experienced pastor, would be welcome in many a pulpit.

After going through channels, the dissenting minority was given a chance to air their objections to the 2,000 plus membership. On Sunday, September 20, the complaint to oust preacher Tchividjian was defeated with a 69 to 31 percent vote.

Billy Graham's grandson is wise to stay out of political debate when at the sacred desk. His worshippers will have many varied slants on politics, but a good pastor does not take sides. His job is to share the lessons of the scriptures and history that will make for a better society and church.

Had it been me, I would have disagreed on doing away with the robe in the pulpit. I often wore a deep navy blue mandarin gown, made by a gifted local tailor in Taiwan. In those days, the 1950s, you would see many men in the mandarin chang'pao, as the robe is called. It was not an unusual site. (It might have been unusual-looking on me, but no one said anything –- to me. Their fun over Sunday dinner was probably over my spoken Chinese, or missed inflection (every word has one or more tones in addition). Mandarin with a Texas accent was rare in Pingtung County.)

What is the reason for sharing these far out stories, events or opinions week after week? I received one answer from a friend at church who urged me to continue writing them. He confessed my writing sometimes causes his blood pressure to go up, but it makes him think. We need to be able to discern the petty from the serious; the difference in being smart and being intelligent; having knowledge without wisdom.

We are blessed in this country with a freedom to share our different perspectives. All of us are a part of those we have met along the way. We are usually unaware of God's hand in sending someone across our path --- at home, in church, in work or school, who caused us to think; made us aim higher.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Immigration Perspective

"Give me your tired, your poor... "

Looking out from the southern tip of Manhattan I could make out the Statue of Liberty. That was as close as I got to this amazing gift from the French to the people of America. I have read about it and the memorable quote of Emma Lazarus:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Most school children today know that sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to design a sculpture to commemorate the centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Friendship between the people of France and of the United States was greater in those days.

The Statue of Liberty that has welcomed immigrants in the harbor of New York City for 123 years is still a beacon of hope to the world's down-trodden. This in spite of recent anti-immigration events and disparaging remarks about our foreign friends. Such attitudes should be a concern for us as a nation proclaiming democracy, freedom and hope.

For example, such remarks as: "No more 'wretched refuse'." "The door might be golden but the insides are a mess: 'no vacancy'." "There is no room in this inn anymore." "Country's full, go to Canada." "Welfare checks don't go that far."

The question comes that if the Statue of Liberty, and all it represents, freedom, hope welcome to the foreigner, why are so many Americans no longer welcoming immigrants, who have helped build this country?

The West Coast has no Statue of Liberty. We once had laws that kept Asians out for a very long time. Unfortunately, today if your suntan is bit too brown, you are not welcomed with open arms. No great poems of hopes and dreams have ever been posted on the Rio Grande, El Paso, Nogales, or Tijuana.

This attitude against immigrants is in direct opposition to the closing words of the Emma Lazarus sonnet, "The New Colossus," which is on the Statue of Liberty.

Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" speaks of a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is imprisoned lightening, and her name Mother of Exiles. The last 35 words of the poem are those memorialized on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Emma was one of the most successful Jewish American authors in our history. Besides novels and poetry, she wrote strong essays protesting the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s.

She had to deal with not only being a woman writer, but add to that the unequal treatment toward Jews. She was not a Zionist but wanted Jews to unite and create a homeland in Palestine.

Emma was born in 1849 into a wealthy family who traced their ancestry in America to before the Revolutionary War. They were Sephardic Jews. (These are descendants of Jews of Spain, Portugal and North Africa. Not always appreciated by the Jews of Eastern Europe and Germany.)

She had a strong classical education. Her talent for writing was noticed early and her father encouraged her efforts.

In a letter to a friend Emma wrote, "My own curiosity and interest are insatiable."

Emma Lazarus was a complex person, having wealth yet understanding and speaking out for the dispossessed, the less fortunate, and degrading life so many were forced to live.

During Emma's lifetime and immediately following, 1840s to 1930, the United States took about 60 percent of the world's immigrants. They were frequently exploited and often blamed for lowering wages and living standards; at the same time being accused of favoring formation of fairer labor laws.

Rather than blame today's foreigner, get the Immigration and Naturalization Department and the Border Patrol to use the laws we have. And make Congress find a way pay for it more realistically.

The century-long image of the United States being where people are free to begin a new life is unlike any in world history. Let's learn how to keep that image without ghettos, xenophobic spirit or another "white flight" away from reality.


Friday, September 11, 2009


The man who turned western stories into literature has died. Elmer Kelton, died at 83, Aug. 22, 2009. For more than 50 years the American west, and particularly Texas was portrayed in his 40 novels, short stories and articles.

He grew up on a ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father, R.W. "Buck" Kelton worked for 36 years. His college education was interrupted a couple of years by World War II (there he met his bride Ann of Austria), but he earned a University of Texas degree in journalism in 1948.

His life was writing. He was writer and editor for 15 years for the San Angelo Standard-Times (before it was called that) and five years as editor of Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine. He was associate editor of Livestock Weekly 22 years. And with all that work, he produced so many good books that he was seven times honored with the Silver Spur award for western writing.

Four of his books won the Western Heritage Award. They were: "The Time It Never Rained," "The Good Old Boys," "The Man Who Rode Midnight," and the captions and text for "The Art of Howard Terpning."

The one time I had the opportunity to visit with him, he told me about a request from Sweden or Norway for some of his short stories about the American West. He sent them and as far as he knew they were translated and published.

It was some years later that he wrote them, wondering if they wanted some more for translation. They were very gracious, but told Mr. Kelton, his stories were just not bloody enough.

No, he wrote about the real west and the real men we call cowboys. He was not into creating a Gary Cooper or John Wayne type of story.

Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America's most distinguished writers ("Memory of Fire," "Open Veins of Latin America," and "Mirrors.") wrote about the epic of the Wild West being "the invention of imigrants from Eastern Europe with a keen eye for business." Men like the four Warner brothers, Louis B. Mayer and Adolph Zukor cooked up the most "successful universal myth of the twentieth century."

I am sure that Elmer Kelton would agree with that. His stories told of real ranches and human cowboys and their problems with family, weather and making a living. One real cowboy, Tommy Lee Jones, brought one of Kelton's books to the screen, "The Good Old Boys."

Another honor by his equal with a story, Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University granted him a lifetime Achievement award. He was "doctored" twice, once by Hardin-Simmons University and the other by Texas Tech

All those good things do not count for much until you see that this man of letters and a real rancher and cowboy, was also a real person with everybody. He looked down on no one and was the same humorous, engaging self with peasant or prince, peon or us below-average writers. FOR HIS BOOKS: www.elmerkelton.net

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Time to leave Afghanistan

A week or so ago the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan presidential election went relatively peacefully. The Taliban had threatened to attack those who voted. The threat stills hangs over the heads of voters and their ink-stained fingers. When an occupying army stands around while the locals vote, something is just not right.

A word of civility came from leading contenders for the crown saying they will not incite street protests if one of them should lose (but did they ever call each other names). President Hamid Karzai is expected to win re-election. This is just the manner of the beast. Incumbents have more power enabling them to stay in power. Karzai's record is thin as far as doing much good for the country. He dresses well in his flowing robes and perky Karakul hat.

Hamid Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun who supported the Mujahideen, (as did the United State did with millions of dollars), in their fight against the Soviet Red Army invasion of 1979.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, Karzai worked with the emerging Taliban-inspired government. While in exile in Pakistan, his father Zahir Shan, the king of Afghanistan, was assassinated. He swore revenge against the Taliban.

As Darrell Royal, former UT football coach, would say, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Karzai was chosen by Western governments to lead a transitional government in the capital of Kabul. (Note: Western governments set him in this position.) Many still call him mayor of Kabul rather than leader of the country. His influence is limited mostly to his own tribesmen and officials of the Bush and Obama administrations.

There were others in Afghanistan who felt they could be the president and threw their hats into the ring. They are not as well-known outside the country, but as the humorist Jonathan Winters said, "If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to it." And a number of guys (no women, please) ran for the office.

So the politician with two first names (or last names), Abdullah Abdullah, entered the race for president and now both claim to have won.

Since Al Quida is not in Afghanistan or Pakistan, why are we there in such force? Fighting the Taliban, who retreat into Pakistan for R and R. Taliban solders are Afghanistan peasants, but not allowed to vote. The Taliban has never invaded another country and has no intention to do so. They only want their country back, even if they would make it a hell on earth for women and children.

Taliban is not a threat to the Americas. Get the war hawks out of the White House and congress and the munitions makers and bring our soldiers home.

President Obama needs to do that as soon as possible. It is a lie like the one during Vietnam War. It does not concern us. So we didn't get bin Laden. He is nothing anymore. Bring the men and women home as George Will suggested. And bring home the contractors back too. I hear there are more contractors than American soldiers there now. Mercenaries.

Sins Of The Fathers...

Appeared Fri., Sept. 11, 2009 in the San Angelo Standard-Times and the Brownwood Bulletin, two of the best West Texas dailies.

The weeks of ranting and raving that President Barack Obama was going to pollute the minds of our school children with socialist ideas; push his health care plan; found a youth corps like Hitler; make kids wear Mussolini brown shirt-type uniforms; proved to be only the willingly uninformed "unwashed masses," as the great sports writer Blackie Sherrod would write in the old Fort Worth Press, and proved the ranting slander and raving rumors to be only that.

I read of a Broadway show critic who grew weary of going to the theater and was fed up writing about the same old musicals and dreadful dramas. So he decided he would just read publicity packets about a show and write some glowing words about it without taking in production.

He always got his stories in early. For a while it went well. Then one night a theater caught fire in the middle of the second act and pandemonium erupted out into the streets. The next morning's paper printed how much he enjoyed the third act that night. Some proof reader probably lost his job as well as the critic.

You can be sure your sins will find you out! I don't care much for picking around in the Bible to prove a point, but this last phrase of the King James Bible, Numbers 32:23, is so clear and to the point, I had to throw it into the mix. (Read on, there is a point to this use of scripture.) This phrase of a verse is pretty final. Not that "your sins might find you out," or "some of your sins will find you out," but the ancient writer wants you to be sure you realize your sins will find you out! Tack on the word in the Ten Commandments that says the sins of the fathers can be visited on the sons for generations.

I am sure those who take the Holy Bible to be without error will understand this phrase immediately. Most ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists Christians admit to the inerrancy of scripture. I don't share that viewpoint, though the spiritual message throughout the Bible is one I appreciate, value and believe.

I was at the grocery store right after the president's talk and I asked the lady behind me at the checkout counter what she thought of the speech. She said she was a teacher and it was not shown in San Angelo schools. She was looking forward to seeing it though. I could tell she was not in favor of the frantic decision not to allow students to view it live.

The overwhelming vehement opposition to our president giving a speech to our school kids was a most unexpected phenomenon to me. I don't know much about how the Methodists, Presbyterians or Roman Catholics reacted to the proposed speech, but I have been flabbergasted (a real word and sick feeling) at the response of all kinds of Baptist in our land.

"Unhinged Southern Baptists, Republicans Slam Obama's School Speech," is an essay by Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. His closing words in the essay have been in my mind for years.

Editor Parham has much more access to the smears, accusations and the like from Baptists across the nation than I have. I do know there is an uncanny lack of appreciation among too many "active" Baptists. At one church, back when we went to mid-week suppers, I was told by someone-old-enough-to-know-better that Obama was born overseas and was a Muslim to boot.

I am glad I am from West Texas and not the north Texas county known as Oklahoma. They have two senators in Washington who are nearly as determined as Senator Snake-in-the-Grass (that is what a friend of mine called the senior senator from Iowa), to see our president fail. Plus an Oklahoma state senator who compared Obama to Saddam Hussein or the emperor of North Korea. Obama starting a cult of personality.

I don't know if any of these senators are Baptists or not, but Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern said Obama's speech would be "more about indoctrination of students than education." Her husband just happens to be Steve Kern, pastor of the Olivet Baptist Church, somewhere in Oklahoma. He agreed with his wife.

Go online and read the many respected Christian groups who do not like having a black president.

Now to the subject that has been in my mind and heart for more than a generation. Robert Parham is the first to write about "my dreaded idea." It is this: when back in the 1950s our courts ordered desegregation in our schools, the race was on for the whites and their children to flee to the suburbs. That was to keep the white children from black children in public schools. Private schools or academies sprang up all over the country, many were begun by white churches. That is the legacy of private schools today.

It should make reasonable people look at history and look at the hatred toward a black president (remember there was no gripes when Reagan or George H.W. Bush did the very same thing). Are the sins of the fleeing whites being visited upon their sons?

Many on the street and in congress opposed civil rights after the court decision to give blacks equal opportunities to study. The south turned Republican in those days and is not over it yet. Parents opposing civil rights, 100 years after blacks were supposed to have them, has continued opposition to blacks from generation to generation.

Robert Parham closed his essay with this question: "Is that what this unhinged moment is really about—racism from generation to generation?"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Obama won't air in SAISD!

Our school kids are denied hearing the president next Tuesday.

The Friday morning (Sept. 4) newspaper of the San Angelo Standard-Times had the most disappointing headline I have read in years: '"OBAMA WON'T AIR IN SAISD (San Angelo Independent School District).

Carol Ann Bonds began to get e-mails with demands, threats and all kinds of excuses that President Obama's speech of encouragement to school kids not be shown. Some would keep their children at home. Man, what an example of stupidity that is for children.

Some excuses for going along with the boycott were it came during lunch hour, not enough monitors and just too hard to adjust the schedule.

The Fox Television News and right-wing nut radio "performers" have done a good job of spreading fear about anything our president does or attempts to do. They have called him a Nazi without knowing what real Nazis did.

Time to call things as they are: many in this country are just not ready to admit a black man can be president. This one has too many progressive ideas as over against the status-quo.

Rep. Mike Conaway, the San Angelo congressman, said he "hoped the president would refrain from politicking while addressing our nation's children."

Evidently he has yet to read what I wrote him about heath care and the need for a public option. Did he question George W. Bush's talk to school kids? Did he wonder about the great communicator-actor Ronald Reagan's talk to them back in the 1980s? No one on God's green earth lifted a finger or protest.

Fear and a condescending attitude against blacks, pushing the boundary of hate, is learned at home by parents with that perception.

Time to get real, folks, this "revolt" against our president has sunk to an all-time low. Birthers, "he's a Muslim," "He wants socialism," "He's a communist." None of this hogwash the right (even some congressmen/women) continue to harp on such. Men carrying guns to one of Obama's speeches, just because they can, is playing with fire.

American is going to need more than good luck to pull out of this self-induced injury of the blind leading the blind.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dealing with addiction


After reading the story of Bob West, long-time sports editor of the Port Arthur (TX) News, I have to admit to being heart-broken. My thought is same as his, tell the story so other young people are not trapped into losing their common sense -- and freedom. Bob titled the piece "Dealing with son's prison sentence only way I know." Here is his column of last May as it appeared in the Port Arthur News, Port Arthur, Texas:

PORT ARTHUR — Readers who turn to this space on Sundays looking to be entertained with a collection of odds and ends from the sports world will have to forgive a devastated dad for deviating from the norm. Sports moves to the back burner after you've spent a week in a courtroom and seen your son sentenced to 65 years in prison.

I've spent the past few days wrestling over whether to address Damon's sad situation in a column and finally decided it was something I needed to do. Among the many reasons leading to my decision was an outpouring of love, prayers and compassion from family and friends, and from some folks my wife, Genie, and I don't even know.

These words on a card from Betty and Gene Scott sum it all up. "If you could listen to all the thoughts going out to you now, you'd hear a symphony of warmth and caring."

So where do you start to explain how the high school quarterback, the All-American boy, the kid most everybody from his hometown really liked could end up breaking our hearts? In this case, the answer is as simple as two words -- methamphetamine addiction.

That's another reason I wanted to write this column. If I can reach one kid, one parent with the human tragedy crystal meth made of Damon West, it will be my greatest achievement as a writer. Hopefully I can connect with more than one because this insidious drug is all too available.

Anybody with concerns should go to the web site usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs5/5049/ Jumping off the top of the lead page in bold letters is the quote, "The first thing people on methamphetamines lose is their common sense." It gets more eye-opening from there.

Damon lost his common sense, his grasp of reality and eventually his freedom. He wasn't the same person who left home 15 years ago with a football scholarship to North Texas, the same guy who as recently as 2004 was impressing heavyweights in the Democratic party as a fund raiser for presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.

The downfall began after he moved to Dallas in 2005. Our alarm bells started going off a year or so later. He began dating a stripper who was bad news and told us he was working for a limousine service and on the side buying things to resell from storage facilities. At times he would get belligerent with us over the phone.

We began to suspect drug use. On the rare occasions he came home, we pleaded with him to get out of Dallas and move back in with us. I sent a dear friend from Houston, Barry Warner, to try and deliver the same message. Our words fell on deaf ears. Somehow we should have done more. But what? You can't grab a 30-year-old and forcibly move him? Not when he's sold his soul to meth.

So now Damon sits in a jail cell, awaiting assignment to the prison system. There is no question he was guilty of being involved in a massive string of burglaries. The evidence was overwhelming. I can't even begin to describe how much it hurt to listen to the testimony of victim after victim put on the stand by the prosecution.

Equally painful was watching some of the losers trotted out to testify against him. Two of them had to be brought from their own jail cells. These were people the Damon we used to know would never have associated with. But his common sense was long gone.

Nothing we saw or heard, however, prepared us to hear a sentence of 65 years. Murderers, rapists and child molesters don't get that kind of time.

Actually, since he was a first offender and there was compelling testimony from a state-paid psychologist and psychiatrist who did extensive testing on him, we hoped for probation.

Our desire was to get him in a drug treatment facility, then bring him back home under a strong probation and community service requirement, and have him speak about what meth had done to him at any school that was receptive. Included in the testimony presented by the doctors who interviewed him, and put him through batteries of tests, was that he'd been sexually molested by a baby sitter at age nine ( we knew about it and he received counseling), that he suffers from attention deficit disorder (we didn't know), that he was not a sociopath and that what he needed most was drug rehab.

The investigator working with Damon's legal team said we assembled the strongest lineup of character witnesses he'd ever seen. Included was former Texas land commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Garry Mauro and Arthur Schecter, a Houston attorney and a former ambassador to Bermuda under Bill Clinton.

Both had worked closely with Damon during the 2004 campaign. Schechter even gave him the keys to his River Oaks mansion to come and go as he pleased when in Houston.

Also testifying on his behalf was his priest where he attended church in Port Arthur, Father Don Donahugh, his high school football coach at TJ, Mike Owens, and his godfather and former editor of the Port Arthur News, Bill Maddox. His mother and I were also put on the stand.

Ultimately, it didn't make any difference. Even though no guns were used and none of the victims were ever physically confronted, no mercy was shown. Using a fairly new law that holds when three or more persons are involved in burglaries it can be treated as organized crime, they buried him. He's not eligible for parole for 15 years. It's doubtful he'll ever get the drug treatment he needs.

Meanwhile, Genie and I are struggling and shedding a lot of tears but we'll be OK. Ditto for Damon's brothers, Brandon and Grayson.

Although our love is unconditional, we're alternately furious with Damon for destroying what could have been such a productive life, and consumed with grief over the loss of that caring, charismatic kid who left home 15 years ago with such big dreams.

Above all, we hope and pray meth doesn't bring down someone else's child or loved one. Since this sordid chapter in our lives began, we have learned Grayson's wife had two brothers driven to suicide by meth addiction.

In closing, we want to thank everyone who has reached out to us, and those who have wanted to but just didn't know what to say. Your thoughts and prayers have been a blessing.

For those who would like to send a good word to Genie and Bob, He can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

This story first caught my eye on sports pages of the Houston Chronicle where Baylor grad and pro sports writer John McClain wrote about the situation.