Entries from February 2009 ↓

Have We Been Victims Of A Crime?

One of my mentors in the journalism business is Chapel Hill journalism prof, Jock Lauterer, who told me, “Never write in anger.”  We were business partners at the time, almost 30 years in Marion, N.C. publishing a weekly fish wrapper that is among the prouder accomplishments of my checkered past.

Maybe he should have added, “Never write when your emotions are raw, ragged, crumpled, and ready to be tossed in the trash.”  My dad has been the victim of a crime, maybe not a legal crime, but people have definitely taken advantage of his generous spirit.  The damage has been pretty serious.

But in that strange way life works, I have been asked to write about eternal damnation by a friend who had never heard of universal salvation, never knew the scholarship that basically debunks the whole notion of a God who would permit any of his creations to rot in a pit of eternal flame.  Beyond my dad, maybe we have all been the victims of a crime.

Imagine for just a moment that hell is a lie, that there is no eternal deep fat fryer where people writhe in pain for a trillion times a trillion years.  If there is no hell, a hell of a lot of gay people, criminals, drunks, drug addicts, poor people, mistake makers, and otherwise flawed human beings have been needlessly scared, brutalized, ostracized, and made to feel less than fully human by a lie that benefits only those who can cash in on it.

But here is an even more scary thought.  What if it’s true?  What if there is a place of eternal punishment, never-ending pain, and wholesale torture.  And what if that place is allowed by a God who claims to love all his children?  Who would worship a God like that?  Who would spend hard-earned money to build church houses where such a God would be worshipped and lifted up as the greatest thing imaginable or worthy of worship and praise?

True or false, the whole thing stinks to high heaven.  It is an idea that makes people feel utterly and completely void of any value, reinforces models of human behavior like war, child abuse, and worse.  It is awful.

My friend asked me to write down some of the scholarship.  Let me first reference the book, “God Does Not Foreclose” by David Lowes Watson.  His scholarship is awesome and his passion for a theology of universal love is truly inspiring.  Let me just hit a few high spots.

The words in the ancient texts which have been translated “eternal lake of fire,” and “hell,” are mistranslations.  While there are rare and obscure passages that allude to eternal punishment in Paul’s letters, there is nothing in the original transcripts of the Gospels which can be translated to mean eternal damnation.  The words have simply been twisted and reinterpreted over the years.  My dear friend, the late Rev. Charles O. Milford Jr., said the issue is not so much the words on the page, but the spirit of Jesus.  An honest look at the sacrificial love and determined compassion of this messianic figure can only lead to one conclusion: none shall perish, all will be saved.

My friend has asked me to write a book dealing with the subject, and write it I may, but here is an opening effort.  Let me know what you think.

Baby Jo?

Jo is a Scrabble world for sweetheart.  The dream is that everyone will have a sweet heart for babies, all babies.

When we were incorporating Youth Empowerment in 1996 to work with at-risk kids at the case management level providing them with services nobody else was giving, Vernon Hoyle said, “One vision is for everybody in Rutherford County to be working together for every kid in Rutherford County.”  He said it within my earshot about two or three days after I had heard O.A. Fish say the same thing, almost word for word.

These two men are extraordinary leaders who have touched the lives of generations to come because they understand that inspiring one young person to leave behind loser thinking touches not only that kid’s life, but the lives of the kids that kid will raise, to say nothing of the grandchildren and great grandchildren to come.

Poverty, crime, sexual tyranny, racism, every social rat trap you can imagine, almost all are born of family systems.  Wilfred McDowell, another Rutherford educator with a heart for kids, talked with me today about children who are taught to steal by their parents.  It is a radical example, but an example that proves again the obvious fact that little can be done to change things for young people until something is done to change things for their parents.

Over the past few years I have been talking with friends about a project that would provide intensive services, training, case management, whatever it takes in an alliance with pregnant moms, especially single moms, drug addicted moms, moms in prison, moms on AFDC, moms in public housing, the moms who stand to lose the most in a system that often ignores their needs.

Friday night I heard Leonard Orr talk about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children’s Zone, which offers an umbrella of services and has for over 20 years.  One of those services is called, “Baby College,” an alliance with pregnant moms that offers as one measure of its success the fact that 84 percent of its graduates are still reading to their babies two years after graduation.  Tada!  I knew somebody would probably already be doing it.  The model is there, and now Gabriele and I are going to begin researching how it’s done.  Wanna help? Comment below or email me at patjobe13@gmail.com.  We hope to start in Rutherford County, N.C.

Dance Lessons With Aging Parents

            Mom and Dad are not in great shape.  Some of you will not be surprised by this.  After all, between the two of them, they are 176 years old.  Mom has dementia, and Dad does not always remember the day of the week or the month.

            Mama said this morning, “I have absolutely no idea what I am supposed to be doing.”

            I told her she had already done everything, and I think at this point, she has everything under control.

            “You’re wrong,” she said and smiled as if to say she hopes I don’t mind her being so direct.

            She also said, “I need you.”

            Holy cow.

            “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” Daddy said as I left him with Mama.  Aunt Anita is picking him up after lunch to give him a ride home.  He hasn’t driven since he put his car in a creek bed last Wednesday night.

            “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” sounds a lot like, “I need you.”

            This feels like dealing with people who are drowning.  My heart is breaking.  I don’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my head.  It is like tightrope walking, only somebody forgot to go over the basics with me.  They just handed me a pole and said start walking that rope which is hung three hundred feet in the air without a net below.

            I need a net.  I need a sense of what to do, how to manage, who can help, how does one do this dance?

            I wrote all that yesterday, and today went better, but the obvious fact that both our parents need my brother and me and whoever else can throw a line is pretty clear.  It still feels like tightrope walking without a net, without training, without even knowing exactly who handed me the pole.

            When I was a kid, I reacted to the pain and suffering in the world much the way our daughter, Katie, did when she was six years old.  She was on the sofa with her mom and video started running about children starving in Somalia.  She started crying and screaming at the television, “Why doesn’t somebody do something?”

            As a small town newspaper man in the 80’s I discovered the answer to that question.  Most people are doing all they can just to get out of bed, go through the scenes of their lives and get back in bed at night.  And many, many people are raising kids or taking care of their aging parents, two things that are on my plate at the moment.  Many people work two jobs, as does my most recent ex-wife, who also is raising our son and taking care of her mother.  More of us don’t drop whatever we’re doing and rush to feed those kids in Somalia because we’re already doing all we can.

            Another story I love comes out of the Rabbinic tradition.  The farmer’s wife wants a bigger house, so her husband goes to the rabbi and asks what he should do.  The rabbi says move the chickens into the house.  You know the rest of the story.  After he has moved in the chickens, the cows, the horse, the sheep, the rabbi tells him to move all the animals back outside.  The wife cannot believe how big her house has become with all the animals out.

            Modern life for so many of us has become an animal house.  We’re going to be fine, one day at a time.

Remembering 1985, Is This A Cultural Change?

In 1985, the stock market crashed.  The value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 500 points in a single day.  People felt very panicky and a fairly serious recession followed.

The day after the crash I was in Annie Lee Epley’s office.  Annie Lee ran the local branch of Asheville Federal Savings and Loan, the company that held the mortgage on my home with whom I kept my checking and savings accounts.

I loved Annie Lee because she had helped me survive one of my business failures in 1981 and ’82, the financial collapse of The McDowell Express, during which I had gone ten weeks without a pay check and our company had piled up $60,000 in debt.

This was her reaction to the stock market crash. “The value of those companies (There are only 20 listed on the Dow) has not changed.  They have the same number of employees they had yesterday, the same cash, the same factories and equipment, the same trucks and company cars.  Things may get bad for a while, but this country has a good economic system.  We will be all right.”

Nobody knows less about money, economics, and what works in these system than me.  Well, maybe a bunch of fourth graders know less, but don’t put me up against your smarter fifth graders.  I’m sure there are plenty of smart fifth graders who know more than me.

So rather than offering up my ignorance, let me must ask you to consider Annie Lee’s reaction to the 1985 crash, and also consider some questions that I genuinely can’t answer.

When the stock market loses a third of its value, where does the money go?

In the exchange of stocks, is there not always a winner and a loser?  What do the winners do with that money when they take it out of the market?

Is the rough ride we are experiencing right now more than a pulling back in consumer spending and the collapse of certain credit instruments?  Is it not also a fundamental realignment in cultural values?  Could it be we are healing from  our national obsession with buying any cussed object off the shelf of a big box store?  Are Americans saying with their spending that they are tired of being defined by their spending?

Almost everything I know about anything I know from listening to NPR, and NPR has yet to explain to me what has happened to our economy, except this: I do understand that massive foreclosures have led to a virtual freeze in lending, which has led to a serious downturn in stock prices, which has convinced most of us that we should cut spending, which has cost about a half million jobs in just the past few weeks.

But NPR hints at another idea, this idea of a basic shift in cultural values, that we are not going to buy cars from either domestic or foreign companies until they prove their ability to run on alternative fuels and use less fuel.  We are going to buy products that come to market through fair trade.  We are going to recycle, reuse, and reduce consumption, even if it cuts into the profits of major retailers.  Of course, these trends are not universal or even popular among a majority of people in America and the rest of the world who spend money.  These trends would only have to be practiced by ten or twelve percent to rock the world’s economies and change everything.  And the examples I gave are only the tip of the iceberg.  Doubtless many of you can think of dozens of others.  The earth is shifting under our feet, at least in terms of this current economy.

It’s can’t be all bad.