The Air Conditioner Is Blowing

On Friday afternoons, the thermostat is supposed to be turned way up, so the office is usually hot and muggy.  We don’t work here after three on Fridays, so this is a great time to write, but usually it is too hot. This afternoon somebody forgot to adjust the AC, so I am cool.

The Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hired me to be their new minister.  UU’s, as we call ourselves, are very unusual people.  We create together a space where Hindus and Jews can light candles and sing songs alongside Pagans, Christians, and Atheists.  Everybody gets a capital letter in this crowd. And that’s the way it should be.  No religion should presume to have its own special punctuation.  The Greenville crowd has been very welcoming.  Kind emails and words spoken after services and meetings make me feel very different from the new kid in school.  Rather they make me feel like a minister buddy did in a recent email.  I’m house sitting for him in July and he said, “Use anything you can find.”  That’s a welcome.

I wrote a Radio Free Bubba piece about the Greenville Fellowship five or six years ago.  I said if you can’t find love there, you ought to quit looking.  They are a very loving bunch, as is my home church in Spartanburg. Ours is a love born in part of finding a lot of things that weren’t love in other places.  Prejudice, hatred, the cold shoulder, the critical judgment, and other forms of psycho torture can be found in some of the churches some of us have known.  Every church I’ve attended has offered some loving people, but there are also people who let their politics, their theology, and their tomfoolery get the best of them.  They stab you in the back and smile as they watch your knees buckle.  To be treated like that drives a lot of people out of more traditional churches, and many of us landed among the UU’s, searching for genuine religious freedom.  It’s in Greenville and Spartanburg and other UU communities I have visited.  It is calming like deep breath, assuring like a generous gift, and affirming like a warm word of encouragement.  And it is so reasonable.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, a church I left to become a UU, said we should let our faith be informed by reason.  The UU’s I have found are so reasonable.  I am so grateful for them.  It’s nice to celebrate that in an air conditioned office.  Now, to go adjust the thermostat.

As I pay attention to what is going on, I fall in love with everything

Duty called today.  I drove to four different events, took pictures, hugged, talked, told stories, saw people I have not seen in a long, long time, saw people I see all the time.

Tim Wilkerson, who is in a band called “Last Resort,” sang to me song lyrics I wrote 24 years ago.  That’s almost half my life ago.  He didn’t even know me when I walked up and asked his name, but as soon as I told him who I was, he started singing to me from “Crafted With Pride,” and “Cotton Mill Mama.”  He sang lyrics I don’t even remember, which I hear is not that uncommon for people who write songs.  There is a great story of Groucho Marx and T.S. Eliot meeting for the first time.  They started quoting back and forth to each other, each from the other’s famous material, but neither recognized his own work.  When they finally figured out what was happening, they laughed and just began to have a conversation.  Life lesson: we are not our work, sometimes we are just doing whatever we’re doing at the moment.

Met Mike Marlow’s daughter, Taylor, a delightful 10-year-old with plenty of spirit and dancing eyes.  Hung out with my dad’s classmates from Mt. Vernon High School, Class of 1938. Again lots of spirit and dancing eyes.  Ruth Jones and Evelyn Feree are particular favorites, but all six of the gathered classmates were perfectly delightful.  The other four were Lillian Hedin, Max Edwards, Hubert Atchley and my dad, Allen Jobe.

Ended up at Tanner’s Grove, the United Methodist church where I worked for ten years from ’93 to ’03.  There the hugs and kisses were the best, and the food was the best and the smiles were the best, and my beloved friend, Elaine Clark, asked me if I were really, really good, not just saying I was good.   Elaine and I have now had this running conversation for 16 years.  We want to know, really know, how the other is doing.  But Elaine has forgotten.  It doesn’t matter how I may hate to watch my parents age, or grieve the loss of daily contact with Luke, or wish things were different in a half dozen ways.  What matters is the basic glory of being in the mix, living, breathing, eating, sleeping, dancing (which I also got to do todaywith my sweetheart, Gabriele) what matters is being.  If I am paying attention to what is really going on, I am in love with everything.  That is so wonderful.  Thank you.  I love you.  Good night.

A Hippie Answer For Everything?

 

My son, Luke, 12, whom I worship, said he can’t go to the movies with me today because he has to mow the grass, pick up dog crap and wash the car.

I wrote him an email in which I said, “Try to feel love for all of life even as you mow the grass, pick up dog crap, and wash the car.”

His reply, “Do you have a hippie answer for everything?”

Life Is Good

Saw the now mass-produced slogan on a wheel cover, screwed to the back of a Jeep today, “Life Is Good.”  It sometimes feels insane to grab it and hold it the way I do, but it  is ultimately and finally the best lover, the truest friend, the steadiest company.  Life, those trees just ahead of me on the highway, those clouds, that blade of grass, they vibrate a universal energy that puts Exxon in the shade.  Sure Exxon makes enough profit to fight the war, but it can’t make even one blade of grass.  I vote for photosynthesis.

It has been that kind of day.  Good, good vibrations rock me out like I just might have found the best drug ever in deep breath and affirming oneness with the subatomic structure of gravel.  Yes, yes, yes!  I pound my dashboard and suck in another lung full, hoping nobody gawks at me at the red light or calls the law.  Even National Public Radio is failing to compare to the radio I pick up from those ducks crossing the road in front of me.  You go, you crazy ducks!

Ecstasy over the ordinary seems so unfashionable.  How could this be cool?  The man is driving a borrowed car, living with a friend, owes the IRS (Happy April 15, everybody) and his dentist and has about 150 copies of his latest book hocked.  This is not somebody we want our daughters to grow up to marry.  Yet, there he is shouting for joy because a sunbeam just cracked across a bank of clouds in the western sky.  Maybe he needs an anti-psychotic drug.  Oooh, there he goes again, taking another deep breath.

I love North Carolina

A dear friend, Susie Lentz, of High Point recently sent me one of those lists that lets you know you live in North Carolina.  If you take yourself too seriously, you can get offended by the stereotypes and gentle chiding found in this kind of reading.  But I take myself way too seriously, way beyond too seriously, so I see a little insanity in everything.

Here was my reply to Susie’s shared tomfoolery:

In the hills of North Carolina, yunz is a word.  It is second person plural.  The possessive of it is yunzes.  Example, “Is that yunzes truck out in the driveway?  What did yunz pay for it?”
The word “it” often requires an “h” in front of it.  As in, “Hit don’t matter.”  If hit really don’t matter, some of us might be heard to say, “Not airy a bit.”
In Eastern North Carolina, “r’s” have been eliminated except at the beginning of a word.  “They ain’t near as much water in the rivah as they used to be.”  The word “water” is also pronounced at least seven or eight different ways in North Carolina, one of which sounds a little like “wooder,” but not quite.  I honestly have no idea how to spell it.
Western and Eastern North Carolinians sound nothing alike, and it is amazing that we can communicate with each other at all.  Piedmont North Carolinians, especially those who have been to college, believe they have no accent at all, which just cracks me up.  In truth, they have beautiful accents. They just talk faster than the rest of us in hopes nobody will notice.

Making Ferrari Dream Come True

Caleb is one of Luke’s friends.  Luke is my incredibly cool 12-year-old son.  He knows a lot about rock bands, has just finished writing his first book, and plays a mean game of air soft.  But those are only a smidgen of the cool things about him.

Caleb is not Luke’s coolest friend.  Among Josh, Kane, Thoran, Devante, Blake, Daniel, and the rest of the gang, they all know who is the coolest of Luke’s friends, and there is only the slimmest chance that it might be Caleb.  I mean I guess, you know, it could be Caleb, because Caleb does play the guitar, and he is funny, like you know and stuff, and he stands around with this smile on his face like it really wouldn’t like matter if Luke’s dad thought he was like cool or whatever, because he knows, he is, well, you know he knows.

So, anyway, I’m like telling Caleb the other night it was nice of him to come over and thanking him and all like that, and so I say to him like, “I hope all your dreams come true.”  And he smiles and he says, “You, too.  I hope you get that Ferrari.”

It struck me.  Not the actual Ferrari, but the chance that I might dream of having a Ferrari.  How could he like get me so wrong?  Not that he isn’t cool and all, because obviously he is and all, but still, you know?  How could we go so wrong that our kids would think we dream of owning a Ferrari instead of cooking dinner for the world and turning gun into flower pots?  I’m pretty sure that Luke knows I don’t dream of owning or putting gas in a Ferrari.  Do Ferraris actually burn gas?  I don’t remember ever seeing one at a gas pump next to me and my 1995 Honda Civic, which is on loan from Luke’s brother, Pepper.  I haven’t actually owned a car in 19 years, but that’s mostly because I drove a company car for about ten of those years, then drove my mom’s old car until my niece needed it, and then Pepper moved to California so now I’m driving his old car which has 275,000 miles on it.

How many hungry children could we feed with the price of a Ferrari?  How many schools could we build in Afghanistan with the insurance premiums on a Ferrari? 

This piece was supposed to be about making dreams come true, because I realy do believe that is important, and I have been thinking about it all day long, and just now I got the chance to write about it, and so I guess this is one of my dreams come true, to write this piece.

Thank you for reading it.

Baby Jo In Three?

 

The Baby Jo Project now has five interested parties: all people who understand that a first line of defense against the ravages of poverty, child abuse, addiction, crime and other related social problems is probably pre-natal.  I say probably because I’m not sure. 

A first step feels to me like widespride acknowledgement that the problem is everybody’s problem.  Everybody will never acknowledge such a thing, but if most people, or even a huge activist minority, recognize that a prime source of crime, addiction, and related social ills could simply be addressed by stronger partnerships with mothers and fathers, when fathers are present in the lives of their children, that might be enough.

It feels to me as though it will take at least three years to get this off the ground.  We will need a community-based group (five interested parties, at present, live in three different communities,) more interested people, money, a strong vision and organizational structure.  These are all doable in the context of the resources available.  Private inviduals will have to gather and make the first moves, but that could happen in the next few months.  The model would be similar to Youth Empowerment, a nonprofit I helped found in 1996 that seeks to provide a wide range of services to at-risk kids.  One key is the word “wide.”  If we do not address the needs of pregnant moms nutritionally, socially, medically, financially, in every way imaginable, we risk dishonoring these women who would have to be treated like partners, not recipients of our charity.   Baby Jo’s mama deserves the same chances as every other mama.

Jo is a Scrabble word, Scandanavian in origin.  It means sweetheart.  The object of the project would be to make very baby the sweetheart of a wide network of care givers and encouragers, so that Baby Jo will grow up believing he or she is capable of the best possible life.  Keep an eye here.  It’s a big dream.

This Rain Is Good

People say a great deal about who they are with their attitude toward rain.  When Nanci Griffith lamented “Trouble In These Fields,” one of her complaints was against city dwellers who hope it never rains.  At the risk of a huge, “duh,” if it never rains, we will die.

The beautiful Christine who cries at Rocky’s Automotive in Forest City every time she talks about donating her hair to “Locks of Hope,” smiled the other day and asked, “Isn’t this rain wonderful?”  In two years back in the foothills of North Carolina, there has not been five straight days of rain before now.  Crops have died in the fields.  Farmers have carried extra debt to feed their cattle.   Drought has dogged our steps like some monster.

Sure, it’s no fun to run from the car to the house or the office or the store dodging mud puddles and having to wipe our glasses after a down pour, but what is that compared to having our water supply threatened?  Last summer, city officials in Atlanta began looking for sources of drinking water hundreds of miles away.  Asheville has been in a state of drought for over a decade.

It is striking to me that there are so few Christines in the world, so many people who do not understand how good this rain is.  “Boy, I sure hope it’s pretty this weekend,” still echoes around with a slightly insane undertone.  Pretty weather is a lovely thing.  Rain is our life blood, at the risk of overstaing the obvious.   Bless your heart, Christine.

And how about we drive less, consume fewer carbon fuels, consume less of everything in the hope of reducing greenhouse gasses that cause drought?  Well, yes, that too.

Weekend of Dreams Come True

 

One of the toughest lessons I have learned: everybody I like doesn’t like everybody I like.  It has shocked me and dismayed me and discouraged me for more than 40 years.  I used to believe that by pairing up wonderful, creative, magical, amazing people, and pairing up those pairs and introducing those foursomes to other foursomes, that pretty soon we would heal the planet.

Now, as both my hair and teeth are falling out, and my hair has turned the color of snow, I’m seeing, for the umpteenth time, how wrong that can be.

But sometimes it can be right.

This weekend I spent Thursday night, all of Friday and Saturday, and a good chunk of Sunday with Ilana Dubester and Gary Phillips, two of my favorite people.  Gabriele, my beautiful and amazing girlfriend, made it a foursome.  We played cards and Scrabble, including a Saturday night card game with Gary’s son, Jesse.  We also participated in a fund raiser Saturday night for Family Violence and Rape Crisis, a Pittsboro group that provides basic services to one of our most vulnerable populations, women and children who have been beaten and/or sexually assaulted.  I don’t know yet how much money we raised, but I was able to give $100 out of book sales, covered my expenses, and we likely rasied several hundred more.

It took the magic of bringing together people who may not like each other, but decided to work together for that one night.  Patty Dorian and her husband, Eino, were there.  Patty has been one of the sheroes of the women’s movement, and her presence there, along with Eino’s, didn’t just swell the crowd, but it brought her special brand of class and compassion.  The Sacrifical Poets, a Chapel Hill poetry team, were there, and Cain, C.J. and G. for George certainly rocked the house.  Young musicians: Austin McCall, E. Baldwin, and Ben Pates brought a special brand of energy to the evening that kept it high and glorious. 

Gary and I anchored the show with reading and singing that seemed to please the crowd.  FVRC co-directors Cathy Hodges and Jo Sanders added their presence, work, and love, along with other staff and volunteers from the agency.  Melody Troncale, who has left the agency to become a United Methodist Minister, gave of her time and energy in ways that lifted the results far beyond my expectations.   W.I.N.G.S., a group of Women In Nice Gowns, opened the show with dance and movement that left the crowd begging for more.  It could not have been wonderful for me, and others echoed the sentiment.

The following day, Gabriele and I sat with Carrie Bolton and Jock Lauterer to talk about a project to launch a new community newspaper to serve another at-risk population , a project Jock is shepherding.  Bolton is a veteran community organizer and community-based minister who has impacted the lifes of young and old through summer camps, day care services, and other outgrowths of her church work.  Listening to the two of them talk, I was stricken by the similarities of their dreams in using their talents to benefit the community at large.  Each is a larger than life character who has given nearly a lifetime to raising standards of community co-operation.  The same can be said of Dubester, Phillips, Dorian, Sanders, Hodges, Troncale, and a dozen other people who crossed my path this good weekend, this weekend of dreams coming true.

Allowing May Be The Key

Does life happen to us or do we happen to it?  Are we masters of our fate or ping pong balls on the ocean of life?  The conclusion I keep coming to makes no logical sense.  It feels like both to me.

Gabriele and I drove around in the aftermath of the big March 1 and 2 snow.  We discussed Neal Donald Walsch’s idea, shared by many, that we make our lives happen.  We not only choose our parents before birth, but we create, in concert with those around us, the scenes of our lives.  The New Age language contends we “draw to us,” the circumstancs of our lives.  As we were talking about “drawing to us,” the circumstances, a giant chunk of snow fell from a tree and smashed into our car.  Gabriele laughed as if to say, “There you go.  You drew that chunk of snow.”

But Byron Katie and my beloved college professor, Dr. Earl Crow, hold to the other camp.  Life happens to us.  We are ping pong balls on the ocean of life.  We could no more draw a chunk of snow off a tree than we could fly to the moon, based on our will, our desires, our subconscious thoughts.  We are pin cushions for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Holding to that second idea, it feels to me as though I (and I am not recommending this for you, unless it feels good to you,) would do well to do more allowing and less willing, desiring, checking my subconscious thoughts for evidence of elements that might draw snow chunks.  Snow chunks happen.  My allowing creates a space within my emotions to neither resist the snow chunk nor celebrate it, but rather to “just be,” in the wake of its crashing and splattering all over my car.  Gabriele likes to call herself, “the queen bee of the just be cause.”  Early on in our getting to know each other, I would say that I needed to figure something out.  She would say, “don’t figure anything out.  Just be.”

That is what allowing feels like, letting life be as I am myself, just being.  It feels like a lack of resistance.  I sell what books I sell, do the gigs I do, sell the ads I sell, take the care I can of Luke, Gabriele, my parents, my friends, whomever, whenever, whatever.  Life in such patterns is not a check list.  It is more a ride on the waves.  We let it happen rather than making it happen.  It happens to us.  We do not happen to it.

Twenty-seven years ago I said to a friend, “All that is needed is provided else all that is would not be.”  He said, “How can you believe that and run around like a chicken with your head cut off trying to care for your family, battered women, your job, your books, doing whatever to save the world, and I have an aunt who believes it and sits on a couch and waits for somebody to take care of her?”  Maybe there was something in both of us that was just allowing whatever, whenever.  Who knows?  What do you think?