Monday, December 29, 2008

A little doodling

Jesus doodles in the dirt as the Pharisees bring a woman accused of adultery, a capital offense, to get Jesus opinion. Lives hang in the balance here. The woman's life of course, but Jesus life too in a manner of speaking. This is a test, and if Jesus assents to the Pharisee's verdict, things will go much easier for him. If not, they have evidence against him.

No wonder Jesus starts to doodle in the dirt. Was he giving himself time to think? The Pharisees time to reconsider?

Whatever Jesus was doing, it worked. Jesus arrived at the perfect answer. And, he gave the Pharisees time. To their great credit, they dropped their stones and walked away. Other mobs have not.

Be conscious about how you reach decisions today. Is there space built into the process for the Holy Spirit? Truth seldom arrives on a time table. If you're not sure, maybe a little doodling is in order?

help Obama stop torture

Take action now, through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture

click here

Friday, December 19, 2008

The season's first snow

It’s starting to snow here. The first predicted snow of any appreciable amount this season. I am sitting in the kitchen by the window with my coffee, watching the tiny flakes dropping from the sky between the winter-stripped forsythia. Falling with a certain urgency in light of the forecast of up to six inches of accumulation.

It’s strange how quiet everything suddenly becomes now that I am aware of the snow. As though some small wheel of the cosmos is back on its rail. The snow will continue to fall, regardless of how I conduct my day, just as it arrived of its own accord. The snow falling never lets me get too far away from now and the accumulations of the present moment. We are on two parallel tracks, companions and adversaries at the same time. We share this day, whatever this day brings. It’s challenges and its blessings are happening at this very moment. I am content to see how it will all unfold.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

GM exec makes more than the top 37 Toyota execs combined

We've been hearing about the UAW auto workers needing to take a pay cut to help out GM. The Republicans have laid a large share of the responsibility for GM's trouble at the feet of the UAW. And yet the difference between the hourly wage of the average GM auto worker's wage and the average Toyota (and Honda and Nissan for that matter) is negligible.

However, the combined wages of Toyota's top 37 executives is 121 million... or, to put it another way, the equivalent of the yearly salary of GM's CEO. One GM exec gets paid as much as 37 Toyota execs.

Clearly, the UAW and the GM autoworker is NOT the problem here...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Smiling banned in Indiana

Whatever you do, don't say CHEEEZ!


My father is singing
in the photo on the refrigerator.
It’s an impromptu portrait,
the last time the family was together
and, as is almost always the case,
no one knew it at the time,
but you know it now
so you feel like God
when you look at it
on your way to a midnight snack.

There are dishes waiting to be cleared
from the table in front of them
empty glasses, glittering forks.
My father’s hand rests on the shoulder
of the sister who took him in at 14.
She is not singing,
she is almost smiling
gazing off to the left.

My father’s younger brother
and an older sister
are singing with him.
Their arms are linked
at the elbows,
mouths in perfect O’s.

My mother and my aunt are smiling
standing by their husbands
as though they’d just decided
at that very moment
their lives had been good.

Rudy is dead now,
Lois (the one smiling) is dead,
Uncle Chickie is dead,
two of the sisters
dissolving into laughter; dead
and the one still singing; dead.

My father is dead too.

There is this terrible line between
is and was
and it moves so swiftly
you can barely see it
and maybe that’s why
we love photos like this
why we plaster them on our refrigerators
and invent ingenious things with magnets
to hold them there.
They are emblems of what could not be spoken
and what should not be forgotten
they are talismans of the sacred
wadded in the pocket of an old coat.

A family
standing shoulder to shoulder
side by side
hands tentatively resting on each other
like small blessings,
singing a German song
from the immigrant childhood
that marked each of them
in different ways
and there is a sense of reconciliation
you come to see in time
that thing which comes after hope
the moment someone sings the first bar
of something
and the rest join in.
In photos
as in the heart that cherishes them
they do not stop singing
until the song is finally done.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

I just got back from our community Thanksgiving service. It was held this year at the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I always enjoy being together with the community, being able to worship without having any real responsibility for what happens. And I always feel vaguely like an imposter among my “amen-ing” “thank you Jesus-ing” black colleagues. Coming from a catholic, liturgical tradition, we speak a different language. Or at the very least, a different dialect.

Everyone there tonight was black, except for me, and I was glad that I was there, my whiteness exaggerated by my white alb and stole. It was a reminder of how deeply segregated our religious life is, and I felt my being there was a sign of hope. And, I think the worshippers appreciated my being there too, for the same reason.

The worship was right out of the AME order, I suppose. I don’t want to criticize. I was more grateful to be able to worship tonight than ever. And there was a sense of warmth there tonight that I appreciated. It helped me ease some of the heaviness of spirit I came there with tonight.

But I felt like the proverbial Martian, seeing practices for the first time and trying to make sense of them. For instance, the point in the service where everyone was invited to come to the altar and leave their worries with God.

“The altar is now open,” the presiding minister declared, and two ushers promptly closed the rail around it. Then people came up and knelt at the altar rail, where pumpkins and squash, and apples, and bananas from last Sunday’s harvest Sunday, (for us Christ the King) were still lined up and people came and knelt at the rail with the pumpkins and the fruit and scrunched up their faces because they were at the altar and thus where praying harder.

I wonder, what was here at the altar that was not there in their seat? Is God MORE present here than there? The practice seemed to mimic the Eucharist, yet it was all up to me. Meaning that I had to come forward and FEEL something. Something only I could feel, and in that it was very private. No wonder there was all that scrunching of faces.

In the Eucharist, you come and gather around the table of the Lord for the sacramental meal. You receive the bread and the wine. The experience is outside of me. Sure it means something different at different times. Sometimes it is deeply moving and sometimes your mind is thinking of other things. But the point is, the experience of taking and eating, taking and drinking, is not a private emotional concoction. It comes from outside of me, and in that sense I can only receive it. I can't control it. Which to me, says something very important about God.

God is intimate, as near as my own heart beat, my own breathing, and still God is other than me. I come into the presence of God, and am fed by God in the process. God is not my thoughts, my emotions, my feelings. God is a piece of bread placed in my hand, a cup lifted to my lips received in the context of faith.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Right now

Right now, the rain is clattering down the wall outside my study window, where the downspout is missing. It gathers in a puddle in the yard, and it sounds like a deluge, but I don' think it is really raining that hard. As I contemplate the start of my work day, trying to decide where to begin, I wonder if there isn't a downspout missing in my psyche, as the tasks seem so difficult to plow through. Is it really raining that hard, or am I just standing in a puddle?

My prayer right now, thanks to an old John Prine song that just came to mind:

That's the way that the world goes 'round
You're up one day, the next you're down
It's a half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown
That's the way that the world goes 'round

Monday, November 24, 2008

This photo was taken by Joe Hodges at our 110th anniversary celebration, October 26, 2008. More to come on the e Star.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday night

Sunday nights are usually quiet for me. I wonder, how many other clergy feel a kind of let down on Sunday nights? As I reflect on the day, there was so much to feel good about. New people in worship again this week. The Spanish and the English combination is finding its own level in the liturgy. It was good playing the guitar after worship and developing ideas for a new bi-lingual liturgy. I am grateful for having music and the guitar back in my life again. I wish I could just play on a Sunday morning. Maybe I’ll join another church incognito, and play in their praise band or something on a Saturday night. There’s an idea.

Here at the end of the day, I feel the clashing needs of people, like a great wash of tides, or water in a bucket sloshing up against the sides. It feels unending and ungainly. We come before God to worship, lifting up our hearts to the Lord, dragging the weight of who we are like a ball and a chain along behind us.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What happy people don't do

Interesting article about the habits of happy people. Or more precisely, what happy people generally steer clear of. I wonder though, does their happiness lead them to these choices, or do the choices produce happiness? My sense is that happiness leads one to make choices, but an unhappy person making those same choices will not necessarily make a happy person.

If so then, what is happiness and where does it come from?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I am not ready...

I am not ready for this:
the cold
the dark at 4:30
exaggerating the sense of refuge
in this room where I write this.
I have gone through this entire day
tailed by something like sorrow.
In the twilight it crosses the threshold.
The wavy glass in the window
drifts closer without the light behind it
to hold it back.
Soon there will be nothing
but HERE.
The clock ticking on the wall
is final and unforgiving
The lamp on my desk
burns brighter
with each thunderous stroke.

copyright Charles Oberkehr

Friday, November 14, 2008

The evil still among us

As hopeful as the last week has been, evil sends a reminder that it is still present among us, and will have its say. I am wondering how to deal with this story in church on Sunday? One thing, it shows how important kindness is. How those that take on the task of reconciliation and choose the difficult work of living together are desperately needed now. We must look evil in the eye, even when we see our own worst selves looking back at us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What is wisdom?

Sent from a friend, an intriguing study....

Friday, November 07, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

And then overnight, the world changed...

As I do most mornings, I went to the gym the morning after the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. I was going up the stairs to the locker room and a black guy was coming down on his way to work out. We passed each other and our eyes met for just a moment. We nodded, exchanged a brief howyadoin and continued on our way.

But there was something different about our exchange now. We both knew it. In the space of even those few seconds you could measure easily just how much the world had changed. It had happened literally, overnight. In the space of a casual glance, an innocent pleasantry that happens without a second thought a million times a day between strangers, we both had an “aha” moment. Everything was different now.

It felt like getting a pair of new glasses. I remember when I would put a new pair of glasses on and the first thing I would see was how much I had been missing. The edges around everything were suddenly sharp enough to cut. The world is wavy in its clarity and your legs feel wobbly until your brain acclimates to the flood of visual information your eyes are feeding it. A new world bursts open and while the brain struggles to process it, the eyes can’t get enough. Everything is there in its glorious splendor and it’s all waiting to be seen.

With the election of Barack Obama, the country and the world have just gotten a new pair of glasses. We are all walking around now marveling for a moment at how much we were missing. New maps need to be drawn to accommodate this new territory. New assumptions need to be made about each other and most importantly, about ourselves.

In time, we will acclimate to the new world that has blossomed right before our eyes. The ground will firm up beneath our wobbly legs. But for now, every casual meeting is full of a spontaneous humanity and a marvelous potential. We have stepped out from behind the tedious roles of our history. We have lowered the familiar mask of expectation behind which our humanity is demeaned and dismissed and for this one moment at least, we have seen each other. Who are we now? What will we become? The question in all its glorious potential, is asked now even in a casual nod. A routine howyadoin?

This is where the work begins and yes, this is where the fun starts…

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Laugh Lines: ‘Endorsements Are Important’

Aired Monday night on CBS: Congratulations to everybody who ran the New York City Marathon yesterday. And a special congratulations to this year’s winner, Joe the runner.Tomorrow marks the end of the presidential campaign, and Sarah Palin decided to celebrate early by charging one last $1,500 blouse to the campaign.By the way, they’r

read more | digg story

Samuel Wurzelbacher Vs. CNN's Rich Sanchez

Sam Wurzelbacher, AKA "Joe the Plumber", gets grilled by Rick Sanchez after weeks of essentially stumping for John McCain.

read more | digg story

Waiting for results...enjoy this Daily Show clip

Voting Report

My wife Gloria and I had about a 30 minute wait this morning to vote for Obama. An eclectic group of people were on line with us. Many first time voters. Touching to see how they dressed up for the occasion. The man in front of me wearing a new black cord shirt with fresh jeans and a new black Nike baseball hat to match. ANGEL was tattooed in faced blue ink on the back of his neck under the collar.

An elderly man in a blue suit and tie, with a brown knit ski cap and snapping his fingers by the ear of a little Hispanic boy, looking away when he turned around. He is holding a brochure in Spanish for new citizen first time voters.

Epiphany is right across the street from the polling station, so I put out our welcome table, some chocolates that didn't go at Halloween, and information about the church. Oh yes, and our torture banner was moved front and center.

The world is changing. (The banner is part of our participation in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It reads, "EPIPHANY LUTHERAN CHURCH SAYS: TORTURE IS WRONG"

Friday, October 31, 2008

Something scary for Halloween

Interview with John Updike

Follow this link for wonderful interview with John Updike. The celebrated author shares his thoughts on the candidates, the presidential election, and his home state of Pennsylvania. Many valuable cultural insights...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On a dark rainy morning...


The day starts in darkness
No clear beginning
Thunder, a surprise guest
Dragging its heavy bag across the sky
Rain fingers drumming the windows
Keeping time with the wind
There is something pleasing
About all of this
About the lamp burning above the sink
Ricocheting light in the stainless steel
The cream of wheat simmering on the stove
The newspaper folded on the table.
Something the bright sun
In a clear uncomplicated sky
Cannot compete with
The interior landscape lingering past
Its appointed bounds
The night’s dreams perched
Like a snail’s
Spiral button on your back
If there is something missing
Something more to need or want
There is coffee
And there is Mozart on the radio
And there is an hour
Before you must be
Somewhere else.

copyright Charles Oberkehr 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

what if things were switched?

I received this in an email from a friend. It touches on something that has been bothering me throughout this election season, but haven't been able to articulate. The email follows below:

Ponder the following:

What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?

What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident, when she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Obama had met his second wife in a bar and had a long affair while he was still married?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five?
(The Keating Five were five United States Senators accused of corruption in 1989, igniting a major political scandal as part of the larger Savings and Loan crisis of the late 1980s and early 1990s.)

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

What if Obama couldn't read from a teleprompter?

What if Obama was the one who had military experience that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?

What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on many occasions, a serious anger management problem?

What if Michelle Obama's family had made their money from beer distribution?

What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?

You could easily add to this list. If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Educational Background:

Barack Obama:
Columbia University - B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.
Harvard - Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

Joseph Biden:
University of Delaware - B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.
Syracuse University College of Law - Juris Doctor (J.D.)


John McCain:
United States Naval Academy - Class rank: 894 of 899

Sarah Palin:
Hawaii Pacific University - 1 semester
North Idaho College - 2 semesters - general study
University of Idaho - 2 semesters - journalism
Matanuska-Susitna College - 1 semester
University of Idaho - 3 semesters - B.A. in Journalism

Education isn't everything, but this is about the two highest offices in the land as well as our standing in the world. You make the call.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bill Maher and religion...

The least interesting thing about the comedian Bill Maher is his take on religion. He's against it. There, that's about all you need to know.

But Maher can't leave it at that. He feels compelled to attack religious beliefs and the people that hold them. His attack barely rises to the level you might expect from a 7th grade confirmation class.

Maher even goes so far as to make an entire movie about it. "Religulous" a documentary style film along the lines of "Borat" is in the theaters now. Some are wondering about its impact on evangelism. I figure the people who would find this appealing beyond its comedic entertainment value are not going to be prime targets for evangelism anyway.

There is more than enough to criticize about religious beliefs, and the way those beliefs are practiced. Especially in America, where Christendom as Kierkegaard skewered it so effectively, is alive and well. (See Attack Upon Christendom). Maher offers little in the way of insight. His critiques are as infantile as the beliefs he is ridiculing.

Maher simply offers the flip side of the fundamentalist coin. He seems unable to conceive of a truth beyond the level of "fact". A fundamentalist seeks to establish the literal truth of scripture, which is as silly as the atheist (Maher) seeking to establish the literal falsity of it.

Truth, at its most profound level, is not found between the fundamentalist bookends of true and false. That's the stuff of a pop quiz. Let Bill Maher slug it out with Robertsons, the Dobsons and the big box churches. That argument produces more heat than light.

The truth that transforms hearts and lives is found in the "fabrications" of poets and painters, writers and storytellers who understand that truth is never the servant of fact. Fact serves the truth.

Truth lives where hope embraces doubt, where faith requires a great leap and while you are hanging there in mid air, before you land on the other side, truth is what you have to say.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Interactive state-by-state prediction map says Obama wins

An Election Map but it's not a poll. It's based on 50 underlying prediction markets that respond in real-time to breaking news, so the forecasts are continually updated, and proven to be accurate. And they're predicting that Obama will walk it.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life in Hempstead

Rate Tonight's Debate

Get involved, add some weight. Rate tonight's Presidential debate. Sign up here.

read more | digg story

Monday, October 13, 2008

McCain & Palin Twins Found [PIC]

Finally, the story can be told. The long lost twins of John McCain and Sarah Palin step into the spotlight.

read more | digg story

Friday, October 10, 2008

What's REALLY at the end of the rainbow...

Ok, so it's not a pot of gold, unless you're selling I suppose. But the price looks good anyway.

read more | digg story

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Next Stop...Hempstead

We’re getting ready for the final presidential debate here in Hempstead. Newsday ran a story this morning that no one, not even VIP’s, will have much luck in getting into Hofstra Wednesday night. I guess we’ll be watching on TV.

Demonstrators are getting organized. I get a few emails a day about the various demonstrations being planned. I think Hempstead Turnpike is going to be lined with people, shoulder to shoulder, from Hofstra right on down to the front of the church for most of the day. I imagine the Island is going to be one big grid-lock Wednesday.

Every day that passes now, there is the sense of momentum, an air of inevitability to the election. McCain is fading fast. He is morphing into a character out of Grumpy Old Men. Not even one of the leads; a supporting grumpy old man. He says anything now and contradicts himself, many times in the same sentence. It doesn’t matter. No one is paying enough attention to him now to bother correcting him. The conversation has moved past him.

Watching him is like watching one of those dubbed foreign movies. The mouth stops moving and the words keep going. Facial expressions flash across McCain’s face at random, unconnected to anything. More like tics really. Especially when he is trying to exude warmth. I remember him standing there at the beginning of the last debate, expressions cascading across his face like all the circuits in there were booting up. It was a little creepy.

What’s going to be interesting now is the future of Sarah Palin. Does she have a legitimate political future out of this, or does this constitute the sum total of her 15 minutes of fame? The comedy writers will be sorry to see her go. She is a gift from the comedy muse. It’ll be back to work for them once she rides off into the Alaskan sunset. The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live should give her royalty cuts.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Existential Algebra

Here's a bit of existential algebra. How much difference can one person make in the world?

I have tended to underestimate that, I think. As an artist, I have eschewed the role of 'activist' as being too limiting. Besides, my sense of anger too easily ties my tongue in knots. I wind up writing embarrassing rants that collapse at my feet under their own indignant weight.

Activism seems more goal driven. Art requires a willingness to end up in a different place than you intended when starting out. Which is to say, a willingness to be surprised. Art requires a certain detachment (from outcome) and paradoxically a sense of passion (translated hope). Therein lies the creative tension. How does one manage to maintain passionate detachment? It is easy to get out of whack. Writer's block, depression, cynicism step in to fill the gaps.

Underestimating the impact of the individual is one of those gaps. Everyone rushes in to proclaim a hero, and the artist hangs back. There are no heroes, how much difference can one person make? The hero walks hand in hand with the anti-hero. The sun casts its long shadow.

There is undeniable truth in that observation, as long as you recognize the limitations of it as well. It is not an excuse to do nothing and retreat into cynicism, or quietism, or defeatism. Instead, it is the opportunity to lay hold of your own destiny and not place it in the hands of someone else. Hero or villain.

How much difference can one person really make in the world? My answer. George W. Bush.

In eight years his incurious incompetence has changed the world in astounding ways. Mostly for the worst. Now, if one person's incompetence and unresolved father issues can produce such disastrous changes, isn't the opposite, the capacity for positive change, just as possible at the hand of one person? I believe it is.

If one person can be responsible for so much devastation, one person can also manage to turn it around. Which makes me hopeful for the coming election. Which moves me to be part of my world, with all its shortcomings. Which is to say, shoulder my share of the activist load.

I was never very good at algebra. But, in the midst of the terrible destruction and devastation of Bush years, I can be grateful to be coming out them with this measure of hope still in the social equation. No small feat.

Friday, October 03, 2008

VP's history

Well, I watched last night, and I saw Biden provided substantive answers. Palin provided an energetic presentation of scripted talking points and Bush slogans. She blantantly refused to answer questions for which she had not been prepped. She was completely thrown by the last question about what her shortcomings might be. Biden answered it with grace and humor, which led to his most effective and human moment of the night.

Palin did not make any huge mistakes like her previous interviews. But she never rose above the level of discourse you might get from a used car salesman (Can I callya Joe?). One trying to move a real clunker off the lot.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

VP Debates / What's at stake?

Roger Cohen, a columnist for the NY Times reports this morning that the actuarial risk, based on mortality rates, of Palin assuming the presidency should McCain win the election is about 1 in 6 or 7.

Cohen writes, "That’s the same odds as your birthday falling on a Wednesday, or being delayed on two consecutive flights into Newark airport. Is America ready for that?"

Good question, don't you think? I know I'll be thinking about that tonight while I watch the debates.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The elections

Take a look at the video bar, especially the interview with Katie Couric. It's painful to watch. I start to squirm watching it. There is a mad dash here to lower expectations in advance of the debate tomorrow night between Palin and Biden. I think it's too late. I've maintained all along that this election will not be as close as people have been predicting. McCain is selling his soul in desperation in a last ditch effort to win the big prize. And there is something unsettling about even looking at him now. He looks disjointed, like he's coming apart before our eyes. Sarah Palin makes him look sad and pathetic...and old when they are together. There is something unseemly about their sugar-daddy relationship. I guess I learned something important about myself, watching them. I can still be embarrassed.