Monday, January 19, 2015

...walking the lonesome road

In the end
we will remember
not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.

Dr. Martin Luther King
Born January 15, 1929
Assassinated April 4, 1968

The late Dr. Dow Kirkpatrick was the grandfather of my daughter's friend, Amanda. This is how I knew him. But his legacy reached beyond his loving family, beyond the churches he served. His actions ripple yet and today seems a fitting time to recall him and others whose lives impacted many. His obituary stated that he "preached racial harmony and social justice from the pulpit and beyond, undeterred by threats." And "spoke out on social issues ranging from racial equality to welcoming homosexuals into the church."

He was pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta from 1957-1962 during the turbulent days - and nights - of the civil rights era. His obituary also mentions that "he helped draft the Ministers Manifesto in 1957. That document, signed by 80 Atlanta preachers, is credited with helping the city desegregate peacefully. It is believed that St. Mark was the first white Methodist church in Atlanta, and probably the state, to receive black members."

The Ministers many remember? How many of today's generation have heard of this, understand the risk, the passion, the theology of this? To tell a bit of the story, I draw from a book written by Bob Shand, In My Father's House: Lessons Learned in the Home of a Civil Rights Pioneer:

The pastor of Atlanta's First Baptist Church, Dr. Roy McCain, delivered a sermon, "This Way Please: Facing Life's Crossroads", in October 1957. As described by Shand, he "demanded that Christians step up to their responsibilityto confront prejudice and ended with what would become a catch-phrase. There are times when silence is golden; there are also times when silence is yellow." [1]

His follow-up sermon asked "Who speaks for the South? College professors have been 'realively quiet'. Many of the South's politicians are interested only in getting votes, and the 'pulpits have been paralyzed'."  This was published by The Atlanta Journal and the late Ralph McGill, editor of The Atlanta Constitution, followed up by inviting a number of Protestant ministers to issue position papers about segregation. The paper ran thirteen weeks of those articles. Dr. Kirkpatrick wrote one and became on of the drafters of the Manifesto. The others included Dr. McDowell Richards, President of Columbia Seminary, Dr. Herman Turner, Rev. Milton Wood, Dr. Harry Fifield, Dr. Monroe Swilley, Rev. Robert E. Lee, Rev. Harrison McMains, Dr. Charles Allen, and Dr. Dow Kirkpatrick. Shand wrote that "these mens were chosen because, in most cases, they served the largest congregations in their denominations. At least the largest congregations whose pastor was willing to sign the document." [1]

The climate was deadly. Dr. Bevel Jones wrote, "Almost as important as the document itself was our method of gathering support for it. We decided not to mail it, for our adversaries could get hold of it and sabotage our efforts. Instead, the clergy comprising our core group glued the manifesto to tables at several designated churches. Then we wrote a letter to all Atlanta Area ministers whose addresses we could obtain, asking them to go by and read our manifesto and, if they would support it, to sign their names." [2]

The Atlanta Ministers' Manifesto of 1957 ran on the first page of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday, November 3: "Eighty Atlanta ministers have signed a manifesto presenting the first such declaration of beliefs on racial problems to come out of the Deep South." Here is the opening:

  • Freedom of Speech must at all costs be preserved.
  • As Americans and Christians, we have an obligation to obey the law.
  • The public school system must not be destroyed.
  • Hatred and scorn for those of another race, or for those who hold a position different from our own, can never be justified.
  • Communication between responsible leaders of the races must be maintained.
  • Our difficulties cannot be solved in our own strength or in human wisdom...but only through prayer.
Many pastors across Georgia joined in support. Two groups, the Colquitt and Tatnall-Evans Baptist Associations, came out in favor of segregation. And negativity remained among individuals. The fight within the white community had begun.

Fast forward to present day...and my words:
I've been treated with respect by believers and non-believers alike and hope that I return this to others. I've also been treated with complete contempt by representatives of both groups. Labels, in the end, mean little without appropriate actions. Love is a verb or it is nothing at all.

Where are the church leaders now? One of those liberal United Methodist leaders, Dr. John Rutland - whose life was threatened regularly, whose children were threatened with kidnapping, whose front yard regularly displayed burned crosses - often quoted this: the purpose of the church is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I am blessed to have known the late John Rutland and Dr. John Claypool. To now know people such as a young UMC minister in South Georgia, Arnie Raj, Mike and Barbara Harper and Joe Elmore who ministered to me at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church (and beyond), and an accidental e-friend, Roger Wolsey, Director and Pastor of the Wesley Foundation, at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is the author of a book I highly recommend, Kissing Fish, and one whose story I'd like to share in a future post.

At a national level, though, must we wait for utter desolation for a Dietrich Bonhoeffer to step up? Too many of the voices that once brought us together serve to divide us now. I pray to hear more concerns about human rights than trust funds and taxation. If we don't believe in a greater goodness, in what is best for all...if we don't "live simply so that others can simply live"...then we are well on our way to creating hell on earth. 

1. In My Father's House: Lessons Learned in the Home of a Civil Rights Pioneer by Bob Shands
2. Dr. Lewis Bevel Jones III, (born 1926) is a retired Bishop of the United Methodist Church and currently Bishop in Residence at Emory University's Candler School of Theology.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 i ended up in the back of a police car

I thought better of taking a picture inside the police car. 
This is the drive home from Home Depot later that week,
the last decorated tree in my lap. Cars figure heavily 
in my 2011 Christmas memories. 

The day started innocently enough. Bill was working up in Ukiah so I sent him a selfie from D-Dock. The bright sun effectively removed all my wrinkles. Just so you know, the brown fringe is my hair and the fuzzy black and pink frizz is a hat knitted by a friend. The overall effect is a punk haircut with a rad color job. But I digress.

After checking on the boat, I decided to walk the three blocks to CVS for a few essentials: toothpaste, lipstick, Christmas-y nail polish, and Dove hairspray. First I strolled through the town home community next to us to see the decorations, made a right on Regatta Boulevard, stopped, took off my jacket, and tied it around my waist...a happy woman. Then the day began to unravel at the next intersection.

One minute I was crossing the street, the next I was flying through the air after tripping over the curb. A hard crash ended my space exploration. After a significant pause, my breath returned but the thought of broken bones grinding against each other dampened my desire to move. About this time, a car pulled up next to the curb and stopped.

The first thing I saw was a pair of steel-toe lace-up boots covered in either a Jackson Pollack painting or slaughterhouse residue. As I started to rise,  a hand reached toward me. Then I saw four more boots that looked just like the first two.  When I gingerly rolled to one side before testing my weight, the car came into focus. Two dinged doors - each a different color - contrasted strongly with the body paint...all equally coated in muck.

Now, I'd heard stories of inner Richmond but I was nowhere near there. Evidently it had come to me. For better or for worse, I determined to meet it on my own two feet. With as much dignity as I could muster, I unfolded upward, then watched as pieces of my bracelet fell to the ground. The trio introduced themselves: Jesus, Howard, and Jamil. We were a rather ecumenical group. As Jesus retrieved the bits of my bracelet, Howard inquired if I was okay. I assured him that, other than a few scrapes and bruises, I was okay. Jamil thought they should take me to the hospital, an offer I politely but quickly declined.

Howard checked my arm which was bleeding through my good pink turtleneck. Jesus pointed out my ripped pants' knee and Jamil offered a ride to the ER again. Grace had ridden up, not on camels or horseback, but in a tatty old Dodge. They waited for a few minutes until they were assured that I was only a little worse for wear. I shook each of their hands and said, "I can't tell you how grateful I am for your kindness. What fine gentlemen you are." Each of them stood a little taller and grinned, then Jesus said, "You're not from around here, are you?" I told them that I am now and they welcomed me to California.

Hands waved out the car windows as they drove away and I gave them a thumbs up, then began the trek to the drugstore. Another car pulled up beside me, this time a black and white with a Richmond police officer inside.

"Ma'am? Are you okay?"

"Yes." I said that I'd fallen and was headed to CVS for a few things. My list had now morphed to bandages and Advil.

"Well, get in and I'll drive you."

"Oh, no. The walk will probably help me work out the stiffness."

"Nonsense. But you'll have to sit behind me."

As I closed the back door, my cellphone rang...Bill calling between patients. "Hey!" he said. "Had a minute and wanted to see what you're up to this morning!"

"Well, sweetheart, at the moment, I'm in a police car."

After a hurried explanation from me, Dr. Bill the PT explained how my neck issues and nerve damage had caused foot drop which in turn led to my fall. Post-diagnosis Bill reverted to my husband and VBFF, promised to call back in an hour,  said me he loved me and would be home by seven. I then became acquainted with Officer Chris. She was a delight. Told me about her upcoming class reunion and I discovered we had quite a lot in common. After a rather exciting roundabout route to avoid a long train, we arrived at the drugstore. She gave me contact info and once more inquired if I needed to go to the hospital. Both of us were laughing when I climbed out. I saw a man on the curb across the street, staring intently. But he wasn't nearly as interested as the woman who walked outside as I exited the patrol car.

Inside, the checker, Catherine, noticed my rips and scrapes. Another assurance was forthcoming. That morning Catherine, the widowed black mother of two, became my first regular "neighbor" in Marina Bay. Next time she saw me she told me she'd been praying for me. Until she transferred earlier this year, every trip to CVS was a hugfest.

Remember the gentleman seated on the curb? Well, when I walked out with my first-aid supplies, he called out, "You must rate. Pick up and delivery!" I waved again and limped home.

And that is how I ended up in the backseat of a Richmond police car and met my very own Kris Kringle, Officer Chris, and the Three Wise Guys.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

le temp perdu - leaving tracks

He sleeps by the railroad track where trains no longer run. Today I saw him at a distance while I waited for the light to change. He folded his sleeping bag, gathered his belongings, stooped to pet his dog. Then the two set out for a day of whatever it is a homeless man and his dog do.

Many Vietnam vets who arrived in California after discharge migrated north and stayed. Broken in body and in spirit, they were drawn by the beauty, the solitude of the giant redwood forests and the aptly-named Lost Coast. Drugs, you say? Their answer: 
Yes, please

Daily the social media is filled with memes that exhort the reader to honor and support our veterans. In the photographs some are physically whole, others aren't. Some admit to struggles with depression, with PTSD, drugs and alcohol. But I can't recall a photo of these broken wanderers. The sight is troubling. Hard to raise support when the needy appear so NEEDY. Ungroomed. A little scary. Homeless in America is a four-letter word: S.C.U.M. 

Shelters and support groups exist. But these broken ones have a trust problem: they have none. By all accounts, Vietnam was a debacle. No less than arch conservative George Will, in his August 6, 2014 Washington Post column, confirmed that Richard Nixon sabotoged the peace talks, promising the South Vietnamese that he would win the American presidency in 1968. South Vietnamese president, drug dealer and gun runner, General Theiu, boycotted the Paris peace talks. Greek tragedians and Shakespeare would have been hard-pressed to write a more convoluted tale of deceit...and worse. Hold that "worse" thought. Start with this list: 
Johnson's adviser, Henry Kissinger, alerted Nixon to the truce talks.

When Johnson called Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to say that this action was treasonous, Dirksen meekly responded, "I know." Nixon's actions violated the Logan Act (1797, Pres. John Adams) which bans "private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation."

Johnson confronted Nixon who lied and claimed to be shocked.

Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey by a narrow margin and named Henry Kissinger his National Security Advisor.

Now for "the worse":
Johnson wanted to go public with Nixon's treason but Washington insider and CIA-architect Clark Clifford counseled against this. In a taped conversation he said, "some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I'm wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and than possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country's best interest." Harvey Wasserman wrote, "In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn't handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution."

Of this cast of characters, Clark Clifford was later disgraced by his involvement with the Bank of Credit and Commerce which financed Al-Qaeda and damaged the CIA, an agency he helped found. Johnson lived a tortured existence for four years after he left office and died a broken man. Nixon won...then became the first president to resign. Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1973 for "negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968" and is still making the rounds of talk shows.

"The worst" stands alone. In just those four years between betrayal and peace...
     20,000+    US troops died in Vietnam. 
   100,000+    were wounded. 
1,000,000+    Vietnamese were killed.
In addition to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, I propose another commemoration, just outside the grounds of the Nixon Library: the names of those killed in the four lost years listed for all the world to see. I can think of no better way to remember our 37th president.

In the meantime, by railroad tracks and in deep woods, the countless unnamed can yet be found - some days, most nights - while I go home to clean sheets, good food, and a bath. Ain't it a crying shame.


Total U.S. troops killed:        58,220
Total U.S. troups wounded: 303,644

If you are interested, more about veterans memorialized on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC can be found here: