Friday, June 29, 2012

The Supreme Court Rules on My Blog Posts

Well, actually the Supreme Court ruled this month on two of my blog post topics. I don’t do political commentary every day – not even every week. On those occasions when I have written about political issues, the two most frequent topics have been healthcare reform and immigration.  I am pleased to report that this month the highest court in the land has backed up much of what I have been saying.  Indeed, June has been a very important month in addressing two big issues for our country. 

On Immigration

My blogging on immigration was mainly in response to Alabama’s harsh immigration law. The last time I commented on the Alabama law was on May 9 with “Our Immigration Dilemma. “
When my state refused to repeal or even budge on its Immigration law, even after the protests and the many requests from our citizens,  it became all too clear to me that Alabama will not do what is just and right in this situation unless and until the Federal government intervenes. I should have known this. The same was true with Jim Crow laws, civil rights and integration (but one can always hope that his state will do better).

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Arizona Immigration law, issued on June 25th, is a sure step toward correcting Alabama's law. As reported in The New York Times, immigration is a matter of federal jurisdiction , not individual states:

The justices make it clear that this case is about the power of the federal government to set immigration policy and to pre-empt, to a large degree, state policies that can infringe on that federal power. An expert on immigration law, Micahel A. Olivas, explained: "We can't have 50 different immigration policies, 50 different foreign policies."

The only part of the Arizona Law that the court tentatively upheld was the section that allows law enforcement to determine immigration status of someone detained for other reasons if there is legitimate suspicion. When this part of the law is enacted, it will likely lead to racial profiling which may then be struck down by the court.

So in short, there is some hope yet for justice. Will congress now embark on serious immigration reform?

On Healthcare

As for healthcare, I have had several posts in regard to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.  As a healthcare worker, I am all too familiar with the failure of our healthcare system to grant access to healthcare for many of our people. I am also acutely aware of how our insurance premiums are driven up by the many people who show up in our emergency rooms without insurance. Hospitals cannot not treat them, and the cost is passed on to those of use with insurance. Many of these uninsured patients cannot afford coverage. Some are unemployed; some have part-time jobs with no insurance benefits. It is all too clear that we need reform that will bring better access to healthcare and reign in the spiraling costs of insurance coverage.  My last blog about healthcare was on April 9th after arguments had been made before the Supreme Court in the case challenging legality of the Affordable Care Act and we knew that a decision would be forthcoming in June. I was obviously concerned at the time when I titled that essay, "Healthcare in the Courts: Checks and Balances or Partisan Gamesmanship?"

Much has already been said in blogs, in print, and on the airwaves about the significance of this landmark Supreme Court ruling in which Chief Justice Roberts sided with (and wrote) the majority opinion to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Ezra Klein has a good commentary about what this ruling will mean for the country by showing how it will affect real people in their day-to-day lives.

Take a deep breath and be not afraid

In both of these important cases that went before the Supreme Court, I am thankful that reason and justice tipped the scales over doctrinaire extremism and partisanship. So much of what we have heard from vocal opponents of "Obamacare" and from loud supporters of Arizona’s immigration law has been a reaction based on fear. The road ahead will not be simple or easy, but we must never let fear be our guide.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Images from a Deep Horizonless Night

Sometimes when a writer is prompted to produce something on the spot, characters just spring up from somewhere.  I discovered that I had some characters lurking in my subconscious that I previously had no inkling of. One day my friend Joe Saling posted the beginnings of a poem on his blog The Word Mechanic. He shared the first three lines of a poem:

Standing on the stateroom balcony
Peering into the endless black
Of a horizonless night

Joe said he could get no further with the poem and asked his blog readers to try to finish it and send him whatever we came up with.  I had the picture in my mind and just began writing. This is what came out:

Standing on the stateroom balcony
Peering into the endless black
Of a horizonless night
I couldn’t help thinking of that dame that walked up to me
Just a few hours before.
She had the look of a wanderer
But a wanderer who knew her way around.
Only tonight she was a lost kitten
With eyes as deep as that horizonless night.

“I know it must be fate, Mr. Marlowe,” she said to me,
“That on this night, when all seemed so hopeless
I should find you here.”

That’s what she wanted – hope on a hopeless night.
I had seen that look before.
Sometimes that look would lob a zinger
Right into the pit of my stomach.
Another needy client
Short on hope,
Short on insight,
Even shorter on cash,
But long on virtue.

I promised her I would see what I could do.
I wasn’t so sure about this beau she told me about.
I didn’t know if he was on the up-and-up,
But he obviously meant something to her,
And now he was nowhere to be found.
I don’t know why I agreed to it –
Yeah, I know why –
It’s because I’m a sucker.
A sucker for a cry for help,
A sucker to track down dead-beat scum,
A sucker to thrash out a little justice in this godforsaken city.
A sucker for the deep dark eyes
Of a helpless girl
On the edge of another horizonless night.

Several  months later, long enough for me to have put the stateroom poem out of mind, my friend Jim High from Mississippi posted on his Facebook page the following:

“To provide a little enjoyment, I would like my Facebook friends to comment on this status, sharing how you met me. But I want you to LIE!!! That's right, just make it up. After you comment, copy this to your status so I can do the same.”

This was my immediate reply:

It was a warm night in July. Some dame had sent me out to find the creepy low life that had promised to get her beau away from the Tupelo Mob.  Seems the green horn had fallen for the oldest con game in the book.  I didn’t particularly want to drive my ’71 Nova across the state line into the sweltering Mississippi night, but those soft brown eyes grabbed me in a way that I knew I had to put tomorrow on hold until I could see this one through.  I pulled into the Delight Hotel without a clue as to where to find the bum or how to get that dame’s lover out of harm’s way.

“Hey, mister,” I said to the guy behind the counter of the two-bit flop house. “You seen this guy?” I showed him the photo the soft- eyed blonde had given me of her lover boy, Preston.

“Yeah, I seen him,” he said. “Headed down Highway 145 about two o’clock this afternoon – said he had some business in Verona”

“Thanks, pal,” I said.

“Name’s not pal – name’s High. Jim High.

And that’s where the partnership began.

                                                         *     *     *     *     *

I am no psychoanalyst, but I am interested in what it might mean when characters take form within our imagination. When we dream, our subconscious mind will often latch on to archetypal figures to create a story. Often that dream story can tell us something important about ourselves if we can stop to hear what our subconscious is saying.

Here I am confronted with some images that I am sure I saw in the movies. There is a detective trying to figure things out. There is a beautiful, vulnerable and engaging young woman with captivating eyes. Not pictured is the boyfriend who somehow falls in with the wrong crowd and there is the thug whose actions are endangering the young man and have the young woman in a state of grave concern. What am I to do with this information?  Do I try to take a look at what these images might mean, or do I continue to write it out and see what comes of it? Sometimes it’s enough to make a fellow stop dead in his tracks, take a deep breath and peer into the endless black of a horizonless night.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

About My Father's Business: A Father's Day Remembrance

(For Father's Day, I am reposting a blog entry that first ran in September 10, 2010)

"I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves.” – Albert Einstein

Clyde Kinnaird
A friend once asked me, "What motivated your father to be different from those around him?" Certainly that is the underlying question that motivated the essays I have written about him, and it probably influences much of my response to life. The question itself is much more effective than any specific answer that might be given. Some questions are best left out there calling to us, rather than giving definitive answers. I imagine that if my siblings were to answer that question, you would get some similarities, but many specifics would be different. So you see, any answer I give may say as much about myself and my opinions (by what I choose to remember) as it does about my father. With that in mind, I will tell you a little more about my father, "Pop," as we called him.

On Baptismal day

Clyde Kinnaird was a Baptist minister and educator. He pastored small churches in Alabama. Later on his career he became "bi-vocational" when he began teaching in the public school system while continuing as pastor in rural churches. Unlike most Baptist preachers, his sermons were more often taken from the sayings of Jesus than from the teachings of Paul. In fact, when I picture my father in the pulpit, I have a simultaneous image in my mind of Jesus teaching on the hillside. To this day, when I think of Christ, I see the teaching Jesus and the compassionate Jesus rather than the crucified Christ. I can thank my father for that image.

Pop bringing me down to the waters of baptism at Lake Martin, August 1964

After my father died in 1996, I became especially conscious of the influence he had in his own unpretentious way. When I delivered the eulogy at my mother's funeral, three and a half years after my father's passing, I said, "Both of my parents left the world a little better than they found it. That is their inspiration and challenge to those of us who remain." It is that realization that caused me to do some reflection and to ask myself what kind of influence my own life may have.

One reason I began writing essays was to put down in writing what I believe and what I value. My thinking is that it is of benefit to me to express it, and if nothing else, my daughter will have a written record of what is important to me. I wish that my father had written things down, but he was not one to write. I have two notebooks of sermons written by my maternal grandfather (whom I never met), but not a single note or letter from my father. I have to rely on memories and recollections of what he said and did. In reality, though, memories and recollections are all that anyone has of their father.

Growing up in Centreville

Pop was born in 1910, the seventh of nine children, in Centreville, Alabama. He was born 45 years after the Civil War ended. My father's parents and grandparents had current memory of living in a defeated nation and an occupied territory, while at the same time being absolutely patriotic with an undeniable love for their country. Pop spent his childhood with horses and wagons, and as a young adult, he was a mechanic who worked on Model A's and Model T's. His father, "Lud", was a rough-and-tough rascal who made a living farming, running a black smith shop, driving a taxi, and serving at least one term as road commissioner. His mother was the local midwife who was known in the community as "Aunt Claudia."

Apparently, he knew early on that he would be a minister. Pop told us of an experience he had at five years of age. He said he was out in the yard playing and was overcome by an unusual feeling, or sensation. He could not fully describe it, but he said he knew then that he would be a preacher. He recalled that he ran inside and told his mother, "Mama, I'm going to be a preacher."

To me, this sounds like a mystical experience that would have been precocious at that age. The way I interpret it is that my father became aware that he was living in the presence of something far greater than himself, and that awareness was an uplifting, comforting experience. My father's explanation would probably lie in something I often heard him say, "Sometimes God gives us a little taste of Heaven just to assure us that everything will be alright." Compare this to Einstein's question, "Is the universe a friendly place?" My father would have said, "Absolutely!" A mystic like Meister Eckhart would say, "Without a doubt."

Pop graduated from high school in 1928. I once looked through his senior yearbook that a classmate had sent him late in life. I was struck by how optimistic his class was in their statements and dreams of going out into the world. I was also impressed with the good-natured humor I found in those pages. The class prophet said of my father, "Clyde Kinnaird thought he was going to be the next Charles Lindbergh and fly across the Atlantic. He hopped into an aeroplane and made it across the Cahaba River. He landed in a field, thinking he was in Paris." It was especially poignant to me as I read the upbeat messages of that class, knowing that those graduates in 1928 had no idea what lay ahead in 1929 when the Great Depression hit.

Moving On During the Depression

My father claimed that the Depression did not have much noticeable effect on his community because most people in their small agrarian town had very little money anyway. Nevertheless, I cannot help thinking that the Depression influenced the timing of my father's higher education. He did not go to college until six years after graduating high school. It must have been a call to ministry that motivated his going on to Howard College in 1934, in the middle of the Depression, without enough money to make it through the first year. Even then, at a time when many Baptist preachers had no higher education, my father completed college and seminary.

One person my father admired, and who surely must have influenced him, was a retired missionary to China, Dr. Napier, who came to pastor the First Baptist Church of Centreville. "Up until then, we had not had an educated pastor in the pulpit. Most pastors would come and stay about 18 months. By then, they would have preached all their sermons and would move on." Dr. Napier, my father recalled, would carry books with him to the pulpit and share with the congregation what scholars had written about various scriptures. "We had never had anything like that before."

Dr. Napier's son, Davie, also must have had some influence on my father. They were both at Southern Seminary at the same time and would often ride home together. Many times while I was growing up, I would hear Pop comment about something Davie Napier had said. Davie Napier went on to become a renowned professor at Yale Divinity School, a United Church of Christ Minister, and chaplain at Stanford University. Somewhere along the way, my father latched onto the conviction that education and religion were vital to individual and community development. If the Napiers did not instill the idea, they surely encouraged it.

A Career and a Mission

Pop showing my daughter
how to shuck corn
Pop said late in his career that he had essentially done mission work all his life. I think that is very true. He spent his life, by deed and example, trying to bring education and religion to the farmers, mill workers, housekeepers, laborers, and merchants of Alabama. On the one hand, I could tell that my father was often frustrated by the lack of education and the dearth of thoughtful religion among his peers. One the other hand, he demonstrated a sincere respect for people whether they were rich or poor, educated or uneducated. He brought dignity to the pulpit and to the classroom, but always related to the working class and the working poor. After all, his own family were farmers and working class people and he himself had been a garage mechanic who went off to college to "make a minister." He was never interested in moving up the social ladder. Pop considered such actions "uppity and pretentious."

He was a conservative man from the Old South who took some remarkable stands and had some progressive ideas. More important, he left his corner of the world a little better than he found it. My father understood when I left the Southern Baptists after fundamentalism had become so rampant and entrenched. I think, though, that he regretted that I was living with the same frustrations that he had lived with. I may be a little more open to change than Pop was. In some ways, maybe I am a little more tolerant, but that is only because I learned from his example of granting dignity to others and showing respect for all.

Attributes of Distinction

If I may recapitulate, perhaps I can sum up my answer to my friend's question of what motivated my father to be different from those around him:

1) He saw education and religion as two avenues for improvement. Pop had a strong commitment to continuing education and a striving toward thoughtful religion (he used to say that religion should be reasonable).

2) He believed in showing dignity and respect for every person, regardless of their social standing.

3) He believed that the Universe is a friendly place.

If I can hang on to those things from here on out, I think it would do my daddy proud.

In Memoriam: Richard Clyde Kinnaird, Sr.
September 8,1910- December 18,1996

For more about my father, check out these other posts:

Trust Yourself: A Message form my Father

A Local Hero


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cosmic Mass Now Playing

Two wonders are too great to be told but must nevertheless be declared. There is the wonder of creation and the wonder of the human journey toward wholeness and redemption. One of my favorite rites in the Episcopal Church is Eucharistic Prayer C which proclaims the drama of redemption against the backdrop of the mystery of creation.

Everyone has experienced a sense of wonder in the presence of creation. “Breath-taking” and “awe-inspiring” are terms often ascribed to nature. There are innumerable examples which can connect us immediately with the wonder of existence, causing us to marvel at the mystery of the universe.
Who cannot stand in wonder when gazing at the night sky? I can recall as a child the joy and amazement I felt when looking at the stars. By the time I was 10 years old I had been schooled in the concept of light-years and by the time I was 14 I had watched the Apollo lunar landings as our first steps of space exploration were televised. I spent many a night looking toward the Pleiades, marveling at the vastness of the universe and wondering about my place in it. The sheer grandeur such a sight can give one the sensation of being afloat on a sea of mystery, as if on the cusp of tapping in to an ancient memory in the mind of God.

Beginning in the 1990s when the Hubble Space Telescope began sending us images from deep space, we saw a multitude of galaxies at various stages of formation. Increased knowledge led to increased wonder and amazement.

Juxtaposed to that outward vision of the universe, the inner journey that we all make can also instill us with wonder. Some call it a journey toward wholeness, some call it salvation, others call it enlightenment. It is a path we take as individuals and also as a community. Sometimes increased moments of awareness come in private meditation; sometimes that awareness comes while gathered in community. Often it helps to proclaim the Great Mystery as we come together for worship. Eucharistic Prayer C can be a vehicle for that proclamation.

What is Eucharistic Prayer C?

The prayers for Mass, or the Eucharistic service, are labeled Eucharistic Prayer A, B, C, and D. The most frequently used are Eucharistic Prayers A and B. By far the most poetic and the most cosmic of the Masses is Eucharistic Prayer C.

Consider the opening prayer as the Eucharistic Rite begins:

God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of 
glory and praise.
Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of 
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, 
and this fragile earth, our island home.
By your will they were created and have their being.

From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, 
and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us 
the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed 
your trust; and we turned against one another.

Later in the Mass, just prior to the consecration of the bread and wine, we hear this prayer:

Lord God of our Fathers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and 
Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our 
eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver 
us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace 
only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for 
renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one 
body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the 
world in his name.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.

The Celebration at St. Andrew’s Church

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
I was delighted last Sunday as the service unfolded at St. Andrew’s Church to hear those magnificent liturgical prayers from Eucharistic Prayer C. At the end of the service, my wife commented to the rector, the Reverend Ed Hunt, about how much she loved Eucharistic Prayer C. Father Ed replied that the church will be using it in the liturgy from now until September. You heard it right – the Cosmic Mass will be playing for the rest of the summer at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Birmingham’s Southside.

So come one and all, every Sunday from now until September at 10:30 a.m. to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church  in Birmingham where you can meditate on a cosmic scale in  music, worship, liturgy and poetry.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Finding Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

One of the happy asides for me that came with being a father was having the opportunity to visit Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  As soon as my daughter was old enough to pay attention to television, we started tuning in to Fred Rogers’ program on Public Television. In fact, for all of my daughter’s pre-school and early elementary years, TV viewing for her was limited to PBS children’s programming, and a few other children’s programs at places like The Discovery Channel, Nickelodeon and on video tape.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, however, was the best thing ever developed in children’s programming. It was something my wife and I always enjoyed watching with our daughter.  Once my daughter started preschool, I began taping Mister Rogers. I found that I could get a week’s worth of programming on one VHS tape (this was before TiVo, DVDs, etc.). That way she (and I) were able to watch the show later if the broadcast was missed. We loved the pace of the shows, and parents could learn about interacting with children by watching how Mister Rogers talked to children and what things he chose to talk about with children.  

I learned some things myself about zoos and aviaries, about how graham crackers are made, how poets deal with words, and how musicians ply their talents, and many other fascinating things from Fred Rogers’ field trips.  Above all, it was reassuring to watch him and understand that I could make it as a parent in spite of my doubts and worries about whether I could get this parenting thing right.

Fred Rogers may have been one of our best examples of a healthy, well-rounded life  a self-actualized person.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines self-actualization as “to realize fully one's potential.” It is a term coined by psychologist Kurt Goldstein and also used by psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.  It carries the connotation that one is living fully within one’s potential and has made full use of that potential. Once I was taking a graduate course dealing with developmental psychology and the topic self-actualization was discussed. The instructor asked us to name some examples of people who were self actualized.  Since I had spent some of my daughter’s formative years watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with her, I immediately put Fred Rogers' name to the class as one whose life was a prime example of self-actualization. The professor had a look of surprise, then of awareness. “I think he is a good example," the professor said. "Usually in class students will mention names like Jesus Christ, the Buddha, or Mahatma Gandhi, but Fred Rogers is certainly a good example of what we are talking about.”

Fred Rogers was definitely a gift to all who encountered him, whether in person or on television.  He showed us how to talk to children and he taught us how to be a good neighbor. You can read another writer’s reflections in an article, “15 Reasons Mr. Rogers Was the Best Neighbor Ever.” There is also a wonderful video on You Tube in which John D Boswell (melodysheep) has done an auto-tune digitalization for PBS of some wonderful moments with Mister Rogers. You can see that delightful and inspirational video below.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Bowl of Kitchery at the Golden Temple

One of my favorite places in Birmingham is the Golden Temple Natural Grocery and Cafe on the Southside. It is a vegetarian restaurant / health food store where you can find all kinds of interesting foods, natural herbs, books and gifts. A great place to go for lunch, it has been one of my favorites for years. If you have time, you can browse the store after you eat, find exotic gifts from India or Thailand, pick up the latest edition of Tricycle magazine or Mother Jones (or any number of publications), buy some organic groceries, vitamins, or Birkenstock sandals. It is where I always go to get seitan, pumpkin seeds, bulk Basmati rice, and natural herbs.

Golden Temple is always an invigorating spot for lunch. Today was a busy day helping our rector and his family  move to a new rectory. I have a pick up truck and they needed a hand. Fortunately, there were several parishioners and three pick up trucks on hand.  Around 12:30 I was needing sustenance and was driving through Southside on Eleventh Avenue where Golden Temple is located. An empty parking spot confirmed that this was the place for lunch. The lunch special today was "Kitchery - a mung bean Indian stew." I got a bowl to go so I could eat it before lifting the next load of furniture and boxes. The kitchery was excellent -- delicious and nourishing!

It was so good and replenished my depleted energy so well, I wanted to get the recipe. I went on line and found this recipe. I haven't tried to make it yet, but I definitely will. There were several recipes available online, but this one seemed to resemble the version I had at Golden Temple. I found in my online search that "kitchery" (sometimes spelled "kitchari") means "mixture," that it is often a combination of rice and lentils and is used in Aruvedic medicine to calm the digestive system and promote healing in the body. In the recipe below, you will notice that it calls for an assortment of vegetables. The vegetables I identified in the kitchery I had included thinly sliced carrots, celery, and a green leafy vegetable - perhaps kale or bok choy.

Mung Bean Kitchari: an Ayuvedic Recipe
Cook Time: 45-60 min

Kitchari (pronounced kitch-a-ree) is an Ayuvedic recipe, prized as a being nourishing and cleansing for the body. It means “food of the gods” in Sanskrit is a staple comfort food in India. Jam-packed with nutrients, fiber, and vegetable protein, kitchari is great for when you are recovering from an illness, zapped of energy, or having digestive problems. It’s very hearty and simple to make. Kitchari would be perfect for making a big batch over the weekend and eating it for lunch throughout the week.

Ingredients (9 servings)

1 cup of mung beans, dry
10 cups water
6-7 cups assorted vegetables (celery, carrots, zucchini, green beans, or broccoli)
2 tablespoons ghee or cooking oil (olive, coconut)
2 onions, chopped
2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping teaspoon turmeric
1 heaping teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 cup brown basmati rice
1-inch piece kombu
1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt or Himalayan pink sea salt


Prep Ahead: Wash the mung beans and soak them in water overnight.
In a large stockpot, saute the vegetables in the ghee on medium heat until onions are translucent.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except the salt, bring to a boil. Lower heat, and cook for another 45 to 60 minutes.

Stir in the salt at the very end. Some people say that adding the salt when the beans are still uncooked
makes them harder to digest. They recommend adding the salt after the beans have been cooked.

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