Serendipity at the bus stop

pleasant interactions

On a recent busy day in April, I experienced serendipity at the bus stop.

After my Bible study, I took the bus to the library. My pal Patricia was talking about her book about helping chronically ill people. This was much more interesting and affirming than you might think.

I walked down to the Board of Education building to get an absentee ballot for the school and library budget vote on May 16. Leaving the building, I saw the #18 bus rolling by, and there wouldn’t be another one for a half hour.

My friend David came by. I hadn’t seen him in a few years, even though he lives in town. That is until March, when he and his wife saw the Sister Act at Albany High School, as we did.

He was coming back from serving on a grand jury.  I surprised him by knowing that there were 23 people empaneled. I didn’t realize that they only need 18 to make decisions.  He’s been selected regularly for various petit and grand jury services.

This led to a conversation about my limited previous jury selections in 2007 and 2014. Hmm. If I were a betting man, I would guess I’d get called again this year.

The ‘burbs

I took the bus to Delmar to pick up two chicken dinners, a fundraiser for the FOCUS Churches. After picking up the meals, I got to talk with Fred, the executive director, and a former neighbor.

Fred recalled a specific incident from nearly two decades ago. He was walking his daughter, who was about a week old. Her name is the same as my wife’s. My wife was about four weeks pregnant then, though we didn’t tell him about that until some weeks later. It was a fond memory.

As I took the bus home, Rebecca, who I used to enjoy frequently seeing on my work days, boarded. Her son went to my college alma mater. We had a brief but lovely chat.

Sometimes, I have to pay attention to the good stuff. They’re not big, shiny events but pleasant interactions that hadn’t occurred as often during the pandemic. So I honor them.

Sunday Stealing: Trapped in a room, plus

Participate in the FFAPL Silent Auction

trapped in a room
Escape Room neon sign, bright signboard, light banner. Quest Room logo neon, emblem. Vector illustration.

Trapped in a room is the current Sunday Stealing meme hosted by Bev Sykes.

But before that, a Wordle milestone last Tuesday
200 Played, Win 100%
157 Current Streak, 157 Max Streak

Wordle 458 3/6


Now I didn’t win every game. I missed one. But 199/200 is 99.5%, which rounds up to 100%. And now I feel pressure to keep up the streak.

You see that I play VERY conservatively, based on the numbers of 5s and 6s. In fact, almost certainly too much so. My methodology is better for those multiple board games (Duordle, Quordle, Octorodle, etc.)

On the other hand, I don’t understand why, when people have found four letters, they don’t know what the fifth letter is, and there are lots of options left, they don’t find a word that will eliminate multiple choices.

One recent selection was PARER, a terrible word indeed. But the answer might have been PACER (my third pick). It could have been PAGER or PAYER or PAPER; instead of using them in turn, I used GYPSY (my fourth pick), which eliminated the three of them. This left only PAVER, PARER, and PAWER; I had eliminated PALER and PATER in the first two words. The WordleBot scorned my choice of RIVER (my fifth pick), but I then knew there was a second R; and if neither word was there, it’d have to have been PAWER.

Now, onto the quiz

1. If you were trapped in a room with the person who asked this for 24 hours, what would you do? The answer cannot be romantic or sexual.

I assume I’m trapped with Bev. It would depend on the circumstances. Are we in some sort of peril? Is water leaking into the room that will drown us unless MacGiver shows up?

Assuming no peril, I suppose we’d start with a conversation about the usual things, family, work, health. If we have cards and/or board games, we’d probably play something.

2. If you could learn any language instantly, what would it be?

Spanish. I know more people whose native language is Spanish than any other except English.

3. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Bible, ideally with the Apocrypha. It’s less of a theological choice then because it’s very dense.

4. Favorite song lyric?

I’ve picked others in the past, so I’ll go with Indiscipline by King Crimson from the great Discipline album.

I do remember one thing.
It took hours and hours, but…
by the time I was done with it,
I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think.
I carried it around with me for days and days…
playing little games
like not looking at it for a whole day
and then… looking at it.
To see if I still liked it.
I did.

I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat myself when under stress.
I repeat…

You can hear it here.

Playing favorites

5. Favorite album?

Impossible question, as it’s changeable, often depending on what I’ve listened to recently. And I listen to music all of the time. I will say that I’m a sucker for eclectic pop albums. This would include Revolver – The Beatles; Spike – Elvis Costello; and That’s A’Plenty – the Pointer Sisters.

6. Which time of day would you say is best for you work-wise?

I write best in the morning.

7. What do you think people assume about you from first glance?

I have no idea.

8. Favorite city that you haven’t visited?


9. If you received $10,000 but had to give it away, what would you do with it?

There are so many worthy charities it’d be easy. I’ll pick the FOCUS Churches Food Pantry. On the other hand, you (yes, YOU) could participate in the FFAPL Silent Auction.

10. What is one book you wish you could get all your friends to read?

I have ZERO desire to mandate that people read, watch, or listen to anything.

11. What is one movie you wish you could get all your friends to watch?


12. If you could create one thing, what would it be?

A time machine. I have unanswered questions about my late parents I cannot answer. 

13. If you could play any musical instrument, what would it be?

Piano or some keyboard instrument. I took piano lessons at about 12 for a year, but they never took.

14. What is your favorite item of clothing?

Somewhere in this house is a nifty beret.

15. What is your favorite card/board game?

Cards: hearts or pinochle. Board games: though I haven’t played lately, SCRABBLE.

Blackface + time + change = redemption?

“When a politician’s positions on current issues already raise questions about racism, then evidence of racism in his or her past ought to have increased significance.”

Ralph Northam
Ralph Northam, elected Virginia governor in 2017
“I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” That was Abraham Lincoln in 1858 during a debate with Stephen Douglas.

Seven years later, he evolved, wanting to allow black soldiers – such as my ancestors – who had fought so bravely in the Civil War the ballot. Had he lived, who knows how much he may have changed, with Frederick Douglass whispering in his ear.

The notion here is rather obvious: people change. In The Mosque Across the Street – a video shown at the FOCUS churches service I attended this month – we see one Christian parishioner at a Memphis church weep as he realizes that HE was the problem in dealing with the new Muslim neighbors.

Jeff, a Facebook friend, wrote this recently: “Bob Zellner was a civil rights hero, a white organizer of SNCC. His father was a Klansman until he went to Europe in the 1930s, met up with a group of Southern Gospel singers and traveled with them. He wrote to his wife that at some point, he ‘forgot they were black,’ and he realized how foolish and awful he had been. When he got home he resigned from the Klan, traveled the South as an anti-Klan preacher… and his wife took his Klan uniforms and made much needed shirts out of them for the kids.”

As the very first line of his Oyez bio reads, “Hugo LaFayette Black refused to let his past dictate his future.” The Alabaman joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1923, but quit two years later. As an old poli sci major could tell you, Black was sworn in as an Associate Justice in 1937, and served for 34 years, supporting many groundbreaking civil rights cases.

People change. And we WANT and EXPECT people to do so. I’ve read a number of stories from white people, especially during this Black History Month, about how they, or those around them, were radically changed by interaction with people of different backgrounds.

One fellow from my former hometown wrote: “I changed from the young guy growing up in a backward community that still appears to show the same racist, bigoted attitude. Becoming educated, and allowing others to point out most of my misconceptions helped.”

So I am having some difficulty – OK, a LOT of difficulty – judging people solely based on how they dressed up in costumes – even racist, offensive costumes – decades ago. It does not necessarily make that person a bigot for life.

If people who were ACTUAL members of the Ku Klux Klan can be redeemed, some indiscretions of the past, even blackface – which must have been the state hobby among white Virginians at some point – can be contextualized.

What we need is some sort of formula based on the severity of the offense, the recency of the offense, the level of contrition, and most importantly, their current comportment. As a guy I know wrote: “I think that this needs to be decided by the group that he has offended, not white liberals.”

To that end, the subhead of this article from a couple weeks ago intrigued me: As Calls Mount for Ralph Northam to Resign, Some Virginians Mull a Second Chance. “Seems the average black voter in VA has conflicting feelings about all this. Maybe because they have seen a lot worse?

Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel had to quit recently. He wore blackface to make fun of victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I have no sympathy, and he needed to go.

As the Weekly Sift guy notes: “When a politician’s positions on current issues already raise questions about racism, then evidence of racism in his or her past ought to have increased significance.”

As a practical matter, I believe this is also true:

“I worry that we’re playing into Trump’s hands when we drum Ralph Northam out of the Democratic Party. As I interpret it, Trump’s message to wavering whites and men and anti-gay straights goes something like this:
“‘You’re never going to be pure enough to satisfy the liberals. So you might as well wear your MAGA hat and fly your Confederate flag, because no matter what you do, there’s never going to be a place for you on the other side'”.

Nation of Change recommends that Ralph Northam immediately resigns when the “lord of racism in the here and now” goes. THAT is a workable plan.

Go ‘outside the camp’ to the marginalized

FOCUS volunteers also sacrifice their time to do advocacy.

Hebrews 13.16I took on this assignment to write something for the FOCUS Churches of Albany’s Advent devotional. This was my submitted copy, which may or may not be what shows up.

Text: Hebrews 13:7-17. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
As Christ was killed outside the city gate, let us also go ‘outside the camp’ to the marginalized and risk “the abuse he endured.”
In gratitude, “let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God…”

Quite a few of my friends are apathetic or even antagonistic towards the church. I totally get that. I’d been there myself some years ago.

My friends often see some elements of the church favoring those who have, the insiders. “Send money” so the pastor can have a bigger house, a better plane. I actually heard one of these guys say that if Jesus had come to earth in the 21st century, rather than the first, he’d be riding around in the newest and fanciest airbus.

That’s not the Jesus I’m seeing in this passage. He is instead a sacrificial Lord. While He is learned enough to swap scripture with the scribes and elders, he’s spending most of His time tending to the marginalized.

I’ve been a member of a FOCUS church since 1984. What inspires me about service to others is that doesn’t end at the sanctuary door. It goes “outside the camp” (v. 13), meeting the needs of the broader community.

Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, and FOCUS does that with food pantries, a breakfast club, and other services. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others.” (v. 16)

But FOCUS volunteers also sacrifice their time to do advocacy, trying to address the root causes that require a food pantry that was designed as a temporary activity to be in place for nearly five decades.

Just as Jesus brought people together to express God’s will, occasionally turning over a table or two, FOCUS mobilizes “individuals and other community organizations to work for systemic and structural change to address issues including poverty, social and racial injustice.”

Prayer: When people come to Advent services, they see the lighted candles and hear the familiar hymns. May they also see the love in our hearts that comes from caring for others, even those ragged people outside the door, per the example of Jesus.
Yes, There is a War on Christianity

L is for Lent

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…”

christianLeftI realize it’s rather late in the season of Lent. But I’m endlessly fascinated with it. Much of my favorite music is associated with the season.

Why DO we give up something for Lent?

Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God.

A piece someone wrote recently – I no longer remember who – has stayed with me:

I have a question for my friends who are giving up something for Lent: chocolate, Facebook, etc. I used to give up sweets etc. too. It just occurred to me, though, that instead of “giving up” something, if we all did MORE random acts of kindness (being extra kind or extra considerate, holding doors, letting people pull ahead of us, etc.), the world would be really great for those 40 days.

And who knows, maybe it would continue beyond that. And I think God would like that a whole lot more. I know the reasoning is to deprive ourselves. What if we deprived ourselves of being selfish or snippy or judgmental? Just a thought. I’m going to go eat chocolate now.

My church has expanded the season to Lentecost, from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, to agree to take on service activities, such as our Author/Illustrator Day in April with a local school, the home repair & rebuilding program, and the FOCUS Breakfast Program, among several choices. Here is the FOCUS Churches Lenten reflections, created by forty men and women from the community of partner congregations, of which my church is one; I’m sure it’ll still apply AFTER Easter as well.

The religion page in the Huffington Post features a good read, WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know? It begins:

Once upon a time, a mother made her son a wristband. On it was written: WWJD? This, of course stood for: “What Would Jesus Do?” She instructed her son to look at the wristband before making decisions on how to live his Christian life.

A week later she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with ‘sinners’ — even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!

I was also taken by a piece in Salon. Despite its probably polarizing title, Why conservative Christians would have hated Jesus, and some finger-wagging narrative, it did have some points that I could buy into:

Every time Jesus mentioned the equivalent of a church tradition, the Torah, he qualified it with something like this: “The scriptures say thus and so, but I say…” Jesus undermined the scriptures and religious tradition in favor of empathy. Every time Jesus undermined the scriptures (Jewish “church tradition”) it was to err on the side of co-suffering love… Every time Pope Francis sides with those the Church casts out he is closer to Jesus…

Perhaps what we need to give up is some of our rigidity about what God looks like.
Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian. “I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel like an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 16

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