Friday, September 13, 2013

An evening with Desmond Tutu

A little scrap of paper gained entrance to an evening of greatness with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa's best known cleric in its long struggle to end apartheid. His appearance at Butler University marked the establishment of a Center carrying his name and his legacy in peacemaking and reconciliation. Established by the Dungy Family Foundation (Tony Dungy was a longtime coach and took Indiana's Colts to football greatness), it pays tribute to two great men and to Indiana's long journey out of racial hatred. Truly irony was served: Less than a century ago Indiana's center of power was ruled by the Ku Klux Klan; today that physical space is inhabited by a Center for leadership in peacemaking, bridgebuilding, reconciliation and justice. Equally true, "...the moral arc of history bends toward justice" as Martin Luther King reminded the nation 50 years ago.

The evening was filled with laughter...the Archbishop's hearty, cackling well as probing truths. There were too many to record, but here are a few:

  • God is NOT evenhanded. He is notoriously biased in favor of the downtrodden, the poor, and the outcast.
  • In 1994 the young people of the United States changed the moral climate of the world when they gathered again and again in protest of apartheid. "You had a popular president, named Ronald Reagan, who was against sanctions against South Africa. He vetoed legislation aimed at bringing down apartheid, but Congress overrode that veto. We thank them for changing history." At this point Tutu urged the crowd to pretend they were South African and express their thanks to that group of people....there was a loud ovation.
  • When the missionaries came to South Africa the Africans had the land and the white folks had the Bible. The missionaries said "let us pray" and when eyes reopened the white folks had the land and the Africans had the Bible. Most felt that the Africans got the raw end of the deal, but not Tutu. "Not so" exclaimed Tutu, "the last thing you want to give oppressed people is the Bible. It is revolutionary!"
  • "Which Bible do you read?" Tutu asked. The same question that was asked of those in apartheid's leadership. "The things we do are not by anything political, but by faith."  Micah 6:8 "What does the Lord require of you but to walk justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."
  • "Why was the Exodus a paradigmatic event? It is an insight into the nature of God. God didn't wait until the people were 'deliverable.' They were anything but a nice bunch; they were...slaves and a real pain in the ****. Those are the people God freed. Remember the story of Jesus and the lost sheep? The pictures always show a fluffy, nice sheep on his shoulders. Not so...the 'nice' ones stayed with their mommies; the ones in need of rescue left mommy's side & got dirty, cut, & bloodied going their own way.  Even in Christ's birth God chose a couple who couldn't even rate a room at the inn. Can you imagine anyone saying that the little boy running around Bethlehem was...GOD? God's standards are very low." 
  • Tutu reminded the crowd of the verse of Jesus "...if I be lifted up I will draw all men to me." All, all, all will be drawn into the Divine Embrace, he emphasized.
  • In response to "What would you say about America's role in the current Syria crisis?" Tutu: "Americans are smart people; you learned your lesson in 2003. Americans are the most generous people on earth. You are masters and mistresses of philanthropy. Why don't you drop food instead of bombs?"   


Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 4th

Today I celebrate ordinary people who through their vision for equality, liberty, and the common good created the nation I love and call home. I celebrate ordinary people who take the oath of office, and with it service; who speak for justice in our courts, newspapers, and in our streets; who live with civility and respect for all their neighbors; who wear a uniform or not, but love America. I love ordinary people who will pack a picnic, play with their children, & choke up when our anthem is played. I love our pledge that in its separate parts speaks volumes about who we are and what we stand for: One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty. And justice. For all. Happy Fourth!

Sunday, August 7, 2011


It has been exactly one year since we left Red Bird Mission and returned to our Hoosier home. The anniversary fills my mind with memories of the people and places that inhabited that year. In some ways our mountain experiences were parenthetical in our lives, brief and intransigent. In other ways they were so integral to our lives that we cannot imagine our be-ing without them. My journal is necessarily incomplete; after all, one cannot write of every experience nor share every picture, person, or place that touched us. It struck me that I had forgotten some painful moments of the journey and thus did not include them. Moments like being robbed soon after our arrival, of aching loneliness for family and friends, for the deep sense of isolation caused by closely hemmed mountains and forests, for the pain of accusations from the community while Red Bird struggled for its footing, for the need to sometimes leave the mountains in order to breathe freely again. But the human soul is so flexible and the journey so wonderful that these moments gave way to remarkable peace and to deep gratitude for the privilege that we knew was ours. We may have left little mark on the mountains, but they left a big mark on us.

Red Bird has changed in the last year. Drs. Lynn and Sharon Fogleman saw their last patients at the Clinic on Friday, July 29. They will be leaving for Africa in early 2012 to bring health services to the community of Yei in South Sudan. Contracting the Clinic services provided a structure that allows them to leave as another physician steps in to continue care in a seamless manner; I feel good that this can happen so smoothly. Dr. Lamar Keiser, long-time dentist, retired at the end of June. He continues to come to Red Bird two days a week from his home in Danville to provide patient care. The Mission continues to recruit a dentist to fill his shoes chairside. The dental lab sits rather quiet and remains an opportunity as yet unfulfilled. The School continues in its K-12 format with a greatly reduced budget; music remains an integral part of student life there. All other services remain in place as Red Bird continues to regain its financial footing and looks for ways to continue meeting human needs. The mountains remain unmoved, mists still roll in and dissolve again along their edges, the elk roam freely, people still live and love in the shadows of the Daniel Boone. The Red Bird River still springs from its limestone bed and moves inexorably to the Kentucky River and the great waters beyond. The circle of life seems little changed, but for one brief moment we stepped into another stream and made a tiny ripple.

For more information about the work at Red Bird Mission visit their website at Better yet, go for a visit. Best of all, stay for a while and roll up your sleeves. You might notice a tiny ripple.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Many Thanks

A Red Bird workteam loaded us up in no time.
Only a child could have so much fun in the middle of a move. Grandson Noah played happily for hours in the tunnels and forts he created from our emptied boxes.
The mechanics of moving are always daunting. Our move to Kentucky meant downsizing considerably, so we sorted and then gave away, sold, or packed every one of our belongings. I've written elsewhere about the impact of seeing one's life laid out for sale on the front lawn; it's just not pretty either inside or out. The move back to Indiana reversed the process, but it was still much the same. We sorted and packed and enlisted the energies once again of a work team for loading and then relied again on friends to unload at our Indiana house. What kind friends we have! They handled this stuff twice in one year and never uttered a grumbling word. We settled back into our neighborhood as if we'd never left, rejoined our congregation without missing a beat, and gathered family around us in celebrations of love and joyfulness made even sweeter by our absence.

In our church we have a somewhat liturgical response that begins with our minister saying "God is good" to which the congregation replies "All the time." The minister then replies "all the time" to which the congregations responds "God is good."

And so the litany continues... God is good.

Leaving Red Bird

It became just as obvious that time was approaching for us to leave Kentucky, as it had been obvious that we should go. Neither decision is easily explainable. I was recruited for a particular work and what we believed would take about three years to accomplish was finished in one. Although I was offered jobs in the region, we knew that our time in Kentucky was finished.
Knowing that the Clinic would be in good hands, that Red Bird was restructuring and rebounding, that Alan had completed many improvement projects on the campus, and that our home remained unsold in Indiana, made the decision to return to Indiana inevitable. Just as completely as our gaze had turned to the mountains and to a task there, our gaze turned toward “home” and a return to our Indiana family. We made many friends at Red Bird, we enjoyed the camaraderie and acceptance of many local people, we enjoyed meaningful work, we experienced life among a unique culture, we grew to love the magnificent mountains and the beautiful natural surroundings. We even grew accustomed to the isolation of the location, the heat of the airless hollers, and the idiosyncracies of mountain people and life in the Cumberland.
Going to Red Bird was a step of faith…and yet it hardly seemed so. We were compelled by a Spirit beyond our understanding, sustained by that Spirit, and returned home again with Spirit’s blessing.

Red Bird Realities

We lived and worked at Red Bird Mission during what must surely be the most difficult year of its existence. The American economic implosion of 2008-2009 had a devastating effect on donations to the Mission, as well as to the cost of providing services. The truth is that Red Bird had been operating in an inflated position for some time, overextending its ability to provide K-12 education in the same way and draining its reserves in an effort to do so. The Board made one wrenching decision after another: close the elementary school, close the entire school, cut back on staff and expenses to barebones levels. The organization teetered on bankruptcy and pressure on leadership was enormous.

To its credit Red Bird School was able to quickly reorganize, remaining a K-12 facility with some combined classes and reduced amenities (the closure of little-used dorms and reduction in bus routes, for example). Every budget was reevaluated and adjusted; cuts became painful but services remained stable. For my part, it was clear that healthcare services could not be sustained as provided and drastic measures were needed to keep the Clinic in the mountains. Upcoming federal regulations, our reliance on uncertain grants and donations, the difficulty of recruiting medical professionals to Red Bird, and our inability to remain independent given our lack of efficiency of scale meant that Red Bird would need to partner or be contracted to an able provider.

Red Bird Clinic provided me with a wonderful challenge: to provide current services as profitably and lovingly as possible and to find a solution to its long-term viability. After several studies, conversations with possible partners, and listening to local people, we were able to take a proposal to Red Bird’s board for divestiture of its Clinic operations to the Adventist Health System. Medical Director Sharon Fogleman was in full agreement and was happy to let me while away my days working on the details of the plan. In July of 2010 the Red Bird Mission/Clinic Board voted unanimously to give up control of the health ministry it had overseen for 88 years. It had not been easy, but it was so worth it…the Clinic remained in place at Red Bird and the people of the Red Bird Valley continue to receive care there.

I had worked myself right out of a job.

Samaritan's Purse

The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina
Unloading medical supplies at Samaritan's Purse
Boxes waiting for shipment in time for Christmas
I’d been planning for weeks to do something about the pile of donations in the Clinic basement that we couldn’t use. Although we maintained an updated list of needs on our website, well-meaning folks still arrived at Red Bird with donations of medical supplies and equipment that we could not use. Much of the equipment was outdated, we had enough already (crutches), or patients could get a new one free of charge from Medicare (walkers, for example). There is a high cost to handling unneeded donations: the cost of storage, sorting, and disposal could be significant. For us, the solution meant volunteers made too many trips to a dumpster. The remaining supplies and equipment were verified as usable by Samaritan’s Purse, an international humanitarian organization with a medical supply arm headquartered in Boone, North Carolina (it’s director is Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham).
And so one weekend we loaded up a large van (and I mean loaded to the gills), and Alan and I set off for North Carolina to deliver the goods. The Blue Ridge Mountains were spectacular in their late spring greenery. And, yes, the humidity creates a bluish haze over the rolling hills. Samaritan’s Purse is tucked away in these ridges, a surprisingly large organization whose global reach touches children through its Operation Christmas Child, whose clean water and homebuilding services were working overtime after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, whose food was being shipped to hungry around the world, and whose healthcare supplies fill clinics and hospital worldwide. They welcomed our donations and gave us a personal tour of their operation. It was good to be able to share the overabundance that Red Bird Clinic had received, passing forward the gifts of others.