A Lenten Muse - Psalms 36: 5 - 11 - For St. Mark's Lenten Devotional


In 1966, famed singer Jackie Wilson gifted the world with an extraordinary performance of the song, Higher and Higher. A song full of unforgettable adoration and confession, “Your love has lifted me higher, than I’ve ever been lifted before”, astonishing aspiration and promise, “so keep it up, quench my desire, and I'll be at your side forevermore”, all orchestrated, into a cherished melody.

Less pop, more poetry, Psalms 36: 5 – 11 strikes the same timeless, emotive cords, a familiar celestial adulation, “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens your faithfulness to the skies,” while admitting to our human imperfection, “May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.”

In the days of Lent, a time we revisit scripture, poised to deepen our faith, we may be elated or lost, intrigued yet reluctant. Sometimes, for me, I do admit, it’s just hard to get into the rhythm and pulse of the ancient bible, to relate, when its creators—writers, poets, and singers—are figments of biblical lore, faceless, some nameless. But, oh isn’t it astonishing, the stuff of shaky knees, when old words find a new voice and power in the music of a skinny soul singer. A giant little artist who ‘lifted us up’ with his psalm like message and danced his way into our hearts.

On September 29, 1975, Jackie Wilson collapsed from a massive heart attack and remained semi-comatose for nine years until his death in 1984, at the age of 49. Wilson was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and later ranked in the list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.   

Could it be, that Wilson was a Lenten angel, a fleeting image, a timeless courier of God’s own poetry, delivering an eternal message, and giving us one more way to feel and fathom God’s boundless love and lifting us higher and higher, “than ‘we’ve’ ever been lifted before.”

Opinion: A fix that could up chances of winning Amazon HQ: The Atlanta Journal Constitution by Samuel Zamarripa

Amazon set the economic development world on fire in September when it announced its intent to build a second headquarters in North America. Cities hoping to win Amazon’s bid, including Atlanta, recently sent their proposals to the company. Promising as many as 50,000 six-figure jobs and as much as $5 billion in investment, applicants are coming up with a lot of creative ideas to attract Amazon’s attention.

Tucson, Arizona, for example, sent Amazon a 21-foot-tall cactus, reportedly to let Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos know that “We have room for you to grow here.” Birmingham, Alabama, is placing giant Amazon delivery boxes around the city encouraging residents to post a photo of themselves with the boxes using the hashtag #bringAtoB. Georgia isn’t above the fray with the innovative PR stunts. Metro Atlanta’s own city of Stonecrest has offered to carve out 345 acres of its boundaries to create the City of Amazon if the retailer picks Georgia.

Amazon’s relocation is a serious business decision and publicity stunts and PR campaigns are not going to sway the company’s decision — political and economic realities will. As the number-one state for business and with a willingness to create lucrative economic incentive packages, experts expect Atlanta’s application to be competitive for Amazon’s new headquarters, but there is a key metric where we fall short.

Buried inside the request for proposal released by Amazon is a site selection requirement that “The Project requires a compatible cultural and community environment for its long-term success. This includes the presence and support of a diverse population … .” For technology companies like Amazon, this means being supportive of immigration and welcoming to their diverse workforce.

Over the past several legislative sessions, Georgia hasn’t proven itself to meet this “compatible cultural and community environment.” Fights over issues like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, bilingual ballots, non-citizen driver’s licenses and the prospect of a battle over Confederate monuments undermine the positive economic development attributes Georgia has to offer.

Some may dismiss this as hyperbole, but in the competition for billions in economic investment the concern is real and it is acute. Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver are actively advertising Canada’s progressive immigration system and inclusive environment in their pitches to Amazon. A spokeswoman for Toronto’s bid recently told CNN, “Our open immigration policies make it easier for companies to gain access to global talent, and our inclusive and tolerant society makes Canada and the Toronto region a top choice for international students.”

Atlanta still has a lot going for it and it should still be considered a potential finalist for Amazon’s investment; but, we need to be proactive. Toronto can’t shorten its brutal winters to improve quality of life, but Georgia can be a more compatible, cultural and community fit by welcoming diverse populations, particularly immigrants.

Georgia also has outsized influence on the immigration debate before Congress. Three members of the Georgia Congressional delegation, Representatives Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Karen Handel, R-Roswell; and Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia, sit on the powerful House Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over immigration reform. Georgia is one of the states best positioned to lead the effort for compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

Georgia’s House Judiciary Committee members can make an immediate impression on Amazon by brokering a compromise on the DREAM Act. Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has signed two letters to Congress supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and has met directly with President Trump to discuss immigration reform proposals. What Bezos and other tech company’s CEOs know is that, if Congress does not act to protect DACA recipients by March 5, 2018, some 24,200 Georgians and 800,000 people nationwide will begin losing their deportation protections and will be forced out of the American workforce.

Courting Amazon by leading the charge on DACA has very little political downside. Some 86 percent of all Americans and 80 percent of all Republicans support giving Dreamers the chance to stay in the United States permanently. The ancillary benefit of improving Georgia’s competitiveness for large economic investment makes it even more compelling.

Early next year, Amazon will make a decision on where to invest $5 billion. When that decision comes down, we don’t want to second-guess whether we could have done more to win. Georgia’s elected leaders need to address all aspects of Amazon’s RFP, not just the site selection and economic ones. Showcasing a little Southern hospitality by welcoming all people to Georgia could be the difference-maker.


Musing on Frederick Buechner


This book was a gift. A friend and seminarian read my novel and was moved to send me copy of Telling the Truth along with a thoughtful note.

I don’t read much theology but have always liked the idea that gifted writers can alter the landscape and freshen up a cliché or two. When the book arrived, I jumped in and took two parts of a day to read the tiny book.

I am going to pass the book along to some friends. Buechner is simply original, very comfortable with small words and big thoughts. If he were a thing, he would be a razor blade capable of fine cuts and deep wounds. If he were a circus performer, he would walk the highwire.

Telling the Truth is a literary discourse on the sad happy paradox of the gospel. Buechner offers a glimpse of something just out of reach; a hazy intrigued of a God here but not. He is at home in the wilderness of not knowing and finds inspiration in tears and laughter.

There is a lot of juice in the 98 pages of this trilogy of tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. Inspirational fodder for weary preachers and pieces of the human puzzle for the literary set


Border Child by Michel Stone: A review

The story of Mexican migration is a literary land mind, its lore and iconography, deep and opaque. Intractable images abound—aliens and walls, Arpaio and invaders—all frozen in the mind’s eye. The human story begging for nuance, still percolating in the stomach-acid of immigration blather.

We have shared a border with our Mexican compadres for almost two-hundred-and-fifty-years. We sun and play in their playas while the poorest of their poor labor in our fields, scrub toilets, and work the night shift, caring for the dying. Yet, we know precious little about the complexity of the Mexican people, their real history, world-view, and reality, especially the paperless adventurers who dare to cross over in darkness. Their parable trapped in icy clichés.

Border Child is a welcome literary ice pick, a sharp and poignant story that chips away at the pejoratives and slander, bigotry and dehumanization of people wandering in search of a better life. The book invites nothing but lovely sentiment and delivers a few colorful surprises; a cartel’s hush-hush cooler packed, with colorful parrots, a daughter sensing the presence of a mother she had never known in a glob of clay. Stone has a strong feminine touch, her voice paced and steady, never intrusive.

There are some romanticized moments and imagery in the book. The once idyllic life of Mexican artisans and campesinos is fast disappearing, replaced by urban slums, clear-cut forests, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous, political corruption. Even the colonial City of Oaxaca, where the story unfolds, now overrun by invasive tourism, its zocalo full of plastic Chinese goods.

Stones lens however does not interfere with the powerful dignity she carves into the lives of Lilia and Hector, and their beautiful children Alejandra, Fernando, and Elizabeth, nor with this heartbreaking tale of love and loss. In fact, it is her American voice and easy-way with words that makes this work so important and accessible for her audience.

Appropriately titled Border Child, this utterly human story invites us into the vulnerable world of an infant child and her migrating parents—something minacious, yet understandable—and into the foreign and ugly reality of a line in the sand, called a border. In doing so, Stone is insisting, in a soft and elegant manner, that we ask ourselves which of the two is most important.