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This Tallahassee Believes

We’re excited to introduce our new project: This Tallahassee Believes. And we couldn’t be more thrilled than we are to have the help of the international project This I Believe with our launch (check out the green “community” tab on the right side of their front page). This I Believe, based on the 1950’s radio series hosted by Edward R. Murrow, asks people to explore their most earnestly held beliefs in a deeply personal essay. We think these essays help us understand our neighbor who might not agree with us politically, and maybe even love them just a little bit. Submit an essay to us and you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing for two dinner tickets for the upcoming Dinner at the Square. And, as if all this wasn’t exciting enough already, This I Believe has given Tallahassee our very own submission page for your chance to be on the radio across America (and the world). You can even read essays by your neighbors online here. To learn more about our project, get guidelines for writing, or to submit your essay click here.

this i believe… by lea marshall

my son is has a slight hearing impairment and so i learned sign language.

one of my favorite signs is the sign for the word “believe”.

it actually is made like this...

it combines two signs. the sign “think” and the sign “to marry”.

and the sign is very philosophically accurate… “to believe” is “to marry our thoughts”.

it is one thing just to hang out with our thoughts, to date our thoughts, to be friends with our thoughts. but it is something entirely different to marry our thoughts. to make a living commitment to those thoughts 24/7. Read all »

John Marks: Let them eat purple cake

Below is a clip of John’s essay on what, exactly, a “Purple State of Mind” means. It doesn’t begin to do the entirety of “Let them eat purple cake” justice, so do yourself a favor and skip my version and read the whole thing HERE. John and his friend Craig of Purple State of Mind will join us in April for dinner. It might be one of your worst mistakes if you miss it.

… It’s about taking ourselves and our concerns seriously enough to demand the utmost of ourselves and our political and cultural opponents, the utmost in moral and intellectual rigor, the utmost in compassion and decency. Part of the problem for the last two decades has been a curious tendency to treat our great national debates as a cross between a game and a comedy routine. Oh, we insisted that our issues were matters of life and death, whether abortion or gay marriage, whether freedom of speech or the right to bear arms, but we hired huge numbers of professionals to fight those battles for us, our proxies, our mercenaries, our lobbyists, our activists, and their handiwork often enough turned the entire public discourse into a freak show fueled by the rage virus.

Our national conversation became a version of American Idol, the emphasis on empty gestures of cruelty, vapid sentiment and specious notions of achievement. We allowed ourselves to see this massively complex and mysteriousness country in the broadest of show biz clichés. Whether gay or straight, Christian or skeptic, black or white, we were either going to Hollywood or going home. As we now know, there is a price to be paid for triviality in bitterness, frustration and self-disgust.

Our sham dialogues on cable news network, the Hannity and Colmes effect, were as deceptive in their own way as Wall Street practices that hid the truth about the markets. Now that our eyes are open, it is time to walk away from the game. It is time to despise the trivialization of those who have different worldviews, time to stop believing that reality has anything to do with television, and time to entertain the possibility that our divisions can take us to some very dark places, even Gaza and Mumbai, if we don’t wake up.

The parable of the lost horse

In this story a farmer’s horse runs away. The farmer’s neighbors come to sympathize with him over his loss and bad luck. “This is a great misfortune!” they exclaim. The farmer calmly responds, “We will see.” The next day the farmer’s horse comes back and brings with it six wild horses. The neighbors come to visit again and gleefully observe, “What good fortune has befallen you”. The farmer calmly responds, “We will see.” The following day the farmer’s son starts to train the horses for riding, but is thrown and breaks his leg. Once again the neighbors come over, this time to offer their sympathy for the farmer’s bad luck. And once again his reply is “We will see.” The next day army officers come and take all the young men as recruits to the war, but because the farmer’s son has a broken leg, they don’t take him. So the neighbors come over to rejoice how well everything has turned out. The farmer smiles, considers his fortunes, and once again replies, “As always – we can only wait and see.”

Happy Thanksgiving… Part Deux

If Abraham Lincoln could find cause for thanks as the nation split in two, surely we too can find cause now. From his 1863 Proclamation of Thanksgiving (on October 3):

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict…


Tuesday: A day for grown-ups

“It will be quiet on Tuesday. No speeches. No motorcades. No paid political announcements. It’s a very special day, just for grown-ups. America votes Tuesday…and . . . on Tuesday, the shouting and the begging and the threatening and the heckling will be silenced. It’s very quiet in a voting booth. And nobody’s going to help you make up your mind. So – just for that instant – you’ll know what the man you’re voting for will do a thousand times a day for the next four years. Now it’s your turn.” — 1968 Nixon campaign ad

This Tallahassee Believes: Robert Alan


What Are Beliefs Anyway? 

I have always had trouble with believing, .. I think it is the sense of surrender that creeps alongside whenever an invitation to believe comes near me, .. possibly a survival  instinct.  When I first became aware of the disconnect I may have been 11 or 12 and didn’t much know what it was or what to do with it.  I didn’t know anyone else that showed similar signs of entering self-imposed exile from the world of beliefs, though I wanted to believe they were out there. 

Beliefs are everywhere, all with varying truths born from timeless assumptions.  I first became aware of the influence of belief, as most of us do, by observing my family.  Anything, whether it was race, religion, governmental policy or, for that matter, anything that was not “just so” was somehow labeled less than, or unequal to, … and rarely portrayed as interesting or worthy of curiosity.  

What are beliefs really? Where do they come from and how did they start? Are they a requirement of life itself?  Are they part of some special key equation in the human condition?  I wonder if beliefs may have originated as ancient survival skills used to band tribes together for merely strength and protection from the unknown.  Maybe our beliefs are still those same fears just all dressed up.  Belief and Fear – the two seem to have always played well together. 

Beliefs seem to be easily adopted and easily maintained by fear.  Knowing that fear is often “reason number one” for avoiding or accepting change, it seems to me that fear is the emotion that lubricates our age-old judge-and-evaluate muscles, that still seem to be working as hard as ever.

Today, given the high degree of globalized integration we experience, beliefs seem to show up as being a little counter productive, .. possibly even dangerous.  I often think of how different I might be if I was born under a different flag, to different parents who had different beliefs.  I wonder how my sense of right and wrong would look in comparison to what I may be thinking here and now?  The more I think about that possibility the more I pose the question, “how in the world can there be but one right belief system?”  And, how can anyone’s belief be above or below another’s?

I wonder if beliefs are even natural?  Could beliefs be one of the manifestations of dysfunctional leadership? Historically, perpetuating a belief for one’s own agenda seems to have had its rewards, and it appears that it still may be a key ingredient in nearly every major conflict mankind experiences. Even on their best behavior, beliefs appear to keep mankind from growing and advancing out of repetitive conflict.  Could beliefs actually hinder our ability to understand different views by sending others the message that “we really don’t get them” and “we really don’t want to”.

Lately I have been picturing beliefs as operating systems installed in childhood that are cleverly designed to avoid upgrades.  Did I, with only teenage arrogance and a backpack of fresh assumptions, think that I somehow was able to disrupt the loading of my own family’s operating system in me?  I would like to think so, . . . but unlikely.  However, my sense is that I did, to a degree, infect my program’s ability to completely block upgrades.  The possibility of upgrading into a more natural and less menu driven life, a life less puppeteered by beliefs, I feel invites great promise.  The promise of reason filling more of our spirit than  fear, … and the promise of curiosity and acceptance filling our spiritual hearts instead of judgment and separation. 

Could beliefs possibly be so negatively charged as to encourage unaccountability within our own differences, leading us to create dividing lines and barriers that restrict integration?  I wonder what it would be like if we gave up believing in anything except for each individual’s own right to seek balance and peace.   What if we erased all the lines and collectively worked harder at enjoying ourselves and each other without agenda, without judgment, without evaluation or comparison and, ..  without fear?  Would there then be any reasons left to hold on to beliefs the way we do?  

Sincerely, your hippy carpenter from Hatboro, Robert Alan

Lea & Liz: Our Day in the Sun, Part 2">Lea & Liz: Our Day in the Sun, Part 2

We last left Lea at Furman, poised to listen to President Bush speak…

For a moment, I don’t think it mattered whether you supported him or not. We were all Americans there and we supported the fact that we HAVE a president. A person that WE choose to lead us, to guide us, to symbolize what we are as a country, who we are and who we want and need to be. We were a small group representing the whole of America. There were protestors, supporters, students, parents, guests and we were all there together ready to hear what President Bush had to say to the graduates and to us.

Here is a link to the whole text of President Bush’s speech at Furman University.

He spoke of simple things, family, faith, service to a greater cause. The little things that are really the big things in life. At the end of the BIGGEST job he will ever hold in his life, he spoke of the things that truly matter in this life. Things that were much more familiar to me than sitting in a VIP area. He spoke about being a husband, a father, and a dutiful son. He spoke of his past as a recovering alcoholic and the wisdom in avoiding temptations that leave you empty and unfulfilled. He challenged all to be serving citizens, fiscally responsible, and accountable to others.

It made me think more seriously about what I will do in November. Who I will vote for and why I will cast my vote for that person. The President is just a person (fallible and human), but there is so much more than that. There is an idea begun in the hearts and minds of men and women who came here and left all they knew behind for the very freedoms that I live and breathe and take for granted. The President is one person that will represent all of us “we the people”. And whether we vote for that person or not, he/she will be our leader for a time. That idea must be respected, that position is so much more than the many decisions that they make and perhaps the HUGE decisions that get the most press are not really the HUGE decisions that really matter at the end of the day.

I see Sovereignty in that we listened to Victor Hugo’s literary masterpiece Les Miserables on c.d. all the way home from Greenville. It is a story about a man who is so much more than the decisions he has made. A man who can forgive and who is transformed by forgiveness. A man of courage, self sacrifice, but mostly a man who understands Grace and gives it when it is most undeserved.

The novel is set against the background of a time of revolution and war. It is a time of great injustice and great division in a country. However the story shows that the inward war that a person fights is what truly is of the utmost importance. The small acts of courage and grace from one man ARE the whole of the story. It is not the grander scheme of turmoil, poverty, and injustice that touches us. It is when we see how loving others well and extending mercy to your neighbors can be far greater than all the injustices that plaque this world.

Lea & Liz: Our Day in the Sun, Part 1">Lea & Liz: Our Day in the Sun, Part 1

Literally, we sat in the sun for quite a while on saturday afternoon waiting to see someone very special…

But it was worth it.

Early one Friday morning we got an invitation from the WHITE HOUSE to be President Bush’s “special friends” at Furman University on Saturday night. Furman is where my husband and I went to college (in case anyone didn’t know that we are proud purple paladins).

It all began because I had emailed a friend of mine a little note about how George W. (I can call him that now because I am his “special friend”) was speaking at Furman’s graduation and how some of the faculty was protesting and would NOT attend the graduation ceremony and how incredibly PROUD we were that he was coming to present the graduation speech. And next thing you know she has emailed that to her friend Jeb (Bush) and then the little email it is going on to the White House and then I received an email from the White House asking us if we wanted to attend graduation as “the President’s special friends”.

And to that I sent an email saying “HELL YEAH!”, just kidding, it said “hell, yeah (in all lower case), just kidding some more. But we did accept the kind offer.

So we packed up friday afternoon right after the kids came home from their last day of school and headed up to Greenville, S.C.

The WHITE HOUSE contact guy had told us to be there no later than 5 p.m. (so they could “manage our comfort level” which I think means in political speak, “so we can have the bomb dog sniff you all over”.)

We arrived at 4:30 (we are early birds when the president is involved) and they found our names on the V.I.P. list (which was a short list with the Governor and all the state Congress people, Mayor, and other political figures in South Carolina…. and our family)…

We were seated in a little section with chairs with names on them… Mayor, Senator, Representative, Chairman, Governor, and Adam, Lea, Millie, Maxx, Rosalea. Everyone was very nice to us and greeted us warmly. Though after we would introduce ourselves the inevitable “Ummm and you are…..?” would be forthcoming from them shortly. I answered, “we are Furman grads, we live in Florida, and I wrote an email to a friend that was sent to the White House and now we are here as special guests.”

I know I should have mentioned The Village Square.

There were 14 faculty members who were allowed to stand in protest durning his speech wearing white t-shirts that said “WE OBJECT” in large black letters. It was very Furman, conservative with a bit of deviation, all in a nice friendly font on a t-shirt.

Click here to see a really great you-tube video of the motocade of cars through Greenville narrated in a lovely South Carolina accent… I especially like it in the you tube video when the kids says, “ITS THE PRESIDENT” when one limo goes by and then shouts out “ANOTHER PRESIDENT” when another limo goes by. Oh, I do miss South Carolina…

Anyway, the whole event was GREAT. We had been sitting in the HOT South Carolina sun for about almost two hours when suddenly everyone saw the motorcade coming down the mall through the middle of the Furman campus. The whole stadium became united as one group. There were gasps, claps, cheers, and shouts coming from all around. My children sat up straighter (and so did i). The President of the United States, the head of OUR country, the foremost of THE finest country in the world, the leader of the FREEST country in the world was coming to us.

For a moment, I don’t think it mattered whether you supported him or not. We were all Americans there and we supported the fact that we HAVE a president. A person that WE choose to lead us, to guide us, to symbolize what we are as a country, who we are and who we want and need to be. We were a small group representing the whole of America. There were protestors, supporters, students, parents, guests and we were all there together ready to hear what President Bush had to say to the graduates and to us.

To be continued…


My Great Uncle Tom

Yesterday my Uncle Tom died. He was 90.

My Uncle Tom was something special. He’s the kind of guy who just by being himself makes his great niece walk just a little taller, aim just a little higher.

Tom was the last of four brothers, who grew up to be – in order of their birth – a Methodist minister (as was their father), a pediatrician, another pediatrician and an obstetrician (Tom).

Uncle Tom was a son of the South, as was my grandpa – though long since transplanted to care for the children in an Ohio mill town, an Ohio mill town which has long since died.

Tom was the last brother. He was the most amazing husband, steadily loving and caring for his aging wife with Alzheimer’s.


Even with Alzheimer’s, Miriam is such an amazing lady. Warm, welcoming, even though she forgets who you are.

Miriam and Tom were the beautiful people – you know… the kind who would rightfully sit a bit above the rest of us regular folks… well-educated, well-heeled, well-paid. Gorgeous.

They didn’t. They were the salt of the earth.

Uncle Tom, as far as I know, was a lifelong Republican. So was my grandpa, who died long before Republicans and Democrats seemed to so hate each other.

My grandpa would have never hated me.

I believe my grandpa and his doctor-brothers all felt that they were taking care of the children and babies in their towns just-fine-thank-you-no-need-for-government-here.

Knowing Tom, Ken (brother 3) and my grandpa, I’m betting they were right.

I’m a lifelong Democrat.

I never talked to Tom about politics. Frankly, it just didn’t matter. Lots of things mattered a whole lot more.

About a zillion years ago my boyfriend-almost-husband found himself with a dead car on the top of a suspension bridge two states away from me. We called Uncle Tom who, obstetric practice and all, drove to the top of the bridge and rescued my husband.

You know how busy obstetricians are?

In his last letter to me, Great Uncle Tom thanked my husband for “taking my nephew fishing all the time… and bringing him back again.”

So, if you’re a Democrat like me and you’re inclined to hate Republicans, you’re going to have to do it without me.

Because the Republican you hate might just be like my Uncle Tom, whose absence today makes the world more than just a little bit less.

North and South Poles

rachel-founders-art-final-square.jpgThe HBO Miniseries John Adams features in it a conversation between Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Adams that probably never happened. They were discussing who should be told of Abigail Adams death (since Dr. Rush apparently preceded Mrs. Adams in death, it’s safe to assume the conversation is fictitious).

Dr. Benjamin Rush: What about Mr. Jefferson. Surely he will wish to share your sorrow.
Adams: If I should receive a letter from him, I would not fail to answer.
Rush: Perhaps if you were to write yourself?
Adams: The man did me and my reputation great insult. He honored and salaried every villain he could find who was my enemy.
Rush: Well that is why it is you who must show the magnanimity of great minds. I always considered you and him the north and south poles of our revolution. Some talked some wrote and some fought to promote and establish it but you and Mr. Jefferson thought for us all.

Thus, fictitiously of course, began the real letters between the “north and south poles” of our revolution that ended, poetically, in the death of Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson on the same day, the 4th of July, 50 years from the birth of the nation that they formed.

Adams wrote to Jefferson:

You and I have passed our lives in serious times and we have suffered ourselves to be the passive subjects of public discussion and reaped animosity and bitterness… But you and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other. As long as there is government, there will be differences of opinion… Whether you or I were right, posterity must judge, yet I ask of you who shall write the history of our revolution. Who can write it?

Who shall write the history of our revolution? Why, of course, it is no one but us.

Adams last words before his death were “Thomas Jefferson lives.”

Ironically, Jefferson had at that time already passed away.

But we live. The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well. The history of our revolution is still being written, this amazing experiment in “the course of human events.”

We write.

It is surely time for lunch


Leading into our first big “Dinner at the Square” last Tuesday night, we did the press rounds and from that, I met a new friend who – after hearing us on the radio – sent me a link to a New York Times op-ed by Patricia Limerick. Limerick writes, four months after her husband’s death, of my favorite Founding Father story – and so much more. . .

Founding a democracy, rather like living in a democracy, can be very tough on friendship.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson began as friends. The tensions and frictions of the early Republic took care of that. Then, after years of silence between them, a mutual friend persuaded them to write to each other. In 1812, they launched into a correspondence that continued until it was ended by their deaths.

That ending point was on their minds and drove their correspondence. As Mr. Adams wrote Mr. Jefferson, “You and I ought not to die, before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

I fell in love with this quotation 30 years ago, about the same time that I fell in love with Jeff Limerick, and for some of the same reasons. Honest, self-aware and articulate, Jeff made “explaining himself” into an art form, but his performance soared past his fellow mortals when it came to the tougher side of this transaction. Jeff had a genius for listening and giving people the best opportunity to explain themselves and to become his friend.

On Feb. 1, 2005, Jeff died of a stroke. Having trained with a master, I carry on with the methods I learned from him.

When I find myself puzzled and even vexed by the opinions and beliefs of other people, I invite them to have lunch. Multiple experiments have supported what we will call, in Jeff’s honor, the Limerick Hypothesis: in the bitter contests of values and political rhetoric that characterize our times, 90 percent of the uproar is noise, and 10 percent is what the scientists call “signal,” or solid, substantive information that will reward study and interpretation. If we could eliminate much of the noise, we might find that the actual, meaningful disagreements are on a scale we can manage.

Limerick tells the story of a present-day seemingly intractable dispute, then admonishes, “It is surely time for lunch.”

A successful outcome would be a vindication of the faith held by Jefferson, Adams and Jeff Limerick. But even if I dine alone, I’ll still hold to the conviction that American citizens have the ability to explain themselves to one another, and to let friendship redeem the Republic.

I like to think that last Tuesday, inside one church, in one city, there were beginnings of just such friendships.

9/11 and the tale of Kenyan cows

fdnyangemaxfilesize.jpgThere are always moments amid the wreckage of what is worst in the human race, when we see clearly what is best in it. Even on 9/11.

There were those who walked toward trouble to allow the rest of us to walk away from it – the fire fighters, police officers, and in the case of 9/11, EMTs and Port Authority Police. They, like us on that day, had other concerns. . . kids to raise, bills to pay, oil to change. They put it all down and walked toward the horror to help strangers.

But of all the stories of human kindness following the terror of 9/11, one story in particular stuck with me.

About cows.

The Masai tribe of Kenya had raised money to send their native son Kimeli Naiyomah to medical school in the United States. He happened to be in downtown Manhattan on 9/11. He later returned to tell his tribe of what he witnessed.

“What happened in New York City does not really make sense to people who live in traditional huts, and have never conceived of a building that touches the sky,” explained Ibrahim Obajo, a freelance reporter working in Nairobi. “You cannot easily describe to them buildings that are so high that people die when they jump off them.”

What then did the Masai do for the most powerful nation on earth? They gave us cows. “They gave what is truly sacred to them,” Obajo said.

Across oceans, across language, across culture, their gift could not have communicated more clearly to total strangers.

As we try again today to make sense of this senseless act, I can’t help but think that the task ahead of us, beginning at the moment the first plane impacted the first tower, has a lot to do with summoning in ourselves the generosity of spirit shown us by the Masai, as we walk away from the darkness of human nature exemplified by the terrorists of that day. Even as we are at war, even as we disagree vehemently with each other on how to proceed, we can call on the higher angels of our human nature to reach across miles and language and culture to strangers. It will require everything in us to not become the hatred and intolerance we’re fighting.

I think we’re up to the task.

And maybe while we’re at it, we can save a bit of that generosity of spirit for each other.