Monday, November 30, 2015

Second Day of Advent: "New Things!

Advent is the beginning of the church year for many.  For Orthodox Christians, this period is known as the Nativity Fast and lasts for 40 days, starting mid-November until Christmas.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word “advenio” which means the  “beginning, or the arrival of something anticipated”.  In the Western Church, Advent focuses on the comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ:  his birth, his coming in our lives through grace and the Sacrament of Holy Communion; and his Second Coming at the end of time.

Climb with hope and anticipation...
Advent seems a logical starting point for the New Year 2016, in spite of the calendar and with or without the religious connotations.  Thanksgiving weekend offers the opportunity to express gratitude for the year gone by.  Advent offers a wonderful opportunity to begin to look forward to what is yet to come.

What will this New Year bring?  Can I hope for some positive  change in myself and in the world?  Advent means a new beginning and the arrival of something anticipated.  Can I gather up hope within myself to anticipate and to feel that something is about to happen?  Something special, something mysterious, something beyond my dreams, something  spectacular, something beyond my wildest imagination will happen, if I am open to it. I don’t mean the remembrance of a child being born in Bethlehem long ago, or of some spiritual experience that happened to me in the past, or to some vision of the world’s final chapter. No!  What I look for is not “smooth words and illusory visions,” but of a “new thing” happening that can make me a better person, some new thing that can alter the pattern of my life and the life of the world. My hope is deeply rooted in the scripture and in this new year of my life, in this new advent, I anticipate “glad tidings of great joy.”

“See how the first prophecies have 
         come to pass,
and now I declare new things;
before they break from the bud I

       announce them to you. (Isaiah 42:9)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My New Year 2016 Begins Today

For a good many years now, the coming of Advent has become the beginning of a new year for me.

Let me attempt to say why in the following lines.

Advent is a very special time... a time of promise
     it is a time of preparation for the new about to happen
     it is a time of new beginnings

Advent is a time of expectancy...a time of happenings
    annunciations are heard if ears are opened  
    dreams are dreamed and guidance given

Advent is a time of giving birth to God
     we carry God around with us and do not know it
      it is a time for a new birth within.

Advent is a time of waiting, waiting
     for mountains to be brought down; hills to be brought low
     for valleys to be lifted up; crooked places to be made straight

 Advent is a time of moving...a time of transition
     it is not a movement backward, but forward
     it is moving me, you and the world to a place it has never been

Advent is about newness...a time for the "New Things"
     it is a season of receptivity and openness
     it is a time of new vulnerability for me, for you, for God

Advent announces a Way...a time of new dreams
   it is a time to sing our own song, dance our own dance
   it is a time of searching and for finding

Advent is all of the is kairos time
   it is a good time to start anew, to begin again.
   Advent is the time to follow your star.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Greatest Gamble of Life

Many years ago I bet my life that Jesus was right about God and the meaning of life.  I’ve held to that course, but not without many a wavering doubt.  How can one be certain that he or she has the winning cards in hand?  A gamble means taking that chance.

The atheist also takes a gamble when he bets his life that God is not.  This doesn’t mean he is  not a good person.  It doesn’t mean that he is stupid.  The sincere atheist, as an honest thinker, has concluded that man is alone in his struggles and he has some very good reasons for thinking that way.  This doesn’t make the atheist happy, but then, happiness, even for the Christian, should never be the primary consideration.  The primary consideration is always what makes sense of life after a careful and thoughtful search.  The atheist, like the Christian, also lives with doubt as all gamblers do.   

"Who knows where the road goes?"
If the Christian and the atheist are honest, both will honor doubt, because both have experienced so much of it in their own internal dialogue.  If God is, how is it that there is so much unmerited suffering in the world?  If God is not, and we are alone in our struggles, then man’s “origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms…(Bertrand Russell).”  The greatest gamble in life is to bet one’s life on God is, or God is not, but like every gamble, the gambler will experience doubt because no one knows what the end of the game might be.  You have to gamble—with all the doubt that comes with taking that chance.  You have to trust the bet of your life. The saddest thing is not to have gambled at all!  Socrates said that the “unexamined life is not worth living.”  It may also be true that if we don’t bet our lives on anything and if we don't take our stand, then life is not worth the living.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Wonder and Awe of Technology

Ethan & Eleni
Katie & Liam
On Thanksgiving Day I was able to visit via FaceTime with my granddaughter, Katie, who currently lives in England.  The joy of seeing her happy and well made my day!  Later, on the same day and in the same way,  I was able to visit our son Luke’s family in Flagstaff, Arizona.  What a delight to see and talk with Ethan and Eleni (my youngest grandchildren).  Our daughter Rachel did a charitable walkathon of 3-miles on Thanksgiving Day and afterward posted a photo on my cell phone with a pleased look of victory in her smile.  Isn’t that simply amazing?

On Wednesday we had lunch with our daughter Rachel, her son, Matt, and his wife Emily.  How excited they were to pass around the ultrasound photos of their daughter, Addison Elizabeth, our first great grandchild!  Addison hasn’t been born yet but I already have  a picture of her, thanks to the wonder of technology.  I do not care for the word “awesome” because it is so overused these days—but this photo is awesome!  She is already smiling.
Addison Elizabeth

The wonder of technology is sometimes overwhelming for those of us who remember the day of no phone at all, party-lines, rotary dials, and standing in line at  the airport waiting to get to the battery of phones that once were there.  We  are often critical of what the new technology has brought—social media, video games, and the constant texting—but yesterday I gave thanks for the wonder and awe that this technology has brought to our world—and particularly what it brought to my world over these last several days.  

A winning smile....

Like everything else in the world, the new technology must be used responsibly and for the betterment of society.  Technology without a moral compass can be a new evil, but if used wisely it will continue to fill us with a sense of wonder and awe.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Pondering: God Calls Us As A Nation!

“I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!” (Thomas Jefferson)

D. Elton Trueblood suggests in his book,  “Abraham Lincoln:  Theologian of American Anguish,” that the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 “is revealing in what it does not say.”  The Proclamation does not ask people to gather in their church, synagogue, mosque, or temple.  It does not call people to prayer as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox, Roman Catholic or any other such group, but to pray as members of one common family.  Where these prayers were spoken did not matter.     The Proclamation was unapologetically “religious,” but it was not ecclesiastical.

Arches National Park--Let's build a bridge that unites...
Lincoln, after much thought, had concluded that the Old Testament idea of God calling a NATION was a reality.  He now believed God called this nation to service; the service of liberating people from bondage of all kinds.  God, Lincoln felt, also called “the people of the United States” to prayer, knowing from his own experience that without prayer, it was unlikely that the nation could or would be obedient to the Divine Call to service.

Today as we gather with family and friends, let us not neglect to pray, not only with thanksgiving for our “singular deliverances and blessings,” but also with “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  Then, tomorrow and into this 21st century, let us take seriously God’s call to us as a nation to liberate people from all forms of bondage and to be “a light to the nations.” 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving History

Thanksgiving Day, as we know it now, did not originate with the Pilgrims, though we have through the years romanticized the connection.  There is nothing wrong with romanticizing and connecting the Day with Native Americans welcoming and helping the first refugees to these shores, who, in turn, invited the natives to give thanks with them for their survival in a new land.

While there were occasional thanksgiving celebrations dating back to the early days in Virginia and Massachusetts, there was no established tradition, nor were these by any means national celebrations.  It was only in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln inaugurated Thanksgiving as we know it now, and this has been continued by all presidents ever since.

Mt. Shasta, California
The first National Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 suggested that the people focus on “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”  The people are called, in this Proclamation, not only to give thanks for “singular deliverances and blessings,” but also to “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  It asks the people to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

The first Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 seems to me to be appropriate for Thanksgiving Day 2015.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Task

It was Sunday, October 27, 1862, that a small band of Quakers came to visit President Abraham Lincoln in the White House. He had no idea what they were seeking and was surprised when they asked nothing for themselves, wanting only to share in his burdens.  The little group settled into worship consisting of vocal prayer, silent waiting on God,  and a brief message from one of the women in the group.

Then the president himself began to speak…”We are indeed going through a great trial—a fiery trial.  In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid.”

Mt. Rushmore National Monument
In Lincoln’s Second Inaugural and in other addresses,  this idea of being an “instrument” of the divine will is a constant theme.  His words were not partisan.  He seems to have prayed for all elements in the struggle to be submissive to God’s will and for a real change of heart.  He asked the people, after the Battle of Gettysburg, “to subdue the anger, which has produced, and so long sustained a needless and cruel rebellion, to change the hearts of the insurgents, to guide the counsels of the Government with wisdom adequate to so great a national emergency, and to visit with tender care and consolation throughout the length and breadth of our land all those who, through the vicissitudes of marches, voyages, battles and sieges, have been brought to suffer in mind, body or estate, and finally to lead the whole nation, through the paths of repentance and submission to the Divine Will, back to the perfect enjoyment of Union and fraternal peace.”

Lord, make us instruments of thy peace….

Monday, November 23, 2015

Our Yesterdays

“Abuses anywhere, however isolated they may appear, can end by becoming abuses everywhere.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

I’ve just read the Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt and recommend it to all.  It gives a first-person account of our yesterdays (history) in the 20th century.  We cannot understand where we are today in this 21st century if we do not know where we were yesterday. On her seventy-fifth birthday (1960) Eleanor wrote the following:

I knew nothing of what was happening
in the world in 1944!
“So I come to the larger objective, not mine…but America’s.  It seems to me that America’s objective today should be to try to make herself the best possible mirror of democracy that she can.  The people of the world can see what happens here.  They watch us to see what we are going to do and how well we can do it.  We are giving them the only possible picture of democracy that we can:  the picture as it works in actual practice.  This is the only way other peoples can see for themselves how it works; and can determine for themselves whether this thing is good in itself, whether it is better than what they have, better than what other political and economic systems offer them.”

“The refugees of the world are a constant and painful reminder of the breakdown of civilization through the stupidity of war.  They are its permanent victims.  No time in history has known anything like the number of stateless people who have existed or survived the rigors of the past thirty years.”

“So an account of my seventy-fifth birthday ends, in spite of me, with a discussion of foreign affairs.  There is such a big, muddled world, so much to be done, so much that can be done if we increase our depth of understanding, in learning to care, in thinking of hunger not as an abstraction but as one empty stomach, in having a hospitable mind, open like a window to currents of air and to light from all sides.”

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bubbling Springs

There is within us all a deep place where we can discover the Beyond [God] within ourselves.  This is not to say that the “Beyond” is in any way our own self, but rather that our soul and God can and do sometimes meet and find communion in this deeper level.  So with Whittier, I say this morning,
And all the windows of my heart
I open to the day.

Simple words, perhaps, but I have found that when I do open (or attempt to open) all the windows of my heart to the day, I sometimes 
Hear the bubbling of the springs
That feed the world.  

Hearing the bubbling of these springs releases me from all fear and anxiety and lifts my spirit above the issues and problems of my own petty life and even those of the world.  For a few moments in time I know (in that deep place where we meet) that at the heart of this universe is Love.  On the surface level of life the universe seems in total disarray.  The issues and problems I confront and those of the world seem overwhelming.  But in this deeper place, where I “hear the bubbling of the springs that feed the world” there is no confusion, no complexity, no fear, no anxiety.  There is only this present moment of incredible peace, where I sense with Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

Worlitz Park, Dessau, Germany
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

(Psalm 42:7)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our Obsession With Walls

The frenzy to build walls to keep unwanted people out and to provide internal security has dominated the world for eons.  Walls can be made of brick, metal and stone, but they are for the most part built by fear.  We have erected many walls—walls that divide “them and us”, walls to keep at bay the real or imagined threats we perceive from others.  Legislation can be a wall.  Ghettos can be a wall. Religion can be a wall. Limiting voting rights can be a wall.  Suburbs can be a wall.  On the personal level, we build walls too, to keep people at a distance, to protect ourselves from letting others get into our inner private worlds.  We humans have an obsession with walls!

Not so very long ago there was an 87 mile long,  12-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide wall in Berlin, Germany, dividing east from west. Behind the wall on the East German side was a so-called “Death Strip”: floodlights, vicious dogs, trip-wire machine guns and patrolling soldiers with orders to shoot escapees on sight.  From 1961 to 1989, more than 5000 East Germans (including 600 guards) managed to get by the wall by various means:  jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, flying over it in hot air balloons, crawling through sewers and driving through unfortified sections of the wall at high speeds in cars and trucks.  In 1989 the Berlin Wall was opened for people to finally pass through—and from the East and from the West the people came to the wall with hammers and picks (they were called “wall woodpeckers”) to tear that wall down.

Conwy, Wales 
The Great Wall of China was a gigantic structure built to keep the enemy out .  Within just a few years, however, that mighty wall was breached three times by the enemy, not by climbing over it, or getting under it, but by bribing the gatekeepers.  The wall didn’t collapse, but the guards did!

Like the city walls of Jericho in Old Testament times, all walls and barriers built to keep the stranger at a safe distance, whether built of stone and mortar, or of  human frenzy and fear will come tumbling down.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

History Repeats Itself...

Yes, I am bound this morning to say this is true.  History repeats itself because we are not paying any attention to what has gone on before.  We get caught up in hysteria (“excessive or uncontrollable emotion, as panic or fear”) and ignore the facts of yesterdays gone by.  I’ve always seen history as His Story—God trying to break through in love, seeking to win his beloved to God’s dream of “a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”  This is the gist of the Biblical narrative and this is the central teaching of Jesus:  Love God and love your neighbor.  With Martin Luther of the 16th century this is where I stand and I can do no other.  It is not a matter of politics for me—it is a matter of faith and practice.  

After World War I, General Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (1865 – 1937) said, “I reject Christianity because it is Jewish, because it is international, and because, in cowardly fashion, it preaches peace on earth.”  Ludendorff was a supporter of German nationalism, both during and after what is known as “The Great War.”  It is for those very three reasons that I accept Christianity.  It is Jewish, (rooted in the noblest succession of ethical teachers in the ancient world); it is international, believing in one God and one human family, and it does preach peace on earth.

On the train to Machu Picchu, Peru (see the light on the other side?)
In these days of hysteria and of the dangerous idiocy of letting history repeat itself, may God help us all to take our stand, not with the  Ludendorffs (and the Ludendorffs take on many guises) but with those in our nation’s history (Franklin, Jefferson, Washington,  Lincoln etc.) who were not always orthodox, but who were deeply grounded in a faith in God and his Eternal Purpose.

We must not let history repeat itself--just read the history of our nation and you'll understand what I mean.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Great Time To Be Alive

A great time to be alive?  What fool would suggest such a thing?  This fool does.  Let me tell you why I think it is a great time to be alive.

Human beings instinctively dislike change.  We prefer the familiar place, the comfortable place, clinging to its faults rather than risking the unknown that change brings.  In the church we pray that the world may be saved, but when we leave the church we try to save the world without changing it.  In America, we want to save the world if only we can save it without changing our racial prejudices, our economy, our population, or our personal comfort zones.  Indeed, we are not convinced that we are part of the world that needs to be saved—it is always that world outside of our own that we think needs saving. 

Then history (perhaps God—telling His Story and announcing God’s Dream?), tired and impatient of our lethargy, our fear, and our reluctance to alter anything, breaks in like the present terror, crying, Now you have got to change!  And when history breaks in like that, when that time comes (and it has), like it or not, it is a great time to be alive.

Air Force Academy Chapel, Colorado Springs, 1976
We are in the  midst of a revolutionary era in human history with tremendous choices facing us.  We must be a people with eyes to see possibilities in this time of travail and fear—for it is in such times in history that some of the most hopeful advances for the human race have been made.  That is what I pray for this morning—that we may have eyes to see—for if we have them, we can see the hopeful possibilities, we can make the right choices and changes,, and we can make real progress in “saving” the world.  This can be, no, IT IS for us a great time to be alive!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Morning Prayer: Embarrassed Yet Again!

Why is it, Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth,  that I am so embarrassed  to call myself a Christian?  Why is it that  I am embarrassed  to be linked with my white Anglo-Saxon Protestant brothers and sisters?   I think it is because they irk my soul no end with their idolatry of the Scriptures, their misogynistic, homophobic, racial, and social attitudes (based on scripture, of course).  At present, I am deeply disturbed by their antagonism against Syrian refugees, Hispanics, Muslims or any other group who are different from themselves.  (I don’t even want to begin to deal with the “imagined war on Christmas!”)  I know that such attitudes have been since history began, and I know that I, myself, am a long distance away from Your Dream of what someday will be—in Verna Dozier’s words—“a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”  I believe in that Dream.  I’ve given my life to telling that story of Promise.   I yearn for it to be realized in me.  I pray for it to be realized within my brothers and sisters and in all creation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Now, this morning,  I am embarrassed  yet again.  I am embarrassed to be a resident of Maryland, for our governor has declared that we, as a state, will not entertain any Syrian refugees.  (That’s unconstitutional, or so I understand, but again this is an example of how those who say they abide by the constitution or Bible, or whatever, often interpret it to fit their own positions.  I suppose, no, I know, I do the same!).  How can we be participants in Your Dream if we close our hearts and our space to those You love, just as much as You love us?  Why are we so afraid?  Why are we afraid to accept, afraid to open our space, afraid of the new, afraid of the present,  and always wanting to go back to something that never was?   I’m beginning to get a bit fearful myself—fearful that Your Dream will be delayed for a long, long time to come by our present attitudes, both my own and those of my brothers and sisters.

Grant us all wisdom, grant us all courage, for the living of these days….Amen.

A Brief History of Immigration in America

Why didn’t the Pilgrims and Puritans stay in England in 1630-1640 and fight for their religious freedom?  Why did they banish from their new American colony  people who had differing views,  like Roger Williams, who founded Rhode Island (a place for refugees from Massachusetts)?  Why did these same “religious” people (Pilgrims/Puritans) who dreamed of establishing a “redeemer nation,” brutally expel Quakers from Massachusetts, hanging four of them in Boston Common because they refused to leave?  [Involuntary immigrants also came to these shores—African-Americans, English convicts, etc.]

From 1820 to 1930, 4.5 million Irish migrated to America (among them my great grandfather and his family).  They came because of a great famine in their own land.  Five million German immigrants came to America during the 19th century.  In the national census of 2000, more Americans claimed German ancestry than any other group.. (Mr. Trump’s family was among these). In 1850, a significant number of Asian immigrants settled in the U.S. and many others were brought here as cheap labor for the building of the railroads.

This influx of new immigrants frustrated factions of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant population.  New arrivals were seen as unwanted competition for jobs, and many (especially the Irish) were Roman Catholic.  In 1856 an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party (called  the “Know-Nothings”) ran a candidate (Millard Fillmore) for president.  The first restrictive immigration legislation was the “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882!  Now, isn’t that interesting?

From 1880 to 1920 (a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization) 20 million immigrants came to America.  The majority of these were from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.  By 1920 four million Italians had migrated to the U.S.  From 1880 to 1920, two million Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing religious persecution came to America.

The Immigration Act of 1924 created a quota system that restricted entry to 2 percent of the total number of people of each nationality in America based on the 1890 national census–a system that favored immigrants from Western Europe–and prohibited immigrants from Asia.

After World War II, Congress passed legislation enabling refugees from Europe and the Soviet Union to enter the United States. Following the communist revolution in Cuba in 1959, hundreds of thousands of refugees from that island nation came to the United States (Mr. Rubio’s family was among these).  Why didn’t these Cuban refugees remain in Cuba to fight for their freedom?

In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which did away with quotas based on nationality and allowed Americans to sponsor relatives from their countries of origin. This created a shift in immigration patterns. Since 1965, the majority of U.S. immigrants come from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

From Hostility to Hospitality

I suppose it is natural to react negatively (even though at the moment there is no definitive evidence of refugee involvement in the Paris atrocity) to the Syrian refugees coming to America.  Where did your parents, grandparents, great grandparents come from?  All of us are the sons and daughters of immigrants here in America.  We are an immigrant nation and have been since our beginning.  We have grown and thrived as a nation because we have reached out to take others into “our family.”  The prophet Isaiah (54:2) cries:  

“Enlarge the limits of your home
spread wide the curtains of your tent
Let out its ropes to the full 
and drive the pegs home.

Like the Hebrews of old, we were once strangers too.  “You too must show love toward the stranger, for you once lived as strangers in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).  Henri Nouwen suggests that this is our vocation as persons and as a nation, to convert hostility into hospitality where fearful strangers can enter and become a part of our family.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Do you remember Neil Diamond’s song, “America?”  The words of that song sounded within me yesterday and that poem too, you know, the one inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: 

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

God's Will?

The anonymous writer of The Cloud of Unknowing says:

“Silence is not God, nor speaking; fasting is not God, nor feasting; solitude is not God, nor company….God lies hidden between them and no work of yours can possibly discover God save only your heart’s love.  Reason cannot fully know God for God cannot be thought, possessed or discovered by the mind.  But loved God may be, and chosen by the affectionate longing of your heart.  Choose God, then, and you will find that your speech is become silent, your silence eloquent, your fast a feast, your feasting a fast, and so on.  Choose God in love….For this blind thrust, this deep shaft of longing love will never miss the mark, God himself.”

Love is at the heart of all things.  In the midst of the Beirut and Paris tragedies, it is difficult to see this Love at the heart of all things, but I am convinced that Love is there and here and everywhere seeking us, calling out to us, crying out to us, to take upon ourselves God’s own nature—to love as God loves.

Would anyone dare say that the events of Beirut and Paris were a part of God’s will?  If Love is at the heart of all things, then such a statement would be ridiculous.  The fact seems to be that God’s will is not always done in this world.  I have no doubt that God has a will for my life, but I also know that I have frustrated that “will” many, many times.  We were created really free—free to choose how we will live and how we will act.  We are free to frustrate God’s will and that is precisely what happened in Beirut and Paris.  And God weeps with us and mourns with us in the midst of it.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Cut-Off Demonstrated

People are people regardless of their religious faith. People are sometimes violent, ugly, and mean. I've met alleged Christians who are that way. It is reasonable that some Muslim people may be violent, ugly and mean too. That doesn't mean the Christian, Muslim or Buddhist or any other religion is violent, ugly and mean! 
Facebook provided me with an opportunity to be in solidarity with the French people by making it easy to drape my profile photo with the national colors of France. It did not do that for Beirut, Lebanon, where terrorists killed 40 people last Thursday. The leaders of the world did not step up to announce that tragic event. Nor did the media provide 24/7 coverage of what happened in Beirut last Thursday. Doesn't this say something to us? Are we cut-off from Beirut? Are we only connected with France? Are French people more important than the people of Lebanon?
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in THOSE parts of the world.”


There is a biblical injunction to receive the  other as a brother/sister  [Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Philemon 15-16 and many more].  This is not just a matter of being nice to one another.  It is not just an arbitrary rule of etiquette.  It is an absolute necessity for peace and community in our world.  Now, I confess, after the horrific tragedy in Paris (and so many other similar happenings) I find it difficult to see those responsible as my brothers and sisters.  These criminals must be brought to justice.  There were eight assassins in Paris (as far as we know at the moment).  We must be careful not to lump all Muslims, refugees, or Syrians, into one basket based on the behavior of eight people.  As a friend posted on Facebook, “To blame all Muslims for the acts of terrorists is like blaming all Christians for the acts of the Westboro Church.”  To lump people together like that would be like blaming all Americans for the sick souls who have committed terrorist acts in our schools, etc.

I know there is a human tendency to exclude the other, to cut-off those who are different. I fight against that tendency within myself and wrestle with the biblical injunction that bids me to receive the other as brother and sister.  When we exclude those who are different, the world divides into us/them; east/west; women/men; management/labor; Christian/Jew/Muslim/Hindu; GOP/Democrat; old/new; young/old,  etc. The resulting anxiety of such divisions hardens into a paralysis.  Differences sever connections.  Cut-off from a common world, we become locked up into our several worlds.  When we have only ourselves [our little group], there is NO OTHER conSIDEration.

Such a paralysis, where nothing holds together; where values grow relative; no value unites; all viewpoints are possible; no viewpoint reconciles.  Unable to discuss, we end up unable to decide.  Unable to decide, we find ourselves paralyzed.  Without connection there is only chaos.  Then, no possibility is possible.  We must break-out of this crippled situation and be-in-touch with one another as brothers and sisters.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Some time ago,  a fellow (one of the most skillful auto mechanics I’ve ever met) told me he was reading the Bible every day, but was having trouble understanding what he read.  I asked what version of the Bible he was trying to read.  He said, “The New Revised Standard.”  I suggested he might try others, like Eugene Peterson’s The Message.  He knew of The Message and had tried reading it, but still couldn’t get hold of what he was reading.  He reads the devotional, “Daily Bread,” and often has difficulty comprehending those readings as well.  He went on to say that he has never been able to memorize Bible verses like other people in his church  seemed to do so easily.  In fact, he finally confessed, he has had problems reading and comprehending anything, from the newspaper to the Bible!

This skilled mechanic is but one of thousands, of all ages, all over the world, who struggle with this issue of reading and comprehension.  While he is extremely intelligent, he probably has a reading disorder of one kind or another.  Perhaps he is dyslexic?   Dyslexia affects nearly 7% of our population here in the United States.  For twenty-five-plus  I tutored dyslexic youth and I know from that experience how difficult it is for them to read.  I cringe when I hear dyslexic jokes.  This frustrating disorder in no laughing matter.  By the way, here are some famous people who are reported to have had the gift of dyslexia: Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and even Jay Leno, 

How long does it take you to decipher what this paragraph says? That's what a dyslexic person deals with every single time they try to read.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The measure of a man is what he does with power. -Plato

I’m thinking this morning about how one little episode or incident in our childhood can color our life-long journey in either a positive or a negative way.  Everyone has “little episodes” that have lingered within their memory and refuse to be dislodged.  Some were positive, like the time when someone told us we had the potential to become what we dreamed.  Others were negative, as when someone told us we didn’t fit in or would never succeed.  These episodes, whether positive or negative,  live in us, consciously or unconsciously, through the years and shape us into the person we become.  

1943--Mom (holding me) & Dad
(holding my sister) and
my  brother standing on his own.
What power [A person, group, or a nation having great influence and control over others] we have in every encounter with another person, young or old,  as a father, mother, teacher, brother, sister or friend!  We have the power to shape another’s future in every moment, in every incident, and in every word uttered.  What a monumental responsibility and what a tremendous opportunity it is to wield such power!  We all possess this power and we exercise it all the time.  

What manner of man was he—my father?  When I was barely out of diapers, I followed (without permission) my older brother and sister down into the woods.  I wandered off, following the winding brook that I would eventually come to know so well in my later years.  But I did not know it then, and in my wandering, I became lost as darkness came.  My brother and sister went back home, assuming I had done the same. The memory is hazy, but I can still feel my fear and dread. Then I heard a voice calling my name:  “Harold, Harold!”  It was my father’s voice.  He came to me out of the darkness, picked me up, and piggy-backed me home.  My brother and sister were punished unfairly for this incident and have never forgotten it.  I, however, received one of the most powerful [effective, influential] gifts of my life from that piggy-back ride home.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Yesterday I heard the word “impervious” used by a reporter.  I like words, and I particularly like the word impervious.  It means  not allowing something to enter or pass through.  It means  being impenetrable (I like that word too).   The reporter used impervious in this phrase “impervious to evidence.”  I like that phrase too and it kept running through my mind all day.

Words have always fascinated me.  Currently I’m reading a biography of Theodore Roosevelt written by William Roscoe Thayer in 1919.  Some of the words and phrases used in that time have long since been archived (what a shame!), but they still fascinate me.  Here are a few that caught my attention:  acidly cantankerous,  jeremiad, piratical businesses, degenerate miscreants, rapacious politicians, shrewd slander, cosmic joke book, pleaders of iniquity, magnetism, injudicious condescension, omnivorous reading.  

I am digressing from my original thought (you see how words transport me?).   “Impervious to evidence” describes what I alluded to yesterday when I wrote of those alleged Christians who abuse and misuse the Bible even after all the scholarly research of the last century.  They will not deal with what is now factually known; they are impervious to evidence.  

Canadian Rockies
But the phrase also applies to those pseudo-intellectuals who deny the possibility of God.  They too, are impervious to evidence.  Men and women through the ages have claimed that their lives have been changed, revolutionized, and transformed by their encounter with the Living God.  Their stories are real—from Francis of Assisi to Albert Schweitzer. But this evidence is ignored by those who deny the existence of a spiritual world.  They have not studied the Story of the Bible, nor have they read the Christian classics.  They are not unlike those alleged Christians who abuse and misuse the Bible (and who haven’t read the Christian classics either).  They too, are (and aren’t we all—given our stance, whatever it may be) impervious to evidence?

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Bible

The Canadian Rockies
The Bible has become a stumbling block to some Seekers, not because of the book itself or the story it tells, but because of the way in which it has been misused and abused by many alleged Christians.  No body of literature has been subjected to more intense scholarly study than the Bible.  This close scrutiny of the book has been greatly beneficial.  The problem seems to be that many Christians have not paid much attention to this new evidence.  Instead of dealing with the evidence of reason and research, many continue to idolize the book and make ridiculous claims for it.  Indeed, the Bible has become God for many Christians—and all idols are (according to the scripture itself) an abomination to the Living God!

God did not dictate or write the Scriptures; human beings did. The Bible was not written for our inspiration, though it may inspire.  Nor was it written for our guidance, nor for our comfort.  It may give guidance and it may give comfort, but that is not the purpose for the Scriptures being written.  The Scriptures were written for our learning.  We need to know the story—the story the Bible tells—and the Bible is the only book that tells that story!

The story the Bible tells is about God and how God has acted throughout history to accomplish God’s purposes.  This story is difficult to understand.  There is nothing simple about reading the Bible and getting the story straight as so many suggest.  It takes a lot of energy to know this story.  It requires all our faculties.  It is a study that never ends.

The Bible cannot be tossed out.  Nor is it obsolete in this 21st century.  Indeed, it is more important now than perhaps ever before.  It is the only Book that tells the Story!  But that Story of the Bible can’t be heard, found, or understood, if we make the Book itself our god!

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Why do I pray?  I pray because Jesus prayed.  I pray because Jesus encouraged his followers to follow his example.  Jesus prayed in each major crisis in his journey.  So have I—and so have you in one fashion or another in our major crises.  Jesus prayed before making major decisions.  So have I—and so have you in one fashion or another before making major decisions.  Jesus prayed for his own needs and so have we.  Jesus prayed for others and we do too.   To pray as Jesus prayed is to talk with God.

Many of my prayers have seemed to go unanswered.  Jesus’ knew and experienced unanswered prayer too, when, for example, he prayed “Let this cup pass from me.”  Many of my prayers have seemed to make no difference at all.  Jesus prayed, “may we all be one” and that prayer has not seemed to make much of a difference either—at least not yet!  In spite of this, I pray because Jesus prayed and encouraged me to do likewise.
Lake Louise, Canada--2008

Prayer is not about answers.  Prayer is about loving.  Every human father yearns for  his son or daughter to open up their hearts to him, to share their troubles and issues without fear.  The father may or may not have an answer, or a solution, but he delights in the fact that his children talk with him about their deepest and most profound needs.  This kind of relationship is what it means to live on a loving, personal level.  I think God is delighted when we open our hearts to him.  

Prayer is not just words.  Prayer is not one-sided.  In my feeble attempts at prayer, I have often tried to follow the pattern used by E. Stanley Jones who simply asked each morning, “Lord, what do you have to say to me?” and then waited silently—listening—hoping to hear.  And then there are days when I just ramble on and on with some of my rantings and ravings.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Pondering life and Life

Do you know the song, “Carolina in the Morning?”   The tune and some new lyrics are sounding within me this morning:

Nothing could be finer than to sit in the recliner…in the morning!
Nothing could be finer than to read in the recliner….this afternoon!
Nothing could be finer than to lounge in the recliner…in the evening!
Nothing could be finer than to rest in the recliner…this whole day through!

At this early hour the sun is hidden.  The sky is overcast.  The ground is wet from the rain last night. The leaves are falling now and the trees are looking barren.  The ferns and other plants have turned brown and black from the recent frost.  But, the weather people say the temperature today will be 75 degrees—a record for this time of year.  

This day’s beginnings are dreary, but the promise of warmth and sunshine are in the forecast.  The human journey is that way, one day dreary, the next day bright.  One day rain,
the next day snow.  Someone wrote, “Life to me has not been a struggle.  It has been, and is, a Song.”  

Easter Dawning in Grenoble, France--2014
Today I ponder “life” with a small “l” and Life with a capital “L”.  The small “l” life focuses on the troubles and the struggles.  The capital “L” Life sings a Song!  We all meander between the two.  Nothing could be finer than to sit in the recliner OR nothing could be finer than to get off my duff and Live this day to the fullest extent possible.  Which will it be?  We can choose life or Life!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Favorite Place

“In a good book room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” [Mark Twain]

Baldwin Book Barn has been a significant part of my life since 1968.  It has been and remains one of my favorite places to visit.  I’ve spent hours wandering the five floors in the old barn and bought hundreds of books there. I’ve enjoyed taking special friends to the Book Barn, including my granddaughter, Katie, for over a half-century.  Imagine that!

Three years ago I had to down-size my library for lack of space.  Hundreds of books were returned to the Book Barn—most of which had been bought there.  What a painful process that was—giving up a full set of the Harvard Classics and other great volumes of similar worth.  I still grieve the loss of those treasures!  Sometimes I think of something I read in a book and begin to search for it, only to find that it was in one of those I had to “let go.”  It is a great comfort, at such a moment, to know that if I really want to find that book again all I have to do is go to the Book Barn.  Or, I think, (and it is a comforting thought) that perhaps some other person has bought that book by now and has discovered the wealth of wisdom within it. 

Henry Ward Beecher asked the question, “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”  Knowing my weakness in the Book Barn, and my limited space, I have tried in recent years to avoid going there.  But Home Depot, Staples, and other such places just can’t measure up to the Baldwin Book Barn.   I’ve made up my mind to give up this avoidance tactic.  I shall begin again my regular visits to the Book Barn, where I will browse once more to my heart’s content and buy a book (maybe several) now and then, if so led.  “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” [Cicero]  After all, what good will the new recliner be, if while sitting in it, there are no books to read?