Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ted Talks

Last night I just happened to come upon “Ted Talks: War and Peace” on PBS. (“Ted” represents technology, entertainment and design).  It was a fascinating presentation about what it takes to bring about peace in our war-torn and broken world.  

Throughout the program one thing stood out for me.  That single point was how evident it is that all life is interrelated.  We are all caught in a network of mutuality.  Whatever affects one group of people directly, affects us all indirectly.  There is no escape from this mutuality.  John Donne understood this interrelated structure of reality several centuries ago when he wrote:  “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”  The American Dream can never become a reality as long as there is war, hunger, poverty in any other part of this world because we, as Americans, are caught up in this network of mutuality!  There is no way out of it!

Franciscan Gardens, France
The notion that some races, nationalities, religions and cultures are somehow inferior and others superior is a mistaken one.  And yet the notion lives—and as long it lives—the American Dream can never become reality for that Dream is founded on the profound premise, “all men (humanity) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It does not say some “men,” but all men.  It does not say white-anglo-saxon men, it says all men, which includes yellow, black and brown men.  It does not say all Gentiles, but it says all men, which includes Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims.  It does not say all Protestants, but it says all men, which includes Catholics, Orthodox, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses.  And these days it does not mean just “men,” but every human being, which includes women, children, immigrants, refugees, etc.

If we can’t get that notion of inferior/superior out of our systems, the Dream will remain a dream and peace a long way off.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Memory

For many years we traveled each Memorial Day weekend to northern New Jersey to visit my mother and father.  I remember, particularly, the year 2000, as one of the most enjoyable and meaningful.  

My father and I spent several hours pulling weeds in Mom’s iris gardens for each of the two days of our visit, as we always did.  We walked together through the orchard and checked out his vegetable garden as we always did.  We sat in the front lawn and gazed out upon the distant mountains, as Dad tended to the roast on the grill, as he always did.

On the last day of our visit Dad and I again tackled the weeds in the iris beds, and my father, always so strong and able (in his son’s eyes) said he needed to go rest for a while.  That was so unusual!  I joined him in the living room and we had a wonderful conversation that still re-plays in my mind from time to time. 

We returned home on Monday and on Tuesday morning I received a call from my brother.  He told me that Dad had gone to work (he had retired, but was doing some consulting work) and had simply collapsed and died at the age of 82.  Sixteen years have passed by and today I’ll pull some weeds from the iris garden (my mother’s iris) and listen to John McDermott sing: “The Old Man.”

The tears have all been shed now
We've said our last good-bye
His soul's been blessed and he's laid to rest
And it's now I feel alone

I never will forget him for he made me what I am
Though he may be gone memory lingers on
And I miss him... The old man

I thought he'd live forever
He seemed so big and strong
But the minutes fly and the years roll by
For a father and his son

And suddenly when it happened
There was so much left unsaid
No second chance to tell him thanks
For everything he's done

I never will forget him for he made me what I am
Though he may be gone memory lingers on

And I miss him... The Old Man

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The American Dream

Many have tried to describe the American Dream, our national ethos (a Greek word meaning “character," used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology). This American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [humanity] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”)  Historian James Truslow Adams popularized the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book, Epic of America.  He gave credence to the idea of  an America in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man [human being], with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. 

Puritan John Winthrop wrote about “American Exceptionalism,” an ideology that is often attached to The American Dream these days.  He said that Americans are the chosen ones, and that they are a light to the nations. In 2006 Barack Obama wrote a memoir, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  also defined the American Dream from a black perspective in 1961.  Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, John Steinbeck and a host of other American writers have also defined, in their own way, the American Dream.

On this Memorial Day weekend I’ve been pondering over the American Dream (as expressed in the Declaration of Independence) and realizing how schizophrenic we have been through the years and continue to be in our present sociopolitical environment.  Our Founding Fathers declared “all men” (at that time women, slaves, and others were excluded from that noble phrase) “are created equal.”  Those Founding Fathers, too, were schizophrenic, for they practiced the very antithesis of the principles they proclaimed.  “All men,” they wrote (and now we say all humanity) “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  It is important to note that the words do not say only American “men,” but “all men (and now we can say all humanity, wherever they may live).  Unless of course, we want to continue to be schizophrenic and practice discrimination against our fellow human beings, both here in America and around the world.  American men and women of all colors, religions, and cultures have given their very lives to protect, promote and proclaim the American Dream.  We must honor their sacrifice by doing our best to keep the American Dream from being distorted, misused, and violated.  It is a Dream, but it is a Dream that can come true.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Myth of Time

Wait till tomorrow.  Be patient.  Time will heal the wounds.  Time will solve the problems.  You may feel the "fatigue of despair" today, but tomorrow will bring the "buoyancy of hope."  Just give it time and this too shall pass!  Everyone at some time or another has offered this advice:  "Give it time."  Sometimes we say it with religious words:  "Only have faith, only be patient, only pray, and wait for time to resolve the situation."

What we seldom realize is that time is neutral.  Time, in and of itself, just passes!  It can be used  constructively or it can be  used destructively.  Time has no morality, no healing power.  While time  adds years, wrinkles, and grayness, it does not develop character, or resolve problems, or change anything.  The technological wonders of our present world were not developed by time, but by creative minds using their time to create and to build.  Time has not affected the social climate of our society (witnessed by the renewed hatred and racial bigotry that has erupted in recent months).  Time doesn't stand still, but time doesn't have any power to do anything more than just pass by. Isaac Watts says it well in the hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past: "Time, like an ever-flowing stream, bears all who breathe away; they fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day."

It is our duty to use time and to aid time, otherwise it remains neutral.  We must revolt against the myth of time by making whatever difference we can make today.  Love of enemy and neighbor doesn't come with time.  Such love comes only by putting it into practice today.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Special Road Trip

I left Paducah early this morning.  At a Rest Stop in West Virginia I witnessed the arrival (maybe today, maybe yesterday) of the 17-year brood of cicada.  Hundreds of empty carcasses were on the ground and in the trees.  The cicadas seemed to be everywhere and their “drone” was constant and intense.  As I wrote earlier, the males make the “music” to call forth the female—and it is a desperate song because the cicada (both male and female) are starving to death.  They won’t last long—maybe a few weeks. The equipment they need for eating was destroyed as they burrowed up from their 17-year journey underground.

When my friend Bill lived in the Maryland area, it was customary for us to have a “Boy’s Night Out” on occasion.  We did that again last night at a new restaurant in Paducah called the “Freight House.”  We sat at the “cook’s counter” where we could watch the chefs prepare the various menu items.  That was an impressive experience in and  of itself—but we did order meals as well—and they were superb.  I ordered Shrimp with Grits and Bill had a chicken dish. We were pleasantly stuffed after our meal and had to forego dessert.

After our Boy’s Night Out we spent the rest of the evening talking about a little bit of everything (Astro- and Quantum physics, politics, art, society, religion, the friends we have known, church, government, personal goals and frustrations, and on and on) bringing closure to our brief day and a-half visit together.  

Tonight I am located in a campground in the mountains near Morgantown, WV.  Maryland is just a “stone’s throw” away!  This trip was all about connecting with two very special friends:  Mark and Bill.  What a special trip it has been!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Elusive Butterfly of Life

Yesterday morning I went fishing again at the campground “Catch and Release” pond without catching a fish.  Then, I drove for three hours to Paducah.  I forgot all about the time-change in western Kentucky and arrived an hour earlier than I expected. The RV, called Odysseus (the odometer turned 103,000 miles yesterday) is parked under a giant elm tree, somewhat secluded, alongside Bill’s art studio and gallery.  Honeysuckle grows on the fence behind and a huge poison ivy vine grows up the elm tree.  During the night I could hear the trains rumbling through Paducah with horns a’blaring (I love to hear the sound of trains).  This morning the birds were singing and the doves cooing. Who could ask for more?

More enjoyable than the sound of the trains and the song of the birds is to be with Bill (and his wife, Patience).  Bill and I have been friends since 1971 and have shared much together.  His culinary talent produced a delicious pasta dinner last night.  Our conversation ranged from politics to the existence of God—and so much more in between!  Who could ask for anything better?

Our search for “more” and our penchant for something “better” is always present and is essential to our human journey.  This yearning in each of us reminds me of a song that speaks to my own search through the years: “Elusive Butterfly.”  

You might wake up some morning
To the sound of something moving past your window in the wind
And if you're quick enough to rise
You'll catch the fleeting glimpse of someone's fading shadow
Out on the new horizon
You may see the floating motion of a distant pair of wings
And if the sleep has left your ears
You might hear footsteps running through an open meadow
Don't be concerned, it will not harm you
It's only me pursuing something I'm not sure of
Across my dreams with nets of wonder

I chase the bright elusive butterfly of love—(or, perhaps we could say, “Life”).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Kentucky Wanderer

A new day dawns here in Kentucky.  I didn’t see the “dawning” as I usually do because I slept in!  That is very unusual.  It must have been the “fishing” at the pond last evening.  By the way, I caught some huge fish.  One of the nice things about “Catch and Release” is that there is no evidence to prove whether I caught some huge fish or not (I had to throw whatever I caught back in).  Who needs evidence to substantiate anything these days?  Just say it—and it becomes a truth!  Put it on Facebook and it becomes truth.  No evidence, verification, or fact is necessary.  The truth in this case is that I did not catch any fish at all!

Today I wander the Kentucky roads again, heading for the city of Paducah where I will visit my friend, Bill.  He posted on FB yesterday:  “I've had it with all the posts by friends, non-friends, politicos, and whoever, about Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. As much as I enjoy political dialog, enough is enough. I'm deleting them all.”  I responded:  “I'm on my way to Paducah to unleash all my political frustrations on you. I’ll arrive around 3 or 4 p.m. tomorrow. Guess maybe I should just "go fishing" instead of coming for a visit?”  No answer came, so I’m assuming my response was deleted!  

Well, I’m going to Paducah anyway.  Bill and I have always found many points of interest in our dialogue over the last 45 years without ever touching upon politics.  I’m sure that can happen this time.  I sure hope so.  I don’t want to be deleted!

Kentucky Wanderer

A new day dawns here in Kentucky.  I didn’t see the “dawning” as I usually do because I slept in!  That is very unusual.  It must have been the “fishing” at the pond last evening.  By the way, I caught some huge fish.  One of the nice things about “Catch and Release” is that there is no evidence to prove whether I caught some huge fish or not (I had to throw whatever I caught back in).  Who needs evidence to substantiate anything these days?  Just say it—and it becomes a truth!  Put it on Facebook and it becomes truth.  No evidence, verification, or fact is necessary.  The truth in this case is that I did not catch any fish at all!

Today I wander the Kentucky roads again, heading for the city of Paducah where I will visit my friend, Bill.  He posted on FB yesterday:  “I've had it with all the posts by friends, non-friends, politicos, and whoever, about Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. As much as I enjoy political dialog, enough is enough. I'm deleting them all.”  I responded:  “I'm on my way to Paducah to unleash all my political frustrations on you. I’ll arrive around 3 or 4 p.m. tomorrow. Guess maybe I should just "go fishing" instead of coming for a visit?”  No answer came, so I’m assuming my response was deleted!  

Well, I’m going to Paducah anyway.  Bill and I have always found many points of interest in our dialogue over the last 45 years without ever touching upon politics.  I’m sure that can happen this time.  I sure hope so.  I don’t want to be deleted!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Gone Fishing...!

I’m back on the road again!  It was a leisurely five hour drive in the rain yesterday to “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia, where I enjoyed a visit with my friends, Mark and Norva.  The creek near their home is running full (not flood stage, thank goodness) and I slept to the babbling music it provided.  What a pleasant sound!

Maryland is a wonderful state!  We  have the Atlantic seashore, the Chesapeake Bay, the quaint little villages of the Eastern Shore, and the wonderful mountains, towns and lakes in the western portion—a little bit of everything!  Even in the rain, Maryland shines!

Today I drove south through“Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia.  The mountains, hills, and valleys were all shrouded in fog and mist for the first few hours.  Then the sun broke through and what a sight—the light shining through the mist—a beautiful stained glass effect! 

By late morning I crossed the Tug Fork River (it flows north forming the KY/WV border most of its way and flows into the Big Sandy River that makes the rest of the border between WV and KY. The Big Sandy River flows into the Ohio River where Ohio, KY and WV meet) into Kentucky.  I wanted to stop at one of the many distilleries around Lexington (Kentucky Bourbon) and perhaps one of the beautifully manicured and fenced horse farms along the way, and the Daniel Boone homestead, but didn’t know exactly how to do that—so a gas station, McDonald’s (coffee only), a Roadside Rest Area, and a Kroger’s grocery were the stops of the day.

The good news is that the campground where I will spend the night has a “Catch and Release” fish pond.  So, I can’t be reached!   I’ve gone fishing!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

“Pie In The Sky?”

The idiom “pie in the sky” refers to a future reward after death, making up for a mundane, meaningless life here on earth.  It can also mean an unrealistic dream or vision.  I can recall a number of times when people have said to me, “You are reaching for pie in the sky.  Get real.”  Used in this sense, it parallels the idea of living in an “ivory tower,”  which suggests that a person is living in a protected environment, such as a church or a university, separated and unaware of the realities of life.   Some have said that I live in an ivory tower.  Still others have said I’m a bit “addled” (off my rocker) and others have gone so far as to say, I’ve got “a loose screw or two” (I'm thinking, maybe more than two).

Am I reaching for “pie in the sky” when I rant and rave about life, politics, society, religion, etc?  Am I unaware of what is real?  Do I live in an ivory tower?  Am I just a dreamer when I suggest “Love is at the heart of all things?”  Is it all fantasy—a way of escaping reality?  Yet, on the other hand, perhaps it is what is real?  Maybe the World Beyond (God) is really what is real, and the world we live in, is the unreal one?

Organ Pipe Cactus National
 Monument, AZ
Of one thing I am sure this morning as I ponder all of this:  The way we have ordered our society is fundamentally different from the way in which God conceives it, and the way in which God longs for it to be ordered.  This does not come out of my own “astute,” or as some would have it, “pie-in-the-sky” or “addled,” mind—it is the Judeo-Christian faith!  Therefore, it is the duty of God’s people to attempt to “overthrow the existing order” (that command comes from the Bible, by the way).  How?  With love—not a sentimental or affectionate emotion—but the love (agape) of God operating in the human heart, mind, and soul.  This love makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both, without expecting any good in return from either.  All distinctions disappear in the context of this loving:  east/west, republican/democrat, liberal/conservative, old/young, south/north, neighbor/enemy, rich/poor, black/white, muslim/jew/christian, etc.  It is this kind of loving that can and will cause the old order to pass away and give birth to the new.  Call it “Pie-in-the-sky,” or a crazy idea, or a lunatic’s ranting, if you like—but I’d much rather we try, together, to love as Jesus loves.  It is not an easy task to love like that!

Saturday, May 21, 2016


It was inevitable.  It has happened before. It is evident now.  It will happen again.  BACKLASH!  A friend told me nearly eight years ago that there would be an adverse reaction to the election of our first Black President. We’ve witnessed some of this in the obstructionist tactics of congress.  The present backlash, however, goes far deeper.  It is revealed in those who say that the GOP presumptive nominee isn’t afraid to say what they have been feeling, thinking and wanting to say themselves for years.  These deep-seated feelings have been seething beneath the surface long before the present administration.  All that was needed was for someone to come along and stir the embers of the smoldering inner fire of resistance to the emerging new world.

We do live in  a “new” world.  It is different from the world we knew in our yesterdays, and it will be a different world tomorrow than the one we know today.  The new emerging world of today is not perfect.  It faces challenges that have never been faced before.  The emerging world of tomorrow will not be perfect either.  But that world of our yesterdays was even more deeply flawed than today’s and history tells us that we have made some giant steps in producing a new and better, though still imperfect world of today. 
Prague:  A new order emerges.
  We have resisted for a long time.
 "Love is at the Heart of all Things,"
and the new will become reality!

The old adage, “You can’t go home again,” is true.  We can’t go back to what once was—thank God!  I prefer building bridges, not walls!  In the old order of yesterday there were many walls separating nations and people—in the new order being born today we have built some bridges to eliminate those gaps.  More bridges are needed because there are still many gaps. 

Whenever there is the emergence of the new we will always be confronted by the recalcitrance of the old. This is natural, but the present backlash is unnatural because it goes against the grain of basic human and moral values.  For years, as a minister I have proclaimed the biblical theme: “The old order is passing away and a new order has come.”  This new order is all about love, not hatred; togetherness, not separateness; peace, not bullying;  bridges, not walls; truth, not lies; compromise, not “my way or the highway;” diversity, not segregation; dignity, not degradation; respect, not contempt; politeness, not nastiness.  The present backlash seems to abhor these basic human/moral values by their rhetoric and behavior.  In spite of this, the new order will continue to emerge.  It can be delayed to our peril, but it cannot be stopped for "Love is at the heart of all things!"

Friday, May 20, 2016

Another’s Toothache Gives Me a Headache

A pastor sent an urgent message to his congregation asking them to please pray for God to heal him.  He had a toothache!!  In the midst of all the suffering, pain, and problems that no doubt plague his people, and most certainly exist in this world of ours, he asks his troubled people to pray for  the healing of a toothache? Such antics give me a headache.  I’m not asking you to pray for God to heal my headache, but I would suggest that if you are going to pray, pray for something more critical than either a toothache or a headache.

In 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech (“Facing the Challenge of a New Age”) said that we could speed up the new age by developing “intelligent, courageous and dedicated leadership.”  “This,” he said, “is one of the most pressing needs of the hour.”  It remains the most pressing need of this hour!

King went on to say, “The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgement and sound integrity—leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice; leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity; leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.”

Utah, 2016
So, may I suggest this morning that if we are going to pray (and I think praying is a good thing) then let us pray for something far more critical than the healing of a toothache.  Let’s pray:

“God give us leaders!
A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts,
true faith and ready hands;
Leaders whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of life cannot buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and a will’
Leaders who have honor; leaders who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue
and damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall leaders, sun crowned, who live above the fog

in public duty and private thinking.”  (Holland)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Dark Nights

I doubt that anyone has escaped dark nights of the soul.  Every person, every relationship, every family has gone through times of sadness, trial, betrayal, loss, dysfunction, frustration, abuse, rebellion, division or failure. No one and no relationship is immune.  Many of us try to cover it up, to pretend, or make-believe that everything is going smoothly, that nothing is troubling us, that somehow we have avoided the dark, but it just isn’t so.  Thomas Moore in “Dark Nights of the Soul, “ writes:  “Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference.”

We deal with these dark nights in various ways.  Many of us delude ourselves by thinking that it just isn’t real and we turn to superficial ways of ignoring it.  Others become depressed and dysfunctional.  But the dark night of the soul will not go away by any of these means.

The common notion is that the dark night is a form of depression.  It can be, but it may not be, but depression is often a by-product.  The dark night is part of our human existence, and I believe a part of our encounter with the world within ourselves and the World Beyond (God).  It cannot be avoided by denial, medication, or by making believe it isn’t happening to us.

How we think about the dark night of the soul makes all the difference.  None of us choose it.  It is given.  It can be a gift or a menace depending on whether or not we acknowledge it and work with it.  The important thing is to work with it!  Moore suggests that by working with the dark, we may get “close to it and sift it for its gold.”  If, indeed, the dark night of the soul is a divine/human encounter it could lead to light at the end of the tunnel—a resurrection—a transformation.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Finding Humor in Politics

I have two very special friends who are celebrating their birthdays today.  Both of these fellows are a few years older than I am, but they have befriended me anyway, knowing that I’ll soon catch up with them!  

This morning I was all worked up over the political scene.  How I wished I could be with either Pete or Bill to rant and rave a bit.  (Friends put up with one’s rants and ravings—at least for a little while).   Unfortunately they both live some distance away.  So I turned to another friend (among my many friends) in my library—a fellow named Will Rogers.  Born in 1879, William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers was a genuine cowboy, humorist, social commentator and movie star. He died in an airplane accident in 1935.  Together, Will and I “talked politics” this morning—and we ended up laughing!  Will Rogers is good company when it comes to discussing politics.

— "Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they'd be Republicans.”
—"This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.”
—"We all joke about Congress but we can't improve on them. Have you noticed that no matter who we elect, he is just as bad as the one he replaces?”
The mighty oceans "laugh" at the shoreline.
—"A president just can't make much showing against congress. They lay awake nights, thinking up things to be against the president on.”
—"The difference between a Republican and a Democrat is the Democrat is a cannibal. They have to live off each other, while the Republicans, why, they live off the Democrats.”
—"There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the entire government working for you.”
—"A Republican moves slowly. They are what we call conservatives. A conservative is a man who has plenty of money and doesn't see any reason why he shouldn't always have plenty of money. A Democrat is a fellow who never had any, but doesn't see any reason why he shouldn't have some.”

As Will Rogers says, "I have always noticed that people will never laugh at anything that is not based on truth."  So, I’m laughing today—hopefully, I can talk with Will again tomorrow and continue to laugh and not cry!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Friendly Road

Yesterday I ruminated on whether life after 50 years of age is uphill or downhill.  This morning, after spreading four-yards of mulch in the front lawn yesterday, I am more convinced than ever that being over 50 is an ascent—an uphill grind!  Don’t let anyone tell you that you are “over the hill” and descending!  This morning, sore and stiff, I am still on the ascent at three-score ten, plus three!

I’m thinking now about getting “On the Road Again!”  This journey will be a solo one—Odysseus and I will be on our own for a week.  My travel mate will remain at home to do her sewing and quilting work while I visit two friends, one in WV (Mark) and one in KY (Bill).  I’m on the ascent just thinking about it!  

In the mid-70’s I was given a book, The Friendly Road, written in 1913 by David Grayson.  It is a story of a man, a husband, who leaves his farm one spring morning, walking, to visit the countryside around him and to meet the people along his way.  A man after my own gypsy heart!  He records the events and the people  he meets along his way and decides in the end, that life is a “friendly road.”  

“I assure you, friend,” Grayson writes at the end of his journey, “that it is a wonderful thing for a man to cast himself freely for a time upon the world, not knowing where his next meal is coming from, or where he is going to sleep for the night.  It is a surprising readjuster of values.  I paid my way, I think, through my pilgrimage; but I discovered that stamped metal is far from being the world’s only true coin.  As a matter of fact, there are many things that men prize more highly—because they are rarer and more precious.”  

Monday, May 16, 2016

“Over the Hill?”

We’ve recently celebrated two “half-century” birthdays in our family.  This turning point, many will say, means that one is “over the hill” and the remaining years are a matter  of descending rather than ascending.   As I ponder this “over the hill” slogan this morning, I’m not at all sure the phrase holds water.

I remember turning thirty.  That was in the early 70’s.  Turning 30 years old at that time was characterized by those under thirty as being an abdication of what we called the “counterculture.”  At 30 one became a part of the “establishment,” and forfeited the radical and idealistic views of the young.  For some of my friends turning thirty was a traumatic experience.  It was seen as a descent rather than an ascent.

If a fifty-year old is “over the hill” where does that put me at three score and ten, plus three?  If fifty is over the hill, then I’ve been stumbling down hill for the past twenty-three years! 

I take exception to the idea that at a certain age a person begins a descent—a downward way that leads to an eventual nonexistence.  What a morbid idea it is!  To live is to ascend and to continue to ascend whatever comes our way.   It is true that the physical body declines with age, but we are more than a body, and we can rise above it with mind and spirit.  Life is an uphill struggle.  I don’t think anyone can question that statement.  We are meant to ascend every one of those struggles.  That is what life is—and I’m still alive and ascending!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Up From The Grave

While mulching yesterday I found several old “locust” shells which reminded me that the species known as the Brood V cicadas will soon come out in parts of Ohio, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, after being underground for 17 years. These periodical cicadas have an inborn molecular clock. They will emerge when the temperature is 65 degrees Fahrenheit at eight inches beneath the ground.

The 17-year (some, 13-year) “locust” is an amazing natural wonder.  The strangest thing about these emerging cicadas, with their red eyes, glistening wings, and joy (some say, noise) in the air and sunshine, after years of toil in total darkness underground, as lowly grub-like forms, is that they only have a few weeks of life in their winged stage.  The insect’s song (or drone) is produced only by the male and it is a song of courtship.  The frenzied love calls of the males are better understood when you realize that they are starving to death and must live "while it is day."  After 17 years of underground toil and finally emerging free from it’s “mining” shell, with wings to fly, the cicadas are dying!

The female cicada embeds her eggs in slender branches and within a few weeks, the young cicadas, pure white and in form like microscopic crustaceans, crawl from the boring and launch themselves into space with utter abandon.  Falling into a jungle of grass blades and weeds, their thought is to reach the soil where they begin to work their way downward into the darkness of the earth.  There they will feed on threadlike roots for the next 17 years.  

Much can happen over that 17-year period.  New roads are paved, buildings are built, etc.  blocking the way to the surface, but somehow the cicada finds a way to emerge—and always on time!   I am filled with wonder!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Renewal of Persons

Early in my vocation as a Christian minister I became aware of the desperate need for the renewal of the Church.  I sensed “a call” to that mission and the bishop (at that time) gave me the opportunity in a particular congregation to experiment with the ideas stirring around within me.   My connection with Elton Trueblood and the Yokefellow Movement, The Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, and with those who were writing and talking about the need for this renewal fired my zeal for the task.  All of my efforts since then have focused on this renewal theme.

Weed or Flower?  It depends on your perspective.
I thank God this morning, that the person who is on the journey of becoming fully human (Christian) does not have to succeed!  I did not succeed.  The Church still needs to be renewed.  The adventure of becoming fully human is not in the arriving, (in success or results) but in the journey itself.  And what a journey it has been and continues to be.

The key to the renewal of the Church is the renewal of persons!  In a nutshell, this means that the structure and shape of the church should be based on the needs of those within it so that they can become who they can be.   The Church, however, is ingrown, seeking to increase itself, and its structure has little to do with the needs of the world—and much less to do with helping people discover their essential selves and enabling them to engage with self, God and others.

We can all engage in the renewal of persons.  Elizabeth O’Connor writes:  “The Bible story of God calling and God sending is an abstract, biblical concept, quite different from believing that God might call me and might send me.  This makes God personal.  It means that somehow I count—that it might be possible that within me is the image of God.  It might mean that I can be in touch with this calling-sending God.”  To help another person see this possibility and to act upon it, is to bring renewal, transformation, and reconciliation (“to cause to be friendly again”) to that person’s life.  Let those you meet today know that they count, and that they carry within them “that of God.”  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Inward, Outward Journey

William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, defined religion as “the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men (and I would add, women) in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the Divine.”  When writing about the contribution which the Quaker, George Fox, made to the religious life, James speaks of it as “a religion of veracity rooted in spiritual inwardness.”  James makes no mention of the Christian contribution to social transformations.  For James, Religion is “inwardness,” not efforts to make a better “outwardness.”

The Road of Life begins within the individual person,
 but leads to the healing and transformation
of this fragile world.
There is a fraction of truth in this attempt to reduce religion to what one does alone with God in one’s solitude, but only a fraction.  The Christian faith proclaims this inwardness to be foundational and essential because it is meant to lead to an outward journey of service and transformation in society.  Jesus both healed and prayed—doing, he said, the work of his Father.  The inner life of devotion and the outward life of service go together.  If there is only the life of devotion (inwardness)—one is a “half-Christian,” or as  John Wesley put it, “an almost Christian.”  The life of service (outward) is devoid of meaning when it has no inner roots (inwardness)—again we have only an almost Christian.  

Elton Trueblood, in The New Man For Our Time, suggested three elements are necessary in any genuine Christianity:  “first, the experience of inner vitality that comes by the life of prayer, second, the experience of outer action in which the Christian carries on a healing ministry, both to individuals and to social institutions, and third, the experience of careful thinking by which the credibility of the entire operation may be supported.  Religions tend to die when any one of the three is omitted…”

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Living In An Ivory Tower

Years ago in a little Baptist Church in West Virginia there was a woman who played piano and had a glorious voice.  Without her piano playing and strong melodious voice the little congregation would  have struggled dismally to sing “Jesus Loves Me.”  But with her leading that congregation sang with heart, soul and voice, giving praise to God as impressive as any great choir.  Her favorite hymn seemed to be Henry Barraclough’s 1915 hymn, “Ivory Palaces,” which she sang regularly as a solo.

The Towers of York Minster Cathedral, England
“My Lord has garments so wondrous fine, And myrrh their texture fills; Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine, With joy my being thrills:”  And then Margaret sang with all that was in her this refrain:
Out of the ivory palaces
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go.

I haven’t thought about this hymn for years until a few days ago when someone told me that I lived in an “Ivory Tower (Palace)!”  The inference was that my ideas and feelings about people and society come from leading an impractical existence removed from the pressures and troubles of everyday life.  If he only knew what life as a pastor, counselor, and chaplain involved!  I feel I’ve seen and experienced life and death, tragedy and sorrow, suicide and agony, hardship and pain, and the dark secrets of the human soul in ways many people never see or experience.  However, he was speaking of my views and attitudes about people and society.  I view people (all people) as being equal, women as well as men; all religions as a search for truth and reality, all countries and nations as having value and something to offer us.  I reject the ideas floating around that all Muslims are enemies, that people of color are second-class, that walls should be built to keep people out, that dropping a bomb in the Middle East will solve the problems there, etc. 

I can almost hear Margaret singing this morning:
Out of the ivory palaces
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love

Made my Savior go.