Monday, October 31, 2016

The First Amendment

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  

This is the FIRST Amendment because it is of utmost importance to a democracy.  Any attempt to ignore or remove any part of it would be disastrous.  Imposing on others a particular religion or restricting the free exercise of some religion is a violation of our constitutional rights.  To keep someone from speaking their mind would also be a violation.  To deny the right of peaceful protest would undermine it.  We, each and all, have these freedoms—to take any of them away from any person or any group diminishes our democracy.

The freedom of the press is of particular importance, especially in these days of 24/7 media coverage.  This freedom means that Rush Limbaugh, Anderson Cooper, Chuck Todd, Meghan Kelly, Chris Wallace, Glen Beck,  Fox News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the New York Times can report whatever they wish (hopefully based on solid evidence and facts).  The freedom of the press is essential even though it may report falsehood, bias, or simply be seeking higher ratings.  Any infringement on this “right” is a violation of our democratic principles.

We may rail against certain segments of our free press, we may disagree, but we cannot abridge the right of the press without serious consequences.  We are free to speak against it—we are not free to eliminate it.  When a presidential candidate decides to ban a newspaper and revoke press credentials the First Amendment is threatened. Five months ago, the Trump campaign tweeted: “Based on the incredibly inaccurate coverage and reporting of the record setting Trump campaign, we are hereby revoking the press credentials of the phony and dishonest Washington Post.”  When I first heard that I was terribly shaken.  Since then we’ve heard reporters labeled as “scum,” “slime,” “dishonest,” “disgusting,” “not good people,”  “sleazy,” and among the worst human beings he (Mr. Trump) has ever met.  He has the freedom, according to the First Amendment, to say these things, but is he not undermining and infringing upon the “freedom of the press?”  I think so—and if one newspaper is banned, others might be.  That’s scary! Thomas Jefferson thought it scary too:  “The only security of all is in a free press.” 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Presumption of Innocence

The “Presumption of Innocence” is a fundamental human right.  That fundamental right is the principal that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.  The Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitly, but the principle is embodied in the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments.  The US Supreme Court has subscribed to this principal since the early 1800’s.

The presumption of innocence has a long history.  It is considered an international human right under article 11 of The United Nation’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”  The same principle is recognized by Islamic law.  Basically, it means that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.  Since early childhood I have been taught that one of the basic elements of presumption of innocence is that every person is presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty following a fair trial (not just an investigation).  Another element of the principal is that the burden of proof is on the “prosecution” which has to present enough compelling evidence (only actual evidence and testimony is allowed) to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is guilty. 

If this principle is discarded or ignored, our democracy with its clear presumption that every person has dignity and worth will become another form of tyranny.  The oft-repeated refrain of late,  “Lock her up, Lock her up,” or “crooked” Hillary, is a violation of Ms. Clinton’s fundamental human rights.  It is a threat and a total disregard of a fundamental principal that protects us all. 

It is not clear precisely what prompted FBI Director Comey to send his recent letter to members of congressional committees and create havoc eleven days before a presidential election and in the midst of active voting in many states.  I presume he is innocent of any wrong doing at this point, for we have no evidence at the moment to the contrary.  I also presume Ms. Clinton innocent on the basis of the Director’s (unprecedented and unnecessary) public July announcement:  “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”  

When we presume guilt we do a great injustice to a person, but we are also participating in the demolition of a fundamental human right.  That a presidential nominee should presume Ms. Clinton guilty, continually proclaim her guilty, and threaten to put her in jail (without evidence and without due process) if he becomes president, makes him unfit to lead a country and a world that holds the principle of “Presumption of Innocence” as a basic human right!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Feeling “Set Up for the Day”

These early morning hours “make my day.”  Harry Emerson Fosdick, writing of Rufus Jones, said it this way:  “To meet him was to feel set up for the day.”  Each morning I “meet” with Rufus Jones or one of the many “friends of the written word” that share my study with me.  Many of these friends have long since died, but their words live still and to connect with any one of them is “to feel set up for the day.”

Many of the friends I meet here in my study would not be classified as “religious writers.”  The irreligious Mark Twain is a dear friend and mentors me often.  I consider Dr. Seuss one of the greatest philosophers ever, right there alongside Plato.  Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, Karl Menninger, Elie Wiesel, and a host of others like them, share my bookshelves with Paul Tillich, E. Stanley Jones, Thomas a’Kempis and Soren Kierkegaard.

I read many of the books written by these friends of mine at an early age, in high school, college and seminary.  Now I have the time to reread them from the perspective and experience of the years—and I’m just now beginning to understand what they were trying to say.  Sometimes we read the great books too early, before we have enough experience to understand them.  C.S. Lewis says this much better than I can,  “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally — and often far more — worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” 

Do I read new (contemporary) books?  Of course, I do.  With the ease of obtaining books  these days I try to keep up.  I read biographies—trying to glean from them how other men and women have thought and lived.  I read mysteries just for the fun of it, and other novels as well.  In the present political climate, I highly recommend Jimmy Carter’s, “A Call to Action:  Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”  But, one of the purposes of this blog is to introduce those who may read it to the great books and the great authors—the books and authors that have endured over time.  It is those “great books” that often make me feel set up for the day.  Charles William Elliot says it well:  “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Words Are Deeds

Dr. George Buttrick writes about the day when he sat at a high school commencement staring at the school’s motto in huge letters above the platform:  “DEEDS, NOT WORDS.”  He wanted so much to set it right and I’m with him this morning.  Words are deeds.  Words are tremendous, potent deeds for good and for bad.  Words turn the tides of history, shatter human lives, encourage broken spirits, paint pictures, light lamps and extinguish them, and even start wars and end wars.  Words are deeds. We deal so carelessly with them, tossing them around without thought of the harm or the good that they may do.  Just think about it for a moment and you’ll see that words are deeds.  “The great business of the Gospel is with words,” writes Paul Scherer.  “Without words not even the loving-kindness of Jesus could have survived the hammer and the nails.  All that he did would have died, had not some man’s words—a Matthew’s, or a Luke’s—come running to clothe it with life.”  Words are deeds.

We throw our words around as if we need not concern ourselves about them.  Words are casual, futile; it doesn’t matter what we do with them or to what level we let them sink.  Let them be frivolous, vulgar, bitter, indifferent, they’re only words.  Its deeds that count!  Can we really say that in our present political situation?  Words sting, words wound, words arouse, words act, words are never idle.

Even Jesus suggests that words are never idle (Matthew 12:36).  Words carry tremendous power.  Words carry on their back the same power, if not more, than any deed we might do. “The rhetoric is the candidate,” Dan Rather recently wrote, and my words and your words are “deeds” just as active, potent, destructive or constructive as any act we might do, and those words are us.  Actions do not necessarily speak louder than words!  Indeed, the “best deeds are words,” writes Elton Trueblood, and follows that up with, “It is not enough to give a cup of cold water; it is necessary also to tell why.”  

Through the years I have heard many tell how grateful they were for something someone said to them in a moment of need.  It was a word of encouragement or a word of hope.  I have also heard stories of how something was said in the long ago, that hurt so deeply that the wound has never healed. Words have power.  Words are deeds.  We must learn to use them in love, rather than hate.  We must use them not to bring others down, but to raise them up.  I have a lot of work to do with my words!

North Rim, Grand Canyon 

Thursday, October 27, 2016


“Facing one of the most adversarial contests in recent history and daily coverage of the presidential election that dominates every form of mass media, 52 percent of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress,”  according to the American Psychological Association.  What?  Only 52%!  I would think it would be a much larger number, and perhaps it is.  I wish 100% were stressed out!  We ought to be extremely distressed (filled with anxiety, sorrow,  pain, anguish, agony, torment, troubled, and heartbroken).  We should not simply feel, “a very or somewhat significant source of stress,”  but rather ought to be extremely distressed by the blatant disregard of the fundamentals of our democracy and the threat to human decency which this particular election has revealed.  

Fifty major newspaper editorial boards across the nation have weighed their options and in distress endorsed the Democratic party nominee.  With just a little over 12 days until election day, Donald Trump has racked up zero major newspaper endorsements, a first for any major party nominee in American history.  Even ‘The Atlantic,’ which has endorsed a candidate only two times (1860 and 1964) has declared:  “We are impressed by many of the qualities of the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, even as we are exasperated by others, but we are mainly concerned with the Republican Party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump, who might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.”  Is this media bias?  Or is it sanity?

 A few days ago, former GOP Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (Libertarian party VP nominee) issued the following statement:  “After careful observation and reflection, I have come to believe that Donald Trump, if elected President of the United States, would not be able to stand up to this pressure and this criticism without becoming unhinged and unable to perform competently the duties of his office….Donald Trump should not, cannot, and must not be elected President of the United States.”  Mr. Weld is certainly distressed and continues to express it, by saying,  “…A serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States must be stable, and Donald Trump is not stable. Throughout this campaign, Mr. Trump has demonstrated an inability to handle criticism or blame well. His first instinct is to lash out at others. When challenged, he often responds as a child might. He makes a sour face, he calls people by insulting names, he waves his arms, he impatiently interrupts. Most families would not allow their children to remain at the dinner table if they behaved as Mr. Trump does. He has not exhibited the self-control, the discipline, or the emotional depth necessary to function credibly as a President of the United States.” 

Yet, only “52% of American adults report that the 2016 election is a very or somewhat significant source of stress?”  Unbelievable, when I am so distressed!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul
in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Christianity and Democracy

For many people the Christian faith is about “protecting the soul from wounds.” This is in total contradiction to the teachings of Jesus.  You cannot love without  being wounded. Whatever else Christianity may be, it is not primarily about the saving of my puny soul or being divinely protected from life’s ups and downs, nor is it about my running around trying to “save” other souls!  Nor is a Christian, in Christ’s sense, a person marked by the little habits which he or she has or does not have.  Nor is a Christian a person who makes a book their God.  Like Theresa of Avila, I have always prayed “to be delivered from sour, vinegary Christians” of this sort, but alas, there are so many!

Christianity is meant to be an exciting venture of faith in which we bet that God really is, that God is like Jesus,  and that God has a purpose for this world.  A Christian is one who has taken that plunge, made that commitment, and seeks to learn God’s purpose and to carry it forward.  If, as I believe, God’s purpose is to bring all people together as one, to make this world a loving, caring and compassionate community, we cannot avoid being wounded.  It is a messy business.

There is a correlation between what Christianity is meant to be and what democracy is meant to be.  If we want a government that will protect us from the messy world that surrounds us, we must seek something other than democracy.  Democracy is yet a dream to be fulfilled, a  government where people of all races, of all nationalities and of all creeds can live together in harmony, where each person is accorded dignity and worth.  It is a government formed “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Christianity is an exciting venture of faith and so is a democracy.  Neither protect us from wounds.  Indeed, to be true to what they are meant to be, both Christianity and democracy will wound us, because both have to do with bringing all people together as one (not one side against the other) to make this land a loving, caring and compassionate community.  It is a messy business.

“If we want a love that will protect the soul from wounds, we must love something other than God,” and if we want a government that will protect the soul from wounds, we must seek something other than democracy.

Will we have new dawnings?  Will the dream live?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

“Your Work Is You”

Kahil Kibran adds an important extension to my thoughts of yesterday morning on  “Living as I Have Never Lived Before.”  We tend, as I did yesterday, to compartmentalize our lives, to see things piecemeal.  I am a priest, a husband, a father, a friend.  I have my vocation, my hobbies, my politics, my pleasures, and my travel.  All of these things are part of me, bits of my life, and my life (every facet and bit of it) is my work (vocation).  “Your work is YOU!”  

E. Herman in her book, Creative Prayer, says of the saints, “Yet, they always seemed to hit the mark; every bit of their life told.”  So, too, every bit of our lives constitute our work.  Jesus calls us to be complete, to be one, to bring everything together, to be holy (whole).   “Your work is YOU!”  

Elton Trueblood wrote of the “holy conjunctions,” or a “third way” of thinking.  In a world of “either-or” choices,”  he suggested that we ought to pursue the course of “both-and.”  If we take Kibran seriously in his assertion that,  “Your work is you,” we must live out of this third way.  I am both a father and a minister.  I am both a friend and a traveler.; I am both a liberal and a conservative.  I am both a person of prayer and an activist.  I am both a person of faith and a person who thinks.  Being “both-and” rather than “either-or” unites me as a person (“Your work is you”) and it can unite us as a nation, and unite us as a world.   “Either-or” are un-holy conjunctions in that they divide and as Lincoln reminded our forefathers and mothers long ago, “A nation divided against itself cannot stand!”  (Lincoln, by the way, borrowed these words from Jesus).

I should add that living this third way, the holy conjunction way, is a difficult work and takes a lot of hard thinking and discussion.  Living the un-holy conjunctions of “either-or” is easy.  Since you are “right” there is no need for further thinking or discussion.
Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ

Monday, October 24, 2016

Living As I Have Never Lived Before

I am living as I have never lived before.  This thought overwhelms me this morning.  Perhaps this statement is true of every season of life, but I was never so much aware of it in those other seasons, because of the hustle and bustle, as I am now in retirement.  I am free to set my own schedule and plan my own day. There are no meetings that I must attend, no place I have to be, no outside demands upon me, other than those I choose to take upon myself.  There are, of course, responsibilities.  I must pay the monthly bills, tend to the lawn and gardens, maintain our home, and a host of other similar tasks, but these are all done on my schedule.  I am living as I have never lived before.

It has taken six years for me to adjust to this new chapter in my life, to live as I have never lived before.  It was not an easy adjustment in the beginning.  I struggled with what seemed like “emptiness” after years of being engaged in ministering to people which demanded all I had to give of my time, my self, and my energy.  I have since come to realize that ministry of that sort was imposed upon me by my own expectations and by those of others. It is not how much we do, or how busy we are,  or what position we may hold that defines us or a vocation.  Once I realized that I had not retired from my vocation (my commitment)  and that I was still in every sense a priest, pastor, minister, I began living as I have never lived before.  It was, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Like a new birth.” 

“The idea that the service to God should have to do only with a church, altar, singing, and the like,” wrote Martin Luther, “is without a doubt but the worst trick of the devil,” suggesting that service to God can take place anywhere and in many different ways.  Dr. Frank Laubach helped me with his words:  “Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes; it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to his thoughts, burning with his passion.”  And so it is, my vocation, even in retirement, to be a priest (as we are all called to be).  “A priest is at least meant to be one who cannot live for himself, but for others; who is so hurt by the sufferings and sorrows of his fellows [and the world] that he cannot get it out of his mind, but has to go to God on their behalf,” and stagger back with some word of help, some word of encouragement, some word of love.  This is my call, my ministry, my service, my work in this time of retirement.  I am living as I have never lived before.

Antelope Canyon, Page AZ

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dreams of An Aging Wanderer

The days grow shorter (in more ways than just seasonal).  Winter is on the way and that means it is time to winterize the Odyssey (our mini-motor home). Our brief journey to Maine this past week only induced a stronger pull on my gypsy spirit to be “On the Road Again,” but I must pull back the reins now.  Winter is coming. What a pity!  

Hearing my siblings talk of their recent visit in Italy set my mind whirling.  My son and his wife just returned from China and that also goads my wandering spirit.  I’m ready to go again, but where?  For the past five years I’ve dreamed of going back to the Island of Crete—renting an apartment in some small village for a month, and just basking in the beauty of that very special place which so influenced my life many years ago.  On the other hand, there are other Greek Isles I’d like to visit, like Mycenae, Naxos, and Mykonos.  We shall see, but “go” somewhere I must “While It Is Day!”  I must not delay or defer my dreams, nor should you!

My older brother and I talked of aging and how it sneaks up on us.  Little things begin to creep into our lives, from arthritis to stamina, and what we once took for granted is now diminishing.  This is reality.  What I once could accomplish in a day a few years ago now takes two or three.  If I have dreams to live, I must bring them to fruition now.

I’m reminded of Langston Hughes poem, “Dream Deferred:”

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Our “Post-fact” Age

Back in June I wrote a blog about “Obscurantism” and its tool, “Inuendo.”  This morning, enjoying my morning  coffee in Maine, a TV pundit’s comment seems to have gotten stuck in my head.  That comment was that we live in a “Post-fact” era, when facts do not matter, when history and truth does not matter.  What happened yesterday is re-stated to fit one’s particular “facts.”  Each person has their own set of facts and therefore, rejects any “facts” from an opposing point of view.  So, one group can say, “Trump won the debate,” and another group can say, “Clinton won the debate,” and each group rejects the other side’s “fact.”  This is done even when the “fact” is present on video tape!  Amazing!

I now add “Post-fact Age” to my previous writing in June. “Obscurantism is the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known. There are two common historical and intellectual denotations to Obscurantism: (1) deliberately restricting knowledge — opposition to the dissemination of knowledge, and, (2) deliberate obscurity — an abstruse style (as in literature and art) characterized by deliberate vagueness.  An obscurantist is someone who actively opposes social reform and enlightenment, a type of anti-intellectual.”

Scientists the world over have affirmed “climate change” as a real and present danger, yet there are many who, in spite of the evidence, deny that it is happening.   The British pound crashed last Friday and the global markets went berserk, yet someone posted the following on FB:  “People are panicking over England voting to leave the EU. The truth of the matter is that there is no difference in the value of England's economy today than its value last week.”  Another example is the “talk” about mass killings being the work of Muslim terrorists, when most of the mass killings in the United States have been committed by non-Muslim citizens.  This is a fact—but a fact no one really wants to hear.  Obscurantism is the way we handle it—blaming terrorists responsible for one mass killing for all mass killings!

Innuendo (“an allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one”) is not necessarily truth or fact, but it becomes a useful tool of obscurantism.  The post on FB about the EU economy goes on to say, “What we are seeing is a people who say that they want more freedom from government and bureaucrats…I hope the people of America start demanding the same thing.”  Oh, really?  The truth—the facts—about the UK referendum go a lot deeper than that!  The “push” to leave the EU may be more about immigrants, nativism, and a scream of defiance against history, than it is about “freedom from government and bureaucrats.”  And, here is a fact, the “government and the bureaucrats” will still be in business in the UK.

The prevalence of Obscurantism and Inuendo these days suggest that the “human intellect,” the ability to think things through and study the evidence available, has brought us to a “Post-Fact Age.”

Hopefully my grandchildren will figure it out!
Ethan's rendition of Mr. Trump

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Day In Maine

The unseasonal warmth in Maine yesterday faded rapidly as evening came.  At  3 a.m. this morning I was forced to turn on the heat in the RV to take away the morning chill.  The sun came out for most of today, but failed to lift the temperature, which hovered around 50° all day long.  By late afternoon the clouds began to hide the sun announcing the coming of rain to Maine.

We took a little drive this morning along country roads, enjoying the fall foliage and the little villages, ending up at the Lobster Shack for an early lunch.  There I enjoyed both a cup of Maine clam chowder and a Maine lobster.  Delicious!  Later we enjoyed watching the Atlantic waters crash against the rocky coast and visiting Cape Elizabeth lighthouse and the Portland Headlight.    

As the clouds became thicker and the air became cooler, we returned to our pleasant campground to spend the remainder of the day.  I’ve had my fill of lobster and clam chowder now, so we will have a light dinner here in our little home on wheels tonight. There are many campgrounds in this area, but all of them, except this one, are now closed (the season ends here following the Columbus Day weekend).  There are only 8 or 10 other RV adventurers here in the park with us, taking advantage of this off-season opportunity. 

Tomorrow we will leave Maine, driving south and west toward northwestern New Jersey where I was born and where I spent the first 17 years of my life.  I still call it “home,” but it hasn’t been my home for 54 years!  My brother and sister (and spouses) still live in the area and we will stop to visit.  They have just returned from a 17-day journey to Italy.  I wonder what we’ll talk about, don’t you? 

In this autumnal season of life, I now realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life.  I will always be “On the Road.”  I know now that I will always be haunted by dreams of new places, new sights, new experiences which will forever be calling me to travel on and on.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Dancing Leaves

Leaving Springfield, Massachusetts this morning we drove the MA Turnpike east toward Boston, then north on I-495 around Boston, through Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and then I-95 into Old Orchard Beach, Maine.  Today was a short drive compared to yesterday, but the scenery, even along the Interstates, was breath-taking.  As Albert Camus wrote, “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”  John Donne expresses a similar notion when he writes,  “No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”  William Cullen Bryant said it yet another way, “Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”  Nathaniel Hawthorne spoke for me when he wrote, “I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house,” I’d rather be on the road.  And we had sunshine today—and unseasonable warmth—as we drove along the highway observing the leaves in brilliant costumes dance.

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

We have arrived in Maine just in time to see the leaves dance one last dance.  Some trees are already bare—their leaves now forming a quilt to warm the earth in the winter chill and snow.  Other trees are still clothed with dancing leaves of many hues.  It is a wonderful sight.

I checked at the Maine Visitors Center and again with the Campground hostess as to where I might find the best lobster.  Both recommended the Lobster Shack near Portland Head.  We will try it tomorrow at lunchtime.  For dinner tomorrow we will try the second recommendation, the Salt Surf restaurant very near to where we are staying.

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the dance, said He!”
Massachusetts Dawning

On the Road Again

It sure feels good to get Odysseus back on the road again.  We are headed for Maine.  Why Maine?  Well, my excuses are rather flimsy and a bit selfish.  First, I want to see the New England fall foliage.  Second, I want to eat a lobster and have a bowl of clam chowder (as only Maine can provide).  Third, I want to stand again on the rocks near Portland Head and watch the waves of the Atlantic crash in.  Now all of these things I’ve done before.  They have been crossed off my bucket list—but  just because they have been crossed off doesn’t mean I can’t do them again, for a long as I can.

Today we drove north into Pennsylvania and traveled through the Pocono Mountains.  The fall foliage is at its peak there. We turned east and entered New York, passing very near my boyhood home in northwestern New Jersey (where we will stop for a visit on our way home).  We passed by Poughkeepsie, crossed the Hudson River, and then Connecticut, through Danbury, New Town (which I never drive by without tears and a prayer) Waterbury and on into Hartford.  Years ago I had an offer to serve as pastor at a church in Hartford.  I turned down the invitation, but each time I drive through the city, I wonder what might have been.  From Hartford we took I-91 north into Springfield, Massachusetts and  are now settled for the night at the Westover AFB FamCamp.  Tomorrow we will drive on to Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

“All my life,” wrote Kazantzakis, “one of my greatest desires has been to travel—to see and touch unknown countries, to swim unknown seas, to circle the globe, observing new lands, seas, peoples, and ideas with an insatiable appetite…”   I am kin to Kazantzakis.  Each person has an individual soul full of closed buds, he went on.  When will they flower?  When will they bear fruit?  Kazantzakis implored God to let him live long enough to see which of his own buds would flower and to see what kind of fruit they might form.  His buds opened in and through his many travels—so I’m traveling, whenever and wherever I can in order to see my own buds flower.

Where there is a Road...the Buffalo and I Roam

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Caged Bird Still Sings

I came to know of Maya Angelou late in her long and active life of writing (to my regret). My acquaintance with her came from the poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” which she wrote and recited for President Clinton’s first inaugural in 1993. That summer my mother-in-law loaned me a cassette tape of Maya’s reading of her 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I listened to the tape, which seemed an appropriate thing to do as I drove down the California coastal highway to spend a weekend visiting inmates at a State prison. I was so taken by her story, that I stopped at a beach along the way and re-wrote the message I had intended to give at the prison. Later, I bought that book and another titled, “The Poetry of Maya Angelou.” Over the last several days, Maya has been visiting with me here in my study, through her poetry. She died in May 2014 and yet she “rises” still, a “phenomenally, phenomenal woman.”

“The Caged Bird” sang in so many ways and one of the most touching ways is demonstrated in the this story. Maya was a civil rights activist and a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. King was assassinated on her birthday (April 4) in 1968. For many years afterward, Maya stopped celebrating her birthday, and for more than 30 years sent flowers on that day to Coretta Scott King. That story alone “sings.”

Lift up your eyes upon
   the day breaking for you.
   Give birth again 
   To the dream….

Here on the pulse of this new day
    You may have the grace to look up and out
    And into your sister’s eyes, into
    Your brother’s face, your country
     And say simply
     Very simply
     With hope
     Good morning.

That dream, for me, for you, for our country is that we, though often caged in our prejudices and narrow opinions, might still sing…
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill.
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Voice of the Super Moon

Did you see it last night?  The Super Moon?  Or was it the “Blood,” “Wine,” “Hunter’s” or “Harvest” moon?  By whatever name you might give it, it was a spectacular sight here in the northern hemisphere.   It was certainly super!  A Super Moon is a full moon very close to the earth, which makes it look 14% larger than the usual full moon, called a Micromoon (further from the earth).  In autumn the full moon is often called the Harvest moon because it coincides with the harvesting of crops and this year that harvest moon happened to be a Super Moon.  It is sometimes called the “Blood” or “Wine” moon because of its bold orange, almost red color.  It is called the “Hunter’s” moon because its brightness prevented the deer, fox, etc., from hiding from the hunter in olden days.  There you have it!  Did you see it?  

I saw the Super, Blood, Wine, Hunter’s and Harvest moon both last night and again this morning before dawn and before the fog settled in.  What a sight!  It called forth all kinds of thoughts.  In childhood I was told the moon was made of green cheese.  (A fanciful proverb which “refers to the perception of a simpleton who sees a reflection of the moon in water and mistakes it for a round cheese wheel”).  In July 1969, I watched (with half a billion people on television) Neil Armstrong step on that cheese wheel and proclaim: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  And I thought how far we have traveled since then in terms of space exploration and our expanding knowledge of what is out there in the “great somewhere.”

Lyrics of various songs flooded into my mind as I looked with wonder at this Super Moon.  How many songs have referenced the moon?  I recall my grandmother singing “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain,” and my mother singing, “The Moon shines bright on my old Kentucky Home.” I remember the little ditty we use to sing at Scout Camp, “Oh Mr. Moon, moon, Bright and shiny moon, Won't you please shine down on me? Oh Mr. Moon, moon, Bright and shiny moon, Won't you come out behind that tree?”  I thought of Psalm 8:3, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;” and Psalm 74:16, “The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun,” and the words of St. Francis Assisi, “O sister moon with silver gleam!” and “ye lights of evening, find a voice!”  The moon last evening and this morning found its voice and spoke to me.  What did the moon say?  I’ve tried to tell, but my words fail.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Kissing “That Gentle Hand”

There is a time and season for everything writes the author of Ecclesiastes.  There are only 23 days left before the national election (Thank God!) President Obama has 96 days left in office, Christmas is only 70 days away.  Sometimes I wonder how many days I may have left, but I have not been given any inside information on that question.  “Time flies,” we say.  So...while it is day:

This morning as I read William Penn’s words about this special time of retirement in which I am now basking, I kissed (figuratively) “that Gentle Hand” which has led me into it. For those observing me or taking an account of my days this time might appear barren, but it is not so for me.  It has proven to be the most fruitful period of my life—so far.  To have time I can call my own, to have time to view myself and the world (past and present) to ponder what has been and how I’ve “hit and mist the Mark;” to be free to travel the highways and the byways of this great country and to wander about in other parts of this world, to read with abandonment all those books I have always wanted to read, to seek answers to the questions I’ve been asking all my life long, to spend time sitting, watching, and listening to the music of life on my little deck, to plant bulbs and pull weeds, to observe the butterflies and birds in flight, to see the cicada emerge from the dark cavern in which it has lived for 17 years—all this and so much more is a form of liberation that I never dreamed would be mine.  I now know why my mentor, Elton Trueblood, admonished me to  “Hurry up, retire, and be liberated.”

“We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day…” (John 9:4).  My feeble attempt in that work is to share—While It Is Day—and to express what I have tried to do, what I’ve felt, what I’ve tried to think, what I have experienced along the journey way, what I’ve discovered, and what I still search for, what is true, valuable, important and what is not, to share the words of those who have influenced me, guided me, helped me, and supported me, in the hope that I can encourage another person.  This “work” may be the most important service which I can render to another person in this time—while it is day.   This “author blesseth God for his Retirement, and kisses the Gentle Hand which led him into it.”

"Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
who with his love doth befriend thee."

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Resurrection of Truth

Two quotes, hidden in the recesses of my mind, were attempting to speak to me this morning as I awoke.  I could not remember them verbatim so I turned to my notebooks, “Notes of Note,” and at last have found one of them.  It is from William Cullen Bryant:  “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”  Truth is hard to come by these days and some of us are asking the question Pilate put to Jesus a long time ago:  “What is truth?”  There are others who don’t even ask that question, accepting whatever is said that pleases them as being true.  Conspiracy theories are having a hay-day and they drive me nuts! 

Truth is a reality and though “crushed” by those who want to live in an “alternative reality” truth shall “rise again.”  Even at this very moment, when veracity seems scarce, truth is breaking through—rising above the ridiculous—“breaking forth from the bud.”  At the core of this universe, truth resides, whether discovered by the scientist or experienced by the religious.  We do not struggle alone in our search for truth.  God is on the side of truth and truth shall rise above the ashes of lies as surely as the sun at the start of a new day.  In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.”  

“Truth crushed to earth shall rise again,” reminds me, too, of Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod on me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

I could not find the second quote that lurked in my mind this morning (and that will plague me all day long) but I did find this one of Carlyle, “No lie can live forever.”  A new age is dawning and it cannot be quelled by “an illusion wrapped in superficiality” or by the delusional.  It is already breaking from the bud and it cannot be turned back.  That we live in a global village is fact.  That fact can’t be erased.  This very day, my son and his wife are in China, sharing how our society deals with “special children” in our educational system and creating a partnership with educators there.  That we live in a diverse society is a fact—and it is difficult to do so—but you cannot ignore it or go back to another time when the so-called “different” were isolated from those who thought themselves superior. “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016

“Zorba, Forever On My Mind"

“Zorba taught me to love life and have no fear of death…If it had been a question in my lifetime of choosing a spiritual guide, a guru as the Hindus say, a father as say the monks of Mount Athos, surely I would have chosen Zorba” (Nikos Kazantzakis).

I can’t recall when I first read Kazantzakis’ Zorba, The Greek, or when I first saw the movie, “Zorba.”  I only know that it was a long time ago.  I’ve read the book many times and seen the movie, with Anthony Quinn playing Zorba, a number of times.  I’m not sure, even after the many  readings and watching the film several times, if I have yet to comprehend fully the essence of Zorba.

Sam Keen, in his book, To A Dancing God, wrote of his own fascination with Zorba, in  “For Zorba With Love:”

“Zorba, forever on my mind.  I curse you and love you because I am what I am.  You hold up a mirror to my sometimes too serious face.  Like the boss, I think too much.  But there is often dancing in my mind, ideas frolicking.  Sometimes my body is moved.  Yet I am a careful person, taking thought for the morrow.  I don’t know how to care without being careful, ….But I long to release the gypsy in me who would roam the earth, tasting, sampling, traveling light.  There are so many lives I want to live….In me sleeps Zorba… Perhaps Zorba will not leave me altogether.  I would not like to live without dancing, without unknown roads to explore, without the confidence that my actions were helpful to some.”

Zorba, with his love for life, his gypsy spirit, his eagerness to comfort others, his freedom to be just who he was all the time, and his penchant to dance the dance of life, “is forever on my mind,” too.     “In me sleeps Zorba,” but sometimes he awakes  within me and shakes me awake to live fully,  to laugh, to cry, to frolick, to dance, to sing, to toss aside the “careful” mode, and to explore unknown roads.  

In me (and in you) sleeps Another, too.  His name is Jesus.  Like Zorba, he, too, calls me to see life as a party, a dance, a song—Good News!  “I have come,” he said, “to give you abundant life!…Take no thought for the morrow….Be not afraid….Love one another…Do good.”  Sometimes Jesus, like Zorba, awakes in me and shakes me awake as well, to party with him and to be all that I’m meant to be…including the Zorba within me!  

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Big Questions

Throughout these past fifty years as a pastor, and thirty years as a military chaplain, I have always been extremely careful to avoid using those positions to tout my personal political stance, believing it totally unfair to impose such upon the people who had to listen to me week after week.  In the early years of my ministry I registered as an “Independent” so as not to be seen as partisan.  (I changed that status later on in order to vote in primary elections—which I could not do as an Independent).  At heart, I think I am still an Independent and have, on occasion, voted across party-lines.

The task of a Christian priest/pastor is to proclaim the Gospel (not partisan politics) to all people of all political persuasions.  The message proclaimed is supposed to be a life-changing message, and therefore, quite naturally, should influence those who claim it in the area of politics.  Politics and religion do go together—they must!  Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state—not a separation from our faith and values and how we vote!

Those who have read my previous blogs will immediately suggest that I have certainly “taken sides” in the current political debate and you are absolutely right!  I did so a year and a half ago, and I do so now, not as a Republican or as a Democrat, but on the basis of my Christian faith and the values that faith embodies.  Neither of the candidates currently seeking the presidency of the United States is perfect—no president of this nation has ever been perfect. Whoever we elect will be imperfect (as we all are).  

What is at stake in this election is a matter of immense importance. It has to do with the Gospel of Jesus.  It is a matter of how we want to be treated and how we want others to be treated in our society.  Do we want to be proclaimed guilty before a fair trial?  Do we want to be told that if we are “against” we are “demons” and full of “hatred in our hearts?”  Do we want walls that separate us into categories?  Do we want to live in a world where it is “Us Against the World?”  Do we want to live in an atmosphere of fear? Do we want conspiracy theories to guide us as a nation in this perilous time?  Do we want to be called “foul-mouthed” when we cannot support?  Do we want a president who thinks he is “a genius,” and has the audacity to imply that others are “ineffective” and “dumb” and “crooked?”  I don’t!  And now, you may “de-friend” me if you like!