Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quibbling with Richard Dawkins

Yesterday I used a quote from Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.  (Dawkins established the Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and is an avowed Atheist).The more I thought about what he wrote, the more I felt I needed to say something more about the Bible, (or was it simply a need to quibble with Dawkins?). “The God of the Old Testament,” he writes, “is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.”  Dawkins implies that the Bible is fictional (meaning:  “The category of literature, drama, film, or other creative work whose content is imagined and is not necessarily based on fact” and/or “Narrative, explanatory material, or belief that is not true or has been imagined or fabricated”).  The Bible contains books of history, short stories, drama, love poems, philosophy, law codes, etc. It cannot be considered as entirely fictional, though certainly some of it is fiction.  The Bible is the story of a people searching for God in the midst of their “real” not “imagined” or “fabricated” historical experience.  Cyrus the Great and Nebuchadnezzar were real historical figures.  So, I’m not sure it is fair, nor accurate, for Dawkins or anyone else to call the Old Testament (or the Bible) a fictional account.

Now it is difficult for anyone to quibble with Dawkins about the kind of "God" he sees in the Old Testament, "jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, meglomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."  But, I wonder if Dawkins included the God described in the Book of Hosea in his research, or the ever-growing conception of "one" God, a God of Love, in the writings of Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah?

The early conceptions of God in the Old Testament were and are crude, just as some conceptions of God in the modern day are crude.  Humankind has always shaped their gods into the kind of image that will support their "petty, unjust, unforgiving" nature and their ethnic cleansing, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, etc., propensities.  These propensities remain and are still acted out and ascribed to God's word!  The early writers of the Old Testament did the same.  The atrocities committed and ascribed to God are more in tune with their own human nature than that of the divine.  But if you read the Old Testament with care, openness and reason, you will find this theme throughout:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.

















Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Bible

Each morning I write about whatever happens to come to mind.  Most often I write out of my own experience and understanding. Sometimes I rant and rave over something that rattles my mind or “irks my soul.”  Sometimes I seek out other informative and hopefully authoritative sources to support what I am trying to say.  I have learned that my experience and my understanding on any given subject is limited. If I know anything at all it is because I have been carried on the shoulders of the giants who have pondered, along with me, the imponderables.  

This morning, after reading (as I attempt to do each morning) a portion of the Bible, I found myself thinking about this book (actually 66 books) and how it has shaped my life and faith and the history of the world for thousands of years.  Since early childhood, when I first heard the story of Zaccheus climbing up a sycamore tree to get a view of Jesus passing by, the Bible has fascinated me.  I became an ardent student of the book at about the age of fourteen and that study  has continued for nearly sixty years.  At the age of 17, I read Robert McAfee Brown’s book, The Bible Speaks to You.  (This book is still available through Amazon and I highly recommend it to all).  It helped me deal with the Bible with intellectual integrity as well as with reverence. 

The Bible has been used in many foolish ways.  Some interpret it literally, others see it as a book of magic, still others as the actual “Word” of God.  These views have become a stumbling block for many and rightly so.  Such views are not intellectually sound and cannot stand up to close examination.  The story is told of a fellow who thought the Bible was a book of magic and one day in distress, he opened it to find God’s message for him.  He read, “And Judas went and hung himself.”  Not satisfied with this “word from God” he randomly opened the book again and read the following, “Go, and do thou likewise.”  The literal view cannot be rationally defended.  There are two stories of Creation in the book of Genesis.  Does God not remember correctly? There are still some in the modern world who believe the Bible demeans women, suggesting “If there is anything they (women) desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church” (I Cor. 14:35).  But this is not the last word, for the Bible also says in Galatians 3:28, a letter written some years after the Letter to the Church in Corinth, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…neither male nor female..for you are all one….”  And there is much more that can be said….


The Bible is not a stumbling block if viewed properly. The stumbling blocks have been erected by those who misuse the Bible and abuse it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

“Either/Or” Vs. “And”

The polarization (division into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs) of our nation is self-evident—in politics, religion, science, in rural and urban life (red states vs. blue states) in human equality, and in the tension that exists in many minds between the needs of the individual and the needs of society.  Polarization is a form of paralysis.  This “Either/or” mentality tears asunder the ideas of compromise, brother and sisterhood, and community.  “My way or the highway,” —“love it or leave it” (spoken by any group) are slogans of the either/or nemesis which will, in time, destroy a democratic society.  In such a society as ours,  the “winner” cannot take all, nor can the winning side claim absolute control without taking into consideration the ideas of the losers and those out of power.    The divide is 47% on one side; maybe 53% on the other (my statistics). “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater” is an expression that might fit this either/or divide.

There is nothing wrong with being a “Conservative,”  defined as “a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics.”  There is nothing wrong with being a “Liberal,” defined as those “favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded.”  It is not necessary to say that one is a Conservative or one is a Liberal.  All human beings happen to be both—that is, both conservative and liberal.  Everyone who is “intellectually and spiritually alive” is a Liberal, in the sense that he or she “seeks truth from any quarter, welcoming any evidence without the bondage of prejudgment.”  Everyone who is “intellectually and spiritually alive” is a Conservative, because he or she is unwilling to toss aside whatever has proved itself in the long experience of history.  It is not a matter of “Either/Or.”  The reality is (in me and in you) that we are both—Conservative and Liberal—by virtue of being thinking persons.  

What has occurred in our time, or so it seems to me, is that we have lost the true meaning of the terms and thus, misuse them.  The same is true in our use of the words, Fundamentalist, Conservative, Evangelical and Liberal, in matters of religion.   Wherever “Either/Or” becomes the basis of our thinking, we become something less than a “whole” person, indeed, we have made ourselves schizophrenic and paralyzed by limiting who we really are.  And what are we?  We are “many selves”—there is a conservative and a liberal in each of us—if we are rational and introspective beings.   It is destructive to us as persons to claim that we are one or the other; it is destructive to our democratic way of life to label one another as being one or the other.  WE ARE BOTH/AND if we but think about it.  “And” is an important conjunction!  Words have definitions and we ought to use words rightly rather than isolating such words as labels (an automatic either/or).


Empty chairs await us at a Greek Taverna...
Why don't we sit down together under the Bougainvillea and become whole?

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Cloud of Unknowing

I’ve read The Cloud of Unknowing numerous times since I first encountered Ira Progoff’s translation of this classic guide to spiritual experience written in the 14th century. The book occupies a special place among other spiritual classics in my library.  I have always found the title fascinating for I think it describes our human perplexity in all matters of life.  We just don’t know anything for sure!  Absolute proof, says A. N. Whitehead, is not given to finite minds. We live under the cloud of unknowing anything for sure.

Some will say that natural science provides certainty and absolute proof, but this, as Elton Trueblood writes, “is simply one of the superstitions of our age.  We have, of course, high probability, but that is a different matter.”  Blaise Pascal asked his fellow scientists, “Who has demonstrated that there will be a tomorrow, and that we shall die?”  He knew that all science depends upon assumptions which are incapable of proof. 

This lack of certainty doesn’t mean that we give up the effort to believe—whether we are considering the existence of God or the existence of atoms.  We can’t support anything perfectly, but we can gather significant evidence (the primary criterion and standard of evaluation of scientific theory is evidence, not proof).  Somewhere I read this quip, “Proofs are not the currency of science.”  The oft-stated phrase “God cannot be proved” suggests that reason (and evidence) have nothing to do with one's belief in the existence of God—it is simply a matter of faith.  We could also say,  “Global Warming cannot be proved,” or “the existence of atoms cannot be proved.” It is all a matter of what you believe (where you place your faith).  There is evidence for the existence of God, there is evidence of global warming, and evidence for the existence of atoms.  Whether we accept or believe the evidence available to us is another matter.  We do not possess, as finite beings, absolute proof or certainty about anything.



Aegean Paradise--a little Venice in Greece

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Difficulties

We all feel uneasy with the way things are (well, at least I do) both in our personal lives and in our society.  We are bewildered by what has been happening in our nation and in the world.  We struggle to know, even with the  24/7 barrage of information available to us, what is true and what is false.  It is extremely difficult these days to decipher the “facts.” This creates serious problems. There are moments when we feel that irrationality has triumphed over clear thinking.   We feel the problems, both personally and collectively, but we do not have the answers.  Some of us feel that we have been let down and betrayed.  Life hasn’t turned out the way we expected.  We fear the worst. No part of the human family is immune from the problems and the difficulties of life, whether personal or societal.

The Bible is helpful to me, as it has been to others in every generation, because it reflects the difficulties of life on almost every page.  The people of faith have never lived in a utopia!  Almost every Psalm in the Old Testament speaks of the hardships of life.  In the New Testament we readily see that faith is maintained not in the absence of problems, but in the midst of them.  “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Cor. 4:8).  Life is never easy, never has been, and never will be!  Difficulties abound!

Elton Trueblood reminds us that, “When, in the divine purpose, persons emerged, they brought a host of potential problems into existence, problems which do not appear in a pre-personal world.  Stones are not afflicted with envy and covetousness.  Clouds may be opaque, but they are never sinful; and they do not engage in the struggle for personal power.  The difficulties which we encounter are chiefly those not of nature, but of human nature.” 

This morning I am strengthened and encouraged as I read in Psalm 40, “I waited, waited for the Lord, he bent down to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the muddy pit, out of the mire and the clay; he set my foot on a rock and gave me a firm footing; and on my lips he put a new song.”  I find it helpful in the midst of difficulties to read again Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair.”

Plaka in Athens, Greece



Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Place to Stand

I’m engaged in a deep philosophical conversation this morning with my friend of the written word, whom I mentioned a few days ago:  Alfred North Whitehead.  He wrote in his book, Adventures in Ideas:  “You cannot consider wisdom or folly, progress or decadence, except in relation to some standard of judgment, some end in view.  Such standards, such ends, when widely diffused, constitute the driving force of ideas in the history of mankind.  They also guide the composition of historical narrative.”

What is my standard of judgment about what is going on in the world?  What end, what standard, what view do I hold that prompts and guides my dreams, thoughts, hopes; my political, scientific, religious, and social positions and questions?  What is my base of operation—is it unintellectual, unrealistic, or irrational?  If so, I need to change my standard. 

I do not know very much.  I do not know what tomorrow may bring for me, you, or our nation, or world.  I do not know why there is so much evil and suffering.  I do not understand why we do what we do.  I also know that I don’t really need to know these things.  But I do know that I must have some standard, some place to stand, some point of view by which to judge and consider what is “wisdom or folly, progress or decadence.”  In a secular way, with regard to our democracy, my standard for judgment in political, religious and social issues is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  I subscribe to Martin Luther King’s view of those documents when he said, “The substance of the dream is expressed in these sublime words, words lifted to cosmic proportions…for they are God-given.”


Elton Trueblood wrote, “Christ can be accepted; he can be rejected; he cannot be reasonably ignored.”  Long ago I began to trust Jesus; trusting what he represented and trusting what he taught.  I made Him and His teachings my standard, my view, my base of operation for dealing with all things.  Trueblood wrote, “In this tremendously confused world, with so many, many voices, what do people really need?  They do not need answers to every question, because they will have to work out the answers for themselves.  What they need is some central point of intellectual and spiritual stability which will make them able to deal with the questions when they come, and to deal with the burdens as they are born.  Christ did not say that he would take away our burdens.  He did say, however, that he would give us a way of handling them.”  Jesus has been, for a long time now, my place to stand, the standard for my dreams, thoughts, hopes; my political, scientific, religious, and social positions and questions. I attempt to view all things from this perspective.

We must not become like windmills
--moved by whatever breeze
comes our way.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Climate Change

Climate change is not new. In fact, seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat have occurred over the last 650,000 years.  Most of these earlier climate changes were due to very small variations in the Earth’s orbit, changing the amount of solar energy received by our planet.  Today, however, the warming trend, which began in the mid-20th century and is increasing today at an unprecedented rate is the result of human activity, primarily the “heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases (greenhouse gases).”  The scientific evidence for this warming trend is unequivocal. To ignore or deny it is an untenable position and such denial and inaction could result in future global genocide.

Global sea level rose 8 inches in the last century.  The rate in the last 20 years is nearly double that of the last century.   Earth’s average surface temperature has risen 2.0°F since the 19th century, a change driven by increased greenhouse gases and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.  Most of this warming has occurred in the last 35 years, with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.  2016 was the warmest year on record.  Oceans have absorbed this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet of ocean showing warming of 0.302°F since 1969.  The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased—Greenland lost 36-60 cubic miles of ice between 2002-2006; Antarctica lost 36 cubic miles of ice from 2002-2005.  The extent and the thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined over the last several decades. Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere—the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.  High temperature events have been increasing in the U.S., while the number of record low temperature events have been decreasing since 1950.  The U.S. has also had increasing numbers of intense rainfall events. The acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by nearly 30%,  the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thus, more being absorbed into the oceans.  The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year. (facts derived from NASA).


Some of the most stubborn Climate Change Deniers are alleged Christians who claim that it makes little difference what happens to the Earth because the Bible (Book of Revelation) promises a “new” one.  Jesus is coming again (and soon, some think) and that will resolve the issue. What a ludicrous notion!  It relieves us of all responsibility and stewardship for the Earth—and in fact, relieves us of any responsibility for anything at all (which is totally contrary to the Biblical message)—a real cop-out!

Flagstaff, AZ--2017


Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Think and Let Think"

On Tuesday afternoon at BWI airport I passed by two men standing at a little portable table with a sign that  read “Save President Trump from the FBI Coup.”  A coup d’erat is the “illegal and overt seizure of a state by the military or other elites within the state apparatus.”  I could not pass them by.  I turned around and walked back to the table.  The brief one-sided (their side) conversation with these two gentlemen was ludicrous (“so foolish, unreasonable, or out of place as to be amusing; ridiculous”).  They believe that,  “the elite” (“a group or class of people seen as having the greatest power and influence within a society, especially because of their wealth or privilege”) who they named as the “establishment,  the swamp people, the liberals”) have colluded together to undermine the president and “the American people” who elected him.  The FBI was their nemesis (“the inescapable agent of someone's or something's downfall”) but they also denounced the media (fake news) and the “Opposition.”  The “Opposition” is their label for any person or group who disagrees with them or is opposed to the president.  

I walked away stunned by their perception of the world we live in together and at their almost rabid attempt to proselytize others, including me, to their way of thinking. Like so many religious proselytizers I’ve encountered, they were unwilling to hear my point of view, or to listen to my side of things.  To be fair, however, I returned to their table to hear their side of the story, not to promote my own.  It was evident that only they have the truth; only they are in the right, and I was quickly viewed as a part of the Opposition by my unwillingness to subscribe to their position.

These two gentlemen with whom I differed so much did not know that as I walked on down the concourse I celebrated their freedom to be at the airport expressing their views.  They did not know that in spite of our differences, I did not oppose their right to express their opinions.  My only regret was that they wanted to deny that same privilege, that same right (given by the First Amendment of the Constitution) to others—by not being open to what I or others might think, or what the media might report, or what evidence might contradict their position.



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Adventurous Spirit

Many of my friends of the written word pre-date me— Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) whose words speak to me this morning is but one of these.  Whitehead was an English mathematician and philosopher.  At the time of Whitehead’s death, A.H. Johnson compiled selections from Whitehead’s writings and published them in a book, The Wit and Wisdom of Whitehead.  Every once in a while I take that book from the shelf and leaf through it, gathering as much wit and wisdom as I can. Abraham Lincoln when asked what has been the most important invention of all mankind answered without hesitation, “The written word.”  I fully agree with Lincoln, for without the written word, I would never have Alfred North Whitehead as a friend, or his wit and wisdom.

This morning, for example, Whitehead offered me this piece of wisdom:  “A race preserves its vigor so long as it harbors a real contrast between what has been and what may be; and so long as it is nerved by the vigor of adventure beyond the safeties of the past.  Without adventure civilization is in full decay.”  

Without a sense of adventure, a sense of moving forward to what “may be” civilizations decay—and this, particularly, if that civilization hunkers down and chooses to remain in the “what has been”  or tries to go back to an imagined time that once was but is no more, as in “Make America Great Again.”

It struck me this morning that a similar decay can and does occur as one grows older and begins to dwell in the past (what has been) and no longer seeks the adventure of moving forward to  what “may be.” Adventure is defined as “an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.”  I know people my age who refuse to deal with the new technology, and even brag about how they still do their banking the old way.  What an adventure they could have if they would “get with it,” instead of living back there!  Every new day can be an adventure for an older person—perhaps even more adventurous than in earlier years.  What “may be” for me tomorrow?  If we lose the adventurous spirit we simply lose our vigor and we decay.  Old age wins the day and we live in what “has been,”  but is no more.  I need to get on the road again!


Where does the San Juan go from here?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Choice Is Always Ours

Today is an anniversary for me of sorts!  It was fifty-seven years ago today that I enlisted in the US Air Force and traveled by air (the first time ever) to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas for ten weeks of basic training.  I was 17 years old and had graduated from high school just a month before.  

In those days the “draft” was in effect.  Every young male upon reaching 18 years of age (who was not a farmer or a college student) was likely to be drafted into the army.  Wherever I went at the age of 17 to seek a job the response was always the same “come back after your military obligation.”   I don’t think those employers I contacted really wanted a 17-year-old anyway, especially one who didn’t have a car to travel to and from work.  There was but one thing to do—enlist and get it over with.

I knew nothing about the military, nothing about the Air Force.  The truth of the matter is that I didn’t know much about anything!  I soon found out about the Air Force and what I found out, I didn’t like very much.  

Fourteen weeks later, however, I decided that I did have some choice in the matter of how I would serve out my military commitment.  The choice is always ours!  That choice changed my time in the Air Force and changed the whole path of my life.  I chose to become what was then called a Chaplain Services Specialist (in brief, a Chaplain Assistant).  


One of the Ghosts of Christmas past in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, replies to Scrooge’s question:  “You are fettered,” Scrooge says, “Tell me why?  “I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”  Our choices make all the difference and the choice is always ours.

"Yesterday, when I was young"--Mug Shot

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Old and The Young

Yesterday I had the wonderful privilege of attending yet another annual birthday party for grandsons Austin (21)  and Nick (19).  We have had that privilege since they were both just little guys.  They are not so little anymore.  Born on the same day, two years apart, it has become a family tradition to celebrate their special day.  We have enjoyed through these years not only observing  Austin and Nick growing up, but also their cousins, Andrew, Megan and Katie.  It has always been a special gathering and remains so.  Helen and Paul have not only given us the gift of these two grandsons, but have also faithfully hosted the big July party each year. 

Some say, humility comes with age.  In my early years I thought I knew just about everything there was to know.  I even thought I had most of the answers. The truth is that I didn’t even know then what the important questions were.  This malady of “knowing it all” was quickly cured as the experiences of life tumbled in around me.  I quickly came to the realization that there are no simple answers.  Simple answers are always wrong, because the world is not simple!  The mystery of life and the questions that come with it actually increase with experience and age.  I now know that what I do not know far surpasses what I know.


That being said, I am always delighted to be with young people and to hear “their take” on the questions and issues of our time.  Their answers, like my own in my early years, will be tried and tested as life tumbles in on them.  But we do ourselves and our world a great injustice if we simply say they are young and think they have the “the bull by the tail.”   To say such a thing is to suggest that we haven’t learned a thing about the humility of maturity.  They may know something we don’t know!



Friday, July 7, 2017

The Gift of Aging

This morning I seem to be focused on my aging.  I don’t know why that should be on my mind, but it is, and I can’t seem to dismiss it at the moment, so I’m just going to write about it.  Perhaps I am aware of my age because I just finished painting a bedroom here at home—moving all the furniture out, installing crown moulding, climbing up and down the ladder what seemed like a thousand times, stretching my arms beyond their capacity to put two coats of paint on the ceiling, painting the walls and the trim, cleaning the windows and re-hanging the curtains, scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees (using a knee pad, of course) and then putting all the furniture back in place.  It took twelve days (3-5 hours a day) to complete the project and I was aware of my age each and every day—aching arms, arthritic hands, stiff and sore legs, and all the rest! 

Is that really the reason I am so conscious of my age this morning?  Probably not, even though “the proof is in the pudding” when I tackle some project—I have aged and I am aging.  I’m not bothered by this fact except when I paint a room, or use a shovel or hoe in the flowerbeds, and the only “bother” is the realization that, “I ain’t what I use to be!”  At the same time, I know I am “more” than I have ever been before!  Robert Frost wrote a line that has always fascinated me, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  I know more about the “morning” now that I am living in the “afternoon.”  

Sometimes I think Mark Twain was right when he said, “Life should begin with age and its privileges and accumulations, and end with youth and its capacity to splendidly enjoy such advantages.”  But, alas, it just doesn’t work that way, which is why Morrie says, in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, “Embrace aging…It’s very simple. As you grow, you learn more. If you stayed at twenty-two, you’d always be as ignorant as you were at twenty-two. Aging is not just decay, you know. It’s growth. It’s more than the negative that you’re going to die, it’s also the positive that you understand you’re going to die, and that you live a better life because of it.”  

Am I living a better life because I’ve aged?  Do I know something more now about the morning because I’m living in the afternoon?  I hope so, I believe so, and for that reason, I celebrate the gift of my own aging.


Morning

Afternoon

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The War on Empirical Reality

A new war has been initiated.  It is one of the most dangerous wars ever waged.  It is a war to overthrow empirical reality.  The word, “empirical,” means:  “originating in or based on observation or experience—empirical data.”  This war is being fought right now and right here in the United States of America.  It is being waged against those who accept empirical reality by those who resist and reject it.  The new weapon in this war is the term “fake news” which is being used to shoot down the empirical reality forces.

This war is akin to the so-called “War on Christmas” which occurs, like an annual ritual, every December.  Henry Ford was a proponent of the idea that someone was waging a war on Christmas back in the early 20th century.  He blamed the Jews without having any empirical data to prove his point other than his own anti-Semitic stance. In 1959 the far-right John Birch Society entered the battle, alerting the nation of an “assault on Christmas” by United Nations fanatics. These fanatics, according to the John Birch Society, want “the country to utilize UN symbols and emblems as Christmas decorations.”  Far out?  You betcha!  It was totally untrue—having no empirical reality. Yet, the war on Christmas has continued, notably in recent years by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who first aired a segment on “Christmas Under Siege.”  “All over the country,” O’Reilly railed, “Christmas is taking flak…”  Liberals (or in O’Reilly’s words, “secular progressives”) are attempting to destroy Christmas with their “holiday trees” and “happy holiday” greetings.  Pat Buchanan couldn’t resist the limelight and declared that the people in “the world out there” were committing “hate crimes against Christianity.”  Sarah Palin joined the battle, promoting her book, Good Tidings and Great Joy:  Protecting the Heart of Christmas, in which she declared that atheists and liberals (who according to Palin, are interchangeable) were seeking to destroy Christmas. Mr. O’Reilly announced that major corporations were ordering their employees not to say “Merry Christmas,” a false statement, but one that resonated, creating in the minds of many an alternative reality.  

George Orwell wrote that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle,”  for we are easily misled.  We can, by “impudently twisting the facts,” convince ourselves of “things which we know to be untrue.” A whole society, Orwell said, can deceive itself “for an indefinite time,” and the only check on that mass delusion is that “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against a solid and empirical reality.”  There is a reality and there is (according to some) an alternative reality.  One is based on empirical data; the other is based on lies and the twisting of facts or the ignoring of facts.  Lincoln’s words from the Gettysburg Address apply, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any other nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”  If you have persisted in reading this all the way through, let me wish you and yours an early “Merry Christmas.”

War is tragic, no matter the form it may take..



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Patriotism

Since the Gulf War (1990-1991) Americans have been “feeling” patriotic.  This patriotic “feeling” was ramped up to an even greater degree with the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan (the longest war in American history) and Iraq.

Patriotism, according to Merriam-Webster, is “love for or devotion to one’s country.”  Another source says a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.”  I would suggest that patriotism is more than love of country, if by country we mean “amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty.”  Patriotism is more than a blind allegiance or trust in our leaders.  It is more than being able to vote, or having the right to do so.  It is more than  “flag-waving,” which can be an outward sign of patriotism, but is only a sign, not patriotism itself (and those who attempt to make it so cheapen the very meaning of patriotism).  Patriotism is not “The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,” nor is it the “National Anthem,” or even a blind support of our men and women in uniform!

Patriotism is something far deeper.  It is a reverence for the ideas that our forefathers set forth for this nation; the ideas for which they were willing to put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line.  All men (people) are created equal.  All are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights—like the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Government exists only by the consent of the governed.  The ideas found in the Declaration of Independence create a patriotic feeling in me and they define me as an American.  It is freedom.  It is liberty.  It is the bedrock on which this nation is founded. It makes life worth living and that makes the ideas worth fighting and dying for.  Love of country just doesn’t cut it for me.  It is love for what the country is supposed to be and is meant to be that calls forth my feeling of patriotism.  It is reverance for the principles of the Declaration of Independence that I celebrate and honor today.


The American Dream begins with a Declaration,
and is lived on the long road to its fulfillment.






Monday, July 3, 2017

Independence

The Fourth of July is a celebration of our nationhood, commemorating the passage of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the Second Continental Congress announced to the world that the thirteen colonies, already at war for over a year with England, regarded themselves as independent sovereign states, no longer under British rule.  These thirteen colonies formed a new nation—the United States of America.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration, and it is important that we know what the document proclaims.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (all people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.  But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—…”


The underlying theme of the document is revolutionary—“all men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and thus “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish…”  Later, these ideas would be expressed in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Preeminent among these ideas is the right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, to gather, publish, and distribute information and ideas without government restriction or censorship.  Such restriction includes any attempts by the government or leaders of government to decide, announce, or disparage what is real news and what is fake news.  Both real and fake news are a fundamental right of a free press and a free people.  A free people must be able to think clearly on their own and decide for themselves.  This is fundamental!


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hal's Sunday Rant

Someone declared in the late nineteenth century that Christians “are dying of complacency and insipidity, of vulgarized and minimized truths, of a religion reduced to our standards.”  This declaration still rings true.  In fact, the decay has become more pronounced, particularly with the rise of what some erroneously label as Protestant Evangelical Christians.   Some call it Fundamentalism—“a group that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.” 

These alleged Christians have no interest in searching for truth because they believe they have already gotten hold of it. They ignore science, seeing it as an enemy of the faith.  They have chosen to make the Bible (biblioidolatry) their god without any serious study of its contents.  “If it is written in the book, it is so,” they say, but they only subscribe to parts of the book that fit their standards.  The earth is not flat!  Facts, embedded in stone, tell us the world was inhabited millions of years ago.  This evidence is rejected out-of-hand.  Instead, alleged Christians cling to Bishop Ussher’s (1650) calculation that creation occurred on  October 22, 4004 BC.  Ussher’s calculation is not in the Bible—it is not scriptural—but Fundamentalists adhere to it as absolute truth anyway, in spite of evidence to the contrary.  They don’t want to know why they believe what they do, or feel the way they do, or think the way they do.  They don’t want to deal with introspection—“the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings.” They want it in black and white—and they want it according to their own standards (which they never examine).

This same “decay” is happening in our beloved nation—we, too, “are dying of complacency and insipidity, of vulgarized and minimized truths, of a [democracy] reduced to our standards.  


Aristotle said that the true nature of any being is what it can become, not what it once was or what it is now, but what it can be.  The only way we can know and live out the Christian faith is by being aware of our own inner workings (introspection).  “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The same is true of our democracy.  It is not what we have been, or what we are now as a nation, it is what we can become.  Without introspection, without thinking, without knowledge, we remain mere “runts” in the faith.  Without these same qualities at work in every citizen, democracy cannot become what democracy is meant to be.

The Road is Long--but we must travel it wherever it goes to find  Truth.


Friday, June 30, 2017

A Cluttered Mind

My mind is cluttered this morning with “stuff.”  That’s probably not the right word for the “clutter” but it is the best I can do at the moment.  

The iPhone celebrated its tenth anniversary yesterday. It has revolutionized the world.  It didn’t revolutionize my personal world until about three years ago when Liam and Katie insisted I should have one.  They found a used iPhone 5 and set me up.  Since then it has been my constant companion, traveling with me wherever I go.  What an amazing device!  I can barely remember life without it.  I’m still a novice in its use, but feel I’ve come a long way from that flip-top phone of just a few years ago.  The experts say there is more “computer power” in my pocket than was needed to put a man on the moon.  Most of the potential in that little device in my pocket has never been utilized because I don’t know how to use it yet. 

The fact that I haven’t tapped into the full potential of the iPhone reminds me of the fact that most of our potential as human beings has not yet been realized.  We have the capacity to be so much more than who and what we are.  Sometimes, given yesterday’s major news story about Trump’s tweets on media personalities and the media’s response, I feel like we have degenerated—gone back to the school yards of our childhood where bullying and “picking fights” and poking childish jibes at one another were the norm.

What was even more distressing about yesterday’s quibble were the comments by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  “The American people elected a fighter,” she said, and “He,” the president, “was simply pushing back and defending himself.”  Now if that isn’t school yard-like I don’t know what is!  “Punching back” is a childish and silly antic whenever and wherever it occurs, and by whoever. 

I guess we don’t know yet how to use the potential of our humanness in the same way I don’t yet know the full potential of the iPhone (especially since I only have the iPhone 5).  It is probably time for me to upgrade to the newest model.  It seems to me that our human behavior needs an upgrade, too.

Sunrise on the Aegean Sea
I still see everywhere the possibilities of new dawns
and new sunrises.



Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Than a Dash

“I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came her date of birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.  (1951-2017)

For the dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth…
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own;
The cars…the house…the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.  (Author Unknown)


Today I will attend, not officiate, the funeral of a friend.  I tutored  two of her five children many years ago, both of whom are now adults and creating their own “dash.”  This mother lost one  daughter in a tragic car accident and just last year lost her husband.  She lived her dash well in spite of the hardships and heartbreak she endured.  Her life was one of dedicated service (a nurse) to others and to her family.  When our paths crossed on occasion, usually at the grocery store, she would talk of her children and what they were doing and how proud she was of their progress in life.  Her dash was not a little line separating time.  Her dash was writ large with love upon her community, family, and her friends, including me.  Today I will attend the funeral of a friend, and celebrate her dash.


For thou wilt light my candle: 
the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. (Ps. 18:28)


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Matt’s Big Rig

I am still savoring yesterday’s visit and lunch with my 24-year-old grandson Matt, up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  He called last week saying he would be overnighting in Harrisburg, before driving on to Watkins Glen, NY for the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, and wondered if I might be able to connect with him there for lunch or dinner.  Matt drives an 18-wheeler that has on board all the tools, equipment, parts, wheels, and even a “half a Porsche,” that might be needed during a racing event.  Two other trucks with similar support materials were to meet up with Matt last night and together they will drive on to Watkins Glen today.  At the race itself, Matt is a member of the Pit-Stop crew.  He’s the guy who pumps the gas into the car during those quick stops.

Matt and I haven’t seen each other since Christmas and I was eager to see him and to know how he was enjoying his new job.  So when he called about the Harrisburg stop I jumped at the opportunity.  We met, as planned, at a Truck Stop north of Harrisburg.  That is when I saw, for the first time, the “rig” Matt drives.  I think my mouth fell open and remained open for at least a minute or two! What a truck! I am still flabbergasted.  My grandson, who once sat on my lap, enjoyed driving my lawn tractor, and always dreamed of being involved in racing and being on a Pit-Stop crew is now driving this monster of a truck—and what a fancy truck it is!  The 53’ trailer even has a  lounge area with comfortable sofas and a TV!  

What a special day!  All boys at 11 or 12 years old have dreams about what they want to do when they grow up.  When I was 11 years old, I dreamed of being a naturalist, sailing down the Amazon River and wandering through the rainforests of Brazil.  I still haven’t made it to the Amazon or Brazil. Matt dreamed of being involved in racing, particularly being part of a Pit-Stop crew.  One of his heroes back then was Jeff Gordon.  Today Matt is living out his dream (in part).  Matt's grandad thinks that's incredible!


Drive safely, Matt!  That’s a mighty big rig.