Friday, January 27, 2017

End of Week One!

“The behavior of the new president in his first week in office has experts and elected officials wondering: is this just a case of a president with predictable quirks, or is it something that raises concerns about Trump's judgment and adherence to factual reality?”  So writes Susan Milligan, staff writer for  U.S. News & World Report this morning.

Milligan writes, “a practicing psychotherapist who teaches psychiatric residents at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, minces as few words as the president in his professional assessment of Trump.

‘Donald Trump is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president,’ says Gartner, author of In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography. ‘Trump has malignant narcissism, which is different from narcissistic personality disorder and which is incurable.’”

Is this diagnosis fair or proper given the fact that it is based only on observation?  Milligan points out, and rightly so, that such a diagnosis violates the ethics code of the American Psychiatric Association, which says,  “it is wrong to provide a professional opinion of a public figure without examining that person and gaining consent to discuss the evaluation.”

The diagnosis may be true or untrue—time will tell.  What bothers me this morning is the fact that there appear to be a good number of others who are subscribing to what Mr. Trump calls the “Real,” and the “Truth.”  When I see a Facebook Post where others are offering “proof” that his inaugural had the largest crowd ever or that it is “true” that there were anywhere from 3 to 5 million votes cast illegally in the recent election, I really begin to worry.  I worry that the narcissism of Mr. Trump really is a malignant one, spreading rapidly into the rest of our society.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Division or Counter-Culture?

John R.W. Stott wrote a book entitled Christian Counter-Culture in 1978.  Using Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Stott declared that the Christian faith had become assimilated to the “way things are,” thus contradicting its very essence.  “For the essential theme of the whole Bible from beginning to end is that God’s historical purpose is to call out a people for himself,” Stott wrote, “that this people is a ‘holy’ people, set apart from the world to belong to him and to obey him; and that its vocation is to be true to its identity, that is, to be ‘holy’ or ‘different’….” 

Theodore Roszak wrote The Making of the Counter-Culture  in 1969, a decade prior to Stott’s book.  Roszak wrote of the “flower children” and the “hippies” of the 60’s—that younger generation of the time who wanted peace, not war, who hungered for authentic relationships of love, and despised the superficiality of materialism and conformism.  They sensed there was a “reality” far bigger than the trivialities of society and sought to find that transcendent dimension through meditation, drugs or sex.  They could not accommodate themselves to the status quo; they could not acclimate themselves to the prevailing culture.  They were alienated.  In their quest for an alternative, they coined the word “counter-culture.”  Most of those children of the sixties are now a part of the status quo, close to retirement, ready to collect social security and enroll in Medicare.  Was there ever, really, a counter-culture?

Recently, a woman (anti-Trump) created a disturbance on an airplane by badgering the passenger (pro-Trump) who sat next to her.  She was removed from the plane with much booing and cheers from the other passengers.  A friend (anti-Trump) feels harassed in the workplace because of the badgering of co-workers (pro-Trump).  The management has declared the workplace a “non-political environment” in order to avoid conflict and to accomplish their mission.  Twitter and Facebook and other social media is a hotbed for the anti- and the pro-Trump debate.  Name-calling and belittling on both sides is rampant.  Neither the pro-Trump or the anti-Trump movements represent a counter-culture at present because in many cases they are very much alike.  However, both sides seem to believe that they represent the “called out” ones, the  “holy,” and the different, the special messengers of God.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Hal’s Rantings & Ravings Continued…

TURN-ABOUT IS NOT FAIR PLAY.  In 2014 a GOP congressional aide wrote a FB post criticizing President Barack Obama’s daughters.  The post went viral.  The aide later deleted the post and wrote an apology on FB and resigned as a congressional aide.  On January 20, 2017 an SNL writer targeted President Donald Trump’s son with a nasty Tweet that also went viral.  (Rosie O’Donnell posted a critical comment about Barron some months ago and later apologized to the Trump family.  The Bush twins and Chelsea Clinton were also criticized on occasion).   CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted in response to the SNL writer’s tweet:  “That it even need be said is ridiculous, but mocking the 10-year-old child of a politician you loathe is odious, immoral, & self-defeating.”  Another FB post on the subject suggested “…had a conservative in the media or entertainment business said such things about Obama’s daughters, that person would have lost his or her job and faced serious consequences.  Generally, presidential offspring are deemed off limits—but loudmouthed Trump critics are rewriting the rules of common decency in their attempt to insult the new administration.”  TURN-ABOUT IS NOT FAIR PLAY.

LUMPING IS NOT FAIR PLAY.  It is unfair to suggest that because an SNL writer does something despicable that all “Trump critics are rewriting the rules of common decency,” just as it is unfair to suggest that all persons who voted for President Trump are racist, xenophobic, nationalistic and misogynistic.   It is unfair to lump all who did not vote for Mr. Trump as “opponents, enemies, losers, or Hillary flunkies.”  It is unfair to lump all those opposed to your ideas as unpatriotic. It is unfair to lump all protesters as violent.  And it is unfair to lump the media together as being wholly dishonest, just as it is unfair to lump all policemen into the category of being either wonderful or awful.  It is unfair to throw all liberals into the same basket and just as unfair to throw all conservatives into one basket.  LUMPING IS NOT FAIR PLAY.

WE ARE NOT ENEMIES—WE ARE FELLOW-CITIZENS.  Since the beginning of our democracy, we, as citizens, have differed politically.  We have argued since the first day of our founding as a nation and we have argued with great vehemence (which is par for the course in a true democracy where people are free to think, to believe, to act, and to speak out).  But when we make “Turn-About” fair play and begin to “Lump” our citizenry into two opposing groups, we are hacking away at the very roots of America’s greatness.  Do not ask me or others to “get over it” and “suck it up.”  Why should I do that when I disagree?  Why should you do it when you disagree with me?  But I am a citizen (not an “enemy or loser”) and you are a citizen (not an “opponent”) and in this democracy we all have the privilege to stand freely and make our case.  As soon as this freedom is withdrawn, the nation ceases to be a democracy, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Photo found on FB:  "O my, O, my, what is happening?"

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The First Amendment: Another Rant

What an irony it was on the first full day of a new administration that the chatter should be about a couple of “Busts”—one of Sir Winston Churchill and the other of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is an old story steeped in partisan politics and maybe even with some racial undertone.   It was in 2012, to be GOP Candidate Mitt Romney’s first  duty as president to restore Churchill to the Oval Office.  Ted Cruz made political capital out of the "Busts" with great distortion. You can read the story for yourself on the Internet:  check out all of these sources and come to your own conclusion: Breitbart News (1/20/17), Marketwatch (4/22/16)  and The Daily Mail U.K. (4/22/16). When two “Busts” become the center of political discourse and the seemingly ultimate issue for a new administration, it is not at all surprising that there should be some reporter looking for the settlement of the Bust controversy.  He later apologized for his error in reporting that the bust of King had been removed both to the Oval Office and to the press pool.  Retractions were published (Time Magazine and others).

However, the irony goes deeper as Mr. Trump’s “running war with the media” is shared with the CIA in terms of Inaugural attendance.  “I made a speech.  I looked out.  The field was—it looked like a million, a million and a half people.”  One network “said we drew 250,000 people.  Now that’s not bad.  But it’s a lie….So we caught them in a beauty.  And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”

Later in the day, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary said, “Yesterday….some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.”  He went on to mention the Bust controversy and then to talk about the attendance at the Inaugural.   “We do know a few things, so let’s go through the facts.”  His list of facts cannot be substantiated, but he concluded that, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period—both in person and around the globe.”  You can read the whole text on the Internet (I cannot quote it all here).  He ended his press conference by saying, “This kind of dishonesty in the media, the challenging—that bringing our nation together—is making it more difficult.  There’s been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable.  And I’m here to tell you that it goes two ways.  We’re going to hold the press accountable, as well.”

How is the press going to be held accountable?  What does the President of the United States of America mean when he says, “And I think they’re going to pay a big price.”  Is the President going to insist that the media print only what he wants them to print, only his point of view, only his side of the coin, only what he sees?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“He Had A Face…”

The New Testament presents us with many portraits of Jesus, writes Henry Sloane Coffin, and each of these differ in details.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John painted their word picture of Jesus from the impressions they received from those who knew him.  They interpreted those impressions against their own backgrounds and viewpoints.  Paul did the same thing.   I think we all do.

Some years ago I was given a gift, a book, The Faces of Jesus.    It includes photographs of  paintings in the Catacombs, silk screens from India and Japan, great murals of the Renaissance masters, icons of the Eastern Church, carvings from Africa, and even water color paintings of Sunday school students, all depicting the faces of Jesus.  Frederick Buechner writes a beautiful essay about these faces of Jesus through the ages.  He begins with these words:  “He had a face…Whoever he was or was not, whoever he thought he was, whoever he has become in the memories of men since and will go on becoming for as long as men remember him—exalted, sentimentalized, debunked, made and remade to the measure of each generations’s desire, dread, indifference—he was a man once, whatever else he may have been.  And he had a man’s face, a human face.”

The truth is, just like us, Jesus has many faces.  The faces of a person bespeaks of all the ways he or she has of being and of being seen.  What portrait have we painted on the canvas of our minds of Jesus?  What impression has Jesus made on us?  How have we interpreted him in our mind’s eye?  Does he really have “a face” for us?  Rufus Jones says there are not four gospels—but as many gospels as there are those who have seen Jesus’ faces.  There is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s gospel, but these mean nothing until each person writes, paints, and sees the faces of Jesus in his or her  “own” gospel.  The Apostle Paul suggested the same idea, insisting that every Christian must be himself or herself the “holy land” where Christ is born, where he lives and where he shows his many faces.

Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
If He’s not born in thee, thy soul is still forlorn.

The cross on Golgotha will never save thy soul,
The cross in thine own heart alone can make  thee whole.

Christ rose not from the dead.  Christ still is in the grave,
If thou for whom he died art still [and I take liberty] unable to see his face.

Johnannes Scheffler, (mystic poet of the17th Century)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Is Turn-About Fair Play?

For eight long years we have listened to many voices belittle President Obama and his family.  Fortunately, the Obama’s went high while so many of us went low. I’ve listened and read on social media the crude and often racially tinted comments directed toward them.  We all know of Mitch McConnell's statement about making President Obama a one-term president (and I know Mitch must have been terribly disappointed when it didn't work out that way and “the people” gave Obama a second term).  We have watched a "do-nothing" congress (both sides of the aisle) obstruct, criticize, hold sham investigative committees, shut down the government, prevent a sitting president from  fulfilling a constitutional obligation to appoint a Supreme Court Justice, and tried sixty times to repeal the Affordable Care Act as if it were the most important issue facing the American people and the world.  We have dealt with the "Birthers" (the most prominent of these being our current President-elect) and the Tea Party folk.  We have heard a congressman say, “You lie,” to the President of the United States during a State of the Union Address (heard around the world).  We remember the House Speaker, John Boehner, rejecting President Obama’s request to speak to a joint session of Congress—the first denial in the history of America—and, may I point out,  directed at the first African-American President.  We heard Newt Gingrich label the President as “The greatest food stamp President in American history,” a remark with clear undertones.   Sarah Palin wrote on FB “President Obama’s shuck and jive shtick (words used as a negative assessment of African-Americans) with these Benghazi lies must end.”  Now President-elect Trump will take the oath of office on Friday and I ask, “Is Turn-About Fair Play?”

But we must tell the “rest of the story.”  During the campaign we listened to candidate Trump call people out with demeaning and disrespectful words and downright falsehoods.  His treatment of the “free press” was disgusting and by the way, it still is.  Even when his statements were shown to be false by solid facts and even video and audio clips, Mr. Trump continued to spout them as though true.  He has claimed to be smarter than anyone else, including,  those serving in our government,  the military generals, the scientists around the world who say climate change is real, the intelligence agencies—and the list goes on and on.  He has done this with a demeaning attitude, putting people down, calling them crazy, losers, opponents, enemies, etc. and stripping them of dignity.  Is Turn-About Fair Play? 

Should we be disrespectful to the disrespectful?  Shall we do unto others as they do unto us?  Is Turn-About Fair Play?  The answer is a resounding “NO” even though there is a deep part of me (and you) that says, “YES.”  Let’s go high when others go low.  By the way,  I do not think “Protest” is disrespectful.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Agape and the New Age Dawning

The Greek language has three words for love:  Eros, Philia, and AgapeEros is a type of esthetic love.  Philia is an intimate affection between personal friends (a kind of reciprocal love—a person loves because s/he is loved).  The third word, Agape, means nothing sentimental or affectionate.  It is the love of God—the love of God working in the lives of men and women.

Since we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., today, I want to honor his life and work by quoting his definition of this agape love and his understanding of the new age that is dawning.

Agape “means understanding, redeeming good will for all men.  It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return.  It is the love of God working in the lives of men.  When we rise to love on the agape level we love men not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves us.  Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.  With this type of love and understanding good will we will be able to stand amid the radiant glow of the new age with dignity and discipline.  Yes, the new age is coming.  It is coming mighty fast.

Now the fact that this new age is emerging reveals something very basic about the universe.  It tells us something about the core and heartbeat of the cosmos.  It reminds us that the universe is on the side of justice.  It says to those who struggle for justice, ‘You do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you.’  This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith.  There is something at the very center of our faith that reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.  Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by His name.  There is something in this universe that justifies Carlyle in saying, ‘No lie can live forever.’  There is something in this universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, ‘Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.’ …..

There is a danger…that after hearing all of this you will go away with the impression that we can go home, sit down, and do nothing, waiting for the coming of the inevitable.  You will somehow feel that this new age will roll in on the wheels of inevitability, so there is nothing to do but wait for it.  If you get that impression you are the victims of an illusion wrapped in superficiality.  We must speed up the coming of the inevitable.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

“The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go.”

The clouds were in the way.  The snow-covered peak known as Denali was hidden, as it usually is, behind blankets of clouds.  Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America with an elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level.  Every tourist visiting Alaska wants a picture of it without the clouds.  Unfortunately, the clouds are almost always there, morning, noon and night.  According to our guide, the wondrous Denali, “the big one, ” was only seen and photographed by about 30% of those who came to visit (tourists). Denali was once known as Mount McKinley, but the Koyukon people who inhabit the area have referred to it as “Denali” for centuries.  The U.S.Department of the Interior finally made Denali the official name in 2015.

Determined to have a picture of Denali without the clouds and in spite of the odds, I took photo after photo of it in the early morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, early afternoon, late afternoon and early evening for two days and still the clouds hovered.  On the third day the clouds cleared for about ten minutes just before lunch and I was finally able to capture Denali (in its unnatural state—without clouds)  and became a part of the thirty percent!  Any 5th grader knows that mountains do not attract clouds—mountains make clouds!   Yet, almost every tourist (including me) wants a photograph of Denali without clouds!  It doesn’t make much sense does it?

I have no idea why this memory came to mind this morning.  Perhaps it comes to tell me that it is time for me to get on the road again, or telling me in John Muir’s words,  “The mountains are calling and I must go.”  Or does this intruding memory suggest something else?  Perhaps I am being asked this question:  Do I really want to see the mountains as they are, forming and producing clouds and often hidden from view, or do I simply want to see a make-believe and unrealistic mountain without clouds?  Is my traveling just “a strategy for accumulating photographs?” When I travel, do I see what is real—real people, real mountains?  Charles Kuralt once said, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything,” and it is possible to travel to many distant lands, to see many wonderful things, and to stay in fine hotels,  and never see, know or get acquainted with the people who actually live in those places.

Sometimes, I suppose, I even want to be such a tourist in my own town and in my own country, always wanting to see mountains without clouds, life without difficulties, and roses without thorns.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

What Is Normal?

I’m so tired of hearing pundits and others talk about the process of normalizing president-elect Donald Trump.  The word normalization means “to bring (someone or something) back to a usual or expected state or condition.”  Donald Trump, some say, is not usual, not normal, and not what we expect of a president-elect.  What’s normal?  The word normal means “usual or ordinary:  not strange.”  It is also used to suggest that someone is “mentally and physically healthy.” Therefore, given this definition, we must concede to reality: “To more than six million of our fellow Americans,” as Katy Waldman writes, “Donald Trump is normal, even if it’s painful to admit that.” 

Waldman suggests that Donald Trump “inverted the meaning of normal…bringing the fringe into the mainstream and expelling the elites to the margins,” thereby making “America great again,” or bringing America back to what is supposed by more than six million Americans to be the normal. “Trump,” she continues, “resembles Richard Nixon, who petitioned a “silent majority” of Americans to reassert their values during the turmoil of the late 1960’s.”  James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal, suggested that Trump also “evokes Warren G. Harding, who campaigned for president in 1920 on the slogan “return to normalcy.”  Both slogans, like “make America great again” implied a rejection of the upheavals reshaping U.S. society in those times.  “They were,” writes Waldman, “conservative anthems, hostile to demographics newly empowered by the Great War (in Harding’s case) and emboldened by the women’s and civil rights movements (in Nixon’s).”  Trump’s slogan was a rebuke (in my opinion) of the last 60 years or more of progress in creating a more perfect union.  62,979,879 Americans thought Trump represented what they think should be normal; 65,844,954 Americans thought normal meant something else.  Can there be two “normals”?  It would seem that there are.

Some pundits have continually suggested that perhaps all of us ought to “clear the slate” of all that Mr. Trump has said (while Dan Rather tells us, “The rhetoric is the candidate”) and give him a fresh new slate as he becomes the 45th president of the United States. I tried this for several weeks and have come to the conclusion that what is normal for Mr. Trump and his supporters is not normal for me. Kellyanne Conway suggests that 65,844,954 of us are being “sour grapes” and that it is now time for us to unite as a nation and “make America great again.”  But what do we do when our standards of normal do not match up?

No doubt you have heard this scripture passage: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways, saith the Lord.”  With John Lewis, and with a majority of the American people, I must say to Mr. Trump and his supporters, “I’m sorry, but my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways, and I will do everything I can to de-normalize  what you claim is normal.”

Friday, January 13, 2017

Overthrowing the Existing Order

I am visiting with William Stringfellow this morning. I met him many years ago and I was deeply impressed by his commitment to the Christian Cause.  He has through the years forced me to see that Christianity, when true to itself, is always attempting to overthrow the existing order.  Here is how he explained that idea in his book, Instead of Death

“The biblical lifestyle is always a witness of resistance to the status quo in politics, economics, and all society. It is a witness of resurrection from death. Paradoxically, those who embark on the biblical witness constantly risk death - through execution, exile, imprisonment, persecution, defamation, or harassment - at the behest of the rulers of this age. Yet those who do not resist the rulers of the present darkness are consigned to a moral death, the death of their humanness. That, of all the ways of dying, is the most ignominious.”

William Stringfellow had a unique writing style.  His words had a crispness that cut through the petty like a sharp-edged sword. Perhaps this came from his training as a lawyer.  Whatever the case, here is what he shared with me today.

The ministry of Christ is a ministry of great extravagance—of a reckless, scandalous expenditure of His life for the sake of the world’s life.  Christ gives away His life.  The world finds new life in His life.  His is not a very prudential life, not a very conservative life, not a very cautious life, not—by ordinary standards—a very successful life.

He shunned no one, not even adulterers, not even tax collectors, not even neurotics and psychotics, not even those tempted to suicide, not even alcoholics, not even poor people, not even beggars, not even lepers, not even those who ridiculed Him, not even those who betrayed Him, not even His own enemies.  He shunned no one.

The words that tell of the ministry of Christ are words of sorrow, poverty, rejection, radical unpopularity.  They are words of agony.

It seems ridiculous to apply such words to the ministry of the churches nowadays.  Yet where these words cannot be truthfully applied to the ministry of the churches today they must then be spoken against the churches to show how far the churches are from being the Body of Christ engaged in the ministry of Christ in the world.”

Reading these words, I feel that I have consigned myself to a moral death, the death of my humanness, because I have not resisted the rulers (the principalities and the powers) of the present darkness.  Methinks, I have not and doth not now protest enough!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

“Methinks Thou Dost Protest Too Much”

The Oxford English Dictionary says that William Shakespeare introduced more than 3,000 words into the English language.  Quotes from his writings, including the title of today’s blog, have become familiar to all.   I’m using “Methinks thou dost protest too much” this morning to remind all of us, whatever our political persuasion or party affiliation, that we are hypocritical extremists.  A hypocrite is one who practices the same behavior or activity for which s/he criticizes another.  The word “extremist” implies the hypocrite as one who goes ballistic when the shoe of demeaning insult or disparaging remark ends up on his or her foot.

Methinks, Mr. Trump, thou dost protest too much over an unverified and unsubstantiated dossier printed by a news organization.  It may very well be “fake news” as you say, put together by your “opponents, sick people,” who put the “crap together” and “it shouldn’t have even entered the paper.”  “Are we living in Nazi Germany?”  I assume you asked that question because you felt unfairly persecuted.  And perhaps you were treated unfairly.  But you must get accustomed to this as the President of these United States.  

Methinks, Mr. Trump, thou dost protest too much.  Think of what the out-going president has had to deal with over the past eight years.  Do you not recall the “fake news” as you say, put together by  his “opponents, sick people,” who put such “crap together” about where he was born by referencing unverified and unsubstantiated sources—creating an unbelievable and fake conspiracy that still thrives in the minds of his opponents to this day (yes, I hear you, “sick people” to be sure).  This conspiracy still lives,  even after you, Mr. Trump, were so helpful and accommodating as you “forced,” as you say, the president to publicly produce his birth certificate! 

Methinks we all dost protest too much.  Winston Churchill in a speech in the House of Commons (January 22, 1941) said, “I do not resent criticism, even when, for the sake of emphasis, it parts for the time with reality.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Morning Prayer

The Methodist Hymnal of 1905 included a new hymn.  It was first published as a poem by a Methodist clergyman, the Reverend Dr. Frank Mason North.  North lived in New York City for many years and knew the struggles of city life.  Reading the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew’s Gospel, he came upon “Go ye therefore into the highways and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.”  In his mind’s eye he saw the crowds traveling the  crossroads of urban life and wondered if they were aware of Another walking by their side.  Or, he wondered, were they like Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus totally unaware of that other presence traveling with them?   

I often use a hymn for my morning prayer and this morning I chose North’s “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.”  It has always been one of my favorite hymns, but this morning it seemed more significant and meaningful than ever before as a prayer.   In the midst of our confused and bewildered world there is Another, a Voice, a Love, that walks with us (Emmanuel=God with us) who calls us to be and to do “what man and woman are called to do and meant to be.”

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
where sound the cries of race and clan,
above the noise of selfish strife,
we hear your voice, O Son of man.

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
on shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
from paths where hide the lures of greed,
we catch the vision of your tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
from woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
from famished souls, form sorrow’s stress,
your heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for you,
still holds the freshness of your grace;
yet long these multitudes to view
the sweet compassion of your face.

O Master, from the mountainside
make hast to heal these hearts of pain;
among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.

Till all the world shall learn your love
and follow where your feet have trod, 
till, glorious from your heaven above,

shall come the city of our God!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Beware of Conspiracy Theories

What do we mean when we use the term “conspiracy theory?” The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a belief that some covert but influential agency is responsible for an unexplained event.”  The Collins Dictionary defines it as “the belief that the government or some covert organization is responsible for an event that is unusual or unexplained, especially when any such involvement is denied.”  A classic example of a conspiracy theory is one that a majority of Americans continue to believe after 50 years:  President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was due to a conspiracy rather than a lone gunman.

Conspiracy theories have been around forever.  New theories are concocted daily.  Do you remember Sarah Palin’s “Obamacare death panels.”  That kind of overheated politically partisan rhetoric has typically been met with an intense backlash of “truth” from the American “free press” and the “thinking public,” but not always.    Some conspiracy theories have been swallowed “hook, line and sinker” on occasion.  From 1950 to 1954, many Americans, including  our politicians, subscribed to Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare conspiracy theory. If you are unfamiliar with this despicable period in our nation’s political life I would suggest that you check it out.

Conspiracy theories are not limited to any one political party—both Republicans and Democrats have created such theories for their own purposes.  President-elect Trump is suggesting that the CIA, NSA, FBI and other intelligence agencies are in cahoots with Democrats when they suggest that Russia is responsible for the hacking during the recent political campaign.  Could it be a Democratic ploy—are the Democrats simply being poor losers?  Ah, we have two possible conspiracy theories coming to birth depending on what side you are on.

Many conspiracy theories have been trumpeted in the past year and a half.  We expect some overly zealous politician to create one during a campaign if he or she can’t find one readily available!  However, in the past, such paranoid-based theories have been quickly squelched, but not this time!  We have allowed them to stand as though they are truth, reality, and fact.  Herein lies the possible demise of our democracy.

Here are some current conspiracy theories:
“Mexicans and refugees are murderers, rapists and terrorists…”
“There’s something going on…”  
“Everything is rigged….”

Beware of misinformation, disinformation, dehumanizing and CONSPIRACY THEORIES—they create violence, paranoia, distrust, alienation and polarization.  All of these things can and will destroy the American dream.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Beware of Disinformation

Disinformation is false information deliberately, intentionally, and sometimes covertly spread (by the planting of rumors or fake news) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.  Misinformation, on the other hand,  is defined as false or incorrect information that is spread intentionally or unintentionally, without realizing it is untrue.  It is important to get the two terms clear in our minds.  

One Sunday years ago, a person in the congregation announced that, “John Doe” had died.  No one else had heard this news.  Immediately after worship I went to John Doe’s home to offer my condolences to his wife.  Much to my surprise and shock, John Doe answered the door!  This is misinformation—false information spread without realizing it is untrue.  There was no intent to deceive.  It was simply a matter of misinformation.

Pope Francis in an interview in December 2016 with Tertio, a Belgian Catholic weekly publication, said the “singular worst thing the news media could do was spreading disinformation (false information deliberately, intentionally, and sometimes covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth).  The Pope went on to say that amplifying disinformation instead of educating society constituted a sin.”  He compared those who spread disinformation to those who engage in coprophilia (an obsessive interest in feces).  The Pope later apologized for this crude comparison, but again said, “Disinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do.”

You may recall that Pope Francis had some experience with disinformation when he was falsely said to support Donald Trump for president.  Do you recall the incident—reported on all major cable networks?   

Disinformation was used by the Nazis in 1938, but the term and the practice is most associated with the Soviet KGB.  The KGB allegedly formed a department in the 1950’s for the sole purpose of dispensing propaganda (disinformation).

In today’s social media and 24/7 cable news environment we can expect a lot of misinformation, especially in a time of crises or turmoil, like the incident in Fort Lauderdale, FL on Friday.  In the midst of such a situation many rumors are reported (not intentionally to mislead) and this is understandable. What is not understandable and cannot be tolerated is the growing amount of disinformation (intentionally publicized in order to influence public opinion) in the media these days, with each network interviewing and letting stand, persons who make statements which are utterly false and spoken only to influence public opinion and obscure the truth, without rebuttal or correction.  I stand with Pope Francis and say that “amplifying disinformation instead of educating society constitutes a sin.”  Beware! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Beware of Dehumanizing

Epiphany emphasizes the manifestation (defined as an event that clearly shows or embodies something) of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the visit of the Magi. Epiphany’s  dream is that all people (Wise Persons from the East, Jews, Gentiles, Shepherds, yes, even King Herod, and the children of Bethlehem too) are to be accepted and valued, not because they hold a particular faith, or hold my values or yours, and not because they adhere to the same laws as you and I do, but simply because they (we) are human.  If we give credence to God creating man/woman, then we must, or so it seems to me, accept the Quaker notion that there is "that of God" in all persons.  We are all human!

The distinctions or categories we have made up:  Us/Them; Democrat/Republican; East/West; Christian/Jew/Muslim; Black/White; Male/Female; frustrate the Epiphany dream.  We must build bridges not walls.  We must lift up and not put down. We are all human!

Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the words penned by Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice":
"Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?  If you prick us do we not bleed?  If you tickle us do we not laugh?  If you poison us do we not die?"

You can substitute any other category/label in place of the word "Jew" and it still speaks the same message.  When we cease to accept and value one another, when we degrade one another, when we fear one another, when we ignore one another, we lose something of our own humanness!  “During the Holocaust,” writes David Livingstone Smith in  his book, Less Than Human, “Nazis referred to Jews as rats. Hutus involved in the Rwanda genocide called Tutsis cockroaches. Slave owners throughout history considered slaves subhuman animals.” Such dehumanization continues in our world and we must stand against it, because it is antithetical to all the major world religions, the laws of morality, and it opens the door for cruelty and persecution.  In the end, it dehumanizes all of us!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Left In Crete

Today is Epiphany (Theophany).  For the Greek and Russian Orthodox community it commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River with a rite called the “Great Blessing of the Waters.”   The celebration begins with the divine liturgy at the cathedral or church.  Then a procession is formed.  The procession  moves down the road toward the harbor or any body of water nearby.  The cherub icons lead the way, followed by the priests dressed in their best holiday vestments, then the VIPs (those very important people) of the city or village, followed by all the faithful.  Sometimes, in the larger cities, there is a parade, music, military contingents, etc., to accompany the procession.

Once at the water, the priest conducts the sanctification ceremony and when he finishes, he throws a cross into the water (blessing the water).  Then some of the young men of  the village  jump into the water and compete in retrieving the cross.  The person who gets the cross first, swims back and returns it to the priest, who then gives a special blessing to the swimmer and his family.

What a privilege it was for me to observe this celebration in Heraklion, Crete, in January 1961 and again in 1962. I have never seen anything like it before or since.  I did not, at 17 years of age and as a member of the American Baptist Church, have the slightest idea that there was such a day as Epiphany, much less understand its meaning! I do now, and I celebrate it today with all my Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting.”  There was so much I needed to learn and experience! 

I experienced many epiphanies in Crete and I’m grateful for all of them, for they did “set in order some of those things that were wanting,”  in me, including learning about the meaning of Epiphany.  I’m glad, in the depths of me, for having been “left in Crete.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Sears & Roebuck Catalog

In the days of my youth the Sears & Roebuck catalog was equivalent to our present day shopping malls.  One could find just about anything in the pages of the catalog, from musical instruments, to motor scooters.  The Christmas Sears catalog was, without a doubt, the source of the presents Santa and Mrs. Claus’ provided under Christmas trees in many a home, including my own.

When I was ten years old, I became an avid viewer of the musical section in the Sears catalog, spending much time looking at and dreaming of purchasing the guitar listed there for $9.95 and the guitar carrying-case for an additional $4 or so.  I saved my “birthday money,” pulled weeds in a neighbor's garden for 25 cents an hour, and did whatever else was available for a ten year old to make money.   By September of that year I had enough money to buy the guitar and the carry-case—a grand total of $13.95.  Reluctantly, my father wrote the check to Sears Roebuck as I handed over to him all my hard-earned cash.  And then, I waited…and waited….and waited.  September came and went, then October, November and December and still no guitar.  No one else seemed to be bothered by the delay.  

On Christmas morning (nearly four months after ordering it from the catalog) I found my guitar under the Christmas tree.  I remember feeling elated to finally have it, but also a bit frustrated that it should show up as a gift when I had worked so hard to buy it for myself. 

This memory, “pressed between the pages of my mind” lingers still.  Was the guitar a gift or was it something I did on my own, something I had worked for and rightfully earned?  As the years go by, I am more and more convinced that it is foolish to suggest that we have worked our way to some point, or even earned what we have, or deserve what we have received.  Life (all of it, including a guitar) is always gift.  I wonder:  did my parents know this?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Season of Promise

Today is the Eleventh Day of Christmas.  Have you heard your annunciation yet?  Have you revisited the Bethlehem within your heart?  Have you found the Child? Are you following the guiding star?  We are always more apt to work with the outward stuff of Christmas rather than the inner stuff.  We prefer to deal with the trappings of the season rather than its real meaning.  The real business of Christmas is that something is supposed to happen and it is supposed to happen in us.  Love is meant to be born in us in some new way--a "divine birth."

I know this sounds preposterous, but the annunciation to Mary was preposterous too.  Indeed the whole Christmas narrative in the Gospels is a bit preposterous!

This Is the Season of Promise
[Howard Thurman, The Mood of Christmas]

Let the bells be silenced
Let the gifts be stillborn
Let cheer be muted
Let music be soundless
 Violence stalks the land:
    Soaring above the cry of the dying
    Rising above the whimper of the starving
    Floating above the flying machines of death
        Listen to the long stillness:
      New life is stirring
        New dreams are on the wing
        New hopes are being readied:
Mankind is fashioning a new heart
Mankind is forging a new mind
God is at work.
This is the Season of Promise.   (Preposterous?)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Revisiting the Bethlehem Within

Today is the Tenth Day of Christmas. "Christmas is a time when we are invited to revisit Bethlehem and to reconsider its miracle. Bethlehem does not change and the miracle does not change, but we change, and the eyes with which we are able to see change. Hence what we see from year to year is not the same, which makes this annual visit an adventure rather than a routine pilgrimage" (Douglas V. Steere). 

There are two more days of Christmas to experience. There is still time to revisit Bethlehem, which is not some far off place, but rather the Bethlehem within every human heart. It is here in this inner place that we will find the Child into whom God poured out His very being; all His love—demonstrating in human flesh His passionate care for each of us and the world in which we live. Here, in this Bethlehem of the heart, we will find the Child, who became the Son of Man--being and doing what man and woman are called to do and meant to be—letting God's passionate love shine through His life. 

When this birth happens (and it is always happening, though we may not be conscious of it) we begin to know at a deeper level that Love is at the heart of all things.