Monday, July 31, 2017

"The Devil Made Me Do It!"

For century upon century (even before the tale of the serpent’s cunning ways in the story of the Garden of Eden was written) the existence of “demons” and the “Devil" has prevailed as a universal explanation for human sin and misery. This belief is in the Bible, abundantly so!  There is no escaping it—the belief in a demoniacal world is present in both the Old and the New Testament and if you take the Bible literally then you have to accept this category of thinking as reality.   Demonology played a large part in the ministry of Jesus and it has continued to play a large part in the life of the church.  Even John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement in the 18th century, held that many diseases were caused by demons, that dreams were often caused by demons and that most lunatics were demoniacs, and that to give up witchcraft was to give up the Bible.  Supposed demon-possessed people (witches) were killed in 18th century America.  Remnants of this demoniacal world remain with many of us:  the rabbit’s foot, the knock on wood, and the crossing of fingers.

But most of us no longer believe in demons today.  The realms where demons once operated have been invaded by scientific knowledge.  Insanity, once ascribed to demons—epilepsy, once regarded as evidence of demoniacal possession—dreams, hysteria, and other ills have been diagnosed, described, and at least partially understood.  Moral temptation is now seen as the result of our own evil impulses rather than “The Devil made me do it.”  All the human sin and misery of the centuries that have come and gone remain with us, but we no longer explain these as being caused by demons.

If this is so, how can I believe in the Bible?  Who ever said one had to “believe in the Bible?”  My belief is not in a book, but in the God the book attempts to describe in and through the categories of thought of the people who wrote it. Science accepts the rudimentary discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and Darwin, but it does not get stuck there—it moves on to new insights, new categories, and new understandings.  People of faith must not get stuck in old categories of thought either.

Once upon a time, our ancestors explained eclipses of the sun by saying that a dragon swallowed it.  Once upon a time, when I was a child, I believed in a world that contained an Easter Bunny, a Tooth Fairy, and a Santa Claus.  We have to surrender old categories of thought to the new.  The fact remains, however, life on this planet still includes human sin and misery, and the categories by which we explain it today may be better explained by those who follow us tomorrow.

We must always travel forward on the wonders,
new vistas, new answers are there.  We've already seen and
known the road that lies behind....

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Watching the Morning Come

To watch the morning come is an experience beyond words.  The dark of the night evolves ever slowly into the light of a new day.  That which was unseen in darkness now emerges vaguely in the first brushstrokes of dawn.  At first, you can only see the shapes of things emerging from the darkness and then those shapes become what they are—a bush, a tree, or the potted geraniums at the edge of the deck where I sit, watching the morning come.  The ever-strengthening light brings color, too.  What was black only a moment ago becomes grey and the grey soon fades as the grass becomes green, and the roses are red again, and the blue of the still-blooming hosta are seen as light does its thing.

At first light, the birds begin to sing.  In the distance I hear a rooster crow and in a nearby tree two squirrels chirp and argue, leaping from branch to branch with unbelievable agility.  “When morning gilds the skies, my heart awakening cries” how good it is to watch the morning come.  Then, an overwhelming sense of sadness overtakes my spirit as I realize how many mornings I have missed along my journey’s way.  This remorse passes quickly however, and the gladness returns, as I celebrate the fact that at least I’ve watched THIS morning come.

Suddenly the sun breaks forth with a burst of light creating dappled shadows of tree branches across the lawn as though through a stained glass window.  I know the science of how a morning comes.  But still there is mystery, a sense of wonder, and an inner emotion that seems to overwhelm all explanations of this physical world.  There is a sense of another world (beyond, perhaps, but just as real) as I watch this morning come.  

Words and phrases of familiar hymns break through my awakening spirit as I watch this morning come.  I want to sing those words out loud, but fear I might wake my neighbors (and my singing would certainly do that), so I resist the overwhelming urge and instead write them here.

“…and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres…
I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought…

…the birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise…
in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere…This is my Father’s world!”

Watching the Morning Come in Amsterdam--2013

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Problem Is Us!

Socrates' great problem is ours:  “Why is it that men (people) know what is good but do what is bad.”  I wonder this morning, and have often wondered,  if we really know what is good?  Naturally, I think I know what is good, and just as naturally, you think you know what is good.  How do I know what is good?  How do you know?  In some form or another, all of us repeat the experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, seeking to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in order to find out for ourselves whether what we have been told is good (right) and whether what we have been told is bad is really wrong.  We are not all told the same things. My grandparents, parents, teachers, and the church, etc., told me what was good.  Who told you?  Generally, we accept what we have been told, experiment with it, put it to the test, and eventually, over the years, determine in our own consciences what is good and what is bad.  But it is apparent in these days that we differ in our opinions of what is good, so that we come to a place where what is “the good” for me may seem “the bad” to you.

Is there a universal good?  A “good” that has evolved and found root in the history of the human race?  Is it a “good” to act on the premise that all men, women and children are endowed with certain unalienable rights?”  Is this a common, universal good?  If so, we are immediately confronted with Socrates’ great problem.  If it is good, why do we ignore it, reject it,  and push it aside, or argue about who deserves what?  Or suppose, I say that the "good" is to “love our neighbor?”  Again, if this is a common, universal good, why do we ask “Who is my neighbor?” and wage war.

The polarization of our nation and our world implies that we have differing views on what is “good.”  This is our moral dilemma.  The problem is US—you, me, all of us.  We differ about what is “good," and wonder if there really is a “common good."  The word "sin" comes to mind—and I don’t mean in a religious sense—but in the sense that the word is defined in the Webster dictionary—“the failure to realize in conduct and character the moral ideal, at least as fully as possible under existing circumstances; failure to do as one ought towards one’s fellow man.”  Or, as St. Augustine described sin, as a turning “away from the universal whole to the individual part…There is nothing greater [i.e. more important, more desirable, more worthy] than the whole.  Hence when [a person] desires [seeks, devotes himself to] something greater, he grows smaller.”  Who among us wants to grow smaller?  

Delos, Greece

Friday, July 28, 2017

Universal Diversity

I have visited hundreds, perhaps thousands of patients in many different hospitals over the past fifty years of my ministry.  My first hand experience as an adult patient in a hospital, however, was exactly one overnight stay about 23 years ago, until my recent three night stay.  Three visits have been made to an Emergency Room (dehydration, cracked ribs and a bout with vertigo) and I’ve had one experience in a Shock Trauma unit (after Humpty Dumpty [me] fell off the wall [roof] and needed some putting back together again. The “unexpected” patient status a few days ago was a time of new insight, awareness, and growth, as all unexpected surprises or happenings are meant to be.   

The  University of Maryland Hospital system is like the university itself.  The hospital is a gathering of many different professionals (schools, vocations, skills, etc.) under one roof,  so to speak—physicians, surgeons, physician assistants, nurses (of different levels of responsibility) technicians of all kinds (those who take a patient’s vital signs to  those who fix whatever is broken) receptionists, housekeepers, dietitians, cooks, radiologists, and the list goes on and on.  Hospitals are a kind of universe (“a whole world”) and like the real world, the hospital universe is diverse.  Not only is it diverse in terms of different and unique skills, but also diverse in terms of national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.  The physicians, Emily, Heidi, Marsha, Jane, Jack, Tina, Evelyn, Cynthia, Johnathan, Lucenzia, JoAnn, Blair, Isatou—and all the others—from India, Cameroon, Australia, England, Gambia, Canada, and other distant places around the world were there to serve and to care.  The hospital could not do its job without this diversity—it could not be a universe without its diversity.  

I do not know if the many who worked together to meet the needs of their patients had any personal connection with each other once they left the hospital or not.  I only know that at the hospital they worked as a team, recognized the importance of each team member, and respected one another.  Without this kind of universal diversity (diverse in every way) we cannot do what needs to be done to build a better world.  As broken and frail bodies are healed by such a rainbow coalition in a hospital (the whole world coming together for that very purpose) so our broken and frail world can be healed by similar actions.

Sunset over the Aegean Sea

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Expect the Unexpected

I told my granddaughter, Katie, that,  during my brief, unexpected, unforeseen, unwanted, and unwelcome sojourn in the hospital, I had come up with this great original title for my next blog: “Expect the Unexpected.”  I wasn’t surprised, however, to discover that the phrase has been used before and many, many times before.  Heraclitus used it in 500 B.C.!  There are several hundred videos on YouTube using the phrase as well.  So much for an original title and/or thought!  Expect the unexpected—expect (unbelievable as it may seem to you) that your “original thoughts” were probably “thought” by somebody else long before the idea or thought ever dawned on you. 

Expect the unexpected.  Don’t be surprised by anything, for anything can happen, and probably will happen. “I didn’t see that coming!” is our normal response when the unexpected comes.  Life tumbles in on all of us and it usually tumbles in when least expected.  If you expect the unexpected, you may be better prepared to handle it when it happens.  To expect the unexpected is to recognize that we are not in control and that much of life (those unexpected things) are out of our control and will happen.  We call the unexpected a surprise; sometimes we may call it fate, but whatever we call it—the unexpected happens!  You can expect it to do so!

The unexpected comes as an unwelcome event, surprise, or experience that frustrates us precisely because it forces us to face our inability to control reality, and our vulnerableness and fragility as human beings.  Expect the unexpected.  Learn from it, grow with it, and accept the fact that you can’t always see what’s coming—but you can be sure it will come in some way or another!  Expect the unexpected.  

Delphi, Greece

Friday, July 21, 2017

Pondering Worry

Everyone worries about something.  Every day we worry about something. No one can stop themselves from worrying.  A song written by Bobby McFerrin some years ago comes to mind:
"Here's a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy
Don't worry, be happy now"

The song implies that "worry" is a bad thing and "happiness" is a good thing.  Is that really so?  Worry is defined as "to give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one's mind to dwell on a difficulty or troubles; a state of anxiety and uncertainty over actual or potential problems."  Worry means to be concerned, to fret, to overthink, or to agonize over a difficulty, an issue, or some person. "Don't worry, be happy."  But what is this alternative called happiness?  Happiness is defined as "a state of well-being and contentment;" a state of satisfaction, being cheerful and contented.

A little bit of worry doesn't do us harm, thank goodness, since we all worry some.  In fact "to be concerned" about some issue or some person is a very positive thing.  I "worry" some over those who always seem to be bubbling-over with well-being (i.e. happy) unconcerned about anythng or anyone, just simply wrapped up in their own contentment.  Worry (to be concerned, to think, or to be anxious about some situation, person, or issue) is and should be an important element in every life.  While "worrying" in and of itself doesn't prevent things from happening, or resolve issues, it can and often does push us to demonstrate our concern, to consider the needs of others, and to attempt to resolve the difficulties and troubles we worry about.

Everyone knows that excessive worry is harmful.  If you become obsessed with worry about a situation or problem (overthinking it and agonizing over it without any attempt to overcome or to deal rationally with it) you are in danger.  Worrying about tomorrow, Jesus tells us, is a rather foolish thing, because we can't do anything about tomorrow, not yet.  The only worry should be with what is "right now," because those "right now" worries can and should move us to action and resolution.  Worry doesn't accomplish anything if we simply stick to the worrying.

Consider the lilies of the field....

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


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.



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..