Monday, August 21, 2017

An Eclipse of a Different Kind

The day of the total solar eclipse has arrived.  Some are calling it “The Great American Eclipse.” People have traveled far distances to be in the “Totality” zone.  Little towns like Carbondale, Illinois and Glendo, Wyoming have more visitors than residents today.  The special solar viewers needed for looking at the eclipse have been sold out and those who couldn’t get the glasses are preparing their cereal boxes as a substitute for safe viewing. Depending on where you are, the eclipse will be glimpsed for only a minute or two. It won’t happen again until 2024.  

The word “eclipse” means “an obscuring of light (from one celestial body by the passage of another between it and the observer) …between it an its source of illumination.”  Synonyms for eclipse include such words as “obscuring, blotting out, blocking or covering.”  Another kind of eclipse could happen today.  Clouds could move in and eclipse the eclipse. 

How often have we, both as individuals and as a society, obscured light (like an eclipse or a cloud) by getting between the light and another person or group, blocking them from their destiny, blotting out their dreams, covering them with darkness rather than light? And how often do we wear our “glasses” to avoid looking at what we have done and what we are doing to these persons and groups and to ourselves?  It is an almost total eclipse and it might also be called “The Great American Eclipse.”





Sunday, August 20, 2017

Catastrophic Misprints

The excitement generated by the total solar eclipse tomorrow reminds me this morning of the sense of wonder that came to me when I first read Mark Twain’s biography as a young boy.  Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) was born the same month as the passing of Halley’s comet in November 1835.  This comet passes in 75 year cycles.  Twain believed that he would “go out” when the comet passed again on April 20, 1910.  He did!  Twain died on April 21, 1910.  This coincidence astounded me when I first read about it, and it still does.  I’m not into astrology, horoscopes, or the zodiac, but I am a big fan of Mark Twain.

Mark Twain unknowingly offered sound advice for living in this twenty-first century, with its access to 24/7 news and the Internet, when he wrote, “Be careful about reading health books.  You may die of a misprint.”  With the plethora of drugs available “over the counter” (or prescribed) most of them having a long list of drastic side-effects, a misprint can really be disastrous.  A physician advised his patient not to look up her particular malady on the Internet because it might scare her to death!

We are bombarded by so much information through the various media outlets (including social media) that it has become extremely difficult to know what is fact and what is not fact.  “Misprints (misinformation, disinformation) abound.  The side-effects created are just as disastrous and catastrophic for society as a misprint in a health book.


My witty friend, Mark Twain, suggested, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.”  Unfortunately, we are distorting things (misprints) that aren’t even facts!


I must also be willing to look between things and not always at them,
since a direct gaze often misses what may be glimpsed at the corner of the eye.
The space between two branches may become more promising than the branches themselves."
(Barbara Brown Taylor, "The Preaching Life")

Saturday, August 19, 2017

God

If I had grown up outside the Christian Church, without the Bible, without knowing about Jesus, without religious education,  would I be aware of “Love (God) at the heart of all things?”  The question itself assumes that somehow or another we have to be told by the church, the preacher, or some other witness that God is and that we must at some time or another acknowledge this God by a profession of faith (in order to obtain life everlasting).  There are many Christian ministers who use every opportunity to introduce this god to the so-called godless (those who haven’t made that profession of faith) often using weddings, funeral services, and other similar occasions to do so.  This need, this vulgar and presumptuous attitude on the part of church and clergy suggests that God is a stranger among us (an abstract presence residing somewhere else other than here) rather than a  living presence here and now in this world—this world as we know it and touch it and smell it and live and work in it.  

A god who needs to be introduced to us and to our anxieties, issues, and joys, by church, clergy, etc.,  is not much of a god to my way of thinking.  Indeed, I don’t believe there are godless people anywhere, because all of us live in a world where God is present and active, whether this fact is acknowledged, accepted, or professed, doesn’t make any difference at all.  A god dependent upon our acceptance or our profession of faith is not a God! 


God is (Love is at the heart of all things).  God speaks to us, to all of us, in the very events and relationships (all of them) which make up our existence in this world.  God is not held in bondage by Bible, church, synagogue or mosque.  God is not an unknown or an abstract being up in the sky, who must be introduced to us.  God is already with us in everything and has always been with us, and will always be with us.  I think, even without Bible, church, or clergy, etc., I would have come to the conclusion that Love is at the heart of all things.

Friday, August 18, 2017

My Mother’s Dahlias

My Mother’s Dahlias, planted along the fence, greeted me as I returned home yesterday and smiled at me again this morning.  I’m not quite sure how long it has been since I brought my Mother’s Dahlias from New Jersey to Maryland.  My guess is that it was about 35 years ago.  

Each fall I gently lift the dahlia tubers from the soil and store them over winter.  A few years ago, I tried to store them in the shed, but it was too cold for the tubers there and I lost a good number.  Fortunately, my brother in New Jersey also preserves our Mother’s Dahlias and replenished my supply.  A friend now stores the tubers for me in a garage over the winter months.

The dahlia tubers begin to sprout in mid-May and I normally get the 30 or so tubers planted by Memorial Day weekend or shortly thereafter.  Little care is needed as the plant pops out of the soil and begins to grow.  Because the plants grow to almost 6 feet tall, it is necessary to tie them against the fence to prevent them from being damaged by wind and rain.  By late July the buds appear and soon burst into full bloom by mid-August.  The blossoms continue through mid-September.  After the first frost, the tubers are again lifted from the soil and stored over winter. 


Once my Mother’s Dahlias were a wide array of colorful blooms, but over the years they have become just one color.  Each fall, when the time comes to lift the tubers again and store them away for another winter, I question whether or not I should continue to plant dahlias. The digging up, the storing away, the planting again each spring gets old sometimes. That question always fades away, however, when the dahlias stand tall and produce their magnificent blossoms that  greet me and smile my Mother’s smile each morning.



Solitude

I was unable to post this blog yesterday…so I share it now.

My mini-adventure will come to a close today, but not until the 1 o’clock check-out requirement.    I’m going to stay till the very last minute.  That will give me ample time to see if there is any thing larger in the fish pond than the five little bluegills caught and released yesterday.  The Park brochure says, “The pond has a healthy population of large mouth bass, bluegill, and channel catfish.”  Perhaps that is true—but only bluegills seemed interested in nibbling on my fish-line yesterday.

Solitude (“alone time”) is necessary for our growth.  It provides a “space,” within and without, for us to take measure of our journey.  For nearly forty-five years I found such solitude and  space for reflection by attending religious retreats.  These days I find solitude and needed “space” in my study at home, or sitting on my little deck in the back lawn, or puttering around in the flowerbeds.  But sometimes it is necessary to leave familiar surroundings in order to find a deeper solitude wherein one can more fully assess where things are within his or her life and thought.  This kind of reflection is what I mean when I say,  I’ve ‘Gone Fishin’.

Only by persistent inner attention can we determine our realities, our possibilities, and our next steps on the journey of life.  Only in solitude, or so it seems to me, can we cast our line into deeper portions of the pond.  There are probably more than bluegills there.




Gone Fishin’

Even torrential rain could not keep Odysseus from getting on the road again yesterday afternoon.  The rain only added to the adventure!  Halfway to our destination the rain subsided.  One of the blessings of retirement is the freedom to travel during the middle of the week when others are not free to do so.  The park is nearly empty of campers and people this morning.  I feel like I have the whole place to myself.  

The first order of business was to find the campsite, back in, plug in the electric, locate the water supply (though Odysseus carries water) and the restroom and showers.  The second was to report in at home.  The third was to take a long walk to get oriented, and in particular, to find the fishing pond.

The evening was spent enjoying a pasta dinner (Rachel Ray’s microwave pasta cooker makes that easy), watching the national news (yes, I have a TV, though I wish I hadn’t watched it last night) and then some reading.  The high humidity issue was resolved by turning on the air-conditioning for an hour or so.  Later,  as the air became more tolerable, I turned off the A/C, opened windows, turned on the fan, and fell asleep on my comfortable queen-size bed listening to the sounds of the night.  How’s that for primitive camping!


I awoke later than usual this morning (2 hours later).  It must be the mountain air, or perhaps the comfortable bed.  As soon as I finish my breakfast (eggs and bacon) and several cups of coffee, I’ll take a walk along one of the trails.  Then, I’ll post a ‘Gone Fishin’ sign on Odysseus and meander down to the pond.  It is not important that I catch any fish.  What is important is that I have  ‘Gone Fishin’.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Just Odysseus and Me

Odysseus (our miniature RV) has been sitting dormant since our last trip across country in March.  Occasionally, Odysseus has been given a little exercise out on the road, but not nearly enough for such an adventurer with 120,000 miles of travel history.  It is past time for a little jaunt!  

I, too, have been “parked” since our return from Greece in early May.  Like, Odysseus, I need some exercise.  So, together, Odysseus and me will get back on the road again today.  It won’t be a trip across country, but at least it will be something to fulfill our yearning for adventure.

Several years ago I purchased a Senior Pass for Maryland State Parks, thinking at the time that I would (with Odysseus) visit each of Maryland’s State Parks for a day or two, while it is day.  Odysseus and I have only managed to visit four of them so far, which means we have about 36 left on the list.  We better get a’movin’.

And so we will get moving, and we will do so today.  We’ll visit Gambrill State Park in the Catoctin Mountains, just northwest of Frederick, MD.  It is only a two-hour road trip, but at least we’ll be on the road again.  The park has 16 miles of hiking trails—a fishing pond—and a campground that provides electrical hook-up—all the amenities needed.  “Just can’t wait to get on the road again!”

I love to go a wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun,
So joyously it calls to me,
"Come! Join my happy song!"
I wave my hat to all I meet,
And they wave back to me,
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From ev'ry green wood tree.
High overhead, the skylarks wing,
They never rest at home
But just like me, they love to sing,
As o'er the world we roam.
Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die!
Oh, may I always laugh and sing,
Beneath God's clear blue sky!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Hanging on to the First Amendment

The First Amendment to the US Constitution is essential for any democracy to develop and thrive.  Every American should hold it dear.  It prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  The First Amendment was adopted back in 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.

I’m not a constitutional lawyer or a Supreme Court Justice, but it seems to me that the words are self-explanatory.  We can peaceably assemble and speak freely.  It is a “right” of every citizen to express his or her views whatever they may be, whether those views are right or wrong.  To give this right (freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble) only to a majority point of view and not to a minority point of view constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.  The same holds true for the freedom of the press.  Any infringement, encroachment, or intrusion (allegations of “fake news” comes close to encroachment) upon that freedom is a violation of the First Amendment.

Today, in the light of Charlottesville and Seattle, the deep divide in our politics, the rhetoric about fake news, the banning of certain religious groups, etc., we must be extremely cautious not to allow our opposition to a certain ideology (no matter how detestable) undermine the very freedom that allows us to peaceably assemble to “counter” that ideology.  The First Amendment gives us the right to peaceably assemble whether we are protesters or counter-protesters. 

A new law (not so easily interpreted as the First Amendment), set forth in the USA Patriot Act, defines domestic terrorism as (a) acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (b) appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping and that occur within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

What a conundrum!  We have rights and restrictions!  “Acts that appear to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” can be interpreted in many ways.  It can be used by a majority or a minority, and even by a government “of the people, for the people and by the people.”  The First Amendment is essential to our survival as a democracy, even when it gives “voice” to despicable ideologies.

A democracy does not consist of "Clay Soldiers" embedded
in the earth, but of people who act!




Sunday, August 13, 2017

Who Is To Blame?

Tears, anguish, sadness, anger, and frustration dampen my spirit this morning after yesterday’s disturbance in Charlottesville, Virginia.  I’ve tried to get the facts about what actually occurred, but haven’t really been able to do so.  What happened?  Surfing the cable channels and listening to the conjectures of the various pundits and reporters only added to my futile search for facts.  What happened?  I heard and read the reactions of many government officials and I still don’t know what created the violent chaos.  I’ve checked out the NYT and other press releases, but I’m still not sure exactly what happened?  Hopefully, today, I’ll learn more.

Maybe I’ll learn that the White Nationalist group consisted of only 40 or 50 people rather than hundreds (as reported via the different cable networks) attempting to peaceably assemble under their First Amendment rights.  Maybe I’ll find out if they all bore arms, wore helmets, and had brass knuckles and threw tear gas capsules at the counter-protesters.  Maybe I’ll get a clear picture about whether or not the protesters had their own militia to protect them. Maybe I’ll find out if most of the counter-protesters came from out-of-town and were paid to confront the White Nationalist protesters (as reported on the various cable networks).  What happened?  I don’t have a clear picture.  Do you?  

Do I want a clear picture?  Do I really want to know the facts for truth-sake?  Or do I want to simply know who to blame for yesterday’s violence and chaos?  To point my finger at somebody, some group, some politician, is a way of not having to look at the “blame” in me for the way things are.

Who started and continued the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan and the Middle East crisis?  Who ruined our water supply? Who is responsible for global warning?  Who put so many homeless people on our city streets?  Who crushed the poor?  Who makes our health care system the most expensive in the world?  Who is responsible for the racial, religious, and political divide?  Who poisoned the Chesapeake Bay and the oceans?  Who corrupted our banks, our politics, our judicial system?  Who has raped our natural resources? Who is responsible for this nation being racked with fear?  Who can I point to and say, “You are to blame for this, for that?  



I wonder if finding someone to blame would eliminate my tears, anguish, sadness, anger and frustration that overwhelms me just now?  I doubt it very much.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Nursing Home Mentality

I find it difficult to visit nursing homes these days. The truth is, I’ve always found it difficult. For years it was a part of my weekly task to visit aging parishioners, friends, and eventually my own mother, in such places  Some nursing homes are better than others, but in some ways all nursing homes and assisted-living homes are the same.  It comes to me this morning that life in our society has parallels to the plight of the old in a nursing home.  Our griefs, our feelings, our thoughts, our anger (our humanity) are often muffled by various kinds of tranquilizers (opioids, alcohol, anti-depressants, religion, and various forms of bingo placebos) even as the old are silenced by the indiscriminate use of tranquilizers in nursing homes.   

Old people are not permitted to express their deepest pain or to be angry in nursing homes.  We are not permitted, or at least it is frowned upon, to complain or rant and rave, or express the depth of the feelings that plague us.  No one wants to listen to that kind of stuff or deal with it.   We want to administer a tranquilizer for those who do, and we often use a tranquilizer of one sort or another to protect ourselves from them.


Old people in nursing homes have usually lost everything—“home, work, family, their place in community, health, movement, beauty, control, choice, privacy—a sense of their own worth.”  Have we not lost the same things, though in different and more subtle ways? There are many who are not “old” yet, and are not residents of a nursing home, who have lost everything. There are many who are not “old” yet, who have lost the option of choice, if indeed, they ever had it.  There are many who are not “old” yet, who have lost their health.  There are many forms of nursing homes and our greatest danger as a society is to ignore the “nursing home mentality” that seems to be thriving.  


Friday, August 11, 2017

Different Jesuses

It is a fact.  It can’t be denied.  I’ve worked with it for years and the only thing I can come up with is that there are many who follow a different Jesus than the one I attempt, in my feeble way, to follow.  Now, it is historically true that many Jesuses have come and gone.  The Book of Sirach in the Old Testament Apocrypha was supposedly written by a Jesus (Jesus ben Sirach).  The early historian Josephus and other sources name many Jesuses:   Jesus ben Saphat, Jesus ben Ananias, Jesus ben Gamalia, etc. Even in the New Testament we find one “Jesus Barabbus!”  Barabbus, by the way, means “son (bar) of the father (abba).

There is only one Jesus of Nazareth, however, and Christians of all stripes and colors (evangelical, progressive, liberal, conservative, etc.) say they believe in him and seek to follow him.  How is it, then, that we seem to be following different Jesuses?  

In fewer than ten years after Jesus’ crucifixion. different Jesuses begin to be followed.  Some became part of the Jewish Christian Community in Jerusalem who understood Jesus in a different way than those who became part of Paul’s Gentile Community.  Later came the Roman Church and the Eastern Church, each seeing and following a different Jesus.  The pattern has continued through the long centuries and is demonstrated now by the wide variety of denominations—and by the widespread division among Christians as to the content and meaning of Jesus’ message.  Many of these divisions have to do with interpreting the Bible, but it is a serious mistake to assume that the Bible is the only basis for “knowing” Jesus.

Well, I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this train of thought.  I guess I’m simply stating this simple fact—the Jesus followed by some is not the same Jesus I know.  Perhaps this is why I’ve always found Albert Schweitzer’s words meaningful:


“He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

A New Day Begins on the Aegean Sea



Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Grace Party

Yesterday I began this blog with a quote from Gordon Cosby at ninety years of age.  He was my mentor and spiritual guide for many years and I miss him so today.  He died at the age of 95 in 2013.  All one needs to know about Gordon can be seen in the following extended quote from him.  This quote was used in the bulletin at his Memorial Service.

“When we hear the invitation to claim our membership in God’s family, it is like we’ve stumbled onto a Grace Party.  We can hardly believe our good fortune.  The sights and sounds of it are pure delight.  Abundance characterizes the whole shindig.  The most delectable manna is falling everywhere, and wine flows as though from an artesian well.  Everyone is eating and drinking endlessly yet not being harmed because this food and wine are not of the world but New Life.

And get this:  Everyone’s invited!  That’s the really good news.  No one has to crash this party, there’s no limit to how many of my friends I can bring along with me.  Or my enemies for that matter.  It’s such a blast that I want everyone to come—those with wealth or not a penny to their name, those who are down and out or those who thought they had some power.  I do notice, though, that the so-called nobodies seem to be having the most fun.  It takes the others awhile to lay down everything they brought with them and start to play.

What are people doing at this party?  That’s the funny thing—We’re not ‘doing’ much at all.  We’re just being.  We’re being our real selves, relaxed and eager to help out with whatever the host asks of us.  Love is flowing all over the place.  Whatever you need, we’re ready.
-Do you want someone to listen?  We’ll hear whatever you need to say.
-Are you bleeding from the wounds of the past?  We’ll soothe and bandage your wounds.
-Do you need to be held for a while, just being quiet in a safe place?  Not a problem.  We 
have all the time in the world.
-Looking for respect, even reverence?  You’ll get such a dose of it you’ll wonder if you 
can take it all in.


N. Gordon Cosby
In fact, there’s so much peace and joy at this party that it can be hard to absorb.  Some of us just aren’t able to let in this much unimpeded Love and goodness.  That’s all right.  The host isn’t pushy.  We can come and go as many times as we need to until we can handle this much joy.  This is simply the nature of a Grace Party.  None of us is here because we deserve to be.  We haven’t earned any of it.  And although some of us might keep turning down the invitation, the host will never stop inviting.  And neither will we who have decided to stay.  We’ll be spreading the news  of this unbelievable feast everywhere we go.  Come to the party!  It won’t be the same if you’re not there.”



Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Body and Spirit--Young and Old

Some weeks after my mother moved into her apartment at the assisted-living home she would often say the only people who lived there were old people.  She did not view herself as being old even though she was, at that time, in her late eighties.  She ate breakfast, lunch and dinner with some “old ladies.”  She played Scrabble with some “old ladies.”  Was she in denial?  I don’t think so. I think she really did see herself as being younger than those around her because she did not have the kind of debilitating ailments and lagging spirits so many of the other residents were living with.

Larry Thompson in an article entitled “Age Won’t Kill You,” points out that it is not aging which makes us feel miserable, but disease, which needs to be understood and treated no matter what the age of the patient.  He gives an example of a ninety-five-year-old man who told his doctor that he had pain in his right knee, and that it hurt when he moved it:
   “The doctor looked at him and said, ‘You’re 95 years old.  You’re bound to have some pain in your right knee.  That’s what happens when you get old.’  
   But the man was smart.  He replied, ‘But my left knee is 95 years old too, and it’s just fine.’”

At three-score and ten plus four (74 and moving quickly toward 75) my dentist tells me that my receding gum-line is an “aging” thing.  The fifty-year-old doctor tells me “these things happen to us as we age.”   When these statements are made, I get a little concerned.  Are my problems being taken seriously as I age? Doctor Alex Comfort wrote, “‘Old’ people are people who have lived a certain number of years, and that is all.  If they have physical problems, so do younger people….As an ‘old’ person, you will need four things—dignity, money, proper medical services and useful work.  They are exactly the things you’ve always needed.”


Comfort continues,  “The real curse of being old is the ejection from a citizenship traditionally based on work.  In other words it is a demeaning idleness, nonuse, not being called on any longer to contribute, and hence being put down as a spent person of no public account, instructed to run away and play until death comes out to call us to bed….There is in fact marginally more chance of useful social involvement for an old person in a ghetto than for a retired executive pitched into a life of uninterrupted golf or reading paperbacks, who may not recognize that he has been sold a second, noncivic childhood along with the condominium key.”  Body and spirit are part of being old, just as body and spirit are part of being young.  

An elderly gentleman in Athens

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Thoughts on the Meaning of Dialogue

Every evening I receive an Email from Pete; every morning Pete receives an Email from me!  Well, almost every evening; almost every morning.  Sometimes something comes up that prevents our daily messaging, though this has been extremely rare. Pete and I were friends for a brief time some 50 years ago and then lost touch with one another.  Seven or eight years ago I found Pete.  We have visited several times since.  We dialogue via Email.

Dialogue is more than just saying my words, and giving Pete opportunity to say his words.  It also involves listening—being able to hear what lies behind the words we say or write.  We are all very different from one another and we can’t have dialogue without recognizing these differences.  Dialogue is a way of building a bridge across those differences—the gulf between ourselves and others.  We can’t really communicate unless I can see how things look from your side and you can see how things look from my side.

In other words, I have to leave the place where I am—the feelings and thoughts that are important to me—in order to dwell for a little while with the other’s thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, and perceptions.  In some real sense, dialogue requires me to deny myself for a little while—give up my life, so to speak—in order to  really experience the life of another.


It is not the purpose of dialogue to persuade another person to accept our opinions, values or view of the world.  The purpose of dialogue is to create understanding—a climate where communion takes place.  Many miles separate Pete and myself, yet we can still say/write our words to one another, read and listen carefully, and build a bridge across our differences, enough so that on occasion I can see how things look from his side and he can see how things look from my side.   

Monday, August 7, 2017

Walking With The Great

“The next best thing to being great is to walk with the great,” my mentor, Elton Trueblood, would say.  He was referring to the fact that we can walk with the truly great men and women of history through the written word.  Plato may have lived in the Fourth century BC, but his famous dialogues are more available to us in the Twenty-first century than they were for his students because they were written down and we can read them.  Through the written word (books) I can choose my companions—and thus, walk with the great.

A recently found photograph, however, reminds me, that the “great” persons of this world are not only those who have written books, but  also those with whom we have had the privilege to know and walk with on our journey.  The photograph was taken on a Veterans Day at a little country church in the village of Zion, Maryland, probably in 2006.  I had the privilege of being pastor there from 1968-1971 and then again from 2001-2009.

On the day of the photograph, some of us who still had them, donned our uniforms.  I was the youngest in the group—most of the others were World War II veterans—a group that Tom Brokaw has named “The Greatest Generation.”  “General” Bud, Bob, Jack, Alfred, Larry, Ernie, Byron, Ray, and Mr. Parks (as I always addressed him) were great people.  They may not have been great in the same way we consider John F. Kennedy or Plato and Socrates to be great—but they were great in my book.  I listened to their stories, shared meals with them, visited with them in their homes, invited them to my home, knew their families, visited them in hospitals and nursing homes, and this morning I suddenly realize that I officiated at all their funeral services.  


I have walked with the great through the written word, but I have also walked with these men of “The Greatest Generation.” They were men, every one of them, great men.  There will be no written words to tell of their journey, their perplexities, their hopes and dreams, their contrariness, their sacrifice, their care for others, and for the country they served so  proudly and honorably.    They were just ordinary men, but in walking with them along the way, I came to know their greatness.  “The next best thing to being great is to walk with the great.”  



Sunday, August 6, 2017

If God Is Love?

In every human being there is an insatiable need to love and to be loved.  Yesterday, sitting on the deck and listening to music, I heard Bette Midler’s song, “The Rose.” The lyrics, attempting to define love, linger in my mind this morning. 
Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed, 
Some say love, it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.  
Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need, 
I say love, it is a flower and you its only seed.” 

Then, the song goes on to suggest that in spite of the endless aching need each of us have to love and to be loved we are afraid of the risks:  
It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. 
                        It’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin’ that never learns to live.

In a sense, the lyrics are saying that in order to love and to be loved, one must always be “letting go.”  “Letting go” is loving.  Love means being susceptible to heartaches and learning to dance.  Love is willing to dream and to take a chance.  Love is being willing to give and thus to live.  “Letting go” is the nature of and the requirement of love.  If we really love a person, we will free him  or her to follow a path that is not our path, to hold opinions that are different from our own, to have friends that are not our friends.  Loving is not clinging to the beloved.  Love is, as Anne Lindbergh wrote:
Him that I love, I wish to be
Free—
Even from me.

Don’t we do this with our children?  We love them deeply, but there comes a time when we must  let them go.  To be a loving parent is to let our children go to forge their own way on the path of life.  We do not love them less—indeed, “letting [them] go,” setting them free,  we love them more.

 Now if God is Love, what does this Love, this “letting go” on God’s part mean for us?  If, as I often say, “Love is at the heart of all things” how does it work?  Love is here, Love is everywhere, surrounding us in every situation and circumstance.  But in this Love we are not controlled or held on a leash.  Love’s aim, Love’s purpose, Love’s very essence is to set us free even from Love itself.  “The only creature that can love is the creature free not to love” (Verna Dozier).  Human beings were created free!  Love gives that—Love “lets us go”—but forever Loves. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Gone "Batty"

I have bats in my belfry this morning.  Why?  Because someone posted a photo of a bat on Facebook which prompted me to remember a game I played as a youngster.  Placing blame on another—called projection or scapegoating—is a common  affliction that seems to be extremely prevalent among human beings. “You drive me crazy,” is a rather common statement. So I accuse whoever posted that photo of a bat on Facebook responsible for my “batty-ness” this morning—for the “bats in my belfry.”  Surely, I would not have bats on my mind if it weren’t for that photo. 

The old “Wagon House” on the farm across the road from our house was full of bats when I was young—hundreds, perhaps thousands of them.  You could not walk into the building without “smelling” the bats (a very distinctive smell called “guano”) and “hearing" them squeak and scuttle around in the rafters during the daytime.  At dusk on a summer evening,  the bats awoke and took to flight (the only mammal capable of true flight), darting, swooping, and diving in the twilight, and they did what 70% of all bats do—feeding on mosquitoes and other pesky insects (natural pest control).  One little bat can eat up to 1000 mosquitoes in an hour. There was a common fear, or an “old wives tale”  about bats that I grew up with—that bats will attack you and get tangled up in your hair.  (Again, it was somebody else’s fault that I should have held that false fear when I was young).  

The game I played could only be played in early twilight when the bats could still be seen flying about.  The only equipment needed was a broom or a garden rake and an open space where you could still vaguely see the bats in flight. The object of the game was to swing the broom or rake and “bat” the bat out of the air.  Success was rare because bats have a highly sensitive radar system, but I do recall getting a few.  A bat is one of the longest-lived mammals for its size, with a life-span of almost 40 years, except when they encounter a swinging broom or rake!


In recent years the bat population in the United States has drastically diminished and I’m feeling a bit guilty this morning for the game played so long ago.  I feel like Zorba the Greek felt when he urged, too soon, a butterfly from its cocoon and watched the poor thing die in his hand.  Did my game contribute to the dwindling bat population?  I doubt it, but still, I feel a twinge of guilt.  Oh, the “Games People Play,” (Eric Berne wrote a book about it) and what havoc and pain such games  (projection, scapegoating, blaming, lying, bullying, etc.) have upon bats and people.  



Friday, August 4, 2017

Being Present to the Moment

My friend is a few years older than me.  A week or so ago he experienced an epiphany of sorts and shared it with me.  “I am 78 years old, and my future is NOW; this is it.  It’s here. It is utterly ridiculous to worry about anything beyond the next few days or weeks.  It doesn’t take a genius to know this, and yes, I have known this for a long time, but have never really allowed the truth of it to sink into my thick head. Writing in my journal earlier this morning it hit me like a hard slap on my head. TODAY should be the most important day in my life, not tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever. The present is all that I can count on, and even that is fleeting.”

The past is gone; it is no more.  The present is here and now for the moment.  The future is not yet and there is no guarantee that we will experience it.  We must live in the present moment for it is all any of us really have, at any age, at any time.  To live in the present moment is not to assume that this moment is our last—that tomorrow will not come.  It is rather to simply be present to the moments we are living now.

It is not what happens to us in any given moment that gives content to our lives, but whether or not we let its experience sink into us.  Reflection is a wonderful gift,  It is essential if we wish to be present to our moments.  With this gift of reflection we can look into each moment of our days, pondering the feelings we experience in all that we do and say.  Being present to our moments is to reflect on the joys we feel, the sadness that sometimes overwhelms us, the tears that flow or the smile that surfaces without effort, or the song on our lips that comes without thinking. The “moment” has little content without this reflecting or pondering of its significance and making it count, rather than always rushing through those moments without attention, hurrying toward what we think will be a more  “important”  tomorrow.  

There is a legend of St. Francis of Assisi hoeing in his garden one day when someone came along and asked him to speculate on what he would do if he knew he was going to die that day.  “I would hoe my garden,” he replied. 


Being present to the moment means to live it fully, to reflect on its meaning, to enter into its mystery, and to keep on with whatever your particular hoeing might be without the headlong rush toward something more important tomorrow.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Speaking English?

The whole world was able to watch “live” the encounter between CNN reporter Jim Acosta and aide to President Trump, Stephen Miller, at yesterday’s White House Press Briefing.  There is a history behind that encounter that we ought to know.  Miller proclaimed on national TV in February 2017:  “Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”  Read that statement again—and again—and again.  Think about this part of it: “the powers of the president… are very substantial and will not be questioned.”  Since when was it decided or determined that a president of the United States of America would not be questioned?  Our government is “a government of the people, for the people, and by the people,” the last I heard!  We have the right, a constitutional right, to ask questions of all levels of government, including and particularly the president.  Don’t let that right be confiscated!

Now, Jim Acosta is a veteran reporter and also has a history that needs to be known. He is aggressive and his questions often polarizing.  It was Acosta who irritated President Trump at a January 2017 news conference, prompting the president to say:  “You are fake news!”  Since then, there has been a deep animosity between the Administration and CNN.

Yesterday, the two clashed, but it was a clash that involved much more than the Administration’s new proposal on merit-based green cards.   There is a history—and to understand anything at all—we have to have some understanding of what has gone on before.

Acosta asked Miller if the new proposal went against the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  Miller responded by saying, “the poem you’re referring to, was added later, [and] is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”  Note that Miller didn’t answer the question asked.  He went on to suggest Acosta’s and CNN’s  “cosmopolitan bias,” and the apparent “stupidity” of Acosta’s questions.

Do you speak English?  Then you ought to understand what happened in this encounter and we all must be concerned.


Don't let this happen to our democracy!