Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Disparity “Thing”

This morning the disparity “thing” between a territory and a state has magnified.  Puerto Ricans are American citizens—no different from Floridians or Texans.  A recent poll indicated that many Americans were ignorant of this fact and out of that ignorance were less than supportive of providing aid to the island. Puerto Ricans hold US citizenship; they are Americans (however, they do not vote in presidential elections, but they do send one nonvoting representative to Congress).  That’s the disparity “thing” between a territory (Commonwealth) and a state, or is it?

“This is an island surrounded by water.  Big water.  Ocean water,” Mr. Trump said yesterday in an attempt to explain the dire situation in Puerto Rico. Earlier in the week he seemed to place blame on Puerto Rico for the present chaos, noting the US territory’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt” in a tweet.  Shackled by the Jones Act of 1920, Puerto Rico has been economically crippled (“food cost twice as much in Puerto Rio as in nearby Florida, and has drained as much as $17 billion from the island between 1990 and 2010”).  This has forced Puerto Rico to enter a kind of bankruptcy situation.  That is why Trump tweeted throughout the past week about , “big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding, ”  and the “billions owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with…”

After a week of living in the dark and without basic needs our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are frustrated and angry. They feel like second-class citizens.  The kind of relief after Katrina in New Orleans and the relief given to Texas and Florida far exceeds that which has been given to Puerto Rico to date, according to most sources.  In desperation, Mayor Cruz of San Juan, unleashed some harsh criticism about the relief efforts yesterday.

Here is the “Tweet” reaction from Mr. Trump this morning.  

4:19 AM-30 Sep “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump”
4:26 AM-30 Sep “…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.  They…
4:29 AM-30 Sep “…want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.  10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”
4:48 AM-30 Sep “Fake News CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great First Responders as a way to ‘get Trump.’ No fair to FR or effort!”

5:01 AM-30 Sep “The Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico doing their best to take the spirit away from our soldiers and first R’s.  Shame!”

Friday, September 29, 2017

Anger Unleashed

Several years ago while traveling the highways and byways of this great country I encountered an angry person.   The experience remains vivid.  He was driving an 18-wheeler in the left-hand lane of a two-lane interstate.  I was merging onto the Interstate from the left.  The left merging lane was short and there was no “yield” sign (that I remember).    I had to either stop (there were many cars behind me trying to make the same merge) or “step on the gas” and get in front of that big rig.  I chose the latter course, and moved into what seemed to me to be a safe and sufficient opening available in front of the on-coming truck.  

The truck driver was infuriated with my maneuvering and immediately pulled up to within a foot or so behind me and blasted his horn for what seemed to be at least a full minute or more.  With only a foot separating an 18-wheeler from your little vehicle on a 65-mph  highway an air horn can be mighty intimidating.   He swerved into the right-hand lane and pulled up alongside me—and we were both moving at 65-mph.  He was speaking, I saw his lips moving, but could not hear what he was saying.  There was no need to hear what he was saying for his words were supplemented by many gestures that told me exactly what his words were.  I am sure he was making uncomplimentary references to my family tree, questioning my intellectual capacity, and suggesting where he thought I ought to spend eternity and the sooner I got there, as far as he was concerned, the better.

What triggered this rage so disproportionate to the event?  Had he had a bad morning?  Was he angry because he couldn’t make his monthly mortgage payment or had his wife left him the weekend before?  Or was he just an angry person? I had no idea.  I thought I was driving safely and with care, mindful of that big truck and of the traffic before and behind me, following the rules (and courtesies) of the road.   Apparently, the truck driver did not agree with my thinking or my careful driving.  He used the sheer power of that enormous truck he drove to intimidate me and make me feel like I had done something terribly wrong.  He spoke words I could not hear, but it seemed evident, just by watching his lips that he had no respect for me as a human being.  He used gestures that had no religious meaning, but were suggestive enough for me to know that he considered me among the lowest species of the animal kingdom.  

I think of this incident often.  I wonder if it would have made any difference if I had been able to apologize for whatever driving sin he felt I had committed.  In an ongoing relationship, in a community, there is an opportunity to apologize, to confess, to repent, to forgive, and to heal, but there is no such opportunity at 65 miles per hour between a little van and an 18-wheeled bully amid hundreds of other vehicles on a crowded Interstate.

Perhaps I should let Eleni drive?

Thursday, September 28, 2017

American Civil Religion

Robert Bellah’s 1967 article, “Civil Religion in America,” formally stated “a sociological theory that a nonsectarian quasi-religious faith exists within the United States with sacred symbols drawn from national history.”  Bellah’s view was that Americans embrace a common “civil religion” with certain “fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and rituals, parallel to, or independent of their chosen religion.”   The American Revolution is viewed as the major source for the development of our American civil religion, providing us with a Moses (George Washington), prophets (Jefferson and Paine), apostles (Adams and Franklin) and martyrs (Nathan Hale), as well as devils (Benedict Arnold), sacred places (Valley Forge), rituals (military funerals), the flag, sacred holidays (July 4th), and a holy scripture (which includes the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution).  Civil religion (which is a reality, not only in America, but in most nations of the world) can be taken to extremes and eventually destroy the values it has to offer.

Let’s be very clear about what American civil religion is.  It is a “nonsectarian quasi-religious faith.”  It is not Islam, Jewish, Hindu, or Christian.  It is nonsectarian (representative of no particular group).    It is quasi-religious (it only resembles something that is religious).  Civil religion in America is not the Christian religion—it is not the Jewish religion—it is not Islam—it is quasi-religious!  The potential  danger of civil religion is that we make it sectarian and see it as something more than a quasi-religious faith.  When civil religion becomes “my religion” or “our religion" and “not yours,” “not theirs;” when values are no longer shared, and “rights” become only for those of a particular group, democracy ceases to be and civil religion becomes sick. This “sickness” of civil religion, of making it a “Religion” has happened throughout history—it happened less than 100 years ago—and it can happen again.

Another danger of civil religion taken to extremes is when it becomes “authoritarian" or "totalitarian.”  Quakers are conscientious objectors.  Should they be coerced to do that which is forbidden by their conscience and religious persuasion because civil religion gone awry demands it of them?  Jews gather for worship on Saturday, should they be coerced into worshipping on Sunday because civil religion has become the “Religion”  of the land?  The same reasoning fits the current furor over the flag and the national anthem.  Some of the people are just as important as most of the people and each group is “free” in America until civil religion becomes sick.

Civil religion has its place, but it is not my Religion, nor is it the Religion of my Jewish, Hindu, Islamic and Christian brothers and sisters in America.  Do not try to construe my faith to fit the convenience of America’s civil religion. Do not manipulate the Bible to fit American civil religion or to “Make America Great Again.”  It doesn’t jive, the shoe just doesn’t fit, and the founding fathers knew it and insisted that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Well, it is evident that Mr. Trump “knows more about ISIS (he uses all of their demonic tactics:  denial of truth, doublespeak and overtalk, secrecy and boasts of expertise, harassment, cursing and conjuring, diversion and demoralization) than the generals do.  Believe me.”  Why does he always add the phrase, “Believe me,” to almost everything he says?   Be that as it may, he has accomplished what he intended to do last Friday night with his tirade about the disrespect of flag and national anthem by certain (actually very specific) NFL players.  He must be a really smart guy.  He says he is, “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest—and you all know it!  Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault” (May 8, 2013).  

What has he done?  He has turned what was an African-American protest against police brutality and racial injustice into a “disrespect” or “unpatriotic” response to the flag and the national anthem.  There is much more talk today on the cable networks and social media about what it means to “stand” than there is about Anthony Lamar Smith, who was killed in 2011 by a former St. Louis police officer (recently acquitted).  Did any of us see any news clips about what was going on in the streets of St. Louis over the weekend?  The “Cause” for the kneeling got lost in a whirlwind of 19 Tweets from a wily guy about how “unpatriotic” it is to kneel during the national anthem, how disrespectful such kneeling is to our service men and women, how it debases our “heritage” and “everything we stand for.”  The original motivation for Colin Kaepernick’s sitting/kneeling was to protest systemic racism in our society. But who will think about that now?  Who paid any attention to Mr. Trump’s comments reported just a year or so ago:  “Donald Trump said Monday he believes the Black Lives Matter movement has in some cases helped instigate the recent killings of police officers, and suggested he might direct his future attorney general to investigate the civil rights movement.” 

Let’s ponder the word “disrespect.”  The flag is an object.  The national anthem is a song.  These are things, not persons—and race, creed, nationality and all the other labels—make no difference.  A person is a person with certain unalienable rights.  I think one of these rights is to be respected.  This “respect” for a person is more important to me (and by the way, to the Constitution of the United States) than anything!  Mr. Trump has been disrespectful of many groups of people and individual persons—Mexicans, Muslims, Gold Star family, Black Lives Matter, his fellow GOP candidates, Colin Powell, John McCain, Asians, the Mayor of London, North Koreans, women, the former president—and  the list goes on and on—and there will be more today and more tomorrow.  Don’t ask me to respect a “thing” and disrespect people!  It goes against the grain of my Christian faith and my conscience. God help me, I cannot be impartial when it comes to this flagrant “disrespect” of persons.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Diversion & Manipulation

However we  may view kneeling, standing, sitting, or whatever during the singing of the national anthem and the presentation of the flag at NFL games really isn’t the greatest or gravest issue confronting us as a nation and world—though the president continues to “twitter” as though it were priority #1.  We all took the bait last Friday. We’ve stood up or knelt down or given a thumbs up or down for what we believe and it has divided us.  We’ve spoken out and been yelled down.  We’ve come together only to be pulled apart.  We are now locked into our little camps, defending the “right” we think is “right!”  

Meanwhile, North Korea believes the United States, namely Mr. Trump, has declared war on their republic.  Meanwhile, natural disaster areas are crying out for help. Meanwhile, we have done little to combat Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election (not a “hoax”) from interfering with  future election cycles.  Meanwhile, and meanwhile and meanwhile…so many important issues need to be addressed from racial/gender disparities to health care to any number of world crises.  

Diversion has always been a ploy of the “powers and principalities” and we have been diverted over and over again in recent months from the crucial issues of our time to focus on the mundane and the frivolous.  The multifarious babel that has been relentless since inaugural day has brought about a visceral and intellectual fatigue upon millions of Americans.  This babel and the many diversions demoralizes the human spirit.  The visceral and intellectual fatigue conveniences, not the people, but the diverting power.  We must keep guard on our spirits—we must not allow ourselves to be diverted or to become fatigued.  For that is precisely the aim of the diversion ploy.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Fishing Expedition

Mr. Trump has diverted our attention once again.  No matter how many times he does it, we seem to fall for it.  On Friday, he baits the hook with a juicy morsel (kneeling during the national anthem  “disrespects our flag”) and we all nibble and then take the bait, hook, line, and sinker.  Like any skilled fisherman he re-baits the hook with  “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. He's fired!” Ah! it is time to resort to rough language, vulgar language, some folks like a president like that (few of the fish pick up on the racial undertone in that foul language).  We no longer nibble at that bait now, we strike at that new bait (according to our particular view).  The hook is baited again, “For a week (that owner would) be the most popular person in this country.  Because (kneeling during the national anthem) that’s a total disrespect of our heritage.  That’s a total disrespect for everything we stand for.”  Now the bait is fortified with protein (red meat)—not only is kneeling during the national anthem disrespectful of flag and country, but now a “total disrespect of our heritage…of everything we stand for.”  We strike at that red meat bait—and swallow hook, line and sinker.  

The fishing expedition goes on all through the weekend via Twitter with other choice morsels to create a feeding frenzy.  “Courageous patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag—we must honor and respect it.  Make America Great Again.”  Now he provides bait for veterans and military members, even first-responders.  He has caught a lot of fish, some big, some small:  NFL owners and players in London and across the nation, NASCAR folk, the media pundits, the sports commentators, sports fans, veterans, our neighbors, friends and family—and me.  He has caught all of us in one way or another.

Now that we have all taken the bait (each in our own way) and swallowed it hook, line and sinker, Mr. Trump tweets this morning:  “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race…”  What?   Who initiated the kneeling?  What bait, what hook, what line, and what sinker are we swallowing?

Caught!  on a Greek Isle

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Morning Distraction

“Monday Night Football” is one thing, but Sunday Morning Football is quite another. It will be the first time ever that I have watched a football game on a Sunday morning.  The Baltimore Ravens are in London.  They are playing the Jaguars at 2:30 p.m. London time, which translates to 9:30 a.m. here in Maryland.  Sports bars are opening their doors early in Baltimore and other places to give Ravens fans the opportunity to gather and watch the game on the big screen.  

I’ve never been a big sports fan.  I never participated in sports during high school or college days.  I never watched a Super Bowl game until my youngest son insisted, some 30 years ago, that we have a Super Bowl party like all the rest of his friends.   Since then I have watched the Super Bowl annually (and some times the World Series), but seldom any of the games preceding those annual events.  In the last several years, however, under the influence of my children, grandchildren, and friends, I have taken on watching football games, especially those of the Baltimore Ravens.  Last Sunday, for example, I watched the Ravens game from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and then watched the Bronco’s defeat the Dallas Cowboys.  That amounted to almost seven to eight hours of sitting on my duff (though I do get up and move about during commercials and half-time, and often I have a book in hand while watching the games).  

This new development in my lifestyle is a conundrum (a confusing and difficult problem).  You see, I think football is a distraction, like the gladiator games held in ancient Rome’s colosseum were a distraction.  Those ancient games were merciless and played to the death.  Those games were held to keep people from dealing with the real issues of their time, just as modern sports keep us distracted from the real issues of our time.  People get hurt playing football, seriously hurt, and here I am watching the spectacle and enjoying it!  I’ve always been a critic of those “crazy fans” who are willing to sit in the rain, snow, sleet, and cold and watch people get hurt in the great colosseums we have built, often with tax-payer money that could have been used to renew our inner cities.  I’ve also been critical about the high salaries paid to those who play professional sports and the money spent to promote such distractions.  Yet, here I am about to watch the Ravens play the Jaguars in London at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning!   I guess Hamlet was right—or perhaps I should say, Shakespeare had it right.

Grandson Nick and his Mom

Saturday, September 23, 2017


In my reading yesterday I came across another word, seldom used these days, but practiced often, that caught my fancy.  The word is “loquacity” and it simply means “the quality of being wordy and talkative.”  Synonyms for this word include:  chattiness, effusiveness, gabbling, babbling, and chattering. Loquacious people are talkers.  While there is a time to speak and a time to keep silence, these talkers seem never to have observed the latter part of this wise saying. Talkers generally talk whether they have anything to say or not.  They just have a natural inclination to talk incessantly.  Their loquacity is usually only an exercise of their tongue without any use of their other faculties (like listening, for example). 

Some cable news networks have loquacious personalities—they talk even when others are trying to talk.  Have you observed this?  It seems that they are interested in only what they have to say about any matter, and that the other persons are with them only to be entertained by their loquacity.  This thwarts any possibility for real dialogue or conversation.  No one else can “get a word in edgewise.”  When the loquacity disease reaches this stage it becomes a form of “bullying.”  

"Bullying is a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully…( or unable to get a word in edgewise).” Subverting the voice of another by one’s loquacity, creating a situation that avoids all other  human faculties but the tongue of the loquacious, and which prevents talk about the cares and sorrows of life that another may be passing through is a sad thing. 

The Joshua Tree

Friday, September 22, 2017


In my morning pondering of things as they are, things as I’d like them to be, things as they ought to be,  things that irk my soul, things that wrench my heart, things that rankle in my mind, things that make me cry—all sorts of things come into play.  Sometimes the “thing” is a political or social thing, sometimes it is a religious “thing.”  A “thing” is “an object,” in my case, a subject, “that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to.”  Or, a “thing” might be “an action, activity, event, thought (as it is in my case) or utterance.”  

Sometimes the “thing” that comes to my mind is a single word that I may have seen in a book or heard somewhere.  My thing this morning is the word, disparity.  Disparity means “the condition or fact of being unequal, as in age, rank, or degree—difference.”  Synonyms for disparity include words like discrepancy, inconsistency, imbalance, dissimilarity, contrast, inequality—difference.

There are many disparities.  There are racial, economic, gender, age, civil, health and political disparities.  There are disparities everywhere!  Why, there are even disparities between you and me!  The word covers a lot of territory and speaking of “territory” I wonder if there are disparities between Puerto Rico and the states of Texas or Florida.  Of course there are disparities—and one of my “things” this morning is whether a “territory” will be cared for in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria as equally as a “state.”

Along those same lines, I wonder about the disparities of the “have’s and the have not’s” in  Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and even St. Thomas.  I suspect the tourist sites of St. Thomas will be restored quickly so that the cruise ships have some place to go.  I doubt that the other areas of the island will be restored that quickly, if at all.  The disparity is apparent.

Disparity is a big, big word—it covers a lot of territory.  It is my “thing” of the morning and it will probably engage my thinking throughout the day.

So many people came before us.
So many will come after us.
Will we give them a place?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Only Yesterday

In 1931 (two years after the 1929 crash), Frederick Lewis Allen, wrote a book entitled,  Only Yesterday. The book is an informal history of the eleven years between the end of World War I with Germany (November 11, 1918) and the stock-market panic (November 13, 1929) which ended the years known as Coolidge (and Hoover) prosperity.  I first read the book as a high school student and have read it a number of times since, which is evident from the book’s present unsightly condition.   I would urge everyone to read the book (still in print and available) because I believe Allen’s Only Yesterday of the twentieth century, bespeaks of our “Only Yesterday” in the twenty-first.

James Howard Kunstler wrote, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”  Any person reading  Only Yesterday will find a lot of “rhyming” between the stories of “then and now.”  The decade of the twenties was caught up in a blind faith in the power of capital (money, deals, and business) and American prosperity.  It was an era of “America First.”  Weary of foreign entanglements (World War I) the American people turned a deaf ear to Woodrow Wilson’s plea for the League of Nations.  They were caught up in radical conspiracy theories that they believed threatened the government and the institutions of the United States (The Red Revolution, foreigners, and Labor Unions).  Making the world safe for democracy was not on their agenda.  They only wanted to make America safe for themselves.  Sound familiar?

Allen wrote, “It was an era of disorderly defense of law and order, of unconstitutional defense of the Constitution, of suspicion and civil conflict—in a very literal sense, a reign of terror.”  Under the war-time Sedition Act, aliens (who were thought to be anarchists, “sinister and subversive agitators” or as it is today, “rapists, murderers, etc.”) were rounded up for wholesale deportation. The Ku-Klux Klan blossomed into power in that twentieth century yesterday, fueled by the various conspiracies and were seen as defenders of the white against the black, of Gentile against Jew, and of Protestant against Catholic.  This all happened only yesterday (1918-1929).  It rhymes with our todays that quickly turn into twenty-first century Only Yesterday.   

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Voice Crying In The Wilderness

The Christian community’s task (when at its best, which hasn’t been very often in the course of history)  is to work toward “the fulfillment of humanity in society.”  This implies that one rises above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.  It means geographical togetherness.  It means that no individual and no nation can live alone. Modern transportation has dwarfed the distance that once separated us. This new closeness, along with the new world of the internet and the satellite make international communication readily available and draws us together into one neighborhood.  The Christian faith, when authentic and true to the teachings of Jesus, would have this new neighborhood  become a community—one family—one people—a global village.  I am convinced, as a Christian, that this is what Jesus meant when he urged his followers to enter into the new kingdom—the new age.  It doesn’t mean that the leopard change his spots or the Ethiopian the color of his skin and become something other than a leopard or an Ethiopian.  This new age doesn’t mean everyone becomes a “Christian,” for Jesus stresses the fact that he has other sheep not of this fold.”  The great gift of democracy (rather than theocracy, despotism, dictatorship, monarchy and totalitarian) is that it recognizes differences and provides equal freedom for each and every person in the pursuit of happiness.

Yesterday, President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly was antithetical to the ideas and the ideals of the UN, founded in 1945.  It was also starkly antithetical to the Christian faith and its task to work toward “the fulfillment of humanity in society.”  It was antithetical to the basic tenets of our American way of life.  When Mr. Trump spoke of “uncontrolled migration” (“suggesting that the best place for refugees is anywhere but in the USA”) he dehumanized refugees (human beings) and violated the words of our forefathers who framed the Constitution he has sworn to uphold and protect that “All Are Created Equal.”  Denigrating human beings seems to be his forte.. When he boasted that his main concern was America’s national sovereignty and would be respectful of the sovereignty of all other nations, and then threatened other sovereign nations (if they did not do what he wanted them to do) with annihilation, he not only contradicted his own principle of the sovereignty of each nation,  but the very reason the United Nations was formed in the first place.  Not once in his speech did the president mention Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election or its usurpation of Ukraine.  The president’s bombastic and bellicose speech is being praised by his supporters, but I would dare to suggest that such a stance (demonstrated by Mr. Trump throughout his campaign and into his presidency) is also antithetical to the Christian way.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Doublespeak & Overtalk

I chose not to watch the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards program this past Sunday evening. However, I could not avoid hearing about Sean Spicer showing up, because it headlined the national news and went viral on social media.  I didn’t find Spicer’s performance funny.  Who can forget Spicer’s  performance at the first press conference on the day after the Inauguration?  I can’t.  In that five minute press conference he arrogantly lied (in spite of the photographs) about the size of the inauguration crowd, attacked reporters and the freedom of the press, and trampled the First Amendment.  That wasn’t funny. It was despicable.  And I might add, that Spicer’s press conferences following that first one were far from comical.  Kellyanne Conway, however, thought Spicer brought a sense of humor to the otherwise (in her opinion)—politicized Emmy program—but she did not find Stephen Colbert and others humorous because they were insulting “our leader.”

I did not find it funny that Mr. Trump as the President of the United States of America should re-tweet the video of a fan’s GIF that showed Mr. Trump golfing and the ball striking Hillary Clinton, which has also been aired by the media umpteen times since it was tweeted this past Sunday morning (the same day as the Emmy Award program).  The NY Times reported, “The tweet stoked outrage online, generating more than 11,000 replies, many of which condemned the president’s promotion of violent imagery toward Mrs. Clinton…But it was also celebrated by Trump supporters, who admonished “crooked Hillary” and accused Mr. Trump’s critics of lacking a sense of humor.”

Kellyanne Conway took to the media on Monday to criticize the anti-Trump innuendos made during the Emmy Awards saying, “You are showing the world that you’re so easy with an insult about our leader. I think that’s really unfortunate,” while ignoring “our leader’s” Birther Movement insults about the former president and “our leader’s” continued insults and personal assaults upon others.  

George Orwell coined the word “double-speak” in his book, 1984, using it  in the phrase, “war is peace.”  Doublespeak “is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words—it disguises  the nature of truth.” It seems to me that we are presently getting a lot of “doublespeak” from all quarters.  Sean Spicer is funny; Stephen Colbert is not funny.  A fake video showing the president hitting a former First Lady with a golf ball is humorous, but any jibe directed at the president is not humorous.  I do not find “doublespeak” funny from either side!

Be careful, we are traveling a difficult road.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Denial of Truth

William Stringfellow is visiting with me this morning though his little book, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land.  He was a creative and talented writer and a radical social maverick within the Christian community back in the 60’s and 70’s.  I heard him speak several times and was held captive by his stirring oratory, and at the same time, deeply discomfited by his disturbing convictions.  I am still held captive and still discomfited by his words as we connect this morning.

Are there demonic powers at work in our world?  Stringfellow answers with a resounding YES!  “If the powers and principalities (institutions, ideologies, images, causes, corporations, bureaucracies, traditions, idols) be legion, so are the means by which they assault, captivate, enslave, and dominate human beings.”  He goes on to write about the “Stratagems of the Demonic Powers.”  “Typically, each and every stratagem and resort of the principalities seeks the death of the specific faculties of rational and moral comprehension which specially distinguish human beings from all other creatures…demonic aggression always aims at the immobilization or surrender or destruction of the mind and at the neutralization or abandonment or demoralization of the conscience” (that is, “the dehumanization of human life”).

He describes one of these stratagems as the denial of truth.  “A rudimentary claim with which the principalities confront and subvert persons is that truth in the sense of eventual and factual matter does not exist.  In the place of truth and appropriating the name of truth are data engineered and manufactured, programmed and propagated by the principality.  The truth is usurped and displaced by a self-serving version of events or facts, with whatever selectivity, distortion, falsehood, manipulation, exaggeration, evasion, concoction necessary to maintain the image or enhance the survival or multiply the coercive capacities of the principality.”

Okay, Bill Stringfellow, it is time for our visit to end.  You are still a hammer hitting the contemporary nail on the head!  You were a prophet in 1973 when you wrote this stuff, and your words ring more true today than they did then.  Enough!  Let’s meet again some other day.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Inferences & Assumptions

We all have them—assumptions.  We all make them—inferences.  An assumption is “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.”  Someone has said, rightly so, that to assume is to presume.  An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret what is happening in the world around us.  

Inference is "an intellectual act by which one concludes that something is true in the light of something else being true."  Whether an inference is true or not true, whether it is logical or illogical, whether justified or unjustified, I assume it to be so. If I see a frowning face, I infer that the person is upset.  If I meet a tall guy, I naturally infer that he must be good at basketball.  If I see dark clouds over the horizon, I infer that it will rain.  I assume, therefore, that whenever I see any frowning face it means a person is upset; whenever I meet any tall guy that he is good at basketball and whenever any dark clouds show up on the horizon it means it will rain.  Such assumptions are false (the inferences I’ve made are not always true).  Not every frowning face means a person is upset; not every tall guy is good at basketball, and dark clouds on the horizon do not always bring rain.

We make different inferences based on our viewpoint (prior beliefs and/or assumptions).  Each of us (based our point of view) see things differently and make different assumptions about what we see.  If two people see a man lying in a gutter, one might infer, “There’s a man who needs help.”  The other might infer, “There’s a drunken bum.”  The first person assumes, “People lying in the gutter are in need of help.”  The second person assumes, “Only drunks are to be found in gutters.”  Assumptions close doors.  Preconceptions limit possibilities.  Our biggest challenge as human beings is to think through our preconceptions, presumptions, inferences and our assumptions.  It seems to me, that this is our greatest challenge right now as a society and as a nation.  “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in” (Isaac Asimov).

What do you see?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Autumn: A Parable of Life

Home again!  From Maine through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, to the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills of New York, and through the Poconos of Pennsylvania,  the foliage is beginning to show the colors of autumn.  The golden rod and the sumac trees along the roadside were sure signs of this seasonal change.  Autumn, a fact of nature, is also a parable of human life.   Samuel Johnson, at the age of forty wrote, “Vernal flowers, however beautiful and gay, are only intended by nature as preparatives to autumn fruits.”  

Everything experienced, discovered, learned, and felt in earlier years are but “preparatives" for our present autumn of life.  There is an autumn for us at forty years of age just as there is an autumn for us at seventy or eighty years.  All the previous years of living (vernal blooms of all sorts—and remember a rose is not without its thorns and we’ve all been pricked a time or two) have prepared us for whatever may be our present autumn.  Our foliage may be changing colors—our hair, if we still have any, has turned grey and our physical abilities and attractiveness may be waning, but our past is filled with “vernal flowers” of experiences, discoveries, learnings and feelings that were meant to produce autumn fruits.  Autumn (at whatever age) is a time of harvesting that fruit, of allowing all that has been experienced, discovered, learned and felt to shape the present moment.

I didn’t want to be a grumpy old man at age forty and I don’t want to be a grumpy old man at three score and twenty plus 4!  I don’t want to spend my autumnal days complaining.  I don’t want to be a whiner.  I don’t want to be living in the past when my vernal flowers were blooming.  I want to live with all those flowers of the past being “preparatives” that have produced the fruit for my living now.

Who can deny that a spring bouquet of daffodils or roses make a beautiful sight?  But, may I suggest that an autumnal bouquet of oak, maple, and sumac leaves, along with a golden rod or two is just as beautiful and meaningful!  Hal Borland wrote, “Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

For We Have This Treasure

We spent last night in Chicopee, MA.  This town, just north of Springfield, became famous some weeks ago when a woman from the area won the mega-lottery. She bought her lottery ticket in this vicinity.  Maybe we ought to buy a ticket (it would be my first) at the same place she purchased her’s before we leave this morning?  I wonder what that woman has done with all that money?  We seldom hear what happens to lottery winners after the fanfare of winning is over.  

There are other forms of riches than money and I think I  prefer them, though I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never experienced great monetary wealth.  Kazantzakis wrote of a wealth seldom considered these days:  “Whatever fell into my childhood mind was imprinted there with such depth and received by me with such avidity that even now in my old age I never grow tired of recalling and reliving it.”  Now that is a wealth worth having—the treasures of a life lived that can be spent and re-spent without affecting the supply.  We ought all to be rich in this way.

Again, Kazantzakis, recalling his childhood writes, “God always came…as long as I remained a child.  He never deceived me—He always came, a child just like myself, and deposited His toys in my hands:  sun, moon, wind.  ‘They’re gifts,’ He said, ‘they’re gifts.  Play with them.  I have lots more.”  I would open my eyes, God would vanish, but His toys would remain in my hands.”  Do we not have this treasure, too, and still, and even now, in our older years, playing with the “toys” given to us?  We are no longer children, but we still receive the “gifts” to play with if we choose to do so.

Childhood builds up inner wealth and provides us with something that can be spent over and over again without diminishing the supply.  This is why it is so important for children today have a “childhood,” to receive the gifts of God, and the love of parents and family, so that every child can say with Kazantzakis, “I thank God that this refreshing childhood vision still lives inside me in all its fullness of color and sound.”  Such a childhood makes one rich!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Light Along the Shore

All the objectives for this journey to  Maine have now been met.  I enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder yesterday for lunch. The lobster meal is off my plate—quite literally--and it was lobster as only Maine can provide.  We went canoeing through the Audubon Scarborough Marsh (finding the Amazon in Maine) and yesterday visited Portland Head at Fort Williams, watching the Atlantic crash against the rocky shores.  It is now time to depart Maine, taking our time as we travel through NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, and finally to our home in  MD.

It is not surprising that I often think in the words of hymns when I see something and want to express my feelings about it.  This happened yesterday when we visited Portland Head.  As I stood along the rocky shore watching the Atlantic crashing into the rocks, and seeing the lighthouse high above, the words of  “Let the Lower Lights Keep Burning” echoed in my mind.

“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore
But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.”

Love and mercy are at the heart of all things—“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore”—even in the midst of hurricanes and tornadoes.  These natural disasters are the same as the waves of the ocean that just naturally batter the rocky shores of Maine.  We cannot change the raging waters of the oceans or stop the storms of life, “But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.”   We have the responsibility for what happens along the shore!  

“Let the lower lights keep burning…” is our work, our duty, and our responsibility “along the shore.”  Leonard Cohen put it this way:  

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Amazon in Maine

When I was a very young boy my imagination on a wintry or rainy day could turn my bed into a dugout canoe and I would paddle that dugout down the Amazon River of my mind.  What adventures I had—all imagined—but those adventures of the mind were as exciting as anything I’ve ever experienced.  Perhaps this is why whenever I find a canoe available, I want to get in it and  paddle down some unknown “Amazon,” whether it be a lake, a pond, a stream, a river, or even the Audubon Scarborough marshland here in Maine.  

The Audubon Scarborough Marsh is a saltwater marsh and when high tide occurs in the ocean (three miles away) the water rises in the winding channels of the marsh making it possible to kayak or canoe in those channels.  When the tide goes out again, the channels are no longer navigable and become nothing but mud.

When the tide came in yesterday and those meandering muddy channels filled with water, I was ready and waiting with our rented canoe.  What an adventure—to paddle through those channels bordered by reeds and marsh grass—winding this way and that way—hidden from view.  It was just like being on the Amazon I once created with my boyhood imagination.  The  “Amazon” of my childhood mind must miss me—just as Puff the Magic Dragon misses little Jackie Paper in the land called Honali.

Albert Einstein had a lot to say about the imagination.  He said, “…Imagination is more than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world….Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”  I agree with the great scientist for through my imagination, I have found the Amazon in Maine!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Fog of Self-Centeredness

It is unseasonably warm for this time of year in Maine.  Yesterday we had lots of sunshine and warmth and I had lobster for lunch!  It was delicious.  Now, all I have to do is find some clam chowder somewhere.  The restaurant where I enjoyed my lobster lunch served only “haddock” chowder.  Somewhere there just has to be a place that serves “clam” chowder!

Multiply the “self-centeredness” expressed in the above paragraph to every one of us, and you will have a realistic image of human society.  We are all caught up in this “self-centeredness” and it fogs our vision.  With a focus only on ourselves we cannot know, see, or feel the “others” around us.  It is a common malady from which no one is immune.  As soon as we say we are not “self-centered” we become self-centered.  Was Albert Camus right when he wrote, “To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others?”

Or was George MacDonald right when he wrote, “There are those who never see anything except in relation to themselves, nor that relationship as fancied by themselves; and this being a withering habit of mind, they keep growing drier, and older, and smaller, and deader, the longer they live—thinking less of other people, and more of themselves and their…experience, all the time they go on withering?”

Will my life, with “this withering habit of mind” currently focused on myself (lobster and clam chowder) become drier, older, smaller, and deader—and just go on and on withering?  Self-centeredness fogs our vision for community and without community and concern for others we simply wither away.

John Winthrop provides sound advice, “…we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.”  

Our camp site looks out upon Maine’s Audubon’s Scarborough Marsh,
the state's largest salt water marsh.