Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jesus, Willie, and God

“God is completely what we are partially.”  What in the world does that mean?  I should have some clue by now?  I’ve been working with the idea since I was first introduced to Jesus in Mrs. DeGroat’s first-grade Sunday school class.  She introduced Jesus to me as the son of God and the one person in all the world who loves everyone just like his Father in heaven loves everyone.  She told us the story of Zaccheaus, who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus.  She told us Jesus was aware of Zaccheaus (that wee little man up there in the tree) even though Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people.  She said Jesus knew Zaccheaus, called him by name, cared about him, and had a purpose for him.  

What I heard Mrs. DeGroat telling me was that Jesus was like my neighbor, Willie, who operated the garage next door.  Willie was really special.  He was always aware of me and he knew me in ways no one else did.  He was an adult and I was but a child, but Willie always made me feel important. He called me by a special nickname that he gave me himself.  Yes, Jesus was like Willie, because Willie cared for me and was always encouraging me to do special things.

All along my life journey I have encountered people like Willie, like the “Jesus” Mrs. DeGroat shared with me.  I have called these persons (who were aware of me, cared for me, knew me, made me feel important, called me out of myself, and encouraged me) my “Star Persons.”  I have come to believe that these Star Persons were partially what God is completely—A PERSON.

It is absurd to think of God as a “Life Force,” or as “Love,” “or as “cosmic energy,” or as the “Moral Law.”  If God does not have the same powers as the “greatest” of creatures (the human person) I’m not much interested in God.  If God is not a Person (God may be more than a Person and probably is) like Jesus and Willie and cannot be aware, or know, or care, or call, or encourage me, such a god would then be inferior to me, to Willie,  and  to Jesus!  God is completely what we are partially.

Tell the story:  each individual person is
 an unconditional object of divine Concern. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Love vs. Care and God

E. Glenn Hinson writing his biography of Douglas V. Steere titled the book with Steere’s own words: “Love at the Heart of Things.”  Douglas Steere believed in “love at the heart of things,” that our “life  is undergirded by and swept up into a greater life that is at work here and that will carry us on into it as we pass from this life.”  This “greater life,” this “Love,” Steere understood to be God, and God permeated all things. (There is much more that needs to be said about Steere’s understanding of God,  but that is the best I can do in the space available).

For many years I have used Steere’s phrase, “love at the heart of things.”  It says well what I believe and what I’ve experienced in my religious quest.  If “love is at the heart of all things,’ then von Hugel was right when he wrote, “Caring (loving) is the best thing in the world; caring (loving) is all that matters; Christianity taught us to care.” Douglas Steere coined another phrase that I borrowed years ago:  “life is lent to be spent” (in caring) because of the “love at the heart of things.”

My mentor, Elton Trueblood, however, was very concerned about our contemporary use of the word “love.”  He preferred to use the word “care” in place of “love.”  When he recited  the love chapter (I Corinthians 13) at a retreat, he replaced the word “love” with the word “care” and many of us found the passage more meaningful.  Elton rejected the saying, “Love is God.”  He rejected this because love is an abstraction rather than a personal being.  “Not all love is godly,” Elton wrote, “by any stretch of the imagination.  There is love of the world and, far worse, love of self.   Love may easily decline into mere sentimentality and often does so.  It may, in many contemporary minds, become a synonym for lust.  It is the part of realism to recognize an intrinsic distinction between what we know as love and the Divine Lover.”

Pondering over this “Love at the Heart of Things” this morning, I wonder if I’m guilty (along with many others) of making the Divine Lover an abstraction.

Canadian Rockies

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Disquieting Conundrum

I have a problem, a difficulty, a disquieting conundrum.  It has to do with the First Amendment of the US Constitution which reads:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

President Trump tweeted just the other day, “Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly…The outside world does not see the truth from them!”  CNN fired back—“It’s not CNN’s job to represent the U.S. to the world.  That your’s.  Our job is to report the news.”  

With Oscar Wilde I would say to Mr. Trump, “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”  With G.K. Chesterton I would quickly add, “To have the right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”  And,  for good measure, I would also say with Noam Chomsky, “If we do not believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we do not believe in it at all.”

On the other hand, I would say with Winston Churchill, “Everyone is in favor of free speech.  Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”  If the Press speaks back to Mr. Trump or tells a different story than Mr. Trump, he  reacts with yet another tweet about how CNN is “fake news” “garbage journalism” and “the worst.”  Again, I could say with Noam Chomsky, “Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked.  So was Stalin.  If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise.  Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”  

The suggestion that building a wall will give us security and then to ignore and argue against Thomas Jefferson’s admonition, “The only security of all is in a free press,” creates a disquieting conundrum within me.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Monday, November 27, 2017

Dogmatism vs. Prayer

We usually think of dogmatism as a “religion” issue, but this isn’t true at all.  There is scientific dogma, educational dogma, and political dogma, too. Dogmatism is the tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true, without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.  The word comes from the Greek word dogma, which means literally “what one thinks is true.”   Sometimes to be dogmatic is to follow a doctrine, a set of rules or beliefs that have been passed down and never questioned.   Dogmatism can also simply be an arrogant assumption on the part of a person that what he or she thinks is true without any regard of evidence to the contrary.

We need to be liberated from the bondage of dogmatism in all spheres of life.  Whatever the truth about our world, it is undoubtedly far more wonderful and complex than anything we have thus far understood or suspected.  Our knowledge, in spite of all we think we know, is fragmentary.  If  we know only in part, then it is a tragic mistake to allow ourselves to be in intellectual bondage to a closed system (our own little worldview—what  we think we really know about the world).  The world is far larger than my grandfather envisaged and it is far larger and contains more mystery than I now envisage in my little philosophy.  

There is, for example, a naturalistic dogmatism that says we live by a system of impersonal natural laws and  that all events are controlled by these laws. The dogmatic assumption made from this assertion is that God cannot affect events in the world, because the world is governed by these independent and autonomous laws.  Isn’t it at least thinkable that there could be invasions into this causal (closed) system?  Is it illogical to think that God (the Creator) is superior to what we call natural law?  Isn’t it possible that the world is much more than we now know or think?  

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them.  The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them.”  We must be liberated from our doctrines before we even attempt to engage in prayer.  For what good is prayer if God cannot affect persons, events, and situations in this world?

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Religion and poetry have a kinship, but they are not one and the same.  Poetry goes beyond facts to meanings; it sees the world, not as something to be measured and analyzed, but as something to which one’s whole being must respond.  Poetry gives us a glimpse of what the world must be like under the outer husks.  And what the poet sees under the  husk causes her (and those who read her words) to burst forth in song.

We cannot live by bread alone and we cannot live by poetry alone.  Something more is needed.  We go about our practical tasks in our day-to-day living, but these tasks are never sufficient for us.  We bake and eat our bread, but it is not enough to nourish our depths and carry us forward.  We speak  and write our words to explain and to rationalize this world in which we live, but our words do not satisfy the inner longings within us.  History shows us that bread alone will not suffice, nor will mere poetry answer these deepest needs.  History also tells of how men and women in all ages have broken forth with praise, prayer, and song which bakes no bread nor produces poetic verse.

These men and women burst forth into praise, prayer, and song because they are filled with awe.  They have seen beneath the outer husks.  They have found there that to which they must respond with all that they are. They really believe that they have been in the very presence of the Maker and Sustainer of all that is.  Having glimpsed this world beneath the husks and felt that Presence, their whole life is lifted to a plane of reverence so exalted that all ground becomes holy ground.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Balancing Act

In February of 2018 I will be able to say that I have lived for nearly three-quarters of a century.  I’ve lived through the turbulent 60’s, the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and so many other culture-changing moments of history.  I remember the moments and the trauma experienced with the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy.  I’ve lived in all the unsettled stages between those events.  I’ve also lived in the new world that came to be after 9/11.  The mass shootings, the terrorist attacks, both in the US and around the world, the 17-year war in Afghanistan—all this, too, has been part of my “three-score and ten-plus” journey.

Looking back at all of this “lived” history can be discouraging.  I’m not naive about what has happened in the world.  I know the fires (racism, nationalism, tribalism) of yesterday are still smoldering. I see new fires being set aflame today that will be destructive to the very fabric of our society, and especially destructive to the fulfillment of humanity.  This is reality and I must be a realist.  But I must never allow my realism to turn into cynicism.  I must always be able to balance my realism with my faith (idealism and hope) that there is a divine seed within every person, regardless of age, sex, race, cultural background, or educational achievement.  There is a “Love at the heart of all things.”

Grumpy old men (or women, for that matter) are not what the world needs right now.  I doubt that the world has ever needed grumpy old men or women.  What the world needs right now, and what my neighbor needs right now, and my brothers and sisters all around the globe need right now, and even what I need right now, is a lift, an encouraging word, a new hope in this very difficult world.  What is that encouraging word?  What is the “lift” needed? “Encourage one another and build one another up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11).

Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving History

Thanksgiving Day, as we know it now, did not originate with the Pilgrims, though we have through the years romanticized that connection.  It is a good story and worthy of romanticizing.  Native Americans welcomed and helped the first refugees (Pilgrims) who came to these shores in 1620.  Without this aid the Pilgrims would not have survived their first winter.  There was no Statue of Liberty then, nor had the words now inscribed on the statue been written.  Even so, 91 Native Americans, by their actions, seemed to say:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
The Pilgrims invited the gracious Wampanoag  to join them in a celebration of thanksgiving—a feast that lasted for three days in the autumn of 1621. 

While there were occasional thanksgiving celebrations dating back to the early days in Virginia and Massachusetts, there was no established tradition, nor were these by any means national celebrations.  It was only in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln inaugurated Thanksgiving as we know it now, and this has been continued by all presidents to the present time.

The first National Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 suggested that the people focus on “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”  The people are called, in this Proclamation, not only to give thanks for “singular deliverances and blessings,” but also to “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  It asks the people to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

Our National Thanksgiving tomorrow should include “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” as well as giving thanks for “singular deliverances and blessings.”  Our thanksgiving prayers should include our fervent imploring for “the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”  Our Thanksgiving tradition must include the Proclamation of 1863 just as it does the Pilgrim feast of 1621.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Long, Long Ago, Thanksgiving Day

I remember a long, long ago Thanksgiving Day that has always held a special place in my memory. I was very young, but I remember it with mind and heart.

The hunting season opened in early November back in that day and many came from distant cities and towns to the more rural areas (where we lived) to enjoy the sport.  The sportsmen came with much eagerness and in that eagerness were often careless.  During one particular hunting season, my Grandpa, walking from his house to his barn, was mistakenly shot by one of the careless hunters.  Fortunately, the bullet struck him in the leg, but even so, it was a serious wound and Grandpa was hospitalized just a week or so before Thanksgiving Day.  

My mother and father hosted our family Thanksgiving dinner each year at our home.  (My grandparents hosted the family Christmas dinner).  Grandpa and Grandma each had a special seat at our Thanksgiving table, and it was always Grandpa who gave the prayer of thanksgiving as we all sat down to partake of the bountiful feast.  Grandma was present that day, but Grandpa was still in the hospital. I remember all us moping about and feeling like somehow this particular Thanksgiving Day would not be the same without Grandpa.  Just as we were about ready to sit down at table the local ambulance showed up.  What a surprise to see Grandpa, with his crutches, helped out of the back of the ambulance and led to his special seat at the head of that Thanksgiving table—and just in time to pray.  I do not remember what Grandpa said in his prayer—I only remember being at one with the many grateful hearts gathered about that table—we were living out the words Grandpa prayed.

“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything thy goodness sends…” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Grandpa would pray:  We give thee thanks, O Lord.  Amen.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

Give Sadness Words

Sadness is a common emotion and one we cannot avoid if we are really alive and in tune with reality. A friend recently wrote, “Just realizing…that there was a ton of sadness in my day.”  She then went on to list some of the things that brought on her feelings of sadness.  A friend she has known and loved since childhood is moving away, another friend is in the throes of dying, and a grandchild will soon be going off to college, and so on.  “Tears have been shed and will be shed.”

Sadness is considered a negative and painful emotion by most of us.  And it really is!  Like many of its cousins, sadness is one of those emotions we resist, avoid, suppress, or try to ignore.  Feeling sad can be simply a general sense of melancholy or it can be a despair that leads to serious depression.  It  is caused by a variety of experiences:  a friend moving away, feeling hurt by the actions or words of others,  or feeling anguish and worry for a loved one.  Feeling sad happens when one feels  and experiences disappointment, regret, shame, loneliness, and rejection, etc. 

What do we do with our sadness?  First, it cannot be resisted, avoided, suppressed or ignored—that will only produce a greater sadness in days to come.  Like any emotion it must be faced head-on and its source identified.  Shakespeare gives good advice:  "Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break."

Give sadness words—put your feelings into words and share those words with another person.  Give sadness words—by writing down (I recommend journaling) what you feel and why.  Give sadness words.  Sadness brings tears and tears are a release—but always “Give sorrow (sadness) words; the grief (sadness) that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”

Steeples symbolize the lifting of the human spirit.
 Giving words to sadness is like building a steeple.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

“Churchianity” & “White Protestant Evangelicals”

Churchianity displaced Christianity a long, long time ago, perhaps beginning in the first century A.D. when the Church in Jerusalem (Jewish) confronted the Gentile Churches of Asia Minor  (Acts of the Apostles).  “No word in our language,” wrote Harold Bell Wright at the beginning of the 20th century, “is more abused, misunderstood and misapplied than the word ‘Christian.’”  But the same could have been said of the word “Christian”  in the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 19th centuries, and it certainly can be said today.  The “Church” (of whatever denomination or grouping) with its rules, dogmas, creeds, and doctrines, has determined what Christianity is for its members.    

The Fundamentalism of the early 20th century grew out of FEAR, as did the so-called Moral Majority of the mid-twentieth century.  It was and is the same FEAR that has created the group erroneously labeled the “White Protestant Evangelicals” of today.  In the early twentieth century that fear stemmed from broad changes in the American culture (growing awareness of world religions, the teaching of human evolution, and the rise of biblical higher criticism).  The fear stemmed, too, from the social changes of the time  (“old stock whites” felt displaced by the waves of non-Protestant immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, felt betrayed by politicians, resented the elitism of professional educators, deplored the teaching of evolution in public schools, and felt like the Bible was being attacked and destroyed by modern science).   

The Moral Majority was a fundamentalist Christian organization founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1979 and was based on the same fears.  Its goal was to preserve “traditional” American values (which were from their perspective Christian values) and to combat the increasing acceptance of movements and cultural and social changes (which had only multiplied since the earlier days of the century) by aligning itself with the Republican Party.  Critics said of the movement:  “The Moral Majority is neither.”  It was short-lived as a political organization, but, with the Fundamentalist Movement of the early part of the century and its followers, the Moral Majority produced the Christian Right or what is called the “White Protestant Evangelicals” of the present.  This group, too, is founded upon fear—the fear of losing what to them is holy ground. Four-fifths of this group voted Republican in 2016, even though the Party views did not fully safeguard the holy ground they seek to save.  

Just as Churchianity displaced Christianity, so “white Protestant evangelicals” may displace their own holy ground by their penchant for the GOP no matter who the candidate may be.

The ancient door is still open.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Inevitable Change

There is an old saying:  nothing endures but change.  Change is inevitable.  One day everything is as it always has been and the next day everything is as it has never been before.  Change sometimes comes in tiny doses; sometimes in big doses.  Sometimes change is slow; sometimes sudden.  However it comes, we can count on change.  Life is not static, nor are we meant to be static.  Change is a part of our nature and life itself.

Reinhold Niebuhr is credited with what has become known as the Prayer of Serenity:  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  The late Annette Funicello (1942-2013) one of the original Mouseketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club, and later a popular singer and actress, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1992.  She wrote, “When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change.”  She could not change the diagnosis, she could only accept it and live with it.  She did that with great serenity.

We have to accept the fact that change will and must happen. We also have to accept the fact we will instinctively be resistant and fearful of change of whatever kind, good or bad.  Such resistance, and the fear as well,  is a natural human response, but it will not stop the change.  If we continue to resist and fear change (of any kind) we will become nervous wrecks.  Far better, if we pray, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change is crucial.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


Who among us has not been mendacious?  What a word that is!  Mendacious.  It has a nice ring to it.  It sounds like a word that could be used in a resume; one of those words that would illustrate the depth of our vocabulary and build us up.  One word can make or break a resume.  Mendacious sounds similar to adjectives like agile, flexible, and resilient, which experts say should be included in every resume.  In spite of its ring and sound, however, mendacious is probably not a word you would want to use on your resume.  To be mendacious means “not telling the truth, lying, deceitful, dishonest, dissembling, disingenuous, insincere, fraudulent, and two-faced.”  However, if you want to present yourself truly, as you really are, you could use the word, but you would probably not get the job.  Who among us has not been mendacious?  The only exception I know is George Washington who is reported to have never told a lie—and that myth is certainly a fraudulent one.

“We love old travelers:” wrote Mark Twain, “we love to hear them prate, drivel and lie; we love them for their asinine vanity, their ability to bore, their luxuriant fertility of imagination, their startling, brilliant, overwhelming mendacity.”  Have you ever had a conversation with an old soldier?  A retired preacher or teacher?  Oh, the stories they can tell (sometimes called “war” stories).  Their “luxuriant fertility of imagination” often creates a “startling, brilliant, overwhelming mendacity.”  “Oh, what a tangled web we weave…” writes Walter Scott in Marmion, “when first we practice to deceive.”  It doesn’t really take much practice.  It seems to come naturally and begins at an early age when we tell a “fib” to our parents, etc.

We live in a mendacious world and we are all citizens of that world.  No one is exempt.  Has that world become more mendacious?  I think there is evidence to support that conclusion.

Antelope Canyon, Page AZ

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Whirlwind Will Come

"For they sow the wind and they shall reap the whirlwind" is a phrase from the Old Testament book of Hosea (8:7), one of my favorite prophetic books.  Those who heard Hosea's proverb understood what he meant.  The proverb illustrated the agricultural process familiar to all in that ancient agrarian society—the process of sowing and reaping.  

The kind of seed sowed by the farmer determines the type of plant that will eventually grow. An apple seed will yield an apple tree and a kernel of corn will produce corn.  What you sow produces its kind.

The farmer planting his one kernel of corn expected to reap a whole ear of corn from that single seed.  The seed you sow not only produces its kind but also multiplies. 

Sowing the wind ("wind" meant something worthless and foolish in Hosea's mind) would result in reaping exactly what one sows—wind—a storm of consequences. Sowing something foolish and worthless will bring forth its kind and will multiply.  Sowing the wind will reap a whirlwind eventually, just as the one kernel of corn multiplies into a  whole ear of corn.

Sowing seeds of division will produce its kind and will multiply into a whole ear of division.  Sowing seeds of hate will produce its kind and will multiply into a whole ear of hate.  Sowing seeds of bigotry will produce a whole bunch of bigotry.  Sowing seeds of lies will produce more lies.  Sowing seeds of unity will produce its kind and multiply into greater unity.  Sowing seeds of love will produce its kind and will multiply into whole communities of caring people.  We reap what we sow.

Grandson Ethan trying to hold it together in Washington DC

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Promise Kept

The promise I made to two of my grandsons has finally been fulfilled.  It only took me a year to do what I promised to do:  visit their respective colleges and take them out for lunch.  I connected with Austin back in October and yesterday I met up with grandson Nick at his campus in Shepherdstown, WV.  Naturally, I think these guys are special; they’re my grandsons!  They are, along with my four other grandchildren, “the apple of my eye” (Psalm 17:8).  

It was a three hour drive to Nick’s campus, traveling west to Frederick, Maryland and then south toward Harpers Ferry, WV.  It was a beautiful fall day and some colorful foliage till clung to the trees along the highways.  Of course, the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia (separating the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains) is beautiful at any time of year.  

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet.  It has a long history, starting way back in 1733.  Thomas Jefferson and his daughter Patsy passed through Harpers Ferry on their way to Philadelphia in 1783.  Jefferson called the site “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”  And it still is a stupendous scene. The abolitionist John Brown led his famous raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859.

Nearby Harpers Ferry is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O Canal) which was once called the “Grand Old Ditch.”  It operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac from Washington DC, to Cumberland, Maryland, hauling coal from the Allegheny Mountains.  It is now maintained as the C&O Canal National Historical Park.  Antietam battlefield is nearby, as well as the Appalachian Trail which passes directly through the town of Harpers Ferry.  

This land is yours!  This land is mine!  What a beautiful land it is, though scarred, marred, and dangerously polluted by our misuse of it.   It is still “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”  

Austin and Nick--Only Yesterday

Sunday, November 12, 2017


After weeks of research and much discussion with those who seem to know, I have finally upgraded my cell phone. The big question:  should I get the iPhone 7  or the newer iPhone 8?  (I didn’t even consider the new iPhone 10 because I figured the learning curve would be overwhelming).  I even discussed the issue with my young barber friend while getting a haircut.   He hardly ever talks while trimming away my grey locks, but, given my question, he became an animated conversationalist. He just happened to be a technological guru when it came to cell phones—a “walking encyclopedia.”  It was perhaps the longest haircut I’ve ever had. I felt obligated to give him a big tip, not so much for the prolonged haircut,  but for his sharing of his expansive knowledge and recommendations.

My iPhone 5 was purchased “secondhand” a few years ago to replace my antique flip-top phone that had been my companion for a number of years. That up-grade from the flip-top to the iPhone 5 was a gigantic learning curve.  So why would I want to upgrade and experience my ineptness in technology all over again?  My excuse for considering a new iPhone was rather flimsy.  It was based on the fact that my phone seemed to need constant recharging.  Why not, I contemplated, buy a new battery rather than upgrading? My barber told me nobody bothered these days to replace a cell phone battery, and that was all it took for me to consider a new phone. To be really honest and straight-forward, I must confess,  I really wanted to be up-to-date, and like the kid at Christmastime,  I wanted a new technological toy.

My youngest son, Luke, advised me on how to transfer the stuff from the old phone to the new  one using iTunes—and it worked like a charm, even for me.  The new phone was activated online rather than by a phone call so I didn’t have to reveal my technological ignorance with some stranger.  The new iPhone is slim and slippery and with my arthritic hands I knew I would need a protective case to keep a firm grip on it.  I realized, too, that I probably needed a protective screen cover to prevent it from becoming all scratched up like my old phone. These were ordered online and were delivered the next day! What an adventure it has been to get a new iPhone.  Only one problem occurred—I forgot my new passcode!  Fortunately, the new phone recognizes my thumbprint—unless I happen to turn the phone off!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran’s Day

Everyone who is serving or has served in the US armed forces has taken the oath of enlistment, or the oath of office.  Every naturalized citizen of the United States of America has taken a similar oath.  Every person elected to public office, local, state or federal government) has taken an oath of office.  The oaths differ, but the essence of each is that the person who takes the oath swears or affirms to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and will “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”  The word “oath” means a solemn vow or promise.  Sometimes I think every US citizen who reaches voting age should be required to take this oath—“to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and to “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”  Now, it is important, of course, that anyone and everyone taking such an oath should be familiar with the Constitution.

As the Holy Scriptures of various religious faiths can be interpreted in many different ways, so, too,  the Constitution can be interpreted in many ways.  In spite of this, the “spirit” of the document, the principles and separation of powers it sets forth, seem to be generally accepted and agreed upon. 

While there are many non-military “veterans” who have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,”  and have in every sense given their lives to that purpose, we honor today the 20-million veterans who have taken the military oath of allegiance.  Those who signed a “blank check” to support the Constitution with full knowledge that they  might have to “cash it in” some future day.  I honor those 18  and 19-year-olds, who wrote their “last will and testament” at the moment of taking that oath.  I celebrate and honor those veterans with whom I had the privilege of serving with in the US Air Force for over 38 years.  I honor those who have been wounded and maimed because they took that oath and lived it out in the field of combat.

On this day, however, I also hope that every citizen will read our Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States (not the flag or the national anthem, and other spurious forms of patriotism now floating around) against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and will “bear truth and allegiance to the same.”

Friday, November 10, 2017

Two Trails or Many?

Harold Bell Wright’s novel, The Shepherd of the Hills (1907) begins with this paragraph: “This, my story, is a very old story.  In the hills of life there are two trails.  One lies along the higher sunlit fields where those who journey see afar, and the light lingers even when the sun is down; and one leads to the lower ground, where those who travel, as they go, look always over their shoulders with eyes of dread, and gloomy shadows gather long before the day is done.”

In our finest moments we have sometimes walked that trail “along the higher sunlit fields,” and from that trail we have seen afar, “and the light lingers when the sun is down.”  In our human frailty and brokenness, however, we have also, at times, traveled the trail which “leads to the lower ground and we have experienced the “gloomy shadows” that seem to “gather long before the day is done.”  My own journey has taught me that there are more than two trails meandering through “the hills of life.”  Each of these many trails have ruts, dips, detours and horseshoe curves, and create many a blister on the human soul. There are also many trails “in the hills of life” that are not taken, and may never be traveled as Robert Frost tells us. Like Wright, Frost implies that there are just two roads: 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could…

I know there are many roads in the hills of life. I’ve walked a good number of them. Some we choose and some are forced on us by the uncontrollable circumstances of life.  Many years ago I read Mary T. Lathrap’s poem, “Judge Softly” (1895).  It helps me recall the many trails of my journey (and the blisters) and those  trails traveled by my brothers and sisters the world over.  

Pray don't find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don't sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too....

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize, and accuse.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

One Half-Penny Out of A Dollar

Many young men (from 1948 to 1973), including myself, enlisted in the military to avoid being drafted at some later and more inconvenient time. In 1973, at the end of the combat operations in Vietnam, the United States ended conscription (the draft) and established a large, professional, all-volunteer military.  This ended our long-standing tradition of the citizen-soldier.  Samuel Adams in 1776 warned of the dangers inherent in this new development:  “A standing Army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the Liberties of the People.  Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens.”  For two generations, no American has been obligated to join the military (nor coerced to join by the threat of conscription).  Less than 0.5 percent of the population serves in the armed forces today, according to Karl Eikenberry (retired Army general and US commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007).  Eikenberry warns, as did Adams long ago, “Here are the makings of a self-perpetuating military caste, sharply segregated from the larger society and with its enlisted ranks disproportionately recruited from the disadvantaged.  History suggests that such scenarios don’t end well.”

Many Americans are happy to thank volunteer service members for their service, and well they should, for it is the volunteer soldier, sailor, airman, etc. who make it possible for them not to serve (in the military).  Our present all-volunteer force may be the most lethal and professional force in history, but, let me repeat, it represents only 0.5 percent (some round that figure off to 1 percent) of our population.  This means, as Eikenberry suggests, a “sharply segregated”group from the larger society. 

We like to divide the world up these days in terms of us vs. them:  the wealthiest one percent and the rest of us—the 99 percent.  We must be extremely careful not to do so with our military members, even though the same division exists:  the military one percent and the rest of us—the 99 percent.   Is it any wonder that Adams suggested years ago “Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a Body distinct from the rest of the Citizens,” for indeed, they are!  Yet, we must ever be aware (both those in the military and those not in the military) of George Washington’s maxim:  “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.”  And, as Veteran’s Day approaches we might also say, When we assumed the Citizen, we did not lay aside the Soldier.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Proverbial Pondering

Have you ever taken the time to ponder (to think carefully, contemplate, reflect on, mull over, meditate on, ruminate on) what you really believe or think about this, that, or the other thing? Pondering is an important exercise in all matters of life and in all the various seasons of life.  Life is ever in the making, growing with each passing day as our experience expands.  We never step in the same river twice, as Heraclitus said long ago, for it is not the same river and we are not the same persons we were yesterday. This ever-changing river and this ever-changing person requires some pondering.

Some people become “stuck” or “frozen” in a particular stage of life, (arrested psychological development), ignoring the fact that instead of being 16-years-old they are now 70-years-old.  This happens to some degree in all of us as we age, and our society actually promotes such arrested psychological development with the suggestion that we all could use a little  anti-wrinkle cream and maybe even a brain enhancer (even if it comes from the Jellyfish).  Many live wrapped up in days gone by (living in Mayberry R.F.D, before iPhones and computers, malls and polluted streams and poisoned fish) rather than living in today’s world and pondering over it and how to cope with it.  Some say this “arrested state” happens particularly to older folk, who live in their memories of yesteryear rather than in their present reality, but it really happens in all ages and stages of life.  The water in the river is not the same water of twenty years ago, as Bob Dylan’s song, “The Times They Are A’Changin’” suggested over a half-century ago.  It is not what you believed  or thought back then about this, that, or the other thing, but what you believe and think about this, that, or the other thing NOW.  Ponder over it.

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If our time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimming’ (ponderin’)
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a’changin’.