Saturday, March 31, 2018

Did He or Didn’t He?

For the first 20-plus years of my life I was a Baptist and didn’t have to deal with the Apostles’ Creed (Ecumenical, Traditional, or the United Methodist version),  the Nicene Creed, or The Modern Affirmation of Faith.  When I became a Methodist the use of the Apostles’ Creed in worship was standard practice—but it was an “abbreviated” Apostles’ Creed.  The Methodists left out the controversial clause, “He descended into hell.”  United Methodists are not alone in this practice.  Other denominations also consider this clause optional or have removed it from their version of the Apostles’ Creed.  Some evangelical Christians reject the creed, not for its content, but simply because it is not found in the Bible.  So did Jesus descend  into hell or didn’t He?  I’m thinking about that as we reflect on Jesus’ death and burial on this Holy Saturday.  Did He or Didn’t He?

That question, “Did He or Didn’t He”  rankles in me after perusing Stephen E. Strang’s recent book, God and Donald Trump.  Strang states, along with other white Evangelical Christians, that Mr. Trump’s election is God’s response to an ongoing prayer for national revival and restoration to America’s traditional roots, a movement also known as “Make America Great Again.”  Strang says Trump’s agenda is the same as that of Christians, namely, nationalism vs globalism, blocking immigration via the wall, the overthrow of Roe vs. Wade, strengthening the military, and reducing the fear over the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, etc.   Did God or Didn’t God—choose Trump?  Did God or Didn’t God—come up with this so-called Christian agenda? Can it be, that Michele Bachmann is right—“Trump was sent by God as a bull-in-a-china-shop to break up the globalist agenda and interrupt the Left’s campaign to remake America in their own image.”  When did globalism and the “Left” become anti-Christian?  This god is not my God.

Who are the “ministry leaders and prophetic voices” who are convinced God has lifted up Trump?  They include Franklin Graham, who claims Trump has yet “to sin” once since becoming  President.  Meanwhile the Washington Post has demonstrated that Trump has lied 2,140 times during his first year in office.  They include Robert Jeffress, a pastor and Fox News contributor, who talks about “pinhead lawyers from the ACLU,” Sean Hannity as “Rachel Maddow’s worst enemy,” and the widespread cultural decay because “We have allowed the atheists, the infidels, the humanists to seize control of this country and pervert our Constitution into something the Founders never intended.” What happened to the God who so loved the world?  The god they espouse in not my God.  Did God or Didn’t God?  Did He or Didn’t He—descend into hell? Has He or Hasn’t He descended into hell?  

Friday, March 30, 2018

Were You There?

I’m reminded of an Afro-American spiritual on this Good Friday morning: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Were You There?

I’m reminded, too, of a sermon written by the Reverend Dr.  Peter Marshall in the late 1940’s  by the same title:  “Were You There?”  I have a recording of this particular sermon given by Peter Marshall in  his Scottish brogue accent and have often listened to it on Good Fridays in the past.  Perhaps I’ll listen to it again today.  Were You There?  Marshall concludes his sermon this way:  “More than nineteen hundred years have passed…The Cross itself has long since crumbled into dust.  Yet it stands again when we choose our own Calvary and crucify Him all over again, with every sin of commission and omission.  Every wrong attitude…every bad disposition…every unkind word…every impure imagination…every ignoble desire…every unworthy ambition… Yes, Calvary still stands, and the crowd at the top of the hill.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  I was…Were you?”

Were you there “when they crucified my Lord” on 9/11?  Were you there when “they crucified my Lord” at Columbine, Newtown, Las Vegas, Orlando’s Pulse Gay nightclub, and Parkland?  Were you there “when they crucified my Lord” at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, and Belzec?  Were you there in 1968 “when they crucified my Lord” in the My Lai massacre? Were you there in 1863 “when they crucified my Lord” in the Scorched Earth Campaign conducted by Kit Carson against the Navajo?  Were you there in 1890 “when they crucified my Lord” at Wounded Knee?  Were You There?

Were you there “when they crucified my Lord” in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963?  It was described by Martin Luther King, Jr as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” The explosion killed four girls and injured 22 others. Were you there?  “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  I was…Were you? “Were you there when the sun refused to shine?”

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40, English Standard Version)

Good Friday is a time to lament the crucifixions of the Innocents across the ages. 
 If we need any kind of wall at all, perhaps it should be a Wailing Wall
 where we can gather to weep, repent, and be resurrected
 from what we have been to what we are meant to be.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Via Dolorosa

Tomorrow is Good Friday and many pilgrims will gather in Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.  The path winds from the Antonia Fortress (where Jesus encountered Pontus Pilate) and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  I’ve had the privilege of walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem twice.  The first time I walked the path was in 1962 (before The Six Day War) when Jerusalem was still a part of Jordan.  The second time was in 2010.  

Along  the Via Dolorosa the pilgrim will often pause at what are known as the fourteen Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross.  Each station has an image depicting Jesus’ walk on that Good Friday long ago.  The images include Jesus in Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, his condemnation by the Sanhedrin, the denial by Peter, his encounter with Pilate, his scourging, and so on, ending with his burial.  The faithful pilgrim stops at each station, either individually or in a procession, to say a prayer and to reflect on the Passion of Christ.

Via Dolorosa means something like “Way of Grief,” “Way of Sorrow,” “Way of Suffering” or as the “Painful Way.” Given these translations, we have all walked the Via Dolorosa in real time and we have walked it far more than twice!  Who has not walked the Way of Grief?  Who has not walked the Way of Suffering?  Who has not known the Painful Way?  These paths are our Via Dolorosa.  

Every human being has his or her own kind of “Stations” along this Via Dolorosa.  The grief at the loss of loved ones, the pain accompanying illness, accident, or loss,  the hurt of being betrayed.  We have all walked the walk on the Via Dolorosa.  While it is spiritually beneficial to stop, to meditate (contemplate), to reflect, and say a prayer at the Stations of the Cross on Jesus’ Via Dolorosa, so it is spiritually and psychologically beneficial to stop, to meditate, to reflect and to say a prayer at the Stations of our own passion along our own Via Dolorosa.

Pondering at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
Jerusalem 2010

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is Jesus Frustrated?

Jesus returned to Jerusalem the day after his triumphal entry (the day we call Palm Sunday).  The crowd had long since dispersed. Only his disciples tagged along beside him.  And what a day it turned out to be! 

Jesus went to the Temple area.  The Temple itself was really a very small building containing the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies into which only the High Priest could enter, and he could only enter on the Day of Atonement. But this small building (The Temple) was surrounded by courtyards, sometimes called the Temple precincts:  the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, and the Court of the Priests.  In Jesus’ day this whole area of buildings and courtyards were referred to as the Temple.  Each courtyard was for a particular group of people, Gentiles only, women only, priests only, etc.  

Jesus and his disciples went into the Court of the Gentiles—a very busy and crowded place (and it was a special religious holy day, Passover)—for pilgrims came from all over the world to see the Temple at Jerusalem according to Roman writers of the time.  Here in this Court of the Gentiles, money was exchanged.  Every Jew had to pay a temple tax with a certain kind of currency—the money-changers were available to exchange one currency for the appropriate one for a big commission.  These booths were similar to the foreign exchange kiosks at modern day airports.  The money-changers were apparently eager to fleece the pilgrims and did so with regularity.

In this Court of the Gentiles, the pilgrim could also purchase a “dove offering.” These doves had to be “without blemish” in order to make a proper sacrifice. The doves without blemish could only be found inside the courtyard and were sold here at an exorbitant price.  The people were fleeced, taken, hoodwinked, scalped, and duped—and those who exploited them made significant profits. 

Jesus was ticked off by what he saw.  He “overturned the tables of the money-changers, and of those who were selling doves.  ‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a robber’s cave.’”

Wherever people are treated unfairly, put down, fleeced, hoodwinked, scalped, and duped, whether in a temple or in a community, a society, or a nation, Jesus gets frustrated still and He will overturn the tables.

Ponder the meaning of things!
The unexamined life (individual or societal)
is not worth living! (Socrates)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Crowd Psychology

Yesterday, the day after Palm Sunday, according to scripture and tradition, Jesus returned to the city of Jerusalem after spending the night with friends in Bethany.   It wasn’t at all like the day before (Palm Sunday).  No triumphal entry, no “hosannas,” no fanfare, no palm branches this time around. Where had the crowd gone?  The Palm Sunday crowd went the way of most crowds.  It faded away as quickly as it had gathered.  Why?  Because as the author of the Acts of the Apostles (19:32) wrote of another crowd, “Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century suggested that “…we have a very imperfect knowledge of the human heart if we do not also examine it in crowds.”  Gustave Le Bon, sometimes known as the father of the study of crowd psychology, made such an examination back in the early 19th century. Le Bon defined a crowd as a group of individuals united by a common idea, belief, or ideology.  That idea, belief, or ideology which makes a crowd is not chosen by clear reasoning or the examination of any evidence.  Crowds accept ideas and beliefs superficially and use them as fuel for action.  When an individual becomes part of a crowd he  or she undergoes a profound psychological transformation—he or she ceases to operate as an individual.  “He is no longer himself,” writes Le Bon, “but has become an automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.”  The person sacrifices his own personal ends and goals in favor of those of the crowd—“In a crowd every sentiment and act is contagious, and contagious to such a degree that an individual readily sacrifices his personal interest for the collective interest.”  Whatever the idea or belief around which a crowd gathers, it is seldom, if ever, created by members of the crowd.  Instead, the idea or belief comes from the minds of others (the leaders) and that idea must be “thoroughly simplified” for it to unite and influence a crowd. 

Crowds are fickle precisely because they form on the basis of a “thoroughly simplified” idea or belief (no examination of evidence, no reasoning or thinking on the part of the individual).   “How numerous are the crowds that have heroically faced death for beliefs, ideas, and phrases that they scarcely understood!” (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, Gustave Le Bon)   Le Bon’s insight can be applied to the Palm Sunday event of long ago and to the “March for Our Lives” event last Saturday.  It can be applied to national “crowds” (i.e. partisan politics, tribalism, nationalism, etc.).  I’m thinking, a crowd is one thing—a Movement is quite another.  I’m thinking ideology is one thing—a community  is quite another.

It is extremely important that we stretch our necks (our minds)
 above any and all crowd mentality.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Pondering Palm Sunday

Yesterday Christians celebrated Palm Sunday (some denominations call it Passion Sunday)—reenacting, remembering and celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Palm Sunday comes just one week before Easter Sunday.  The week from Palm/Passion Sunday to Saturday is called Holy or Great Week.  

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt or donkey and was welcomed by the people as a king, some waving their cloaks and others waving palm branches,  covering his path with the same.  The people greeted Jesus shouting “Hosanna.”  That word has been given several interpretations, but it means literally “save now.”  The people thought Jesus was going to do what scripture, prophet, seer, priest, pharisee, and rabbi had said the promised Messiah would do—drive out the Romans and make Jerusalem (Israel) Great Again!  “Hosanna” was a plea for help, not a word of praise or worship.  “Save us now!” Save Jerusalem (our little space).  Save Israel (our little nation). The people who cheered thought the promised Messiah King had come.  (You see, they had done the same  thing for Jehu when he was proclaimed king many years previous—see 2 Kings 9:13—and they did the same years before when Simon Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem  after one of his notable victories—1 Maccabee 13:51).  Isn’t it interesting how history repeats itself?

Here is an interesting side-note.  According to the writer of the Book of Revelation (7:9) there will be yet another repeat of a Palm Sunday scenario.  Once again, he claims, the people will wave palm branches before the king:  “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

People interpret the Bible in many different ways.  What do you make of the triumphal entry of Jesus long ago, the reenactment, celebration, and remembrance of it yesterday, and the message of the writer in the Book of Revelation?  What I see is a new crowd, quite different from that crowd crying to Jesus, “Hosanna!” or “Save Us!”  It is a different crowd from the one that gathered yesterday (as Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, etc.) in churches around the world.  This new and different crowd, according to scripture, is a multitude that no one can count (and here is the real difference) this new and different crowd are “from every nation, tribe, people and language!”  They are not crying “Hosanna,” they are not saying, “Save us now.”  They have reached a new level of understanding, their minds have been transformed.  It is not about Jerusalem anymore.  It is not about Israel anymore.  It is not about America anymore.  It is about a beloved community that includes us all!

“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. 
 I must bring them also.  They too will listen to my voice,
 and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"March For Our Lives"

I know that others have written and will write about the March For Our Lives events yesterday in Washington DC, in Atlanta, in Los Angeles, and in some 800-plus cities around the world, but I must write, too.  I must bear witness to what I saw, heard, and felt.  I was deeply moved as I watched the Washington DC event play out on the TV screen.  I listened to the young people of Parkland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Newtown  speak and uncontrollable tears of present sadness and future hope rolled down my cheeks.  Those young people were not just speaking out about gun violence, they were “preachers” of Good News.  They were Amos-like prophets talking about justice.  They were Hosea-like prophets talking about unconditional love.  They were Jesus-like as they urged us to see one another, whatever our race, creed, gender, party, etc., as neighbors and friends.  They were Frances of Assisi, Gandi,  Martin Luther King, Jr.,   and Mother Teresa reincarnated, urging us to ascend, to rise above what is now to what we can be and what we are meant to be as human beings. 

Behind a large banner walked John Lewis, congressman of Georgia, who many years ago “walked the walk” as a young 25-year-old across the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, Alabama, and ever since has “talked the talk” of peace and community.  On that bridge in 1965, he and others were beaten and whipped back like cattle by state law enforcement of the time. Yet still he and those with him continued to sing, “We Shall Overcome.”  Just as there was no stopping that movement fifty years ago, so there will be no stopping the March for Our Lives movement.  Whenever and wherever walls have been built—walls of segregation, walls to keep things as they are, walls to block people from coming in, supposed impenetrable walls—wherever there are such walls, the people shall march relentlessly and blow their trumpets—and those walls will come tumbling down.  For so it is written, and so it has happened before, and so it will happen now, and wherever such walls are built, it will happen again.

We all need to thank these young people of Parkland, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newtown and those young people across the world for marching, for speaking out, and for standing up against this present wall.  The words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah still echo across the centuries—“And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the yearling together; and a little child shall lead them,” or maybe, just maybe,  a teenager from Parkland, Chicago, Los Angeles, or Newtown….

Bridges connect.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Detached and Attached

The Christian faith calls us to do two things.  It calls us to be detached from the world. [“Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world, but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed,”Romans 12:2; “Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it,”1 John 2:15].  It also calls us to be deeply attached to the pain and suffering of the world. [Love your neighbor as yourself,” Mark 12:31]. These two callings seem to be in conflict with each other.  How can I be detached from the world when I am called to be deeply engaged in the world? Is it possible to be attached to the needs of the world at the same time that I am to become detached?  Jesus says, “I give you my peace, the peace which passes all understanding.”  Is there such a balm in Gilead?  Can I be detached and attached and both at the same time?  Can I be in the world, but not of the world?  Is such a peace (detachment) really possible if we are engaged (attached) in loving our neighbor and ministering to the needs of this deeply broken and wounded world?

The Christian scripture affirms two different levels of reality— a surface level and a  deeper level—this world and a world beyond.  The deeper level (the world beyond) is one of peace, calm, and wonder.  The surface level (this world) is chaotic, filled with horrendous events, problems, difficulties, politics, blunderings and worries.  On this surface level we feel we are facing the impossible.  We are overwhelmed.  In the deeper level, it is just the opposite, we have an inner sense of “all has been well, all is well, and all shall be well.”

We are called to be detached—to be rooted in the deeps rather than in the superficial or surface level.  In that deeper level we are bathed in a love beyond our ability to take in.  From this kind of detachment we are then able to become more attached to the world, loving our neighbor and ministering to the world’s suffering and pain. Yes, there are two levels of reality.

York Minster

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Lowest Common Denominator

My parents were always concerned about who I hung around with in my formative years.  I was equally concerned about the friends my children chose to be with as they were growing up.  Why? The answer is simply that as parents we do not want our children hanging around with those who would “bring them down”  in terms of manners, behavior, morals,  and speech, etc.  

The Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) in mathematics is the smallest number that can be divided exactly by all the numbers below the lines in a group of two or more fractions.  It is the number underneath in a fraction after simplification.  LCD in the context in which I am thinking is also used to say that the quality of something is poor because it is designed or intended to appeal to the largest possible number of people and to their baser, ignoble selves.  We can be “reduced” to the lowest common denominator by our associations.  

The recent war of words between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden illustrate this point.  Mr. Biden has been suckered into Mr. Trump’s behavior, manners, morals and speech patterns.  He has been reduced to the lowest common denominator when he begins to take on Trumpism with Trumpish speech and tweets.  If you want to know what I oppose most about Trumpism, it is this:  the American people are in danger of being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

Andy Borowitz wrote in the New Yorker last year about the late Stephen Hawking, who “called Trump a demagogue who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator.”  Trump’s campaign manager responded:  “For a so-called genius, this was an epic fail…If Professor Hawking wants to do some damage, maybe he should try talking in English next time.”  Later that same day, reports Borowitz, Hawking attempted to clarify his remark by saying, “Trump bad man.  Real bad man.”

Goodness is contagious, but so is meanness, racism, homophobia, misogyny, name-calling, character assassination, etc.  Don’t allow yourself to be infected.  Don’t allow yourself to be reduced to your lowest common denominator.  There is in all of us a baser, ignoble self that can be ignited by the company we keep.

Katydid's photo of a flock of sheep in England--2015

Thursday, March 22, 2018


I don’t know about you, but I’m perplexed.  The world has become so complicated for me. I find myself struggling to understand what is going on.  I wonder if it is simply something that happens as one ages.  I don’t understand, for example,  this whole Cambridge Analytica debacle of recent days.  Can such things be done in and through Facebook?  Do such people like those in that company who thrive on that kind of stuff really exist?   I guess so, but I don’t understand it and am greatly perplexed by it. Should I be on Facebook? I’m confused sometimes, wondering if I’m in possession of all my mental faculties, when I watch and listen to Betsy DeVos (Education Secretary) testifying before the Appropriations committee.  I’m baffled by the multiplicity of school shootings and our unwillingness as a people to do something about stricter gun control, especially when it is reported that 97% of the American people lean in that direction.  I’m bewildered by my alleged evangelical brothers and sisters who were once so militant in their moral stance, but now say nothing about bullying, name-calling, and the defamation of the innocent. Yes, I’m perplexed, confused, bothered, baffled, and bewildered.  Aren’t you?

One of the great assets of the Christian faith (when true to itself) is that it has always helped people to avoid becoming naive about the human situation.  The Christian faith does not preach natural human goodness.  It has always recognized that sin is potential in every human heart.  No one is exempt. This sin is in priests, lawyers, presidents, members of congress, and church members, just as it is in all persons.    It is not limited by sex, race, or age, or position.  Sin (self-centeredness) can enter in at any level of society and is present in every human institution. Christians must never be complaisant and we must always maintain a delicate combination of realism and hope,  which means living in perplexity.

Thus, as a Christian, I cannot be a Pollyanna, nor can I live in an ivory tower.  Nor can I   ignore the perplexities and simply bide my time until God calls me home—which, by the way, is an extremely self-centered attitude. I must face the hard problems of human life and that means living in the midst of bafflement, confusion, and bewilderment. I know this world  is not a  perfect world, but I must do all that I can to help make it better, to bring it into alignment with the  “world beyond” on which I have bet my life exists.

Dr. Doolittle talking to the animals in Peru--2006

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

On The Second Day of Spring

A Winter Storm Warning is in effect on this second day of spring. A Winter Storm Warning means significant amounts of snow, sleet and ice will make travel very hazardous or impossible. All public schools in the area are closed.  A “Special Weather Statement” has just been issued:  “Mixed snow, sleet, rain and freezing rain will change to all snow by 9 AM this morning throughout the I-95 corridor.  Temperatures will fall to freezing…Snowfall rates of one half to 1 inch an hour will develop…Travel is discouraged…throughout the Interstate 95 corridor.”  Eight to twelve inches of snow is expected between now and 7 PM this evening.  Spring has sprung!  Yet, as John Steinbeck wrote, “The winter seemed reluctant to let go its bite.  It hung on cold and wet and windy long after its time.”

All the quotes about spring, new life, daffodils and such that I’ve collected  over the years in my “Notes of Note” and “Gleanings from Readings” notebooks seem inappropriate (or out of season) on such a wintry day. There is a Word, a Poem, a Saying, a Story, however,  for everything.  Ella Wheeler Wilcox comes through on a wintry March day with her poem,  “A March Snow.” The poem even has a spring-like tone and the promise of new beginnings.

Let the old snow be covered with the new:
The trampled snow, so soiled, and stained, and sodden.
Let it be hidden wholly from our view
By pure white flakes, all trackless and untrodden.
When Winter dies, low at the sweet Spring’s feet
Let him be mantled in a clean, white sheet.

Let the old life be covered by the new:
The old past life so full of sad mistakes,
Let it be wholly hidden from the view
By deeds as white and silent as snow-flakes.

Ere this earth life melts in the eternal Spring
Let the white mantle of repentance fling
Soft drapery about it, fold on fold,
Even as the new snow covers up the old.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The First Day of Spring

“A Robin said: The Spring will never come,
And I shall never care to build again.
A Rosebush said: These frosts are wearisome,
My sap will never stir for sun or rain.
The half Moon said: These nights are fogged and slow,
I neither care to wax nor care to wane.
The Ocean said: I thirst from long ago,
Because earth's rivers cannot fill the main. —
When Springtime came, red Robin built a nest,
And trilled a lover's song in sheer delight.
Grey hoarfrost vanished, and the Rose with might
Clothed her in leaves and buds of crimson core.
The dim Moon brightened. Ocean sunned his crest,
Dimpled his blue, yet thirsted evermore.” (Christina Rossetti)

It is going to snow today.  The weather prognosticators say it will snow tomorrow, too.  How can that be?  I thought today was the first day of spring?  Who can help but feel and think like the Robin, the Rosebush, the Half-Moon and the Ocean in Christina Rossetti’s poem:  “The Spring will never come,…I shall never care to build again…These frosts are wearisome,…My sap will never stir for sun or rain…I neither care to wax nor care to wane.”  When winter continues into what is supposed to be spring, or when life gets messy and tumbles in, don’t we all say, “The Spring will never come.” 

Spring does come eventually, but it will always be followed by the heat of summer, the decay of autumn and the cold of winter.  Spring may take its time in getting here, but it will come.  There is hope for the Robin, the Rosebush, the Half-Moon and the Ocean, and there is hope for us and our cold and wintry spirits.  Mark Twain diagnosed our ailment when he said, “Its spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” 

We are born with this ailment and we are forever feverish. Spring fever is with us in every season, whether spring, summer, autumn or winter. We don’t quite know what it is we want, but “it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”  Spring fever is our search for life—for its fullness and abundance.  Unfortunately (and this is why the fever) life includes many different seasons, each with its ups and downs, its joys and its sorrows.  Sometimes it snows on the first day of spring, sometimes even on the second day of spring.  Life is winter, spring, summer and autumn and we must live as fully as we can in each.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carpe Diem—Memento Mori

It is a chilly morning.  The thermometer registers 31°—brrrr!  Spots of snow still linger in shadowed areas.  Yet the sun shines with a new intensity, a new brightness, or so it seems.  Tomorrow is the first day of spring.  The days become longer, brighter, hopefully warmer, and all kinds of things will begin to happen.  The crocus and hyacinth are blooming in my yard, heralding the coming of this new season of renewal, rebirth, resurrection, rejuvenation and regrowth.  The daffodils wanted to make an early announcement, too, as they usually do, but the cold air, wind, and snow have prevented them from doing so.  Still, with or without these early harbingers of spring, there is a “feel,” a “spirit,” in the air.  Spring is on its way—tomorrow!

Christina Rossetti’s poem “Spring” tells a deep and abiding truth:

“There is no time like Spring,
When life’s alive in everything,…
There is no time like Spring,
Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die,…
There is no time like Spring that passes by,’
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.”

The seasons come and go and swiftly the years go by.  I’m reminded of E. Housman’s poem, “Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now.”  Are you familiar with it?  The speaker is but twenty years old, and he realizes if he should live to be seventy years of age (the average length of life according to the Bible) he only has fifty years remaining to experience spring and the cherry blossom.  The young fellow seems to say we must seize every new day, smell the roses (or the cherry blossoms) while we may—while it is day.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is young with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go 
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Now, my threescore years and ten are gone, an extra five are given.  How many are left I do not know.  Whatever number of springs remain are but little room.  “About the woodlands I wlll go, to see the cherry hung with snow.” 

For many years I've watched the dogwood in my yard bloom.
But even trees do not last forever.  Alas, my beautiful dogwood
tree was taken down last summer.  

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Our Precarious Conundrum

The present moment is fraught with confusion and mayhem for some of us, while for others everything is just fine.  One side of this conundrum is former CIA Director John Brennen’s statement to Mr. Trump yesterday after the McCabe firing.  “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history…America will triumph over you.”

The other (and opposite) side of the conundrum was expressed by Attorney General Sessions:  “The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability,” and Fox reporter Robert Charles’ comment, “There the story of McCabe ends.  What is happening, plain and simple, is that justice — and respect for the non-political oath taken by all men and women at the FBI, Justice Department and in federal service — is being restored.  And that is the truth.” 

A conundrum is “a confusing and difficult problem, or question.”  Synonyms are “puzzle, quandary, enigma, or dilemma.”  All of those synonyms work in this situation.  America is in a quandary.  America is divided.  America is in a dilemma—one side with Brennan and the other side with Trump and Fox News.  The conundrum (problem, question, puzzle) is which side has the truth?  Both claim it.  Who is right?  One side cries “injustice” and the other “justice.”

If the FBI “expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability” should we not also expect the same from the highest office of the land?  Or from the Attorney General?  From our congress men and women? And from our “so-called free” press? I’m all for “the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability,” beginning at the top and flowing all the way down.  If it isn’t at the top in the FBI suggests Mr. Trump, the Attorney General and Fox reporter Charles, then justice is jeopardized.  I agree with the premise.  I’m looking for the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability from all three of them:  Mr. Trump, Attorney General Sessions, and Fox News.

Erosion is a reality.  A raging river can create
 Gooseneck State Park in Utah.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

It Smells Fishy To Me

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” Shakespeare has Marcellus say in his 1602 play, Hamlet.  There is “something rotten” in Washington DC, too, and if you can’t see it, you surely ought to be able to smell it.  Marcellus, in Hamlet, implies that Denmark is not only dealing with dirty politics, but that the situation in Denmark is similar to a fish that rots from head to tail.  In other words, Marcellus is saying, that things are rotten at the very top of the political hierarchy.  That is precisely what I am saying when I say, “Something is rotten” in Washington DC.  Shakespeare portrays Denmark as a place of human villainy—a breeding ground of political as well as spiritual corruption—and that villainy and corruption, like a rotting fish, moves from the head (top) to the tail (bottom).

The President of the US, the most powerful leader in the world, tweeted the following this morning after the firing of former FBI Director Andrew McCabe:  “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy.  Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy.  He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

At Thursday’s  press briefing at the White House this week, Sara Huckabee Sanders called McCabe “a bad actor,” a term used to describe an unruly, turbulent, or contentious person—a troublemaker.  Take a good look at Andrew McCabe!  She has continuously denied that Mr. Trump had anything to do with Mr. McCabe’s decision to seek early retirement.  In December 2017, Mr. Trump tweeted: “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits.  90 days to go?!!!”  Privately, Trump reportedly asked McCabe to “ask his wife how it feels to be a loser,” in reference to her earlier campaign in Virginia.  He also reportedly asked McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election.  

Was McCabe dismissed to please the president?  Is the Department of Justice under his thumb? Were the charges against McCabe trumped up?  Was the firing vindictive and retaliatory?   Was Jeff Sessions coerced?  Trump has repeatedly singled out McCabe, pouring out his ire, destroying McCabe’s reputation, just as he has done with so many others.  And this is the president of the United States?  The most powerful person in the world?   Yes, the rot is coming from the top and it smells to high heaven. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

St. Patrick's Day

Don’t forget to wear your bit of green and enjoy your beef and cabbage tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day.  Chicago will carry on the tradition of turning the river green and those who party tomorrow night will drink green beer. Other cities will celebrate the day with traditional parades and festivities.  Like Christmas,  St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious  holy day, but has long since become a global celebration of Irish culture—and celebrated by everyone, not just the Irish.

Irish immigrants (known as Scots-Irish) were among the first to come to the US. Charles Carroll who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a descendant of Irish nobility in County Tipperary.  Several other signers, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith were all born in Ireland.  A British major general during the American Revolution testified at the House of Commons…“half  the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.” 

From 1820 to 1860, nearly two million Irish immigrants came to America.  They came in what  were known as “coffin ships” (many died crossing the ocean).  They were escaping the Great Irish Famine, but the “land of the brave and the free” was not very welcoming or accommodating.  Irish immigrants were forced to live in “Irish towns” or “Shanty towns” in the major cities.  Ads for employment often included “No Irish Need Apply.”  Living conditions were despicable.  Eighty percent of all infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City during this period died.  The Chicago Post wrote, “The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses…Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic.  Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.”  Sound familiar?  

“In 1850 at the crest of the Potato Famine immigration, Orestes Brownson, a celebrated convert to Catholicism stated:  ‘Out of the narrow lanes, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets, will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor’.”  That prophecy came true less than a half century later. Irish Americans had moved from the despised and the down-trodden to the highest levels of government, including the oval office.

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, wearing our bit of green and drinking our green beer, let’s pause to remember how Irish immigrants were treated and think about our attitude and behavior toward immigrants today. Every person in America today (with the exception of native Americans, and we’re not even sure about them) is a son or daughter of an immigrant.

Conversing with Oscar Wilde in Ireland--2003