Thursday, May 31, 2018

Anguish and Hope

Two books practically jumped out of the bookcase at me this morning.  I’m trying to figure out why.  The first book was  Days of Anguish, Days of Hope, written by Billy Keith about Air Force Chaplain Robert Preston Taylor’s World War II experiences on the infamous Bataan death march, the Japanese prison camps, and the hell ships.  It is a gripping story and made even more so for me  by the fact that I met Chaplain Taylor in 1963 and also knew personally his comrade in anguish and hope, Chaplain Leslie Zimmerman.  Both of these chaplains continued on active duty after World War II and their bitter POW experiences.  Chaplain Zimmerman retired from active duty in 1963 and Chaplain Taylor in 1966.

The second book that leapt out at me was D. Elton Trueblood’s, Abraham Lincoln:  Theologian of American Anguish.  Lincoln and the American people knew an almost indescribable anguish—the anguish of brother pitted against brother—and the anguish of holding human beings in bondage.  This anguish of holding human beings in bondage (some call it America’s original sin—I call it a perpetual one) created division among us from the beginning and has  left an indelible and abiding anguish in the minds and spirits of all us in the years that have followed.  As there was in Lincoln’s day, so there is now in the American spirit an ever deepening division and a consequent anguish.  This anguish seems to be growing for some of us with every passing day, while others seem untouched, and even unaware, of its insidious penetration into our minds and spirits and into every nook and cranny of our American society.

Now, I’m sure you have figured out why these two books caught my attention and seemed to leap out at me this morning.  Yes, it was that single word—ANGUISH!  What a word and what a weight that one word carries!    Just consider its synonyms:  agonized, tormented, racked with pain, tortured, harrowed, miserable, unhappy, sad, broken-hearted, grief-stricken, wretched, sorrowful, distressed, devastated, and despairing.  Who can survive and live through such a thing as deep anguish?  Chaplain Robert Taylor did!  Abraham Lincoln and the American people of his time did! My sense of anguish and your sense of anguish does not even begin to parallel that known by Chaplain Taylor on that death march, the hell ships, or his 42 months of excruciating imprisonment.  Nor does the anguish we feel come close to the anguish Lincoln knew.  There is no comparison!

Is there such a thing then as “mild” anguish?  No, I don’t think so.  I think we have to lift up our heads, our voices, our votes, and stop wallowing in our supposed anguish, and proclaim HOPE.

Iris of the Day

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The First Amendment

ABC’s hit show “Roseanne” has been cancelled and Roseanne “canned” after she posted a nasty tweet about Valerie Jarrett.  Can we “can” the Rudy Giuliani’s show, too?  He recently did a  character assassination (following the President’s lead) on two really great American public servants (Ex-CIA Directors John Brennan and James Clapper).  Giuliani called  them “clowns”  and “liars” and said, “They are not civil servants as far as I know.” Giuliani’s comments  about these two men seem to me to be just as bigoted, crude, crass, abhorrent and despicable as Roseanne’s tweets!  Then, of course, we have the President denigrating former Presidents and all others who he believes oppose him, putting down Gold Star families, Senator John McCain, a Hispanic judge, immigrants (especially those of color), African-American football players—and on, and on, and on.  His remarks are just as bigoted, crude, crass, abhorrent and despicable as Roseanne’s.  But you haven’t seen the “depths” of cruelty, ignorance, bigotry, crassness, ugliness, and racist rhetoric until  you read the responses of the “people in general” from both sides of the partisan divide who write comments on Social Media and Twitter accounts such as those of the President, Roseanne, and others.  Has “bigotry been emboldened” in this period of our history as former-President Bush suggested recently?  Or has it always been so?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The form of government which prevails is the expression of what cultivation exists in the population which permits it.”  What “cultivation” exists in the American population?  There is a tendency to blame Mr. Trump for the racist outbursts and the denigration of persons happening now.  But hasn’t it been there all along beneath our societal veneer?  There is no question that Mr. Trump has called it forth.  He even said that the Roseanne show was “about us.”   And it wasabout all of us!

The First Amendment gives us the “right” to say what we think, feel and believe.  Does the right to speak your mind include the right to use offensive language that could incite a deep divide among the people?  Is freedom of speech synonymous with the freedom of expression, such as burning the U.S. flag or kneeling during the national anthem?  Does freedom of speech (and freedom of the Press) protect the right to say or publish scurrilous, defamatory, and libelous stuff?  The Supreme Court has confronted most of these questions.  We may not be satisfied with those decisions—but the last I heard the First Amendment was still part of the Constitution. 

We must “cultivate” (foster the growth, encourage, and improve) our manner of speech and our commitment to our “immortal declaration.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident:  That all men (women, children, every human being of whatever color, religion or nationality), are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  Then our First Amendment rights and the human rights of others will be honored both in deed and word.  I look forward to that day!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Soul of America

I’m currently reading Jon Meacham’s new book, The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, which a friend loaned me.  John Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and author of the New York Times best-sellers Thomas Jefferson, The Art of Power, American Lion:  Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston, and Destiny and Power:  The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.  The only book on this list that I’ve read is Thomas Jefferson, which was a good read.  I am adding the others to my summer reading list.

Does a country have a soul?  Does America have a soul?  Gunnar Myrdal and historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., wrote about “The American Creed.” Others have written or spoken of  “The American Dream.” Meacham is not the first to write of an American Soul.  This soul, Meacham writes, is “the vital center, the core, the heart, the essence of life.” The soul according to the Hebrew Bible is life itself:  “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed  into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul.” Meacham refers to the Greek New Testament when Jesus says “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” where the word for “life” could also be translated as “soul.” America, Meacham says, has such a soul, (with impulses of good and of evil).  Abraham Lincoln seemed to believe in such a soul in “we, the people” when he spoke of  “the better angels of our nature.”

Does America have a soul?  Western philosophical thought has generally accepted the idea of a soul.  Meacham says the “soul” is what makes us us, whether we are speaking of a person or of a people.  What makes America America?  Meacham attempts to tell and urges the “Soul” of America (as did Lincoln) to follow “the better angels of our nature.”

“To know what has come before,” in terms of our national soul, Meacham writes, “ is to be armed against despair.  If the men and women of the past, with all their flaws and limitations and ambitions and appetites, could press on through ignorance and superstition, racism and sexism, selfishness and greed, to create a freer, stronger nation, then perhaps we, too, can right wrongs and take another step toward the most enchanting and elusive of destinations:  a more perfect Union.”  

Meacham’s hope is that our better angels will survive the current assault as our better angels have rallied against such assaults in times past.  I join him in this hope for The Soul of America. 

"The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor,” 
wrote Ayn Rand, “that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach.”  
But, I say,  what good is a monument if there is no soul within it?

Monday, May 28, 2018

Decoration/Memorial Day—150 Years Old

Today is the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day or “Decoration Day” as my mother insisted on calling it.  I watched the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS last night.  It was an extremely moving presentation from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capital, hosted by Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan) and featuring heart-warming and heart-wrenching personal stories interwoven with some superb musical performances.  

Memorial (Decoration) Day was first commemorated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 by a proclamation given by General John A. Logan to honor those who died “in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”  It was called “Decoration Day”  because on that day 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of 20,000 soldiers buried in the cemetery.  From 1868 to 1970, Memorial Day was held on May 30.  Through the passing of the years, it became the day for honoring the dead of all of America’s wars.  In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May.

Memorial Day is a day to grieve, mourn, lament, recognize, salute, eulogize, and honor the fallen  (the military victims) of America’s wars. [I think we ought also to commemorate a Memorial Day for the civilian victims of war—whose numbers far exceed the number of military victims]. It is not a day to idolize, acclaim, glorify, commend, applaud, or give honor to war!  It is a day, however, that reminds me of Plato’s caustic words: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”  But, why must this be so?

As I listened to the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Waters” being performed last night on PBS, I thought how the building of bridges might help prevent war and halt the continued spread of burial grounds across the world, including those of Arlington.  Then, it suddenly struck me, that the fallen we honor today were/are “like a bridge over troubled water” for “they were there to lay themselves down (like a bridge for us)….”Ooh I’ll be your bridge.”  They were our bridge and they are still our bridge being laid down over the troubled waters of Syria, Afghanistan, and wherever the waters of war churn, while we pay little attention until the next Memorial Day.  

We must learn to build bridges for peace over the troubled waters of our world before our young men and women have to cry “Ooh I’ll be your bridge.”   “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows,” said Martin Luther King, and we ought by now to  know this is true after 150 years of Decoration/Memorial Days!

Sunday, May 27, 2018


The poem, “Thanatopsis,” was written by poet William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). “Thanatopsis” means “a consideration of death,” and is derived from the Greek thanatos” (death) and “opsis” (view or sight).  While Bryant could not remember when he wrote the verse, his friend, Parke Godwin reported that Bryant wrote it when he was but seventeen years old.  Bryant made a few minor changes to the text and added more material to the end of the poem in 1821. There is not enough space to share the poem with you—but you can easily find it on the internet.  

Once again I am engaged in “a consideration of death” after my mother-in-law’s “graduation” from life yesterday afternoon.  This isn’t the first time I’ve considered it.  I considered it for the first time at a very early age when a wild animal I tried to help live died under my care.  I held many a funeral for the pet chipmunks, groundhogs, birds and squirrels that died during my boyhood years.  I considered death at a much deeper level at the age of 14 when my high school friend, Steve, died of leukemia. I’ve considered it often in my vocation, sitting for hours with parishioners in homes, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.,  as they awaited the final curtain to close on the life of a loved one.  I’ve considered it in the death of my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  Thanatopsis (a consideration of death) has gripped me, over and over again, as far back as I can remember.  The reason this is so is because I believe with another poet John Donne, “no man is an island, entire unto itself,….Any man’s (person’s) death diminishes me, because I am involved with mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Where does “graduation” from this life lead us?  Is death just simply an end—the final curtain of the play?  Or is there a possibility that Jesus knew what he was talking about, “where I am, there you shall be also.”  Was Socrates right when on the eve of his own death he spoke of the afterlife he would soon enjoy?  What about the pharaohs of Egypt?  Well, in my own “Thanatopsis,”  I ponder death as Bryant must have done and with questions galore,  I join with Bryant as I read the final lines of his poem, Thanatopsis:

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take 
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Maya’s Visit With An Old Soul

Maya Angelou—poet, scholar, professor, civil rights activist—visits with me this morning.  Her poetry speaks to me.  Her poetry makes me sad and makes me laugh and sometimes both at the same time.   In her little four-line poem, “Man Bigot” she reminds us that,  “the worst God has got” will unfortunately continue to have a voice in the days ahead.
The man who is a bigot
is the worst thing God has got,
except his match, his woman
who really is Ms. Begot.

“Old Folks Laugh” is one of my favorites and in particular the line, “When old folks laugh, they free the world.”  I am an old folk now.  I’d like to think I’m free of falseness and vanity, that somehow I’ve broken free from the conventional, but then I remember another poet’s words—and realize:  Ah, Hal…”the best is yet to be.”

They have spent their
content of simpering,
holding their lips this 
and that way, winding 
the lines between 
their brows.  Old folks
allow their bellies to jiggle like slow
The hollers
rise up and spill
over any way they want.
When old folks laugh, they free the world.
They turn slowly, slyly knowing
the best and worst
of remembering.
Saliva glistens in 
the corners of their mouths,
their heads wobble
on brittle necks, but
their laps
are filled with memories.
When old folks laugh, they consider the promise
of dear painless death, and generously 
forgive life for happening
 to them.

Iris of the Day

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Philosopher's Way

Did you know there is a “Philosophers Way” (Philosophenweg)) in Heidelberg, Germany?  I didn’t know this until D. Elton Trueblood told me years ago that he wrote his first notes for his book, General Philosophy, while walking this path.  Professors and philosophers of Heidelberg walked this path for hundreds of years and enjoyed the vineyards through which it passed and the solitude, views of the town and the natural beauty it offered.  Thus, the path became known as the Philosophenweg (Philosophers Way) and still exists today.  

There is also a Philosopher’s Way in San Francisco, California.  It is a 2.7 mile loop trail around the perimeter of John McLaren Park.  The trail, according to my source, was dedicated on January 5, 2013, and is the first and only path built for philosophers in the US.  Along the path there are fourteen stone markers called “musing stations” to stimulate contemplation.

The word “philosophy” means a love of wisdom or of knowing. I suppose all of us are philosophers of a sort.  We all think about the big questions of life that seem to have no answers.  That is what a philosopher does.  He or she questions everything—taking every experience and seeking to understand it without preconceived notions.  A philosopher is one who things big, musing over all things.  They spend time thinking about the world,  God, what it means to live, to love, to hate, to die, to exist.  Don’t we all do this to some degree?  Of course, we do.  Thus, our way or path (our journey) through life becomes A Philosophers Way and we are in the company of the great philosophers who came before us (Socrates, Plato, Epicurus, Descartes, Rosseau, Voltaire, Kant, Sartre, and so many “Toms, Dicks and Harrys” and “Harriets, Evelyns and Katherines”).  Everyone who thinks, wonders and wants to know is a philosopher.  

Along our individual Philosopher’s Way there are a wide variety of “musing stations.”  Some of these are developmental—moving from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood, from middle-age to maturity, and then to the closing chapter.  Some of these “musing stations” are experiential—and we ponder what this or that experience means.  Trueblood wrote, “Philosophy, because it is fundamentally a process, flourishes best on the Philosopher’s Way.  We did not construct the path, but we can tread it, conscious of the many who have trod it before.  In one sense we walk with them, but in another sense each walks alone.”  Socrates said, “This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher.”  Do you have a sense of wonder about everything?  Do you muse (think, ponder, contemplate, examine) over all your experiences and those of others and ask the big questions?  If  you do, you are a philosopher and your way is A Philosopher’s Way.

Iris of the Day

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Created Reality

“Created reality” is a new term for “Alternative Facts.”  It might also be the new term for such words as hallucination, conspiracy theory, fantasy, paranoia, delirium tremens (DTs), apparition, chimera, or phantasmagoria. I can’t recall where I first heard the term “Created Reality.”  It probably came from some  “left-wing media group,” even though, it seems to me, Fox News is much better at creating realities. The most recent Fox created reality was framed in the title of an Opinion piece: “Will Starbuck’s Become America’s Largest Chain of Homeless Shelters?”  This being suggested because Starbucks now sees itself as a “third place”—a term borrowed, says the article, "from contemporary left-wing sociology.”  Beware, the article says, because “Starbucks Executive Chairman Howard Schultz may seek the Democratic nomination for president of the United States in 2020.”  Created reality?  Yes, it is created reality and the racial innuendo embedded within such distortion is rampant.

There are dozens of websites which post all kinds of created realities—stories about John McCain being a traitor to former Secretary of State John Kerry facing felony charges.  The headline says, “Breaking:  Major Announcement Out of the White House—John Kerry Facing Felony Charges.”  This is a created reality.  It is a false statement—an unreality.  Another headline from such websites reads:  “Former US Atty:  Obama Committed Crime of ‘UNBELIEVABLE’ Dimensions Against Trump.”  This is a created reality.  It is false.  There is no evidence to support it.  Evidence has no bearing or significance however in created reality as was “evident” in the Birther Movement (fringe theorists who believe Obama was not born in the U.S. and was therefore ineligible for the presidency) after a state-issued birth certificate was produced. (Among those who ignored the evidence or found it somehow fraudulent is our current president).

Without any evidence other than yet another Fox News inspired “created reality” Mr. Trump has announced “Spygate,” an “evidence-free suggestion that the Obama Justice Department had an undercover operative informing on Trump’s campaign.”  This is created reality.  Remember Sean Spicer’s statement the day after the inauguration:  “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in-person and around the world.”  That set the stage and we’ve had a lot of other “created realities” ever since.

Iris of the Day

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?”

I’m going to die.  So are you.  So is my neighbor next door and my friend who lives further away.  So is everyone.  On that uplifting note, let me share with you that my mother-in-law for the past  54 years is dying.  She has been my only mother-in-law and I could not have asked for a better one.  She has lived in California all these years of our marriage and our children growing up knew of only one kind of vacation—traveling from the East across country by land or air to visit Grandma Nita in the West.  Sometimes we were able to include stops at places like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon on the way.  For the most part, however, time being limited, I’d drive six or seven-hundred miles a day for five days to get to Grandma’s—visit for three or four days—and then drive another five days to get back home.  Sometimes “Grandma” would come visit us in the East.  She and my mother corresponded and talked often by telephone, and enjoyed one another’s company whenever they could be together. There are so many memories—all of them more precious now in this moment than ever before.

Barbara J. King, in her book, How Animals Grieve, tells us that throughout the animal kingdom, most animals display instinctive behavioral characteristics when faced with the impending death of their kind. Some birds, for example, expel a dying bird from the nest.  “Elephants sometimes stand silently at the bodies of dead companions and, later, stroke their sun-bleached bones as if embracing a memory.  Dolphin mothers refuse to part with the bodies of their babies who die, foregoing food and tirelessly keeping their child buoyant in the water day after day.”  Scientists say that some “big-brained” mammals may grieve when a family member dies.  The roots of human grieving go deeper.  Unlike the animals, we carry a heightened concept of death, the awareness that those we love most and even we ourselves will someday die.  Always we know that the day will come when life tumbles in.

John Arthur Gossip, the day after his wife had collapsed and died, stood in the pulpit and spoke on the subject “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?”  I borrowed those words many years ago and have spoken them over and over again to myself and others to describe our human walk into the shadows—of which there are many, and one of these is the shadow of death.  “But When Life Tumbles In, What Then?”  Then my wife goes to California to be with her mother, to sit with her and to love her as the shadows deepen.  

“I don’t think you need to be afraid of life,” said Gossip.  “Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God.  And, as Paul puts it, ‘What can separate us from his love?  Not death,’ he writes immediately.  No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of its terror, of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim’s Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, ‘Be of good cheer, my brother (my sister), for I feel the bottom and it is sound.’”

Flower of the Day

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

To Encourage and Uplift

There is in the Bible a little verse that I wish everyone in the whole wide world would take literally.  It is found in I Thessalonians 5:11.  “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.”  If we believe in the greatness of human potential then we must nourish the divine seed in every person, regardless of age, sex, race, cultural or educational background.  This task belongs to all of us, whatever our profession, vocation, or status in society.  This is the work that we all must be about “while it is day.”   

My heart fills with gratitude as I remember this morning all those who have uplifted and encouraged me along the way.  Where would I be, what would I be, who would I be today if it were not for Miss Beatrice Smith?  (my Sunday school teacher). Mrs. Constable?  (my third grade teacher).  Professor Louis McChord and Carl Tideman?  N. Gordon Cosby? And so many others who were there for me? These uplifters and encouragers called forth my gifts and potential which would have remained buried had they not come along.  

To encourage is to give support, confidence or hope to someone.  Synonyms for the word “encourage” include words like inspire, motivate, stimulate, invigorate, vitalize and strengthen.  The word “uplift” means to elevate, stimulate, and build up someone.

Jesus of Nazareth was an Encourager and an Uplifter. .  To encourage is to love.  To uplift another is to love.  I think Bishop Curry said this well at the Royal Wedding:  “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial. And in so doing, becomes redemptive, and that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love, changes lives. And it can change this world. If you don’t believe me, just stop and think or imagine. Think and imagine, well, think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive. When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an everflowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down, down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children. Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.”

Iris of the Day

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Denial of Truth

We are confronted almost daily with the claim that truth—an empirical eventful and factual matter—does not exist.  In the place of truth and being called “truth” are made-up stories.  The truth is being displaced by a self-serving version of the facts.  Instead of truth we are being given prefabricated stories to suit the vested interest of some individual or group.

This denial of truth has long been with us. Every child caught or suspected of some negative act or behavior by his or her parents has engaged in the denial of truth (even George). It is not new.  It is commonplace commercially in our merchandising and advertising.  The claim made by the makers of Prevagen to improve memory is but one example. How can they make such a false claim and get away with it?  They simply add an asterisk which indicates that the drug has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and that the drug is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. This gives the pharmaceutical company the right to falsehood, manipulation and exaggeration to enhance the sale of their product.  If you want  to fabricate your own truth, just add an asterisk that says that is precisely what you are doing!

This ploy in advertising has been transported into politics and slowly but surely is eating away at truth  (an empirical event or factual matter).  This, too, has been going on for a long time.  I remember the Johnson administration talking about “news management.” I recall the Nixon administration waging a fierce propaganda war against the media, claiming the “truth of the matter” concerning the war in Viet Nam and the Watergate episode—and their truth was a doctoring of the truth, a concoction of distortion and evasion to pursue their own agenda.  

Now, today, it is not simply the doctoring of truth per se, but the premise that truth is nonexistent, that truth is a fiction. “Fake News’ accusations only underscore this new phenomenon, the idea that there can be no thorough, fair, comprehensive discovery and chronicle of events, and that the handling of facts is always ideologically tainted.   This presumption that truth does not exist or cannot be uncovered abolishes scholarship and scientific research.  This is readily seen in Arizona where it is being recommended that the teaching of the  theory of evolution be removed from the public schools and in other circles (including members of congress) that reject the scientific facts about climate change.  The presumption that truth does not exist renders education, both teaching and learning—“partisan and farcical, and in the end, condemns and banishes all uses of human intelligence.”  

Iris of the Day

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Fall From A Biblical Perspective

I am deeply concerned about how we perceive ourselves and others.  It bothers me deep down inside to hear people—human beings—referred to as “animals.”  It bothers me greatly to hear those in authority and power refer to a 17-year old shooter as an “evil” person. It irks my soul to hear religious folk do the same. I’m not naive.  I don’t live in an ivory tower.  I’m not a bleeding heart.  For many years I visited jails and prisons across the United States—I am aware of the so-called criminal, drug addict, sex offender and deranged person.  I am aware of his or her ignorance, arrogance, dishonesty, brokenness,  addictions, ugliness, rejections, alienations  and loneliness. But he or she, unloveable and fallen as they may be—are yet a man, and she a woman, whom God loves.

We have distorted the biblical view of the Fall.  We have held the false notion that the Fall means as a consequence only human or individual sin—which we have defined as willfulness, selfishness, or pride—greed, duplicity, lust, dishonesty, malice, depravity, and other vices. (The biblical version of the Fall puts all of us in the same basket—whether we are caught or uncaught.)

The biblical version of the Fall, however,  is about the alienation of the whole of Creation from God—“the rupture and profound disorientation of all relationships within the whole of Creation.”  Human beings are fallen, to be sure, but so is everything else, including cows, lions, governments, ideologies, corporations (which the Bible on occasion refers to as “creatures” or as “principalities and powers”).  Even our so-called “justice system” is flawed and broken!  We already know that our political system if flawed and broken!  What’s the difference between a government that condones “torture” and the use of “Agent Orange,”  or soldiers who degrade prisoners (Abu Dhabi), or a Klu Klux Klan that lynches a man or woman because of color, or a senator who abuses women, or a clergy person who hates certain groups while proclaiming a God who loves the world?  What’s the difference between these principalities and powers, these creatures,  and the man or woman in prison or on the street or involved in a school shooting? 

We are all human beings—and we are all broken.  This “Cain and Abel” world of labeling “good” and “bad” is precisely what the Bible terms a “fallen” creation—it is the “whole of Creation” not just him or her—not just them.  We, too, are among the fallen.

Iris of the Day

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Who Are The Good?—The Bad?

Once again the American people have witnessed a school shooting—another horrendous scene played out on the TV screen in homes across the nation.  It was the 22nd  school shooting of 2018.  Ted Cruz said, “There have been too damn many of these,” suggesting the government must act to keep criminals from gaining firearms.  Governor Abbot said, “It’s time in Texas that we take action,” promising that roundtable discussions with parents, students, concerned citizens and other would begin as soon as possible.  “We want to hear from everybody.” So “once again” we hear the platitudes and the promises offered in the midst of anguish and pain. Once again the issue of gun control, mental health,  school security, etc., ascend to the forefront of our national attention for a few days—and then—and then, it all disappears, forgotten until the next time. As one Houston lawmaker put it:  “Y’all been sending thoughts and prayers for two freaking decades.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo probably spoke for many of us when he posted on Facebook last night:  “Today I spent the day dealing with another mass shooting of children and a responding police officer who is clinging to life.  I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve shed tears of sadness, pain and anger.  I know some have strong feelings about gun rights but I want you to know I’ve hit rock bottom and I am not interested in your views as it pertains to this issue.  Please do not post anything about guns aren’t the problem and there’s little we can do….”

There was a disturbing reference by the politicians yesterday to the “evil, criminal, deranged and heinous” persons who commit these mass shootings.  This is disturbing because if we pin the blame on an “evil” person, it absolves the rest of us (society, politicians, government, me and you)  from any culpability.  It is a kind of “blame it on the Devil” mentality and the corresponding attitude that Police Chief Acevedo alludes in his post, “and there’s little we can do…”

The use of the word “evil” for persons who commit horrendous crimes is not new, but it is dangerous.  It is dangerous because it is a form of scapegoating.  It is just as wrong, in my thinking, as calling another human or group of human beings, animals!  It is also a judgment I’m not sure any of us (who assume we are so good, so right and so sane, etc.) are qualified to make.  I urge everyone to remember the Amish grandfather of that other school shooting in 2006 who forgave the killer and the Amish community who also forgave and reached out in compassion to the killer’s family.  It is a dangerous over-simplication to believe that some people are innately ‘good’ while others are innately ‘evil’ or ‘bad.’ 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Just A Figure of Speech?

It was just a figure of speech, I am told, used by President Trump to describe the horrendous brutality of the MS-13 gang.  He was not referring to immigrants, Mr. Trump said yesterday, but to members of that gang.  Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims complained that California State law forbids her from telling U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about undocumented immigrants in her jail—even if  they may be members of a gang.  (This is a half-truth).  To be precise and to quote the sheriff, “There could be an MS-13 member I know about.  If they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it.”  Mr. Trump then responded saying, “We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country.  You wouldn't believe how bad these people are,” he said.  “These aren’t people.  These are animals.”  Who?  Who are the so-called animals?  Those persons Sheriff Mims thinks may be MS-13 gang members or the undocumented immigrants she has incarcerated?  They are not all of one lump.  Immigrants and MS-13 are two separate and distinct categories—one having to do with immigration and the other with criminality.  Mr. Trump has a propensity to lump the two groups together as immigrants and what many of us heard him say on Wednesday was that immigrants are not people, but animals.  We have heard him say this on numerous other occasions with other derogatory words.

One writer claims Mr. Trump is using appropriate language when applying the term “animal” to MS-13.  Oxford dictionary describes an animal as “A person without human attributes or civilizing influences, especially someone who is very cruel, violent, or repulsive.”  Mr. Trump is consistent, says this person, since he called the perpetrator of the Syrian chemical attack, “Animal Assad.”  Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s comments, arguing the word “animals” didn’t go far enough.  “If the media and liberals want to defend MS-13 (which they are not doing), they’re more than welcome to.  Frankly, I don’t think the term that the president used was strong enough.”  Sarah has the same propensity as her boss.  She tends to lump media and liberals together.  They are not the same, and they are not the only ones reacting negatively to calling people (any person) animals.  She failed to mention the diplomatic letter sent by the foreign ministry of Mexico to the U.S. State Department complaining that Trump’s comments were “absolutely unacceptable.”  

Adolf Hitler, in Main Kampf, wrote, “…the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.”  Germans, he wrote, must free themselves “from the snares of this international serpent…Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator:  ‘by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.’”

We are treading on dangerous ground when we think we are so good, right, and circumspect, that we can call any human being an animal.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Yet Another Trail of Tears

I’ve often wondered if the author of Ecclesiastes was  a “candidate for Prozac.”  Was he a depressed pessimist?  You can’t help but wonder about that from some of the things he wrote.  Life was apparently meaningless for him:  “And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.”  It is in Ecclesiastes that we find the oft quoted saying, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (KJV).” 

The Trail of Tears is the name given to a series of forced relocations of Native American peoples from their ancestral homes in the Southeast U.S. to areas that had been designated as Indian Territory in the far west.  These forced relocations were carried out by the United States government (after the Indian Removal Act of 1830). The forced removal included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca nations.  These people (Native Americans) suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation en route, thus leaving behind a “Trail of Tears.”

History records many “Trails” that have produced many “Tears.”  Our national history has a good many such trails in its story, not only with Native Americans, but with immigrants who have come to these shores (like all the rest of us) and African-Americans brought here in bondage.   Life (your life and mine) has its own Trail of Tears.  Why do we see it as necessary to make new Trails of Tears for others, particularly for those we see as being different? 

Mr. Trump, just yesterday, said, “We have people coming into the country—or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them—but we’re taking people out of the country, you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are.  These aren’t people.  These are animals.”  Mr. Trump has been suggesting this repeatedly from the very beginning of his presidential campaign, calling Mexicans “drug dealers, criminals, and rapists” as though anyone who commits a crime, or makes a mistake, or is imprisoned is somehow less human than the rest of us.   Even now, the Trump Administration is seeking to separate immigrant children (who are not children from his perspective) from their immigrant parents (who are not fathers and mothers,  but “animals” from Mr. Trump’s perspective). I’m not saying this—MR. TRUMP SAID THIS—JUST YESTERDAY!  CHRISTIANS, JEWS, MUSLIMS, ATHEISTS, HUMANITARIANS, SCHOLARS:  WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

There were ten million Native Americans on this continent when the first non-Indians (immigrants) arrived.  Over the next 300 years, 90% of all Native American population was either wiped out by disease, famine, or warfare imported by the white immigrants.  These Native Americans were seen not as people, but as Indians (savages, animals).  With the writer of Ecclesiastes I’m wondering if “there is no new thing under the sun.”

Even nature cries tears these days!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My Small World of Rice Pudding

The only form of  rice I ever recall eating while growing up was Mom’s version of rice pudding.  She mixed rice and milk with a liberal dose of sugar and a dash of salt and cooked it on the stove top for what seemed like an hour constantly watching it and stirring it.  I think she may have added a healthy dab of butter into the mix, but I’m not sure.  When the mixture thickened, she added a touch of vanilla extract and some raisins.  The rice pudding was served warm in a large bowl on the dinner table and enjoyed by all.  

Yesterday, seeing a little left-over cooked rice in the fridge, I suddenly remembered Mom’s rice pudding.  The memory was so strong that I could almost smell and taste it.  I’ve made rice pudding before, usually baking it in the oven, but I’ve never given much thought to Mom’s version of rice pudding, nor have I ever tried to duplicate it.  I decided to give it a try with that left-over rice.  I was successful in the sense that my rice pudding of last night came very close to matching up with my memory of Mom’s very own.  I even used raisins!

Mom’s rice pudding was the only form of rice I knew until I left home and entered the military.  I was amazed at how military cooks could conger up so many different ways to cook rice.  I discovered rice was not a dessert for most people.  It was an important dietary staple.  While my family ate potatoes with almost every meal, I found that other folk enjoyed rice at every meal.

My limited knowledge about rice was matched by my limited knowledge about everything.  I was a Baptist and I knew that in my town there were five other churches:  Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and Christian “Dutch” Reformed.  I knew there were also “those Jehovah Witnesses.” Just as I thought rice was only a dessert, so I thought these churches were the only ones.  Can you imagine my surprise when I learned there were 356 different kinds of Baptist churches in the world!

What does all this have to do with anything?  It has much to do about everything.  What an eye-opener to discover that rice was more than a dessert.  What a surprise when I found that there were many more churches than just those that existed in my little town.  The world outside was bigger than the one I lived in—and that is still true.  I enjoyed recreating my Mom’s version of rice pudding last night, but I can never go back to thinking of rice as only a dessert.  

Rice in Costa Rica