Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Listening to Dwight Eisenhower

On January 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell speech to the nation.  Like a prophet out of the Old Testament, this former five-star general, warned of the danger and the subtle power of what he called the American military-industrial complex (U.S. Government).  “…We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” This military-industrial complex (U.S. Government) is even more complex and endangering today than it was in 1961 and we must be vigilant to insure  “that security and liberty may prosper together.”  

The Old Testament prophets were the first men in history to regard a nation’s reliance upon force as evil.  The prophet Hosea condemned militarism as idolatrous.  He proclaimed in the name of the Lord:  “I will not deliver them by bow, nor by sword, not by war, nor by horses, nor by horsemen…I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety”  (1:7; 2:18).  “Not by force shall man prevail” (I Samuel 2:9).  “Not by might,…says the Lord of hosts” (Zach. 4:6).  “Some boast of chariots, and some of horses,” says the Psalmist, “but we boast in the name of the Lord our God…His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor is His pleasure in the legs of man…But…in those who hope in His steadfast love” (20:7; 147:10-11).  Today, we idolize the military in a way as never before in our history. We proclaim our armed forces have set us free.  This is a dangerous kind of thinking.  (I say this as a 36-year member of the military).

In a world such as ours we need security—but we also want liberty.  Eisenhower closed his farewell address with these words:  “To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”  
Democracy is a fragile thing.  It can topple
if we the people fail to pay attention.

Monday, July 30, 2018

My Mental Dilemma

I am having a problem focusing on any one topic this morning.  My mind is rambling from one thing to another, none of which seem to stick for very long.  I’m in a dilemma (a situation in which a choice has to be made as to what to write about this morning).  I’m in a quandary, because the choices are many.   I’m going through what we are all going through these days—a pervasive babel.  “Pervasive” means “existing in or spreading through every part of something,” as in a pervasive odor—a smell that fills the air.  A pervasive odor occurs occasionally here in my neighborhood when the nearby mushroom house disturbs a pile of mushroom soil.  It smells like rotten seafood and the putrid smell fills our whole town. My mind is filled with a pervasive babel this morning.  “Babel” means a confusion of sounds or voices; a scene or situation of confusion.  The word babel is biblical, by the way.

I thought for a moment I might write about what I read in the Bible this morning—but my mind wandered away from that to the whole business of biblical malpractice that runs rampant in our churches and in our American society.  Malpractice can apply to the “religious” folk as well as to the medical practitioner or public official.  The word means to do something improper, or to be negligent, or to abuse.  We do abuse the Bible.  For example, the main topic of the Bible is politics—the politics of a fallen creation, the politics of redemption, the politics of the nations, etc., but we tend to say that the Bible and politics don’t mix!  In addition, we, in America, have used the Bible for our convenience to say that we are a divinely favored nation, while the Bible when really heard says that God has no favorites—not Israel, not Zion, not America.  I better not go in that direction.

I’ve been reading Malcolm Nance’s book, The Plot to Destroy Democracy. I recommend it.  He writes about how disinformation (false information which is intended to mislead) was used by Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign.  Disinformation is being employed here in America, too.  I want to say something about Trump’s tweets yesterday in reference to The New York Times and the media, but I’ve already written many times about that subject. Talk about a dilemma.  The subversion of journalism and a free press is one of the most insidious and dangerous disinformation campaigns in modern times, colluding with that which has happened in the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin.

What I can say this morning is that my mental dilemma is our American dilemma.  We are living in a time of pervasive babel—24/7 cable news, daily presidential tweets—where truth and facts are manipulated, even fabricated.  Disinformation rules the day—but my prayer is that it does not rule our minds, though I’m afraid the ploy is working.  Biblical malpractice is prevalent, too, as we ignore others and focus only on ourselves.    What a conundrum!

Democracy, like the Crazy Horse monument, is still in the making.
Will it continue?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

No Interest in Religion

I’m not much interested in religion.  It doesn’t do anything for me, because religion has only to do with religion.  Religion, as practiced, is very often separated from the practical affairs of life and society.  How many times have you heard this platitude:  “Religion and politics don’t mix.”  If religion and politics “don’t mix” and have nothing to do with each other, then religion is also separated from every other aspect of life. Of what good is that to me? Why waste my time dabbling in religion if it is of no consequence, if it has no connection with my life or my world?  It is a waste of time.

Religion is defined as “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”  Religion is often characterized as a precious, private, individual, personal possession protecting and shielding one from the vicissitudes of life.  It often equates success, goodness, health, and security as synonyms for righteousness or as a product of one’s faith.  Mere religion is almost always exclusionary, because the religious suppose that only the religious know about God or care about God, and that God cares only about the religious.  Mere religion is possessive toward God and acts as though God’s existence depends upon them.  Mere religion thinks God is a secret which has been disclosed only to those who practice that particular religion. I have no interest in such.

But I do have great interest in the fact that God is no secret and God is with me,  us, and all others, everywhere, all the time, and right now.  God has been with us and all others, everywhere, all the time, and right now, long before we ever called upon Him, knew of Him, or recognized Him. Religion suggests that God is yet to be discovered.  The Bible declares that God has already come among us.  Religion speculates that there is a God, somewhere out there.  The Old Testament and the Gospel of Jesus Christ report God’s presence and action in this world even in those circumstances within which we are unaware of God’s presence.  The very possibility of my faith is given in God’s initiative toward me (not the other way around as mere religion would suggest).  My life, once lost, is found and returned to me by God, a living and contemporary presence in this world.  

God is present in this world, in everyday life, in my life and yours, in politics, in everything.  God is not some abstract power.  God is in this world; not outside it.  God makes himself known in history.  And more, God cares for everything that has to do with life (including politics), with life as it is lived by anybody and everybody day in and day out, no matter how tarnished, distorted, ugly, confused, and conflicted our lives may be. 

"To be a Christian is, wonderfully, ...synonymous with what it
means to be no more and no less than a human being..."
(William Stringfellow)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A New Reality

This morning my young friend Luke is coming to replace our attic fan.  The attic fan  began to make an awful racket a week or so ago.  I went up to check it out and it looked to be about as old as I am (it isn’t, but it looked it).  Ten years ago I would have gone out and bought a new fan and replaced it myself.  Not now!  I didn’t know who to call to handle the situation.  You see, the fellows who use to be available to help me with such things are no longer able or no longer around.  Who to call?  

Ten years ago I decided to remodel one of the bathrooms in our home.  While ripping out the old tile, I was thrown backward against the wall and cracked some ribs.  Ouch!  That was painful.  I couldn’t finish the job.  I called on Luke’s dad, Tom.  He and his two sons and helpers are busy contractors, building new homes and remodeling others, installing new roofs and other major jobs.  Remodeling a little bathroom wasn’t on their “to do” list.  But they came—and bailed me out!

A few years later I was trying to widen our driveway (to make room for our little RV)—and while digging out the area I injured my back.  I couldn’t finish the task.  Who to call?  Who would be willing to finish off such a small project?  I called Tom and his boys.  They finished the job and bailed me out again!

I’ve known Tom and his family for years.  I’ve known Luke since he was a little boy.  He is now married and has three children.  Luke and his brother are now running the business.  Over the years, they have installed a new roof on our home,  installed new windows, doors, and as indicated above, bailed me out of some embarrassing situations. I’m so very grateful.  And now—this morning—Luke is going to replace the attic fan.

But the point I wanted to make when I began writing this morning was that I’m not as young or as limber or as energetic as I use to be.  This is the new reality and it often frustrates me.  The world told me long ago, “When you were young you were dependent and could not go where you wanted, but when you grow old you will be able to make your own decisions, go your own way, and control your own destiny.” But Life now tells me something different.  In these new golden years I am increasingly aware that I’m not in control, nor do I wield any power, nor can I go my own way.  I do not mean that I am simply a passive victim of this new maturity—rather I mean that I am beginning to understand Jesus’ words to Peter and realizing how often it seemed “easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”  I’m still learning!

Basking in this new Golden Age of "great" grandad!

Friday, July 27, 2018

A New Golden Age

This is going to be a special day.  Our grandson Matt and his wife Emily, along with their two children (our first and only “great” granddaughters, so far), Addison and Delaney,  have moved back into the neighborhood.  Instead of being eight hours away, they will now be only an hour away!    

We will have lunch with our daughter Rachel and Matt’s family today.  Addison is two and a half years old now and I have a feeling she will remember us from our last visit with her two months ago.  I hope so.  This will be Delaney’s first encounter with us—she was born just last month.  This will our very first time meeting her!  How fortunate we are to bask in this golden age of great-grandparents—whatever that is!

I have but a vague recollection of my paternal and maternal “great" grandmothers.  I do not recall having any real relationship with them.  Both “great” grandmothers died during my early childhood years.  Will it be the same for my “great” granddaughters?  It is very likely that it will be so.  Addison and Delaney may only have a vague recollection of their Great Grandad when they reach their maturity.

I don’t want to be a vague recollection for them, but then I really don’t have much control or choice over the matter.  We’ll just have to wait and see how things go.  I hope, of course, that I can somehow have a significance rather than be a vague recollection during the brief time we have together.  I’m not at all sure how to be of  “significance” or what I even mean by being “significant,” but I am pondering the matter just now.

Addison and Delaney are far too young to hear an old man talk about what he has seen and experienced in his longevity.  Even when they are a wee bit older they won’t be able to hear or understand those historical occasions—like when I watched a man walk on the moon on a black and white television screen or saw “Sputnik” fly over.  Given that  kind of stuff, they’ll just remember me as being an insignificant, long-winded, old man.  What can I give them, what can I share with them, what can I do for them that will be  really significant? I can do what we are all called to do as parents, grandparents, great grandparents, friends, neighbors and fellow human beings—I can love them and in loving them perhaps leave a message for their later years (not of their Great Grandad’s significance) but, rather, this—that love is the most significant thing we  can give to one another.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Today’s Theology

Jesus shunned no one as best I can tell from the Gospels.  William Stringfellow discovered the same thing. “He shunned no one,” Stringfellow wrote, “not even adulterers, not even tax collectors, not even neurotics and psychotics, not even those tempted to suicide, not even alcoholics, not even poor people, not even beggars, not even lepers, not even those who ridiculed Him, not even those who betrayed Him, not even His own enemies.”  Jesus shunned no one.  

The Bible, when really heard, speaks of this world in which you and I live—not some make-believe world, not some not yet existent world, not some imaginary world.  The Bible speaks of this world, the world we know and the world we live in, with all its goodness and beauty, with all its ugliness and filth, with all its confusion.  And—if heard—the Bible tells us, that it is in this world (and its history) where God is present and evident.  It is this world into which God comes, this world for which God cares, this world where God is with us, this world where God resides. It is into this world that Jesus came.  It is this world where Jesus has already lived our life, already died our death, and has already risen from our death.  God is here and may be known in the bedlam, in the ugliness, in the greed, in the goodness of this world where you and I live.  

God was in the world and the world knew Him not, but Jesus (the light that shines in all human hearts)  discerned God in our midst and helped us see what he saw and experienced.  What is God like?  God is like Jesus.  God shuns no one—not in the 1st century and not in the 21st century.  God does not shun Democrats or Republicans, not even Trump, Obama, or Putin, not even Hillary, not even immigrants, not even homosexuals or drug addicts, not even Stormy Daniels.  God  does not shun those who betray God or those who are enemies of God.  God shuns no one.

Jesus did not try to disguise anything about this world as it is.  He knew there was darkness and light, evil and good, and said so.  He knew there was war, suffering, peace, disease, security, pain, health, lust, hate, arrogance, forgiveness and love, and said so.  His followers know this too—for they are given the gift of Jesus:  the gift  to discern God’s presence in the world, to live in the grace of the Resurrection and to know the secret of life (which is all bound up in that unequivocal assurance that I am loved by One who loves all others which enables me to love myself and frees me to love another, any other, every other”). Whatever happens, wherever we go, wherever we look, wherever we turn, we shall discover that God is already there. 

Morning on the Baltic Sea

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

How Low Can We Go?

Yesterday Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the chief law enforcement official of the United States of America, giggled as a group of high school students (at Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit at George Washington University) chanted “Lock her up.”  The chant was used as a rallying cry during the 2016 Trump presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton.  Not only did Sessions giggle, but he actually echoed the chant.

What’s wrong with that?  Hillary Clinton has never been charged with a crime.  There is no reason for her to be locked up according to the Department of Justice, which Sessions now leads.  In this country a person, under the Constitution,  is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law—not by a crowd.  That is true for the Clintons, the Trumps, and Jeff Sessions. Yet, Jeff Sessions giggled and echoed the chant rather than reminding the high school students of this fundamental tenet of our democracy.  What he did say was “I like this bunch, I gotta tell you.  You’re not going to be backing down.  Go get ‘em.  Go get ‘em.” This was followed by “Lock her up!” to which Sessions responded “Lock her up,” chuckling at the interruption as the shouts grew louder and louder.  This is recorded on video so we can actually see and hear it.  How low can we go?  I think we can go very low—even lower than we have gone thus far—especially if what we are seeing and what we are reading is not what’s happening!

Yesterday Donald Trump delivered a speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, Missouri.  As usual, he struggled to stay on topic and soon began to wander into his campaign rally mode.  He railed against the media. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news”  “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” he added.  What?  I just quoted the other day from George Orwell’s novel, 1984, “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It was their final, most essential command.”  Just yesterday I quoted the following from Putin’s former advisor, Palovsky: “He [Putin] acts as a professor, as a lecturer.  He [explains] to us what Russia history was like, what values we have, what we should believe in.”  When Trump made his remarks about the media, the crowd roared in approval and pointed at the members of the press covering the event.  By the way, the crowd also howled when Mr. Trump’s bullied Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the Democrats.  How low can we go?  We can go very low—even lower than we have gone thus far—especially if what we are seeing and what we are reading (and what we are hearing) is not what’s happening!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Stones Are Silent

In the Gospel of Luke (19:39-40) we are told that the Pharisees asked Jesus to reprimand his disciples for speaking out.  Jesus gave this cryptic response, “I tell you, if my disciples keep silence the very stones will shout aloud.”  Jesus was saying that the moment was so critical, so significant, so important, that even if his disciples withheld their voices, the very stones would cry out!  Yesterday, in a critical moment, so significant, so important, so foundational to our democracy, the “disciples” remained silent, the minority squeaked, and the stones were mute.  Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

In 2000, the TV news in Russia criticized Vladimir Putin over the Kursk (submarine) incident. This kind of free press and free speech [criticism] was unacceptable to Putin.  His solution was to make the news media state-run outlets.  Pavlovsky, Putin’s former advisor said, “I think that he (Putin) began to think that everything can be manipulated.  Any kind of press, any TV program is all about manipulation.”  Putin, over the next few years, manipulated, until the free press in Russia disappeared!  Putin is an autocratic leader who finds it imperative to control the narrative.  “He acts as a professor, as a lecturer.  He [explains] to us what Russia history was like, what values we have, what we should believe in.”

In May 2018, Donald Trump suggested taking away news networks’ press credentials over “negative” coverage.  “The Fake News is working overtime,” he tweeted “Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake).  Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt?  Take away credentials?”  Was it just another Twitter tantrum or a serious threat?  Either way, there should have been some outrage, since the very suggestion is a violation of the Constitution.  But the disciples were silent, the minority squeaked, and the stones were mute.

Yesterday we were told that Donald Trump (with input from Rand Paul) is looking into revoking the security clearances of several former intelligence and law enforcement officials. White House Press Secretary  Sanders said Trump is “exploring mechanisms” to remove the clearances “because [the former officials] politicized and in some cases actually monetized their public service and their security clearances.  Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.”  Their clearances, Sanders said, give “inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.”

And the disciples muttered, and the minority opposition squeaked, and the stones said nothing at all!

Bend your ear, listen to the pulse of the earth, hear what the
stones cry.....

Monday, July 23, 2018


Christians often say they want their clergy to preach the Bible and when he or she attempts to preach from the Bible, they say he or she has gone from preaching the Gospel to the practice of meddling.  This statement implies that somehow or another the Bible can yield “right” or “good” or “true” or “ultimate” answers on every subject which apply to everyone. 

What, for example, does the Bible say about wealth?  It says many things.  What did Jesus say to the rich young ruler and what did he mean when he suggested that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?  Does anyone really believe that?  It goes against the grain.  Don’t we think the rich are fortunate and smart and lucky (otherwise why aren’t they poor?) Don’t we all want to be rich enough to live comfortably? We certainly don’t think of the rich as sinful people. They  are just ordinary people of means (like you and me) living comfortably.  Yes, just like you and me, who are also “rich.”

The point is that the Bible does not give “right” or “ultimate” answers on any issue.  What the Bible does do, through its history, stories, teachings, prophets, teachers, and Jesus, is to help us live “humanly”—and in “community.”  The Bible dares us to become more fully human.

The Bible, for example, helps us see the obvious disparity in living between one man having a billion dollars and a billion people having scarcely one dollar.  This disparity is irreconcilable with the biblical ethic which assumes “that human beings are brothers and sisters, living together on the same borrowed earth, and trying to love one another for the mutual benefit of doing so.”

The Bible, then, has much more to do with “meddling” in your life and practical affairs than it does with having “right” or “good” or “true” or “ultimate” answers on every subject that can be applied to every person and every situation.    

I remember an impoverished parishioner in West Virginia refusing to sing “Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold…” in the second verse of the hymn, “Take My Life, And Let It Be.”   He said he was willing to give all else, but he needed every little bit of “silver and gold" he had—and he and his family really did need it—all of it!  

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Intentional Deception

“Oh what a tangled web we weave,” wrote Sir Walter Scott (not Shakespeare) “when first we practice to deceive.”  Intentional deception is simply telling a lie.  Lying is something we have all done and do with great skill and proficiency.  Anyone who claims to have never told a lie is a liar, including George Washington.  Individuals and groups have become adept at intentional deception—in business, in families, in politics, in international affairs, and in person-to-person relationships.  “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” applies to all of us when it comes to the fault (habit, sin, whatever) of intentional deception (even though we often think our lies are “little white lies” and not “dirty’ ones, implying that our lying is not as awful or as consequential as the lies of others—intentional self-deception).   We are as skillful at deceiving ourselves as we are of deceiving others. 

The distinction we make between “white lies” and “dirty lies” (more damaging, more consequential) is questionable.  Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus  was a self-protective alibi—a form of lying we have all used since childhood. Many would say that if Peter had gone further with his deception and said that he knew Jesus as a villain and an enemy of the state, his lie would be far more serious, more damaging, more consequential and more offensive.  Really? (Jesus was crucified, regardless.) Can we make such a distinction?  Frank Sonnenburg says,   “White lies matter.”   

Lying has lately been gaining some respectability in that it is being practiced without apology by persons and agencies in high places.  Daniel Dale (Toronto Star) recently wrote:  “The pace of the president’s dishonesty has increased significantly in 2018.  After averaging 2.9 false claims per day in 2017, he is averaging 5.1 per day in 2018.” Few say anything about it anymore—the lying has become what we call “normalized.”  And that is frightening, especially when one remembers this line from George Orwell’s novel, “1984:”“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It was their final, most essential command.”

We all have and do intentionally deceive ourselves and others.  When our lies are given respectability and acceptance, when lying becomes the norm, it has a corrosive impact on society.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “Every violation of truth (whether by you, me, or the other guy) is a stab at the health of human society.”

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Is Silence Complicity?

Ivanka Trump, when interviewed by “CBS This Morning” last year, said, “So I hope to make a positive impact.  I don’t know what it means to be complicit, but you know, I hope time will prove that I have done a good job…”  Do you know what “complicit” means?

“Complicit” was selected Word of the Year in 2017 by dictionary.com.  Given what has occurred so far in 2018 it may well be selected a second time.  Complicit means to “knowingly help another in a crime or wrongdoing.”  Everyone should know what the word means.  As the synonyms indicate, it does not mean making a “positive impact.”  To be complicit, the synonyms imply, is to be “conniving, deceitful, duplicitous, scheming, cunning, wily and slippery.”  To be an “accomplice” means to be an “abettor, accessory, confederate, and a collaborator” in a crime or wrongdoing.  “Complicity” is the participation in a criminal act or wrongdoing—a partner in crime or wrongdoing—aiding, encouraging, and sharing in an intent to commit the crime or wrongdoing.

I’m using the words complicit, accomplice, and complicity only in reference to wrongdoing.  A “crime” has not yet been determined by a court of law, but wrongdoing should be evident to anyone and everyone who has read Donald Trump’s tweets over the past several years, to anyone and everyone who has heard him speak (Gold-Star families, African-American congresswomen, immigrants, John McCain, slandering those who oppose him, the justice system and the FBI, his nativism and ugly ethnic and racial slurs.  That, and that alone, is wrongdoing and is based on my understanding of morality, ethics, democracy and my Christian faith.  

Therefore, to be silent is to be complicit—aiding, encouraging, and becoming an accessory to such wrongdoing.  (Unless, of course, you don’t consider it wrongdoing).   Silence implies support.  Silence means acceptance.  Silence is complicity.  Occasionally, we hear a peep from Republican leaders, but it is but a peep.  Democrats, Independents, and people of faith aren’t speaking—hardly a peep is heard.  Silence is complicity and for the most part, all I hear is the “Sound of Silence.”  

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon God they made
And the sign flashed its warning,
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And the tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Clear & Present Danger

This morning I posted the following quote from the 19th-century Prussian philosopher Alexandre von Humbolt on Facebook:  “The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”  I then added that I was convinced that the clear and present danger to the United States of America is “the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”  

What is a worldview?  A “worldview” is a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.  How do you see or perceive the world around you?   That is your worldview.  Our worldview is affected by many things:  inherited characteristics, experiences and life situations, the values, attitudes, and habits we have developed, and more—and these vary from one person to another, even though some parts of our worldview are shared by others.  

Have you developed a worldview without viewing the world?  Part of our dilemma in “Make America Great Again,” or “America First,” is that we want to have a world that we think existed “once upon a time.” If our worldview is one of an America we can recognize and be comfortable with (as when we were young)—an America that existed before civil rights, urban riots, and political correctness—an America where coal and steel were the lifeblood of our economy—an America that has not existed since 1963—we are failing to view the world as it is.  We are lying to ourselves and this lie becomes a clear and present danger.  A 1953 worldview, or a 1963 worldview indicates that we have been arrested in time and cannot function in the new world that has come.  Instead of making America Great,  this worldview that “has not viewed the world” will make America small and it will move us “from a democracy that protected the rights of the minority, the literal definition of a republic, and toward a nation ruled by ‘a strong man’—to autocracy.”  “The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.” 

While It Is Day: Viewing the World

[Cruise Day 7:  Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday, July 10, 2018]

We sailed from St. Petersburg last night and arrived in Helsinki, Finland, at 7 o'clock this morning.   Helsinki is very much in the news these last few days.  It will host the meeting of the presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States next Monday.  Fortunately we will be long gone by then!  We were also fortunate to leave the UK before Mr. Trump’s scheduled visit there.

Helsinki, situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, is just 50 miles north of Tallin, Estonia, where we visited a few days ago.   It is 250 miles east of Stockholm, Sweden, where we will sail tonight and visit tomorrow, and it is about the same distance from St. Petersburg, Russia, where we visited just yesterday.

We did the HopOn/HopOff City Tour today and rode around the city two times.  We hopped off to visit the Temppeliaukio Lutheran Church.  The church was designed by brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen.  It was opened in 1969 and has become a major tourist attraction.  The church is built directly into solid rock and is sometimes called the Church of the Rock or the Rock Church.  Another tourist attraction is the Sibelius monument in honor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  The sculpture consists of 600 hollow steel pipes welded together in a wave-like pattern (similar to the pipes of an organ). The purpose of Finnish artist Eila Hiltunen was to capture the essence of Sibelius’ music.  It is a huge and impressive work of art.

The most impressive sight in Helsinki for me was the number of bicycles.  There were cyclists (young, adult, women and men, and even seniors) everywhere one turned.  Large areas were set aside for bike parking.  Perhaps this is why Helsinki is rated as one of the world’s most livable cities, ranking ninth among 140 cities in the world.  Helsinki was also rated as having one of the highest urban standards of living in the world in 2011.  With all those bikes, one can probably breathe easier, too.

Exterior:  Church of the Rock
Interior:  Church of the Rock

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Venice of the North

[Cruise Day 6, Monday, July 9, 2018]

This is my second visit to St. Petersburg, Russia.  I’m thinking tonight that I may need to come a third time in order to see all that I would like to see in this fabulous city.  The first visit (nearly ten years ago) was a riverboat  cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  It was an unforgettable experience.  I’d love to do it again.  But I have other places yet to wander in this world while it is day.  I must make the best of this present moment—to see all that I can see—now—for I suspect in Stephen Grellet’s words, “I shall not pass this way again.”

Today we took a boat ride on the Neva River.  It enabled us see many parts of the city we have not yet seen and to see them from a different perspective.  Most cities are built beside rivers and many are built by the sea, but St. Petersburg is built “on the water” like the cities of Amsterdam and Venice.  Indeed, Goethe called St. Petersburg the “Venice of the North.” Built across the marshlands of the Neva River delta, the city interlaces with a hundred or more tributaries and canals.  Some 800-plus bridges cross these rivers and canals giving the city the nickname “City of 101 Islands.”

Our little cruise on the Neva today took us by the Peter and Paul Fortress (where we visited afoot yesterday), by the Admiralty building, the Summer Gardens, the Winter Palace and so much more.  We visited the Winter Palace (Hermitage) ten years ago.  There we beheld Rembrandt’s famous painting, “The Prodigal Son,” which Henri J.M. Nouwen memorialized in his book, “The Prodigal.”   During that visit to St.Petersburg, we also enjoyed the St. Petersburg “Russian Ballet” presentation of P. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in The Palace Theater.  The memories of our first visit to St. Petersburg and the experiences of this second visit fill us with a sense of wonder.  How grateful we are for the opportunity to see St. Petersburg, to delve into her history, and to be among her people!

Misnegation or Syntactically Challenged?

George F. Will has always been consistent. He is an author and conservative political columnist who has voiced conservative issues and values for decades.  When Donald Trump came along, Will left the Republican Party, saying that Trump and the party members had abandoned the GOP’s commitment to conservatism.  Though I’ve always been on a different wave length politically, I’ve always admired  and respected George Will’s rationality and writing.  When Will renounced the GOP, Trump did what he always does.  He demeaned, belittled, and ridiculed the person, George Will—tweeting that the columnist, “one of the most overrated political pundits (who lost his way long ago), has left the Republican Party.  He’s made many bad calls.”  Will did not respond to Trump’s tweet.  Instead, Will said on Fox News Sunday, “He (Trump) has an advantage on me.  He can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters, and I can’t.”

George Will has consistently spoken and written of what he views as Donald Trump’s inability (disability)  to think and speak clearly.  He writes, “It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”  He writes that Trump is “syntactically challenged” consistently having “verbal fender benders.”  Trump once said, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?  People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?  Why could that one not have been worked out.”  If this isn’t evidence of a syntactically challenged person, I don’t know what is.  He thinks the question has only occurred to him, when library shelves of full of books that suggest otherwise.  George Will summed it all up with this, “The problem isn’t that he (Trump) does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that.  Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.” 

Misnegation, according to Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, happens when people say the opposite of what they mean.  Did Mr. Trump mean “wouldn’t” instead of “would?”  I don’t think so.  The question:  Did Russia interfere with the election of 2016?  “My people came to me.  They said they think its Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it’s not Russia.  I will say this:  I don’t see any reason why it would be.”  Yesterday, Mr. Trump said, “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’  Sort of a double negative.”  Trump’s words in Helsinki, “I will say this” are a kind of pre-announcement—those words serve a function:  in effect, “Listen up.”  He is saying his next words are important—he prepares his listeners, announcing the importance of his next words:  “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”  It is possible Mr. Trump misspoke, but I don’t think so.

A democracy does not center on one bully....or one party...

Democracy includes all of us--thinking and speaking clearly--
a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Russian Versailles: Peterhof

[Cruise Day 5:  Sunday, July 8, 2018]

We arrived this morning at 7 a.m. in the Russian port city of St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea. We’ll remain in port for two days. Marsha, our tour guide for the day, says that she has lived in two cities without moving:  first, Leningrad, and now St. Petersburg.  St. Petersburg is named after the Apostle Peter and not its founder, Peter the Great.  He didn’t quite achieve sainthood, but he did achieve a great deal for Russia.  Peter is known best for his extensive reforms in an attempt to make Russia a great nation.  He created a strong navy, reorganized the army based on Western standards, secularized schools, and focused on the development of science, commerce and industry.  He founded St. Petersburg in 1712 and moved the capital there from its former location in Moscow.  St. Petersburg became known as Russia’s “window to Europe.”  

Peter “the Great” however was not a saint.  He was a cruel and tyrannical ruler.  He was a handsome man, a daunting 6 1/2 feet tall, and an excessive drinker who apparently harbored violent tendencies.  He married twice, had 11 children, most of whom died in infancy.  He convicted his eldest son of treason  and had him secretly executed in 1718.  Nice fellow, Peter!

This is my second trip to Russia and I wanted to see Peterhof (Peter’s Court) this time around.  I scheduled the Peterhof excursion before leaving home so as not to miss the opportunity.  The Palace and Grand Cascade with its system of fountains is one of the most famous and popular attractions in St. Petersburg.  It is often called “the Russian Versailles.”  I was not disappointed!

Peterhof, like many estates in suburban St. Petersburg, was ravaged by German troops during WW II.  Fortunately, some of the valuable pieces were removed and taken to Siberia for safe storage beforehand.  The gardens and parks were resurrected and the Grand Palace restored with amazing authenticity.  What a sight to see!