Friday, August 31, 2018

Pay Attention!

Did you know “attention shapes the brain.”  What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue, according a Psychology Today article.  Attention, the article continues, is not critical.  Judgement is critical.  Attention is neutral.  We begin to pay attention to something and then we start to judge it, evaluate it, categorize it and finally criticize or praise it.  Attention is not judging.  Attention is noticing without trying to change what is noticed.  Attention takes time to investigate, explore and to discover whatever there is to know about what has caught our attention.  Only then, can we begin to make critical judgments.  Paying attention, therefore, is extremely crucial to a democracy—a government of, by, and for the people.  

Did you notice (pay attention to) the new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal?  The survey found that 54 percent of voters called kneeling during the anthem inappropriate, while 43 percent said that such behavior is an appropriate form of protest.  Eighty-nine percent of Trump supporters are vehemently opposed to the practice.  Black voters are among the most supportive. In a 1989 case, Texas v. Johnson, the Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law banning flag burning was an unconstitutional violation of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.  In a 1963 Gallup Poll,  61 percent of voters disapproved of the Freedom Riders and 57 percent of voters considered “sit-ins” and other nonviolent demonstrations wrong and against the law!  Are you paying attention?

Did you notice (pay attention to) that recent survey conducted by the state-run Russian Public Opinion Research Center?  Nearly two-thirds of Russians believe gays are conspiring to subvert the country’s traditional values.  Alexander Kondakov says the survey comes as no surprise.  History, he says, is filled with examples of countries using LGBTQ people as threats to nationalist ideologies.  He reminds us that in the mid-20th Century in the U.S., LGBTQ people were labeled communists—The Lavender Scare—which resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs (1940s to the 1960s).  In Germany during the Holocaust, many gays were sent to concentration camps.  Russia, by the way, has a “gay propaganda law.”  Are you paying attention?

Did you notice and hear Mr. Trump say in his interview with Bloomberg yesterday, that he views the Mueller investigation as an “illegal” one?  He cited “great scholars” who say it should never have  been launched.  And then last night at a rally of supporters in Indiana he encouraged the chant, “Lock her up!” for a person who has never been charged with a crime.  Are you paying attention?  Are you being attentive:  judging, evaluating, and questioning?  I hope so—because attention shapes the brain.” 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Years of Tears

“I’m getting very emotional,” I told my wife, as I watched the John McCain funeral procession in Phoenix yesterday.  Thousands of people stood in line for hours in 106 degree heat to pay their final respects.  National Guard, law enforcement, firefighters, and military men and women in full-dress uniform stood at attention saluting the flag-draped coffin as it was carried into the Arizona Capitol rotunda.  Yes, I got emotional.  Tears seem to come much more readily in these autumnal years.  I can’t seem to hold them back—but I’m not in the least bit embarrassed by them any more.  

I tried to pinpoint the reason(s) for my emotion and the ensuing tears.  Was it the crowd of admirers?  Was it the loss of John McCain?  Was it my love for this nation? Was it the men and women in uniform?  Yes, it was all of these, but it was also much more.  It was the culmination of my life history—it was all the events of the years bundled together in one moment of time.  It included the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy in 1968.  It included that  night in 1973 when I was visiting at the hospital in Wilmington, Delaware and recognized Delaware’s newly elected Senator Joe Biden, grief-stricken over the loss of his wife and young daughter in a car accident that night. (It included, too, the pain and grief Biden experienced in the death of his son, Beau, in 2015).  It included the remembrance in March 1973 of those POW’s released from years of deprivation—including John McCain. It included the shock and horror of 9/11—it included everything, everyone, every joy, every sadness, every tragedy, every hope I’ve experienced over my three-score and ten plus five years.  It wasn’t an emotion about a moment in time and it wasn’t tears shed for a moment in time—it was an emotion and tears covering every moment in my time.  I hope you can understand.  Maybe you have to be 75 or older to get it—I don’t know.

This morning my tears are welling up again in sadness and in joy.  Joe Biden will deliver a eulogy for John McCain in Phoenix today.  (Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama will deliver the eulogies at the National Cathedral on Saturday).  In a time of loss there is gain.  In a time of sadness there is hope.  In a time of deep political polarization there is a togetherness—“bless be the tie that binds”—that ascends.  In a time of tragic dehumanization there is yet, and still, those who seek the fulfillment of humanity, who seek community, who want to live together as brothers and sisters.  As John McCain reminded us just months ago, he now, in death, reminds us again.  We must not “abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe…for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.”  

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

About That Flag and One Thing More…

You have heard it said in days gone by that all should stand for the flag and at the singing of the national anthem.    It was said in days gone by that if an NFL player took a knee to protest against injustice, the owners ought to say, "Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out.  He's fired.  He's fired!"  The statement was met with cheers from the assembled crowd. You have heard it said that if you failed to stand for the flag and national anthem you were showing disrespect of our military.

But I ask you now, after seeing the flag at full staff above the White House yesterday, and only brought to half mast to honor Senator John McCain's death, hours later and after much public pressure (including the American Legion), just how that petty and childish behavior (with the White House flag) shows respect for our military?  Or, for that matter, the flag itself?  Using the flag to demonstrate one's personal disdain for an American military hero (and thus, every military member) is just more than I can take. I'm saying so now, just as loud and clear as I can.  Using the flag to crush First Amendment rights is unconstitutional and I'm saying so now, just as loud and clear as I can. 

While I'm ranting and raving (where is the ranting and raving from the representatives of the people?) I am obliged  to react to the dire suggestion by the President of the United States that should his chosen vassals lose in the up-coming mid-term elections, the opposition will become violent.  This is absolute stupidity.  It is fear-mongering.  It is his imaginary bogeyman. It is anathema to the American dream.  We are in serious trouble, folks.

Oh, say! can you see by the dawn's early light 
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming; 
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, 
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? 
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air, 
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there: 
Oh, say! does that star-spangled banner yet wave 
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave? 

Azazel: Scapegoat Atonement

In the Old Testament description of the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26) reference is made to one of two goats being consigned to Azazel.  No one knows for sure just what “Azazel” means.  Some say it is the proper name of the goat itself, meaning “the goat that departs,” or “scapegoat” (as in the King James Version).  Others suggest that Azazel designates the area to which the goat was released (a rugged, desolate place; a wilderness).  Still others say that Azazel is the leader of the evil spirits (demons) of the wilderness (Deut. 32:7; Ps 106:37). 

Let’s assume that the word Azazel means scapegoat.  Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is drawing near (September 18) for our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Atonement means a cleansing—an act of making amends, giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury.  In the Leviticus description of the Day of Atonement,  one goat is sacrificed for the sins of the people and its blood used for the cleansing of the holy place.  Another goat (the scapegoat) is brought to the priest, who confesses over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and puts all those sins on the goat’s head.  Then the goat is sent away into the wilderness…carrying on itself all the sins of the people to a remote place, leaving the people feeling, “atoned.”  In the New Testament, atonement is seen as coming through Jesus—the Christian’s scapegoat—“and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” 

Moving from goats to people.  A scapegoat “is a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others.”  For many of us, things are so bad, and our sins so heavy, that we need a Day of Atonement every day.  Our “wickedness and rebellion” are so gross that we need more goats than just the two prescribed for some ordinary every day atonement!  Jesus just isn’t sufficient to carry all our sinful burdens—so we must find others upon whom we can cast all our faults, failures and shortcomings.  And in order to make a full atonement, we will have to consign that person to some desolate place.  How many goats will I need today? Who will be Azazels for me today; the persons upon whom I shall lay all my iniquities in order to feel, “atoned”? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Letter Bomb

A March 2018 Pew Research project asked participants to explain in their own words the accomplishments of Pope Francis during his five years as pope, despite their personal opinions of him.  Nine percent said Francis set an example of humility and genuine Christian behavior.  Another nine percent said he has made the Church more accepting and open.  One person said, “He seems to get the idea across that all people are important and worthy of attention and rights.”  Eight percent mentioned Francis’ focus on the poor, while another 7 percent mentioned his attention toward the LGBT community.  Six percent liked the fact that he travels and makes himself available to people around the world.  Still another 5 percent think he has united the Catholic community through open dialogue.  One to four percent of the participants noted the pope’s concern about climate change, peacemaking, addressing sex abuse, welcoming the divorced and remarried, reforming the Vatican, and immigration. Fifty percent of Catholic Republicans say Francis is too liberal. One participant said that Pope Francis “gets too involved in things that don’t concern the Church,” while another said he is “more liberal than the popes before him.”  Eighty-four percent of U.S. Catholics gave Francis a favorable approval rating, and the majority (58 percent) believed he was making major changes that would benefit the Church and 94 percent saw him as compassionate.

What a difference a day can bring—or what a difference a letter can make!  Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s “testimony” (letter) published this past weekend accuses Vatican officials and in particular, Pope Francis, of longstanding knowledge of the sexual crimes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  Given the “temper” of the Church after the grand jury findings in Pennsylvania, the situation in Ireland and elsewhere with regard to sex abuse by clergy, that one letter created an explosion within an already toxic climate.  The fallout of that letter bomb may be radioactive for the Pontiff and the Church.

Pope Francis said he would not respond to the accusations, saying the “letter” (bomb) “speaks for itself.”  He told reporters on the way from Dublin to Rome that he would “not say one word” about the letter which suggests that Francis should resign.  Francis said everyone should read the document carefully and decide for themselves if it is credible.  I have been unable to find the text of the letter and have not read it.  HOWEVER—I have to wonder if this isn’t a ploy on the part of “the Church that does not want to change” against a pope, who “wants to change the Church,” and has already done so.

We shall see as the days go along.  What is really disturbing is how many Catholics have “bought into” the letter without even reading it.  It could be disinformation.  It could be “fake news.”  All I know, from listening to Pope  Francis for the past few years, is that he is a “clear and present danger” to the Church as it is! 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Do All Lives Really Matter to You?

During World War II, the United States government confined more than 100,000 Japanese immigrants into internment (concentration) camps.  That same government (US—us) at the same time was administering the Bracero Program, which allowed millions of Mexicans to enter the U.S. to work on farms.  Nearly fifty percent of the 1.4 million field workers in the U.S. today are undocumented immigrants (according to the Labor Department).

Arizona passed an anti-immigration bill in 2010 and several other states followed suit.  Undocumented immigrants left those states (80,000 workers left Alabama, for example) with disastrous results.  Georgia’s immigration law led to more than $140 million in unharvested crops in 2011.  Arizona suffered an average 2 percent drop in the state’s gross domestic product every year through 2015 (Wall Street Journal analysis).  In 2011 there were 489,000 unemployed in North Carolina.  The North Carolina Growers Association announced 6,500 available jobs, only 268 applied, and only 163 showed up to work, and only seven finished the season (Partnership for a New American Economy Study).  Let me repeat:  fifty percent of the 1.4 million field workers in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants.  The agricultural industry need these workers and we need these workers, unless we want to pay 10 to 20 percent more for lettuce, grapes, tomatoes, etc., at the supermarket.  Surely Congress can come up with new immigration laws  that would benefit all of us, including the undocumented immigrants.

A typical reaction in response to the Black Lives Matter Movement is to say All Lives Matter.  Do all lives really matter to you? The young 20-year-old woman murdered by an undocumented immigrant in Iowa seems to matter more to some than the young Black woman recently murdered by a White man in California (I’m avoiding names).  If all lives matter, we would express grief and horror over both victims—and grief and concern for the perpetrators as well.  Do all lives really matter?  If so, then no life can be perceived as being more important than any other.  If you can’t walk the talk, then stop using the rhetoric!

The alleged perpetrator in the death of the young Iowan woman is an undocumented immigrant—one out of a half-million field workers (undocumented immigrants) in the United States.  How is it that suddenly all those “half-a-million” field workers are lumped together and become responsible for one violent crime—allegedly committed by one person?  

Sunday, August 26, 2018

John McCain—My Kind of Hero

John McCain died yesterday at the age of 81 years.  Fifty-one years ago, John McCain, a young Navy fighter pilot, was captured and held a prisoner of war in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” where he was brutally tortured for five and a half years. I remember his homecoming, along with other POW’s, in 1973.  John McCain was a hero then, and remained a hero for me throughout his 36 years of public service in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.  I disagreed with Senator McCain on almost every political issue, but I respected and honored him as patriot and an American hero.

He took on even more  “hero” status in my thinking during his presidential bid in 2008  when he was confronted by a woman in a town hall meeting in Minnesota saying,  “I can’t trust Obama.  I have read about him, and he’s not, um, he’s an Arab.”  McCain grabbed the microphone from her and said:  “No, ma’m. He’s a decent family man and citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what this campaign’s all about.  He’s not [an Arab].”  Later in that same meeting where he was jeered and booed for his defense of his rival, he said, “I want to fight, and I will fight.  But I will be respectful.  I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments, and I will respect him.”  John McCain was a hero again, my hero; a man of politeness and character.

 John McCain became a hero again in July 2017 when he delivered a dramatic vote against the so-called skinny repeal bill (Obamacare Repeal Bill).  Do you remember that moment?  Everyone was watching McCain—his vote counted, his vote would make the difference.  He walked to the front of the chamber, raised his right arm and held it up in the air as far as he could until he had the attention of the clerk.  “No,” he said, and gave his thumbs-down.  His courage to oppose his own party, to stand on his own two feet, and to act on his own thinking, made him a “hero” all over again in my book.  He was called a “maverick” within an increasingly right-wing Republican Party.  Insane conspiracy theories about him have been floated by “right wing nut jobs,” but they will not endure.  John McCain was an American hero and a man of integrity.

It seems that Mr. Trump, however, disagrees with my assessment of Senator McCain.  His fixation on John McCain has been intense, cruel and vicious. “He’s not a war hero.  He’s a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren’t captured,” said Trump in 2015.  Mr. Trump received at least one deferment from the draft during the Vietnam conflict because of a doctor’s letter citing bone spurs, an ailment he later described as “not a big problem, but it was enough of a problem.”  

Mr. Trump recently signed the John McCain National Defense Bill at Camp Drum, New York, in front of thousands of soldiers and never once mentioned the name, John McCain.  Just five days ago, at a West Virginia rally Trump said, “I will tell you (Obamacare) is being chipped away.  We had it beaten, but one man, I’m sure nobody knows who I’m talking about, voted no…”

So, who are your heroes?  John McCain will be sorely missed—few men of his caliber come our way!

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Stained-Glass House

Rush Limbaugh had a good laugh when former President Barak Obama, speaking about immigration, said the Bible says don’t throw stones in glass houses.   Limbaugh was eager to find any blunder he could find, and when Obama put something into the Bible that just wasn’t there he had a field day. Remember his statement, “I hope Obama fails?”   Even though in July 2006, when conservatives were in power, Rush said, “I’m getting so sick and tired of people rooting for the defeat of the good guys.”  Do you see the conundrum?

Presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with all the so-called “liberal” cable networks and even the students in the room snickered and laughed when then candidate Trump speaking at Liberty University read from “Two Corinthians 3:17” rather than from “Second Corinthians.”   Rush Limbaugh barely mentioned this blunder.

We all mess up.  We all make mistakes. “People who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones” may not be in the Bible, but it speaks a truth. Why shouldn’t we throw stones?  Because  we, like every other human being live in a glass house and are vulnerable to the rock-throwing of others.  We live in a fragile glass house where our mistakes can also be seen from the outside in.

Well, then, does that mean no stone-throwing at all?  Of course not!  What it does mean, however,  is that if you throw stones at any glass house, it is likely that stones will come flying back at your glass house.  To throw stones at another glass house makes your own glass house vulnerable.  In other words, when you throw your stones you have to be aware of your own failures and blunders—and the fact that sometimes those stones you’re throwing are meant for your house also.  

Robert McAfee Brown wrote, “The Church cannot be content to live in its stained-glass house and throw stones through the picture window of modern culture,” but that is precisely what the Church has done.  Now, given the Grand Jury findings in Pennsylvania, we are all throwing rocks at the stained-glass house (and well we should—but we must keep in mind that our own houses, too,  are vulnerable). And how many of us have lived for years in that stained-glass house, blindly casting our stones at others and everything and anything, while proclaiming that stained-glass house as somehow better and superior than all others?  

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Power of Your Care

There is a basic desire on the part of every man and woman to understand others and to be understood by others.  To understand and to be understood is a basic ingredient of society, without which your life and mine becomes empty and without hope.

Each of us wants to be cared for, to be loved, to be seen, to be sustained by knowing that we are held in the thoughtful attention of others.  We want to be cared for and loved not by others in general but others in particular.  We want to know that we are cared for by Joe, and by Emily, and not just by the office or the congregation or the neighborhood.

We want to know that —no matter how heavy the burden we carry, no matter how hard may be the stretch of road on which  we are traveling—we are not alone.  We want to know that we are being thought of and being cared for, and we want to know this enough to avoid the fear and panic of carrying our burden and walking our stretch of road alone.

To be aware of the fact that we are thought of and being cared for is the very moment that life becomes personal.  It is the moment when the individual becomes a person.  To know that we are not alone, that we are cared for and thought of,  by Joe, by Emily,  helps us realize that we must be worth something, that we do, indeed, amount to something.  Because Joe is concerned and takes thought of you or me, because Emily is concerned and takes thought of you or me, the way is cleared for us to experience our own spirit.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Humanized Human Beings

The Bible (as I hear it) is concerned primarily with life’s enhancement.  This is not just my life’s enhancement but the enhancement of life for every person.  Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  “Abundantly” for me means becoming as human as one can be.  My life and your life is meant to be an abundant one—a humanized life.   

Our humanity is not something we are, it is the potential of what we are continually becoming.  Becoming humanized is what the faith pilgrimage is all about.  To be humanized means accepting our weaknesses, our powerlessness, fragility and brokenness.  Life is filled with pain, suffering, injustice, and death—and to live life abundantly means we accept this about ourselves rather than pretending the opposite (which is what we often do).  Two books may be helpful:  Johannes Metz’s Poverty of Spirit  and Jean Vanier’s Becoming Human.  We often forget that Jesus says, blessed are those who know their need (of God),  who mourn, those who are of a gentle spirit, those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail, those who show mercy, those who are humble, those who seek peace, and those who are persecuted for the sake of justice (those who are becoming humanized).

A Christian, William Stringfellow wrote, “is just an exemplary (representing the best of its kind) human being, a mature and free person, a humanized human being…”  Theologian Paul Tillich suggested this humanized human being was manifested in Jesus the Christ and can be actualized in our lives through the work of the divine spirit.

What then would be the characteristics of the abundant or humanized life?  Carl Roger’s coined the term “fully functioning person” and defined it as one who is in touch with his or her deepest and innermost feelings and desires and who has unconditional positive regard for themselves and others. That works!  So does Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Flipping Channels

I want to be a well-rounded person.  I want a balanced perspective.  I want to give opposing sides an equal hearing.  I want to know the “rest of the story” or the other version of the story if there is one.  That’s who I want to be and who I strive to be.  At the same time I want to be a rational person who deals with reality, not fantasy. I need untainted and verifiable proof for what is being reported. So, for example, I am more likely to read the New Yorker, the New York Times  and the Washington Post, than I am the Chicago Tribune, The Enquirer, The Washington Times, and the New York Post.   I am more likely to read Michael Hayden’s The Assault on Intelligence, or Michael Faul’s  From Cold War to Hot Peace, and Messing with the Enemy by Clint Watt, rather than the forthcoming pro-Trump books by Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, and Jeanine Pirro.  (Her book is titled: Liars, Leakers and Liberals).  I watch NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN and ABC more often than I watch Fox News, but I am always flipping channels—in search of reality and truth.

Last night I was flipping channels.  While all the major news networks were dealing almost exclusively with the Cohen and Manafort news, Tucker Carlson (who replaced Bill O’Reilly) on Fox News was working his audience up with the story of an “illegal alien” (I despise that terminology), “The Monster Just Down the Road,” who (allegedly—though Carlson never used that word)  killed a young woman in Iowa.  He did not mention nor would he accept (from a guest) the fact that many murders occur in this country that are not perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.  I flipped channels and went to Fox News on Monday night, too.  Carlson reported that Joel Arrona-Lara was intentionally “propagandized” by the left and the media, who depicted him as a “doting father,” who was “stripped” from his family as his wife went into labor.  Tucker, who formerly hosted MSNBC’s Tucker and co-hosted CNN’s Crossfire, seems to have a real problem with immigrants being innocent until proven guilty and as “doting fathers.”  He also seems to consider other news sources as somehow “left” and therefore, “fake.”

I suppose I’ll continue flipping channels, but, in the future,  I will probably not flip to Fox News very often. The reason: the dehumanizing of immigrants and of those who happen to be opposed to their news! Fox News has moved from No. 1  (2015) to No.3 in total viewers recently.  I would admonish Fox News viewers to begin flipping channels in search of fact and truth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

You and Me

Marlo Thomas sang the song that has popped into my head this morning.  I don’t know why?  But I think it has something to do with my earnest prayer and dream that we (every person the wide world over) will, in the days to come, be “Free to Be You and Me.”  What does that mean? It means that your humanity will be fulfilled in all its uniqueness, wonder, beauty, sufferings, mistakes, fragility, hurts and brokenness.   It means that I and all others will be willing to take your hand, walk with you, lend our voice to your song, and dance with you in your unique dance—“in that land where the children are free.”  It means the same for me.  You’ll hold my hand, walk with me, lend your voice to my song, and dance with me in my unique dance.  Together we will do the same for every “You” and every “Me” we encounter along our way.  A land  “where the children are free” is a land in which we grow human together.  

There’s a land that I see where the children are free
And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are
Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live

In a land where the river runs free
In a land through the green country
In a land to a shining sea
And you and me are free to be you and me

I see a land bright and clear, and the time’s coming near
When we’ll live in this land, you and me, hand in hand
Take my hand, come along, lend your voice to my song
Come along, take my hand, sing a song

Every boy in this land grows to be his own man
In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman
Take my hand, come with me where the children are free
Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll run

To a land where the river runs free
To a land though the green country
To a land to a shining sea
To a land where the children are free
And you and me are free to be 
And you and me are free to be

And you and me are free to be you and me

Monday, August 20, 2018

America’s Pilgrim Progress

In 1867, Mark Twain toured Europe and the Holy Land.  He published his observations about his trip two years later in The Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrim’s Progress.  I read the book many years ago, but after our recent trip to England, our cruise in the Baltic Sea, and a friend presently reading the book, it seemed fitting for me to read it again.  Twain and his  fellow travelers sailed from New York City on a retired Civil War ship (USS Quaker City) and toured many of the places I have visited.  Twain’s travelogue includes not only descriptions of the places visited, but also adds hilarious and sarcastic comments about his fellow tourists and their American arrogance, the tour guides, the cultures and customs of other lands, and the people he meets along the way. 

While visiting Rome, Twain imagines himself a modern (1867) inhabitant of the Roman Campagna (who he describes as superstitious and ignorant) traveling to America.  He describes what his Roman visitor would see, for the first time:  a nation with “no overshadowing Mother Church”;  educated country children reading books; cities where people drink milk and where the streets are not crowded with goats; houses with “real glass windows”, and  people who own land not rented from the church or nobles, and on and on.

Then Twain wrote something that struck me deeply.  He said his Roman visitor to America would see Jews “treated like human beings, instead of dogs.”  The visitor would see in America, Twain wrote, how “a Jew is allowed to vote, hold office, yea, get up on a rostrum in the public street and express his opinion of the government if the government don’t suit him!” In the words of his imagined visitor: “Ah, it is wonderful.  The common people there know a great deal; they even have the effrontery to complain if they are not properly governed, and to take hold and help conduct the government themselves…”

Twain’s musings in 1867 described an America only ninety years in the making—an America that had just passed through a horrendous civil war—yet he raised up that America’s basic democratic principles.  I wonder what a European visitor might see and say about America today?
O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control,
thy liberty in law.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I Hear The Stones Crying Out!

“So long as religion is quiet about society it upholds whatever is the prevailing status quo in society,” so wrote William Stringfellow in 1965. By contrast, the Christian faith is engaged in permanent radical protest of the status quo.  An authentic Christian faith is always dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs.  It does not matter who sits in the Oval Office, or what party dominates the Senate or the House.  The existing order, whatever it is, is never good enough.

I have lived through fourteen US Presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (I don’t really remember FDR), Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  Each of these “men” were fragile and wounded human beings, like all the rest of us.  

Let me digress for a moment.  The very fact that these Presidents have all been MEN is a call for radical protest by a biblical people.  Why not a WOMAN?  “There is no such thing as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female; for you are all one person in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:28).  An authentic Christian faith must protest the present male-dominated political realm.  Religion may be quiet about the matter, may in fact even resist it, upholding the prevailing status quo, but the Christian faith cannot be satisfied with what is and must attempt to “overthrow the existing order,” even though at times it may appear to be utterly futile.

Now, back to those US Presidents (all men).  Some were worse than others and some were better than others—but they were all human beings.  They were given enormous power to make a difference and each claimed they could and they would.  Some did and some didn’t, and some did what they could and some didn’t even try.  All faced opposition—all had supporters—and all (including the opposition and the supporters) were caught up in the principalities and the powers of this world.  

Our present situation is not unlike all previous ones.  We have a fragile, wounded human being as President (just like the rest of us) and we have given him enormous power, just as that same power was given to those  who came  before him.  When that power is abused (as in the case of Richard Nixon, and probably by most of the others, too) Christians must resist and mount a radical protest. The Senate and the House of the People, like religion itself,  is quiet now and thus upholds “whatever is the prevailing status quo,” but those who claim the Christian faith must not be silent, for even now the very stones upon which the foundation of America has been built are crying out.   

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Good Plans Oft Go Awry

Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, depending on the particular translation of the Bible you may be reading, either “take no thought for tomorrow,” or “do not be anxious about tomorrow.”  In my mind, these are two very different ways of dealing with tomorrow.  “Take no thought” means, for me, at least, that we should not bother to plan or prepare or think about our tomorrows.  We should simply live in the present moment—for “it has troubles enough of its own.” “Do not be anxious,” on the other-hand, means, for me, don’t worry about tomorrow and its difficulties, but by all means go ahead and plan and ponder and prepare for tomorrow, just don’t worry about it, for today “has troubles enough of its own.”  “Thought” (thinking, intelligent, sensible, rational, logical  and sound judgment) and  “Anxious” (worried, fearful, troubled, disturbed, stomach in knots, and in a tizzy) mean two totally different things to me. 

So it is that I’ve always taken “thought” for tomorrow.   I plan my tomorrows (but I don’t usually worry or suffer anxiety about them).  I write  appointments, chores, visits, engagements, etc.,  in my calendar’s tomorrows, sometimes even months and years in advance of the happening.  I take thought for tomorrow, don’t you?

But sometimes “The best laid plans of mice and men/Go oft awry.” John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men from this line in  Robert Burns’ poem, To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785.  According to legend, Burns was ploughing in a field and accidentally destroyed a mouse’s nest, which it needed to survive the winter.  The poem is an apology to the mouse for wrecking its well-laid plans for its tomorrow.

For the past several months we’ve been planning a trip west to visit friends and family—all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona.  I couldn’t wait to get on the road again. Our nest (best laid plans) got “ploughed up” this week! My wife, Cher, experienced one of those “golden year” health issues.  She is feeling and doing fine, but travel is not recommended. Our best laid plans (like those of all mice and men) have gone awry.

I think maybe the best way to mark my calendar these days is with a pencil, rather than in ink.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant.  Dream, plan, hope, and wish for whatever tomorrow you want—but just mark it down in pencil in the event the plough comes through.  Tomorrows are a wonderful gift—and should be thought-out and  planned with care—but always recognized as a “tomorrow” and not a “today.”

"So do not be anxious about tomorrow; tomorrow willl
look after itself.  Each day has troubles enough of its own"
And always--keep an eye out for the plow!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cast Out Fear

Fear, in the biblical message (both Old and New Testaments) is considered to be the root of all evil.  It is fear that makes us selfish, fear that makes us hate, fear that makes us blind, it is fear that makes us  blame, and fear that makes us focus on walls to keep others out.  That is why throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus is always saying, “Be not afraid.”  In those three small words, it seems to me, Jesus is telling us that this universe is a friendly place.  There is room and there is enough for everyone.  Do not be afraid.   Isaiah says that we grow and thrive only when fear is cast off and we take others into “the family.”  He says,   “Enlarge the limits of your home, spread wide the curtains of your tent.  Let out its ropes to the full and drive the pegs home” (54:2). Fear casts out love just as love casts out fear.  Which do you choose:  “Fear or Love?”  

Malcolm Muggeridge writes, “God cannot see a sparrow fall to the ground without concern, and has counted the hairs on each head, so that all that lives deserves our respect and reverence, and no one person can conceivably be more important, of greater significance, or in any way more deserving of consideration than any other.  God is our father, we are his children and so one family, brothers and sisters together.”

There is no indication in the biblical witness (when really heard) that God only sees certain sparrows fall to the ground, or has counted the hairs on the heads of only certain people.  All men and women of whatever nationality, religion, or race are brothers and sisters in one family.  

Psychology tells us that fear is one of the most powerful emotions known to humankind, perhaps more powerful than love.  It is instinctual and is triggered in the most primitive part of our brain. It protects us and keeps us safe.  But when we live in constant fear, when that fear is nurtured, exaggerated, and constantly fed,  our humanness and the humanness of others is diminished, because we begin to see and feel that everything and everyone is a threat to our security.  This instinct of fear is easily aroused and that is precisely what is happening in America today.  It has happened over and over again in history.   But the biblical witness is that we need not be afraid.  “Fear not.”  “Love one another.”  Do not let fear rule your life or the life of this nation.  The universe is a friendly place and there is room and there is enough for all God’s children.

Have you seen a seagull walking on the shore?
Have you seen a seagull in flight?  The difference
is absolutely astounding!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Living Humanly

Living humanly in the midst of this broken and wounded world is no easy task.  Sometimes it seems futile, as it must have seemed to those who resisted the ascendancy of Nazi Germany.  In the face of that tyranny, hope seemed annihilated.  The resistance, then as now, seemed to be puny and ineffective, but it was the only means of retaining sanity and conscience.  In those circumstances (Nazi tyranny) of just 80-some years ago, resistance became the only human way to live.

To live otherwise, at that time, to exist in silence, fear, acquiescence, conformity, obeisance, and collaboration and to simply seek one’s own “safety” or “security” under the conditions imposed by the Nazi State—created a moral insanity.  It was a form of suicide—the death of “humanness.” I am not overstating the case.  The only stance in that period of history worthy of a human being (both for oneself and all other humans) was to RESIST!  Resistance was the only way of living humanly in the midst of the power of death. 

Resistance (speaking out, truth-telling, preaching, protesting) is the only way to live humanly in America today (or any other day).  Tyranny (a cruel and oppressive government) is ascending. We are blind to it , we cannot see it, because we are guilty of interpreting the Bible (and the Christian faith) for the convenience of America.  We are wrapped up in a fatal vanity that we are a divinely favored nation, that we are the only righteous nation, that we are a people of superior political morality, that we are chosen and esteemed by God.  We have distorted the biblical message for our national purposes and it is that which is blinding us now to what is happening. Even the churches are blind and have become menial, manipulated, and degraded vassals of the power of death that now envelops our nation. Even our Senate and House of Representatives have become  acquiescent vassals of the Oval Office.

A prophet engages in “truth-telling” and his or her work is to intercede for human life.  The prophet is an advocate for human life.  People (no matter who they are) are not animals, nor must we allow them to be called such, or to be treated as such.  No human being is a dog!  Every human being is a person, created in the image of God.  To deny this reality, to ignore it, to let it go by, and worse yet, to collaborate in it creates a moral insanity—a form of suicide—the death  (dehumanization) of “humanness.”  The only stand worthy of a human being is to resist what is happening.

"And I have other sheep not of this fold..." John 10:16
"Tend my sheep..." John 12:17