Thursday, January 31, 2019

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

I couldn’t help but laugh yesterday when Mr. Trump began singing his usual Twitter Songs, suggesting that the Intelligence Agencies needed to “go back to school” and that they were “passive and naive” about what is happening in the world (North Korea, Iran, etc.).  It reminded me of another song, written by Irving Berlin and made popular by the Broadway musical, “Annie Oakley”  years ago.

“Anything you can do I can do better
I can do anything better than you
No, you can’t
Yes, I can
No, you can’t 
Yes, I can! Yes, I can!

Anything you can be I can be greater
Sooner or later I’m greater than you
No, you’re not
Yes, I am
No, you’re not
Yes, I am
No, you’re not
Yes, I am, yes I am!”

I know the issues aren’t a laughing matter, but I just couldn’t help myself!  I laughed when Mr. Trump said he knew more about military operations than all the generals, too.  I laughed when he declared that his administration had accomplished more than any other in history.  I laughed when he said he won the 2016 election by a landslide. I laughed when he just recently announced another caravan of 8000 migrants approaching the southern border. But it isn’t really a laughing matter is it?  

Douglas Wise, a career C.I.A. official and former deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency said, “This is the consequence of narcissism, but it is a strong and inappropriate public political pressure to get the intelligence community leadership aligned with his political goals.”  This is extremely dangerous ground.  With Mr. Trump in charge, we don’t need intelligence agencies.  With Mr. Trump in office, we don’t need generals.  With Mr. Trump in charge, we don’t even need a Senate, or a House of Representatives.  Why, we don’t even need a Supreme Court.  Check out his Twitter Songs and you will see what I mean.  Anything these agencies or people can do, he can do better. Anything they can be he can be greater.  No, it is not a laughing matter at all!  It is a clear and present danger to our democracy!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Modern Day Rip Van Winkles

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his last Sunday morning sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. on March 31, 1968.   King was assassinated a few days later on April 4th.  In his sermon Dr. King spoke of Washington Irving’s story of “Rip Van Winkle.” When Rip Van Winkle first went up to the mountain he passed a sign that had a picture of King George III of England.  When he awoke from his long sleep of some twenty years, Van Winkle came down from the mountain and saw the same sign with the picture of George Washington and was completely befuddled.  He had no idea who George Washington was or that while he was snoring away on the mountain-top the whole course of history had changed.

One of the great liabilities of life, King suggested, was that all too many people sleep through the revolutions.  People “find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses—that the new situation demands.  They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

Many of these revolutions have occurred during our lifetime.  Just think of all that has happened over the course of the last 75 to 100 years!  A social revolution occurred in the United States during and after the Great Depression.  The world changed drastically after World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb and the Cold War that followed.  A revolution took place in the “race to the moon.”  A revolution of great magnitude occurred during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s.  Science, medicine, and technology have revolutionized every aspect of our lives. The sign with the picture of King George III is no longer—the sign with the picture of George Washington is long gone. Tomorrow there will be a new sign, and there will be a new sign the day after tomorrow, too.  The only way to avoid the change, the challenges, and the “new” revolutions now occurring is to sleep through them!

What was is no more.  The old age is passing away and a new age has come.  Only those who have slept or are asleep now can ignore the reality.  There is no going back.  The idea of making “America Great Again” is “an illusion wrapped in superficiality.”  We must work toward the goal of what God is calling America to be, rather than trying to make America what it use to be before we fell asleep.  Wake up.  

Monday, January 28, 2019

Make Your Own Bible

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his Journal, “Make your own Bible.  Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of triumph out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.”  I followed his advice. I wrote those words down.  I have a collection of “Quotes of Note” and “Reading Notes” which have been for me “like the blast of triumph out of Shakespeare…” and which now make up my own Bible of sorts.  What is the “blast of triumph?”  I think Emerson meant "the blast of triumph” to be those words and sentences that speak to you way down deep inside.

What a “blast of triumph” it was for me when I first read these words from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice:  “I am a Jew.  Hath not a Jew eyes?  Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?  If you prick us, do we not bleed?  If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?”  I wrote the words down.  Now I read these words often in my Bible of sorts. I think of the words whenever human beings are denigrated or belittled.  The words of Shakespeare come to mind when I ponder the issue of immigrants at the southern border.  I think of these words when I remember the Holocaust.

It was a “blast of triumph” when I first read these words in the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament:  “I have called you by name and you are my own.  When you pass through deep waters, I am with you, when you pass through rivers, they will not sweep you away; walk through fir and you will not be scorched, through flames and they will not burn you.  For I am the Lord your God…your deliverer;…and I have loved you” (Isa. 43:2, NEB).  I wrote the passage down in my Bible of sorts.  I read the words often—they are a “blast of triumph” for me.

Elton Trueblood often quoted words attributed to Stephen Grellet:  “I expect to pass through this world but once.  Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”  I wrote the words down in my Bible of sorts, because they spoke to my soul.  I read them often.

I’m grateful for Edison’s advice, “Make your own Bible.  Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of triumph…”  When you read words and sentences that speak to you—write them down.  When you feel words and sentences tugging at your very soul—write them down.  When you read words that make your whole being shake with truth and reality—write them down.  When you read words that bring you like Saul to the ground—write them down.  When you read words that lift you up to the  mountaintop—write them down.   Make your own Bible and read it often.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Packing Heat in the Churches

A Virginia State law dating to Colonial days has made it a misdemeanor to “carry any gun, pistol, bowie knife, dagger or other dangerous weapon without good and sufficient reason, to a place of worship” during religious services.  Virginia has a strong gun culture and some rather lax firearm laws, but even so, churches have been gun-free areas, based on this law.  In recent days, however, given the mass shootings in various places of worship around the country (the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina, the Sutherland Baptist church in Texas and the Jewish Synagogue in Pittsburgh), the Virginia Senate began to look more closely at the “without good and sufficient reason” clause in that antiquated law already on the books. A measure that would allow Virginians to legally bring their guns to church came to the floor this past week.  It passed by a 21 to 19 Senate vote.  Every Republican was in favor—every Democrat opposed.  The bill now goes to the Virginia House where a similar measure died in committee last year. 

I wonder how such a law (if it becomes a law) might affect the First Amendment freedom of religion clause—given the fact that The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and the United Methodist Church have issued statements that guns are inappropriate in their houses of worship.  Leaders of multiple Catholic archdioceses have also spoken out against guns in their churches. On the other hand, many churches across the country have already developed armed security teams made up of lay people committed to protecting the congregation.  These security teams are supposedly trained for their duty to defend and protect.

Those against packing heat in churches say that it creates confusion for law enforcement responding to reports of a shooting and can cause unintentional shootings that go along with guns (in 2017, a man in a Tennessee church accidentally shot himself and his wife during a conversation about church shootings).  Supporters of bearing arms in churches use as evidence an incident in 2007 where a volunteer security team member, shot an armed intruder  at a church in Colorado Springs, who had killed two teenagers in the parking lot.  

The issue for me, from a Christian perspective, is what does my faith mean for the life of the world?  Does it mean meting out violence for violence?  Does it mean an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?  Or does it mean a nonviolent approach, an attempt to “Be Not Afraid” and to follow the example of the one I call Master?   I am against packing heat in churches.  I am for  rational gun control.  I can’t imagine a person speaking of loving one’s enemy, loving one’s neighbor, and forgiving those who do all manner of evil against you, holding an assault rifle to make his or her point.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Reality Check

The government is now open after over a month—the longest shutdown in our history.  It will remain open for only 15 days and is dependent upon whether or not a “reasonable” deal can be reached (which can only be accomplished by bipartisan compromise).  Mr. Trump asserts that if the Republicans and Democrats cannot reach the “reasonable’ deal, he has other options, which I assume would be the declaration of a national security emergency.

National conversation around immigration and the southern border region took on a new emphasis when Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency and proclaimed without evidence that  most immigrants were thugs, rapists and drug dealers. He declared that only a wall, paid for by Mexico, could resolve the issue as he described it.  He continues to assert his claims and has taken an enforcement-only approach, demanding more border walls, more agents, more detention beds, and more military interventions.  Is Mr. Trump’s claims evidence-based?  Are his “facts” reality?  The Southern Border Communities Coalition says No.  Mr. Trump and Tucker Carlson of Fox News say Yes. It is past time for a reality check.  

Billions of dollars have been invested in border enforcement.  Is this our national priority?  What about the northern border?  Border enforcement  is a spending monster eating up taxpayer dollars that are needed for health care, education, and infrastructure.  Congress has channeled more money to immigration enforcement ($21 billion now) than any other enforcement agencies combined, including agencies like the FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals and Secret Service.  Most of the money goes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).  

CBP’s budget in fiscal year 2018 was $14.4 billion.  Border patrol personnel numbered 59,000, making it the largest enforcement agency in the nation.  Eighty percent of the agency’s Border Patrol agents (16,605 of 19,437) are concentrated on the southern border.  Trump’s expanded deployment of the military to the border will cost $200-$300 million in addition to the $182 million for the earlier deployment of the National Guard. (2000 National Guard and 5,200 active-duty troops are at the southern border now).  

Is there a need for a “great, great wall?”  Should Congress allocate even more money to this “national conversation” (now the only conversation) by Trump’s faulty assertions that the southern border is a national security issue?  Because Mr. Trump says so does not make his assertions true, and his record of not telling the truth is a matter-of-fact.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Browsing or Chewing Cud

Browsing is something I do every morning.  I browse through Holy Writ, I browse through the news of the day, I browse through a book that may peak my interest and I browse through my binders of “Quotes of Note.”  I browse through my yesterdays by reading my journals or my travel notebooks.  Browsing is a profitable exercise for my soul and I highly recommend it to all.  

To browse is to scan through a collection of data, to inspect it leisurely, casually, and randomly.  Of course there is another meaning for the word “browse” and it is used for animals who graze,  feeding on leaves, young shoots and plants.  Perhaps “grazing” is a better word for what I do each morning than the word browse.  Synonyms for browsing include words like: to look around and about, window shop, ruminate, ponder and peruse, or for the word ‘grazing” one might use words like feed, eat, or nibble.

My nibbling this morning has led me to several “Quotes of Note” that seem worthy of sharing.  Chewing cud is something some animals do.  Cud is produced during the digestive process of rumination, and in simple terms, a way of re-tasting what has been grazed .  So my nibbling each morning, wherever I graze, continues through the day as I chew my cud, so to speak.

I’ll be chewing the following over and over again today.

“An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizon of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.  And this is one of the big problems of life, that so many people never quite get to the point of rising above self.  And so they end up the tragic victims of self-centeredness.  They end up victims of distorted and disrupted personality.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“There are those who never see anything except in relation to themselves, nor that relationship as fancied by themselves; and this being a withering habit of mind, they keep growing drier, and older, and smaller, and deader, the longer they live—thinking less of other people, and more of themselves and thir…experinece, all the time they go on withering.”  (George MacDonald)

By the way, “cud chewing is often used as an indicator of a healthy and comfortable cow.  A healthy animal will produce more milk or have a higher production of muscle than those who do not chew their cud properly.”

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Here I Stand

A year or so ago, I wrote, The America I have known, the Constitution that I gave oath to support (over 38 years of military service) is not about building walls, but about climbing over them and breaking them down wherever they discriminate, produce hate or fear; wherever such walls block the road to freedom, justice, harmony and peace among peoples.  When we, as Americans even think of building “great, great walls,” we have become what we have always been against!

I’m against the “great, great wall” on the southern border, and it doesn’t make any difference who is going to pay for it.  I’m against building walls to separate  white people from brown people and vice versa.  I’m against building walls to keep people in poverty.  I’m against building walls that intimidate, whether built of concrete, steel, attitudes, law, fear, prejudice, bigotry, lies,  religion or lifestyles.  I’m against walls built to keep people in and against walls built to keep people out.  I’m against walls and I’m against fences, too.  I’m for border security.  I’m for national security.  I’m for democracy.  I stand with Dennis Kucinich who wrote, “I take issue with many people’s description of people being ‘Illegal’ Immigrants.  There aren’t any illegal Human Beings as far as I’m concerned.”

Now, I’ve been around for a few years and it is probably time for me to hush up and let others take the helm.  But that would be a cop-out.  I’d rather be like the ninety-five-year old man who told his doctor that he had pain in his right knee and that it hurt when he moved it.  The doctor examined the knee and said, “You are 95 years old.  You’re bound to have some pain in your right knee.  That’s what happens when you get old.”  The 95-year-old patient looked at the doctor and replied, “But my left knee is 95 year old too, and it’s just fine.”  At the moment, both my right and left knee are just fine and I think I still have a mind—and as long as I can, no matter how old I may be, I’m going to continue to say what I’m against and what I’m for.  As Thomas  Jefferson suggested, in matters of style, I’ll swim with the current; in matters of principle, I will stand like a rock.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Ignorance Begets Confidence

An amazing phenomena happens to students in an Introduction to Psychology class.  The professor’s lectures and the reading of the first few chapters of the textbook cause the student to wonder if he or she might be psychotic, or terribly depressed, or schizophrenic.  This awareness comes because most of the symptoms of psychological illnesses, disorders, and behaviors can be found to some degree in all of us.  Who has not, on some occasion,  experienced some form of paranoia (the unfounded or exaggerated distrust of others, the suspicion that there are some who are out to get us,  or at least plotting against us)?  Students will often say when unsuccessful in a classroom that the teacher doesn’t like them, or an employee having difficulty doing his or her job, may say the supervisor is sabotaging their effort.  Haven’t we all been there and done that occasionally?

In the same way, we have all found ourselves “blind to our own foolishness.”  We typically come to this awareness when we experience other fools “blind to their own foolishness.”  We have all known a situation around the dinner table or at some social event where one person begins spouting off on a topic and says he is correct and that everyone else’s opinion is stupid, uninformed, and wrong.  Everyone listening to him knows that he has no idea what he is talking about, but he goes on and on, totally oblivious to his own ignorance.  I don’t know how my parents put up with my sudden burst of “knowing all” at age 17, or how my colleagues and friends have put up with it through the years.

Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” Psychology has come up with a name for this reality.  It is called the Dunning-Kruger effect and is described as a type of bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.  Since they do not have the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence, they usually overestimate their own capabilities.  

Just the other day a fellow told me that such and such was true because he saw it on TV.  “If it is on TV,” he said, “it has to be true and since I watched the program, I am now an expert on this subject.”  How do you combat ignorance when the ignorant believe themselves to be knowledgeable?  He could not hear me when I tried to say that just because something is on TV doesn’t mean it is true.  Umm…Darwin was right when he suggested that the trouble with ignorance is that it can feel just like expertise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

There Is No “Unless” in Loving

Yesterday I posted on Facebook the following quote from James Baldwin:  “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”  Was Baldwin right?  That question nagged at me all day as I repeated Baldwin’s quote to myself over and over again and thought about the statement I made when posting it:  “There is nothing one can add.”  The question rankling in my mind and soul throughout the day and through the night was, “Is this the length, height, depth and breadth of love?"  What did Jesus mean, then, when he told us to love our enemies (most enemies or persecutors deny one’s humanity and right to exist)?  

How can one love a person who oppresses, who denies your very humanity, and your right to exist?  There is something deep inside me (especially having read Baldwin’s collection of essays in Notes of a Native Son and Nobody Knows My Name, along with Mya Angelou’s poems, Dr. Martin Luther King’s sermons, Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and the fairly recent book and film, Twelve Years A Slave), that answers that question with Baldwin:  “No, love can’t reach that far.”  But if Love can’t manage to love in disagreement, yes, and even in oppression and denial of one’s humanity and right to exist, then of what value is Love?  For Christians it obliterates Good Friday and the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There is no Easter without a Good Friday—there can be no new life or new creation without the  cessation of the old.  Is there an “unless” involved in loving?

This morning I am in total disagreement with the Baldwin quote, preferring this one from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in its place:  “Agape (Love) means nothing sentimental or basically affectionate.  It means understanding redeeming good will for all men (and women).  When we rise to love on the agape level we love men (and women) not because we like them, not because their attitudes and ways appeal to us, but because God loves us.  Here we rise to the position of loving the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.  With this type of love and understanding good will we will be able to stand amid the radiant glow of the new age with dignity and discipline.”

I think Baldwin saw this agape love coming through when he quoted Dr. King saying, “…And we’ve got to stop lying to the white man.  Every time you let the white man think you think segregation is right, you are co-operating with him in doing evil.  The next time the white man asks you what you think of segregation, you tell him, Mr. Charlie, I think it’s wrong and I wish you’d do something about it by nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”

Monday, January 21, 2019

The “Worst No-Call” in History

I am not, and have not yet become, and hopefully will never be,  what my friend in Minnesota calls a “football bum.”  A football bum is someone who spends a whole Sunday, morning, afternoon and evening, absorbed in football games and football programs of all sorts.  I came close to that sobriquet (nickname) yesterday.  I watched football all afternoon and evening—but, I didn’t watch the second game (Patriots/Chiefs) all the way to the end.  I went to bed!

It is very difficult for me to watch a football game from beginning to end without doing something else at the same time—like reading a book while watching, or, as I did yesterday during the Rams/Saints game—prepare and bake a chicken pot pie for dinner.  I was watching the game, however, when Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman charged into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis—making helmet to helmet contact.  I saw it, and perhaps you saw it, but the two officials right there on the field did not see it.  No whistles were blown and some say it paved the way for the Los Angeles Rams to go to the Super Bowl.  Jeff Duncan, columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, said the no-call “was so bad, so overtly obvious that it was nearly inconceivable,” and called the Saints loss as a setback that “will forever live in infamy.” 

Isn’t it funny how we see things?  I saw the incident, maybe you saw it, too, but the two officials did not and never blew a whistle.  I wonder how those officials see it now in hindsight, after watching the game footage?  In the midst of the victory celebration in the Rams locker room after the game, Robey-Coleman admitted to the interference.  “Ah, hell, yeah,” he said, “that was Pass Interference….I did my part.  Referee made the call.  We respect it.”

I don’t think the incident of yesterday “will forever live in infamy,” nor that it was, as Saints coach Sean Payton says, the “Worst No-Call in NFL History.” It certainly was not, is not, the “Worst No-Call” in History as the title of this blog purports.  However, the incident does point to a present dilemma—a “No-Call” on the part of all of us who “see”  what is happening in the field of government, but do not blow our whistles.  The referees are, after all,  the “officials.”   If they make a mistake, fail to see, or ignore what happens on the playing field—do we still “respect” them for a “No-Call?”  We are more than spectators in the game.  If we simply make a “No-Call” for all that is happening before our very eyes,  can we respect ourselves?

Sunday, January 20, 2019


Tomorrow is a federal holiday celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday (January 15).  The holiday was inaugurated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and became the first federal holiday honoring an African American.  Banks, the post office, schools, the stock market, etc., will all be closed.  Some individuals and businesses will use MLK Day to “give back” through voluntary public service; others will participate in activities celebrating King’s legacy from New York City to San Francisco (“from sea to shining sea”), and some will simply enjoy an extra day off from work.

Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement forged new techniques and strategies for social change  including the use of non-violent “demonstrations” (sit-ins, freedom rides) and the “March.”  There was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963) and the “Bloody Sunday” March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965), just to name a few of the many.  The demonstrations and the marches worked and brought forth the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. 

I’m grateful the “March” continues to be a means of voicing concerns and grievances. Marches create public awareness of the issues and the injustices in our society. It was fitting that several marches took place this weekend, not only in America, but around the world.  In the US  the annual anti-abortion March for Life was held on Saturday in Washington, DC and on Sunday, The third annual Women’s March.

Both “marches” this weekend had some problems.  All marches have problems.  Every march is made up of many different personalities who have many different ways of expression.  If not well-organized and directed (especially in non-violent techniques)  a “march” can become a “mob,” or vice versa, the onlookers (even law enforcement officials) can become a “mob.”  It has happened over and over again.  But this is not a good reason to oppose marches.  Every citizen has the right under the First Amendment to “peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

We all have different grievances, and whatever they are, we all have a right to express them—but only if we do it in a peaceable way.  A so-called “pro-life” group must respect Native American Mr. Phillips, otherwise they cease to be “Pro-Life.”  Those who marched on Sunday (supporting and seeking justice for women and to create “transformational social change”) are also “Pro-Life” and they, too, must respect the “pro-life” marchers.   How can one be “Pro-Life” and denigrate another life?  If you want to really celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, then we all must “learn to live together as brothers (and sisters), or we will all perish together as fools…We must all live together; we must all be concerned about each other.”  

Saturday, January 19, 2019

My Meandering Mind

I’m finding it difficult this morning to focus on any one thing.  My mind wanders like a brook, passing by numerous banks and rippling over many a stone. This “state of mind” reminds me of Kazantzakis’ writing in “The Odyssey:  A Modern Sequel” continually describing the “mind” of Odysseus as quick-tempered, swaying, unguarded, dazed, befuddled, etc., and then writes, “He shook his mind till his thoughts fell in place once more.” Well,  I’ve “shook my mind” several times so far, but nothing is falling into place this morning. 

One of the myriad thoughts rushing around my mind this morning is the question, “Who is the biggest human I’ve ever met?”  Henry Drummond said Dwight Moody was “the biggest human I ever met.”  Who is the biggest human I’ve ever met?  Who is the biggest human you’ve ever met?  So far,  I haven’t come up with an answer, just the question.  The unanswered question makes me think of Rilke’s oft-quoted words, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday…you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  But…still, in impatience I ask the question, wanting the answer:  “Who is the biggest human I’ve ever met?”  But, then, another question arises, “Is it only one, or have I been fortunate enough to encounter many ‘big’ humans?” 

Another thought rankles in my mind as I think of some “fundamentalist” friends of mine.  I realize suddenly that I started out on my own Christian pilgrimage as one of them.  I believed as they do and I thought as they do.  What changed me?  What influenced my mind and my spirit? Would the same influences and experiences change the thinking and beliefs of my friends?  What were those experiences?  How was my mind liberated?  How did I retain my faith and find an even deeper meaning in my pilgrimage as a Christian because of that liberation?  

Questions—is there no end to them? I live them with great impatience—wanting answers that just won’t come.  

Friday, January 18, 2019

God Is Raging

My friend, Vernon, posted a quote from Abraham J. Heschel on FaceBook a few days ago that I felt compelled to repost then and I will do so again in this blog.  Abraham Heschel (1907-1972) was Professor of Jewish Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of several books:  Man Is Not Alone, God In Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism; and my favorite, The Prophets.  

Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 Germany and sent to Poland, where he was able, with help, six weeks before the Nazi invasion of Poland to get away to London.  Heschel’s sister Esther was killed in a German bombing.  His mother was murdered by the Nazis, and two other sisters died in Nazi concentration camps. Heschel never returned to Germany, Austria or Poland: “If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated.”  He wrote like a prophet on the frontispiece of his book, The Prophets:  

“To the martyrs of 1940-1945—
All this has come upon us,
Though we have not forgotten Thee,
Or been false to Thy covenant.
Our heart has not turned back,
Nor have our steps departed from Thy way…
…for Thy sake we are slain…
Why dost Thou hide Thy face?  (—from Psalm 44).

Heschel said,  “The Prophet is a man who feels fiercely.  God has thrust a burden upon his soul, and he is bowed and stunned at man’s fierce greed.  Frightful is the agony of man; no human voice can convey its full terror.  Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world.  It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man.  God is raging in the prophet’s words.”

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The "Liberal" Christian

William Barclay has been visiting with me through his “The Daily Study Bible Series” since 1961—that’s fifty-eight years ago.  Barclay (1907 - 1978) was a professor at Glasgow University and the author of many Biblical commentaries and books, including a translation of the New Testament, “Barclay New Testament.”  My boyhood pastor, J. Kenneth Mart, recommended Barclay to me when I was 17 years old.  I ordered Volume 1 of the Gospel of Matthew in the Daily Study Bible Series from Cokesbury while stationed on the Island of Crete, and later collected the entire series.   Throughout all the years I have recommended Barclay’s writings to any and all who would take the Bible seriously. 

Barclay is visiting with me this morning.  Some religious conservatives have labeled him a “liberal evangelical.”  I happen to like that term and take it on as my own stance without apology. Some say the label is a contradiction.  I do not think so!  Thank God, there are liberal conservatives, liberal Christians, liberal Jews, liberal Muslims, and liberal politicians.  Without the “liberal” part of that label we “would dry up,” as E. Stanley Jones use to say.

The difference between the “liberal” Christian and the “conservative” Christian is a great difference.  The chasm between the two “labels” is deep and wide, and that chasm colors every aspect of life.  Let me demonstrate by first quoting a so-called “conservative“ Christian,” and then quoting William Barclay, a “Liberal” Christian.

“We do know that tolerance is a quality in the Christian’s life. Paul says that we are to have an attitude that shows “tolerance for one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). But we are not to tolerate false teachers and false teaching. We are to “turn away from” false teachers (Romans 16:17-18) and are to recognize those who reject the Biblical Christ as false prophets who have the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:1-6). We must denounce and withdraw fellowship from those who present false teachings and unscriptural ways (Acts 20:28-31; 2 John 7-11). Barclay, however, tolerated those who must not be tolerated.”

Barclay wrote:  “I am a very tolerant person, and the older I get the more tolerant I become…I am not likely to condemn a man’s beliefs. If through them he has found his way to God, then that is his affair. I shall only think him wrong, if he refuses to extend to me the same sympathy that I extend to him. The one attitude that I believe to be wrong is the attitude of the man who believes that he has a monopoly of the truth and that there is no way to God but his way.”

Can you see the difference?  Do you see the deep, wide chasm that separates?  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Odd Discrimination

Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things (especially on the grounds of race, age or sex). Synonyms for discrimination include:  prejudice, bias, bigotry and intolerance.  Another definition of discrimination is the recognition and difference between one thing and another and its synonyms include:  differentiation and distinction.

Add “odd” to the word “discrimination: and you get an “odd prejudice or bigotry,” or an “odd differentiation or distinction.”  It seems to me an odd prejudice and an odd distinction that the U.S. House of Representatives voted  overwhelmingly yesterday to pass a resolution disapproving statements made by Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) that were criticized as racist.  The vote was a reaction to King’s interview with the New York Times in which he said, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?  Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” This odd discrimination came after a long list of similar statements made by King, such as “we can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies,” that “cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end,” and that “we need to get our birth rates up or Europe will be entirely transformed.”  “He has called immigration a ‘slow-motion holocaust,’ language that echoes the neo-Nazi doctrine that non-white immigration is a form of ‘white genocide.’” 

The odd prejudice or bigotry—the odd differentiation or distinction—is not that King’s antics have finally drawn a condemnation from his own party (even the National Review called for King to be expelled from Congress—and conservative Henry Olsen urged the same to avoid the “seeds of bigotry” from taking root in the Republican Party).  This should  have been said and done a long time ago in reference to King.  The odd prejudice, the odd differentiation is that these reactions seem to miss the obvious.  Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic, “there is little daylight between Steve King and the president of the United States, Donald Trump.” Funny, isn’t it, that the National Review, Olsen and GOP members of congress failed to see the connection and never mentioned the president’s name.

In 2014, as Trump considered running for president, he made an appearance with King in Iowa, calling him “special guy, a smart person, with really the right views on almost everything,” and Serwer writes of Trump “noting that their views on the issues were so similar that ‘we don’t even have to compare notes.’”  The GOP outrage and the House’s condemnation of King is an odd discrimination, an odd differentiation by any stretch of the imagination.  How can the GOP censure King, but  continue to embrace Trumpism, and all it represents?  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Words Speak for Themselves

They say the little book, “The Sacrament of the Present Moment” was translated from talks given by a French Jesuit named Jean-Pierre de Caussade born in 1625.  He was a spiritual director to a community of nuns and it has been believed that his talks to the nuns were collected and published in book form (“A Treatise on Abandonment to the Divine Providence”) in 1741. 

So they said long ago,  and so I accepted:  the words in this little book are the words of Jean-Pierre de Caussade—and the book is considered one of the great Christian classics. Now they tell me (by “they” I mean supposed authorities) that, “it now seems almost impossible that the author was in fact the Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade” as “nothing in de Caussade’s biography would suggest that this man was the author of the famous treatise…”

This was shocking new information!  It was almost as if someone were telling me that Abraham Lincoln didn’t write the Gettysburg Address or that Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies.”  Yet, it was not the person Jean-Pierre de Caussade who spoke to me through the book—it was the words.  Does it matter from whose lips or pen the words come?  I don’t think so, for words are bigger than the finite person—words are infinite.

Does it matter who wrote the following words:  “You are seeking God, dear sister, and he is everywhere.  Everything proclaims him to you, everything reveals hm to you, everything brings him to you.  He is by your side, over you, around you and in you.  Here is his dwelling and yet you still seek him?  Ah!  You are searching for God, the idea of God in his essential being…He will never disclose himself in the shape of that exalted image to which you cling.”

I no longer know whether de Caussade or somebody else wrote those words, but it doesn’t really matter.  The words speak for themselves.  

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Old Coffee Mug Still Speaks to Me

The old coffee mug that now holds my pens and pencils has been on my various desks for nearly 58 years. The mug has been broken and glued back together numerous times.  It was a gift from Air Force Chaplain Samuel Powell with whom I worked many years ago in Crete, Greece.  Chaplain Powell thought I was bending over backwards to help everyone and anyone who came into the office.  My response to those who came with question, problem, or concern, was always “no problem!”  Chaplain Powell would remind me from time to time, that there might very well be a question, a problem, or a concern that I could not answer, solve or resolve.  (I didn’t believe him in those early years—but I understand what he was trying to tell me now).  A “No problem, Hal” (a good-natured guy), without discernment, Chaplain Powell said, can become vulnerable to being used and abused.

Well, the mug has certainly been abused as is evident in the photo below.  Is it true? “If you are good-natured people will step all over you.” 

I often define the meaning of a word or term by using its synonyms.  A good-natured person is affable, agreeable, amiable, genial, good-tempered, gracious, mellow, pleasant, and nice.  Antonyms for “good-natured” include words like disagreeable, ill-natured, ill-tempered, and unpleasant.  

A good-natured person can also be a person of discernment, that is, a person of perception, insight, and wisdom, which is what Chaplain Powell was suggesting I add to my “no problem” mentality and personality.  The much-abused coffee mug on my desk for nearly 58 years still reminds me of Chaplain Powell’s advice.  I’m not sure I have become a person of discernment, but at least the cup has reminded me through the years that I ought to be a discerning person.