Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Foundation of Our American Democracy

The Constitution of the United States of America is viewed as the foundation of our democracy, but it is not.   Those who hold public office or serve in the armed forces take an oath to “preserve, protect and defend” it—“to support and defend” it “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and bear “true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Justice Thurgood Marshall (first African-American to be appointed to the Supreme Court) said the  Constitution our Founding Fathers “devised was defective from the start, requiring several corrective amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”  Marshall’s comment reminds me of Langston Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again:”
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive or tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above. 
And Hughes’, as a man of color, added this poignant refrain after every verse:  “It never was America to me.”

The Founding Fathers tried, unsuccessfully, “to dream the dream the dreamers dreamed.”  The original Constitution didn’t come close.  It was a compromise, fought over with many bitter differences of opinion.  After it was written, it seemed to those who framed it to be totally unsatisfactory.  Out of the fifty-five men involved, sixteen refused to sign it, and none of the other thirty-nine were wholly satisfied with it! 

How did such a document survive?  First, it survived because it was a great document, but also because it was perceived as a flexible document. Second, it survived because the  American people had enough ethical and spiritual gumption, enough intelligence, conscience, character, and loyalty to change it, sustain it, and make it work.  Without that, the Constitution, as many of the framers expected, would never have survived.

The real foundation of this democracy is not the Constitution, but rather the ethical and spiritual foundations, the intelligence, conscience, and character of the American people.  If that foundation crumbles, so the Constitution crumbles.

The Lighthouse cannot endure if the rock foundation
be swept away by the raging sea.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Do Only Certain People Count?

Donald Trump seems to be at odds with Puerto Rico (and has been for nearly two years, since the last hurricanes hit the island), even though he says he is “the best thing to ever happen to Puerto Rico.”  In the same “Tweet breath” he also says, “Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth.  Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten…”. The Tweet is not the truth, but then we seem no longer to care about whether something is true or false.

In his book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, “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.”

So, if what Muggeridge wrote is the Christian perspective, where is the outrage when the Trump demeans fellow Americans—James Comey, Democrats, Elijah Cummings, Baltimore, and Puerto Rico?

There is no indication in scripture that God only sees certain sparrows (Florida and Texas are no more important than Puerto Rico) fall to the ground, or has counted the hairs on the heads of only certain people (Republicans are no more important than Democrats).  All men, women and children of whatever nationality, religion, party or race are brothers and sisters in one family.  If we are going to proclaim ourselves a nation, “under God,” or as a People of the Word, we better pay attention to what that Word says and act accordingly.

Morning gilds the skies in St. Petersburg, Russia

Thursday, August 29, 2019

And Summer Ends....

Hal Borland wrote:  “Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.”

Labor Day weekend is the unofficial end of Summer for many of us.  I remember Nat King Cole singing a silly song:

“Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer.  Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer. Those days of soda and pretzels and beer. Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer.  Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer.”  

And the song ended with the words, “You’ll wish that Summer could always be here.”

But Summer doesn’t stay with us—like all the other seasons of life it too, must fade away in order to let the Autumns come.  Would you have it otherwise?

If you “wish that Summer could always be here,” you will live eternally in a boring world of good times, “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of Summer” consisting of “soda and pretzels and beer,” along with vacations and beach excursions and picnics, or as Borland put it, with “high tide always and a full moon every night.”  

An eternal Summer would have us miss and never know “the rhythms that are at the heart of life.”  For life consists of seasons (infancy, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and maturity)—seasons of all kinds—and to be alive means to live through all the seasons that come to us. 

Borland writes:  “Essentially, Autumn is the quiet completion of spring and summer.  Spring was all eagerness and beginnings, summer was growth and flowering.  Autumn is the achievement summarized, the harvested grain, the ripened apple, the grape in the wine press.  Autumn is the bright leaf in the woodland, the opened husk on the bittersweet berry…”

Life has many seasons and if we try to avoid them or ignore them we will “never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Wrestling The Stranger

Many years ago I wrote an essay based on the hymn, “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown.”  The hymn was written by John Wesley in 1742 and tells the story of Jacob’s night-long wrestling match with a stranger as recorded in the book of Genesis 32:24-32.  Have you ever wrestled in the night, struggling to find meaning and purpose in a personal dilemma or a solution to an issue confronting you?  

Come, O thou Traveler unknown,
Whom I still hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee;
With thee all night I mean to stay
And wrestle till the break of day.

…But who I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.

In vain thou strugglest to be free,
I never will unloose my hold;
…The secret of thy love unfold;
wrestling, I will not let thee go
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let thee go
Till I thy name, thy nature know.

Yield to me now—for I am weak
But confident in self-despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer:
Speak, or thou never hence shall move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.

“Tis Love!
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure Universal Love thou art:
To me, to all, thy mercies move—
Thy nature, and thy name is Love.

Wrestling with the Stranger, that Traveler Unknown, never ceases—“I never will unloose my hold…wrestling I will not let thee go till I thy name, thy nature know….Speak, or thou never hence shall move, and tell me if thy name is Love.”  Wrestling is a necessary part of our journey—without the wrestling, we will never “thy name, thy nature know.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Sermon From Yesterday For Today

“America First” has been used as a slogan by both Democratic and Republican politicians.  President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed “America First” at the outbreak of World War I to define his version of neutrality.  President Harding used the term “America First” during his 1920 presidential campaign. The America First Committee (AFC) was formed in 1940 to lobby against American entry into World War II.  The committee was dissolved on December 10, 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Donald Trump has used the slogan “America First” to emphasize American nationalism and unilateralism in foreign policy.

In 1924, an Episcopal priest, George Ashton Oldham (1877-1963) gave a sermon at the Washington National Cathedral entitled “America First.”  His plea was for a compassionate  America—an America that would seek first the “things of the spirit.”  It is a sermon that needs to be preached again. 

America first, not only in things material,
But in things of the spirit.
Not merely in science, invention, motors, skyscrapers,
But also in ideals, principles, character.
Not merely in the calm assertion of rights,
But in the glad assumption of duties.

Not flouting her strength as a giant,
But bending in helpfulness over a sick and wounded world like a Good Samaritan.
Not in splendid isolation,
But in courageous cooperation.

Not in pride, arrogance, and disdain of other races and peoples,
But in sympathy, love, and understanding.
Not in treading again the old, worn, bloody pathway which ends inevitably in chaos and disaster,
But blazing a new trail along which, please God, other nations will follow into the new Jerusalem where wars shall be no more.

Some day, some nation must take that path—unless we are to lapse into utter barbarism—and that honor I covet for my beloved America.

And so in that spirit and with these hopes, I say with all my heart and soul, “America First.”

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Goethe wrote: “the most irritating of all people are clever young men (or old men or anyone else for that matter) who think they deny their own originality if they admit that what they think of has never been thought of by any one else before.”  The writer of Ecclesiastes suggested that “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (9:1). Abraham Lincoln said, “Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson went as far as to say, “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.”  Perhaps that is why the writer in Psalm 139 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it altogether” (because you’ve heard it all before).

Is anything original?  Mark Twain didn’t think so.  He said, “The kernel, the soul, let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances is plagiarism.”  Twain thought there was no such thing as an original thought or idea, because every subject on earth has already been dealt with—that no creative idea exists independent of another idea.  Everything is recycled.  All ideas and thoughts are second-hand.  A saying attributed to Mark Twain substantiates his position:  “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.”

Does this mean that we have nothing to say, to write, to experience, or to create in our time?  No, it does not mean that at all.  John Arthur Gossip wrote, “The real use of a thinker to us is that he (or she) sets our sluggish minds in motion, and opens up new vistas for us to travel on our own two feet.”  Don’t fret over whether or not you have thought something no one else has ever thought of—but rather take what has been thought before and travel the road it sets before you, and do it on your own two feet!  It may not be original—but it will be authentic.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Where I Live....

They say “nothing happens in small towns.”  But I would question that statement. I’ve lived in the same little town for forty-six years.  Through the years many have asked me “Why?”  I came with a purpose and lived out that purpose as best I knew how, but that’s another story.  I can tell you, from my own experience,  that a lot can and does happen in little towns.  Every little town is a microcosm of every big town, and every big town is a microcosm of every urban center. 

Edgar Frank wrote a poem that I have often used to answer those who wonder how I’ve managed to live in my small town.  He suggests, and I believe rightly so, that no one of us can live in some constrained geographical space if we are really alive.

“How can you live in Goshen?”
Said a friend from afar,
“This wretched country town
Where folks talk little things all year
And plant their cabbage by the moon!”
Said I:
“I do not live in Goshen,—
I eat here, sleep here, work here;
I live in Greece,
Where Plato taught,
And Phidias carved,
And Epictetus wrote.
I dwell in Italy, 
Where Michael Angelo wrought
In color, form and mass; 
Where Cicero penned immortal lines,
And Dante sang undying songs.
Think not my life is small
Because you see a puny place;
I have my books; I have my dreams; 
A thousand souls have left for me
Enchantment that transcends
Both time and place.
And so I live in Paradise,
Not here.”

Thursday, August 22, 2019


“Everyone is in favor of free speech,” said Winston Churchill.  “Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.”  

The idea of the United States purchasing the largest island in the world called Greenland is not a new idea.  It is not a stupid idea.  China would like to purchase the island too.  Greenland, in spite of the glacier meltdown, has economic possibilities with its natural resources of coal, iron, copper and zinc.  Strategically, Greenland is now providing new shipping lanes in the North Atlantic due to the melting polar caps, which is of significant maritime value.  It is also of importance militarily.  Thule Air Base has operated there since 1943 and provides a ballistic missile early warning and satellite tracking system.  It is could and would be valuable to any nation to have Greenland in its pocket.  

Harry Truman wanted to buy the island in 1946 for $100 million dollars (1.3 billion today)..  Greenland has had  self-rule since 1979 , but remains part of the sovereign kingdom of Denmark, a U.S. ally.  Just think what we might say if Denmark suggested buying the Eastern seaboard of the United States.  Would we not call such an offer “absurd?”  That’s exactly how Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen responded to Trump’s desire to buy Greenland.  Okay, no deal, let it go.  But then Trump says he is postponing his trip to Denmark, “because she would have no interest in discussing the purchase of Greenland.”  He went on to say that the Prime Minister “was nasty” because she called his proposal absurd.  Denmark’s response was, quite naturally, to say:  “It’s an insult” and Trump is like a “spoiled child,” and he must live “on another planet.”

But that’s not the end of the ongoing saga.  Mr. Trump responds to Denmark by saying “you don’t talk to the United States that way,” as if, any criticism of Trump is a criticism of America. (He also says any criticism of Israel is anti-semitism).  

In the same breath, Mr. Trump declares, looking heavenward, that he “is the Chosen One” to deal with China.  Oh, my, oh, my!  Enough said.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Is This The New Normal?

Trump mocks Tlaib’s tears and says she “grandstanded” over grandmother’s visit.  Trump calls for a ban on Tlaib and Omar—actually all four congresswomen (the Squad)—visiting  Israel, calling such a visit “a propaganda war against Israel.”  Trump says, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat—it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Trump postpones trip to Denmark because Greenland is not for sale.  Trump calls Anthony Scaramucci “a highly unstable ‘nut job.’  Trump says he supports meaningful background checks for gun buyers, but says those who committed recent mass shootings were mentally ill and we need to build more mental institutions. In New Hampshire last week, Trump suggested without evidence that the reason he lost New Hampshire in 2016 was because of voter fraud.

This is the President of the United States of America?  

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Living With The Clouds

E. Herman has long been my spiritual guide.  She is the author of several books:  Creative Prayer, The Secret Garden of the Soul, The Finding of the Cross, and my favorite, The Touch of God.  Though she died many years ago, she speaks to me still through the written word.

In The Touch of God, there is a chapter titled “The Chariots of God.”   Herman begins with this line:  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”  Blue skies turn grey when the clouds come.  Grey skies turn dark when the storm clouds hide the sun. Even on bright days there are always little clouds appearing on the horizon, clouds that we sense are harbingers of trouble. Disappointment, loss, bereavement, perplexity spiritual despondency, and the emotional turmoil of our lives are as clouds.  When these  clouds come, and they come to all of us, our spirits become darkened with doubt.  When the clouds come we wonder if life is nothing more than a cruel riddle. Like Job of old, we ask why this cloud or that cloud hovers over us and diminishes the light (life).  Why do the clouds come?   Wrong question, says Herman:  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”

The clouds are as natural as the light.  They are not something foreign or intrusive. Clouds are in every sky—yours and mine. That’s life.  There is nothing we can do, we say, except wait until the clouds roll by.  Or we say, every cloud has a silver lining and we’ll be able to look back and see the meaning of it all when the clouds are gone.  But we all know that when the present cloud cover moves away, there will be more clouds to come.  That’s life.  “Human life is as a cloudy day.”

Herman says, the clouds are the chariots of God, just as the blue skies are the chariots of God.  All of life is where God is—in the clouds, in the sunlight, in the good and in the bad, in the pleasant times and in the sad times.  The Hebrews, escaping their bondage in Egypt, were led by a cloud—by day and by night. So we must accept the clouds that darken our skies, live with them and be led by them.

We must live with the clouds and let the clouds lead us and speak to us.  The Psalmist (4:1) declares, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress”—not after I have passed through distress, but in the midst of it.   I take the liberty to paraphrase the Psalmist’s experience:  Thou has enlarged me in the midst of the clouds, not after they have passed by.  Love abides—in the sunlight, in the clouds—Love is at the heart of things.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Musings In A Desert Sojourn

One of the most striking passages in the Bible is found in Hosea 2:14:  “I will entice you into the desert and there I will speak to you in the depths of your heart.”  Does God entice us into deserts?  Deserts are not very pleasant places to live or even to pass through.  Deserts are desolate and arid wastelands.  They lack water and other necessities for human life.  The Bible refers to some desert spaces as wilderness regions—a space “uncultivated and uninhabited,” an empty and pathless region, a hostile environment.  The Bible speaks of literal deserts and wildernesses, but it also uses desert images metaphorically.  In the metaphorical sense, the desert may mean a feeling of emptiness, a catastrophic  illness, problem, disappointment, or hurt. I suspect that every one has had a desert experience of one kind or another.  The question is:  Does Love (God) entice us into the desert?  Does (God) Love really want us to experience the awfulness of the desert?  Or does Life entice (lead) us into the desert?  I suppose it depends upon one’s perception about who and what God is.  

If your god is a god who has absolute control over everything and thus is responsible for all of your blessings, miseries and sufferings, then indeed, we can say it is your god who entices or leads you into the deserts.  I’ve never been able to see God in that way.  Life tumbles in, not because God wants it to tumble in as it does, but because life is life and life just naturally includes illness, disease, suffering, hurt, grief, etc. that we often refer to as desert experiences.  Do we blame God for giving us pneumonia?  Or is pneumonia a result of viruses, bacteria, and fungi?

While God (Love) may not cause, lead, will, or entice us into our desert experiences, God (Love) is there in the midst of those experiences (as God is in all of life) and sometimes, as Fenelon says, it takes a desert experience for us to slush off our ego trappings, sense our powerlessness, and get still enough to hear God speak in the depths of our hearts.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

About God...

For thousands of years we human beings have tried to understand and to know about God.  We’ve done this through the centuries with our questions:  Does God exist?  What is God like?  How does God act?  Does God care?  

J.B. Phillips wrote a little book, “Your God Is Too Small” suggesting that whatever we know of God, however we think God to be, our conception is far too small.  What do we think about God?  Is God for us the “Resident Policeman” of the universe, the “Managing Director” or the “Grand Old Man?”  Whatever our conception about God, Phillips writes, it is far too small.

The God of the Old Testament is quite a character.  Some of us think about God being like that—a “tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye,” kind of guy, a tough fellow who destroys our enemies—and declares “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9).  

Others think about God as being “meek and mild” and always giving out warm fuzzies.  Some see God as Jesus described God. They talk about the “Christ-likeness of God.”  

Philosophers and theologians have provided all kinds of views about God.  What do we think about God?  For what we think about God makes all the difference in how we think about everything else—our life, our situation, our community, our neighbors, our world.  Does God know of the sparrow’s fall and the number of hairs on our heads?  Does God really know of our afflictions?  Is God love—love at the heart of things?

The anonymous 14th century writer of “The Cloud of Unknowing” says,  “Silence is not God, nor speaking; fasting is not God, nor feasting; solitude is not God, nor company…He lies hidden between them and no work of yours can possibly discover him save only your heart’s love.  Reason cannot fully know him for he cannot be thought, possessed or discovered by the mind.  But loved he may be and chosen by the artless, affectionate longing of your heart.  Choose him, then, and you will find that your speech is become silent, your silence eloquent, your fast as feast, your feasting a fast, and so on.  Choose God in love…For this blind thrust, this deep shaft of longing love will never miss the mark, God himself.”

We may know about all things, even about God, but without love says this writer, we may know about God, yet never know God.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

My Task—While It Is Day

“Why,” she asked, “are you so obsessed with politics?”  I’m not obsessed, but I certainly am concerned about our present political situation.  When someone is obsessed, they’ve lost control of their feelings about the subject of their obsession.  The word “obsessed,” however,  is often used to simply mean “very interested.” If that is what my questioner is saying and asking, I answer this way.  I think the most important service which I (any of us) can give to another person is to tell him or her what I am trying to do and why, how I am trying to think and what I think, how I struggle with life’s conundrums, and what I value.  That is why I’m “very interested” in politics—for political decisions and policies have an effect on everything.  So, while it is day, and I have the ability to do, to think, to speak, to write, to experience, and to value—I will do so—not to impose my way on your way—but simply to share my contribution to our common journey.  This is my task.  This is what I am called to do—while it is day.

John Askham’s (1825-1894) poem “Work While it is Day” inspires me:

Work while the day is long,
While the right arm is strong,
While the life-blood is young, Night cometh on.

Work while the sun is high,
In the bright smiling sky;
Swiftly life’s minutes fly: Night cometh on.

Strive with thy heart and soul;
Press to the distant goal;
Waste not the hours that roll: Night cometh on.

Life is a season lent;
Moments are treasures sent;
See that they’re wisely spent:  Night cometh on.

What thy hand finds to do,
That, with thy might, pursue,
With a brave heart and true:  Night cometh on.

What though we toil in pain,
Twill not be all in vain;
Haste then the good to gain:  Night cometh on.

What though grief rack the breast?
Doth there not come a rest?
Let us then do our best:  Night cometh on.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Is Jesus Justice, Truth, And Concern?

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President of Repairers of the Breach, in an interview with Chris Hayes of NBC said, “Because I had been taught by my father and mother that to say Jesus and justice is to say the same thing, to say Jesus and truth, to say Jesus and be concerned about the poor and the least is the same thing.  This is not something separate.  It’s not kind of like politics over here and your morality over here.”

Jesus and justice, Jesus and truth, Jesus and being concerned about the poor and the least of these is to say the same thing?  We like to keep Jesus isolated from real life (limited to heaven since the resurrection—one of the great conundrum of the faith) even though we say God sent him to be like us and to live as we do, and He himself said he would be with us always, never leaving us bereft.  But most of us tend to keep him out of ordinary things, out of politics, out of economics, out of our business—out of everything that we deem important to us. And it is wise that we do, because if we allowed Jesus into these aspects of life—he would turn all of them upside down!  We prefer being “bereft” rather than let Jesus get involved.

Why?  Because to say Jesus and justice is to say the same thing.  Justice is concerned with just behavior and treatment: equality, fairness, equity, decency, integrity, ethics, values, honesty, and principles. This kind of justice applies to the individual and to society as a whole.  The prophet Amos proclaims, “… let justice run down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” Jesus says he has come to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the recovery of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty those who are oppressed.  Sounds like justice to me.

To say Jesus and truth is to say the same thing.  We don’t have to ponder this very much since Jesus himself proclaimed himself as the way and the truth. “What is truth” we ask along with Pilate.  Truth is defined as “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality,” or “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.”

To say Jesus and being concerned about the poor and “the least of these” is to say the same thing.  In Matthew’s gospel (chapter 23) there is some instruction about this, and of course, there is the oft-quoted text of Matthew 25:31-45.

To say, Jesus and justice, Jesus and truth, Jesus and concern about the poor and the least of those among us, IS TO SAY THE SAME THING.  

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Trump’s Muslim Ban Today

Today, Donald Trump lied, openly, nationally, and internationally, in writing.  He wrote the following Tweet:  

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and  Rep. Tlaib
 to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be
 said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a
 hard time putting them back in office.  They are a disgrace!” 

It is NOT true that Omar or Tlaib hate Israel; it is NOT true that they hate all Jewish people That’s the bald-faced lie.  They have been critical of the government of Israel, but that does not mean they hate Israel and it certainly doesn’t mean they hate all Jewish people.  Donald Trump, with that kind of lie, puts their lives in jeopardy.  

Omar and Tlaib are duly elected representatives for the people of Minnesota and Michigan. They are the first Muslim women to serve in the Congress.   Mr. Trump disgraces the Office of the Presidency by saying “They are a disgrace!”  Trump is having his “Muslim Ban” after all.  Netanyahu denied entry into Israel of two Congress women of the United States of America—it is not clear whether he said this before or after Trump’s tweet.

If this little episode, so crystal clear, doesn’t awaken Americans to the peril of Trump, then I don’t know what will!  

“Under God?”

We continually want people to buy into the fact that America is “one nation under God” (that phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance to the flag in 1954).  Not many of us are sure what that “under God” means—and given our religious diversity it probably means different things to different groups. Could we agree that “under God” must at least mean that a nation is subject to God’s ways?  Of course, we would then probably disagree with what we think are God’s ways.  If we use our “books” as a guide:  Torah, Koran, Bible, etc, we could probably say in unison that God cares for the outcast, the disinherited, the poor, and the captive, etc.—or those who cannot stand on their own two feet and who need help.

If we agree with what our religious books tell us about God, then how in the world can we stand by as acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli suggests that only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” are welcome in the USA!  Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State says the suggestion is “completely un-American.”  Albright has been a refugee twice, once escaping from the Nazis to England and then escaping to the US from Czechoslovakia when the communists took over.  She goes on to say “I think the Statue of Liberty is weeping.”  

When asked if he (Cuccinelli) would agree that the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, give me your poor,” are part of the American ethos, Cuccinelli said, “They certainly are:  ‘Give me your tired and your poor’ who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”  Does that mean we want everyone now in this country and those who want to come to be able to stand on their own two feet?  

Julian Castro sees this move as Donald Trump’s intent to create “a nation in his own image.”  Whatever the case, my question is:  Can we say and do this thing, “only the tired and the poor who can stand on their own feet are welcome” while we also say we are a “nation under God?”

By the way, there are roughly 40.6 million people in the United States who cannot stand on their own two feet (that only represents those we call “poor” and does not include others who are not labeled poor, men, women, children and seniors (American citizens) who cannot stand on their own two feet).  These 40.6 million people include:  27.6% Native Americans, 26.2% Black, 23.4% Hispanic, 12.4% White, and 12.3% Asian.  What does a nation which claims it is “under God” do about this? 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

On “Missing Persons”

The longer one lives the more “missing persons” there are in his or her life.  “A missing person,” in the usual sense, “is a person who has disappeared and whose status is unknown.” The persons I “miss” have disappeared from my life, but I normally know their status.  Most have died.  Some have moved and now live far away.  Others have been lost with the passing of the years and circumstance.  And I miss them.  They are my “missing persons.”  They have disappeared from my life in a physical sense, but they linger on in my heart and mind.  This feeling of having missing persons in your life is expressed in the poignant song, “The Old Man:”

The tears have all been shed now
We’ve said our last good-bye
His soul’s been blessed and he’s laid to rest
And it’s now I feel alone
He was more than just a father
A teacher my best friend
He can still be heard in the tunes we shared
When we play them on our own
I never will forget him for he made me what I am
Though he may be gone memory lingers on 
And I miss him…The old man.

And I miss them…my missing persons.  It is true, they “can still be heard in the tunes we shared,” the times we knew, the moments we had, but that only speaks to why they are on my “missing persons” list.  I miss them precisely because of the tunes we shared, the times we knew, and the moments we had.

I don’t know where I’m going with this subject.  It just came to me this morning when I thought about picking up the phone and calling my friend Mur and having a little chat.  Or if she weren’t available, I figured I could jump in the car and drive to Washington DC and meet with Gordon for lunch at the Potter’s House and we could talk a while. But Mur and Gordon are on my missing persons list.  Though they may be gone memory lingers on…and I miss friends, Mur and Gordon-- missing persons.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Our Circle Is Too Small

In the early 20th century a humble Scottish preacher by the name of Arthur John Gossip spoke the following words in a sermon:

“Dostoevsky in one place declares that the only thing that civilization has done for us is to increase our sensibility, our capacity for pain, the pain that comes from sympathy; and wishes plaintively that he were an insect, and so safe from the pangs that his human nature brings him.  And, in truth, many of us are insects, nothing more.  Your selfish man can only be hurt in his own person, and is fairly secure.  He has so small an area to guard.

But as we rise in the scale of being, this vulnerable surface becomes larger. We can be wounded now in our spouse, our children, our family, our friends.  And God’s plan seems to be that this circle of those who matter to us, and through whom we can be injured, should widen out and out, till it is co-extensive with humanity.  ‘Agonies are one of my changes of garments,’ says Whitman; ‘I do not ask the wounded person how he feels.  I myself become the wounded person.  And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.’”

How far have we risen in the scale of being—as human beings, as persons, as a society, as a nation?  How “co-extensive” is our circle of those who matter to us?  “Me First, Us First, America First” implies that we choose to live in a very small circle. We have no room left, we say.  We must guard our small area and erect walls to keep others out.  We must erase the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”.  Those people do not matter any more.  We have no sympathy for them.  Only we matter.

It is no longer a question of how far we have risen in the scale of being—it is now a question of how far we have fallen in the scale of being.  When only “we matter” we have no sympathy and Whitman speaks truth:  “And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.”

Sunday, August 11, 2019

When I Grow Up I Want to Be….

When I grow up I want to be an Enigmatologist.  Enigmatology involves “the investigation and analysis of enigmas.”  Merriam-Webster defines an enigma as (1) something hard to understand or explain, (2) an inscrutable or mysterious person, or (3) an obscure speech or writing.  What an exciting job it is going to be…when I grow up.

When I grow up and become an Enigmatologist my job will consist of investigating, interpreting and explaining the unexplainable.  My task would be, simply put, bringing light to bear on the many riddles of history, separating myth from truth and the natural from the supernatural. I would spend all my time proving or disproving, that is, finding out what is really true and what is really false.

Oh, what fun I’m going to have when I grow up and become an Enigmatologist!