Monday, September 30, 2019

Politics: The Affairs of Humankind

Richard Rohr in his book, Radical Grace, writes:

“To pray is to build your own house.  To pray is to discover that Someone else is within your house.  To pray is to recognize that it is not your house at all.  To keep praying is to have no house to protect because there is only One House.  And that One House is everybody’s home.  That is the politics of prayer.”

The origin of the word “politics” comes from the Greek and means “the affairs of the city.”  Whenever we focus on the “affairs” of anything and/or everything we are engaged in politics—the politics of God, the world, religion, government and humankind. Politics is a multifaceted word.  As William Stringfellow wrote, “The biblical topic is politics…the politics of the nations, institutions, ideologies, and causes of this world and the politics of the Kingdom of God…”

We limit politics by applying the word only to government—Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.  Perhaps we should focus more on the politics of God!  After all, we say we believe our government exists  “under God” and stamp our money with the words “In God We Trust.”  So why not focus on the politics of God?  What is God’s political agenda for the “affairs” of humankind?

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Believing Is Not Seeing

We all know and have often used the saying, “seeing is believing” and that is true.  The opposite or reverse form is not true: “believing is seeing.” For years I believed that the Grand Canyon must be a beautiful, awesome, and wondrous creation of nature and then one day I saw.  For years I believed this or that, and then one day I saw.  Believing is not necessarily seeing.  Believing is a substitute for seeing.  Believing is the acceptance of what someone else says he or she has seen.  

We say we believe in God though we have not seen God.  We say we believe in Jesus Christ.  Many have so believed—but how little that belief has mattered in terms of personal character and social consciousness the sad history of Christendom makes plain (the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the stringing up of so-called witches in New England comes to mind).  There is no doubt that we do believe in Jesus Christ.  Why shouldn’t we?  People who have no scientific background believe Thomas Edison was a great scientist.  Many who know nothing of music believe that Mozart was a great musician.  Belief can be a very superficial thing.

But suppose we not only believed in Jesus, but could “see life as he saw it, perceive in it what he beheld there, look at people, and money, and friendship, and trouble, and death as Jesus looked at them” that would not be superficial.  That would re-create the life of the gospel all over again:  “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”

This gift of seeing was Jesus’ aim—his whole ministry focused on helping people see—not just believe.  He didn’t want us to just believe—he wanted us to see.  Look at all the characters he encountered, from Zacchaeus the tax-gatherer to Mary Magdalene,  who had seen life one way before their encounter with Jesus, but afterwards could never see life that way again.  They said, “I can never again see life in the way I saw it before I met him.” 

The point of Jesus’ coming was to open our eyes and change our point of view, so that we could see life as he saw it.  Belief is one thing; seeing is another.  Jesus came and still comes to open our eyes to a new way of looking at life.  

Saturday, September 28, 2019


When life tumbles in on us we feel helpless.  There is not a thing we can do to change what is. Things happen.  There is nothing we can do about it.  We can’t solve the problem.  It is beyond our control.  We can’t change the situation.  It is what it is.  We want so much to “do” something, but we don’t know what that “something” is.  When such  helplessness comes we can’t think on our feet any more.  We can’t find any solution to make things better.  We can’t reduce or change the grip of whatever it is that has created this overwhelming sense of helplessness.  We can’t do a damn thing!  “Have faith,” someone says.  “Prayer works,” says another.  Do they mean that faith and prayer will alleviate life tumbling in?  Or do they mean it will relieve my helplessness?  I may have faith enough to move mountains and change the tide of the sea, but that does solve my helplessness.  I may pray unceasingly, but I still feel helpless in it all.

Julian of Norwich wrote, “He said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested.  Thou shalt not be travailed.  Thou shalt not be afflicted.”  But He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’”  Jesus told his disciples: “In the world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  How so?  I remember the words of an Irish song, “You may cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst, you shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way…If you pass through raging waters in the sea you will not drown. If you walk among the burning flames you shall not be harmed…know that I am with you through it all.” I understand this to mean that I must accept “Life tumbling in” and I must acknowledge my helplessness in it.

In the words of E.E. Cummings,  I hear, in my helplessness, that I (and you, and all) are being carried, even in the midst of all that we cannot change, cannot solve, cannot do a damn thing about.  Helplessness is part and parcel of our human existence and an essential part of our faith, but even in this we are carried in the Heart of Love—the Love at the Heart of things (even that thing called helplessness).

 “here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)

Friday, September 27, 2019

Living In A New Age

For 10,000 years (about 8000 BC) at the end of the last major ice age, the earth has been in what geologists have called the Holocene (“entirely recent) epoch.  Many scientists are suggesting that we are now living in a new age labeled the “Anthropocene epoch:  from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new”—because human-kind has caused mass extinctions of plant and animal species, polluted the oceans and altered the atmosphere. Can anyone say that we have not?  There is overwhelming global evidence that “atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes” have been altered by us—human-kind.  

Climate change can be a result of earth’s natural processes.  But the present climate change (global warming) is not part of that natural process—it is unnatural.  It is our doing.  The evidence is overwhelming. The direct consequences:  rising temperatures, rising sea-levels, higher ocean temperatures, an increase in heavy participation, shrinking glaciers, and thawing permafrost.  All of these things are happening now in all parts of the world; a result of our polluting ways.

Enter Greta Thunberg, a 16-old from Sweden, who is passionate about climate change and about getting us motivated to do something about it.  On September 20th, Greta inspired and led “the largest climate strike in history which included an estimated 4 million people across 161 countries.” On Monday she addressed world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

Do not mock the voice of a young prophet.  Do not ignore the message—for it is out of the mouths of babes that truth is often revealed.  Do not ignore the melting permafrost or the melting glaciers, the burning rain forests of the Amazon and the forests in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, or what is happening weather-wise in your own back yard.  

Thursday, September 26, 2019


I wrote a few years ago:  Christianity is a life—not a belief.  We restrict the very essence of this faith when we make it only a matter of belief!  After all, Jesus did say that He came “that they [we] might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).   

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:  “Religion in the mind is not credulity (real or true because I believe it), and in the practice is not form.  It is a life.  It is the order and soundness of a man (woman).  It is not something else to be got, to be added, but is a new life of those faculties you have.  It is to do right.  It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble.”

I’m not saying that what we believe doesn’t make a difference and is not important.  But I would assert with Dag Hammerskjold that “God does not die on the day when we cease to believe” in God.  I would also assert with Emerson that religion is not something to be got, to be added, but something already within us, ready to bud and to flower—to do right, to love, to serve, to think, and to be humble.  Religion is a life—not a belief.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Living in the Age of Mendacity

John Milton Hay (1838-1905) was an American statesman, diplomat, author, journalist, and private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln.  He also served as the US Secretary of State under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt.  He was writing of Tzarist Russia when he penned these words:  “Dealing with a government with whom mendacity is a science is an extremely difficult matter.”  

What is mendacity?  Mendacity stands for untruthfulness.  It is a little different from lying.  Lying is a subversion of truth, while mendacity is the act of not being truthful.  The difference between the two words is slight, but significant.  Synonyms for mendacity include such words as “fable, fabrication, falsehood, prevarication, whopper,” etc.

Mendacity has become a science, not in Russia this time around, but in the present government of the United States of America.  This mendacity is no longer being exercised in the secret and inner chambers of our government (as no doubt it always has), but is now being expressed blatantly and out in the open.  The mendacity of Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, is recorded on film and tape for all to hear and see. Those who have ears to hear can hear it and those who have eyes to see can see it!  Only the deaf and the blind can claim ignorance of it.  If you have a working “nose,”  however, you can smell it.  We are living in an Age of Mendacity.

Tennessee Williams in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof  has one of his characters say:  “There ain’t nothing more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it.  It smells like death.”  The character growls, “Mendacity is a system that we live in!” 

Yes, you can see and hear it—it is recorded on tape and video.  But you can also smell it…and it smells like death to our democratic system.  Facts and evidence no longer matter, truth is no longer a desired end, when we live in the Age of Mendacity. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Thank You, Mr. Edison

I don’t know how Dad got hold of it, but I remember him bringing home an old Victrola—what Joe Biden recently called a “record player.”  Along with the Victrola came a bunch of old RPM 78 phonographs (well scratched by the time we got them).  We cranked the handle on the side of the cabinet to make the “turntable” turn and spent hours listening to those old beat-up records.  Thank you, Mr. Edison.

Over the last week or so, we’ve been watching Ken Burn’s new series, Country Music, on our local PBS station.  There are a total of eight two-hour episodes, beginning with the early 20th century to the present. The first in the series featured Jimmie Rogers, also known as “The Singing Brakeman,” The Blue Yodeler,” and the “Father of Country Music.”  Watching this first episode I was reminded of that old Victrola and the scratched phonograph that featured Jimmie Rogers’ songs.  Thank you, Mr. Edison.

Ken Burn’s documentaries are filled with old photographs and film clips.  These photos and clips are bundled together with narration and become a “moving picture show.” From the poverty-stricken Appalachia regions, to the share croppers of the cotton fields of Alabama, and to the “Okie(s) of Muskogee,” these bundled photographs become a living testament to a uniquely American music genre.  Thank you, Ken Burns.  Thank you, Mr. Edison.

If it were not for Thomas Alva Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” the Ken Burn’s Country Music series could never have been considered or possible.  You see, it was Mr. Edison (1897-1931) who brought the world electric light, recorded music, and the movies. Thank you, Mr. Edison. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Honing My Peripheral Vision

The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life writes, “I must also be willing to look between things and not always at them, since a direct gaze often misses what may be glimpsed at the corner of the eye.  The space between two branches may become more promising than the branches themselves.”  I need to work on my peripheral vision, trying from the corner of my eye to see what is in between, rather than simply focusing on what I see directly in front of me. As Taylor suggests, there is a space between two branches which may be more important than the branches themselves.  

What a difference it would make if we could see not just a person’s face, the color of his or her skin and only hear the words he or she may speak, or the clothes they may wear, but rather the “spaces” in between all that physical stuff?  Rather than just looking directly at Joe, perhaps I could see beyond Joe’s physical characteristics and comprehend the space between—all that  really makes Joe, Joe.  Perhaps, with a newly honed peripheral vision, I could see “that of God” in Joe and "that of God" in the space between Joe and me. 

Harold Bell Wright in his book, The Uncrowned King, writes:

Eyes blinded by the fog of things cannot see truth.
Ears deafened by the din of things cannot hear truth.
Brains bewildered by the whirl of things cannot think truth.
Hearts deadened by the weight of things cannot feel truth.
Throats choked by the dust of things cannot speak truth.

The story of Jesus and the blind man of Bethsaida is found in Mark 8:24.  After spitting on the blind man’s eyes and touching them, Jesus asked him, “Do you see anything?”  The man answered, “I see people but they look like trees walking around.”  It took a second touch to make the man “see everything clearly.”  A second touch is often necessary to help us see the space in between—from seeing people as being trees walking around, to seeing “everything clearly.” 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The Japanese poet Ariwara No Narihira wrote the following poem in the ninth century:
 “I have always known
 that at last I would take this road, 
but yesterday I did not know
 that it would be today.”

Yesterday we thought about our tomorrows.  Every tomorrow we have known and experienced has often been focused on our yesterdays—those tomorrows long since past—or on that tomorrow yet to come.  Our todays have often been totally missed  (and avoided) because of this seemingly natural inclination to ponder our yesterdays and our tomorrows today, rather than focus on our today, today.  Does that make sense to you?

Our treatment of “today,” reminds me of these words of John Donne: “Thou hast imprinted a pulse in our soul, but we do not examine it; a voice in our conscience, but we do not hearken to it.  We talk it out, we jest it out, we drink it out, we sleep it out; and when we wake, we do not say with Jacob, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not:’ but though we might know it, we do not, we will not.”  Today is given, but we do not examine it…we do not hearken to it…and we know it not!

Out of our yesterdays (those tomorrows that have come and gone), we sometimes develop an inkling that “someday” (some tomorrow) we will take a certain road—“but yesterday I did not know that it would be today.”

“Yesterday, when I was young/The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue/I teased at life as if it were a foolish game/The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame/The thousand dreams I dreamed, the splendid things I planned/I always built on to last on weak and shifting sand…/And only now I see how the years ran away/…I ran so fast that time and youth at last ran out…” and every yesterday and every tomorrow became TODAY.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Box: Part II

When I ponder “The Box,” John Denver’s song, “Follow Me,” comes to mind:  “Follow me where I go, what I do and who I know, make it part of you to be a part of me. Follow me up and down, all the way and all around…make it part of you to be a part of me.”  The Box has done that for over 65 years!

The baby groundhog that came in that plain, unfinished wooden box did not survive, but the box has been with me ever since—some 65-years.  The box has been a sort of companion you might say.  How do I tell the rest of the story of an old box in a few paragraphs?

When I joined the Boy Scouts at age 11,  I saw an advertisement in Boy’s Life magazine about the Northwestern School of Taxidermy in Omaha, Nebraska.  The correspondence course offered by the school was expensive (I believe it cost $12 or $13).  Churchill, a special family friend and sometime mailman, who had given me the box, also gave me a dollar to help meet the first payment for those taxidermy lessons.  Soon I was mounting birds and chipmunks.  Several neighbors encouraged my new found skill providing peasants, grouse and other birds and animals for mounting.  (The last time I exercised my taxidermy skills was in 1967 when I struck a deer with my brand new car on a snowy night in West Virginia—and mounted the deer’s head—just to see if I could).

What does taxidermy have to do with the box?  My Grandad saw the box and its potential for his budding taxidermist grandson.  He suggested painting the unfinished box black—just like a doctor’s bag.  He even suggested a way I could store my scalpels, scrapers, and other tools with an elastic material tacked to the inside of the lid.  Willie, who ran the garage next door, provided the glossy black paint (a lead-based automotive product).  A handle was found and a hasp installed and the box that once held a a baby groundhog became my taxidermy toolbox.

When my taxidermy days began to wane, the box became a storage place for mementoes and served all kinds of other purposes through the ensuing years.  Eight years ago, I decided to renew the box—stripping off the black paint (no easy task)—but then set it aside, only to pick up on the project the next year—and then the next—and I still haven’t finished it yet!  Why did I decide to start such project?  Was it an attempt to feel the memories the box held for me and perhaps to listen to the story the little box had to tell?  I mentioned the box to my older brother during a visit and to my surprise even he remembered the box!  So, once again I am working on renewing the box and listening ever more closely to the story it tells.

Pondering The Box is similar to my granddaughter
looking at herself in the mirror.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Box: Part I

I’m not sure whether to call “The Box” a souvenir, a collectible, a keepsake, a treasure, or just simply one of the many pieces of junk or clutter I’ve gathered through the years.  “The Box” is probably about 65-years-old, given to me by our “substitute mailman” (also our landlord and very special family friend) Churchill (yes, that was his first name!).  

I remember (I was only 10 or 11 at the time) the day Churchill was delivering mail, filling in as he often did for our regular mailman Jim, and gave me that plain, unwrapped, unfinished wooden box, telling me it was a “special delivery.”  When I opened the box I found a baby groundhog staring up at me.  It was only a few weeks old.  Apparently Churchill had found it along the road on his mail run that day—and managed to get it in that box he just happened to have with him.  

Everyone in the neighborhood knew of my fascination for wildlife and the menagerie I developed every summer in the back yard and on the back porch—turtles, frogs, snakes, pigeons, chipmunks, and at one point a pet skunk.  From time to time, friends and neighbors would contribute to that menagerie. How my parents put up with this penchant of mine I’ll never know—but they did—and even seemed to encourage it.  Mom didn’t seem to mind my takeover of one of her wash tubs as a habitat for my collection of frogs during the summer months.  My dad even brought home a small blacksnake for me that he had found while at work.   

The baby groundhog didn’t survive in spite of all my best efforts to save it by feeding it warm milk with an eye dropper and getting my mother’s permission to keep it in the house.  The box, however, has survived and I hope to write “the rest of the story” another time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Life Is A Coloring Book

Do you remember Brenda Lee singing “My Coloring Book?”   “And for those who fancy coloring books/And lots of people do/Here’s a new one for you/A most unusual coloring book/The kind you’ll never see/Crayons ready?/Very well/Begin to color me.”  The song goes on to assign a “color” to the emotional experiences of a young woman who has lost someone she loves.  “This is the room that I sleep in and walk in/And weep in and hide in/That nobody, nobody’s seen/Oh, color it lonely, please.”

In 1982, Alice Walker wrote her Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Color Purple, which later was adapted to a film and musical of the same name.  The title, “The Color Purple," is based on the philosophy that you shouldn’t walk by, ignore, or fail to see or notice the color purple (or any other color) in the field of life. Everything in life’s journey has a color. 

Life is a coloring book. Everything has a color or is eventually assigned a color, from Brenda Lee’s, “This is the room that I sleep in and walk in/And weep in and hide in/That nobody, nobody’s seen/Oh, color it lonely, please,” to the many colors of cancer—Lung cancer: white; Brain cancer: grey; Breast cancer, pink, Bone cancer: yellow and so on.  September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month—“Teal” is the color for ovarian cancer.  Since mid-July, our daughter, Rachel, has distributed teal bracelets to family members and friends which read:  “In the fight for someone I love,”  “coloring” her Mom’s ovarian cancer diagnosis.   Our grandchildren have sent photos showing off the teal bracelets on their wrists—or perhaps better to say, giving “color” to their love for their grandmother.  That “love—colored teal” has a remarkable healing power.

As in Walker’s book where “the color purple” indicates something you must not walk by or fail to notice in the field of life, so “the color teal” indicates something we can’t walk by or fail to notice.  Coloring books for adults are becoming the new trend, and unlike many of the fads of our day, this one, I think is good for us.  Life is a coloring book:  “Crayons ready?/Very Well/Begin to color [you]”


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dealing With My Stuff

We all have our stuff.  The stuff in our lives is found in our closets, in our garage, in our attic, in our shed, in our car, in our desk drawers, on our bookshelves, and as many other places as we can find to stash our stuff.  What is this stuff and how should I deal with it? 

“Stuff” is my personal property—“a group or scattering of miscellaneous objects or articles” that I’ve collected over time.  Some “stuff” is seen as garbage (trash, rubbish, refuse) which is waste material that needs to be discarded since it is no longer used or needed.  What constitutes garbage is highly subjective, however, as observed by those who spend their Saturdays visiting yard sales.  “Your trash may be somebody else’s treasure.”

Now for me, my “stuff” is different from my garbage (trash, rubbish, and refuse).  Some of my stuff is junk, I know that, but from my perspective, junk still means my “belongings”  (stuff)—some old, some no longer used, some treasured, some taking up space, some holding memories, etc.  Junk is the stuff I should get rid of, but can’t seem to get in the mood to do.

Some of my “stuff” is “treasured” (just like some folk treasure money, jewels, or precious metals).  Something treasured is something of great worth or value to the person who treasures it.  My books are a collection, in my mind, of precious treasures—treasures to be hoarded, saved, preserved—and yet I wonder—will those books be a treasure for someone else?  I doubt it.  My problem is that I am a wealthy man—I treasure all my stuff!

My stuff:  garbage, trash, junk, or treasure? I don’t think I need to join “Clutterers Anonymous” (a 12-step recovery program for people with serious hoarding issues), but I do have to deal with my “stuff.”  It seems ridiculous to hold on to those VHS tapes—but, after all, I do still have the VHS player.  Why do I hold on to college and seminary papers—the subjects of which are obsolete now?  Cassette tapes,  old LP’s and even a few 45’s, used curtain rods, tools, you name it, I’ve probably got it among my stuff.  I guess I’ve got to face it—it is time to deal with my stuff.  Maybe I’ll just move stuff from one place to another and save myself the frustration of having to make weighty decisions.  

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Are You Weary, Languid, Sore Distress’d?

Which hymn do you prefer?

“Are you weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?  Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer….in his arms he’ll take and shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there.”  (What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Joseph Scriven, 1855)

“Are you weary, are you languid, are you sore distress’d?  ‘Come to me,’ says One, ‘and, coming, be at rest….If I find him, if I follow, what his promise here?  ‘Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear.…If I hold closely to him, what has he at last?  ‘Sorrow vanquished, labor ended, Jordan passed.’…Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is he sure to bless?  ‘Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs answer yes.’”  (St. Stephen of Mar Saba wrote this hymn  1300 years ago, it was translated from the Greek to English by John M. Neale in 1862).

Both hymns are derived from Matthew 11:28-29. Elton Trueblood called this passage, “the Heart of the heart of the Gospel:” “Come unto Him,” as Handel puts it in the Messiah, “all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and He will give you rest.  Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.”

The first hymn (What A Friend We Have In Jesus) ignores Matthew 11:29—and emphasizes verse 28, suggesting that the burden will be removed, taken away. It suggests that “rest” and “solace” is a given (the burden is lifted, health is restored, and one will be shielded from all struggle). This is precisely what Jesus did not say or offer.  The second hymn, on the other hand, picks up on Jesus’ offer of rest to the burdened by asking the “already burdened” to share His burden, to take on His yoke:  “If I find him, if I follow, what his promise here?  ‘Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear.’”  (By the way, this hymn was sung in the 1940 movie Our Town. It is seldom sung in churches these days).

“What is a Christian? A Christian is one who seeks, in spite of his or her failures (weakness, helplessness, burden and languidness) to carry Christ’s yoke with Him” (Trueblood). I don’t know all that it means to take on Christ’s yoke, but it at least means “to learn of Him” and to share in his toil, and finding a unique “rest” in the midst of it.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Patriot Day—9/11

I never watch TV in the morning hours—but when my mother-in-law out in California called on that morning of 9/11 to tell me that something bad was happening in New York City—I broke my normal pattern and turned on the TV and remained glued to the screen for the remainder of the day.  I could not believe what was happening!

Nearly two decades have passed since the 9/11 attacks and much has changed. In fact, the whole world has changed.  Our right to privacy, our immigration policies, the way we travel, an 18-year war, etc. are all part of 9/11’s aftermath.

The immediate response after 9/11, however, was our coming together as a people—a people with shared values—American values—that we felt had been attacked that day. Those values included a shared commitment to freedom, diversity, and equality, and a unity undergirded by courage and love and selflessness.  

Those shared values that brought us together on 9/11 are under attack again—not from intruders or outsiders, but from within. The values (the American character) that emerged after 9/11 was a wondrous thing—turning the “worst day we have ever seen” into a day that “brought out the best in all of us.”  While we mourn, remember, and reflect on that 9/11 of eighteen years ago, we must also seek to find again those shared values that held us together then, and can hold us together now.  “America will never be destroyed from the outside,” Abraham Lincoln once said—and 9/11 proved his point—“If we falter and lose our freedoms,” he warned, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“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.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The New Religious Guru?

I feel a need to respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion during the rally in North Carolina last night.  He asserted that Democrats (‘the America-hating left”) “want to dismantle, demolish, and destroy everything that you have gained.  He then said that Democrats are not religious and are trying to take away religion.  His exact words were:  “Whether it has to do with religion, our evangelicals…what we’ve done for them and for religion is so important.  The other side, not big believers in religion, I can tell you.”

Please Note:  A 2014 Pew data report indicates that “72% of Democrats say religion is important or somewhat important in their lives, and 76% of Democrats say they are absolutely or fairly certain of their belief in God.”  An October 2017 Gallup poll reported that 31% of Americans identified themselves as Democrat, 24% as Republican, and 42% as Independent.  Democrats are presently the largest political party with more than 42 million voters—Republicans 30 million voters—Independents 24 million voters.

Mr. Trump says he knows more than the generals.  He knows more than anyone else, more than everyone, so he says, even the National Weather Service. Now he says he knows that 42 million American voters are not big believers in religion (“I can tell you,” he says).  He implied “the other side” wants to take away religion and represent “the American-hating left”.  

I can tell you, Mr. Trump, that whatever religion you are talking about, and whatever religion you have espoused, whatever religion you have practiced in your rhetoric and your tweets, and whatever religion that you have strengthened, I find repugnant.  And for the first time, I can say, Mr. Trump, you are right!  The religion you are talking about is anathema to me!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Now Look At Who Is Bending the Knee!

There was much ado about bending the knee during the National Anthem a little while ago.  It was deemed unpatriotic.  

Now who is bending the knee in national politics?  There has been much ado, indeed it went on for six days, about Mr. Trump’s repeated and misleading claim that Alabama was due to take a hard hit from Hurricane Dorian.  Later in the week, a “sharpie” created a new map to prove Mr. Trump had it right.  The media and late night shows pounced on this blatant altering of the facts.  After Mr. Trump’s weather forecast on Sunday of last week, even the National Weather Service office in Birmingham reacted saying that Alabama was not in the hurricane’s path.  But Mr. Trump continued to stick to his guns, or perhaps I should say, to his “sharpie” map.  The whole business reminded me of what Mr. Trump announced sometime ago in Kansas at the VFW convention: “Stick with us.  Don’t believe the crap you see from these people (now, I guess he is  including the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center), the fake news…What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

On Friday, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sent out an unsigned statement via tweet, contradicting the Birmingham National Weather Service’s earlier statement contradicting Mr. Trump’s forecast, saying that the Alabama-based office “spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”  Whatever that means, and what it means to me is that NOAA (a supposedly non-partisan federal agency) is bending the knee.  The NWS responded:  “Let me assure you the hard working employees of the NWS had nothing to do with the utterly disgusting and disingenuous tweet sent out by NOAA management tonight.”

This is not the first time a federal agency has bent the knee in Trump’s defense.  Remember the fuss over the size of Mr. Trump’s inaugural crowd?  Do you recall the EPA being banned from speaking with reporters (along with the Agriculture and Health and Human Services department)?    Remember the reports that “tremendous amounts” of the promised border wall had been built, which wasn’t true?  The DHS came to the rescue, tweeting “just as he promised, the border wall has begun construction.” On and on this bending of the knee is occurring.  Have you noticed?

At the GOP convention in California this week, the campaign chairman predicted that “the Trumps will be a dynasty that lasts for decades.”    When asked if the Trump children will be future candidates, he said:  “I just think they’re a dynasty.  I think they’re all amazing people…with amazing capabilities.  I think you see that from Don Jr.  I think you see that from Ivanka.  You see it from Jared.  You see it from all.” 

Is America ready to bend the knee to the new dynasty?

Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Life of Service

William Temple wrote that “Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.”  What he meant was that the Christian faith is never satisfied with, nor is it about just some inner state of personal spiritualism—it is concerned with and is all about caring for people.  The Christian faith may include a sense of personal salvation, but it also includes being aware of every person as the object of God’s care.  As Elton Trueblood wrote, “I cannot be wholly saved unless my brother (my sister) is saved because, in the unforgettable words of John Donne, ‘I am involved in mankind.’” Christianity, while it is spiritual, must always be more than spiritual.  To paraphrase the oft-quoted words of Paul in I Corinthians 13, If I speak with the tongues of men or of angels, or have the gift of prophecy, and know all hidden truths and have a faith strong enough to move mountains, or dole out all that I possess, but have no love, I am nothing.

In other words, a religious faith is about loving and serving our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of creed, race, gender, nationality, etc.,  because this faith is representative of, and is rooted in, the “Love at the Heart of Things:—a God who loves.  Everyone who serves is a minister, a priest, a rabbi, an imam, caring, loving, and serving his or her fellow human beings.

Since the color of our personal world in recent days has turned to Teal (the color for ovarian cancer awareness) we have witnessed this life of service (this faith—whether professed or not) exercised and  demonstrated in the healthcare professionals we have encountered, including physicians, nurses, aids, technicians, and receptionists.  They have ministered to us in both spirit, mind, and body, and we will be forever grateful for their care (which we have felt to be genuine and sincere and not merely professional).  We have also observed this ministry being given not just to us, but to each and every person under their care.

The response to the people devastated by Hurricane Dorian, in the Bahamas and elsewhere, is an example of this ministry, emphasizing in our time Lincoln’s words:  “Nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.”  When we get hold of this reality (Love at the Heart of Things) there is never such a being as an illegal alien, a refugee, or an infidel.  When we get hold of this and begin to exercise our own ministry, “Behold,” says the God of Love, “I am doing a new thing (through you), can you not perceive it?”

Friday, September 6, 2019

Finding God Where We Are

Arthur Clutton-Brock visits me this morning with this message:

“Christ has been misunderstood by those who think of Him as offering a consolation prize.  He told them how to keep the fire living in the grate; told them that the fire itself was of the same nature with the stars.  He promised them a passion freed from its cage; seeing it not a danger to the soul but the soul itself, passionate for that which is not itself, the soul become all a lover and finding everywhere the scent and beauty, the allurement, of that which it loves.  He knew the error of those philosophers who see nothing between their own lonely selves and God in an infinite distance; for Him man is not a lonely spirit on the earth, lonely in his private search for a far distant God.  God is to be found and seen, not through an illimitable vacancy between Himself and the spirit of man, but in and through all things that stir men to love.  He is to be seen in the light of a cottage window as well as in the sun or the stars.

Only those who know this escape from the dullness and routine of life.  Blake has told us that Satan is the god of things that are not, “the lost traveller’s dream under the hill.”  He is the god of the rainbow in the next field but one, in seeking whom men miss the true God in the meadow where they stand….Christ tells us to value men and things for their own sake; we must have a passion for men if we are to have one for God.  ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these little ones, ye have done it unto me.’  It is not only of conduct that these words are true.  If we are to understand Christianity, we must extend them and say—Inasmuch as ye have seen one of these little ones, ye have seen me; and Inasmuch as ye have understood one of these little ones, ye have understood me.  God is revealed to us in the known, not hidden in the unknown; and we have to find Him were we are.”

Christian Narcissism

A self-centered culture produces a self-centered religion.  The Christian religion has become tainted with it.  When a preoccupation with self dominates the culture it also shapes the character of our religion.  The gospel message is reshaped and molded to suit our selfish needs.  Jesus is available to help us.  It isn’t a matter of Jesus changing our lives, but more a matter of Jesus being around to improve our lives.  Jesus will make us happier, more self-satisfied, more prosperous, and provide us with a heavenly home in the end, and most important, Jesus is around to protect us and save us from all harm (us/me, not necessarily “them”).

 An alleged Christian wrote about the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, reporting the fact that many homes and lives had been lost, but fortunately their family and home was spared.  This report was followed by the sentence, “God is good!”  Good to whom?  God is good to me!  I am entitled to be spared, to be healed, to be safe—the implication being that God is mine.  Beware of Christian narcissism.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen?

“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” is an African-American spiritual song. It originated sometime during the period of slavery here in the U.S., but it wasn’t published until 1867. The traditional lyrics are:
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve been through
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen…
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down
Oh, yes, Lord
Sometimes I’m almost to the ground
Oh, yes, Lord
Although you see me going ‘long so
I have my troubles here below.

Most of us are familiar with the newer version, “Nobody knows the trouble I see, nobody knows but Jesus.”  That’s not true!  With 7.7 billion people populating this world there are many others besides Jesus who DO KNOW “the trouble I’ve been through” and the trouble you’ve been through, who DO KNOW my sorrow and your sorrow.  They know because they are going through those troubles too.

On July 17, 2019, my wife, Cherie (Cher), was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  It was a shock. We had no idea.  We have now joined the company of thousands of others, WHO DO KNOW, and are wrestling with this disease, going through the trauma of chemotherapy and all that such treatment entails.  And now you know—and we can no longer say,“Nobody knows, but Jesus.” Nor could we say, “No One Knows, but Jesus” even before telling you. The American Cancer Society estimated that there would be 22,000-plus new cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in the U.S. this year.  That means over 22,000 women know the trouble we are experiencing—not just Jesus!

There is a saying, “Minor surgery is when it is happening to you, and Major surgery is when it is happening to me.”  I understand this attitude, but I want to resist it—because I know that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children in the world, Red, brown, yellow, Black and white.  They are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.” And all those little children have their troubles too.  None of those troubles are minor—they are all major!

“You are not alone,” a friend assured me a few days ago.  It is true.  We are not alone in our troubles, not only because Jesus knows, but because everybody knows—all 7.7 billion people know.  No one is immune to trouble, disease, or sorrow.  We live in the company of the perplexed and the troubled.  We are not alone.