Thursday, October 31, 2019

Jesus The Person vs. The Christ of the Church

I find it fascinating that Jesus rejected the very things that so many of us ascribe to him—and that includes what the Church has ascribed to him.  In the Temptation stories provided by the  scripture it seems clear to me that Jesus rejected miracle as the basis for his ministry.  When the tempter approached him in the wilderness and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread,”  Jesus rejected the notion.  Yet that is precisely what so many of us want Jesus to do.  We want miracles.  We want Jesus to prove himself by doing miracles, just as the people of his own time wanted him to prove himself in that way .  Faith for many is about Jesus turning “stones into bread,” turning catastrophe into triumph, turning disease into wellness, etc.

Jesus, so it seems to me, also rejected the  notion of “mystery” during those long days of sorting things out in the wilderness.  The tempter suggested that Jesus climb to the top of the parapet of the temple and throw himself down.  Don’t worry, the tempter said, if you are really God’s Son the angels will be there to catch you.  After all, if God is for you those angels won’t let you “strike your foot against a stone.” Yet many of us believe that in having Jesus on our side, we will be protected from all harm.  After all, if you belong to God, nothing bad can happen to you—even if you do something silly like jump from the parapet of the temple.  Rabbi Harold Kushner tried to help us get over this hangup when he wrote his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  But we persist, wanting mystery, wanting some kind of special blessing, thinking we are protected, wanting angels to be there to catch us, so that bad things can never happen to us.  We have forgotten that Jesus rejected this notion.

It also seems clear to me that Jesus rejected authority as a part of his ministry (the Bible, the Church).  He refused to bow down to any authority even when all the kingdoms of the world were offered to him if he would do so.  He refused to exercise authority as a way of making himself known.  Yet, we have laid that “authority” on him even while he rejected it.

Verna J. Dozier in her little book, The Dream of God, quotes the Grand Inquisitor, in Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, saying, the church “corrected Jesus’ mistake and founded the church on these same three temptations—miracle, mystery, and authority,” by choosing the comfort of “declaring the Bible the Word of God instead of taking seriously what the Bible says—that Jesus himself is the Word of God.”  God became incarnate not as a book, Dozier writes, but as a person.  I might add, God became incarnate not as the church, but as a person.  Jesus did not come to “turn stones into bread,” or to mysteriously protect us, or to “lord it over us.”  Jesus did not call us to worship him.  He called us to follow him.  There is a vast difference between these two notions.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Abiding Spiritual Pain: The Way of Every Pilgrim

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was probably the most famous, most admired, most quoted, Christian personality of the 20th century.  Robert Fulghum expressed what most of us felt about her:  “No shah or president or king or general or scientist or pope; no banker or merchant or cartel or oil company or ayatollah holds the key to so much power as she has.  None is as rich.  For hers is the invincible weapon against the evils of this earth:  the caring heart.  And hers are the everlasting riches of this life:  the wealth of the compassionate spirit.”

After her death, Mother Teresa was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2003, but during her lifetime we were already referring to her as a “living saint”.  In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work with the poor and even today  she is considered one of the greatest humanitarians of the 20th century. 

We held her in the highest esteem—the epitome of an authentic Christian—who dedicated her entire life to what Jesus called “the least of these.”  When she died in 1997 another side of her life began to unfold as her personal letters were opened to the public. Time magazine reported in 2007 that she spent nearly half a century without feeling God’s presence, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”  Many were surprised by these revelations of her faith struggle. Why? Almost all of us, if we are truly honest, have known and experienced, as all people of faith before us, what Saint John of the Cross  called “the dark night of the soul.”  But we just couldn’t believe this about Mother Teresa—that “small, stooped woman in a faded blue sari and worn sandals,” whom we had come to idolize. 

Because we idolized her, we missed seeing and embracing her heart struggles.  We lifted her up and missed the essence of what it means to be a pilgrim of The Way.  Part of that Way is to be stripped of our warm, fuzzy, feely, everything is hunky-dory spirituality.  Someone wrote that “Prayer can give us great experiences.  But what are you after?  Are you after God, or are you after how awesome it feels to be after God?”  Are you after God for what God can do for you? “The only criterion for whether your prayer life is successful,” writes Ruth Barrows, “is whether it makes you a more charitable and loving person, not whether it feels good or bad,” not whether you get what you want or have an exhilarating kick from it by “feeling” God’s presence.

Mother Teresa, as Time reported, spent a half-century without feeling God’s presence, but that does not mean she lacked faith.  She lived her life acting as though she had it—she persevered in ministering to “the least of these” even in the face of the “darkness” she felt.  Lest you’ve forgotten, Jesus, in his most powerful parable says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

It Happened at the Barbershop

There were four of us, including the barber, in the Barbershop.  We do not know one another.  Politics came up and it was agreed by the other three that “all politicians are dishonest.”  The barber quoted something his father use to say about politicians and then added that his father thought LBJ to be the most crooked and dishonest of all presidents.  Another fellow said he was quoting Will Rogers, “If you shake hands with a politician be sure to count your fingers when it is over.”  (I tried to fact-check the quote—but didn’t find it among those of Will Rogers). The third fellow came in from left field and asked if we all remembered how George W. Bush and his wife  had to wait for days to get into the White House while the Clinton’s stole everything they could get their hands on.  My meek response was that I’d never heard of that happening—but I guess I said it so meekly that they didn’t hear me, for no one responded.  

The discussion moved right along.  The claim was made that Donald Trump is not a politician (and I’m assuming from the earlier comments that that means he isn’t dishonest or crooked).  “No,” said the other fellow, “he’s a businessman.”  “I don’t know how he holds everything together like he does,”  said the other.  “He’s got things going on in all those foreign countries and getting all kinds of things accomplished here in this country.  I don’t know how he manages.”  “He runs it all as a business,” said the other, that’s how he holds everything together.  He’s a business man and a good one.” Then said the other fellow, “Well, I hope the American public realizes all that he has done for this country.  He’s done more than any other president, ever.”  The barber chimed in with a plan to keep Mr. Trump in office beyond two terms.  If after “two terms” VP Pence could be elected president he could choose Trump as his VP—that would tie up 16 years and Trump could go on doing all that he is doing to make this country great again.

“Well, said the other, “I worry a little about all these new young voters. They want something for nothing.  They are all for hand-outs and give-aways.  It is hard to know how they might vote this time around.  All they know how to do is use their thumbs.”  “Yes,” said the Barber, “we could get another LBJ in there—someone who will give everything for nothing to the blacks, like LBJ did.”  “Yeah,” said the other, “someone like Bernie or that Elizabeth woman.”  

I said nothing.  What could I say?  While I don’t know any of these three men in a personal way, I like them.  They seem like good guys (all about my age).  I wonder where they get their news?  I wonder if they pay attention to any news at all?  But most of all I feel like I live in “a galaxy far, far away.”

One has to be very careful in the barbershop.

The Double Search

Rufus Jones wrote a little book called The Double Search back in 1906, long before anyone reading this blog was born.  In the book he suggests that just as men and women through the ages have sought God, so God has been seeking us.  Old books, such as this one,  are often ignored these days by those of us who want to be up-to-date and modern.  We make the assumption that anything old is no longer valid.  Elton Trueblood called it the “disease of contemporaneity.”  Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote, “Many of us who call ourselves liberal are not liberal; we are narrow rather, with that most fatal bigotry of all:  we can understand nothing except contemporary thought.”  We think, erroneously, that our thinking is somehow fresh and new, that our ideas have never been pondered before, that our questions have never been asked before, that our struggles to find meaning and purpose in life have never been experienced by anyone else until we came along.  

A seminary professor years ago wrote a note on the front page of my essay: “I’m not particularly interested in what you think.  History is about knowing what others have thought.”  I rewrote the “research” paper.  I pulled musty old books from library shelves and read what others had written over the centuries about the subject.  I discovered in the process that “my thinking” was not new after all, and was quite shallow compared to the thinking others had given to the essay topic.  I’ve been grateful to that professor ever since.

Rufus Jones’ little book has much to say to us in our time.  Our search for God is not a one way street, and often times does not even depend on us at all.  God is seeking  us, perhaps even more vigorously than we are searching for God..This is really the story the Bible tells if we read it carefully.

The double search might also be thought of as our predecessors reaching out and seeking us, trying to share their story, their questions, their sufferings, their ideas and thoughts to help us in our own quest today.  Fosdick suggested that a man of “catholic” (universal) culture “should know how to be at home in all ages, to appreciate wisdom and spiritual quality in all forms of thought; he should drink the water of life from Greek vases and Jewish water jars as well as from modern faucets, and whoever lacks such culture robs himself (herself) of his inheritance of experience and truth.” 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Good Book

Rufus Jones wrote the following about the Bible in his 1948 book, A Call To What Is Vital: “…no other book that has ever been written has received such a searching examination, such minute and painstaking research, at the hands of an army of trained experts as has happened during the last three generations to the Scriptures of the Old and Nw Testaments.  That the whole perspective has been altered by this historical research there can be no doubt.  For those who are familiar with the results of this extensive examination the great Book is bound to be seen in a new light and it can no longer be read in an attitude of Biblio-idolatry.  The theory of its verbal infallibility is of course gone.  The idea that it is a divinely ‘dictated’ Book is untenable.  That the Book is an unbroken unity, all the parts of it on the same moral and spiritual level, is on longer a possible view.”  

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote in his 1924 book, The Modern Use of the Bible, how in light of scientific fact, biblical research, and the vicissitudes of the modern world, we must approach the Bible not by “denying the discoveries of science, and insisting on the literal acceptance of every Biblical idea,” but by reason and experience.

Why is it then, now, in 2019,  that a wide swath of Christians and Christian churches continue to proclaim that the earth is only 6000 years old when science suggests that the earth is at least 4.5 billion years old? Why then, do many still cling to the notion that God dictated every word of the Bible, when, in fact, those very words often contradict each other?  Why then, do some say God created the world in six days, or that Joshua caused the sun to stand still?  Is it just a matter of ignorance, stubbornness, or blind faith?  Of course, denying scientific discoveries, and abandoning “reasoning” is not limited to the Bible.  “It is an astonishing fact,” writes Norm Chomsky, “about the current era that in the most powerful country in world history, with a high level of education and privilege, one of the two political parities virtually denies the well-established facts about anthropogenic climate change.”

“Religion” (Bible), wrote a professor of theology, “is a dangerous drug, unless it is wisely administered.”  Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird has one of her characters say, ““Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)…” The Bible is a “Good Book.” I read a portion of it everyday—and I read it in the light of this modern day.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Re-Visiting Delphi

The word oracle comes from the Latin verb orare, “to speak.”  In our time the word is associated with the largest database management company in the world, the Oracle Corporation. However, in 800 B.C., an oracle was a person who provided wise and insightful counsel and prophetic predictions, inspired by the gods.  The word, Oracle, also referred to the place of the oracle—and such a place was Delphi, the ancient religious sanctuary dedicated to the Greek god Apollo.  Delphi was the place of the Oracle of Delphi—the priestess Pythia.

Pilgrims (heads of State and ordinary folk) visited Delphi to ask their questions, to seek guidance, and to peer into the future. Pythia, the priestess, would hear the question relayed to her by other priests—then she would inhale methane gas (which causes hallucinations) that spewed from a chasm in the ground, fall into a trance, mutter incomprehensible words, which the Apollo priests would then translate for the pilgrim.  Now that may all seem rather silly to us, but the ancient Greeks believed the Oracle of Delphi had existed since the dawn of time and had predicted various historical events, including the Trojan War.  Indeed, the Greeks viewed Delphi as the “center” or “navel” of the world.

The Delphic Oracle had considerable influence for centuries. The Roman emperor Hadrian was fascinated by the place.  I’m fascinated by the fact that Pythia, a female,  was held as the supreme authority both civilly, religiously and politically in the male-dominated society of that time.  Perhaps we ought to consider a Pythia in our time?

I have had the privilege and joy to walk the “Sacred Way,” that path traveled by the ancients to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. I cannot describe the mystical “feel” of that path, or the sense I had of walking on hallowed ground.  It was as “spirit-filled” as my walk along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.  The Pythia and Apollo’s priest were no longer available to receive my questions, to give me guidance, or to help me peer into the future, but the ruins of Delphi remain and the stones cry out still.  They cry out the need we humans have for oracles, for a Pythia—a portal, a door, a window, through which the gods (God) can speak directly to us.  

Strange as it may seem, as I re-visited Delphi this morning, the fifth verse of the hymn, “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing” echoed within with some added words of my own:  He/She/the Oracle speaks, and listening to his/her voice, new life the dead receive; the mournful, broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor are now relieved.  Our need for an oracle, a place to ask our questions, to seek guidance, and to peer into the future remains as crucial in this moment of time as it did for those who walked the “Sacred Way” 2800 years ago to the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shame on America! Part II

Eight days ago I wrote:  “A Special Forces soldier in Syria says he is ashamed, as he and his fellow soldiers “stand down” at the order of their Commander-in-Chief and watch their comrades in arms (Kurds) being attacked.  I’m ashamed because the “green light” was given for this situation by the United States of America.  This “stand down” permits Turkey to do something it has long wanted to do—get rid of the Kurds.  Anyone with any historical insight knows this has been a long-standing objective of Turkey.  The conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish people goes all the way back to the Ottoman Empire, but it escalated in 1978 and has continued to the present time.  

It is true that the Kurds were not with us at Normandy—but they have been with us in Syria as allies for the past five years, losing over 11,000 of their own in the fight against Isis.  To desert them, to leave them at the mercy of Turkey, is despicable.

If Turkey’s incursion into Syria should become an “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurdish people, we, America, will have that blood on our hands.”

Today, eight days later, a “pause” is supposedly in effect along the Syrian/Turkish border. Touted as a victory by a few, it really is a disaster, and we, America, have blood on our hands.  That’s quite a graphic sentence—I know—but it is true.  160,000 Kurds are displaced at this point; 70,000 are children.  Over 200-plus have been killed.  And today….THIS….

"Well known Kurdish journalist and TV presenter Amanj Bibani was assassinated on Wednesday evening in Sulaymaniyah.  Babani was working with NRT news channel, which has confirmed his death after reports from police and medical sources. He was accompanied by his wife and only son, also shot dead."

Mitt Romney has it right:  "The decision to abandon th Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties.  It strikes at American honor.  What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a blood stain in the annals of American history."

This Mutable and Immutable Life

The word “mutable”means that which is “liable to change.”  Whatever else we can say about Life we can certainly say it is mutable. Can anyone deny this?  One day everything is going smoothly; the next day everything is falling apart.  One day success; the next day utter failure. Life is mutable as the weather is mutable—it is ever changing, fluctuating, shifting, unpredictable, uncertain, inconsistent, and erratic. 

There is also in Life that which is unchanging or immutable.  Someone has said that if you can’t change it, it’s immutable.  Death is immutable.  We can delay it and try to avoid it, but we can’t change it. It is inevitable. A common saying is that taxes are an immutable part of life.  Immutable implies that something is fixed, established, permanent, and changeless.   The seasons come and go.  We can’t turn fall into summer, or winter into spring.  We cannot return to the years of our youth. We may try to hide our age—dyeing our hair, applying some kind of wrinkle cream, or getting a facelift, but we cannot change our age.  Some things in life are mutable (ever changing) and some things are immutable (unchangeable).

American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer speaks to this mutable and immutable life of ours.  
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, 
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The last line of the prayer is as important as the first two—“And the wisdom to know the difference.”  There are those who say that the only constant in life is change (mutability).  This is not true  Some things are immutable.  We have all kinds of words, like “everlasting,” or “eternal” to signify that some things are changeless and forever.

What is liable to change?  What is changeless/eternal/everlasting?  I think I’ll try making a list of that which can and cannot be changed so I can gain the wisdom necessary to know the difference between the   mutable and the immutable.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Death of a Watchman

Elijah E. Cummings died this morning.  He was 68 years old.  He was a graduate of Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law and served for 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates and 13-terms in the House of Representatives of the United States Congress, representing Maryland’s 7th District.  He was the third of seven children born to sharecroppers from South Carolina.  

What will be remembered about Elijah Cummings?  Will anyone remember when this son of sharecroppers sat down for a candid talk in the Oval Office with Mr. Trump (the son of a rich real estate developer in New York) in 2017?  Elijah talked with the president about some of things he had said on the campaign trail in  2016 about black neighborhoods—calling them “hellscapes.”  Trump had said of these black neighborhoods, “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs…What the hell do you have to lose?”

Mr. Cummings told Mr. Trump as they sat together in the Oval Office that those words were “insulting” and that “most black people are doing pretty good.”  Mr. Trump didn’t get defensive, according to Cummings, but listened as Elijah went on to say, “Probably nobody has ever told you that,” to which Trump replied, “You’re right—nobody has ever told me that.”  Can you imagine—the son of sharecroppers talking candidly with the born-rich son of a New York real estate developer?  

Will that meeting be remembered?  Or will we remember Mr. Trump’s reactions when the Oversight Committee (chaired by Cummings) voted to subpoena emails and text messages from the White House, including those of the president’s daughter and her husband?  Mr. Trump’s response, as always, was to assassinate Cummings’ character, tweeting that the congressman “spends all of his time trying to hurt innocent people through ‘Oversight.’” Trump suggested that a lot of money went to the 7th District and, without evidence,  asked how much had been “stolen.”  “Investigate this mess immediately,” tweeted the president, and called the 7th District a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess (where) no human being would want to live…”

What will be remembered about Elijah Cummings?  Will we remember the man and what he stood for?  Or will we remember a rich-born son of a New York real estate developer attempts to discredit and belittle the son of a sharecropper?  I hope we will at least recall Elijah’s warning:  “I’m begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Visited By A Mystical Writer

Long before I was born, Rene Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke was born (1875).  Can you imagine having a name like that?  He is better known as Rainer Maria Rilke.  I first became familiar with Rilke back in seminary days (1968).  Though Rilke died in 1926, his poems and a collection of his letters, published after his death as Letters to a Young Poet, live on.  He is still one of the more popular and best-selling poets in the U.S. today.

Rilke is considered a “mystical” writer.  A mystical writer is an explorer,  one who takes and uses words “to uncover hidden worlds and uncharted lands.”  When you read Rilke’s words, you tend to feel that you’ve experienced precisely what he is writing about.  Sometimes you feel as though somewhere in another time you’ve read these words before.

That’s the feeling I had this morning as I read the following passage from Letters to a Young Poet.  I have read these words of Rilke before, but somehow I sense the words this time around to be part of me, to be my experience, to be a part of “hidden worlds and uncharted lands” that lie within me.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.  Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do.  You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions?  For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.’

Saturday, October 12, 2019

"Is There Balm in Gilead?"

The “balm of Gilead” is a reference from the Old Testament, Jeremiah 8:20-22:  “I am wounded at the sight of my people’s wound, I go like a mourner, overcome with horror.  Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?  Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my (God’s) people?”  Most of us are familiar with the lyrics of the spiritual, which proclaims “There Is A Balm in Gilead.” The spiritual asserts that the answer to Jeremiah’s question is found in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ:  “There is a balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead, To heal the sin-sick soul.”

Like so many of our Christian hymns, Jeremiah’s questions are given an “individualistic” answer by the spiritual.  While Jeremiah is overcome by the sight of “my people’s wound,” the spiritual deals with an individual soul:  “Don’t ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend, and if you look for knowledge he’ll ne’er refuse to lend.”  Jesus tells us that God knows us as individuals and responds to us as such, but Jesus, like Jeremiah before him, is also overcome by the sight of “my people’s wound” not just yours and mine. The gospel is not an individualistic gospel—“God so loved the world”—not just me and thee.  To make the gospel merely individualistic is unchristian; to make the gospel merely global or social is unchristian.  The holy conjunctions, “both/and” bring the two together.

The “balm of Gilead” was a medicinal herb used to cure ailments, but it was interpreted by Jeremiah as a spiritual medicine that could heal not just a person’s ailments, but the ailments (wounds) of the whole people, Israel—“my (God’s) people.”

Edgar Allen Poe in his poem, The Raven, asks Jeremiah’s question: “Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”  I find myself asking the same question this morning.  With Jeremiah “I am wounded at the sight of my people’s wound” (read:  my own wounds, my neighbor’s, my community’s, my nation’s, my world’s wounds).  This world of mine, and the world God loves, includes a diverse people (race, gender, creed, nationality).  Is there no balm in Gilead?  The question becomes my morning prayer using Poe’s words:  “Is there—is there balm in Gilead? (America, Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia)—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

Yucca:  The Candle of the Lord.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Words Matter

An assumption is to assume something without proof.  To assume something is the act of taking it for granted or supposing it without the support of reasonable or probable evidence.  An assumption comes close to an opinion:  “a view or judgment formed about something, but not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”  Everyone has their own opinion and everyone has their own assumptions—but the point, I’m trying to make is that neither my assumption, or yours, or Mr. Trump’s, is necessarily based on any reasonable or probable evidence.  Isaac Asimov says, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

It is imperative that we “scrub off” our assumptions—and the assumptions of others—if we are to find the “light” of truth (fact) and if our democracy is to survive.  

A presumption is to presume something based on reasonable grounds or probable evidence.  It is not simply an “opinion.”  It is not simply an assumption.  There is an international legal principle called the “presumption of innocence” which implies that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty.  A person is not guilty because you assume him guilty.  It is the responsibility of the accuser who “assumes” another’s guilt to provide “the burden of proof” or present facts to prove the assumption.  

The two words are doing battle with each other at the moment and many are having difficulty differentiating the two.  Assumptions are being bandied about without any substance—and these assumptions are being parroted by others.  Assumptions may take the place of presumptions!  This is a serious and dangerous place.  We need to get our words straight and we need to know the difference these two words convey.  

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Shame on America!

Fox News reports a U.S. Special Forces soldier who most recently trained Kurdish fighters in Syria denounced his country's decision to remove troops from northern Syria.  "I am ashamed for the first time in my career," the soldier said. "Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It's horrible…We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement. There was NO threat to the Turks - NONE - from this side of the border…I don't know what they call atrocities but they are happening."

A Special Forces soldier in Syria says he is ashamed, as he and his fellow soldiers “stand down” at the order of their Commander-in-Chief and watch their comrades in arms (Kurds) being attacked.  I’m ashamed, too, because the “green light” was given for this situation to happen by the United States of America.  The U.S. “stand down” permits Turkey to do something it has long wanted to do—get rid of the Kurds.  Anyone with any historical insight knows this has been a long-standing objective of Turkey.  The conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish people goes all the way back to the Ottoman Empire, but it escalated in 1978 and has continued to the present time.  

It is true that the Kurds were not with us at Normandy--but they have been with us in Syria as allies for the past five years, losing over 11,000 of their own in the fight against Isis.  To desert them, to leave them at the mercy of Turkey, is despicable.

If Turkey’s incursion into Syria should become an “ethnic cleansing” of the Kurdish people, we, America, will have their blood on our hands. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Oxymorons, Paradoxes and Contradictions

An oxymoron is two or more words or statements that contradict themselves.  (Example:  the living dead).  A paradox is a phrase that contradicts itself.  (Example:  A politician says, ‘All politicians are liars’).  A contradiction is the statement of an opposite position to one already made.

Whether or not a statement or phrase is considered an oxymoron or a paradox, both are viewed as a contradiction.  Our world is full of contradictions. A recent email from the Trump/Pence campaign reads, “Its a coup. Democrats are trying to undo the Election regardless of the FACTS.”  A coup is “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government.”  The “FACTS” do not indicate that this is occurring.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls the present concern over Trump’s Ukraine call a “silly gotcha game.”  Yet, as a member of Congress he did not seem to mind intimidating and bullying then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  Just four years ago, as a congressman, he strongly supported the “right” of the “House” to request all documents available from the State Department on Benghazi.  

Is Trump’s claim to be a “subtle genius” an oxymoron?  His talking points are often contradictory and paradoxical.  For example, he recently described the whistleblower as having political motives, describing the whistleblower as “partisan.”  Later he said he didn’t know who the whistleblower was—so how does he know the whistleblower is partisan?  He has said that his conversation with the president of Ukraine was “totally appropriate,” “beautiful,” and “perfect,” but then said he could not remember the conversation.  He said he hadn’t read the whistleblower complaint, but then said, “everybody’s read it, they laugh at it.” On the subject of immigration, Mr. Trump claims “I bring people together.”  When referring to protesters at his rallies, he said, “I don’t want to see anybody getting hurt,” and also said, “I would’ve punched the protester myself.”

Oxymorons and paradoxes (contradictions) are not new, nor are they limited to any one group.  They abound everywhere. It is important that we see them for what they are—contradictions!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Zorba On My Mind

In 1946 (I was three years old at the time), Nikos Kazantzakis wrote The Life and Times of Zorba the Greek.  The original Greek title literally means “The Life and Politics of Alexis Zorba.”  I’ve read the book innumerable times since my first reading of it in the late 1960’s (after the 1964 film “Zorba the Greek” was released).  Nikos Kazantzakis has been my companion through the written word for nearly 55 years!  I’ve read most of his books—some of them many times over.

The meaning of the name “Zorba” in Greek means “Live each day.”  This is precisely what the character Zorba does in the Kazantzakis’ novel.  In spite of setbacks, problems, complications, failures, and all else, Zorba lives each day to the full—no matter how life tumbles in on him.

Sam Keen in his book, To A Dancing God, had Zorba on his mind, too, when he wrote: “But I long to release the gypsy in me who would roam the earth, tasting, sampling, traveling light.  There are so many lives I want to live…I travel one path only by neglecting many. I want Zorba in my life.”  Keen wants to “live each day to the full” as Zorba did.  So do I.

All those who have read the book or seen the film (starring Anthony Quinn) Zorba the Greek, remember the end of the story.  After all the sadness and calamitous happenings are told, the story ends with Zorba dancing the sirtaki on the beach with total abandonment and teaching his staid intellectual friend, Basil, to do the same.  

When Zorba comes to mind, I often go to YouTube and watch Zorba’s dance from the 1964 movie.  The video reminds me that I want Zorba in my life.  I want to live each day to the full no matter what comes my way—and I want to dance my way through it all.  

“Dance, then, wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the dance said he.  And I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, and I’ll lead you all in the dance said he.”

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Soul of America

The “soul” is defined as “the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being”…often regarded by some, but not by all, as being immortal. Other words used for soul are “spirit, inner self, psyche, ego, true being, life force, personality, and essential being.”  Sometimes “soul” is defined as “emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art” as in “His interpretation lacked soul.”  In religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, the soul is the “essence of a living being,” which consists of “reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, and thinking.”  

In the Gospel of Mark 8:36 (also in Matthew 16:26 and Luke 9:25) Jesus says, “What does a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?  What can he give to buy that self back?” Apparently the “essence of who we are—our true self” is of great importance to Jesus.  

Do nation’s have a soul?  Is there such a thing as “The Soul of America?”  Is there an “essence of what America is, or is meant to be?  Does America have a “true self”—which consists of “reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, and thinking?”  

Jon Meacham believes America does have a soul.  In The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels, he provides historical perspective to support his claim. He concludes that “the soul of America is ultimately one of kindness and caring, not rancor and paranoia” (USA Today). 

A nation, like any individual self, has a tendency to be self centered—to want to be “First,” above all others.  A nation, like any individual self, wants to gain power and wealth for itself.  The important thing is “US” even if it means at the expense of our neighbors.  A nation, like any individual self, tends to fall for the lowest common denominator—that which is accepted by the “in-group.”

Jesus has concern for the nations, too.  “What does a nation gain by winning the whole world at the cost of its true self?  What can a nation give to buy that self back?”  What can we do or give to regain our “reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception and thinking” as a nation?

Friday, October 4, 2019

Celebrating “Daddy’s Little Girl”

There is this girl, now a woman, a mother, a grandmother, who entered our lives some years ago on this day.  This girl stole my heart back then and continues to do so now—and she calls me “Dad.”

It was sometime ago now, but it seems like only yesterday that our daughter Rachel was born.  She was born on this day—October 4th.  The years go by, the seasons come and go, but a daughter through it all remains “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

The Mills Brothers sang the song, “Daddy’s Little Girl” back in the 1950’s, Frank Fontaine recorded it in 1963, and Al Martino in 1967. In 2002, the popular crooner Michael Buble included the song in his album, “Dream.”  The lyrics and music were written by Robert Harrison Burke and Horace Gerlach in 1949, long before this Daddy’s dream ever came true—before his little girl Rachel was born.  

The lyrics at first appear to be rather silly.  After all, Rachel isn’t a little girl anymore!  Or is she?  I’ve tried over the years and in various ways to express my love and adoration for my little girl, but all that I have said and written does not come close to the depth of the silly lyrics in “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  The words and music seem to express the mystery, the wonder, and the awe of a father for his daughter better than any of my own creation.

So it is, on this special day, I sing quietly and to myself in this early morning hour, the silly words that say more than any words I can think of about “Daddy’s Little Girl.”

You’re the end of the rainbow, my pot of gold,
You’re daddy’s little girl to have and to hold.
A precious gem is what you are,
You’re mommy’s bright and shining star.
You’re the spirit of Christmas, my star on the tree,
You’re the Easter bunny to mommy and me.
You’re sugar, you’re spice, you’re everything nice,
And you’re daddy’s little girl….
You’re the treasure I cherish, so sparkling and bright,
You were touched by the holy and beautiful light.
Like angels that sing a heavenly thing,
And you’re daddy’s little girl.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

“There Is Something Here”

“There is something here,”  said veteran reporter Chris Wallace of Fox News in reference to Mr. Trump’s call to the president of Ukraine.  Andrew Napolitano, a senior judicial analyst for Fox News said that Mr. Trump’s so-called ”perfect call”  is, in fact, “both criminal and impeachable behavior.”  The call, Napolitano said, showed Trump guilty of violating campaign finance law, bribery and intimidating witnesses.  Both Wallace and Napolitano were castigated by Rush Limbaugh for failing to defend Mr. Trump. Limbaugh seems unable to see that “There is something here.”

"There is something here” and it is very clear to anyone who can read the transcript of the call (provided by the White House).  “There is something here.” If one can’t read the transcript (it is available online) then they can listen to Mr. Trump say today on every news network that he thinks China should also investigate Joe Biden. “There is something here.”  The Federal Election Commission gave us a reminder back in June 2019 as to what that something is:  It is illegal for anyone to solicit anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a US election.  That is part of  “the something here.”

So why is it that Mr. Trump and his supporters continue their allegations and insinuations against Joe Biden and his son?  There is no evidence to support criminality, and yet such is implied. It is simply projection and deflection to keep the public from seeing that “there is something here.”  It is a strategy that has worked for Mr. Trump in the past and may work again.  According to a 2014 Gallop poll 75% of voters  felt corruption was “widespread” in the American government.  Mr. Trump knows this and capitalizes on it by denigrating any who are opposed or critical of him, from “crazy Nancy” to “Shifty Shiff.”  It has worked for him in the past and may work again..

But, as Chris Wallace reports, “There is something here.”  Not with the Bidens or the Democrats, and certainly not a “coup” or a “civil war.”  What is here is Mr. Trump.  He has abused the power of his office—not just in a phone call to Ukraine or his request that China also investigate the Bidens—but in his fabrications, his falsehoods, his maligning of fellow human beings, etc.  Mr. Trump says, “My crimes can’t be investigated while I’m president.”  That’s the “Something here!”

Fake News. Corrupt News. Alternative Realities

Mr. Trump has often suggested that he coined the term “Fake News.”  That’s fake news. The term dates back to the late 19th century.  In 1895 a journal declared “we never copy fake news.” In 1896, a journalist in San Jose, California criticized another journalist by writing, “It is his habit to indulge in fake news…He will make up news when he fails to find it.”  In the 1890’s William Randolph Hearst and others used “melodrama, romance, and hyperbole,” emphasizing “sensationalism over facts” to sell their newspapers.  This “fake news” was called “Yellow Journalism.” Oliver Malloy reminds us that “Hitler loved to describe any newspaper that exposed him for what he was as “Luegenpresse,” which is German for fake news.”

Today, Mr. Trump, announced that as the “inventor” of the term “fake news” in reference to the  media (which is “fake news” as indicated above), he was no longer satisfied with it.  He thus coined a new one:  “corrupt news.”  He insists that “Fake News” has “never been more dishonest” and has become corrupt:  “I don’t even use ‘fake’ anymore,” he said, “I call the fake news now ‘corrupt news,’ because ‘fake’ isn’t tough enough.”

Technology (live news conferences, websites, cable news, etc.) has made all NEWS of any kind available to us, almost instantaneously.  There are hundreds of websites reporting misinformation and deceptive content.  Often times these website articles are copied and pasted on Facebook without fact-checking. and are organizations that work to debunk such misinformation.  When I suggested to a Facebook friend that he check out his post with these groups, he responded by telling me that these organizations were part of the “fake news”  being promulgated by Liberals. Another friend responded to my questioning of his Facebook post by saying that these groups work hand-in-hand with the Republican establishment.  So much for fact-checking!

Some years ago during the sharing time in morning worship, a person announced that so-and-so had died. The whole congregation was shocked by this news.  After the worship service I immediately went to the “deceased” person’s home to offer my sympathy to his wife.  I knocked on the door and much to my surprise, the door was opened by the “deceased!”  

In this age of fake news, corrupt news, and alternative realities (misinformation and deception) it is imperative that we go to the source, knock on the door, check it out, listen carefully and cautiously.  Hopefully when we knock on truth’s door we will find that truth has not died.

Let not "Truth" be eclipsed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The Gift of Gab

“The human tongue is a beast few can master.”  We say things at one point in our lives and say something different at another point.  Sometimes we say one thing and do another.  Sometimes our words come back to bite us or to haunt us.  Sometimes we talk out of both sides of our mouth.  Sometimes we have to eat our words admitting that something we have said was wrong.  Sometimes we speak with a “forked tongue,” deliberately saying one thing and meaning something else.  Sometimes we do “double-talk” saying things that it is impossible for another person to understand by using unintelligible words intentionally.  We’ve all had slips of the tongue, saying something by accident when we intended to say something else. We’ve all talked empty words, words that convey no meaning to either ourselves or others.  Sometimes we “beat around the bush” and sometimes what we say “hits the nail on the head” (but not often).  

What we say and what we are heard to say are often two different things.  Our words can be twisted around, taken out of context, misunderstood, or misinterpreted, which is the excuse we often use for what we say.   Maybe the wisest thing any of us can do is to stop saying anything, but then, how could we ever live, or love, or be human?  Talking is a great gift—one of the most powerful gifts of humankind.  Beating our gums, chewing the fat, flapping our lips, having diarrhea of the mouth or running off at the mouth, having the gift of gab, shooting the breeze, a loose tongue,  spilling the beans, spitting it out, is a huge part of what it means to be human.

We typically ascribe this “talk” to our politicians or to media pundits, but the truth is such “talk” is part and parcel of all humanity—the forked tongue, the double-talk, the empty words, the words of love and care—are our gift, too!  Lindsey Graham talked about the process of impeachment back in 1999, saying, “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of the bounds of your official role.  Because impeachment is not about punishment.  Impeachment is about cleansing the office.  Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”  His words come back today to bite him, but so do my words in years gone by come back to bite me.  By golly, I guess that means that our politicians are human beings just like the rest of us, saddled with the human tongue—a beast few of us can master.