Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Seventh Day of Christmas

For many folk Christmas 2019 is already past history.  The family guests have come and gone.  The gifts have been given and received, and all the frilly paper and ribbons tossed aside.  The turkey, ham, or whatever,  has seen its day—the “left-overs” gone at last!  The Christmas tree and all the decorations are in the process of being stored away.  Another Christmas has come and gone.  Life moves back into normal gear.  The “Christmas Spirit” that possessed us for a day or two is fading away.  We are now focused on bringing in the New Year 2020.  

Christmas is a season of twelve days on the Christian calendar—but Christmas is also the season of the heart.  It is meant to be—all year long.  We can still sing “Joy to the World,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but we don’t and we probably won’t until Christmas comes around again.  We can still hear our own annunciation, we can still follow the Star, we can still find the Baby, and we can still give gifts  but we have put all that aside. Another Christmas has come and gone.

“There must be always remaining in every man’s (woman’s) life some place for the singing of angels…” wrote Howard Thurman.  “Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”  The carol, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” speaks of this.

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth…the world in solemn stillness lay, to hear the angels sing.   Still through the cloven skies they come…and still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world; above its sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing, and ever o’er its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing….And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow…O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.

Christmas, with the singing of angels, is a season of the heart.  Over all this weary world and all its Babel sounds, the angels sing all year long.  So all of us, “beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow” must make every day a Christmas Day.  “O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.” 

Saturday, December 28, 2019

We Are Not On The Same Page

The phrase, “on the same page,” is a modern version of older idioms: “in the same league, in the same ballpark, singing from the same song sheet, or preaching to the choir.  To be on the same page means “we” are in general agreement.  For example, if we agree that global warming is a serious problem, but disagree in minor ways about suggested solutions, we might say we are on the same page. However, we might fervently disagree on whether wind turbines are good or bad for the environment.  In this case we would have to say that while we agree that global warming is a problem, we are not on the same page about the use of wind turbines.

Put in another context we might say that all Christians (or Jews or Muslims) are on the same page because they are in general agreement about God, Jesus, or Mohammed.  It is evident, however, that all Christians are not on the same page.  This has been demonstrated over the centuries by the splintering of Christians into denominations and in modern times into “un” or “non” denominational churches or groups. The Jews and the Muslims have the same problem.  Not all Jews—Muslims—Christians—Republicans—Democrats, or Americans are on the same page.  Why?  Because we do not all think alike!  Simple as that and as profound as that! Personally, I think this is a good thing. I think it is what it means to be human.  This diversity is the bedrock of our American Constitution and the promise of the American Dream.  We are free to think and express ourselves without hindrance.

I get upset when the term “never Trumper” is used as if being “anti-Trump” is “unpatriotic” or “unAmerican.” The term “Never Trump,” by the way was coined by a group of  “Never Trump Republicans” in 2015.  Mr. Trump recently tweeted: “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats…Watch out for them, they are human scum!” “HUMAN SCUM?”  Every one who is not on the same page as Mr. Trump is “human scum?”  Think about that!  I have been, am now, and will always be a “Never Trumper” precisely because of the attitude implied in that tweet.  I do not appreciate being labeled “human scum” and I do not appreciate my neighbors and friends being called “human scum.”  The early purges in Nazi German were against those who refused to give allegiance to Adolf Hitler.  They were called “animals” and considered “human scum,” unGerman,  and unpatriotic.  

There was a “purging” on a Christmas long ago when Herod attempted to keep all things under his thumb.  On this Fourth Day of Christmas 2019, we must be on the same page in resisting any and all forms of purging so that we can be free NOT to be on the same page!

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Third Day of Christmas

Christmas is a season of Twelve Days—and today is the Third Day of Christmas.  When did the Wise Persons arrive in Bethlehem?  Could it have been the Third Day?  Was it the Fourth, Sixth, or the Eleventh Day, or even possibly a month or two after Christmas? Did the Shepherds hear the angel chorus on Christmas Eve (as the Baby was being born) or did the angels wait a while (giving Mary and Joseph some privacy and alone-time to savor their special  moment)  and announce the birth on the morning of the Third Day?  I wonder?  

Our Nativity crèche (olive wood figures purchased in Bethlehem in 1962) displays all the Christmas cast together.  The Wise Persons and the Shepherds are gathered around Joseph,  Mary and the Baby at the same time.  Most nativity scenes and Christmas pageants do the same as if it all happened all at once, on one particular day, and then it was over.

We know the Wise Persons traveled far and we know that they first consulted with King Herod in Jerusalem before going on to Bethlehem.  “They set out,” from Jerusalem,  Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “at the king’s bidding and the star they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay.”  When did they arrive?  Was it Epiphany (January 6—the thirteenth day after Christmas) as Church tradition has it?  Who knows?  

Like Scrooge,  in A Christmas Carol, and Howard Thurman in The Mood of Christmas, I am aware this morning that “Christmas is Yesterday, Christmas is Today, and Christmas is Tomorrow.”  Always, Thurman tells me, “Christmas Is Waiting to Be Born….In you, in me, in all mankind.”   It is clear to me this morning that to genuinely experience Christmas takes more than just one day!  It takes more than Twelve Days.   It takes more than Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Christmas is not a day, or a season marked on a calendar.  Christmas is meant to be the Season of the Heart.

The tides flow out from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime:
They find their way to many shores
With gifts of remembrance, thoughts of love—
Though the world be weary and the days afraid
The heart renews its life and the mind takes hope
From the tides that flow from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime. (Howard Thurman)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Card 2019

Advent and Christmas 2019
Dear Friends at Christmastime,

“Christmas,” writes N.T. Wright, “is God lighting a candle, and you don’t light a candle in a room that’s already full of sunlight.  You light a candle in a room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are.  The light shines on in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 

“Christmas is God lighting a candle.”  That Candle penetrates the darkness of the present just as it penetrated the darkness of the past. The Candle gives us light to see, light to guide us, light to give us hope and courage, light to help us in the living of our days.  

Christmas, Howard Thurman wrote, is a time for us to light our candles. Christ could be born a thousand times in Galilee—but it would all be in vain until He is born in us.  God lighting a Candle would be in vain as well,  until we begin to light our candles too.

I Will Light Candles This Christmas…
Candles of joy, despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch.
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens.”
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

Won’t you light candles with us this Christmas? 
 Merry Christmas to All.
 With love, Hal & Cherie

Friday, December 20, 2019

Too Little Too Late

Yesterday (December 19, 2019) an op-ed appeared in Christianity Today, a major Christian magazine, founded by the late evangelist Billy Graham.  The editorial calls for the removal of Donald Trump from office.  It urges evangelicals to reconsider their support of Trump.  Christianity Today’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, wrote:  “To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this:  Remember who you are and whom you serve.”

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners magazine, called the op-ed a “huge, watershed event.”  Wallis went on to say that “What Christianity Today is saying in their editorial is removing Donald Trump from office is now a matter of faith, not politics….”  Wallis, CNN reported, “says evangelicals made a ‘Faustian’ bargain with Trump—appoint the federal judges we want and we will look the other way.”  And that is precisely what they (so-called “evangelical” Christians) did and have done since the 2016 election!  The op-ed may be too little too late.  

The editorial states: “We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath.  The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see…None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”

Contrary to statements made in the Judiciary Committee debate, those of us who have been opposed to Mr. Trump do not “hate” him, nor do we “hate” those who voted for him.  We “hate” what I call the “Stain of the Trump character” that has permeated the very fabric of our society.  This has not just come to light through the impeachment hearings as the op-ed suggests.  It has been illuminated since “Day One” of Trump’s candidacy and has continued throughout his time in office.  Trump’s “grossly immoral character” has been on display and “those moral deficiencies” are now being replayed daily by those who embrace him.  It has even had an effect on those who oppose him!  We all must “remember who we are and whom we serve.”

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Heart of Season

“If you take Christmas to heart and get past the anxieties in arranging for gifts and parties, you will rediscover yourself every year at this time and experience a birth in yourself, just like the one so beautifully described in the Gospel stories.  It will be a celebration of both the birth of Jesus and the birth of your soul.”  (Thomas Moore)

“What is at the heart of this amazing season?” Gordon Cosby asked.  “What happened in that Holy Birth that has brought surprise, awe, and wonder to all who have really journeyed to Bethlehem?  The key word is kenosis—a New Testament Greek word meaning self-emptying, pouring out.  The astounding affirmation that people of faith make is that God self-empties into Jesus, becoming weak, helpless, vulnerable, in real danger.  Only thus could God be Emmanuel—God with us.  This is a mystery so profound that whenever I glimpse its deeper meaning, it slips away.  I affirm it often, but do I really believe it?  Is God that passionate for each of us?”

The Bethlehem event of long ago was wrapped up by the Gospel writers with pretty paper, colorful ribbons, with a little tinsel added to make it appealing (angels, a star, and all the rest).  Religion is always wrapped up and expressed in poetic, mystical and imaginative terms.  Sometimes the pretty paper and colorful ribbon becomes a barrier for thoughtful people.  But it is not the wrappings on which we need focus.  It is the Gift that matters!  Could it really be that God is that passionate for each of us that He came then and comes still?

I affirm this heart of the season (this "Love at the Heart of Things"),  and with Philips Brooks I pray:

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Breakthrough

The days, weeks, and months of 2019 have passed quickly and here we are again in the season of Advent and Christmas and the New Year 2020 now just days away.  My favorite philosopher, Dr. Seuss, states it well.  “How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” 

Advent calls us to prepare and to get ready.  The promise is that something new will be available to us at Christmas.  It will not be, nor is it meant to be, a repeat of that old, old story of Bethlehem, of shepherds, wise persons, and a Child being born in a stable.  No, it is to be something new, never before seen or experienced.  We are to watch for that bud ready to burst into flower, that mountain to be brought low, that valley to be lifted up, and that barren desert to break forth with streams of water.  When we prepare, get ready, and are watching for a Breakthrough, it is bound to happen big time!  

Will we pray for a Breakthrough for the refugees searching for a promised land, for the homeless yearning for a home, for the lost eager to be found, for the sad pining for a taste of joy, for the poor longing for simple comforts, for the troubled hearts athirst for peace?

Dr. Seuss explains once again:  “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”   Perhaps it means a Breakthrough for  the refugees, the homeless, the lost, the sad, the poor, and the troubled hearts—a Breakthrough for you and me!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Speaking Out Can Be A Vocation of Agony

Our words and actions can, and often do, come back to haunt us.  The words I spoke in 1970 may not jive with the words I speak today.  That’s quite natural.  I’ve changed my mind about the matter or I’ve grown over the years and see more clearly now.  Still our words and actions come back to haunt us on occasion.  It happens to all of us, but fortunately, most of the things we’ve said or done in years past were not reported in a newspaper or recorded on tape.  We can always say, “I never said that,” and sometimes get away with it, depending on the number of witnesses who heard us say it.  That doesn’t work for our politicians.  Their words (reported by the press and recorded on tape and video) do come back to haunt them.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advocated for witnesses in the impeachment case against Bill Clinton in 1999.  “It’s not unusual to have a witness in a trial.  It’s certainly not unusual to have witnesses in an impeachment trial,” he said back then.  But Mitch has either changed his mind or grown some since then.  Today, he opposes witnesses in the impending impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump.  

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is demanding that new witnesses be called to testify in the upcoming trial in the Senate.  But in 1999, Schumer was opposed to witnesses in the trial of Bill Clinton.  He covers his tracks by saying “The witnesses in 1999 had already given grand jury testimony.  We knew what they were to say.  The four witnesses we’ve called (in the case of Trump) have not been heard from.  That is the difference…”.

Lindsey Graham’s words from 1999 have come back to haunt him, too.  Back then, Graham said, “Please allow the facts to do the talking…Don’t decide the case before the case’s end.”  A few days ago, Graham said of the upcoming trial of Donald Trump, “I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind.  I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here.”  He has also, publicly stated,  that he will not read the report of the House Judiciary Committee, because it is a “sham." I wonder if that decision will come back to haunt him tomorrow?

Do we fear speaking out against or for something because it might come back to haunt us tomorrow? I’m reminded of Martin Luther King’s words:  “And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak.  We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak… [We] must move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history.”  We must speak out like William Webster :  “The privilege of being the only American in our history to serve as the director of both the FBI and the CIA  gives me a unique perspective and a responsibility to speak out about a dire threat to the rule of low in the country I love…Today, the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order are, tragically, under assault from too many people whose job it should be to protect them.”  We must speak out!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Is It Okay or Not Okay?

The Founding Fathers had a fear of foreign interference in the affairs of the new republic and addressed that fear during the summer of 1787. They took appropriate steps to guard against such interference in the Constitution.  The president of the United States had to be a “natural born citizen.”  They also provided an impeachment article and the Emoluments Clause.  

Back in June of this year, when asked by George Stephanopoulos, if he would accept negative information from a foreign entity about an opposing candidate, Trump responded, “I think I’d take it,” and that he probably would not tell the FBI about it.  Senator Lindsey Graham admonished the president:  “I believe that it should be the practice of all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign—either directly or indirectly—to inform the FBI  and reject the offer.”  Trump responded:  “I think you might want to listen…There isn’t anything wrong with listening.”  When Christopher Wray, the FBI director  responded saying the FBI should be contacted in such a circumstance, Trump said, “The head of the FBI is wrong.”

Lindsey Graham was quick to respond to Trump’s reaction to the FBI Director:  “That’s not the right answer.  It should be the practice of all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance…to inform the FBI and reject the offer.

Fast-forward to the present and the aftermath of the president’s call to the new president of Ukraine—the so-called “perfect call.”  Lindsey Graham commented on the call and on the impeachment process by the House Intelligence Committee:  “What can I tell you about the Trump policy toward Ukraine:  It was incoherent, it depends on who you talk to, they seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo, so no, I find the whole process to be a sham and I’m not going to legitimize it.”  He has kept his word and told reporters during the Impeachment hearings he would not bother to read the findings or the evidence provided by the committee.

On Saturday, Lindsey spoke again:  “This thing will come to the Senate, and it will die quickly, and I will do everything I can to make it die quickly.”  Is this the same fellow who said in 1999:  “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment.  Impeachment is about cleansing the office.  Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”

Is it okay or not okay?   

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Storms Come....

There is a widespread notion among the followers of Jesus that if one has faith, all will be well and nothing will impede or threaten one's journey.  If you have faith enough, life will be smooth sailing (without any crucifixions).  If you have faith enough, God will cure all your ills (drive out the cancer or whatever) and guard you from all the dangers and pitfalls of life.  If you have faith enough, you will avoid the storms.

This notion I believe to be false.  Jesus never promised any of his followers a "rose garden" or an easy time.  What he did promise was that those who followed him would have to dance  the same dance he danced.  A pupil, he said, does not rank above the teacher....the pupil should be content to share his or her teacher's lot.

What Jesus did ask of his disciples was that we should give up our fear and take on faith.  We all live in some degree of fear.  Faith reduces this level of fear.  Life can be paralyzed and restricted by fear.  Life is expanded and enhanced by faith.

Whatever life's vicissitudes may be, we can live in and through them victoriously (withstanding the storms that come) when our fear of them is reduced by a greater degree of faith.  In the biblical sense, faith is a belonging to a Person, the person of the resurrected Christ.  Faith is the assurance that he will never for a moment leave us.  In him we are safe and secure.  The Apostle Paul says, "Nothing--absolutely nothing at all," can separate us from this Love that has invaded us and which is at the “Heart of Things,”  nothing—absolutely nothing can separate us from this One in whom we put our complete trust.

The purpose of faith then, is to reduce our level of fear, not to get rid of, or avoid the troubles and the storms of life.  Faith frees us to face whatever comes our way.  "In the world you will have trouble.  But courage!  The victory is mine; I have conquered the world" (John 16:33).  If Jesus has conquered the world, why fear what the world may dish up for us?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Come On In!

Each Advent for the past several years I’ve shared a story that I’ve titled “Come on In.”  The story is not original with me and I do not know its author or even where I first found it.  If the Quakers have it right, and I believe they do, there is “that of God” in every human being (that includes those on the Right and those on the Left, gay and lesbian, transgender, migrant, feminist, misogynist, black, white, brown and yellow—all humanity).  Whenever, however, and wherever we attempt to shun, discriminate, or denigrate any human person we close the door of our “Inn” to the Marys, Josephs and baby Jesuses of our time.  Here’s the story:

The children’s Christmas pageant was about to begin. All the children had rehearsed their lines and were now dressed in their costumes.  Some were wearing angel costumes with tinseled-edged wings.  Others were dressed up like the wise persons with Burger King crowns and fake beards.  There were also a few bathrobe-clad shepherd types. Mary, Joseph, and the Baby (played by a life-sized rubber ball) were ready for the curtain to rise.

All were happy to have a part in the pageant, except for one little boy who was cast as the innkeeper.  The little innkeeper was saddened as he thought about his one line in the play.  When Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, the innkeeper was to simply say;  “I have no room!”  The thought of turning away the Baby Jesus was breaking the little innkeeper’s heart.  

The pageant began.  All went well until Joseph knocked on the door of the inn.  The innkeeper opened the door and Joseph asked, “Do you have any room?”  There was a long silence.  Supposing the little innkeeper to have forgotten his line, the director could be heard whispering a prompt from behind the cardboard scenery.

Suddenly the sad countenance of the child innkeeper turned into a glad grin and he began to speak.  His line came out loud and clear:  “Come on in!  I’ve got plenty of room!”  The pageant ended right there, as the audience stood to their feet with applause and outrageous joy.

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
our hearts to thee we open wide;
let us they inner presence feel;
thy grace and love in us reveal.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

America the Gullible

America the Gullible, living under spacious tales,
For any crazy story told,
For any conspiratorial mystery
Beyond what’s true and fact!
America, America! God shed His grace on thee,
And save you from this present mendacity
That spreads from sea to shining sea.

History will look back on this tumultuous time of political polarization and this contentious presidency of Donald J. Trump and perhaps, through the prism of hindsight, we will be given the grace to see the present moment for what it is. At least, I hope so.  It really depends on who writes the history.  According to Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), “History is always written by the winners.  When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books…”

So the big question is—who will win and write the history book?  Will “America the Gullible” write that book?  Will that history record that Americans accepted Donald Trump’s advice:  “…what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening…Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”  Will that history ignore reality?  Will it simply say that what we saw and what we read from 2016 to 2020 was nothing but fake news and a hoax?  

Have you noticed that every thing, every one, and every event that goes against Donald Trump’s vision of things and whims, is a hoax, a witch-hunt, a sham, a coup, a lie, unreal, and a crime?  Every opponent or anyone else who disagrees with Donald Trump is unpatriotic, a traitor, a partisan, an enemy of the people?  America the Gullible buys into it, repeats it, believes it, ignoring court orders, the findings of 17 intelligence agencies, the wisdom of the generals, the judicial system of the military, the number of people who gathered for the Trump inaugural and on and on and on.  Ignoring facts, disparaging truth and the people who attempt to tell it, America the Gullible bows down and does obeisance to “Just stick with us (me, Trump) and don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”  Will America the Gullible write the history?

Will the generations of Americans yet unborn be told that gullibility is more important than the search for truth and reality?  

Sunday, December 8, 2019

“We’re (All) Better Than This!” (Elijah Cummings)

Some time ago a friend posted on FaceBook that never in his life time had a president been more maligned, insulted, victimized, castigated, condemned, mocked, derided, and degraded as Donald J. Trump.  Another friend posted that never before has a president’s family been so viciously ridiculed and belittled as Donald J. Trump’s family.  This is not true.  Americans have always lambasted our presidents for their policies, programs, values, and even their personal quirks.

James Madison was called “Little Jemmy” because of his short stature. James Buchanan, who said  that workers should be able to get by on a dime a day, was mocked as “Ten Cent Jimmy.”  When Woodrow Wilson instituted the draft in WWI he was accused of “committing a sin against humanity.”  Franklin Roosevelt was attacked as an “un-American radical”.  Richard Nixon was famously known as “Tricky Dick” and LBJ was called a “murderer” and a “war criminal.” Reagan was called the “Teflon president” because accusations against him never seemed to stick. Barack Obama was labeled “a Muslim.”  Yes, Americans have always lambasted presidents and their families.   

When a member of the House Judiciary Committee chastised Professor Karlan last week for her reference to Mr. Trump’s son, I was somewhat taken aback. His rebuke was brutal.  Karlan’s comment, he said, was “disgusting” and “unhinged.”  A stinging rebuke came from Melania Trump, too,  “(Karlan) you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.” Karlan apologized as she should have.  But the hypocrisy of the “Right” got under my skin, just as the hypocrisy from the “Left” gets under my skin these days.

Has Bill O’Reilly apologized for his comments about Michelle Obama in 2008  (“I don’t want to go on a lynching mob against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence”)…that she feels America is a bad country? Has Rush Limbaugh apologized for his claim that Michelle Obama “is not proud of her country unless she’s getting what she wants from it,” or for calling Chelsea Clinton “a dog” when she was 12 years old, or his comments about  Amy Carter who he described as “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of this country”? Elizabeth Lauten bashed Malia and Sasha Obama  for their short dresses:  “Try showing a little class,” she wrote, “Rise to the occasion.  Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at the bar.” Malia Obama was called “a typical street whore” and “ghetto street trash” after wearing a shirt with a peace sign on it at age 11. 

Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, writes of another president who was chastised by both press and opponents with these names and labels:  liar, despot, usurper, thief, monster, perjurer, ignoramus, swindler, tyrant, fiend, coward, buffoon, butcher, pirate, devil, and king.  He was charged with being “cunning, thickheaded, heartless, filthy  and fanatical.”  He was labeled by his enemies as “Abraham Africanus the First.”  We know him as Abraham Lincoln.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Opening Up--An Advent Necessity

“Fling wide the portals of your heart:  Redeemer, come, with us abide; our hearts to thee we open wide; let us thy inner presence feel; thy grace and love in us reveal.”  (Advent Hymn)

Mountains and hills,  deserts and valleys, along with many a crooked road and many a rough place are part and parcel of every person’s life.  If we are alive we can’t avoid them. Some we create for ourselves.  Some mountains and hills, deserts, valleys, wilderness places, and crooked roads and rough places just seem to happen.   There is no avoiding them.  I’m not speaking of a physical geography (though climbing mountains and walking through desert places has a physical effect)—I’m using mountains, valleys, hills, deserts, crooked roads and rough places in a figurative way.  Some of our problems seem like mountains that we can’t scale.   The death of a parent, loved one, or friend can send us into a valley of sorrow.  Health issues can force us into a desert of despair.  A broken relationship can create a wilderness space of depression.  All that affects us outwardly, every mountain, every hill, every desert wandering, every valley, every rough and crooked road also affects us inwardly. 

Everything we experience on the outside gets built on the inside. We may scale the mountain and cross the barren desert on the outside but on the inside we say, “I never want to go through that again.  I never want to experience such depression, loss, hurt,  or despair ever again.”  Thus, to protect, shield and isolate our hearts from these outward things, to keep these things from ever happening again to us, we surround our inner chamber (the Bethlehem of the heart) with mountains, hills, valleys, deserts, along with crooked roads and rough places. No hurt, no despair, no loss, no sadness, and no one, can get to our hearts any more.

In Advent, we must go to that Bethlehem of the heart, to our inner chamber, and allow the mountains and hills we’ve erected there to be brought low, the valleys there to be exalted, and the crooked places there made straight “where the Lord our God may go.”  It is no easy trek to get to that inner chamber, and it is a life-long journey,  but it is part of the preparation necessary to experience “the glad tidings of great joy at Christmas:  “Unto us a child is born.”

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent Comes Again in 2020

“Into this world, this demented inn in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited” (Thomas Merton).  Today (Advent) is the beginning of my New Year 2020. Over the next four weeks—and through the Twelve Days of Christmas—I will be open to a  new “Advent” in my journey—a time in which Christ might come and be born “anew” in me.   “For if Christ were born a thousand times in Galilee, it was all in vain until He is born in thee.”  And it would all be in vain if he were not born in some new way in each of us with each passing day, month and year….thus Advent is always here.

Advent is a special time—a time of promise:
    a time of preparation for the new about to happen,
    a time of new beginnings

Advent is a time of expectancy...a time of happenings: 
   annunciations are heard if ears are opened,   
   and  dreams are dreamed and guidance given

Advent is a time of giving birth to God:
    we carry God around with us and do not know it,
    Advent is a time for a new birth within  

Advent is a time of waiting:
    waiting for mountains and hills to be brought down;
    for valleys to be lifted up and crooked places made straight.

Advent is a time of moving—a time of transition:
   not a movement backward, but forward,  
   to a place we’ve never been before.

Advent is about newness—a time for the "New Things:”
    a season of receptivity and openness,
    a time of new vulnerability

Advent announces a Way—a time of new dreams:
    a time to sing our own song, dance our own dance,
    a time of searching and for finding

Advent is all of the above—it is kairos time:
    time to start anew, to begin again,
   Advent is the time to follow your star. 

“He comes to every tribe and race,
A Messenger of truth and grace:
With Peace He comes from God above

On earth to found His realm of love.”