Tuesday, January 28, 2020

It’s A Wonderful Life

I’m trying to keep up.  I sometimes think I am doing so.  But then there are moments when I feel like I’m being left behind.  Left behind by technology.  We needed a new TV—the old one was apparently an antique (according to my grandson) and acting up.  No problem.  I’ll get a new one.  Easier said than done.  There are so many different kinds of TVs these days with plasma display panels, digital lighting processing (DLP), liquid crystal display (LCD), organic light-emitting diode display (OLED), and quantum light-emitting diode display (QLED).  There are Smart TVs with Alexa (whoever she is) built in.  There are 4K and 8K TVs (whatever that means).  HDMI ports are important—the more the merrier.  A sound bar is a good idea.  Needless to say, I was totally lost.  Finally I admitted my ignorance and asked our son, Paul, to select a TV for me.  He did.  I bought it.  He installed it and  programmed it.  Later, our son, Luke, set up Amazon Prime for us so we can now view “free” movies.  We are enjoying our new TV.

It took me a long time to set up my cell phone in our Honda Accord so I could answer and make calls while driving (hands free).  Now, all of a sudden, the car is speaking to me, saying, “Unable to find phone history.”  It does it every time I drive the car.  I press the OK button as instructed and the car stops saying “Unable to find phone history,”and I drive on.  What to do?  Well, I guess I’ll “Google it!”  I find out that there are lots of people having this problem.  The solution:  disconnect your iPhone and then reconnect it!  I think I’ll wait for help from Paul or Luke.

My wife has a hearing problem.  The TV volume had to be turned up in order for her to hear it.  I mean really “turned up.”  Paul and Helen saved our marriage with a Christmas gift of  “TV Ears.”  What a difference those “ears” have made in our home!

Yesterday while picking up our mail I left the car running, came back out of the Post Office with a bundle of mail and drove off to our next destination.  About three miles down the road I noticed a flashing message:  “No Key…No Key…No Key.”  What on earth is going on now—first the car is telling me it can’t find my phone history and now telling me “No Key.”  About seven miles further down the road and the meaning of the message finally sunk in.  Where’s my key?  I didn’t have it.  I had left it in the mailbox at the Post Office.  I turned around, went back to the Post Office, found my keys dangling from the mailbox, and as soon as I got back in the car (still running) the “No Key” message stopped flashing.  If I had gone on to our destination—turned off the car—we would have been stuck.

Technology!  Isn’t it wonderful?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Old Testament Stuff Today

After the Israelites settled in the land of Canaan (the “Promise Land”) and after the passing of Joshua, a tribal confederacy was established.  This confederacy was held together and led by Israel’s judges. Twelve judges are mentioned in the Old Testament book of Judges:  Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. The First book of Samuel mentions several others:  Eli, Samuel, and Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abiah.

The role of Israel’s judges/rulers (shofet) was not restricted to just legal functions.  They were the leaders who procured the rights of the people—sometimes seen as the champion or deliverer, or mediator for the whole people.  Judges were charismatic (inspired) leaders, chosen by the twelve tribes.  

Now it is a stretch, but I’ll do the stretching anyway, to compare Israel’s tribal confederacy to our American form of government.  The judges now-a-days are our legislators, elected by the people, to be the champions, deliverers, and mediators for the whole people.  

Today, I wonder, if, like Israel of old, we have grown tired of our representatives.  We talk about the “do nothing Congress” and we decry their privileges and lengthy tenures in office.  The Israelites got tired of their judges, too.  

Israel wanted to become like the nations around them.  They wanted a king!  They wanted a centralization of power in the crown rather than relying on their representatives to get things done.  

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Behold you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us [literally: “to judge us”] like all the nations”  (I Samuel 8:4-5).

Our rejection of a representative government, of, for and by the people, which is now over two centuries old and not working as well as we think it should, is similar to that of ancient Israel’s rejection of their judges.  The judges just weren’t measuring up.  “Appoint for us a king to govern us…” Samuel warned them that a king would limit their freedom and subject them to despotic tyranny.  But the people insisted.

God is said to have spoken to Samuel in the midst of the crisis:  “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”

Our willingness to have a “king to govern us” (even if he claims to know more about the Middle East, more than the generals, more than our intelligence communities, and even if he claims to be the chosen one and a genius, even a stable one at that)—is a rejection of our oft-quoted mantra of “one nation under God.”

Monday, January 20, 2020

I Remember...

Do you remember?  I mean, do you really remember?  Do you remember those days of unrest, of civil disobedience, of water hoses and dogs, of jeers and beatings and murders, and churches bombed with little children inside?  Do you remember Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham, and Memphis, in the 1960’s. Do you remember the Edmond Pettus Bridge and what happened there?  John Lewis remembers!  Do we really remember the way it was back then, in 1968 for example, when Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we honor today, was despised by 75% of the people in this nation?  He was shot to death at the age of 39 that year in Memphis, Tennessee.  I remember.

Martin Luther King’s favorite hymn was “Precious Lord.”  He asked Mahalia Jackson long before he was killed if she would sing that song at his funeral.  She did…and I remember…

Precious Lord, take my hand/Lead me on, let me stand/I am tired, I am weak, I am lone/
Though the storm, though the night/Lead me on to the light/Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near/When my light is almost gone/Hear my cry, hear my call/Hold my hand lest I fall/Take my hand precious Lord lead me home.

When the darkness appears and the night draws near/And the day is past and gone/At the river I stand/Guide my feet, hold my hand/Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

I remember how King often quoted James Weldon Johnson’s poem/song (the official song of the NAACP) “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  The last stanza speaks to me tonight as I remember those yesterdays and ponder our situation in America today.  I remember… and I pray…

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou has brought us thus far on the way; 
Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.  
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee, 
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, 
May we forever stand.  
True to our God, 
True to our native land.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Great Divorce

C. S. Lewis wrote the novel, The Great Divorce, back in 1945.  The book was based on a dream in which the author reflects on the Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.  In the dream the narrator finds himself in “the grey town”, where it is always raining, even indoors.  It’s a hell of a town—a kind of purgatory.  He finds a bus-stop.  There he waits in line and listens to the arguments among his fellow passengers.  Many of them quit the line in disgust before the bus arrives.  When the bus finally comes there are only a few remaining passengers who board it.  The bus flies upward.  It’s destination:  the foothills of heaven.  If you want to know the rest of the story, you’ll have to read the book for yourself.

Fifty-two years ago, The Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to become The United Methodist Church.  That was the year I became a United Methodist minister.  For all of those 52-years The “United” Methodist Church has been like “the grey town” in Lewis’ novel.  It has been raining ever since that union—as it rained before that union—and as it will be raining when that union is fractured—when the Great Divorce occurs (probably this summer).  

The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the American Baptist Churches (USA) have already experienced a similar divorce in their “grey towns.”  They, too, argued while waiting in line at the bus-stop, and walked away before the bus arrived.  They argued, as The United Methodist Church has been arguing, over whether or not they should be inclusive of all people, particularly LBGTQ folk and abortion (a woman’s right to choose).  Of course, the divide has been labeled a religious one, but it is also political—liberal verses conservative.

The United Methodist Church has decided it is time for a divorce, thinking this will get everybody out of the rain or out of “the grey town.”  The arguments with one another are so aggravating, so divisive, so intense, that they can’t tolerate waiting in line with each other for the bus. They walk away from one another and thus miss that bus which might take them out of “the grey town,” They want only to associate with like-minded people—people like themselves. They want no Samaritans in their midst, no Romans, no outsiders.

The Church (whatever the name given it) is supposed to be an instrument of the Gospel (not Paul’s Letters or the Old Testament, or by our political bent, but rather by the spirit of Christ).  That Gospel is meant to force us out of our individual bubbles and help us connect across all the social, political and racial barriers of our culture.  It’s the bus we are waiting for…as we sit side by side with those who are different from us in “the grey town”.  But we refuse to wait in line with those who are different.  We reject the Gospel—as people have always done.  

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Swiftly Roll the Years!

Our grandson Matt will soon celebrate his 27th birthday.  His daughter, Addison, our first great granddaughter, was born on Matt’s birthday.  Matt and I use to celebrate our birthdays together (just a week apart) when he was growing up.  He says he can always remember my age simply by adding 50 years to his own!

Where do the years go?  All those precious days—Christmases and Thanksgivings, birthdays and anniversaries—all have passed so quickly.  Every day is precious—where have all those days gone?

Once we were young.  The youthful spirit within us bursting with energy.  All the world was before us and nothing seemed too great to accomplish, no challenge or goal seemed out of reach.  Then, all at once, those days are no more, the years are gone, and there is little time remaining.  Suddenly Jesus’ words in John 9:4 make sense, “I must work, while it is day:  for the night comes.”

Precious days still dawn.  The night is not yet permanent, the nights still come and go.  My mind still works (though slowly) and my heart still beats (though not as strongly).  What must I be doing while it is day?  What work can I do?  What does an old man have to offer?  It dawns on me this morning, looking back over precious days, that I am to give that which others in their late years gave me—their CARE.  “These three things remain,” writes the Apostle Paul, “FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE (CARE).  But the greatest of these is CARE.  The word “Love” has been so abused.  The word “Care” seems a better description of what others, in their latter days, gave me.

Sheldon Silverstein wrote songs, cartoons and children’s books. He wrote “The Little Boy and the Old Man,” which I think represents the kind of real  and practical “caring” (loving) that we, in our final season,  are meant to give to those who still have precious days ahead:

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay any attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

In grateful acknowledgment of Mort's "Care" for me.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Forbidding Democracy

Forbidding democracy to do what democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy—seems to be a growing trend.  It began back in the days of McCarthyism, but has never really died.  We were told that Iraq had weapons of mass Destruction.  Any opposition or criticism of this falsehood or to the Iraqi War itself was labeled as unAmerican, unpatriotic, or not supporting the troops, etc.

Forbidding democracy to do what democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy—has expanded exponentially under the Trump Administration.  Any criticism of the State of Israel, for example, is now considered anti-Semitism and unAmerican.   Trump said in July 2019, “So sad to see Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our Country and who, in addition, hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion.”  Being critical (speaking badly) of Israel or this nation, its government, its president, its congress, its policies is not unAmerican.  It is not unpatriotic.  It is an important function of a democracy!

Forbidding democracy to do what democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy—is evident in Trump’s constant verbiage about the media being “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.”  The media, the free press (which includes CNN, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, PBS, and all others) is the very strength and fiber (not enemy) of a democracy.  

Forbidding democracy to do what democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy—finally became evident to Utah’s Senator Mike Lee yesterday after being briefed about the Iran situation.  Scrambled quotes from Senator Lee include:  “probably the worst briefing…I’ve ever seen” and it was “insulting.”  “It’s un-American, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong…”.  What is un-American, Mr. Lee?  What is unconstitutional?  What is wrong, Mr. Lee?  Mr. Lee responded:  “They’re (Trump Administration) in the process of telling us we need to be good little boys and girls and not debate this (Iran business) in public.  I find that absolutely insane.  I think it’s unacceptable.”  

But so many still want to forbid a democracy to do what democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy.  Rep. Steve Scalise says, “We all should be coming together to support our commander in chief to protect America, not debating how to limit the president’s ability to defend this country.”  Rep. Mark Meadows said, debating the war powers resolution would send the message that the killing of Soleimani was inappropriate.  “I don’t know how you side with terrorist activity,” he said.  It may well be that the killing of Soleimani was inappropriate, perhaps even illegal.  That’s not siding with the terrorists—it is being a democracy.

So here we go again—trying to forbid a democracy to do what a democracy does—and what a democracy must do in order to be a democracy.  With Senator Lee, I find that attempt to be  “absolutely insane” and I think “it’s unacceptable.”  

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


An echo is a reflection of sound that arrives with a delay after the direct sound was made.   An “echo tweet” is one that re-asserts itself after some time.  Donald J. Trump’s echo tweets, after a delay of seven or eight years are sounding again.  

Projection is often seen as dumping our own methods, our own feelings, our own ideas onto another person.  Did Mr. Trump, seven, eight, nine years ago, project on Mr. Obama what he  himself would do if he were in Obama’s shoes?

ECHO-TWEETS sounding now:

"Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate.  He's weak and he's ineffective.  So the only way he figures that he's going to get reelected--and as sure as you're sitting there--is to start a war with Iran."  (Nov 16, 2011)

"In order to get elected, Obama will start a war with Iran." (Nov 29, 2011)

"Now that Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin--watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran.  He is desperate." (Oct 9, 2012)

"Don't let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected--be careful Republicans!" (Oct 22, 2012)

Saturday, January 4, 2020

"Thou Shalt Not..."

There are those who call themselves "Pro-life" because they are against abortion.  There are those (even those who call themselves “Pro-Life”) who support capital punishment.  There are those who support Roe v. Wade.  There are those who are against capital punishment, but for abortion or a woman’s right to choose.  There are those who are Pacifists—unwilling (on religious and/or moral grounds) to take any human life.  There are those who say “Thou shalt not…” in one situation, but not in another.  This is part of the moral complexity we face—not only in these areas of concern, but in many others.  

World War I was sparked by the “targeted killing” (assassination) of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.  The result was a global conflict that caused the death of eight million solders and civilians. Just a few days ago, the United States “took down” a target, the commander of Iran’s security and intelligence services, Qasem Soleimani, because he was plotting “imminent and sinister attacks” on Americans.  This “targeting” is nothing new.  The US targeted Fidel Castro back in the 1960’s (but he lived to be 90 years old).  During World War II the US targeted the killing of Isoroku Yamamoto, the primary planner of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The Phoenix Program during the Viet Nam era targeted the political leadership of the Viet Cong. From 1976 to 2001, the American norm was against targeted killing, but after 9/11, it became rather common place during the Bush and Obama Administrations, and included the killing of Osama bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki (an American citizen) and his teenage son in 2011.  These “killings” were based on The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), a joint resolution of both houses of Congress one week after 9/11.  The AUMF permits the President to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he/she determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Vladimir Putin approved a law allowing assassinations abroad in 2006.  Israel has used assassination and targeted-killing more than any country in the West.  The murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi (allegedly by Saudi Arabia); the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the attempted hit on Sergei Skripal and his daughter (allegedly by Russia) in the UK, suggest that State-sponsored assassinations and targeted-killing has become the norm rather than the exception.  Legal minds, both national and international, struggle with the legality of this new norm (meaning “something now considered typical, standard, and usual”).  Because it has become the norm—and a practice by many nation-states, including US—we tend to dismiss the morality of such acts.  The use of drones, poison, and other technological methods to kill tend to make it all so easy.  But I am uneasy with it and have been with every Administration since 9/11.  What have we become?  Is there no moral issue (yes, and a religious one, too) involved in this behavior?

"Where have all the flowers gone...when will we ever learn..."