Saturday, December 11, 2010

From the Dark Side

Sometimes God and I aren't on speaking terms...

Oh, God is always willing to talk to me. It's me, really. I get in a funk, a particularly dark mood, and I just don't want to deal with God.

It seems to come more frequently at this time of year. Perhaps it's the festive character of the season. Perhaps it's the unspoken pressure to be festive, and not feeling festive in your heart. Perhaps it's the shortness of the days, and the gray cold that seems too often to describe the daylight hours. Maybe it's the bare trees, and the brown fields. Whatever the cause, I don't often feel this way in the spring or summer, not even in the fall when the trees are reddening from their warm weather green.

Instead of having a heart-to-heart with God, I trap myself in a self-focused loop.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude, Part 4

Here we are, Thanksgiving Day. I'm thankful for nothing today.

That's right - I'm thankful for nothing.

If it weren't for nothing, we'd have no sense of the something we do have. If it weren't for nothing, something wouldn't mean anything.

Of course, I'm playing with words here. The nothing that I'm speaking of, for sure, is the frame around the somethings that we really are thankful for today. When we think we have nothing, we really don't have nothing. We're just not thinking of the somethings that have been given to us. We need to reflect on absolute nothing to realize that we have been blessed.

In summary, then, I really am thankful for everything we have. This country is a greater blessing than many of us realize, something not to be taken for granted. Our families, with all the goofiness that they display sometimes, are blessings in ways that we often don't understand. Our jobs, our homes, all the things we are surrounded with, they're all blessings that we too easily overlook.

Thank God for the blessings we enjoy, and for this day when we can properly acknowledge the Source of all those gifts.

And that's what I'm thankful for today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gratitude, Part 3

I'm thankful for gay people.

And illegal immigrants.

And super patriots.

And the poor and marginalized.

And others unnamed.

I say this because each of these groups of people force me to confront the sad reality of my Christian faith. That reality is this - given half a chance, I could go through life on autopilot, checking off various action items on my "Righteousness" checklist. Given half a chance, I'd never have to really deal with the people that aren't part of my Christian world. I could associate with the rest of the shiny, happy Christians, and never worry about the poor of the world, the dispossessed, the other.

Instead, each of these cohorts force me to realize that this a very big world, created by a loving God, who has made a multiplicity of people who don't fit into neat, well-adjusted boxes. The people in this world are a messy lot, filled with desires and ambitions, many of which are at odds with the Creator's goals. As a professed Jesus-person, I am commanded to have loving relationships with all these "others." I have to treat each of these groups as people, instead of faceless entities that I can conveniently ignore. So, my gratitude list is composed of the people who force me to keep my faith living and perhaps even a little raw, always ready to be surprised or maybe even shocked. No easy way out is available to me.

And that's what I'm thankful for today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gratitude, Part 2

And here's the next thing I'm thankful for...

I'm thankful for the 50% divorce rate. Yep, I'm thankful that there are 50% of married couples - Christians and non-Christians alike - who decide that despite huge odds against a successful life together, they're sticking it out as a couple.

I suspect that this 50% endurance rate is going to be found to be pretty constant among straight couples as well as gay, for what it's worth.

There are a million different things that can undermine and damage a marriage to the point where the partners just don't want to continue the relationship. For that half of all married people who do endure though, I give thanks. You have inspired me to try to do what you've done. Thanks for all that inspiration over the years.

And that's what I'm thankful for today.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gratitude, Part 1

Since it's that time of year, and the holiday is rapidly approaching, it's time to be thankful for a few things.

I'm grateful, first, for the election that we had in this country earlier this month. Despite the outcome - some people liked it a lot, some people really were let down - we had an election that went ahead with very few problems. Compared to other parts of the world, our election went like a well-oiled machine. There was no civil unrest - that I'm aware of. There were no voters killed - that I know of. All candidates are accounted for - so far as I know.

Our ancestors gave us a system, modified from time to time over the years, that has worked fairly well. I'm grateful for their foresight, and for the dedication to perfecting our system that's occupied so much of our attention in all the years we've lived here.

And that's what I'm thankful for today.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I have found the secret to happiness.

I was talking to a co-worker the other day, and the conversation finally turned to the subject of what gave us pleasure. We had already decided that talking politics was a surefire way to lose whatever happiness or peace of mind we might have had. Talking religion, even though we didn't directly speak about that, is the same kind of subject - you are almost certain to be more agitated after the conversation than before it, and not in a good way.

Since we're both grandparents, we both agreed that playing with the grandchildren is a good way to get a smile plastered back on our faces. More than that, it will probably be a crooked, goofy-looking smile, if our experience is any guide.

So - what is this secret of happiness, and how does it relate to playing with your grandchildren? And what if you're too young to have grandchildren; what's the secret for you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Body Image Redux

Let's re-examine my last post, shall we?

Last time, I posited that perhaps the mob scene that is today's Christianity may be the way that it's supposed to be, with all the bickering about women's ordination, gay marriage, eternal security, papal infallibility, the gospel of prosperity, and so forth and so on. "The way it's supposed to be" is shorthand for a scenario that is moving according to God's plan for his church.

Well, once I had had a chance to talk to some friends about this idea, I was told by several of them that this whole concept was wrong, that God couldn't have intended for things to come to this pass of disunity and dissension.

I'm not convinced. Here are some further thoughts on what I originally proposed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Body Image

We may need to recalibrate our viewpoint.

I was driving to work yesterday, after having taken part in our weekly Lectio Divina service, and I was struck by a strange thought. What if the body is much larger than we had realized?

I'm referring to the "body of Christ" that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that just as a body has many parts, all interdependent, so too does the body of Christ, the church. It's made up of many individuals, many parts, all working together under the direction of the head.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Somewhere In Between

Somewhere in between is where we find ourselves.

This morning, like most Wednesday mornings, I took part in a weekly exercise at our church. We meet at 6:30 to practice Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading.

If you're not familiar with this practice, it's centuries old. It's been practiced by monastics and non-monastics alike for all this time, as a way of drawing closer to the mind of God in prayer and meditation.

Lectio, as we do it, involves reading a short passage of Scripture repeatedly in a group, slowly and deliberately. We chew over the words and listen to each reading until a word or phrase seizes our attention. When the reading has been completed, we take that word or phrase and journal about it, a writing prayer, slowing our minds to let the Spirit guide our thoughts. We may share the results of our journaling, or we may pass - it's an individual choice. We don't interrupt the speaker as he or she shares what focus they had; we don't try to evaluate, interpret, or "fix" the speaker. We share our prayers. All this takes place in the context of an abbreviated liturgy that begins and ends our time together.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


"Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing."

This sentence was in the Readings for the Office of Readings for Tuesday, November 2, 2010, All Souls Day. It's from a book by St. Ambrose on the death of his brother Satyrus.

I don't want to paraphrase what St. Ambrose wrote about. Instead, I want to share some thoughts I had as I've been meditating on that one sentence. For some reason, it's been sticking with me since I read it a few days ago, triggering associations and thoughts about just how necessary grace is.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


It's finally over.

The elections have been held, and the results, for the most part, have been announced. All that's left, really, for the winners, is to do what the voters want done.

I'm taking a break, short as it is, from my self-imposed exile from political commentary to advocate for what I hope is a universally adopted practice.

I want to see all of us, liberal, conservative, Tea Party, libertarian, whatever allegiance you claim, do what we need to do to make this representative democracy work. We need to let our elected officials know what we want. All of us!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Two Selves

I've been on a journey of self-discovery.

It's been just over three weeks since I last posted anything. I've taken that time to examine some notions that have embedded themselves into my mind. I'd like to share what's come of that examination.

The basic idea is that the Christian life - the life I'm trying to live every day - requires me to participate in the killing of my self.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


It's been a few weeks since I posted anything on this blog. I thought I'd add a note to let everyone know that I'm still alive, and to convey what I've been doing lately.

I've been avoiding as much as possible the unending spew of political news and commentary that is flooding our media channels right now. It's not that I don't have any interest in the upcoming elections. However, the "debate" between the Democrats and the Republicans, let alone the independent parties, has gotten so partisan and so stupid that it's better to just wait until election day, make your choices, and then watch to see how the races come out. Consequently, I'm trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to swear off a heavy diet of political fast-food for the time being.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Valedictory of Sorts

This is going to be the final post for a while, at least the final post that deals in any way with politics. Our social fabric is too frayed from the personal animus that seems to grow more bitter every day. Even though I have voiced strong opinions in the past, I refuse to take any further part in the noisy mob that is tearing our country apart. So, with that said, here is where I'm leaving things for a time.

I intend to continue posting on topics that directly bear on personal faith, the practice of seeking the Divine and relating that to our lives on this small, lovely planet. I will not be addressing that practice in the political realm. You can expect to read future posts about finding time to pray, seeking solitude, and making faith real by incarnating it into good works. I will write about appreciation for simple acts of kindness, about opportunities to serve others, and about finding a path of quiet through the noise that always tries to divert our attention from the truly important.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Modest Proposal

I have a suggestion for all those people who are so exercised about the Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Instead of bitching and moaning and getting all hateful about how the sanctity of the site is being violated, try doing something positive.

How about finding a Christian congregation that wants to build a church two blocks from Ground Zero? How about locating a Jewish congregation that wants to place a synagogue in the same vicinity? What about an ashram? Or a Buddhist temple?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

All God's People

There's a demon stalking the land...

And God is being put to the test.

Several events have been happening in America that give an absolute lie to any notions we have about our religious liberty.

First, is Barack Obama a Muslim?

He says he's a Christian. Many of his opponents say he's not. They say he's not even a native-born American. Franklin Graham says he was born a Muslim, because the seed of Islam is passed through the father, but that he's renounced the Prophet and professed Christianity as his faith. Glenn Beck says he's a racist.

All these pronouncements betray a deep skepticism about President Obama being who he says he is.

During the Presidential campaign, he was blasted because of incendiary remarks made by his former pastor. This was a pastor at a Christian church. What kind of Muslim would go to a Christian church? Obama distanced himself from his former pastor, and in the process gave an eloquent speech about the current and past state of race relations in this country.

Nothing said has dissuaded the "Obama is a Muslim" devotees from their beliefs.

So - is the President a Christian, a Muslim, or something else?

I think he's a Christian. I take him at his word. And it doesn't matter one bit. Read the following to see why.

Here's what our country's Constitution says:

Article VI - Debts, Supremacy, Oaths

"... The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."


Barack Obama could be an atheist, and it wouldn't matter. Religious affiliation is not a requirement for the office of President of the United States. That's in the Constitution. End of discussion.

All his opponents, all those screaming about this, have one and only one option. Shut up - you are out of order.

And here's another thing slinking around our country - a huge controversy right now in New York City about the construction of an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero. The organization wanting to build the Center already has the support of many prominent Americans, including the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Many people agree that they have the right to build where they want to, but that they should re-evaluate their current location. The opponents to the Center at the current planned location say it desecrates the sacred site of Ground Zero.

In what way is the site of Ground Zero sacred? Who is it sacred to? Is it only sacred to Jews and Christians?

Here's what I know. Members of many faiths died when the towers fell. Christians. Jews. Muslims. Buddhists. Taoists. Atheists. Who's death carries the most weight when the sacredness of this site is established? Is it more sacred to Allah than to Yahweh? Why?

It's a sacred site, no doubt about it. It's sacred to Americans, because of the wound that we suffered when the attack took place. The wound afflicts us all, to this day, and it shows no signs of healing. As long as we act as if it's only sacred to members of one or two faiths, that wound is a festering nastiness that threatens to poison our entire nation. Those who have such virulent hatred of Islam, the most vocal opponents to the Center, and to Islam in general, do not speak for America. They are not patriots. They are haters. Who is their God?

And finally, we have the pastor and his church in Florida that are going to celebrate the 9/11 attacks this year with "International Burn a Quran Day."

General Petraeus says this one act will endanger Americans in Afghanistan, and our mission there and elsewhere in the Muslim world. He says it will serve only to provide material for recruiting new members for the Taliban and for Al Qaeda. His statement is having no impact on the pastor.

Plenty of other people and organizations have come out against this act. Angelina Jolie. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Attorney General Eric Holder. Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The Vatican. And the list continues to grow. These voices of opposition are having no effect on deterring the pastor.

I'm a Christian. I bow to Jesus my Savior, and try to love all my fellow men, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or atheist. It's not always easy. It's particularly not easy to even claim association with Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. He claims to be a Christian, but he no more resembles what I know as the Christian faith than does Fred Phelps in Topeka. These people claim to be Christian, but they spit in my face with what they do. They defile my faith. I must speak out. They do godless things and fly in the face of Jesus' commandment to pray for their enemies, and forgive them, even as they don't know what they do. And so must I - I have no other options. But it's very hard to do, and I must pray for strength to do so.

These are the faces of the demon that's skulking through our land. These are the hateful nasties that can not exist in the sharp light of revelation. These poisonous spirits contaminate our country, and threaten to completely overrun us if we don't oppose them.

If you read this, and feel as I do, then please, comment.

If you think that all this hate is just fine... Then, may God have mercy on your soul.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Nine-Eleven Meditation...

As we approach the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I think it would be worthwhile to consider where we are as a nation.

In the days immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as a nation we were united more than I can ever remember in my life. We were united in our determination to retaliate for the attacks, taking our vengeance wherever it needed to go to deal with those responsible for organizing and sponsoring them. President George W. Bush, a figure who had been seen as divisive by many, said and did what he needed to do to bring us together. It was a golden moment. And we let it slip away, almost unnoticed.

In the years since that mountaintop experience of national unity and resolve, we've seen the partisan warfare that characterized so much of the Clinton years wound ever tighter, to an entirely new level of mindless hate and anger.

We've seen our influence in the Muslim world wax and wane, as we've embarked on barely justifiable military campaigns, with still more warfare talked about with other countries of interest.

We've seen our national treasury bankrupted, first by tax cuts for the wealthiest of us, then by "supplemental" spending to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and finally by an economic meltdown that was spawned by irresponsible lending and "innovation" by the nation's largest and most influential banks and investment houses.

We've seen a rebirth of fear the like of which I don't recall having seen since the depths of the Cold War.

We have people seriously discussing the need for "Second Amendment solutions" to the "problem" of the Federal government.

We have lies masquerading as truth, and demagogues masquerading as impartial commentators.

We have a nation that is declining as we watch, apparently helpless to do anything about it.

We are hopeless, fearful, angry, and in denial.

Did the hijackers of those four airliners on September 11, 2001, triumph?

I wonder...

Hope, something that has been at the heart of so much that is great about America, has been relegated to the punchline of a political joke. Yard signs poke fun at the current President - "How's that hopey-changey thing workin' for ya?"

Naked, virulent hatred is proudly displayed on other placards - "Barack Obama Half-breed Muslin." We're too stupid to know how to spell, and we're too ignorant to accept that a statement is a falsehood.

Barack Obama has succeeded George Bush as the man to hate. He's a Muslim, he's not an American, he's a socialist, he's a Nazi, he's a communist. He's not one of "us."

The more extreme members of the American body politic have found a voice. They distrust any incumbent politician (oftentimes with good reason, sad to say). No statement, regardless of how far-fetched, seems beyond their ability to believe, if it hits at the "establishment." They want a return to "Constitutional absolutism," even as they try to re-interpret that living document to suit their own myopic viewpoints.

It seems almost as if the inmates are running the asylum. Birthers, deathers, and true believers of every stripe just know that the "mainstream media" is lying to them - and in many cases, they're right. And how's that workin' for ya?

In many ways, I think this has come about because we've finally moved the internet, with its dazzling speed and reach, into the mainstream and embedded it into our lives. Any opinion, regardless of how crazy or ill-founded, can be legitimized with the world-wide megaphone of social networks, blogs, wikis, email, and streaming video. With 6.5 billion people in this world, no one can police every website that pops up, every blog that is begun, every Facebook page that appears. Individuals who can barely make sense of life can now self-publish their opinions and get distribution as e-books or print-on-demand copies.

The village idiot has found his voice, and now it's the shit heard round the world.

Is this a reversible situation? Can this country find reason to come together, besides our hatred and fear of anyone different? Can we begin to believe once again in the promise of better times ahead, instead of yearning for better times that never _really_ existed?

I want to believe that our best days are still ahead. I want to believe that I'll actually see some of them before I take that big dirt nap. But I have my doubts. I don't see many people who actually seem to believe this. Instead I see people fortifying their bunkers, getting ready to ride out the siege and occasionally go out and strike the enemy camp.

If anyone reads these posts, you know I'm a Christian. That means that hope is kind of essential to my philosophy of life. For me, that "hopey-changey" thing works just fine. I'm not bound by the limitations of this life, in this world. Ultimately, this is not my eternal home, but a way-station on the way there. But this way-station could be a lot better place for all of us, Christian and non-Christian alike, if we'd do a few things to improve it.

Do we really need to pursue a zero-sum game, one where if I win, you must lose?

Do we really need to marginalize those who think differently than us? Really? Why?

Do we really need to be such ignorant shits, so often? We have really good brains - they work best when we actually use them.

Pride goeth before the fall. We're falling for our own line of bull. Is it really necessary to be so proud of it?

Is anyone out there? Does anyone care?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Contrarian Question Two-fer

We've got a bonus question this time.

I've been posting some contrarian questions lately, proposing that some time-honored notions might be rife for re-evaluation and perhaps, even throwing out altogether. This question has rather cosmic attributes, so let's get right to it:

Is it possible that the "End of Days," "Judgment Day," "The Great and Terrible Day of the Lord," has already occurred?

I'm not going to go into the reasons why I pose this question at length, but I'll merely highlight some pointers to this as a valid possibility.

First, hope and change have been relegated to the category of punchlines to political jokes. The gates of Hell have posted over them the motto "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." I think that fact speaks for itself.

Second, Jesus, in the Olivet discourse (look it up) points out that some of those hearing him speak would be alive when the Second Coming arrived. Do you see any two-thousand-year-old Jews hanging around - anywhere? I didn't think so.

Third, the Book of Revelation talks about the Anti-Christ. Given the propensity of biblical literalists to cite this person, or that person, as the definitive Anti-Christ, and having done this for hundreds of years, I think it's safe to say that in at least one case, they must have been right. If the Anti-Christ has already made his appearance, and then been escorted off the world's stage, Judgment Day has come and gone.

We're the leftovers. Or, in the terminology of a popular series of novels a few years ago, the left behind.

Well, you may ask, why didn't we see the sun turn to blood, or the stars fall, or any of the other signs of those days listed in the Book of Revelation? Who's to say we didn't see these things? Have you seen some of the space images from the Hubble Space Telescope? Red suns, skies void of stars, the whole thing - it's all there! This is a big universe, after all.

So - if we're the left behind, what does that mean going forward? This is where the second contrarian question comes in.

Let's assume that my proposition is in fact the truth. Let's assume further that we're stuck here, that there will be no further passage of the righteous to Paradise. In other words, hope is now dead - this is as good as it gets.

That's pretty depressing, you might think. But wait - we now have the chance to create a world that truly reflects human values, not those hopelessly romantic notions that the God people kept imposing on us all those years. We can make the world in our own image!

Where should we start?

Here's that second contrarian notion.

I think it's time that we made the point, once and for all, that you're responsible for your own presence in this world. It's time to stop the stupid idea of charity. If events have conspired to screw your life into the ground, well, buddy, that's just the way things turn out.

This needs to be applied to both our foreign missions as well as to our domestic policies and practices. For instance, if you don't have a fortune, and you're so short-sighted as to not have bought health insurance, a sudden illness or accidental injury or any other unexpected health crisis is your problem. Show up at the Emergency Room without an insurance card, or a bank statement, and some really good ID, and you'll be shown the door. You can't mooch health care off the system any more. No freeloaders, and high time for that. It's all about freedom from government mandates, after all.

With any luck, this will help weed out the weak and slow, the elderly who are too infirm and slow to understand that there's no more free lunch. Within a generation, we should be a fit, healthy, and very free people.

There are a myriad of other consequences to this change in the way we live, but I think you get the idea. If you can't carry your own weight, you should just go off and die, and free up the resources for people who can pay their own way. And the sooner, the better.

Robert Heinlein wrote a book years ago, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. One of the things about that book that has stuck with me all this time is the acronym TANSTAAFL, which means THERE AIN'T NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH. That's eternal wisdom. That's the motto of this brave new world, if my contrarian notion is in fact true. We're embarking on a new adventure, and one that will create a much simpler world. Let's get it on!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Christian Nation

I'm going to make this brief.

I want to thank the Tea Party loyalists, the ultra-conservatives, and the more extreme members of the the Christian Right for finally, positively driving a stake through the heart of the notion that the United States is now, or ever was, a Christian nation.

The heart of the Christian gospel is love for the other, even your enemy, love for your God, and forgiveness even unto death. Jesus lived this, and died this - "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do..."

The earmark of the people I mention above is an unforgiving judgmentalism, a rigid belief in their own righteousness, and a distinct lack of charity to those of their fellow Americans who have fallen on hard times. They want to "reload," to talk about "Second Amendment solutions" to the government that they don't like. They don't resemble Jesus the Christ in any way I can see; they're more like the Pharisees who looked on as the Romans crucified the Son of God and watched him die in agony on the cross.

As to the delusional belief that these United States are, or were, a "Christian nation"... Name one instance of mention of the name of Jesus - you know, the Christ? - in government publications, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, anything? Sure, there are the odd mention of "God," of "the year of our Lord," and similar terms, but those could just as easily be referring to almost any monotheistic deity. I'm talking about a concerted mention of Jesus the Christ, the "Christ" in "Christian nation." It's not there. What we actually find is more like the vague "God" in Enlightenment philosophy, something that was very typical in the 1700's when this country was founded. Vague God-talk; that's just about as specific as the half-assed "religion" we find in the "theory" of Intelligent Design.

No Christ here, move along, this isn't the Christian nation you're looking for...

Jesus wasn't an American, he wasn't a Roman, he was a first-century Jew living in an occupied country. He was also an absolutely unique being - fully human, fully God - and billions of people call him Lord. Some of us fall on our faces because we can't do what we want to do to honor him - we fail, we sin, we ask for mercy. Some of us are so proud of our righteousness that we strut about and crow about how we're not like "those people." There's a story in the Gospels about these two types of people. From it, we get the prayer of the Orthodox - the Jesus prayer.

"Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner." I hate to say it, but I don't think I'll be hearing any of my ultra-conservative countrymen saying this anytime soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I suppose I should be glad that I'm a Protestant...

I've been following some practices in the last few months that come from a monastic tradition. Specifically, as a result of doing contemplative retreats at a Benedictine monastery in northwest Missouri, I've become very attracted to the Liturgy of the Hours, or what's known as the Daily Office. In addition, I've taken to reading the Rule of St. Benedict on a daily basis, with the objective of reading it as Benedictines do - three times complete in a year. Other spiritual reading is part of this mix as well.

In sum, I'm a confessing Protestant who does things that a Roman Catholic would find quite familiar. And yet, for all that, I think I'd make a pretty bad Catholic. Let me explain.

The Roman Catholic church is the product of twenty centuries of Christianity filtered through the lens of the descendants of the Roman Empire. The traditional language is Latin; the organization is heirarchical; echoes of ancient Roman imperial behavior can be seen throughout the entire church.

Tradition in the Roman church is capitalized when it appears in church writings, and if I'm not mistaken, treated in many ways as equivalent to holy Scripture. And this is why I'd make a lousy Catholic. And for that matter, I'd make an equally lousy Greek Orthodox.

I don't have this veneration for Tradition, and that's a flaw I willingly confess.

Tradition is not nearly so venerated in Protestant denominations, particularly those of a more Reformed heritage. Reformed theology preaches "sola scriptura," "by Scripture alone" as the basis for all salvation and holiness. In this worldview, Tradition is an interesting addendum to what is true and right, but nothing more.

This attitude toward Tradition has permeated my thinking and religious observance my entire life. I've gotten somewhat relaxed since earlier days, but I still have nowhere near the attitude toward Tradition that Roman Catholics or Orthodox do.

Let's see what Tradition really is.

In every case I can think of, any given Tradition began as anything but traditional. Take the Tradition, or Sacrament, of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the bread and wine from the Last Supper. It did not begin as a tradition; it was a one-off event, at a particular time in a particular place. It was only later that it became a capital-T Tradition. Over time it has become encrusted with so much symbolism and religious adornment that it's hard to see back to the original event. So let me help...

Here's the account from the NET Bible from the Gospel of Luke:

22:19 Then he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 22:20 And in the same way he took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

And here's a similar account (NET Bible again) from the Apostle Paul, from 1 Corinthians:

11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, 11:24 and after he had given thanks he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 11:25 In the same way, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 11:26 For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Do you see the development here? In the first, during a ritual meal, which Jesus held with his disciples, he redefines the nature of the Paschal feast, and takes that sacrificial role onto himself. He takes a loaf of matzoh and a cup of wine, at different points in the meal, and imputes symbolic significance to them. He tells his followers, "Do this in remembrance of me."

In the second account, we're presented with a somewhat more specific prescription for repeated practice, as in "every time you eat this bread and drink the cup."

My point is this. A meal with certain unique characteristics has been transformed into a rite that is the center of the Roman Catholic Mass. Eucharistic adoration is veneration of the host, which, sanctified by a priest, becomes the literal body of Christ to a devout Catholic.

I can not get my head around all this.

I understand praying the Psalms, as is done in the Daily Office.

I understand practicing contemplation, as I've learned to do in multiple retreats.

I understand reading the Rule of St. Benedict, the reading of other books of Christian meditation and spiritual introspection, and the use of gestures such as signing the cross.

I don't understand Tradition as it's developed in the Catholic church, to the extent that it has.

Protestants, however, for all their preaching about "sola scriptura," are not immune to encrusting simple events with traditional associations. If the rite of Communion were to be celebrated just as it was in the first instance, all of us worshipers would be wearing robes and sandals, reclining on pillows around a long table and eating and drinking while  propping ourselves up on one elbow. If you've been to church to celebrate Communion, you know that's not the way it's done. Instead, you may find a tray filled with tiny shot glasses with a thimble-full of grape juice and little bread pellets that look like breath mints. Or maybe you'd find a single chalice filled with wine, and round, flat wafers of bread-like substance. Or, as at our church, you'd find a single chalice filled with wine (or grape juice - we swing both ways) and a loaf of bread from which you'd tear off a chunk and dip it into the chalice. No pillows, no robes, no sandals, no propped-up elbows. Not exactly original - instead, very Traditional.

Tradition is important. It can provide linkages to the past, a past two thousand years ago, and maintain continuity with that past. It can be examined to show how things go from simple at first, to complex as time passes. Tradition has value, and should be appreciated for that. But Tradition can also bind you when you should be liberated, can tie you to rituals that are irrelevant in the modern world and perhaps can be discarded centuries after they became Traditional. It's all a judgment call, as is virtually everything we do in the name of God and all holiness.

My traditions are not those, primarily, of the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches. I am steeped and infused with a Protestant mind-set. I'm getting old enough that I feel I can re-examine my attitudes and open myself to new practices, as I've described.

Right now, from the vantage point of where I am on my walk with Jesus, I don't believe I could be a good Catholic. But who knows what might happen tomorrow, or the day after? Who's to say what might be in store for me, or perhaps even for the Catholic church itself? One man was nailed up on a cross like so much house siding, and his death and return to life forever changed the world, and who expected that. I really don't know what comes next, but I'm willing to wait and see.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Contrarian Question Three

Let's look at another traditional practice, and see if it holds up...

The church is traditionally against "gay marriage" in any way, shape or form. Traditional values rule the day. Is it time to re-think this opposition? What reason might there be for a change of attitude about this?

What is the interest of the state in the institution of marriage, or civil union? Here's the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States -

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Three phrases jump out at me immediately in this context. The first is "establish Justice." The second is "insure domestic Tranquility." And the third phrase is "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Let's examine each in turn.

The first interest of the state, it seems to me, that pertains to the union of two people in a legally recognized relationship, is to establish a just arrangement for uniting people in this unions. Justice requires no favoritism or discrimination; everyone is equal before the law. It would seem that justice, at face value, requires that legally sanctioned unions permit both heterosexual and homosexual couples to bond equivalently.

The second interest of the state in my view is insuring domestic tranquility. This "domestic peace" involves more than peace in the home; it applies to peace within the borders of the entire United States of America. Legally recognized unions of willing adults must further the interest of the state in maintaining a peaceful society. The contentiousness that the whole "gay-marriage" issue embodies, does not further domestic tranquility. Instead, it illustrates how an entire segment of the population is being kept from something that another segment has enjoyed for centuries. The injustice is openly on display, for everyone to see.

Finally, the phrase about securing the blessings of liberty for ourselves and future generations should be easy to figure out. Liberty would allow homosexual couples to unite in a life-partnership, and have the same legal rights, of property ownership, of inheritance, of power of attorney, everything, that heterosexual couples have taken for granted for generations.

Here's the bottom line - as far as the interests of the state are concerned, allowing homosexual couples to exist with full legal rights is not only just, not only conducive to the general tranquility of our society, but also in keeping with the very spirit of this country since its founding. That's the interest of the state. You'll notice I did not mention anything about furthering any religious agenda or belief.

That was very deliberate. What I'm going to propose will probably strike many people as too much, but it allows the partnership of two individuals in this country without any care for their sexual orientation.

I think that the state, Federal, State, and Local, should abolish Marriage Licenses. Instead, there would be nationally recognized "civil union" or "life partner" licenses. These would be free of any religious connotations, and would simply give a legal recognition of the intention of two people to make a lifetime commitment to each other in a durable relationship. It would free the entire issue from the stigma that attaches to it now, because it would not use the term "marriage."

In fact, this new "license" would replace marriage licenses. Any couple, heterosexual or homosexual, would procure one of these licenses if they wanted a legally recognized union. Couples that chose to co-habit and not commit to this durable relationship would do what they do now, live with each other and have no binding commitment to each other. No legal rights would accrue to them either. I suppose that common-law status could be continued, but it would have to expand to include homosexual couples as well, if that seemed good to the various legislatures.

What of the institution of marriage? I'm not proposing that it be abolished, only the licensing of such a union for couples of a certain sexual orientation. Marriage would revert to what it should be, a covenant relationship sanctioned by religious bodies, according to the beliefs of those faith communities. If a church, for instance, absolutely refused to recognize homosexual unions, no problem. They would not perform wedding ceremonies for such couples. Another church might feel more accommodating, and so they would perform such ceremonies. This preserves the freedom of religious communities to be true to their beliefs and promote and advocate for those values. For those so inclined, freedom of religion is maintained, and for others, freedom from religion is recognized.

Is this idea too radical? Why? California's Proposition 8 was recently struck down. Other states have allowed such unions to exist, with full protection under the laws of those states. I think it's time that we allow life-partnerships to exist for all Americans, and move on to matters that truly threaten us.

I welcome comments on this article. Please keep them on-topic. Comments are moderated.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Contrarian Question Two

Sometimes you just have to shift gears, and deal with new questions...

I had intended to address the next installment in this series on the re-examination of traditional beliefs, to questions about prohibitions on legalizing gay marriage. However, some events in the last day or two have inspired me to set that aside, and look at another time-honored belief instead.

I'd like to ask if the modern nation-state has reached the end of its usefulness.

In the modern world we've seen an explosion in the number of nations. In the 1950's there were far fewer than 200 nations in the world. Today, in contrast, there are well over 200. Many of these states have come about from the break-up of larger countries, such as the demise of the Soviet Union, or the partitioning of some of the Balkan states. Only occasionally have we seen nations actually joining together into a larger single state, such as happened with the re-unification of East and West Germany.

The nation-state as we define it has really existed for a relatively short time, historically. In the past, there have been empires, extending back to the Roman empire, the Persian empire, ancient Egypt, or some of the Chinese empires, among others. These might last for the lifetime of one empire builder, like that of Alexander the Great, or they might endure for centuries, in one form or another, like Rome.

For far longer than that, however, civilized or social man lived in what amounted to city-states, small fortified towns that typically controlled some agricultural land and perhaps access to a trade route or transportation corridor. To call these "states" is a bit of a stretch, compared to nation-states we have today.

Even further back, mankind existed as small clans, either nomadic or settled. The next valley over might see another clan, but the reach of one clan was very localized.

Life in those days tended to be short, perhaps brutish, and you typically knew just about everyone you'd meet in the course of any given week.

The nation-state as we have it today is a marvel of organization, with many levels of bureaucracy and delegation of power, with highly developed ruling elites and laws governing all levels of society. Freedom is a managed quality; you're free so long as you observe the laws and play by the rules. If you cross these lines, though, you can be sure that sooner or later you'll run afoul of the police power of the state. This can mean anything from a traffic warning to the death penalty. The modern state governs by carefully applied coercion.

This coercion can extend to the relationships between states. Warfare is a common event in the world of nation-states. This was true in the ancient Middle East, and it's true in the world today. Wars of aggression, holy wars, all sorts of organized conflict fall under this rubric.

In the twenty-first century I believe we're beginning to see the systematic failure of the nation-state. Small non-governmental bodies can wage attacks on large states, such as the attacks of 9/11. These same groups can then resist decimation by those same opponents by striking bargains with groups within the governments of sympathetic states in close proximity to the attacker's bases of operation. Guerilla warfare can go on for decades, when one group is fighting for autonomy from a national government.

On top of this new reality in armed conflict, governance of commerce is becoming harder and harder, as the world economy reacts to financial upsets in one country by plunging the entire global economy into recession.

Environmental degradation knows now boundaries. Climate change, a political football in too many countries, can't be addressed on a nation-by-nation basis. We're all on one planet; if my environment fails, the odds are pretty good that yours will too.

Population movements seem to happen regardless of policies put in place by nations that attract immigration. Borders are porous, and security is partial.

The budgets of these modern nations are undergoing pressures they haven't often experienced. The age disribution of mature populations is trending toward more and more old people. Who will care for these seniors, and how much financial burden will this place on younger people still in the workforce?

Finally, the trust that people have in the national institutions of their home countries is under attack, often from the abject failures of the ruling elites to address the problems mentioned above, and others, in any sort of timely or constructive way.

My question is simply this:  Has the modern nation-state reached the end of its usefulness as an organizing principle for a technologically advanced world?

Modern-day anarchists are quick to say it has. Their solution is a stateless society, with volunteerism raised high as a social norm. Others talk about anarcho-capitalism, or agorism, or a rainbow spectrum of other social models.

Are these people hopelessly deluded idealists? Or is it perhaps time to open some territory for experimentation, to see if these models for a new society have any viability? In an age of internet start-ups, this doesn't sound so far-fetched, does it?

What do you think? Is it time for the nation-state to allow for some innovation, as a first step to gradually disappearing, and to being replaced by something really new?

I'm grateful to a fellow Twit, @PunkJohnnyCash, for inspiring this post. For some good reading to get started on considering anarchism as a possible social organizing principle, visit

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Contrarian Question One

Sometimes old practices are worth looking at with fresh eyes.

I plan on posting several short pieces in the next few days, asking if it's time to do one thing or another differently than we've done it forever.

This time, let's look at the injunction to "be fruitful and multiply."

This Biblical commandment appears several times in Genesis, for starters. In its most relevant to us, in Genesis 1:28, speaking to the first man and the first woman, God says, "Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground.” (All Biblical citations are from the NET Bible, available here.)

I don't think it can get any plainer than that. We human beings are to populate the earth, and subdue it.

Are we there yet?

After the Biblical Flood, which completely decimated the earth, except for the eight human beings that survived in the Ark of Noah, the Lord God spoke to Noah and his family thus: “Come out of the ark, you, your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you all the living creatures that are with you. Bring out every living thing, including the birds, animals, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. Let them increase and be fruitful and multiply on the earth!” (Genesis 8:16-17)

Even allowing for that depopulation and subsequent population explosion, are we there yet?

There are roughly 6.5 billion people on this planet right now. Have we been fruitful enough?

I wonder if it's not time to recalibrate our reproductive urge. Six and a half billion people are a lot of people.

Large families have been a mainstay of many Christian groups for centuries. They're found in Judaism as well. Other faiths may have large families as an ideal. This is particularly true in poor countries, where large families can be an insurance policy that some children will live to adulthood and can care for their aged parents. As people move to cities in these developing countries, though, family size begins to shrink.

Is it time for those groups that encourage large families to begin discouraging them?

My own view is that we reached that point some time ago. I don't know what the earth's carrying capacity is, but I suspect when it's reached, the effects from exceeding it will be traumatic. On top of everything else we're experiencing today, do we want to have to look forward to that as well?

So, here's the question: Do we continue popping out babies like there's no tomorrow, or do we rein in the reproductive urge and start having smaller families?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Our (Post)modern World

I can't believe what I'm hearing...

Is this where you find yourself? Is it hard to believe what you hear, or read, or view on the internet, or the radio, or the TV? Is reality a big shell game, and description of it a giant con?

I've blogged recently about how hard it is to find trustworthy sources, people or institutions that you can believe in to give you honest, accurate information and advice.

In thinking further about this, I've concluded that what we're seeing today in the United States, and to an only slightly lesser degree in other countries, is another consequence of the rise of the Postmodern mind.

"Postmodern" is a term that has a checkered history. It's been decried as nothing more than a buzzword that is meaningless in itself. It's also been used by various social critics and philosophers to describe sometimes contradictory interpretations of recent and current attitudes and beliefs.

I'm going to proceed from the notion that it describes, however generically, a real phenomenon that needs to be named if we're to get a handle on what is happening in our society.

My understanding of the postmodern world is that it is one where the notion of objective reality has been devalued, where those who proclaim that "reality" is this way or that way are viewed with suspicion, and where everyone is skeptical of the motivations of those proclaiming a "reality." In other words, a world that is a natural for the creation of conspiracy theories, the more elaborate the better.

Does this sound like the modern American landscape, political, social, economic?

We don't trust our government. Incumbents are in danger of being voted out of office. Government agencies are routinely criticized for being clueless about their assigned tasks. The government can do no good, even as we depend on it to do those things we're powerless to do individually.

We don't trust our institutions. If a school district wants to teach science, battle lines are drawn between advocates of Intelligent Design and Darwinian evolution, between proponents and opponents of human-mediated climate change, between adversaries arguing about nature and nurture in how human beings develop. Churches engage in partisan political activity - wink, wink, nudge, nudge - even as they try to maintain their tax-exempt status. Social activists, political parties, lobbying organizations, all are routinely targeted and painted as racist, socialist, communist, fascist, sexist, agist, whatever-ist.

We don't trust corporations. Politicians apologize to British Petroleum for being abused by the Federal government, financial reform is filibustered by a Republican Party that is against everything the administration does, even as Wall Street investment bankers enjoy extremely low approval ratings among the population. Apple introduces the iPhone 4, and immediately gets sued for reception issues concerning its antenna design. Even as workers at the American automobile companies go to work each day, other people bitch and moan about the bailout money that was used to save two of the Big Three car companies. The notion of working for one company for your entire career is a quaint memory, rapidly fading in light of unemployment hovering around ten percent, and underemployment much higher yet.

Our political landscape is in disarray. The Pledge of Allegiance reads thus:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

People sue to have "under God" removed, because it's an "establishment of religion." People are skeptical at best that there truly is "liberty and justice for all" under the existing government. And "one nation... indivisible" - do you honestly believe that any more?

What brought us to such a pass? Is it just the political climate, or is something deeper working against us?

World Wars I and II showed us that science, far from being the genie that was going to make our lives something close to paradise, was capable of ending all our lives, in new and horrible ways.

The Great Depression showed us that investment bankers and speculators could drive any nation into a pit from which it would be hard to climb back out. Out of the vengeance applied to Germany after WWI, and after the Great Depression, Nazism was almost inevitable.

Vietnam showed the United States that we could be defeated by a small, entrenched, and determined foe, willing to suffer years of privation and loss if they could but maintain their commitment to ultimate victory. Since 9/11, we've faced just such a foe again, in militant Islam.

In other words, the comforting assurances of the Modern world have been scuttled by real-world events, and shown for the sham that they are.

The current political climate in the US is just another in-your-face example of the kind of disruption and discord that the Postmodern world exhibits. In other words, it is an inevitable consequence of this time in history.

Where does that leave us? If you're a believer in the Man from Galilee, then you can draw some comfort from what he says. If you're not, then you can attach yourself to one polarized position or another. I don't think it really matters - Liberal or Conservative, Tea Party or MoveOn, you're subscribing to a blindered view of the world, and you can't help but see only part of the landscape. You won't have reasoned discussions or debates about important issues. Instead you'll call the other side names, use bumper-sticker phrases to echo your disgust with their views and actions, and work like hell to get your side in office, in power, forever and ever, amen. Cynical political operatives and "entertainers" will stir this pot to advance whatever side they're allied with, not caring one whit for the social disruption and even disintegration it produces.

Again, if you're not a believer, what are you to do, to survive this time of struggle, and make some sense of it? Can you just turn your back on it and do mindless things to entertain yourself until you die? Can you zone out and let yourself be tossed this way and that by forces that you can't control? Do you react with tried and true kneejerk platitudes, and just dismiss the whole frickin' mess? What's your answer?

I don't know what the next phase of our present social malaise is going to be. My prophetic gift seems to be on the fritz at the moment. Post a comment - they'll be moderated, so stay on topic - and offer your opinion. Let's get a conversation started.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Simple Thoughts

I just had to share this...

This bit of nonsense surfaced in my In box this afternoon. With some trepidation, I'm going to quote it in its entirety...

John Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock
(MADE IN JAPAN ) for 6 am.
While his coffeepot
was perking, he shaved with his
electric razor
He put on a
dress shirt

designer jeans
tennis shoes
After cooking his breakfast in his new
electric skillet
he sat down with his
to see how much he could spend today. After setting his
to the radio
he got in his car
filled it with GAS
(from Saudi Arabia )
and continued his search
for a good paying AMERICAN JOB.
At the end of yet another discouraging
and fruitless day
checking his
(made in MALAYSIA ),
John decided to relax for a while.
He put on his sandals
poured himself a glass of
and turned on his
and then wondered why he can't
find a good paying job


----------End of Nonsense----------

A couple of things are wrong with this "poem."

First, our president was "made" in the United States, despite what birther skeptics keep babbling. By the way, if you search on Google for the string "president made in kenya," you'll get around 5200 hits, as of June 23.

Second, the notion that President Obama can reverse a trend that began well over two decades ago is delusional. American companies, like any other company anywhere, are always trying to reduce costs so they can increase their profit margin. If labor can be had more cheaply outside the US, and produce an equivalent or better product, these companies will jump on that option, build or lease factories, and hire foreign nationals. American companies were doing this when Barack Obama was in college, and even earlier. This president has been in office a year and a half; oh, sure, he's going to reverse decades of job loss in the US by signing a bill or issuing a proclamation. Sure he will. And I do believe he would love to be able to bring more manufacturing jobs back to the US, but that's a decision that American corporate management will have to make. Are they going to do that immediately? What do you think?

Something occurred to me yesterday, as I was trying to comment on an article about a possible anti-business attitude in American government. My comment, so cogently written and eloquent, wasn't accepted by the forum system. Their loss...

Anyway, Charles Wilson, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense, has been misquoted often, but actually said, "For years I thought that what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." The misquote comes out, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."

If that's in fact true, then what might be good for the country would be what happened over the last couple of years to GM. They were bankrolled, bailed out, forced through a fast-track bankruptcy, and parts were sold off piece-meal or shut down all together. The General Motors that exists today has repaid the loans made to it by the Federal government, and has completely retooled their corporate culture. They are leaner, cleaner, and more competitive than they were before their existential crisis.

Is this what is going to have to happen to the country before we come to realize just how intertwined this world economy is? Are we going to have to go through the turmoil of something like GM's bankruptcy? I pray we won't have to, but sometimes I really wonder if we can avoid it. Unless we get a grip, and start realizing just how little freedom of movement we now have, we're going to be blindsided in a big way. We need to start acting, and thinking, and believing smart; the kind of simple-minded nonsense that's displayed in the excerpt above just won't do us any good. May God grant us deep insight going forward - we really need it.


Most of us aren't trustworthy.

In my previous post, I wrote about the worth of an opinion. How much do we trust the opinions we hear? How much credibility do we attach to what other people say, or write? In today's fractured, contentious American society, trust does not come easily.

Tea Party loyalists have a variable pantheon of people they trust. Sometimes a person can start out in the "Trusted" column, only to say or do something that doesn't reflect some set of conservative values, and they immediately get dumped by the loyalists for someone else. Litmus tests determine if a politician is a "conservative in name only."

Liberals are bent out of shape that the administration hasn't done more to advance a progressive agenda. Their support for President Obama has been shaken; some progressives have abandoned any hope that their favorite ideas will see implementation any time soon. The president's approval numbers show this starkly.

Middle-of-the-road voters, the moderates, are in a conundrum. Who should they vote for in November? Who should they believe? It's possible that many will be so alienated by the extremists on both sides of the political divide that they will just sit out this election entirely.

Who do you trust to deliver the goods?

I'm going to say right now that I'm with the folks who don't trust much of anyone to deliver what they promise. I'm not saying that I don't believe in some of the president's initiatives. I'm saying I don't believe he can bring them about. For all his oratory skills, for all his efforts to strike a note of bipartisanship, the president is saddled with a climate where immediate, visible results are what's demanded. People aren't seeing many of these. Consequently, the administration can't be trusted.

Corporations can't be trusted. Let's see if BP can recover from the mess they've made in the Gulf. Fancy public relations campaigns won't do it, eloquent spokespeople won't do it. The only thing that will bring them back from the brink will be success in stopping the leak, and cleaning up the oil. So far, there's little visible evidence of that, at least on the media.

Ah, the media... The 24-hour news cycle that seems to be the legacy of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, which contributed so enormously to Ronald Reagan's election victory, is the bane of my existence. Chattering pundits, talking heads, opinionated buffoons, twenty-four hours a day these blabbermouths tell us what the hell they think of this issue and that issue and the next issue. And we the viewers eat it up. My one respite is the OFF switch on the TV; I can shut these people up at a whim. Do you trust your reporter, columnist, or interviewer of choice? Really?

So who does this leave? Friends and family, who listen to the same news you do, who have the same preconceptions you do, who are in one way or another just as prejudiced as you are? Priests and ministers, who are concerned with how much is in the offering plate, or how many volunteers will sign up for the next workday at church, as well as with the integrity of their spiritual lives, and perhaps some deep, dark secret they just can't confess? Teachers and scientists, who are the conveyors of fact and wisdom and exploration of the world, and who have been shown again and again recently to have made up out of whole cloth their scientific research?

Who are we to trust? Whose opinion can we truly believe?

Well, I've made no secret in these posts that I view the world from a Christian perspective. One thing I've come to realize over the last dozen or so years is that Jesus the Messiah is not an American conservative. He puts little value on the ownership of private property, which appears to be the ultimate good in a lot of conservative and libertarian minds. In fact, he's downright socialist in his attitude about what property should be used for. He's not a proponent of military force, or gun ownership, or "American exceptionalism," for that matter. He would undoubtedly stir up the sweaty wrath of a Rush Limbaugh or the swoony conspiracy theories of a Glenn Beck, if he were to make statements in today's media. He said as much, when he walked the earth, that he was here to create division, not to smooth things over and make everything shiny and happy - at least not immediately. Jesus was here to upset the apple cart, and bring about a new kingdom.

We Christians have spent the last two thousand years trying to build that kingdom, with extremely variable success. Some things, like the Crusades, have been unmitigated disasters. Others, like the abolition of slavery in so much of the world, have been shining successes. Much work remains. So much of this world remains the shit-pile that Jesus found when he lived. Much work still must be done, by people of good will and a spirit like that of their Boss.

I don't know who anyone else trusts. I don't put much trust in other people, because they're just human beings, and their intentions can be thwarted, derailed by opposition, or killed all together. I don't even trust myself all that much. I want to do one thing, but find myself doing another. So who should I trust?

I'm going to say here and now that I will continue to trust in that man who lived in Judea two thousand years ago, that Man who preached the Good News of God's love and grace for His creatures and His Creation. I will trust in that one Man who more than any other person in history has changed the world. We are all heirs of His, adopted into the Family of His Father. Oh, we're like black-sheep brothers and sisters, but we still get invited to the banquet. I have faith in Him, and faith, as all Jesus-followers know, is believe in things unseen.

Am I delusional? Foolish? Only time will tell.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Everyone's Got One...

Everybody's got one.

That's what's said about opinions. Is every opinion of equal worth?

All this thought was inspired by a brief conversation I had the other day, where a friend made an off-hand anti-President-Obama remark. I replied with what I knew to be factual about the situation mentioned, and he responded by saying that was only an opinion, and you know that everybody's got one, just like they have...

Actually, upon reflection, almost all of us have a whole unruly mob scene of opinions, on a host of different things, but just about all of us have only one ... asshole. And that, to my mind, is an extremely good arrangement.

I know what everbody's got, so I just let the whole thing drop. The possibility of damaging a friendship over some casual remark wasn't worth the cost of dragging the conversation out.

The whole thing got me thinking about what an opinion is worth, though, so it was of some value.

For instance, what is an opinion worth, if everyone has one? Is it an opinion based in fact, or is it an opinion parroted brainlessly because it matches our prejudices or preconceptions? Does holding it require us to engage our critical faculties, or merely repeat the words like some idiot mantra?

Who would you go to for legal advice, a lawyer or Joe the Plumber?

Conversely, who would you go to for plumbing advice, Joe the Plumber or a lawyer?

Who would you seek out for medical advice, a doctor or the waitress at the nearest diner?

Who would be your choice for spiritual advice, a priest or Charlie Manson?

Who would you choose to prepare your income tax, a CPA or your twelve-year-old son?

In so many questions involving life and death, wealth and poverty, reputation and ignominy, we have to decide whose opinions we value. In other words, who do we trust to give us good advice?

Trust is a slippery thing, though. Sometimes we trust, and then we're betrayed. Do we trust again, or are we burned badly enough that we don't trust anyone, anymore?

I'd say that right now, in the United States, there are a lot of people who feel that they shouldn't trust anyone who's in power, in government or in business. Wall Street almost precipitated a depression because of shady deals, selfishness run rampant, and absolutely amoral "masters of the universe." Government has shown itself to be available for sale to the highest bidder, and politicians who claim the ethical high ground are found too often to have the morals of a cheap whore. Priests and ministers have been caught preying on young children. The list of scandals seems to have no end.

So -- what's an opinion worth? And who do you trust to deliver the valuable ones?

More on that coming in the next post. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hopey Changey

Why is the negative so powerful?

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted anything, and in that time, there's been plenty happening that probably deserves comment. I'm going to focus on one bit of all I've heard in that time, in the interest of keeping this post of reasonable length.

Specifically, I want to offer this one Christian's perspective on one bit of simple-minded negativity, and what it says about the people who utter it, and their comrades who repeat it.

I'm speaking of a statement by former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin:  "How's that hopey, changey stuff working out?" She asked this rhetorically in a speech at the first Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday, February 6, 2010. I saw a version of this on a yard sign yesterday, so I know it's not the only instance of someone asking it. In fact, if you google the exact phrase "hopey changey stuff," you'll get almost 680,000 hits. Try "hopey changey thing" and you'll get around 2.3 million.

This is obviously a play on President Obama's book title, The Audacity of Hope, and the slogan of his campaign, Change We Can Believe In.

So, what's so wrong with that? The Republicans are out of power, having been turned out by the majority of Americans in the 2008 elections. Political campaigns never really end, and they're doing nothing more than energizing their core partisans by attacking the current administration with whatever weapons present themselves. This is just good hardball electoral politics, right?

As I said above, I want to comment on this as a Christian. I'm not exempting the Democrats from criticism, but it does seem to me that the Republicans are more likely to come up with phrases or actions that are worthy of some severe examination and critique. So, let's get to it!

In the first place, Sarah Palin calls herself a Christian, so I expect some consistency between what she says and what she says she believes. Christianity is nothing if not a faith defined by hope, and praying for change. We Christians hope in our resurrection after death, in a liberation from the destiny of every person who has ever lived - the grave. We pray for change in ourselves, another liberation from our weakness and inability to live righteous lives, just as we pray for a change in the way the world operates. A world of war, of abortion, of slavery, of murder and oppression and hate and dehumanizing rhetoric aimed at the "other" is not the world that we want to live in. We hope in a better world, one brought about by God's Spirit operating in his faithful, and we're doing what we can to bring it about. Admittedly, we stumble around a lot, and we bicker and disagree over exactly what that world looks like, but we sooner or later get it right. We have seen an end to slavery in parts of the world, we've seen people saved from starvation, we've seen people rescued from tyranny, and we've seen truth and reconciliation triumph after horrendous oppression.

I expect some consistency between utterances and beliefs. I demand it, in fact, if I'm going to take the speaker seriously. If Sarah Palin is who she claims to be, why is she belittling the very thing that we Christians claim as our own? Hopey changey stuff is our stock in trade; we can't separate ourselves from the fact that the status quo is not where we want to live.

More to the point, there are other things that she typifies that deserve to have a bright light shined on them. Things like how much we depend on our guns. Things like never having anything positive to say about our leaders, including the sitting President. Things like always being reactionary and negative. Other GOP luminaries say the same sorts of things, some of which are half-truths and some of which are out and out lies. What really makes the Republican Party tick, if these utterances are typical, and why are Christians drawn to it?

Republicans have wrapped themselves in the cloak of integrity and family values, even as a multitude of Republican senators, representatives, and governors has indulged in sexual behavior that's either dishonest to their spouses or absolutely illegal. I'm not singling the Republicans out, however, because there are numerous Democrats who have fallen off their self-erected "role-model" pedestals through the same dumb behavior. However, we had almost come to expect this of the Democrats; with the support of the Christian Right, though, suddenly repentant GOP politicians have fallen from grace with a lot of noise.

Oh, what the hell! No group seems free from angling in the wrong pool for their nookie. Republicans, Democrats, Christians of Protestant and Catholic denominations - all these groups are without excuse for their moral failures. Why should we trust any of them?

Why should we trust any of them, indeed? Why do we even give a shit? We've fallen so far off the wagon that we don't trust anyone. We don't trust our government, we don't trust our churches, we don't trust our bosses or labor leaders, our teachers or any paid experts that so easily will try to assure us of this or that.

Trust seems to be extinct. In this vacuum of trust, how is that hopey changey stuff working?

Well, I said this was my perspective on "hopey changey stuff," written as a believing, confessing, practicing Christian. My perspective is, basically, that it's working pretty well, actually. Politically, I got a tax cut last year. My country is viewed in an entirely different light now, as compared to a couple or three years ago. For all its flaws, I can actually believe that the administration is trying to return to a civility that has been lacking from political discourse for almost twenty years. I can even believe that there are some Republicans who feel betrayed by the "Christian" demagogues who have co-opted and reshaped their party. We've got people at least recognizing the fact that the government we have today is not going to exist as it is forever unless income and expenditures are brought into some sort of parity. Either we're not paying enough taxes, or our government has gotten too large, but we can't go on borrowing against tomorrow indefinitely.

How's that hopey changey stuff working? As a Christian, I'm not fazed. My belief is in a God who looks down at the trivial posturings of all of us as we strut around acting so important, and laughs. He laughs, but he loves us regardless. He laughs, but he has put into motion a rescue plan, a bail out, if you like, that I believe will not fail. It may not reach completion in my lifetime; it may take multiple lifespans to accomplish. But my God has set it in motion, and all the forces of negativity and denial and hatefulness will not prevail against it. His rescue plan involves the Christ, the man two thousand years ago who died, killed by the imperial power of his time, and then rose three days later to sneer at that paltry effort. Hopey changey is my creed, and it's my marching orders. It isn't all political, but hopey changey is where I live, one foot in the divisive rhetoric of the present, and one foot in the unlimited future.

Screw negativity!

Screw hatefulness!

Screw them all, and forgive their adherents, because they don't know what they do!

And hope and change the world instead!

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Pisses You Off?

What pisses you off?

Now that Easter is upon us -- the entire week after Easter Sunday is Easter Week -- we are confronted with the need to embark on a new life. The period of Lent is that arena where we face those things in our lives that put barriers between us and God, and where we work intentionally to remove those barriers. Now that the barriers have been removed, or at least are smaller, the next phase begins -- fresh living.

Part of fresh living is facing those things that anger us, piss us off, and dealing with them, so we can move on beyond the same old baggage we had drug around for too long. Maybe we began dealing with all this during Lent, but most likely there's still work to do.

So, my question -- what pisses you off?

I've got some ideas about what pisses some people off...

Fundamentalists (of all stripes) are pissed off that no one sees the world in the sharp black and white that they do.

Atheists are pissed off that those god-believers, of whatever stripe, but mostly Christians, don't see how stupid the whole idea of an all-powerful deity really is.

Liberals are pissed off that no one sees the need for more collective action to mold us all into better human beings, with or without God, and preferably without.

Conservatives (modern-day American variety) are pissed off that the present regime in Washington isn't bowing to their obviously superior plans and beliefs.

Al Qaeda is pissed off that the United States doesn't just dry up and blow away.

Politicians are pissed off that no one seems to realize how hard their job is.

Moralists are pissed off that people still keep doing the same stupid crap they've been doing for centuries.

Sexual addicts are pissed off that no one seems to understand just how important sex is.

Writers are pissed off that editors just don't see the brilliance of their story-telling.

And finally, I suspect that God is pissed off because people are alike in so many important ways, and different in so many insignificant ways, and have so much trouble realizing which is which.

What pisses you off?

Are you willing to look the source of your frustration and anger square in the face, and work to reduce or eliminate its power over you?

Are you willing to take on the difficult task of forgiving people for angering or mistreating or thwarting or oppressing you?

Are you willing to buy into the idea that only grace -- the free gift that we Christians say God offers to each of us -- is the only way out of the cycle of vendetta that seems to consume the world of men?

Are you man or woman enough to take on the challenge of not being pissed off any more? Do you have the backbone for that job, or is it just plain easier to stay pissed off because it's so damned familiar and comfortable?

The daily news indicates that most of us prefer to remain pissed off. I pray that we someday reach a point where being pissed off is rare, because we're a long way from that now.

Easter is upon us, and we can have a fresh life if we're willing to pursue it. God assures us he's ready to help.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Second Person Plural - Endgame


You are staggering up the rocky path to the Place of the Skull, carrying the patibulum across your shoulders.

The crossbeam is rough, and is agony as its splintery surface rubs against the wounds from the flogging you had undergone before this death march. As you take step after painful step, you lose your footing and fall to the path. The crossbeam slips from your grasp, and the Roman soldier walking behind you lashes you with his crop. You try to rise, but the blood on your hands makes them slip on the worn stones of the trail. You fall face first, and lay there for a moment, even as the whip slashes your bloody ribs and back.

Finally, power from some inner reserve gives you the strength to rise to a standing position. You reach down, and try to pick up the patibulum. The soldier has other ideas. He drags a man from the crowd flanking the road, and forces him to pick the beam up and place it on his own shoulders. You follow this unwilling conscript, thankful for the relief.

Finally, you and the other members of the execution party reach the summit of Golgotha. The pits where the stipes of the crosses will be sunk are ready for their gory pillars, the wedges to stabilize the crosses set to their sides.

The man carrying your crossbeam drops it near you. The soldier roughly motions for him to move away. He looks at you, imploringly. You try to say something, but all that comes from your parched throat is a croak.

Your clothes are pulled off you, leaving you naked in the bright sunlight of mid-morning. You look down at your body, your arms, your legs. You have been flogged relentlessly, and your skin is a tapestry of bleeding wounds and torn flesh. Blood runs down your face from the thorns that crown your head. Even as you look down, you begin to weave from side to side, almost ready to fall.

Hands grab you by the arms and legs, and you're dropped like a dead man onto the hard stone, next to the stipes. The soldiers have been lashing the crossbeam to the upright, and you're dragged across the wood to have your arms spread wide on the beam. The upright is under your back, and every move is agony.

As your arms are pulled to the left and the right, soldiers grip your hands and arms as nails are poised above your wrists. The points bite into your flesh, and then the first stroke of the hammer hits the head. You can't help yourself as you scream in pain, as the point of each nail drives through your wrist and into the hard wood of the crossbeam. The blows from the hammer finally stop, and you're left in shock with blinding pain shooting up and down your arms.

Your feet are placed to each side of the upright, and more nails are placed against your heels. You try to steel yourself for the blows you know are coming, but you're unable to keep the agony within you. As you scream with each strike of the hammer, the soldiers laugh and make jibes at you, sticking out their tongues and spitting on you.

Finally, the hammer falls silent. The troopers grab the cross and heave it into the hole, letting it drop to the bottom with a sharp jerk. Your wrists and feet are shocked by the blow, but by now, the pain is so encompassing that it's all you experience. It's everything, it's your world, and it's becoming impossible to separate one source from another.

You look around at the people standing in knots on the summit. To your right, you see another prisoner, a thief, writhing in his own crucifixion agony. To your left is another man slumped down from his cross. The Romans are squatted at the foot of your own cross, grabbing at the robe you had worn until just minutes ago.

You are lifted up and exposed to the wind and the cries from the birds that spiral around this hill of death. Through the fog of pain, you wonder how long you will last. The air is getting cooler; the sky is beginning to darken as clouds mount up on all sides.

You glance down and see your mother standing with one of your disciples. Tears are streaming down her cheeks as she clutches the arm of the young man. She reaches out toward you. In a whisper, you tell her that this is her son. To your disciple, you say that this is now his mother. You can say no more, as you wheeze and cough, trying to draw in each breath against the weight of your body hanging from the spikes through your wrists.

Time passes. One of the Romans puts a sponge on the tip of his lance, pours some vinegar on it, and thrusts it at your mouth. You lean out toward the sponge, licking the bitter liquid, desperately trying to moisten your throat. The exertion forces you to cough once more, and your breathing begins to roughen.

With pain lancing through your limbs and your chest, you grab for each breath. Your eyes widen. Arching your back, you cry out, "It is finished!" And the world whirls away into blackness.

Second Person Plural - Jurisdiction


You are being force-marched to the fortress of Pontius Pilatus, the Roman procurator of Judaea. You're on the edge of passing out. A long night of trumped-up charges and falsified testimony in front of the Sanhedrin has left you fatigued and bruised.

The Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Council, is forbidden by Roman law from carrying out the death penalty. After convicting you of blasphemy against the Most High God, they are sending you to Pilatus to be executed. During the week of Passover, the Romans are especially sensitive to anything that might lead to civil unrest. This should be an easy decision for the governor.

Your determination to see this through is strong, but you are nearing a point of physical breakdown. You don't know when everything will come to a head, but you hope that it's soon.

You finally enter the fortress gate. Hardened Roman troopers look at you and spit in the dust. It's early morning, and the chill of the night before is still present in the deep shadows in the courtyard. As you are pushed into the interior, you hear snatches of Latin coming from further in.

Finally, as you come around a corner, you see him. He looks you up and down, seeing the dark hollows under your eyes, the bruises on your face, and the abrasions on your wrists from the ropes that tied your hands together.

He looks away, and examines a bill of particulars that is handed to him. He seems disgusted with what he's reading. He's had a frustrating relationship with the local officials since taking on this post, and this looks like one more thing that makes him hate Judaea.

He questions you about who you claim to be, and who the Sanhedrin says you claim to be. Your mind is having trouble marshaling thoughts into something coherent, so your words are disjointed and mumbled. You finally realize that he would love nothing more than just releasing you and seeing you disappear into the Passover crowds. It isn't going to be that easy, though; the Sanhedrin will see to that.

Finally, he throws the document onto a table and calls for a centurion, telling him to take you to the palace of King Herod. Herod Antipas is in Jerusalem for the Passover. Pilatus is telling the centurion that Herod must decide your fate, since he has authority in this province.

You realize that this day isn't close to over, and that you have more trials ahead. With an effort, you straighten your back and follow the soldier out of Pilatus' chamber.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Second Person Plural - Orchard


You have led the men closest to you outside the City walls, across the valley and up the hill to the Olive Orchard. As the night has gotten colder, ground fog has been pooling in the low areas, and flowing down the slopes toward the water courses. You're standing now at the edge of the trees, and you look back at the City. It stands dark against a darker sky, with only a few torches giving any light. Clouds scud across the sky, only occasionally breaking to reveal the stars and moon above.

Your companions have straggled along to keep up with you. They're not feeling the energy of resolve that is coursing through your veins. The only thing in their minds is the need for rest. As the last of them come into the Orchard, you ask them to settle in around the trees and keep watch while you go some distance away to pray. You've gone apart from them to pray in the past; this is nothing they haven't seen before. Muttered assent dies away as you walk into the fog between the trees.

You kneel down at the foot of an ancient olive tree. You reach out to its gnarled bark, grasping with fierce determination something firm and tangible. You begin to talk in a low voice to the One, praying for courage to face the trials ahead. You lean your forehead against the fog-damp bark, and choke out imploring words.

"Father, if there is any way for this to be done another way, let it be so done. But, Father... No, it's not my will but yours that must be done. Let it be so, let it always be so."

As you draw in a ragged breath, you stand up and look back to where you left your friends. You can't see them through the darkness and the fog, but you know that they're sound asleep, despite what you asked them to do. You walk back to where they lie, all in slumber, all oblivious to the world. Wrapped in their cloaks, they don't see or hear you approach. You reach down and touch Cephas' shoulder. He starts and looks around without comprehension until he sees you. A break in the clouds has let moonlight silhouette you from behind. Your shadow falls across him as he struggles to his feet.

"Couldn't you have stayed awake even one hour, Cephas? It's too late to watch out now. They're here already."

As you speak, the light from several torches bobs toward where you're standing. A column of men in the armor of the Temple police marches toward you, led by Yehuda. He walks up to you, grasps you by the shoulders, and kisses you on the cheek.

At this signal, several of the Temple guards rush to you and grab you by the arms, roughly pulling your hands behind your back to tie them together. Cephas is finally awake, and reaches for his sword. With a slash he hits one of the men standing at your side, knocking him to the ground with a cry.

"Cephas, put away your sword! There is no time for that now. I must do this." With that, you free one arm and reach down to the head of the wounded man. His sudden intake of breath shocks those around him, as he stands up. He looks wonderingly at you as he feels his ear.

Your arms are once again grabbed and pulled behind your back, where they're tied together with rough cord. You're prodded sharply in the ribs with a sword haft, and Yehuda and the Temple police lead you out of the Orchard and into the night.

Second Person Plural - Supper


You look around the room. Your followers, your friends, have been with you now for three hard years. There were once many more, but these twelve are now the true faithful. Almost everyone else has fallen away.

You have been telling them for weeks now what will happen in the days ahead. No one seems to really believe what you're saying. They nod, but you know you're not getting through; they don't really understand yet what you're saying.

You had arranged to share this meal with them to try once again to help them to understand what they needed to prepare for. Time is short, and this is the last chance you'll have to help them comprehend the shocks that they will experience soon.

When you stand and take off your cloak, and wrap the towel around your waist, you see shock in their eyes. When you pour water into the basin, and begin to wash their dusty feet, they begin protesting loudly.

"Master, stop this. Let us get one of the servants to do this."

"No, I won't stop. You have to know who you are, and who I am. I am showing you how you are to act toward each other. Even though you say to me 'Master,' and so I am, I am here to serve you. The goyim lord it over each other, but that's not the way you must be. If you are to be great, you must take on the role of servant to all."

When you get to Cephas, he refuses to let you wash his feet. "Cephas, you must let me wash your feet, or you can be no part of what is to come. All I need to wash is your feet; once I have done that, you will be truly clean."

As you complete the washing, you look around at these familiar faces one more time. The initial shock has been replaced with curiosity and uncertainty. No one seems willing to ask a question; they're all waiting to hear what you will say next.

As you eat this evening meal, you explain many things to these men you know so well. Lively conversation flows back and forth. Finally, it's time to explain what is coming. Will they finally understand?

You tell them that among them is one who will betray you. When the shocked expressions are replaced by protests and questions, you point to Yehuda, and say, "You know what must be done. Do it quickly." With that, he leaps to his feet and runs out of the room.

Cephas is adamant. "No matter what anyone else does, I won't leave you. No, not even if I die!"

"Cephas, Cephas, you are so sure. Before the morning sun rises, you will have abandoned me three times."

Everyone else is equally sure that they will never turn their backs on you. You look at their open faces, and see that they still don't understand what you're saying. How can you get through?

You begin telling them about the Presence, and about who you are and what is to come after you leave. You use words of encouragement, you lift them up in a shared prayer, but you're still not seeing comprehension in their eyes. Sadly, you realize that your expectations are becoming true. They will have to go through the next days more unprepared than you wanted.

You want them to understand at least what you are leaving for them. You pick up a flat of bread, break it, and announce that this bread is your body, broken for them. Then, picking up the wine cup, you tell them that it is your blood, shed for them. They are to eat the bread and drink the wine every time they think of you, to remind them of the new promise you are making to them.

You tell them that you will be going away for a time. By now, late in the evening, time has become vague, as uncertain and fleeting as the fog that is snaking through the low-lying parts of the City and its suburbs. It will mean nothing to them to be more specific.

As you finish the bread and the wine, you can see that the excitement from earlier in the evening is finally giving way to fatigue and drowsiness. Regardless, you know that you can't remain in this room all night.

You stand up and begin moving toward the door. When Cephas asks where you're going, you motion for him and the others to follow. They will know soon enough where you're headed.