Friday, November 11, 2016

I can drink the wine, but can I drink from the cup?

"For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

It is no surprise to those of you who know me or have visited in the past that this week provided some deep disappointment for me.  My candidate did not win.  And a big buck decided to lay down between the shrubs in the back of my house and die, wedging himself against the foundation, his adolescent rack  preventing his removal from behind the shrubs like a fish hook caught in the weeds.  He was so rotten by the time I figured out what that horrible smell was I could not just move him without him busting wide open.  Both events stink, at least from where I sit. You may think the election results smell sweet, but I think we can all agree about the stench of a rotting carcass.  So there's hope for unity after all. For the first time in awhile I am chilling on the sofa, enjoying some quiet and Merlot, listening to some tunes, and conversing with God.  It is nice.   

For many Christians this week, their helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17) sports a "Make America Great Again" logo.  I must admit, I am one of "those" who are concerned about the slogan "Make America Great Again"  ®DT.   But if we are the Christian nation we pretend to be, maybe it's not a bad idea.

What would Jesus say to me about my judgment about the slogan?  Or to someone who celebrates its message?

He wouldn't let either of us get away with it.

I think Jesus would create unity between us by teaching us each a lesson in humility, which is one of his best gifts.  He might say something like, "In worship every Sunday you sing to God 'How Great Thou Art' or if you like that contemporary stuff 'How Great is Our God.' So Bob, are you saying that greatness is not a good thing when you sing those words about Us being great.  Is greatness necessarily a bad thing?"

"Well, of course not, Jesus, that is not what I meant," I might respond. "I just . . . nevermind. I know how these conversations go with you, Jesus."  It is not always easy to be in a relationship with One who is always right.

"And you with that cap on your head and that grin on your face," Jesus might continue, "there is no need to re-invent the wheel here.  Have you read the red letter parts of the Bible, you know, the things I said?  You want to be great? You want America to be great now? Two of my disciples, the sons of Zebedee, James and John, brought it up constantly. They kept wanting to know if they could sit at my right and my left, which they felt would be the greatest seats in the house,  when I came into my Kingdom, bless their hearts.  Their mother even came and asked me to let them. I told them:

 “You don’t know what you are asking, Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” 

"I said that in Matthew 20:22," Jesus might continue. "You may want to read the whole chapter.  In fact, let me share it with both of you.  It's more of the red words."

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus might continue, "Desiring to be great is not the problem. Defining what it means to be great is your problem.  Like I said in Luke 9:48, 'For it is the one who is least among y'all who is the greatest.'  That is the way I define greatness. To become great you must become least.  I defined the least quite a bit.  How did I define the least?"

"The poor, the orphaned, the widow, the lonely, the outcast, the stranger in your land, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the children, the oppressed," Jesus might explain. "These are the least.  I said it many times. In red letters.  You can start with Matthew 25 and go from there. "To be great, you must become like them. Maybe even become them sometimes."

"So make America great, America.  It's not a bad thing.  It's a great thing. The most beautiful thing ever, as far as I'm concerned. But I need to know, can you drink from that cup?"

I don't know whether Jesus would really say that to us tonight.  I for sure know he would say it more plainly.  In fact, He already has. In the red letters.

It would be great if we could try Jesus' way.  

It's the least we can do.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Vote your hope . . .

Every morning when I look in the mirror I see a little bit of my parents looking back at me.  It's a mash-up of dad's furrowed forehead, formidable nose and sharp chin, and my mom's wild hair and soft eyes.  It's a nice thing.  Except for the wild hair sometimes, especially in the morning.  I like that I can see them looking back at me in the mirror.  But they gave those traits to me without a choice. It was a matter of the luck of the gene pool.

The same thing happens when I look at or talk to my sons.  I can see a bit of me in each of their faces and hear the tone of my voice when they speak or sing, bless their hearts.  Again, I did not choose to give them those traits.  It just happened.

But most of the things my parents gave me, and most of the things that I gave to my sons, had little to do with DNA.  There were choices.  There were examples.  There were sermons.  There were tears and there was laughter. There were even a few spankings.  It certainly was not all perfect or even good.  But it was as effective and certain as genetics in shaping the next generation.

My mother could preach a sermon. More often than not she was inspired by one or more of her children making fun of someone, or getting the idea that we were somehow better than someone else. She was relentless.  Like a good southern revival preacher (except for the gender) she would break us down until, convicted of our transgression, we came to the altar in repentant submission, almost wishing for a spanking instead.

As a very young child, my snickering at the awkward movements of a disabled person suffering from a crippling disease was met with an immediate shaming and explanation.  Any hint of a racial slur or joke brought out Mom's A game. Making disparaging remarks about another kid in school who smelled bad or wore clothes that were dirty or didn't fit brought immediate, intense monologues pointing out how and why that was so wrong. Jesus was often mentioned. 

But mom did not just preach with words.  She preached with her life, and much of the time it was done while hauling a car load of kids.  Going to and from school and other places she often picked up an elderly gentleman who walked along the highway.  I remember him to this day.  He smelled like the earth.  He always had a few days growth of beard.  His clothes were faded and baggy and his shoes were heavy brown leather, what my grandparents called brogans.  It seems like he carried a walking stick, but that may just be my imagination filling in the blanks.  He had a  garden and would sometimes give us vegetables.  After school we would sometimes find another kid in the car who did not have a ride home.  Their houses did not look like ours.  And sometimes I remember feeling ashamed, because the family name of the child had  been adopted by the "in" crowd as a derogative term.  You know, like, "where did you get that shirt, a hand me down from the ________'s?"  In the early sixties in Alabama mother hired an African-American woman in town to do some work for her.  She chose to pay her differently than most people were paying household workers at the time.  A good wage.  And mom paid Social Security taxes and made sure they were all filed properly. They became life long friends, long after the woman no longer worked for us.  When that woman had health problems later in life, she was qualified for Social Security benefits. They both would have done anything for the other.  

Several years ago, after I was a grown up, there was a woman who walked around town a lot.  She was said to have a mental illness, but never harmed anyone.  Sometimes she would be eating at a local eatery.  She came over to me often, with Bible in hand, and tell me that my mother was a good, good woman, who really knew her Bible.   I still don't know her name.  I do remember picking her up and giving her a ride myself one Sunday morning . . . with a van load of youth from the church. They were just as wide eyed and perplexed as I had been as a youngster not knowing what to expect on car rides with my mom.   But I guess I did learn something from her sermons after all.

My dad did not preach sermons. But his message was the same as mom's, and just as strong.  We were to work to make a difference.  We were no better than anyone else.  We were given much, and much was expected. There were many people in the world who had it much harder than we did and we were supposed to help.  We were supposed to stand up and speak up for those who had no voice and could not be seen, the mentally disabled, the immigrant, the poor, the children, the oppressed.  The other. The different. 

So I was blessed to learn the best lessons from my parents, who learned them from their parents.

Be kind. Don't be mean.
Giving is better than receiving.  Share all you can.
Don't make fun of another's hardship.
Treat all folks with respect.
Every person on earth is created by God, and loved by God, no more or less than God loves me.
Everybody's got a story that needs to be heard. Take time to listen.
Help people all you can.
Tell the truth. But never simply to cause pain. Try not to lie, and never for personal gain.
Stand with the oppressed, the least, the last and the lost.
To those who much has been given, much is expected.
Knowledge is a good thing. Wisdom is a great thing. Learn all you can.
Violence is never a good response.
Count your trumps.
Don't smoke.

And so much more.  None of us are perfect parents.  But most of us know the good things we hope we can give to our children, things that will make them better people than we have been.   We know that probably, even after we are gone, our children will hear our voices in their heads when it is time to make decisions. We know that because we hear our parents' voices in our heads, even after they are gone. Sometimes that requires counseling, but all in all it's a good thing.  It is the way each generation gets better, building on the lessons of the past.

I like politics.  Maybe that's because my parents did. We spent hours around the round kitchen table talking about religion and politics throughout the years. It was no place for the weak. There was always a connection between the two, religion and politics, in our discussions. And the lessons they taught were always woven into the conversation.

It is all connected in my way of thinking.

So, that is how I decide who to vote for.  Which candidate seems to have learned and exhibits the lessons and values my parents gave to me, and my faith demands?  And which candidate best exemplifies those lessons and values that I wanted to give to my sons?

If we all did that, we still wouldn't all vote the same way.  Who would want that anyway?   But our decisions would be influenced by the best of the hopes our parents had for us, and best of our hopes for our children.   

Decisions based on our best hopes instead of  our worst fears?  Another good lesson to pass on to our children.  Let's start showing them how now. 

Sorry, this went on much longer than I expected.  But I am my mother's child after all. And that's not a bad thing in my book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Ballots not bullets . . .

For those of you who have not heard Donald Trump's statement today, here is what he said, verbatim:

"Hillary wants to abolish — essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick…(CROWD BOOING) If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know. But — but I’ll tell you what. That will be a horrible day. If — if Hillary gets to put her judges — right now, we’re tied. You see what’s going on."

In a vacuum the statement can be interpreted a couple of ways. After the speech, the Trump campaign said that Trump was simply saying that the supporters of the second amendment are a power political force that could affect the outcome of the election.

The only problem with that interpretation is that it is not what Trump said. His words said that if Clinton is elected to the presidency there is nothing that can be done about her picking Supreme Court Judges, except maybe by those people who support gun rights. At that point it is too late for an election. So a legitimate interpretation is that Trump was dog-whistling a tune about bullets, not ballots.

The statement is a reckless inference that violence toward a political opponent is acceptable. It is a dangerous, and it is a disservice to good and reasonable people who support gun rights who know better. 

I do not pretend to know what was actually going on in Trump's mind when he uttered that statement in the middle of a scheduled political speech. It is important what he really meant to say. But it may be more important what a very few people heard him say.

There are many people that I respect who feel vastly different about this election than I do. That is politics in Alabama, in the USA.   But I know without a doubt that not a one of them, even in our severe disagreement,  condone violence or assassination as a means of resolving political differences.  I disagree with them strongly, and they disagree with me.  But I know we share common boundaries, common decency.

But there are a few among us who do not have those boundaries.  A very few.  But it only takes one out of a few hundred million to respond to what he or she thought Donald Trump was saying. It only takes one that thought Trump was saying it was somehow acceptable to choose deadly force to defeat a political enemy.  It only takes one twisted soul to inflict unthinkable tragedy. We should know that already.

I believe that anyone who interprets Trump's statement as knowingly saying, or hinting, that deadly force is an option to stop Hillary Clinton, will find that statement to be disqualifying as a candidate for the presidency.  

I expect that others will choose once again to give Trump a pass, and say that he did not mean to endorse violence toward Clinton as a solution.

But Trump wants to be President of the United States. Recklessly worded statements, even if innocent in his own mind, uttered about the weighty matters which he must address publicly every day as President, from tensions at home to relationships around the world, will not be met with the charity offered by loyal campaign supporters.

And even worse, there will be some who take the reckless statements as authorization to act on the words they thought they heard.  They will hear that it is okay to shoot and kill. They will hear that it is okay to shoot and kill a political opponent, a member of the other religion,  nationality, race, ethnicity, even sexual orientation.

Or, the careless words may give authorization to others in other parts of the world to kill citizens of the country whose leader so recklessly spoke them.

Words are important.  Cute turns of phrase which allow the candidate to deny the destructive implications of his statements and brush them off with a chuckle may be expected in Junior High SGA races.  But not in a campaign to be President of the United States.

At this time last year, July, 2015, the United States was on track to set a new modern record for the fewest number of law enforcement officers killed by gunfire.  While one officer killed is too many, the number of 18 deaths nationally as of mid-July was a low mark in a continuing downward trend during this decade, despite the growing number of police officers. The national yearly loss had fallen to the low forties in previous years. (2013 was actually the lowest in modern history) But the second half of 2015 was disappointing, and by the end of the year the number of police deaths by gunfire was back up to the low forties, making the last half of 2015 a horrible six months.  While it looks like those sad losses will remain in the forties in 2016, the decade long trend of the numbers going down have seemed to have been interrupted.

It would be intellectually wrong to suggest that Donald Trump is responsible for this increase in violence against the police.  It is just as intellectually wrong to deny that the reckless rhetoric of his campaign which began in late June, 2015, has not fanned the flames of violence, not just among a few of his supporters, but of also among a few of those who feel the threat of his rhetoric is directed toward them.

There are other choices.

It's time to choose one.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Snake handling? Afraid not.

For most of my life I have lived in the woods.  I do not mean like Tarzan or Mowgli.  Like a lot of folks around North Alabama I have lived many years in houses tucked at the base of one of those rolling hills, the tail of the Appalachian range, the place where the pastures end and the woods begin. It is hard to plow the side of a limestone filled hillside, so the woods are allowed to live in peace, except for occasional human interruptions of timber or firewood cutting, or hunting, or moonshining, or just escaping, either from the law or from the world.

It was a good place to be a kid. I wandered into the woods a lot.  I named my favorite limestone outcroppings, my hide-outs, my forts, my castles, my watch-towers.  I was fearless.  Except for one thing.

I was terrified of snakes.

My parents had done an outstanding job of warning me of the horrors of the rattlesnakes and copperheads which slithered, hidden on the forest floor, just waiting to strike me as I passed by. Their warnings were very descriptive.  And serious. Perhaps I could have ignored their warnings, except that at a very early age I had many opportunities to see the monsters they described. I never got bit.  But I watched as they coiled and rattled and struck at a hoe that came their way.  I was mystified how they seemed to be impossible to kill as their long, thick, otherwise beautiful bodies continued to writhe and flail after their heads were cut off or crushed.

When I was five my dad came home for lunch in the middle of a beautiful early fall day and asked me to help him go feed the horses. He tossed a burlap bag of oats onto my fire-engine-red solid metal Radio Flyer wagon. I pulled it across the yard, and, at the edge of the woods, headed down the hill into a gully between the house and the barn. Dad was behind the wagon, keeping it from getting loose and running over my skinny five year old frame.  He yelled at me to stop, the kind of yell that lets a kid know his dad isn't kidding.  I looked down and there was a monster, stretched across the path in front of me.  It began to to move, not across the path, but into itself, coiling like a spring. It's head lifted.  It's tail did too. And began to rattle.

Dad, in a quieter voice, but even more serious, told me to back up slowly, and stand still, as he was turning to run back to the storage room to get his shotgun. So there, for what seemed like a couple of days, I stood, looking at the rattler.  I had a sense that dad did not want me to let it get away, but it would have been okay with me if it had moved on off into the woods.  But it did not.

Dad came back, moved me out of the way, and with the blast of the gun, the head of the snake disappeared. The body began to flail.  Dad and I went back to the house for awhile.  But a little later we went back.  The horses had to be fed, snake or not.  We finished our job. On the way back we found the dead snake which was a little off the path. It was huge.  Its black and grey hour-glass patterned skin was beautiful in a horrifying way.  Dad pulled out a knife and cut the rattle off the end of the snake.  I'm pretty sure that rattle is still in some drawer in my old room. I kept the rattle. And I kept the fear.

Living in the woods kids do a lot of things.  One of the things we did was shoot BB guns, mostly at the burn pile, where there were plenty of bottles, rotten fruit and other targets suitable to be destroyed by our assaults.  Somehow, occasionally, our shots would not be true, and would go places they were not supposed to go, like into the window panes of the house.  Danny and I shared a bedroom (about half the size of our sisters' bedroom I might add).  One of the window panes had a tiny hole in it produced by an errant BB shot. When I say tiny, I mean not much bigger than a nail hole.

I remember lying in bed at night, the sounds of the summer night emanating from the woods roaring in my ears, knowing that the most dangerous thing out there was making no sound as it slithered along the ground, making its way toward my window, toward the tiny pin-hole weakness in our fortress of safety, so that it could contort its amazing body, squeeze through the BB hole as some sort of ironic statement against our use of the shotguns against its brother, and finish me off as I lay defenseless in my own bed. I'm pretty sure Danny was asleep.

Fear is a powerful thing.  Whether snake or human or any member of creation, we are created to do what we need to do to survive.  In the moment of fear, we do not think, we react.  We coil up, stand our ground, rattle and lash out when we could pass on by.  We draw our weapons and kill when we could take a step back to a place of safety and choose a different way.

But fear diminishes our ability to choose a different way, a better way.  Fear, if embraced as a deceitful comfort, distorts our perception of reality.  Fear crawls into the tiny openings that we give it, expanding and growing into a mythical monster that prevents us from seeing the truth in the dark, noisy night.

Fear gives us an excuse to ignore truth and embrace lies as we huddle, afraid in the darkness, yet sadly in plain sight of the light of truth. Standing in the shadows we seek warmth and light from the pitiful temporary fire of our choosing, denying time after time after time that light which we proclaim is our only hope.

Fear is the enemy of truth.  Fear is the enemy of light.  Fear is the enemy of love.

But love is the way.

And love casts out fear.

And that is the truth.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Into the cross-fire . ..

I struggle to find words this morning.  As I think and pray about what to write I find myself tempted to become even more a part of problems that must be resolved.

Like everyone else, my mind is full of opinions.  My opinions are formed out of my personal experiences.  I defend a lot of criminal defendants. I am a lover of words.  I am a white, male son of the South. I am a follower of Jesus, a United Methodist, a father, a grandfather, a Democrat with libertarian tendencies and more.  But it seems that every opinion expressed these days provokes an equal and opposite opinion.  We all feel threatened.  Some of us have good reason.  Most of us do not.

Those of us who do not have a good reason to feel threatened owe the rest of our sisters and brothers a helping hand. . . and head and heart.  Those who are truly threatened because of their skin color, or because of the badge they wear, or because of the God they worship, or because of the person they love, or because of whatever label or target is slapped on their back by public opinion and discourse are afraid for good reason. Some of each of these groups have very recently been shot and killed just because of their label, for Pete's sake.  Fear causes a focus on survival, to be defensive, to fight or to flee depending on the threats of the moment.  For the benefit of all who have good reason to feel truly threatened, to be afraid for their lives, the rest of us need to step back, cut them some slack, offer them love and support and safety in this moment. 

All of them.

But the truth is, we cannot afford to step back to a safe distance and expect them to find us and come.  The threatened, frightened and injured often hunker down and retreat to their sides for defense. We who are not truly threatened must step forward. We must step forward into the in between.

Into the cross fire.

Carrying nothing. Open hands. We must drop the weapons of our harsh, judgmental words,  our positions of privilege or power, our eloquent opinions, our revelations of blame.  We must strip off the jerseys we wear to identify which side we are on, revealing only our bare human identity. We must be willing to take the bullets and stones throne by both sides out of their fear. And in that place, between the fearful, injured sides, we must create a place of safety born of justice and love.   A place that we must not be tempted to give up, leave and join or rejoin a side, even though living in the cross fire is frightening.  We must create a place so good, so just, so loving, that those in fear will feel safe to leave their opposing sides, drawn to join  the loving circle.  A loving circle has no sides. Everyone sees the face of everyone, as everyone faces the center.

It is a dangerous place to stand defenseless, with open hearts and arms spread wide, taking the blows of both sides meant for the other.

That's the way it has always been in the cross-fire.

But it is our only hope.  It always has been.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pause for a moment of silence . . .

The Rabbi Jesus awoke early in the morning and walked the short distance to the temple, where he sat down with an early arriving temple crowd and began to teach.  The religious leaders  of the day thought this Rabbi to be too soft on sin, too quick to excuse behaviors prohibited by the religious laws. He would accept anybody doing anything,  That is why the crowds were coming to him.  With this teacher, anything goes.  Who wouldn't love to be judged by that rule?

As the Rabbi was teaching, several of the religious leaders appeared in the temple courtyard, walking toward him with purpose.  They were dragging a woman with them.  

"Teacher," one of the religious leaders, the spokesman of the group, addressed Jesus.  No howdy, good-morning, howyadoing, or shalom with this group.  They were all business.

"This woman was caught in the act of adultery."   The group of men looked with disdain at the woman they had captured.  I will leave it to you to ponder the questions this declaration raises.  How was she caught?  Who caught her?  Doesn't it take two to tango?  Where is the man?

"In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women,"  the group spokesman continued. A no-frills opening statement, unfortunately flawed by an omission of law.  Actually the Law of Moses was more enlightened than that.  It required that both the man and the woman be stoned to death. Equal treatment under the law.  Apparently the man had worked a deal and turned state's evidence.  But the law of Moses had been broken. The woman must be stoned to death.  The religious leader then fixed his gaze on Jesus and spoke.

"Now what do you say?"  

Jesus was silent. Bending down, he doodled in the dirt with his finger. The religious leaders continued to question the Rabbi.  Jesus said nothing. He just looked down at the dirt and doodled.

There are times when it seems God is saying nothing. God is frustratingly quiet.

We should probably give thanks for the silence, the incredible grace of God's restraint.

With our deadly stones easily within the God's reach,  God bends down and listens as we approach self-righteously with our perverted, self-serving version of the law handed down to Moses, waving it furiously in Jesus' face, explaining to the Rabbi how the law is supposed to work. 

And God is quiet.

While we angrily judge and accuse, using God as our authority, insisting that appropriate punishment be meted out for the other, God's children whom we have judged and condemned. 

And God is quiet.

While we embrace lies to support our judgments, without question, because our all important judgments cannot be supported by truth.  So we bury the truth under our pile of stones.

After awhile Jesus lifted his head and returned the gaze of the man.

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."  Then Jesus returned to his doodling.

Man, that is maddening, isn't it?

The accusing group of men left, not as a group, but one by one, the oldest first, then down to the youngest, till no one was left but Jesus and the woman.  Jesus stood up and asked the woman, "Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus said.  "Now go and leave your life of sin."

Perfect truth. Perfect grace.  The woman's life was saved by the insightful response of Jesus.  True enough.  But in our arrogance we sometimes fail to claim the other, equally significant grace.  The lives of the men who held the stones may have been saved as well. It depends on what each did later.  Like so many of the stories of Jesus, we don't know how the characters' stories ended.  Perhaps that is so we can make them our stories. Maybe we are supposed to write the endings of the stories with our lives.

I am disturbed by my own silence these days.  I am angry in my soul.  I wish that in my silence I could discover the kind of grace that Jesus offered all who were in his presence in the courtyard that morning.  But my silence is not so holy or noble.  It is mostly to avoid the pitfall of gathering my own pile of stones to throw out of anger.

But maybe Jesus was angry in the silence as well.  Maybe the period of silence was necessary, not to suppress the anger, but to allow it to be directed with God's love, grace, truth and wisdom.  So that it was possible to change the hearts of all present.

So maybe it's okay to be angry.  But not as an excuse to judge, divide, injure or kill.  Maybe it takes the energy of our anger to do the hard work of love sometimes.

I don't know.  I do know that much. But at my age, according to the story, I should be dropping my stones and walking away first, whatever that means.

Maybe I need to work on my doodling.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Christ IS Risen . . .

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

  The events of Holy Week happened a couple of thousand years ago in Jerusalem.  The triumphal entry amid the waving palms, the cleansing of the temple of the money changers, the preaching of Jesus in the temple court, the dialogue of Jesus with the Pharisees, Jesus' last supper with the disciples, the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, and all of the rest of that amazing week leading up to Sunday, are history.  We still talk about it. We study it.  We even re-live it in our spiritual lives at the close of every Lenten season.  But even as we can almost see, hear and feel the familiar stories of Jesus' last week, it is still history.  An important part of the past from which we learn.  

But Jesus Christ is risen. 

It will always be that way.  

The resurrection will always be now.  Christ is risen to and for all generations.

The resurrection of Jesus is not a historical event to commemorate.  The resurrection of Jesus is the continuing act of a loving God to offer transforming grace, restoration, and Love to every generation, even to the end of the age. 

And for that surely we must humbly worship and be thankful.  Not only for what happened in the past, but on this day,  for what is happening right now because Christ is risen.  

But even more important we must act, we must respond as if we believe the resurrection of Jesus is now, that it continues with its power in the present.  We must locate our present day Galilee to meet Jesus, not for salvation, not to save ourselves, but for instruction and empowerment of the Spirit, so that through love and service, the Body of Christ can do God's work and will in today's world.

It was a wonderful moment when Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she had seen the Lord.

But Christ is risen.

Where will we see Jesus today?



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday: Holy and Fearful

Holy Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

It seems like everything is falling apart.  The foundations that hold up our lives are crumbling, leaving us precariously hanging, dangling at the edge of an uncertain future.  Even our past is in question.

The crumbling away creates open space for those who take advantage of the fear, grabbing for the power that seems to have no master.  We falsely place blame on a convenient, powerless other, wrongly giving names and faces to the causes of the destruction, the source of our fears. We declare war on the fictitious enemy, this powerless other, who has been losing these same wars for generations, as if by making them lower, we can be raised up.

And out of fear, we believe.

The crumbling away causes some to scramble for safety, wildly latching onto anything that seems to offer something different.  In groping and grasping for whatever we can reach, we let go of all that we have held onto before, even that which continues to hold our hand tightly amidst the chaos. But it feels good to feel good for the moment. And the moment is all that matters. 

And out of fear, we believe.

The crumbling away causes some of us to retreat, to seek nothing, not power nor distraction; just a place to hide.  We become numb in the darkness. Motionless. Thoughtless. Hopeless.  Prayerless.  Alone.  Convinced that all we had once held as dear is over, if it ever really existed anyway.

And out of fear, we believe.

But there are some who hold on.  Fearful and uncertain they lovingly made preparation yesterday, and spend today, this moment, this Sabbath,  in faithful waiting for tomorrow, as they have been taught from centuries of teaching, and from three short years of living, learning and loving.  Fear does not drive them to hate, or to seek other answers, or to retreat.  They spend today amid the chaos and crumbling in waiting, fully prepared to go and see tomorrow what will come of all of this.

And amidst the fear, we believe.

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear . . ."
                                                                   1 John 4:18


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lenten thought: What is truth?

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

Cold drizzle and clouds on the hillside, delaying daylight, create an appropriate outer climate for my inner mindset this morning.  It is a little foggy in there all the time, but there can be a happy oblivion in the safe cocoon of a fog. But cold drizzle just wakes me up for no apparent reason.  At least it seems so. 

Each year, during Lent, a particular moment of Jesus' final week in Jerusalem sticks in my head.  The moment is generally defined by a short passage of scripture.  It is different each year.  For instance, a couple of years ago it was "Give us Barabbas" .  

This year the simple thought that sticks in my head is:

 "What is truth?"

 Pontius Pilate famously asked "What is truth?" on the final day of Jesus' earthly life.  Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, who ruled over the province of Judaea, where Jerusalem was located, during the ministry of Jesus. Pilate posed the question "What is truth?"  as he was involuntarily cast in an unforgettable supporting role in a complicated drama. Even before his big scene was finished it was clear that Pilate desperately wished for his part to be washed away.  But it could not be.

Pilate was the Roman authority before whom Jesus was brought by the Jewish religious leaders who wanted to get rid of Jesus for good.  The religious leaders claimed that Jesus had broken laws for which he should be executed.  

 Pilate, the secular Roman official, told the religious leaders to "judge him yourself by your own laws".   The religious leaders said they could not because their religious laws would not allow execution for the charges, but the Roman law would. 

Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar?  Even if it's Jesus?

How awful were these religious leaders?  They knew better. They said so. The religious law they had been given, which they took so much pride in following, which they espoused to be God-given to His chosen people, did not allow the execution of Jesus, even if He were actually guilty of the charges they brought.

But if Caesar killed Jesus, the religious leaders hands were tied, they were clean. Nothing they could do about it.

Sounds a bit too familiar to me somehow.

 Jesus said not to lie, and yet we defend, even repeat and promote with apparent glee the lies of our favorite candidates for political office, and most of all the lies about those that we oppose. Our enemy, if you will.  And we know how we are supposed to treat our enemy, don't we?  

Jesus said if we love Him we are to care for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick,  the alien, the children, the widow and orphan and the oppressed, and yet we cheer and applaud those candidates, repeating their lies and loathsome rhetoric, who diminish the humanity of and deny responsibility for the least of us that Jesus loves so much.

Jesus said to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, and yet, we roar with approval the horrific practice of indiscriminate carpet bombing, no matter who may be living, sitting or playing on that carpet.  

As Christians we act as if the teachings of Jesus do not apply to politics, as if the political arena is a free zone where anything goes.  This is a pretty silly notion when you consider that Jesus' whole ministry was conducted in the center of a political arena that would make this year's election look like a tea party. It was in that environment that he gave us His profound teaching of how to live and love.

Government is not the answer to all things. It can be the best or partial solution to some things.  Our politics at its finest should be a healthy debate about finding the optimum role of government in making all of our lives better.  And like Jesus, Christians should not remove themselves from the discussion.

But for a Christian, politics and government must never be places to go to hide from the teachings of Jesus.  It is not a free zone in which to achieve a result or promote opinions or say things that are contrary to the life and love of Christ. 

It is not a place to go to once again crucify Jesus.

The crowd outside that cried "Give us Barabbas" was angry because Jesus seemed to be less than what they had been waiting and longing for.  

The religious leaders inside that wanted Jesus dead were terrified because he seemed to be so much more. 

And Jesus gave no wordy defense of himself, merely saying he came to "testify to the truth."

It is no wonder, on that awful morning, Pilate asked the famous question.

"What is truth?"

Not so much different from this morning, it seems.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Pin the tail . . .

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

When I was a child there was a game that we played at birthday parties. There was a large poster of a tail-less donkey on a wall.  The contestant was blindfolded, handed a donkey-tail with a pin on the end of it, and given the opportunity to attempt to properly attach the tail to the donkey without having the benefit of sight, but listening to the reaction of the onlookers for guidance, or misguidance.  I think this ubiquitous game is so common we all played it, or at least knew of it, despite the now ridiculous notion of turning a five year old loose swinging a straight pin in a crowd of other five year olds. I suppose they use velcro now. A lot safer for those who play or observe the game.

Some observers took delight in cheering on the contestant, guiding the sightless player with cheers of encouragement and yelling direction.  Others who wanted to claim the chocolate bunny prize for themselves would yell out misdirections, hoping to confuse the player, hoping that the tail would end up far from its proper place.

All who played, and all who watched, knew the object of the game. Be the first to pin the tail in its God-intended location and win the prize for yourself.

But nobody ever addressed the real problem.

That poor donkey's tail fell off.  He's got no tail. Most of the time the donkey suffers a stab wound in some unexpected part of his body.  Even if a blindfolded player pins the tail perfectly it is only a temporary fix.  The tail will be taken off so that the game can start all over again for a different player and a different prize. Without the tail-less donkey there can be no game at all.

Yeah I know, it's a silly thought about a fun children's game.  But it's Saturday morning.  Silly is okay.

We should be doing better than we are.  After all, we know who is to blame. We spend countless hours pinning the blame on the asses who are causing all our problems. The rich, the poor, the Christians, the Muslims, the liberals, the conservatives, the politicians, the big corporations, the immigrants, the bigots, the southerners, the northerners, the gays, the straights, the Democrats, the Republicans, Obama, Congress, judges, lawyers,referees who call ridiculous fouls against Retin Obasohan (yeah, it still stings).  Blind-folded we stab in the dark, listening to voices yelling direction, telling us where the blame should be pinned.

Meanwhile, the donkey still has no tail. 

And that's the way it will stay until we quit playing that other favorite childish game.  We all know it well.

The blame-game.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Grin and bear it

There was an interesting, possibly award-winning article on today which moved me.  A brief summary:.

In 1996 the Democratic  controlled Alabama Legislature outlawed bear wrestling in the State of Alabama. 

.Nina Beal, founder and director of the Ark, a no-kill animal shelter  in Huntsville, advocated for the legislation:

"Other states have outlawed bear wrestling; we need to be as advanced."

 Joe Ford (Dem. Etowah County), co-sponsored the bill and said:

''I don't mind anybody who wants to fight a bear if they just go out in the woods and fight the bear on his own terms."

Thankfully the legislature came to its senses last year and repealed the law outlawing bear wrestling.  Apparently it was a result of negotiations with groups representing bears. The Legislature allowed the bears to wrestle again on the condition that the bears would not insist on pushing to exercise their second amendment rights . . .

You know. . .

The right to arm bears.

Come on. We need to laugh. It's okay if it's at me.

For the real article, which is far more interesting  and funnier than this post even though they avoided the second amendment aspects, click on ."bear wresting" article on


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Freeze Frame (No politics, I promise)

Saturday. Sofa. Coffee.

The sights and sounds of Spring springing to life would not let me sleep this morning.  The sun rose over the ridge of Straight Mountain, throwing its first gentle rays through my bedroom window, gently tapping my shoulders and then my head, like a cat who is ready to get up and play, but needs a playmate. I pulled the covers over my head.   But like the cat's persistence, the rays of the sun became more insistent, and somehow seemed to get beneath the covers, getting right in my face, pawing it, until I agreed that it was time to get up and join in welcoming the day.

It was just as well, because by then birds on the hillside were tuning up, singing louder and louder as the sun rose higher above the eastern horizon.  I love that sound, even though they never seem to be finished tuning up and performing anything as written. 

Finally in motion I moved to the coffee machine, poured in the water and beans, and braced myself for the not so pretty sound of the grinder cranking up and doing its work.  It too is a sound that I love, even though if made by a different appliance I would be highly annoyed.  Like Pavlov's dog, who probably fell in love with the otherwise annoying sound of bells ringing when it meant food, the sound of the grinder has become a sacrament to me,  as it portends the arrival of God's unmerited flavor.

While I was in the process of my morning coffee bean grinding, I looked up and out the window into the trees just behind the house, lit up brilliantly by the morning sun..  There was something moving.  At first I thought I was imagining things, probably a left over from a fitful night of sleep punctuated by the bumps and shuffles in the dark that happen when one lives at the edge of the woods.

I poured my coffee and moved toward the sofa. There it was again, something moving, as I looked up and out the den window. I squinted, trying to increase the power of the lens of my eyes like the Bionic Man used to do.  That did not work.  No grid appeared in my viewfinder and nothing was magnified, nor was there that cheesy sound effect that went along with the Bionic Man's capabilities.  But then, as I began to sit, I saw it. 

There was a beautiful doe about 30 feet behind the house, grazing on anything green she could find.  I sat down with my coffee and again looked out the window. She was gone. Where did she go so quickly?  It was only a second before that she had been standing right there.

But then I saw a movement.  I squinted again.  There she was, in the same place she had been before, never having moved from that spot.  I just could not see her as she perfectly blended with the late winter, early spring forest.  I could only find her when she moved.  If I took my eyes off of her for a second, she seemed to disappear.

I grabbed my phone for a pic.  I must have tried ten times, aiming right where I knew she was.  But she never showed up in the photo.  I took my eyes away from the phone and looked up.  She was there.  

But I was not going to get a picture to share with y'all.

I love the photos I take with my phone.  But I am afraid that sometimes I miss the moment for trying to capture it. You would think I would learn.  How much basketball have I missed trying to take a photo of basketball?  How much fun have I missed trying to capture the perfect picture of a child having fun?  How much enjoyment have I missed trying to capture the talent of my favorite performers in concert?  How much of the majesty of God's creation have I missed trying to reduce it to so many two dimensional pixels?  How much peace have I missed fretting over trying to photograph a deer who wasn't interested in being seen by anyone, except maybe me.

How much life have I missed?

Sometimes the moment is meant just for those present. That is the nature of moments.  They are just still shots of the constantly-moving forward motion of time.  A moment moves on, like waters of the river flowing around the bend.  It really cannot be captured.  And when I try, I become a mere observer of the moment,  not a full participant. 

Sometimes, I guess, you just have to be there.

Real Time Analytics