Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The First Three Hours

Every morning, often before sunrise, I enter my little study to read, think, write and pray.  Here in this little cubicle, only 10x12 feet, cluttered with books, mementoes, photos, carvings, icons, notebooks, filing cabinets, a really comfortable recliner and my grandmother’s rocking chair, I am visited.  Here in this little space I encounter the world—past and present—through the Bible and books about the Bible and books about what other people through the long centuries have thought about the Bible and what people are saying about the Bible today. Here I encounter the world—past and present—through reading history and the day’s news headlines.  Here I encounter the world—past and present—through many  friends I never met in person, those I have known in years gone by, and those I know now.  They visit me and speak to me through my remembrance of them, books, Emails, and Facebook posts. 

Here, in this little room, I ponder many things.  I think of those I know and love.  I think about my brothers and sisters around the world.  I think about the world situation,  our government, our national  issues and problems. I think about those persons I know who are experiencing crippling difficulties.  I think of those who are sick, who suffer, and who grieve.  I think of many things.  Here in my study I encounter the world as it was, the world as it is, and finally, the world as it is meant to be.  Through reading and thinking I am visited by all those I know and those I do not know who are suffering, striving, seeking, hoping, wanting, and sorrowing. 

Out of this very real encounter with the world—past and present—I write.  I write almost every day about whatever comes to mind out of my thinking and reading. Whatever I write, no matter what the topic, comes from the Bible (not in proof texts or in sermon form, but from what I have “heard” from my reading of the biblical message) and from my pondering. This writing is the blog, “While It Is Day.”  (A blog is “a regularly updated web page that is written in an informal or conversational style.”)


Lastly, here in this little cubicle, sometimes sitting at my desk, sometimes sitting in my grandmother’s rocking chair, and sometimes sitting in that comfortable recliner, I pray.  I pray for the world I have just met. I pray about the issues and problems that I have thought about.  I pray for those persons I know and those I do not know.  I pray for the children of Yemen and the children in captivity on our own border.  I pray to an inscrutable One who I believe participates in this world—past and present—to One who wants nothing more than for us to become more fully human—a people lost, but now found, a people connected to  “Love at the heart of things.”


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Ploy of Exaggeration and Deception

Yesterday a friend posted on Facebook the following:  “The fact that jellyfish have survived 650 million years without brains gives hope to many people.”  I fact-checked it and it is true, jellyfish do not have brains (they don’t have hearts either) and have been around for nearly 650 million years.  That information made me think of “Prevagen.”  Pravagen is a brain health supplement which claims to augment proteins that support brain health, which are lost as a result of the aging process.  This brain health supplement advertises that its basic ingredient comes from the jellyfish—a plankton (not a fish) that does not have a brain (or a heart).  

I don’t remember “names” as well as I once did.  I forget occasionally.  When I go to the doctor or the dentist I am often told that my particular malady is due to the aging process.  I am then subjected to a constant barrage of commercials about Prevagen, suggesting that my mental capacity is declining with age and that this “stuff” from the jellyfish is the remedy I need.  The claims are exaggerated and deceitful.  The price for the supplement is exorbitant.  It is not FDA approved.  There is no clinical evidence to support the claims.  In fact, the FDA has noted that the ingredient from the jellyfish is no longer extracted from the jellyfish—it is in fact, synthetic!  The jellyfish doesn’t have a brain or a heart.  The exaggeration and deception foisted by Prevagen on folk like me demonstrates some wily thinking (they must have brains), but it doesn’t appear to me that they have much of a heart.  They are bilking millions of elderly folk into buying a brain supplement, reporting falsely that its main ingredient comes from a plankton that has no brain—and no heart! 


When this same ploy (used excessively in the market place) of exaggeration and deception is politically appropriated we are easily sucked in. Not all immigrants are “rapists” or criminals—there is no empirical justification for such a claim. Yet we are sucked into the belief that the present conduct of the government is warranted and that a wall is necessary.  The audacity of the deceit, the grossness of the falsehood, the massiveness of the exaggeration works.  This ploy does precisely what the makers of Prevagen do—it gets the public to buy into it.  And we do!  Sometimes I wonder if it is only the jellyfish that is without brain or heart.



Monday, August 13, 2018

The Bully

What makes a person say nasty things about another person, group, or people?  Is it a hidden prejudice?  Is it bullying?  Is it narcissism?   Why does a person need to put another person down?  Is it that they themselves feel insecure?  Do they need to make themselves feel in control by belittling others?  Why does a person who is rich, who holds great power, put others down?

Is there a hidden prejudice?  Mr. Trump kicked off his presidential campaign by labeling immigrants from Mexico “rapists” and criminals.  A few weeks later he accused Mexican immigrants of being “killers.”  A month or so later he said Mexican officials were only sending “the bad ones” to the U.S.  He made a crude remark about Jeb Bush speaking “Mexican” (Bush’s wife is Mexican-American).  A little while later he booted Jorge Ramos out of a press conference. On Cinco de Mayo, Trump tweeted that the best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill.  In June 2016 he suggested that the federal judge (born in Indiana) presiding over a fraud case against Trump University would not be fair because of his “Mexican heritage.”  "He's a Mexican," Trump told CNN.  “We're building a wall between here and Mexico. The answer is, he is giving us very unfair rulings — rulings that people can't even believe." I'm building a wall.”  When asked whether he would trust a Muslim judge (referencing his proposed restrictions on Muslim immigration) Mr. Trump suggested that such a judge would not be fair to him either.  

Is it racism?  Trump has an insidious tendency to attack the intelligence of black critics he does not like (and women).  He was the prime leader in the “Birther Movement.” He tweeted: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do.”  He calls Elizabeth Warren “Pocohontas.”  He says Maxine Waters is a “seriously low IQ person.”  Yet, he also calls his own Attorney General “Mr. McGoo” and uses the word “stupid” (and other synonyms) regularly to describe the FBI, the NFL, Democrats, the filibuster, the nation’s immigration laws, and journalists.  When he heard that his own Secretary of State (Tillerson) reportedly called him a “moron,” he challenged Tillerson to an IQ test.  He also calls Robert DeNiro “a very low IQ individual.”


Let’s forget all the psychological humbug.  Mr. Trump is a bully—pure and simple—beating up on anybody and everybody whenever he feels like it and especially if they are critical of Mr. Trump.  Sure, all those other psychological labels may apply—but at bottom he is not a rich business man, he is a poor man of low character, At bottom he is not a powerful man, but a weak and insecure man who only survives by destroying the character of others.  At bottom he is a dangerous bully—and as a bully—only he exists in his world.  No one else counts—no one!
Psalm 121

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Almost and Altogether Christians?

Most  “Almost” and “Altogether” Methodist clergy persons have echoed John Wesley’s sermon (which he preached at St. Mary’s, Oxford in 1741) called The Almost Christian.  Wesley’s scriptural text for his sermon was The Acts of the Apostles, 26:28.  In this story the Apostle Paul has shared with King Agrippa the message of Christ—and King Agrippa responds:  “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”  “And many there are who go thus far,” responds Wesley in the opening words of his sermon, “ever since the Christian religion was in the world, there have been many in every age and nation who were almost persuaded to be Christians.  But seeing it avails nothing before God to go only thus far, it highly imports us to consider, First, What is implied in being almost. Secondly:  What in being altogether, a Christian.”

I recently noted a Christian Bookstore logo:  “Everything Christian for less.”  I suppose that might be what an “Almost” Christian could be—one who has yet to put his or her full weight down—who takes on everything “Christian” for less than what it actually costs? (Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace” comes to mind).  On the other hand, is there anyone, anywhere, in this broken world, who is an “Altogether” Christian?     I’m assuming an “Altogether” Christian would be one who is completely, totally, entirely, absolutely, wholly, unqualifiedly, whole-heartedly and lock, stock and barrel, Christian.  I don’t know of any, nor have I ever known any of this sort, though I have been told by some that they are “Altogether.” (I’m thinking such arrogance alone would probably remove that person from the “Altogether” category). Of course, I haven’t defined, nor have many other people been able to define (though a host of people, including John Wesley,  and every clergy person, including me, who has echoed his sermon, The Almost Christian, have tried to do so) what a Christian is exactly, let alone what or who is Almost and what and who is Altogether (though many lay claim to having succinctly defined both what a Christian is—and what is an Almost one, and what is an Altogether one.)  Those who make such claims believe, of course, that they are the “Altogether” Christians.

One simple definition of a Christian person would be a person who follows in Jesus’ footsteps—a disciple.  If you’ve read about the first disciples, you’ll quickly see that almost all of them were “Almost” types, though every once in a while they thought they  were “Altogether.”  (I wonder if “disciple” really means “almost” and the term “apostle” really means altogether?)


You know, just by using the category of “almost” and “altogether” I think I’ve stumbled in my attempt to follow Jesus today.  He shunned no one (no labels, no categories, no winners, no losers) and dies for all though none be worthy, not even one (including me)!  

"Out of the depths have I called to thee, O Lord;
Let thy ears be attentive to my plea...
For in the Lord is  love unfailing...
He alone can set me free..." (Ps 130)


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Let’s Stand Up for Something More!

I cannot let it go.  It irks my soul and it robs my beloved country of its soul. It is a form of idolatry. What is it I am ranting about?  I’m ranting about a president who wants everyone to stand for the national anthem while he himself refuses to stand up, as he promised to do, “to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  That Constitution provides free speech protections—and those protections include persons kneeling in protest during the national anthem in the NFL, the NBA, or anywhere else in this land. It also includes desecrating (by burning or other means) the nation’s flag as a form of protest.  This particular “free speech protection” was upheld by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson (1989) and The United States v. Eichman (1990).  

The Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to check the actions of the President and Congress.  Last I heard, it can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution.  It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer law.  It can also do this with state governments. President Trump is violating the law when he, by the power of his office, demands “standing” for the national anthem and the flag, as the only “patriotic” behavior and those who do not stand are somehow “unpatriotic” or do not support our troops, etc.  

Reverence for the flag has its place, but only as representative of something more.  Reverence for the flag (i.e. the “Republic for which it stands”) was ingrained in me from early childhood.  I still react when I see it being treated wrongly (as in touching the ground).  My heart leaps every time I see those pictures of our flag being raised at Iwo Jima.  Tears come to my eyes when I recall the emotion I felt watching the flag being planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, or when, as an Air Force chaplain, I greeted flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base.  After years of military service I am deeply moved at every veteran’s funeral service  when taps is sounded and the flag is folded and handed to a mother, a wife, or a daughter or son.  Someday that flag will be folded and given to one of my loved ones. 


The flag is a piece of cloth with red and white stripes and field of blue with stars.  It is a thing, an object, that never represents itself, and was never meant to do so. (The same is true of the national anthem).  It represents something far deeper, something far more meaningful.  No soldier, marine, sailor or airman has ever pledged allegiance to the flag—but only to “the Republic for which it stands…” and solemnly swearing that he or she “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” that he or she “will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…” Freedom of speech protections are an important part of that Constitution, being designated as the FIRST Amendment.



Friday, August 10, 2018

Stoned!

The word “stoned” means “under the influence of drugs, especially marijuana.”  The synonyms for “stoned,” however, imply that we all get that way (stoned) at various points along our way without being under the influence.  Synonyms for “stoned”  include words like: stupefied, insensible, befuddled, delirious, comatose, high, doped, zonked, wasted, wrecked, high as a kite, off one’s head and freaked out.  Whether we indulge or not, we are often stoned—as in befuddled.  I am often befuddled these days—unable to think clearly.  Synonyms for the verb “befuddled” give added meaning to being stoned.  Being stoned (that is, befuddled) implies  being confused, muddled, addled, bewildered, disoriented, mixed-up, perplexed, dazed, dizzy, stupefied, groggy, foggy, fuzzy, numbed, discombobulated, bamboozled, woozy and out of it!

Who hasn’t been there—“stoned?”  Not necessarily because of the influence of “pot” but more by simply being under the influence of life itself. Life is hard and difficult, says Scott Peck, as if we didn’t already know it.  How many times along life’s hard and twisting ways have we joined with Willie Nelson in singing, “Its all going to pot whether we like it or not…”

Under the influence of life we’ve all been stoned many times (we’ve picked up a lot of stones.)”  There was that time, a long time ago, when we felt rejected and freaked out (got stoned).  We hid that stone inside so no one else could see.  Then there was the time when we failed in something or other (probably lots of failures) and got stoned (many times over)—and added another stone (probably lots of stones for our failures) to all the other stones already collected inside. Stoned, time after time, until we were full of stones—so many that we seemed to be stoned (befuddled, mixed up, stupefied, discombobulated, bamboozled, and just plain out of it) most of the time. 


Artist Celeste Roberge was attempting to convey the physical feeling of grief when she created the sculpture shown below.  When I saw it I immediately thought of how “stoned” most of us are from the stones we’ve taken on along the way.  Toss them away!  Be done with them!  



Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Antichrist and Dehumanization

Most church people avoid the references in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible to the Antichrist. In 1971, however, William Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist, based on the last known Catholic-sanctioned exorcism (1949) in the United States, and awakened multitudes to a new awareness of the demonic in our world.  In 1973 the novel became an Academy-award winning film which sent many into hysterics. Both Blatty’s novel and film inspired a legion of imitations that have profited from our culture’s “bizarre obsession with possession.”  What does this have to do with the Antichrist?  The biblical Antichrist designates the power of “death” or “evil” incarnate in an institution, principality, power, or, sometimes, in a person associated with and possessed by demonic power (Rev. 19:17-20).  Demon-possession in the time of Jesus was accepted as the rationale for all manner of things that dehumanized an individual, from the Roman Empire to an individual’s  mental instability.  The Antichrist, then, means antihuman (as in anti-God).  

It is said that more Americans believe in the Devil than evolution or global warming.  While I do not believe in the Devil (the red man-figure with a forked-tail as Dante pictured) and I am not suggesting that the Antichrist is a  “Person,” (after all, how can an anti-human force be a person?) I do believe the biblical view of the fall.  In that fall, all relationships are splintered and broken and the power of “death” with all its demonic wiles (the biblical Antichrist) is present and operative.  Death by its very definition is dehumanization.  The biblical symbol of the Antichrist means anti-human and therefore anti-God.

“Dehumanization is the psychological process of demonizing the enemy (another human being), making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.”  Dehumanization says that another is not worthy of moral consideration.  Jews in Nazi Germany were dehumanized (carried off in cattle cars).  African-Americans were dehumanized in the days of slavery and still are!  I’ve been dehumanized in the Department of Motor Vehicles (“the scowl on the cranky DMV worker’s face makes me feel like I am nothing to them.”)  

Once individuals or groups are stigmatized as “failures” or “rapists” or “criminals,” or morally or mentally inferior, and not fully human, the persecution of these individuals and groups becomes psychologically acceptable.  The demonic power of the biblical Antichrist becomes real and is unleashed.  The influence of the Antichrist makes those who stigmatize and degrade others  become less than human themselves—and the fallenness and brokenness of this world goes on and on.