Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Voice Crying In The Wilderness

The Christian community’s task (when at its best, which hasn’t been very often in the course of history)  is to work toward “the fulfillment of humanity in society.”  This implies that one rises above the narrow confines of individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.  It means geographical togetherness.  It means that no individual and no nation can live alone. Modern transportation has dwarfed the distance that once separated us. This new closeness, along with the new world of the internet and the satellite make international communication readily available and draws us together into one neighborhood.  The Christian faith, when authentic and true to the teachings of Jesus, would have this new neighborhood  become a community—one family—one people—a global village.  I am convinced, as a Christian, that this is what Jesus meant when he urged his followers to enter into the new kingdom—the new age.  It doesn’t mean that the leopard change his spots or the Ethiopian the color of his skin and become something other than a leopard or an Ethiopian.  This new age doesn’t mean everyone becomes a “Christian,” for Jesus stresses the fact that he has other sheep not of this fold.”  The great gift of democracy (rather than theocracy, despotism, dictatorship, monarchy and totalitarian) is that it recognizes differences and provides equal freedom for each and every person in the pursuit of happiness.

Yesterday, President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly was antithetical to the ideas and the ideals of the UN, founded in 1945.  It was also starkly antithetical to the Christian faith and its task to work toward “the fulfillment of humanity in society.”  It was antithetical to the basic tenets of our American way of life.  When Mr. Trump spoke of “uncontrolled migration” (“suggesting that the best place for refugees is anywhere but in the USA”) he dehumanized refugees (human beings) and violated the words of our forefathers who framed the Constitution he has sworn to uphold and protect that “All Are Created Equal.”  Denigrating human beings seems to be his forte.. When he boasted that his main concern was America’s national sovereignty and would be respectful of the sovereignty of all other nations, and then threatened other sovereign nations (if they did not do what he wanted them to do) with annihilation, he not only contradicted his own principle of the sovereignty of each nation,  but the very reason the United Nations was formed in the first place.  Not once in his speech did the president mention Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election or its usurpation of Ukraine.  The president’s bombastic and bellicose speech is being praised by his supporters, but I would dare to suggest that such a stance (demonstrated by Mr. Trump throughout his campaign and into his presidency) is also antithetical to the Christian way.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Doublespeak & Overtalk

I chose not to watch the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards program this past Sunday evening. However, I could not avoid hearing about Sean Spicer showing up, because it headlined the national news and went viral on social media.  I didn’t find Spicer’s performance funny.  Who can forget Spicer’s  performance at the first press conference on the day after the Inauguration?  I can’t.  In that five minute press conference he arrogantly lied (in spite of the photographs) about the size of the inauguration crowd, attacked reporters and the freedom of the press, and trampled the First Amendment.  That wasn’t funny. It was despicable.  And I might add, that Spicer’s press conferences following that first one were far from comical.  Kellyanne Conway, however, thought Spicer brought a sense of humor to the otherwise (in her opinion)—politicized Emmy program—but she did not find Stephen Colbert and others humorous because they were insulting “our leader.”

I did not find it funny that Mr. Trump as the President of the United States of America should re-tweet the video of a fan’s GIF that showed Mr. Trump golfing and the ball striking Hillary Clinton, which has also been aired by the media umpteen times since it was tweeted this past Sunday morning (the same day as the Emmy Award program).  The NY Times reported, “The tweet stoked outrage online, generating more than 11,000 replies, many of which condemned the president’s promotion of violent imagery toward Mrs. Clinton…But it was also celebrated by Trump supporters, who admonished “crooked Hillary” and accused Mr. Trump’s critics of lacking a sense of humor.”

Kellyanne Conway took to the media on Monday to criticize the anti-Trump innuendos made during the Emmy Awards saying, “You are showing the world that you’re so easy with an insult about our leader. I think that’s really unfortunate,” while ignoring “our leader’s” Birther Movement insults about the former president and “our leader’s” continued insults and personal assaults upon others.  

George Orwell coined the word “double-speak” in his book, 1984, using it  in the phrase, “war is peace.”  Doublespeak “is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words—it disguises  the nature of truth.” It seems to me that we are presently getting a lot of “doublespeak” from all quarters.  Sean Spicer is funny; Stephen Colbert is not funny.  A fake video showing the president hitting a former First Lady with a golf ball is humorous, but any jibe directed at the president is not humorous.  I do not find “doublespeak” funny from either side!

Be careful, we are traveling a difficult road.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Denial of Truth

William Stringfellow is visiting with me this morning though his little book, An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land.  He was a creative and talented writer and a radical social maverick within the Christian community back in the 60’s and 70’s.  I heard him speak several times and was held captive by his stirring oratory, and at the same time, deeply discomfited by his disturbing convictions.  I am still held captive and still discomfited by his words as we connect this morning.

Are there demonic powers at work in our world?  Stringfellow answers with a resounding YES!  “If the powers and principalities (institutions, ideologies, images, causes, corporations, bureaucracies, traditions, idols) be legion, so are the means by which they assault, captivate, enslave, and dominate human beings.”  He goes on to write about the “Stratagems of the Demonic Powers.”  “Typically, each and every stratagem and resort of the principalities seeks the death of the specific faculties of rational and moral comprehension which specially distinguish human beings from all other creatures…demonic aggression always aims at the immobilization or surrender or destruction of the mind and at the neutralization or abandonment or demoralization of the conscience” (that is, “the dehumanization of human life”).

He describes one of these stratagems as the denial of truth.  “A rudimentary claim with which the principalities confront and subvert persons is that truth in the sense of eventual and factual matter does not exist.  In the place of truth and appropriating the name of truth are data engineered and manufactured, programmed and propagated by the principality.  The truth is usurped and displaced by a self-serving version of events or facts, with whatever selectivity, distortion, falsehood, manipulation, exaggeration, evasion, concoction necessary to maintain the image or enhance the survival or multiply the coercive capacities of the principality.”

Okay, Bill Stringfellow, it is time for our visit to end.  You are still a hammer hitting the contemporary nail on the head!  You were a prophet in 1973 when you wrote this stuff, and your words ring more true today than they did then.  Enough!  Let’s meet again some other day.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Inferences & Assumptions

We all have them—assumptions.  We all make them—inferences.  An assumption is “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.”  Someone has said, rightly so, that to assume is to presume.  An assumption is something we take for granted or presuppose. We assume our beliefs to be true and use them to interpret what is happening in the world around us.  

Inference is "an intellectual act by which one concludes that something is true in the light of something else being true."  Whether an inference is true or not true, whether it is logical or illogical, whether justified or unjustified, I assume it to be so. If I see a frowning face, I infer that the person is upset.  If I meet a tall guy, I naturally infer that he must be good at basketball.  If I see dark clouds over the horizon, I infer that it will rain.  I assume, therefore, that whenever I see any frowning face it means a person is upset; whenever I meet any tall guy that he is good at basketball and whenever any dark clouds show up on the horizon it means it will rain.  Such assumptions are false (the inferences I’ve made are not always true).  Not every frowning face means a person is upset; not every tall guy is good at basketball, and dark clouds on the horizon do not always bring rain.

We make different inferences based on our viewpoint (prior beliefs and/or assumptions).  Each of us (based our point of view) see things differently and make different assumptions about what we see.  If two people see a man lying in a gutter, one might infer, “There’s a man who needs help.”  The other might infer, “There’s a drunken bum.”  The first person assumes, “People lying in the gutter are in need of help.”  The second person assumes, “Only drunks are to be found in gutters.”  Assumptions close doors.  Preconceptions limit possibilities.  Our biggest challenge as human beings is to think through our preconceptions, presumptions, inferences and our assumptions.  It seems to me, that this is our greatest challenge right now as a society and as a nation.  “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in” (Isaac Asimov).

What do you see?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Autumn: A Parable of Life

Home again!  From Maine through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, to the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills of New York, and through the Poconos of Pennsylvania,  the foliage is beginning to show the colors of autumn.  The golden rod and the sumac trees along the roadside were sure signs of this seasonal change.  Autumn, a fact of nature, is also a parable of human life.   Samuel Johnson, at the age of forty wrote, “Vernal flowers, however beautiful and gay, are only intended by nature as preparatives to autumn fruits.”  

Everything experienced, discovered, learned, and felt in earlier years are but “preparatives" for our present autumn of life.  There is an autumn for us at forty years of age just as there is an autumn for us at seventy or eighty years.  All the previous years of living (vernal blooms of all sorts—and remember a rose is not without its thorns and we’ve all been pricked a time or two) have prepared us for whatever may be our present autumn.  Our foliage may be changing colors—our hair, if we still have any, has turned grey and our physical abilities and attractiveness may be waning, but our past is filled with “vernal flowers” of experiences, discoveries, learnings and feelings that were meant to produce autumn fruits.  Autumn (at whatever age) is a time of harvesting that fruit, of allowing all that has been experienced, discovered, learned and felt to shape the present moment.

I didn’t want to be a grumpy old man at age forty and I don’t want to be a grumpy old man at three score and twenty plus 4!  I don’t want to spend my autumnal days complaining.  I don’t want to be a whiner.  I don’t want to be living in the past when my vernal flowers were blooming.  I want to live with all those flowers of the past being “preparatives” that have produced the fruit for my living now.

Who can deny that a spring bouquet of daffodils or roses make a beautiful sight?  But, may I suggest that an autumnal bouquet of oak, maple, and sumac leaves, along with a golden rod or two is just as beautiful and meaningful!  Hal Borland wrote, “Summer ends, and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night; and thus he would never know the rhythms that are at the heart of life.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

For We Have This Treasure

We spent last night in Chicopee, MA.  This town, just north of Springfield, became famous some weeks ago when a woman from the area won the mega-lottery. She bought her lottery ticket in this vicinity.  Maybe we ought to buy a ticket (it would be my first) at the same place she purchased her’s before we leave this morning?  I wonder what that woman has done with all that money?  We seldom hear what happens to lottery winners after the fanfare of winning is over.  

There are other forms of riches than money and I think I  prefer them, though I don’t know for sure, because I’ve never experienced great monetary wealth.  Kazantzakis wrote of a wealth seldom considered these days:  “Whatever fell into my childhood mind was imprinted there with such depth and received by me with such avidity that even now in my old age I never grow tired of recalling and reliving it.”  Now that is a wealth worth having—the treasures of a life lived that can be spent and re-spent without affecting the supply.  We ought all to be rich in this way.

Again, Kazantzakis, recalling his childhood writes, “God always came…as long as I remained a child.  He never deceived me—He always came, a child just like myself, and deposited His toys in my hands:  sun, moon, wind.  ‘They’re gifts,’ He said, ‘they’re gifts.  Play with them.  I have lots more.”  I would open my eyes, God would vanish, but His toys would remain in my hands.”  Do we not have this treasure, too, and still, and even now, in our older years, playing with the “toys” given to us?  We are no longer children, but we still receive the “gifts” to play with if we choose to do so.

Childhood builds up inner wealth and provides us with something that can be spent over and over again without diminishing the supply.  This is why it is so important for children today have a “childhood,” to receive the gifts of God, and the love of parents and family, so that every child can say with Kazantzakis, “I thank God that this refreshing childhood vision still lives inside me in all its fullness of color and sound.”  Such a childhood makes one rich!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Light Along the Shore

All the objectives for this journey to  Maine have now been met.  I enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder yesterday for lunch. The lobster meal is off my plate—quite literally--and it was lobster as only Maine can provide.  We went canoeing through the Audubon Scarborough Marsh (finding the Amazon in Maine) and yesterday visited Portland Head at Fort Williams, watching the Atlantic crash against the rocky shores.  It is now time to depart Maine, taking our time as we travel through NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, and finally to our home in  MD.

It is not surprising that I often think in the words of hymns when I see something and want to express my feelings about it.  This happened yesterday when we visited Portland Head.  As I stood along the rocky shore watching the Atlantic crashing into the rocks, and seeing the lighthouse high above, the words of  “Let the Lower Lights Keep Burning” echoed in my mind.

“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore
But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.”

Love and mercy are at the heart of all things—“Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore”—even in the midst of hurricanes and tornadoes.  These natural disasters are the same as the waves of the ocean that just naturally batter the rocky shores of Maine.  We cannot change the raging waters of the oceans or stop the storms of life, “But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.”   We have the responsibility for what happens along the shore!  

“Let the lower lights keep burning…” is our work, our duty, and our responsibility “along the shore.”  Leonard Cohen put it this way:  

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”