28 December 2007

wholly innocent

Today my Shetland Sheepdog, Duncan, became 11 years old. I told him it was his birthday, but I don't think he understood me. Today is also the day the church remembers the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. They are the little children ordered to be killed by Herod, as recorded in Matthew 2. I'm not suggesting that there's link between my dog's birthday and the mass murder meant to wipe out the Messiah. It's merely a matter of happenstance. I always remember that Duncan was born on the day of the Holy Innocents.

Happenstance. That can be a cruel word. Blind, stupid, bad luck. What else do we say to parents whose children have been killed--by whatever means? At the current posting on the website Journey with Jesus, we read a quote from Stanley Hauerwas: "Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants."

If we can take hold of this, that Christmas isn't about the idol-worshipping lust for consumer goods--that it's about a genuine hope for the future--then maybe we can build a world in which children (and yes, Shetland Sheepdogs!) can live safely.

26 December 2007

the second day of Christmas

In the current issue of the Christian Century, John Buchanan notes, "Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over."

The machinery of the Christmas industry has ground to a screeching halt. People have gone about the business of buying all kinds of junk, and much of the time, it's been done in a quite joyless manner--despite what the lyrics of the songs incessantly piped through speakers proclaim. And people also await their credit card bills, letting them know that they're even deeper in debt. When the 25th arrives, there's a sigh as if, "I'm glad that is over!" I've often noticed that when I point this out, I get painted as the Grinch.

At least the Grinch repents. He figures out that the god of Christmas isn't consumerism!

24 December 2007

a teacher and a friend

It's truly a joy to hear from someone who has played a major role in one's development. Dr. Tom McDaniel is such a person for my wife Banu and for me. The bracketed section below is an excerpt from an email we just received from he and his wife, Doris.

[I am attaching our Christmas newsletter and greetings. When you read the first paragraph about my performing the "wedding renewal ceremony" for my granddaughter back in October, know that my thoughts were often with both of you, James and Banu, and my sweet memories of your wedding and the honor I had in being a part of it. I have performed only three family weddings since the two of you were married, so I think of your wedding also as a "family wedding."]

He was our Old Testament professor at seminary (though we did study Hebrew with his younger colleague, Grant Ward). As you might have surmised, he also presided at our wedding. He's a man of many talents: a true Hebrew scholar, computer genius, speaker of many languages (including Japanese, I believe, from his time as missionary there), and many more talents of which I'm unaware. But above all, he truly exhibits the mind and heart of Christ. I thank God for him.

18 December 2007

hey, we're talkin' 'bout whoppers here

Burger King has been talking about a "Whopper freakout"--and rightly so. How dare they try to deprive Americans of their right to eat a really big hamburger? You can see the tyranny at http://www.whopperfreakout.com/ Nations have gone to war for less!

As for freaking out about the bill that would expand the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, why bother? As Homer Simpson would say, "Boooooring!" Who cares if the new FISA bill would give even more power to the executive branch to do warrantless wiretapping--and would grant amnesty to the phone companies that broke the law in going along with it? (See more at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/12/18/victory/)

I want my whopper! And I'm afraid I won't have to wait very long to fed plenty more of them.

17 December 2007

dolphins win! dolphins win!

Dolphin fans, rejoice! Cleo Lemon's 64 yard touchdown pass to Greg Camarillo may be soon forgotten by the rest of the league, but not by the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Experience the joy of their first win by clicking here.

What? Someone would say, "So what?" Well, if your heart is too hard to celebrate with the Dolphins, consider this: the dolphin was a symbol of Christ in the early church. The dolphin's tendency to swim alongside ships became associated with Christ, who guides believers to heaven. It became associated with the resurrection. Surely now you're convinced...

15 December 2007

doubting in good faith

Two days ago, I mentioned a Pentecostal professor who said that he'd been "Moltmannized" after reading some of Jürgen Moltmann's stuff. As I noted, I've started reading his autobiography, A Broad Place. In chapter 7, he speaks of his awakening interest in theology for the medical profession. Moltmann talks about meeting with people who are specialists in various scientific fields--and of the great interest and energy generated by those encounters. Here's a sentence which really got my attention:

"But there are still very few scientists who expect to profit scientifically from theology, and unfortunately hardly any theologians who read scientific books in order to discover the traces of God in 'the book of nature' too." (p. 90) I'm not terribly surprised about the first half of that sentence. It's the second half that troubles me.

I realize that there are all kinds of attempts to merge science and faith that do justice to neither. Pseudo-science and fuzzy faith appear in many corners: from the new agey "What the Bleep Do We Know?" to the fundamentalist "intelligent design." Maybe it's just Moltmann's perspective (I would hope so), but why aren't there more theologians, Christian thinkers, and rank-and-file church members who are interested in science? Can't we get beyond the politics involved and admit that a genuine search for truth is a good and noble (and even sacred) thing?

Tomorrow, I'll discuss with our congregation Matthew 11:2-11, where John the Baptist from his prison cell expresses doubts as to whether or not Jesus is actually the Messiah. In response, Jesus doesn't scold John. He honors him as "a prophet" and "more than a prophet." It appears, in my humble opinion, that Jesus acknowledges that John's doubt comes from a place of integrity. John genuinely wants to know. He doubts in good faith! If we can get hold of that, there's no reason to fear the good faith searches of people who seem very different from us.

a new low for us

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised--or disgusted--by any new revelations about the Bush administration, but maybe the fact that I am suggests that I'm still a human and a Christian. Here's another story of a life destroyed by the Soviet-style approach of our government: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/12/14/bashmilah/

14 December 2007

who is this?

Today, the 14th of December, is my 43rd birthday. The accompanying image is that of a duck I've drawn for many years. I was first inspired by Howard the Duck, the Marvel Comics quasi-superhero. The duck evolved, however. He grew long hair, started wearing a headband, and eventually began wearing a Celtic cross necklace--after becoming a Christian.

I've sometimes thought of him as my self-portrait. I had radiation therapy twelve years ago, following surgery to remove a brain tumor. Thus, I lost a good bit of my hair. So even if I never really looked like a duck (let alone, a duck with long hair!), he's been a key part of my artistic expression. (For all the good that does!)

13 December 2007


I recently started reading Jürgen Moltmann's autobiography, A Broad Place. I told my congregation that he's one of my heroes--theologians can be heroes! I also said that when I read books by, and about, people like him, I sometimes have mixed feelings. Sometimes I'm humbled, and I ask myself questions like: what have I done with what I’ve been given? Am I making the most of my opportunities? Do I fully redeem the time? I'm sure I'm not the only one who asks these questions.

But that doesn't matter. Still, it’s not like I beat myself up. I’m not a perfectionist. I try to allow room for grace. I understand that Jesus loves me--just as I am. But it’s precisely because he loves me, because he accepts me, that I know I fall short. And I also know that he doesn’t want me to stay where I am.

As for Jürgen, I was introduced to him while at an Assemblies of God Bible college (a seemingly unlikely place). One of my professors confessed that he had been "Moltmannized." In this time of Advent, Moltmann's focus on hope seems an appropriate theme.

12 December 2007

the advent of hope

I've been thinking about Advent, literally the "coming" of the Christ, and so, here are a few thoughts from my most recent sermon:

One of the central themes of Advent is expectation—specifically, the expectation of hope. What is the basis of our hope? What (or who) is it that we’re hoping in? Do we even dare to hope? Do we have great expectations?

We all have gifts to serve and to learn more about God. Last Sunday marked the beginning of the church year. So in the coming year, how can we use both our strengths and our weaknesses to build this church community for the world?

Are we each willing to contribute to building hope? I think what’s more important than an emerging church is an emerging Christ. If we have that Advent expectation, that rock solid hope of and in Christ, then we’ll find our way to the center with Christ. To be sure, we’ll continue to stumble around, but we’ll abound in hope by the power of the Spirit.

07 December 2007

dizzy with you, too

I have, for the third time, watched the U2 "Vertigo 2005" DVD concert in Chicago. It is simply very cool. They go from playful (Bono goofing with a kid and inviting him onto the catwalk & later inviting a "dancing lady" to join him) to awesome (when they scroll some of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to worshipful (during "40," the Edge and Adam Clayton exchange instruments). At the end, when only Larry Mullen is on stage behind the drum kit, with the crowd chanting, "How long...to sing this song?" he must decide, "Why not?" and starts drumming for a couple more lines.

Regarding "40"--it's a song we've sung during our Sanctuary of Hope service several times at church, thanks to Tara, our director of worship and outreach. So we appreciate that!

04 December 2007


I just returned from what I hope is the first of many evening walks in the snow. Yesterday and today, we received our first significant snowfall of the season. Duncan, my Shetland Sheepdog, would probably stay out in the snow until he froze. He seems to experience a joy when he's walking around in the white stuff that borders on doggie euphoria.

That's a good thing, because he and I share a love for this time of year. Winter is, without a doubt, my favorite season. (And by the calendar, we still have 18 more days of autumn to go!)

Glory to God in the highest for Shelties, snow, and Shelties who love snow!

26 November 2007

"this golden silence"

"My soul is full of peace and light:
Although in pain, this light shines bright.
For here Thou keepest to Thy breast
My longing heart, to find there rest.

Leave me here freely alone,
In cell where never sunlight shone.
Should no one ever speak to me,
This golden silence makes me free!"
(by Titus Brandsma)

With Christ the King Sunday behind us, we now approach the season of Advent. (Or what the faces on TV crassly call "the Christmas shopping season"--if that hasn't already been the case throughout November!)

The lines above are an excerpt from a poem by the Blessed Titus Brandsma, prisoner at the Dachau concentration camp. The second stanza appears from time to time on the website, Sacred Space.

For him to find "peace and light" in such a horrible place demonstrates true spiritual depth. Still, we need not undergo such intense suffering to find "golden silence." Finding any silence during a "shopping season" is an unlikely scenario. However, silence is certainly a key element to the Advent season. Advent means "coming," and that also means waiting for the One who is coming.

So much of life depends on how we think of time. Are we in a "shopping" season, or are we in a "waiting" season? If the poet could find "golden silence" amid the shouts of Nazis, surely we can find it where we are.

23 November 2007

get into the black friday

Today is so-called "Black Friday," when retailers are hoping a shopping frenzy will begin: one that will guarantee moving them from being "in the red" to being "in the black." (That's economic talk!)

In recent years, stores have been opening earlier than ever. JC Penney opened at 4:00 this morning. Best Buy opened at 5. Last night on the local news, a reporter was talking to people who were already in line, waiting to enter a Best Buy which was opening at midnight. One guy admitted that he simply wanted to be the first one in the store. Two other guys said they'd been there all day. They had skipped their Thanksgiving turkey dinner; someone was going to deliver it to them. (I suppose they skipped another Thanksgiving tradition: watching the Dallas Cowboys on TV.)

The suits in the corporate offices are counting on people like this. Of course, they were sleeping late this morning--as any sane person would do who doesn't have to work. I'm sure the employees of these stores are overjoyed at the thought of getting up hours before sunrise.

I can feel a rant coming on, so I'll end this now.

21 November 2007


"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice."
("Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost)

I just finished Charles Seife's book, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. It was published in 2000 (a year with plenty of zeros). Seife is a mathematician and physicist who takes us on a journey through history. He outlines how cultures as diverse as the Babylonians, Mayans, and Greeks dealt with the concept of the number "0." He points out philosophical and theological approaches to zero. He shows how scientists have grappled with it, and with its counterpart, infinity.

Zero is written for non-scientists (like me), and Seife presents some really big (infinity) and really small (zero) ideas in an understandable way. (Please forgive the weak attempt at humor in the previous sentence.) He even takes on the fate of the universe. Will it eventually collapse in on itself as "the big crunch," the fiery mirror image of the big bang, which started it all? Or will the universe continue expanding until the galaxies, stars, and even atoms pull apart from each other in a chilly, dark death? He thinks the latter will be the case. He concludes, "The answer is ice, not fire, thanks to the power of zero."

So Frost prefers fire, but is willing to give ice a chance!

20 November 2007

amazingly graceful

I recently watched the DVD of Amazing Grace. It stars Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced "Griffith," for us Anglophones) as William Wilberforce. Gruffudd is also known as "Mr. Fantastic," the stretchy genius from the Fantastic Four. It also stars Albert Finney as John Newton, the slave ship captain turned Christian minister.

Early in the movie, we see Wilberforce's reaction to a man beating his horse, which is lying on the ground, completely exhausted. Besides being the driving force behind the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Wilberforce was also behind efforts to end cruelty to animals. (His house is an animal hospital in itself.)

Finney's John Newton has some memorable quotes. When speaking of how he's haunted by the ghosts of 20,000 slaves whose names he doesn't know, he recalls how he and his crew didn't speak to the Africans; they ordered them around by grunting at them. "We were apes," he cries, "they were human." And after he loses his sight, he says to Wilberforce, "'I once was blind, but now I see.' Didn't I write that?" Wilberforce says, "Yes, you did." And he replies, "Now at last it's true."

I told my wife that it's a very good movie, with only a tiny bit of cheese! There is a bit of sentimentality in it, but not enough to spoil it.

13 November 2007

supporting veterans

Yesterday, I, along with 40 or 50 others, observed Veterans Day by participating in a peace (and peaceful) march. (It was actually the Monday right after Veterans Day, which is a national holiday.) We walked from the other, larger, Presbyterian church in town to the plaza at city hall. There were a couple of brief addresses, but most of the time was spent reading the names of New Yorkers who have died during the war in Iraq.

Before we left the church, there was one fellow who stepped forward and apologetically said that, while he also is opposed to this war, having this event on Veterans Day sends the wrong message. He said that any veterans who saw us would think about those who returned from Vietnam--and how some of them were spat upon. However, anyone who bothered to notice would see that there was no ill-will toward those who've been sent to Iraq to fight. The placards people were carrying had various messages: "Support our troops by bringing them home," "War is not the answer," and my favorite, which I selected upon arriving at the church, "Who would Jesus bomb?"

It continues to amaze and dismay me how opposition to Bush's war in Iraq gets conflated with opposition to the military. Equally amazing is how the Bush administration can be viewed as being supportive of veterans. They're good with easy speeches and photo ops, but their policies threaten the fabric of the military. (I'm speaking of human beings, of course. Weapon systems are in good shape!)

Dwight Eisenhower once told his son, "God help us if we ever get a president who doesn't understand the military." There's a term that has disappeared from the political lexicon, one that was frequently uttered during the '90s, when Clinton was in office. Once Bush and Cheney assumed power, the term "draft dodger" was no longer spoken. I'm not advocating a return of that ridiculous label, but in the case of the present administration, it's more appropriate than ever.

10 November 2007

a day for armistice

With Veterans Day arriving tomorrow (most of the world calls it Armistice Day), I've been confronted with inconsistent themes. One is the commercial for the Macy's Veterans Day sale--a happy thirty seconds with bouncy people and bouncy music. The obligatory nod to the meaning of the day comes at the end, when we're cheerfully ordered to "march" in for savings.

The other theme comes in the quite excellent film, Joyeux Noel ("Merry Christmas"), Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Film in 2006. I watched it this evening. It tells the story of the spontaneous ceasefire between French and Scottish soldiers on one side and Germans on the other. It happens in 1914, during the first Christmas of World War 1. The movie portrays both the character of that particular war, as well as some of the insanity that is the essence of war itself. We see what happens to them when all of their superiors hear about their decision to forego slaughtering each other on the day of Christ's nativity.

I liked the football match (that's "soccer" for us Americans), in which the Germans win handily. Afterwards, we learn that some of them play for Bayern Munich.

04 November 2007

we and Sudan have something in common

I remember when I first heard about the Sudanese government torturing people in so-called "ghost houses." That was in the '80s. "Wow," I thought, "they must be real thugs."

But now we have Bush and his boys with their secret prisons. Why would the good ol' USA need such evil places? Of course, Bush promises that they don't torture people. But then, how would we know anyway? We are talking about secret prisons and Guantanamo Bay, aren't we?

Here's part of a German citizen's story: http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/11/05/rendition/

31 October 2007

Halloween sorrow

Once again, my Halloween costume has been imposed upon me. Three years ago, I posed as a sad Miami Dolphins fan. They started the season at 0-6. This year, I'm a brokenhearted Dolphins fan, as they're off to their worst start in team history (even worse than their expansion year) at 0-8.

My NFL hopes are not lost, however. My favorite NFC team (the Dallas Cowboys) is currently in first place. So I'm feeling conflicted. But what would Halloween be if everything were peaceful?

22 October 2007

no scrubs for Dr. Sheltie

The accompanying photo was emailed to me under the heading, “Why Dogs Bite People.” I can understand why.

At some level (although I’m at pains to identify it), the Shetland Sheepdogs look funny. To my knowledge, dogs do not grasp the concept of humor. One of the reasons we humans claim to be made in the image of God is that we possess a sense of humor. This photo probably isn’t the best illustration of that.

Needless to say, neither Dr. Sheltie, nor his alter-ego, will be wearing scrubs.

08 October 2007

life takes plastic

Put this post in the "I've been sick and now I'm ready to gripe" file.

There are numerous commercial campaigns of which I'm not fond, but the "Life Takes Visa" slogan is pretty close to the top. The morning in Manhattan commercial is especially lovely. Amid the melodies of Johann Strauss' "Blue Danube" (also heard in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey), we see people from all walks of life making their payments by swiping the plastic. Suddenly, a troublemaker! He dares pay with cash! Stop the music! Everyone give him a dirty look!

I could understand if he were paying for his coffee with a $50 bill (or even a 20). But he lays down two Washingtons. Oh my, the cashier will have to give him a few pennies' worth of change! Imagine, not wanting to add to your credit card bill! (And offering the least resistance to the ease with which credit cards encourage us to buy all kinds of crap.)

Okay, I'm done.

You can see this commercial, as well as others, at

27 September 2007

on being sick

For the last few days, I've been sick. I've had a sinus cold that has made me feel bad enough to miss a presbytery meeting, and basically, anything that involves going anywhere. Compared with my usual "healthy" feeling, I've felt pretty bad.

Okay, enough whining. When I consider my situation and compare it with that of millions of other people, I have nothing to say. Millions of people, who feel worse than I do, can't take time off from life to recuperate. They have to get up very early in the morning and work. (I've been getting up early in the morning, but only to drink water.) Many of these sick ones must travel dirt roads, fleeing those who would do them harm. In addition to all that, they don't have the abundance of remedies available to me. (Their degree of effectiveness is another question...)

I guess that's all I have to say on the matter.

(Hey, what more do you want? I'm sick!)

15 September 2007

even so, I still keep hoping

Last night, as I was listening to Tara and T. R. play at Labyrinth Coffee Press (they have a small stage for musicians), I picked up the current issue of our local "alternative" newspaper--the Chautauqua Region Word. The cover story is "2007's top 10 most censored news stories." Actually, Project Censored (the paper's source) lists 25 stories, but the paper only goes into detail with the top ten. In this context, "censored" doesn't necessarily mean government censorship. Instead, these are stories that big media--which is increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer people--chose to ignore.

(Not) surprisingly, two of the stories are about Halliburton, the company Dick Cheney used to run. One of the censored stories highlights Halliburton's selling of nuclear technology to an Iranian oil company as recently as 2005. The other story describes how Cheney's Halliburton stock rose 3000% from 2004 to 2005. How convenient! I suppose getting no-bid, no-audit government contracts in a war zone means somebody's getting paid!

You can check these stories, and others, at http://www.projectcensored.org/censored_2007/index.htm

Even so, I still keep hoping for sanity and decency to return to the White House!

08 September 2007

courageous confessions

Of the Hebrew prophets, Jeremiah is probably my favorite. I admire him. I admire his courage. Based on what the scriptures tell us, I don't think any other prophet is forced to endure all that he does. (Of course, Amos receives death threats, Ezekiel is taken into exile and loses his wife, and so on. There is no valid arithmetic to suffering.)

What I really admire is his vulnerability. That's what we see in the so-called "confessions" of Jeremiah--11:18-12:6, 15:10-21, 17:14-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-18. These are poems in which he isn't shy about letting God know the betrayal he feels. Didn't you promise to protect me? So why are so many terrible things happening to me? The image I've included, "Jeremiah," which is a woodcut by Jacob Steinhardt, captures powerful emotions: shock, pain, disbelief...but beneath it all, there remains love.

Jeremiah's confessions display courage. Many people believe that faith must be blind, that we must be "dead certain" (or at least, pretend to be). Read the book of Jeremiah. Meditate on his confessions. They bring a badly-needed corrective to our world today.

04 September 2007

I keep hoping for a change

I keep hoping for some sign of change in the Bush administration, but I keep getting disappointed. I say to myself, "Things can't get any worse. They can't possibly do any more damage to the rule of law and to our Constitution." And then something else happens. I remember how hundreds, if not thousands, of black Floridians were unjustly denied the vote in 2000. But as a Christian, I know people can change. People can repent.

I shouldn't be surprised at the revelation that Dick Cheney's top legal aide, David Addington said, "We're one bomb away" from our goal. He was talking about one more terrorist attack on US soil, and then they can abolish the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. You can read about it at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/09/04/addington/

Of course, it isn't like the Congress and the media have really challenged the Bush administration's consolidation of power to begin with.

But I continue to hope, and pray, for a change.

21 August 2007

picture this

Anthony Doerr in the current issue of Orion magazine calls the Hubble Ultra Deep Field the "most incredible photograph ever taken." He may not be exaggerating! Actually, I was introduced to the photo via the comic strip "Opus."

Astronomers aimed the Hubble telescope at an incredibly tiny speck of the night sky. During 400 orbits of the earth, over the course of several months, they took a photograph with a million-second long exposure. They said it would be like looking through an eight-foot soda straw. The whole sky is 12.7 million times larger than the area covered in the Ultra Deep Field.

This grain-of-sand sized patch of sky isn't big, but it's "ultra deep" after about 11 days of exposure. Within it are thousands upon thousands of galaxies, billions of stars, possibly trillions of planets. And being many billions of light-years away, we see them as they were in an incredibly distant past.

Doerr says, "The night sky is the coolest Advent calendar imaginable: it is composed of an infinite number of doors. Open one and find ten thousand galaxies hiding behind it, streaming away at hundreds of miles per second. Open another, and another. You gaze up into history; you stare into the limits of your own understanding. The past flies toward you at the speed of light. Why are you here? Why are the stars there? Is it even remotely possible that our one, tiny, eggshell world is the only one encrusted with life?"

Such immensity makes me dizzy when I try to envision it. Well, forget it--I can't even come close to picturing it. He adds, "The Hubble Ultra Deep Field image should be in every classroom in the world. It should be on the president’s desk. It should probably be in every church, too." That might not be a bad idea. Our God is much too small. Our God is so puny. Our tiny minds contain an idol.

It isn't the one "who fills all in all."

12 August 2007

averting our eyes

For the last few years, each day I've read a psalm and a chapter from the Bible. For a long time, I would read more of the Bible each day, until I had read through it many times. Then one day, I decided that I don't need to speed read the scriptures. Today my text was chapter 4 in the book of Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus). I was especially struck by verse 5: "Do not avert your eyes from the needy; give no one occasion to curse you."

That's significant, because today I preached a sermon on how we tend to avert our eyes from those in distress. My sermon text was Isaiah 1:1, 10-20. (And no, I hadn't looked ahead at what my own personal scripture reading for today would be!) Here's a part of the sermon in which I confess my fault. I had just said that, on my first trip to Manhattan, while walking through Central Park, a friend told me that if some guys were starting a fight, I should look away.

"As it turned out, I really didn’t see anyone starting any trouble, so I wasn’t put to the test.

"I couldn’t help thinking, though, what if I were the poor guy getting attacked? What if I were relying on us to intervene? What if we had played the role of those who pretend that nothing is going on—people who avert their eyes, people who look the other way?

"To be honest, it’s a role we play all the time. I know I play it far too often. There’s a lady I’ve noticed walking on Third Street and on Hallock Street. Even in warm weather, even hot weather, she’s dressed in a winter coat. She looks different; she’s the kind of person we’re 'supposed' to avoid.

"A few weeks ago, as I was walking Duncan [our Shetland Sheepdog], he noticed her and went right up to her. She was very kind to him (and to me), and I wondered why I hadn’t bothered to speak to her before. I’m ashamed to say that I had probably made some pre-judgments concerning her. Maybe I thought she would respond in some crazy fashion, or that she would ask me for money—as if that is such a horrible thing!

"No, what our society tells us to do is to avert our eyes."

I won't repeat the entire sermon. (You can click on "Zebraview" in the right column!) In a nutshell, when we avert our eyes--when we pretend not to notice--we deny God the ability to work through us. That's true in the quest for both personal holiness and political holiness.

04 August 2007

of baptism and anniversaries

In his book, A Glorious Accident, Wim Kayzer quotes the paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould: "Through no fault of our own, and by dint of no cosmic plan or conscious purpose, we have become, by the power of a glorious evolutionary accident called intelligence, the stewards of life's continuity on earth. We did not ask for this role, but we cannot abjure it. We may not be suited for such responsibility, but here we are." Kayzer asks Gould, "What was that glorious accident?" Gould responds, "The accident is the 60 trillion contingent events that eventually led to the emergence of Homo sapiens." (p. 92)

Certainly, Gould doesn't operate from the perspective of Christian faith, but when we tally up the number of events necessary to produce the emergence of humanity, on our planet, circling our star, spinning in our galaxy, among the billions of galaxies in our universe, obeying countless laws of physics--I guess 60 trillion is as good a number as any!

Yesterday, the 3rd of August, was the 21st anniversary of my baptism. I guess that means that I've come of age as a baptized Christian! (Unless it was three years ago at my 18th anniversary.)

I would guess that 60 trillion different things had to happen to get me into the waters of baptism. With every microsecond that passes, who can say what's going on? Who knows what will impinge upon us? Our friend Dr. Gould says, "We may not be suited for such responsibility, but here we are." Maybe we aren't suited for our responsibility, but we have been chosen. For me, baptism means at least that.

We have been chosen. In allowing ourselves to be chosen, we receive what we need. Please don't hear that as arrogance; it's a humble statement of faith.

27 July 2007

victims of torture

The image displayed is a logo created for a "sweat-free" tee shirt that my wife, Banu, is planning to use for me. There's a scripture verse that I consider to be...challenging?...inspiring? It's Hebrews 13:3. "Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured."

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of people being tortured. Also, unfortunately, America can no longer claim moral high ground when it comes to the question of torture. I'm not naive enough to believe that we haven't tortured people all along. I also am somewhat aware of the sorry condition of our jails and prisons. But I think I'm safe in saying that the Bush administration is alone in the post-World War 2 era (even the post-Civil War era) by seriously discussing what kinds of torture are acceptable. Still, what should we expect from a president and vice president whose tenure has repeatedly shown a disregard for constitutional limits?

What methods of torture would Jesus suffer today? If not flogging and crucifixion, what about waterboarding or sensory deprivation? Being held in stress positions? How about being detained in secret prisons, held without charge? If one responds, "We only do that to terrorists," don't forget that similar charges were made against him.

21 July 2007

another reflection from Thomas Merton

When I was at Middle Tennessee State University, I took an honors course called the Medieval Experience. Our final project was to be either a field trip to Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky or a medieval fair at some guy's castle south of Nashville. We wound up doing the latter. I think I was the only one who would have chosen the former. That's because Thomas Merton had lived much of his life at the monastery in Kentucky.

In my initial post as Dr. Sheltie, I quoted Merton, and I want to do so again. He's reflecting on his observations of America. He notes that American people's "most serious concerns seem to be involved in trivialities and illusions...It seems to me that for all our pride in freedom and individuality we have completely renounced thinking for ourselves. What passes for 'thinking' is mass-produced, passively accepted, or not even accepted. We simply submit to be process of being informed, without actually registering on our mind at all. We are content to turn on a switch and be comforted by the vapid, but self-assured slogans of the speaker who, we fondly hope, is thinking for the entire nation."

This was written in 1960 as a preface for the book Disputed Questions. I'm not sure how much we've learned in the 47 years since. The events of the early years of this 21st century may show, in some ways, that we've taken a step backward. While the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union has collapsed (to use Reagan's phrase), we've allowed our government, in my opinion, to adopt many of its methods. The church has had few representatives to raise a voice in response.

One thing in Merton's quote I would say doesn't apply today is the last half of the last sentence. I'm not sure that "we fondly hope" the "self-assured slogans" apply to "the entire nation." Instead, there may be some cynical compliance. There may be an acceptance of news as entertainment--if people even bother to attempt educating themselves anymore.

However, that doesn't serve the purposes of citizens in a democracy--only those of a dictatorship. And it doesn't serve the purposes of the Christ who urges us to love God with, among other aspects of our being, "our minds."

18 July 2007

Why write?

Why write? Why do this digital thing called blogging? Why put my thoughts down before others? Good questions.

Though he died in 1968, before anyone thought about using computers to write, Thomas Merton had similar questions. As he says in The Sign of Jonas, "I continue writing this journal under obedience to Dom Gildas, in spite of my personal disinclination to go on with it. It is sufficient to have the matter decided by a director. If it is tedious to keep a journal, it is still more tedious to keep wondering whether or not I ought to give the thing up. I do not know whether it will give glory to God: but my writing of it has been disinfected by obedience. I need no longer apologize either to God or to myself for keeping a journal."

I haven't been commanded to maintain a blog. (Well, my wife, Banu, has strongly urged me to do so!) Sometimes I feel like I have plenty to say, and other times, I'm convinced that if I never produce another word, things would go just as well. So, let's see what happens...