Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Linguistic Change

Well, as the decade comes to an end our language and culture has changed. A lot.

Language has changed and perhaps the greatest, to start, is with cell phones. It used to be a big deal to have a car phone, then a cell phone. Now we not only have cell phones, but smart phones. Blackberries, I-phones, Droids, have all hit the market. People are walking around with computers in their pockets that are more powerful than desktop computers were a year ago. These new phones send out e-mail, keep our contacts, keep our schedule, take pictures, take videos, allow us to surf the web at high speeds. It boggles the imagination.

Our language is no longer the same in a lot of areas.

Green is no longer just a color but a lifestyle.

Cougars are no longer just cats. I’ll leave that alone.

Tween. Now a major market is going advertising to tween girls.

De-friend. Don’t like someone on your Facebook----de-friend them. You can de-friend and they won’t even know.

Tweet. The thing you do in Congress when the President is giving a speech. Or in class during a boring lecture. Alas, I suspect some people have tweeted in church during a boring sermon. Alas, people in my church wouldn’t know what a boring sermon was.

Truthiness. Is knowing something to be true despite all evidence to the contrary. If you believe it, it’s true.

Palinize. To bluster, to speak without saying anything of substance. To Randomly repeat talking points regardless of the questions given to you.

Staycation. Being off from work but staying at home.

Chillax. A combination of chilling out and relaxing.

Tea-baggers. Hmm, I’m not going to even go near this one because some folks would be a tad surprised...

Hiking the Appalachian Trail. To have an affair.

Having a wide stance. A handy explanation as to why you were playing footsie with the guy in the next stall.

Obamacare. A mythical idea that Obama had an idea for healthcare.

Death panels. To palinize using truthiness about something that existed in obamacare.

Liberal Facists. Akin to jumbo shrimp, little giants, and Microsoft Works.

Marrying Opposites. Marrying a person of the opposite sex.

Viral Videos. Videos on You Tube that were seen by millions.

U. S. Americans. People who don’t have maps.

Octomom. A potential love interest for Jon Gosselin.

EVOO. An overly perky way of saying extra virgin olive oil.

Snarky. Making wise-cracks. Being a smart derriere.

Pulling a Favre. Retiring, than un-retiring, than retiring, than un-retiring all the while showing up in different places.

To pull a TO. To talk your way off a football team.

Then more in the world of technology.

Apple seems to have:

I-Macs
I-Pods
I-Phones
I-Pay too much
I-break down too much
I-yay-yay-yay

Microsoft has its own language.

Microsoft Works. Still doesn’t.

Microsoft Word. Still promises the world. WordPerfect still delivers it.

XP. Windows, finally works well.

Vista. Correcting the mistake of making XP work well.

7. The jury is still out.

Finally, Happy New Year!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Festivus Airing of Grievances

Festivus Airing of Grievances.

Festivus, December 23rd, is the traditional day of airing grievances. Here are mine:

I object to all the discussion of ‘Obamacare.’ There is no such thing. He never developed a plan and allowed the Congress to do this. Whatever we end up with from all this so-called debate is a plan sewed together by a bunch of special interests. Obama deserves no credit for anything other than signing whatever is passed. Any blame is certainly fine to go his way as he didn’t lead very much on this.

I object to Congress, in general. It doesn’t matter which party is in power; they are all a bunch of grifters looking to see who will buy them off.

I object to Rush Limbaugh being seen as anything other than comic relief and as a parody of himself.

I object to any more coverage of Tiger Woods, Carrie Prejean, and expecially Michael Jackson.

I object to people referring to anyone other than Frank Sinatra as the King of Pop.

I object to Facebook randomly changing on days of the week that end with ‘day.’

I object to Troy Aikman covering NY Giants games as he cannot hide his contempt for the Giants.

I object to Mountain Dew as anything other then proof that horses can have diabetes.

I object to the Vatican moving forward to making Pius XII and John Paul II saints. Pius’ actions during World War II in reference to the Jews is beyond being a monster, and John Paul II’s lack of action on pedofile priests was criminal. I would, however, support making John XXIII and Paul VI, saints.

I object to Sarah Palin for a whole host of reasons.

I object to people who think that Tom Brady is better than Peyton Manning.

I object to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, Notre Dame football, Duke basketball, and the Yankees.

I object to Fox News continuing their coverage of a non-existing war on Christmas.

I object to whining. There is way too much whining in this world.

I object to slow drivers who are constantly in my way. (I object to me for whining about this.)

I object to McDonalds for advertising that they serve edible food.

I object to people who order Thanksgiving dinner at drive through windows and people who are doing hostile takeovers of other companies while at the ATM.

I object to clueless people who try and use the self-check outs at the grocery store and do not have a clue as to what they are doing.

I object to TV situation ‘comedies’ that are not funny.

I object to mean people.

I object to intentional ignorance.

I object to people who seek to change science and history to justify their positions.

Lastly, I object to all people, this year, who do not want peace on earth and good will towards all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

You Are Invited

You are invited to Worship with us this Christmas Eve at St. Marks United Church of Christ in New Albany.

Worship is at 4:30PM & 10:30PM: No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.

video

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday's Sermon December 20th

From God Forsaken to God is With Us
Text: Micah 5:2-5a
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 20, 2009


Last week I talked about the prophet Zephaniah and how so little is known of him. Today we have Micah. Micah is a bit more popular than Zephaniah, but not much. The two most famous passages from Micah are Micah 6:8 which came to some awareness when Jimmy Carter quoted the passage in his Inaugural Address in 1977, and when Matthew quoted him in the passage we read from today:
"But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2)


Bethlehem was the city from which David came and that pretty much summarized Bethlehem. It was a nowhere, godforsaken place with one claim to fame. David was from there. In Jesus’ day, Bethlehem was such a place that it inspired Nathaniel to ask in John’s Gospel, “Can anything good come from Bethlehem?” Bethlehem was a godforsaken place.

If you’ve ever heard of Hoboken, New Jersey, Hoboken is a city that has some interesting parallels to describe what Bethlehem would have been perceived like back then.

Hoboken is one square mile, actually two square miles of you include the fact that one of those square miles is in the Hudson River. It is one square mile and has about the same population as New Albany. It is cramped, crowded, and loaded with narrow,
one- way streets. When they were looking for an incredibly dumpy, dreary place to film the movie, On the Waterfront, they chose Hoboken.

If you are from New Jersey and are dealt a hand of cards and have absolutely NOTHING, you have a Hoboken straight. In the 19th century, in New York, Hoboken was seen as such a lousy place to be from, that if you were from Hoboken, people called you a ‘hobo,’ because Hoboken was such a nothing place, you really had no place you were from. The name caught on and a ‘hobo’ became a term for a homeless person. In recent years, Hoboken has had something of a resurgence, a famous Manning brother lives there, but, if you’re from the east coast, it has a certain folklore attached and it’s not a great folklore to have.

There is one thing, however, that always kept Hoboken on the map. The King of Pop, the real King of Pop, Frank Sinatra was born and raised in Hoboken. People from there will tell you that he was from there, but once he left, he left. I guess being king of the hill and top of the heap in Hoboken is not something highly aspired to.

Back to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is now a great tourist attraction, but at the time of Jesus’ birth, it was the Hoboken of the Middle East. It had one claim to fame. David was born there. Other than that, zip. And like Old Blue Eyes, he didn’t venture back.

But Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It went from this godforsaken place, this ‘nowhere,’ this town that made people wonder if anything good can come from there, to the most important city on the planet. God is with us, Emmanuel, is born in Bethlehem and the world changes forever. And, to this day, this one time godforsaken city is one of the most beloved cities in the world.

This exaltation of Bethlehem is a very God thing. God seems, repeatedly, to lift up those overlooked.

In Jewish tradition the birthright was always passed on to the oldest son. Always. No exception. But God made exceptions. Isaac was not the oldest son. Jacob was not the oldest son. Joseph was not the oldest son. David was not the oldest son. The most unlikely, the most overlooked, are exalted.

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" (Micah 5:2)

God, it seems, was and is serious about lifting up the lowly, the downtrodden, or the left out. The entire story of Jesus is about a God who did not just want to stay "out there" but who moves into the neighborhood, a neighborhood where folks said, Nothing good could come, or some godforsaken place. The story of Jesus is a story of a Savior who hung out with society’s rejects and the one’s no one would listen to and gave them a voice.

This is a Messiah who was born in a smelly stable, in a godforsaken town, in the midst of a genocide by a lunatic King.

The Jesus born in Bethlehem, in the godforsaken town in the midst of death and chaos and filth came with a simple message of love that we, over the centuries, often miss.

Sometimes when I listen to preachers speak of this angry God who is looking to smite people and portray Heaven as the exclusive domain of people with theological certitude which agrees, of course, with the preacher my thought is often simple. God is not a monster. God is not one who holds human beings in contempt or disgust or even dismay. God loves people so much that the even the godforsaken are sought out and embraced. The people who are the Bethlehem and the Hoboken of this world are sought out and loved and blessed.

It’s often interesting how we exclude people. Years ago I learned a lesson about language. Growing up and learning the English language, I was taught that words like “Men, or mankind” meant everyone. Often people would refer to ‘brothers,’ and say this meant everyone. Perhaps, theoretically, this is true. But often women said they felt left out. In recent years people, often especially in churches, tend to use language that intentionally includes everyone. At the end of Worship we’ll sing an old, favorite Christmas Carol that always began with the words “God rest ye merry gentlemen.” The problem, of course, is that it’s about everyone and not everyone feels included. So it’s slightly adjusted to say ‘gentle folk.’ Some will say that this is an insult to the English language. Some will say it’s dumb. But if we have a Savior who came for everyone, if we have a God who chose the most forsaken place for His Son to be born in order to make a point about including everyone, is it important to protect the integrity of the language or the dignity of people? And is it ever dumb to welcome everyone?

Christianity has always had an interesting relationship with leaving women out.

The first person who said ‘yes’ to embracing the word becoming flesh was a woman. A girl really. When God wanted the greatest miracle ever to take place in the history of the world, He chose a woman.

When Jesus was raised from the dead who did he appear first to? A woman. Christianity has mis-used words written by St. Paul in a specific time and a specific place to exclude women, and people, to this day, make the women in our midst appear to be almost the godforsaken people. But, thankfully, less and less.

I often think this time of the year is a time when we celebrate women in our midst; a celebration of one woman’s amazing courage in midst of a chaotic world. God blessed what others overlooked.

Which brings us again, back to a quirky thing about Bethlehem.

Micah prophesied the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem and Bethlehem did not welcome him. Luke’s words just hang there, “There was no room at the Inn...”

The Messiah had come to a godforsaken place; a place people wondered if anything good could come from, and even in the pit of humanity, the worst city on earth, the Messiah was not made welcome.

We are, ourselves, often like this. We are willing to embrace the Jesus we want, the Messiah on our terms, the Jesus in our image, but we struggle with the Jesus God sent.

We are willing to embrace the words and deeds of Jesus we like and agree with; less so the words and deeds we take exception to. Thomas Jefferson once revised the Gospels to exclude portions he didn’t like. I read the other day that a group is retranslating the Bible because, as an example, they didn’t like the words, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” They felt those words were too filled with grace so they are removing them and claiming that Jesus probably wouldn’t have said them.

Bethlehem is this place that is a reminder to us of some special things as we soon celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

God can bless the most godforsaken places and embrace the people we might not necessarily choose to embrace-----especially the people we ought to embrace. Bethlehem reminds us of this. And it also reminds us that it is more than being a godforsaken place; it is being a place that has an open heart to welcome the Messiah in their midst.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday's Sermon

The Dilemma of the Dancing Diety
Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 13, 2009

Most of the time, when people sit around and talk about their favorite books of the Bible, the book of the prophet Zephaniah is usually not high on the list, low on the list, of anywhere on the list. Often people, when asked about this book of the Bible, barely even know it exists. It is only three chapters long and most of the book is actually rather unremarkable in as much as it essentially restates what many other prophets have said.

The first two chapters of the book have Zephaniah preaching that the people must change; they were no longer faithful to God and bad days were ahead of them. This was a time not long before the Babylonian captivity, a particularly bleak time in the history of Judaism. The words of Zephaniah are much like the words of the other prophets of this era.

But in Chapter Three the tone changes. Zephaniah speaks of joy and rejoicing and gives us an image of God that, to be quite honest, is almost startling.

There are images of God that are familiar to us.

God as a judge.

God as a king.

God as a good shepherd.

But in verse 17 there is an image of God that is unusual. Using the New Jerusalem Bible translation, which I think is the best Old Testament translation because it is the one that uses the Hebrew names for God like YHWH, Zephaniah says that:

“He will dance with shouts of you for you as on a day of festival.”

The name YHWH was the most formal Hebrew name for God, a name so holy it was not spoken except by the High Priest on the highest of holy days. And here, we have the most formal name for God used saying that God is dancing. Dancing.

This leads to the dilemma of a dancing diety; not an image of God we are used to.

We all have images of God. We’re used to God as a judge, a shepherd, a king. Those are not unusual or far-fetched.

We like the image of God Michelangelo created. God, a distinguished old man with flowing white hair, a white beard, and a modest white robe reaching out from a cloud surrounded by cherubic looking angels to Adam. God is old, stately, and distinguished looking. We like that.

Most artists didn’t try to capture God in portrait or sculpture. Those who did always had a comparable image. God, a distinguished old man with gray or white hair, and a long beard wearing flowing robes.

In the late 1970's we had a new image of God in the O God movies. George Burns played God. He was old and distinguished looking, no beard and he wore clothing like us. But George Burns pulled it off. We liked George Burns as God.

But Zephaniah is messing with our heads. God is dancing.

The philosopher Aristotle often referred to God as the “Unmoved Mover.” His image of God was one who created people and a universe to move in harmony with one another while Himself, not moving. God was a distant, detached architect of all that was. Centuries later people took this image and referred to God as a Cosmic Watchmaker, creating the universe like the gears of a complex watch. The image, of course, was that God was distant.

We’ve probably all heard the song by Bette Midler, From a Distance. She used the words, “God is watching us, God is watching us, from a distance...”

But then comes along Zephaniah who tells us that YHWH is dancing. Dancing because of His profound love and excitement for the faithfulness of His people.

God is not distant. This image of the dancing deity is unusual and totally different from what we are used to. It is one that, frankly, we would often soon not contemplate.

But...

Often the problem we have of dealing with God is not a problem with God but a problem with our images of God. Several years ago I read a wonderful book by Brian McLaren entitled, A Generous Orthdoxy. I was fascinated with the book because a local seminary President blasted the book and said that there was nothing generous about orthodoxy. I bought the book and read it in awe.

McLaren wrote each chapter from the perspective of many denominations and perceptions of God. Christians have images of God that seem to range from a tyrannical and cruel king to a cosmic Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man and everything in between. McLaren looked at each perspective and found the good, and there was good, in all of them. His conclusion was very simple and very profound. He concluded that no one had the correct image of God, and everything had the correct image of God. God, he said, was all of the images combined, and much, much more.

The conclusion was this. I don’t know if orthodoxy is generous or not, but God is. God is a judge. God is a king. God is a shepherd. And God dances for joy when God’s people embrace God and are faithful to God.

The third Sunday of Advent is a day when we contemplate the word joy. Joy is not necessarily something we think but something we feel. We feel joy. We don’t think joy; we don’t analyze joy; we don’t evaluate joy, we feel joy. We have Zephaniah telling us that God also experiences joy because of us. God feels right along with us. God feels so much that God dances for joy.

Every image of God that we have is a blessing. There is, however, something uniquely special and delightful, and joyful when we ponder a God who dances for joy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Football Blogging

Late Season Musings

NFC

First, the Giants. I don’t have a clue about the Giants this time of the year. Giants Stadium is not really home field advantage to the Giants in December because Eli Manning has yet to master the late season swirling winds in his home field. Their run defense was great against the Cowboys but they still remain a mystery.

The Eagles look solid at least until the NFC Championship Game when they historically fold.

The Cowboys. The next big game Romo wins late season will be the first big game Romo wins late season. That having been said, it can happen. Of course, the next big game Wade Phillips wins late season will be the first big game Wade Phillips wins...

The Vikings. They are missing their best offensive tackles which means they will have a difficult time running on the edges and have a difficult time protecting Brett Favre. It should be noted that Brett has majorly faded the last two Decembers. He’s a great quarterback but he’s 40 years old and it is a long season.

The Saints look awesome. Wow.

The Packers are playing better and better and better. They have greatly improved their pass blocking and, I think, are going to be a major threat late season.

Lastly, the Cardinals, like the Giants, are a team that is difficult to read. One thing for certain; the are playing very good defense now and they remain potent on offense.

It should be fun in the NFC.

AFC

The Steelers’. Well, the little pop up thing on the turkey that pops up when it’s done. It’s popped up on the Steelers. They’re done. Big Ben is loathed in the locker room by his team mates and that’s not a big deal when they’re winning. But when you lose... Funny thing about this team is that statistically they look a lot like last year’s team. Last year’s team, however, finished games.

The Colts look awesome. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the NFL and perhaps the best ever. They are not great running the ball, but Peyton is the best quarterback in the game late. Defensively, they are better than they were the last couple of years. This is an excellent team.

The Patriots, like the Giants and Cardinals are unknown. Great coach, great quarterback, who knows? Hard to imagine them going far, however. They have no running game and a suspect defense. The thing is, the 2007 Giants turned their defense around late season and the Patriots were the recipients of that surprise, so it’s hard to tell.

The Bengals are team we are going to learn a lot about when they play the Vikings. They look really good and really solid. They are doing all the things championship teams do well. They are playing good defense and can run. Championships are won on these two things. We’ll see. They have had a tendency to morph into the Bungles too often, but they might be past that.

The Dolphins are a team on the rise and can win their division. They run well, they confuse defenses and they have a young quarterback. It is hard to go far into the playoffs with that young a quarterback but, again, we’ll see.

The Jets. They are not going anywhere. Rookie quarterback (who is hurt) and a rookie Head Coach....they are greatly improved but are a year or two a way. And, of course, they are the Jets who can grab defeat from the jaws of victory with the best of them.

The Chargers, finally, look good. They play well on all sides of the ball and have giant receivers who help Rivers a lot. Rivers plays like a street football player who just knows how to win. They are a potent force.

My Super Bowl pick:

Obviously two undefeated teams deserve the top slots:

Colts versus Saints.

Most likely match-up if they falter:

Packers versus Chargers.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The the Spirit of Giving

A month ago I preached this sermon. Christmas often seems to get lost in the spirit of 'getting' rather than the spirit of giving. I would like, in the spirit of giving, to share my stewardship focused sermon of a month ago to promote the spirit if giving during this holiday season:

Grace Upon Grace
Texts: Deuteronomy 24:19-22; John 1:14-16
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
November 8, 2009


“From the fullness of Christ, we have received grace upon grace.”

This little sentence is a paraphrase from the Gospel of John and our stewardship theme this year. Our bulletin covers have had it; signs have been posted, letters have been received, and our newsletter covered has displayed those very words: “From the fullness of Christ, we have received grace upon grace.”

They come from the Gospel of John, from the prologue in John’s Gospel, which speaks to us of the Word of God, the very essence of God, being made Flesh and living in our midst. We call this moment the Incarnation, the Word becoming Flesh, the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. And from the fullness of Christ, we receive grace.

And, as recipients of God’s grace, we are invited to give something back to the world and to God. This giving something back is often a difficult thing on which to get a grasp. Giving something back seems to be almost counter-intuitive. It is certainly and rapidly becoming counter-cultural.

In recent years the philosophy of Ayn Rand has become increasingly popular. Ayn Rand, in her writings, believe that the only true ‘good’ in life, and the center-piece of her morality, was the pursuit of a rational self-interest. People were told, in her writings, and her heroes were all portrayed as people who put their own needs first and let others fend for themselves. To her, the great evils of life took place when people practice altruism and generosity.

In her book, The Fountainhead, the hero of the story, Howard Roark, summarizes it well when he says:

“I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need … I recognize no obligations toward men.”

Let me say that a little differently : “I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life, nor any part of my energy. I recognize no obligations towards other people.”

Rand did not believe that people ought to give something back. In fact, she felt it is downright immoral not only to expect this, but even to do it.

The Bible tells us otherwise.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses gives what seems to be a strange command.

If you pick grain and leave some in the field; leave it there for strangers, the widows and the orphans.

When you harvest your grapes, don’t pick all of them. Leave some for others.

When you pick your olives, don’t pick all of them because you need to leave them for the strangers, the widows, and the orphans.

Think of the response.

These are my grapes!!!!

This is my grain!!!

These are my olives!!!

This is my money!!!

And Moses says, leave some of it behind for the strangers, the widows, and the orphans.

People would clamor and rebel, but Moses’ explanation is a one word explanation. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.”

Remember that while we might prosper now, we were once slaves in Egypt and the hand of God made us free.

This ‘remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt’ is something, interestingly enough, that is part of all our lives no matter where we are in life.

Two women worked in a factory many years ago. The factory made sweaters and these two women had the job of making button holes in the sweaters. It was hard and boring work. The two women had different circumstances in life. One had been widowed at a young age and had worked for years, even as her children were now adults but living at home. The other had five children and a husband who came home every morning from his night watchman job and would fall down drunk. Most of her children were grown, but life was still difficult. They were both quite poor with few luxuries.

The woman with the five children lamented that they had finally been able to purchase a television a year ago and it was now broken and she was trying to work extra hours to pay for a repairman to come and fix the broken television.

The other woman said, “Don’t be silly,” and volunteered her son, a TV repairman, to come and fix the TV, for free.

Her son was less than happy with his mother because this was his living and his mother was always volunteering him to fix things for her friends and he was very annoyed. But he went. As crazy as his mother often drove him, she had struggled to provide a living for them when his Dad had died and he knew his Mom would do anything in the world for him, so he went to repair the TV.

Turned out, one of the daughters of the other woman, a usually painfully shy, reclusive type of person, sat down and talked to the TV repairman the entire time and they ended up dating, getting married, and all the rest. Ten months, after they married, they had a baby boy, and people counted their fingers to see how many months it was and he grew up and realizes that this was his, “You were once a slave in the land of Egypt” story. My very being hinged on two impoverished women making button holes in a sweater factory and a broken television.

Dumb luck or grace upon grace?

My story is not very unique. We all go back, somewhere, to poor immigrants, or poor parents, or poor grandparents, or poor great-parents who remind us. “You were once a slave in the land of Egypt.”

Dumb luck or grace upon grace?

This church was founded in 1837 by poor German immigrants who migrated here from Germany and built a town and built a church and cast their lots together. This church has a history and we are reminded of the humble roots of this church. “You were once a slave in the land of Egypt.”

Dumb luck or grace upon grace?

This week is Veteran’s Day and we honored veterans during Worship. Two of our members spent time in Prisoner of War camps in Germany during World War II. So many of the people we honor today put their lives at risk to defend our country. For many, it was a reminder. “You were once a slave in the land of Egypt.”

So, their willingness to serve----dumb luck for us, or grace upon grace?

In the 1940's two men, Bill Hewlett and David Packard started a business in a garage tinkering with gadgets and selling what most people considered to be peculiar gadgets, mostly electrical or electronic gadgets to companies. Right now, Hewlett-Packard is the largest technology company in the world. Hewlett and Packard were well known and noted for their charity to their employees and the communities around them because they always remembered their humble roots never forgot that they were once slaves in the land of Egypt.

Dumb luck or grace upon grace?

We live with a cultural contrast concerning generosity and giving back.

Imagine Ayn Rand’s response to Moses. This is my grain and no one is going to
touch it!

These are my grapes and no one is going to touch them!!!!

These are my olives and no one is going to touch them!!!!

But, Mose’s words are simple. “You were once slaves in the land of Egypt.”

Somewhere in all our lives these words ring out as a reminder to us that no matter who we are or how much we have accomplished, somewhere in our lives or in the lives of our ancestors, we were once slaves in the land of Egypt.

I often think back on two women meeting making button holes in sweaters. If these two women had not worked in the same factory, doing the same job at the same time and sitting next to each other, I would not be here, Janet would have married someone else, my two daughters would not exist, and someone else would be preaching this morning. Dumb luck or grace upon grace?

Which brings us to today, here and now at St. Marks United Church of Christ in the year 2009. Next week we are all invited to make a faith promise for our giving for next year. We’ve heard testimony about who we are, what we do, and, frankly, what kind of people we are. We do a lot for others and we welcome everyone in our doors. We Worship God, we pray, we play, we study, and we do.

We live, as a congregation, as the antithesis of Ayn Rand’s words:

“I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life, nor any part of my energy. I recognize no obligations towards other people.”

We do see a ton of our energy for others, and we do, collectively and individually see moral and spiritual obligations toward other people. We see this whenever we serve people in our Soup Kitchen, whenever we give people clothing, or blankets, or coats. We see this whenever we hand someone a Bag of Grace, or a Thanksgiving basket, or toys for their children at Christmas.

Is it a societal norm to ask us to share our grain? No, not really.

Is it societal norm to ask us to share our grapes? No, not really.

Is it societal norm to ask us to share our olives? No, not really.

Is it societal norm to ask us to share our money, our time, and our talents. No, not really.

It is actually NOT a societal norm to ask us to share. It is contrary to common sense and it is contrary to the society in which we live where seeing obligations toward others is seen less and less.

But, we also recognize one little thing. We were once slaves in Egypt and now we are free.

If it was dumb luck then don’t share.

But if we were once slaves in Egypt and are now free because of grace upon grace, I invite everyone into living a counter culturally wonderful life of sharing.

The choice is simple. We can seek for ourselves and have all we want, but end up spiritually bankrupt.

Or we can share with others and find ourselves spiritually enriched.

I invite each person here to live a life of abnormality, of generosity, and celebrating grace upon grace and being truly a people spiritually blessed.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Some Silliness as Winter Approaches!

As Winter Approaches ...


What happens at these Fahrenheit temperatures:

+65 - Hawaiians declare a two-blanket night.

+60 - Californians put on sweaters (if they can find one).

+50 - Miami residents turn on the heat.

+45 - Vermont residents go to outdoor concerts.

+40 - You can see your breath. Californians shiver uncontrollably. Minnesotans go swimming.

+35 - Italian cars don't start.

+32 - Water freezes.

+30 - You plan your vacation to Australia.

+25 - Ohio water freezes. Californians weep. Minnesotans eat ice cream. Canadians go swimming.

+20 - Politicians begin to talk about the homeless. New York City water freezes. Miami residents plan vacation farther South.

+15 - French cars don't start. Cat insists on sleeping in your bed with you.

+10 - You need jumper cables to get the car going.

+ 5 - American cars don't start.

0 - Alaskans put on T-shirts.

-10 - German cars don't start. Eyes freeze shut when you blink.

-15 - You can cut your breath and use it to build an igloo. Arkansans stick tongue on metal objects. Miami residents cease to exist.

-20 - Cat insists on sleeping in pajamas with you. Politicians actually do something about the homeless. Minnesotans shovel snow off roof. Japanese cars don't start.

-25 - Too cold to think. You need jumper cables to get the driver going.

-30 - You plan a two-week hot bath. Swedish cars don't start.

-40 - Californians disappear. Minnesotans button top button. Canadians put on sweaters. Your car helps you plan your trip south.

-50 - Congressional hot air freezes. Alaskans close the bathroom window.

-80 - Hell freezes over. Polar bears move south. Green Bay Packer fans order hot cocoa at the game.

-90 - Lawyers put their hands in their own pockets.
(from The Daily Dilly)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not So Subtle Sexism and Hypocrisy

The November 23rd cover of Newsweek had Sarah Palin posing in shorts, running shorts, sneakers, and what appears to be a work out shirt. Her legs are glistening in the photograph and she is holding two Blackberries. It was a photograph taken for a Runner’s World magazine.

Whatever one thinks of Sarah Palin, she is an attractive woman, the picture is a good one, and she looks very attractive and, frankly, sexy in the photo. Newsweek felt that they were able to use the photograph because she did pose for it and had no objections with Runner’s World using it.

There has been right-wing backlash. Sarah Palin herself said on Facebook:

"The choice of photo for the cover of this week's Newsweek is unfortunate, When it comes to Sarah Palin, this "news" magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner's World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness -- a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention -- even if out of context."

Jon Meacham, of Newsweek, in response to this, wrote:

“We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do.”


Sam Stein, defending the cover on The Huffington Post wrote:

The cover was meant to convey a larger point -- expanded upon within the magazine -- that the problems the former vice-presidential candidate poses for the GOP are, at once, institutional (see the special election in New York's 23rd District), substantive (see the death panels smear) and image-based (the tea party protests that Palin flames).

As Meacham writes in his editor's note: "[Palin's] political celebrity is so powerful that it has reduced a large part of the Republican Party to irrationality and civic incoherence."


The Newsweek articles essentially state that Palin is a political liability for the Republican Party for a variety of reasons such as her lack of knowledge on key issues, her seeming penchant for dishonesty, and many of her comments. Their conclusion was that she is highly popular for a segment of the population, but could never expand that popularity fair enough to be an effective candidate for the Presidency. The inside of the magazine handles this topic from a particular perspective and provides the foundation for debate on whether one agrees with their assessment or not.

But there is the cover...

The cover has been called out as sexist by many right-winged groups. Many of their comments are not being taken all that seriously because many of the calling out people have either used numerous sexist comments or not demonstrated much interest in defending the rights of women on any level. One website that called this cover sexist had, several months earlier, referred to MSNBC reporter, Contessa Brewer as an ‘air-headed slut.’ It is hard to credibly refer to someone else as sexist when you write such things.

But the cover is being defended by many left winged groups who generally do call out the issue of sexism. When the subject is Sarah Palin, there is silence. Except, interestingly enough, from Contessa Brewer who was one of the few voices calling this cover sexist.

I am struck that there is a not so subtle sexism and hypocrisy in all of this.

First there is the issue of sexism.

Women in leadership roles, whether they are politicians, in business, or on television, ought to be treated as the professionals they are. Period. The kind of make-up they wear, their hair styles, and their clothing choices ought not be part of the public discussion.

The picture of Sarah Palin on Newsweek, within the context of Newsweek, seemed to sexualize her to diminish her. If one totally disagrees with Sarah Palin and finds her to be a detrimental voice in the public arena, fine. She has placed herself in the public arena and her views are fair game. She provides plenty of fodder for discussion, both pro and con. But the picture on the cover minimalized her as a person and as a professional person. It was almost as if Newsweek’s cover screamed, “This cute and sexy thing can’t be taken seriously!”

Let her words, her views, and her record determine if she should be taken seriously. I like Newsweek a lot and I have a great deal of respect for Jon Meacham. He is, however, wrong on this one. The cover of Newsweek was not only disrespectful of Sarah Palin, but it served notice on all women who wish to be taken seriously: we will put a picture of you on our cover to diminish you.

Then there is, of course, hypocrisy on both the right and the left.

The right does not have a clear and consistent record in objecting to sexism. To suddenly clamor now has little credibility. The left, however, does, and to not speak out also gives them little credibility. People cannot cherry-pick sexism based on ‘who’ they want to defend.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thomas and Patrick's Not So Excellent Adventure

Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island is having a very public feud with the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, Bishop Thomas Tobin. In 2007 Tobin asked Kennedy to refrain from taking Holy Communion because of Kennedy’s stance on abortion which is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In October, Kennedy was critical of Roman Catholic Bishops because he believed their concerns about abortion was potentially going to derail health care reform.

Most recently, Kennedy has stated that Tobin told priests in the Providence Diocese (which covers the totality of Rhode Island) to not serve Kennedy Holy Communion. Tobin has claimed that he has made no such order.

Bishop Tobin said, in part, “"The point is, because of his obstinate ... public support of abortion, which is clearly contrary to an essential teaching of the church of a matter of critical morality ... he is then not properly prepared to receive Holy Communion, No one has a right to receive Holy Communion."

We seem to be witnessing Thomas and Patrick's not so excellent adventure.

There is lots of stuff in this and this is a difficult scenario in which to deal.

First, Bishop Tobin has every right to make this determination. A Roman Catholic Bishop has the right and responsibility to set the rules and guidelines within his Diocese. He is ultimately the person in charge. The priests in his Diocese have all taken vows of obedience to his office (Office of Bishop) and are obligated, by their vows, to obey him. Whether one wants to quibble with how they feel about this is not particular relevant. This is how the Roman Catholic Church is organized and functions.

Additional, Rep. Kennedy has the responsibility to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States. He took an oath to do this and is legally obligated to do so. Abortion is legal and he feels that he has an obligation to uphold the law. Again, we might quibble with this, but he has an obligation to uphold the law. If abortion was not legal, the argument changes.

If I were going to question both of them my first line of questioning with Bishop Tobin would be to ask him why he is only holding people’s feet to the fire on the abortion issue? Pope John Paul II was very clear that he found capital punishment to be immoral. I have not seen any Bishop ban any politician from taking Holy Communion because they were pro-capital punishment. In terms of war, the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to wars that are not ‘just wars.’ Great questions surround both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Roman Catholic Bishops, for the most part, have not make a major issue of this with either President Bush or President Obama. There are, obviously, many other ethical issues, but why is Tobin only tackling abortion?

As for Kennedy, I’m almost wondering why now? Tobin first said this in 2007 and has not really added anything to this. There is no suggestion that Kennedy has been denied Holy Communion in Roman Catholic congregations. He might not be taking Holy Communion, or he might not be. I am not sure what he is doing. I strongly suspect that if he attends a Roman Catholic Church in Rhode Island, and goes up to take Holy Communion, he receives it. From what I gather, Tobin didn’t so much ban Kennedy as tell him that he ‘ought not’ take Holy Communion because of his convictions.

I have several thoughts.

My first thought is this. Tobin is a politically inclined Bishop and Kennedy is a politician. Tobin’s actions are not remotely indicative of most Roman Catholic Bishops who are serving their Dioceses and not getting their names in the paper a great deal. Most are too pastorally inclined to make the kinds of statements Tobin has been making. Kennedy, on the other hand, is a politician. He is in a political party that strongly upholds abortion rights and he is going to be loyal to his party first. If he sees a political opportunity to make a name for himself by embarrassing his Bishop, he might just do so. My point is, obviously that both of these guys are very politically motivated and will do what they need to do to get attention.

My greater thought, however, is this. This is the Table of the Lord we are talking about. I live by the adage that it is the Table of the LORD. The LORD’S table. I disagree with Bishop Tobin is that I do believe that everyone has a right to come to the Lord’s Table because it is the Lord’s Table and no one has a right to bar anyone from it, for any reason, at any time. I recognize I state this as a United Church of Christ minister, following the beliefs of our denomination. But my point is very clear. I have a hard time banning anyone from the table. Ever.

Regardless of one’s politics or theological background or beliefs, however, I truly hate to see that the news story of the day is about a battle for God’s Table. I fear we are all a bit tarnished by this.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christus Rex

Today is the last Sunday of the church year. Lots of churches no longer follow the church year calendar and, sadly, miss the seasons that somehow make our lives as Christians a bit richer.

The church year begins on the First Sunday of Advent and makes four Sundays awaiting the birth of Jesus Christ. The last Sunday of the church year is generally referred to as Christ the King Sunday. If often gets lost in the midst of Thanksgiving, however, because the Sunday before Thanksgiving often corresponds with Christ the King Sunday.

Christ the King, in Latin is Christus Rex, and I love the Latin for this. I really don’t know why, I just do. It might simply be a case of ‘Quid quid latine dictum sit, altum videtur’ which simply means, anything said in Latin sounds profound.

The image of Christ as King is a striking image. We, as Americans, have no earthly king. Recently, when President Obama bowed to the Japanese Emperor there was a great deal of consternation. Americans do not bow to kings. No American, in theory, bows to a king. Many have over the years and some say it’s just a matter of respect. My opinion is that I have no opinion on this. I don’t know if Obama was right or wrong and, frankly, I don’t care.

But I digress. Back to Christ as King.

When we call Jesus our King, we are stating that Jesus has sovereignty over us. It means that when it comes to our will versus Jesus’ will, the will of Christ prevails. When it comes to finding a time when we disagree with something Jesus says in the Gospels, it is making a statement that we are wrong and Jesus is right.

This is big stuff. We all like to have our own independence, we all cherish our own free will, but we also acknowledge, even keeping our free will, that sometimes that will leads us in the wrong direction. We all have the ability to be incredibly wrong.

Pilate asks Jesus the question. “What is truth?” It is a conversation that holds the fate of Jesus in the balance. Jesus is before Pilate because Jesus has been declared King of the Jews. Pilate asks that amazing fateful question: “What is truth?”

In the teachings of Jesus, Jesus stated in John’s Gospel, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The usage of the phrase “I Am,” in John’s Gospel is Jesus speaking very much as the Cosmic Christ; as the Christ of the resurrection; as the Christ of all eternity. It is a statement: “I am the Truth.” Ponder that for a moment. The Truth is not a statement of fact, or well argued opinion, or even a theological declaration. Truth is actually incarnate in the person of Christ.

In the midst of debates as to who is right and wrong and what have you, there is a reminder. The Truth is never something argued. The Truth is the person of Christ, the Persona Christi (more Latin for you!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Abusing God's Word

Abusing God’s Word.

There is a new bumper sticker and T-shirt that is the current rage:

“Prayer for Obama.”
Psalm 109:8


This verse reads, “May his days be few; may another seize his position.”

It is obvious that the people who wear this shirt do not like President Obama. This, at face value, is not a great deal unlike people who drove around with bumper stickers that read, “01.20.09,” for the day George W. Bush left office. It seems that way, but there’s more to the story.

“May his days be few; may another seize his position.” If a person does not like Barack Obama as their President, and if this is a prayer that he lose the next election, there really is no problem. The problem, however, is that they are abusing God’s Word. Psalm 109, in its entirety is pretty ugly. What follows verse 8 reveals that this is not an innocent “01.20.09,” or a prayer that Obama will lose the next election:

8May his days be few;
may another seize his position.
9May his children be orphans,
and his wife a widow.
10May his children wander about and beg;
may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
11May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
12May there be no one to do him a kindness,
nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
13May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
14May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord,
and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.

This is not innocent. In fact, this “Prayer for Obama” is blasphemy.

First off, regardless of how one feels about Barack Obama, whether one loves him or
loathes him as the President of the United States, he is the President of the United States and was elected to be so by a significant majority of people. In he process of how we do elections, he was elected. If people do not like him, it is their right to vote against him and vote against people who support him. It is also their right, and privilege, to speak out against him and his policies.

But this, all in all, is not about Barack Obama. It is about people who are calling themselves Christians, abusing God’s Word, and praying for Obama’s death. It goes even further than that. They want his legacy destroyed and his family to live in poverty and misery.

People look at Psalm 109 and wonder how this kind of stuff ends up in the Bible.

The Psalms are not ‘teaching’ books like much of the Bible. They are songs, and they are prayers that touch the visceral feelings the people had. Some are light-hearted and joyful, some are elegant and beautiful, and some speak of the anger that people had for being conquered and held captive. Psalms of Lament are not that uncommon. We do not learn what God wants of us from the Psalms, but we learn what people felt and often feel about their situation in life. The Psalms often provide brutal acts against one’s foes.

Psalm 109 is much like this. It is a Psalm of Lament, of being captive in a strange land, and longing for the death and destruction of enemies. No matter how one feels about the President of the United States, or Senators, or House Members, or anyone else, this is never a Psalm that can, in good conscience, ever be used by anyone to describe what they long to see.

What makes this particular adage blasphemous is it’s abusing God’s Word. It is taking one verse, removing the context, and making it seem like an innocent prayer hoping that Barack Obama loses the next election. It is not that. It never has been. This adage is a blight to all Americans and a disgrace to all whose who profess themselves to be Christians.

Christians have a responsibility to witness for things that are good, holy, and loving. T his kind of witness is something far other than any Christian, in good conscience, could ever utter.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Surely Goodness and Mercy....

I really don't know what I want to write. I am, however, trying to be a bit more active with my blog.

The most famous Psalm of all is the 23rd Psalm and I'm always struck by the words, 'surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."

I speak these words in public more than the average person. Being a minister I officiate at Funeral Services and most all of them include the 23rd Psalm----magnificent words at a funeral. So, I say those words, 'Surely goodness and mercy,' a great deal. Aloud.

Yesterday there was a major shooting event at Fort Hood. An Army psychiatrist, a man educated by the Army, a man dedicated to healing, murdered others. A man dedicated to healing----bringing goodness and mercy. Brought evil and death. He proclaimed, while doing it, "God is great." A God of goodness and mercy is cursed by such an act.

Today another murder...

I am often struck by cruelty. Sometimes the cruelty is intentional. Sometimes it is the by-product of power. Sometimes it is the bi-product of making a profit. Some times it is the bi-product of trying to make a point or holding onto a conviction. People bring cruelty to others. But the words 'Surely goodness and mercy,' just hang on there waiting for someone to see them, hear them, and embrace them.

So please God help us find this goodness and mercy so often elusive to us.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Random Musings

In the world of sports, I am very frustrated by the play of the New York Giants. Ugh! They seem like they have fallen apart.

And, I have absolutely no interest in the World Series this year. I think that this is one of those Series where the only people really interested are the fans of the two teams involved. Besides, the “October Classic” in November is just awful.

Bernie Madoff is finding great humor in the fact that the SEC was totally incompetent and should have caught him years ago. He is right. They have been incompetent and should have caught him years ago. I wonder how entertaining it is to laugh, however, when you are living in a jail cell half the size of the laundry room of your old beach house.

Today’s election will not really be much of a test of bigger things. Joe Scarborough has it right when he says that it’s next year’s election and that will all be based on the economy. An election in rural upstate New York, no matter how much publicity it gets, is just an election in a very rural, very impoverished area that is heavily Republican to begin with. In Virginia the Democrats are running an incredibly weak candidate and in New Jersey, it is a world class stink fest. “None of the Above” would win handily in the Garden State. Of course, the press is making today’s elections into the be all and end all of western civilization.

Jon Gosselin has been talking about losing his ‘moral compass.’ His moral compass seems to have been a rotary fan in a state of constant, high speed spinning. Now he is seeing the “Rabbi to the Stars” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who was Michael Jackson’s spiritual mentor. Well, I guess Rabbi Boteach did a great job with Jackson, as we can all see how well adjusted Jackson was.

No matter how you feel about the health care debate, or no matter what your politics happen to be, there is a lesson to be learned about Joe Lieberman. Never let him walk behind you!

“Mad Men” is an outstanding television show. I daresay it is the best show on television right now. There are other shows I greatly enjoy, but “Mad Men” is truly outstanding.

Yesterday, on his radio program Rush Limbaugh said, "Moderates by definition have no principles.”

Okay, so using Merriam-Webster as a source, here are some definitions.


Principle: 1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device

Moderate: avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits
b : calm, temperate 2 a : tending toward the mean or average amount or dimension b : having average or less than average quality : mediocre
3 : professing or characterized by political or social beliefs that are not extreme

From the Oxford University Press Dictionary:

Principle >noun 1 a fundamental truth or proposition serving as the foundation for belief or action. 2 a rule or belief governing one's personal behavior. 3 morally correct behavior and attitudes. 4 a general scientific theorem or natural law. 5 a fundamental source or basis of something. 6 Chemistry an active or characteristic constituent of a substance.

Moderate: average in amount, intensity, or degree. 2 (of a political position) not radical or extreme. >noun a person with moderate views. >verb 1 make or become less extreme or intense. 2 review (examination papers or results) to ensure consistency of marking. 3 preside over (a deliberative body or a debate).

I am personally offended by Limbaugh’s remarks because I consider myself to be pretty moderate about most things, perhaps left of center. But I tend to very carefully look at things from multiple sides and have never been fixated by the belief that issues have only two sides. I think most people who know me see me as a principled person and for someone to even suggest that moderates have no principles is frankly, offensive. That will have to be another blog post, however.

But, underlying this is something else. Here are two working definitions of principle and moderate. Nowhere in the definitions, is it even faintly suggested that moderates, by definition, have no principles.

So, when Limbaugh says, “I don’t make this stuff up folks....” I hate to say it. He does.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Ethical Nihilism of Ayn Rand

This is a short description of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, as stated by Rand herself in 1962:

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

1. Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

2. Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

3. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

4. The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Ayn Rand grew up in Communist Russia and hated Socialism and the Communists. For her, the ‘collective’ was an awful idea. The only possible good, she felt, was a pursuit of rational self interest. A person was only good when a person was acting for their own self interests.

Rand, a novelist and a political philosopher, saw her ‘heroes’ as people who worked for themselves and cared nothing for the needs of others. The ultimate enemies, to her, were the people who saw charity and altruism as good, and sacrifice as a high moral calling.

In John Galt’s famous monologue at the end of Atlas Shrugged she wrote:

“For centuries, the mystics of spirit had existed by running a protection racket-by making life on earth unbearable, then charging you for consolation and relief, by forbidding all the virtues that make existence possible, then riding on the shoulders of your guilt, by declaring production and joy to be sins, then collecting blackmail from the sinners.”

Rand was a strict atheist. She saw God as a myth and believers, ‘mystics of the spirit’ as corrupt fools who preached the dreadful evil of self-sacrifice and caring for others. She believed that the highest moral good was personal prosperity and that the evil of poverty was caused by the evil of the poor. If people were poor, it was because they deserved to be and were probably just lazy. If the people with prosperity let the poor starve and go naked, then the world would be a better place. The poor would either work harder and have some prosperity or die. Either alternative was fine.

The philosophy of Ayn Rand can be summarized in one line from John Galt’s monologue:

“Do not remind me that it pertains only to this life on earth. I am concerned with no other. Neither are you.”

For her, there is no God, no immortal soul, no afterlife, no morality of the soul, no common-good.

Her philosophy has one problem. If there is a God, then she is not only wrong, she’s wrong in a particularly sinister and brutal fashion and is little more than an ethical nihilist.

I raise the issue of Ayn Rand because of something very interesting. She has been, for quite a while, dismissed as a crackpot of her era. Her philosophy was often seen as little more than a reaction to Soviet rule and as an apologia for her hedonistic lifestyle. She was a brilliant writer to be sure and something of a political philosopher. The thing is, when I studied political philosophy in the 1970's our professor found her ideas to be on the periphery of sanity.

But, for some unusual reason, Ayn Rand has come into vogue.

Recently Governor Mark Sanford wrote an essay in Newsweek about Ayn Rand. It is a very thoughtful article and he attempts to make an argument that Rand makes a strong argument, useful for today, about limited government and how individuals, when unfettered by government interference, can do great things. He does prelude his comments with a criticism of Rand in which he states, “I've grown more critical of Rand's outlook because it doesn't include the human needs we have for grace, love, faith, or any form of social compact.”

In quoting “The Fountainhead” and adding his own words, Sanford writes: “I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need … I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society." Cold though they sound, these words contain two basic truths. First, an individual can achieve great things without governmental benevolence, and second, one man has no right to another's achievement. These are lessons we should all remember today, when each week is seemingly marked by another government program designed to fix society.

The problem with Sanford’s logic here is that he is speaking strictly about government involvement being the obstacle. Rand would go much further than this----and does. She not only detested government involvement, but also detested an ethical involvement or a religious perspective of God. “I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life....”

The first question on the Evangelical Catechism, used by churches from a Lutheran perspective and Evangelical Synod within the United Church of Christ is this:

What should be the chief concern of man? Man’s chief concern should be to seek after the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Reformed Church tradition and the Heidelberg Catechism:

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong—
body and soul,
in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven:
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Question four of the Roman Catholic background Baltimore Catechism:

What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven?

To gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world.

Jesus when asked what the greatest commandment answered quickly:

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

What is the form of greatest love according to Jesus?

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

In fairness to Mark Sanford, he’s trying to make an argument for smaller government and does make a point and indicates that Rand is in the neighborhood of making a point. The problem is, that when we cite Ayn Rand, we are citing a person who is not about small government, she’s about no constraints whatsoever on anyone other than keeping them from constraining someone else. She makes Gordon Gecko come off sound like Gandhi. To his great credit, Sanford makes some arguments about her having something of a point, but recognizes that the ice on which he is skating, by referring to Rand, is thin. Frankly, it was too thin to make a valid point.

The ‘virtues’ of Ayn Rand are being advocated on talk radio every day. Her philosophy is being spoken of, increasingly, as good for the United States. Politicians are citing her more and more.

Ayn Rand must be seen for what she was and is, an ethical nihilist who is best appreciated as a fiction writer with crackpot ideas for an ideal society; a society that ultimately has no common good because it has no God.

It is not a society I want to be a part of.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

An Amazing Moment at St. Marks

St. Marks United Church of Christ in New Albany begins each Worship Service with the words, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." These words are taken seriously by the people in the church.

On Sunday, October 18th, we were so incredibly blessed to have a member of our congregation, J. R. Stuart, known to many for us great work at Derby Dinner, and known to us as a friend and brother in Christ. Let me share his words with you.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/note.php?note_id=191394539664&id=691502725&ref=nf

Saturday, October 17, 2009

You Have a Friend in RuAl!


Al Sharpton is suing Rush Limbaugh for defamation over an article that Limbaugh wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Limbaugh is angry at Sharpton for comments Sharpton made while Limbaugh was trying to purchase the Rams. Amazing. This really cannot happen as Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton are really the same person, a person named RuAl.

RuAl is a master of disguise and masterful with voices. He is one person in two personas.

One is as a right wing radio talk show and the other is a left wing activist. They are one in the same person, a man named RuAl. Fans of both will find this shocking and find what I am writing to be utterly impossible, but give me some time and open your mind and eyes and you’ll see my point.

First, they both gain and lose weight at the same time. When RuAl is hefty, so is Rush and Al. When RuAl loses weight, they both lose weight at the same time.

Secondly, you’ll notice that you never see the two of them together. Ever. Rush is on the radio, unseen by human eyes most of the time, and Al only shows up when cameras are around for carefully staged events.

Thirdly, you’ll take note that both of them are noted for having monumental egos; their egos are the size of the Grand Canyon. Their hearts, on the other hand, for those who disagree with them, are the size of a dried pea.

Fourth, you’ll noticed that they are absolute friends of ideological purity.

Rush believes that if you agree with him, you are unable to commit a crime. Falsehoods told in the name of right-winged extremism are fine.

War crimes, if you are a right-winger, do not exist. Gang rape? No problem. If you agree with Rush, he’ll back you to the wall. Genocide, no sweat.

You have a friend in Rush, if you agree with him.

Al believes that if you agree with him you are unable to commit a crime? Perpetrate a fraud in the name of left-winged extremism, is not a problem.

Abject corruption and thievery in the name of the left is just fine. Murder, mayhem, and riots, are not a difficulty at all if you abide with his ideology.

You have a friend in Al if you agree with him.

Lastly, they are both racially insensitive to a fault. They are both racists to different races. But, a racist, is a racist, is a racist.

The thing is this. Rush Limbaugh and Al Sharpton are merely personas of one man named RuAl. There is a clear profile of RuAl for people to see.

First is this. RuAl hates people, all people, except himself. When a movie comes out suggesting you take the person you love the most to see it with you, RuAl goes alone. There is no one he really likes, no one he really admires, except himself. He will pay others lip serve and will pretend to care, but he doesn’t. RuAl hates all people.

Secondly, RuAl hates people to the point that he loves seeing people in conflict with one another. He detests all sorts of cooperation or political bi-partisanship because he sees that people are a peace and feeling good about one another. His contempt for people runs so deeply that he lives to sew the seeds of division in others.

Thirdly, he is arrogant, boastful, thin-skinned, and constantly loves the limelight he finds himself in. He so longs to be the center of attention he has created two personas for himself that he can be with left wingers and right wingers and always be the most extreme person there, and always be the center of attention.

Fourth, he has a sincere religious conviction. He longs for people to worship him. When he speaks of God as ‘other’ he crosses his fingers behind his back. It is he, RuAl, who longs to be worshiped, glorified, and admired.

Lastly, RuAl has one true love beside himself. He loves money. He will or do anything for money. He will say anything for money. He will honor anyone for money. It doesn’t matter the person’s ideological viewpoint because RuAl has a persona to accommodate.

Now one persona is going to sue the other persona to attract more attention and somehow have the ability to transfer assets from one persona to another.

This is all good news. If you are an ideological extremist of any sort, you have a friend in RuAl. As long as you agree with either of his personas, as long as you buy, hook, line, and sinker, everything he’s about, either persona, he will defend you to the max.

The persona of Rush will trumpet you on the radio; the persona of Al will show up with an entourage and preach your cause to the crowds and the televison cameras. No matter who you are on the fringe, you have a friend in RuAl.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Peace

Peace if not about ideology at least the way we tend to define it in modern day America, liberal and conservative, the most over-used words in the English language. Peace is actually a concept that comes from either a spiritual perspective or, perhaps best stated, a worldly perspective.

Recently, Sean Hannity said, ““I’ve often said that liberals define peace as ‘the absence of conflict.’ I define peace, very simply, as the ability to defend yourself and destroy evil enemies.”

Without an argument of politics or of American policy, by biggest issue with Hannity on this is that he is defining this inaccurately. Peace as the ‘absence of conflict’ is not a ‘liberal’ perspective of peace; it is actually a Biblical perspective of peace. I cannot imagine that he is stating that a liberal perspective is Biblical and godly where as his is not. He is just mis-stating from whence this idea originates. He demonstrates, at least from my vantage point, the inanity of needing to use the labels ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as much as we do. And, Hannity’s definition of peace is actually not unique to Hannity or ‘conservatives,’ but to a world view of Rome.

The Biblical concept of peace comes from the Hebrew word Shalom, which is often described as a peace of God which passes all understanding and an absence of conflict of the highest level. In describing shalom, Isaiah says it with great eloquence:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. -Isaiah 11:6-7

As stated, shalom is an absence of conflict at its highest level.

Conversely, there is a worldly kind of peace which is often defined from the Roman Empire, generally referred to as Pax Romana. Hannity’s perspective of peace actually comes from this.

Its root comes from the height of the Roman Empire and is occasionally referred to as Pax Augusta, after Caesar Augustus. It is probably well defined as a super power kind of peace in the fact that people were strongly motivated to not go to war with any of the Roman provinces because they were going to then deal with the army and might of Rome. Rome being, a large and strong super power had the ability to crush any enemies. They also had great will in order to do so and did lots of crushing.

The reality of life is that we do need to defend ourselves and destroy evil enemies. The Second World War was a classic example of that. It was a necessary war with an enemy of immense evil who had to be crushed. We live in a world filled with evil people who do evil things and sometimes strength is the only way to hold people back. We live in a world where Pax Romana is still important and vital.

My issue with Sean Hannity is not his idea of peace through strength. It is the pretense of liberal versus conservative and looking to alienate people just because he seems to want to or it gets him ratings. I’m not sure, otherwise, why he says this.

Meanwhile, we live in a world where we have and need Pax Romana and pray for a world prophesied by Isaiah, a world living with a sense of Shalom.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Best and the Worst of Us

Dr. Mehmet Oz is one of the most famous doctors in the country. He became famous on Oprah and now has his own show. He appears to be an incredibly kind and caring many and demonstrates a very gentle style in teaching people health. He has become very popular because he seems to be very likeable, approachable, and smart.

Today, September 26, 2009 he is in Houston, Texas in Reliant Stadium where a massive free clinic will be held in Houston on Saturday, Sept. 27, offered by the "The Dr. Oz Show" and the National Association of Free Clinics.

Hundreds of volunteers, including 160 doctors and 200 nurses, will be on hand to provide care. The clinic will be at the Reliant Center, One Reliant Park.

Celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz will participate in the event, which will be taped for an upcoming show devoted to families living without health insurance and the medical volunteers who help them.

Texas has a population where 24% of the people have no health insurance, and Houston was targeted as a place with great needs. Lot of volunteers are there today, doing good work.

Dr. Oz made the observation that this clinic demonstrates the best and worst of America.

Those words have been sticking with me because, I think, he’s right.

On one level, it demonstrates our worse. We do have a healthcare crisis. We do and I hope most people realize this. How we solve it can be up for discussion and debate and I wish the discussion was actually taken more serious by leaders who try to score points rather than solve problems. For a nation as wealth as our nation is, to have the number of people we have without adequate medical coverage, is wrong on so many levels. If for no other reason, many people with no money and no insurance do get cared for in hospitals and we all foot the bill providing health care at its most expensive.

It is interesting to note that these clinics were started by people providing aid for the people in third world countries. They have found that the United States has health care for many citizens akin to that of the folks in a third world country. This is us at our worst.

It is also us at our best.

The medical professionals at this event are volunteering their time. Many doctors, in many specialities do volunteer their time. We have all seen physicians, dentists, eye doctors, etc., provide care for people in need, people who have no money and no way of paying for their care. Many in the medical community have been exceedingly generous with their time, their talent, and their resources to care for people less fortunate than they do. There are also many doctors who work in poor area, who are often paid less than many of their colleagues, but have committed themselves to caring for people in difficult urban situations or in the most rural, remote portions of the country. There is much good that takes place and we’d all be remiss if we did not recognize this and honor this.

Today let us celebrate those who do the good work they do and enable them to inspire all of us to do better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Random Musings

Former Giants superstar Plaxico Burress broke into tears Tuesday as a judge sentenced him to two years prison for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh last year at a Manhattan nightclub. I can’t blame him. Facing two years in jail has to be a dreadful thing to look forward to. Here is an incredibly talented young man who was in a downward spiral and it all came to this. Very sad.

In 1st Corinthians chapter three, St. Paul writes about feeding the people ‘milk’ instead of solid food because they are still babies in the faith. Interesting to note, that his main contention that the people were still infants in the faith was because of the divisions they had amongst themselves. He saw this kind of conflict, among Christians, as a sign of great spiritual immaturity. This is an interesting, troubling, and compelling point that really does need to be reflected on by all of us.

For people who live in the Louisville metro area, the issue of health care and health care rationing has become an issue because of the festering conflict between Norton Healthcare and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Those of us who have Blue Cross/Blue Shield from a different, out of state, company, are still impacted and are most directly impacted when our primary care physicians are part of Norton. Norton, having moved us out of network, by breaking the contract with Anthem, has resulted, essentially, in the rationing of health care and prompting many people to change their primary care providers. Additionally, the new rulings, by Norton, concerning, Kosair, have raised the stakes considerably.

The people of Anthem and Norton who are in the key leadership positions,, no matter what else they say, ought to bow their heads in shame for their not negotiating during this time period. Their lack of negotiations have put the entire area in a majorly difficult and painful situation.

The people it impacts are patients and their care, and the primary care physicians and the average people working for Norton. To be perfectly blunt, how the CEO of Anthem and Norton still have their jobs is a slam against the Board of Directors of both companies. This entire debate has been disgraceful.

Perhaps health care reform can begin when the people in charge of some of the health care and some insurance corporations learn to grow up and behave like responsible adults.

I wouldn’t make any long term real estate deals if I was Wade Phillips, Jack Del Rio, Jim Zorn, or Norv Turner....

Mackenzie Phillips, new autobiography, High on Arrival, sounds like it has a very appropriate title. If what she is saying about her father, John Phillips, I cannot even fathom how she is even alive today. Very sad story about her life.

ACORN's leaders must have missed a major lesson in life. To point a finger at powerful interests one needs clean hands. To attack someone on the issue of character, one must actually have good character. Newt Gingrich learned this lesson when he helped lead the impeachment charges against Bill Clinton while having an affair himself. ACORN has pointed fingers at major power interests while themselves having dirty hands. Character does matter.

It is interesting to note that Jesus preached, consistently, about not judging others. It is probably one of the most consistently ignored teachings of Jesus and the validity of his warning keeps showing itself time and time again...

My recommendation is that Moammar Gadhafi' make his trip to the United Nations a day trip and not stay overnight in the United States. His welcoming of the bomber released from a Scottish prison disturbs me greatly and I don’t feel like a welcome mat needs to be laid out for him.

Speaking of such things, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can stay if he brings three lost hikers with him...

My new found losing of sarcasm and focusing on politics is causing me physical pain, but I am being diligent about it. I’m tired of hate talk and I refuse to engage in it any longer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday's Football Musings

Monday’s Football Musings.

Okay, first the Giants game.

The new stadium for the Cowboys is really big. Really big. Pardon me if I say this, but having scantily clad go-go dancers in a football stadium is repulsive. The Cowboys have them.

The game was a great game because, as so often happens in the NFL, it was not as predicted.

The Giants were going to run the ball at will because the Cowboys couldn’t stop the run, and Eli Manning would not be able to pass because he’d be harassed by a huge pass rush and didn’t have any receivers. The Giants couldn’t run and the Cowboys couldn’t stop the pass.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, weren’t going to be able to run because of the Giants front seven but could pass because the Giants have so many injuries in their secondary. Of course, the Cowboys ran wild and couldn’t pass to save their lives.

Jerry Jones left, gray faced and angry because the Giants won. And every Giants fan will tell you that just having that experience made them happy. It was, a great game, however, and one heck of a way to open a stadium.

The Ravens and Chargers game was a good game. Whoever called that draw play at the end of the game, on 4th day, should be tarred and feathered. Bad, bad play call.

Jay Cutler played a really fine game against the Steelers. The Steelers could not run again which bodes poorly for them. It is hard to say about the Bears. Cutler does not have the same supporting cast on offense that he had in Denver, but he made the plays he needed to make.

The Bills look like they are for real. The AFC East is going to be competitive. I’m not sure about the Patriots. They have not looked great this season, but they have a lot of talent. The Jets looked good and Sanchez has had a great two game career thus far. The Jets defense, however, is their best weapon. The Dolphins, which won the division last year, look like the weakest team.

The Saints look great. Really great. They shredded the Eagles defense. Shredded them. The Eagles have a really fine defense and, wow. Drew Brees might be the best quarterback in the game right now, and that is saying something.

The Vikings have looked good. But. Here’s the problem right now for the Vikings. They have not had tough opponents. They had two opponents, the Browns and the Lions, who played them tough, but they are not really good teams. We won’t know about the Vikings until they play someone tough.

Random observations:

Brady Quinn, I don’t think, has the ‘stuff’ to be a great NFL quarterback. I’m not sure he’s the answer for the Browns.

Eli Manning is a really good player. I’m not sure where he ranks in this league, but he knows how to win and comes up with good drives at critical times. His big contract does not seem to faze him a whole lot. The Manning are class people.

John Fox in North Carolina seems to have hooked his future to the Jake Delhomme star. A star that is aged and falling. Rapidly...

Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay has one heck of an arm and can fire a pass on the line as well as anyone. He looks like he’ll be a great quarterback for a long time. The Packers, however, need to learn to protect him. No one can survive the pounding he’s taking.

Adrian Peterson is amazing. He was stopped on a play and he turned and went in a different direction. Very impressive player.

The Giants showed the NFL on how to deal with Tom Brady. Blitz the daylights out of the Patriots. Brady, with time, is awesome and has great down field receivers. If he doesn’t have the time to get the ball down field to Moss, he becomes a lot more average. The Jets followed that plan and won. I’m not a Jets fan, but that was impressive.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Civility in Disagreement

Right now, every night, people sit down and watch their new version of reality television. People can turn on Fox News and watch them bash the people at MSNBC and the dreaded ‘liberals.’ Or people can turn on MSNBC and watch them bash the people at Fox News and the dreaded ‘conservatives.’ People who are interested in politics, if we are remotely honest, have all done it and have gotten a charge out of the statements made on both sides. It is one part news, two part commentary, and three parts entertainment. And we eat it all up.

At our peril.

Every day, while driving to and from work, or on road trips, people listen to ‘hate radio,’ my new term for what used to be called ‘talk radio.’ We can listen to people from the right or the left haul off and blast people who disagree with them.

Any such concept as ‘middle ground’ has been shattered by the screaming, the yelling, the venom, and, sadly, hate that is rapidly growing in our nation. There is an increasing loss of civility and respect in the interaction of people with one another.

This is not particular new to right now. It has been growing and growing and growing. It is ugly and incredibly sad.

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

The words ‘love’ used in this passage is a Greek word, agape, which is often translated as charity or as respectfulness. Paul was not referencing people ‘in love’ or even as friends, those were other words in Greek. These words are used in reference to how we treat people each and every day.

The complete and utter lack of respect that we see and the lack of civility in the exchanges of people, wherever they are taking place is, in a word, repugnant. It has, quite frankly, shaken me to my core and has abruptly put much of my rather quick ability to use sarcastic humor on hold in many instances. It is no longer funny. There are several things that feed into this:

First, when we choose to lack civility towards others, we feed this new wave of cruelty. When our words and our deeds are angry and disrespectful towards others, when we shout others down, etc., our very behavior feeds this mean spiritedness.

Secondly, when we support those who lack civility, we feed it as well. I have stopped watching, stopped listening, and stopped reading the vitriol. As soon as I see a person bashed on television I have been changing the channel. I’ve been watching a lot of the NFL Network and the Food Channel as well as reruns of NCIS of late. (In fairness, this is not painful for me!) I look at headlines through the day on the Internet and read well crafted stories from all different perspectives. Until they get mean, then I stop. There is that old cliche that says that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. The more we watch and listen to the hate, the more part of the problem we are.

Thirdly, let’s make sure we encourage people around us to be positive and not negative. It is funny because when people are mean-spirited and they get called on it, they stop because they are embarrassed.

There are positive things we can do.

First, follow the advice of St. Paul. Be patient. Be kind. Don’t be boastful, or arrogant, or rude.

Secondly, we all need to learn a lesson in humility. There is something to this that goes greater than might meet the eye. We often get boastful, arrogant, and rude in discussions and turn them into arguments because of our rudeness. This often takes place because we are sure that we are right and the other person or people happen to be wrong. But they might not be. No matter how convinced we are that we are correct about something, we might not be correct. Most of us, if we are remotely honest, can attest to times we have been wrong. In our conversations with others, it’s important to have the humility to recognize this.

Thirdly be honest and demand honesty. One thing that I have found incredibly disturbing with the healthcare debate is that the truth and the facts are very elusive things. We are in the midst of a public relations effort with people attempting to terrify us if we do reform healthcare or if we don’t reform healthcare. There is a great deal of misinformation being spread and many of the allegedly ‘neutral’ sources are not neutral. We need to demand honesty from ourselves as well as others.

And lastly, let us never forget to be kind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mother Janet Stuart's Well Known Prayer

Keep us, O God, from all pettiness.
Let us be large in thought, in word, in
deed.
Let us be done with fault-finding and
leave off all self-seeking.
May we put away all pretense and meet
each other face-to-face,
Without self pity and without
prejudice.
May we never be hasty in judgment,
always generous.
Let us take time for all things, and
make us grow calm, serene, and Gentle.
Teach us to put into action our better
impulses, to be straight-forward and
unafraid.
Grant that we may realize that it is
the little things of life that create
differences,
That in the big things of life we are
one.
And, Lord, God, let us not forget to be
Kind. Amen.