Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How I Feel

In one of the many “Star Trek” movies, Spock’s mother, who was human, asked Spock how he felt. Spock did not understand the question. Spock after all was the quintessential thinker, he didn’t really understand feelings a great deal.

In the realm of personality type there are people who make decisions based upon personal values and tend to be more subjective than objective. These people are classified as “Feelers.” There are other people who decide based strictly on facts as they see them. They tend to be more objective than subjective and are classified as “Thinkers.”

I don’t always like the terminologies as Thinkers also feel, and Feelers also think. Additionally, people are not generally inclined to be totally one way or another. Spock, by the end of the movie, understood his mother’s question.

A great deal of the responses to the dreadful massacre of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut have been responses of ‘thinking.’ The questions of ‘why’ and ‘how’ and even ‘where was God” in all this are very common, rational questions that people are asking. There has been some of the finest theological reflection on this I have ever seen. There has also been some incredible bad theological reflection as well. It has all, however, been very theologically based, intellectual (sort of) responses.

But how do we feel?

In terms of this, please let me make a disclaimer. I tend to be a Thinking type person so in order to process how I feel, I have to do so logically. But despite the logical pattern of this, please note that I’m feeling these two things very deeply. (For people who know me well, that I feel TWO things is a stretch. I ordinarily would need to feel three things, so these are real feelings.

First, I feel rage. I am angry beyond angry at this. I am angry at the fact that a troubled young man had the ability to bring an assault rifle to school; I am angry that he murdered so many people; I am angry at so many of the responses. My anger is not really rational on this----I’m just raging over this.

Secondly, and most significantly, I feel profound sadness. I’m deeply impacted by Vicky Soto, a 5th year teacher, 27 years old. My daughter is a 5th year teacher and is 27 years old. My heart breaks for her family. My heart breaks for her loss.

There were also 20 children ages 6 and 7. I cannot get over some things. Many/most of these children still believed in Santa Claus. They were excited about Christmas coming. Their parents most probably had gifts purchased and hidden, excited for Santa to come and excited about seeing their children’s eyes light up on Christmas morning. The joy of purchasing those gifts and the excitement they had for giving those gifts to their children is shattered.

A little boy, hiding in the restroom with a very brave teacher offered to go out and subdue the gunman as this little boy claimed he knew karate. He was so incredibly innocent.

The mother of Teresa Rousseau, substitute teacher at the school who was killed said of her daughter, “I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would happen to my daughter, She was my little twinkling star, from the day she was born.”

I am a parent. I remember the days when my children were little; and I love them just as much now. My heart breaks for so many of these people.

This is how I feel about this.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Blame Game and the Lesson from Job

Whenever something horrible happens, people begin to ask the questions: Why did this happen? Where was God in this? Whose fault is it?

Whose fault is it? This becomes a dangerous question.

Thus far the fault has been spread around far and wide.

It is the fault of not allowing God in the schools. If only we had prayer in schools, events like this would not be taking place.

It’s the fault of gay marriage. God is punishing society because we are allowing gay people to marry one another.

It is the fault of video games. Video games are so widespread and people become expert killers on the games that they want to do this in real life.

It’s the NRA’s fault. If it wasn’t for all the guns available these kinds of things might not happen.

It is the lack of mental health opportunities for people who are disturbed to get help.

What, people ask, is the problem with school security?

Everyone wants to pick and choose answers. They often fall along political ideologies that people have as well. Personally, I want to blame the guns. I have no interest in guns and I have no comprehension about why people love their guns. I am not going there, however. I’m not going to enter into this arbitrary blame game.

The young man who did this while disturbed, was rational enough to plan what he did. This was not a spontaneous event. He planned it well, he wore body armor and he had enough ammunition to murder the entire student body and put up a gun fight against law enforcement. Mercifully he took his own life before any more people died. The devastation was already too expansive to be anything less than a massacre.

The school’s security was a model for good security, the guns were legal, the young man had received treatment, God was present in the school, there were no gay marriage ceremonies going on in the school while this was taking place, etc. The fault in this scenario is obvious and clear cut. The fault lies at the feet of the gunman. He committed great evil.

This does not mean and I am not indicating there are not issues within society. I am avoiding the politics of this entirely. I’m more concerned that, instead of looking to blame someone or something beyond the obvious person of blame, that we reflect on evil in society.

There is evil in society and no matter how hard we attempt to explain it theologically, it remains an elusive mystery. We want to know, we long to know, why evil takes place. In a book from the Hebrew Scriptures, a man named Job had dreadful things befall him.

There were actually two authors of Job, or, at very least, two very diverse narratives. The beginning and the end of the book speak essentially of God and Satan making something of a bet. Satan says that he, Satan, could turn a person against God if enough evil had befallen on that person. God says, “No, there is this one guy, a guy named Job who is so good, that he could not be turned.” Satan then decides to see if he could turn Job away from God.

All sorts of evil befalls Job and Job remains faithful to God. “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And this is when most people stop reading. The problem is there are many, many pages from this point until the end of the book where Job begins to question why this happened to him. Why does God allow evil to befall a good and noble person?

Three friends come and tell Job that God doesn’t allow things to happen to people unless they deserve it. The reality, they not so gently tell him, must lay with Job himself. Job must not be, they argue, nearly as good and righteous as he thinks he is.

Job argues back that he truly has done nothing to deserve what has befallen him. The friends argue vociferously, seemingly on God’s behalf, that he, Job, must have done something wrong. He Job, had to be a sinner, an unrighteous man. They are unsuccessful in changing Job’s mind. A fourth friend comes along, and joins the conversation. But Job insists, he is good and righteous.

Finally God responds:

Job 38:1-7

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2 "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7 when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

God literally pounds question after question away at Job until finally Job responds to God:

Job 42:1-6

1 Then Job answered the LORD: 2 "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.' 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

God’s response is overwhelming to Job. You are not God, you cannot know. There are mysteries beyond human understanding that are beyond what human beings can experience.

God reminds Job of one simple HUGE thing. God is transcendent, beyond human comprehension. Our desire to put God in a box of place God into ‘bite size pieces’ we can understand ultimately leads us to a false sense of understanding that which is incomprehensible. And to those who blamed Job:

Job 42:7-9
7 After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done." 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the LORD had told them; and the LORD accepted Job's prayer.

God understood Job’s questioning and Job’s frustration, but God was angry at the fools who dared speak for God.

Lest I be misunderstood, our society has issues on a whole host of levels. Let’s be careful, however, to not be so quick to cast blame on other than he who committed the heinous act, less we forget that, like the friends of Job, we not speak for God.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Finding the Hope and Joy in a Tragedy

Finding the Hope and Joy in a Tragedy
Text: Luke 1:46-55
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
December 16, 2012

    The other day Susan Adams, our Liturgist,  e-mailed me and asked which translation she wanted me to use to read the Scripture passage for today.    It is the well known passage called The Magnificat or The Canticle of Mary, her response to the angel of the Lord telling her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.  The options were the New Revised Standard Version—the translation we most often use, or the King James Version so she could read from her mother’s Bible.  That sounded like a good plan.  Today it sounds like an even better plan.  Hearing ancient words in a very old translation feels right to me.
    Last week I had writer’s block for my sermon.  I had a lot of pieces I had been assembling for the sermon, but hadn’t been able to pull it together.  Actually, there are times when it seems that God is telling me a message and the message this past week was that I couldn’t pull it together for a reason.  There were other, more pressing things to say.  On Friday, the other, more pressing things, became apparent.
    In the Book of Exodus there is a story of a Pharaoh who orders children massacred.  This kind of slaughter of innocent children is heart breaking and heart wrenching.  How could someone do such a thing?  Unbeknownst to the Pharaoh, one baby escapes harm----and God would use that one child to shatter the next Pharaoh’s universe.

    In the Gospel of Matthew there is a new evil King, Herod.  Herod is threatened when he hears the birth of a child has taken place who is going to be the new King of Israel.  Herod is in a jealous rage and sets off soldiers to slaughter innocent children.  The story is again one of horror and despair.  And, like the evil Pharaoh, he misses the one child who will change the world. 
    On Friday the story was repeated.  This time it was not by an evil king, but by a young man who slaughtered innocents and repeated the horror again.     
    The one common denominator in all these kinds of killings there is a desire to smash and destroy hope.  Last Sunday we lit the candle of hope; and today we light the candle of joy, and there are questions: Where is the hope?  Where is the joy?
    Often the hope and even the joy are unseen this close to the event.  The slaughters of the past did not bring hope until decades later.  We don’t know where this one will bring.  It’s too early.  But we have faith, we have hope.  God is a God beyond our comprehension.
    There are things, I suspect that are festering.
    The first big question is why?
    Anyone who can tell you ‘why’ this took place is probably not telling you accurate things. The police may determine what kind of delusional motive the young man may have had.  But the answer ‘why’ remains a mystery.
    In the Book of Job, Job keeps asking God the question, why?  All sorts of terrible things had befallen Job and Job, a good and faithful servant of God, kept asking the question why?  Why me?
    Job’s friends kept telling Job that perhaps Job wasn’t nearly as good as Job thought he was.  Job must have done something wrong.  There HAD to be a rational answer to this question and the rational answer was that Job had sinned.
    I’ve heard several people come to this conclusion about the shootings in Newtown.  Some of them are political some of them are really bad theology, and at their core, they all have one common element.  Like Job’s friends, they point to some sort of sin that God is avenging.
    But God held Job’s friends with contempt.  He banished them as light weighted fools from Job and Job’s sight.
    God’s answer to Job was elaborate and simple----unless you are God who understands all things, you cannot even ask the question why?

    Job was brought to his knees by God’s answer.  It was a lot longer than I have made it out to be.  The reality is, however, the same.  The answer ‘why’ is beyond our comprehension.
    But there are things I believe that are not true.
    This was NOT God’s will.
    God does not will evil.  People often choose to do that which is evil, but God doesn’t will evil.
    We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people who do imperfect things.  We can all look within ourselves and at our own lives and know this to be true.  But in this imperfect world there exists evil.  God has given us the ability to make our own choices right and wrong; magnificent and tragic.  Sometimes those choices lead to horror as they are so awful.
    We celebrate the free will we have and often delight in it.  But free will has consequences.  Sometimes those consequences are difficult to bear.  But those consequences are not God’s will.
    We have to be careful about using “God’s will” as an answer to evil as it is, ultimately a cop out.  It means that absolutely everything is God’s will.
    So when we lie, we can say, it’s God’s will.
    When we are cruel to another person, we can say, it’s God’s will.
    When we steal, we can simply say, it’s God’s will.
    So much of life takes place outside God’s will.  In my heart and mind the first heart to break when the hearts of babies stopped beating because of a man gunman was God’s heart.  This level of evil is not the will of God; this kind of evil breaks God’s heart.
    Secondly, to say that this happened because God was not allowed in the school is offensive.  I have seen Facebook posts with shirts and banners that say:
    Dear God,
    Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
    Signed, A concerned citizen

    The response:
    I’m not allowed in schools.
    Signed, God.

    Let me be incredibly blunt.  I find this to be offensive.  I find this to be very offensive.  I can’t even put into words how offended I am by this.
    First, it is not true.  There are, of course, legal limitations to the practice of religion in school.  There are no limitations, however, to people quietly reading their Bible, talking about God to one another, and praying.  People do it all the time and it’s not a big deal.
    But the bigger reason is this.  Someone said recently that God was not in the school because God is a gentleman and gentlemen don’t go where they are not wanted.  I’m trying to figure out which God they are referring to.  Here is what I know.  This is not the same God we Worship at St. Marks.
    We Worship a God who existed before time existed and who will exist long after the universe we are in is gone.  This is a God who is powerful beyond power and loving beyond loving.  
    And if the Bible teaches us anything about God it is that God does what God does.  God does not ask permission or seek approval.   If people believe that God is limited by human understanding and human laws and human wants and desires, we have grievously failed to reveal God to the world.

    God WAS present in the school.  As people died at the hands of violence, God was there, in the midst of the horror and the terror comforting and embracing, and taking the spirits of those children with him. 
    God was also present in others.   Diane Sawyer interviewed a teacher, Kaitlin Roig, a First Grade teacher.  She crunched her entire class into a tiny restroom in her classroom to protect them and gently talked to them telling them how much she loved them.  If people cannot believe that God was present with her, then their God is not the same as my God.  Vicki Soto hid her class and took a bullet to protect the children.  The principal of the school ran down the hallway knowing she would be killed in order to alert others of the nation.  God was very present in that building.
    Okay, it as not God’s will and God was present.  But there is more.
    In this Canticle of Mary, this song, it is a song of hope and joy.  It has been revealed to her that the Messiah is coming and even beyond that, is present in her belly.
    And she is filled with hope and joy.
    Interesting thing, though.  Mary would have been around the age of a middle school girl of our era, probably 13 or 14 years old.  Maybe and 8th grader or a 9th grader.  She was engaged to a many her father had chosen for her.  She had no way of knowing if Joseph was going to be a good man or an evil man or if they would even ever love one another.
    She was now pregnant and not married.  She had no rights.  She belonged to a religion that gave her no rights.  She lived under a paranoid and evil king who would one day slaughter babies.  She also lived under an Empire based in Rome that saw her as little more than a bug on their dinner.
    Her life would be difficult.  The Messiah’s coming into the world was not going to make her life better in any way.  In reality, it was going to cause her hardship and pain.
    But she stops and shares a song of hope and joy.  In the context of things it almost sounds absurd----but it demonstrates an amazing faith in God.  Those first words, so remarkably elegant in Old English:
     My For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
    She is a girl of ‘low estate,’ yet all generations will called her blessed.  The hope and joy she has is not for herself, but for all those who follow.  In short, there may not be much hope and joy now, but it will come.
    This song is the consummate song of Advent.  It is a season of expectation.  It is a season of long dark nights and short days.  It is a season that is sometimes painful and difficult.  And this year, for many, more painful and more difficult than ever.  Hope and joy seem far away.
    But out of a slaughter, 3200 years ago, came a person who would lead people to freedom.
    Out of a slaughter 2000 years ago came the Messiah.
    Out of the slaughter of 2012, no one knows.  But God is present and when God is present, there is always hope and love beyond our understanding.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jelly Doughnuts, Christmas Trees, and the Birth of Jesus

Every year with the inevitability of an unloved season this time of the year comes around and Fox News begins to tell us about the ‘war on Christmas.’ Every year I receive e-mail and read Facebook quotes that President Obama refuses to call the White House Christmas Tree a Christmas Tree and every year President Obama calls the Christmas Tree a Christmas Tree and every year Christmas goes off without a hitch.

One of my favorite theologians is Dr. Diana Butler Bass. She recently wrote an article, published on The Huffington Post that takes on Fox News. She bases it as a piece about the “War on Advent,” and speaks in terms of the tradition and customs of liturgical branches of Christianity and the Season of Advent. Christmas, she points out, is the season from Christmas to Epiphany. Her article is on the Huffington Post website. Here is what Dr. Butler Bass wrote, however:


Fox News War on Advent

Dr. Diana Butler Bass

Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas! Joyful Whatever!

With FOX News seeking to expose those who refuse to say "Merry Christmas" as secular collaborators to the War on Christmas, I confess that I am confused. FOX holds itself up as the network that stands by traditional values defending America and faith from heresies and infidelities of all sorts.

Did FOX get the wrong memo? According to ancient Christian tradition, "Christmas" is not the December shopping season in advance of Christmas Day; rather, it is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Twelve Days following that run until early January. During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus' birth. In many mainstream and liturgical (and even liberal and progressive) churches, no Christmas hymn will pass the lips of a serious churchgoer for another two weeks. If you wander into a local Lutheran, Episcopal or Roman Catholic parish, the congregation will still be chanting the ethereal tones of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" or "Watchman, Tell Us of the Night." There are no poinsettias, no Christmas pageants, no trees or holly, and no red and green altar linens. A few days ago, they might have preached about St. Nicholas -- but not Santa Claus. There are no twinkling lights or over-the-top Christmas displays. Just four candles in a simple wreath, two partially burned, two yet to be lit. The mood is somber as December moves toward deeper darkness, and the night lengthens. The world waits, and it is time to prepare for the arrival of God's kingdom. It is not Christmas. It is Advent.

During these weeks, churches are not merry. There is a muted sense of hope and expectation. Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony. Churchgoers listen to the testimony of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who speaks of God:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

Does FOX News want us all to say "Merry Christmas" so we forget about Advent? These, after all, are the four weeks that the Christian tradition dedicates to God's vision of justice for the outcast and oppressed, not to celebrating the sound of ringing cash registers or Victorian America values.

Ancient Christian saints, theologians and evangelists would be horrified that those who claim to stand for tradition have forgotten the most important aspect of it. Jesus Christ was not born that human beings would spend December shopping or saying, "Merry Christmas." Jesus was born to confront the rulers of this world with the love and justice of the God of Abraham -- that Jesus, the same Jesus who preached the the poor and marginalized were blessed, is the King of kings and Lord of lords. All earthly powers pale before him, the humble born one who will die a political traitor to Rome.

Perhaps FOX thinks it might be best if Christians did not spend too much time contemplating a Savior who promised to overthrow the powers-that-be in favor of a kingdom where the poor are blessed and the last shall be first. That's probably bad for business and does not exactly fit with their favored political philosophy.

And maybe, just maybe, the real war of this season is the War on Advent.


This year many people within Christianity are pushing back about this war on Christmas nonsense as within this ‘war’ there is a context of pushing faith off to the side in some very profound ways. It has even impacted people of faith.

My Mom died seven years ago on December 19th. We packed up and flew to New Jersey for her funeral. My Mom was Roman Catholic and so the Funeral was going to be at a local parish. Truth be told, my Mom may or may not have ever set foot in that church and if she did, it was very infrequently and had been a long time. Perhaps the last time before that was for my Dad’s funeral in 1997. In any case, my Mom was not a church goer and the priest who officiated at the funeral did not know her. Most clergy who can walk and chew gum at the same time have learned the art of doing pretty generic funerals with a scant amount of knowledge about the person. In a Roman Catholic Church this is not uncommon and, in essence, less vital as the Homily is not as significant in a Mass as a Sermon is within a Protestant Service which rests almost entirely on the officiant’s words.

We were off to a bad start before the Mass began as he didn’t know the gender of the deceased and asked my sister if she was the wife. It was a grievous gaffe, but, oh well. The Homily, however, was a joke. Instead of weaving the context of new life, resurrection, love, and the season, he spent the majority of his time speaking about the war on Christmas. Had it not been for family and loved ones who had come, I’d have stood up and told the guy he had audacity to pull such nonsense at Mom’s funeral and refer to him as a moron of some sort. I behaved and fumed. I behaved out of respect for the people in the pews, not for him. I have no inherent need to render such respect on incompetent clergy but I do have a great respect for the love and care of the others. But, the war on Christmas? At a funeral? Seriously?

This ‘war on Christmas’ is hailed as a war because some people and some places say such dreadful things as “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Perhaps more grievous offenses take place like not having crèche scenes up.

In our nation ravished by this ‘war on Christmas’ I’ve noticed some things. In stores, Halloween decorations come down and are replaced by Christmas décor. November usually comes in and we are seeing Santa Claus, Rudolph, and snowman displays. Thanksgiving has been pre-empted by Black Friday---which had crept into Thursday, and the following Monday is now called Cyber Monday. Christmas trees are up. Colored lights are up and everyone is geared for the holiday that has a war attached to its name.

Funny thing about Christmas. As Dr. Butler Bass points out, the Christian Church doesn’t really acknowledge Christmas until Christmas Eve. We have a season called Advent. In our tradition we have decorations for Christmas, but the poinsettias wait. We have Advent hymns and some Christmas carols mixed in. But Christmas is Christmas. In years past Christmas was not always celebrated the way we do now.

The Puritans and early Congregationalists did not really celebrate Christmas. They acknowledge the birth of Jesus but did not go over the top and make it a big holiday. Their fear was that it had become far too secular a day. In Germany, at that time, it was both a secular and religious holiday and Christmas trees, etc., were the new norm. These new traditions had crept into English Christmas celebrations and the Puritans wanted no part of it. This no nonsense view of Christmas was very present in the Colonial Army and George Washington, whose army had a

lot of very sober Puritans in it, used this sobriety to his advantage to cross the Delaware River and attack very hung over German Hessian soldiers in Trenton on December 26, 1776.

Which brings me to jelly doughnuts. If you are like me, you may enjoy on occasional jelly doughnut. I have enjoyed some jelly doughnuts over the years. Jelly doughnuts have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Nothing. The birth of Jesus and jelly doughnuts are both things in my life but they are not things that have any inherent connection to one another.

Christmas trees, Christmas lights, snowmen, and even Santa Claus have to do as much with the birth of Jesus as jelly doughnuts do. In fact, they may actually harm the story. So many people are busy looking at the lights, celebrating, being merry, saying ‘ho, ho, ho,’ that they may miss a couple wandering into town looking for a room. I suspect Jesus would be born in a stable again as so many people are celebrating ‘Christmas’ so hard that they miss the story once again.

As for me, I think this is a good time to stop talking about this specious ‘war’ and begin focusing on the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Neurosurgeon’s Journey

In 2008, neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander contracted a rare form of bacterial meningitis that shut down parts of his brain, put him in a coma and nearly killed him. During this time, he says, he saw heaven. He wrote a book about his experience. Interesting this is that his vision of God as not as male or female but God was pretty much formless, but with a very amazing and peaceful


presence. 370ed6a_0

Alexander was a skeptical Christian before this and is a church goer now, but has an interesting critique of religion. He says that when we believe we have a superior understanding of God than anyone else, we are missing the point. God is all love and all goodness and none of us really has a grasp of the power and magnitude of God. Hearing him says this reminded me of Thomas Aquinas who stopped writing, lecturing, and preaching after an experience of God calling all his previous work, straw.

It has been interesting that Alexander has become a disturbing presence to many people. Many in the science community have, in their own wisdom, been able to disprove the existence of God. This ‘God talk,’ to them, is disturbing. If they have empirically disproven something then who does he think he is by suggesting they might be wrong?

He is not met with much better acceptance by the religious community as well. After all, theological types make their living and write and read books as to why they are right and others are wrong. This idea what my particular set of beliefs may not correspond with a real idea of God is just wrong. Or so they say.

We have a problem with God, or perhaps better said, we have a problem with our conceptualizations of God. We often like to limit God to our own understanding. We often do this with the Bible. We limit the Bible to our understanding of it. We like to fit God into the view of God we have.

Interestingly enough this is also the case with many people who are not people of faith. They cannot comprehend of the notion of a God, and so they nix the entire idea. People who broach the subject of faith are sometimes met with ridicule. Sometimes. Having said this, I have found many non-believers are more civil with believers than believers are with non-believers. But that is a whole different story.

Is Alexander correct? I don’t know. I’m not even going to venture a guess. It does remind me, however, that any approaches to talking about God need to be taken with a great sense of humility.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ten predictions about the Obama/Romney lunch today:

1. There will be no alcohol served and Mr. Romney will not drink anything caffeinated. President Obama may or
may not have iced tea.
2. They will be using knives and forks. This prediction may be expanded to include spoons should they be served soup. There is a very small possibility of chop stick usage, but that would be only if they were served Asian food and the chances of that are highly unlikely.
3. The quality of the food will probably be very high. The White House has a very busy kitchen with a professional chef. They pride themselves on fine meals. My thought is that this will be true for today.
4. Cloth napkins will probably be used and worn on laps. It is possible that one of them tucks in in his shirt as a bib, I find this highly unlikely.
5. There will be no public displays of loud flatulence of any kind . Both men will want to be on their best behavior and a flatulence contest would probably be seen as uncouth. True Mr. Romney is smarting at the loss and would probably like to win some sort of contest, but this does not seem likely.
6. They will not have a basketball game of one on one right afterwards, and if they do, it won't be a 'shirts and skins' kind of game with one player wearing a shirt and the other not. Mostly this is done to allow teams to distinguish who is on which team, but I doubt they will even play.
7. Should dessert be Oreo cookies, and should milk be served, neither man will choose to dunk. Secretly, they will be resentful because they really want to dunk, but neither man will.
8. They will not have a food right. Perhaps their favorite movie was, in fact, "Animal House,' and perhaps their greatest desire in life is to start a food fight ala John Belushi in said movie, they will choose not to do so.
9. They will be very careful as to not spill food on themselves. Neither man wants to be photographed afterwards with a gravy spot on his shirt.
10. They will dine at a table. They will not be eating in recliners watching the NFL Network while eating lunch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UFO Author and Jesus

A man named Lou Baldin has written a book that I am not going to purchase or read.  His premise is that Jesus and the story of Jesus was a hoax by the Jewish community at the time to make Christians the focus of Roman wrath instead of Judaism.  The hoax worked so well that eventually many people believed it and Christianity was named the religion of the Roman Empire.

I decided to do a little bit of research about Lou Baldin to see what his background was.  I was wondering if he was a disenfranchised theologian or someone promoting some other religion.  He wasn’t either.  He is primarily an author about UFOs.  

Okay, before you tell me that I am being narrow minded about UFOs I’m not really.  I’m pretty indifferent to much of the material about UFOs.  When I was in grade school I had everyone in my class very excited about the picture I took of an unidentified pie plate that I had tossed into the air.  I told everyone that I had taken that very exciting picture—with my 1964-1965 Commemorative World’s Fair camera.  The pie, a lemon pie, was mediocre, but my picture was pretty convincing and the story I wove was very good.  Even my teacher thought it was fun, with a smile on her face and the wink in her eye.

Which brings me back to Lou Balden.   For some bizarre reason I have a very difficult time taking a person seriously in the realm of theological thought when that author’s primary vocation has been writing about UFOs.  I say this not just because Lou Balden write about UFOs.  If Anthony Bourdain wrote a book questioning the existence of Jesus, I’d have comparable cautions.  Bourdain write about restaurants and food, I take him seriously.  About Jesus, not so much.  Bourdain, I actually do take seriously in his writings.  Balden.  Okay, I’ll be honest, I think he’s loopy.

I get tired of people writing about Jesus.  This may sound odd, but many of the people write about Jesus for some very unusual reasons.  Jesus often gets morphed into the image and likeness of and needs of the authors rather than people reflecting on who and what Jesus actually was and is.  It is just beyond the election and we all were serenaded with joyful demonstrations of Jesus being a good Republican and Jesus being a good Democrat.  I suspect that neither party would have really wanted Jesus to speak at their conventions.  Personally, I found many people to be offensive in their worldview of Jesus and their own political beliefs.  There is some flexibility in how one interprets the Bible and the words and deeds of Jesus.  There is some flexibility in terms of what we believe divinity means.  However, to completely morph Jesus into something or someone else completely new?  Not so much.

One person who reviewed Balden’s latest book said that Balden is getting away from UFOs and finally playing it straight as an author.  I beg to differ.  He’s still loopy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reflecting on the Greatest Generation


Tom Brokaw named the World War II generation The Greatest Generation, and there is still much discussion about this.  I’ve been reading a bit on the subject and have some thoughts.

On one hand, I am reticent in calling any generation ‘greatest’ as all generations have their virtues and vices.  This particular generation, however, may, in fact, be worthy of the title.

They had flaws.  It was in this generation that we were subjected to likes of Joe McCarthy, racism, and sexism.  The world, however, has changed and, I suspect, those changes became possible because the World War II generation set the table for them.

This was the generation that survived the Great Depression.  They were the generation that fought World War II.  World War II saw the world change faster than any other time in history.

When the war began it began with two great military super powers, Germany and Japan.  The Soviet Union, in 1939 had a large miliary but it was very poorly trained and poorly equipped.  Western European powers were not as strong as they would have liked to believe and the United States was not a super power.  When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 the United States Army was small and not that well equipped.  The Navy had a minimal force, as did the Marines.  The Air Force was a part of the Army and had some excellent bomber technology but very obsolete fighter planes. 

When World War II began, many nations still were using biplanes.  Many were using horses to carry soldiers and equipment.  When Germany invaded Poland with tanks, the Poles gallantly attacked the tanks on horse back with long spears.  The slaughter was awful.

By the end of the war, jets were in the sky, guided missiles were flying, and the nuclear age began.  People became proficient at killing and the results were dreadful.

Within the United States many went to war and many others went to build weapons for the war.  No new automobiles were built.  Gasoline was scarce and rationed.  Chocolate was strictly used to feed soldiers as a specially fortified battlefield food.  Fresh meat, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables were not available unless you raised it or grew it yourself.  People sacrificed.

The war was expensive and people purchased war bonds to help fund the war.

But this generation did something very unusual.  After the war, they saw the wisdom in rebuilding the nations of Germany and Japan.  The wisdom of this remains to this day when we see Germany and Japan as allies, trading partners, and friends.  This is a generation that developed Medicare, transitioned and supported civil rights, and took care of one another.  They were and remain a generation of people who believed in duty, personal responsibility, responsibility for the care of others, honor, and faith.  This generation built schools, hospitals, churches, and the Interstate High way system under President Eisenhower.  When President Kennedy said those immortal words, “Ask not what your country and do for you, but what you can do for your country,” he was saying words not of a political party, but as a person of this generation.  This was a generation that saw personal sacrifice and generosity as virtues, not vices.  The American government was different with these people.  In foxholes in Europe and the Pacific soldiers shared everything they had with people they didn’t agree with because they knew their comrades in arms were not their enemy, but fellow citizens.  Washington DC was led by people who cared for country over party, other over self.

What is remarkable is that they did so humbly.  No one extolled his or her virtues; over-flamboyance and braggadocio were not part of the equation.

They were a generation that came from hardship and overcame it and nurtured so many of us.  Their character should not be forgotten or ignored.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finding Gratitude


Sometimes we have a difficult time finding gratitude. There is often much to gripe about.

The recent elections left some people filled with gratitude and others were distressed at the outcome. There was a lot of gloating by some (too much by too many) and a great deal of gloom by some (too much by too many) and the nation reflected that. In reality, if people look closely, there is probably room for everyone to be happy about some things and distressed about other things. Unless we vote for every winner, no one gets everything he or she wants.

This is true of life. No one gets everything they want. Health can be better for many; jobs can be better; family life can be better; the weather can be better. The list goes on and on. No one’s life is perfect.

Something dawned on me a few weeks ago. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to watch on television and I muttered to myself, “There’s nothing on.”

I have DirectTV and I love it. I have hundreds of channels. I can pretty much watch anything on any topic I want. This includes the free period of a large number of premium channels. I also have a wealth of On Demand shows that I can watch. I even have a queue of shows I have recorded, waiting to be seen. And I sat there and said, “There’s nothing on.”

When I was growing up I was in New Jersey and we had a lot more channels than most of the nation. We had 2,4, and 7, the major networks. There were also 5, 9, and 11, which were local New York stations, and PBS on 13. In the 1960’ have seven stations was unheard of in most of the country. We’d complain there was ‘nothing on’ then, and, at least the lineup was a lot smaller.

But now, who the heck am I to complain about there being ‘nothing on.’ Talk about nonsense!

We whine a lot as a society. We truly do. If things are not perfect, we whine. If things don’t go the way we want them to go, we whine. It’s not because we are bad people and it’s not because of the sinfulness of people, it’s more in the fact that we are spoiled. Life is actually easier and better than it used to be. People often talk about how amazing doctors were in the 1950’s and 1960’s and often how above reproach they were. In reality, physicians are so much better now and can do so much more. Look at the life expectancy of people!

Yet, we are often so ungrateful. Again, if it’s not perfect….

At Thanksgiving I often think of the Pilgrims. Perhaps that sounds corny, but I do think of them. The first ‘feast’ was not what we will be eating on Thursday. If they had turkey, it was a small, tough bird. There was probably other wild game. There was probably venison and clams and lobsters. Alas, there was also no butter…

There was probably something that could best be described as an ‘innards pie.’ This would have been a pie with cooked organs of animals. In those days nothing on the animal ever went to waste. And before you say you wouldn’t have eaten the ‘innards pie,’ people did not pass the mashed potatoes in those days. The ‘passing’ of food around the table was a custom that came into effect much later. The ‘best’ food was placed near the most important people. If you had no status, were a child, or a woman, you were eating the innards.

There was something else missing from the meal. They had no sugar. If they ate pumpkins or cranberries, there was no sugar to make dessert. They would have used honey or dried fruit to sweeten things. Sugar didn’t come to much later.

Yet, they were filled with gratitude for what little they had. When you have very little to share, there is always much to go around; and a great deal of gratitude for what little there is.

Enjoy Thanksgiving this year----and don’t complain. Delight in what we really have and be grateful for the abundance we do have.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Football Observations.

The Patriots lost Ron Gronkowski, their all-world Tight End on the extra-point, getting their 59th point of the game. They played classlessly, running up the score and are now going to pay for it.

The Broncos are the best team in the AFC. They have the best defense and Peyton Manning. They are going to roll through the rest of the season and be a major force in the play offs.

Andrew Luck had a bad game on Sunday but has played really well for the Colts. I have only one clip_image002

suggestion for him, however. Shave. You look ridiculous. Or grow a full beard. Whatever you are doing right now does not work.

The Giants were fortunate on Sunday. They simply had no way of losing. They had their bye. Of late, the way Eli Manning has been pass, he couldn’t hit the water if he fell out of the boat.

The issue with the Jets and players bashing Tim Tebow. This is the result of a poor coach who has lost control of his locker room and his players. Rex Ryan is too impressed with Rex Ryan and not good at making a team a team.

Andy Reid’s tenure in Philadelphia is about over. The Eagles are an arch-rival to the Giants and I do not like them, but Andy Reid is one of the best coaches in the NFL. This was a team that was assembled with a lot of talent and, sadly, little ability for the egos of the players to play well together. Someone else will sign Reid and he’ll be a great coach.

RG3. Wow.

The Saints are playing very, very well. Drew Brees is an outstanding quarterback and their defense is starting to play well. It took the defensive players a while to understand the schemes of Steve Spagnuolo, but he’s one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. Gregg Williams taught thuggery to the players; Spags is teaching them to play the game properly.

Has anyone else noted that the commercial with Papa John and Peyton Manning makes Papa John look cheap and petty? Or is it just me? As an aside, I’m not going to get one of the free 2 million pizzas he is giving away. It’s not a political statement on my part; Papa John’s pizza is actually pretty lousy.

Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, is probably going to miss at least three more weeks. He’s tough but he really got hurt.

Speaking of the Steelers, as an aside, your jailbreak uniforms are amazingly ugly. Match that with Andrew Luck’s neck beard and this is not a good year for fashion in the NFL…

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pew Forum Results are Troubling

Not long ago the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did a Religious Knowledge Survey with 32 questions. The average number of correct answers across all groups was an average of 16 of those 32 questions answered accurately.

The numbers are fascinating. Each number represents the number of questions answered accurately from that group:

Jewish 20.5

Mormon 20.3

Atheists/Agnostics 20.0

White Evan. Protestant 17.6

White Roman Catholic 16.0

White Main Protestant 15.8

Nothing in part 15.2

Black Protestant 13.4

Hispanic Roman Catholic 11.6

In terms of religious knowledge, the people who are the most knowledgeable about religion, and considering that most of the Pew Forum questions were about Christianity, the most knowledgeable about traditional Christianity, were the people who are Jewish, Mormon, or Atheist/Agnostic.

These are an interesting top three. People who are Jewish are, of course, not Christians. The core of Christianity is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and Judaism rejects this. Atheists and Agnostics do not believe or seriously question any sort of divine being.

Mormons are part of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. Mormons do believe in the divinity of Christ and very much consider themselves to be Christians. Without attempting to be controversial or affirm or repudiate their beliefs, much of Christianity is affirmed by the people within it and if Mormons consider themselves to be a part of Christianity, it is not for anyone to say otherwise. It would be fair to say, however, and again, this is not criticism, many of their beliefs are pretty different from much of Christianity.

One thing is for sure, the people who are not mainstreamed within Christianity, know more about Christianity than those who are in the mainstream.

It can be contended that, as Christianity has shrunk dramatically over the years, that a lack of knowledge has played a role in this. People simply do not know much about their faith. There are, I believe, some reasons for this.

First, I suspect many Christians live in something of a bubble in terms of their own faith tradition. They are aware what their church teaches, but are not very curious as to what other churches teach. They often are unaware of what other traditions teach and do, and presume they do know.

I have lived in the Roman Catholic bubble and the Mainline Protestant bubble. I have learned that the Protestant perspective of Roman Catholicism, and Roman Catholicism are very different. I’ve also learned that the Roman Catholic perspective of Protestant is different from the Protestant perspective.

I recently read an article from a Roman Catholic blogger who was writing about the failure of the Protestant Reformation. He knew a great deal of the Roman Catholic perspective of Protestantism, but didn’t really understand the tradition. He THOUGHT he did, but he didn’t. One thing he grossly failed at what recognizing that there is not one Protestant perspective on things. His being trapped in the Bible caught him.

It works the other way around as well. The average person within Protestantism does not understand the Roman Catholic perspective on Sacramental Theology and Holy Communion. Ironically, part of that lack of understanding comes from not knowing they do not understand.

Bubbles can trap us.

A second thing is that we often lack the curiosity to neither learn nor take the time to learn. I know many churches from all traditions work hard to educate everyone. I have never known a pastor who was unwilling to lead a class when asked. Yet, that is rarely asked of clergy. It should be.

A third thing is often clergy. If people fail to do continuing education, read, and grow in their own knowledge, they fail as leaders of knowledge.

People need, in my humble opinion, to take the time to learn what their faith teaches, but also have open hearts and minds to learn what other people believe and teach. We will all find we are a lot closer to one another than we often thought.

Einstein was Right!


Enjoying time at the coffee shop



Enjoying Dinner with friends


Art Museum

Enjoying a day at the art museum


Coffee shp

Enjoying lunch with a friend


Enjoying a beautiful day at the beach

basket ball

Having fun at a basketball game


Enjoying a romantic date



In the car with friends


Albert Einstein:
"I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction, the world will have a generation of IDIOTS."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sermon Audio November 11, 2012


Delighting in Reaching Within to Grow in Discipleship

Text:  Mark 12:38-44

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

November 11, 2012



Stewardship Moment Amy Schneidau


Secession is Better Than Working Together?

There are some interesting developments taking place. Petitions have been filed for Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas and these petitions are to secede from the United States. If a petition receives at least 25,000 in a 30 day period, it must be met with an official response from the White House.

clip_image002A North Carolina Tea Party group is promoting the idea of secession as a solution to the “tyranny of national government.” This idea is being actively promoted on the website ‘’ One can only guess they do not like the results of the election. There have been mixed reports, but many of these petitions seem to have at least some Tea Party support and there is information on how to send these petitions on Tea Party websites, but, as of yet, the Tea Party has not officially endorsed this idea.  There seems to be an idea that secession is better than working together.  I think people need to rethink this idea.

The original ‘tea’ action took place in 1773 in response to the British “Tea Act,” and took place when 30-40 Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians, and boarded an English vessel and destroyed the shipment of tea. It was referred to as the tea destruction until the "Boston Tea Party,” became its moniker in 1834. To us in 2012 these original Bostonians are called patriots; to the legal authorities in 1773 they were terrorists or thugs. There was, of course, an escalation of rebellion, the Battle of Concord in 1775 that began the war, the American Revolution. The war waged in until 1783.

The American Revolution was not the war many people perceive it to be. It was not a grand and glorious crusade. It was long and bitter. The British actually won most of the battles. There were some amazing Colonial victories and the war became untenable for England. It proved to be too long, too expensive, and too risky for them when France got involved. It was a war of attrition and the distance, expense, and stretching out of forces was untenable. This ended up being a secession that worked.

In 1861 there was a new revolt, a new American Revolution. We call it the Civil War, but, not unlike the original secession a group of people rebelled and this time the original nation prevailed. This war was incredibly savage and, like the original rebellion of 1775 it was a war of attrition. This time the dominant force, however, had a large number of people and did not have to depend on shipments from across the ocean. The northern part of the country had the industry and larger population base and the end was inevitable once the military leadership problems of the Union Army were resolved.

As I look at the current state of our nation, it is impossible for me to view the current Tea Party people as even remotely being ‘patriots.’ They like to call themselves patriots, but co-opting a name does not make something so. The original people of the Boston Tea Party put themselves in legal risk and were, legally, beginning the process of treason. They put themselves, knowingly, in serious risk of being captured and hanged. They became, through the lens of history, patriots. Putting a hat on your head and covering with tea bags does not make one a patriot.

The original people in the Boston Tea Party were not bemoaning the fact that they had lost an election. They did not have the ability to vote for their leaders. The King of England was not an elected position and the Colonies did not have representation in Parliament. The United States still has elections! Sometimes the people we support win those elections; sometimes they lose. The American Way, if there is such a thing, is to respect and abide by election results. It is not taking one’s toys home and leaving.

There is also an issue of pragmatism.

Do the states that leave now pay the American government for the Interstate highway systems running through their nations?

Airports are under Federal protection. States are under the protection of the Secret Service for their money; the FBI for numerous crimes; the United States Military for protection. All these are lost. Corporations that have been entirely national to this point now have to become international. People within the newly independent states now lose Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. People in nursing homes will be forced out of the nursing homes because of the collapse of Medicaid. Many people do not realize it but 50% of Medicaid is covering people staying in nursing homes.

There are times I get infuriated at our nation. I am sure everyone does. But we are all in this great experiment together. Secession because one does not like the direction the nation is taking, a direction voted on by the majority of people, does not give one a right to carve the nation into pieces. That is not patriotism.

Many of the people behind the American Revolution were the finest minds this nation has ever assembled in the same place at the same time. They became the architects of a democracy. They were not sore losers wearing tea bags on their heads, decreeing they were patriots. These people WERE patriots. These were people who had prices on their heads; these were people who were willing to die for their beliefs.

I’m tired of the whining. Our nation has issues. Instead of whining that a person you don’t like won the election learn to accept that we don’t always get our own way, and make the best of it. Better yet, do something constructive to assure the United States is a great nation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Surprisingly Stunned Concession Speech and Why Gil Grissom is Always Right


As I write this I want to make something clear.  This is not a partisan post stating who was the better candidate and why the election was one or lost.  There was a significant piece of this election, however, that seems to have gone unnoticed.

On Tuesday night Governor Mitt Romney gave a stunned concession speech.  He had stated earlier in the day that the only speech he had written was an acceptance speech.  This was not bravado.  He truly believed that he was going to win the election.  He and Paul Ryan had worked hard and many of the people they had surrounded themselves with had assured both of them they were going to win the election.

They were highly confidence.  They even had a rally in Pennsylvania because they had been told that state was teetering toward them and all it needed was a little nudge.  Dick Morris said it was going to be a landslide, going toward them.  Talk radio hosts were brimming with confidence, even bravado.  The people around the Romney and Ryan Campaign were assuring the two candidates that they had this one in the bag.

It all was, to use an old cliche, a lot of happy talk. 

The problem was that the people around the Romney and Ryan Campaign were looking at a lot of hypotheses and ideological perspectives and were seeing the results that they wanted to see.  They had become so adept at this, however, they missed something.  The numbers indicated otherwise.

Nate Silver is a statistician, an expert in sabermetrics which is  is the specialized analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity, and practicioner of psephology which is a branch of political science which deals with the study and scientific analysis of elections.  In short, Silver deals extensively with the obscure practice of the most finite methods if probability and statistics.  Silver predicted on the weekend before the election that there was better than a 90% chance that President Obama was going to win the election.  Silver predicted the states that would be blue and the states that would be red, and his predictions were made well in advance of the election.

Silver blogs on the New York Times website, or is at least hosted by them.  Silver was dismissed because the Times hosted his blog and the presumption was that Silver’s predictions were politically biased.  They weren’t.

Silver never looked at the issues and never made any predictions based on what he felt about each candidate.  In fact no one knows who he was planning on voting for or if he even voted.  Silver has had nothing to say about the issues or the policies of either party or either candidate.  He based everything on a deep, deep analysis of the polls.

In short, Silver made a prediction on facts.  Probability is a science based on what will probably happen as opposed to what was certain.  Silver was very clear on that.  There are always uncertainties, last minute changes, voter turn out projections that are wrong.  But these uncertainties are often not a big factor and so Silver made a prediction based entirely on the evidence placed before him.

Which brings me to Gil Grissom.  Gil Grissom was the head CSI on the television show CSI.  Grissom, like Silver, is a nerd.  Grissom would always drive the other people crazy because he didn’t go after who he projected the criminal was, he had one mantra, ‘follow the evidence.’  Grissom was a fiend about assuring they followed the facts rather than gut instincts.  The gut, he would tell people, leads people where they want to go as opposed to where the evidence will lead them.  Grissom, at least in the world of television, was always right.  The evidence always leads us to the right answer.

Silver is a modern day Gil Grissom.  He predicted 2008 perfectly.  He also predicted 2010 perfectly.  His predictions on which states would be blue and which would be red were 100% accurate.

People who read Silver’s blog had a strong conviction the election was going to fall the way it did.  The people around the Romney and Ryan Campaign kept assuring the candidate that Silver was a crazy liberal who was way wrong.  Reality is, no one knows what Silver believes----it doesn’t matter.  He follows only facts.

This led to a surprising concession speech.  Mr. Romney believed, down deep, he was going to win this election and making this speech, a very, very gracious speech, was probably the most difficult thing he had ever done.

It may be a reminder to us that the Gil Grissoms and the Nate Silvers in this world, these scientific nerd types, are worth listening to as they provide us with information that is real as opposed to happy talk.

Reality is sometimes painful, but it is always real.  To his credit, Mr. Romney recognized reality in the end, conceded the election, and very graciously congratulated the winner and very generously offered his prayers.  It was, for him, a moment of humility and irony; a life long numbers man lost an election because of the numbers.  Gil Grissom is always right.  The evidence always tells us what is real.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Election Observations

I’m still thinking this election was The Seinfeld Show of elections.  It was, at its core, an election about nothing.  The larger issues of our day were not addressed by either party or either candidate.  There are some things I did observe.

First, Nate Silver of the New York Times had the most insight into the election of anyone.  Silver used polling data that he viewed as reliable and was a fearless numbers cruncher.  He based his conclusions on facts as opposed to ideology and he was right.  So many pundits were off because they were seeing what they wanted to see as opposed to what was really there.  Silver followed the rule of Grissom, “Follow the evidence.”

Mitt Romney, but even more especially, Ann Romney looked defeated and exhausted Tuesday night.  An election makes a person move at 100 MPH for months and at the end it’s an even faster and more frantic pace.  People run on pure adrenalin for a long time, but when it’s over, it’s over.   And when you lose, it’s really over and positively crushing.

A staggering number of people still do not believe President Obama was born in the United States and that he is a Muslim.  He was, and he’s not.  To believe otherwise is simply ignorant.  Seriously, it is ignorant.  You may disagree with the man all you want, but don’t be a fool.

An obscene amount of money was spent on this election.  It was spent in different ways.  One campaign used much of it on commercials and the other used it on what the media calls, the ground game.  It turned out that the ground game was the better option----that an social media and direct marketing on the Internet.  Karl Rove who was so clever in running elections in the past was amazingly ineffective this time with his Super PAC.  Much has been made of Karl Rover’s ‘meltdown’ on Fox News.  It was a $300,000,000.00 breakdown and very much a reality that many people who invested in him will no longer do so.

The country is badly divided.  It has been badly divided for a long time and things have only gotten worse.  The divides are very much present between the rich and the poor; the urban and the rural; small town and suburbs; men and women; young and old; and, of course, racially.  We cannot overlook the racial divide in the country.  Stating this does not mean that I am even remotely suggesting that voting against President Obama was a racist thing to do.  Not even close.  There are, of course, people who voted racially on both sides, but racism is not the bigger factor here.  The bigger factor is very much evident in the remarks of a Republican strategist who said that the Republicans are viewing the nation of Mad Men and the Democrats are viewing the world of Modern Family. 

Here’s another thing.  The American population voted who they wanted in office.  This means that people chose, very deliberately, to have Barack Obama as the President and not Mitt Romney.  They chose the people they wanted in the Senate over the people they didn’t want; keeping it in the hands of the Democrats.  People also chose a majority of Republicans in the House.  We can say what we want about redistricting, etc., but these are the people who have been voted into office.  I also believe that people voted they way they did because they want a counterbalance between the two parties.  No one group owns the sandbox.  Everyone HAS to play together----which means the two parties HAVE to work together.  There are serious issues that have to be addressed and nothing can or will be solved with one party dictating to the other how it is going to be done.  We have to pray our leaders understand this and respect the will of the American people.

Finally, this.  Patriotism is not an idea of the Republicans or the Democrats.  It is an American ideal.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Pondering “Revolution”


My wife and I have been watching the television show, “Revolution.”

I am not sure how I feel about this show.  At its premise it is about some sort of weapon that was created that would neutralize all the electrical power in the world.  Somehow it worked and the world has been going on for many years without electricity.  The United State government fell and regions are ruled by militias that are battling the populace and one another for national, if not world domination.

In many ways, the world has been turned upside down.  We all remember the bullies in high school, those who were bigger and stronger and who ruled the roost.  If one was a nerd, one was a loser in high school.  However, real life tended to neutralize things.  The nerds went to college, became professionals and suddenly the tables turned.  In “Revolution,” the tables have turned back.  In a wild, untamed society, intellectual know how isn’t as strong a commodity as brute force and violence.

The show is violent.  The heros are a small band of people.  The former militia leader, his niece who is the daughter of the man who created the device that eliminated electricity.  There is also the classic nerd buy with them who has a pendant that holds the secret of power, and another young woman who is a rebel fighter and bomb making expert.

There are others.  There is the head of the militia, the son of the man who created the device, his Mom, and the ongoing saga of the formerly nerdy insurance adjustor turned macho man interrogator and bad guy. 

One thing I like about the show is that it is a reminder of how much we are slaves to the technology of our world and how it all depends on electricity.  If the electricity goes out, we are in serious trouble.  As the electricity in the show is completely out, cars can no longer run (they have batteries) and transportation is brought to a standstill.  Steam trains, steam boats, and horses and carriages are the modes of transportation.  And walking.

Communication is changed forever.  There is no more Internet, no more radio, no television, no telephone communication.  One’s smart phone can be used as a doorstop and little more.  Chaos ensues and the show very clearly demonstrates this.

Whenever we see catastrophes in our nation, we recently have observed Hurricane Sandy, we realize just how important our electrical grid is and how fragile it is.

The underlying story of the militias is also interesting.  They came to be as no one was safe and the militias began to give people safety; they were the only means of law enforcement.  Of course, as they became more powerful they became corrupt and savage to the population they had sworn to protect.

There are lessons in the show about power: electrical power and human power.  The tragedy is, as it so often is, that people’s failure to love one another begins to dictate how life is carried out.

When there is chaos people turn to brute force and violence and hatred begins to fill the day.

What disappoints me about the show is that the heros are not very likeable and have become every bit as violent as they people they oppose.  They lack trust and they seem to have the inability to love and trust one another.  Often, even at their best moments, they do not look to transform hearts to goodness, charity, and love, but to more violence.

I worry about us when we see violence as the solution to the problem.  Perhaps we need to learn that violence is not a solution as much as it is a furthering of the problems of our world.  I am reminded we have a long way to go, and a long way to fully embrace Jesus’ command of loving one another.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Not a Noble Election


In 1860 perhaps the most important election in the history of the United States took place.  It was between Abraham Lincoln ,Stephen Douglas, John Bell, and John Breckenridge.  Lincoln and Douglas were the two major party nominees and their debates were legendary.  Douglas, however, only won one state and while Lincoln swept the north, Bell and Breckenridge swept through the south.

There was one very large looming issue.  Did human beings have the right to own other human beings?    One can argue that the Southern way of life was at stake and the Southern economy was at stake, and Southern liberty was at stake until we turn purple.  It was all based on the right of some human beings owning other human beings.    Lincoln won and we know the results of the issues that were at hand.

The election if 1860 was easily the most important election in the history of the United States.  We would not be the nation we are today had it not been for that election.  That election changed the future and culture of our nation.  It was, in many ways, a time when a noble idea went forward.  Many of called it the most important and, in many ways, the most noble of all American Presidential elections.

The year 2012 will not be a year of nobility.

An obscene amount of money was spent on this election.

People, corporations, and special interest groups flooded us with paid advertisements to elect the candidate of their choice.  In a time of economic difficulty that is graver than any time apart from the Great Depression, billions of dollars were spent on an election.  In a time when people needed jobs, money that could pay salaries was poured into television advertisement.  In a time when we have record numbers of people homeless, jobless, and hungry, billions of dollars was spent on paid advertisements.  This year’s election was so incredibly obscene in terms of money spent. 

Ironically, this election was, in so many ways, a reflection of The Seinfeld Show.  It was, amazingly, an election about not very much....

There are a lot of significant issues that were not addressed:

We sent into two separate wars and cut taxes.  As a result with the cost of the wars (on VISA), and all the government programs, we are awash in debt.  The discussions on taxation and benefits was heated, but no one ever discussed the debt accrued by two unfunded wars.

Hurricane Sandy exposed a couple of things not discussed.  The storm patterns were unprecedented.   These storms have historically gone up the east coast and drifted east.  This storm made a dramatic turn west.  This was abnormal-----but we need to get used to it.  Scientists have told us that climate change has melted large sections of the polar ice cap north of Greenland and changed the jet stream and currents.  The path of this storm was the direct result of the change in climate.  It also exposed the fact that the infrastructure of the United States, especially in older regions like the Northeast, are very, very inadequate.

Climate change is a reality that we should not be ignoring any longer.  Huge economic opportunities are present for people moving us into a new age, and yet, this was not an issue, and never mentioned.  Infrastructure?  Again, not an issue in this election.

Healthcare?  A lot of verbiage on the Affordable Health Care Act, Obamacare, and whether it’s good or not.  No discussion that the world’s richest nation ranks #37 on the World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems.  We are just below Costa Rica and just above Slovenia.  France and Italy not only have some of the world’s finest food, but they rank #1 and #2 in world health systems.  There was no discussion of France and Italy’s healthcare systems and why they work so well.

In many ways, this election was made very clear in a couple of instances.

Martha Raddatz asked Joe Biden and Paul Ryan about their Roman Catholic faith and how it impacted their views on abortion.  She took a very, very broad question about the faith and turned it into one issue.  Instead of asking them how their Roman Catholic faith impacted their world views and their role in the government, she made it a single topic question.  Both men gave very articulate answers I might add, but she had such a magnificent opportunity to ask a very good question, and didn’t.

In the Presidential debates, President Obama, very much a product of mainline Protestantism, and Governor Romney, very much a product of Mormonism, were never asked how their faith impacted their world views and their role in government.  It was a great question, never asked.

But perhaps above all, a young man asked a question about graduating from college and looking for a job.  Both President Obama and Governor Romney gave very patronizing answers.  They both helped to paint the lad as a victim of the times, the other party, etc. 

What neither man did was tell the young man the truth.  The way people come out of college and get jobs is they work very hard at it.  No one is going to drop a job on your lap; you have to apply, have a good resume, and excellent grades, and interview well.  There is a lot of hard work in getting a job out of college.  Smart parents tell their children that and good leaders tell citizens that.  In that moment, both men failed miserably in leadership.

I have no idea what the election of 1860 cost, but it wasn’t close to what this one will cost.  It was, however, the most important, and in many ways, most noble of American elections.  The election of 2012, no matter who wins, was not a battle of high ideals and noble causes, it was a battle of money and a dodging of the big issues of our day.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Audio Sermon 11-4-12


Delighting in Reaching Beyond Ourselves in Mission

Text:  James 2:14-18

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Stewardship Moment Joy Knopfmeier


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Stewardship Moment Rev. Dr. Earl Miller


Sermon in Multiple Parts

This week’s sermon is going to require a small bit of effort, but I hope worth it.

Parts 1 and 2  are narrative portions with a video in the middle.  I broke the sermon up into the two parts to make this easy.    To follow the progression of the sermon listen to Part 1, watch the video, and then listen to Part 2.


Sermon Title:  Finding Delight in Reaching Out in Evangelism.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sermon Audio 10-21-12

Delight in Reaching Up to Worship God

Hebrews 5:1-10

October 21, 2012

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Audio Sermon 10-14-12

Spiritual Surgery

Hebrews 4:12-16

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Audio Sermon 10-7-2012

Peace in the Kin-dom of God

Text:  John 14-7-21

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Audio Sermon 9-30-12

Soul Food

Text:  James 5:13-20

September 30, 2012

Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Audio Sermon September 23rd: Rev. Merideth Sprigler

The Light of God’s Love

Text:  John 1:1-14

Head Slap Moments

People who are NFL fans are in a tizzy. The replacement officials have been spotty. Some good calls, some bad calls. This past weekend was a debacle. The final game of the weekend ended on an obviously blown call. The call was so bad that there wasn’t one thing wrong with it, there were multiple things wrong with it.

It was not the fault of the officials. They blew the call, but they were not people who should have slap

never been in the position they were in. These were low level officials who had no aspiration or skill to officiate on the professional level. This has been an opportunity to make some good money quickly and live out lifelong dreams of officiating on such a big stage.

Professional football is different from other levels of football. People who like football like different ‘types’ of the game and they all have great things going for them----if you like football. Pro football is played before large crowds with large television audiences, with professional commentators who know the game, and it is shot from multiple angles. The players are uniformly big and fast. The game is faster than on other levels and the stakes are incredibly high.

NFL officials are often yelled at but often usually correct. The replacement refs, not so much.

The NFL reviewed the play and said that the officials missed offensive pass interference (duh!) but made the correct call on the catch. This decision made, despite the very clear evidence that the defender was the person who caught the ball. Talk about nonsense. Talk about a head slap moment!!!

The most interesting comment on all of this, however, was a Facebook friend who said that it would be good if we were concerned as to the behavior and decisions or our elected officials as we are NFL officials. He was totally correct. Sometimes I look at how decisions are made by elected officials and I feel a need to give myself a major head slap. Duh!!!!

Such seems the state of our world right now.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why is Worship Attendance Down Nationally

It is interesting to read a wide variety of opinions as to the ‘why’s’ of things.

In most religious circles there is a piece of information that is well known. Worship attendance is on the decline. Less people attend worship than 10 years ago; and 10 years ago it was less than 20 years ago. The decline has been steady and often steep.

Additionally, the next piece of information is also well known. The average age of people in a typical Worship Service is older. Older people are more inclined to get up on Sunday morning than younger people are. The decline actually started with the Baby Boom generation and as that generation is aging, the decline has become even more pronounced.

As time has progressed, when people are asked about their religious beliefs, the single largest group has become ‘spiritual but not religious.’ This often means that a person has some sort of belief in a higher power, but that higher power may or may not be defined and the person does not Worship in any faith community.

I recently read an article from a Roman Catholic Bishop who I’ve decided not to identify, but I think he has part of the story backward. His reasoning is that he sees a serious attempt to marginalize religion from the public forum and to limit religious freedom to the freedom of worship. Most clergy who are even marginally honest know there is no attempt by anyone to limit religious freedom and freedom to Worship as people so chose unless they happen to belong to a tradition that limits that freedom. Clergy know, within the parameters of our own traditions, there is total freedom of Worship and practice of religion. Many of those complaining about limitations on religious freedom are upset that they cannot impose their values on others who do not embrace them.

As for the public forum, again, I do not see this. There are people like Bill Maher who makes fun of religious people, but he is a comedian. Much of what he makes fun of is actually often deserving of the humor it receives. Some aspects of religious life have been dismissed by many, but it is not so much society’s fault as it is the fault of those of us within religious circles.

I suspect part of the reason there has been a decline in Worship attendance has been the fault of the religious community. In fact, I suspect it is the major reason.


For one, people have learned that clergy are seriously flawed….and we are. No exceptions. We fail, we often fail grievously, and as we learned with the child abuse scandal many of failed criminally with the most vulnerable in our midst. As has often been the case, innocent people were not protected by faith communities and people abandoned those faith communities. People lose faith in churches when this happens.

Secondly, churches have been too front and center in politics. There has been a log of rendering unto Caesar by the religious community.

Third, a science advances often there is little desire for many theological ideas to advance either. When I hear people saying that God expects us to believe the universe is 6000 years old I find myself wondering why anyone is willing to come to Worship any longer.

Fourth, groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and the “pastor” in Florida who is virulently anti-Islam have given people the impression that Christianity is one large hate group. When I see how many churches treat people who are gay, I see how people get this impression.

Fifth, gender is a hormonal ‘accident.’ Presuming people have to have different roles in church because of gender is, to me, insane. The rest of society has grown up. Why haven’t churches?

Perhaps the problem of Worship attendance is that we are not looking in the mirror enough.

Of course, there are other reasons….reasons I would probably not like to wish upon myself.  I know I have flaws and my church has flaws.  This is a huge challenge for those of us in religious circles.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Words of Wisdom to Presidential Candidates


No one asked me but I decided to share my words of wisdom to the Presidential candidates. These can apply to the nominees of the two major parties, but in my humble opinion, these adages are good advice for everyone.

First, be aware that everything you say in public, even when ‘public’ is a ‘private’ event, has someone there who doesn’t like you and someone who can very possibly record everything you say. In short, mind your p’s and q’s because anything you say can and will be used.

Secondly, when you mess up, apologize. There seems to be this aversion to apologizing these days and that is a very, very bad development. Voters all mess up themselves and are usually very forgiving. Simple, quick, and sincere apologies change the playing field almost instantly. They are also good for the soul. The prodigal son ate a fatted calf at his Dad’s dinner table instead of feeding pigs because of one sincere apology. People who tell you apologies are bad are fools.

Thirdly, recognize that one of the nominees will be the President of the United States when all of this is over. Respect your opponents even if you don’t like them or don’t agree with them. If that opponent becomes the President, you need to assure they are not marginalized to the point that they cannot govern. At the end of the day, people are political opponents, not mortal enemies. Remember that!

Fourth, do not watch the news, do not listen to the radio, and avoid reading politics in the newspaper. You may begin to pay attention to what they have to say and become immobilized by criticism or advice.

Fifth, listen to average people. Get yourself in position to listen to average people without someone filtering what is being said. Your political advisors will try and ‘protect’ you from the average person. Don’t allow that.

Sixth, go on the network that likes your opponent better than you. Allow someone who is somewhat adversarial to you to interview you and give them a chance to ask tough questions----but questions that are fair. They should respect the office you are seeking and act accordingly if given the opportunity. Even if they don’t vote for you, they may respect you more if you allow them the opportunity to talk with you.

Seventh, keep it clean. You’ll sleep better.

Last, your closest friends and spouse need to have the opportunity to be totally honest with you. Allow them that and listen to them.

Audio Sermon, Sunday September 16,


Mark 8:27-38

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

St. Paul

Something I have learned over the years is that many people struggle with St. Paul. In progressive mainline Protestant churches he is often a lightning rod for things people do not like about Christianity. His letters have often been cited by some to exclude women in leadership positions in the church and to establish hierarchies within families. Paul is seen by many to be harsh and judgmental. He is also often something of a dualist in his approach to humanity. Additionally, his letters often appear to be rather abstract and difficult to comprehend.

Yet, here I am, a progressive mainline Protestant who loves St. Paul. I really do and I preach from the Epistles of Paul a good deal. Often, at least in my opinion, the problems people have with St. Paul can be addressed.

First, the role of women is a sticking point for many. I do not believe Paul was a misogynist. Misogyny is a hatred of women and girls. Paul did not, in my mind, even come close to this. He was, however, a person of his time.

Jesus was not a person of his time. Jesus appeared to women first. In many ways, the primal message of the Gospels is that Jesus was raised from the dead. The first Christian preachers, the first people to share the good news of the resurrection of Christ were women. Jesus was not a person of his time and, frankly, neither was God very interested in the human constructs of the day. It can be argued that the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, was a primal message. Again, the receiver of that message was a woman. Women, in the Gospels, took a second seat to no one.

Paul was a person of his time. Women had no rights. Women did not speak in the synagogue. Women were the property of men. Often missed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about women submitting to husbands was the command for husbands to love their wives. It was more than romantic love. It was an outright statement of responsibility the husband was being given to take care of and be responsible for his wife’s well-being. His words are, however, in the context of the world he was living in. Paul was slightly ahead of his time by our standards, radically by the era’s standards.

The issue of women speaking in church was not unlike this. Paul came from a tradition where women were separated and silenced in the synagogue. In early Christianity, as some women stepped forward, this was met with great hesitation by people. One concern Paul had was that the women might lead the men astray as the women did not have the same background of information as the men. I wish he had given more say to the women having the ability and privilege of receiving more information, but he didn’t. Sadly. However, Paul was not atypical of his era.

Several things people seem to miss about St. Paul.

His writings were letters to churches addressing specific issues within those churches. The early Christian Church put those letters in the Bible, but Paul was not, in his mind, writing the New Testament. He was merely writing letters to address issues. His responses were and are brilliant. The problem is, however, that we do not have the letters TO Paul that contain the questions he was being asked. We attempt to ascertain those questions with his answers, but we might not always be correct. As a result, those letters may appear to us, to fall short.

Secondly, Paul was brilliant. He studied to be a rabbi under the premier Rabbi Gamaliel, who, in rabbinic terms, would have been the “Harvard or Yale” of his era. Paul was also fluent in Greek and his writings demonstrate a clear understanding of the writings of the Greek philosopher Plato. Paul uses the language of Plato to often explain, to the Gentile world, Jesus’ theology. This was no easy feat and it is often difficult to truly get a grasp on Paul without a working knowledge of Plato’s philosophy. His writings are sophisticated and often elegant and deftly put together.

Third, there is culture. People are products of their time and place. It’s important not to bind them to our time and place and judge them according to our own eras.

Lastly, the writings of Paul evolve. St. Paul, often not noticed by people, changed many perceptions. He became kinder and gentler as he got older. He grew in his faith. I admire that, and love that about him.

This blog today may seem random. Just a reminder to us, however, to not gloss over and dismiss this amazing man and his writings.