Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Monday, December 07, 2015
Monday, October 26, 2015
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Monday, October 05, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Today will go down in history as the day the Pope, a Pope, spoke to a joint meeting of Congress. There were moments of beauty in this speech that anyone of good will could sit and listen to and be inspired. Pope Francis, with his usual Jesuit insights, wove brilliantly talking about Americans, American Catholics, and life in this nation. It was well done.
While many are calling it a ‘political’ speech, it really wasn’
t was less a speech than a sermon and an articulation of his beliefs as well as a reflection of Roman Catholic social teaching. He said things that made Republicans squirm and things that made Democrats squirm. The early portion of his speech where he spoke about polarization should have made them all squirm. (Yeah, I squirmed too!) His perspective on the dangers of fundamentalism of any sort were perfect.
It is being dissected as a political speech which, frankly, it really wasn't. I think the perspective that it was a political speech reflects more on the listeners than the speaker.
In the midst of this had said some blockbuster words:
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.
Fundamentalism is inherently dangerous and his words of being attentive to every type of fundamentalism are worth listening to. So much of faith requires a delicate balance between heart and mind. It’s important to FEEL in relationship to God but pure feeling makes religious faith be little more than emotions run amuck.
Conversely, we must also use our minds. Religious faith is built on faith and, on one level, faith is irrational----but…..when it becomes purely irrational it gets crazy. Additionally, when it gets purely rational Worship becomes little more than a classroom and is sterile.
Religious practice, at its best, balances the two. Fundamentalism, however, eliminates both. It takes things literally to the point of missing the spirit behind the words, losing the heart behind the words, and no longer analyzing or critically thinking through things. Its consequences are awful and, as the Pope said so well, can often lead to violence.
While we often focus on Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism is also a problem. Within the Protestant tradition that fundamentalism is taking the Bible more literally than it was even intended to be taken and eliminated such things as science, psychology, and history. Once speaking to a group and getting into a debate of sorts with a man who challenged me when I said that the Bible is a product of the early church; and not visa versa. He argued with me that I was wrong because another pastor in another church said the opposite. I very coldly (bad on my part) stated that this was not my opinion, but was a fact and that you really can’t debate facts.
I never saw him again.
Within Roman Catholicism the Pope deals with the “Tradition’ fundamentalists who look back on Medieval teachings and want to abide by them literally. In the same way Biblical literalists follow the Bible, these people cite Popes and others and state that their church must abide by these laws.
Pope Francis’ words cut in all directions and do so well.
I greatly appreciated his articulation of simplistic reductionism. His early remarks about polarization were interesting because simplistic reductionism is the mantra of American politics. There is right and there is left. The center is scorned. Boo hiss, if you are center on something. You are road kill.
The great myth is there are two sides to everything. Sometimes there is one side. There are facts, ie, the Bible is the product of the early Christian Church. The Pope was born in Argentina. The President was born in Hawaii. (Funny how that fact is a subject of debate!) The sun rises and sets every day and the oceans are vast. Facts.
It is often simplistic reductionism when we say that there are ONLY two sides to things. It may be what we hear from our government leaders and it may be what we hear on talk radio or the news, but the world is more complex than that. When a couple has a second child the family dynamics change a lot. A couple relates to a child; the child relates to the couple and each person in the couple relates to the child as individuals. Add a second this and you add the relationship of the two kids as a unit and as individuals and by the time you are done 1+1 = a lot more than two.
Today truth spoke to power. Will power listen? I’m curious.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Liberty University is in Lynchburg, Virginia and was the brainchild of Jerry Falwell who, at the time, was the Senior Pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, also in Lynchburg. Jerry Falwell was one of the leaders of the organization he co-founded, The Moral Majority, and was a leading voice in the Religious Right. The current Senior Pastor of Thomas Road Church is his son, Jonathan Falwell. Although Jonathan is not as nationally known as
his famous father, one would presume his philosophy and theology are comparable. The President of the school is Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr. Again, one would imagine his philosophy and theology are comparable to his Dad’s.
Liberty University has been a stalwart in conservative political thought and philosophy and, theologically is an institution that prides itself on it’s theological fundamentalism. This is who they are and I’m not going to make any value judgments on this. They have every right to be who and what they choose to be.
Most of the politicians who have been invited to speak at Liberty have been people who are pretty much in harmony with the people at the school. The people who have spoken there wanted to speak to a friendly audience and be of one accord.
Yesterday, however, a self-professed Democratic Socialist Jewish politician spoke there. Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to everyone and they all came and listened.
Some applauded wildly at everything. In some instance a large number of people applauded respectfully. Some people never applauded. Sanders spoke respectfully to them acknowledging they differed in a lot of areas, but respected their opinions. The Liberty Students did likewise.
Dr. Falwell, Jr. said he admired Senator Sanders courage to come. He was asked some difficult questions and responded respectfully and honestly, recognizing that many would disagree with him. Conversely he challenged people with their own faith development and people received his challenge with grace.
Many of the students walked away saying this even was going to evoke a lot of good discussions.
I suspect Bernie Sanders is not going to have an abundance of Liberty students voting for him and I also suspect that his mind is going to be changed by them. But I applaud both the school and the Senator for having the intellectual courage to look further than their own noses. So often we listen and read only those people and those things with whom we disagree. We find out other people’s opinions through the filters of analysts with whom we agree. Bernie Sanders and Libert University had the courage to talk face to face. To me, something good happened.
Monday, September 14, 2015
Please note, I did not have my recorder at Worship and this was recorded later on so it may lack the same aspects the sermon had in front of the congregation.
Jesus: An Enigmatic Messiah
Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9 Mark 8:27-38
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
September 13, 2015
Wednesday, September 09, 2015
Saturday, September 05, 2015
Here is an engraved invitation. Or as close to engraved as you can get online.
I love being a Christian and I love being the pastor of St. Marks United Church of Christ. We welcome everyone. Seriously. We take Worship very seriously and approach it with a light touch but also a serious touch. Maybe we can be called traditional. We honor the traditions of Christianity. We also honor the Bible a lot. We honor the Bible to not take things literally and out of context. Sermons are preached on actual Scripture passages and not based on a random topic of the week with a variety of out of context proof texts. We take service to others seriously. Hundreds of people get fed by us, get clothing from us, etc. Lots of stuff. We take our faith seriously. We have great music and our music staff and participants work hard.
It is a diverse congregation. Politics are not preached. To be honest, who you vote for is your business. No one at the church is going to tell you who you have to vote for. We have a diversity of opinions on a whole variety of things. We welcome everyone. We take that seriously.
To be perfectly honest, there are people who will not like this church. If you think everyone should agree on everything all the time, we are not for you. If you think that going to church will provide you with easy answers for complex issues, this is not the church for you.
If you are a person with a lot of questions, we might be the place for you. If you are a person who not only tolerates a variety of opinions and people but gets energized by this, we might be the place for you. If you take your faith seriously enough to not be satisfied with short, simple answers, we might be the church for you.
We take kids seriously. We have an amazing Wednesday night program for kids. We teach them, feed them, give them a chance to sing and act, and play. Tomorrow, at 9:15AM we are starting a new Sunday School program. I know, that sounds boring, doesn't it? We have classes for kids of all ages with cool rooms, and a neat new curriculum that will challenge them to think. We have adult classes, one new one about the challenge of parenting as a person of faith. The book is written by two female clergy who are honest enough to know they do not have all the answers. The teacher of the class is clear that she doesn't know all the answers either.
I don't have all the answers either. Think about church. Churches can be places where a variety of people get together and love, support, and care for each other and wrestle with their faith together.
Easy answers? Nope. Are you welcome? Yes. But I'm...... You're still welcome.
We Worship at 10:30AM and tomorrow we are serving Holy Communion. Guess what?
You are welcome at our Table.
No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Thursday, July 23, 2015
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Monday, June 22, 2015
Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Monday, May 25, 2015
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Today, on Facebook, author Rachel Held Evans observed that she often wrestles with a lingering sense that God punishes us if we are wrong about our theological beliefs. It is a fear and a reflection of what she learned at church growing up. Thankfully, her parents did not advocate this viewpoint at home. Her post was thoughtful and deliberative. As someone who has read a good bit of what she has written, this is not a surprise. Rachel Held Evans is one of the finest commentators on religious life we have and she is a treasure to modern day Christianity.
Years ago, when I was still Roman Catholic I began to contemplate ministry within the United Church of Christ. The idea was great and the pastor of the church we were attending, a really wonderful person, said that the first step was joining the church. In doing this I was going to be officially leaving being Roman Catholic and becoming Protestant. I was filled with dread and guilt. I remember joining the church on that one Sunday that I was going to go to hell. In fairness, by this point, the Roman Catholic Church was beyond teaching this, but still I was gripped with fear and guilt. Years later, a leader in the United Church of Christ expressed the exact same sensation I had so I knew I was not alone.
For a number of people there is the belief that our theological world view is going to determine if we are going to Heaven or to Hell. It may be what denomination or tradition we are in or boil down to our specific beliefs on specific topics. God not only judges us on whether we are sinful or not; whether we have faith or not; but salvation is based on a theological litmus test.
Years ago I had a colleague. He was a fellow United Church of Christ minister who disliked the United Church of Christ. I struggled with this person because he was pretty much anti-everything. He disliked our denomination and was very happy to share his dislike with other people. He retired from his church several years ago and encouraged them to leave the denomination-----they most recently did just that.
Over lunch one day, in a group, he talked openly about his belief that if we were wrong about things theologically we were going to Hell. Over the years I’ve come to realize this was a terrible burden for him to carry. He lived in fear that he was going to Hell unless he believed in a correct manner. Additionally, he had to face God for all the mistakes he made in his preaching and teaching. No wonder he was so anti-everything. Wow.
How cruel are we that we put this kind of pressure on people?
How arrogant are we that we think our viewpoint is so right that only the people who agree with us are going to Heaven?
How can be so certain that our God, a God who transcends all human understanding is so totally knowable that we can capture everything there is to know about God and that God is going to use this as a yardstick for our salvation or condemnation?
I like to think I have a reasonable understanding of Theology. I have advanced degrees in it and have read a good bit of Theology over the years. I can take part in a Theological conversation and can contribute to it and understand what is being talked about. I can discuss Theology with colleagues in ministry and they do not shake their heads in laughter as to how clueless I am. I can stand before people Sunday after Sunday and share my perspectives and they do not shake their heads in bewilderment at my total confusion.
In saying all of this, I cannot fathom to say that I have a clue. The mysteries of God still elude me on a regular basis.
I was often troubled with that and then I had an experience with an elderly Trappist monk several years ago. His name was Fr. Matthew Kelty and he had been at the Abbey of Gethsemani from 1960 until he died in 2011. I had a conversation with him about 2 years before he died. He was a very friendly and very humble man and had been the main preacher at the monastery for a long time. He had known Thomas Merton, who had been a monk at that monastery, quite well.
I asked Fr. Matthew after being a monk for so many years and praying in their Abbey Church close to 4 hours a day for 50 years, what he could say he knew about God. He looked at me, gently smiled and said, "After all these years I can only say that I don't know a damned thing."
One of the greatest piece of wisdom I have ever heard.
The greatest of all wisdom is knowing we do not know.
The greatest step of faith is recognizing we cannot ever fully understand God. In many ways the greatest spiritual gift is the gift of humility.
So I choose not to be cruel and tell others they are going to hell because they are wrong. To me, they are fellow sojourners and we are all on the journey together.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
I find myself increasingly thankful for DVR. I hate watching live television. When I watch live television I’m bombarded with incredibly dumb commercials selling medications I really want because they will make me feel sooooo good. Other than the side effects of partial paralysis, death, and/or projectile vomiting, these all sound very hopeful.
There are ED commercials that end up with a couple with his and her bathtubs that have no plumbing attached in their backyards. There are commercials for really bad pizza. You know the ones, “Better ingredients, better pizza, Papa”……hey, have you ever tasted that stuff?
In the Louisville Metro Area we are bombarded with 1001 commercials from a young woman named Lindsay Schultz who has become a local celebrity. Don’t know who I’m talking about? She’s famous for the words, “The Kia Store. The best value in the new economy.” Yes, that’s her, the Kia woman.
Far, far worse, however, are the political ads. Over and over and over and over. Cliché after cliché after cliché.
I am against (insert what I am against here.) and I will oppose any effort that (insert effort of opponent) brings to you.
Ever notice that most of the politicians now are against things? They are pro-growth, pro-America, pro-God, country, American flag, and apple pie, but pretty much nothing of note. They will reduce spending----which they never do. They may or may not cut taxes whether this needs to happen or not. We will benefit by paying their salaries. That pretty much covers the benefit we are going to receive.
They profess faith in Christianity, but their reflection of Christianity sounds more like a party platform than it does a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s as if their faith in Christ is subjected to the political whims of the time.
Not to distract anyone from a really big news story like Tom Brady and deflated footballs, but has anyone realized how huge the derailment in Philadelphia is? It reflects a massive underlying issue our nation has right now and one that no one who is running for President, thinking of running for President, or is even pondering a run, is talking about. It’s the least sexy topic on the table and it’s infrastructure.
The United States’ infrastructure is rotting away. Bridges are rotting. Roads are rotting. Old trains are running over old tracks over old beds. People are driving over old highways. Water is coming to us through old pipes. Natural gas, oil, etc, are being pumped through old, and obsolete piping systems. We want to build a new pipeline but we are not even remotely interested in maintaining what we already have. What we already have is rotting away.
A train derailed in Philadelphia. It was going over 100 mph and it was supposed to be going half that speed. The train, the tracks, the undergirding of all of this, and an automated system designed to stop or slow down the train was never installed. The rest, however, is rotting away. Additionally, the discussion will be distracted into something else.
All the Presidential candidates will line up and guess what topic none of them will address? Infrastructure. It’s not sexy.
I’ve read a lot of books about World War II and I read a couple of books by Omar Bradley and he wrote about one of the most critical elements of winning the war in Europe.
It was not that. No that either. Nope, you missed it.
It was transporting stuff from the United States, to England, to mainland Europe, and to the front line. No matter how great the Army was (and they were pretty great), the Army could do nothing without ammunition, fuel, and food. There are all sorts of exciting movies made on World War II that show all sorts of heroism and greatness----lots of history books as well. None of it would have happened without the ability to schlep stuff.
What I worry about the United States is that we have a lot of wealth and a lot of foolishness at the same time. We worry about a lot of amazingly grand things and overlook something important and unsexy.
A train derailed in Philadelphia. The American infrastructure is rotting away. And no one is talking about it.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Sunday, May 03, 2015
Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Like so many people I’ve watched the events in Baltimore unfold with horror. It appears there was police brutality and/or gross incompetence. Baltimore has long been known as a rough city and this is a part of it. While there are racial elements to this I suspect, down deep, there are also socio-economic factors that have loomed large. The city has a very racially mixed leadership and they have taken racism seriously. While I understand people having a right, perhaps even a need to protest, the rioting and the violence is repulsive to me.
I do not know the answers in the Middle East. Last Sunday the show “Madame Secretary” was about signing a nuclear arms deal with Iran against the backdrop of people in Iran stoning a young gay man to death. The arms deal was signed and the young man was stoned to death. The question loomed big-----did we make a deal with the devil or not? If we don’t make a deal will this leave them the ability to run amuck and do whatever they so desire? If we do make the deal will this allow them to do research leading down a path that we will no longer have control of? These are large, difficult questions.
President George W. Bush made the decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein. I thought it was a bad idea and many other people did. Many still do. The fear I had was that the region would become destabilized. But having said that, we did the invasion and a lot of young Americans died for their country. The region is now destabilized and instead of lamenting what we did or shouldn’t have done or done, we need to find answers that are applicable right here and right now.
If you’re looking for a spiffy answer or observation, I don’t have one. I find so many of these questions difficult to ponder. I do not know the answer.
I guess that’s why I pray.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Saturday, April 18, 2015
This week has been a week of stunning contrasts.
David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times wrote a brilliant column entitled, “The Moral Bucket List.” In it he wrote, “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.”
Mr. Brooks recently released a book on this topic and it’s a book about character and transformation. In his book and in this article, he writes about people overcoming their character flaws not so much to accomplish great things but to become great people. He realized that he wanted to understand how really good people become really good people. He concluded that these people are made, not born.
He came to understand the value of virtue----of inner goodness. It’s this kind of goodness that makes people kind and caring. It’s this kind of virtue that seeks to make people better and lift other people up. So much of it, he learned, was that virtuous people have embraced a sense of humility; an ability to apologize, at times, and listen to others. Virtue is not that people are without sin; none of us accomplish that. Virtue is, instead, learning to overcome our frailness and become loving and good and kindhearted. It is learning to be caring without an expectation of that caring being returned.
Mr. Brooks, as I said, just released a new book entitled, “The Road to Character,” and he explores the virtue of character.
Then there is the stunning contrast. A young woman, a correspondent for ESPN named Britt McHenry was filmed in a dreadful exchange with a worker where Ms. McHenry was picking up her car that had been towed away during dinner. Despite being warned that her comments were being recorded, Ms. McHenry berated the attendant in an ugly fashion.
This has not gone well for Britt McHenry. I know, great insight, isn’t it?
People have been piling on Britt McHenry in a rather brutal fashion. She’s had some interesting Twitter exchanges and had made comments on Facebook about a college classmate posting too many pictures of her classmate’s baby. Britt McHenry has a rather acerbic personality which isn’t good or bad, it’s just her.
In fairness to the young woman, the video was heavily edited. We cannot see or hear what is being said to her and what is prompting her commentary. Additionally, this is an independent towing company that, in doing a bit of research, is shady. They have been accused, on numerous occasions, of towing legally parked cars and charging patrons to have the cars returned.
But still, ouch. The video was brutal and this was beyond acerbic and it was beyond being angry over having her car towed. Her comments were personally insulting to the woman behind the counter. I suspect that Britt McHenry would love a retake on that one.
In one week one person in the media is on a tour of self-discovery in searching for character and a young woman finds herself in desperate need of character. For him it’s come after years of covering politics and seeing the slime of that; for a young woman her life turned into a mess over one video.
For Britt McHenry her life is not in a good spot at the moment. She’s been suspended for a week and many are calling for it to be longer while some are calling for her head on a silver platter. If she comes back after a week she will be the most famous or infamous of all of ESPN’s sideline reporter and people will be talking about that video for a long, long time.
Her mistake, of course, was to fail on video. We all, at times fail grandly, but we often do so in the shadows or just among a few. Nationally televised meltdowns are not something most of us have to deal with. I feel badly for her in the fact that while her behavior was horrible, it was horrible and broadcast to the world. It is now part of “You Tube” where it can be seen and heard without bleeping out her words.
David Brooks, however, spoke about humility and he realized that is one of the great virtues we all have to embrace at some point. So let’s put down the stones we all have aimed for Britt McHenry’s head. She messed up. We all mess up. She said stupid things. We all say stupid things. She was cruel. We’ve all been cruel. For her, it’s an amazing opportunity to do some soul search for humility and become a better person.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” It’s moments like she had that remind us all of how poor in spirit we are. For Jesus, being poor in spirit was an opportunity for us to see the need for God in our lives
Character is not something we are born with; we learn it. How blessed are we when we have the opportunities to see how flawed we are and to grow.
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Monday, April 06, 2015
Friday, April 03, 2015
I am not a huge poetry fan though I have read poems I’ve enjoyed and actually wrote some poems for my college magazine when I was a student. I did, however, enjoy reading the poetry of the 17th century metaphysical poet, John Donne. Donne, an Anglican priest wrote religious and secular poetry. His religious poetry was elegant and beautiful and his secular poetry was elegant, but often funny and scandalous.
To me, his greatest poem (which follows) was Good Friday 1613: Riding Westward.
The poem was about him riding westward, away from the crucifixion of Jesus that was taking place in the east. While his soul was telling him to face the east, his body was on a horse, riding westward, facing away and running away from the cross.
His poem reminds me that we Christians have a strange relationship with the cross. We are willing to talk about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, but we don’t really like to think about it that much. We talk about it superciliously, even flippantly, but we don’t want to engage it very much. We are often willing to sing bouncy songs about the blood of Jesus that often seem to not embrace that this was real blood shed painfully.
Often we ministers lament on Easter Sunday that it’s the day when we see people we hardly ever see but I really don’t. I sometimes lament that we are very willing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus but are unwilling to visit the grave. We celebrate Jesus being raised but sometimes fail to view Jesus dying.
Every year, on Good Friday, I reread this poem and wonder about it. Am I facing east, toward the events on the hill or am I facing west.? Of maybe the bigger question is am I facing west and fooling myself by saying and believing I am facing east?
To me, it’s a reminder to not look away. Jesus, on the cross, could see those around him. He was higher up so he could actually see further than the people at the base of the cross.
I wonder sometimes what he’s viewing me doing….am I riding west, or have I turned around and faced east? Am I riding westward or am I truly present.
These are my Good Friday questions….
Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
BY JOHN DONNE
Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.
Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Monday, March 30, 2015
Palm Sunday is a day of ironies. Jesus comes into Jerusalem amid accolades and during the course of the week many of the people who cheered him on Sunday would jeer him on Friday. He would enter the city in triumph and be executed by Friday. The words of slaves to the conquering heroes in Rome is remembered, “All glory is fleeting.”
Of course, for Jesus, the real glory was still to come. On Sunday he’d return and new hope, new dreams, and new expectations were the order of the day. Hope and glory came alive in the midst of chaos and confusion.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayers for all of us, ‘that they may all be one.’ It was a fervent prayer among those closest to him and, I suspect, many of them were bewildered. They were all one at the time. What was Jesus referring to?
If you lived in Indiana last week you had a bird’s eye view of Jesus’ concern. To say that Hoosiers were not all one and are not all one is an understatement. A bill on religious freedom was passed and to say the bill caused an uproar is an understatement.
The bill is like a 1993 Federal law that limits the government’s power over religious practices, thereby giving people of faith the right to worship and practice their faith in the way they see fit. It was feared toward minority religious groups, most specifically at the time, Native Americans and their usage of peyote during religious ceremonies.
The freedom of religion protects a wide variety of people. The Amish believe children should only be in school until the 8th grade, age 14. Most states require students to remain in school until age 16. The Amish are exempt. They are also exempt from Social Security based on religious needs. They have traditionally been exempt from serving in the military because of their pacifist beliefs.
Churches traditionally have chosen the weddings they wished to perform or not. Some churches will not officiate at second or third weddings for divorced people. The Roman Catholic Church will not officiate at the wedding of a person who has been divorced if they have not received a church sanctioned annulment. In areas where the marriage of same sex couples happens to be legal, some churches will bless those weddings, others will not. We have all enjoyed these rights for years and nothing on this has been changed.
The Indiana law is somewhat vague. Its stretch seems to be concerning businesses being protected from serving those who they believe violate their religious practices. Though the bill does not address anything in specific, many supporters have spoken about bakeries and florists serving same sex couples or not. By its wording, it would appear that it also protects Anabaptist businesses who refused to serve members of the armed forces or armed law enforcement professionals. The reach of the law is pretty wide and the vagueness of it probably won’t be worked out until people use this as a defense and it’s challenged in court.
I’m distressed that many people perceive this as a right to discriminate and they are pointing to Christianity as a religion of discrimination. Jesus was the ultimate friend of the poor and the outcasts. To me, anyone who discriminates against anyone for any purpose is not following the teachings and the spirit of Jesus Christ. People who discriminate in the name of Jesus are doing so very much in discord with their own faith.
Something that is heart breaking to me is that politicians have a tendency to work hard to divide people. If the efforts by the politicians in Indianapolis did anything, they divided people of the state of Indiana is major ways-----and in other ways they didn’t.
One good thing that has happened is that business leaders and people all across the state have spoken up and said that we will not discriminate against anyone for any purpose. A restaurant owner in Indianapolis called in a radio show and said he would discriminate and has discriminated against people, and the man showed his courage by refusing to identify his restaurant. He KNEW that Hoosiers would not go to his business. Down deep we all know what is right and what is wrong. The people of Indiana will not tolerate discrimination and this law is not going to change that.
To me, in difficult times, I always find myself coming back to Christ. Jesus, the one who loved us enough to come among us, to live, to teach, to die, and to return is always our hope. Thomas Merton once wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.”
As for me, I celebrate my religious freedom. I don’t think we needed this particular law at this particular time in this particular context. There are good and decent people who disagree with me. My attitude toward them is to love them without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
For those who disagree with the law, I will love them without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.
In this holiest week of the year, amid the chaos and swirling of vitriol, let us stop and be still and embrace the presence of God in our midst, and love another as Christ has loved us, without stopping to inquire whether or not others are worthy of that love.
Saturday, March 28, 2015
Meredith Kercher's mother, Arline Kercher is shocked and dismayed by the outcome of the Amanda Knox case in Italy. As we all know, Meredith Kercher was brutally murdered in November of 2007. Amanda Knox was one of Ms. Kercher’s roommates and reported a burglary and became a suspect when Ms. Kercher’s body was found.
arrested along with Ms. Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. It was then discovered that Ms. Knox’s confession unraveled when police realized that Mr. Lumumba was not at the crime scene but there was forensic evidence proving a man named Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native who had been raised in Perugia had been there.
The evidence clearly pointed to Rudy Guede and then, in a deal for a lighter sentence, Mr. Guede implicated Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito. There was no real evidence indicating that the two of them had been a part of this crime, other than the discredited and coerced confession and the testimony of Rudy Guede which had been ‘bought’ for a lighter sentence.
Amanda Knox, who was quite young and immature and not that fluent with the language during the first trial did not quite get a sense of the seriousness of things and behaved like someone very immature. She got the nickname “Foxy Knoxy” and was convicted. She ended up spending four years in an Italian jail and grew up very fast and became fluent in Italian. She won on an appeal. In the bizarre Italian justice system, the appeal was overturned and a new trial, sans Ms. Knox was held and she was convicted. Again, this was appealed and overturned. Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito have been cleared of the crime and Rudy Guede, to whom all the evidence always pointed, is serving a light sentence for the murder.
Arline Kercher has always believed that Amanda Knox was guilty of murdering her daughter, Meredith. I suspect she believes this because the prosecutors and the police convinced her that Ms. Knox was guilty despite the lack of evidence against Amanda Knox.
I feel for Arline Kercher as she probably does not believe there has been adequate justice for the murder of her daughter. She’s probably correct. Tragically, by a lot of circumstances, all of her hopes and aspirations for that justice was based on the conviction of Amanda Knox. The problem was, and I really do believe this, Amanda Knox was never the killer. Young and foolish as she may have been at the time, she was not a killer. Young and foolish is not illegal unless one does something bad while being young and foolish.
The tragedy of all this for Arline Kercher is multi-leveled.
On the first level, she lost her daughter who she loved dearly. She can never get Meredith back and that is a horrible reality for her.
On the next level, she put her hope in faulty prosecutors and police who arrested and convicted the people they wanted to arrest and convict, and made a deal with the one person they needed to convict to get those convictions. I was always a fan of the show “CSI’ and I love Gil Grissom’s rule, ‘you go where the evidence leads you and not where you want to go.’
Lastly, so many people who lose loved ones like this believe that their pain will be relieved when there is a conviction and justice is done. We see this a great deal with executions when victim’s loved ones are seeking closure with the killer’s death only to find there is no closure. The relief from the pain of loss comes usually from the faith that one we love is in a better place with God; not in earthly justice.
I am happy for Amanda Knox and I wish her a good life. My heart breaks for Arline Kercher and I pray she can find the peace of God which passes all understanding.
Friday, March 27, 2015
One thing that became painfully obvious over the recent debate in Indiana over the passage and signing of the RFRA law is that Christians disagree with one another on things. Often we disagree loudly and, sadly, we often disagree disagreeably.
The law is based on an old 1993 law that was passed, in part, to protect Native Americans usage of peyote as part of their sacred rituals. As formerly sacred territories were taken over and different cultures classed, this law was put in place to allow sacred customs and rituals to continue without government interference.
In more recent years it focused on a bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. For better or worse, the couple was angry about this and let the world know about this bakery’s refusal to bake the cake. The bakery, which got a lot of bad press, went out of business.
Under this law, a bakery, or photographer, or florist, or whoever who refuses to provide services to a gay couple may do so with the protection of the law. The law would not have helped the aforementioned bakery as they were not arrested for not baking the cake; they went out of business because of the bad press they received. Businesses may be protected under the law, but they are not protected by word of mouth or bad press. I’m reminded of the University of Oklahoma students who led a racist song and when their frat was closed down and the students expelled some cried out ‘freedom of speech.’ Well, they had freedom of speech and weren’t arrested. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from responsibility for what we say.
Amongst Christian clergy the disagreements are rampant. Governor Pence brought in clergy and religious leaders for the signing and there were religious leaders and clergy in the city protesting. Some Christian leaders praised this legislation in the strongest possible words and some condemned it with equal vehemence.
This is not the first time Christian clergy have disagreed. For better or worse, Christianity is badly divided and has been for a long time. We may all believe the words, “Jesus saves,” but who and under what conditions Jesus saves is a great source of contention.
The lists we disagree on are vast and pretty much all encompassing. As I said, Christianity is badly divided and the divisions have been exposed in mighty fashion this week in Indiana. It has been an ugly and painful week heading into Palm Sunday.
As a Christian minister do I believe this law was necessary? No, we already have freedom of religion. I’ve heard the argument that it protects clergy from officiating at weddings they do not approve of or would be against their religious tradition. Clergy already have that protection and there is nothing in the docket that is going to change this. Within the Roman Catholic tradition people who have been divorced and want to remarry cannot unless they have an annulment from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has every right to have this rule in place.
Some churches do not allow divorced people to get married in their churches. Some will witness only the weddings of church members. Churches have long established rules on how they approach weddings. That is not going to change.
Some churches and clergy will accommodate gay couples some will not. I’d say the majority will not and, frankly, it is their right to choose who gets married in their buildings. Having said that, it’s also within the right of clergy and churches to welcome gay people as well. This is freedom of religion and it’s something we already have.
People, however, have different ideas and perspectives on freedom of religion and some people really do believe their values are being oppressed. In a changing world with changing mores this happens and people want to protect their values.
Will this ‘new’ law change anything? It may have an economic impact on the state. The NCAA is questioning this as is the NFL. Gen Com is saying they will no longer come to Indianapolis. If these groups all choose to leave the state it will mean millions of dollars will not be coming to Indiana. For some, this may be a sacrifice done for a higher purpose; for others, the consequence of what they perceive to be a bad law.
Most businesses are not going to change. The reality is that most small business owners (as well as large business owners) love their customers and will serve everyone. Additionally, those who choose not to serve people with whom they disagree are not going to say much out loud. A restaurant owner named Ryan called the Kyle & Rachel show and said he ‘faked closing early’ to avoid serving gay people-----he would not say what restaurant he owned, however. What he did is now legal but he fears the consequences of people finding out.
Meanwhile Christians disagree.
When Christians disagree it sometimes makes people wonder about Jesus. Jesus is often perceived not as Jesus actually was or is, but on how we present him. When Christians disagree with one another and do so without grace and without dignity, we somehow make Jesus look smaller.
When Christians call one another names or bring the debate into the gutter, we let that spill on Jesus.
Today a dear friend had his car vandalized and, I suspect, it’s for his beliefs. He has an equality bumper sticker on his car and the car was defiled.
People who are for this ruling, however, have been largely quiet online in many instances because they are afraid of the cruelty that may be shown to them.
When Christians disagree we need to do so with grace and dignity. We may disagree but we also need to learn to coexist. Jesus prayed that we may all be one. We might be fractured, but let’s make sure we do not behave with cruelty toward anyone.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
I am a Christian and have been so as long as I can remember. I was baptized when I was two weeks old and I was Confirmed when I was in the 6th grade. We attended church on a regular basis and when I turned 18 I went to the seminary to study to be a priest. I spent the next seven years in school studying and praying and serving and doing all the things one does in a seminary. Instead of becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic Church I became a minister in the United Church of Christ, a denomination I continue to love and serve.
Like other Christians I read the Bible. I had great seminary professors who taught us to read the Bible with a critical understanding of what we are reading. Over the years I’ve listened to lectures and read an awful lot. Compared to the average person, I know a lot about the Bible. When I listen to Scripture scholars speak, I realize how little I know. I approach the Bible with great humility; it is often an enigma wrapped in a mystery. I actually greatly appreciate that.
Over the years I’ve seen Christianity approach the Bible and somewhere along the line Christianity began to morph into a faith that is hard for me to recognize. I hear expressions that “Jesus did this for you,” or “God did this for us.” I hear people talk about their personal relationships with Jesus and I am troubled-----and that’s what troubles me.
It’s not that I don’t believe Jesus did and does things for us and I also believe we are called to have a relationship with God. I’m good with all of that. Very good, in fact. The part that troubles me is that these, at least to me, seem like low bars and seem to be about us instead of God. It strikes me that Christianity has morphed into a product or service that is good for us and I’m not really sure that was the point of the Bible or Christianity.
The Bible has this progression. It begins with creation and everything is in total harmony. God created goodness and harmony and….
And then people came along and sin came into the world. Sin is, by its nature, destructive. People get hurt. People steal from each other. People kill. People lie and cheat. People destroy one another’s property. People trash creation. Over and over again we see how the rich and powerful take advantage of and abuse the poor and the weak. That is a Biblical theme that plays itself out over and over again and frankly, we watch it play out in history time and time again.
Act I. Creation.
Act II. Sin.
Then comes the New Testament. Jesus comes and dies on the cross for the sins of the world. People are forgiven their sins and their transgressions and when our lives come to an end we die and go to Heavent with God.
Act III. Salvation.
And this is, to me, what Christianity has morphed into, a three act drama. There is harmony, then sin, and then salvation and we go to Heaven in the end. WE get Heavenly rewards and all is well.
To me, this is an unsatisfying ending. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in an afterlife and I believe in Heaven. I think God put us in this world, however, more than to just to hang out while we wait to die and go to Heaven. It strikes me that God wants us to do something while we are here and I strongly suspect the answer hearkens us back to the beginning of the Bible.
If we read the teachings and actions of Jesus and the words of St. Paul, well the entire New Testament, they seem to be telling us what to do while we are hanging out. It’s this, “Hey, remember the creation story and all the goodness and harmony? Remember that? That’s your job. Change the world. Create goodness and work on bringing harmony into the world.”
Act IV. Change the world.
It starts with a bunch of little things. Working at Soup Kitchens or food pantries. Giving away old clothing and blankets and toys to people in need.
Old, but good. You know what I mean. Maybe it’s offering your seat to an elderly person who is standing while you’re sitting. Maybe it’s getting someone a pair of shoes that fit because their feet hurt from wearing shoes that no longer fit them.
When we are compassionate toward others we change the world. The world is a hostile place. When I read all the feeds on Facebook there sure is a lot of meanness that goes around. I keep reading about how we need to be more effective and efficient in killing one another than I do reading about how we can be more effective and efficient in feeding one another.
All of this goes on and Christianity is represented by…..
Well, in terms of press coverage, Westboro Baptist Church probably gets the most press and it pretty much represents a vast minority of Christians. There are lots of small churches that dot the countryside doing amazingly good things and they never make the news…
There are lots of churches and lots of people out there changing the world. They are doing for others instead of waiting for God to give them a reward.
Christianity is a four act play. Change the world----or at least your little corner of it.
Monday, March 09, 2015
Saturday, March 07, 2015
Recently Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the incredible journalism that no longer exists within the United States completely failed to address something.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his speech brought about the expected results. Had God come down from on high and anointed him the new Moses, the left would still have hated the speech. He had spoken about the value of flatulence crowded elevators the right would have decreed his words to be a divine wind. People often accuse American politicians to change like the weather----untrue. The weather can be unpredictable. American politicians are not. It has been said that if brain eating zombies invaded our nation’s capital they would starve to death. It’s that bad.
Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress, warned of Iran as a nuclear threat, and said that any agreements with them would be bad. We knew he was going to say it and he came and said it. He has said similar things to Congress before, namely about Iraq and that turned out to not be true. I don’t know if he’s right or wrong about Iran.
Some factors of importance are these:
First, the United States, and both of the major political parties, would agree that Iran having nuclear weapons would be a bad thing. It may be at question as to how to prevent this from happening, but I know, for certain that both the White House and Congress would agree on this.
Secondly, Israel does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons and both nations are in total agreement on this. President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu might not like each other or agree on many things, but this is a fact.
Thirdly, Israel is our ally and is one of our closest allies. It does not matter who the President or the Prime Minister is, the two nations are close allies. That has not changed and I do not see this changing. Prime Minister Netanyahu that if Israel is attacked tomorrow he will find an ally in President Obama. Personalities aren’t that important in national allegiances if you read history.
This is where the issue gets sticky and it has been completely ignored.
Historically allies support one another in war. In 1990 when Iraq unilaterally invaded Kuwait, they did so knowing that Kuwait was a strong ally of the United States. They invaded Kuwait anyway in one of the most classic and amazing blunders in history. Saddam Hussein was then warned, “Get out or you’ll be sorry.” Hussein did not get out and he was sorry. The United States with a strong coalition of other nations, swept Iraq out of Kuwait and put huge restraints on Iraq to ever be a Middle Eastern power again. President George H. W. Bush, love him or loathe him, was brilliant in how he executed this. He used military force judiciously and effectively.
In 1982 Argentina invaded the British Falkland Islands. Great Britain went to war and regained them in a brilliant and decisive military action. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her nation planned this and it was a judicious use of the military. She also knew that if Britain ran into problems, the United States was up the road, ready to help. Great Britain is a great ally and allies stick together.
But allegiances get sticky. In 1941 Germany and Italy were allied with their great friend Japan. Japan had grown increasingly bellicose and was at war with China and wanted more. In another one of the most amazingly blunders in world history, they decided to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. It was tactically a brilliant assault but strategically beyond stupid. The United States, of course, declared war on Japan.
This put Adolf Hitler in an amazingly awkward position. He was ethically bound to declare war on the United States-----yes, I know using ‘ethically bound’ and Hitler in the same sentence is beyond strange. Strategically, however, Hitler declaring war on the United States would have been even more bovinous than bombing their fleet. Hitler was in a stalemate with Britain and had already attacked the Soviet Union----which was like a python swallowing an elephant. The absolute last thing Hitler needed was to have the critical mass of men and materials the United States could provide. In 1941 the United States was the world’s leading industrial powerhouse and could out manufacture anyone and everyone. The judicious move for Hitler was to condemn Japan and not declare war on the United States.
Alas, no one ever accused Adolf Hitler of being judicious and on December 11, 1941 he decided that the 1000 Year Reich was a pipedream and he declared war on the United States. He decided to assist his good friend and ally, Japan and support their blunder. By the end of 1945 both Germany and Japan were gigantic dustbins….
All of which brings me back to Prime Minister Netanyahu who can be rather bellicose himself.
If Israel gets attacked or invaded I believe the United States has a moral obligation to support them to the max. This, in fact, may mean going to war with someone. If Israel is in mortal danger, we have to help them and we should help them. We have an ethical obligation to do so.
But, what happens if Israel decides to attack someone and ends up in a perilous war? What is our obligation then? Do we have one? If Prime Minister Netanyahu proves not to be judicious, do we have to go to war to save his nation? Where are our boundaries?
These questions have not been asked. I think they should be. Allegiances are complicated and our allegiance with Israel is very complicated and our own leaders are too busy trying to one up each other that they are not asking the right questions, and neither is the news media.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015
I only saw part of the Oscars but checked out some things this morning. The great part about the Internet is that cool things you missed can be seen again.
I really like Neil Patrick Harris and anticipated he’d be a great host. He wasn’t bad but he really wasn’t very good either. My thought was that, in hindsight, the greatest host in the universe would have been Robin Williams. His loss leaves a deep hole in so many people’s hearts and minds.
Say what you will about Lady Gaga. She is strange. Her idea of fashion is strange. When she finished cleaning the commodes and lost her gloves and sang the songs from the “Sound of Music,” one thing is painfully obvious. The woman can sing. Brilliantly. No one sang those songs as well as Julie Andrews or came close----until last night. Lady Gaga came close. She’s that good.
I sought of feel bad for Rudy Giuliani. He was a great major of New York City. Seriously great mayor. He cleaned up the city---no small feat. His work on and after 9/11 was heroic and brilliant. He had been a fearless Federal Prosecutor before that and did a great job going after organized crime. He ran for President but didn’t really have enough national experience to make a good run. So be it. The problem is, for him, he was once a really important guy and now he’s really not. That’s not a criticism----he’s older and he can retire after a great career. The problem for so many of us is that our egos get wrapped up in what we do and being important is difficult to let go of. We see this a lot---a person later in life says something outrageously stupid and gets into the limelight. Rudy is not letting go of the moment and, sadly, he’s building legacy as yet another old guy who put his foot in his mouth and kept it there. To me, this is tragic. He had such a great legacy and I hate seeing him go down in flames.
Tim McGraw singing in a tribute to Glen Campbell who can no longer sing or know who most people are is heartbreaking. I really like Glen Campbell and always enjoyed his music.
It seems that a number of people are going after Bill O’Reilly suggesting that he, like Brian Williams, has exaggerated about his career. It’s not really a fair comparison. Brian Williams was a network news anchor and like ABC and CBS his show is about hard news. He is not a political commentator or an entertainer. Both Fox and MSNBC are networks that run on political commentary instead of hard news. I’m not saying that to laud or criticize either network as they are both niche stations that seek to reach specific audiences. Bill O’Reilly is a prime time commentator and that role puts him in the realm of commentator/entertainer. In short, his role is entirely different from Brian Williams and he ought not to be held to the same standards. When hard news anchors exaggerate the news, it’s a far, far bigger deal.
Say what you will about this winter, but the photos of the ice at Niagara Falls are breath-taking.
Senator Lindsey Graham, someone I rarely agree with, is right about something. Congress needs to fund Homeland Security and allow the immigration issue they are debating to be worked out in the courts.
I’m not questioning the logic of the Oscars with this and the right person probably won, but I really was pulling for Rosamund Pike to win best actress for her role in Gone Girl. The first time I saw her was as Miranda Frost in a James Bond movie and she was great in the film Jack Reacher. Her character or characters in Gone Girl was a brilliant performance.
I saw a video shot from behind me and I saw a bald spot on the back of my head. It reminds me that I shouldn’t look at videos shot from the back of my head. Ugh.