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Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
I comment on things I am reading, thinking about, encountering in media, and spiritual issues. I hope you will find something interesting. PS. I love feedback...
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September 2, 2023 at 1:22pm
September 2, 2023 at 1:22pm
Mossotti, Travis, Narcissus Americana, University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville, 2018, Winner of the Miller Williams Prize, selected by Billy Collins.

In the introduction, Billy Collins states he chose this book because he thought Miller Williams would like it. Of course, Mr. Williams is not available to ask. It is clear that Billy Collins liked Miller Williams, and likes this book.

Not long ago, I read some work by Frank O’Hara, whom this poet, Travis Mossotti describes as “unlucky” on page 61, / three thousand miles across the continent/ That day on Fire Island when wind teased/ the dune-buggied air, and under his feet,/ all of the earth’s violent and angry/ upheavals had been laid to rest. Now, Travis Mossotti, Billy Collins and Frank O’Hara are lined up in my mind on a bench in front of a used bookstore smoking cigars passing words back and forth like tokes from a reefer while 1950’s autos parade slowly by, the ragtops carrying blond 18 year-old cheerleaders smiling Revlon smiles and waving the inflexible Barbie wave.

Soon, the men will walk down the street to the college student hangout named after a fruit or a nut or a dead president, and order drinks around. Is that Billie Holiday singing in the background? Perhaps they are here to venerate Ginsberg. It would be a party of dark ruminations and ribald humor made smooth by cheap scotch or Irish whiskey or maybe only wine and the smoke would hang about them from the cigars forming a cloud evocative of Mark Twain. Although the #waitress knows to flirt for extra tips, she serves them stoically and walks away.
August 31, 2023 at 1:54pm
August 31, 2023 at 1:54pm
Boruch, Marianne, Grace, Fallen from, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 2008.

I lived and worked in Middletown at one time for about 5 years. The Connecticut River flows through the town, and the tide from Long Island Sound pushes the river backward to a place south of town twice a day. Perhaps the publication of this book in Middletown is what moved me to buy it. I no longer remember. However, the tone of Ms. Boruch’s writing feels like New England felt to me with its hills and rivers, glorious fall colors, endless traffic, people everywhere and remarkable space all around for imagination to flow into language. This really has nothing to do with this book as it was written in Indiana. I remember rivers in Indiana too….

“The bowl, just a larger spoon for the little spoons to visit…” (p.42) See how she finds life in a thing?

Looking at the title, I expected this to be a book of confession, perhaps, but, perhaps I was mistaken. “…beauty, she thought, or felt in her chest. /Did Eve have language? Did she say that/ out loud? Aren’t words the curse/ that comes later, our daily gruel, mouthful/ by mouthful, a little milk, some sugar/ to please ourselves, to think ourselves so astonishing?” She wanted, says Boruch. She wanted a thought of her own. (p.69) I like thinking of Eve this way, as neither pawn nor sinner, but simply life looking to be itself. No, this is no confession. This book redefines “falling from grace.” …a tide pushing the river backward.

August 25, 2023 at 11:28am
August 25, 2023 at 11:28am

Save the Life of My Child

Scripture: Matthew 15: 10 - 28
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

As I looked for information about this scripture passage, I happened upon a brief biography of Fanny J. Crosby, a prolific hymn writer who lived 1820 – 1915 and wrote more than 8000 hymns . I was intrigued and found an autobiography she wrote when she was about 80 years old. She lived to be 95. She was 6 weeks old when she developed an infection that irritated her eyes. A visiting physician treated her. As a result of the infection or of the treatment or of both, she was blinded and remained blind for the rest of her life.

Our gospel lesson begins with Jesus offering a new look at what matters. He seems to challenge the value placed on dietary laws saying that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles rather than what is put into it. His apostles tell him the Pharisees are unhappy with what he said. The Pharisees, as you may remember, were a Jewish sect that existed for about 300 years from the second century BCE to the first century CE known for their strict observance of rites, ceremonies, oral traditions, and laws. Jesus responded saying to let them be “They are blind leaders of the blind.” He then tells us that what comes out of our mouth comes from the heart. If lies, slander, murder, false witness, fornication, adultery, and stealing, come from the heart, this is defilement.

Apparently, as they are finishing this conversation, a Canaanite mother begs for Jesus to heal her daughter who was possessed of a demon. Jesus expresses reluctance as she is not a Jew and compares her to a dog. She does not become insulted. Instead, she points out that even the dog gets the crumbs from the master’s table. Jesus acknowledges her faith, and her daughter is healed. Healing is not clearly defined in the way that defilement is defined. Have you ever wondered why this is so?

I compare the plight of the Canaanite mother to the mother of Fanny Crosby who begged for help and got it, but her child was left blind. As Fanny Crosby reports it, her father died before she was a year old. Her young mother was left a widow with a blind child to raise at a time when supports for families facing so much difficulty must come from the family and neighbors because there were no formal social supports, no universally available safety net. Fanny’s grandmother stepped in and looked after Fanny while her mother worked.

The grandmother was a woman of deep faith. She focused on helping Fanny express good things from her heart. She taught her what things look like and gave her a sighted vocabulary. When Fanny broke a rule, her grandmother talked with her gently and prayed about it with Fanny. In this way, Fanny became a cheerful, playful, and sociable child. When she was about 15, a school for the blind had opened and she left home to get the education she very much wanted but was unavailable at the public school.

She became a teacher and a poet and a writer of hymns that express her faith. All three of today’s hymns were written by Fanny Crosby: Blessed Assurance, A Wonderful Savior, and Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross. If you pay attention to the words, you get some insight into the nature of her faith. She was a faithful person. What do you think: was she healed?

My mind then went to the Paul Simon song, “save the life of my child.” (See Below) I looked up the lyrics and decided to include the song this morning. The song is also about a mother begging for healing for her child. It is also about a community that is blind to the child’s real needs, a community that responds to the mother’s desperate cries by judging the child and calling him an addict. There is nothing in the song that supports their judgment, but that doesn’t matter. So what if he is an addict? He is her child, and she wants what is best for him. We don’t even know for certain what actually happens to him. He says there is no place to hide and flies away. Some people think he jumped. One person who commented on the song’s meaning suggested the last stanza is the people changing their minds and becoming positive toward him and then he can fly.

This last view of the situation matches the Gospel story, and the story Fanny tells about her own life. A parent begs for help and is initially turned away, or the help is inadequate. The mother doesn’t give up and the child is freed from the bonds of judgment and despair. It seems to me that the definition of healing that is suggested in these three tales is one of a community recognizing the value of a child’s life, even when the child is possessed of a demon. People choose to bring good things from their hearts into the world through language, and healing takes place.

Save the Life of My Child
Simon & Garfunkel

Good God, don't jump
The boy sat on the ledge
An old man who had fainted was revived (He's all right)
And everyone agreed t'would be a miracle indeed if the boy survived

"Save the life of my child"
Cried the desperate mother

A woman from the supermarket ran to call the cops
"He must be high on something", someone said
Though it never made the New York Times
In the Daily News the caption read

"Save the life of my child"
Cried the desperate mother

(Hello, darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again)

A patrol car passing by halted to a stop
Said Officer McDougall in dismay
"The force can't do a decent job
'Cause the kid's got no respect for the law today"
(And blah, blah, blah)

"Save the life of my child"
Cried the desperate mother
"Oh, what's become of the children?"
People asking each other

When darkness fell, excitement kissed the crowd and it made them wild
In the atmosphere of freaky holiday
When the spotlight hit the boy and the crowd began to cheer
He flew away

Oh, my grace, I've got no hidin' place
Oh, my grace, I've got no hidin' place
Oh, my grace, I've got no hidin' place
Oh, my grace, I've got no hidin' place
Oh, my grace, I've got no hidin' place

Songwriters: Paul Simon. For non-commercial use only.
April 3, 2023 at 9:39pm
April 3, 2023 at 9:39pm
Am I the one who set the table or am I the guest?

It is Palm Sunday and Jesus is entering the city. The population of Jerusalem will swell from a city about the size of Joplin to two million, about the size of the Nashville metropolitan area for the feast of Passover bringing their lambs as offerings. Some of them are coming with Jesus, and they know it is dangerous, but they have hope. Some hope Jesus will throw out the Roman occupiers so the Jewish people can once more have self-rule. Others hope his coming will lead to some changes in Jewish leadership and become more responsive to the needs of Judaism. Some are just curious. All who come, remember the Historic event of the escape from bondage in Egypt.

Trying to imagine how it all looked, I pictured the whole population of Nashville greeting Dolly Parton in Joplin. The excitement might be overwhelmed by the discomfort. Where would they sleep? Think of the noise. And remember, they came by foot or donkey or in carts pulled by other large animals. Think of all those animals! What about the sewage? And they offer all those sheep – the blood and entrails! Let us enjoy our quiet gathering with indoor plumbing and celebrate the apex of Jesus ministry.

{The song "Rainbowland" recorded by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus was played earlier}:

And Dolly did come, by the miracle of electronics, as they came here just now, to a first grade class in Wisconsin. The class loved their song and asked for it to be played over and over and decided to sing it in their spring concert. However, not everyone was singing along. An administrator forbid the song because it is “too controversial.” I doubt anyone will be crucified, but, we don’t know there won’t be a shooting with and AR-15. We never know. There is no way to know. The people at the Covenant School in Nashville didn’t know. And today, every compassionate person in America who has received the news of this latest shooting is praying and grieving.

Epistle lesson: Philippians 2:5-11
Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27;66

The message:

Scripture tells us that Jesus knew he would face the worst and was preparing his followers. As I read what he said in preparation, it seems a bit cryptic. It wouldn’t take much denial, much wishing it weren’t so, for the Apostles to not take the message in, to not feel that it was real.

So Jesus brings it home in a more salient way: He tells Peter he will deny him three times before the cock crows. He tells them all that one will betray him. Judas knows somehow it will be him and says so. Jesus does not contradict him. Jesus is not in denial. He sees where he is headed and he gives instructions for after he is gone in the form of the rite of communion.

The Coptic Christian tradition holds that Judas was a favorite of Jesus and betrayed him because Jesus asked him to do so. We can’t really know because we are here and not there. What we can know is how people behave. We can know that people don’t agree on interpretations of words, don’t agree on correctness of one or another type of behavior, and cannot even agree to be compassionate when children and their teachers are shot in their school.

Perhaps some of you have not spent hours reading, listening and watching the wide range of reactions to the latest school shooting. They aren’t any different from the last one, or the one before, or the one before that. Many people show compassion, but some powerful people show none. They have other priorities, as did the Roman government and the scribes and the Pharisees. People with power could set a different direction but choose to turn away, or to encourage a mob to serve them rather than choosing to nurture compassion.

That school administrator who forbids the song “Rainbowland” seems to be trying to stop people from doing what he thinks is wrong. Do they think the solution is to teach children there is only one way to be: If they don’t know there are differences, they won’t become different? They seem to assume the children will never encounter rainbows if they just shut them out of the songs, out of the stories, out of the classroom and auditorium.

We know what compassion is: it is to sit with another in their time of distress. This is relatively easy to do when the other is like us.

I remember asking in a conversation some time ago, How do we act compassionately with Putin? Now, I wonder how do I be compassionate with a person who is taking rainbows away from children? Children love rainbows. I can’t count how many children came into my office and drew rainbows. The children who were not safe drew them more, bigger, more intensely. I would tell them that rainbows are about hope and I wanted them to take their rainbows with them when they left the room.

How did I know about rainbows? Why God sent a rainbow as evidence of his promise to Noah that he would never again express his wrath like he did in that flood. I guess he saw that the flood was not an especially good idea or something. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I do know that rainbows come at the end of the storm, but not at the end of every storm, and sometimes they come when there is no storm at all. When they come, we say oooo and ahhhh and tell others to look and we smile.

There are many stories, old and new about rainbows. There is the tradition of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This love of rainbows seemed pretty universal to me, until recently. Now, I have the challenge of showing compassion to people who don’t love rainbows. Bummer. I’d rather just avoid those folks when they are in that mode. I don’t like hearing it. I don’t want to know Christ is about to be crucified all over again. I don’t want to know children will be shot in their school. I don’t want to know another group has parted from their Christian community thinking they did it to protect Christianity, because they don’t want to be inclusive.

But I do know. I know in the same ways that you know. We all know compassion will arise just as a rainbow is likely to appear at the end of a storm, but not after every storm.

I think the passage from Philippians means to give us direction about how we go about being compassionate. We are to see ourselves as no better than anyone else. We can do this by taking on the role of servant or by seeing everyone as worthy of our love. We in Christianity have a perpetual struggle about this. Do we make ourselves last so we can be first? Is our goal really to be first? Do we make others first in a way that requires that we follow them blindly? Some Christians pick a person to follow and become their servant.

You have heard of the Branch Davidians. They have been in the news this week on the 30th anniversary of the tragic fire that killed so many of them. A spin off group from the Seventh Day Adventists, they had a charismatic leader and they followed him into death, taking their children with them. Followers who did not die blamed the fire on the federal ATF officers who had held the compound in siege for days and days before the fire. Other people blamed the leader for putting his followers at risk. Some Christians thought the followers made a bad choice to follow that leader. It really makes no difference in the end. The dead are dead, and we have all moved on.

At least that is what I thought until I read that some people still think David Koresh was right and say they would still follow him if he hadn’t died. I thought it was over until a political candidate held a rally there and used the time to complain about how he is a victim of an out-of-control Federal Government. I struggle to have compassion for him.

It is so easy to say I can’t be compassionate because of one’s behavior. It is easy to have no compassion for Judas, for David Koresh, for Putin, or for a man who wants to lead, wants followers to believe he has good intentions toward them, but then he leads them into a mess. But I want to be compassionate with everyone. Don’t you?

The only person I ever actually hated was someone who wanted followers but clearly did not have their best interests at heart. I managed to get away to a place where he had no influence over me. Then, I ran into him in a public place and he talked to me as though I was his friend. To my surprise I pulled it off. I behaved compassionately toward someone I hated. I hated him because I feared him. That day, however, I did not fear him. I saw him in a new light, as a fellow traveler through the confusion of life. This was possible because no one, not him, not others and not I had any expectation that I would follow him.

Christ had no expectation that he would follow the Romans. He had no expectation that he would follow the Scribes and the Pharisees. His expectation was that by following Yahweh, his God would protect him not from earthly death, but from death in the spirit.

He knew his followers would not be quite as steadfast as he expected himself to be. Yet, he broke bread with them and asked them to continue to break bread in remembrance of him after he was gone. He showed them compassion. He accepted them as they were and made no judgement of them. He knew the crowds that welcomed him would not act to keep him safe. He did not deride them. He accepted their adulation without changing his way of being in this world.

This is what he asks of us, knowing all the while that we will often fall short. He will be reliably who he has always been. He will accept us as we are. He will help in ways only he can do, and he will not lead us into situations that put our souls at risk. He doesn’t have to. Those situations will dependably present themselves. People will try to lead us into their chaos. When this happens, we need to take a deep breath and do as Jesus did: walk on into life with compassion without fear for our souls, and without judgment. Know that when we fall short we will still be loved and forgiven. Keep the inclusive light of rainbows in your mind as a reminder that God loves all of humanity all of the time including you.

March 28, 2023 at 12:22pm
March 28, 2023 at 12:22pm
A notice on the Google tabloid indicates that a school administrator in Wisconsin has forbidden first graders from singing "Rainbowland" recorded by Dolly Parton and her goddaughter, Mily Cyrus.* It is a song about inclusion of people who are different using the rainbow as a symbol. I find this administrative decision offensive for two main reasons: children love rainbows and have loved rainbows for decades at least. Children who have been abused are more likely to draw rainbows than those who have not. Unless they have been told a rainbow is specifically about people with different sexual orientations, they don't know this. Even if they have been told, only those who are born with some sort of different sexuality that they are experiencing have any basis in experience to understand what it is about.

Rainbows are about hope. Anyone who has been exposed to the Old Testament of the Christian Bible knows the story of God sending a rainbow to show Noah that he intends to never wipe out all people again. It is presented as a covenant between God and man that the vengefulness of God will not be released upon mankind ever again. Why in the world would a school want to take this away from children? I suspect they never thought about God's promise to Noah and to all of humanity. There are children's books about rainbows representing hope for humanity to get along with each other that long predate any national dialogue about sexual identity or orientation. This literature is suddenly anathema to people who claim to be Christain. I wish they would read the story of Noah and re-think this decision.


Wisconsin School Bans Miley, Dolly Duet From Class Concert
Parents say the decision was made because the song encourages LGBTQ acceptance and references rainbows.
By Harm Venhuizen • Published March 27, 2023 • Updated 5 hours ago

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File
FILE – Dolly Parton, left, and Miley Cyrus at the 61st annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 2019.
Administrators at a Wisconsin elementary school stopped a first-grade class from performing a Miley Cyrus and Dolly Parton duet promoting LGBTQ acceptance because the song "could be perceived as controversial."

Students at Heyer Elementary School in Waukesha had prepared a rendition of “Rainbowland" for their spring concert, but school officials struck the song from the lineup last week. Parents in the district say the decision was made because the song encourages LGBTQ acceptance and references rainbows.

Superintendent James Sebert, who did not immediately return a call on Monday, confirmed to Fox6 that administrators had removed “Rainbowland” from the first-grade concert because it might not be “appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students." He also cited a school board policy against raising controversial issues in classrooms.

Sebert has previously prohibited rainbows and pride flags from being displayed in Waukesha classrooms and suspended the school district’s equity and diversity work in 2021.

“Let's all dig down deep inside, brush the judgment and fear aside,” the song from Cyrus' 2017 album “Younger Now” goes. "Living in a Rainbowland, where you and I go hand in hand. Oh, I’d be lying if I said this was fine, all the hurt and the hate going on here.”

First-grade teacher Melissa Tempel said she chose the song because its message seemed universal and sweet. The class concert's theme was “The World” and included other songs such as “Here Comes the Sun," by The Beatles and “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong.

"My students were just devastated. They really liked this song and we had already begun singing it,” Tempel said Monday
March 21, 2023 at 4:09pm
March 21, 2023 at 4:09pm
I read a report this morning that shared about 25 examples of reasons people have left religion. They include abandonment of the speaker by their religious group in a time of need, victim blaming, sexism, racism, and observed hypocrisy. All reasons put together suggest that instead of people experiencing hope that the group can change and improve, people come to understand that the group is a danger to their well-being and escape is necessary.

I read an article on the Religious News Service, one source of good information, that shared research into participation in religion in the USA. Since the 1960’s, participation has declined dramatically. One need not look at research to know this. Simply look at church parking lots on Sunday mornings or other religious gathering places on holy days and remember what they looked like in the 1950’s. Of course, most of you don’t remember the 1950’s so reading is a good choice. All churches that I have visited in the past 20 years are full of grey headed people and almost totally devoid of children. If you listen to politics, you get the idea that the “Evangelical” churches are the exception. In fact they are shrinking faster than other groups.

I left the church for more than 30 years after attending every time the doors opened for most of my life. I left because I was looking for guidance and support in living a Christian life using the parts of the Bible presented as the words Jesus spoke as the basis for my efforts, but finding I was alone in my way of going about it. I am not inclined to be a leader. I like to share, to discuss and debate, but I don’t like trying to get people to go in the direction I am heading. If they want to go with me, fine. If not, fine: I will go anyway. I have plenty to do without gathering people around me. I find others distracting. So, I left as it seemed the others had different goals and I just didn’t fit in. Besides, every time I said the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicaean Creed, I felt like I was lying. I don’t believe the “resurrection of the body,” or “the life everlasting” have anything to do with my goals. I don’t see myself as burdened with sin. I think that perspective is destructive. I just want to be as skillful at loving as I can be. “Love your God and love your neighbor” are what Jesus told us to do. I want to do that. I want the people I associate with to be doing the same thing. I’m much less interested in how they feel about God than I am with how they treat the people around us. The people I read about this morning seem to think the same way.

It appears to me that Christian religious organizations most often see their role as controlling the members of their organization. They want to control things over which they have no authority, things Christ never mentioned, and things they know very little about. They get upset if someone looks or acts differently but don’t take time to learn if it is a hurtful thing, or just another way of being okay. They use fear to control their members: fear of sin, fear of death, fear of abandonment. How do they do this? They tell people they will be abandoned by God for sinning, then abandon people they judge. They tell people they will die if they do wrong, but if they believe the right thing (not do the right thing so much as believe) they can come back to life. They have nothing but a story that has been passed down for two thousand years to base this on. They are so busy controlling others they seem unaware of their own needs and behavior. I find this painful.

I returned to church when I found a group of people that is focused on how to love others and the other things are of little on no import to them. They study about how to be antiracist, non-judgmental, and helpful to those around them. They do not blame. They work to make the environment of the church safe for everyone. They share each other’s burdens. This seems right to me. I have been active with this group for three or four years and they are very consistent in their efforts. This is a place I can belong. I hope you can find such a place to support your spiritual journey.
February 13, 2023 at 12:39pm
February 13, 2023 at 12:39pm
Message for Cabool Chruch of the Brethren February 12, 2023

Scripture readings for the day:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
Matthew 5:21-26, 33-37
I Corinthians 3:1-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Ps 19:14

The scriptures for today have given me the opportunity to talk about something that bothers me: the split in Christianity in America today. As the pundits and talking heads most often describe it, the split is between “evangelical” Christians and the left, whom the “evangelicals” describe as secular humanists. The people who call themselves evangelicals seem to want everyone to believe they represent all of Christianity.

There is a movement called “Christian Nationalist” who preach that the government must be guided by Christian principals. Unfortunately, they do not trust Christian principles to make that happen. They lie about people not in the movement frightening people who are, to create a wall around their movement. They lie to accomplish their goals in government knowing full well they are not acting on the will of the people they say they represent. They have correctly understood that a significant portion, but not the majority by any stretch, of voters are followers and they are skillful at gathering them in. In addition, they use coercion to force people to follow their rules even though many of the rules they want to enforce go against the intentions presented in today’s scripture. It seems to me that they have lost faith if they ever had it. This is a sad situation.

The lesson from Deuteronomy ends with verses 19-20: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord you God, obeying him and holding fast to him, for that means life. Psalm 119 begins with: happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.
When putting that together with Matthew it becomes clear that we are instructed to keep our faith alive and healthy and let that be our guide.

Before I discuss Corinthians, I want to put these in context. Deuteronomy is considered to be essentially Moses’ last will and testament. This passage is near the end of the book and Moses is instructing the people about to enter a new land about a new and empowering vision of how to live a faithful life. The same message is found in the Psalm.

The passage from Matthew is a continuation of the sermon on the mount and follows the sections that say you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the portion selected for today, Jesus addresses issues of conflict and refers to the 10 Commandments. The sermon is given to Jews and non-Jews, rich and poor, male and female. He admonishes all to follow the laws of Moses and the laws of the Torah. It seems as if he is honoring the tradition of the community gathering every 7 years to review the laws, but he is also adding his vision of expanded inclusion.

In I Corinthians 3:1-9, Paul is intervening in conflict in the Corinthian Christian community. He bases his intervention on the earlier admonitions to follow the law, to put God first and to reconcile conflict. The conflict was so bad that Appolos, the leader of that community, had left. It seems some people thought Paul was their leader and others attached themselves to Appollos. Paul came in to reconcile the split.

Here we are with our own split and no one person has the power that Paul had to resolve it. The Christian Nationalists want to provide that leadership. Unfortunately, they are trying to impose their idea of what needs to be done on people who are not Christian, and people who are but see Christ in a different light. This has been done before.

We have the history of torture and murder of early Christians by people who wanted to control them. There are the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades. The Third Reich rewrote the Bible to support their thinking and then forced it on everyone. They tried to force it on Europe and North Africa and were very active in American politics. Their goal was to take control of the world. In this country there was genocide of the natives, and slavery. Colonialism by European and American leaders was justified with their interpretation of scripture so the colonialist could steal their resources. In some countries, including but not limited to China and India, Christians are persecuted. In Russia, the church endorses persecution of ethnic minorities, women and LGBTQ people. In Iran, a small group of Muslims took over the government and forced their version of Islam on the entire country, as do the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Here, the Christian Nationalists are actively trying to control what children read and lay judgement on persons who take action to resolve their experience of sexual ambiguity. They are working hard to eliminate women’s rights. The type of government they want for us is called theocracy.

Our scriptures for today say we are to place God at the center of our lives. Nowhere does it say we are to force our beliefs on others. In Corinthians Paul states clearly and directly we are not to put responsibility for our faith and happiness under the control of any person but ourselves. The message is that following the word of God will bring happiness and peace.

You probably have noticed that when a person is happy, their happiness spills out on the people around them. This appears in the form of inviting, welcoming, nurturing, teaching and protecting.

The Christian Nationalists have ideals they have gleaned from scripture. This is perfectly okay both under the Constitution and within the realm of God. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to feel the love of God is enough. They want everyone to conform to their ideas and priorities whether they or we want to or not.

It is my impression that they are not trusting God very much. They are trying to usurp his power. They are putting man ahead of God. They welcome people who will help them gain power, but judge and vilify those who disagree. We as Brethren work to bring peace and act as best we can to love our neighbor. Even so, we have experienced a split in our denomination.

As citizens of a Democracy, we have an obligation to understand our government well enough to make informed decisions as voters. We are free to vote for people who agree with our take on things. We are free to dialogue with our neighbors to develop a common understanding of what is best. We are not free to force our ideas on anyone.

We have people posing as Christian running for office. We have people posing as Jewish also running for office. And we have faithful Christians participating in politics. How do we tell the difference? As the song says, we will know they are Christian by their love. If they try to bring about things that help most people and harm no one, they are behaving within scripture whether they profess Christianity or not. If they engage in self-serving behavior that puts some or all citizens at a disadvantage, if they break the laws of the democracy, they are not acting within scripture. They are not trusting God. They live unhappy lives.

Let us choose happiness. Let us spill our happiness into our communities by nurturing, welcoming, and protecting the agreements that we have made and that have been made among our ancestors that function to support our rights, and our neighbors’ rights to our own values and ideals. Let us live as Jesus lived following the will of God and respecting our neighbors.

Thank you for your attention.

February 7, 2023 at 12:08pm
February 7, 2023 at 12:08pm
As I continue to wade through The Power Worshipers by Katherine Stewart, I see another thing that may be the overall problem faced by the Christian Nationalists. On page 150, Rick Ridings is quoted as reporting a conversation directly with God: I said, how will the nations learn to change? The Lord said, ‘it must play.’ He pauses for emphasis: The Trump card. What I hear in this is a man who says it is his job to change the nations. Since acting in faith has not worked, as he sees it, he must act like Trump. He does not acknowledge this is a destructive path of manipulation, dishonesty, and greed. I think this is a man who has lost faith (or never had it) in the power of God. He does not seem aware that in order to do the Lord’s work, he must do as Jesus did.

I think of this sort of Christian as an Old Testament Christian. By this I mean they have failed to notice that Jesus taught a new way of living that honored Jewish law but reached out to communities surrounding the Jewish community with love and acceptance. He also taught that putting your trust in humanity will go only so far. In fact, trusting in God helps one survive the foibles and missteps of humanity. He didn’t tell us we are to change the nations. He taught us to be a nation of respect and authentic concern for the well-being of others, all others regardless of race, religions, sex, or national identity.

This man, Rick Ridings, uses the name of God to legitimize his quest for power to control others. He talks about controlling people that are not his business to control because they have not asked for his control nor have they expressed a need for external control. He says he wants to walk in the path of Trump. He specifically says he heard that from God. So, that is what he is organizing others to do. He wants them to listen to his idea and follow it. If he focused on Christ's words, his whole house of cards would collapse.

Jesus says to follow him and never mentions following anyone else. Rick Ridings and the people like him are trying to establish a new religion based on greed and earthly power. Their presentation is very confusing, but they are not confused. They want to run things their way and they don’t seem to recognize that they have abandoned Christ in the process. This is sad for them and dangerous for us. We need to look to Christ for guidance in the face of all of this.

If we want an interpretation of Christianity that is respecting of Christ, we need to look to the people who are nurturing communities with respect all over the world. There are myriads of Christians working every day to bring peace among neighbors. They run child care organizations where children are taught to love each other. They run organizations that bring food to the hungry and safety to those in danger. They teach forgiveness, acceptance and that they are responsible for their own behavior. They teach that the way of Trump is a mistake without ever mentioning Trump or any other leader who does not demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in their behavior. There are a lot of faithful Christians in the world. There are a lot of other people who do not profess Christ but who demonstrate the presence of love in their behavior. The Christian Nationalists appear to have lost faith and I fear they are looking in the wrong place to regain it.
February 1, 2023 at 11:19am
February 1, 2023 at 11:19am
I continue to read Katherrine Stewart's book, The Power Worshipers. This morning, as I read about the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, I noticed something I have seen before but not thought about. Christian Nationalists, a group which includes a lot of antisemites, often quote from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. If they hate the Jewish people, why do they justify their behavior using the Jewish Torah? Of course, this is only one of the many inconsistencies and contradictions present in their publications. There is the previously mentioned problem of cozying up to the mostly unreligious Libertarians. There is also the problem of describing the mixture of founding father's spiritual beliefs as consistently Christian when this is an inaccurate description of their published spiritual ideas. Then there is their stated belief that they are standing up for freedom of religion while making it clear they mean freedom to make everyone live by their religion. The most troubling contradiction is they say they are Christian while strongly opposing loving neighbors who are different from them such as immigrants, and people from different cultures and religions. I could go on. To make my bias perfectly clear, I prefer internal consistency and fact-based reasoning and I find neither of these in Christian Nationalist thinking. End of rant.
January 19, 2023 at 12:15am
January 19, 2023 at 12:15am
I see that I am behind in posting books, so it is time to catch up:

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri, My Heart is a Stray Bullet, Kegedonce Press, Cape Crocker, Onterio, 1993.
I was inspired to look for this book because I saw a poem and liked it, so I Googled the author, found the publisher and ordered the book. I am so glad I did. This poet is of mixed ethnic heritage, a native of Canada, and she writes with grace and honesty about her experiences. She writes about her ability to identify with the animal she eats. about her struggle with her place in her Native American community as a light haired, mixed blood person who grew up in the suburbs and about her feelings about her other Canadian community as a Native, about her connection with nature, and about her experience as a woman. I love this book and hope you will too.

The Best American Essays of 2021, Schultz, Katheryn and Atwan, Robert, Editors, Mariner Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, Boston, NY 2021.
Essays published in 2020 by well-established writers in a variety of publications. Topics include the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and personal relationships as they are influenced by contemporary issues. I found them all interesting, and well written, of course. It is a privilege to have skilled editors peruse many publications and pick out the best so I didn't have to do it myself.

Holmberg, Charlie N., Keeper of Enchanted Rooms, 47 North, 2022.
Fantasy is so refreshing in this difficult time. A little magic, a little romance, a little mystery and it all works out well in the end for the protagonists. Another of Ms. Holmberg's work, a sequel to this, comes out in the spring. I have pre-ordered it.

I continue to work my way through Alexander McCall Smith's series, The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Good bedtime stories.

Armstrong, Karen, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Audiobook, 2014.
This is a remarkable book that could only have been written by someone who has spent a lifetime studying history of religion. It begins with the earliest evidence of religious activities found by archeologists and continues into the 21st century examining the interface between religion and war or armed conflict. Ms. Armstrong starts by acknowledging the common perception that religion causes war and the purpose of the book is to explore with the reader many historical experiences to discern whether this is actually true. She does a great job! It is a long book rich in detail and she accomplishes her goal. I read this because I have been interested in the question most of my life. I'm glad I did as her insights into this complex relationship make good sense to me.

Erdrich, Louise, The Sentence, Audible, narrated by the author, 2021.
I enjoy this author and felt lucky to learn this book was available on Audible. Ms. Erdrich does a wonderful job of narration and it felt as if she was just telling the story. The setting is the Native American community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it begins with background, then moves into the recent past including the pandemic and the George Floyd death and consequences for her community. The speaker is a woman who has served a sentence in prison, who spent that time reading book after book and studying a dictionary a former teacher sent her. With this and her bachelor's degree earned before prison, she finds a job working in a bookstore. This leads to the development of a sense of community and the reader is introduced to a number of interesting people, their priorities and their foibles and how the protagonist responds to each. The word "sentence" comes up in three different meanings. Very much worth the time to read it.

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