Saturday, October 21, 2017

What is an American?

"n: a native of America" - Webster's New Dictionary c 1994

A rather concise description from Mr. Webster. It might even be expanded to include "a citizen, native or naturalized, of the United States of America", but somehow even this does not seem to be enough to answer the question "What is an American". My thoughts on this were stirred by a recent speech from former President George W. Bush I had liked on Facebook, and the following series of questions I received from a friend that deserved consideration. These thoughts, as always, are my own, and mostly harmless. 

Here is how our initial conversation went. My initial response to his question "What is an American" was the answer to that question was as diverse as every American themselves. He then asked if it was my understanding that being an American was to be divisive. Were there not some principles in being an American that were absolute, namely:
1. Support of the Constitution
2. Adherence to the laws of the land, and
3. Support of your country and its allies. (Just to name a few principles).

My initial answer was that I did not consider these items divisive, but within them was allowed diversity of thought, and this diversity was both the uniqueness and strength of America. (I might now add that it is a respect for that diversity that brings uniqueness and strength, something that seems to be rapidly disappearing in our culture, something else President Bush made reference to in his speech.)

As to the principles mentioned, and they are quite worthy, I believe they also point to my thoughts on diversity. Notice, I use the word diversity, not division. I believe there is a difference of attitude between those two similar words.

1. Support of the Constitution. Yes, this is an absolute. Yet, through its entire history, its interpretation has been subjective. That is what makes this governmental document so different from any other in history. Even in its creation, debate on what to include was great. Fighting between small vs large states on representation, agricultural vs industrial states as to financial support, should there be a federal bank, monies, militia and courts, or should those be ruled by the states with no federal oversight? Everyone saw it differently, and it almost kept us from becoming a United States. Compromise was finally achieved, but 100 years later these compromises helped to fuel a bloody Civil War. Had our Constitution been a strict, unyielding document, it could have ended this bold experiment. It wasn't , though. It was amended, re-interpreted, and became once again a governing document for the people of its time, not for a time past. It continues to be such a living document, and it is the diversity of opinion that allows ALL men and women to be heard. When voices are shut out of the discussion, we choke the life out of the very thing we love. While the Constitution is the foundation of our government, we are not a government of the Constitution. We are a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

2, Adherence to the law of the land. Again, absolute. Yet laws are meant to protect its people from others, and sometimes, themselves. If a law becomes oppressive, or if those enforcing the law become oppressive, then it becomes a law that, if not bad, is at least broken. The law must then be challenged. This usually takes place in the form of protests, both silent, and sometimes, quite vocal. Usually met by protests just a loud and vocal by those with differing opinions. What should happen at this point, but often does not, is that once protests are made, discussion is needed to correct the law. When neither side will listen, it just leads to more protests, even rebellion of a law used to harm its citizens. According to the Declaration of Independence, that is a right given to citizens of any government. Only by speaking out, can correction be made.

3. Support of the country and its allies. Absolute. But is blind support a true support of country? There was a song by Ken Medema years ago, called "I See America". The chorus went like this:
I see America through the eyes of love.
And long for all her people to be free.
If you can, put your hand to the job,
There is work that must be done.
Till freedom's song is sung from sea to sea.

Does speaking out against a wrong we perceive a rejection of our country? Or is it more patriotic to try and speak out against the flaws we see in country we love? While I don't agree with the methods of protest many are using right now, my charges against them are that the reason behind the protest is getting lost in the controversy of the method. If true discussion and solutions were made to correct the problems, the method of protest would be unnecessary. And support of our allies? That has unfortunately always been somewhat wishy-washy. I have a rather global view of support, much like WWII, fighting for a common cause kind of way. But even then, men such as Rockefeller, Kennedy, Lindbergh, and even Henry Ford, wanted no part of that little spot of trouble in Europe. We go from global, to nationalistic, to global again like a person in a revolving door. So I'm not sure we have a true support of allies, at least not one that's locked down, and like everything else here is fluid and changing along with its people.

Finally, being an American, to me, is intensely personal. It is, at various times a source of pride and sorrow, and sometimes even shame. Each person sees their place as an American through their own eyes Which brings me back to my original statement, that to be an American is as diverse as the individuals themselves. E Pluribus Unum - Out of many, one. And thank God our Constitution and laws were created to be flexible and adaptable. A society, or government, where the people are at the mercy of a rigid law, can only fail. But a law meant to serve and protect its people, will stand forever.

What is an American? A servant of his country, with open eyes, ears, and heart. A person his country serves equally. With Liberty and Justice for all.

Monday, October 16, 2017

In A World Of "Me Too"

I sure you have seen the numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter that are just the words "Me Too". It seems to me that every few (very few) posts, another individual has posted these words. They are not shares, but each is a post by a different woman. The number of these posts is enormous, and each makes my heart burdened, ashamed, and angry. Here's why.

Each individual post represents a woman that has been sexually harassed or assaulted. Every. Single. One. So many dear friends where I had no knowledge of the pain they had been holding in. So many cases of being treated as less than the truly wonderful people that they are. How is it, in 2017, we can allow such conduct? How can we even allow the conditions to exist that allow it? Because (and I speak mostly to the men here, but also the women), we are purposely blind to it. We chose not to see. It's a society of, "If we don't look at it, or talk about it, it isn't there." But it is. It is.

We also use the "excuse" of women dressing provocatively, or sending "signals", to excuse the man from his crime. We even use this as a defense in criminal trials! The truth is, a sexual predator attacks because of power, not lust. He tries to have control over someone he perceives as weaker. This is the case in the molestation of both women and children. The clothes and the actions are not the motivating factor. Power and control is, and he lusts after that more that the target of his attack. No means no, people, and yes you CAN stop. This "excuse" just doesn't wash.

For those that have posted "Me Too" please forgive my not seeing your pain. To be treated as you have been is unacceptable at best, and bestial at worst. You deserve a safe place to be treated as the equals you are, and I hope at least I always treat you as such. To others reading, make an effort to be that safe haven for others. To be less, is to be less than human.

To those that have been and are attackers, please seek help. Your need for power signifies a great deal missing in your own psyche, and you are dangerous to others, and to yourselves. Both men and women are created in the image of God. To treat someone so crudely is to defame God, and you will be called accountable not only to those you have harmed, but accountable to God Himself.

Finally, to those very brave souls aligning themselves with the "Me Too" effort, and sharing their pain, and also to those whose pain is still too great, may God grant you strength, and peace, and healing, and true love to fill your souls.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Back from Camp Bluebird

"The counterweight to grief is community." - Nashville Mayor Megan Berry

The words above were spoken by Nashville's mayor regarding the horrific massacre in Las Vegas this weekend. They had also been spoken by her husband just weeks earlier at the funeral of their son, as Nashville citizens shared in their loss. How grief attacks, along with fear, is by isolating a person from comfort. By internalizing the pain, rather than have a safe place for their grief to be shared and ministered to, we sorrow alone. With so many things going on in our world, that is just too heavy a burden to bear.

This statement strikes me personally this week. I've just returned from another weekend at Camp Bluebird, a camp for adult cancer survivors. We share sorrow and tears, joy and laughter (much, much laughter), we hug, sing, dance, and generally cavort. The weight of cancer is lifted by the community created. We all share equally each other's burdens. Not because we should, not because we have to. Simply because we love. And our own burdens are lifted in the process. I believe there is no power greater than the power of love, and that the power of love in community of others is unstoppable.

This doesn't eliminate the cancer. It doesn't stop the passing of dear friends, or the sadness of their loss. It does stop the grief and sometimes hopelessness from taking control. It allows us to remain stronger than that which assails us. The freedom to be more than the disease that has bonded us. That joyful release is unlike any other, and it happens because of our community. Camp Bluebird.

I pray for everyone to experience that community of love. I pray that God's church returns to that community of love, rather than the judgmental nature that seems to prevail. I pray for all my beautiful Bluebirds. Prayers and Bluebird Hugs to you all!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Living Hope

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" - I Peter 1:3-4

Christians are supposed to be a happy lot. always smiling, always cheerful. Turning cheeks wherever we go. Smurfily dancing and "la-la"ing through the oversized flower garden of life. (Unless you try to touch our guns, or states rights, or individual rights, or national pride, or whatever else little niche we deem so important that our Christianity is used as it's proof, to the point where the niche is more important that the Christianity...these we guard like a Bengal Tiger over a fresh kill!)

OK, my sarcasm is on a roll here. But Christians are expected, by the world, to be happy. And we do have reason to be. So why are there days when I feel dead inside?
(In God's usual sense of humor, the moment I wrote those words, an ice cream truck was at the office, and there were freebies for everyone!)

The question still remains though. There are times when life seems overwhelming. Multiple pressures from all directions hammer us into a battered, broken pulp. Those times when it seems the only thing pulling us through the day is the end of it. When we look down, face in our hands, and cry "How long, O Lord, how long?"

The trick, it seems, is not to look down for too long. I'm not saying to ignore what's around you; that would be a lie. Even David knew "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand", but he also knew "but it will not come near you". (Psalms 91:7) He could cry out, saying "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1) then "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me". (Psalm 23:4)

What kind of faith can produce such hope?  It seems like just wishful thinking. Can it be because the hope is not in our own selves, but in someone else? Not a relic of history, but in the living, breathing presence of Jesus? In the power of Almighty Father God? In the omnipresent Holy Spirit, with and among us? It is a LIVING HOPE, that carries us when we no longer have strength. Urges us on when we do. Our hope is not an impersonal ideal, not a platitude or gimmick. It is Jesus, the Christ, living presence of God. He is alive. And in His arms, in His love, so are we. 

So, even when all seems lost we "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3:14) And when we're hanging off a cliff and at the end of our rope, don't bother looking into the chasm below, but look up to the one pulling us out!

Friday, September 1, 2017

There's A Fly In My Primordial Soup

I read this week where they are remaking the book and film "Lord of the Flies" with an all female cast. As one would expect, this has not gone without controversy. First, many are upset with Hollywood that a script for an all female cast is being written by two men. OK, I can see that. Second, many women are upset at being presented as becoming so vicious and violent. They counter that women would not behave that way. They would separate into natural groups and exist peacefully. My wife is still laughing at that one.

So let's start with the assumption that there would be tension, even violence, with the caveat that it may manifest in different ways that men would exhibit. That would still prove William Golding's original premise correct. Without control, people will fall to their basest instinct. This would be true for men or women, black or white, red or yellow, or any other groupings that can be considered. In essence, if you're human and you know it, clap your hands. (Clap, Clap)

This is the Bible's premise as well. All are broken, and have been since the fall of Adam. I speak a lot about God's love, and His forgiveness and grace. My favorite verse is from Isaiah 61:1, and quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19. "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted." But for there to be healing, there must first be something broken. And we are, all of us. Even after He puts his new heart within us, we will sometimes slip and fall short of His goals. No one has ever achieved His perfection. And yet we seem to see perfection in ourselves, and notice the shortfalls in others. Remember the verse about the mote in the eye? (Matt 7:3)

I'm seeing much more groupings of hatred than I ever remember before. It's not that these didn't exist, but I think the barriers, the CONTROL, that held them back is no longer as strong, and the hate has become bolder. To stand against this, and we must stand, we cannot allow ourselves to fall into the same pattern of hate. That only creates more. An eye for an eye only causes two people to be blind. So how do we fight hate with love, if all of us are on the same broken playing field?

The love we need only God can provide. Only He loves not because of what we have done, but because of Whose children we are. Only His love can be greater than hate, His light greater than darkness. To find it means to empty ourselves of pride and bigotry, and to think of people, not groups. Individuals, not generalizations. Love each person as God loves you, quirks, faults, and all. (And I mean YOUR quirks, faults, and all. I of course am faultless.) See how easy it is to forget. 😃

Next time someone or something causes hate (not necessarily anger, there is a difference) to rise in you, make sure to step back and breathe. Pray. Ask how God would want you to approach it. Listen to what HE says. Take that fly out of your soup, and Go with God.

Friday, August 25, 2017

There Goes The Sun...

August 21, 2017. Sitting on my back porch, looking up into the sky, at least as much as those black out glasses would allow. Then from out of nowhere, it seemed, a small, curved sliver of the sun disappeared. Then more. Then more again. The moon gradually eating away at the sun. Then only a quarter left. Then less. Then still less. Then the sun makes one last gasp and...the world around me stops. I'm looking up slack jawed, staring at the hole in the sky that used to hold the sun, leaving only this little ringlet of flames. A quiet darkness all around me for the next 2 minutes and 40 seconds. It is dark, and it feels as if I'm holding my breath. Then a feeling of rebirth as the sun light bursts through like a diamond on the right side, and the process is reversed, from dark to light. I remember to breathe again. What a beautiful world.

YouTube entertainers and reality stars are suffering burn out and depression on a much larger scale than their counterparts in the entertainment industry, according to an NPR news report earlier this week. It seems by having to be "on" 24/7, there is so much pressure to always be accepted and liked, it just builds up. These people are responsible for their own writing, directing, filming, acting, editing and even marketing for shows at least twice a week, often more. One agent (yes, they have agents!) said when he sees a client nearing that edge, he'll tell them to take a break for a day. Shut off all social media. Get away. Stop being a brand for a while, and just be yourself.

I'm sure at this point some of you think I've just swallowed the red pill and followed Alice down the rabbit hole. But bear with me. We live in a society that bombards us with news and entertainment non-stop. We work more, and vacation less. Even when we do vacation, it is planned to the last minute, lest we should miss something. Our phones, which are now so much more, can never leave our sides, and our thumbs cramp up from use.

I had a friend that used to say, "Sometimes you just need sit and stare into a corner, and watch the cobwebs grow." Even God took a day off. And he told man to do the same thing. Take a Sabbath. Rest. Recharge. Connect again with yourself and the God who made you. During the eclipse, the thing that kept going through my mind was Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God." On August 21st, millions of people did just that. They stood, they sat, and all gasped collectively with awe and humility at the majesty of God's creation. Hate, politics, prejudice, greed, all shrank to the background in the collective stillness and childlike wonder.

When you feel you've lost your joy, when life is never ending pressure, then allow yourself a break. Watch a sunset, watch an eclipse, watch the cobwebs grow. "Be still and know that I am God" means more than recognizing His Lordship. It means that we can rest because He is in control. He keeps us safe. He says "Take my yoke...for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" Matthew 11:29-30.

Be still, and know that I am God.
Be still, and know that I am.
Be still, and know.
Be still.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Take a stand

This blog is a little tough to write. It will cause disruption at the least, hate quite possible, and the loss of friends a possibility. I need however to speak my mind on something that is rooted in evil itself, spans our history, and has come again to prominence.

Groups such as the Neo-Nazis, Skinheads, KKK, and White Nationalists, like a multi-headed serpent, have again come to a very vocal and violent presence in our country and world. Even though they should be shouted down from every voice from every corner of our nation, we have some who would claim these hate mongers as "Good people". Hear me clearly, those who would advocate hate are not "Good". They are not "Christian", they are not "good citizens of America", they are not anything but purveyors of hate. My father was severely wounded, and almost lost his life (But for the strategic placement of a Gideon's Bible taking the shrapnel) in fighting against these very low level dredges of society.

Yet here they are, coming again and again, spilling their vile, poisonous venom, amplifying it with violence and murder. As a strong believer in the First Amendment to free speech, they have the right to speak, however wrong they may be. But it is then up to us, as citizens, as Christians, as humans, to counter that speech until it is driven out, and no more assails and sickens us.

If you think my denunciation of these scum as too harsh, then I would refer you to a higher source.

Leviticus 19:17-18
 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. 
Amos 5:15
 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate;
Romans 12:9
 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

Galatians 5:22-23
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
1 John 2:11
 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

1 John 4:20-21
 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

And maybe my favorite:

1 John 4:7-12
 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
That is pretty specific. Someone whose beliefs include a hatred or bigotry of another person or group because of race, religion, or even just being different, falls into that category. "If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar". And Jesus was even more specific than that.
Matthew 5:21-22
 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, "You fool!" will be liable to the hell of fire."

So why speak out? Because without speaking out, the voices, the hatred, the violence only continues and grows; growing ever more bold, ever more confident, ever more evil. If we do not speak out, we are complicit in all that follows.

One last word on this, from pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He knew this evil quite intimately, and gave his life to stand against it in Nazi occupied Germany, even when he could have escaped with his life. He said,

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
Will you stay silent? Or will you take a stand?