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In Memory of a Dhogg

My kids are headed our way from NY for the holiday, but had the sadness of the death of their beloved dog, Mara. Mara had lived a good, long life, and like any family pet, had the run of the house. When our oldest granddaughter was born in Seattle five years ago, I was given the couch as my sleeping quarters, and she slept next to me on the floor, licking my hand regularly through the night, which, if not a regular experience, is a bit of a start for a sleeping person. Burglar or beloved, a licked hand is terrifying.

Mara D Dhogg, late of upstate New York.

Mara D Dhogg, late of upstate New York.

Eventually over those happy days we became friends and I would return the greeting in my sleep with a perfunctory half dozen strokes. These creatures who live with us accompany us in life, become part of the furniture of our homes. We miss them when they are gone.

It was time, as that time always comes, and Mara had no regrets. I reminded my daughter that marah could be taken as the Hebrew word for “bitter,” but Mara seemed remarkably sanguine toward the discomforts and outrageous fortunes of human beings and their ways. And she had it good–her own facebook page as Mara D Dhogg, the run of the house, better medical care than any except Read the rest of this entry

Keeping Children Safe in a Dangerous World

Last weekend, our family gathered in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  I must hasten to add, my folks are still relatively young—they married right out of high school, had me by age twenty, and the avalanche of four kids and their spouses, twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, along with spouses, dogs, cats, and horses.  We spent the weekend sharing a Holiday Inn Express breakfast area and their home—telling stories, laughing late into the night, and torrid games of Uno at the hotel with three of our aunts who came to help and their spouses.

I was humbled as I listened to my elders tell stories about us, realizing how large the protective covering of love was for us.  My Dad was one of nine, my mother one of eight, and one who died at birth.  A large family is chaotic sometime, but as my Aunt Johnnie philosophically puts it, “Oh, we argue and fuss and get mad but we always keep getting together.”

We have known our share of heartbreaks, losses, tragedies and struggles, all of us.  But we keep getting together.  There is something astounding about families, something enduring, durable, that transcends politics and economics.  Dirt poor was always not as poor as the people down the road, and besides, “we always had each other and enough to eat.  So we didn’t think we were poor.”  That despite clothes made out of anything mothers could find and food they grew themselves. Read the rest of this entry

What If…

Indians Sue for Possession of the U.S.:

Ask for Return of Lands and Deportation of

Euro-Americans

Squanto called “a sell out”

(Imaginary Press Release)   The immigration crisis in the United States took an unexpected turn today when Native Americans launched a lawsuit to deport all European descendants from the US back to their homelands.  Following the recent Supreme Court decision on immigration, leaders representing all the major tribes gathered together at Little Big Horn to announce an impending lawsuit.  They are seeking a lawsuit to remove all European Americans whose ancestors emigrated to this country illegally during the past 300 years, claiming that they had illegally squatted on tribal land, brought a plague of drug and alcohol abuse, took jobs that unemployed Native Americans could do, like being CEOs, equipment managers for basketball teams, and investment bankers, and ruined their livelihoods by killing off all the buffalo.

They are asking the court to uphold their legal request that requires all Europeans to carry identification cards and wear moccasins except in extremely cold weather.  They also have suggested that Reservation police be able to check identity and arrest Senior Adult Caucasians at Casinos if they have probable cause to think they are here illegally.   The Europeans must return all stolen lands and go live on a reservation while their cases are being deliberated.  If deported, they will go to the end of the line, which is said to be in Iceland and that they may come back in ten years.

Red Cloud and friends

Descendants of Cochise, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Geronimo have hired the Manhattan firm of Dewey, Cheatum and Howe, famous legal counsel for NPR’s “Car Talk,” to lead the dream team.  They will be joined by lead attorney and member of the House of Representatives Chief Enormous Bull as they argue their motion.

The motion blames Squanto for helping the Pilgrims, who kidnapped him and took him to England while his tribe was wiped out by Pilgrim diseases.  Squanto, they contend, did not have authorization to permit them to land in the first place.  The Indians had planned to build an enormous wall around Plymouth Rock but construction had not begun when the immigrants arrived and began squatting on the land.

In a related move, the Geico Cavemen said they would file an injunction blocking the Native American motion as their ancestors likely preceded them and should also be removed.  While their numbers are small, they have considerable insurance assets to leverage for a long legal fight.

Neither group has said specifically if the motions would apply to all Caucasian Americans, or would only affect those whose ancestors actually took Indian lands.  Both groups said they would be willing to negotiate a settlement, and neither had interest in taking Manhattan back, and said that Arizona could remain as a reservation for whites until arrangements to move in with relatives could be made.

Cavemen expected to enter the dispute

The American Bar Association said it looks forward to the years of billable hours that this action implies.  Leaders in China said whoever wound up with ownership of the country would be responsible for its current and future debts.  Europeans announced a counter-suit denying the return of the descendants until they could prove that they would be good citizens and not a threat to security.  Mexican drug cartels protested the removal of their largest customers citing exorbitant shipping and transportation costs.  Meanwhile, Alabama and a dozen other states said they would begin deportations immediately, whether there was a country to take them or not.  In the absence of a place to go, white people will be given large flat barges stocked with bottled water, Spam and saltine crackers, cable television and country music CDs while they wait until a country will receive them.  The suit has specified that those being placed on the reservation will travel by Greyhound bus along the Trail of Tears.

A spokesman for the Euro-Americans protested the move, citing the damage it would cause to families and especially children, and members of Congress met through the night and said because of the urgency of the matter that Immigration reform could be ready as early as Tuesday.  The President said he would rush back from vacation to sign the bill, which would resolve the situation.  “This affects millions of voters…er, people.  We have to fix this.”  Observers say it may be the fastest action of this magnitude that the Congress has ever achieved other than declarations of war, voting on raises for Congress, and motions of appreciation for professional athletes.

The Ten Commandments of Change (Part Two)

I am not sure why I started this.  I have been thinking, at 57, about how disappointing the world, other people, the church, society, politicians, even myself, are.  And yet, I hope.  I still think things can be better.  This is mysterious.  I went to Mount Thinkaboutit to consider this, and came down with two tablets carved in sand, so they can be easily revised if needed, but these are some things I have thought about in my experiences thus far.  Commandments 1-5, unless I have changed them, are in yesterday’s post.

6.  Let it Begin with Me.  A changed world begins in changed people.  Changed worlds can also change people.  But the most powerful change is when outer and inner converge.  Watch out.  Right person, right time, right opportunity and the right choice is a recipe for something the world is waiting for and doesn’t know it.
7.  Technique isn’t enough.  At some point, there is this mysterious power called, “Inspiration,” which comes from the words for “breathe into.”  Change is part analysis, part prescription, and big part art.  Technicians and engineers are often in danger of attempting to work without value, the artistic, the visionary.  Visionaries, on the other hand, must also be guarded.  They are like the Little Girl with the Curl.  When they’re right, they’re very, very right, and…(see # 1 in Part One, “humility”)
8.  Suffering is Being Alive.  “Passion” is the word that gets used a lot, but now we tend to see it as “overwhelming love for,” and even “desire,” without the medieval meaning so often connected with it—submission, suffering, being subject to something.  Originally it referred to the crucifixion of Jesus, “the passio”, in Latin, thus, “suffering love.”  If the medieval mind was too heavily on the “being subject” part, I wonder if we have severed love too much from it.  Grieve, suffer, ache, long, these are all the aliveness of love.  Change begins when we let ourselves “love” the world passionately, and therefore suffer inevitably with and for it.
9.  Change alone, Rejoice alone.  You will love your neighbor as yourself, a friend of mine used to say.  Self-loathing people loathe others.  People who want to fix the world in an external way never really connect to the human and utterly involved nature of this enterprise.  You can stand at a distance, of course, and lob grenades at the foibles of humankind.  This is called, “commentary.”  It can be a tiny piece of change if it really changes minds, but the object of words to change must be connection and communication and ultimately a summon to understand and join together, not merely celebrate a superior mind in a hopeless world.
10.  Assessment is Necessary and Impossible.  You cannot finally know the good you do any more than the evil that you are doing, not fully.  This is never an excuse not to act.  Christians talk often of “faith”, and too often as a noun rather than a verb.  That is, it is too often a thing they “have,” like a AAA membership in case of a spiritual flat tire.  This “thing” is something they possess, a rabbit’s foot and a lucky charm that can be tossed aside after one freshman philosophy course, because it is not really faith at all.  Faith “trust” is more like a “conviction,” a belief about the way things are that is so deep that nothing so superficial as mountains of consensus and cultural agreement can shake it away.  Results are good.  They are not required to act and sometimes dissuade us from what must be done.   Get busy.  Do something.

The Ten Commandments of Change (Part One)

Ten Commandments for Working for Change (Kingdom of God Version)

I am not sure why I started this.  I have been thinking, at 57, about how disappointing the world, other people, the church, society, politicians, even myself, are.  And yet, I hope.  I still think things can be better.  This is mysterious.  I went to Mount Thinkaboutit to consider this, and came down with two tablets carved in sand, so they can be easily revised if needed, but these are some things I have thought about in my experiences thus far.

  1. First Things First.  The ministry of healing requires clear priorities.  The First Commandment is always the First Commandment.  “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  “Let God be God,” is redundant.  God IS

    We're all in this together, at least until they colonize the moon.

    God.  The only question is, “Will we rail against God and the universe and the Way It REALLY Is or not?”   All of our spiritual traditions say God doesn’t care for human deities running around lording themselves over the rest of us.  This keeps motives clear, priorities arranged and a healthy dose of humility in all of our efforts.

  2. Caring IS change.   We are changed the moment we care.  The poor are my neighbors, friends, or estranged kin, not problems to be eliminated or solved.  Helmut Thielicke, the theologian, once said that sin entered the world when God was first spoken of in the third person by Satan:  “Did God REALLY say?”  Maybe the same is true of our neighbors—when we talk about them in place of “I-Thou,” as Martin Buber called it, we get, well, what we have.  Listening, being present, loving our neighbors has already changed the conversation.  Until you care, nothing changes.  Not caring is a tempting way of protecting from the hurt, but it is ultimately impossible for being really alive.
  3. Politics alone cannot heal.  It can facilitate genuine healing or get in its way.  The same can be said of all the “principalities and powers”—economy, power, business, civic life, and even religion.  They are instruments to occasionally use but never of eternal value for themselves.  Sometimes it is the obstacle to go around, sometimes the opposition to ignore but never a god in whom we trust wholly.  Politics is pretty important, which is why it is always overestimating itself
  4. Epiphanies are doorways!  Real change begins with ideas, relationships, and genuine connection.  Money, power and importance can only follow them if the change is genuine and the commitment unwaivering.  Money, fame, and power are not usually agents of change so much as instruments of resistance.  They get on board when it suits them, and left to themselves tend to prefer comfort, control and micromanaging (i.e., spiritual anesthesia).  Because change will always bring the Unholy Trio into question, they become anxious because they will decrease if things do change.  They do not like this, but sometimes the numbers just aren’t with them any more.  Epiphanies are fast track connections.
  5. The Power of the Question.  Before transformation was the question and it must be asked by right person at the right time.  “Questioning” can be a somewhat self-righteous exercise, however, even a delusional self-perception (this was franchised in the United States in the 1970s, causing the number of people who were at Woodstock to quadruple).  Real questions, like real change, have the element of self-involved investment/caring/suffering.

Part Two tomorrow…

The Penn State Scandal: Joe Paterno, Duty and Veteran’s Day

So who isn’t depressed about the whole situation at Penn State?  An icon’s image trashed, a scandal seems to get bigger

every day, and the story of the events themselves alleged against Jerry Sandusky is stomach-turning.  Anyone who has ever dealt with sexual abuse in any way knows how dangerous and emotionally perilous the whole situation can be.

The first abuse victim I ever knew about was a young woman who came to me more than twenty-five years ago.  I helped her leave her home with an abusive father who had molested her and took her to a shelter and reported the matter to rape crisis.  The laws were murkier and less helpful in those days.  After the father threatened to kill me, I called and reported the entire situation to the Sheriff’s department, where I was told that all I could do is swear out a restraining order.  “What will that do?” I asked.  “Well, if he kills you, we can arrest him for violating the order.”  So…I told my deacons to keep their shotguns at the door and come if I called since I didn’t have one.

Things have changed for the better.  But this has revealed just how we may not have come as far as we thought.  There are so many enormous questions—about out of control emphasis on college athletics, the corrupting power of money at universities, the conspiracy of silence in institutions devoted to higher ideals.  In short, not all that different from the implications of clergy abuse scandals.

There are questions about power and priority and value at stake here.  College athletics and its money and power on campuses of “higher learning” is a piece of this equation, too.  When a footbal coach and program bring $100 million per year to a college, danger of compromise is everywhere.  Taylor Branch prophetically has written about this entire sad mess in his book The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA  This moment is but a window on our collective soul, and not merely in our worship of collegiate athletics in a way that is out of control.

Coach Paterno

There is something larger I want to think about—beyond the sad image of Joe Paterno’s legacy, the disappointment with a university that had a great reputation, even the cases themselves.  It is this—what about our higher obligation to care for our young?  Preachers will rail about one more evidence of a culture that does not respect life, but I think of it a little differently.  In our addiction to pleasure, the momentary and money, we have sacrificed all notions of loyal obligation.

Oddly, today I was surfing news programs and listened for a while to “Morning Joe,’ which I enjoy.  The Penn State story got a lot of play and discussion, but it was followed by a Veteran’s Day conversation with Jack Jacobs.  According to the PBS “Stories of Valor” website, which did a story on Medal of Honor winners,

Colonel Jack Jacobs, who entered military service through Rutgers ROTC, earned the Medal of Honor for exceptional heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam. He also holds three Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars.

Jacobs was an adviser to a Vietnamese infantry battalion when it came under a devastating fire that disabled the commander. Although bleeding from severe head wounds, then-First Lieutenant Jacobs took command, withdrew the unit to safety, and returned again and again under intense fire to rescue the wounded and perform life-saving first aid. He saved the lives of a U.S. adviser and 13 allied soldiers.

As the guests on the show talked about Veterans Day, Jacobs told a story about what motivates Medal of Honor winners

Medal of Honor winner Jack Jacobs

to be so modest.  They nearly always say, “I just did my job.”  The military drills into their soldiers that duty to one another and to their service is the highest necessity for survival and success.  Jacobs said that they know that absolute commitment to their duty is what all of their lives depend on.  He told of one soldier who was severly wounded in a battle.  A seargeant went through a hail of bullets to rescue the man, who later died.  The sergeant himself was badly wounded, but he said the young man looked up when he came and said, “I knew you would come for me.”

At the heart of military duty, it seems to me, is a profound loyalty to ones fellow soldiers.  It is that trust in each other on which lives depend.  Jacobs has written a book on these things and extended this virtue to civilian life.  Do we not need this same sense that life itself depends on our loyalty to one another and to duty and dependability?

If Not Now, When?

Duty is not always glamorous.  It never operates from the pleasure principle, fame, rewards or immediate gratification.  Perhaps that is why it has ebbed from view in our current world.  It’s all about the money, too often, for us.  Being true to ourselves, each other and our obligations has been cast aside.  We regularly break contracts, covenants and loyalty for some more urgent unhappiness.  We reap bitterly from this harvest.

Sex abuse is failure of the most basic of duties—to protect the most vulnerable.  Not only their lives, but our own and our collective life absolutely depend on it.  So do all our institutions, our financial life, and everything in this world that is worthwhile.  Without confidence that we will come for one another, we are utterly lost.

Bobby Horton, a musician buddy, is a Civil War buff and a musical expert on that era.  He contributed to many of Ken Burn’s series, including the “Civil War.”  His favorite quotation is from Robert E. Lee, who even in a lost and wrong cause, was a man admired by both sides.  He said, “Duty is the most sublime word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less.”  This may be our greatest need on Veterans Day,  not the recovery of duty for our soldiers, but for the rest of us.  Without doing our duty, can we long survive?

 

The Other Two Sides of the Coin

Do you remember the old television show, “Newhart?”   It lives only on reruns now.  Bob Newhart and actress Mary Frann played an author and his wife who owned an inn in a weird little rural Vermont town. Among the strange characters who inhabited the town were three goony looking brothers, only one of whom ever spoke, named Larry.  Larry introduces the group the same way every time they make an appearance: “Hi, I’m Larry; this is my brother Darryl, and this is my other brother Darryl.”

It’s crazy.  How can there be three brothers with two names?  Life tends to be flat in our minds a lot of the time.  A friend recently told me about something an old fellow told him one time:  “We often say, ‘There’s two sides to every coin.’ But there are actually three—heads, tails, and the edge.’”

Three-dimensional space is a geometric notion. These three dimensions are length, width, and depth (or height).  The edge of the coin is most frequently forgotten part of things—“depth.”  For me it represents the narrow place that many false polarities might share.  There is only one edge on a coin, not two.  It is, in a sense, its own place.  It gives a third dimension.

So many complex questions and problems require the edge for solutions.  First, the notion of creativity and depth requires the capacity to see the other side as well as our own, to truly sympathize with an opponent’s positions if they are not simply disingenuous.  Second, it means holding out in our deliberations for the idea that there may be a “thicker” set of possibilities than first appear in the “coin flip” approach to theology, ethics, and politics.

There was an episode of the old Twilight Zone called “A Penny for Your Thoughts.”  The main character, Hector, is a timid guy who’s never advanced in his job at the bank.  He’s likeable, but his life is stuck.

Watch out...there's the sign up ahead!

One day he buys a newspaper, and flips a coin into the collection pan, where it lands on its edge. As a consequence, all day that day, he can hear people’s thoughts, and it changes his life.  He discovers love in the thoughts of a woman who is attracted to him that he never had the courage to ask out.  He reads the mind of an old teller who is stealing from the bank and turns him in.  He negotiates a better position and a raise and even gets help for the old teller who had stolen the money.

At the end of the day he stops by the newsstand again and buys a magazine and throws in another coin, this time knocking the coin off its edge and his telepathic powers are gone.  But he is a new man.  He has seen into the depth of his life, discovered things he did not have the courage on his own to see.

A lot of public issues turn into coin flips these days—somebody wins, the other guys loses.  Never is there the possibility that it could land on the edge and find another possibility.  This is different from compromise.  Compromise is resolving without the coin—both of us agree to be mildly unhappy.

Gandhi

The creative depth of life offers possibilities yet unimagined.  We have to learn to look there.  Who would have thought that the 2,000 year old teachings of Jesus about non-violence would bring down British rule in India or Jim Crow laws in the American South?  But it happened.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King saw a new possibility between violent overthrow and acquiescence and discovered the creative possibilities.

It makes me wonder in our political landscape of the moment—what are we missing?  If ever we needed the dimension of depth to apply to problems of economy, work, immigration, homeland security and the other vexing issues of our time, it is now.  The great problem of politics is not merely electing different people from the ones we have at present, but in putting forth solutions that move beyond the impasses.  For that, we will require a level of creative possibility that is largely unknown in the landscape of the culture wars, limited as they are to the  “heads” of progressive change from what is on one side and the “tails” of conservative resistance on the other.

Hope resides on the edge.  May the creative leaders who can see it find us for this time.