Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Solution to a Pandemic Problem

I just heard that the Dow Jones had hit a big high on the same day the WHO announced that we have reached a worldwide infection rate of 20 million. And last week the heads of the Big Four were before congress.

So here’s what I think. Those four Heads together represent an enormous resource package. They could be the solution. First off, the pandemic cries out for unified national policy and determination. We are getting none of that and may not see anything until February at best. So look no further in that direction for help. I suggest that the Big Four (and many others) agree with the Feds to use their resources to help combat the virus in exchange for tax credits. Let it even be based on results. Then let the geniuses get together and put their foundations’ resources to work. Like everyone gets tested every day. Everywhere. They could make that happen. Better still, solutions beyond my imagining, like they do with new product and technology development. Only focused on bettering the virus. Who better than our best and best resourced. And they will see their own best interests served by this as well.

Why are we waiting for help when none seems forthcoming. Only increases in numbers and risks. Time for a new approach.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Looking into the Eyes of Mary Magdalene

I have had the extraordinary privilege of seeing into the soul of Mary Magdalene as she approached the empty tomb on Easter morning. It happened in 1985 while I was serving as Assistant to the Rector (Mayo Little) of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Salisbury, North Carolina. I was newly ordained and willing to try things. So we had an outdoor animal blessing. I partnered with a young Roman Catholic priest. I was saying blessings and touching the critters. He was more experienced and reticent. Some of the dogs were quite aggressive. So he had a small pot of holy water and he used it instead of full contact. I naively touched every animal or whatever and then he gave it a shot of the holy water.

A lovely three year old little girl (Mary Magdalene) was in line. She and her family were members of St. Luke’s and we knew each other. She held in her small hands a paper cup. As she approached me, I looked into the cup. Down there at the bottom was a tiny dead hermit crab. She looked like her best friend had died, which may have literally been the case. She looked up at me with eyes filled with despair and tears, and said, “Can you do anything about this?”

I stammered a prayer containing a plausibility denial clause. “If you are in there, little crab, God bless you ... Now go see the other guy.” My colleague then took the wand and hit the back of the crab with a few drops of the holy water.

Well! All I can figure is that crab was all dried out. When the water hit its back, it revived. Its claws extended, and lifted up, as if to say, “Get me outta this cup!” The little girl looked down into the cup and saw the movement. Then she lifted her face to look at me. I stood transfixed as I looked deeply into her eyes. They were filled with joy and wonder. It was like nothing I had ever seen before or since. All I could imagine were the eyes of Mary Magdalene when she encountered the Resurrected Lord.

The moment of grace has never left me and no Easter ever comes without that vivid recollection. Nor can I ever help but conjure up that image when I hear the scripture read in which Mary, the First Apostle declares for the first time in history, “I have seen the Lord.”

I did not see the Lord that day. But I saw the eyes of the one who did, and that alone had the power to change my life.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Trump and 16th Century Reformation

There is but a modest amount of information stored in my memory of the history of the Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries since Christ.  In the twenty first century in the United States, there is a theological divide with political consequences that borders on outright violence.  This in some way mirrors the conditions of the Church in the throes of the Reformation.

I am unwilling to do the proper research to make this a scholarly accurate thesis.  Rather my purpose is to highlight a current dynamic in order to engender hope for today and for the future.

The break from Rome to form new models for Church without papacy led to a divide in ecclesiology, namely the theology of what is and who is the Church.  There existed fundamental differences regarding authority, power and empire.  Although there were many “sides”, let us agree for arguments sake, that there was a generally understood divide characterized by the words Catholic and Protestant. 

The notion of Anti-Christ arose in this context.  It was the most extreme way to claim authority to remove validity from those with whom they had experiences schism.  Although they may all have agreed to the orthodox teachings of the Nicene Creed, they remained out of fellowship with one another, manifested primarily in the halls of power in Europe.

Trump?  I use this word to convey a political and theological movement going on right now.  Let’s call them the Protestants.  Those in another, characterized perhaps by the word Bernie, let’s call Catholics.

Vote Your Values is being used by Protestants to advance the cause in the political arena.  Catholics are waiting to find expression in the same venue, through the coming elections.

Those Protestant and Catholic movements of old said one thing clearly about the other.  “THAT IS NOT THE CHURCH.  THIS IS THE CHURCH.”

Today’s version seems quite parallel.  Archbishops and others were executed.  The monarch determined the course of the nation.  The opposition stood steadfast.  We have not yet shed blood over this.  But the political games are every bit as high stakes then as now.  And people of faith went to the gallows for their faith.

We contemporary Christians have not been asked yet to bear the full weight of implications for standing firm.  We have risked much with God and less so with daily life and work.  More may be asked of us.

Consider the legacy we received from those five hundred years before us.  It may be that we have a time and circumstance that has not been seen in a long time.  Their salvation came through middle ground and compromise, long crafted.  What will history record of our lives of faith?  The strongest evidence may be found in the political arena, then as now.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Total Eclipse of God’s Heart

The eclipse of August 21, 2017 is an event of cosmic significance.  We draw our very life from our nearest star, the sun, and its eclipse means we are temporarily bereft of its life giving power.

Late in the evening of August 24, 1997 our daughter Lea took and ended her life.  We learned of her death the next morning, August 25.  On that day God’s heart of love was totally eclipsed by the tragedy and sense of loss.  A darkness large enough completely blotted out any hint of God’s grace.  Red turned grey, and yellow white. (Moody Blues)  In fact there was a deep sense of betrayal, since I had prayed daily for her healing for eighteen months, and the result on that morning was the worst case possible.

This year’s eclipse marks the 20th anniversary of the Great Eclipse of 1997.  As we prepare for and experience the cosmic eclipse, it is a time to reflect on other eclipses in our lives.  What events may have struck terror in our hearts as did eclipses in the lives of people of ages past?  And yet within a few hours the crisis will pass and the full sun will once more rule the heavens.

The eclipse associated with Lea’s departure has proved more long lasting.  For about a year it was as if the moon had moved between the earth and the sun, and then stopped and froze there.  It was a year of near total darkness, followed by years of anguish as the slightest glimmers of light would appear and then seem to recede again. 

Over these twenty years I have come to recognize that there will most likely never be a return of the sun in full force.  There is no returning to the time of innocence and happiness with was ours before the tragedy.  But I have had time and my eyes have adjusted to the lesser light.  I have come to believe that the sun is still there, although it is obscured by the deep sense of emptiness and pain.  Most days there is enough light to function, and even well.  But this eclipse will likely never fully pass.  And yet, as we gaze at the marvel of the sun blocked by the moon, we experience a deeper appreciation for the sun and all it does for us.  So we have come to believe that God’s love and grace have continued to sustain us on this journey.

Twenty years ago the lights went out.  They have gradually come back up.  This eclipse is an occasion to remember and take stock.  I miss Lea and I am glad to be alive.  This contradiction seems to coexist, as do sun, moon and stars.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Two People – One Nation

It appears that we are a nation divided.  That much seems obvious when reviewing election results.  Two candidates, two parties, two people.  So who are these two peoples?  The categories we currently use don’t seem adequate or even appropriate.  Let me suggest some that don’t work.

Trump supporters and Hilary supporters
Liberals and conservatives
Urban and rural
Republicans and Democrats

They all fail because they are too discreet.  They seem to push people into categories that are not a good fit.  One may be a Democrat who voted for Trump.  One may be a rural Democrat.

So I want to suggest two categories that I find helpful right now.  And I will unpack each just a bit so you understand what I am seeking to express.  Here are my categories.

Fearful and Pessimistic

Fearful.  I see these folks all over the political landscape.  They are fearful of a future with little promise of improvement for them.  This in turn leads to fear of those who may be perceived as responsible.  Among these are Mexicans and other immigrants, who are perceived as taking jobs away and draining benefits from the system.  Also Muslims, who are threatening our sense of safety and security.  Non whites are seen as remaking our society with diversity so that the past hegemony is fading.  Now these folks might not describe themselves as fearful.  To the contrary, they may see themselves as bold asserters of values and policies that will Make America Great Again.  But under that bluster of superiority, I see folks who are unsure, afraid and needing help and encouragement.  They may have no intention of hurting anyone else.  They just want to feel OK and they don’t . So they have become a movement in our nation; a movement that will address their fears but whose methods and solutions are had at the expense of others.  Surely there must be a better way to help the fearful.

Pessimistic.  These are the folks who were deeply disappointed by the results of this election.  They have fallen into a deep funk.  Some are protesting and promising to organize resistance.  Others have given in to resignation and cynicism.  The nation is divided.  They see themselves as the ones with the right values and solutions, and they feel rejected by a nation that chose another way for now.  They want things to be better, but they cannot seem to present solutions with enough broad appeal, and the election hit them hard.  They tend to be quite judgmental toward the fearful.  But they too need compassion and understanding, because it isn’t working for them either.

Fearful vs. Pessimistic.  Neither is particularly attractive because neither is inclusive enough to encompass the other’s perspective.  If we met an individual who was fearful, we would want to reassure and offer help.  We also might want to take away their guns.  Fear and guns are a dangerous dynamic.  If we met an individual who was pessimistic, we would likewise try to offer encouragement and hope.  We might also relieve them of decisions about redistribution of resources.  Pessimism and resignation can lead to reckless abandon since the future is beyond repair.

So wherever we find ourselves today, we are deserving of some understanding and forbearance.  We see ourselves in the other and discover we are not so very different.  We all hope for a better tomorrow.  We have differing opinions on what happened and what needs to happen.  But we all agree something needs to happen.

As we journey forward from now as two people and one nation, it is too easy to condemn and too convenient to avoid self examination.  Neither side is all right or all wrong.  We are still trying to get this right.  As two people, let’s not lose the deeper reality that we are also one nation.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and this Election

I am angry, upset and disappointed.  But wait until you read what has upset me.  Trump?  Of course.  People everywhere of conscience are upset.  But what really galls me is the feeling of powerlessness.  I voted.  I got a sticker that says, “I voted today.”  I wrote on it these words.  “And look what it got me.”  But this is what has got me so upset.  My faith community.  By which I mean the Episcopal Church.

In a clergy meeting many months ago, I expressed myself in the presence of the clergy and Bishop of Maine.  My position was that this election had more at stake than elections of the recent past.  My position was that the church needed to name the issues, the characters, and call the spade a spade.  My position was that the church should openly oppose Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency.  I was fully aware of the church’s official position.  “Talk about issues but not about candidates.”  To fail this test is to jeopardize our tax exempt status as a church.

You know what?  I would have gladly sacrificed our precious and mostly unjustifiable tax exempt status if it meant having more power over what happened on Tuesday.  Imagine Dietrich Bonhoeffer being told to hush about Hitler because his church might lose its tax exempt status.  His martyrdom makes us look like toothless wonders.  The church should be willing to endure the fiscal martyrdom of the loss of our tax exempt status if the trade off is the deal with the devil that silences us in a critical time.

Let us honor all those brave leaders who have spoken out on the election from within the agreed parameters.  Let us appreciate that most clergy are under too many ecclesiastical restraints to take a controversial stand.  Congregations generally cannot tolerate clergy who are partisan, outspoken, passionate and who name evil as evil.  My former parishioners in Baltimore know what a mess I might have caused if I had still been their rector during this season of crisis.  In the Episcopal Church, we are far too reluctant to address human sin directly, to name it and to oppose it with word and deed, especially when it costs us.

So our little cozy relationship with federal tax law has led to us muting our voices as a critical time.  And as my cute little sticker says, “look what it got us.”

I no longer have a pulpit so here is where I blow off on this one.  Our Episcopal church has let us down.  We need members, and ordained leaders to put their stuff on the line for the cause when it is this important.  To fail to name Trump as a bigot, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and an islamophobe, is a sin for which we have to repent.  And it is a sin that has consequences.  Could we have swung the election?  Probably not.  But the effort would have been noble and righteous.  We have a lot to answer for.  And that is why I am angry, upset and disappointed.