The price of bondage

Georgia is on my mind. The tragic 1/6/21 insurrection overshadowed the huge impact of 1/5/21 in Georgia–the dual runoff elections that flipped the US Senate by sending Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to Washington. Then, last night, in yet another runoff, Warnock won a full six-year term.

Several Georgians are on my mind: John Lewis, voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, elections official Gabriel Sterling, all the poll workers who help facilitate democracy, and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a panelist during CNN’s coverage of last night’s runoff election.

Duncan is candid about the cost of his party’s bondage to Donald Trump. Duncan said, “If Georgia Republicans want to keep laying in the mud with Donald Trump, it’s going to be a purple state.” The GOP and the nation may thank Georgia for demonstrating the price of political bondage.

From “Ray Charles–Georgia On My Mind,” the Official Music Video, via YouTube

Waiting for good news

For St. Nicholas Day: As we drove to an Advent worship service, she marveled at the brilliant colors of the trees. When she took off her sunglasses, she realized that without them the tree colors were less vibrant. Later, inside the sanctuary, she said, “I don’t like those blue candles.” I said, “Put on your sunglasses. They’ll look purple.”

The lens through which we view the world does make a difference. My first word was “lights” at Christmas when I was a year old. Lighted trees are mystical–putting me in a reflective mood. When I rub Friar by the tree, both of us are calmed. In the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we saw countless dogs and cats fleeing with their humans. I wondered about those people and critters as they wait for news of peace.

Some friends and family wait for news of healing. Some are displaced by layoffs, darkened by damaged power grids, confused by changes in their faith communities, frightened by random acts of violence. Uncertainty abounds. And so we wait. From Reddit comes this light-hearted video clip of how waiting works at doggie day camp.

“Preserve, protect and defend…”

On my conservative, Republican grandfather’s 131st birthday, here’s Donald Trump’s latest attempt to put his personal interest ahead of his Constitutional oath. Ironically, his Stop the Steal falsehoods coincided with his efforts to overturn, i.e., steal, the most transparent, scrutinized and litigated election in memory. Some responses:

Trump’s Call for ‘Termination’ of Constitution Draws Rebukes,” by Maggie Astor, The New York Times, December 4, 2022.

Lawmakers react to Trump’s call to suspend Constitution,” by Ivana Saric, Axios, December 4, 2022.

Trump rebuked for call to suspend Constitution over election,” by Hope Yen/AP, The Washington Post, December 4, 2022.

From “Are The Frogs Boiled?” by Joyce Vance, Civil Discourse, December 4, 2022


What drags a person down into anti-semitism? Why does Judaism arouse resentment and fear among some people? These questions flow from yesterday’s post as I reflect on the long history of prejudice, including the Nazis’ anti-semitic strategy to gain power in Germany, 2017 tiki torches in Charlottesville and the appearance of Ye (Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes on Alex Jones’ InfoWar show.

The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) should be a source of unity for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but cultural prejudice toward the people that produced the OT has damaged the credibility of some expressions of Christianity and Islam. Judaism’s prophetic tradition is rooted in the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc.

The prophetic tradition stands for justice and against tyranny. Those who aspire to, or support, dictatorship properly understand Judaism as a threat to their power. Judaism’s respect for, and defense of, the “least of these” undermines authoritarian rule. To be anti-semite is to be anti-prophet, or anti-Bible. Anti-semitism tries to make the prophetic tradition into the “bad guys.”

From “The most striking photos from the white supremacist Charlottesville protest,” by German Lopez, Vox, August 12, 2017

Judicial review

After King David had his loyal soldier Uriah killed in battle so he could take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for his own, the prophet Nathan called out the king’s injustice. After King Ahab, believing he was above the law, mistreated a poor person, the prophet Elijah confronted Ahab because the Law of Moses applied to commoners and kings. Amos and other prophets continued this tradition of speaking truth to power.

The American democratic experiment codified several key principles in our Constitution, such as the checks and balances of three branches of government, with the judiciary providing what I would call an independent “referee” (like the OT prophets). The courts provide judicial review, determining whether a law is constitutional and whether a law is being property executed.

Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the tradition of judicial review. During my youth, Judge Frank M. Johnson (1918-1999) embodied the best principles of judicial review, providing the only practical check on the early administrations of Governor George Wallace (1919-1998). This week the US Eleventh Circuit upheld the principle that no one is above the law.

From “U.S. appeals court rules against Trump in documents fight, ends arbiter,” by Jacqueline Thomsen, Reuters, December 1, 2022

The thread of inclusion

The “markers” I’ve cited this week share a common thread–inclusion. I believe the competition between parochial, tribal worldviews and more inclusive, global worldviews is the definitive struggle in this era of earth’s history.

For me, inclusiveness has emerged as the decisive factor in matters of faith (aka religion), governance (aka politics), business (aka economics), personal decisions (aka lifestyle) and community health (aka ethics).

Inclusion (or lack thereof) has become the marker I look for when weighing options for how to act and how to think. Am I including others or excluding others? Am I weaving a life of inclusion or exclusion?

Far from being an “anything goes” approach to life, a commitment to inclusiveness requires a strong capacity to say “No!” These days, my most vigorous “no” responses are to attempts to exclude, to limit inclusion.

From a 7-minute segment of The Rachel Maddow Show, November 28, 2022, highlighting 24-year-old Nick Fuentes’ views, which deserve a vigorous “No!”

Subtle, but very present markers

Richard Rohr and company were the leadoff batters on Sunday (previous two posts), followed by a powerful SALT class lesson about an encounter between Jesus and a rich man. John, our teacher, used a video portrayal of that event which showed the rich man arriving and departing with his entourage. It’s hard to give up everything when others depend on you. It was a subtle reminder of tribal webs that both provide identity, yet sometimes limit our possibilities.

Then, a worship service to begin Advent. It was the first time the congregation had passed offering plates since before the pandemic. I have enjoyed simpler, no plates worship but I became teary when the plates and a doxology brought back decades of memories. The entire recorded genealogy of Jesus was read aloud, a first for me. Cristin’s pronunciation skill brought a spontaneous ovation. During the sermon, Stephanie read the genealogy again, noting only the mothers that were mentioned and the many instances where the mother remains unknown to us.

Sunday’s blast of “marker consciousness” continued as I reflected on our many tribal markers (monuments and institutional namesakes). We have a scarcity of global markers for breakthroughs–from parochial, tribal consciousness to a more global, universal consciousness. It was an energizing way to begin the week as I began to look for subtle markers of a more global, inclusive consciousness.

From “gallery one–Monument to Forgiveness,” by Francis Jansen, Kosmos, Fall/Winter 2016

Breakthrough markers

In the “Future of Christianity” summit (mentioned yesterday), Richard Rohr said: To pass on anything that lasts, you need a healthy container. … Until the middle of the last century, we lived almost worldwide in tribal consciousness. It was easy to build a container because we lived and thought as members of a group.

But this … began to fall apart. We made too many friends, we met too many holy and healthy people outside of our container. Consciousness itself has moved beyond tribal consciousness in many parts of the world. … Pope Francis talks in a universal, nature-based, natural religion, psychologically and anthropologically astute. There’s no reason to reject that if you’re healthy. There’s no reason to react against that.

There are clearly those who want to hold onto their tribe and that’s okay. I had my tribe most of my life. I dressed like my tribe. I don’t need that over-identification anymore, and I dare say none of this group does. But we don’t hate it, do we? We don’t laugh at it. We don’t reject it. It’s quaint, and sweet, and nice, and good. But, it’s over.

Brian McLaren responded that Pope Francis wants his message to communicate with Catholics, but he wants to communicate more broadly, which can be an example for us: Going forward, we’re continuing some old tribal identities but we’re also trying to transcend them. Rohr said, We’re doing both: the particular and the universal.

Can we live authentically rooted in our particular tribe while connecting universally with others as we affirm our common humanity and embrace the best principles of our various faiths?


Markers for the Big Picture

The week began with a challenging thought by Brian McLaren in the form of a daily meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation, “Courage to Ask the Question.” This came out of a 2-hour “Future of Christianity” summit of CAC faculty, with 3,000 online viewers. Excerpts from McLaren’s daily meditation:

Our question that brings us together today is the question of the future of Christianity. 

Avoiding unrealistic optimism or cynical pessimism, McLaren finds hope by viewing Christianity as an ever-evolving movement:

Christianity’s actual history is a story of change and adaptation. We Christians have repeatedly adapted our message, methods, and mission to the contours of our time. What might happen if we understand the core Christian ethos as creative, constructive, and forward-leaning—as an “organizing religion” that challenges all institutions (including its own) to learn, grow, and mature toward a deepening, enduring vision of reconciliation with God, self, neighbor, enemy, and creation?

(See also McLaren’s 2016 book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.)

From the “Future of Christianity” summit of CAC faculty, August 23, 2022, available via YouTube. This link also provides information about CAC. You can subscribe to CAC’s YouTube videos, a treasure of free video resources.


My wife Cathey keeps a brief daily journal. She reviews what she wrote one year ago and two years ago. Sometimes we marvel at how much has changed. Sometimes we marvel how (especially with Donald Trump), it’s another verse of the same song.

You’re reading my “journal.” This is #1,156 since September 30, 2019. Its purpose is to further the dialogue with our son (and anyone else who’s interested) about the day’s events–to leave a “time stamped” record of what the old man is thinking.

Around 11 pm on Saturday, Heather Cox Richardson posted an installment of Letters from an American. Her opening sentence: I hate to break up a holiday weekend with a political post, but I want to put down a marker for the record. It was about Trump’s dinner meeting that included Ye, aka Kanye West, and white supremacist Nick Fuentes.

One of HCR’s phrases has lingered with me: “to put down a marker for the record.” I’ve been flooded with encouraging and challenging “markers.” In this week’s posts I’ll share some markers that I want to put down for the record.

My great-grandfather Sam Combs put down some markers in a journal of a 3,500-mile trip from Berea, Kentucky by train to Jellico, Tennessee; by automobile (a “machine”) with his son-in-law, my grandfather, to Tampa, then Miami; by train from Jacksonville to Memphis, Little Rock, Hot Springs, then to Berea. One “marker” was the new Wilson Dam.

The first page of Sam Combs’ two-month journal begins on December 2, 1924. He ended the journal by saying it was a great learning experience but six months too short.