Month: May 2021

Memorial Day

Looking at Memorial Day through the defining presence of the Jesus model, I’m struck immediately by the theme of personal sacrifice for the common good and by the historic diversity of the nation’s military. Today we honor the memory of those who died in our service, giving themselves for those of us who may differ in faith, ethnicity, culture or region. Military units were once identified by state or region, but over time we have become more amalgamated and inclusive.

I see that diversity when I visit a national cemetery. The Jesus model is to give a gift not because we the recipients deserve it. Hopefully, the depth of the gift (i.e., veterans who died in action) will inspire us with gratitude and devotion to the cause of freedom and equal justice under the law.

My cousin Ed, a trained navigator, career USAF pilot and Vietnam veteran, now retired, sent me this email and the photo below:

To some, Memorial Day is just another three day weekend.

To others, it is of profound significance.

One member of my 39 strong navigator class was killed in combat.

Three of my 50 member pilot training class died in the cockpit, too. The one killed in combat was my formation flying partner. The young son he never saw grew up to be a Navy fighter pilot and is now USN retired.

I remember them all laughing when they were age 25, over 50 years ago.

Veterans do not forget.

Jenn Budenz lies on a blanket with her 2-month-old son AJ as they visit the grave of her husband and father of her child Major Andrew Budenz, a Marine buried at the Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego. Budenz was killed in a motorcycle accident. Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune (May 23, 2014)

A defining presence

Warren Buffett is a defining presence in the stock market. Satya Nadella is a defining presence in technology. Simone Biles is a defining presence in gymnastics. Other names come to mind in their respective endeavors. You have your own list of those who lead the way.

Moses, Muhammad and the writers of the Hindu Vedas were among those who’ve been a defining presence, as were the Buddha and Jesus. I’m most familiar with Jesus, who lived long ago but continues to be for me a defining presence, shaping my worldview.

From Richard Rohr: “The divine image and dignity are inherent in every being. We have the freedom and honor of choosing to grow (or not) in our unique likeness of this image. Jesus is one clear example of this path who models inclusive, nondual, compassionate thinking and being.”

“Nondual” living isn’t a common conversation topic, but I believe it is vitally important. So, this week’s posts will focus on the Jesus model of “inclusive, nondual, compassionate thinking and being” as a defining presence for us today.

What is a slum? Definition of a Global Housing Crisis,Habitat for Humanity UK

True unity

Richard Rohr’s Pentecost meditation was entitled “We Turn Around One Thing.” From the first two paragraphs:

Unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. … If we had made that simple distinction between uniformity and true unity, many of our problems, especially those of overemphasized, separate identities, could have been overcome.

We see this beautiful diversity and yet unity in the universe itself–from Latin, unis + versus, “to turn around one thing.”

Ten years ago some friends and I spent a few days with Richard in Albuquerque. He talked a lot about dualism, an us-versus-them mentality that sometimes takes the form of tribalism. We see it throughout our world in polarized families, divisions in churches, splits in political parties, and broken friendships.

True unity is strong and has no need to seek (or demand) uniformity.

Click the link below the photo for an 11-minute TED Talk is by a ninth grade teacher in Nebraska, about respect, listening and caring. She’s a Georgia native, so you can watch it at 1.25x or 1.5x speed and save time! You can also read a transcript as you listen. Her school mascot is a link (as in a chain–we’re in this together).

How can we support the emotional well being of teachers?” by Sidney Jensen, TED.com, October 2019

Pierre Eugene

We touch his handiwork every day. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland, spent ten years in the West Indies, moved to New York, and then to Philadelphia in 1766. His 1779 pencil drawing of George Washington was an early portrait of the future president. He was the art consultant for the committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States.

Pierre-Eugène du Simitière (1736-1784) took the “Americanized” form of Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere. He accomplished much in his 18 years in America, including his suggestion of our first national motto, E pluribus unum (“Out of Many, One”). You touch it every day that you handle our coins or currency: Millions of people; billions of touches.

We are going through a period of testing this vision of unity that embraces diversity. This testing may get more difficult before it gets better, but I believe we will emerge from this era of short-sightedness with renewed appreciation for our diverse strengths that make the Union stronger.

A committee

One night this week I dreamed I was giving a committee report to a regional church body. I think my unconscious mind was processing a recent committee meeting via Zoom. One committee I’m thankful not to be on is actually a board, the one that oversees Stone Mountain in Georgia.

I first heard of Stone Mountain through a coin collector neighbor when I was a boy. He ferried his son and me to coin shows and coin club meetings. I remember two US half dollar commemorative coins, an 1892 Columbian Exposition half dollar and a 1925 Stone Mountain Memorial half dollar.

I liked Buffalo Nickels more. As a white kid in the former Confederacy, I gave no thought to the politics of the Stone Mountain half dollar. Abraham Mosley is giving it considerable thought these days. He is the long time pastor of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia.

Last month, Pastor Mosley was appointed chairperson of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. Bless his heart. A week or so after his appointment, Politico published an article about the briar patch he has entered. Two weeks later, he penned an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Can Georgians re-imagine and re-purpose this memorial by “an honest and complete telling of history, warts and all,” as Pastor Mosley wrote? If so, they may show the rest of the country how to redeem a painful past and move us toward a redemptive future.

From “Kemp taps first Black chairman of Stone Mountain Memorial Association,” by Tyler Estep and Greg Bleustein, AJC, April 21, 2021

Respect

Yesterday’s poke at the Alabama Legislature doesn’t diminish my respect for that important body. Authoritarian abuses occur when there are no functioning democratic institutions. We may deride, scoff or laugh at those charged with governance, but underneath we must have an essential, abiding respect and gratitude for the principle of self-governance.

The legalization of yoga (yesterday’s topic) in Alabama schools has happened because of Jeremy Gray, a first term legislator who benefitted from yoga when he was a college football player. He has demonstrated patience, determination and an ability to work with a legislature dominated by the opposing party. He has a mature, practical attitude.

Thirty years ago, the current Speaker of the House, Mac McCutcheon, was a good friend, a young cotton farmer, church leader and volunteer police chaplain who became a peace officer. He and I lost touch, as happens in an itinerant life. One day I saw that he was our new Speaker of the House. I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that he was a member of the State Legislature.

Mac was elected in 2006, running unopposed in the general election–and unopposed in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Speaker since 2016, he has done some clean-up work with quiet dignity and I’m not surprised that Jeremy Gray was able to get his yoga bill through the legislative labyrinth. When governance moves past partisan posturing, it should be honored and celebrated.

From United States Civil Rights Trail: Alabama State Capitol

Namaste

My first awareness of the Hindu greeting Namaste came from Joan Napp (1936-2015), a strong Christian. My second encounter came from Joe Elmore (b. 1931), who was featured in yesterday’s post. They used it as a blessing, as one might use the Hebrew word Shalom, the Hawaiian word Aloha, or perhaps Roll Tide (trademarked) or War Eagle (trademarked).

Full disclosure: I have used each of the above salutations, though not (to the best of my recollection) on the campus of an Alabama public school. Namaste returned to my consciousness when the Alabama Legislature recently overturned a law prohibiting yoga in public schools. I view the reversal as a positive step, though it required a few steps backward.

I subscribe to The Bulwark, a great resource for true conservatives. On May 24, editor-in-chief Charlie Sykes published “Scenes from the Culture War,” in his Morning Shot email (which I recommend). He drew from Elliot Hannon’s May 21 Slate article, “Alabama Lifts Three-Decade-Old Ban on Yoga in Public Schools. But There’s a Catch.”

I’m a fan of free speech and the First Amendment, though hate speech is a serious problem. If the Legislature wades into speech regulation, Namaste is not the first “N-word” I would consider.

Namaste, y’all.

From “it’s Time to Completely Ban the N-Word in Schools,” by Tyrone C. Howard, EducationWeek, October 28, 2019

Hands

Yesterday morning, I received a GRACEWORD from my friend Joe Elmore. It brought a smile to my face and I pass this on with confidence that it will do that for you, too:

Grace friends,

Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, returns from Sunday School to share what she learned: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

With the pencil in her right hand, the dialogue goes: LH: “What are you doing?”— RH: “I’ll do the writing, you just hold the paper down.  LH: “I want to know what’s going on.”  RH: “Left hands don’t have to know anything, just hold the paper.” LH: “If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t be able to write at all.  Tell me what’s going on.”  Sally goes to the den where Charlie Brown is watching TV.  He asks, “I thought you were doing your homework.” Sally says, “I had to quit.  My hands hate each other.”

Sally fell prey to literalism, rather than hearing what was a metaphor teaching her not to make a show of her good deeds. 

When it comes to scripture, and life, literalism and legalism miss the heart of the message.

Bottom line: if the message doesn’t call us to love one another, we don’t get the message.

Blessings!
Joe

To receive Joe’s occasional GRACEWORD messages, contact him at joesgraceword@googlegroups.com.

From “How ‘Peanuts’ Created a Space for Thinking,” by Nicole Rudick, The New Yorker, August 6, 2019

Between two isms

I grew up between two isms. My parents’ generation defeated fascism. I was born five years after the death of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), so the painful memories of World War II were fresh in my childhood. I devoured WW2 movies, TV shows and books. One question haunted me: How was Germany duped?

Before WW2’s dust settled, the US became embroiled in a struggle with communism. I was born during the Korean War (1950-1953) and grew up hearing stories about the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949) and the establishment of a communist government in China (1949). As a frightened 11-year-old, I watched President Kennedy’s speech during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The American war in Vietnam was a defining event for my generation. I was an Air Force ROTC cadet but the war wound down before I graduated.

With Japan and an eventually-unified Germany embracing democracy, my attention (and US foreign policy) was diverted from fascism to communism, confident that the US would continue to reject right-wing authoritarians like Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957) and George Wallace (1919-1998). As I’ve written in earlier posts, my seminary professor of ethics, Theodore Weber, said many years ago that fascism is the greater threat to industrialized societies, as documented by Anne Applebaum and others.

In the last four years, many troublesome events have reminded me of Professor Weber’s observation. The two most devastating were the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville (August 2017) and the insurrection following the “Save America” rally in Washington (January 2021). The two isms still threaten us and require vigilance, particularly on our right flank.

I didn’t expect to find the answer to my childhood question about Germany in the America of my old age as millions are duped by a Big Lie.

From “What Is QAnon? What We Know About the Conspiracy-Theory Group,” by Brett Forrest, Wall Street Journal, February 4 2021

Grace and the Ford Lightning

Yesterday’s post noted that I’m not energized by efforts to control the behavior of bishops, clergy and laity with more rules and committees. During some quiet moments yesterday, I asked, “What energizes me?”

The answer is unconditional grace. My October 16 2019 post referred to a long ago sermon by “deep water Baptist” Will Campbell (1924-2013) entitled “What Has Been Done?” Will said the Christian message is that we have been put in right relationship with God through the cross. The Jesus story is that God loves everyone unconditionally and radical grace can be the basis of our living and all our relationships. That energizes me.

This week, Ford rolled out the F-150 Lightning, an electric version of its popular truck, borrowing a name from the 1999-2004 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning, created by Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. The new Lightning is powered by an electric motor. I watched (and listened to its quiet efficiency) when President Biden took one for a spin.

For well over a century, vehicles have been powered by internal combustion engines. Our daughter and son-in-law have put 300,000+ miles on a Toyota Prius, so the technology isn’t new. But, it is improving rapidly. The F-150 Lightning is the latest example of quiet efficiency. Grace operates that way, too. Grace is quietly and efficiently redeeming and empowering everything.

From “2022 Ford F-150 Lightning First Look,” by Alisa Priddle (photos by Steven Pham), Motor Trend, May 20, 2021