Month: August 2021

Ethics of war and peace

My phone received a news alert yesterday: “The US military has departed Afghanistan, officials said, ending a 20-year occupation and leaving the country in the Taliban’s hands.” I was relieved. Two things came to mind: the 1966 song, “Last Train to Clarksville,” and Restrepo.

Restrepo was a 2010 documentary about a US mountain outpost in Afghanistan named for Juan Sebastián Restrepo (1986-2007), a 20-year-old Colombian immigrant, a US soldier and medic who died there.

In Christian ethics, there have been three major attitudes about war and peace: pacifism, the just war, and the crusade. The great historian Roland Bainton said of crusades, “The worst wars are holy wars.” This is something to think about, maybe blog about, for the next three days.

From Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation,” 1979

Aging well

Yesterday, I shared with Malcolm’s Sunday School class what I learned last week (and shared with you) about truth and wisdom. The class affirmed Roberta Bondi’s words about aging (from yesterday’s post). Several class members are in their 90s and it’s encouraging to a young guy like me to see them joyous and excited about aging.

They cheered Malcolm’s and Betty’s 72nd wedding anniversary. Humor is essential. One of the class announcements was about an upcoming church financial informational meeting. Malcolm chimed in that the church was “flush” and might “declare a dividend.”

Bondi’s encounter with the desert fathers and mothers led me to articles about ancient Egyptian monasteries, some of which have been in continuous operation since the 400s. Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai has the world’s oldest continuously operating library, dating from the 500s.

The Monastery of St. Anthony is the world’s oldest Coptic monastery. The monasteries at Wadi El Natrun are rich with stories, such as the desert abba St. John the Short. Three cheers for old people and short people!

From “7 Most Beautiful Coptic Orthodox Monasteries in Egypt,” Local Guide to Egypt, November 27, 2020

Truth and wisdom

Jesus called King Herod “that fox.” He relativized Roman power: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Don’t look to emperors for truth or wisdom.

In 312, Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, which he saw as a unifying force within the empire. He convened the Council of Nicea in 325 to create greater uniformity in the church.

When Christianity became the empire’s official religion, the politics of power reshaped its understanding of truth (or wisdom), emphasizing conformity of behavior and belief.

Dissenters went to desert hermitages or monasteries. Roberta Bondi found truth and wisdom in her study of the solitude-seekers we know as the desert fathers and mothers. Bondi said:

…they convinced me that there is a real trajectory to … human life … summarized in Jesus’ great commandment: we are to spend our lives learning to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. And they convinced me … this really is our lifetime’s work, it will get easier and better as we grow into that love. This insight was totally contrary to the prevailing conventional view that old age means life gets worse.

Roberta Bondi

Great suffering, great love

The previously cited New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold quotes Richard Rohr: “My belief is that the two universal paths are great love and great suffering.” Thirty years ago I first saw a 7-minute film about a disfigured boy named Alfredo, the only survivor of his family’s house fire. We used it each year in our confirmation classes.

When I was in seminary, I was the pastor for a friend who lost his wife to an accidental drug overdose and who died a few months later with cancer. I visited him numerous times at St. Vincent’s Hospital, which had a crucifix above the door inside each room, a graphic reminder that suffering is part of our common journey.

I think of these things when I think about COVID; or when I read about a young dentist who died four miles from the Kabul Airport when he and another young man fell from a C-17, likely as the landing gear closed; or when I hear about the young Marine, an expectant dad, who was one of the 13 US service people among the scores of others killed or wounded Thursday in the suicide bomb explosion at the Abbey Gate; or when I hear about the 20 people who died and the 272 homes lost in the Tennessee flood; or when I think about a strong hurricane tracking toward Louisiana.

The crucifix helped Alfredo. It helps me, too. There’s nothing magical about it. A crucifix is simply an icon (window) of healing in which the path of great suffering and the path of great love converge.

From the movie about Alfredo, cited above: “Baptism: Sacrament of Belonging,” Franciscan Communications Center, 1969

Truth: general and specific

My friend Malcolm asked me to lead his Sunday School class in a discussion about Pilate’s question to Jesus: “What is truth?” Yesterday, Barbara Holmes gave me a window into that topic.

She echoed Leander Keck’s words 45-years ago in seminary: “The historical Jesus and the Risen Christ inform each other.” What we know about Jesus who lived long ago helps us connect with the dynamic spiritual reality that’s been experienced through the ages, such as Paul’s encounter with the Risen One on the road to Damascus.

Keck (and many others) prepared me to hear Richard Rohr and Barbara Holmes yearn for a faith that is both personal and universal. Holmes can confront injustice because she is empowered by a relationship with the flesh-and-blood “personal Jesus upon whom I depend.”

Truth can be gleaned from specific moments (such as the Jesus story) and by engaging a timeless, cosmic reality known by many names in countless ways “always and everywhere,” as Holmes reminds us:

“…we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves. … not light-years away, but in every cell of our star-born bodies. … I carry the same divine spark in me that is in every living thing.”

From “The Historical Jesus,” by Claudia Setzer, in Frontline’s series From Jesus to Christ, PBS, July 17, 1995

Broader than Christianity

Eliza Griswold’s New Yorker article, cited yesterday, captures Richard Rohr’s significance for our time. I’m sure he winced, or chuckled, at the title, “Richard Rohr Reorders the Universe.” Rohr said Thomas Merton “pulled back the curtain” so people in our time could rediscover the contemplative tradition. Rohr might say he simply has tried to “pull back the curtain” so we could rediscover a universal, cosmic Reality.

The Universal Christ, (2019) coalesces all of Rohr’s “big thoughts.” The sub-title is instructive: “How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe.” He echoes an old idea from the Gospel of John: “In the beginning (of Creation) was the Word … (that) became flesh (in Jesus).” Rohr says this spiritual reality (the Universal, or Cosmic Christ) is pre-existent and eternal, always here and everywhere..

From Griswold’s third paragraph: ...God’s love for the world has existed since the beginning of time, suffuses everything in creation, and has been present in all cultures and civilizations. Jesus is an incarnation of that spirit, and following him is our “best shortcut” to accessing it. But this spirit can also be found through the practices of other religions…. Rohr, like Merton, is part of a spiritual communion broader than Christianity.

From “The Universal Christ,” a book review by Jon M. Sweeney, Spirituality & Practice


Yesterday, I ran across a February 2020 New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold about Richard Rohr, now 78. Griswold spent a day with Rohr at his Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque.

If you’ve read these posts with any regularity, you’re aware that Rohr is a significant resource for me. Around 2005, he entered my consciousness through several friends whose judgment I greatly trust.

I was in a study group that spent several days with him at the CAC, just before Falling Upward was published in 2011. When I read the book a few months later, I could hear his voice as I read his words.

For a decade I was part of a group that used the CAC’s Daily Meditations as the basis for our weekly conversations. Now, my friend Joe and I have a weekly Facetime conversation about those readings.

Rohr has helped deepen my appreciation for the best of the Christian tradition while at the same time helping me think beyond Christianity to embrace some universal themes shared by many traditions.

Tomorrow, I’ll use Griswold’s article (available here) as the starting point for several posts about how Rohr has helped expand my view of things.

Illustration by Ohni Lisle, from “Richard Rohr Reorders the Universe,” by Eliza Griswold, The New Yorker, February 2, 2020

The determinative motif

In the mid-1950s, my friend Joe picked up a transformational idea from his seminary professor Nels F. S. Ferré (1908-1971). Ferré had three conversions: (1) to a rules-based Christianity; (2) to radical questioning; then (3) to agape (undeserved, unconditional, self-giving love). Ferré said God’s love “is the determinative, distinctive motif of Christianity …. Agape constitutes Christianity’s ultimate principle of interpretation …. This determinative motif is …. based not on (human) merit, but on forgiving love.” For Ferré, agape love is grace, life’s determinative motif.

Yesterday, I heard an echo of Ferré when I read Barbara Holmes’ words: “I’ve spent a lifetime working … to unclog racism, sexism, gender, sexual identity bias. … often (with) the subliminal presumption that if dominant culture would just include others … all would be well.” Then she wrote that “if inclusion is to be meaningful … everyone and everything is included from the beginning, not … in socially constructed hierarchies … but included in a web of life set forth from the foundations of the earth.”

Sometimes I regress into us versus them thinking, but I receive Ferré’s determinative motif and Holmes’ radical inclusiveness as a woven-together, exotic, unending invitation to New Life.

Photo of Colby Hall (1866) at Andover Newton, where Ferré received a theology degree in 1934, and later was a professor of theology. Andover Newton is the oldest seminary in the US (1807).

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Charles and Veronica Antetokounmpo emigrated to Greece from Nigeria in 1991. They were undocumented. Life was tough. They faced the possibility of deportation. They experienced anti-immigration attitudes.

In 2007, Spiros Velliniatis saw the athletic potential of Giannis and his older brother Thanasis. Velliniatis was a coach of amateur basketball players. He persuaded their mother to let them play basketball.

In 2013, Giannis became a Greek citizen just before he was the 15th player chosen in the NBA draft, by the Milwaukee Bucks. Thanasis also plays for the Bucks. Their younger brother Kostas plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Now all three brothers have played on a NBA championship team.

His early years in poverty taught Giannis some vital life lessons. He’s grateful for Milwaukee’s hospitality. He’s finding ways to give back. After scoring 50 points in the 2021 final game and being named MVP, Giannis was asked how he learned so early to handle his ego.

Click here for his two-minute answer.

Horse sense

Trump supporters should herald his administration’s “warp speed” efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines. The FDA is expected to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine tomorrow.

Some Fox News personalities are skeptical of the vaccines, as is a large swath of the former president’s fans, including some Republican officials. Their latest vaccine alternative is ivermectin.

On Friday, the Mississippi Poison Control Center released a statement that it had “received an increasing number of calls from individuals with potential ivermectin exposure taken to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection. At least 70% of the recent calls have been related to ingestion of livestock or animal formulations of ivermectin purchased at livestock supply centers.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health is urging people not to take the horse de-worming medication as an in-home remedy to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The Fox endorsement and the rising use of ivermectin reminded me of Sheriff Taylor’s arrest of Aunt Bee and the Ladies Aid church committee for getting tipsy with a tall, handsome traveling salesman’s elixer.

Colonel Harvey’s 170 proof elixer lights up, and locks up, the Ladies Aid church committee (from The Andy Griffith Show: Aunt Bee’s Medicine Man, 1963; Season 3, Episode 24)