Yesterday, the class was “with me” from hope, to think, to believe, to know. When I said, “I think our Constitution will hold against authoritarianism,” one class member said, “I hope so.” He got it. He wasn’t quite able to say “I think it will.” He understands the gravity of the situation. These folks, several well into their 90s, embody a wisdom that sees beyond today’s political polarization.
A WW2 veteran, 94, said “Don’t you think people in Russia and Ukraine, etc., are “like us” in their hope to make a living and live in peace?” I recalled for them what a deceased member, a much-decorated WW2 veteran, told me when I left for Tennessee in 2005: “Ted, people are the same wherever you go and most of them are good.” His widow, who was in the class, nodded and flashed a big smile.
I cited a familiar graveside benediction used by a deceased mutual friend: “The stars look down on the mountain; the stars look down on the sea. The stars look down on everyone; the stars look down on me. The stars will live for a million years, a million years and a day. In God, _____ will live on and on, when the stars have passed away.” And, a real yet unprovable know from one of their favorite hymns:
Today I’m scheduled to lead a class of old friends. From 1992-2005, a teaching rotation put me in their class in February, May, August and November. We’ve watched each other age. They like to hear about Jesus, so he’s the backdrop for today’s theme: what I hope, what I think, what I believe, what I know.
I hope common sense prevails over tribalism and ideology. Hope is “community property” (Mark 2:1-5). We uphold each other and inspire each other to hope with strength beyond our own.
I think the Constitution will prevail against authoritarianism (Matthew 14:9-14). When John the Baptizer was unjustly killed, Jesus grieved his friend but was undeterred and continued his work.
I believe democracy will endure, even if not in the US. Freedom is planted in the human heart. In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus calls “the twelve” to be with him, to preach and to free people from bondage.
I know love will remain when everything else has passed away. Jesus revealed God’s love in the stories he told, such as the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32. Love ultimately wins.
For several months, I’ve been part of a conversation among a few dozen people seeking to understand and practice unconditional love. It began with a focus on grace, Christianity’s term for unmerited favor.
Our conversations quickly included secular people who don’t identify with traditional Christianity as well as people of other faiths, such as Buddhism. We discovered that the human family has multiple ways of expressing love and that human language is limited in its ability to express love.
The terms Fullness of LovingRelationships, or (the shorter) Fullness of Loving, is the working name for this project, but the focus is on the reality of love that undergirds its every expression. I invite you to check out this fledging movement and its new website that (like the group) is a work in progress:
The Fullness of Loving Relationships began with the dream of a dynamic movement of persons devoted to an understanding and practice of grace. The essence of grace is an unconditional, all-inclusive, never-ending love. It is a way of being, thinking, and living in all relationships.
Ian Millhiser’s January 26 Vox article, “Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer’s nearly 28 years on the Supreme Court, explained,” provides evidence that “Breyer’s best work was often the work you never new about.”
In these two pandemic years, our only participation in a communion service was on Christmas Eve. On Tuesday, Richard Rohr wrote: “Eucharst is meant to identify us in a positive, inclusionary way, but we are not yet well-practiced at this. … The Eucharistic meal is meant to be a microcosmic event, summarizing at one table what is true in the whole macrocosm: we are one, we are equal in dignity….”
Yesterday was a travel day. As we motored home, we heard that Justice Stephen Breyer was on the eve of announcing his retirement. I thought of my late friend Charlie Hayes, who was Breyer’s contemporary at Harvard Law School ’64. I smiled as I drove. Charlie was a lot like Breyer, only more so.
Last night, an email newsletter from The Atlantic included an article about the Court opening:
“The Court Loses Its Chief Pragmatist,” by Jeffrey Rosen, said Breyer fit Edward Larson’s description of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington as “enlightenment pragmatists at heart,” who made compromises to ensure a strong and flexible Constitution that would allow Americans to resolve their differences peacefully and democratically. “Both believed that the republic would survive only if American citizens and their representatives were able to use their powers of reason to moderate their selfish emotions and partisan passions, so that they could be guided by the classical virtues of temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice.” Rosen concluded, “These founding virtues are the ones Breyer has embodied throughout his career, in his jurisprudence, and in his kind, temperate, and decent character. A lifelong teacher and learner, he is a model of the civic virtue that the Founders hoped for.”
The reference in yesterday’s post to President Biden’s apology caused me to think about the art of apology. Though he had plenty of material with which to work, Mr. Biden’s predecessor refrained from venturing into this art form. Perhaps he is never wrong. Maybe he has a blind spot. Or, he may be living into the philosophy expressed in Love Story, the 1970 movie in which Jennifer Cavilleri (Ali MacGraw) said to Oliver Barrett IV (Ryan O’Neal), “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
Jenny’s line conveyed forgiveness. Later, Oliver used those words to tell a dying Jenny that no apology is necessary. However, a genuine apology can defuse anger, overcome bitterness and restore personal and corporate relationships. A heartfelt apology builds bridges of civility, honesty and reality–elements in short supply these days. The art of apology dispels illusion and builds community. The ability to apologize reveals one’s great inner power–not a weakness to fear but a strength to embrace.
I’ve had a life-long appreciation for journalists. I was a 4th grader when John Kennedy was elected president. I was a 7th grader when he was assassinated. I watched his press conferences that were broadcast live on TV. I thought it would be fun to be in the press corps that covered him.
Sometimes, the reporter/politician relationship is contentious. Journalists can be irritating. They can be partisan. Politicians can be arrogant. They can take criticism personally. It’s important for elected leaders and journalists to maintain appropriate objectivity and professionalism.
Donald Trump routinely said reporters purvey “fake news” as “enemies of the people.” Yesterday, Joe Biden apologized for insulting a reporter. Recent books by journalists Jonathan Karl, Bob Woodward, Robert Costa, Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker renew my appreciation for the free press.
In a recent conversation about the difficulty of practicing unconditional love toward adversaries, my friend Joe echoed Fareed Zakaria (January 20 post) by saying, “The first thing is to try to understand the other side.” Then, my friend John ended yesterday’s Sunday School lesson about Jesus giving us a “new paradigm” with a 6-minute video of Robert F. Kennedy’s April 4, 1968 Indianapolis speech. Martin Luther King, Jr., had been killed in Memphis, but the crowd had not yet heard the news.
Thanks to Joe, Fareed, John and Jesus, RFK’s use of the word understand grabbed my attention in this excerpt from his speech (emphasis added):
We can move (toward) greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.
This was Kennedy’s first public statement about his brother’s 1963 assassination, and it was two months before his own death in Los Angeles, after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary.
That’s what it’s called in the South, aka Sunday lunch. As a college student serving rural churches, someone would say, “You’re having dinner with us today.” My city boy eyes bulged when my chicken-farmer hostess wrung the neck of what was about to be Sunday dinner. I thought, “That’s fresh food!” Her husband, who grew up on a chicken farm, said when drafted into the Korean War, some city boys chafed at basic training’s 5:30 reveille, but he enjoyed the extra hour of sleep.
Memorable moments happened around those Sunday dinner tables, including dialogue about the morning sermon. I’ll share some of those memories in upcoming Sunday posts, and also some themes for good Sunday dinner conversation today, such as a powerful 2016 William Barber speech. Its eerily relevant message is described in Andrew Hidas’ 8/1/2016 tra-vers-ing blog entry, “Reverend William Barber’s Ancient Progressive Religion of the Heart.” Here’s a quote:
…there are some issues that are not left versus right, liberal versus conservative; they are right versus wrong. We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy. When we fight to reinstate the power of the Voting Rights Act and to break interposition and the nullification of the current Congress, we in the South especially know that when we do that, we are reviving the heart of our democracy….
Ten years ago, Amjad Masad entered the US as a 24-year-old immigrant from Jordan. Peggy Noonan provides background, including the story that his father, a Palestinian immigrant to Jordan, gave 6-year-old Amjad a computer. Thus began Masad’s dream to live in Silicon Valley. Five years ago he became co-founder and CEO of Replit, a company that helps people learn programming.
Last month, Masad posted on Twitter “10 things I love about this country.” I’ve been depressed about much that’s happening in our country, and as I read Masad’s “10 things,” I found myself thinking, “Yes, but….” Then I decided to simply enjoy his wonderment, enthusiasm and gratitude. I’m energized to make it a better place by living into (and up to) our yet-to-be-actualized ideals.
You can read Masad’s background via the Noonan link. You can access Masad’s tweet (actually 12 tweets) from the “10 things” link. Here’s a short version of his list: (1) work ethic; (2) lack of corruption; (3) win-win mindset; (4) rewarding talent; (5) open to weirdos; (6) forgiveness; (7) basic infrastructure; (8) optimism; (9) freedom; (10) access to capital. He concluded his tweets with:
… my experience can be very different from yours. Also,we can do a lot better, and make sure everyone has equal access to opportunity. Finally, many of the things that I talked about are under threat, largely from people who don’t know how special they have it. America is worth protecting, and realizing that progress can be made without destroying the things that made it special.