Month: April 2022

The Free Press

Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Muratov is editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, now published outside Russia to avoid government censorship. Since 2000, six of the newspaper’s journalists have been murdered.

On April 18, Muratov survived a chemical attack after boarding a train in Moscow. US intelligence attributed the attack to the Russian government.

Timothy Snyder’s 2010 Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin has been updated in a new 2022 paperback edition. Hitler and Stalin attacked “the fake news media” as “the enemy of the people.” Snyder discussed with Chris Hayes the origins of Putin’s war and the importance of truthful journalism.

From “A Russian editor says he won the Nobel because his slain colleagues could not,” The Economist, October 16, 2021

Autonomous congregations re-emerge

Phyllis Tickle said the Great Emergence will be as earth-shaking as the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, impacting social, political and religious institutions. This far-reaching, multi-faceted change has various overlapping crosscurrents, including a new spirit of congregational autonomy.

Some congregations that vote to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church will join the Global Methodist Church. It’s not a binary choice. Disaffiliating churches will have other options. Frazer Church in Montgomery plans to affiliate with the Free Methodist Church, which was founded in 1860.

Yesterday’s post cited a large local church whose leaders have unanimously recommended disaffiliation from the UMC to “join a network of like-minded Wesleyan large churches.” It’s a move toward homogeneity and congregational autonomy within an easy-to-exit network.

As a way of solidifying his rule and unifying his subjects, Emperor Constantine gathered autonomous Christian leaders to agree on basic beliefs and practices for a religious hierarchy within a “Christian” empire. Monastic movements brought alternative structures, as did the Protestant Reformation.

This is a new chapter in the long search for religious freedom within a unity of meaningful identity. It’s difficult for political parties, Christian communities, and amusement park operators. As people “choose sides,” an increasing number of people are choosing “none of the above.”

From “The Rise of the ‘Umns’,” by Mike Moore, Christianity Today, March 29, 2022

The Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle put the term in our vocabulary. She gave us the context for the social, political and religious events that are unfolding around us. Faith is now less connectional and more congregational. Most local parishes are increasingly more socially homogeneous and more politically predictable.

When “red states” and “blue states” became widely used, a friend said, “I hope we don’t have “red churches” and “blue churches.” It’s happening. In the short term, faith tends to mirror society, but in the long term, faith ultimately bends the arc of history toward grace (inclusiveness) and love (justice).

It’s painful short term, but clarifying long term. On Sunday, a large congregation will “vote on a proposal … to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church.” Their “Executive Team, Executive Board, and Administrative Board have all voted unanimously to move forward with the separation.” Now, “every professing member will now have that same opportunity” to vote.

“If the disaffiliation vote is passed” they “will then begin the next steps to officially separate from the UMC and join a network of like-minded Wesleyan large churches.” They will “uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline … for the next six months, or until (they) can develop (their) our own document of Faith and Practices.”

From Phyllis Tickle’s website

When the accent was on Loyal

History’s lessons can provide inspiration and context. One of the gifts of longevity is that I now carry a fair amount of history within me. I can remember when democrats and republicans had a modicum of respect for each other and were able to come together on big issues.

I’m old enough to remember disagreements between members of the same political party. They were held together by principles big enough to allow differences about priorities and strategies. One of the speakers at an Inaugural Gala for Jimmy Carter in 1977 was a republican named John Wayne, who said:

I have come here tonight to pay my respects to our 39th President, our new Commander-in-Chief and to wish you Godspeed, Sir, in the uncharted waters ahead.all of our hopes and dreams go into that great house with you. And everyone is with you.

I am privileged to be present and accounted for in this capitol of freedom to witness history as it happens … to watch a common man accept uncommon responsibilities he won “fair and square” by stating his case to the American people … not by bloodshed, beheadings, and riots at the palace gates.

…I am considered a member of the opposition … the Loyal Opposition … accent on Loyal. I’d have it no other way. …I add my voice to the millions of others all over the world who wish you well, Mr. President.

American actor John Wayne (Marion Mitchell Morrison) acting in Cast a Giant Shadow. 1966 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images), from “John Wayne Was Honored with Presidential Medal of Freedom from Jimmy Carter a Year After His Death,” by Clayton Edwards, Outsider, February 25, 2021

A clear-eyed realist

I consider Timothy Snyder (yesterday’s post) and Anne Applebaum to be the two most insightful students of authoritarianism today. Applebaum is a clear-eyed realist. She doesn’t smile much these days. Her countenance seems to bear the weight of oppression that she sees in various parts of the world, particularly now in Ukraine.

Applebaum is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She and Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg traveled to Kyiv to interview Volodymyr Zelensky. Applebaum and Goldberg wrote an April 22, 2002 article, “Liberation Without Victory.” The Ukrainian leader sought to dispel the growing optimism in Ukraine, in the US and in Europe. He saw a long, difficult struggle with a narrow window of opportunity. Here’s a paragraph:

On or off camera, Zelensky conducts himself with a deliberate lack of pretense. In a part of the world where leadership usually implies stiff posture and a pompous manner—and where signaling military authority requires, at a minimum, highly visible epaulets—he instead evokes sympathy and feelings of trust precisely because he sounds, in the words of a Ukrainian acquaintance, “like one of us.” He is a kind of anti-Putin: Rather than telegraphing a cold-eyed, murderous superiority, he wants people to understand him as an Everyman, a middle-aged dad with a bad back.

From “Liberation Without Victory, The Atlantic, April 22, 2022 (cited above)

Inspiration from Ukraine

This week’s posts will highlight some trustworthy voices of reason–people that I’ve found helpful in this somewhat chaotic, polarized era. For many years, Yale University professor of history Timothy Snyder has been warning us about the rise of authoritarianism around the world, including within the US.

His recent article in Foreign Policy argues that Russia’s war in Ukraine must be met not just with resistance but with inspiration. Here’s a paragraph worth discussing over morning coffee or tea:

The situation today is disconcertingly similar to that at the outset of World War II. Russian President Vladimir Putin now speaks of Ukraine as an artificial state and nation. In 1938 and 1939, Adolf Hitler spoke in just the same way about Germany’s neighbors. Putin prepared the way for his invasion with a litany of imaginary atrocities supposedly suffered by compatriots across the border. Hitler was the pioneer of atrocity talk as a pretext to aggression. He used such lies to absorb Austria, destroy Czechoslovakia, and invade Poland.

From “Ukraine Is Europe’s Chance for Renewal,” by Timothy Snyder, Foreign Policy, March 8, 2022

My context is too small

Yesterday, after giving my aunt’s room a spring cleaning (while she’s at a rehab facility), I stopped at Burger Station 120 for a Southern Railroad burger on my way home. I didn’t know why I was humming “The Circle of Life” theme song from 1994 film, The Lion King until I read responses to yesterday’s post from Ernie and Kathy. Memory loss is sad. Aging is a pain. But, it’s part of the circle of life.

It was an epiphany, a splash of cold water. When I’m sad (Ukraine) or depressed (church secession), or worried (health), or angry (politics)… invariably I’m reminded that in the Big Picture, “it’s all small stuff.” Without diminishing the urgency or pain of any of the “stuff,” I find energy and healing when I can put our problems within a larger context, such as faith, or the circle of life, or the Universe.

J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), biblical trail blazer, wrote Your God Is Too Small (1952). To paraphrase the Paraphraser, I continually say to self: “Your context is too small.” When I look at problems with self-centered tunnel vision, it’s like seeing the Universe through a cardboard toilet paper roll, as a child might, thus hiding from my view the grandeur of the earth, the Milky Way, the Universe.

In the Big Picture, my aunt–including her diminished memory (whose isn’t?)–is a whole person and a vital part of the circle. So are you!

From “Who is God?” an excellent introduction to the contributions of J.B. Phillips at Sarah’s Musings, January 26, 2018

“Now, who are you?”

The assisted living facility called to say my aunt had been taken to the hospital with pneumonia and some other issues. I went to bed early Thursday and began the 5-hour drive at 2 am CT on Friday in order to be north of Chattanooga before rush hour. I arrived at her hospital room at 7:30 am ET.

When her night shift nurse came in to start an IV, she cheerily asked, “Are you her husband?” When I replied, “No, I’m her nephew,” the nurse tried to make me feel better by saying, “She doesn’t look 90.” I was already six hours into a long day, and too tired to feel anything but humor.

I made two women happy before the sun broke the horizon. The nurse was happy when I told her my aunt was being discharged to rehab. So, she didn’t need to replace the IV line my aunt had removed during the night. I always make my saintly aunt happy simply by showing up.

We arrived at the rehab facility in time for her to have a lunch tray, so I helped her with meal #2. She settled into her new abode. At 3 pm ET, I told my aunt I was leaving for the motel and I would see her in the morning. She smiled, expressed her gratitude and said, “Now, who are you?”

From “Coping With Memory Loss,” US Food & Drug Administration

Earth Day

At a recent conference about climate change, we discussed our individual choices about how to conserve energy, recycle, etc.). My friend Joe Elmore (in his 90th lap around the sun) said the scale of the problem requires governments to take action. The US can reach our target for 2050 net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 through a bill in the US Senate (a carve-out of President Biden’s original “Build Back Better” program) that would provide $555 billion to address climate change.

Yesterday, Heather Cox Richardson and Diana Butler Bass both cited a stirring speech by Michigan state senator Mallory McMorrow, who said: “People who are different are not the reason that our roads are in bad shape…. We cannot let hateful people …. deflect from the … real issues that impact people’s lives.”

Jeff Borzello’s ESPN story about the retirement of Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright after 21 seasons quotes former Baker Dunleavy, former Villanova player and now head coach at Quinnipiac: “Coach Wright’s true legacy will not be his championships. His legacy is the set of values he has instilled in his coaches and players.”

From Earth Day: The Official Site, one initiative is The Canopy Project: “Home to about 80% of the world’s biodiversity, forests are collectively the second biggest storehouse of carbon after oceans, absorbing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses. They also enhance biodiversity, while protecting waterways, enhancing soil nutrition, and providing buffers from natural disasters.”

Beware ideologues

The documentary Who Will Write Our History opens with the vibrant, flourishing Jewish culture within 1930s Poland. Then, it describes the dehumanizing lies about Jews used as propaganda by Hitler and the Nazis to solidify their power in Germany and the countries they occupied.

A group of Warsaw Jews gathered accounts of daily life under Nazi rule, documenting crimes for prosecution after the war. When it became clear that few if any would survive, their focus was to not let the Nazis write their history. After the war, two-thirds of the material was found under Warsaw’s rubble.

There are eerie similarities between then and now. Objective reporting was called “fake news” (Lügenpresse) by the Nazis, accompanied by censorship and one-party rule. Poland suffered the worst of 20th century ideology–nazism on the right in the 1940s, followed by Soviet communism on the left.

My summary: beware ideologues. Poland then and Ukraine now remind us to love our neighbor by defending human rights, and to love the earth by being gentle with it, which is at minimum to oppose “scorched earth” policies. Tomorrow, Earth Day, will have new meaning for me.

From Who Will Write Our History