Month: November 2022

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.

Upside down

Most Sunday mornings find us in a diverse class of wonderful people led by John and Kathy Draper. It’s the SALT Class (Serving And Learning Together) at First Church, a 150-year-old United Methodist congregation in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.

In recent weeks, John has led the class in a study of some themes from Don Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Some excerpts from Kraybill about the poor:

Discarded on the human trash pile, they have not, however, been trashed by God. … God’s blessing falls on them. God cares about them. Meanwhile, the rich and haughty … too will have new life in the kingdom if they cast off the shackles of possessions. …

The outcasts–sinners, prostitutes, children, homeless–can enter the kingdom more readily than the elite, the righteous, the strong, and the pious.

The poor …. (have) fewer entanglements, they are freer to abandon all else for the kingdom. They have little to give up.

Jesus offers good news to the poor. Their poverty isn’t a sign of divine disapproval, a common view of the time.

Jesus also made it clear that the rich too were welcome–if they shucked off the shackles of wealth,…

Last Sunday’s lesson included Tevye (Chaim Topol) singing/praying “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Click here for a 5 1/2 minute YouTube clip.

All the teams are above average

Thursday, the two Mississippi teams in the Southeastern Conference met for the annual “Egg Bowl,” which determines who holds the egg-shaped trophy for the ensuing year. Both teams emerged with 8-4 records, so both will go to post-season bowl games.

Yesterday, Arkansas and Missouri met for their “Battle Line Rivalry.” Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991 after 76 years in the Southwest Conference. Mizzou joined the SEC in 2011 after 104 years in what eventually became the Big Eight Conference.

Arkansas and Missouri didn’t see much of each other until Missouri joined the SEC. They played against each other in football twice in the 20th Century (1906, 1944). They met in two bowl games (2003, 2008). Their first SEC match was in 2014.

Last night, I looked up the meaning of the “Battle Line Rivalry.” Arkansas and Missouri share a long state line, which (like Tennessee and Kentucky) coincides with the old boundary between the US and the Confederacy.

Yesterday, Mizzou won 29-27, so both teams finished the year with 6-6 records. Both teams are bowl eligible this year. Like Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, in the SEC, all the football teams are above average.

Maybe one day the trophy for the Tiger-Razorback winner will be redesigned as an “Olive Branch” trophy to remind us that the Civil War is over. Hey, if Missouri can be in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference, anything is possible!

From “Battle Line Rivalry Trophy Unveiled For Annual Mizzou-Arkansas Games,”, November 23, 2015

Waking up grateful

Today I was introduced to Kristi Nelson, the director of A Network for Grateful Living, which was the focus of “Gratitude is a Practice,” today’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation. Her opening three sentences:

At 33 years old, I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had metastasized to my spine. After going through 18 months of hospitalizations, surgeries, chemotherapy, and treatments, I asked my oncologist, “When will I be out of the woods?” He answered, “You will never be out of the woods.”

The heart of her message is this:

The first few years of uncertainty and remission put the blessings of my life in sharp relief. I was in super-soak mode—every experience was saturated with new meaning, and I was absorbing it all fully. I did not know any other way to live the moments I had than to greet each one as gratefully as I could. Not sure how much more time was mine, I was awestruck by every moment, every person, and every thing.

She concludes with the reality that gratitude is a practice:

After some challenging years, dramatic wake-up calls, and my share of spiritual suffering, I came to realize that maintaining a grateful perspective is a true practice…. and it is still something I need to nurture and tend daily. . . . The practice of looking at the world through grateful eyes and with a grateful heart is an exquisite end in itself. 

I commend the entire meditation to you as great Thanksgiving weekend reading.

From a two-minute video by Kristi Nelson about why she wrote her book two years ago, Wake Up Grateful: The Transformative Practice of Taking Nothing for Granted. A more recent 11-minute YouTube video is available from Grateful Living, entitled “Grateful Voices–Kristi Nelson.”

Joyful conspirators

Today, I’m thankful for Mike Harper, a friend since my undergraduate days and his seminary days, who died this week. We collaborated and sometimes conspired from school days well into retirement. On a study trip to Calcutta, he was part of a team that washed the destitute with the Missionaries of Charity. In a session with Mother Teresa, Mike asked why she didn’t engage in systems change efforts.

She patted Mike on the hand and said, “Maybe that’s what God is calling you to do.” Mike was always conspiring to improve the world. My favorite Mikey-ism: “There are two ways to be rich: get more or want less.” He said, “Every day is a good day to be born and every day is a good day to die.” He enjoyed telling how Carlyle Marney (1916-1978) once said to him, “Harper, you’re often wrong but never uncertain.”

I’m also thankful for Peggy Noonan, this year’s keynote speaker at New York’s Al Smith Dinner. She told about her great-aunt, Mary Jane Byrne, a devout Irish Catholic immigrant whose last years coincided with Noonan’s early life in New York City. Noonan, a Reagan Republican, honored four-term Democratic Governor Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944), a Roman Catholic and the Dems’ 1928 nominee for President.

Harper and Noonan, from very different places (geographically, theologically and politically), have worked for the healing of our nation and planet. I’m thankful for America’s freedoms of speech and religion, for our Constitution’s prohibition against a “religious test” for public office, and for those of various faiths and political views who work together to make life better for those who struggle.

From “Home Again, and Home Again, America for Me,” Peggy Noonan’s keynote address at the 2022 Al Smith Dinner, The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2022. (Her speech, with transcript, is available via YouTube.)

Down to earth

She’s measured, level-headed, analytical, and deeply committed to fairness, justice and the rule of law as expressed in the US Constitution. She served as US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama (2009-2017). Since 2018 she has been a contributor to MSNBC and since 2021 has co-hosted the #SistersInLaw podcast with Jill Wine-BanksBarbara McQuade and Kimberly Atkins Stohr.

Her Civil Discourse is among the “first reads” in my email inbox. Yesterday’s post may be her best yet: “Why prosecutors are entitled to Mike Pence’s testimony.” She applied everything in my first sentence (above) to whether former Vice President Mike Pence should receive a subpoena in the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump’s involvement in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. From her closing paragraph:

Pence needs to be reminded that the law applies to him too. He’s a witness to a crime and in our system of laws, not men, high office doesn’t and can’t insulate a person from their responsibility to testify about facts they observed. The sooner we get back to enforcing those basics in a serious way designed to instill confidence in the rule of law, the better off we will be. The glare Mike Pence used on the journalist who interviewed him won’t work on DOJ. The American people deserve to know the truth.

Joyce Vance is very down to earth. Some of her Civil Discourse posts are about her pets, as in “A Saturday with Chickens,” November 19, 2022

A different slant on COVID-19

We’ve all been dealing with recurring variants of COVID-19. To mask or not to mask is one of the questions, along with how many social events do we attend. Blogger Rita Clagett gave me a new slant on this issue in “Moving On with My Life.” An excerpt:

Today I’m grateful for all the usual things: waking up alive, a morning with a festival of clouds, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with potato chips for lunch–so simple, so delicious.

Kudos to Kelli at the clinic for giving me an absolutely painless injection, and she was kind enough to come out to my car to do it, though I was planning to go inside. I’m grateful I brought an attitude of ease and interest rather than fear or resistance; it led to a good conversation about the local Covid surge, and us each giving just a bit more kindness and attention to the other than two strangers needed to. 

A number of people have told me recently, in talking about Covid, “We’re moving on with our lives.” …(as) though I, and people like me who are still taking Covid precautions seriously, are stuck–as though we are not ‘moving on with our lives’ but frozen in time, frozen in fear, frozen in some lesser state than those who proclaim that Covid is over for them.

The minority of humans, those of us who suffer largely from ‘First World problems,’ really do need to figure out a new way to move forward–as this pandemic proceeds, as climate chaos increases, as our interconnectedness simultaneously deepens and frays–rather than simply going back to business as usual.

From “Moving On with My Life,” by Rita Clagett, Morning Rounds, November 18, 2022

I need you

Boyd Varty grew up in South Africa’s Londolozi Game Reserve. He wrote Cathedral of the Wild and The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life.

Varty’s classic 2013 TED Talk, “What I Learned from Nelson Mandela” describes how South Africa’s wild animal country taught him the concept of ubuntu, a Nguni word that can mean helping a stranger, or a soul force that connects people.

The basic meaning of ubuntu is “I am because you are,” expressing a communal spirit deeply embedded in African tradition. It means, “we are in this together,” or “I am incomplete without you.” We complement each other.

Americans value self-reliance. I’m thankful a voice instilled in me sometimes says, “I can do this myself.” There also are times when I could use more of the spirit of ubuntu to draw strength from others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book Life Together seeks to balance solitude and community: beware the person who cannot be alone; beware the person who cannot be in community. I’m learning that the ability to appropriately say “I need you” is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s a sign of mutuality and community–ubuntu.

From “South African ‘Ubuntu’ Philosophy Could Be the Secret Formula to Happiness,” by Sara Mohammed, Medium, May 12, 2021