Category: Art

“Christian” as adjective

“Christian” is a daunting adjective, as in Christian pastor, Christian church or Christian nation. I’m hesitant to claim it for myself or my group. It’s better, though still a daunting challenge, if others apply it to me or my group.

When this adjective is a label worn too lightly, too quickly or too proudly, it demeans a great tradition. To misuse, or thoughtlessly claim, this adjective for self or group, or to wear it while attacking someone else is profanity–meaningless talk about God.

One Sunday, my district superintendent attended our worship service unexpectedly. A choir member said, “The DS is here. Does that scare you?” I said, “No. But it keeps me on my toes to believe God is listening here every Sunday.”

This 1995 quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (sent from my friend Ernie) and a 2022 blog post by Diana Butler Bass, “Christian Nationalism Everywhere?” reinforce my reluctance to use Christian as an adjective, as in “Christian nation.”

A disarming chart

A January 23 article in The New York Times “The Morning” newsletter by German Lopez, “Mass Shooting in California,” was a brief, “just the facts, ma’am,” story about a 72-year-old male shooter who shot others, then took his own life. We search for a motive, but a more important issue is the weapon, a semi-automatic assault pistol:

This kind of mass shooting has become tragically common in the U.S.; what would be a rare horror in any other developed country is typical here. Yet the cause is no mystery. America has an enormous amount of guns, making it easier for someone to carry out a deadly shooting.

It is a point this newsletter has made before: All over the world, there are people who argue, fight over relationships, suffer from mental health issues or hold racist views. But in the U.S., those people can more easily obtain a gun and shoot someone.

Last night, word came of another shooting with multiple deaths, this time with a 67-year-old male in custody. To better cope with our gun insanity, I’m trying to set my newsfeed to give me a weekly summary of these events, rather than hearing about them immediately. It’s too much.

Chart by Ashley Wu, The New York Times (the US is almost “off the chart”)

A memorable year

The LA Dodgers swept the NY Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Of 36 innings, Sandy Koufax pitched 18; Don Drysdale 9: Johnny Podres 8 1/3; and Ron Perronoski 2/3. 1963 was my last year of baseball cards. The sport moved down several notches in my consciousness due to adolescence and due to some major events in 1963.

On May 3, high pressure water from fire hoses and police dogs were unleashed on Civil Rights demonstrators in Birmingham. The children and youth began to stir the conscience of white America with their powerful witness.

On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That was only peripheral for me then, but its significance has grown with time.

On September 15, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed by a bomb while attending Sunday School at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. “Infamy” is an appropriate word.

On November 22, news of President John Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast over our school intercom. My 7th grade science teacher wrote on the chalkboard “Lyndon Johnson,” and then “John McCormack” after reports of LBJ’s chest pains. This began several sad days and 60 years of wondering “what if” (regarding Vietnam, especially).

From “Rep. John Lewis’ Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Kerrie Hillman, Aisha Turner and Emma Bowman, NPR, January 17, 2020

A Saturday tune-up

For a relaxing note on your Saturday, here’s a six minute music video of 7-year-old cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his 11-year-old sister, pianist Yeou-Cheng Ma in 1962. Both were born in France to Chinese parents who migrated to New York. You can listen along with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

That six-minute interlude may be all you need from this post today. If you’d like a bit more, you can read about an autobiography of Carlton (Sam) Young, 96, Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He was editor of the 1966 and 1989 Methodist hymnals.

When I was a student at Candler (1973-1976), Young taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Young brought a Perkins choir large enough to completely encircle Candler’s chapel. In 1975, he moved from Perkins to Scarritt College, then to Candler.

Young’s new book is I’ll Sing On: My First 96 Years.

From Yo-Yo Ma Official Website

ноги глины

I try to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, as I try to give people of doubt the benefit of faith. I don’t speak Russian. Context and nuance do not always translate, so I try to be doubly slow to criticize other-tongued faith leaders. Patience is warranted since we all have “feet of clay” (ноги глины in Russian). However …

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyaev, aka Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is widely known as a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This allegiance itself puts the Patriarch’s judgment in a bad light and (in my opinion) degrades the witness of his office. I, and all “people of the cloth” have erred in our allegiances. We all live in glass houses. Still …

The herder Amos reminds all who speak of, or for, faith not to profane what we seek to proclaim. I fear Kirill has moved from profanity (meaningless talk about God) to prostitution, equating participation in Russian military aggression with grace, the central theme of Christianity. He’s charging a high price for a free gift.

See Russian soldiers who die in battle will be absolved of their sins, Patriarch says and Dying for your country brings you to heaven, says Russian Patriarch. Sometimes the best response to bad theology is good humor and an honest look at one’s feet:

Big, strong, fast, acrobatic precision

It’s hard to keep up with all the bowl games. We’re down to the national championship game on Monday night. We watched UT/Clemson and Bama/Kansas State, then bits and pieces of other games. By the time the semi-finals came around on Saturday, we recorded, then fast-forwarded through the TCU/Michigan and Georgia/Ohio State games. I caught the last minutes of Tulane/Southern Cal.

We never watched the British drama series The Crown, so we’re catching up. Queen Elizabeth II was two years younger than my mom and I’m two years younger than King Charles. I grew up closer to Mayberry than Buckingham, but The Crown brings back many memories. Last night, weary of football, we opted for two episodes of The Crown in lieu of the Bengals/Bills game.

A news app on my phone alerted me that Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati, was given CPR and rushed to a hospital. As of midnight, he was in critical condition. Today’s players are big, strong, fast, and acrobatic. The sport’s leadership is trying to preserve the amazing precision of athletic skill while making the game safer. That’s a difficult task.

From “More than $1 million donated to Damar Hamlin’s foundation Monday night,” Fox 19 News, Cincinnati, January 2, 2023

A good life

For 80+ years, Harvard researchers have studied what makes for a good life. One surefire predictor has emerged: developing stronger relationships. The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness will be updated on January 10. Robert Waldinger described the study’s work in a 2016 Ted Talk.

The New York Times has a health and wellness desk known simply as Well, which was inspired by the Harvard study to develop a “Seven Day Happiness Challenge.” Times subscribers can sign-up for seven daily emails (January 2-8). Jancee Dunn, a reporter for the Well desk, described her experience with one of the challenges.

The challenge is to write or tell someone why you’re grateful for them. Dunn wrote to her 4th grade teacher, Roseann Manley to thank her for a note she wrote on Dunn’s report card: “Jancee is a very talented writer, and I think she’s going to be a famous writer someday.” Dunn remembers thinking, “Oh, she sees something in me.” Dunn said the teacher’s affirmation changed the course of her life.

So I tracked Ms. Manley down, all these years later. And I told her how grateful I was. And we’ve now exchanged dozens and dozens of letters. She’s 91, widowed and doesn’t have kids. I call her every Christmas. She sends me letters with puppies and kittens on the stationery. She’s become my substitute grandmother. It’s been a wonderful thing.

From “A Happier New Year,” by Lauren Jackson, The New York Times, January 1, 2023 (photo from Times Square on 12/31/22 by Andres Kudacki/Associated Press)

My Jewish sister

Radio, TV and other media create an immediacy that augments face-to-face human interaction. Many who sat by the radio for FDR’S fireside chats felt like he was speaking directly to them. Some never knew he was in a wheelchair.

Joyce Vance is a frequent digital guest in our home via her Civil Discourse blog and as a contributor for MSNBC. I feel a kinship with her on several levels, including her Jewish faith, which I have adopted by way of Christianity.

In Vance, I hear Old Testament prophets’ unwavering commitment to justice. Yesterday, I read the transcript of her conversation with Chuck Rosenberg, which included this excerpt about her service as a US Attorney:

There was nothing like standing up in a courtroom and saying: “I represent the people of the United States.”

…the most important thing is your integrity, and what we always said in our office was there was no case that was more important than the integrity of the office.  

From “Transcript: Joyce Vance,” The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, MSNBC, September 24, 2019

The work of Christmas

At Saturday’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I was flooded with powerful sights, sounds and scents. The liturgy proclaimed a radical acceptance based on unconditional love and a renewed hope for peace on earth.

Friends and strangers knelt to receive an ancient-yet-new gift. The range of emotions was embodied by one communicant who radiated a joy that couldn’t be contained while another wept with deep sobs of brokenness.

My mind went to war-ravaged Ukraine, to migrants at our southern border, to China’s current COVID-19 surge, and to folks in grief. The “hopes and fears of all the years” meet on Christmas Eve, and then our work begins.

From “The Work of Christmas,” by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)