Category: Humor

Restraint

Sallie McFague (introduced yesterday) drew from the lives of the saints to build a basis for a life of restraint. Ancient people had plenty of built-in restraints, moderns not so much. Discipline and voluntary restraint have been out of vogue for, well, at least a century (see photo below).

In what is close to a thesis statement for her book, Blessed Are the Consumers, McFague wrote that restraint, the one thing needed now, is both a gift from the religions and a challenge to them. It could be considered a “coming home” for the religions as well as their greatest contribution to the economic/ecological crisis facing us.

Much of what claims to be conservative thought, faith or politics is too outlandish for an old respectable word. Sometimes conservatives are used by truly radical leaders. I think a better word for conservative today is restraint. Restraint is needed across the political spectrum. Restraint is a first cousin to respect.

June 30, 1922. “Washington policeman Bill Norton measuring the distance between knee and suit at the Tidal Basin bathing beach after Col. Sherrill, Superintendent of Public Buildings and Grounds, issued an order that suits not be over six inches above the knee.” From Shorp

R.R.A.

Sometimes it helps to talk. Naming a fear is the first step. I have Room Rater Anxiety. Room rating started during the COVID Pandemic, made famous by Claude Taylor. He’s the Room Rater. He rates rooms, the backgrounds people choose for a TV interview or for a Zoom meeting.

The pandemic made almost everything virtual, so we began seeing inside people’s homes. Room decor is a way to display one’s latest book, or fresh flowers or one’s pound cake de jour, as in Claire McCaskill’s kitchen. I live in fear that my mug shot may one day get Claude Taylor’s attention.

Taylor rates rooms from 0 to 10, which he posts on Twitter. He gives suggestions for how to improve one’s score. I fear being rated. There, I said it. I feel so Zero. I’m still traumatized by someone’s crooked picture I saw this week in her room, and by the widespread criticism of Mar-a-Lago’s carpet.

Shiver me timbers!

From Wartburg to Strunk

We plan to join some camper friends later this year at Strunk, Kentucky, named for the post office that opened in 1892 on Strunk’s Lane. (George W. Strunk owned a local coal mine.) Today the post office is on Strunk Highway (old US 27). To get there from the east or west, you’re on your own. From the north, go to Somerset, Kentucky, then south on US Highway 27.

Strunk is north of Wartburg, Tennessee, founded in the 1840s by a land speculator who formed the East Tennessee Colonization Company with the intent to establish a series of German colonies in the Cumberlands. The area was marketed to Swiss and German immigrants to the US during tough economic times in Europe. The town of Wartburg is named for Germany’s Wartburg Castle.

The Big South Fork National Recreation Area is between Strunk and Wartburg, on 125,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau. The Frozen Head State Park is near Wartburg and War Pigs BBQ, across from the Courthouse. I’ve begun due diligence on other destinations, including the B-4 Town Mini Mart Grill & Deli near Strunk. It helps to get out occasionally, to get a fresh perspective on the day’s news.

From Big South Fork Hiking, National Park Service

Popcorn

Yesterday, our household was negotiating the day’s food intake. When those discussions occur, I’m always conscious that such conversations are very different in Ukraine or in the world’s poorest countries. I was reminded that dinner would be light since we would have evening popcorn as we watch the House Select Committee’s televised hearing about the January 6 insurrection.

Though I consider Donald Trump a clear and present danger who divides our country for personal gain, I’m grateful that he has unified my family and motivated us to actively resist authoritarianism. And, he entertains us, albeit perversely, with his absurdities. His habit of regularly undermining democracy prompts healthy “civics lesson” conversations.

Earlier this week, our son asked, “When will the country finally have had enough of this so-called conservatism?” I said, “When people under 35 vote in large numbers.” He and I agreed that fallout from the Dobbs decision may give new relevance to what may seem a distant subject: Constitutional Law. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, I’m preparing for tonight’s class–with popcorn.

For many people in our world, popcorn would be a bountiful meal. Photo from “The world’s ten poorest countries,” by Olivia Giovetti, Concern Worldwide, September 9, 2019

Stories

“From whence cometh my help” is a memory exercise. As the Webb telescope probes deeper into space, it reveals more of the Universe’s history. When I probe into my past, I find stories. The earliest ones were read to me from story books. When I was old enough to ask questions, grandparents and older neighbors answered with stories. The Bible, the Quran and other sacred writings contain records of who did what to whom, lists of rules, and (best of all) poems, songs and stories.

Some stories are more helpful than others. I invite you to ask yourself, “Which stories are helpful to me?” Which are your foundational stories? Mine include stories of leadership about people like Jethro and Moses. Some are familial, like my uncle describing his service in two world wars. Some are my stories, like listening to JFK’s inaugural address, or his Cuban missile crisis speech, or the Zapruder film of the presidential motorcade passing through Dealey Plaza.

Both sets of my grandparents had porch swings. My memory bank is full of stories heard while swinging, standing, or sitting on those porches. Some were stories of self-deprecating humor or good-natured poking at others. Laughter is therapeutic. The best stories are love stories. They help us find identity, a sense of belonging and gratitude for the gift of life. Good stories help us feel loved. They motivate us to love our fellow creatures. Which stories in your memory bank have helped you?

My Uncle Odie once said, “I’m the luckiest man alive. I was in two world wars and never hurt a soul. As an Army medic in his 40s, he survived the Bataan death march. This story about his contemporaries, 77 military nurses, gives a flavor of that difficult time. From “Nurse POWs: Angels of Bataan and Corregidor,” The National World War II Museum, May 5, 2021

Good Sabbath!

My first job was a “Delivery Boy” for a pharmacy. I was the pharmacist’s only employee, which meant sometimes I would be the cash register clerk if the pharmacist was in the back filling a prescription.

My next job was in college, as pastor of a small, rural church with a 9:30 Sunday worship service. I was also the associate pastor for a nearby four-point “circuit” served by a full-time pastor. My presence gave those four congregations two 11:00 Sunday morning services each month rather than just one.

The District Superintendent was proud of the new, additional service. Some, maybe most, of the people liked this “value added” expansion. But, some of them preferred the prior, once-a-month arrangement. I thought the reluctant ones were set in their ways.

Today, our congregation’s worship is “virtual only,” an online capability developed during the pandemic. I’ll enjoy staying home on this holiday Sunday. Those more-is-not-always-better early parishioners weren’t old-fashioned. They were ahead of their time. As our Jewish friends say, Good Sabbath!

From First Church Birmingham

Healers

This morning, respectful gratitude for healers. A compassionate nurse called Monday night to say Aunt Margaret was hospitalized after a fall, likely fracturing a hip bone. A jovial orthopedic surgeon called Tuesday while I traveled to confirm the break and recommend a hip replacement. Overworked nurses were patient with their patient’s inability to remember and with her sundown syndrome.

Several healers were volunteers who staffed waiting rooms, reception areas and a library. A friendly motel clerk provided a 15% discount when I replied to “What brings you to the Secret City?” Social workers, food service staff, hospital security, and a gentle anesthesiologist transformed what could have seemed like a fleeting, mindless, rote process into an experience of genuine, personalized care.

When she was fidgety, I said, “I think Aunt Margaret needs some of Aunt Bee’s elixer.” Her nurse gave her towels and sheets to fold, calming her as they discussed various folding techniques. Less than 48 hours after surgery, she was transported to rehab. When her movement alarm was activated, the staff found her walking around on her own, earning her a seat in the hall across from the nurses’ station.

From “Clara Barton,” edited by Debra Michals, Women’s History Museum

Dixie Cups

Some United Methodist congregations are discerning whether to disaffiliate from the denomination. I have many friends in congregations that will choose to remain and many friends in congregations that will choose to disaffiliate. Discernment has been going on for at least four years. COVID-19 interrupted the process, but many congregations have been clear about their decision for a long time. Now, they’re trying to determine the most gracious, and most economical way, to exit.

In a 2019 communion meditation at a Walk to Emmaus team meeting, I said that I will remain friends with those who stay and with those to leave. We are forever part of a larger, ecumenical table. At this late date in the disaffiliation process, and at age 71, I’m much more concerned about the division within our nation. I plan to spend the rest of my days naming and opposing the current radicalization in the Republican Party. We’re closer to civil war than I ever imagined possible. Listen to Texas.

Last week a friend shared with me a document produced by a local church that provides some historical background for one congregation’s discernment process. The document asserted that much of the current “theological divide” within the UMC is the result of the 1968 merger between the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren: “On the surface, the merger seemed like a logical idea. But underneath, the merger triggered a number of differences almost immediately.”

As a pastor from 1970-2010, I never heard that theory about the 1968 merger. Our regional and cultural differences date to at least 1845, when the southern Methodists seceded from their northern siblings. I believe it’s more accurate to say that the 1939 merger that formed the Methodist Church, uniting the (northern) Methodist Episcopal Church, the (mostly northern) Methodist Protestant Church and the (southern) Methodist Episcopal Church, South was a merger that never fully “took.”

At the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore, I saw the old Confederacy in many votes. Delegation seating, by drawing lots, put the Northern Illinois Conference and the Alabama-West Florida Conference on adjacent rows. Numerous times, the Illinois delegates voted unanimously one way and the Alabama-West Florida delegates voted unanimously the other way. At one point, an Illinois delegate said in good humor, with much laughter by the Conference, “We’ve learned to drink from Dixie Cups.”

The 1939 merger healed some wounds of the Civil War, but our cultural differences have remained.

From “Divisions and Unifications in American Methodism,” Pitts Theological Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Don’t mess with Diana

Diana Butler Bass sends occasional emails from “The Cottage.” Some of her reflections are “Sunday Musings,” including one for yesterday, which was Pentecost for many Christians. The title was “All means ALL. It was prompted by a current conversation within The Episcopal Church.

Their July 8-11 General Convention will consider the issue of open communion (or open table). A letter written by a group of theologians included this line: “Holy Eucharist is therefore not intended for ‘all people’ without exception, but is rather for ‘God’s people.'”

The theologians’ letter sounded discordant to Butler Bass, who was raised in a Methodist tradition that practices open communion (where the bread and cup of communion are open to all who wish to receive, not just baptized Christians). She responded with a Tweet (hastily and passionately, she said):

“All people ARE God’s people. Start your theology there. Start every theology there for God’s sake. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of the planet.” I jotted down three notes to self: Some of my best friends are Episcopalian. It’s not my Convention. Don’t mess with Diana.

From “Theologians’ statement on open Communion reignites debate among Episcopalians ahead of General Convention,” by Egan Millard and David Paulsen, Episcopal News Service, June 3, 2022

A grievance reality check

I’ve never bought into the grievance thing. Maybe I’m naive. Maybe they (however defined) are out to replace me. But my fears are very different from the fears of the tiki-torch marchers in Charlottesville, the shooter in Charleston, the January 6 mob at the Capitol, and the Buffalo shooter.

There are legitimate grievances. Personally, I feel far more privilege than grievance. We white, European folk were the ones with the slave ships. We were the ones who replaced the natives of these parts by engineering a “trail of tears.” We children of immigrants tend to forget our roots.

I’ve heard warnings of a takeover by blacks, communists, or new immigrants. But, most of my troubles have been inflicted by the man I see in the mirror. The group we white males should fear most are the women folk. When they figure out that we’re the ones causing most of the trouble….

When I take a fearless moral inventory, grace far outweighs grievance. That’s my reality check.

From “Grievance politics is a dead-end road,” by Ryan Streeter, American Enterprise Institute, January 15, 2021