In 2022, what does it mean to love my neighbor? In what practical way can I love planet earth? Is justice (as in “liberty and justice for all”) society’s way of expressing love, of living out a love ethic? How do I live into the fullness of loving relationships through my faith, through my citizenship?
Love is a well-worn word, with multiple meanings in many different contexts. What is the greatest expression of love that I can imagine or muster? I’m moving toward an understanding of love as embracing the greater good. Love is working toward the greater good. It’s a first cousin of the old word commonwealth.
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.
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,…
The 1978 movie Piranha stereotyped our understanding of more than 60 widely-varying species of fish known as Piranha. In 1992, I was part of a group housed for a couple of weeks at a church-related school in Panama. The school’s mascot was the Piranha and they proudly wore the name, the Piranhas.
So, at risk of furthering this stereotype, I think of our current social and political atmosphere as a piranha culture. Meanness and frenzy are not new to American culture or politics. But, we’re in a season of extremes, made worse by disrespect for institutions a willingness to flaunt truth and advocate violence.
The chants of Donald Trump’s rag-tag army at the 1/6/21 insurrection included, “Hang Mike Pence,” and “Where are you, Nancy!” The assault against Paul Pelosi during an assailant’s search for the Speaker echoed the January 6 violence. What can we do? What can I as one person do?
I have countless Republican friends and several office-holding Republican friends but I’m boycotting the Republican Party until it repudiates Donald Trump and its 2020 election deniers, of whom more than 200 are on the ballot this year. It’s painful because I identify with much of its history as the Party of Lincoln.
In his 2010 book, Spiritual Bankruptcy, John Cobb discusses the process of secularizing. He wrote: Some secularizers are liberal, some conservative, some orthodox, some neoorthodox, some liberationist, and some progressive. I employ for myself the last of these labels. But if the best possibilities for secularization are now with progressives, it is only when progressives are defined as those who draw upon the best of liberalism, the best of conservatism, the best of orthodoxy, the best of neoorthodoxy, and, especially at present, the best of liberation theologies.
In my view, that’s an important paragraph because it seeks to affirm the best of these various traditions and it may help us get past today’s rampant polarization and tribalism. Like Cobb, I identify with the progressive “label,” but (like him), I try to avoid doing so in an us versus them kind of way.
Cobb says the word religion is problematic because it means many different things in different contexts. Cobb sees the process of secularizing as a way to highlight the best and most practical attributes of “the great traditions that have shaped the world in the past two or three millennia, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” Then, Cobb suggests that “instead of religions, we call these, and other smaller movements, Ways, or the traditional Ways of humankind.”
To begin to unpack some of Cobb’s points, I invite you to ask whether you self-identify as more secular or more religious. I grew up in a secular world and while matters of faith and theology are important to me, I served as a pastor for much of five decades with a secular self-consciousness. So, I’m very much at home with Cobb’s advocacy of the process of secularizing. Even as we respect the broad dimensions of the sacred, I agree with Cobb that one of our healthiest spiritual actions is to secularize (and thereby de-sacralize) aspects of religion that are today (as Cobb asserts) spiritually bankrupt.
Old Testament prophets did this in their day. Hence, Cobb’s subtitle: “A Prophetic Call to Action.”
In financial and political circles, sometimes we hear the phrase, “hope is not a strategy.” It is usually spoken with a cynical edge in response to a business or government leader who begins a sentence with the words, “I hope….” Sometimes, “hope” comes across as merely wishful thinking.
Hope catalyzes and energizes positive action. Hope shapes life-changing and world-changing dreams, strategies and platforms. Hope forms worthwhile goals and ideals. Hope fuels progress. Hope is more than a strategy; hope is the seed, the basis, the nucleus of every worthwhile strategy.
Hope is expressed through poetry, music, art, writing, gardening, medicine and science, plans of action, statements of purpose or faith. Nefarious intent can be disguised temporarily as hope, but sooner or later, disillusion occurs and authentic hope emerges. Hope heals. Hope endures. Hope floats.
I’ve been thinking about the Preamble to the US Constitution, which begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union….” The process of perfecting is never-ending.
As I drove home yesterday from an overnight men’s retreat, I was thinking about the process of being made perfect. The men at the retreat reflected on wholeness in the midst of imperfections.
After a few minutes of Radio Margaritaville to decompress, I listened to a May 3 interview with Alan Alda, 86, on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn. His earliest memories are traveling with his parents to burlesque theaters. His father, Robert Alda (1914-1986) was a singer, dancer and actor. His mother, Joan Browne (1906-1990), suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
As Alda shared memories of his mother, I thought about Mothers Day, my late mom, and our retreat conversations about grace, healing and wholeness in the midst of imperfections and imperfect unions.
Israeli actor Chaim Topol, 86, gave us his 1971 interpretation of Tevye, embodying the mystery of tradition and renewal. As I deal with the secession of people and congregations from the United Methodist Church, Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof helps me bless those who leave or stay.
Christianity is a “do this in remembrance” faith, but also part of a more ancient balance that remembers some old things and forgets some old things. It’s never either/or. It’s always both/and. We remember the meaningful past as we welcome the hopeful future. We differ in what we choose to remember and how we choose to hope.
Some of my favorite traditions are relatively new blends of the familiar and the nostalgic. Many Southerners seceded from the Union in 1861 in the name of a tradition that was brought to America in 1619 (or 1565). It was contrary to an older tradition that still sounds astonishingly new: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.”
As Methodists discern what traditions are most vital, I respect everyone’s sadness about what’s being lost and everyone’s hope about what’s being gained–confident that what’s now familiar and preferential will change with time, while the most meaningful and most life-giving traditions will long endure.
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.
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!
The Jewish day begins at sundown with a mini-Sabbath, a time of celebration and rest. A meal, family time and rest are preparation for the workday. Sundown Friday ’til sundown Saturday is a day of Sabbath. Some Christians continue the tradition of Saturday Sabbath. The earliest Christians, virtually all Jewish, gathered in synagogues on Sabbath, then met in someone’s home on the first day of the week (Sunday), which came to be called “the Lord’s day.” Whatever one’s practice, Sabbath celebration and rest is a source of renewal and a time of harmony with the earth and earth’s creatures.
In that Sabbath spirit, I offer Rita Clagett’s 2/10/22 post, “Hargila,” from her Morning Rounds blog. It’s about the endangered greater adjutant stork, and the work of Dr. Purnima Devi Barman, a conservation biologist in Assam, India also known as “Stork Sister.” The local people in northeast India call the bird Hargila. Barman and her women’s conservation movement are known as the “Hargila Army.”
“Hargila: A Story of Love and Conservation,” is a half-hour video by photographer Gerrit Vyn and videographer Andy Johnson of the Cornell University Ornithology Lab. “The film reveals the awkward beauty of these birds, which may have evolved as far back as 15 million years ago, as well as their present peril.” A 100-foot bamboo tower was built to capture images from tree-top Hargila nests. They followed the birds to their feeding ground (a garbage dump) 10-kilometers from their nesting area.