Category: Civility

Warriors’ Path

The more I learn about American history, the more I realize that I dont know very much. Our next-to-last camping destination on this trip was the Warriors’ Path State Park near Kingsport, Tennessee. It’s named for a warrior and trading path that was in use for centuries by Native Americans in the Virginia and Tennessee region. It was a path used by wildlife and by Cherokee in the south and Shawnee in the north who were hunting wildlife for food.

The full scope of the The Great Warriors’ Path extended from Pennsylvania to Georgia. The path’s history reminds me of early European settlers and their descendants (such as Daniel Boone) who led the great European migration westward from Virginia, North Carolina and other eastern colonies. The history of interaction between Europeans and Native Americans includes periods of strife and periods of peaceful coexistence.

As we ponder the natural beauty of this region, I acknowledge the injustices visited upon the original inhabitants of his land by our European ancestors. On this day, I choose to focus on stories of gentleness and neighborliness. Our checkered history motivates me to work for justice and reconciliation. The need is pervasive. Every culture has its stories of virtue and less than virtue.

I’ve done a little reading about justice initiative related to the native people of Australia. I want to put my weight behind “the arc of the moral universe,” which is long, but “bends toward justice.”

From “Native American History on the Appalachian Trail: 9 Iconic Places,” by Kelly Floro, The Trek, October 12, 2020

Hallowed Ground

We noticed “Hallowed Ground” signs on the highway. A bit of research led to the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area,” from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. The 180-mile long and 75-mile wide area contains many historic sites, with numerous events throughout the year.

I gravitate toward all things historic, but we didn’t stop at Gettysburg on this trip. Many years ago I stood where Pickett’s Charge began and looked across the broad field toward the Union line. Lee and everyone involved later agreed it was a bad idea. I put myself in the place of those soldiers, and those who awaited them. I don’t need to go back there. Once was enough.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln said, “…we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have hallowed it far beyond our poor power to add or detract.” I get it, I feel the sacrifice, the honor and the tragedy, of battlegrounds. Yet, in a greater sense, all ground in the universe is hallowed, or holy.

Places in Ukraine where some Putin advisors want to target “low-yield” nuclear weapons are holy. War desecrates already holy ground, even as it illustrates valor, creates heroes and gives those who follow a sense of the holy. War’s desecration and the consecration of an ensuing peace provide the ultimate human paradox. It’s worth pondering.

From HallowedGround.org

A sign of hope

A recent trip through southern Pennsylvania on the Lincoln Highway to Gettysburg was followed by some miles in Virginia on the Lee Highway to Appomattox. It was a peaceful, direct, one-day journey that took the survivors of Lee’s retreating army 20 months of more bloody battles. About 75 yards from Appomattox Court House, a modest room in a family’s residence was the site where Grant and Lee, each seated behind separate small tables, signed papers acknowledging the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The restored little village is part of a National Historic Park. A lone American flag is prominent on a pole at the entrance to the village. It’s a quiet, appropriate reminder that we are—at least officially–one nation. The little village reminds us that it was, and is, a costly oneness. Each day news events remind us that our oneness is still a work in progress, a unity yet to be fully realized 157 years after the surrender documents were inked. The park at Appomattox is a simple, somber witness to hope rising from the ashes of war.

A sign greets travelers that Appomattox County is “where our nation was reunited.” A more accurate statement would be, “Where our nation’s reunification began.” Big ideals, by their nature, are always works in progress, as in “liberty and justice for all.” But I wouldn’t change the sign that welcomes travelers. Leave it as it is, a reminder that though we’re an incomplete, unfinished project, something really important happened there. Our nation was reunited, even as we continue to discover the potential of a truly united nation.

From National Park Service

Healthy self-criticism

John Cobb, in his 2010 book Spiritual Bankruptcy, notes that sometimes those who practice a particular religion may tempted think that their way is “the only way.” The great church historian Roland Bainton noted that “the worst wars are religious wars.” Extreme competition can be deadly.

Against this backdrop, Cobb offers a refreshingly different view, speaking for those of varying faiths who are engaging in the process of secularizing:

We are secularizers who believe that the deepest element in our traditional Ways focuses on actual betterment of conditions in this world. We believe that we are most faithful to our own Ways when we are most open to the wisdom of others as well. We believe that we are liberated by our tradition to evaluate critically every aspect of it. We believe that through secularizing our traditions, we can contribute to the urgently needed responses to the threat of disaster that becomes ever more imminent.

How would you describe “the deepest element in our traditional Ways?”

From “The Worlds Major Religiousities,” by The Best Schools, August 30, 2022

Secularizing the “sacred”

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.”

From “John Cobb,” The Work of the People: Films for Discovery & Transformation,

Russian moms

Today, the Sabbath in Jewish tradition, I’m reflecting with gratitude on the role of the Old Testament in my life. Like everyone in the Christian faith, I inherited the Jewish tradition, so I view it through a “Jesus lens.” However, the Jewish tradition belongs to every human being who welcomes its wisdom.

Judaism has a strong, though painful, history in Russia, powerfully revealed in the classic play/movie, Fiddler on the Roof. As the Russian czar cracked down on Jews, Tevye wryly asks/prays, “So we’re the chosen people? Once in a while, couldn’t you choose somebody else?”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and obscene at so many levels, including the division it has caused between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Orthodox, Jewish and secular moms, wives and girlfriends may be among Putin’s greatest problems now.

Russia is experiencing its most dramatic mobilization and forced military service since World War II. The Sabbath is a day to break away from worldly brokenness to experience (or imagine) harmony among persons, nations, and all creation. Today, I stand in harmony with the babuskas.

From “The Russian Orthodox Leader at the Core of Putin’s Ambitions,” by Jason Horowitz, New York Times, May 22, 2022

OT and WOW

The Old Testament, according to a Jewish rabbi I heard speak long ago, maintains that the benchmark for an ethical community is how well it treats those without rights. In ancient Jewish society, the three major groups without rights were widows, orphans and wanderers (aka homeless, refugees).

Empires consolidate power by taking away rights, as in Putin’s Russia and his war against Ukraine. Who are the “widows, orphans and wanderers” in American society today? An era of rights-expansion begun by Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954) is being reversed by today’s US Supreme Court, by various state legislatures and by leaders of the national Republican Party.

I’m grateful to the Christian communities who have touched my life by keeping this OT quest for justice alive. I’m grateful for the exposure I’ve had to Judaism through the OT, through several synagogues over the years, and through numerous Jewish rabbis, Jewish scholars and Jewish friends.

From The Home for Little Wanderers

Ranked choice

This week, Mary Peltola won Alaska’s first “ranked choice” Congressional election to fill the brief remainder of late Congressman Don Young’s term. She’s the first Native American to represent Alaska in Congress. Peltola, who is Yup’ik, will be on the ballot again in November, running against Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich for a full two-year term.

Peltola’s election is noteworthy because Native Americans comprise 19.6% of Alaska’s population, the largest of any US state. The ethnic and human interest story is significant, as the provided links indicate, but my point here is that this election may reveal a resource for the nation to find a healthy way out of the rancor of our polarization.

I’m just beginning to learn about ranked choice voting, where voters list their first choice, second choice, etc. If no one gets 50% plus one first preference votes, a “runoff” of sorts is held without requiring voters to return to the polls. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, etc., until a winner is determined. The Atlantic and National Review provide a pro and con analysis of ranked choice voting.

What appeals to me is that this method of election has the potential to elect more moderate and less extreme candidates. In my opinion, that’s a resource worthy of consideration.

From “Peltola wins Alaska special election to fill Young’s House seat,” by Jackie Wang and Kate Ackley, Roll Call, August 31, 2022

Nameless, faceless, helpless, powerless

It’s been a tough year for women. Progress is not inevitable and human rights can be taken away. But, freedom resonates within the human spirit, and political or religious oppression cannot erase the memory of freedom in those who have experienced it. I believe freedom ultimately will win.

(After that paragraph, this post could go in several directions. You may need to pause a moment and let your mind and emotions roam around whatever application is most relevant to your life.)

The direction I’m going with this is Afghanistan, prompted by an August 12 article by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino in The New York Times (updated on August 15) that profiles several Afghan women whose lives have been upended, and whose hopes have been doused, by the Taliban’s resumption of power in Kabul one year ago. Afghan women aren’t nameless, of course, even as the regime thwarts any hint of individualism and requires female faces to once again be covered.

The regime’s male dominance surely robs the country of well more than 50% of its brain-power and potential. The spokesman for the ominously named, decree-issuing Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice offered this mind-bending attempt to frame the narrative: “All these decrees are for the protection of women, not the oppression of women…. A woman is a helpless and powerless creature.” One day, he’ll know better. Sadly, dire Afghan poverty perpetuates this illusion.

From “Taliban Rewind the Clock: ‘A Woman Is a Helpless and Powerless Creature,’” by Christina Goldbaum and David Zucchino, The New York Times, August 12, 2022 (Updated August 15, 2022)

Artistic resistance

Tyrants tend to underestimate the opposition. Early war reports emerging from Ukraine quickly made it clear that the Ukrainians would not be easily overrun. An August 14 article by Javier C. Hernández in The New York Times describes an inspirational “artistic resistance” to the Russian war by Ukrainian musicians. In “An Orchestra Supports Ukraine, and Reunites a Couple Parted by War,” Hernández quotes Yevgen Dovbysh, “I don’t have a gun, but I have my cello.”

Dovbysh and his violinist wife, Anna Vikhrova, were members of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. Now, they are among the 74 musicians in the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra.that gathered in Warsaw, Poland to begin a world tour. The Canadian Ukrainian conductor is Keri-Lynn Wilson. The tour itinerary includes London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and Washington. They will play at the Lincoln Center in NYC on August 18 and 19, and at the Kennedy Center in DC on August 20.

In the 1990s, a choir of Cuban Methodists visited the US. They were mostly professionals–attorneys, teachers, and various others. The Cuban economy was reeling from the US boycott and the collapse of Cuba’s Soviet benefactors. Everyone in Cuba was poor. The choir arrived in Birmingham with paper sacks for luggage. A host congregation took them shopping for shoes. The unforgettable moment for me was their closing song, in English, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

From “Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra review – tears and roars of delight for new national ensemble,” by Flora Willson, The Guardian, July 31, 2022