After a blissfully grueling 30-day trek in a small camper, we picked up another passenger, my 91-year-old aunt. The final leg of this vacation was a 5-hour drive for her to have an interview this morning at her potential new home–a memory care facility much closer to her still-breathing family.
We three old folks spent last night in a motel with a curious but flexible canine companion. As we moved toward sundown yesterday, my dear aunt explained to me that my parents (her sister and brother-in-law) are not deceased. I have their death certificates, but I didn’t buck my aunt.
She said my parents were with her parents back in Jellico (their hometown). It reminded me of the biblical phrase applied to several people, including Issac. When he “breathed his last, he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
My aunt’s loss of short-term memory can be exasperating, but it has a whole other dimension that I have observed in her and other people, but do not fully comprehend. In the next few posts, I plan to share some reflections about the institutional and informal ties that bind us together.
One of the towns we enjoyed on this trip was Saratoga Springs, New York. We passed through the town on a Sunday morning and were greeted by multiple church bells ringing simultaneously. It wasn’t like “dueling banjos,” but more of a collegial announcement that an hour dedicated to prayer had arrived. It was inspiring to see people walking to various downtown churches.
Saratoga is another place familiar to students of the American Revolution. The troops of British General John Burgoyne were attempting to wrest control of the Hudson River valley from the Americans. They had been roughed up in the Battle of Bennington (Vermont) and at Saratoga (New York) Burgoyne’s shrunken army was defeated by American General Horatio Gates’ troops.
Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga in October, 1777 completed the turning point that was begun at Bennington and persuaded France to sign a treaty with the Americans against Britain. French financial and military support eventually led to a decisive American victory four years later at Yorktown (Virginia) that effectively won American independence.
As we drove through Saratoga Springs, we saw references to upcoming annual commemorations of the Battle of Saratoga. I thought of Benjamin Franklin and others who negotiated the Treaty of Alliance with France in February, 1778. Some day, Ukrainian history students will reflect on today’s events and the support Ukraine is receiving from the US and other nations. The quest for liberty continues.
Ironically, today is the Feast of St. Francis, a man impacted by war as a solider who became synonymous with peace. May the nonviolent spirit of the gentle man from Assisi be with you–and all the world–today.
An old friend had two sons, an attorney and a pastor. He liked to say that one practiced and the other preached. He knew, of course, that both his sons practiced their faith through the processes of their vocations every day. Like law, faith is an evolving process. The Ten Commandments were said to have been written in stone, but the application and interpretation of those “Ten Words” are more fluid.
John Cobb, in his 2010 book, Spiritual Bankruptcy, calls one of Protestant Christianity’s contributions to the world the process of secularizing. From the book’s Preface: There is a strong tendency among people everywhere to divide the world into “us” and “them.” This division has proper and necessary secular functions. …
In the actual course of human affairs, however, the we/they distinction has not been so innocuous because it takes on a religious character. “We” have the right ideals, the right practices, the right traditions. “They,” by their errors in all these respects, are inferior to “us” and are often experienced as a threat. To secularize is to break down this absolute distinction, to understand both “us” and “them” in a broader perspective.
Today, I read Cobb’s words with an awareness of bitter divisions in numerous religious tribes as I watch them break into smaller tribes. Secular, more objective and less parochial “outsiders” might help wise leaders in every camp understand how outsiders may view our internal divisions as a sign of pettiness, not greatness. Cobb wrote: ...the rigid distinction of “us” and “them” … is particularly dangerous in a pluralistic world (so) it is important to secularize the sacred. That does not mean that we should disparage or belittle what has been experienced as sacred, but does mean that we should subject it to critical evaluation.
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.
In Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity, pp. 107ff is about “Born Again: Dying and Rising.” He wrote: In the gospels and in the rest of the New Testament, death and resurrection, dying and rising, are again and again metaphors for personal transformation, for the psychological spiritual process at the heart of the Christian life.
When I was young, operating from the “earlier paradigm” Borg describes (September 13 post), I thought resurrection and life eternal were “invented” by God after the death of Jesus. Borg wrote: … the path of death and resurrection is “the way” that Jesus himself taught. I now see that the crucifixion and resurrection story as a revolutionary, timeless “object lesson” to demonstrate the way things are.
Borg helps me understand that the point of this story, of creation, of life itself, is transformation. It is a universal experience to which Christianity witnesses but does not hold a copyright. It is at the heart of every faith and everyone’s life experience, whether or not one is conscious of it or grateful for it. Because transformation is a universal experience, it can be a starting point for every human conversation.
The Jesus story–which I understand within the context of the larger Jewish story, which I understand within the larger context of the story of the Universe–is my story. As I live into the theme of transformation (which I understand to be the heart of everything), I’m able to receive, appreciate and find common ground with everyone’s story. This makes me excited about waking up every morning!
Sallie McFague explores “self-emptying” in various religions and Christianity in particular. I first heard the word kenosis in seminary, which enriched my understanding of the Philippian hymn. It enriched my self-understanding. McFague helped me (in my late life) to see kenosis in a much broader sense, such as restraining our consumption as consumers. She wrote: …kenosis, self-emptying, is a way to get to the goal of moderation.
Kenosis provides an alternative model of understanding our place in the scheme of things. She offers this: …the kenotic way of being in the world contrasts the imperial, market-oriented, consumer way. Kenosis, self-emptying, is not an ascetic, world-denying practice of the saints; rather, it is a catchall term for the way the world works: it works at all levels through restraint, pulling back, sharing, reciprocity, interrelationship, giving space to others, sacrifice. This way of being in the world is the opposite of self-aggrandizement at every level, from the personal through the public to the planetary.
McFague gives three examples of sainthood as living a fully integrated life: John Woolman, Simone Weil and Dorothy Day. In a world too often puffed up, “full of air,” and “full of itself,” McFague offers the counter-cultural approach of self-restraint, which puts others (and the planet) ahead of consumption.
Tomorrow: a final word from McFague about kenosis.
Joe, Ernie, Don and I meet on Friday mornings for an hour. It’s not unusual for a group of old guys to gather around a table at a restaurant for coffee, biscuits, and tale-telling. We bring our own coffee since we’re in four different counties in three different states. We meet via Zoom.
I asked the group for some people and/or books that have been helpful resources for their journeys. I’ll share quotes from Friday’s list and a wee bit of commentary. First up is Sallie McFague (1933-2019), who taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School for 30 years, including several years as Dean.
The subtitle of her 2013 book, Blessed Are the Consumers is “Climate Change and the Practice of Restraint.” Ecology was one of her strong interests. She wrote that the challenge for the world’s religions was to transform our consumerism by restraint: Restraint at all levels, summed up in the Golden Rule (a variation of which most religions take as their central practice), is the one thing needed now….”
We are seeing the results of our slow response to warnings of science that were echoed by McFague.
Tripp Fuller’s Homebrewed Christianity featured a 6-minute audio presentation of McFague reading the conclusion of Blessed Are the Consumers. You can listen by clicking the link below the graphic.
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.
Before mentioning more resources for life’s journey, hear this affirmation for print and online resources as an alternative to broadcast, cable or general social media resources. Here’s a personal example from spending two nights on the road this week.
Wednesday morning I woke up earlier than usual (4:00 am CT), alone in a motel room. No one would be bothered by turning on a light and/or the TV. I was curious about the much-anticipated response by the Department of Justice to Donald Trump’s request for a Special Master.
Sometimes I must suppress my urge to check cable news. I went to my email inbox to read Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. If I’m not careful, I can get sidetracked by a Twitter post, which can lead to a 20-minute detour down a rabbit trail. On Wednesday, I went first to Rohr.
Wednesday’s was exceptionally good: “Heaven is a Great Party” (not a courtroom). After that, I was ready for anything. Blog posts via Substack by Heather Cox Richardson, Robert Hubbell and Joyce Vance told me everything I needed to know about the DOJ story. In just a few minutes.
Via print or digital, I can re-read a critical section or skim over less critical sections. When I read, everyone uses their “inside voice.” No elevating the volume or media personalities talking over each other. I “processed” my readings in the shower and over breakfast, in solitude, quietly.
My third read of the day is Today’s Edition Newsletter, written by California attorney Robert B. Hubbell. It’s a free email distributed by Substack. This resource was recommended by some guys in my weekly Fullness of Love group shortly after I learned of it through Morning Rounds by blogger Rita Clagett.
Hubbell’s theme is “A reflection on today’s news through the lens of hope.” He’s a tenacious attorney, passionate and partisan, though primarily focused on the US Constitution. He’s a tour de force, providing essential legal background for the day’s news. I think of him as Jamie Raskin on steroids.
Hubbell saves me an enormous amount of time by condensing important news stories with a hopeful tone. A daily dose of Richard Rohr, Heather Cox Richardson and Robert Hubbell puts my day within the context of faith, freedom and hope. Together, they help me stay oriented to life’s greatest theme: love.
Hubbell’s August 30 installment of Today’s Edition Newsletter, “A coward’s bluff” unpacks the legal issues surrounding the current investigations into Donald Trump. Hubbell referenced a new free Substack blog by Joyce Vance, Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance. Hubbell ended this edition with:
As always, we have plenty of reason to be hopeful, but no reason to be complacent.