Category: Agency

Saratoga

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.

From The American Battlefield Trust

Faith in practical process

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.

From Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action, by John B. Cobb, Jr.

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

Transformation

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!

From “Marcus Borg: The Essence of Christianity is Transformation,” Interfaith Voices, June 13, 2014

Self-emptying

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.

Sallie McFague spent her later years in British Columbia, where she discovered nurse logs, a form of self-emptying. From “Understanding the Magic of Earth Logs,” by Elisa Parhad, Garden Collage, January 26, 2017

Tuning out the noise

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.

From a long essay by Don Murray, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” in Progressive Christianity, August 28, 2022. I read some resources rapidly, then return for a more leisurely stroll, perhaps in installments. This is one of those.

Remaining hopeful

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.

From “A Conversation with Robert at the Los Angeles Arboretum,” with Jill Hubbell, November 8, 2020, via YouTube, about his blog that began on the day Donald Trump was elected president. The Hubbells’ daughters were devastated by the election. He writes Today’s Edition Newsletter to keep them informed and to give them hope. I’m one of many thousands of readers who eavesdrop on this resource.

Coherence

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was ordained a priest in 1911 at age 30. During World War I, he was cited for bravery as a stretcher-bearer in a combat infantry unit. He spent much of his life as a paleontologist on archaeological digs. With the heart of a poet, he wrote about the coherence of faith and science. He submitted to the authority of his Jesuit superiors and to the Vatican. He was “edgy” enough to be eventually told he could neither teach nor publish his writings.

Sarah Appleton-Weber’s “Editor-Translator’s Introduction” to The Human Phenomenon says: “The very nature of Teilhard’s book is to develop a homogeneous and coherent perspective….” Quoting Teilhard, “Truth is the total coherence of the universe in relation to each point of itself…. The truth of the human being is the truth of the universe for the human being….”

Teilhard describes the human/universe coherence: “If we are to see ourselves completely and to survive, it must be as part of humanity, with humanity as part of life, and life as part of the universe.” Teilhard helps me deal with the conflicts I experience within myself, with the stresses of family and community life, and with incoherent voices in politics, religion and international relations.

From Journey of the Universe

Sentient beings

My engineer/scientist friend Ernie knows his way around the cosmos. He has helped numerous people grasp its history. Correction–make that our history. I objectified the universe, referring to our home as “it,” like a static thing in a museum, rather than our dynamic, evolving home. The James Webb telescope is sending us images of solar systems that are no longer existent. Lots can happen in a few billion years.

A few months ago I listened via Zoom to Ernie’s presentation about where earth fits into the history of the universe, and where humanity fits into the history of earth. My mind and my emotions were stirred when Ernie mentioned the unimaginable privilege we have to exist as sentient beings in the vast scope of the space and time represented by the universe.

Genesis 1 is a “great liturgical poem” about creation. Reflections about sentient beings are prominent in Buddhist thought. Sentience is a topic addressed by various doctors of philosophy. As I scratched the surface of this theme, I kept returning to two words, privilege and gratitude. As sentient beings, we have great opportunity to make a difference in this fleeting moment in our corner of space.

From “Creation,” Will Vinton Studio (1981), based on James Weldon Johnson’s 1922 poem “The Creation,” narrated by James Earl Jones, illustrated by Joan C. Gratz, a 7 1/2 minute video on YouTube

Hope–a basis for action

My friend Don offered some helpful insights about hope. From Walter Brueggemann’s commentary about Jeremiah in Hope Within History (p. 67):

…history makers may see clearly that things are deeply wrong, while they may not see how in any way a turn can happen, they are characteristically not voices of despair. History-makers and historical action do not proceed out of despair but out of hope that acts against the data at hand.

Don also passed along this quote, which seems to have originated on Twitter, from Matthew (@CrowsFault) on March 10, 2022:

People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spider’s webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles, the grit of the cobblestones in her hair, and just spat out a tooth as she rises for another go.

Don and I have conversed about Fannie Lou Hamer. This quote reminds me of Hamer and her thought-provoking rendition of Mahalia Jackson’s A City Called Heaven:

I am on a pilgrim of sorrow. Tossed in this wide world alone. I have no hope for tomorrow. I’m trying to make Heaven my home. Sometimes I’m both tossed and driven. Sometimes I know not where to roam. I’ve heard of a city called heaven.

From “A Pilgrim of Sorrow: Fuller Story of Fannie Lou Hamer Told In New Documentary,” by Aliyah Veal, Mississippi Free Press, March 4, 2022