Category: Unconditional Love

Election music

Christian nationalism is in the air. Some of those who have railed against “the deep state” fail to see the irony in hoping for (a big) government to function as a self-conscious Christian state, a theocracy.

Christian nationalism was in the air when Israel was a colony of Rome and various “messiahs were ready to lead a revolt for independence. (The word christ is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word messiah.) Many of Jesus’ first followers hoped he would lead that revolt.

The story of Jesus’ baptism includes his hearing a “voice” from heaven echoing two pieces of music from the Old Testament: from Psalm 2, a coronation song–like “Hail to the Chief”–used at the anointing of a new king (the Lord,..said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”); and from Isaiah 42, a suffering servant song–like “We Shall Overcome”–a song of hope, likely sung during the Israelites’ exile in Babylon (“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”)

With this radically new (non-violent) concept of leadership, Jesus emerged from his baptism only to be immediately tested/tempted, including the possibility of ruling a territory as far as the eye could see (the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”)

More tomorrow.

From “The Temptation to Rule the World,” by Angela Becek, Journey Through Scripture, January 6, 2022

Margaret’s wisdom

Aunt Margaret has taught me by example. She faced the searing pain of violence with steadfast love and grace. She made something positive out of that pain by learning about mental illness and volunteering work in that field.

At 91, her current challenge is living with decreasing memory. After 35 years as an independent single, she is adapting admirably to community life that must feel like communal life to her. She’s taught me that brief visits are best and it’s best to talk about memories of siblings, parents, grandparents and her time at Hiwassee College.

After a brief visit in her apartment on Saturday morning, we returned to the day room shared by 12 residents. She introduced me by saying, “This is my brother, Ray Hicks.” Ray (1922-2013) was her older brother. I was honored by the promotion. He was a WW2 veteran and a retired Marine Corps Colonel.

Margaret wrote notes to herself, many of which were quotes she read or heard. I found one of her notes this week:

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Live your life and forget your age.

Spending time with children is more important than spending money on children.

From a touching 3-minute conversation with mutual respect and understanding by Scott, who suffers from memory loss, and his daughter Bailey, via YouTube

Piranha politics

Continuing yesterday’s post … Independent Angus King caucuses with the Democrats. That’s my position. In 2020, I contributed to Doug Jones’ senate reelection campaign and to Joe Biden’s campaign. When Alabama traded Jones for Tommy Tuberville it was like the Yankees trading Aaron Judge for me,

My 2020 contributions put me on Democratic email lists coast-to-coast. It’s a diverse party with close-knit computers. “Every Democrat has asked for your help and you haven’t responded.” This year I’ve made one gift, to Doug Jones’ Right Side of History PAC. The endless requests are numbing.

Donald Trump’s fundraising tactics are well-known. Republican appeals are as intense as Democrats’. Once labor intensive campaigns are now capital intensive. Costly TV ads and the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision have made public servants and office-seekers continuous fund-raisers.

With apologies to the Piranha, today’s urgent fund-raising feels like being surrounded by a school of Piranha. It’s a dehumanization and commoditization of democracy. Many potentially great leaders quit, disillusioned by the central role of money in politics. The soul of the nation is up for sale.

From “Piranha,”

Annie, a graying lab

Hair color is partly a function of age. I went from blonde to brown to gray to white. It’s my Combs genes. Grandma Combs (nee Mullins) lived to be 104. I only knew her as white-headed. She produced a flock of white-haired descendants. It could be the Mullins genes, but all my white-haired kin are or were named Combs. Sadly, some folks don’t live long enough to experience this trichological trajectory.

I feel a trichological kinship with Annie, a black Labrador Retriever, age 19. She’s pushing the age envelope for labs. She was featured on Today. I learned about Annie shortly after spending a memorable afternoon with my aunt in her new memory care facility. My aunt’s caregivers inspire me. They understand the world of those whose memories are slipping away. Annie’s inspire me, too.

Annie’s new adopted friends were told she might have a month to live. They are now into month four and Annie is enjoying an impressive “bucket list.” Love is about helping others sing their song, or experience their bucket lists–looking beyond wrinkles, limps and trichological transformations.

From “After a 19-year-old dog was surrendered at a shelter, two best friends took her in,” by Liz Calvario, Today,

A verdant intersection

An intriguing intersection is where psychology and faith converge. John A. “Jack” Sanford (1929-2005) lived on a corner of that intersection. He was a Jungian analyst and an Episcopal priest. Carl Jung (1875-1961) was “a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology.” Sanford served Episcopal parishes in California for nineteen years.

I know Sanford primarily through his book, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language (written in 1968 and revised in 1989). I was helped by his interpretation of the story of Jacob’s “wrestling” on his way back to Canaan. Sanford wrote several books about the neighborhood where psychology and faith intersect. “Mysticism” is a good name for that neighborhood.

Another Sanford book is Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John. One review notes, “In his discussion of the healing stories in the fourth gospel, Sanford shows how faith is that quality of soul which paves the way for healing.” That’s a good way to think about faith. Each of us, and the whole world, benefits whenever there’s a paving the way for healing.


For the Ages

Discipline, teamwork, and being a good sport are important life skills that can be developed through athletics. As I watched the Alabama-Tennessee telecast tonight, it became clear that this game would have far too many critical plays to remember. It was like watching a ping-pong game.

When I was 10 or 12, I became so distraught during the radio-cast of an Alabama-LSU game that my mother was afraid I might have a stroke. I thought she was over-reacting to my over-reaction. Now, I no longer stew over losses. Now, it’s hard for me to remember the details about most games.

UT fans’ joy after a last-second field goal made it clear that there was a new member of the “ten most memorable” games in this rivalry. I messaged son Cully: “Go, Vols!” He replied that if UT defeats Georgia, there might be a rematch with Bama (for the Conference championship in December). By then, I might be ready for a rematch, but for now I’ve had as much excitement as I can stand.

It was one for the ages.

From “Tennessee Defeats Alabama 52-49,” by Rick Russo and Carissa Simpson, WMC-TV ActionNews5, Memphis, October 15, 2022

For the Win

A USA Today feature is For the Win.” After Thursday’s January 6 hearing and prior to Saturday’s Alabama-Tennessee game, I pondered the mystery of winning and losing. This year, UT has a great opportunity to record a long-awaited win in a great rivalry.

I had a Tennessee grandfather and a Kentucky grandfather. In 1935, my Tennessee grandfather took my dad’s two older brothers to the UT-Alabama game in Knoxville. My uncle described the pre-game hype about an injured Alabama end named Paul Bryant who was not expected to play. He did. Bama won.

That was one of the “ten most memorable” games in the rivalry. The one I remember best was Bama’s 11-10 come-from-behind win in Knoxville in 1966. Cathey’s ring-tone for our son Cully is “Rocky Top.” He’s a big UT fan. For me, Saturday’s game is a win-win situation. We need more of those.

Thursday’s January 6 hearing included a White House staffer’s report that Donald Trump told Mark Meadows, “I don’t want people to know that we lost, Mark….” One who admits defeat and congratulates the victor creates a win-win situation. The only real loser is one who cannot admit defeat.

Roll, Tide! Go, Vols!

From “Remembering When Bear Bryant Came to Tennessee–As a Player,” by John Shearer, The Chattanoogan, September 15, 2013

Mountain Politics

A chapter in Donald Kraybill’s The Upside-Down Kingdom is “Mountain Politics.” This refers to one of three temptations experienced by Jesus in the wilderness. In the story, The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

One aspect of the reality we face today is the temptation of Christian nationalism, which seeks to impose a rules-based theocracy upon the entire nation (or world). This is contrary to the grace-based “Kingdom of God” theme that is central to Jesus’ teaching. Kraybill helped me reflect on the political movements by the likes of Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Kraybill said, “This was Jesus’ chance to be a new Alexander the Great.” But, Jesus rejected the opportunity to be “Jesus the Great.” This wasn’t the kind of kingdom he was about. The mountain in the temptation story symbolizes divine power. Many of Jesus’ early followers hoped he would lead a revolt against Roman colonial rule. But, Kraybill said, “Jesus redefined the meaning of power when he refused to use violent force. Kraybill concludes his “Mountain Politics” chapter by saying that Jesus’ “revolution was upside-down. It touted acts of compassion, no daggers. Love was the new Torah, the standard of his upside-down kingdom.”

From “Book Review, The Upside-Down Kingdom,: by Habitat for Humanity Colorado

A perennial tension

An old American tension is universal–the tension between federal and confederal attitudes. The colonies declared their independence from Britain in 1776 and created Articles of Confederation to establish a national government. From the beginning there was a power struggle between the national, federal government and the individual colonies that were newly declared states.

Hamilton and others wanted a strong national government. Jefferson and others wanted more power to rest with the states. Years later, when the national, federal government moved toward abolishing slavery, southern states asserted their “sovereignty” by creating a confederacy. The struggle over sovereignty continues as Texas Republicans call for a vote on secession from the US.

A similar tension led to the Protestant Reformation as individual leaders challenged the leadership of the Roman Catholic Pope. It helps me understand an even more ancient tension between Sadducees, who exerted central (federal) power in the Jerusalem Temple and Pharisees who were a loose knit confederation of local synagogues. Today, Methodists are feeling this perennial tension.

Methodists formed around a strong central leader, John Wesley (1703-1791), with a conference (later regional conferences) to coordinate missionaries and the congregations they established. Some people are moving to “disaffiliate” from the central (federal) denomination, creating “independent” congregations or “networks” (confederations) of like-minded congregations. (Hint: Follow the money.)

Methodists–with a formerly strong central (federal) organization, are moving toward a congregational (confederal) model with stronger local control. Race once drove like-minded homogeneity. Now the stated issues are sexual orientation and reproductive rights. This is part of a broad, half-century trend toward a more congregational, less connectional, polity.

This article is somewhat dated, but it gives an accurate state of affairs as of April 2021, and it explains some of the tensions: “Churches across theological spectrum exiting,” by Heather Hahn, UM News, April 19, 2021


Life, as I experience it, consists of multiple layers of reality. Each layer requires some of my/our attention all the time, and at times one layer will require a larger-than-usual share of my/our attention. At present, family ties are forefront as we help my aunt relocate to her new home.

Football, the stock market, current news events, myriad urgent pleas from Democrats for money, helping church friends understand the current trend toward congregationalism, thinking, writing, teaching, participating in several groups, email, phone calls–will resume and find a new balance.

For now, my consciousness of several layers is cursory and fragmented–bits and pieces of reality not in sharp focus at the moment. We all experience this disruption when illness, natural disaster, or some major life change occurs (childbirth, divorce, grief, job relocation, new residence, etc.).

My current fragmentary moment gives me great respect for my aunt’s inner strength and her ability to “hold it together” as the glue of memory becomes less reliable. We talk about family a great deal. I repeat her stories and sometimes she says, “I don’t think I know that story.” It’s re-membering.

As the world demands pseudo-certainty, I find humor and healing in that each of us is, all of us are, trying to hold it together. I’ll reflect on a few swirling fragments–one by one– in coming posts.

A hurricane has a way of re-ordering the various “layers” of one’s life. From “Three Ways to Build Back Smarter After Hurricane Ian,” by Elana Shao, The New York Times, October 3, 2022