Thursday, December 17, 2020

An Edelweiss Christmas

I write this while sitting in front of my woodstove during the first major snow storm of the season, which has come just in time to ensure we have a white Christmas. That is the only thing that feels normal about this Christmas.

No parties or concerts or shopping. No gathering with believers to usher in Advent by singing “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” No Christmas caroling. No candlelight service singing “Silent Night.” No large family gathering on Christmas Day to exchange gifts. It feels like the Grinch has succeeded in stealing Christmas this year.

Pandemic and politics have dominated the season. Instead of peace and joy there is ongoing anxiety about the future of our country. Hundreds of thousands more American may die before COVID is finally defeated. At the same time anti-democratic forces in our country seek to undermine our democracy and destroy our beloved freedoms. The Sound of Music with its backdrop in fascist Austria suddenly seems like a possibility in our own land in future years.

A New Hampshire state representative and school board member from a nearby town posted anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda online this week. There have been calls for her resignation, but she has refused to step down. She has not apologized for the content of the post, but has only made excuses. A lawyer and fellow Republican defended her, saying she did nothing wrong. How did we get here? No wonder my emotions are not in sync with the holiday spirit! Where is the peace and joy and love?

On the other hand, perhaps my emotions are more in sync with the spirit of Christmas than I realize. The first Christmas took place in a very stressful time. It happened during military occupation by an authoritarian regime, who ruled Palestine with the traitorous collaboration of religious leaders. After the first Christmas the local autocrat sent in troops to slaughter children in the streets of Bethlehem to preserve law and order.

Perhaps the circumstances of Christmas this year are not an obstacle to the celebration of Christmas. Perhaps they are an aid to seeing what Christmas is really about. Perhaps the political and societal turmoil of our time gives us insight into what Christmas is really about.

Christmas is not about the cultural and religious embellishments that have smothered the holiday over the years. It is not about Hallmark sentimentality. It is the celebration of the birth of a controversial leader who identified with the poor and outcasts of society, as represented by the shepherds who attended his birth. As a young man he was executed by the government and religious leaders for treason and blasphemy.

Not much has changed. The powers of moral and spiritual darkness always lurk at the fringes of human civilization and seek to rule. Occasionally they dominate a culture and control the government and religious establishment. But as the apostle John’s Christmas poem says, darkness will not ultimately win.  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.”  That is what we celebrate at Christmas. Anyone up for a chorus of Edelweiss? 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

How the Trump Stole Inauguration Day

Every Dem down in Demville liked Inauguration Day a lot.

But the Trump, who lives in the White House, Did NOT!

The Trump hated Inauguration … The whole Inauguration season!

It was because he could no longer be prez, that’s the reason.


It was also his head wasn't screwed on just right.

It was perhaps also that his briefs were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

May have been that his brain was two sizes too small.


Whatever the reason, his briefs or his brain,

He stood there on Inauguration Eve, hating the Dems,

Staring from the White House with a sour, Trumpy frown,

At the large crowd gathering below in the town.


For he knew every Dem down in Demville beneath,

Was busy now, hanging Inauguration Day wreaths.

"And they're planning their galas!" he snarled with a sneer,

"Tomorrow is Inauguration Day! It's practically here!"


Then he growled, with his tiny fingers nervously drumming,

"I MUST find some way to stop Inauguration from coming!"

For tomorrow, he knew, all the Dem girls and boys,

Would wake bright and early and begin to enjoy!


And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise!

Noise! Noise! Noise!

That's one thing he hated! The NOISE!



Then the Dems, young and old, would sit down to a feast.

And they'd feast! And they'd feast! And they'd FEAST!


They would feast on Dem-pudding, and rare Dem-faux beast.

Which was something the Trump couldn't stand in the least!


And then they'd do something he liked least of all!

Every Dem down in Demville, the tall and the small,

Would stand six feet apart, with masks and start singing!

They'd sing! And they'd sing! And they'd SING!



And the more the Trump thought of this Dem Inauguration sing,

The more the Trump thought, "I must stop this whole thing!"

"Why, for seventy-nine days I've put up with it now!"

"I MUST stop this Inauguration from coming! But HOW?"

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!



"I know just what to do!" the Trump laughed in his throat.

And he put on his MAGA cap and his coat.

And he chuckled, and clucked, "What a great Trumpy trick!"

"With this coat and my hat, I’ll be Prez again quick!"


"All I need are some cronies..." The Trump looked around.

But, his cronies were gone, there was none to be found.

Did that stop the old Trump? No! The Trump said as he paced,

"If I can't find my cronies, I'll call on my base!"


So he called Donny Junior. Then he took some red thread,

And he tied a bull horn on the top of his head.

Then he tweeted the Proud Boys to stand back and stand by

He called Breitbart News and put on his red tie.


Then the Trump said, "Let’s go!" The limo started down,

Toward the stage where the Dems sat waiting in town.

All their faces were happy. Quiet snow filled the air.

All the Dems were all dreaming of a future with healthcare.


When he came to the first little row on the square.

"This is stop number one," the old Trumpy Don hissed,

he climbed on the roof and banged with his fist.

Then he slid down the hood with a big awkward bump.

But, if T.J. Hooker could do it, then so could the Trump.


He got on the horn that was tied to Don Junior

And yelled at the top of his lungs every rumor

He ever had read on the net about fraud

And hoaxes and traitors, but got no applause.


Then little Cindy-Lou Dem, who was not more than three,

Looked up at the Trump who was making his plea.

The Trump stared down at this tiny Dem daughter,

Who'd come with her mother to see Ms. Kamala.

She stared at the Trump and said, "Mr. Grumpy man, why?,”

"Why are you ruining Inauguration Day? WHY?"


But, you know, that old Trump was so bitter and so slick,

He thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick!

"It’s all a mistake," the fake President screamed,

"The wrong man is on stage, it ought to be me.

I’m the one who won, and I won by a lot!”


Cindy Lou paused and looked at her mom,

And then looked at the Trump.

“Everyone knows that is not true” she said to the Grump.

“Only those whom you threaten and bully say so.

It’s alright to lose. My mommy says so.


We lost last time too, and did not say ‘Boo Hoo!’”

“What matters is how we act when we lose.

I have learned to accept it and be a big girl.

So put big boy pants on and don’t act like a churl.

Though I am not yet three I have learned to be brave.

When I don’t get what I want, I accept what I have.”


Grinch scratched his head and looked at Don Junior,

He thought of something he never thought of before!

"Maybe Inauguration," he thought, "isn’t all about me."

"Maybe about democracy!"


And what happened then? Demville they say,

That the Trump’s small brain grew three sizes that day!

And as soon as his red cap began to feel tight,

He took off his hat in the bright morning light,


And threw it away, and with the sun shining!

He got on his cell and tweeted, “God bless Joe Biden!

The election is over. And my time has now ceased!”

And then he himself, the Trump, carved the faux beast!


By Marshall Davis (With apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Monday, November 23, 2020

Thank God for Evangelicals

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, and therefore it is proper to give thanks for God’s blessings on America this holiday season. Near the top of my list is the 2020 presidential election. In my estimation God has saved our country from great harm, and I am grateful. Threats to democracy will undoubtedly continue in the months and years ahead, but at least the attacks will not be coming from within the White House.

In particular I would like to thank white evangelicals for electing Joe Biden as president. I am not being facetious. People may be surprised to learn that a small group of evangelicals played a pivotal role in the election. An examination of the election results reveal that the defection of some evangelicals from President Trump made the difference.

White Evangelicals still overwhelmingly voted for President Trump. 75% of them in fact, but that is down 6% from the 2016 percentage of 81%. That six percent made the difference. White Evangelicals made up 26% of the 2020 electorate, which by my calculations means these defectors made a difference of 1.5% in the number of total votes. That was enough to change the results.

For example in the state of Georgia, Biden won by only two-tenths of one percent. In Pennsylvania he won by one half of one percent. In Wisconsin and Arizona the difference was seven tenths of a percent. The margin of victory in Michigan was 2.7%, but in that state only 70% of the evangelical vote went for Trump, down eleven percent.

Although it would take more research and statistical skills than I have to explore the precise difference that these evangelical votes made in each state, it is likely that the overall difference of 1.5% determined who became president. Thank you, evangelicals.

I would also like to thank Jewish voters. More than three-quarters (77%) of them backed Biden. That was up 6% from 2016.  A big thank you to Catholics as well. A majority of Catholics (51%) voted for Biden this time, up 6% compared with the 45% who voted Democrat in 2016. Lastly I give thanks for Muslims, 69% of whom voted for Biden. This was especially important in Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population.

In short, religious people developed a conscience in 2020. I am especially grateful for that six percent of my Christian sisters and brothers who changed their mind since 2016. I have been praying that God would show Christians that President Trump is not the champion of Christian values that he is made out to be. That is obvious to me, but it is clearly not obvious to most evangelical Christians. Hence my prayers.

In biblical history there have always been a “faithful remnant” that has remained true to God when the majority of people turned aside. For example God destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. In the 8th century BC, 80% of Israel disappeared from history, leaving two remaining tribes in Judah. The 25% of evangelicals that voted against Trump in 2020 are such a faithful remnant. Well done, good and faithful servants.

It is difficult to be an independent thinking Christian in this polarized and politicized environment. I have a niece who was bullied into voting for Trump this year by her church. She was told that she was going to hell if she voted for Biden. If this happened in my family I can only imagine how many other families faced the same sort of pressure from their churches. I am grateful for those who had the courage to resist their partisan church culture and remain faithful to God’s leading.

There are other people I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. I am grateful for state and local election officials, as well as higher government officials, who stood up for truth and resisted attempts to subvert the election results, even when that meant public criticism or losing their jobs. They are the real heroes in this election. 

On Thanksgiving Day I will hold hands with family around our Thanksgiving table and offer a prayer to God. I will thank God for this country and for all the people who continue to protect and preserve our democracy from enemies within and without. May God bless America.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Are Christians the Problem?

I have been doing some reading on the decline of democracy and the rise of populism in the world. My reading began with Pulitzer Prize winning historian Anne Applebaum’s new book Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. To be quite honest, the book scares the hell out of me.

It shows how democracy is under siege in Europe, Britain and America from nationalism and autocracy. She shows how authoritarian political movements use the news media, social media, conspiracy theories, political polarization, and an appeal to an idealized past, to undermine individual freedoms. It is all done in the in the name of patriotism, God and morality.

An article in the most recent issue of Time magazine shows how this has played out in Hungary under the rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took office in 2010. The article says, “In the decade since, Hungarians have seen judges and bureaucrats appointed for their political fealty, the media transformed into pro-government propaganda and civil-society groups starved of resources.” The Washington-based human rights group Freedom House says that Hungary no longer qualifies as a full democracy.

During the pandemic in Hungary, “COVID-19 data was to be strictly controlled, with doctors telling inquiring politicians and journalists that they were forbidden to talk publicly about the crisis. Those who criticized the government online faced arrest.”  “Orban has brazenly flouted Europe’s rules ensuring press freedom and an independent judiciary.”

If that sounds like 2020 in America, it is no accident. These are the same forces at work in our country. Americans could lose our freedoms if the right wing in our country gets its way.  If this happens, much of the fault will rest on the shoulders of white evangelical Christianity. It is no accident that they are cheering President Trump while he undermines confidence in the integrity of our election.

For the last four years I have been scratching my head trying to understand why Christians would support Donald Trump. Why would they believe conspiracy theories? Why would they accept the demonization of Democrats, the election process and the press? Then it dawned on me. They see these people and institutions as the enemies of God and Christian values, in much the same way that radical Muslims sees them as enemies of Allah and Islam.

For Christians, God is King. Anyone who opposes Godly values is the enemy. They believe that God has the absolute right to enforce his will on human society. Even though Jesus insisted that his kingdom was not of this world, for 2000 years Christians have been praying: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth and it is in heaven.” And gosh darn it, as the people of God, Christians have the obligation to advance God’s will on earth in these United States!

That is why evangelicals can unabashedly advocate outlawing abortion in the United States, even if it means stacking the Supreme Court and legislating from the bench. They see it as a moral crusade. It does not matter that the majority of Americans believe this moral choice should be left to individuals and not given over to the state. Individual rights and freedoms are expendable when God’s law is concerned. For them it is proper to use the power of the state to force people to adhere to their understanding of divine moral law.

It is not that we Christians should compromise our moral principles. I also am pro-life. But I do not have the right to impose my morality on people who do not share my religious values. We give that up to live in a democracy. That is what it means to be an American. Let each person decide according to their own conscience and faith. That is what individual freedom, religious liberty and human rights are about.

But the Religious Right does not share my commitment to those democratic values. That is why they love strongmen like Donald Trump. He will do the job that career politicians trained in the values of western democracy will not. He has no qualms about trampling on his enemies rights. Trump is willing to force his will on the country, regardless of whether it violates the rights of people who disagree with him. They see Trump as an instrument of Almighty God, who has the power and the divine right to impose moral and religious values on society. Democracy is useful if it advances God’s Kingdom. If democracy gets in the way of God’s will, democracy be damned.

This theocratic worldview is the problem. Politicized Christianity is the problem. A weaponized gospel that hates enemies, rather than loving them, is the problem. Such a Christianity has no room for democracy. It believes the fictional narrative that the United States is a Christian nation founded on Christian values, and that these values must be maintained at all costs - even if they go against the will of the people. People are sinners, after all ... miserable depraved sinners. They need to be reined in. If elections oppose the will of God, then election results are wrong.  As the song says, “Our God Reigns.”

If people’s rights get in the way of the exercise of Godly values, then rights are expendable. God’s will be done. In this worldview, Christians have the right to discriminate against anyone who disobeys God’s will – whether that be gays wanting to get a marriage license or buy a wedding cake, or Muslims wanting to wear a head scarf or build a mosque in our neighborhood. This is a “Christian nation” after all. Christian America first – under a Christian God!

This theocratic understanding of American history and identity is one of the greatest threats to our country today. It is far more dangerous than Central American immigrants or Islamic extremists, because right-wing Christians have influence that those groups do not have.  I never thought I would see the day when fellow Christians would be a threat to the nation I love. But that day has come.

So are Christians the problem? We don’t have to be. We can be the solution! We can champion our Christian values within the broader framework of democratic values upon which our nation is built. We can be unapologetically Christian, but let others live according to their own faith and values. We can choose to bring in the Kingdom through moral persuasion, not government coercion. People from all religious and political perspectives can live together in freedom and peace, if we respect each other’s rights. As history teaches us, that is better for both the church and the state. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

My Election Predictions Examined

On March 2, 2020, I made five predictions about the Presidential Elections on my blog. Here is a link, if you want to read it in full. Those predictions were made before the term COVID 19 was widely known and before the subsequent stock market crash and economic downturn. It was before Biden won the Democratic primary. In that post I promised that right or wrong, I would write a follow-up post to see how I did.

Prediction # 1 – “Trump will lose the 2020 election.” Well I had a 50-50 chance on that one, and got it right. Although I never would have guessed how long the vote count would go on.

Prediction # 2 – “Trump will not concede defeat on election night, November 3, 2020. He will not phone his Democratic opponent and congratulate him.”  Trump has still not conceded defeat or congratulated the President Elect. Instead he has claimed that he has won … by a lot!

Prediction # 3 – “There will be demonstrations and rallies across the country by Trump’s supporters who believe everything he says about the election.” That has happened, but they have been few in number. Perhaps more will follow. I think that the five day delay in knowing the results of the election has dampened the furor of the moment. For that I am thankful. The delay has given the country time to settle down and approach things more calmly.

Prediction # 4. “It will be the beginning of the end for the Religious Right.” The accuracy of that prediction cannot be known for years, but I stand by my prediction. The Religious Right, which has promoted a return to a view of America from the mid-twentieth century when there was a Christian hegemony in this country, has been discredited by its support for this president. Especially in the eyes of the young, who are the future voters of our nation. White Evangelicals are the only ones unaware that their “glory days” will never return.  America is not the White, Male, Christian, Straight, Anti-Choice nation they thought it was.

There were two more predictions that I wrote down that day in March but did not include them in the blog post. I had a hard time believing them myself, and so I did not share them. I will share them now. They both concern the inauguration of President Biden.

Prediction # 5 – I predicted that Trump will not leave the traditional letter from the outgoing president to the incoming president on the desk in the Oval Office, wishing him well and promising him his support. That seems like a pretty safe bet now.

Prediction # 6 – Trump will not attend the inauguration of the new presdient. He will say that he is an illegitimate president, and for that reason will not attend – just like Representative John Lewis did to him. Other presidents have done that before in American history, so it is not unprecedented.

Prediction # 7 – I have one more prediction to round the set off to the holy number seven. It is customary that former presidents keep a low profile for years after leaving office out of the respect for the new president. I predict that Trump will not follow that precedent.  I think that once out of office the ex-president will use this twitter account and public statements to undermine the work of the new administration. I would not be surprised if he begins his twitter tirade on Inauguration day.

I think that in time it will get worse. I am concerned that by his anti-government rhetoric, Trump will embolden a domestic terrorist network that will increase violent attacks against our country. White Supremacist and Christian Nationalist organizations are the most dangerous threats to our country, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Far worse than Islamist extremists. During his presidency Trump has pandered to them and sought their support. He will continue to do that after leaving the White House. Trump’s anti-democracy rhetoric will embolden domestic terrorism in the coming years, causing great harm to our country.

Those are my predictions. Like I said in the previous blog, I am not a prophet so they will not necessarily come true. I hope they do not come true. They don’t have to. Jesus said that some evil can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. So let us pray that Jesus binds this strongman. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Once to Every Man and Nation

On this Election Day morning, as I get ready to go to the polls, I find myself singing the words of James Russell Lowell’s 1845 hymn. I share them with you today:

Once to ev'ry man and nation 
Comes the moment to decide, 
In the strife of truth and falsehood, 
For the good or evil side; 
Some great cause, some great decision, 
Off'ring each the bloom or blight, 
And the choice goes by forever 
'Twixt that darkness and that light. 

Then to side with truth is noble, 
When we share her wretched crust, 
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, 
And 'tis prosperous to be just; 
Then it is the brave man chooses 
While the coward stands aside, 
Till the multitude make virtue 
Of the faith they had denied. 

By the light of burning martyrs, 
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track, 
Toiling up new Calv'ries ever 
With the cross that turns not back; 
New occasions teach new duties, 
Ancient values test our youth; 
They must upward still and onward, 
Who would keep abreast of truth. 

Tho' the cause of evil prosper, 
Yet the truth alone is strong; 
Tho' her portion be the scaffold, 
And upon the throne be wrong: 
Yet that scaffold sways the future, 
And, behind the dim unknown, 
Standeth God within the shadow, 
Keeping watch above His own.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

When Our Candidate Loses

I am writing this before the November 3 election. At the moment, everyone has hopes that their candidates will win. Half of those hopes will be dashed on the reality of the ballot box. Nearly half of Americans will be disappointed by the results. There are many races in this election, but I am thinking chiefly about the presidential election.

There has been a lot of harsh and extreme rhetoric. People on both sides of the political spectrum have painted the consequences of this election in apocalyptic terms of good versus evil, freedom versus tyranny. I admit to my share of political bombast.

I do not know what will happen as a consequence of the election results. Some have predicted violence or civil war. There will likely be accusations that the voting results are fraudulent. Perhaps the Supreme Court will get involved. It has happened before.

I am not a prophet. I do not know what will happen. Except I know that someone will lose and someone will win. My candidate may win or he may not. Either way it will be alright. I know that is not the conventional wisdom. People seem to think that it will be a disaster if the other guy wins. It won’t. Let me tell you why I believe this.

First I believe in God. I believe that God will work things out for good, even if I cannot see that now. Second, I believe in America. I believe in our democratic system of government, the integrity of local election officials, and the collective wisdom of the American people.

Third, I believe that I might be wrong in my choice of candidate. It is hard for me to imagine this at the moment. The choice seems so clear, and I am so certain I am right! But then I step out of myself and realize that I could be wrong. It is wonderfully freeing to admit one’s fallibility. Everyone should try it!

A little humility (and I admit to having very little) goes a long way when it comes to accepting the results of an election. I might be mistaken in my assessment of the situation. Recently I have been reading a lot about disinformation and misinformation in the media – especially social media.

I have been learning about confirmation bias and the lure of fake news. We tend to hear only those facts that agree with what we already believe. I know I am as vulnerable as anyone to deception. So are you. Remember the Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

No matter who wins the White House or any other race, we need to rally behind our country and its democratic process. Our republic and its freedoms are more important than any candidate or party or president. This is especially important to keep in mind when we feel the country is heading in the wrong direction. For all its faults it remains a great country. Justice will prevail in the long run. Do not fear.

If your candidate wins, be gracious in victory. Go ahead and celebrate. I will! (I hope.) But after the confetti has been swept up, imagine what it is like to be a supporter of the candidate who lost. These are our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters (literally in a lot of cases.) They will be mourning and worrying about the future of our country. Have compassion. Empathize with them.

No matter who wins the presidential election, we all win if democracy wins. Free and fair elections with a peaceful transfer of power are the real prizes. Let us all make sure this happens, no matter whose candidate wins. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sign of the Times

I live in a small New Hampshire town where people have always treated each other with respect when it comes to government. We may differ on religious, social and political matters, but we do so in a civil manner. We discuss things fervently at the annual town meeting and monthly local government meetings, but then we shake hands and cooperate. There have been a few ornery exceptions to that rule over the years, but to my knowledge such people have never resorted to criminal activity.

This election cycle has changed things for the worse. Recently some friends of mine in town had their campaign sign stolen from their front yard. Apparently its message was too much for some people to allow to stand. The sign read: “Dump Trump. Vote.” Some men in a pickup truck used the cover of darkness to steal the sign and drive off noisily. Fortunately the crime (a felony in New Hampshire) was caught on a security camera and the footage has been turned over to the police. Hopefully it is only a matter of time until they are caught.

This is just one example of the incivility in politics that has inundated our nation in recent years. I have stopped watching television news as a result. Worse than the name-calling and lies is the underlying mentality.  There is a growing movement in our country to undermine the foundations of our democracy by suppressing the vote and intimidating people from exercising their right of free speech. Forces are seeking to undermine the democratic process and the legal system in our nation.

It makes me afraid for the future of our nation. What scares me the most as a Christian minister is reading about clergy in our country encouraging their congregations to break the law and condone unethical acts. I never thought I would see such behavior in our churches and country. People unashamedly seek to destabilize the electoral process by all means possible. Fortunately the American people are stronger than that.

My friends will soon be erecting a new sign on their front lawn with the exact same message. They are concerned that this time it will be met with greater violence. They shared with me that they are fearful that a rock will be thrown through their window by those who oppose their choice of candidate. For that reason I am not sharing their names, although they were glad I was writing this article.

The good news is that they have received requests from fellow townspeople for ten more identical signs. Let’s see the vandals take down all those signs in town! When anti-democratic forces in our country seek to stifle free speech and fair elections, it causes an upsurge of resistance from true patriots.

They have inspired me to put a sign in my front yard proclaiming my presidential choice as Biden-Harris with the subtitle: Save Democracy. I also ordered a second sign that proclaims “Christians for Biden.”

When vandals tear down signs, people of all political parties need to respond by erecting ten times more signs like the one taken down. Let us stand together against such behavior. As John Stuart Mill said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” So let’s do something. Exercise your freedom of speech and your right to vote. Do not allow our democratic freedoms to be thwarted by the forces of hate and intimation.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

This Too Shall Pass

This story is found in Muslim, Roman and Jewish folklore. It is about a king who was continuously torn between happiness and despondency. Like Solomon of Ecclesiastes and Julius Caesar of Rome, nothing satisfied him. A time came when the king despaired of life. He sent for a wise man who lived in his kingdom. The king asked him, "Can you give me wisdom that will bring serenity into my life? I will pay any price."

The wise man said, "Your entire kingdom would not be sufficient payment, but I will give it as a gift." The wise man returned a few weeks later and handed the king an ornate box. The king opened the box and found a simple gold ring. Inscribed on the ring were the words: This too shall pass. The wise man explained, "Wear this ring. Whatever happens, good or bad, read the inscription. That is the way to inner peace.”

This is the wisdom that I need during these turbulent times. There are times I despair for the future of our nation. I see the foundations of our beloved democracy being undermined by a president without moral principles, who cares for nobody and nothing. It has resulted in tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. It has encouraged the vilest racism and hate. As a Christian I have watched Evangelicalism, which I once loved as my spiritual home, turn into a false prophet and prostitute itself to the beast in the White House. I despair for the future of American Christianity and the United States.

Then in prayer I return to the Divine Center of my soul and hear the words: This too shall pass. This arrogant strongman, this “man of lawlessness,” will be brought low. White Evangelicalism will be exposed for the counterfeit faith it is. The arc of the moral universe still bends toward justice. I see this hope already at work in the Black Lives Matter and the MeToo Movements. “Justice will flow like water, and righteousness like an unfailing stream.”

For that reason “I will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” God’s kingdom will come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s kingdom always prevails against autocrats and demagogues. History shows that bullies fall hard, and this Twitter-bully will also. If not in November, then soon enough. Truth is stronger than lies. Love is stronger than hate.

We need only have faith and hope, be patient and persevere. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” These are promises of God. In the meantime, we can live in God’s peace now, allowing it to reign in our hearts, if not yet in the world. As the Desiderata says, “whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.”

This too shall pass. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  That is the nature of Reality. May peace be our everyday conscious reality and not this impermanent, changing shadow play of the world. We need only play our part wholeheartedly and trust the rest to God. And always remember: this too shall pass.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Juvenile Nation

I have been trying to figure out what is happening in our nation these days. I feel like I am in a science fiction film in which people’s minds or bodies have been taken over by aliens. Facts are no longer considered facts. They are simply opinions which one can accept or reject, based on whether they serve one’s political or religious worldview.

Americans’ ignorance of their history is astounding. I am writing this on the Fourth of July. I bet that if you asked this year’s high school graduate, with the ink still wet on their freshly minted diploma, what Independence Day commemorates, most of them would not be able to tell you. Every survey confirms Americans’ ignorance of their history. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this brief video.

What should we expect when we remove history, civics, and geography from the school curriculum and substitute a watered-down hodgepodge called Social Studies? George Santayana’s observation is true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is chilling in the light of Holocaust denial, which is so common today. And of course climate change is a hoax. So is evolution. Americans fall for the most outrageous propaganda and conspiracy theories.

Americans’ attitude toward science is just as bad, as evidenced throughout this coronavirus pandemic. If the assessments of the nation’s top infectious disease specialist does not fit the agenda of our political party, we choose party over science. We will find our own expert to support our views. Just like the tobacco companies did. Smoking is good for you, you know.

Our attitude is that no one can tell us what to do. Our personal wants and desires trump the well-being and rights of others. We will do what we want, when we want, and no one is going to tell us we can’t. Waa, waa. Tweet. Tweet. Let’s go to a crowded rally! No masks allowed! Masks are unpatriotic. So is kneeling … unless you are kneeling before God. The American Christian God of course.

It is no wonder that the infection rate, hospitalization rate, and death rate from COVID-19 is so much higher in the US than other industrialized nations. We have the infection rate of a third world country. We have the scientific knowledge in our country to stop the virus, but not the political or personal will to use it. We do not have the emotional or ethical maturity to fight this pandemic. For those reasons we deserve what happens to us.

Governors are saying that the recent surge in cases is fueled largely by young people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. I gawk in horror at the reports of young people holding COVID-19 parties designed to deliberately infect partygoers. What fun! Attenders contribute an entrance fee, and the one who is diagnosed with COVID first gets the door prize! If they are lucky maybe they may also get the last bed in the local ICU.

Middle-aged Americans and elders are not exempt from this plague of ignorance. The refusal to wear a mask because we have a “right” not to wear it is ignorance as well as selfish. There is no right not to wear masks. There is a right to life, but we have no right to endanger another’s life by our conduct. If you don’t believe that, try to convince a police officer who pulls you over that you have a right not to have a driver’s license or a right to drive drunk.

America has become a country of spoiled brats. “I have the right to do whatever I want, whenever I want, and no one can tell me I can’t!” Waa. Waa. Waa.  Call the wambulance. We are a nation of emotional juveniles and narcissists - self-absorbed and incapable of caring about anyone else or taking responsibility for our actions. If things don’t turn out right, we can always find someone to blame.

What embarrasses me the most is that some churches are voicing this attitude, saying that it is a matter of religious freedom to worship however we want, whenever we want, with as many people as we can fit in our buildings. Wearing masks is seen as lack of trust in the Lord, who will protect us from harm if we have faith. In other words, “We will do what we want because we are a church and we are special. And you can’t stop us. It says so right here. Na, na, na, na, naaaa!”

Churches that cite the first amendment as a license to open their churches without taking precautions are betraying their ignorance of religious liberty as well as abdicating their responsibility towards their people. Ever hear of “Love your neighbor as yourself?” If that is too radical for churches to practice, at least follow the maxim “First, do no harm.” I won’t even talk about racism in religion. I attended a Southern Baptist seminary and know too much about that.

As you can tell, I am frustrated. I have been scratching my head in wonder so much recently that all the hair is gone from the top of my head. (I am pretty sure I had a full head of hair when President Trump was inaugurated.) Don’t get me going on the presidential elections – 2016 or 2020. The way I see it, we got the president we deserve, one who reflects the emotional maturity, moral integrity and intellectual knowledge of the average American. I fear for the future of our country.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Pandemic Ministry

It has been nearly four years since I retired from fulltime pastoral ministry. At the time I wondered how the transition was going to change my ministry, which I have always considered to be a lifelong calling and never dependent on a church paycheck – although the salary certainly helped pay the bills.

For the most part I have declined opportunities to do traditional ministry. I have declined all requests to be an interim pastor at churches in surrounding towns. I declined most invitations to be the guest preacher in other pulpits. I needed time away from the pulpit to recover my land legs. Like sailors needing time to adjust to land life after an extended time at sea, I needed time to see what it was like to walk the Christian life without leaning on a pulpit.

Strangely enough, in recent months the coronavirus pandemic has aided my ministry.  Enjoying the slower pace that the pandemic brought, I used the time to start a podcast and a video YouTube Channel. I don’t preach online. I talk about spiritual matters in an informal manner.

What I say has changed as much as how I say it. When I was a church pastor I had the responsibility referred to as “care of souls.” I ministered to people at all different stages of the spiritual journey. Whenever I crafted a sermon, I was very aware that it would be heard by a wide variety of people at different stages in their physical and spiritual lives. That determined what I said.

Now without the responsibility for other’s souls, I find myself looking more carefully at my own soul. I write and speak to clarify my thoughts about what I am experiencing spiritually. I speak from where I am, out of where I am – not to where other people are. I “speak forth” rather than “speak to.” If people happen to be where I am spiritually, then they will tune in. If not, they will tune out. Either way is fine. It turns out that I reach more people now than I ever did when I was a pulpit jockey.

This new ministry has deepened my spiritual life. One of the reasons I chose Christian ministry as a profession was so I could spend time developing my own spiritual life. I admit, it was selfish. But it worked … to a degree. Pastoral ministry was more time-consuming than I ever imagined, but I also focused on what I love the most – spiritual matters. Now that I am retired I have even more time to devote to the spiritual adventure.

In classical Indian philosophy of life, there are four stages of life known as ashramas. The first is the Student. The second is the Householder. The third is Retirement. In ancient times, people withdrew from society and retired into the forest to devote themselves fulltime to spiritual practice. In reality most people did not do this, but it remained the Hindu ideal. (The fourth stage is renunciation, a life of monastic-style vows, taking on voluntary poverty. Something I am not yet ready for - although I am striving for simplicity.)

Most Americans today, who can afford to retire, use retirement to catch up on all the things they wanted to do earlier in life, but did not have the time or the money. “Eat, drink, and be merry” as the retired preacher of Ecclesiastes advises.  Those who cannot afford to retire must continue in the householder phase. Many people, who can afford to retire, choose not to. Instead they continue in the second stage of life until the end. Very few use retirement as a time to devote themselves to spiritual pursuits. I have embraced this stage in my life gladly and wholeheartedly!

When I look inward at who I am and who God is, it puts outward matters in perspective. My inner vision is sharper, even while my physical vision and hearing is dimmer. What I see astounds me, and I share it with others. I have no choice. This is who I am. Through the responses I receive regularly from listeners around the world, I have discovered there are a lot of people who see what I see. They are where I am. We are one.

In my ministry I share what I see, which is what Jesus saw. He called it the Kingdom of God. My teaching is more like the message of Jesus and less like the church’s message about Jesus. It is more focused and unequivocal. I am less concerned about offending those who are afraid of the light and more concerned about bearing witness to the Light.

A pastor friend of mine who is still in the pulpit is worried that his bold and prophetic preaching will get him fired by his congregation, with the attendant financial hardship that would involve. I empathize with him, but I have no such fears myself.

I still get the occasional sniper taking shots at me from the dark corners of the Church. Those attacks still wound me, but I am learning how to let them move through me with less resistance. As Jesus wisely practiced and taught us, “Resist not evil.” My ministry is still the joy it has always been, but now the joy is fuller and deeper, and it shows no signs of diminishing. I am eternally grateful for this blessing of the ministry of retirement.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Wrestling with Racism

As a pastor I have always been expected to have wisdom to share on any occasion. I must honestly say that when it comes to racism in America I have no wisdom. I feel like I am part of the problem. No, I am not a white supremacist or Christian nationalist. In fact I have always considered myself progressive when it comes to matters of race. But I confess that I have not been part of the solution to the persistent and systemic racism that has survived for four hundred years in our land.

I have had friends of other races and religions throughout my life. When I was a pastor in the Pittsburgh area I used to exchange pulpits with an African-American pastor friend regularly. I preached in his church and he in mine. That was quite an experience for this white guy raised in an all-white New England Congregational Church. On that first Sunday in the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church, I was taken off guard by the congregation talking back to me during the sermon! But I got used to it quickly and came to enjoy it. Now I miss the real-time interjections of encouragement and affirmation.

I have never considered myself racist, and that is exactly the problem. Very few white people do. Most of us adamantly insist that we are not racist. People like us are blind to the fact that we are part of the problem. I am the beneficiary of white privilege. I grew up in a middle class white family in a middle class white neighborhood. I attended a private, all-male, preparatory, boarding school during my high school years. That makes me REALLY privileged. There were a handful of non-white kids there at the time, but they tended to be from wealthy families.

Because of my excellent secondary education I got into a good liberal arts college, and my parents footed the tuition bill. That was before a college education required parents to take out a second mortgage or students to mortgage their future. For graduate school – another predominately white experience – I attended the oldest Southern Baptist seminary in the country, founded by slaveholders. There I learned firsthand about the racism that is an integral part of Southern culture and religion.

In short, as a white middle class male, I am privileged. I don’t know what it means to be female or poor or gay or a racial minority in our country at this time. For that reason I am uncomfortable with the self-righteous rhetoric that I am hearing from my fellow white Americans – on both the right and left – when it comes to the protesters. Throughout my life I have always advocated nonviolence, a la Martin Luther King. But nonviolence is easy for a white male to espouse when I have not been a victim of violence.

Part of me understands why some people resort to violence. People feel frustrated with the lack of progress in racial justice and equality. If I were in their shoes I might do the same thing. If I was an urban black male today I could easily see myself as one of those whom our president calls “thugs” and threatens with shooting and domination. That is the type of white attitude that led to the murder of George Floyd in the first place.

The socially acceptable paths available to black people have not worked, and whites seem content to leave it that way. So what are people to do? What am I to do? As I write this, my wife and I plan to stand with the protesters in Hesky Park in Meredith on Sunday, although I am concerned about the weather. Thunderstorms are forecast. 

Even that caveat betrays my entrenched self-interest. I will stand up for my fellow Americans’ basic human rights … as long as it is convenient and not uncomfortable for me. How hypocritical is that?! I am clearly part of the problem. Until white folk like me see ourselves as the problem, our nation will never find a solution. God help us all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Are Churches Essential?

There is a debate going on among American Christians about whether or not churches are “essential.” It was prompted by the president’s announcement over Memorial Day weekend that churches were indeed essential and should be allowed to open their doors for physical in-person worship services in all fifty states “this weekend.”

Then the president promptly went to Virginia to play golf on Sunday morning instead of going to church. I guess church worship is not essential for him, at least not as essential as a round of golf. I do not begrudge the president a bit of recreation. He works hard and deserves a break. But his announcement would have carried much more weight if he practiced what he preached.

Back to the question at hand. Are churches essential? Well, that depends. I am an every-Sunday church-goer, but I have gotten along just fine these last couple of months without stepping through the doors of a church building. I have worshiped with my church via the internet every Sunday morning and have been very inspired by the services.

Of course I miss being in church and look forward to the day I can return. But it is not essential to my spiritual life to do so while an “invisible enemy” (as the president described COVID-19 this weekend) stalks our land killing thousands of people. Protecting the lives of the most vulnerable Americans is more essential. Keeping the church doors closed for a little longer is the best way for the church to fulfill the divine command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

The way I see it, keeping people safe is the godliest thing that the church can do at this time. By remaining closed temporarily the church is demonstrating its willingness to sacrifice its own welfare for the good of others. That is what the gospel is about. Perhaps this pandemic is a test to see if the churches also practice what they preach.

What about the issue of religious liberty? That seems to be the rallying cry of protesters who are insisting that churches be allowed to “open.” As a Baptist I am a life-long champion of religious liberty, but I don’t see this as the issue during this pandemic. I see no orchestrated campaign by godless Democrats or the Deep State to take away our right to worship, using the pandemic as a convenient excuse to do so. That sounds like a conspiracy theory.

Instead I see governors and mayors trying to keep their people safe by restraining people from assembling in large numbers, especially indoors where the coronavirus is most easily transmitted. Furthermore church attenders tend to be significantly older than the general population, which makes congregating even more dangerous for them.

If there is a conspiracy going on, I would guess that the call to reopen churches is an attempt by godless conservatives to kill off as many Christians – and Jews and Muslims - as possible as quickly as possible. At the same time these devious conspirators have somehow convinced Christians that they are doing them a favor by urging them to enter closed buildings and spew out virus-filled saliva droplets while singing and preaching loudly. Very crafty! Of course I don’t really believe there is such a conservative conspiracy, just as I don’t believe that power-hungry, anti-religious liberals want to outlaw Christian worship.

Once again, are churches essential? Not in the way the president has proclaimed. All the Christians I know can get by for a few more weeks or months without singing hymns and taking communion together. Neither is it financially essential for churches to meet in person. If money is the reason, all the congregants have to do is mail their offerings or give online.

But in a deeper sense church is essential to me spiritually. It is essential that I be part of a community of faith and not go it alone, like so many of my “spiritual but not religious” contemporaries. I need to be physically part of a church. But until that day arrives I would rather be part of a church that is willing to sacrifice itself in order to save the lives of fellow Americans. That is the least that Christians can do to serve our God and our country.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Giving Thanks in a Pandemic

My family has been spared the worst of this pandemic, and for that I am grateful. I know it could have been very different. I would be writing in a different key if I was grieving the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19. A lot of people are suffering terribly because of the coronavirus. Tens of thousands of Americans have died of the disease, usually alone and isolated from their loved ones. There are many families in grief.

People are suffering financially because of the closure of American businesses and governors’ stay-at-home orders. People have lost their jobs and incomes. Some are threatened with losing their housing as a result. People are lining up at food banks because they do not have enough to eat. People are angry. Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are on the rise, not to mention the run-of-the-mill types of neuroses that are exasperated when families are shut up together. Things are not good for many people.

I have not experienced any of that personally, except insofar as I empathize with those who are suffering. My safety is due to the fact that I live in a remote neck of the woods. I reside in a small town of a thousand people scattered over one hundred square miles of forest. According to the state statistics there has been only one case of the coronavirus in our town and no deaths. Similar statistics are repeated in surrounding towns. The angel of death has not come near our door.

There are lesser effects of the shut-down, such as social isolation, which we have experienced. We miss our kids, grandkids, church and friends. But we have adapted by seeing people and talking to them outside from a masked distance. I feel guilty for saying this, but for me the advantages of the pandemic restrictions have outweighed the disadvantages.

Weeks ago I shared in a podcast about the opportunity that these pandemic restrictions give us to pay attention to our spiritual lives. We are prevented from many of our regular activities, so why not use the time to develop our spiritual lives? Well, I took my own advice. I have focused on spiritual practices including meditation, mindfulness, spiritual reading, writing and recording episodes of my vlog and podcast.

My writings and recordings have been a form of spiritual journaling for me – a way for me to express myself in a deeper and more thoughtful manner. They have also put me in contact with people all over the world who have read my books and blogs or listened to my podcast or videos. Their encouraging words to me – and mine to them - has turned this online ministry into an extended spiritual community for me. While I am cut off from my local community I have gained a global community.

The time spent at home away from people has deepened my appreciation for silence and solitude. It is like being on an extended spiritual retreat. I am never bored. I avoid the television. I have used these weeks to pay attention to the Kingdom of God within me and around me – to “practice the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence called it. I have become increasingly conscious of the Oneness that is always here. The pandemic has given me time to integrate this awareness into my daily life.

This has also caused me to empathize with those who are suffering. As Paul says, “If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it.” There are family members and church friends who are suffering from illnesses unrelated to the coronavirus, and whose suffering is made worse by the social restrictions. People we love are seriously ill, and some have died. This prompts prayer, sorrow, empathy, and compassion.

We try to help others. My wife helps by baking bread and fixing meals for homebound people, sending countless cards, making phone calls, and distributing her little works of art around the community. In addition to being her bread-delivery driver and donating financially, I help by using my gifts - sharing my words of hope and peace and grace through my audio and video devotions. This has deepened my sense of the unity of humankind, the natural world, and God.

It is too much to say I am thankful for the pandemic. I wish it never happened, and I pray for it to end. But I am thankful in the pandemic. As the apostle instructs, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” I am thankful for those workers on the front lives risking their lives. I am grateful for the opportunities that this pandemic has opened up for all of us. I am grateful for the love I have seen demonstrated by ordinary people.

If you have not been practicing a compassionate and intentional “pandemic spiritualty” these last few weeks, I encourage you to begin soon before you miss out. See what God has in store for you. You will be grateful. Gratitude is probably the best medicine for these difficult and uncertain times. As Paul says elsewhere, “nothing [not even a pandemic] can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”