Monday, November 28, 2016

PATMOS: A Review

There is a lot I like about this C. Baxter Kruger's latest book Patmos, most especially his central thesis that "the assumption of separation is the great darkness."  (91)  I like the way he continually emphasizes his point that here in the West we have all too often believed the idea that we are separated from God and from one another.  But that, says Kruger, is a false notion.  We are not separate from God.  We are not separate from one another.  We just think we are.  It is a message that we need to hear often in post-election America!

But that said, there are things about the book that I find less appealing. 

It's basic premise in fairly straightforward.  The well-educated 21st century theologian, Aidan Williams, is magically sent back in time to Patmos, where he meets the Apostle John.  For three days they have an extended theological conversation focusing on many matters, but most especially on the Incarnation.  And, in the end, Aidan is returned to his own time and his own home.

I have no trouble with the idea of time travel.  It sets up intriguing possibilities like this one.  And while Kruger does recognize some of the incongruities it creates, his focus on things like slang expressions which would make no sense to a first century human being seems very forced in most instances.  In fact, it is distracting.  I suspect some of it is introduced to alleviate the heavy theological dialogue, a bit of leavening with humor, but it usually falls flat.  Especially the seventh-grade locker room jokes about flatulence. 

Kruger makes some assumptions about the Apostle John with which many scholars would disagree.  Not only the chronology of his life, but also, more significantly, crediting him with the authorship of all the Johannine material in the New Testament.  While it is true many conservative scholars would agree with his understanding that the John who wrote the Gospel of John is the same as the John who wrote the Book of Revelation, there are many others, of many theological persuasions, or no theological persuasion, who would disagree.

That said, there are some wonderful twists and turns in the book that make sense out of things that are often hard to comprehend.  The discussion John and Aidan have about the Trinity, with its emphasis on relationship, is truly enlightening.

I want tor recommend this book--for the sake of Kruger's central thesis.  But I hesitate--until I remember most of the action in Kruger's novel takes place in a cave.  And when you spend time in caves, if you are really  paying attention, you can usually find some gems.  Draw your own conclusion!  

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Thought for Thanksgiving: Enough to Eat

The church I served in Westport, CT has hosted a Community Thanksgiving Feast for decades.  Hundreds of folks every year enjoy music played by local musicians, and eat turkey with all the trimmings.  Dozens of volunteers shop and cook and set tables.  Dozens more procure donations and clean up after the last guest leaves.
For several years some of the finest support for the Feast came from the kids at two local schools.  The middle school kids raised a significant sum of money to help underwrite the Feast.  The elementary school children made table decorations and cards for each person who attends. 
I just loved reading those cards! They were often quite witty, and truly come from the heart.One of the cards one year featured a turkey on orange construction paper and read: “Dear Best Bud, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a blast.  From Eliana.”
Another, decorated with colorful feathers, was very politically correct:  “Dear He or She”, it begins, “I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.”
A girl named Blythe must have been told by her teacher that some of the guests at the Feast come simply because they were all alone and wanted some company.  Her card, with an adorable brown turkey on blue construction paper, read: “Dear Friend, Happy Thanksgiving.  I hope you can find a friend after Thanksgiving so you can have a friend before the next Thanksgiving.”
Most of the cards, though, focused on the meal itself.  Alyssia wrote: “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.  Eat a lot of turkey.” And Jayan got right to the point: “Eat all the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie, even if you have to stuff yourself.”
Across the nation, many, many churches and community groups hold similar Thanksgiving meals.  Others, like the church I serve now, raise funds to buy turkeys or food baskets for those in need.  Most anyone and everyone can get enough to eat on Thanksgiving.  And that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed!  But that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case the other 364 days of the year.
Approximately 42.2 million Americans have, what the government calls, "low food security."  Put into plain English, that means from day to day they may not have enough to eat--or know from where their next meal will come.  They may be undernourished, malnourished, or just plain hungry.
I am grateful for congregations like the one in Westport, and the one I serve here on Sanibel, and for the good work they do at this time of the year.  And I am also grateful that both of them, and many other congregations as well, are involved in year round efforts to eliminate hunger in America (not to mention the rest of the world.)  But it will take far more.  It will take a national commitment to ending hunger here in our own nation.  It is time to say, "Enough!"  It is time to demand that our governmental officials do more to address this issue.  No child should go hungry--neither should any adult. Here in the United States, or anywhere else in the world.
As you share your Thanksgiving Dinner, I pray that you remember those who are not so richly blessed.  I pray that you be willing to take up the challenge to help eliminate hunger.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Loyal Opposition

My Dad and I did not always agree.  In fact we were often in opposite corners.  Our views of the world, and our views of Christianity, were not always in sync.  I would characterize myself as a progressive Christian--what some would call liberal.  My Dad was clearly an evangelical--what some would call conservative.  But we both had regard for the other.  And neither of us considered the other beyond the pale!  Our discussions could, and did, get rather heated at times, but they were always respectful and marked by the real love we had for each other.

Dad was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, as am I.  And as such, his theology often put him in very much of a minority position when it came to denominational matters.  While my theology aligns with most of my colleagues in the Untied Church of Christ, Dad's did not.  But throughout his life he remained a part of the denomination that had ordained him to Christian ministry.  He often referred to himself as a member of the loyal opposition:  those who remain connected to the institution, who continue to respect it, yet who often find themselves at odds with its policies or positions, and who feel compelled to speak out against them.  That was Dad.

I raise this issue of loyal opposition because in the time ahead I suspect that's where I will find myself as various issues, ranging from abortion rights and healthcare to same-sex marriage and immigration, are addressed by our national leaders.  I will more than likely be a part of the loyal opposition.  I have enormous respect for our nation.  I have enormous respect for democracy.  And those we have elected will be those who hold key roles in the system.  But I will not remain silent if I feel the rights and needs of the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, are being ignored.  I will speak up.  I will speak out.

I am a Christian.  I am an American.  And I am proud to own both labels.  But, I will not sit idly by if the rights and privileges I enjoy as a white Christian male are denied to others due to their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, or nation of origin.  I will, I suspect often, be a member of the loyal opposition. 

(The photo above was taken with my Dad sometime in the late eighties.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Lighten Up, America!

"What the country needs is a good big laugh."--Herbert Hoover

I think we've lost our sense of humor.  How else can you explain the hatred and vitriol that has filled this campaign season.  We have lost our sense of humor and our ability to laugh at ourselves.  I know, better than some I suspect, just how serious our situation is as a nation and as a world.  I know that global warming is real.  That the refugee situation is at a real crisis point.  That terrorism threatens lives every day.  I know that race relations are in a very poor state right now.  That poverty is reality for many.  That the tax code is a mess.   I know all that.  And I take it very seriously (as any regular reader of this blog can tell you).  These are issues we need to tackle.  These are things we need to address.  But we can't do anything as long as we are tearing each other apart.  For taking the state-of-the-nation and of the world seriously, is different than taking ourselves seriously.  We really need to lighten up!  We need to recognize that we all have flaws and foibles, that we are not perfect, and sometimes what we do and say is simply ridiculous.

Maybe after the election is over, the ballots are counted and winners are declared, we will be able to step back, realize we really messed things up in the season of name-calling.  Maybe we will take it all as a wake-up call.  Maybe we will realize that we need to begin treating one another with respect; that we need to try a bit harder to really love and care about our neighbors, even those with whom we disagree.  Maybe especially those with whom we disagree.  Maybe we'll do all that.

But at least we can take time out to laugh.  To really have a good, deep belly laugh.  Not a snarky snicker.  Not a smarmy giggle.  But a real laugh. 

We've come out on the other side of what commentators are now referring to as the Great Recession, but Herbert Hoover was all knotted up in the Great Depression.  Yet he was able to say, maybe even with a straight face, ""If someone could get off a good joke every ten days, I think our troubles would be over."  OK--maybe more often than that.  But still.  We need to ease up on ourselves, and especially on one another.  Seriously! 

(Photo:  Herbert Hoover and his dog, King Tut)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Down to the Wire

So it comes down to the wire.  While folks are already casting their ballots by mail or in early voting, many polls indicate that this year's presidential sweepstakes is too close to call.  Some years it is harder to believe that every vote counts, but this year it is patently clear.  Your voice, your vote, matters.

For some folks the choice has been clear from the start.  There has been no question who to vote for--or at least, who to vote against.  But others have found themselves on the horns of a dilemma.  They have not been enamored with either of the two major candidates, nor the two other folks on the ballot.  They have felt the need to choose between, in the words of some, the lesser of two evils.  But choose we must.  It is not only the privilege we who are citizens of this nation enjoy--it is also one of our responsibilities.  If this is truly to be a government by and of the people, with any chance at being a government for the people, we must be willing to participate.  And the most concrete way we can do so is by casting a ballot.

I've written before in this space about our obligation as people of faith to use whatever gifts we have been given in the best way we can.  So I won't wax on about stewardship again.  But I will remind us all that we can and should base our choices on our own values--and for people of faith, that means our moral, faith-based values.  Yours may be different from mine, but I would still hope you base your decision on your values.  It is the only way one can be a person of integrity. 

Facebook has been full of thoughtless, mean-spirited and just plain juvenile posts this campaign season.  But an old college dorm-mate of mine recently put up a very wise post.  I quote it here in part, with thanks to Stew Wolfe: 

"Educate yourselves on what the issues are.

Decide if you are happy with either candidates stand on the issues that matter to you.

Don't listen to the polls, political pundits, or those trying to sway you.

Listen to your heart of hearts, and your conscience.

Cast your ballot!

This country is a Representative Union. Many people have sacrificed much to give you the right to choose whom you want to represent you. Don't do them a disservice by staying home.

If Clinton more closely represents your views, vote for her. If Trump more closely represents you views, vote for him. You don't have to like everything about your candidate, but you do need to choose!"

I couldn't have said it better, Stew.  That's why I didn't try to!

Just vote.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What I Learned from Dolphins

OK--so anyone who knows me understands that patience is not one of my long suits!  In fact, truth be told, I can be very impatient!  In one of my first letters of reference the president of my seminary praised my work as a budding preacher, but ended his letter by noting "John will need to learn that patience is a virtue."  That was almost forty years ago!  I'm still learning!

Right at the moment we are getting my mother prepared to move down here to Florida from the town she has called home for almost three decades.  There are a ton of details, and many things to be arranged financially, legally, medically, logistically . . . and some of the details can't be rushed.  They just have to unfold in their own time. 

Last week I was particularly caught up in some of those details, and I found myself getting rather irritable.  I am delighted Mother is moving here, but I just wanted things to happen more quickly.  I didn't want to wait for this person or that person to make a decision, or to take an action.  I wanted it all to happen NOW! 

Late in the week my brother Bob was here for a very short visit.  He lives in Marquette, Michigan, and while he had been to Florida before, it had been quite some time ago, and, needless to say, its a rather different world down here from the Frozen North!

My wife Linda and I decided to take him out for a tour of Sanibel and Captiva on a boat called "The Thriller!"  While there are no guarantees, the Thriller prides itself on finding dolphins at play in  the Gulf.  It was a two hour trip, and as we went along, no dolphins.  Forty-five minutes, and all the way up the Gulf side of the islands, no dolphins.  Across the pass, and down into San Carlos Bay.  One hour.  No dolphins.  I was getting pretty antsy.  We'd  promised Bob some dolphins.  It would be a long cold winter in Marquette without them! 

Seventy-five minutes in, still no dolphins. 

Suddenly, the captain slowed down the engines, usually a sign that dolphins have been spotted.  We circled slowly, when without much warning, a dolphin's fin was seen on the surface, and then another, and another.  And then one of them breached--practically flew into the air!  Soon a pod of seven or eight dolphins, including two adorable juveniles, were frolicking in the boat's wake.  More dolphins than I had ever seen at one time.  It was amazing!  Incredible!  breathtaking!  And brother Bob was spellbound.

And it was right then and there on the boat that I realized while the details of Mother's move may still take some time to iron out, the old saying is true:  Good things do come to those who wait.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Giant Meteors and the Right to Vote

Recently I saw a post on Facebook that read:  "Clinton and Trump are like two divorced parents fighting over who gets custody off us--and we just want to go to Grandmas!" 

On the side of the road on my way to work I saw a lawn sign that looked like your standard political campaign sign, but where it would normally say a candidates name, it said "Giant Meteor 2016" and then in smaller letters a "campaign" slogan:  "Let's just end it all now!"

Talk about dark humor!  Still, such things illustrate that while there are indeed ardent supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, many, many Americans aren't very happy with any of them.  Again and again polls show a very high percentage of voters feel unfavorably about the candidates.  All of them.

So for many voters, there is a dilemma. For whom should I cast my ballot?  Do I pick a candidate simply to keep the others from winning?  Do I opt for the lesser of two (or three or four) evils?  Do I stick with my party--even if I don't like my party's nominee?  Do I vote based on the Vice Presidential nominees, and ignore the choices for President?   Or maybe, only vote for folks "down ballot"--candidates for the Senate, Congress, state and local offices, leaving the top spots blank?  Or--and for many I suspect this is an attractive option--do I just skip voting altogether this year. 

I've already made up my mind how I'm going to vote--but it's not mine to tell you how you should cast your ballot.  However, as a pastor, as a person of faith, it is mine to suggest we are called to be good stewards of every gift we have been granted.  And for those of us fortunate enough to live in a democracy, one of the greatest gifts we've been given is the right to vote.  I won't be coy and say I don't care HOW you vote.  That wouldn't be true.  But what I care about even more is IF you vote. 

I know for many it feels like a Hobson's choice.  I know for many it feels like being between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  But such is life.  Life's choices are often less than ideal.  But still we must make them.  And while that giant meteor may come crashing down on us before November 8, I really doubt it.  So vote.  Whatever else you do on the second Tuesday of November, use that precious gift and vote!