Wednesday, October 19, 2016

This is My Country?

So I like the song but now I wonder just what country this is.  I mean I understand that Hillary has baggage or at least perceived baggage, which in the media drive-sound bit culture, is baggage.  And I think I somewhat understand that a good deal of Americans are disappointed in government and its inability to actually govern, but what has that disappointment done to our judgment.

How can so many people look past Donald Trump and see only their frustration?  I am not worried about Trump. He is an entertainer and I did not think a very good one, but I must be wrong.  I am concerned about so many people who will follow his lead.  Where would he lead us?

He wants a nation of walls and labels.  His main discourse is to encourage fear and a kind of thinking that is solitary and often mean spirited.  Just what is "my country?"  Have we become an individualized bunch of people who have no sense of the common good and have we lost our willingness to think beyond our own needs?  To live in community has always taken an ability to listen and compromise.  Our country needs that in order to govern. 

Mr. Trump says he knows how to "fix" things.  This is not a reality show and fixing is not firing that which does not please you.  I am amazed at the magnitude of this kind of thinking.  There are more upset people out there than I ever thought.  As a professor on a panel I participated in recently said, "I am not worried about November 8, I am worried about November 9."

What will we do to find some common ground for the common good?  I want our country to be one made up of individuals who look beyond individual needs and concerns.  That is why we need the great religions of the world, all of whom have at their core the profession that life is a gift and that we are stewards of that gift.

I just returned from Washington DC and read many of those sayings of those who founded our nation, many of whom at great personal sacrifice.  There was a nobility to our founding that seems lost amidst a me-driven, don't take what is mine, attitude.   Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it. Thomas Jefferson

I looked at a painting of George Washington refusing to be "crowned emperor" but rather resigning his military commission so that a government "by the people and for the people" could be formed.  He put the country above himself.  He recognized that power needed to shared not possessed as a prize.

I pray that on November 9 we start learning from our frustrations rather than giving in to them....

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What We Need to Learn

In a recent book entitled Substitute: Going to School with a Thousand Kids, Nicholas Baker tries substitute teaching to see just what it is like to teach kids.  Here is one of his observations:
      "Life's curriculum is infinite.  Most of the interesting things we know we can't explain.  Most
               of what we need to know we were not taught."

So if life's curriculum is infinite what is it we need to learn these days?  After listening and looking with amazement at the rhetoric being used in the latest political "race," I sure wish the race was over and quick.  What I can't understand and need some learning to happen is just how so many people in our country are taken in by what columnist David Brooks calls the language and mindset of "reaction."

Reactionaries believe that "once there was a golden age, when people knew their place and lived in harmony...but that the golden age was betrayed by elites...only those who have preserved the old ways see what is happening.  Only reactionaries have the wisdom to turn things back to the way they used to be, to Make American Great Again."

Brooks goes on to state that "the more serious problem is today's pervasive and self-reinforcing pessimism which feeds the reactionary impulse."  So what narrative will we chose to believe as we continue to learn how to live?  Brooks suggests that one choice is one that presents a view he calls "moderate religiosity; a belief that God is ultimately in control, that all things are ultimately fashioned toward the good and that arc of history bends toward justice."

Another view he calls humanism, "the belief that people are learning more and more, inventing more and more, and so history is a steady accumulation of good things." Then Brooks shares a learning that I did not want to learn:  "As humanism and moderate religion have withered, gloom has pervaded the national that...even if living standards rise and the poverty rates fall," it does not change the view that "self doubt is the pervasive world view."

So what do we need to learn?  How about if we learn that the common good is the base of community and not obsessive individualism that fears that someone is going to take from me what is "mine."  "Don't tread on me," may be part of our collective history but it can lead to anger and mistrust of most everybody.

In a his book entitled The End of White Christian America, Robert Jones writes that what is really happening in our country is that a large part our population is experiencing extreme grief over the loss of a cultural world laced with nostalgia.  I know enough about grief to know that it includes bargaining, anger, denial, and sadness.

So as a country are we going to go ahead and grieve and then step toward a new phase of life or are we going to put the past ahead of us instead of putting it in its proper place behind us?  Putting the past ahead means that any future hope is blocked.

I like what David Brooks suggests which is true conservatism.  He states that, "the conservative looks fondly to the past not as a paradise to return to but as a treasure trove of experience to borrow from.  The conservative seeks to revive, restore, and reconstruct---to use the gifts of the dead to make the present a little sweeter and deeper."  He then calls for this to be combined with a blending of" past cultural and spiritual wisdom and technological advance"

So how smart will we be if we learn the right lessons?  I learned from my grandmother, who possessed a 7th grade education, that there is a difference between being smart and being wise.  I had a lot more education than she would ever have but she was much more wise than I was.  She is the one who first told me that some things are "too high" to be understood completely. " Most of the interesting things we know we can't explain.  Most  of what we need to know we were not taught."

So here is what I can't explain but find most interesting:  Life is a gift not a commodity.  We were not ordered from a catalogue.  We have divinity in us and we need to look at each other as containers of the divine not as categories such as immigrant or alien.   We need to re-learn why we are on this tiny speck of dust.  We are not here to accumulate things but to help the Divine One who started it all do what is known as Ticcum Olam, which means to heal the world.

Life is too special to live it with too much grief.  Ticcum Olam; that is what I have learned.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Poem As We Remember 9 11

A Tall Darkness
(a poem remembering 9 11)

Towers fell that dark day
and so did dreams of
innocence that perhaps
never were

For life was even more
textured and complex
than we were
willing to admit…even then

But at least we were not so
afraid of the dark
until the tall towers
of our progress fell

Hate brought down the
darkness that day and
it spilled over into
all of our vacant spaces

So now what shall we
remember…shall that
darkness rise above us
again even though it fell?

Or…shall we be those who reach
up for the light;
a light that angry visitors
hoped would be gone forever?

Yes, it was a tall darkness
that fell that day but
we can rise above it
and not become what
they wanted us
to be

Let us honor those we
lost by gaining something more
so we can shine light
into that that darkness
and not become its

There is a tall shinning light
that shall always
cast a shadow
on to that tall darkness
if we make it so

Jody Seymour

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

The next line is "How I wonder what you are?"  Well I am not sure "what you are," but I know the number.  It is HD 164595.  Not very poetic for sure but that is the number given to the star the supposedly sent a signal our way recently.

I say recently since it took 94 light years for it to get to us.  If you want to do the math or even if you don't that is roughly 553 trillion miles away.  The long distance bill would be staggering for such communication.

Some star gazers think this signal was sent by a very advanced civilization that would be far more sophisticated and knowledgeable than we are.  The amount of energy it would take to get the signal to us is the sum total of all the energy presently produced on our planet and that is just for one text message.

I wonder what they or it is trying to say to us?  And what would we say back?  I sure hope this is not some "shot across our bow" to warn us of something like the Independence Day movie.  We have enough trouble of our own with the upcoming election.  I hope they do not know what we are involved in down here.

Seems we have a choice between someone who should have left their cell phone at the office and a man who likes to fire people.  It is a cosmic mess for sure.

We think we are so smart, what would they think about our present cultural situation?  So if they do know what would the signal say if we deciphered it?  Maybe it would go something like this:
  What kind of species are you anyway?  We've been watching and listening for a few hundred years which is not much time in the way we live our time.  You creatures are supposed to be progressing but it seems you go backwards so much.  You have such capacity for good things even at your limited evolution but you so often choose the wrong direction.

  You can't seem to get along with each other because of all the labels you use to define one another.  Are you not all of the same lineage after all?  Why do you see only differences rather than the common pool from which you all come?  Maybe you need to see all this from our perspective and then you would understand.

  Why do your treat your planet like it is some commodity?  Can't you see that your are a product of the very soil you seem to use up?  You are the only species we know of, and we have studied many, who kill for something other than food.  You have learned to kill each other for causes and your causes are often so very foolish.

  We may send you another message soon to see if you have learned other ways to get along.  We have not decided yet.  It may be a waste of energy to do so.  Anyway as you would say, "Have a good day."  By the way for us that day lasts for centuries, but then what is time and space but concepts that can't hold the real meaning of life.  Take care...and we mean that.

So I shall share some verse inspired by HD 164595:
Twinkle, twinkle little star
Now we know just what you are
Way above the sky so blue
Now you've got our number too
May your light shine on us now
To reveal a way to love and how
Send your wisdom with your light
Remind us all of what is right
To find the common good for all
Twinkle, twinkle thanks for the call

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Spinning Kind of Love

Yesterday I stood before a group of people, most in wheelchairs, who looked to me to give them some words of hope.  It was what is called "an assisted living" community.  The words say it all for these dear people need assistance just to keep on living.  I sensed that many of them felt "used up."

What words could I offer them?  So I remembered those words that came to a restless prophet named Jeremiah.  He balked at God's call to him.  He claimed that not only was he too young but that he was not good on his feet and had little to say.  God already had his number and would not let him out of the choke hold that was placed on  the young Jeremiah's soul.

The book named after him contains a whole series of complaints and attempts to get out of the job.  Jeremiah ended up in the pits, literally.  His conspirators, and yes they were real not imagined, threw him into a dry cistern and left him to die.  Fortunately Jeremiah did have a few friends left and they tied together some rags and pulled him up by his arm "pits."

Needless to say Jeremiah was still in the dumps about the long term success of his mission.  "What's the use.  The cause is hopeless and the people you long to have me save for you are not worth it.  The whole situation is 'spoiled.'"

So God sends Jeremiah down to the potter's house.  "What's the point of going to a potters house," thought the tired prophet, but sometimes you just have to do what the boss says.  So he goes.

It was the words that God spoke to Jeremiah that came to me as I stood before a group of souls and bodies that perhaps felt "spoiled."  I told them about how hard it was to "throw" a pot onto a potter's wheel.  The unskilled person like myself could not get the clay centered.  I know this because I had to throw a pot in order to pass a class in college.  How many times had I failed, only to have to turn off the wheel and start over.

A skilled potter can actually reshape the clay and not turn off the wheel.  Jeremiah discovered this as he watched the potter reshape the clay that seemed spoiled on the wheel.  Then came the words that Jeremiah and those assisted living people needed to hear; "You are like the clay in my hands," says God the potter.  "I never give up and you are my clay.  You may feel spoiled but I can and will reshape you.  I am the potter you are the clay."

I told those dear people that one day the spinning would stop and only then will we benefit from a final reshaping but it will happen because the potter never gives up.  After I came home I wrote a poem to sum it  all up:

A Spinning Kind of Love
  (based on Jeremiah 18: 1-4)

Spoiled I thought it was
  the clay so without
  a kind of form

What shape could come from
  a motion that
  seemed so random?

And then the potter entered
  and hands were
  gently placed

I could feel the movement
  of love that wanted
  more of me

So I am not of my
  own making for
  clay is a gift

Never spoiled though it
  may seem that
  way to me

But the potter never ceases
  to create from what seems
  to be so incomplete

And one day the spinning
  will stop and only
  then will I know...

Know that from the beginning
  a shape would come
  because of creating
    hands of love

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Dot in the Night Sky

A Dot in the Night Sky

            Want to feel insignificant or perhaps just the opposite?  Here is what one of the Psalms says about us.
Psalm 8:3-6New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals[a] that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,[b]
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under their feet,
            So in 1990 the Voyager space craft, which is most distant man-made object from us now, turned its camera backward and took a picture of earth.  That picture is now known simply as “the pale blue dot.”  You can look it up on Y tube if you want.  All you will see is a pale blue dot that is our planet.
            The picture was taken from 3.8 billion miles “out there.”  Out there are around 170 billion galaxies, we think, give or take a few.  When the Hubble Space Telescope looks at them they are a little bit bigger than pale blue dots but not much.
            The dots we see out there are images from the past since it takes light years for the light to get here.  That means the “old” dots appear from light sent our way as far back as 13.7 billion years ago when, according to an old story, God said let there be light and there was light.
            No, there is not a conflict between religion and science if you let religion be religion and science be science instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  Trying to make the first two chapters of Genesis into science is to create not a round hole but a black hole; to stretch my analogy a bit.
            The beauty of Genesis is diminished by trying to use it to counter everything from  evolution to climate change.  Give dinosaurs their time and place and do not try to tell me that they lived alongside people.  And of course those people I suppose looked like Ken and Barbie and not like the character scratching his armpit and swinging from a rope in a Zoo.
            God is not stupid and can use evolution as well as beautiful stories like the ones in Genesis that tell why God created and not how.  Science tells us that we are made of star dust.  Genesis tells us that we are made of dust.  Both are true and real.
            The 400 billion stars that make up our little galaxy are shinning lights in a cosmos that is 95% dark; dark energy and dark matter.  As a pastor I dealt all the time with people who asked some form of the question, “Why is it so dark out there?...Why are bad things happening to me?...Why did I get cancer…Why did my child die…Why is it so dark out there?”
            Well, it has been dark from the very beginning.  Even though the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago created a heck of a lot of light, and God said “it was good” even so the explosion left 95% of what was created dark.  That may sound like bad news but the God whom the above Psalm wrote about was not finished.
            We hear later that, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.”  The 95% is real but could not overcome the Light.  That is why it is called “good news.”  Hey, but it is still dark and according to science always has been dark.
            The Word mentioned earlier is the “word,” Logos in the original Greek in which the Gospel of John was written.  The first chapter of John is called the prologue and is meant to be both John’s “creation story” and Christmas story. Logos is the creative power of God that has always been even before the Big Bang.  Just think, that Logos became flesh and joined us in our neighborhood on our pale blue dot.  No, that is not science but it is even better than science because trust me it is sure true.  I shared that “light in the darkness” with countless people in my 45 years of being a pastor.
            I sure love science but I love the truth even more than the facts.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness…even though it is damn dark out there…cannot overcome it.   Thanks be to God, and that is both science and religion.  God created with a burst of light and yes with evolutionary timing, but God created.
            So we are but a pale blue dot barely visible in the dark background of the cosmos but read on; we are created a little lower than God and given dominion. We are God breathed star dust.  What shall we do with our dominion?  Will we act like we are the creators and treat each other and our pale blue dot as commodities?  Or will we act like we are created a little lower than the Creator?
            Will we see each other as God created star dust or will we use our dominion to label each other as if we are not created in the image of God but are a kind of god who selects who is in and who is out?  Are we still evolving or are we going backward and deserve to wallow around in the mud from which we came or stand on a mountain and gaze at the stars from which we are made?
            What are human beings that you are mindful of them?  Does God sometimes wonder just what we are and what we have become?  On the next dark night go look up at the stars and breathe in the life that was given as gift.