One Religion

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“So, if we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one, one, one nation under God and one religion under God.  Right? All of us together. Working together.”  

These are the words of Michael Flynn spoken in an address at the ReAwaken America tour which stopped at John Hagee’s church in San Antonio, Texas the weekend of November 14-15.  

“One religion” is not a surprising concept to me.  Michael Flynn is not the first person I’ve heard give voice to that view.  I heard it in the 70s and 80s from the Moral Majority and preachers who were sucked into that movement – I was one of them.  

I heard it from myself.  

I don’t talk that way anymore.  I don’t think that way anymore. 

Why? 

History.  The Constitution.  My evolving understanding of Jesus.  The Handmaid’s Tale (The US is not Gilead).

What religion is Flynn proposing the US should officially adopt or enforce?  I think we know the answer.   

Now, imagine if a Muslim or Jewish American leader made the same comment that the United States should have one faith, and that it should be Islam or Judaism.  The outrage from the religious right would be deafening.  But, strangely, I haven’t heard a peep of criticism from the religious right for these comments.  

Here’s where I am today.  

The Dalai Lama describes his religion in this way:  “My religion is kindness.”  

Ok, if that were the religion referred to by Flynn, that might be ok.  One religion of kindness.  All of us together.  Working together toward  kindness.  

That’s golden.  In fact, it’s the golden rule we’ve all learned: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  

Yeah, we must have that religion.  

COVID-19 and Palm Sunday

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Thank You

Happy Palm Sunday

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, riding on a donkey.

Pilate has also arrived, riding on a war horse.  

Two leaders. Two different ways of leading. 

Two animals. Two different images.

When writing about this event, Matthew reflects on Zechariah 9:9:

“Say to Daughter Zion (Jerusalem), 

‘See, your king comes to you,

Gentle and riding on a donkey,

Even upon a colt, a foal of a beast of burden.

“Gentle?”  

“Riding on a donkey, even a foal of a beast of burden”?  (No, the Rolling Stones are not the originators of the phrase.)

What kind of King is this? 

Where’s the display of power? 
Where’s the “Hey, I’m a big deal!” attitude? 

It’s not there.  We won’t “see” that in Jesus. In Jesus, we “see” a different way to live and to lead.  Jesus is reframing power. Oh, yes, Jesus has power.  “All power (authority) has been given to me (Matthew 28:18),” Jesus tells his disciples.

But this Jesus kind of power is “seen” not in the person who is served but in the person who is serving (Matthew 20:25-28).  

Wanna see power today?  Look at  the 1000s of medical personnel serving us, “giving their lives as a sacrifice” in this war against COVID-19.  

That is power on display.  

On this Palm Sunday, the beginning of Passion Week, we thank them for their passionate and sacrificial service.

 

Thank You George Harrison

Yesterday, November 29 was the 20th anniversary of George Harrison’s death. The
Beatle had been suffering from a brain tumor and had been treated at a clinic in
Switzerland in the summer of 2021.


George was known as the “quiet Beatle” during his time with the Fab Four. Maybe the
press gave that name to him because John and Paul talked the most in interviews. I don’t
know. But, John and Paul as the song-writing super couple were the most visible of this,
my favorite band.


George brought to them and to us a deep spirituality – one of kindness.
Ringo tells about the last visit he had with George before his death. His visit was cut
short due to his own daughter’s health challenges: Lee Starkey was suffering a brain
tumor.


Ringo said in an interview:
“The last weeks of George’s life, he was in Switzerland, and I went to see him, and he
was very ill, you know, he could only lay down. And while he was being ill and I’d come to
see him, I was going to Boston, because my daughter had a brain tumor.”


When Ringo told George about his daughter, he said, “Well, you know, I’ve got to go, I’ve
got to go to Boston…and he (George) goes – it’s the last words I heard him say, actually –
and he said: ‘Do you want me to come with you?’”


What a friend.


After telling this story, Ringo wiped away a tear and said, “So, you know, that’s the
incredible side of George.”


George often said, “Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and
love one another.”


Words to live by.


George Harrison, you may have been “the Quiet Beatle” but we still hear you.

  • St. Francis
  • Martin Luther
  • Rob Bell
  • Father Richard Rohr
  • Ralph Carmichael

You may recognize the first four names as revolutionaries in the movement of Christian thinking. But you may be asking,  “Who is Ralph Carmichael and why is he on the list?”  

Ralph Carmichael, who died October 18, 2021, at age 94, was the key figure who dragged the church kicking and screaming into the world of contemporary music.  You know how touchy that topic was and still is!  Some churches are still fighting over music.  

Ralph Carmichael was considered, by his Christian college and many churches, to be a “heretic” for blending the “sacred with the secular.”  He faced resistance and rejection from the Christian world at almost every turn.  

In 1969, Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser collaborated on the youth musical, “Tell It Like It Is.”

My dad, the hymn-loving  pastor of Forest Park Baptist Church in Joplin Missouri, allowed the youth choir to perform the musical during a Sunday night service.  

Dad certainly had a progressive side.

I was in 8th grade, too young to be in the youth choir, but I sat in the congregation listening, mesmerized, “Wow, this is SO COOL!”  

Ralph Carmichael was instrumental in re-forming, re-shaping my faith.  In ninth grade, I joined the youth choir.   One song at the forefront of my memory from those days is a Ralph Carmichael song:  “A Quiet Place.”

It meant a lot to me then.  It means even more to me today. 

Read the lyrics. 

Let them soak into your soul. 

There is a quiet place

Far from this rapid place

Where God can soothe my troubled mind.

Sheltered by tree and flow’r

There in my quiet hour 

With Him by cares are left behind.

Whether a garden small

Or on a mountain tall

New strength and courage there I find.

Then from this quiet place

I go prepared to face

A new day WITH LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND.  

I have not always had a love for all mankind.  I have not always loved people who worshipped differently, who voted differently, who lived differently than I.   Oh, I said I loved them, but I really didn’t.  I judged.  I condemned.  I excluded.  

Ralph expressed an experience in song that I sang about as a 14 year old but did not experience until I was a 50 plus year old: Contemplation of God – looking at God’s face – in nature, resulting in a reflection of God’s nature – a love for ALL mankind.  


Yes, Ralph Carmichael, your songs were revolutionary. 

Some revolutions are slower than others.  It took me 40 years to live what I sang.  Each day is a “new day” to live in love.

Don’t Know Much About History… Don’t Care Much About History

Juneteenth is, as of June 17, 2021, an official, federal holiday. Yay! We love holidays. The problem, however, is at times, we forget the history behind the holiday.

Every Christmas there are voices bemoaning and berating those who have forgotten the “reason for the season.”

Is it possible that we don’t know, or maybe don’t care about the history behind this new holiday?

To appreciate the holiday and all it means, should we not aggressively and enthusiastically make every effort, remove every obstacle, to learning all we can about the history surrounding it?

It’s a hard history, and we don’t like things that are hard. It’s uncomfortable to sit on hard chairs or hard facts. And slavery is hard history. Violence against fellow human beings is hard history. White supremacy that justified the violence then and the injustices now is hard to face.

But maybe it’s only when we feel uncomfortable that we will change chairs – that we will do something to change the way things are and make them the way they should be.

Juneteenth will be celebrated, but learning about it may not be.

Father’s Day Without My Father

This will be my sisters and my first Father’s Day since dad died October 11, 2020. When someone you love dies you mentally mark the “firsts since.”
First Thanksgiving …
First Christmas…
First Easter…
First ball game…
First…

The event feels different because of their absence. How could it not?  
I had 64 years with dad. I’m fortunate. I’m thinking of those who had much fewer years with their dads.  

My cousins. 
Cousins on the Wright (dad) side were young children when their dad died. Cousins on the Murdaugh (mom) side were young adults when their dad died. So many Father’s Days have they crossed off the calendar without their dad. 

Friends.
…whose husband and father of their children, died at an age much too young. Some of them are experiencing their “first since” with this year’s Father’s Day.

A family who was told a few days ago that their husband and father had two months to live.  

Others.
People I didn’t know until I was asked to lead the funeral service for their dad.  

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking especially of you. Contemplate these words from Mother Teresa, “Death is nothing else but going home to God, the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.”

To those whose dad is still in their body, remember to always leave loved ones with loving words. That’s what dad would want us to know.  

My dad followed the formula for a good sermon: Three points and a poem.  He often concluded his sermons with a poem. Never read. Always recited. The main message he left us as he left this world was a message of “Be kind.”  “Kindness” is the message of this poem, “Bouquets or Wreaths,” with which he concluded a sermon delivered at First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff. Here is the last verse: 

God make me kind.
So many hearts are lonely
Are asking for this only,
The kind and tender word.
God make me kind.
To all who mutely ask it,
Before they fill the casket,
Our bouquets may be wreaths some day.
O Lord, so make me kind.

In Memoriam

On this Memorial Day:

I will remember with gratitude those who died in efforts to preserve our freedoms (Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want, Freedom from Fear – President Franklin D.Roosevelt’s speech of January 6, 1941).

I will mourn those who died in our wars while mourning the presence of war. I will long for and work for the time where we “will study for war no more,” when nation will not take up swords against nation nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).

I will remember May 31, 1921 – the Tulsa Race Massacre. One white Tulsa resident labeled a photograph of the carnage, “Running the Negro Out of Tulsa.” The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in our country and one of the least known. I didn’t know about it until a couple of years ago. How about you? How could something so horrific be so hidden? “If we don’t face it we can’t fix it.” Maybe we didn’t want to fix it? Do we now?

I will remember the family members of those whose funerals I’ve conducted. Church members, friends, strangers who through a death became friends.

I will remember Mom and Dad and other family members who have transitioned – Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins.

I see things that remind me of them. Signs that say “Look. They existed.” And I know they exist still. As Paul Coehlo writes, “We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.”

In the meantime, this afternoon, I think Denise and I will take Dad’s 73 Beetle for a spin. I’ll polish it up a bit first. That’s what Dad would want.

Remember.

Love or Truth?

“What caused you to change your mind….? 

…on theology.

…on sexuality.

…on ______.

It’s a question I’m often asked.

I wish I had a deep, philosophical answer.  I don’t. 

When I was “called to the ministry” at the age of 15, it was basically a “call to preach” – to tell people the Truth.  I had it.  I knew it.  The truth.  At least I thought I did.  

For most of my early years as a pastor, I didn’t do a lot of listening.  I did a lot of talking.  Telling people the truth. 

Then around the year 2000 several members of AA began attending the church I was pastoring. I became friends with some of them. 

Friends listen.  Paul Tillich said, “The first duty of love is to listen.”

I listened to them.  I heard their stories.  As I listened, the boxes into which I had placed them began to open.  

In 2008 I delivered a sermon on “The Hot Potato of Homosexuality.”  Before I “told” my understanding of “truth” on that issue, Denise and I were compelled to “listen” – to listen to dozens of people in the LGBTQ+ community.  

What I heard over drinks shaped what I said that Sunday morning.

What I heard changed what I believed.  The theological and sexual stereotypes exploded.  

“The first duty of love is to listen.”

Listening changed me.  I found myself putting Love above Truth – or at least my version of the truth.  

As a young pastor I wanted to be a great preacher.  A persuasive defender of truth like Billy Graham.  Today, I want to be Mister Rogers.  

It’s like Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “ Let love be your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

As theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar put it, “Love alone is credible; nothing else can be believed, and nothing else ought to be believed.”  

Did he get that from Carole King’s “Only Love is Real”?  

One more quote and lesson from von Balthasar, “Lovers are the ones who know most about God; the theologian must listen to them.”  

“What caused me to change?” 

I started listening. 

I’m learning to love.  

Remember This Day

How was your day, January 20?

January 20 was a day etched in my memory.

Nationally, it was an important day.  It was inauguration day.

Socially, it was an important day. It was January 20, 2020 that the first person in the United States was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Personally, it was an important day.  It was January 20, 2017, that my mom transitioned from this world to the next.  

I was leaking tears all day and I couldn’t always distinguish the source. 

The inauguration had some tear-jerking moments.  

Yes, you may have cried because your guy wasn’t being inaugurated, but surely, regardless of whose name you marked on your November 3 ballot, you had to soar along with the giant dove on Lady Gaga’s dress to the themes and performances of the January 20 inauguration.  I wrote about a few of these moments for the weekly “Random Thoughts from the Rev” that I post weekly for the church I pastor, The Venues.  You can also find these “thoughts” here:  The Venues Facebook.  But, I’ll add these:

*As former Presidents walked onto the platform I was made aware that we have taken the transfer of power for granted.  No more.  Seeing leaders from both parties, past and present, together after the events of the last two weeks made me realize how precious it is.  Speaking of the events of the last two weeks, how about:

*Eugene Goodman. Two weeks ago he was staring down a mob of rioters who sought to do real harm to our National Leaders as they had already done to our Nation’s Capitol.   On January 20, he was escorting new Vice-President Kamala Harris onto the dais.  It was a deserved honor for both.  

*Who doesn’t cry at the sound of “Amazing Grace”?  But when Garth Brooks led us to sing the third verse, out came the Kleenex :

Through many dangers, toils, and snares.

I have already come.

Twas grace that brought us safe thus far.

And grace will lead me home. 

The words had new, special meaning on January 20. 

*Speaking of “grace”, did you catch what Inaugural Committee Co-chair, Sen Roy Blunt (from my home state of Missouri) turned to President Obama and said, “We remember when you sang that at Mother Emmanuel Church” (after the horrible shooting there).  I heard criticism from some of President Obama’s song on that occasion. 

I didn’t understand the criticism.  I was saddened by it.  

So I welcomed Sen. Blunt’s “shout out to Barak Obama.  It was a remarkable moment.  A healing moment.  

I’d love to know what mom was experiencing “there” while watching what we were experiencing here.  

Mom and I often talked politics.  We didn’t always agree.   We more often talked Scripture. Again, we didn’t always agree!  Ha!  

But there would be agreement with the poem by Amanda Gorman.   The 22 year old National Youth Poet Laureate finished writing the poem on the night of January 6, after a mob stormed the Capitol.   She included a reference to Micah 4:4, saying:

Scripture tells us to envision

That everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree 

And no one shall make them afraid,

If we’re to live up to our own time

Then victory won’t like in the blade

But in all the bridges we’ve made,

That is the promise to glade

Mom is living out the ultimate fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.

Amanda calls us to work toward the fulfillment now.

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

If only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Do You Want to Be Right or Kind?

What is your “one thing”? – with a nod to Curly in the iconic movie, “City Slickers.”

Honestly, my “one thing” often explodes and I end up doing many things, like

*Defending myself.

*Convincing others to believe a certain thing.

I don’t know why I do those things.  It seems that I allow myself to get drawn to those dark places.    

 Yesterday I read the following words from John Lewis quoted by  Father Richard Rohr in his Daily Meditation.  I was deeply moved.

Please read them…

Slowly…Like you are savoring a bite of filet mignon. 

Please read them… 

Contemplatively…allowing them to touch,  to transform you. 

”Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace. Its products are never bitterness and strife. Clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil. Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself.”

What words, phrases, concepts touch your soul?`

Do you get a “one thing” out of this? 

Here’s mine:  Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace.”

Love is my one thing…

Love is the universal truth…

Love leads to love and peace.

Maybe it’s right to be kind.

We’re In Each Other’s World

I’m a little bit upset.  

I was in the bank this week where dad had an account tying up some of his financial matters.  The employee assisting me told a customer who was waiting that as soon as she and I were finished, she’d sanitize the area and be ready for her.  

The customer replied, “We’re living in a different world.  I’m ready to get back to normal.”
I agreed.  “Yes, it is.   I am too.”

Then I asked, “Have you and your family been affected by COVID?”

“No, not at all.  I think it’s all been blown out of proportion!” she answered. “Have you?”

“Yes, I have 7 family members with COVID…”

Then I added this, “ and my dad died with COVID.” 

Have you ever tried to reach out and retrieve the words you just said?  The lady tried.  But they were already out there.

We tend to see things mainly, if not only, in terms of how they personally affect us.  

COVID had not personally touched this lady so COVID must not be a big deal.  “Look at me,” some have said,  “I’m fine!”

I visited last night with a man whose wife is in ICU fighting COVID. She’s been there a week. Yesterday, she experienced a COVID-related heart-attack and is suffering from diminished kidney function.  

This man’s view of COVID is very different than the “bank lobby woman’s” view. 

The difference is experience.   

Spirituality pulls us toward each other to the degree that another’s experience becomes our experience.  

“Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things.” Thomas Merton

“Compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering.”  Dalai Lama

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” — Mother Teresa

“In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.” Buddha 

“The compassionate are near to God, near to me, near to paradise, and far from hell.”  Prophet Muhammad

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

It is a message we need to hear and heed during COVID and beyond.