“A Kinder-Gentler Nation and Person”

bush-service-dog-casket-today-main-181203_9de5b5e8b8fb1b3fdd67537267a2cc5a.1200;630;7;70;2The above pic is of Sully, the service dog who belonged to President George H.W. Bush.

 

On August 19, 1988, George H.W. Bush received the Republican party’s nomination for President of the United States.  In his acceptance speech, he called for a “kinder, gentler, nation.”

On November 30, 2018, “43” (George W. Bush), in a phone call, said to his dad, “41,”  “I love you.”  And President George H.W. Bush replied, “I love you, too.” And those were the last words he ever spoke. 

Our 41st President led the country, led his family, led his own life, with kindness.  Sure, there were moments of unkindness.  In the final days of the 1992 campaign, President Bush, running for re-election,  unleased this remark against candidate Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore, “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.”  

The voters didn’t buy it.  Clinton beat Bush 43% to 37%.  Third-party candidate Ross Perot swung the election with 19% of the vote.  

But kindness prevailed.  In a handwritten note to Clinton dated January 20, 1993, Bush wrote, “You will be our President when you read this note.  I wish you well.  I wish your family well.  Your success is now our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.  Good Luck – George”

Kindness and humility.  General Colin Powell said of President Bush (41), “…He was a man of great humility.  He was humble.”  “Bush,” he added, “was a product of his parents, who told him, you know, ‘Don’t show off George; just always remember, you’re humble, you work for people, you serve people.’”  

His parents’ teaching  took.  Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun. “Don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him.  

Maybe humility and kindness are teammates.  Maybe my failure or refusal to show kindness reflects the pride in my  heart – a sense that I’m better than others and that they deserve to be treated unkindly.  I mean if they didn’t deserve it, I wouldn’t treat them unkindly, would I? At least that’s how we justify our unkindness.  Unkindness and put downs go hand in hand.  

“Kindness” is a spiritual trait.  It is used over and over again in the New Testament:

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the children  of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil” (Luke 6:35).

“…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32).

“clothes yourselves with kindness…” (Colossians 3:12).  

“Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Jesus’ yoke is called “chrestos” (the Greek word for “kind”), in Matthew 11:30:  “For my yoke is easy (kind)…”  It does not chafe. It does not irritate.  No splinters, no callouses from Jesus’ yoke.  

W.E. Vine defines “chrestos” as “mild, pleasant, in contrast to what is harsh, sharp, bitter.”  

Kindness needs to be the calling-card for Christ-followers. 

Kindness, though, crosses all religions.  Kindness knows no race, religion or gender.  

It is universal.  It is internal.  

Christians call this the indwelling of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  

Buddhists call this maitri – a kindness to oneself that then leads to a kindness toward others.

Take a close look at rude, unkind people.  What we might see behind their bullying behavior is a deeply insecure person.  People with low self-esteem often hide their own insecurities behind a mask of superiority and meanness. 

Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves before we are kind to others?  

Meditation helps me do this.  In meditation, I can sense God’s love and kindness to me (In Loving-kindness Jesus Came).

From that place of kindness within my spirit, I can embrace in concentric circles, in ripples of kindness, those that I love dearly and deeply, casual friends, strangers, then finally, I can let that ripple include someone who has hurt me.  

All can be objects of the kindness that resides in the spirit within – in my true self.

It’s Christmas time.  The season of giving and all of that.  If you’re looking for ideas on what to give, here’s one: 

“Kindness is a gift everyone can afford to give.”  

Thank you President Bush 41 for the ripple of kindness.  

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Here’s Looking at You Kid

The Look

“Home Improvement,” the T.V. show starring Tim Allen, was a family favorite of ours in the 90s.  And it’s the closest I get to actual home improvement.  “The Look” is the name of an episode in the series.  The premise is that women have found a way to make the men in their lives melt in fear with a “look.”  

Tim gets the “the look” from his wife, Jill, after spending $4000 on Piston season tickets.  

Wilson, the behind the fence philosopher, explains that “the look” has been around for centuries and believed to have been the reason women wear veils at their wedding.  “The penetrating stare of a bride could weaken her husband and render him impotent!”  Yikes!

There is power in “the look.”  

God looks at us.  

What is God’s “look?”

In  my  mind I’m singing the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song, “The Look of Love.” 

Don’t know it?  Take a listen: 

In my youth, it was Dusty Springfield. 

Today it is Diana Krall. 

“The look of love is in your eyes” is how the song starts. 

So, what is God’s look toward us?  What does God’s look look like? 

Is it a “Home Improvement” or a Bacharach look? 

Too many of us in church world have been told that God’s look toward us is a look of anger, judgment, disappointment.  Maybe that’s why we don’t want God to look at us.   We’ve been told God doesn’t like what he sees.  Have we been misinformed?

When Jesus looked at the “rich young ruler,” the writer says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21).  I like that.  

“Let me look at you,” a loving relative says to a child.  Do you hear, in the phrase, encouragement, love, acceptance, pride?

When God says, “Here’s looking at you, kid” it is a look of  love.

“You look marvelous,” says Fernando Lama – the Billy Crystal character.  

The writer to the Hebrews describes God’s throne (kingdom language) as a “throne of mercy/grace” – not a throne of judgment and punishment and lectures.  

How we think God looks at us shapes how we look at the world.  Mark Matousek writes in Psychology Today that, “You learn the world from your mother’s face…The mother’s gaze, or the father’s (if he is the primary caretaker), determines more than you might realize about how you come to see yourself, your place in the world, and the moral nature of people around you.”

Does a mean look create mean people?

Does a kind look create kind people?

How we think God looks at us shapes how we look at ourselves, others and our world.  

In his book, The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis asks, “Do you let yourself be looked at by the Lord?” He continues, “God looks at us, and this is itself a way of praying.”

I don’t think I’ve done that enough  through my life.  Praying, for me has been, telling, listing, begging – but not sitting and looking and being looked at.  

“The Look”. God’s giving it to us.  It is the Look of Love.  See it.  Reflect it.

To Celebrate or Not

Columbus Day

“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”

So begins the first line of the poem a lot of us learned in school about the man who got a day named after him – today.  Columbus Day.

Columbus was presented as a hero.  A Christian hero at that!  And Christians warmly embraced him. I had a book in my library for years that extolled the virtues of Columbus: The Light and the Glory.  Just look at his name!  Christopher Columbus.  We can’t miss the “Christ” in there, can we? 

“Christopher” means “Christ-bearer” and Columbus understood his name as his destiny to carry the gospel(good news) of Christ to far-off lands.  Sounds honorable, doesn’t it?

Christopher Columbus.  The man who discovered America with the purpose of telling people about Jesus.  Who wouldn’t celebrate this man?

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, there is “The Rest of the Story.”  And it’s not pretty.  Not honorable.  Not worth celebrating.  

What we celebrate reveals our character.  Paul tells us that “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Corinthians 13:6)…

“isn’t happy with injustice”  Common English Bible

“does not rejoice at wrongdoing”  English Standard Version

“is not happy with evil” Good News Translation

“does not delight in evil” New International Version

I don’t celebrate Columbus but I do think we should study and learn from him.  Here’s why:

*Let’s be clear,  Columbus did not discover America.  People were already here.  You can’t  discover lands where people are already living.   But that’s what Columbus, much of Europe, early American colonists and the USA did.  The operative word here is “people.”  Columbus and other “discoverers” didn’t see the inhabitants of this land as “people.” 

“Savages”  “Pagan”  “Enemies of Christ,” but not “human.”  It’s easier to dominate, hurt, and kills someone when that someone is dehumanized.  Seeing someone as less than we is the essence of racism.  

Even if someone wanted to credit Europeans with “discovering” America, the prize would go to Viking explorer Leif Ereicson  who “found” the New World 500 years before Columbus set sail.

BTW – Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48.  He landed in what is present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  

*Columbus discovered America like a meteor discovered dinasours.  Columbus was awful. 

Columbus initiated the two greatest crimes in the history of the Western Hemisphere – the Atlantic slave trade and the American Indian genocide.  Bartolome De Las Casas, a former slave owner who became Bishop of Chiapas described the exploits of Columbus and his troops, “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel.  My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”  

*Here’s the clincher.  This is really tough for me to understand.  The treatment of the indigenious people was not justified primarily by race, but by religion.  Spanish colonizers, relying on Pople Nicholas V’s papal decree, enslaved people because they were “enemies of Christ.”

Typically, after “discovering” an island and encountering the people living there, the Spaniards would read aloud – in Spanish – what came to be called “The Requirement.”    What’s up with that? Did they intentionally not want the people to understand what was being read?   It went something like this:

“I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates.  If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all.  I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty.  I will take your women and children and make them slaves…The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.”  

Christopher (Christ-bearer) Columbus wanted to take the “good news” to the people.

I don’t think they heard these words as “good news”.

“Convert or die.”  “Convert or become slaves.”  That’s one way to grow a church.  

Columbus used the name of Jesus as a rationale to cheat, rob, rape, enslave and murder people who had been made in God’s image.  

Schools in Germany are required to teach the holocaust, so that they will never repeat it.  

So, let’s not celebrate Columbus.  But, let’s learn from Columbus and other periods and persons that tell stories of injustice so that we will grow, mature, and truly:

  •  “form a more perfect union,”  (from Preamble of the U.S. Constitution), and
  • represent the person of Jesus.

“You Smell Good”

Smelling

 

“You smell good.”

 … is what the little girl told me.

My time with my lunch buddy was over.   As I walked out of the school building I saw, among some students eating their lunches outside, a 4th grade girl who attends the church I pastor. So I stopped by to say “Hi!”   I sat across the table from her. We talked school, Halloween costumes, her hair (“She did it herself!” chimed in a girl sitting next to her). I wasn’t surprised.  Her grandmother is a hairstylist.  

 While we were talking I felt something on my left arm.  I looked over and saw that the girl I was sitting by had her face pressed against my shirt.

She looked up and said, “You smell good,” and put her nose back on my arm.  

“Well, thank you,” I said.  “You’re a very nice person.  I’m glad I smell good.”

I love so many things about that.

A kid’s honesty.

A kid’s unreserved expression.

And, I love that I smelled good – not sure if it was my cologne or laundry detergent. But, with her honesty, I don’t think she would have hesitated to tell me if I didn’t smell good.  

I talked Sunday about:

– “sin as the violation of shalom” (Cornelius Plantiga, Jr, Phd; Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).”

  • sin as the failure to do “good” – “kalon” – “good” – It means “that which is beautiful.”   

“If anyone, then, knows the good (kalon) they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).

Sin is failing:

to do the beautiful thing,

to say the beautiful thing,

to think the beautiful thing.  

“Good” is how God described creation (Genesis 1:31).  It was  “shalom” – it was how God wanted things to be. 

“Good” is what God has shown us to do (Micah 6:8).  The “good” that God has shown us is to act with justice (fairness), to love mercy and to walk in humility with our God.

“Good” is how God wants us to smell. 

Beautiful.

Beautiful not in clothes or cologne, but in 

Character and 

Conduct and 

Conversation.

Yes, I’m glad that something about me smelled good.  I left the school hoping that the most important things did too.  

My Lunch Buddy’s Story in a Movie

Lunch-Buddy1

I had lunch with my “Lunch Buddy” today.  He was standing in line in the school lunch room when he saw me walking toward him with a McDonald’s sack in my hand.  He hugged me and said, “I’m so glad to see you!

I know.  What kid would not be glad to see a guy with a McDonald’s sack?
We went to the library where he opened the sack to find his favorite meal – A Double Cheese-Burger and French Fries with Sweet ‘n Sour Sauce.  On most days when I hang out with him, he finishes his lunch and we go outside to play.  Not today.  He wanted to stay inside.  

He pulled the “Sorry” game from the cabinet and as he ate, I set up the board.

We talked.  I asked him what movie he’d seen lately.  

“I saw one that reminded me of my mom and dad,” he answered.

“Oh really,” I said, “What was the movie?”

“I Can Only Imagine,” he answered.

I had not seen the movie.  I didn’t even know the story.  I knew the song by that title.  “I Can Only Imagine”  is sung at almost every funeral I conduct.  So I didn’t immediately see the connection between the movie and his parents.  So, I asked.

“What is there about the movie that makes you think of your parents?”

Those of you who have seen the movie know where he went…I Googled it when I got home.

Bart Miller, the writer of the song, had a tough childhood.  His dad was any kid’s worst nightmare.  He was consumed by anger and rage. Bart often felt the leather strap and paddle. “As I became a mischievous toddler,” he recalls, “my spankings slowly escalated from normal discipline to verbal and physical abuse.” Arthur once smashed a dinner plate over Bart’s head. Eventually physical abuse morphed into silence and indifference.

There’s the connection.  

My lunch buddy put it very simply,  “My mom and dad aren’t very nice. I shouldn’t say it, but I don’t like them very much.”  

“That’s why I’m with my Poppy and Grandma,” he explained.  

“Do you feel like the kid in the movie?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I do, “ he answered. “Except my dad didn’t die.”  

“I am so sorry you have been hurt, but I am so glad your Grandma and Poppy love you,” I  said. 

The website for the Council of Churches of the Ozarks has this heading, “They Need You in Their Story.”

I’m glad my lunch buddy’s grandparents are in his story.

I’m glad to be in his story.

I’m glad he’s in my story.  He enriches my life.  He makes me a better person. 

We didn’t finish our game.  As I was putting the pieces back into the box, he said, “Phillip, you were ahead so let’s just say you won.”  

I called him by name and said, “The game isn’t over…you never know what might have happened.  You could have made a big comeback.  You are a winner to me.”  

We walked out of the library.  He turned down a hallway that led to his class.  I turned toward the exit. He looked back and said, “I love you, Phillip.”

His story is being written everyday.  I truly believe it will include a big comeback.  I can only imagine.  

A Holiday I’ve Missed-But Won’t Ever Again

Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth.

I’m 2 weeks shy of being 62 years old, and I’ve never heard of Juneteenth.  Have you?

What does my ignorance of this day say about me? About our culture? 

July 4, 1776, celebrates the day white Americans became free.  Enslaved black Americans were not free on that day.  Abolitionist and formerly slaved American, Frederick Douglas pointed out the exclusionary and elitist nature of the Declaration of Independence in these words, in a speech delivered at 4th of July celebration on July 5, 1852:

 “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer – a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham;  your boasted liberty, an unholy license,  your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless…your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.  There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

Wow.  Here were a bunch of white people gathered for hot dogs and ice-cream – or the 1852 version of 4th of July foods – ready to bask in the glory of their country’s birthday! Everyone is having a good time.  So proud.

Then Frederick Douglass’s gave this speech.  Talk about “raining on someone’s parade.” 

Notice his use of the word, “Your.” 

“Your celebration…”

“Your national greatness…”

“Your shout of liberty and equality…”

“Your prayers, hymns, sermons, religious parade…”

Douglass, in the custom of all prophets, revealed the truth.  He placed before people who had chosen not to see, whose culture had created a blindness, a stark image of the way it really was.  His audience knew only their side of the Greatest Experiment of Freedom, known as the United States of America.  He showed them another side.  He showed them that they did not really believe that “all were created equal.”  The land of the free was their’s, not his.  People like him were not free.

It was almost 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that on January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, eliminating slavery (at least legally – certainly not practically).

It was a full two years later that the word of freedom got around to the enslaved.  

Was the delay due simply to the fact that they didn’t have Apple News?

Or was the reason for the delay a bit more nefarious?  Did the slave owners keep the news hidden?  “Let’s not tell them they are free.”

It’s a question worth asking.

On June 19, 1865, slaves in bondage in the South got the news when Union Army Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers landed in Galveston, TX to spread the word that slavery had officially ended in America.  

Do the math.  Face the facts.

White America is celebrating 242 years of freedom this year.

Black America is celebrating 153 years of freedom:

64 years of freedom from legalized segregation,

54 years of legalized freedom from legalized discrimination.

I write “legalized” because segregation and discrimination have not been eradicated from our hearts or communities.

Open our eyes.  Open our ears. 

See and hear what’s happening around us – outside of our bubble.

Feel something as you read the story of Langston Glaude.

Ask, “Am I as blind to what is going on around me as were the people addressed by Frederick Douglass?

Are we, as a nation, treating others “with liberty and justice for all?”

Celebrate July 4.  But also celebrate today, June 19, “Juneteenth.”

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Thanks Mr. Sessions and Ms. Huckabee Sanders for the Bible Quote

Jeff Sessions

“The Bible says…”  We’ve heard that phrase in Sunday School, youth groups, and sermons.

Now we’re hearing it in the White House Press Room from the Press Secretary, and in a speech from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  

The issue to which the Bible was being applied was immigration,  specifically, the practice of separating children from their parents who have entered the United States illegally.  

Here are Mr. Session’s words, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution.”  And then he brought Paul into it, “I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.  Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.” 

The Bible made another appearance in the press room when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the Attorney General’s use of the Bible.   She said, “I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing.  I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law…That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.”  

The purpose of this post is not to address the present immigration policy. I have an opinion.  You probably do as well. I want to think about how the Bible was used to justify the present policy.

 

Ours is not the first government to use Romans 13:1 to justify an action and to compel obedience to a law.  

*Loyalists to King George III and his government used Romans 13 to oppose the American Revolution.

*During the years leading up to the Civil War, defenders of slavery used Romans 13 against the Northern abolitionists.

*And then there’s Hitler.  Yep.  Hitler was a professing Christian, influenced greatly by Martin Luther’s anti-semitism.  He hated Jews but he loved Romans 13:1.  

Read carefully this quote from a Nazi book, “Life and Doctrine: Christian Teaching with Study Questions,” used by the Nazi regime:  

“What are those called in Romans 13:1 who God has set over us?  Have you considered that your parents, your school teachers (your principal), policemen, police chief, judges, the priest, the bishop, the county commission, the state government, are the authorities who are installed by God, and that you owe them obedience?…Over all, we owe the Fuhrer and the government obedience.  If you set yourself up against the authorities and against the state, you are standing against God’s structure and are subject to punishment.”  

 Hitler’s government used Romans 13:1 to squelch Christian resistance to his horrific policies.

Here’s the deal.  People on each side of the above issues could appeal to the same Bible as support for their particular positions.  And they have.  

Anyone wanting to enter a Bible debate with Sessions and Sanders could cite these verses:

Exodus 23:9 – “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

Matthew 25:44-46 – “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.  They they will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous (just) to eternal life.”

Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

Isaiah 1:17 – “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.  Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”

James 2:13 – “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Mark 10:14 – “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”  

One group has its verses.  The other group has its verses.  Same Bible.  Different views.  

What does this do to the understanding that the “Bible is Our Guide”?   

What kind of guide leads you in two different directions? 

Maybe the Bible itself has the answer!

I appreciate Mr. Sessions trying to base his decisions on an understanding of a higher truth.  But, if Mr. Sessions would have quoted Paul a little further, he would have said, 

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The law, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t covet, don’t steal, whatever other commands there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law’” (Romans 13:8-10).  

Paul just quoted the only Bible they had – the Old Testament – and then says, “It’s really about love.”  Is Paul saying, “Instead of getting hung up on different laws, just love.”   It’s not the only time Paul sings “Love is the theme.” 

“Make love your aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1).

“Do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

“The goal of this command is love…” (1 Timothy 1:5).

And from a book my mom gave me to read in high school, Situational Ethics by Joseph Fletcher, 

“Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love and nothing else at all.”

“Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed.”  

Should love be our ethic?

The right thing is the loving thing.  The loving thing is the right thing.  

What if all of asked before making a decision, setting a policy, saying a word, taking an action – “What is the loving thing?” 

I know I’d be a better person, husband, dad, pastor, and driver.