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.  

  • 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.

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.

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.   

COVID and Dying Alone

A poster to be placed in Dad’s hospice room since COVID kept us out.

Dad died Sunday morning, October 11.

Alone.

I was not there.  My sisters were not there. 

We could not be there.  COVID-19 did not allow it.

On Wednesday, October 7, dad tested positive for COVID-19.  Yes, he was already dying.  That’s why he was in Hospice.  But COVID accelerated his death…and isolated his dying. 

Of all the pains of this pandemic – and there are many – dying alone has to be one of the most intense.  That dad was alone when he died haunts me.  

Oh, I know the Bible verses that assure us that “we are never alone,” but you get the point, don’t you?  I know without a doubt that God was there.  

But we weren’t.

I also know that the kind, competent, considerate nurse was at dad’s bedside minutes before he died, but she had to step out.  When she stepped out, dad slipped away.  I don’t blame the nurse.  Not one little bit.  Medical staff across the country have been heroic as they have served on the front line. They are angels of mercy holding the hands of the dying and spiritually placing those hands into the hands of other angels.   But they do not replace loved ones whom the dying need to be with, speak with, be with, one last time.  

And the loved ones need to be there one last time.

I don’t understand those who deny the severity and impact of the virus. I get a little mad about it.   Today, I just feel sad about it. 

 Where is the compassion toward and empathy for the dying and for the displaced living?  Are people unable or just unwilling to feel it? 

Our heath care workers get it. They have it. Compassion and empathy.

Thank you health care workers for not just caring for the body, but for the soul.  

Labor Day and Social Justice

Denise and I spent this year’s Labor Day in Kansas City visiting with Denise’s cousin who is dying of cancer. He’s my cousin too, by marriage, and someone I’ve known since I was in junior high.

I think of him on Labor Day because he has spent his life advocating for justice, fairness, equal treatment of all people.  

And that is the essence of Labor Day.  

In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks and still  barely made ends meet.  Children as young as 5 or 6 worked in mills, factories, and mines across the country.  The working conditions were deplorable. 

On September 5, 1882, New York City workers took to the street and marched from City Hall to Union Square, marking the first Labor Day parade in the United States.  

How are we doing since that first Labor Day March?   

We have a ways to go, don’t we?  There are issues of health care, a living wage, family leave, income equality.

Labor Day is so much more than the last day of summer, a day off, picnics and parties.  

Labor Day reflects the prophetic concern for justice.

“You are to pay his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and depends on them.  Otherwise he may cry out tot he LORd against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 24:15).

“Look, the wages you withheld from the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (James 5:4).  

On Labor Day, we raise our glass to those whose efforts have led to justice for workers and care for the least of these.  We make a commitment to complete the arc of justice.  

Just Listen.

Just Listen

Amid the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd, I’ve listened to the voices of the past and present.

Not to speak.

Not to react.

Not to defend.

Just to listen. 

As you read this post, I ask you to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King from her “Solidarity Day Address” delivered in Washington D.C. on June 19, 1968.

June 18, 1968, was the 15th anniversary of her marriage to Martin Luther King, Jr. Her husband had been assassinated two and a half months earlier (April 4, 1968), a victim of racial violence.

June 19, 1968, was two weeks after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy (June 6, 1968). Her speech included a message from Ethel Kennedy, the wife of Senator Kennedy

Violence was on the mind of Coretta Scott King. 

But not the violence we might assume. Here are her words.  Hear them.  Feel them.  

“In this society, violence against poor people and minority groups is routine.  I remind you that starving a child is violence.  Suppressing a culture is violence.  Neglecting school children is violence.  Punishing a mother and her child is violence.  Discrimintion against a working man is violence.  Ghetto housing is violence.  Ignoring medical needs is violence.  Contempt of poverty is violence.  Even the lack of  willpower to help humanity is a sick and sinister form of violence.”

(Coretta Scott King, June 19, 1968)

 

Teachers, Thank You!

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” 

That line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970  song “Big Yellow Taxi” referred to the environment: 

“They  paved paradise and put up a parking lot…They took all the trees and put ‘em in a museum..” 

But today, I’m singing it in regards to our teachers.  

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. 

With COVID-19 closing schools we’re missing our teachers and recognizing how important they are to our lives, our families, our communities, our country.  


Teachers.  Thank you!  We have taken you for granted.  We want you back.  

You have been:

Disrespected.

Underpaid.

Unappreciated.

We put athletes on Wheaties box.  Why?  Are athletes really our heroes?  We’ve got some upside down values in the USA.  Guys who dribble a ball down a court can make $20 million a year.  Teachers stand in a classroom and shape our children and, consequently, shape our future,  bring home an average of $50 grand. 

That’s just not right.  

Lee Iacocca, the guy who brought us the Ford Mustang and Ford Pinto (You can’t win them all), and revived a Chrysler Corporation that was ready to be buried, made this observation: ““In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”

People are saying that we will create, post-COVID-19, a new normal.  How about making paying and appreciating teachers, as the heroes they are, being part of that new normal?

Here are some heroes that shaped me:

Mrs. Summers, 3rd Grade Teacher at Kinyon Elementary School in Poplar Bluff, MO.  Thank you for enhancing my love of books when you took the last 15 minutes of each class to read to us, Mark Twain’s, “Tom Sawyer.”

Mrs. Langford, 5th Grade Teacher at Eastmoreland Elementary School in Joplin, MO.  Thank you for giving me a note at the end of the year in which you called me “a boy with promise.” 

Dr. Gerald Cowen, Greek and New Testament Professor at Southwest Baptist College in Bolivar, MO for opening my eyes to the cultural and historical context of Scripture.

Dr. William Tolar, Dean of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for not telling me what to think but teaching me how to think.  I’m still learning. 

Robert Frost wrote, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”  

I think a good teacher is an awakener.  

I’ve had good teachers. 

I’m still learning.  I’m still waking up.

What if the Bible Is Not Our Guide?

This Book Doesn't Have Any Answers

Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth – the B.I.B.L.E.  Have you heard the Bible explained that way?  It’s clever.  But is it accurate?  

I said in my teaching Sunday that I used to think the clever acrostic is accurate.  But not anymore.  Let’s be honest.  The Bible isn’t really a very good instruction manual or guide book.  

I know.  That rubs us the wrong way.  But, as Billy Sunday said, and I paraphrase:  “If something rubs you the wrong way, maybe you need to turn around.” 

I needed to turn around.  Maybe you do too. 

Think with me:  The Bible tells us, for example, to “Be kind to one another,” “Love one another – even our enemies,” “Give generously to the poor.”  All good. 

But next to these good things are some bad things- really bad things:  

Rape (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:15-18); 

Slavery (1 Peter 2:18; Titus 2:9) 

Genocide (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Deuteronomy 20:15-17) 

…are all commanded – by God.  At least the writers pass the buck to God for these commands.  Are those instructions ones that we should follow?  I hope you’’ll answer “No”.

One more thing. It doesn’t make much sense to claim that the Bible is an “infallible” guide in what it says if we cannot agree on what it says.  “But we agree on the essentials,” I hear someone saying.  We really don’t.  Go to amazon.com  and type in “four views” in the search bar and get ready to “turn around.”  We’re given page after page of books about various ways of interpreting key Christian doctrines:

Four Views on Hell

Four Views of Atonement

Four Views on Divine Providence

Four Views on Eternal Security

These are not peripheral issues.  These are some “big rocks” of Christianity.  In each book we find opposing views in which each proponent is absolutely certain that their particular interpretation of the Bible is the right one.  

If the Bible spoke clearly on these issues then why isn’t there a “The Only View” series.

So, if we remove the Bible as our guide, what do we put in its place?  Are we just free to do whatever we want – to do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:5)? 

I offered, Sunday morning, an option given to me by mother throughout my junior high and high school years.  Here is the question she told me to ask myself when considering the rightness or the wrongness of an action: “When you consider this action, ask yourself, ‘does the life of Jesus well up inside of you?’”  

That’s good.  

Denise and I went to Little Rock after Sunday’s service to see my dad.  Drinking a glass of wine and eating Girl Scout cookies, (what are the rules for pairing wine with Girl Scout Cookies) with dad, my sister and Denise, around dad’s kitchen table, I asked dad about mom’s counsel to me.  He told me mom read that in a book by Watchman Nee, an author that greatly influenced my parents.   

For 52 years I’ve been under the impression that mom came up with that on her own!

So, this morning, I did a quick Google search trying to find the exact quote.  I didn’t find mom’s version of it but I did find the following statements by Watchman Nee.   

Read them with an open mind.  Contemplatively. And get ready  to “turn around.”  

“Brothers and sisters, as we live before God, our actions must not be determined by good and evil, but by the life within.”

Hmm. “Actions determined…by the life within.”  Let’s go on…

“When we have the life within and feel life rising up, we are doing the proper thing.” That sounds a bit like Mom’s version. 

Then there’s this from Nee: “Many problems arise because we only have a standard of right and wrong.  Many mistakes are made because we do not have the standard of life.”

Then Nee, a mystical Christian,  offers this prayer,

“Grace me so that I live by the tree of life, not by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  I want to constantly pay attention to life…”

Mom was telling me, and I’m just now really hearing it: “Don’t live by an external rule book (the Bible), instead, live by an internal life – the life that is “graced” by  the Spirit of Christ.  

Have you been indoctrinated into seeing the Bible as your guide?  

Yes.  We need a guide.  No doubt about that! 

But have we settled for an external law when we have within us an internal life?  

“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives and you will not obey your selfish desires (Paul to the Galatians, found in 5:16).

“And when that one comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth” (Jesus, to his disciples, recorded by John, in 16:13).  

“Pay attention to life” the Christ-shaped life within (Watchman Nee to Mom; then Mom to me).  

I will live in the awareness of the presence of life in me and I will pay attention to it.

That will be my guide.