Monday, November 26, 2012

Ordinary Extraordinary Days

In the Church Calendar, the time between Easter and Advent is traditionally called "Ordinary Time." At our church, we often use this time period to bring to mind how we can find God in the Ordinary moments and events of each of our lives.  To that end, our dear friend, Kate, wrote a song to celebrate Ordinary Time. She borrowed the chorus from a traditional Arabic hymn sung in Moroccan churches (and perhaps elsewhere).

The translation of the chorus is...

You are magnificent, magnificent, magnificent, O God.
Magnificent in your loving,
in your faithfulness,
in your liberating,
also in your healing, also in your healing

Kate and friends played/sang the song yesterday, accompanied by this slide show, showing moments from our every day lives here in the US, in Morocco, in Mexico and Guatemala. The photos came from our friends here and in these various places around the world.

As Ordinary Time draws to a close and we begin the Advent season, may we always have eyes to see God in the Ordinary.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moon Dancers

Moon Dancers by paynehollow
Moon Dancers, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

Whether it is to our liking or not, we will find ourselves in darkness a full half of our lives. For some of us, maybe more.

[And let me be vague here: I'm speaking primarily of that chasm that separates a physical day and a physical night - although if you can find some metaphorical reasoning here worth considering, then consider, away.]

We can - and many do - choose to curse that entire blackened half of our lives. We can choose to spit on it, despise it, fear it, despair of it, dread its daily return... but I have to think that it makes some certain amount of sense to embrace that solemn darkness and find what strength and hope it may offer, for its own sake.

Can't we find a peace that can come only in the darkness, the grace of rest undisturbed by bright, relentless, piercing light?

Can't we find adventure that can only be found in the black night - the joy of carefully walking a path not by sight, but by touch and sound, smell and taste... stepping slowly down a night-covered path, feeling cautiously (and with a certain nervous excitement) with our feet for roots that might trip us, searching for a breeze on our cheeks, listening for a rustle of leaves and maybe just the hint of light from a cloud-covered moon and pin-pricked stars to give us a clue as to which way to go?

Can't we find comfort, even in the cold and unwanted darkness, despite its inconvenience, despite its gloom?

I don't know, I don't know. I do know it's easier to say "embrace the darkness," while I sit clothed in lightness.

But maybe the very challenge of embracing the dark and accepting the limitations imposed upon us by that Shroud which Obscures... maybe that challenge is something not only to be painfully endured until it has passed, but to be loved for its own sake?

I don't know. I just don't think I want to wish away half my life.

Says the fella thinking in the light of day.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves by paynehollow
Autumn Leaves, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air ...

Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year's mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.

~Wallace Stegner

New Beginnings

HOTI Statue by paynehollow
HOTI Statue, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.

~John Steinbeck

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's That Sound?

Pray by paynehollow
Pray, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
With the Petraeus scandal currently going on, it struck me that one huge difference we've noticed these last four years was the silence.

Do you hear it...?


That's the sound of VERY few (by recent historical standards) scandals happening within the Obama administration and, actually, even within the extended gov't (House and Senate) in general over the last four years.

It sort of reminds me of the day after 9/11 when you'd be outside and suddenly notice that something was significantly different and... missing, and you'd pause a second and realize... it's the ABSENCE of airplanes - the silence was jolting!

It feels sort of like that with Obama era scandals. Wow. We've had very few scandals the last four years! What's up with that?

Yes, there have been some. The "Fast and Furious" kerfluffle. This Petraeus thing, however it shakes out. Um... allegations of ineptitude in handling the Libya attack? The Secret Service/Colombia prostitute issue? Solyndra?

This website lists 400 scandals during George W Bush's eight years. But that particular site defines scandal pretty loosely. Included in that list is the "scandal" that Bush spent 35% of his time in office on vacation. I suppose that is scandalous in many ways, but it's not really what I'm thinking of as a "scandal."

Here is a more generous list that limits items to actions that, they say, "were the subjects of criminal probes, but we also included officials who were credibly accused of acts that, if not criminal, were a corruption of office..."

At this site, we find ten Bush appointees/administration flaks who were convicted of crimes in office.

We find 24 people who resigned due to "investigation, pending investigation or (credible) allegations of impropriety.

And we find three who were under investigation, but who stayed in office (as of 2008).

As compared to Obama's handful of missteps.

This site is, to me, way too generous. Bush began his administration, for instance, by hiring two Reagan-era political hacks who had been CONVICTED of lying to Congress about actual support for war crimes during the Nicaragua fight. Also, the whole invasion of Iraq based on false data is a HUGE scandal that does not appear on this list...

So, a list of between 37 and 400 serious scandals over Bush's eight years.

Whereas, the Obama administration has... what, four? five?

And in each of those, the problems were not anything to do directly with Obama and were mostly ineptitude, at best (if we include the Solyndra problem on the list to get it up to a complete hand-full of five, then we'd have to include a WHOLE lot more on Bush's list, that sort of "scandal" - ie, potentially poor judgment calls in spending gov't money on programs, happens frequently. It's not really what I would call a scandal, any more than Bush's vacation days are a real scandal...)

All in all, I'd have to say congratulations to the Obama administration, and I guess, even our current Congress, for at least keeping their collective noses clean, as compared to recent administrations/eras (Reagan/Bush/Bush AND Clinton).


Just for two other comparisons...

Wikipedia lists convictions of federal office holders during each administration's term...

Obama: 1 (1 judge)
W Bush: 9 (6 GOP representatives, 3 Dem representatives)
Clinton: 13 (1 Executive branch, 9 Dem reps, 3 GOP reps)
HW Bush: 5 (1 Executive branch, 2 Dem reps, 1 GOP rep and 1 judge)

And, get ready for it...

Reagan: 24 (Executive branch: 7; Legislative: 5 GOP, 10 Dem; Judges: 2)
Carter: 6 Dem reps

And, with the Reagan years, some of those convictions and scandals were about actual war crimes - selling weapons to thugs to send money to terrorists!, etc - not merely cheating on your wife and lying about it, just for a sense of scale (not to downplay how horrible it is to cheat on a spouse or lie, by the way... just noting that war crimes are a whole other level of scandal...)

Here's another wikipedia list of scandals (as opposed to convictions, above). This list, to me, seems to capture the notion of "serious scandal" best...

Obama: Executive: 3; Legislative: 3 (1 Dem, 2 GOP); Judicial: 2
W Bush: Executive: ~42; Legislative: 26 (7 Dem, 19 GOP)
Clinton: Executive: ~10; Legislative: 16 (10 Dem, 4 GOP, 2 "other")

HW Bush had not too many. The Reagan years had many, many. Feel free to read them yourselves.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Autumn Path

Autumn Path by paynehollow
Autumn Path, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
I was born for this
holy, pale
miracle trail
scattered glory
of an old, old Story

like a fox
trading secrets
with a silk-suited crow

Friday, November 2, 2012

What Does Jesus Say...?

I Love Mountains - Peace by paynehollow
I Love Mountains - Peace, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
I was recently asked (in a context where it may have been more of a challenge than a genuine request...)
"What is Jesus' teaching about war? Chapter and verse."

I would like to respond here (with the acknowledgment that I've done this before), to allow room to reflect upon this sometimes contentious, sometimes difficult question.

1. Jesus had NO STATED position on war. That is, Jesus never once is quoted as saying "I'm for war." "I'm against war." "I think war is hell." or "I think war is cute and cuddly." It never happens in the Bible where Jesus specifically addresses war.

2. On the other hand, Jesus has a good deal to say about how we deal with the "enemy" and with living lives of peace in general. Consider these from Jesus and his disciples...

A. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

B. But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

C. Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
...“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

D. If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good.

Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.

Never take revenge
, instead let God’s anger do it.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them. Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.”
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts."

E. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

F. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For,
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

G. Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

H. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

3. So, while Jesus CLEARLY had no stated position about War, he had a great deal to say about love for neighbors, love for enemies, how to treat enemies, how to live peaceable lives, etc. Notably, there is not ANYTHING in Jesus' teachings that suggests, "Sometimes, it's okay to kill your enemies. Sometimes, it's okay for Christians to go to war." It's not there, anywhere.

While there are multiple "peace-making" commands and teachings, there are zero encouraging us to go to war, especially a modern-type war where shedding of innocent blood (consistently condemned biblically) is a given.

4. When asked something like this by those on the Religious Right, I always ask in return, "Given what Truths Jesus and his followers taught us, the guidelines for living in the Christian Way, what verses/teachings would you offer to suggest, sometimes it IS okay to go to war? and even sometimes shed innocent blood...?" I rarely get an answer.

5. You really have to go to the Old Testament to find even a hint of a suggestion that war is okay. But even there, what you have are the same overall Truths/Teachings to be peaceable ("Love your enemies," "Shed no innocent blood," cries out against the sorts of oppressions and killings found in wartime) and beyond these general truths/teachings, you find some EXCEPTIONS to those teachings where God specifically says, "Israel, go to war and wipe out this other evil nation, including the men, women and children..."

But these are obviously EXCEPTIONS to the rules (even if you take these stories literally, which I would question the wisdom of) where God makes a specific-to-Israel exception. Normally - hopefully we can all agree - it is wrong to slaughter men, women and children, even of an enemy. God made an exception in these stories. But the constant, overarching guide/rule/truth/teaching remains: Love your enemies. Shed no innocent blood. Period. NEVER do we find a command, "Sometimes, when dealing with an enemy, I want you to go to war." It simply is not in the Bible.

6. So, GIVEN THAT, where would any Bible believers find a biblical place that supports war-for-Christians?

7. The one New Testament passage that most often gets quoted is Romans 13, the passage that says government should punish wrong-doers...

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

8. This passage is not a defense of Christians going to war. It just isn't. It isn't even specifically about war, although one could make the case that it might include gov't's waging war, possibly.

9. This passage, though, more closely sounds like a defense of a government having a police department to deal with "whoever rebels against the authority" of government.

10. This passage also sounds quite time- and place-specific. I don't think anyone would argue that a government that chose to punish a group or individuals for no reasons (ie, they had done nothing reasonably wrong) is acting on God's behalf, for instance.

11. Still, at best, this passage is an argument saying that Governments have the responsibility to (some would say) go to physically punish wrong-doers. But saying that the government has a responsibilty to punish rebels is NOT the same as saying Christians can biblically go to war.

12. No, the idea that Christians can choose to go to war is a very difficult argument to make if one is only using the Bible. And, indeed, most of the time, the argument I hear - even from the Religious Right - is one borne out of fear, not out of the Biblical witness...

Arguments along the lines of, "If we don't go to war, then bad things will happen... 'the enemy' will try to harm us or kill us or otherwise misbehave... therefore, sometimes we have to go to war." That is a pragmatic argument and one that could be debated, but it's not a biblical argument.

13. So, looking at the totality of what the Bible does and doesn't say about Christians engaging in War or Christian peacemaking efforts, I'd say the totality of biblical witness comes down heavily on the peacemaking side and only by stretching and reaching outside of the Bible can one create an argument for Christians being war-makers.

Thanks for asking.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Big" Government: A Breath of Fresh Air...

Autumn by paynehollow
Autumn, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
A recent note from the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection said...

Did you know that, in Kentucky, the concentration of acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide in the ambient air has been reduced 81 percent since 1981? How about the fact that smog-forming nitrogen oxides are down 52 percent in the same time period?

Kentucky’s air quality has improved significantly in the 40 years since the Clean Air Act was passed. Making this downward trend in pollution levels all the more remarkable, Kentucky has seen continued economic development and population growth over the course of these past four decades.

Our improved air quality is a significant achievement considering that economic and population growth results in additional pollution sources from expanded industry, more traffic, and greater energy demand in a state that obtains roughly 96 percent of its electricity from coal. Yet as the economy has more than tripled, air quality has continued to improve – proof that environmental protection and economic development can go hand in hand...

You can read the whole story here.

The whole question of whether or not we need/want a "big" or "small" government is not the main issue to me. I want a SMART government. If a government has a bunch of rules intended to make things better and improve the commonwealth but the rules - however well-meaning - do not accomplish those goals, that is not smart government.

If we do away with rules in response to the problems associated with the rules - and the initial problem gets worse! - that is not smart government, either.

Well-written rules that help the common wealth while allowing for maximum freedom (and yet protecting liberties from those who'd abuse their "freedom"), this is what I want to see in my government.

I like the Clean Water and Clean Air rules and regulations we put in place primarily because they are effective at helping us all enjoy maximum liberties while ensuring that we do so responsibly. A state with many, many jobs where people are making plenty of money, BUT where the air and water is so polluted that lives are cut short and no one gets to enjoy the benefits of their jobs, that is not a goal I want to see lived out.

FEMA and having an adequate government response to disasters like Sandy is another example of smart government (as long as it's done well). Private, scattered support and charity has its place, but it would not easily be as concentrated and coordinated and guaranteed as a governmental response. When the GOP starts talking about making government smaller, there's always the risk of removing essential, wise programs.

Jobs? Sure. But jobs created within a smart and responsible context, in ways that don't cause harm/interrupt liberties of the masses.

That should be our goal.

As this article demonstrates in Kentucky, we can have both and should demand both.

And, as Wendell Berry has often pointed out: We must need keep in mind that the economy (and our jobs) are a subset of the environment, and not the other way around. So we need to keep that in mind as we prioritize. A sick environment can not long sustain a healthy economy or a healthy society.