Dancing with the Devil

The great sin of our nation is racism. It has been with us since the beginning.  Think of the subjugation of Native Americans, an economy built on slavery and legalized segregation into the 1960’s.   Think of reoccurring waves of anti-immigrant sentiment in our nations history.

Racism is sometimes tamped down but always reemerges.  The latest manifestation was Charlottesville on Saturday as hundreds of white supremacists, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis strode through the streets of this small southern city.

 

 

That many carried Trump signs is concerning. That the President initially refused to specifically condemn the hate filled messages of the white supremacists is particularly alarming.  In response he offered a general condemnation of violence with an implication that the counter marchers were equally to blame.

Certainly people voted for Mr. Trump  for many reasons.  Many I’m sure condemn the message of those who marched with torches held high.

But what is apparent to me and many others is that Mr. Trump in his run up to the election and as president, has  played to a racist portion of his base.  He has regularly played the fear card:  ‘Mexicans crossing the border are murderers and rapists’….’Muslims are Islamic extremists’…’the undocumented are raising the crime rate and must be deported’….’Obama was not born in America’….and the list goes on.

In the midst of a society that is racially and ethnically more diverse and with a shifting economy that leaves more people behind, Mr. Trump has chosen the time-honored path of a demagogue… division and fear.   Division is easier than finding a positive way forward as a united people.

The crowd that marched through Charlottesville, for the most part were outsiders to that community.  They marched through this progressive college town with a message of hate.  Carrying torches they reminded us of the KKK in the days of Jim Crow.   They shouted ‘blood and soil’ as they marched, a fascist slogan of the Nazis in pre-World War II Germany.

President Trump’s response was muted and muddy.  He chose not to condemn those who helped him get elected.

It’s been said: ‘You can’t dance with the devil and not be tainted’.

In the Bible we hear:  ‘What good is it to gain the whole world but forfeit your soul?’ (Mark 8:36).  Mr. Trump has made his choice as to what kind of man and leader he will be.  He has chosen to align himself with those who promote bigotry and division.

The choice is ours.  Who will we dance with? What kind of America do we believe in and seek to be?  Being silent or complacent is a choice with consequences too.  Who will you stand with?

On Sunday evening I gathered with approx. 200 of my neighbors.  We were brought together by a woman named Jena Beers who decided to act. Jena was horrified by the images of violence in Charlottesville.  Her heart broke as she saw a racist drive his car into a crowd of peaceful marchers, killing a young woman and injuring many more.   She decided to act.

On Sunday morning via social media she invited her community to gather that very evening,  to say no to hate and yes to love, no to racism and yes to diversity.   200 plus neighbors gathered to speak to the best part of who we are as a people. Hundreds of such groups took place in villages, towns and cities across our nation.

President Lincoln said it is incumbent upon each generation to ‘become a more perfect Union’.  Our time has come.  Who will you dance with?  What message will you add your voice to?  Who will you stand and march with?

 

 

Fire and Fury from the Golf Club

In-between rounds of golf, President Trump is engaged in a high stakes game of chest thumping between himself and Kim Jong-un  Through provocative tweets and over the top language our president is leading our foreign policy into uncertain  waters.

In response to North Korea’s apparent ability to launch a nuclear weapon to the USA, Mr. Trump has stepped up his threats.  Never one to be subtle, patient or educated on the nuances of an issue,  he has chosen to use language intended to humiliate and provoke his opponent.  In today’s New York Times (8/9/2017):

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Referring to North Korea’s volatile leader, Kim Jong-un, Mr. Trump said, “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

‘Fire and fury’ evokes images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In 2013 the church I was serving in Oregon hosted survivors of the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima.  Now elderly men and women they were children and teenagers when the bomb was dropped.  Known as the ‘Hibakusha’ which literally means ‘explosion-affected people’.

Once numbering 650,000 there are now approx. 173,000 who remain.  Witness’ to the horror of the bombing and the often life-long health effects.  http://www.hiroshimapeacemedia.jp/?lang=en

These survivors came to the United States in 2013  as ‘Ambassadors for Peace’. They came to tell their story with the hope that no one else would ever suffer the effects of nuclear war.  They came to bear witness to the 100,ooo who died the day the bomb dropped in Hiroshima and the 70,000 who died in Nagasaki.

Mr. Trump apparently has little interest in history.  Most likely he has never met a hibakusha, heard their stories, felt their pain.

Rather, our president who is easily slighted, impulsive and bored by details, is leading our nation and all who live on or in proximity to the Korean peninsula, into grave danger.  For the first time since World War 2, the Japanese who live along the north-west coast are taking part in air raid trainings.

Yet war, particularly nuclear war, is so horrific it must be unthinkable.  The answer remains with diplomatic initiatives by our nation and the neighboring nations of North and South Korea.  The hard, frustrating, long term work of finding ways to live together as a global community is the only way forward.

I am fearful for what will happen when two erratic, impulsive leaders, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are allowed to write history for the rest of us.  We can’t control what North Korea does but as citizens of the United States we can try to make our voices heard.

What can be done?  We can hope that calmer heads prevail in the Trump administration.  Thus far our president has proven resistant.

Another option is to call upon Congressional leaders to move towards impeachment based upon the inability of Mr. Trump to responsibly lead.   The 25th Amendment also places power within a president’s cabinet to remove a sitting president due to incapacity to lead.

As a citizen I’m getting educated.  A good overview can be found in this article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/us/politics/how-the-impeachment-process-works-trump-clinton.html .

Meanwhile our president tweets and rages.  Lord have mercy.

What Facebook Can’t Do

Facebook has been growing at an explosive clip since it launched in 2004, and the number of users on the site is over 1 billion. Plenty of people have figured out how to use the vast social network in productive, positive ways — but for others it still feels like a challenging, new frontier.   http://legacy.wbur.org/2013/02/20/facebook-perfection             

Craig Malkin, of Harvard Medical School:  “We’re really just in the infancy when it comes to research on Facebook but there are some themes that are emerging.  And one of the clearest themes is when people go on to Facebook they’re often crafting a persona — they’re portraying themselves at their happiest. They’re often choosing events that feel best to them and they’re leaving out other things.”

“This is something that keeps showing up in the research,” Malkin explained. “Some people out there wind up negatively comparing themselves to what’s portrayed on Facebook by their friends.”

We get this.  Who among us hasn’t compared their life to that of a friend who is posting yet another happy photo from their European vacation?  And, who among us has not been tempted to carefully craft our persona?

I recently had a beer with a buddy from the Pacific Northwest where I used to live. He said:  “I’ve enjoyed your Facebook photos from New England.  You seem to be very happy there”.   My response: ‘Well, it’s Facebook’.

He took my point.

In truth sometimes I’m happy and sometimes I’m not.  Sometimes life is going well.  Sometimes not.  How about you?

While some of us do post our pain and struggles on Facebook, most of us don’t.  For the most part I choose not to.  For me Facebook is a way to let friends and family know in general what I’m up to, to comment and sometimes vent about sports, politics, faith and culture.

Facebook does have its place.  Having lived in several parts of the country it allows me to catch glimpses of people I care about but rarely see.  I enjoy seeing photos of their families and seeing their kids grow up.  I like to hear what people are passionate about.  Some postings make me laugh and think.  When an area of  concern or need is posted I can offer a word of support.

But I know ‘it’s just Facebook’.  It’s only a glimpse into another’s life.

I’ve lived for 60 years.  I’ve been a pastor for 35 years.  As a pastor I’m invited into the most vulnerable, complicated and joyful moments in life.  I hold such moments to be sacred.

What I’ve learned is this:  ‘No one has their act completely together’.  To varying degrees ‘we are all train wreaks’.  That’s certainly true for me.

This is what it means to be human.  We are a mix of strengths and weakness, light and shadow, wisdom and folly.  Some of us more than others experience love.  Some of us more than others suffer.

Such is the price of being human.  Neither Facebook nor any other social media platform can speak to the complexity of the human experience.   I find this reassuring.

When I use Facebook I know I’m only catching a glimpse of the lives of family and friends.  I know that there is more going on under the surface.  Much that isn’t being said.

Facebook and other social media platforms have their place.  And limits.

How then do we get to know and be known at a deeper, more substantive level?

The answers vary for each of us.  It takes courage to share the stuff we struggle with. Hopefully we each find those we trust to share with.  Those who will hold what we say in confidence and listen with care.

It is freeing and affirming when we choose to share a struggle or an area of shame or a deep wound with someone we trust. Some may entrust this to a therapist to help us find understanding and even healing.

It is a gift to be heard, understood and accepted.

In my Christian tradition this is called grace.  The deep-seated belief that God, whose very essence is love (I John 4: 7 – 12) listens, accepts, forgives and wants the best for us.

Philip Yancey a theologian offers  this about grace: “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less”.

Perhaps you’re a Christian, perhaps not. But we can each choose to be present to another.  We can choose to be gracious….to listen and hold with care the humanity that another may entrust to us.

Facebook can’t do this.

 

 

 

 

What a Boy Scout can teach Donald Trump

I will always be grateful to Scouting.  I became an Eagle Scout in my mid-teens and spent six summers from age 15 – 20 on staff at Yawgoog Scout Reservation in Rhode Island.  Through scouting I learned about leadership and values like honor, loyalty, integrity, compassion and team work. http://www.yawgoog.org


In recent years I’ve attended reunions of the staff from my boyhood camp.  It is inspiring to see how the lessons learned have helped shape the men we’ve become.

It is from this vantage point that I listened to President Trump’s recent speech to 40,000 boys and adults at the Boy Scout National Jamboree in West Virginia.  I was offended by the tone and content of his speech and his ignorance of the values that we as members of the scouting family aspire to.

Mr. Trump began the official address, delivered from a podium with the presidential seal, by pledging to talk about things loftier than politics.

“Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about with the fake news,” the president told the crowd of scouts and volunteers gathered in Glen Jean, W.V. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”

He quickly pivoted to a litany of personal slights, threats against those who don’t support his legislative agenda, criticism of President Obama and a series of rambling stories, none of which were relevant to the audience before him.

Rather than speaking, Mr. Trump would do well to listen to any twelve-year-old scout recite the Scout Oath and Law.  These boys have a lot to teach him.

The Boy Scout holds truth and honor as sacred trusts.  These rules that form the foundation of Scouting and are the cornerstones of a Scout’s character. http://www.scoutingbsa.org/Programs/BoyScouts/Principles_of_Scouting/Oath_Law_Slogan_Motto.html

As boys at Camp Yawgoog we were taught the importance of keeping your word, treating others with kindness.  We were taught how to lead others with a mix of personal integrity, strength of character and working as a team.

We learned that leadership was not about personal glory but working for the well-being of the community.  We learned to be good stewards of the land and to leave no trace when camping.  Scouting taught us to think not only of ourselves and immediate needs but to think of the generations of scouts who would follow us.  We were  committed to leaving future generations a world with clean water and air with healthy forests.

In short Scouting taught us to be good citizens and how to grow up to be men of integrity and honor.  This is what every twelve-year-old scout aspires to become.

I think our president has a lot to learn from a boy scout.  It isn’t about angry tweets, throwing adversaries and even friends under the bus.  It isn’t about inflating or bending the truth for ones own ends.

Donald Trump would be a better man and leader if he could learn the lessons of scouting and take them to heart.  He’d be well served to listen to any twelve-year-old recite the Oath and Law.

When the Visible and Invisible World Meet

There is in Celtic spirituality an awareness of ‘thin places’ in the universe, where the visible and the invisible world come into closest proximity. Monasteries and holy places were meant to be founded at such spots to increase the likelihood of a transcendental communication. These thin places are threshold places, a border or frontier place where two worlds meet and where one has the possibility of communicating with the other. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/11/travel/thin-places-where-we-are-jolted-out-of-old-ways-of-seeing-the-world.html

Marsha Sinetar in a wonderful little book entitled ‘Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics’, reminds us that the search for thin places is not just the purview of those religious types who live in set apart places. Each of us has the ability to discern and experience such places and moments of awe and wonder.

From my experience such places sometimes are found in houses of worship but more often are found in the everyday. Often in nature.

Have you ever been in a thin place?

I am a pastor serving a church along the North Shore of Massachusetts.  With a limited warm weather window many of us savor days at a nearby beach or on rivers and lakes.   Instinctively we are drawn to such places because they not only provide relief from the heat but also nourish our soul.

This summer at church we are spending less time indoors and more time attending the ‘Church of Woods and Water’.  At this church we dig our toes in the sand and our paddle in the water.  We listen for the voice of the Creator in the wind and waves just as aboriginal Peoples have done since the beginning of time.

Such settings serve as portals into the ancient rhythm of creation.  Such thin places remind us to slow down, to savor, to reflect on what matters and where we belong.

John Muir said:  “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

This summer I wish you a good journey to places both familiar and thin.  May we walk slowly, breathe deeply and paddle well.

When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.


On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.

 

When Lost in the Woods

My friend Harper is four years old.  Yesterday after a worship service at church, Harper sought me out.  She came up to me with a solemn look.  I knelt down so we were at eye level and I asked:  ‘Harper, what’s up?’

Let me pause for a moment and say that Harper is a very wise soul.  She lives fully in the moment.  You know when she’s happy, frustrated or sad.   With Harper you don’t need to guess at what’s going on.   She’s honest, kind and fully present.   I have a lot to learn from her.

On this day she had a piece of paper to give me.  Her voice had a hushed and serious tone: “Kent, this is for you.  This is for when you are lost in the woods.  It’s a map so you can find your way home.”


Her words have stayed with me.  I don’t know about you but there are times when I feel lost.  Times when the darkness of the forest (metaphorically and literally) seems to hem me in and I don’t know which way to turn.

Harper wanted me to know that there is hope when I feel lost.  That I have a friend who cares about me and who has my back.

Who do you turn to when you are lost?  Who has your back when you feel overwhelmed by life?  What map do you use?

Harper reminds us that our hope is close-by.  It’s in the seemingly small expressions of kindness that remind us that we are known, loved, remembered.

On that same morning, my friend Mylinda Baits was leading a workshop at church.  She is a missionary who walks alongside people who have escaped human trafficking. https://internationalministries.org/teams/45-baits .

Mylinda draws upon resources from a program called First Aid Arts http://www.firstaidarts.org  Through art therapy she helps those victimized by unspeakable violence to find  their way toward healing.

In the workshop, Mylinda offered us a taste of her approach to accompaniment.  She asked each person present to introduce themselves with their name:  ‘My name is Kent and I am here to be seen, to be heard and to be honored.’ The twenty people present responded: “Kent, we see you, we hear you and we honor you.” And I responded, ‘I am here’.

Mylinda and Harper both understand that sometimes we feel lost.  It’s part of being human.  They understand too that finding our way home, comes as we let each other know that we are cared for, that we have each other’s back, that we are known.

Being seen, heard and honored is a gift.  On that Sunday at our church on Cabot Street we were reminded that we belong to each other and to a God who created each of us in God’s own image.  Perfect and worthy. A place of the heart to call home.

Harper, ‘thanks for the map’.