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.

Stuff Happens: Ten Dead and Seven Wounded in Oregon

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked to respond to the massacre of ten and wounding of seven students at Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon. Specifically he was asked whether stricter gun laws were needed. He said: “Look stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is to do something (more government control) and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

In recent years a lot of murderous ‘stuff’ has been happening. According to the web site Mass Shooting Tracker which tracks events in the USA where 4 or more people are shot in an event, there have been 994 mass shooting events in 1004 days.

Most of us thought that the murder of 24 children and staff in Newtown, CT in 2012 would be the tipping point for tightening up on our lax gun control laws. But we’ve learned that the NRA is a powerful barrier to gun restrictions and to date has controlled the political debate. The NRA offers an extreme interpretation to the 2nd Amendment where there are essentially no limits on access to weapons and the harm they can inflict.

To understand the effectiveness of the NRA we need only follow the money. The NRA has received 39 million dollars in recent years from the 12 billion dollar a year firearms industry. The NRA as a primary lobby for the gun industry spends millions of dollars to support and defeat members of congress. Thus far the NRA has effectively controlled the debate in Congress and has muted resistance within the Democratic party and is seemingly in complete control of the Republican narrative, hence Jeb Bush’s lame response to yet another mass shooting, ‘stuff happens’.

NRA president Wayne Lapierres response to the mass shooting is to arm more people. Donald Trump leading in the Republican polls calls for arming every teacher. It’s enough to hang one’s head in despair for common sense.

vigil in Roseberg

Yet, throughout history there has come a tipping point when enough people have awakened to the need for change. This was true with the great justice movements in US history: Abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights. Underlying these great historic events were years of effort and seeming failure until that time arose when enough people came together to usher in change.

I believe that in time reasonable gun controls will become the law of the land. In time enough of us will no longer accept the fear mongering of the NRA and the gun industry. In time we will no longer accept the resistance or inaction on the part of our elected officials.

Enough ‘stuff’ has happened. Enough lives full of promise have been extinguished. It’s long past time for a change. Will you add your voice and efforts and tip the scale? Will you say no to fear and yes to reasonable laws? Laws that allow us to send our kids to school and walk our streets with a greater sense of safety? We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, the answer rests with us.

Can’t Go Home Again?

After 30 plus years I recently returned to the land of my birth. Anyone who has lived far from home understands that a piece of oneself remains in that place where ones identity was shaped and formed.

Growing up in New England, Rhode Island specifically, I realized in my early 20’s that I needed to move away. I realized that I needed to stretch myself without the parameters of that which was familiar. I’m glad I left.

For the next 30 plus years I lived in Montana, California, Ohio and for the last 20 years in Oregon. Each place I have enjoyed and learned and received much. Oregon in particular is a wonderful place to be.

Yet as I got older I realized that there was a deep call from within me calling me home. I felt like a salmon being compelled to swim back to the tributary that gave it birth.

Now back in New England I find myself settling into the comfortable rhythm of the region. Last night I attended Fenway Park and sipped ‘clam chowda’ from Legal Seafood as I watched my Red Sox. How cool to have good chowder within the sights and sounds of Fenway!

This past weekend I was installed as a member of the pastoral team at the new church I now call home. During the ritual I looked out at the faces of those I am still getting to know. The church seemed so new to me and at the same time very familiar, as if we’d known each other for a longtime.

Several family members joined my wife and me at church. My Mom, Millie at age 91, my Aunt Evelyn in her mid 90’s, both wonderfully engaged with life, my cousin Tom and his wife Doreen who are family but also good friends.

Harrop Family around the table.
Harrop Family around the table.

That afternoon, after the ritual of installation, I sat with my family around the table in our new (old) home-built in 1806. We talked over dessert and marveled that after being away for so long that we were back together.

I’m glad I left. I wouldn’t have become who I am without that time away. Yet it is good to be back. Many years ago in California I was feeling homesick. A church musician sang me a song entitled ‘He came along with me’. The song reminds us that wherever we go God goes with us.

The Good News is that whether we stay or go, that wherever we are, our God accompanies us. It is humbling and reassuring to know that God was and is in Rhode Island, Montana, California, Ohio, Oregon, Massachusetts and everywhere else.

Now I am back in New England the region of my birth. But I know that I’ve always been at home with that Holy Source that brought me/us into being and to whom I/we will all one day return. As surely as the salmon swims home.

Hangin with the Dalai Lama

A few weeks back I gathered with 11,000 of my closest friends to see and hear the Dalai Lama.   His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not only the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism but also a spiritual leader for people of many faiths and no faith tradition in particular.  He projects a sense of centeredness that grows from a life of being intentionally rooted in that which is eternal….that which is good and true.

The Dalai Lama was the keynote speaker for a conference that focused on climate change. During a Q and A time a person asked:  “Given that humanity has recently reached a carbon output of 400 parts per million (ppm) and given that 350 ppm is considered the maximum level before escalating global warming is unleashed, how can we have hope for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren?  How can we not give in to despair?”

The crowd waited expectantly for his answer but the Dalai Lama was distracted.  It seems a girl to the side of the stage, perhaps 5 years old and sitting on her Dad’s shoulders was having a hard time.  Clearly something was bothering her.Dalai Lama and child

As 11,000 of us waited, the Dalai Lama walked over to the girl and whispered in her ear.  She then whispered back a response.  His Holiness then walked across the stage to a bag that lay by his chair.  He rummaged through the bag for sometime and then slowly walked back to the girl.  Once again he whispered in her ear and placed in her hand a small item he had taken from the bag.

She smiled and skipped off the stage.   Then and only then, did the Dalai Lama turn to the question from the audience.  For me the answer was already given.  Hope is found in the smallest act of compassion, in this case on behalf of a little girl.  It is through compassion that we bless others.  It starts with the need that is right in front of us. 

Translate such small acts of compassion to the needs of our home planet.  Consider what happens when compassion gives way to acts of advocacy on behalf of our natural world.  Is it not a compassionate act to work for minimizing and in the long run even rolling back the level of carbon being emitted into our environment?  Knowing climate change has the greatest impact on those least able to cope, is it not an act of compassion to work within our political and economic systems to bring about change?

Having tipped over the 400 ppm level where do we turn for hope?  The answer the Dalai Lama reminds us in the every day acts of compassion.  In closing His Holiness blessed us and sent us forth to bless others.  For the sake of this planet we call home, may it be so.

Ashes to Ashes

imagesCA2SY3HSTonight the Baptist church I serve, will gather with our sisters and brothers of Saint Peter Episcopal Church for Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is not normally part of the Baptist tradition and it is beautiful to see these  distinct branches of the Christian tree come together for a common purpose. For this ‘liturgically challenged’ Baptist, my spiritual imagination has been enriched and expanded by the addition of Ash Wednesday.   In my previous setting, we shared this ritual with a  Roman Catholic congregation and now with an Episcopal church.

For this ritual, ashes are placed on the forehead in the shape of the cross.  The ashes are presented with these words, “Repent and believe in the Good News”.  It is a truly intimate act to look someone in the eyes, offering ancient words of repentance, as you smudge their forehead with ashes.  You can’t avert your eyes, you can’t deny your vulnerability.

In our highly individualistic, youth oriented culture, Ash Wednesday is profoundly counter cultural.  This ritual reminds us that we come from dust and to dust we will return.  The placing of the ashes on the forehead is a ‘in  your face’ reminder that the illusion of our immortality is just that, an illusion.

There is something strangely reassuring in acknowledging ones mortality.  Something even joyful.  Rather than being a morbid ritual, Ash Wednesday reminds us to savor the gift of life, to remember that it is fleeting  and that one day each of us will return to our Creator, the source of all that is good, lasting and true.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

The Giver

The Gift and the Giver

 We ask for a piece of sand
and he gives us a beach.

We ask for a drop of water
and he gives us an ocean.

We ask for time
and he gives us life eternal.

And it is so easy for us
to fall in love with the gift
and forget the giver.

Edward Farrell in the poem/prayer above reminds me that life is a gift to be savored.   There is so much to be grateful for.  Earlier this week I walked with a friend on his property overlooking the beautiful McKenzie River.

Our day was kissed by the first 80 degree temperature of the Spring.  As a result everything was in bloom and the scent of rhododendrons filled the air.  One particular Rhody was fire-red and I felt like Moses approaching the burning bush.  Truly we were walking on holy ground.

And it is so easy for us
to fall in love with the gift
and forget the giver.

  Indeed life is a gift to be savored.  Yet the gift becomes sweeter as I remember the source of the gift.  As I give voice to the doxology first written by Thomas Ken in 1674 and sung in the church of my youth, ‘Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow’.        

May I not forget the giver.