Friday, May 29, 2015

A Nose Blow

Two of our grandchildren were here last week, along with their parents.  We were off on a local adventure when our teenage granddaughter got a sniffly nose and no tissue.  So, I gave her my clean handkerchief.  

“What’s this?,” she asked her mom.  
“It’s a man’s handkerchief.”
“What’s it for?
“You can blow your nose on it.”
“Then what do you do with it?”
“You fold it up, put it in your pocket and save it for another blow.”
“That’s gross!  You can’t be serious!  That’s disgusting!  Take it back!”

“Grandpa, do you really carry one of those things around all the time?”
“Yes I do; I have a lot of them.”

Long yucky pause of disbelief and disappointment.  End of conversation about handkerchiefs.

There is always something new to learn about life.  Some of it is gross, disgusting, and yucky ––– but useful.


I have no idea what this has to do with Trinity Sunday, or anything else for that matter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

It's Miller Time

It’s Memorial Day weekend and time for me to write my annual article honoring Harlan D. Miller who represents for me the universe of those who have fought and died under the American flag.    Regular readers may recall Harlan.  He died some years ago now, and I will place a small flag near his grave and lay flowers on it.  He served in WWII, was blown up in North Africa, spent years in the hospital, and lived the rest of his life as a near hermit whose mind was embedded in the late 19th century.  If you are interested, you can look back on articles from previous years about Harlan.

Harlan stands in for so many others, and this year remembering him brings to mind my dad.  He also served in WWII as a supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific.  Never once did he tell a story about what he had experienced.  Only once did I see him cry.   I was a young adult, and we were together touring another destroyer, one he helped decommission shortly after the war; it was a sister ship to the one he served on.  

He was enthusiastic about showing me around and explaining how everything worked, but somewhere along the way I ceased to exist, and he was back in another place at another time.  Whatever it was that he was reliving, it brought tears streaming down his cheeks.  A few minutes later he shook it off, was embarrassed at what had happened, and never talked about it.  I have no idea where he was or what was happening in those few moments, but I know it was tragic, and soul shattering. 

Memorial Day is about remembering.  We remember those who died in war.  We remember first those who died fighting under our flag.  We also remember the non-combatant civilians who could not get out of the way of death.  Sometimes we even remember the enemy dead with a sense of sorrow for them.  Let us also remember those whose lives were torn to shreds and patched back together again in whatever way they could be patched. 

Dad was one of the lucky ones.  He came from a loving family, returned to a loving family, and was successful in his chosen career.  To the very end, he enjoyed all that could be enjoyed, and was generous in giving whatever he could to make life good for others.  Some others, like Harland, were so physically and psychologically damaged that whatever the good life was, it was not theirs to be had. 


Dad is buried three thousand miles from where I live.  I cannot place a flag or lay flowers on his grave, but this weekend, when I am honoring Harlan, I will remember Dad. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

John: My least favorite gospel

On the whole, I don’t much care for John’s gospel.  When teaching adult classes in years past, I’ve had something to say about parts of the bible I don’t like, and the response has been predictable: a hushed embarrassment that a member of the clergy, a teacher, would dare to say anything bad about the bible.  Psalm 45, I once said, was appalling, and when I come to it in Morning Prayer, I skip over it.  There was stunned disbelief as the group struggled to twist its text to squeeze out something of theological value.  So, I’m reluctant to admit that there is a whole book I don’t much care for. 

I know that John is just about everyone’s favorite starting place for their Christian journey.  Maybe it was mine too once upon a time, but I can’t remember.  It’s chock full of memorable lines, and there are elements in it that I treasure.  The prologue for instance, the Samaritan woman at the well, a portion of John 5 that implies the possibility of universal salvation, the woman caught in adultery, Jesus as shepherd, the  new commandment, Thomas, and the post resurrection lake side picnic.  That sounds like a lot to like, and it is, but there are several themes that run through the text that make the whole of it less than appealing.  

For me, and for many, the biggest is the way John hammers at the Jews with such consistent force that he inspired centuries of anti-Jewish violence all across Christian Europe, and a good deal of harsh bigotry in the Americas.  John cannot be blamed for the Holocaust, or the many pogroms that preceded it, but he did provide the tinder, with the spark provided by preachers of every stripe.  Of course it can be explained away by careful exegesis, but the plain meaning of the language is not lost on newbie Christians, those attending church in Lent, and anyone else who thumbs through the book.  I feel compelled to offer several corrective sermons every Lent, and I don’t like having to do that.  

On a more complicated level, I have problems with how John tries to weave his way through his take on light and dark dualism that brushes up against gnostic fantasies.  He puts quite an emphasis on the separation of ‘the world’ ruled by Satan (or a prince we take to be Satan) that is in opposition to the heavenly realm of God.  Jesus appears to be the only connective tissue between them, and one gets the impression that it might be a tenuous one at that.  He makes it very easy for some Christians to imagine themselves as warriors on behalf of God in a fight with the devil, the outcome of which is still in doubt.  It’s great science fiction but lousy theology.  He also makes it easy for some Christians to claim that whatever cultural prejudices they have salted their faith with stand against the sinful world of everybody else’s culture.  It’s the old ‘We may be in the world, but we’re not of the world’ nonsense that one frequently encounters. 

In the end, John just makes it too easy for us to engage in bigotry and gnostic fantasy while passing it off as orthodox Christianity.  Properly understanding John’s gospel, if properly understanding is the right way to put it, requires some very deep study of the text and its context.  That’s not  something most Sunday church goers ever do, or ever will do, and so, on the whole, I don’t much care for it.