Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wisdom of the Desert Fathers

A soldier asked Abba Mius if God accepted repentance. After the old man had taught him many things he said, 'Tell me, my dear, if your cloak is torn, do you throw it away?' He replied, 'No, I mend it and use it again.' The old man said to him, 'If you are so careful about your cloak, will not God be equally careful about his creature?"

From 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers'

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The problem with the concealed carry gun argument.

"All nine people injured in Friday's shooting in front of the Empire State Building were wounded by police gunfire, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters Saturday." (CNN)

Pro-gun folks often argue that our society would be safer if more people carried concealed guns around in public so that they could "take out" shooters like those at the Aurora cinema or the Sikh temple or the Empire State Building. The reality--as demonstrated here by these trained police officers--is that it would result in exponentially more shootings of innocent bystanders.

Eventually we, as a society, are going to grow weary enough of gun violence to set aside our fears that feed the problem and instead adopt the obvious and proven solution of eliminating guns from our midst. But it is going to be a long, bloody path until we get to that point.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Eddington on Seeking

"In its early days our Society [The Religious Society of Friends] owed much to a people who called themselves Seekers; they joined us in great numbers and were prominent in the spread of Quakerism. It is a name which must appeal strongly to the scientific temperament. The name has died out, but I think that the spirit of seeking is still the prevailing one in our faith, which for that reason is not embodied in any creed or formula. It is perhaps difficult sufficiently to emphasize Seeking without disparaging its correlative Finding. But I must risk this, for Finding has a clamorous voice that proclaims its own importance; it is definite and assured, something that we can take hold of--that is what we all want, or think we want. Yet how transitory it proves. The finding of one generation will not serve for the next. It tarnishes rapidly except it be preserved with an ever-renewed spirit of seeking. It is the same too in science. How easy in a popular lecture to tell of the findings, the new discoveries which will be amended, contradicted, superseded in the next fifty years! How difficult to convey the scientific spirit of seeking which fulfills itself in this tortuous course of progress towards truth! You will understand the true spirit neither of science nor of religion unless seeking is placed in the forefront."
- Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, British astrophysicist and philosopher

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thoughts on turning 50

Today, on my 50th birthday, I decided to post some ruminations on what I've learned so far...

* I would not want to go back to being 18--unless I could take with me the wisdom and knowledge and patience I have accumulated over time.

* Looking back on my life so far, the things I regret the most are the times I treated other people badly.

* I am finally aware of who I am and of what my gifts and talents and abilities are. I only wish I had not spent so many years trying to be someone else.

* The question often isn't "Can I achieve this?" but "Am I willing to put in the work and sacrifice necessary to achieve this?"

* I am adjusting to being referred to in social settings as "the older gentleman." I even kind of like it.

* It never hurts to ask. Or to try.

* I disagree with John Mellencamp's lyric that "Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone." The thrill of living isn't gone, it is just a different type of thrill.

* Spending 20-30 minutes a day meditating in stillness and silence has gradually changed me in profound ways.

* "Stuff" really doesn't matter all that much. Relationships matter. Having a purpose matters.

* The most valuable lesson I have learned is gratitude. Every day is a gift.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Quaker Wisdom

"The silence we value is not the mere outward silence of the lips. It is a deep quietness of heart and mind, a laying aside of the preoccupation with passing things -- yes, even with the workings of our own minds; a resolute fixing of the heart upon that which is unchangeable and eternal. This 'silence of all flesh' appears to be the essential preparation for any act of true worship. It is also, we believe, the essential condition at all times of inward illumination. 'Stand still in the light,' says George Fox again and again, and then strength comes -- and peace and victory and deliverance, and all other good things. 'Be still, and know that I am God.' It is the experience, I believe, of all those who have been most deeply conscious of his revelations of himself, that they are made emphatically to the 'waiting' soul, to the spirit which is most fully conscious of its inability to do more than wait in silence before him." - Caroline Stephen (Quaker Strongholds, 1890)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Focus on the Solution

Friday, August 10, 2012

Red Dawn

Back in 1984, if you had asked my teenaged friends and I what our favorite movie was, we probably would have replied, "Red Dawn." The fictional film follows the exploits of a group of high-schoolers in a Colorado mountain town who become guerilla fighters when Russians invade America. The plucky teens, outgunned, out-equipped and outnumbered, fight dirty in order to drive out the invaders (or at least make them miserable and scared while occupying American soil).

According to Wikipedia, "At the time it was released, Red Dawn was considered the most violent film by the Guinness Book of Records and The National Coalition on Television Violence, with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute."

The right-wing magazine National Review ranks Red Dawn at #15 in its list of Best Conservative Movies of the Last 25 Years.

Amazingly, a remake of Red Dawn is about to be released, starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor). This time Spokane is invaded by North Korea.

"We inherited our freedom. Now it's up to all of us to fight for it." says Hemsworth's character to his group of underground fighters as they commit to take back their homes by any means necessary. Teenaged boys and Libertarians will love it, no doubt.

But here's the irony...

What if you were to keep the story the same but change the location to Palestine and the ragtag ad hoc freedom fighters to Palestinians and the invaders to Israelis?

A group of young Palestinians fighting to take back their homes = Terrorists.
A group of young Americans fighting to take back their homes = Heroes.

Or how about if we set the story in Afghanistan or Iraq? Who becomes the invader then?

We celebrate the patriotic freedom fighters when it's us and revile the terrorist insurgents when it's them. But just how different are they? To what degree is the difference one of perspective depending upon which side you're on? Who gets to assign the labels?

Whether they're called "freedom fighters" or "terrorists"; "heroes" or "insurgents", the truth is that they are all misguided. It is a myth that redemption can be achieved through violence--that glory and honor can be found in killing--that taking back by force what was taken from you by force will make things right. The message of Red Dawn is that retributive violence is good and right when we do it--because, well, we're Americans. It is only evil when others do it--particularly if they do it against us or our allies.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


"A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it." - William Penn (Quaker statesman)

Nagasaki - August 9, 1945

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


I didn't like the whole Chick-Fil-A kiss-in protest thing, but this is an exception.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Raw Faith

This is an amazing documentary. Honest, transparent and inspiring.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Growing, Changing, Maturing

Did you know that the cells in your body are constantly dying and being replaced? In fact, within 7 year's time nearly all of the cells in your body will have been replaced*. Going deeper, 98% of the atoms in your body will be replaced each year. You are not the same you that you were a few years ago. Yet, you are still you.

The eminent Evangelical Anglican theologian John Stott wrote that "Every church in every place at every time is in need of reform and renewal." Like our physical bodies, the Body of Christ is constantly being refreshed, reformed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. But we have a choice of whether or not to be part of it. If we choose to reject what God is doing in our midst, the church becomes calcified and rigid and no longer able to hold the continuous inpourings of new wine from the Spirit.

It has also been said that each new move of God is most vigorously opposed by the recipients of the previous move of God. Like Peter on the mount of transfiguration, we are prone to want to build a structure on the spot where God appeared to us. Then we want to defend our structure.

In the early days of the church there was opposition to the idea of Samaritans and Gentiles being included. Much of the New Testament in fact--particularly Paul's letters--is concerned with exhorting Christians from very different cultural, ethnic and economic backgrounds to be inclusive of one-another and see themselves as one interdependent body.

Fifty years ago, many Christians were opposed to inter-racial marriage. One hundred years ago, many Christians were opposed to the idea of civil rights for African-Americans and women. One hundred-fifty years ago many Christians were still in support of the institution of slavery.

In our own time, the idea of women being excluded from leadership positions within the church is more and more viewed as antiquated and out of step (in part because so many women have proven to be excellent pastors, teachers and leaders).

Fifty years from now, the next generation within the church will be incredulous that there was once so much opposition among Christians to equal civil rights for people who are LGBT and that people were excluded from full participation in many churches because of their sexual orientation.

God is constantly acting, moving, refreshing, renewing, reforming the church. Gradually, gradually, as we yield and cooperate, the church matures into the vibrant multi-faceted organism that God envisioned from the beginning.

(*Some brain and muscle cells are not replenished, which is why we can eventually succumb to Alzheimer’s and heart attacks. There is a spiritual lesson in there somewhere!)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

Apparently there is quite a movement going on of Eagle Scouts resigning and returning their medals to the Boy Scouts of America, in protest of the organization's policy excluding homosexuals from membership. Some of the resignations are from Eagle Scouts who are gay, but many are from straight men. I have read some of their letters, but this one blew me away. I recommend reading the letter, then re-reading it but substituting the words "church" or "denomination" (or, if you're a Quaker, "Yearly Meeting") for "Boy Scouts of America" (or BSA) and substituting the words "Christian" or "Leader" or "Pastor" for "scout".

You get the idea...

Quaker Wisdom

"There must be amidst all the confusions of the hour a tried and undisturbed remnant of persons who will not become purveyors of coercion and violence, who are ready to stand alone, if it is necessary, for the way of peace and love among men." - Rufus Jones (Quaker theologian)