Dumb Luck

That’s all it was… dumb luck! Desperate to get a gift in the mail for a dear friend, I simply happened upon an obscure reference to For the Time Being by the distinguished 20th century poet, W.H. Auden. I’d never heard of it and concluded its very obscurity would appeal to my erudite friend. Besides, he is really smart and works at a prestigious university — my gift would make me look smart by association!

But that, too, may be post factual reconstruction. My initial motivation had little to do with erudition or even personal insecurities beneath my need to look smart. I was inspired by the fact that this famously gay poet had in midlife returned to Christianity. After the death of his mother and breakup with the man to whom he considered himself married, Auden dedicated this Christmas oratorio to his mother and wrote as emotional catharsis as much as testament of faith. Seemed like a good read for a long winter’s night!

It was not personal genius that led me to Auden’s oratorio. Rather it was dumb luck — what some might call grace! And, Auden far exceeds my mundane expectations. Nowhere does his probing and provocative rendition of the Christmas story settle for sentimentality or trite piety. His is the tempered faith of one who has struggled with life and whose own journey to Bethlehem was harsh, long and fraught with doubt.

We say that Christmas is for children, and that’s true. But there is nothing childish, cuddly or cozy about the original story. It must pass the test of time; its truth must endure through turmoil and trials that assail us. In this it must surpass any question of historicity and reveal an even more timeless truth. Few of us risk looking beyond the caricature of a sweet, unassuming, adorable babe. Auden takes the plunge!

And plunge we must — again and again. Hardly a child any longer, this Christmas marks my 67th journey through the season (and I’m counting on many more). Dumb luck led me to discover Auden’s oratorio — the unimagined, graced vehicle revealing Christmas as fresh, true, wondrous, here-and-now despite my 67th journey over the terrain. A few examples suffice…

Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are patently patriarchal, some would say stiflingly patriarchal. But is the real problem with the text or with our blind, sterile reading? Without premeditated agenda or argumentative intent Auden holds in bold relief the voiceless, befuddled, slow to catch-on Joseph in what even the Gospels cast as a secondary, supportive role. Mary, then as now, holds center stage.

Add to this the “silencing” of Zechariah when he dismisses even the potential for his wife to give birth in her old age. With fresh insight these Gospel narratives are hardly paternalistic. Rather they cast Mary and Elizabeth with the lead roles in a drama featuring what only women can do — give birth, bringing forth a savor. Patriarchy is set aside and assigned a supporting role! The text has been there all along. Why haven’t I recognized this?

The shepherds and magi are similarly flush with fresh meaning in the poet’s telling. Shepherds readily personify the settled ones, those who express the best of the past, keeping the home fires burning. The magi are persistent seekers, quick to leave the safe and familiar to discover what is beyond. Both have a place.

Neither is better. Each expresses our human capacity — indeed, our need — to recognize in this vulnerable, innocuous infant the incarnation of God-With-Us, Word made Flesh. That is the perennial invitation, to see the child for whom it is. Yes, to sit right down in the incredulity of it all. To say yes to the inconceivable.

We come to manger-like places all the time; asked first to actually see what is there, then to affirm that which we see as sacred. Never meant to resolve the mystery with tight, conclusive answers. Rather, we are invited to inch ever more deeply into the the truth our lives and the sometimes messy world which enfolds us.

The most we can offer is our intent, mustering a resolve to seek, follow and love the Mystery we recognize but cannot comprehend.

Such is our dumb luck, not genius, utter grace.
__________________
For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio by W. H. Auden. Introduction and edited by Alan Jacobs. Princeton University Press, 2013.

 

Of Planned Parenthood and the NRA

This is likely to offend, even anger, almost everyone. Such is the predicament in which we find ourselves — entrenched, heavily defended, convinced of the rightness of our own position. I once tried to raise this topic in a casual weekend gathering of liberal-leaning friends (of which most of our friends tend to be). Wow, I was shut down in no uncertain terms! Even I know when to shut up.

But I simply cannot keep quiet. The question continues to haunt me, perplex me, goad me. Be assured, I restate it here with real trepidation. Perhaps in the protective security on my own blog I can express it safely in a manner that is inviting rather than incendiary. Perhaps from the privacy of your own space you will be better prepared to entertain the same question with civility and curiosity.

Here is the rough, raw and unrestrained way the question finds itself expressed in the private recesses of my brain: “Is Planned Parenthood to the Left what the NRA is to the Right?” Or, for the sake of fair, unbiased representation: “Is the NRA to the Right what Planned Parenthood is to the Left?”

Here’s another way the question has presented itself, “How can we defend a woman’s very personal and unfettered right to end a pregnancy and not equally defend the unrestricted right of every American to bear arms for personal defense and the protection of one’s family?” I’d really like to know.

It feels like it is apostasy deserving of shunning and expulsion to voice any position other than the absolute, ultra-orthodox position of one’s own ideological subgroup. Neither side of the polarity seems willing to concede any restriction or hint of compromise. Somehow such intransigence and conviction — about any issue on which good people disagree — just doesn’t sit right with me.

When I tossed this question out at the party with my liberal friends you would have thought I’d betrayed women, exposed myself to be grossly ignorant or deserted to the dark-side. But the question hasn’t gone away. I’d really like to have a mature, mutually respectful conversation about our values, convictions and moral beliefs.

As a nation we seem wholly incapable and unwilling to engage in respectful dialogue with anyone other than those who espouse our very same predispositions. I leave too many gatherings of such like-minded friends reminded of a hamster running madly in its squeaking wheel — like a whole lot of energy has been expended getting nowhere with nothing to show for it but a lot of repetitive noise.

Its far too late in the game to ask how we got ourselves into this predicament. It’s time to start listening to voices other than our own and truly hearing what is being said. We either get ourselves out of our entrenched, heavily defended “correctness” — of whatever stripe — or I truly fear for the future of our democracy.

The way all this finds expression in the private machinations of my brain is often an exasperated, God help us!

How Men Feel

Men rarely risk sharing their feelings with other men or willingly acknowledge vulnerability. We’d rather polish a persona of strength, self-confidence and invincibility. This seriously constrains our capacity to live a full life — not to mention that it gets really exhausting!

Recently, an opportunity to risk presented itself. It was as if my friend and I had reached a certain tipping point — we’d either go deeper, admitting the truth of our lives, or we’d stall-out and our friendship would flounder amid trivialities. Thankfully, my friend risked honesty, transparency, vulnerability within the safe parameters we’d put in place over years of light-hearted banter.

As with all forms of human intimacy some details are simply too personal, private, even sacred to be shared outside the relationship. That’s the case here. In fact, safe parameters built over time create the very trust needed for transparent honesty and deep human intimacy. Rare and difficult as all this may be, it’s wonderfully priceless when it occurs.

A couple lingering ruminations from our conversation may be shared, however. They certainly are not offered as incontrovertible “truth”. Rather, they are offered to stimulate curiosity and a sense of wonder about what happens when we risk honesty, share feelings and admit vulnerabilities.

Prescinding from the specific emotions or “secrets” men generally try so hard to keep hidden, my friend and I asked how we might disengage from the straight-jacket in which repressed feelings hold us. Acknowledging that we had such a problem appeared as the necessary first step — allowing what’s buried alive to see the light of day!

Then, what? That’s where our curiosity and wonder remain piqued. Though typical males often find it difficult to reveal a full spectrum of deep emotion, feelings unexpressed remain very much alive beneath the surface! How do we disarm their seismic force while tapping into their potential power, strength and capacity to transform our lives? Sounds so simple, even prosaic, but it comes down to letting go of control. 

Most folks often confuse control with power. They are not the same thing!  Risking honesty and transparency my friend gave-up control, or even more explicitly, disarmed the paralyzing control his fear, anger and repressed emotions had over him. By relinquishing control my friend paradoxically found true strength, real power and abilities beyond his imaging.

All of the great wisdom traditions of the world seem to proclaim in one way or another what we experienced. The Apostle Paul provides a Christian expression when he writes: “…power is perfected in weakness… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9f).

It’s one thing to praise these words from the safe distance of pious platitudes or Sunday sermons. It’s a whole other thing to get them into your bones, giving them flesh. Of this I am more than certain.

 

 

 

 

Flying First Class

Who could have concocted a more ironic or bizarre scenario — flying home First Class from our honeymoon with John Neinstedt!

Yesterday we returned from Amsterdam to Minneapolis after a 16-day European extravaganza. Much to our surprise and fleeting consternation, the disgraced Archbishop rose from his seat at Gate D-57 as “Priority Status” boarding was called. Equally shocking but with a  promise of comfort, a friend had surprised us with an up-grade to First Class for our return flight.

My first response upon seeing the man rise and turn toward us from his seat two rows ahead was pity. Impeccably attired in tailored black suit and Roman collar, the swag of a silver chain hinted at the pectoral cross neatly tucked away in his pocket. A gold ring symbolizing episcopal status still adorned his right hand.

I have flown First Class only twice in my life, the other time being more than thirty years ago! My assumption is that Archbishop Neinstedt typically flies first class — perhaps I’m wrong. How could I not pity him — alone, disgraced, a shepherd who scattered his flock, deemed to be no better than a hired-hand.

Amid this eight-hour flight of continuous pampering, I could not help but wonder when legitimate privacy and need for rest bleeds over into self-indulgence, status-seeking or sense of entitlement. When does it all become routine?

We were two of only 33 passengers in First Class among a roster that likely surpassed 300 passengers. Only five of the thirty-three were women — one was an elderly lady whose daughter regularly came from “coach” to check on her, two twenty-something women were accompanied by men I presumed to be their husbands. (Might they also be returning from their honeymoons?) There was only one person of color — a man whose tone would have been of great advantage during Jim Crow days.

The overwhelming demographic was middle-aged white males who appeared to be accomplished, savvy and influential business types. By contrast with the Archbishop, their attire or appearance exhibited nothing to distinguish role, function or status. They were conspicuous in polo shirts, khakis and dress-for-comfort.  By comparison, their sense of self and personal bearing appeared to emanate from somewhere within.

We savored our First Class treatment and indulged every comfort as honeymoon luxury. We fully recognized this to be a singular gift and not our social norm. Ruminating over sixteen marvelous days in Europe and the incredible kindness and hospitality shown to us, we hope never to take any of these days for granted — even the bizarre twist of flying home with John Neinstedt!

In the end I cannot help but wonder what it might have been like if the man had only gotten out from behind his clerical attire and shed his episcopal trappings more often. Would he have been a better bishop — a shepherd who truly knew his sheep and allowed us to know him?

What if he had donned khakis, polo shirt and flew coach back to Minneapolis yesterday? It’s a pity he did not!  Perhaps the thought never even occurred to him.  That, if true, is a pity!

Them and Then, Us Here and Now

Most of us go to movies to be entertained. If the scenes are well directed and the acting really good, so much the better. Rarely does a movie leave a lasting impact, open us to truly fresh insights, transform the way we see things.

That happened the other night when we saw Testament of Youth, based on the memoir of Vera Brittain. Set in the lush baronial estates of pre-World War I England, the Brittain family is one of stature and privilege. Young Vera bristles at the cultural constraints placed upon women and courageously surmounts them much to the chagrin of her elders.

Catalyzing Vera’s ultimate transformation is the horror of war. Postponing her tenaciously sought Oxford studies, Vera volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers in London and then on the battle front in France. Later she will return to Oxford and eventually become a renown writer, feminist and ardent pacifist. More about the movie later…

But, now… Some readers might know that we are planning a trip to Germany this Fall. Although I have visited the ancestral home of my paternal lineage whose family name I bear, this will be my first opportunity to visit the village from which my mother’s German heritage originated. Of course, we will be seeing friends and new sites such as Berlin, Dresden along with Germany’s many great museums.

Haunting my anticipation is the nagging horror of the Holocaust. Although my German ancestors emigrated to the U.S. more that 150 years ago, I remain troubled by the perversion Nazi Germany wreaked upon the world. How could a people so great and a culture so grand become so morally corrupt and the cause of unspeakable evil?

The traditional answer given by Jewish theologians has been that God chose (for whatever reason) to remain temporarily hidden. Or, more commonly, that God deferred to human freedom. This has never been a satisfying explanation for me.

Quite simply, that expression of “freedom” is the very denegration of human freedom and a defacto proof of its absence. More significantly, it begs the ultimate moral dilemma: If God is good, why would such a God allow such unmerited and unmitigated suffering?

My heritage is three-fourths German, one-fourth Irish. Nazi atrocities and that indictment of an uncaring God has nagged at me for decades. There have been two recent breakthroughs — of course, the first was a book; and then the movie, Testament of Youth.

Along with the usual German maps and travel-guides, I recently came upon The Female Face of God at Auschwitz. Rabbi Melissa Raphael challenges the traditional explanation of the Holocaust as God’s “hiddenness” or deferral to human freedom. Raphael interprets published testimonies of women imprisoned in the extermination camps in the light of Shekhinah, the feminine expression of divine presence accompanying Israel into exile and beyond:

God’s face, as that of the exiled Shekhinah was not … hidden in Auschwitz, but revealed in the female face turned as an act of resistance to that of the assaulted other as a refractive image of God. For women’s attempt to wash themselves and others, and to see, touch, and cover the bodies of the suffering were not only the kindnesses of a practical ethic of care; they were a means of washing the gross profanation of Auschwitz from the body of Israel in ways faithful to Jewish covenantal obligations of sanctification. Women’s restoration of the human, and therefore the divine, from holocaustal erasure opposes not only recent theories of divine absence, but also patriarchal theologies that accommodate absolute violence in the economies of the divine plan.

Wow! This really hit like a bolt of lightning, a blast of fresh air. It struck — as truth often does — with the sudden clarity of recognition.

The divine image of Shekhinah resurfaced in the theater when viewing the panorama of female nurses caring as best they could for brutally injured troops on the muddy battlefields of WWI France. The movie begins and ends with bucolic scenes at a swimming hole. Only at the end did I recognize the baptismal washing common to both Jewish and Christian faiths.

The stunning impact of Testament of Youth, however, came in an especially intimate scene in which Vera Brittain attends to a dying German soldier. Only later do we learn this was a death-bed confession meant for his fiancé in which he seeks forgiveness for the violence in which he now lies complicit.

This moment now imprinted on my heart also brings light, refreshment, clarity, recognition. I need not go to Germany to seek answers for how a people so great and a culture so grand could become so perverse. It is not a matter of my German ancestry from the past.

Like the long-suffering women of Auschwitz, the courageous nurse and an anguished soldier reveal God’s enduring presence in our broken, sinful world.

It’s not about them or then, but us here and now!

______________
The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust, Melissa Raphael, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group: London and New York, 2003. The quote is from inside the front cover.

Defending Traditional Marriage

Who knew? As a gay man I did not. A lot of really smart and influential people also seem to be unaware of the facts.

Given what’s about to happen we would all do well to know the real facts before we jump to conclusions. Thanks to William Eskridge, professor of law at Yale, we no longer need to be uninformed. [link]

Authorities no less than Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted in Supreme Court arguments in April that every dictionary he checked that was published “prior to about a dozen years ago” defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said: “This definition has been with us for millennia. It’s very difficult for the court to say, oh well, we know better.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked: “How do you account for the fact that, as far as I’m aware, until the end of the 20th century, there never was a nation or a culture that recognized marriage between two people of the same sex?”

The main criticism from those who object to marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples is that it “redefines” marriage contrary to the male-female definition “accepted for millennia.” Everyone, including most gay people, simply assume that premise is correct. It is not!

We are simply misinformed to say that the Western tradition had never entertained marriages between people of the same sex until the 20th century.

First and second century historians Suetonius and Tacitus document official same-sex marriages in imperial Rome.

Modern historians have found plausible evidence of such marriages among Egyptians, Canaanites and Hittites and on islands in ancient Greece.

The evidence is also overwhelming for non-Western cultures. In 1951 anthropologists surveyed 191 world cultures and found many examples of same-sex intimacy occurring “within the framework of courtship and marriage.”

Researchers have demonstrated that a majority of Native American tribes as well as many tribal people elsewhere in the world have recognized such marriages at points in their histories.

Anthropologists have also documented the phenomena of “woman marriage” in African societies, in which a wealthy woman marries another woman and then secures her impregnation, thereby generating heirs. Such marriages have been recognized in more than 30 African cultures.

There are other examples, but these show that there has been no universal definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. Professor Eskridge asks the obvious question: What is the point of this history? He then draws some conclusions.

One obvious conclusion must be that “marriage” is an evolving, socially adaptive institution. In 1950, those who study human cultures defined “marriage” as a potentially procreative union of one man and one woman. But in the next 20 years, undisputed evidence of same-sex unions across dozens of cultures upended that definition.

By the 1970s, anthropologists had settled on an understanding of marriage as a social institution serving a variety of purposes — not just procreation and inheritance, but also personal relationships and alliances.

Was this a “redefinition” of marriage? In a way it was — it was the correction of a prevalent misconception of the facts. They brought to our attention that “marriage” has been much more inclusive and pluralistic than previously thought. Far from imposing their own definition, they help all of us come to a necessary “redefinition” that better reflects human history and practice across cultures.

Traditional marriage law in this country was one man, one woman because of an essential concern for the welfare of children. Thus, most states previously criminalized sex outside marriage, denied rights to illegitimate children, made wives legally subservient to their husbands and made it difficult to divorce.

Today we place no legal barrier to consensual sex outside marriage. Wives are not inferior. Children born outside of marriage are guaranteed “equal protection of the law.” Although divorce is never easy, “no fault” divorce certainly reflects a significant legal reform in the way we think about this foundational social institution.

We have seen in our own lifetime a fundamental shift in the way we define “marriage” to accommodate adults who love one another.  In this definition we are increasingly recognizing the many gay and lesbian couples not only make life-commitments, they are often conscientious parents of children as well.

To my knowledge the only traditional understanding we are unwilling to redefine is the legal right to marriage for the many couples — in our own families, sometimes our parents or our own children — who have no intention or capacity to procreate.

About the only group legally excluded from this human institution Americans call “marriage” is gay people. That’s been changing in the United States and around the world. And if we know our facts, well it should!

___________________

I have quoted liberally from Professor Eskridge’s June 19 article in the Washington Post cited above. In addition to crediting him as my source, I want to express my sincere gratitude to the professor for “teaching” us what too many of us had not known.

Never Missing in Action

When people learn that I am the youngest of ten kids they invariably ask, “What did your dad do?” Although gender roles are shifting, dads are still presumed to be bread-winners. It’s a rare man whose ego is not threatened by a spouse who earns more than he. A stay-at-home dad is really swimming against social norms!

Yet when people ask what my dad “did” to support ten kids and a wife, I really am at a loss for words. Yes, I know his places of employment and who issued his paycheck. In the status-conscious pecking order of their over-55 retirement community Dad would boast that he owned a Pontiac car and GMC truck franchise. Which he did — but that was for fewer than ten years and before I have any conscious memory.

Over the years, my standard answer has evolved, “Dad did whatever he needed to earn money — he was a farmer, small business owner, a manager, a salesman, an entrepreneurial genius.” All that is true! This also enables me to defend his reputation and express my esteem within the competitive world of the masculine pecking-order.

Here is the factual truth. My father finished his career as the manager of a parking ramp in downtown Omaha. That used to embarrass me. That is probably the reason for the retrieval of his Pontiac/GMC franchise identity with his card-playing buddies at the Sun City rec center. Yes, he felt the weight of raising ten kids. He also labored under the cultural burdens of what it means to be a “successful” man.

But, here’s the real truth. I’m bored by the question! It’s so unfair and irrelevant to the dad I love — probably to all dads. Yes, Mom and Dad raised ten kids. He died at 83. My Mom did not “run out of money” until 18 months before her death at 97! Dad only finished the tenth grade. Mom never went to high school. By any economic or social standard I would say they were pretty damn successful!

Even that defensive explanation fails to explain the man. My dad was a decent poet. He was horrible at telling jokes because he’d be laughing too hard to deliver the punch line. He had really hairy arms which I loved stroking when he was holding me on his lap. A favorite photo shows my dad wearing a fedora, suit, white shirt and tie, and tweed overcoat when he took my sister and me sledding at the park. My love of gardening — the earth — comes from him.

Every hamburger is still rated against those I ate with my Dad in small town cafes when I accompanied him as a farm equipment sales rep. Except for my Mom, my Dad’s greatest asset was a deep, mature and vibrant spirituality.  Though ten of us exasperated and exhausted him with regularity, my dad was immensely proud of his family. We knew that — and his investment paid off.

What did my dad do? Whatever he needed to do. Most of all, he showed up! Too many dads are missing — absent from too many lives and too many homes. Some are simply AWOL. Others are enslaved by needing to make money to sustain a lifestyle that is virtually unsustainable. Yes, my dad worked really hard. But in too many neighborhoods — both rich and poor — too many kids are left with a gnawing father-deficit.  We were not!

We all need mentors, coaches, teachers, uncles, neighbors, role-models providing a rich assortment of male relationships. Having no children of my own I take seriously — and with great satisfaction — these essential roles. Yet, my knees buckle at the prospect of doing what my dad did.

On this Fathers Day I am immensely proud to be the son of my dad — a man who was never missing in action!

 

Two Addicts Try to Talk

“Stop that, Richard! Just stop it!”

Caught completely off guard, I stammered, “What? Stop what?”  Bob had just offered to give me jar of homemade plum preserves.

“When someone offers you something don’t hem-haw around. Don’t play this false humility crap, ‘Oh, I couldn’t…’ or insult me with ‘You shouldn’t…’  When I offer you something, say yes or no. Say, ‘No thank you.’ or ‘Thank you very much.’ Cut the bullsh*t, Richard! Say what you mean for god-sake.”

We had been driving down Lake Street and Bob got us talking about food by recalling what a perfect blueberry pie he’d had the night before — “all blueberries, none of this gelatin sh*t.” We retrieved some mutual ground by agreeing that we shared a special passion for raspberry pie as well as plum preserves.

No sooner had we fed the parking meter and entered Global Market when Bob was back at me.  Bright booths representing crafts from Tibet, Chile, Central America, Scandinavia as well as all sorts of locally produced organic meats, cheeses and fresh fruits and vegetables populated the Market.  An overdose of vibrant colors and distinctive  aromas danced all around.

We shared our delight and personal preferences.  I expressed disappointment that some of the shops were shuttered.

“D*mn it, Richard. Don’t do that!”

“What? Don’t do what?” I blurted defensively.

“Stop looking at the negative! That’s not going to do you any good. Stop commenting about the shops that are closed. Look at all that’s going on, not at what isn’t!  Look at the great stuff inside even if the shops are closed.”

One thing we did not see at Global Market was a good piece of raspberry pie. Here was my opportunity to reclaim some semblance of balance and equanimity after Bob’s piercing — though fair — admonitions!

“I know just the place — Turtle Bread!   We just had raspberry pie there last Sunday. Terrific… the best!” Off we went with nearly two hours left on our prepaid parking meter.

We hadn’t even placed our order when I know I’d scored big time. “Love this place, so much better than the bland, uniform, generically orchestrated Stabucks or Caribou. This place has life, character, personality, distinction.” I relished Bob’s approval.

He continued, “Look around, this is the world! I don’t even feel sorry for those two guys in their white shirts and ties — at least they have the good sense to come to a place like this!”

Though I’ve known Bob for a while now, each time we are together reveals something beguiling and compelling.

I knew about his 70-plus years of struggle with drug addiction. Today’s revelation was his five years in federal prison associated with his drug use.  The transparency of his sharing knocked me off-balance once again.  Of course, I blurted out something totally inept.

“Wow, I’ve never been in prison. So, what was that like?” This time Bob entertained my stupidity and awkwardness but seemed to shift to a wholly different psychic space.

“You learn to mind your own business! You keep your mouth shut. You see trouble, you turn and walk the other direction.”

Ouch! Now, I felt tables turned. Just as he had admonished me about expressing gratitude with a clear yes of no, or had chastened me to celebrate the manifest beauty all around, I wanted to blurt out, “Bob, don’t do that! Stop that!”

I restrained my urge to tell him that is no way to live. This will wait for another time.  However, I returned with a whole new insight into why Bob would be so appreciative of all the Global Market symbolized and for the depth of human connection he savored at Turtle Bread.

We began as two men entering conversation best as we are able. Two men, though with very different addictions, backgrounds, spiritualities and perspectives made an effort to talk — community happens, understanding deepens, appreciation expands.

We discover we are vastly more alike than we had ever presumed or allowed ourselves to imagine.  Still, we each have much to learn that only someone other than ourselves can teach.

Hurry-Up and Slow-Down

“McDonalds ruined us!” No, this isn’t a comment from a Wait Watchers meeting or a cardiac rehab training. It was made by a friend lamenting how we have become people who want what we want, the way we want it, when we want it… now!

Others have certainly copied what McDonalds pioneered. Fast-food has clearly become a more apt symbol of our impatient consumer culture than holiday dinner at Grandma’s house.

Patience — or my lack thereof — recurred throughout the past weekend. Planting a 10′ Heritage Oak tree yesterday I grieved that I would not live long enough to see this tree in its maturity. Why do some things have to take so long?

Yet, I tried to envision those yet unknown who would someday relax under the shade of a mighty oak. I mustered some satisfaction that tree planting is a blessing we can confer on generations yet unborn. Still, I want the tree to hurry-up and grow!

Patience also surfaced as an important theme at a reunion on Saturday. I had been privileged to assist with a retreat in April for eight men who were in various stages of recovery and had experienced homelessness as part of their experience with addiction. No one, absolutely no one, understands the demands of patience like these men.

Those who struggle with chronic relapse — and isn’t that all of us honest enough to admit we are not perfect — know in our bones how desperately difficult being patient can be.  If we cannot dispense with them quickly, our well engrained cultural habit is just to ignore our faults or deny we have a problem.  More honest than most of us, these men wrestle with excruciating demands of patience every day.

Coincidentally — providentially? — one of the other reunion planners had selected the following by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for our opening meditation. Don’t be put off by the length, its worth the read:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

One of the men on retreat said it better and much more simply. Noting what technology has popularized far beyond what McDonalds pioneered, he said in only 15 words what the renown Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin needed 164 words to say:

We’re the microwave generation. But we all know food tastes much better from the slow cooker!

Despite our dependence on fast-food and the latest kitchen technology, I am consoled to believe that most of us would still prefer Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house.  Now, there’s hope for recovery!

You Decide… You Really Do!

YOU be the judge. I could too easily come across as cynical. Who wants to put up with my cynicism?

Here are two news stories that greeted me this morning. They came totally independent of one another. Yet, they collided big time in my morning waking to consciousness.  I’d be curious to know if you see any connection and whether you see any reason for concern.

The first story came from my hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Hearld. Though I moved from Omaha in 1978, it will always be home and I enjoy staying connected with what’s going on there. Today the paper reports that the buy-out for fired University of Nebraska football coach, Bo Pelini will be $128,009 for the next 46 months.

I guess the sum seems smaller if reported in monthly increments rather than a lump sum ($5,888,414.00). The positive spin on the story is that this is less than it might have been — I guess that’s good news!

Because Pelini got a job coaching at Youngstown State in Ohio, Nebraska will “save” $21,991 each month on what the Huskers would have had to pay if he’d not landed another coaching job. Whew! Saving nearly $22,000 each month is a really good thing, right?

Yes, Coach Bo got fired last year even though he again led the Cornhuskers to a 9 and 3 season! If my memory is correct, the team won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons that Pelini coached the team.

Nebraskans take their college football serious! Nine wins for a team in the Big Ten Conference which can boast of the #1 national championship team just wasn’t good enough! Sadly, Nebraska fans are neither unique nor exceptional!

Then comes a seemingly unrelated story, not from the World-Herald but from completely different source. New statistics from the Pew Research Center show that between 2007 and 2014, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped by nearly eight percentage points, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. Yes, an 8% drop in seven years!

At the same time, Pew’s 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study [link] found the number of people who are religiously unaffiliated — either atheist, agnostic or simply “nothing in particular” — has grown by more than six percentage points, from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent in 2014. Yes, fast approaching one-fourth of the population.

You be the judge! Do you see any connection between these two stories? I don’t mean to suggest that football causes one to loose one’s faith — though on football Saturdays in Lincoln you might very well get that idea! I remain curious, however, whether these two seemingly unrelated reports might be pointing at the same social phenomenon! Are they two sides of the same coin?

Again, no one wants to read a cynical rant! So, I leave the ball in your court (mixing my metaphors!) with a final observation. We are currently building a new football stadium in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Vikings at a cost of more than $1,000,000,000.00 — yes, more than a billion dollars!

It’s hyped as a catalyst for economic development. In fact, a new urban park in the heart of the city — dubbed The Yard — will provide a grand approach and view of the imposing architectural monument. The park is being praised for providing a terrific venue for the many pre- and post-game rituals associated with NFL football.

Time was when Cathedrals were built on the town square! Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral — my family’s church and where I went to grade school — sits atop the highest geographical ridge in the city and is visible from as far as thirty miles away. The Cathedral of St. Paul is similarly perched above the Minnesota State capitol.

You judge! What are our core values? What’s important to Americans? Honestly speaking, where do we choose to worship on weekends? Who is our god?