Archive for March, 2014

Sermons: Waiting

I have no memories of Advent growing up.

I don’t much like Advent songs.

But Advent is old – almost as old as Christmas.

It may shock you to know that the early church did not celebrate Christmas. That remained the case for hundreds of years. The early church celebrated the resurrection (every time they met on Sunday). The early church observed the crucifixion (every time they took part in the Lord’s Supper). The early church observed salvation (in baptism and preaching). The early church celebrated the baptism of Jesus. But the early church did not observe Christmas.

To the early Christian it was a pagan concept to mark birthdays. I don’t know that that was bad – or good. It just wasn’t particularly Christian. In fact, in the early years, Christians were more likely to record and take notice of the date of a saint’s death.

The earliest mention of Christmas from the ancient world is in 336. Literally 300 years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Advent in some form is attested to in the same century. In other words – the early church didn’t observe either – Christmas or advent. But for almost as long as there has been a Christmas, much of the church has also marked advent – as a time of preparation for Christmas. (more…)

Crows

Nothing

When leaves fall down dead
smelling sweetly of rain,
and cold air at sunset
clashes with warm dust …

When long shadows join
to cover the earth,
and we are revived
from fitful and unquiet sleep …

We remember
things cannot last. (more…)

What’s Wrong with Conservatives?

Conservatives – mostly in the GOP, but also in other far smaller parties – are foundering. They may or may not do well this November, but that’s quite beside the point. The problem is, even if they do quite well, they will remain unable to actualize a conservative vision.

(From my point of view, this has been the case for my entire life. Even when their rhetoric wins, even when they convince enough of the American people they are right, that rhetoric is not translated into policy. Which is, of course, the only point of politics. Policy is all that matters – not on discreet issues but across the board. The fact is, there have been discreet issue policy changes, but the overall, across-the-board policy direction that is decidedly not conservative, continues basically unabated.)

No doubt conservatives will argue with this assessment. While progressives may also deny its truth – that is more for public consumption. The basic fact is that the country has been and continues to move in a particular direction. Attribute it to cultural evolution, to the tide of history, degeneration, to whatever framework appeals to you – but it is an overall truth.

Of late, conservatives, and the GOP in particular, has struggled more than usual.

This is not a product of a hostile media – though conservatives do have far fewer media allies than progressives. It is not a product of IRS and related government suppression of conservatives – though that is appallingly anti-Constitutional and an abuse of power. It is not the result of their failure to reach out to minority groups – though their efforts have been less than effective. It isn’t even the result of the great appeal of progressive arguments – they’re not markedly superior to conservative ones. All of these may be factors, but they’re minor factors.

The main problem is that conservatives suffer from big tent syndrome. I don’t mean here that conservatism is a big tent, but that there are four or five different types of conservative. These have conflicting goals and priorities. They have incompatible philosophies. For these reason, conservatives have been unable to select compelling national candidates; conservatives have been unable to articulate a clear point of view; conservatives have fought nasty and personal battles among themselves – that are, at times, as beyond the pale as anything progressives are able to throw at them; conservatives have singularly lacked the ability to unite around their common ground. And most importantly, conservative voters have faced the choice of voting for what they see as the lesser of two evils, or staying home.

I personally believe the GOP will continue to founder until it decides what it truly is. I notice that progressives have the same problem on paper – progressive subgroups want mutually exclusive policies – but when it comes to campaigns, they don’t seem to suffer from the same effect. (more…)

Prophet

Prophet

We beg you to speak
comfortable words –
warm, soft, and welcome,
easy to the tongue,
cotton wool kindly
to the ear.

We beg you to conjure
our homes –
the ones we make
like rats make nests:
out of appalling things.

You move like music,
something gentle (more…)

Cancer

My father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the mid-eighties. Supposed an unrelated even, in the nineties, he had colon cancer. It spread to his liver, and he died on a warm August morning in 1999. I sat outside on the ground – I couldn’t make myself watch them carry his body out. And I spoke on the phone with his oncologist. She was crying, said my father was the kindest man she’d ever known. I had never before felt so powerless. And I understood the true significance of the word “patient”.

I also understood isolation. The patient often hears cancer the same as “hang from the neck until dead.” But then nothing happens. It is just month after month of waiting, of unpleasant procedures, of loss of dignity, of hoping, of depression, of sickness, of reprieves – of thinking, if I can just get through this …. And it’s month after month of the slow, but ever-present downward trend. (more…)

Sermon: Which is it to Be?

Do you all know the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”? In it, Frost describes making a choice:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

A number of different thoughts occur to him: he compares the two paths – how they look from where he’s standing. Perhaps he can choose one and then come back to the other another day. How will he feel in the future about it?

The poem concludes:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The problem with analyzing poetry is that what the poet is saying is sometimes less simple and clear-cut than we might make it out to be. In fact, I remember having this conversation with Alice Tarr. Now, she was talking about it in the context of teaching GED classes where students were asked to identify “the theme’ of a poem. Alice objected to practice because – and I quote – “If it could be said more simply, the poet would have said it that way.”

Nonetheless, this poem is meaningful to a great many people. I think that springs from the fact that we all make choices. We make them every day. Some of them are small; some are large. Many times we don’t know the significance of a choice when we make it. But as a rule, we can identify with the thoughts Frost shares here. (more…)

Beginning

I’m starting a new blog today.  If you’re reading this, that’s probably self-evident.

Blogging – like most public presentations of the self – creates a warped perspective.

In my other blogging lives, I have been limited by the narrowness of the topic – when I was writing for a specific purpose.  I would never want to detract from that purpose or distract a reader with things that seem irrelevant.

It is also an unavoidable reality that speaking publicly has consequences that creep into your non-internet life.  The combined effect of these interferes with complete honesty.  Though I’ve never intentionally misled anyone – ahem … online at least – I’ve always felt that something rang false:  the voice wasn’t truly mine, wasn’t the whole story. (more…)

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