America’s Shame Grows

We have proven ourselves to be shamefully petty once again, this time by the childish behavior of Pence in Pyongyang. Does the Trump team really believe that a minor show of courtesy will cause the North to bomb its neighbors?

Sadly, such rudeness does not reflect some careful strategic thinking. Rather, it reflects yet again the pettiness of Donald Trump. Remember, he is at heart nothing but a con man with only two tools at his access: flattery and intimidation. When one fails he shifts to the other.

When both fail he is simply stumped and tends to move on to something more important, like whether football players kneel or stand be for the the flag.

I hate it when he does stupid stuff at home, but proving to be simply rude when on an international stage is doubly humiliating.

Meanwhile, back on the home front, Trump’s incredible inability to choose a staff team continues to stagger my imagination. He doe not seem able to grasp the simple lesson that “Will you be personally loyal to me?” is inappropriate in his position.

To add to his staffing problems, he cannot seem to recognize  that he is dangerously reducing the numbers of people in the White House (or the State Department or the DOJ) He is dismantling the American government right before our eyes. This, too, besides showing incompetence, reveals another side to his pettiness. He cannot led a large team. That is not the dictator’s style. Rather, he favors a small team of loyal goons. He has no moral dimension to his own character and so cannot value it in others.

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A Few Questions

Why would the president of the United States show a complete lack of interest in the long-established accusations that Russia interfered with our election? Why would our president show excessive concern over the evidence that he and/or his team cooperated with the Russians in their meddling? Why would the Republicans be resorting to such  bizarre behavior in discrediting the DOJ?

If you add up the possible answers to each of these questions,  it certainly looks inescapable to me that Trump is extremely guilty and, as the Republicans have come to realize this (very, very slowly) they have chosen to stick with partisan politics by fighting to defend their man, crook or not.

A few more questions, does not the great effort to discredit the FBI and DOJ during this investigation actually discredit it much more deeply? And does not Trump’s effort to replace every one in the Executive and Judicial Branches with incompetent people with only  one qualification (loyalty to him) demonstrate at least this much about Trump: he is utterly incompetent? In trying to shape everything (including the press) around his own petty little self, isn’t the president doing very severe and long-lasting harm to America in particular and to democracy in general?

And one final question, one which may not make much sense beyond Christian circles: How in the world can a Christian look at Donald Trump and not see the spirit of the Anti-Christ?

Those cute little hands of his, the ones with the stubby little thumb he likes to poke up, is it not perfectly obvious that they are the biggest part of his whole being.

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Turning Points

In a football game an intercepted pass can completely the tone and texture — and outcome — of a game.  How many times have we heard the announcer cry out, “This changes the game completely” even while the interceptor is still scrambling to get into the end zone?

Most turning points in life are a little more difficult to discern, yet I know I have just passed through one.

As I’ve mentioned before, being in Stage 4 Cancer has cot me very little pain. I’m just increasingly fatigued and weak. Mostly, I think, that is caused by an increase in the lower back pain that that haunted me for 40 years.

Though I lack the words to articulate just what has happened, I know that this past weekend I slipped into another level of my slow movement toward my death.

For months, I’ve found myself trying hard to concentrate my strength when I’ve know we’ve had company coming for extended visits. When close friends Stan and Cathy came from Pennsylvania and Ron and Brynn from California, I gathered all the strength I had in order to be present for them. The result was a weekend of laughter, a few tears, and deep, deep joy and gratitude.

It was the same when Kurt and  Deb came and many others. The cycle became familiar. Save up strength, enjoy my friends to the fullest, and then take 2-4 days to recover. It has been physically draining but more than worth it. Emotionally it has been rich beyond description. I can truly say I have never felt so loved in my life.

But now the cycle has been broken. Three friends coming from Hawaii? Okay, concentrate your strength. Prepare yourself. And here they are!

They brought not only their own beautiful selves but wonderful, wonderful memories. They had been young and unsure of themselves when I saw in each of them something that told me they were going to grow into extraordinary adults. How right I was!

And, in a very important way, these three — Becky, Daisy, Donna — represented for me all of the amazingly gracious people I was so privileged to work with in our ten years with InterVarsity in Hawai’i. (I’m having a very hard time writing this — the tears just keep flowing, tears of joy.)

But, perhaps because we have no more extended visits scheduled, I feel the change in me. When they returned to Hawai’i, they took something of me with them. (Besides leaving behind several pounds of chocolate covered macadamia nuts!) I have not taken another small shuffle toward the end, but a significant step of some sort. Too small to describe; too large to enjoy.

Hmm, as I keep mulling this over, I can make one observation, which is that I think I will not be able to gather strength any more. I’ve gathered it and given it for the last time. I still love all our friends but when they visit I’ll be able to make no special effort to be present with them for very long.  Being the very best friend I can be, using every ounce of energy I can muster? I’m afraid that’s just one more things I have to let slip into the past.

 

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In my second pronouncement since appointing myself king of America, I hereby make it a law that all White House staff members, up to and including the President, along with all Congressional leaders and their staff members attend each year a one week intensive course in American history, devoted primarily to the founding documents that have defined the idea and the ideals of our nation.

Our “leaders” are leading us so far astray from the meaning of American Democracy that even if all those leaders were to be replaced today, it would take years to clean up the incredible mess they’ve made of things already. Our leaders need a good reminder that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”

When we look at polls and approval ratings, we find numbers that suggest Congress simply does not care what the words “We the People” mean. Congressional approval rating is currently at 16%. I don’t believe that it has as high as 20% since I started paying attention nine years ago. And yet our Congressional leaders still boast they they are representing the people. Polls concerning DACA all suggest that nearly 90% of Americans want it settled in such a way that DACE recipients get to stay with full security and the protection of the law. Congress couldn’t care less what the people want.

Our president continues to set daily records on how low presidential approval ratings can sink. He is a petty dictator frustrated by the fact that we have a three part federal government. He would  prefer to have one department, entirely under his direct command. And we know he is incompetent to envision a way to manage even what power he does have, so he tries to cut everything down to his own size. Think, for example, of how great a disaster it is that in the midst of unusually serious international complexities, he has cut the State department nearly in half, increasing our ignorance of many countries, including North Korea.

And on and on and on Blah, blah, blah.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be lead again by someone acquainted with and in love with the American dream?

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Stephen Miller

Senator Graham has claimed over the weekend that, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we’re going nowhere.”

Hooray! Finally someone is pointing out what has become increasingly obvious in recent weeks.

Keep watching. Miller’s cover is weakening. He is every bit as self-righteous as Trump him. And that is saying a great deal! He is unable to bend or to conceive of anyone else being as right about everything as he is.

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Getting Started on Reconciliation

So our ridiculous government is shutdown again. And how do our “leaders” use their time? In blaming one another. Blame is childish, useless, never productive, and a severe threat to reconciliation.

Since our leaders refuse to lead, I hereby appoint myself king. I will from time to time issue strict orders that will slowly lead us out of partisanship, the pettiness, the petulance, that now dominate Washington.

Here is the order for today, to be in effect for the next ten thousand years: No one in Washington is permitted to evade responsibility by saying a single word which even vaguely sounds like blame.

The punishment for violating this rule is to have one’s mouth covered with  43 layers of duct tape.

There! See how simple is was to solve 50% of Washington’s problems?

 

May I take a moment to talk about blame and responsibility? Blame is an oppressive force, making any positive steps more difficult. Responsibility is something quite different. If you seek someone to blame, you’re making progress.

If you ask, Who is responsible? you immediately run into a devilish choice. You might find yourself asking who is responsible for creating this mess. That is the same as asking who is to blame and gains nothing.

The real question, the helpful question is, Who is responsible for improving this situation? Asked that way, the question opens doors and creates hope. And one of your first discoveries will be that you bear at least some of the responsibility. This is so very much better than evading responsibility by blaming someone else.

Oh how I wish we had some grownups in Washington, that we would learn to recognize, nominate, and elect grown-ups.

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Friends

My cancer is very slowly robbing me of strength. I’ve got very little pain, too little to notice But I don’t sleep well and feel perpetually tired. I know my time is limited yet I find a growing freedom to bask in the joy of being loved by my Lord. Many times I can anticipate the other side of the grave.

And here’s what I can enjoy about that anticipation: I can already feel myself sitting on Jesus’ lap with my head against his chest. I can freely say, “I love you, Daddy.”

Yes, yes, I know. I’ve been studying biblical theology for more than 50 years.  I ought to be able to keep Jesus and the Father separate for the sake of theological clarify. But I’m not talking about theology. I’m talking about images and sensations that keep rising to the fore in my heart. And I’m not going to get off the beautiful lap.

I also find a deeper joy than ever in friendships. One couple with whom we are especially close spent a couple of days with us this past week. We’ve been good friends for nearly 40 years. I don’t think there has even been a minute when I’ve taken them for granted, yet now it  seems truly miraculous that the Lord could have put such people in our lives.

Our lives are filled with miracles. I do not mean merely that there are lots of good things that happen to us and that surround us. I mean God-caused interruptions that add richness and depth to our lives. And I do not mean special little gifts God sets aside for those who love him. He loves us, no matter our response. He loves and cherishes you right this moment. Don’t wait until impending death hones your senses.

Here’s a simple idea: The more you practice saying Thank You, the more sensitive you will become to all the reasons yo have for giving thanks.

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No Compromise — No Virtue

Somehow our culture has decided that “compromise” is a dirty word. Advertisers, especially for automobile companies, since at least the mid-80s. They do it out of crass greed, not caring in the slightest that they are teaching devastating values that are doing extremely serious damage to America.

Imagine this scene: The very same House and Senate we have now are suddenly zipped back to 1787 and told to create a Constitution which would define the new nation to be called the United States of America. The result would be that there would be no Constitution and no nation.

Our Constitution is the result of the combined efforts of some of the finest minds in America at the time. And what was the brilliant key to their success? Compromise! Had they lacked the wise ability to compromise, they could have created nothing.

Compromise is the ability to accept the less-than-perfect for yourself or your party so that decisions can be made for the of the greater whole, the nation.

Today’s “leaders” lack wisdom, insight, understanding, and common sense. The reason they cannot run a government is that they are entirely clueless about how crucial, how central compromise is in the running of country. They are simply too immature.

Next election, vote for grown-ups. You’ll be able to recognize them. They’ll be the ones about 30 years younger than to children in Washington today.

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The Mystery of Music

My first encounter with serious music came from the little radio station in my home town. It was Christmas season, 1954. Amid Bing Crosby and Perry Como came the incredibly dynamic sound of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Now, 63 years later, I am more entranced and enriched by music than ever.

And I am still baffled by a few questions. Why does organized sound seem to form a coherent and meaningful whole in our brains and heart? How is it that Barber’s Agnus Dei can reach so immediately behind all my defenses and touch me with such wonderful gentleness? What makes a hymn to Mary, such as Gomez’ Ave Maria, such a song of worship and praise to God in my soul?

And I am completely unable to imagine how a Mozart can sit at a piano and play a beautiful piano sonata that didn’t even exist until he started playing? How can Handel create the Messiah — with that overwhelmingly magnificent Halleluia Chorus — in just a few weeks? How can a Beethoven work and work and work on scribbling a few notes on a page and create sounds no one had ever heard before, sounds which still enthrall us two centuries later?

How can these things be? What mysterious gift have these people that they can listen to and learn from the angels singing in the heavens?

For 55 years I have been seeking, with limited success, to be a man of faith and love. As I now come to what are my final days, I have been pleasantly surprised that death is no enemy, dying is no threat. It is reassuring that, in a time which could be considered high stress, I have been at peace with and even excited about my future.

Yet, to my embarrassment, I have on sever occasions faced bouts of anxiety. They are times which I look at my bookshelves or put on one of my favorite CDs. Suddenly I find myself worried about losing these incredible treasures. My books are my invaluable weapons against that dread enemy, ignorance. My music keeps me from being lost somewhere in the chaos of the insane complexity of my own psyche and soul.

Surely the Lord won’t confiscate these treasures at the gates of heaven? I try to reassure myself that, even if he does, he will have even greater music awaiting me, even better books (and I’ll be a better reader!)

So here I sit at my beloved desk, surrounded by books and music, with a Bonhoeffer manuscript awaiting the final reading before being sent off to the publisher, and lots of cards from long-time friends reassuring me I made a difference in their lives. In every little nook and cranny on this desk lies a storehouse of gratitude. Though seldom being sure of it, now I see clearly that all my life I have been loved by the Lord of the Universe, the Lord whom I am just now learning to call Daddy.

What overwhelming miracles!!!

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Sending Away the Salvadoreans

I am so very deeply ashamed of our president and his immeasurably tiny soul. Through his utter heartlessness, his inability to grasp any but the simplest form of any problem, and his determination to cut every issue down to the miniature size of his own psyche, he is trying hard to make America as shameful, selfish, and self-centered as he is himself.

Once we were the land of the free and the home of the brave. No more. Trump can’t grasp such lofty ideals. Once we were “We the People.” No more. Neither Trump nor any Republicans in Washington give a wooden nickel for the will of the people.  Once we could speak — and build a whole nation — on, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” No more. Washington now respects the rights only of a small portion of the populace, the wealthy. Clean the swamp? What hogwash.

Our Senators and Representatives have become a pack of pitiful sycophants, humiliating themselves in their rush to heap ridiculous praise on Trump just to salve his childish ego. Trump will see to it that before long they will all have a knife in their back. That’s his way: use people until you’re done with them, then destroy them. And he is proud of himself. How disgusting!

So, he wants to do away with all the bad apples among the foreigners in our midst. Despite the will of the people, despite all his insistence that he is only getting rid of problem folk, the truth is seen not in his words (He is quite thoroughly addicted to lying) but in his actions, which can only be described as brutally racist.

Yes, I know I’m becoming more and more raw in my condemnations of Trump. Death has a way of making subtlety an useless waste of time.

 

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