The Awakeness of Dreams

My favorite singer is Elina Garanca, a Latvian opera mezzo-soprano. As part of her international work, she has learned German, English, French, Spanish and Italian. And maybe more, for all I know. Once in awhile she does show that she is not 100% fluent in English, such as when she answered a question about lifetime dreams. Her response in English was, “Too deep dreams, sometimes the awakeness of them can be painful.” She must have been thinking in one language while speaking in another.

And yet her idea comes through clearly after a  moment’s thought. If we spin deep dreams, if we hope for too much, we can sometimes be disappointed that in fact the reality for which we hoped is not as good as we anticipated. It takes a degree of maturity to spin realistic dreams. The young cannot easily recognize the difference between a goal and a wish.

As a pastor who married many, many couples over the years, I remember well that in the mid 1980s a change occurred in the couples with whom I met for premarital counseling. I was careful in that counseling, meeting with each couple for 10-12 90-minute sessions. Yet the time after the mid-80s seemed less fruitful, less meaningful. The young men and women didn’t know themselves well at all and therefore could not know one another well. One result was that they were entering the marriage with a certain blindness. They were dreaming of a happy marriage but didn’t know what that meant and weren’t in a position to learn much because they simply didn’t have the fundamental self-knowledge in place.

Most troubling to me was that, after that cultural shift, the young couples didn’t even show an interest in learning and growing. It was as if they just assumed all would be well and that my warnings about marriage being a great challenge seemed silly to them. They seemed to think things would just turn out fine with no effort.

In other words, their dreams about a happy marriage weren’t grounded in reality.

Big dreams require hard work Until 1985 or so, must people understood that. Since then, few people do.

And divorce rates are shamefully high. And the pain is still very deep.

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An Irresponsible “Healthcare” Bill

It is a mark of our Republican leaders that they do not like responsibility. Trump and his spokespersons repeatedly deny that he is responsible for his words and even chide the press for holding him accountable for what he says. But the problem is bigger than Trump: the whole party seems to think good governance means shucking responsibility off to the states, despite knowing full well they are asking of the states much more than is possible for them.

America is in the bizarre position of having elected governmental leaders who are enemies of the government.

The so-called “healthcare” debate (it is really an insurance debate, not a healthcare debate) is a good example. Think of how strange it is that the Republicans have been avowed enemies of Obamacare since before it began, yet all these years later we learn they hadn’t even begun preparing an improved plan. There is no imaginable measurement by which to evaluate such total irresponsibility. And there certainly is no excuse for it.

I have problems with the Republican plans in three important areas: MOTIVE, PROCESS, and CONTENT.

MOTIVE     To understand the tremendous push to make Obamacare fail so that they have an excuse to replace and repeal, we need only recall that shortly after Obama took office in 2009, the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, said his party’s only job for the next four years was to make sure Obama was not re-elected in four years. Their blind resistance to anything connected to Obama has been stubborn and often evil as they have resorted to lies, distortions, and ignominious propaganda to make sure that neither citizens nor insurance companies would support Obamacare. It is extremely difficult to avoid the observation that resistance to Obama has been strongest in states where racism continues to be a major dimension of the culture.

PROCESS     The extreme ineptitude shown by the Republicans since January 20 reflects badly on another statement by McConnell, uttered shortly after the Republicans gained the congressional majority. He said, “Now we’ll show that Republicans know how to run a government.” In fact, they have been surprisingly incompetent in knowing how to run their own party and have done nothing to benefit the country. The House stumbled its way into passing a bill which only Paul Ryan claims to like. It favors the people who need the least help (especially the wealthy) and puts a far greater burden on those who need the most help. In a democracy that exists — or so we think — “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the House bill has a terrible stench about it. The Senate bill has made a few very shallow changes to create the illusion that it is kinder to those in greatest need but it remains an utterly heartless imposition on those who need insurance the most. Clearly one of the highest and most inviolable values of the Republican Party is to remove all burdens from the wealthy. It is, then, no wonder that the Senate committee worked in secret, knowing that they were producing a shameful bill that could not withstand debate even among Republicans.

CONTENT     The content of both the House and the Senate versions of the healthcare bill reveal a truly unimaginable failure to grasp the most basic understanding of the nature and purpose of insurance. As I’ve written earlier (March 26 and 27, 2017), the insurance industry runs a legitimate business overcharging healthy people so that they will have enough funds to make a profit and pay the expenses of those who need the most expensive help. The Republicans, seeking to put a greater burden on those who need the most help, prove that they simply do not know what an insurance company is. Their ignorance is appalling and inexcusable.

Paul Ryan’s repeated defense of the House bill as giving unforced access to healthcare for all is pure deceit. If I offer you an insurance plan that costs 50% of your income and then claim I’ve “given you access,” I speak with forked tongue. The House and Senate plans very obviously decrease accessibility for millions of Americans. To claim otherwise is to dwell in the land of alternative facts.

It is sad to see the wealthiest nation the planet has ever seen becoming more and more like a Third World power dominated by selfishness and self-centeredness as personified by our national leaders.

 

 

 

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Grace Is Greater Than Blame

As we would expect, the shooting at the baseball field in Virginia has led to a rush to assess blame. Fox News has been insistent that the blame lies with the leftists. On the left, blame is cast on the right for refusing to enact meaningful gun control.

There are two problems with all this blame. First, it seldom has much connection to reality. Fox fails to note that a large portion of hate speech in America comes from our president. Gun-control proponents (of whom I am one) tend to discount hate-speech from the left because they see it as merely a fringe phenomenon.

More importantly, blame is a no-win game. It is a form of irresponsibility. We can blame others while failing to take responsibility for fixing the problem. Blame leads nowhere, as we can see in the matter of global warming. Blaming people stops us from taking responsibility for acting.

Blame asks the wrong question. It asks about yesterday’s words and decisions. Responsibility asks instead about today’s words and decisions. We need not ask who is to blame for the problem but who is responsible for the solution.

And there is something deeper still. Had our culture not deserted the common faith which, however loosely held, did give us some understanding of the love and grace of God, we would be in a better position now to see that God’s graciousness makes blame unnecessary. By supplanting blame, grace frees us to address the question of responsibility.

Certainly it is sad that we have a president who rejects any responsibility for his own violent language. It is severely damaging to the American spirit to have a leader who is working so hard to drag us down to the level of his own ill-formed character. And certainly we have been deeply harmed by both our advertising and entertainment industries, which have furthered both selfishness and violence. The questions remain, however, what are we to do to correct the problems and who is going to begin the process?

Our nation was founded on theological foundations. “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 is not a political but a theological affirmation. In rejecting our Creator, we have also rejected the characteristics of our own creation: equality of value and rights. We have now taught that every man can be his own Rambo, grabbing an assault rifle and killing others, innocent or not. Every man is The Judge, supplanting the One who is in fact the righteous judge of all the universe.

Whether we look at history or at current events, it is evident that we humans do very poorly when we try to be our own gods. We’re simply not made for the task

The church must rise to the occasion, speaking love and grace into the messes of our day. If the fellowship of Christians can’t or won’t step forward, who else can bring health to our people?

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What’s So Attractive about Bonhoeffer?

Twice in the last few days I’ve been asked why Bonhoeffer remains so popular after all these years? What’s so attractive about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? And, equally interesting, how would I summarize his message, his theology?

Some would say that are drawn to Bonhoeffer because he lived and died for his faith. As important as is his faithfulness unto death, I always remember that thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands, no millions of good people have died at the hands of Hitler, Stalin, and many other dictators.

Bonhoeffer’s faithfulness is valuable for us because it verifies the depth of his trust in God but we keep returning to read and discuss Bonhoeffer because of what he believed and taught about God.

At the heart of Bonhoeffer’s theology lay not merely his convictions about but his very solid devotion to his living Lord, Jesus Christ. Where other people might have a clear ethic in the sense of a coherent sense of right and wrong, Bonhoeffer had instead a sense of obedience to Christ.  Others might have a detailed christology but Bonhoeffer knew Christ.

Secondly, in a way that moved beyond even the most conservative Fundamentalist, Bonhoeffer was a truly biblical Christian. Not satisfied merely to mimic biblical words, Bonhoeffer studied with persistence and careful attentiveness both the Old and New Testaments.Not content to attend only to the words (Greek rhema) of the Bible, Bonhoeffer sought always to hear the Word (Greek logos) woven throughout Scripture. He read the Bible faithfully but also creatively, seeking a mature understanding of its meaning.

Third, to name something few Evangelicals bother to notice, Bonhoeffer sought always to minimize the difference between the secular and the religious worlds. He valued solidarity with the world, by which he did NOT mean submission to the world and its values. He meant it in a very Christlike sense: As Jesus identified with the sinners like you and me and had no fear of being contaminated, so Bonhoeffer wanted to leave religion behind and follow Christ along the dusty trail into the messiness of the real world. One implication of this is that Bonhoeffer’s work lays a good foundation for the church’s work on social justice.

 

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Being Near Good People

Char and I spent several days last week visiting friends in northern Minnesota. Driving back home on Sunday, we talked a bit about what a privilege it is to know such special people. Were these four couples the only blessings the Lord had ever given us, we would still count ourselves highly blessed.

There is something deeply enriching about being around good people. Amidst all the political turmoil of our day, especially with the disgusting behavior of so many of our national leaders, being with those who have no guile had an almost cleansing effect on us. By the grace of God, such people will be the future of America in a way that the currently twisted conservatives will never be.

More importantly, such people are a demonstration that the Kingdom of God, not fully established this side of the grave, nevertheless is present in our day. It shows up in the Christlikeness of character of those who dwell in the love and grace of God.

Just think of how much better off America would be right now if the “Evangelicals” ( a dubious label, I fear) had not ceased to value Christlikeness of character in the voting booths in recent years.

Governments and and nations come and go on planet Earth but there will always be God’s people to show us what goodness looks like, what grace can accomplish, and what love really is. Char and I are thankful to God for the privilege and pleasure of knowing some of those people. . . .

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Tranquility

It is a little past nine in the evening, nearly dark here in the northern plains. The robins, always the first to awaken in the morning and the last to stop chattering in the evening, are chirping their good-nights to one another. The pleasantly warm air is perfectly calm, as if the breezes themselves are being tucked in for the night.

Today I’ve enjoyed watching the orioles at our feeder, listening to the cardinals boast of their beauty, and being amused at the little goldfinch who landed on the screen on the window beside my desk, apparently plucking invisibly small seeds from the screen.

Char and I packed a light dinner and drove to the park beside the Mississippi, letting the lazy flow of the river mellow us as we basked in the warm of the spring sun.

Now I am enjoying a special richness as I listen to one of my favorite CDs, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings in eight different arrangements. The music is smooth, quiet, deeply restful.

My feathers cannot be ruffled by the president and the fool he is making of himself over London and Qatar. I’m not bothered by my cancer or my weakened kidneys because they are merely physical problems. I’m too busy soaking in the peace of God and experiencing this small foretaste of heaven to worry about such details.

If life here and now, amidst political and cultural turmoil and health issues, can be so rich and peaceful, how could heaven be any better? But I know that it will be. In the Bible, the apostle John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” Just seeing God, we will be transformed, shedding all our earthly impediments and rejoicing in the full beauty and glory of God.

Have you ever entrusted yourself to your Creator? If not, isn’t now a perfect time?

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Trump’s Home Runs

The more we learn of Trump’s recent travels, the more bothered I become. He cozies up to the wrong people (primarily to get a $110 billion sale of arms with no assurance that those arms will not be used against our friends) and offends our friends. He was rude, ignorant, self-righteous, and incredibly foolish in Europe. And the offense was certainly noted.

Yet, having lectured the EU for not living up to agreements that they have never made (what an ignorant beast!), he seems really to have thought he did well.

What bothers me most is not that he is a bald-faced liar, which we’ve seen many times, but the thought that he may actually believe some of his own lies. There is very little evidence to suggest that Trump is able to perceive a distinction between truth and falsehood. He blasts the media for fake news, apparently not aware that he himself is by far the most egregious purveyor of falsehoods. He blasts them for relying on unnamed sources, as if he himself were not guilty of the same thing many times over.

That he is a liar is obvious enough. That he is truly disconnected from reality itself is even more worrisome.

And he has the nuclear codes. . .

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