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Archive for December, 2013

Sen. You-Know-Who bowing down before the  brutaL Libyan dictator after the dictator killed everyone including mostly Americans  on Pan Am Flight 103. The list of brutal dictators that American Presidents have shaken hands with is long--McCain and many more conservative leaders cozied up to Saddam for years after he was known to have gassed his own people.

Sen. You-Know-Who bowing down before the brutaL Libyan dictator after the dictator killed everyone including mostly Americans on Pan Am Flight 103. The list of brutal dictators that American Presidents have shaken hands with is long–McCain and many more conservative leaders cozied up to Saddam for years after he was known to have gassed his own people.

Sen. John McCain compares President Obama shaking hands with Cuban President Raul Castro with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Hitler in what is widely viewed as Chamberlain’s disastrous appeasement to Hitler.

“It gives Raul some propaganda to continue to prop up his dictatorial, brutal regime,” McCain said. “Why should you shake hands with somebody who’s keeping Americans in prison?”

Here’s why: Because shaking hands with world leaders, even enemies, at a funeral, means nothing but a handshake in passing at a world event where everybody is shaking hands. And Sen. McCain knows it.

Having a meeting for government business with the then-Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi, and shaking hands with him, complete with bowing–after Qaddafi shot down a Pan Am flight with Americans aboard–might be construed as more than just a handshake in passing. And Sen. McCain, who also has shaken hands in friendly meetings with the likes of Saddam Hussein (when Saddam was our great “friend” and oil daddy) did just that–angered the families of Pan Am victims’ survivors. (See here for a summation of Lybia’s role.)

I remember how angered some of those families of Pan Am victims were at McCain and other American conservatives who were pals of Qaddafi back in the day, because I interviewed some of them in my journalism days for an article.
I tried to interview McCain for the story, but he passed me off to a flak who gave me the usual spin that only made the Pan Am victims’ families angrier.

They wanted Qaddafi brought to justice for Pan Am and brought a lot of pressure to bear on McCain and others; but McCain and other politicians wanted to do business with Libya’s bad boy because he was useful to them and “American interests” at the time.

There’s so much to admire about John McCain and his life and incredible service and love of America. But he can also disgust with his hyperbole and hypocrisy in pandering to the far-right lunatics who stay awake at night trying to make the President out to be evil incarnate.

There’s been so much press this year about Obama and McCain becoming good friends and frequent political allies that he seems McCain says stuff like this on occasion to get Obama haters off his back.

Or maybe the bitter taste of losing to Obama stirs him to such hypocritical rhetoric.

Whatever drives the great Senator’s occasional madness is a mystery.

But come on, Senator “Maverick”; keep it real.

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If “The Little Drummer Boy” were a roach, I’d smother it in Raid Ant & Roach Killer (fresh lavender scent).

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I guess I was–I dunno, four-, five-years-old–the first time I heard “The Little Drummer Boy.” I probably cried or maybe ran away from home or from wherever I was at that moment.

I want to run away even now, lo these many decades later, if “The Annoying Drummer Boy” comes within even remote range of my ear buds.

That said, this is a cool version of it that I can live with, maybe even get to like.

It’s completely different.

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He who does not love abides in death.”

— From the Apostle John’s first epistle

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I’ve been reading some of my main man the mystic Mr. Merton during Advent, and came across this sentence about the birth of Jesus in the great monk’s Love and Living:

If we accept this infant as our God, then we accept our own obligations to grow with Him in our world of arrogant power, and travel with Him as he ascends to Jerusalem and the Cross, which is the denial of power (my italics for emphasis).” — Thomas Merton

And this got me thinking, which is always dangerous:

1. If we ever stop growing spiritually–and shaking off the attachments to our own ego-driven needs and desires in the process that is spiritual growth–we’re not fully “alive in Christ.”

2. If we stop growing we get stuck on the road to Jerusalem, either too lazy or too fearful of a demanding God to ascend all the way to the cross, as Jesus did.

3. We can either be fully alive in Christ–in joy and sorrow and all that comes our way en route to Jerusalem–or we can be dead where we sit.

4. Being dead demands and requires nothing of us.

5. Being dead spiritually is easy and painless, and gets the Christian nowhere.

6. Being fully alive in Christ requires a certain foolhardiness in a world that says it’s all about you, that you can have it all, be it all, with no pain, no inconvenience, no discomfort.

Or as C.S. Lewis put it . . .

7. To be fully alive is to be constructive, never destructive–always on the side of whatever is life-giving, on the side of that which uplifts us and empowers us to lift up others.

8. To be truly alive is to abide in the love of Christ and have the love of Christ abiding in us.

John wrote in 1 John 3: 11-24 that he who does not love abides in death.

    “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister* in need and yet refuses help?

    Little children*, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

    “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.”

9. *It’s interesting, isn’t it, that John addresses his readers in that passage as “Little children.”

10. Which brings us back full circle to what Merton says, that “if we accept this infant as our God, we accept our own obligations to grow with him.”

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Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a serious day that should give us serious pause amidst all the silliness like a phony “War on Christmas” defense that infects America today.

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It’s hard to imagine how bleak the future looked on Dec. 7, 1941, although things were looking and feeling terribly bleak on a Sept. 11 in our own times. The difference is that in the 1940s, the whole nation rallied, and every American heeded the President’s calls to make sacrifices–not only in the war zones but in homes, villages, towns and cities.

People were asked to buy savings bonds to finance the war, and rationing was widespread. People had “Victory Gardens” for the cause.

After 9-11, who outside of the military sacrificed anything, or was even asked to sacrifice, and who is sacrificing anything for America’s future now, outside of the military and military families?

In the forties, we still had capitalism, but there was also such a thing as “enough-ism.”

With 9-11 we had a chance to measure up to “The Greatest Generation.” And yet we weren’t called on to sacrifice anything to support two wars. Instead we all plastered “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” stickers on our vehicles.

And we were called on to burn gas driving to the mall to shop.

Unable ever to obtain or have enough of anything–even in a time of two wars–we went to the malls. (And casinos and lotteries mushroomed! You could win millions, pay off the $25K you owe in credit card debt and have enough left over to go to casinos any time you want to lose your fortune while not earning any honest money for honest work or productivity! It’s win-win, even though odds are overwhelming that you lose-lose.)

Not that shopping is bad or ever was; I do a little necessary shopping in the States myself sometimes, even though I’d prefer a poke in the eye.

But we live in some really silly times, thanks in no small measure to a silly media that keep people juiced up and edgy about silly stuff like a non-existent “War on Christmas.”

Bill “Merry Christmas, damn it!” O’Reilly and Sarah Palin and all the other malcontents defending us against a “War on Christmas” can’t see that they are waging a war on Christian spirituality–and spiritual contentment above all.

But then, their “wars” are very lucrative.

St. Paul was in a jail cell when he wrote to the Philippians of a secret that seems to be lost on the O’Reillys and Palins of the world–that contentment is the best defense in a time when people have so many wants that they don’t know what they want.

    “I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it.

    “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

    — Philippians 4: 10-13

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No help wanted! NO ENTRY! DAWGS ARE WAITING TO RIP YOUR LEGS OFF! NO TRESPASSING! PRIVATE PROPERTY! And Merry Christmas to you too, pal

No help wanted! NO ENTRY! DAWGS ARE WAITING TO RIP YOUR LEGS OFF! NO TRESPASSING! PRIVATE PROPERTY! And Merry Christmas to you too, pal


Beginning to look a lot like Christmas in downtown San Ignacio.
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The first order of business in erecting the Christmas tree at the McKay house was for Mama Goldie to put on Brenda Lee and rock a little with a glass of cold Sherry in hand. You do have to get in a Christmas state of mind before you break out the decorations after all

It’s still not Christmas Season in my head till I’ve heard this a few times:

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Hard to relate to all the frigid weather back in the States when the days here have been sunny, mild and divine all month. We’re entering the “high season” in Belize, when the resort and hotel and restaurant rates rise to “high.” But that’s because the weather is more reliably sunny and mild in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s perfect weather for just getting in the pickup and exploring:

In this pic up in the rugged Barton Creek region of Mountain Pine Ridge–the roads are still muddy and treacherous from weeks of near non-stop rain in the country’s exceptionally rainy year. (Up in the Corozal District in northern Belize–which is sugar country–the cane farmers were wiped out by the October-November deluges.

There is a passable road to the other side under there.

There is a passable road to the other side under there.

Or one can wade across or risk life and limb on this pre-historic swing bridge.

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An alleged "road" up in the Barton Creek mountain region. Fortunately my wheels are Dodge Ram Tough.

An alleged “road” up in the Barton Creek mountain region. Fortunately my wheels are Dodge Ram Tough.

But then, Barton Creek region has a lot of Mennonites, and Mennonites are always going to have top-grade roads.

But then, Barton Creek region has a lot of Mennonites, and Mennonites are always going to have top-grade roads.

The Mennonites also have the most idyllic farms and homesteads; somehow they have great, massive farms, roads and homesteads without kazillions of dollars in anything like America's US Farm Bill subsidies. And they pretty much feed all of Belize without any government subsidies--gee, you have to wonder how they do that.

The Mennonites also have the most idyllic farms and homesteads; somehow they have great, massive farms, roads and homesteads without kazillions of dollars in anything like America’s US Farm Bill subsidies. And they pretty much feed all of Belize without any government subsidies–gee, you have to wonder how they do that.

Another roadside attraction--a rolling Mennonite farm and ranch.

Another roadside attraction–a rolling Mennonite farm and ranch.

And speaking of Sherry . . .

Until next time . . .

Salud!

Salud!

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Nelson Mandela on a visit to the  prison cell where he was confined for 27 years--that is a long, long lot of days and nights--and yet he spent them in peace because he forgave his enemies and grew to believe in the transforming power of radical love.

Nelson Mandela on a visit to the prison cell where he was confined for 27 years–that is a long, long lot of days and nights–and yet he spent them in peace because he forgave his enemies and grew to believe in the transforming power of radical love.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

― Nelson Mandela, who took “love your enemies” to heart like few people ever have.

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This is a second in a series of Advent reflections.

Anna the Prophetess had the patience of Job, and then some.

Anna the Prophetess had the patience of Job, and then some.

SCRIPTURE READING: Luke: 2: 25-38

KEY VERSE: “[Anna] never left the temple, but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Maybe you’ve heard someone with extreme patience described as having “the patience of Job.”

The Old Testament character Job was a long-suffering sort for sure, but for patient waiting of the sort that we touched on in yesterday’s posting, consider Simeon and Anna in the birth stories of Jesus.

We find these two elderly characters in the temple when Joseph and Mary present the baby Jesus. Simeon had been promised he would live to see that day that finally came about, as told in Luke 2:

    “Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout . . .

    “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
    ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
    for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’

Matthew tells us this in 2: 36-38, immediately following the joyful words of Simeon beholding the Lord’s Messiah . . .

“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Both Simeon and Anna waited . . . and waited, never doubting that their patience would pay off with that “which God had revealed to them.”

Imagine–all that patient waiting in the Temple without any texting, iPads or games to keep the fingers busy and the mind off the Holy.

They waited for what they did not see, with such utter patience steeped in such deep faith as to remind us that good things do come to those who wait in faith and hope.

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Jesus gave us a foretaste of the kingdom to come; our responsibility in accepting the gift that is God's unconditional grace is to work to advance the kingdom until the Second Coming through faith--and sacrificial living.

Jesus gave us a foretaste of the kingdom to come; our responsibility in accepting the gift that is God’s unconditional grace is to work to advance the kingdom until the Second Coming through faith–and sacrificial living.

Today is Advent Sunday, the first day on the liturgical church calendar.

So it’s none too early to say, “Happy New Year!”

This the first in a series of reflections on Advent, when churches observe the incarnation of Christ while anticipating and preparing for his second appearance. Click here for a Protestant theologian’s primer.

Observing the Advent Season, rather than the Christmas season that the American culture has hijacked and secularized, is a good way to remain mindful of the proverbial reason for the season. Click here for the wonderful “Advent Conspiracy,” whose motto is “Christmas was meant to be celebrated, not regretted.”

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SCRIPTURE READING: Rom. 8: 18-25

KEY VERSES (24, 25): “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

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I’ve always been fond of that snappy little “Prayer for Patience” that goes, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me now!”

The Bible ends with the Book of Revelation–that radically misinterpreted message to persecuted Christians that is all about living in faith and hope–giving us a vision of a perfectly glorious future as promised by Jesus himself.

In fact, Christ the lamb of God promises repeatedly in his final earthly appearances that “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22: 7, 12, 20). His promise is to restore the paradise that was Eden, complete with all the joy and wonder that Adam and Eve experienced before they blew it. In the “New Jerusalem,” nothing accursed will be found there anymore. (Rev. 22: 1-5)

But wait! Since Jesus made this promise repeatedly, more than 2,000 years ago–and promised it all so convincingly that even the Apostles initially thought their savior would return in their lifetimes, what’s he waiting on?

Christmas????

The short answer, ye of little patient faith, is that he came once and remains in our midst even now; and yet, he ascended to the heavenly, Trinitarian realm, and is yet to come.

Christianity is nothing if not a paradox wrapped in a paradox. G.K. Chesterton, that big, gentle bear of a Christian thinker, put it this way:

    “The crucified flesh of God on the cross sends a difficult and demanding message, namely that weakness is really strength, wisdom is really foolishness, death is really life, matter is really spirit, religion is often slavery, and sin itself, when recognized, is actually the path to salvation and authentic holiness. Of course, because of our need for the appearance of power and a firm conviction that we are right, we don’t want to hear any of this paradoxical stuff. Faith knows and does not know at the same time.”

Jesus came those 2,000 years ago and remains present with us in our joy as well as our suffering, and yet will come again in fullness to usher in the divine, peaceable kingdom, where all will be as good as when God Himself/Herself declared repeatedly in creating the world that “it is good.”

Meanwhile, Christians are obligated to meet Christ halfway, being his hands, his feet, his conscience, his consciousness.

Who knows? Maybe he’s waiting on us to get to get halfway to some Way Station.

Christianity was, after all, called “The Way” before it was ever called Christianity.

"Because of our need for the appearance of power and a firm conviction that we are right, we don't want to hear any of this paradoxical stuff. Faith knows and does not know at the same time." -- Chesterton.

“Because of our need for the appearance of power and a firm conviction that we are right, we don’t want to hear any of this paradoxical stuff. Faith knows and does not know at the same time.” — Chesterton.

We’re obliged to work alongside Christ, as he dwells in our spiritual midst, to advance the kingdom in the here and now, people. That doesn’t happen by our sitting around twiddling our thumbs and assuring ourselves in our sinful delusions that we’ve been “saved!” and “born again!” and are thereby assured a place in heaven because, after all–we tithe 10 percent and probably will never murder anybody.

As the acclaimed United Methodist theologian Randy Maddox notes, grace comes with the responsibility on our part to respond to God, not to simply be a decent-enough person. “While grace comes to us as a gift from God, we are the ones who must respond in order to fully incorporate it into our lives and the lives of others,” Maddox writes in Responsible Grace.

Indeed, in accepting the free gift of grace we take on the responsibility of sacrificial living, not superficial mouthing.

Christ he is in our midst already (Matt. 25: 40), equipping us in our responsibility and our work to advance peace, justice and a life more abundant for ourselves–and more so for those outside the comfort zones of our nice homes and tall steeple church walls.

Meanwhile, we wait in hope for the heavenly liberation of all from pain and struggle. We wait for God’s definitive peace, shalom, which entails the healing of all creation as well as the redemption of our suffering bodies (Rom. 8: 22-25).

This all requires that we bear the fruit of the spirit that is patience.

And the best antidote to impatience–or boredom or worry or anxiety or a sense of hopelessness in a seemingly hopeless world–is some hard labor in God’s vineyards.

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