Archive for December, 2015

Jewish wisdom and music from the great Jewish music man and devout Buddhist Mr. Cohen.

Wisdom from the Jewish Talmud.

Wisdom from the Jewish Talmud.

The Talmud (Hebrew for “study”) is one of the central works of the Jewish people. It is the record of rabbinic teachings that spans a period of about six hundred years, beginning in the first century C.E. and continuing through the sixth and seventh centuries C.E. The rabbinic teachings of the Talmud explain in great detail how the commandments of the Torah are to be carried out. For example, the Torah teaches us that one is prohibited from working on the Sabbath. But what does that really mean? There is no detailed definition in the Torah of “work.” The talmuidc tractate called Shabbat therefore devotes an entire chapter to the meaning of work and the various categories of prohibited work.

— More at ReformJudaism.org


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Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a time to remember.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, a time to remember.

Back in 1981, on the night of Thanksgiving Eve before the 40th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, I interviewed a College Station, Texas, veteran who was a survivor of Pearl Harbor for The Bryan-College Station Eagle.

I don’t remember his name (I wish I could) or many details of the interview, but I remember what he looked like and that he was a very gracious man (he wanted me to stop by his house and meet his family on Thanksgiving Eve, after all). I think of him every day on Pearl Harbor Day.

He started out by saying what Pearl Harbor survivors almost always say:

    “I remember it like it happened yesterday.”

He told me he was on the deck at the front of the ship that Sunday morning, a young sailor shining his shoes without a care in the world.

The attackers swept in and swept down so close that the vet said the element of surprise was so overwhelming that it took a while for him and others to get their bearings and react.

“I won’t ever forget the face of (a Japanese pilot) who looked right at me smiled at me,” the veteran said. “It was like a movie, the way they smiled at us.”

That quote I remember because of its chilling power.

The theme of today’s 74th Pearl Harbor Commemoration is reconciliation.

Here’s one of the many stories that came out of the day which lives in “infamy.”

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Second Sunday of Advent: A candle is lit for peace.

Second Sunday of Advent: A candle is lit for peace.

A young, ultra-conservative and always rough-and-ready TV news pundit said in the wake of the mass killings in Paris recently:

“This is no time for lighting candles, people.”

What a grossly insensitive, arrogant and condescending thing to say as grieving people in Paris and around the world were doing what grieving people do and must do: lighting candles.

But then, the manly man who said it is the same Fox News pundit, Greg Gutfeld, who once called Pope Francis (no kidding) “the most dangerous man on the planet.”

So consider the source: the shrill Mr. Gutfeld gets a trifle puffed up in his male insecurity.


Look, I light a candle for peaceful reflection every day. But I do happen to believe that military force is sometimes a proverbial “necessary evil” in restoring peace and saving the lives of innocent men, women and children. Sometimes there are no good choices but the proverbial “lesser of two evils.”

As an “almost pacifist” who takes seriously both the Christian tradition of radical pacifism and the tradition’s “just war” theories, I maintain that doing nothing to stop head-slashing sociopaths on a reign of terror can carry its own brand of cruelty.

Radical pacifism, in my own humble opinion, ultimately collapses and, worse, ends up giving comfort and encouragement to barbarians to torture and kill still more innocents.

But even the most justified military force puts us, as Christians or people of peaceful faith traditions (I include Islam in that category) in a terribly compromising position. However necessary an evil war is, it’s evil.

It’s risky business. In resisting evil with evil–fighting fire with fire–“we,” the good guys, are always at risk of becoming “them”–the very people disconnected from anything like a conscience.

We risk the sale of our souls and the loss of God consciousness to the “Prince of Darkness.” We risk a “doubling down” of violence that so far exceeds justice and justification that it becomes about vengeance and blood lust and so what if we end up killing as many innocent people as “the bad guys” in order to “win.”

This just in to News Central: In war, nobody “wins.” Souls as well as lives get lost.

As a Christian whose Lord is the Prince of Peace–that homeless baby who was cast out to a manger in a barnyard–I want to see whatever force we may have to use to stop evil forces tempered by utter, Christ-like humility, not puffed-up chest beating and macho posturing.

Any time we have to use force to stop evil–and even the peacemaker Dr. King said we sometimes have no choice but to stop the mad man running amuck in the village–we throw ourselves at the mercy of God whose will is for peace on earth, good will to all.

I want to see billions of candles lit–especially during this Advent season–as a reminder of something my good friend and colleague in United Methodist ministry wrote on her Facebook page today, which follows:

    “This present darkness is holding the Lord’s people captive because they can’t see their way out. Don’t grow accustomed to the dark. It is not God’s way. Jesus is the light that has overcome the darkness.”

A big amen to that.

    “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    — John 1: 5 (NIV)


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I’ve offered many tips for holiday survival through the years, but when it came time to compile them for this post, I was overwhelmed. What good are “Fifty Ways to Take Care of Yourself During the Holidays” when I can barely manage to dress myself in the morning? (Remind me to tell you about the day a few weeks after my mother died, when I managed to put on a blouse, but failed to actually button it up until I was walking across the parking lot into my office.)”

— My friend the grief counselor Stephanie Rogers at her blog, “Embracing Your Grief: Mindfully Experiencing the Worst Time of your Life”)


Just like the rest of us, even grief counselors experience grief.

And nothing intensifies pain and grief like the year-end holidays.

My friend Stephanie Rogers–a terrific poet, author, blogger and speaker–is also a grief counselor and Thanatologist, who happens to be grieving the loss of her mother.

I worked in hospice with Stephanie for two full years in a multi-county area of Northeast Texas, I as a chaplain and she as the volunteer coordinator. We became great friends and soul mates.

During a gruelingly painful time in my life–a time in which I was grief-stricken and angry at a certain person and pretty much the world for a while–I made a long-distance call to Stephanie one night and spilled my guts out to her. I called on her because, being a grief counselor as well as a great friend, she’s one of the best listeners in the world.

She didn’t tell me I need to calm down; she didn’t tell me to do this or advise me to do that. She just heard me out, allowed me to vent through some tears, to get the heavy weight that was pressing on my chest off of my chest.

That’s what great listeners do–they just hear you out, without judgment, without trying to fix you, without trying to prod you out of your grief and anger or whatever your ghastly stew of emotions might be.

When you’re walking through one of life’s dark valleys, a great listener is there to quietly walk with you and bear the weight of the cross you’re bearing. (“A grief shared,” goes a German proverb, “is a grief halved.”)

I’ll never forget how relieved I felt after that call to Stephanie and will always be grateful to her–and grateful to a couple of other great listener-friends, who happen to be fellow clergy, who were there to listen to me when I really need somebody to listen to me.

Check out Steph’s post about her first Thanksgiving without her mom at her fine and very fine new blog site.

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