Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2016


De'Amon Harges was hired by a United Methodist Church in inner-city Indianapolis to be "a roving listener." It was part of the church's radical, non-traditional approach to fighting poverty in its neighborhood.

De’Amon Harges was hired by a United Methodist Church in inner-city Indianapolis to be “a roving listener.” It was part of the church’s radical, non-traditional approach to fighting poverty in its neighborhood. (See video below.)

I’m happy to say my book of meditations on scriptures addressing poverty will be published in the near future.

Belize me when I tell you, dear reader, that you’ll probably tire of my shameless promotion of it when the time comes.

Meanwhile, here are random thoughts about how to attack poverty–or NOT attack it.

Today's "Big Amen of the Day to That."

Today’s “Big Amen of the Day to That.”

The great St. Augustine is remembered for his powerful writings and his eternal impact on theology and church tradition.

He’s not especially remembered as a fierce advocate for the poor, but should be.

In researching my book I read some of “Life of Augustine” (not exactly a beach read) by his close friend of 40 years and fellow Bishop Possidius, who said Augustine “never forgot his companions in poverty.”

Possidius wrote:

    “When the [charity] funds of the Church gave out, Augustine announced this to his flock, telling them that he had nothing to bestow upon those in need. It even happened that he ordered the holy vessels of the church to be broken up and melted down, and the proceeds distributed for the benefit of captives and of as many of the poor people as possible.”

Wow! Think about that. The great Bishop Augustine ordered the holy vessels of the Church to be melted down to give to the poor.

So what would your reaction be if your pastor or bishop proposed something even half (or maybe a fraction) as wildly radical as melting down sacred church objects out of love and concern for the poor?

* * *

Now, with all that said, Augustine’s approach to charity is not a realistic model for Christianity today. Augustine was prone to giving handouts–and let me say yes and a thousand times yes: there is a definite need for a certain amount of generous, charitable giving right out of one’s pocket or a church’s treasury. Immediate needs have to be met some way, somehow.

But we all know handing out a buck or 20 to every beggar you see isn’t the most effective way of (to borrow a term from capitalism) lifting everybody’s boat.

I’ve lived in the San Ignacio area in Third World Belize for a full four years now. I pass by ragged street people in this tourist boom town’s streets every day who approach me to beg for a dollar for a bottle of water or a dollar for 10 hot corn tortillas. Those are street guys looking for enough dollars for another cheap bottle of Belizean rum.

Once in a while I’ll offer to buy them tacos or something from one of the many fruit and veggie vendors on the streets and seldom get taken up on the offer.

What’s harder for me to turn down are the beggars–usually women or children–who obviously are destitute or close enough to destitute that it breaks my heart to give them no more than a “God bless you” and say, “I wish I could help you.”

Mind you, I do give sometimes, but more often than not I have to look such beggars in the eyes so as to at least acknowledge their existence and affirm their dignity and maybe pray with them or for them and move on. I can do no good in this world if I make render myself penniless or drop from exhaustion and lack of self-care by my own charity.

In my charity of giving money I do what I can in all the ways I can and accept that everything in charity of giving money–like everything under God’s sun–comes with practical limits and boundaries.

And there is something to be said for the charity of simply loving the poor and affirming their dignity, but that’s another post for another day. (And a chapter in my book.)

* * *

I love beautiful and glorious cathedrals and churches and “holy” objects as much as anybody. This broken and violent world needs all the beauty it can get. But I do believe our first duty as Christians is to love and lift up the poor and marginalized as we are able.

That can be done in imaginative and yes, radical but effective ways.

In Indianapolis, the urban Broadway United Methodist Church transformed itself by doing something wildly radical indeed–it completely abandoned its traditional charity and outreach programs, right down to the food pantry and the after-school tutoring program (it simply never made a dent in the neighborhood’s school dropout rate anyway).

This once dynamic and mostly white Indy church, which was dying fast, discovered new and improved ways of lifting up the needy people in the church’s very neighborhood by sitting down with people in the neighborhood and listening to them–uncovering their needs, their wants, and more important, their gifts and talents.

The church went so far as to hire a “roving listener”–not so much to gauge people’s needs but to understand what dormant talents they had.

The approach was based on what’s called “asset-based community development”–the notion of capitalizing on what works in a place rather than merely addressing its deficiencies. It’s a way of empowering people to start their own businesses to meet their own needs and everyone else in a community.

John McKnight, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University, is one of the founders of this approach of building up communities from the inside out. Broadway UMC’s pastor Mike Mather invited McKnight to speak to the church members.

It goes without saying that many congregants were appalled at the idea of closing down traditional ministries like the food pantry.

This is an excerpt from an article about Broadway’s transformation (and growth) in “Faith and Leadership,” which describes itself as a learning resource for Christian leaders and their institutions from Leadership Education at Duke Divinity:

    For decades, the church had been feeding people out of its pantry. But local health officials were telling Mather that the No. 1 health problem facing the neighborhood wasn’t starvation.

    It was obesity — often leading to diabetes.

    To Broadway UMC’s Senior Pastor Mike Mather, it made no sense to hand out carbs in a box and peaches in cans of heavy syrup to people who were overweight.

    “We’re not only not helping,” he concluded. “We’re actively making people sicker.”

Instead of handing out food, Mather led the congregation to long-lasting solutions to hunger. He tells the story of Adele, who came to the food pantry for supplies for her family and ended up, a year and a half later, using her gifts as a cook to open her own restaurant.

I commend the whole story of Broadway’s effective and radical approach to poverty which you can read here.

Think about it and pray.

Read Full Post »


HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LUDY PAULITA McKAY (WHO I ADOPTED AT BIRTH 3 YEARS AGO TODAY), OR, AS I CALL HER, "MISS BELIZE! " SHE GOT PIZZAZ THAT WON'T QUIT.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LUDY PAULITA McKAY (WHO I ADOPTED AT BIRTH 3 YEARS AGO TODAY), OR, AS I CALL HER, “MISS BELIZE!” GIRL GOT PIZZAZ THAT WON’T QUIT, BELIZE ME.

13103454_10153724519953717_835961919224844295_n

MY KIND OF FITNESS REGIMEN.

MY KIND OF FITNESS REGIMEN.

BUMMER

BUMMER

MAY THE GOOD LORD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS

MAY THE GOOD LORD HAVE MERCY ON THEIR SOULS

UH-HUH.

UH-HUH.

GOOD ADVICE

GOOD ADVICE

Wocka! Wocka!

WOCKA! WOCKA!!!!!!

IT'S A NEW ACHE IN A NEW PLACE EVERY MORNING.

I FEEL YOUR PAIN, DAFFY.

SOME OF US WERE JUST BORN TO BE WILD

SOME OF US WERE JUST BORN TO BE WILD. PASS THAT WIlD TURKEY LIKKER OVER TO ME.

THOUGHTS THAT MAKE YOU GO, "HMMM"

THOUGHTS THAT MAKE YOU GO, “HMMM”

IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF PEE WEE HERMANN: "I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I?"

IN THE IMMORTAL WORDS OF PEE WEE HERMANN: “I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I?”

THIS SPEAKS TO ME.

THIS SPEAKS TO ME.

Stole this from my Houston friend Burke Watson's FB page. What the heck???

Stole this from my Houston friend Burke Watson’s FB page. What the heck???

Pity the elephant, so large and yet so ignored..

Pity the elephant, so large and yet so ignored..

I'M Snaccident Prone myself.

I’M Snaccident Prone myself.

AND UNTIL NEXT TIME, HERE'S TODAY'S "BIG AMEN OF THE DAY TO THAT."

AND UNTIL NEXT TIME, HERE’S TODAY’S “BIG AMEN OF THE DAY TO THAT.”

Read Full Post »

Jacques Hamel

Jacques Hamel

I was sickened and I mean very sickened by the news of ISIS terrorists who slit the throat of an 84-year-old priest and used nuns as a defense shield during a church’s mass in Normandy.

As I’ve said here before, these are some evil bastards we’re up against, and no amount of mushy hurling of love bombs or envisioning world peace with sloganeering and the posting of “love conquers hate” memes on Facebook is going to stop bloodless psychos.

That said, I’m not suggesting that we “bomb em back to the Stone Age and let God sort em out.”

That’s the approach that Trump seems to favor, though as no less a conservative than Charles Krauthammer at Fox News says, it’s anybody’s guess what ever-inconsistent, wildly unpredictable Trump’s approach to anything in world or national affairs would be.

The only thing we know for certain about Trump is that he and Putin have a mutual admiration thing. I have no doubt that another conservative, George Will, is correct in guessing that Trump won’t release his tax returns because of business ties with Russia. How bizarre and troubling is it that the only thing Trump opposed in the Republican platform was a Ukraine-friendly position. (Answer: Very Troubling even to hardcore conservatives.)*

Personally speaking, I’d vote for a Belizean howler monkey before I’d vote for Trump-Pence-Putin.

I’m voting for Hillary and the Dems and thanks largely to the manly (con) man Trump I’m feeling better about that vote every day.

And not because I’m thrilled about their promises to spend trillions more in money we don’t have to spend on goodies like “free” higher education. Trump’s cockamamie promises would spend us into oblivion far faster than anything the Dems have proposed.

I’m feeling good about my support of Dems because it’s been so refreshing to hear some uplifting language coming out of Philly this week, even if Bernie supporters tried to spoil it all by acting like baby Belizean howler monkeys.

I had my fill of childish monkey business watching the “lock her up” stupidity in Cleveland.

* * *

Seriously, it’s going to take way more than misguided “carpet bombing” and turning entire countries into parking lots to defeat this enemy.

In fact, forces backed by our courageous American “advisors” (please, let’s get real and call them our troops) have recovered a lot of territory from ISIS, only for ISIS to shift its strategy and double down with acts of unimaginable horror against civilians in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Wouldn’t it be nice and oh-so-easy if this were an old-fashioned enemy we could overwhelm and meet on a battleship to work out terms of surrender.

Those were great days.

* * *

Donald Trump (who in my judgment is about as Christian as a wet paper sack and I’m willing to be judged by Jesus by the measure by which I judge) scares me with all his Putin-like macho, manly man swag.

But now, all that said: I do wish that Democratic leadership would approach this war we’re stuck in–which so many of us were so hot to have in Iraq which had nothing to do with 9-11 all those years ago–with a greater sense of urgency.

I do wish Obama and Democrats would make a priority of rallying public support and seeking public unity in backing our military and other American security forces.

It is maddening, if not troubling at this point, that President Obama lacks any sense of strong will to address this madness every day.

It’s not as if he’s sitting on his hands doing nothing to eradicate this enemy, as his haters suggest. He does have our forces harm’s way, fighting and bombing like hell.

But it’s maddening to me that he’s not reminding us every day that a lot of courageous American troops are risking life and limb to stamp out this evil.

It’s maddening that he’s not rallying us constantly, at the very least, to remember that our troops–and a lot of other good, American security experts and allies–are exhausted and overwhelmed trying to protect us and good people everywhere, day in and day out.

It’s maddening that he in his ever-cool detachment shows no sign of passion for defeating ISIS and rallying support at home and around the world against it.

We are in a war, albeit a very untraditional war, and our fighters and security people and allies need the kind of constant moral support from this President that they just don’t get.

* * *

That doesn’t mean I have any truck with the Republican haters trying to score political points by pounding on Democrats this week for not addressing ISIS every minute in Philadelphia.

I just want to say that we as a country are going to have to stop figuratively slitting each other’s throats and start coming together in supporting the brave Americans who at this time are out of sight and out of mind while politicians throw stones at each other and common Americans fight things out in Facebook wars.

We need strong leadership in Washington to rally us together as a country like never before.

And Democrats and Republicans alike failing us. Republicans always want to step on the accelerator and go around the world running over innocents and bad guys alike.

Democrats are in fact guilty of what Republicans consistently and rightly rap them for: projecting weakness.

I mean, Mr. President–don’t be drawing any “red” lines in the sand against Syria’s mass killer of a dictator if you’re not going to back up the ultimatum, and don’t be dismissing evil psychos as “Junior Varsity,” and don’t be puffing up our progress against ISIS when we can see that there ain’t so much progress being made.

It was just that kind of wet-noodle leadership from Obama that led to the rise of macho Don, and he still is blind to it.

* * *

But we the people have our own massive blind spots.

Ultimately, however effective or awful our leaders are falls on us, the people.

It’s not enough anymore for us to demand and expect real and consistent leadership. We’re always seeking a messiah figure of a President and Senator and Congressman and governor who will finally save us and make us great again, or so much greater than we are, that we’ll be a problem-free America.

We take political sides by practically deifying the Trumps or Obamas or Bushes or Clintons–and then when they turn out to act in human ways and make human mistakes, we either go to extreme lengths to justify their whopping big human mistakes (and so often stretch to excuse their inexcusable, inconsistent, unethical behavior) or demean with language that would make the Messiah Jesus weep.

We’re all coming down with a bad case of the spirit of hate and dis-ease in a culture in which 24-7 media and social media keep us in a state of agitation and suspicion of one another.

I’m as susceptible to it sometimes as anyone.

And I know my Lord who is the only Savior weeps.

Come, Lord, come.
———–
*Update: Unbelievably–no sooner than I hit the send button on this post–Trump invited Russian cyber-spies–repeat, Russian spies!–to dump more emails on Hillary Clinton. Even if this is his idea of a joke it’s a reckless, irresponsible one. So much for pointing the finger at the irresponsible and reckless Debbie Wasserman Schultz!

Read Full Post »

Women: You have to treat ’em like shit.

— Manly Man Donald Trump, New York magazine, Nov. 9, 1992

Still0620_00009_1466463665316_3224513_ver1.0

I know people who like, if not love, Donald Trump on the grounds that “he’s a man’s man”–a strong man, a sort of “superman.”

Ok. But someone please help me to understand this:

— What kind of big, strong “man” mocks an accomplished New York Times journalist who has overcome a physical disability and is an inspiration to a lot of disabled people and their families? (And to insult to injury, he claimed he wasn’t mocking reporter Serge Kovaleski and didn’t even know who he was. See here for more on that blatant lie.)

— What kind of big, strong “man” commits what has always been considered the worst kind of political sin by suggesting that a presidential opponent’s wife is ugly?

— What kind of big, strong cynical “man” would say of another opponent: “Jeb Bush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife.” (Retweeted and then deleted on Twitter, July 4, 2015)

— What kind of big, strong “man” who “cherishes” women would say in one of his books: “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’” (Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life, 2008)

— What kind of big, strong “man” (who dodged the draft and passed on the opportunity to serve his country in war time or any time) insults and dishonors former prisoners of wars like a Sen. John McCain, whose strength and courage as a P.O.W. make lesser men marvel?

— What kind of big, strong “man” is so two-faced as to trash China at every turn (a man who says with all the sincerity of a total kook that global warming was “created by and for the Chinese to make American manufacturing less competitive”) after having said as recently as 2011 the following:

    “I know the Chinese. I’ve made a lot of money with the Chinese. I understand the Chinese mind.” (Xinhua, April 2011)

    “I did very well with Chinese people. Very well. Believe me.” (TIME, April 14, 2011)</ul

    — What kind of big, strong Christian “man” is so “puffed up” (to use a phrase from the Apostle Paul) that he has no need to ask God forgiveness for anything whatsoever? (Maybe a so-called “baby Christian,” as evangelical crackpots who are his “spiritual advisors” suggest?)

    — What king of big, strong Christian “man” has such a classic “Messiah Complex” that he declares that “I am the only one” who can fix every problem in America.

    — What kind of big, strong Christian “man” and father would say the following:

      “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody? And I helped create her. Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall, she’s got the best body. She made a lot money as a model–a tremendous amount.” (The Howard Stern Show, 2003)

      “She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

      “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, 2015)

      “You know, it really doesn’t matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” (Esquire Magazine, 1991)

      “Women: “You have to treat ’em like shit.” (New York Magazine, Nov. 9, 1992)

    I’m sorry, but I have to say in all honest-to-God bluntness that this supposed “man’s man” as one really really small, pathetic “con” man.

    Read Full Post »

Your Belizean photo of the day from the Chinese grocery store in the village of Bullet Tree Falls.

Your Belizean photo of the day from the Chinese grocery store in the village of Bullet Tree Falls.

Two of my faves from the Boys, and them looking so stiff and packaged for family TV in the second vid…

And another groovy love yarn from the pride of Baton Rouge …

And these guys who were a hit machine…

Read Full Post »


Cops in Wichita, Kansas, Sunday night got together with Black Lives Matter activists for a barbecue dinner in lieu of what supposed to have been a protest.

Cops in Wichita, Kansas, Sunday night got together with Black Lives Matter activists for a barbecue dinner in lieu of what supposed to have been a protest.

You-know-who–the “Law and Order” candidate–keeps saying just that, “that we need law and order, folks.”

Of course we do. I honestly don’t think the overwhelming majority of Americans want “unlawfulness and disorder”–ya think?

But we need more.

We need the kind of small steps that advance law and order and reconciliation of the kind seen in Wichita, Ka., Sunday–the same day that police officers in Baton Rouge were mowed down by a madman.

In Wichita, the Police Department hosted a “First Steps Cookout” in which officers treated Black Lives Matter activists to a barbecue in a park.

Mind you, this was done in lieu of a protest that had been planned that night.

There were grievances aired, but reportedly aired with respect and dignity on both sides.

Read the story and see the TV video here.

This is how trust is built, how understanding is fostered, how reconciliation happens–by people sitting down to break bread with one another (and better yet slice brisket together).

This is the kind of “First Steps Cookout” that could pay peace dividends at the grass-roots level, where all real solutions to problems and issues are most likely to be resolved.

Yes, we need national leadership to advance law and order, but no amount of legislation or tough talk from national or state politicians removed from the streets and parks in communities can be as effective as someone like a local police chief offering an olive branch and a meal to people who feel disenfranchised, if not afraid of the people who are supposed to protect and serve them.

Of course, it takes two to dance. People in disenfranchised communities have to be willing to respond in good faith.

Law enforcement agencies have always had what a police lieutenant friend of mine used to call “knuckle draggers”–brutish types who are short on brains, discipline and restraint.

It’s obviously time for departments overrun with knuckle draggers or hotheads or simply poorly trained officers to take stock and look at what departments like Chief Brown’s in Dallas have done in the way of reform (again, at the local community, grassroots level).

Major protest movements always have their “bad apples” as well. The Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t help its cause any when it shuts down a major transportation artery as happened in Atlanta recently, or when chanters chant hate-filled speech referring to cops as “pigs in a blanket” or shout out “f— the police.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not approve this message.

Nor do I or most people.

A frustrated law enforcement official in Baton Rouge said Sunday that the assassination of officers didn’t reflect a gun control problem but rather a “spiritual” problem of the kind we keep seeing in people’s hearts.

There is a lot of truth to that.

What happened in the park Sunday night in Wichita was an act of reconciliation and reconciliation is always a blossoming and ripening of spiritual fruit.

Taste and see that the Lord is good and know that cops and protesters can be good and find common ground, too.

Read Full Post »


Nice, France, in a more festive time.

Nice’s Promenade des Anglais in a more festive time.

Consider the wheel, that ancient invention that wrought so much progress with so many beneficial applications.

Consider the horrible irony that 18 wheels at the disposal of a madman infested with evil were employed to roll over hundreds of innocent people enjoying a festive evening in Nice, France.

So much for the Age of Aquarius and all that mushy love-is-all-ya-need secular theology. It was built on what Jesus referred to as “sinking sand” anyway.

* * *

“Life has always been scary here, and we’ve always been as vulnerable as kittens,” Christian writer Anne Lamott lamented Friday. “Cain is still killing Abel.”

Cain will always be killing Abel–the proverbial “man’s inhumanity toward man” will always be a reality–because sin stains the stamp of the image of God in us all.

This we know because Paul and the Bible tell us so.

A lot of atheists dismiss Christianity as a form of escapism for naive people who can’t deal with reality.

I wish those particular non-believers would make the effort to know and properly understand Christianity before they “diss” it.

I’m not a Christian because I can’t handle reality. I observed the effects of more god-awful evil in two careers as a newspaper reporter and a night chaplain in two major trauma hospitals than I care to remember, even though I’d do it all again. They were and are the purposes in my life to which I was called.

I’m a Christian largely because Christianity–serious and deep Christianity as opposed to the happy-face, “honk if you love my buddy Jesus” variety–doesn’t flinch from the realities of evil and suffering.

Christianity is based on the reality that we all will do most anything, right or wrong, to protect our self-interests.

We’ll do most anything wrong out of fear above all.

* * *

For every progressive creation from the wheel to the compass to the printing press to the internet–there’s been some predatory, self-interested individual or group perfectly willing to abuse that creation in subversive and violent ways.

The liberal Protestant leader and great preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick warned in 1922 that the biggest peril that tempts the believer in the march of progress is “a silly underestimate of the tremendous force of human sin, which withstands all real advance.”

It’s naive indeed to think that the world will someday live in perfect, Coca Cola sing-along harmony as progress gives us ever greater ways and means of living together and communicating with one another in the global community.

Now–by no means am I suggesting that we shouldn’t envision world peace and aspire and work to make this a peaceful world.

I firmly believe that God’s will is for peace, justice and mercy to prevail on this earth as if this earth were heaven. I for one will keep striving to be the peace and love and joy and mercy I want to see in the world.

I’m going to keep singing and dancing and praising God and loving Jesus and in the belief and hope that others will catch the spirit.

But because I’m a Christian I will do so grounded in reality.

The reality in our time is that ISIS, which wants to thoroughly destroy us Westerners with all our technological gifts like computers and smart phones, is perfectly willing to use our inventive computers and smart phones to recruit vulnerable people to literally roll over us.

These are not people we can reason with–not people we can tame by dropping flowery love bombs on them.

But as for this evil nest that is ISIS, we’re going to have to fight its fire, to some great extents, with fire. As a committed peacemaker, I can’t see any way around the use of force.

That’s a harsh, ethical, Christian reality. Sometimes the love of neighbor calls for extreme, even violent measures in order to protect our beloved neighbors.

We aren’t the ones who spread a twisted ideology that inspires people to roll over innocent, festive people including tots in the streets.

Yet the grave danger in this god-awful fight against evil we’re in is that we’ll throw God in all His/Her grace to the wind and go right to that old “eye for an eye” brand of justice–and beyond.

The danger is that we’ll become no better than the monsters we have an ethical duty to fight.

Our two candidates for the highest office in the land maintain at every turn that “we have to be smart” in fighting this savage enemy we’re up against.

Being “smart” requires that we remember who we Americans are–good people--really good people by and large— who aspire to live up to American goodness while resisting the temptation to give in to the very evil that so sickens us.

Being smart from the Christian perspective is being mindful that any time we have to resort to violence and force to protect the innocent, we throw ourselves at the mercy of a God whose Son died at the hands of some horrifically evil people.

Be smart and pray.

Read Full Post »

13614999_10210021434835319_5553602689575572597_n

To everything there is a season and this is a time for listening.

So I was pleased to hear the reconciling words of Sen. Marco Rubio last week, who acknowledged that despite decades of racial progress on many fronts, “millions of our fellow Americans feel they are treated differently, and they are scared.”

He urged Americans to stop stoking fear and anger, saying:

    “We can feed this anger through posts on social media and careless words. We can stoke the fear by choosing sides and squaring off. We can choose to continue to divide ourselves along the lines of class, or race, or partisan politics. …

    “We Americans are a complicated, imperfect, and diverse people. We most certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything, and not everyone is pure of heart. But I truly believe that the vast majority of us all want the same things.”

I agree with Marco Rubio about 15 percent of the time at most, but I’m all in with him on this, mindful that some of my own, more stridently liberal friends will dismiss Rubio, who is running for Senate (after vowing he wouldn’t), of political expediency.

And Newt Gingrich, btw, was equally graceful and reconciling in his reaction to all the race-related carnage last week. Good for him.

I say that as an incorrigible political junkie and political observer who has long loathed Newt Gingrich’s politics and I’ll call out him or Rubio or, for that matter, a Clinton or Obama, if I see them as playing fast and loose with the truth.

But I’ve never believed that everybody in politics or punditry (and certainly not in religion!) is always right or always wrong.

Even that old broken clock gets it right twice a day.

13533284_10154728651394769_6518444844826780719_n

At some point we have to let go of our hyper-cynical mistrust of each other and find a way of engaging without holding hammers over each other’s heads.

Everybody’s denigrating and demeaning every body else and nobody’s listening to each other the way full-grown adults are supposed to do.

Nobody seems to want to do the hard work of working out conflict by sitting down and listening to one another.

Which is understandable.

What’s so hard about the art of listening at any level–personal or private or in public–is the requirement that I let my guard down, remaining open to your candidness.

As a real listener I’m required to stand in vulnerability and yield some time and space to hear what you have to say and not what I want to believe you’re saying out of your wrong-headness, which might be my own wrong-headedness.

That’s a daunting requirement. It’s so much easier for me get defensive by responding to you with a crushing offense before you’re even through talking.

Gosh, if I let you speak too frankly to me, I might have to take a hard look at myself in the mirror.

And I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror and see anything that’s not admirable.

* * *

Here’s how the cycle goes:

I get defensive because I don’t want to hear any hard truths about myself and my convictions. That would make me uncomfortable and might give me some pain.

God forbid, it might make me feel weak. And I ain’t no Namby-Pamby shrinking violet. I ain’t no loser.

In conflict, I’m gonna be the winner every time out of the gate.

I going to pound you with the truth that you so obviously don’t want to face up to.

You can’t possibly be right about anything you have to say.

You are so wrong in your position that it’s my mission as a truth teller, by God, to get your mind right.

We all know that “the truth hurts.” So I’ll inflict all the hurt I can on you by hitting you with the truth that you by-God don’t want to hear.

I’ve got a lock on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

So be warned, if you somehow hit on a truth about me, that hurtful truth is going to bounce right off my flak jacket and I’m coming at you again with more shouting, screaming, blaming, accusing and name calling because the truth about me is too scary and uncomfortable for me to face.

The trouble with this win-or-lose approach is that even tough-minded debate is not about winning or losing in the first place.

It’s about defusing or resolving conflicting convictions in such a way that even if the truth hurts we won’t walk away bleeding from words that are as hurtful as bullets to the psyche.

* * *

Spiritual maturity is “ego-strength”–the ability to withstand criticism whether it’s fair or not, constructive or not–without feeling threatened, without getting scared and angry with a vengeance.

Ego-strength gives me the ability to let go of the side of my ego that so wants to dominate others–that “shadow side” where my own imperfections are buried so deep that I can’t see them myself.

Ego-strength empowers me to let my guard down and listen so openly to you as to take in whatever legitimate point you might make and momentarily sit with it without feeling humiliated by you no matter how angry or candid you may get.

Jesus had the healthiest, strongest ego of anyone who ever lived. In making himself vulnerable, humbling himself all the way to the cross, he was incapable of being humiliated by anyone’s words or actions. Paul understood this so well in acknowledging that in his weakness he was plenty strong.

Nobody can rightfully accuse Jesus of being weak or anything less than very tough-minded. Like him, we can live in the tension of tough-mindedness and love, grace and humility.

* * *

If I have the ego-strength to take even a moment to think before I speak (or hit the send button on social media)–if I can hear what you actually said to me without a reactionary punch. . . maybe we can find a path to common ground.

Maybe we can start to talk about how to resolve our differences in creative ways.

The art of listening doesn’t require that I engage you in conflict from a position of weakness that makes me your doormat.

To the contrary, as counter-intuitive as it may be, if I can listen openly to you by seeing you as equal to me in your humanity, I’m engaging you from the center-point of a strong but healthy ego.

If I can remain mindful that we’re both made in the image of God and that we’re both flawed, imperfect human beings, we can work things out by imagining new ways of living together in healthy ways.

We can imagine alternative routes to arrive at that point where, as Marco Rubio said, “we all want the same things.”

Read Full Post »


Moments before last night's shooting in Dallas.

Moments before last night’s shooting in Dallas.

I’ve always felt like I have a small Texas hometown–the place where I was born and raised–and a big hometown, Dallas.

I fell in love with the city the first time I saw it when I was 14, on the occasion of the wedding of my brother and sister-in-law. They’ve lived in Dallas County their entire adult lives. Their children and grandchildren have lived in Dallas County from birth.

Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas.

Thanksgiving Square in downtown Dallas.

Most of my many friends live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. I attended both undergraduate and graduate school at two of the area’s outstanding institutions, the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

I served as a chaplain at two of the city’s biggest and highest quality hospitals, always working nights in Emergency Rooms and ICUs where I was in constant contact with law enforcement officers. (I remember one night when a Dallas officer was shot, not too seriously as it turned out, and I ushered the Dallas PD chaplain to the cop’s room. There were so many officers on and off-duty, in and around the hospital, that I wondered if there were any officers on patrol anywhere.)

My heart was always secretly in Dallas even when I worked for 14 years for a Houston newspaper.

I revel in some kind of intangible vibe every time I drive or fly into Dallas and see that beautiful, iconic, unique skyline.

My big hometown

My big hometown

At least one United Methodist clergy friend of mine was at that now famously peaceful protest rally but left before last night’s now famous shooting broke out. The son of another clergy friend noted on Facebook this morning that his son was 150 feet away from the first officer who was shot.

It’s overwhelming to think of the number of Dallas people in shock ranging from staggering to crippling this morning.

I would give anything to stand on Dallas soil with so many dear friends for the interfaith service at the city’s beautiful Thanksgiving Square at noon today.

I will be there in heart and spirit, praying for the healing of the city and all the victims and their families and for all of us hurting all over America and abroad.

I am praying with all of my broken heart that the redemptive power of love for one another regardless of race or creed will prevail over racism, fear and anger.

I pray that we will come together as one nation under God and for liberty and justice for all.

Come to us today, Lord, come.

Read Full Post »

People in the long-suffering city of Baghdad in Iraq are in mourning. They suffer pain just like Americans and people everywhere do in the wake of massive carnage.

People in the long-suffering city of Baghdad in Iraq are in mourning. They suffer pain just like Americans and people everywhere do in the wake of massive carnage.

The death toll from Sunday’s suicide bombing in the Iraqi capital Baghdad has risen to 250.

That astounding number far exceeds the death tolls from bombings in America and other Western cities by ISIS.

This happened Saturday when a lorry full of explosives was detonated in a well-to-do part of the Iraqi city while families were shopping during the Ramadan holiday.

Now, imagine the outcry if 250 innocent Americans were blown up–God forbid–in the international city that is Houston, while shopping during the Christian holiday that is Christmas.

Pleas for prayers for the families and people of Houston would be trending endlessly on social media. Facebook would offer a standardized meme to overlay on profile pages.

Or let’s consider this scenario: what if two or 10 or 20 Americans had been killed in the Baghdad coming? What would our Christian response in America have been?

ISIS doesn’t care if you’re a Christian or an atheist or a Buddhist in Houston or New York or London or Orlando.

Maybe we should drop the debate on what to call ISIS terrorists and call them “ISIS psychos.”

A homicidal ISIS psycho who’s bought into the killing machine’s evil ideology doesn’t care if you’re a Muslim shopping in a well-to-do section of the long-suffering city of Baghdad during the Muslim holidays or a Christian cowgirl shopping for a hat during the Christmas holiday.

The thought for the day is, who cares when the carnage is “over there?”–“there,” where I’ve heard Christians say “Who cares? All they do is kill each other over there.”

Think and pray, Christians. We’re all in this together.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »