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Regarding Fox News Channel, where the TV broadcasters are doing their almighty best to ignore the two-ton elephant in the room that is Bill O’Reilly…

I have this question: We’ve got this for a “fair and balanced” interview with an intelligent, informed and utterly polite Nebraska family farmer???

Click onto this link and watch before you answer that question for yourself: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/art-tanderup-keystone_us_58fa85dbe4b018a9ce5b72f7?lq&ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009

Watch Fox’s Sandra Smith in action. She might as well have donned her Chinese-made “Make America Great Again” cap in suggesting for four minutes straight that a salt-of-the-earth farmer, Art Tanderup, and 90 fellow farmers are putting their selfish interests above the best interests of America.

Watch how flustered Smith gets toward the end when Tanderup–a retired schoolteacher who has definitely done his homework on the pipeline–counters her prosecutorial questioning.

Another question: Why would a professional TV news broadcaster even play the role of a prosecutor in the way she interviewed a Midwest farmer and retired schoolteacher who–gad!–dares along with 90 other landowners to suggest that it’s time for America to turn to renewable energy?

Is the position of these farmers who care about Mother Earth and the damage the pipeline has already done and will do tantamount to some kind of un-American crime?

Art and Helen Tunderup have been fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline for going on eight years.

They aren’t exactly “extreme environmentalist” flame-throwing liberals, as much as the sophisticates like Sandra Smith in the comfy confines of the Fox News studio in New York City would have you believe.

It might be to much to ask them to go to Nebraska and places like North Dakota and by the way–Canada–where Keystone’s “fancy leak detectors” have failed big-time, and talk to landowners.

Happy Mother Earth Day.

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Just because. This is good.

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Why are Rick Steves and these folks smiling? Because those folks have shelter thanks to the Christlike compassion of globe trotter Rick Steves.

I’m placing this story about Rick Steves–a man whom I as a veteran traveler has always admired–in my “Stories That Make you Go Wow!’ in a Good Way!” file.

The legendary TV travel guide has given a $4 million apartment complex to homeless women and kids who needed housing.

Writes Steves:

    Before “Europe Through the Back Door,” my travels were “Europe Through the Gutter.” Slumming through Europe as a teenage backpacker, life for me was the daily challenge of finding an affordable (i.e., free) place to sleep. […]

    I traveled in Central America, where I learned civil wars that I thought were between communists and capitalists were actually between obscenely rich oligarchs and landless peasants. I hung out with poor Christians who took the Biblical Jubilee Year (the notion that every fifty years the land is to be re-divided and debts are to be forgiven) seriously… even though rich Christians assumed God must have been kidding. [My italics for emphasis: Steves gets extra points from me for the God-talk.}

    Back home, one of my pet social causes has long been affordable housing.

And so …

I urge you to read the whole story here, or at least watch the video.

It’s a good kind of “Wow!” story at a time when there are so many
“Wow!” stories of the other kind in the news.

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While I have not (yet) read Anne Lamott’s latest book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, the title is as captivating as the parts that I have read of it in reviews, articles and interviews with her.

The woman writes like an angel.

Here are excerpts (with a big Hat Tip to Her Greatness Maria Popova at Brain Pickings):

    So why today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative’s heel like a river rat? Forget extending mercy to this relative, who has so messed with me and my son — she doesn’t even know she needs my mercy. She thinks she is fierce and superior, while I believe she secretly ate her first child. Horribly, she is perfectly fine. I’m the one who needs mercy — my mercy. The need for this, for my own motley mercy, underpinned most of my lifelong agitation, my separation from life itself.

    I came here with a huge open heart, like a big, sweet dog, and I still have one. But some days the only thing that can cheer me up is something bad happening to someone I hate, preferably if it went viral and the photo of the person showed hair loss and perhaps the lifelong underuse of sunscreen. My heart still leaps to see this. I often recall the New Yorker cartoon of one dog saying to the other: “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.” This is the human condition.

    * * *

    Mercy is radical kindness. Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.

    * * *

    Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms, and the approaches we might consider taking when facing a great big mess, especially the great big mess of ourselves — our arrogance, greed, poverty, disease, prejudice. It includes everything out there that just makes us sick and makes us want to turn away, the idea of accepting life as it presents itself and doing goodness anyway, the belief that love and caring are marbled even into the worst life has to offer.

    Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?

    I want to want this softening, this surrender, this happiness. Can I get a partial credit for that? The problem is, I love to be, and so often am, right. It’s mood-altering, and it covers up a multitude of sins… I know justice and believing that you’re right depend on cold theological and legal arguments where frequently there is no oxygen, but honestly I don’t mind this. I learned to live in thin air as a small child.

Check out or buy Hallelujah Anyway here.

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Easter Sunday is the most feel-good Christian day of the year, although Christmas Day ranks a seriously close second.

Easter is the day we joyously proclaim: “He is alive! He is risen!”

Now, I don’t want to put a damper on the joy dust you received in Easter Sunday worship this morning. But I will ask you to think about something that the prolific and most-excellent American writer Annie Dillard once wrote:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? . . .

Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?

The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.

Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

— Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, (New York: Harper & Row, 1982)

No offense to anyone who wore their Easter bonnets and velvet hats to worship today, but Annie hit the cross’s nail right on the head with her suggestion that we should wear crash helmets to church.

We Christians are Easter people in a Good Friday world. Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. And that Resurrection and the Good News of it hit Rome and the world like a 222,000-pound bomb. And Caesar wasn’t having Easter egg baskets and boxes of bunny chocolates scattered around his feet.

Never forget–back when Jesus walked, talked, taught, saved, healed, rebelled and died on a Roman cross, only to rise from the dead, Caesar was Lord!

Everybody knew it. The many crucified bodies hanging on Caesar’s crosses were reminders: don’t mess with the Lord of Rome and the world!

For the followers of Jesus to proclaim with contagious joy and utter conviction that the Lord(!!!) Jesus rose through the power of the Holy Spirit from the dead–it was that so-called “Good News” that shook Rome and the world, and shakes the Caesars and the world today, which happens to be Resurrection Sunday. (Actually every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, but that’s another post for another day.)

Caesar threw every assault weapon at his disposal at Jesus–lashing, beating, more lashing, a piercing thorn of crowns, and crucifixion on a cross–and made sure he was plenty dead.

But in killing Jesus, Caesar killed the Son of God (or tried to), and the Son of God responded with the weapon that no amount of torture, no amount of TNT, can overcome.

God responded with the power of love.

Hallelujah! He is risen!

Happy Easter!

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My book The View From Down in Poordom includes a chapter titled “Regarding Joy and Happiness in Poverty.”

Here’s an excerpt for your consideration on this day in which Jesus remains in the tomb–and the disciples surely feel entombed themselves!

Here’s a photo of the back cover of my book, which includes two thumbs up by the Rev. Susanne Johnson and Father Frederick W. Schmidt.

    Imagine how the eleven apostles felt after their teacher and healer, Jesus, who so often confounded them with his teachings while also instilling hope in their dreary lives, died and was entombed. Imagine how entombed they must have felt in their sorrow, some of them with a twinge of cynicism thrown in perhaps (the doubting Thomas), some entombed by nagging guilt and shame (Peter), and all in fear of an uncertain future without that charismatic man around. Imagine how anguished they felt with all those raw, dark emotions to process.

    Of course, we have the benefit of knowing the rest of the story, which they didn’t see coming despite the clues and forecasts that Jesus gave. We know how these pitiful, guilt-wracked men were transformed by an event that lifted them so high out of the pit of sorrow and guilt and shame that they were overwhelmed by joy—so much so that observers wondered if they were drunk! (See Acts 2:5–21.)

    It’s a hard thing for us to know sometimes that God is with us in those cheerless times when we’re so entombed by the darkness that it feels like God has left us. But let’s consider how our deep-seated joy that comes from our Lord endures through our times of great sorrow.

    Of the nine fruits of the spirit cited by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, joy is second only to love, which understandably comes in at number one, since love and joy are so closely connected. Jesus himself mentions the connection between love and joy when, in speaking of himself as “the true vine,” he notes, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be made in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10–11 NRSV).

    It makes still more sense that joy would rank near the top of Paul’s list of fruits when we consider that the first miracle Jesus performed was his turning the water into wine (and the finest wine at that!) at an event as joyful as a wedding (John 1:1–11).

    Jesus frequently enjoyed a good meal with good wine, more often than not with sinners and outcasts who took such joy in His having liberated them from the sickness of sin. The reason Jesus drew such massive crowds was that joy is contagious—the joyless people slugging through miserable life conditions wanted to see this man who had had such a transformative effect on people who had previously known only misery.

    Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is sometimes called “The Joy Book.” It includes the words “joy,” “joyous,” or “rejoice” sixteen times. That is all the more extraordinary because Paul wrote it while chained in a cheerless Roman prison. People can chain you, beat you, and hurt you, but they can’t snuff out the joy within you. That joy abides within anyone who loves God and others as himself or herself in good times and horrendous times, in all circumstances and in all kinds of places—even in the grim poverty of a jail cell.

    Yet joy is not the same as happiness. It’s been said that happiness is external, subject to situations and circumstances, while joy is internal and abiding, a gift from God. Joy is God’s Spirit planted and rooted deep within us, regardless of situation or circumstance. Joy, unlike happiness, is the flip side of sorrow; the two are always connected. Without experiencing sorrow, we could never know joy. Happiness is fleeting, never quite filling our cup to the level of contentment.

    Money ensures us a certain amount of happiness, but how easy it is to get stranded on the merry-go-round of desire and dissatisfaction. The more money we make, the more we want. The more we want, the more we spend.

    Round and round we go, never satisfied with the thrill of more money coming in, new and cool stuff being acquired, and the fleeting happiness that comes with every new dollar made and spent. Enough is never enough. The thing about the fast-moving merry-go-round of desire is that there’s no way to step off and settle down and rejoice.

    “Joy is that warm, deep-seated glow of a heart at peace with itself.” — from The View From Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty, available online at Amazonbooks.com, Barneandnoble.com or Westbowpress.com. I hope you’ll check out what I have to say.

    Joy is that warm, deep-seated glow of a heart at peace with itself. That’s what Paul implies when, after imploring the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” he goes on to say, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4, 6–7 NRSV).

    In the purity of their spiritual poverty, the poor know what real joy is about and often gladly express it—even when their underlying sorrow is not so obvious.

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I read the Bible in Iraq out of desperation. I needed to know that God is good and understand how that could be true when our world is as poisoned as it is. I couldn’t understand how God could be loving and exclusive at the same time.

“Christ is the only Way,” I thought, “But what does that mean for all those who don’t know Him? Shall I condemn them, as other religions will condemn me?” Deuteronomy reads like an instruction manual for ISIS, I thought. I spent my days collecting testimonies of genocide and my nights fearing that God was pleased to see this happen. I reported on violent religious extremism and feared: what if God actually condones this?

This fear paralyzed me for a while. Then I picked up the Gospel and read.

It’s much easier to picture Christ now that I live in His neighborhood . . .

The Gospel does not ask its followers to form a club and hate everyone else. The Gospel is a feast in a refugee camp, a banqueting table set before our enemies, an engagement party as the world breaks.

“It says: by the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ, come to our Father’s table. Eat, drink and be filled.

“Don’t kill for the Gospel! Die for the Gospel. As you die, you live. Your Shepherd has loved the hell out of this earth. Follow Him, and invite others to do the same.”

— Christian war correspondent Alice Y. Su in “Christ and Other Sheep: Reading the Gospel in Iraq, November 2014

Image: Antonio Ciseri’s depiction of Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people, 1871

Alice Y. Su is a fearless journalist who’s done a lot of reporting from “the neighborhood” where Christ walked and and talked and lived and died and rose again–i.e., the Mideast (including Syria).

In rooting round in my storage files of “Keeper” quotes, essays, articles and such that I’ve saved over the years, I came across a typically wonderful article Yu wrote in Iraq in November 2014.

It’s seems so fitting, and utterly relevant for this Good Friday, that I commend it to you.

Go to the link where it originally appeared here.

And check out Alice Su’s Website here.

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