This week as I recovered from cataract surgery, a memory from my childhood finally surfaced. In the late 1950’s in my hometown, I had met an artist who could barely see to paint anymore because of her vision loss due to cataracts. Doctors hadn’t yet invented the modern replacement lenses and use of small incisions for implantation. Complications back then were common, rather than rare. I can still remember my dad’s response to my desire for contact lens, “What? Put a foreign object in your eye? You’re asking for an infection!” Perhaps this was why I worried myself to exhaustion while waiting for my first surgery.
As it turns out, I can now see my television set without my glasses and I read my iPad with my untreated eye. I’ve always had my glasses within arm’s reach of my bed or my chair for over sixty years. It feels strange not to put them on first thing in the morning.
If there were things I could not see before, I could always feel them if I were still enough to notice their subtle movements. Most of the time I, as many others do, stress over what “might happen,” instead of being present to the moment in which the important stuff is actually happening.
After I worried myself into an exhausted heap on my couch, I woke up in a different mood. I realized I’d been going “from house to house” to borrow a cup of trouble for a cake I didn’t need to bake or eat. It was going to be a decadent cake with multiple layers and a. rich icing. If it were autumn, I’d probably get first prize in the cake competition at the state fair.
But no one needs a Trouble Cake. I saw all my ingredients were as nothing, for I had a great doctor, people who would care for me, and this was a new age in medicine. Moreover, the Spirit of God would sustain me in my recovery and remind me my wellbeing depends on following my doctor’s instructions. As we read in John 3:5-8 NRSV—
Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Sometimes we need to feel the wind and not try to know from whence it comes or why it goes, but merely thank it for arriving to be with us in this present moment.
Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina Rossetti
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you: But when the leaves hang trembling, The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I: But when the trees bow down their heads, The wind is passing by.
Sometimes we need a fresh wind blowing through our hearts and minds to get a new outlook on life. We can’t be wedded to the past like the old farmer who said of the new fangled plow he saw at the farm supply store, “My daddy plowed with a two pronged plow, so a two pronged plow is good enough for me.” He never bought the new and improved three pronged plow.
Much like the church that can’t recognize the fresh movement of the Spirit moving through the world today, if we can’t feel that wind, maybe cataract surgery would help us see the movement in the leaves.
Joy and Peace,
NOTE: The Greek word for Spirit and wind are the same: πνεῦμά. Strong’s Greek Concordance 4151 pneúma – properly, spirit (Spirit), wind, or breath. The most frequent meaning (translation) of 4151 (pneúma) in the NT is “spirit” (“Spirit”). Only the context determines which sense(s) is meant. When used with Holy, the word is Holy Spirit, not holy breath!
Utagawa Hiroshige: Yokkaichi: Mie River (Yokkaichi, Miegawa), from the series “Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi),” also known as the Hoeido Tokaido, wood block print, 1833-34, Art Institute of Chicago.
Luke Howard: Graph detailing prevailing wind directions, rain depth, and mean temperature over a period of eighteen years, 1815-1832, in London. The Royal Society.
Bernard Evans: Cannock Chase – ‘When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees, and they did make no noise’, circa 1885, watercolor. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia.
Unknown Artist: Inlay in the Form of an Eye, Glass and gypsum, Egypt, (9/16 × 1 13/16 × 3/8 in.), 1540–1070 BCE, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA.
Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963, National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
April Fool! Caught you! Were you the prankster or the pranked? Even an institution as stuffy as the British Broadcasting Corporation isn’t above pranking the public on the first day of April. If a fool and his money are soon parted, then whatever the BBC was selling, they were having a jolly good time in their advertising department. You can watch their mini documentary on Flying Penguins below:
When I was at Perkins Seminary, we editors of the weekly newsletter had a tradition of an April Surprise. This followed the practice of the former Babylonian Schismatic, which was an alternative, satirical student newsletter published occasionally between 1981 and 1988.
One year, when I was coeditor, it was more of an April Debacle. My partner in crime and I were sure the beach ball bouncing off the usual chapel steeple logo would be enough to clue our community into the prank. However, we failed to realize how little sleep our fellow students actually got during school weeks, how seriously they took the printed word, and worst of all, that our newsletter also went to bishops’ widows in faraway places. This last was what got us into the real trouble.
Our faux reports of Perkins losing its accreditation due to shenanigans of prior graduates, who were in the news at the time, had graduate students storming the dean’s office. Even worse, the bishop’s widows were calling him to inquire what kind of school he was overseeing. The fact schools can only lose accreditation for their own failures (and not the trespasses of former students or faculty) never crossed anyone’s mind in the ensuing uproar. So of course, we criminals wrote handwritten letters of apology to the widows and printed retractions in the next newsletter for the students. I now understand why my mother said I sometimes take things too seriously. Still, I’ve have found others who make me look like a giggle queen.
Speaking of giggles, although the historical roots of April Fool’s Day are shrouded in mystery, the British, who are mostly known for their dry wit and stiff upper lip, seem to enjoy this holiday to excess. Especially at the BBC, which back in 1957, produced a fascinating prank documentary on the Swiss Artisanal Spaghetti Industry. They showed a Swiss family harvesting ripe spaghetti strands from their spaghetti bushes. At the time because of rationing, spaghetti wasn’t widely available. After 1956 in the British Isles, Italian companies opened spaghetti factories and Italian immigrants opened restaurants. The British developed a taste for this food. As a result, some British families were so enthusiastic, they wanted to purchase their own spaghetti bushes for a home garden. Others were unhappy to be pranked. This may be one of the first times the medium of television was used to stage an April Fool’s Day hoax.
Moveable Feasts: Passover and Easter
Israel was an ancient agricultural culture and followed a lunar calendar, so sighting the full moon was important. Passover is always pegged to the Hebrew calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. It starts in the middle of the month of Nisan, when the moon is full, typically falling in March or April of the modern Gregorian calendar. As a result, Passover typically begins very close to Easter. Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. However, due to the shorter Hebrew calendar, sometimes it gets a leap month to keep it in tune with the seasons. In 2024, when the leap month plays a part, we’ll have an early Easter on March 21st, but Passover won’t start until April 22nd.
These religious holidays are forever entertwined because of the historical events of the Last Supper, which we assume was a ritual meal or Seder, and the crucifixion on a Friday, which required Christ’s body to be taken down from the cross due to the beginning of Passover at sunset.The Last Supper took place on a Thursday night, even though the actual Passover didn’t begin until Friday night.
As Wesley’s Notes on The New Testament observe, “Jesus took the bread—the bread or cake, which the master of the family used to divide among them, after they had eaten the passover. The custom our Lord now transferred to a nobler use. This bread is, that is, signifies or represents my body, according to the style of the sacred writers.”
We know this because Jesus was arrested in Gesthemane after this meal and then taken to the Roman Governor Pilate on Friday morning, the day of Preparation for the Passover. John 18:28 reminds us how the temple priests “…took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”
The Jews in the first century kept faithfulness according to laws of separation and purity, so they kept away from unbelievers on holy days. This was the biblical practice of the time. Early Christians continued this practice until Paul began his outreach to the Greek and Roman citizens of the world. When in the later gospel of John (14:15) Christ says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments, Wesley’s commentary understands this to mean: “Immediately after faith he exhorts to love and good works.” This is why we United Methodists practice an open table at Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, for all who love the Lord and desire to be in love and fellowship with their neighbors are welcome at his table. We don’t exclude anyone, for God includes all people into the circle of God’s love.
Since Easter Sunday is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, this makes Easter a “moveable feast.” Unlike a picnic, for which we tote our fixings from our kitchen to a park or to the countryside, or unlike a house to house “progressive dinner,” Easter is called “moveable” because it’s not on a fixed date like Christmas or New Year’s Day.
My family’s Easter feast always centered about a baked ham, often covered with canned pineapple rings and studded with cloves. We were a modern American 1950-60’s family and Betty Crocker reigned in my mother’s kitchen. Just this week I saw a tv advertisement of a family feast with this very same baked ham. I suppose when the economy gets dicey, people pull out old familiar recipes from the great-great-grandmother’s kitchen. Since I have a new great-grandchild on the way, and a knitting project started, I can safely say, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. I’ve seen the sonogram images!
“April showers bring May flowers” is an ancient rhyme. Unfortunately, these showers also bring pollens of every kind, since trees and flowers both acquire crowns of glory. The Old Farmer’s’ Almanac notes while November has a bit more rain in store for Arkansas than April usually brings, this month’s warmer weather favors conditions for flowers to bloom and trees to bud. While we might tire of the storms and the havoc they wrack upon the populace, we’re always thankful if they only cause damage to property and don’t take human lives.
Across North America, the pollen season has lengthened by 20 days since 1990. Pollen concentrations have also increased by 21 percent over the past three decades. This means some of us have been doctoring ourselves or visiting the RD—real doctor—since February. The stubbornest of us waited until almost April because we were convinced we could heal ourselves. If you still have no energy and are grumpy to boot after a month, you too need a RD. Better living through chemistry with put a perk back into your bunny hop.
Speaking of the weather, I have seen many years now of Easter sunrise services, and even more later noontime Easter feasts. One thing ties them all together: no matter how cute my spring outfit is, no one ever sees it because I’m always wearing a raincoat or a winter coat over it. My guess is rain and cool weather will come and our egg hunts will likely be inside. As long as there’s a dark chocolate Easter rabbit for my personal gratification, I’ll be happy. I discovered last year’s version stored in the cabinet, so I’d better make some chocolate chip cookies soon.
There’s plenty of silly or merchandising holidays in April, but you can read about them at the link below my name. Until May, I remain your April Fool…
March is here and the wild hares of the rabbit clan have come to visit. I’m shivering on a cold, dreary, and rainy day, but I’m about to have a cup of steaming hot tea and put dinner on the stove. While I waited for the water to boil, I visited the open AI project out of curiosity. My old daddy used to say, “curiosity killed the cat,” but I think he was trying to keep me safe by not poking my nose into some dangerous places. Without curiosity, we never learn anything new or stretch our horizons. We’d live a sad, constricted life if we always stayed inside the lines and never pushed the boundaries.
The chat bot took my name and combined it with that of Cornelia Adele Strong Fassett, who painted the Florida Case Before the Electoral Commission, to describe the importance of “Cornelia DeLee, artist.” Also according to the chatbot, I am long dead, so I must be communicating from “yonder.” Fassett’s painting was about the contested presidential election of 1876.
In January, 1877, when the Electoral College met, 20 votes were contested, but neither side would concede the election. Congress passed a law empowering the Electoral Commission at the end of January. Ten days of deliberations passed before the 20 votes passed to the Republican candidate, an act which the Democrats protested until they received assurances federal soldiers would leave the Southern states. With Reconstruction at an end, Congress declared Rutherford B. Hayes the new President of the United States on March 2, only two days before his term began.
The Civil War and the Reconstruction years have marked our nation with an ongoing trauma, which has passed from generation to generation. At some point in time, we’ll have to heal, for continually pouring salt into that old wound will keep it festering and it won’t ever heal. Then we’ll pass it down to another generation once more. However, if scripture has any truth to teach us, humankind continues to reenact the sins of our ancestors, even when we know their stories and have the God given gifts of redemption from these shackles of death and shame. But now this rabbit is preaching, and some would say, “meddling once again.”
Update: Heather Cox Richardson, a noted writer of American history, reminds us once again how Southerners rewrite our history to make us more heroic and powerful. The Federal Army didn’t leave the south right away, but stayed in some states for awhile. See the note below.
I’ll change the subject. I’m not much on poetry, but I thought I’d ask ChatGPT to write a “Poem in Praise of March.” After all, World Poetry Day is March 21, so I thought I’d give the ChatAI a run for its money (it’s free right now, while in training stage). The Artificial Intelligence project was delighted to instantly produce the following example:
March, the month of windswept skies, A time when winter softly dies. The earth awakens from her sleep, As days grow long and nights grow deep.
The snows of winter start to thaw, And nature’s beauty starts to draw A tapestry of green and gold, As springtime’s treasures now unfold.
The birds return with joyful sound, Their melodies now all around. The trees bud out, the flowers bloom, And life returns to end the gloom.
March, the month of change and hope, A time to cast off winter’s scope. The promise of new life and growth, As nature’s beauty takes its oath.
So let us praise this month of light, For all the wonders it brings to sight. And may we cherish every day, As we welcome spring in every way.
I was so amazed the Artificial Intelligence ChatBot could spit this out so quickly, I typed in, “Thank you.”
It immediately answered, “You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. If you have any other questions or requests, feel free to ask!” I quickly closed the application before it became sentient and asked for my hand in marriage or social security number and tried to enroll me in a monthly cryptocurrency investment program. Yikes!
Speaking of poetry, even the folks at Bloomberg News are writing haikus about global food shortages:
Onion shortage looms. Prices rise, nutrition wanes, Governments take aim.
When I was a child, my brothers and I amused ourselves by lining up dominoes in artful patterns all morning long. After lunch and before our required afternoon nap, we’d touch the first domino in line, and have a wicked joy of watching our entire morning’s work fall one after another. A food shortage (or a toilet paper shortage) happens much the same way in our global economy. Onion prices are still soaring across the globe and fuelling inflation, so countries like Morocco, Turkey and Kazakhstan have taken action and secured supplies.
Because onion prices are going up due to scarce supply, the price of other fruits and vegetables (such as carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and apples) also are rising and hampering their availability across the globe, according to the United Nations and the World Bank. In fact, prices have increased so much that onions briefly cost more than meat in the Philippines, and some flight attendants were caught smuggling them out of the Middle East.
This didn’t end well for either the attendants or the produce, since the food was sent out for destruction (it’s illegal to import food, except through proper customs) and the personnel got reprimands and retraining. Word to the wise: hoarding onions isn’t a good idea, since whole, raw onions will last two to three months when stored in a cool, dry place (between 45 and 55 degrees F). Places that provide these conditions may include your cellar, pantry, unheated basement, or garage. Usually, at room temperature, onions last only 2 to 3 weeks. Over the long term, the frugal shopper will buy some scarce items at a higher prices and other items at lower cost when the product is in season and at a surplus. The average price over a year will even out.
March is Women’s History Month. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th, 1980 as National Women’s History Week. In 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Every president since then has recognized the gifts, graces, and achievements of America’s women by presidential proclamation. Other important women’s days in March we recognize are International Women’s Day (March 8), Harriet Tubman Day and National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10).
The Jewish celebration of Purim begins on March 6 at sundown and ends on the 7th at sundown. The festival recalls Queen Esther’s faithfulness to God and God’s saving providence for God’s marginalized people. We should always remember God’s grace is wider than ours, even if the faithful seemed to be “assimilating to the current culture.”
Daylight Savings Time begins March 12, with all of us rabbits settling our clocks forward one hour before we go to bed the night before. If you have difficulty remembering which direction, there’s a motto for this event: “Spring forward, and Fall back.” No one falls forward and springs back—silly rabbits maybe, but not the smart rabbits, who have the good sense to “Spring forward, and Fall back.”
The Ides of March 15 were bad luck for Julius Caesar, but originally the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing. Two years before his death at an assassin’s hand, Caesar himself had changed the Roman calendar so the Romans celebrated the new year in January. Some people really don’t like change at all. Plus they don’t like military dictatorships.
People celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 all over the world, whether they’re Irish or not. While the San Antonio River runs green downtown, Hot Springs National Park will have its First Ever 20th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the 98 foot long Bridge Street, which is the world’s shortest street in everyday operational use.
Spring Equinox on March 20 can’t come soon enough for this rabbit. Just knowing the light will become stronger with each passing day is a medicine for my spirits. So what if the pollen follows soon after? Eventually, that too will be history and we bunnies will find something else to fuss about. After all, nothing is certain except for change. None of us can stop the circuit of the stars in the heavens above or cease the changing seasons.
We can adjust to these great cycles of change, just as we can grow in love for one another and learn to forgive both ourselves (for our falling short of perfection) and others for harming ourselves. If we rabbits wait till the last moment for our death bed reconciliations, we may not have the time or opportunity to make amends with the ones from whom we’ve estranged ourselves.
If you think you’ll be foolish doing this, I suggest you desensitize yourself and celebrate International Talk Like William Shatner Day on March 22. I asked ChatGPT for a haiku in the voice of William Shatner. On the third try, I got something I thought resembled his breathless cadence and broken phrase delivery. I could almost hear him emphatically delivering the words GO and MUST!
Ramadan starts during the evening of March 23 and lasts until sundown on Thursday, April 20. Muslims commemorate the gift of the Koran to Muhammad by fasting if physically able, declaring their faith, prayers, charity, and pilgrimage..
Remember, if March comes in as a lamb, it will go out as a lion, or so the ancient weather proverb goes. The saying may have its origin in the stars, for at this time of year, Leo is the rising sign; by April, it’s Aries. (“Kid” or “ram” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “lamb,” though.) Also, this is the season Jesus arrives as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah. Both mean, weather-wise, a false spring.
To sum up, as I finish up this note on the last day of February, the high today will be near 80F and I’ll most likely turn my air conditioner back on before March comes to visit. Looking ahead to March, the Weather Channel outlook has only three days in the 70’s for my location, so Mr. Air Conditioner won’t get much of a work out. I only see one night in the 30’s, so even Mr. Heater will get light workouts in March. As one wag put it on their restaurant sign:
Until next month, I hope you have onions and potatoes in abundance, and you enjoy green eggs and ham, or green beer, or green tea.
Joy, Peace, and welcome to Springtime,
NOTE from Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, March 2, 2023—this corrects my research.
What did not happen in 1877, either before or after the inauguration, was the removal of troops from the South.
That legend came from a rewriting of the history of Reconstruction in 1890 by fourteen southern congressmen. In their book Why the Solid South? Or Reconstruction and Its Results, they argued that Black voting after the Civil War had allowed Black people to “dominate” white southerners and virtually bankrupt the region and that virtuous white southerners had pushed them from the ballot box and “redeemed” the South. Contemporaries had identified the end of Reconstruction as 1870, with the readmission of Georgia to the United States. But Why the Solid South identified the end of Reconstruction as the end of Republican rule in each state.
In 1906, former steel baron James Ford Rhodes gave a date to that process. In his famous seven-volume history of the United States, he said that in April 1877, Hayes had ended Reconstruction by returning all the southern states to “home rule.” In his era, that was a political term referring to the return of power in the southern states to Democrats, but over time that phrase got tangled up with what did happen in April 1877.
During the chaos after the election, President U.S. Grant had ordered troops to protect the Republican governors in the Louisiana and South Carolina statehouses. When he took office, Hayes told Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana that he could no longer let federal troops protect their possession of their statehouses when their Democratic rivals had won the popular vote.
Under orders from Hayes, the troops guarding those statehouses marched away from their posts around the statehouses and back to their home stations in April 1877. They did not leave the states, although a number of troops would be deployed from southern bases later that year both to fight wars against Indigenous Americans in the West and to put down the 1877 Great Railroad Strike. That mobilization cut even further the few troops in the region: in 1876, the Department of the South had only about 1,586 men including officers. Nonetheless, southerners fought bitter congressional battles to get the few remaining troops out of the South in 1878–1879, and they lost.
The troops did not leave the U.S. South in 1877 as part of a deal to end Reconstruction.
It matters that we misremember that history. Generations of Americans have accepted the racist southern lawmakers’ version of our past by honoring the date they claimed to have “redeemed” the South. The reality of Reconstruction was not one in which Black voters bankrupted the region by taking tax dollars from white taxpayers to fund roads and schools and white voters stepped in to save things; it was the story of an attempt to establish racial equality and the undermining of that attempt with the establishment of a one-party state that benefited a few white men at the expense of everyone else.
Clarence C. Clendenen, “President Hayes’ ‘Withdrawal’ of the Troops: An Enduring Myth,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 70 (October 1969): 240-250.
Aristotle said in his Poetics, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality.”
He spoke mainly about poetry, which was the highest art of his age, but his words also apply to the fine arts. Today, many people are still mesmerized by artists who practice various styles of realism, but they overlook the artists who show us the realities of emotion and inner vision.
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time,” said the spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Some people use art as a cathartic exercise, and pour out their inner emotions on the canvas or their chosen media. Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Van Gogh’s late works are good examples of emotional expression. We all know folks who have a project going in their garage. They go work on “that worthless piece of junk” to focus their attention and energy on fixing something on which they can make a difference, instead of getting tied up in knots about things they can’t change and must accept. Gardening and knitting are also good hobbies for focusing this energy.
We know our nervous system grows to the modes in which it has been exercised. This is what we call building a habit over time. Just as a child doesn’t walk straight out of the womb, they have preparatory skills that must be acquired by stages as they grow. Exercising their muscles by rolling over also helps to strengthen their necks to hold their heads up. Crawling leads to pulling up, and that leads to letting go to learn balance.
Each time a child repeats these movements, he or she will simplify the movements required to achieve the needed result, make them more accurate, and diminish fatigue. In this, they’re building habits that bring them closer to walking. Rushing them to achieve “early” walking actually puts them behind cognitively.
Not only are there twenty five body parts in a baby’s body that are used in the crawl movement, but crawling also strengthens the hip sockets, so the baby will have a strong platform on which to stand. Crawling helps the corpus callosum, which is a band of nerve fibers between the hemispheres of the brain. Criss-cross crawling on the knees and hands stimulates the corpus callosum to develop in a balanced way, facilitating the hemispheres of the brain to communicate. These cross lateral movements work both sides of the body evenly and involve coordinated movements of the eyes, ears, hands, feet, and core muscles. This helps support cognitive function, problem solving, and ease of learning. Exploring the floor in a baby proofed home allows your baby to achieve his or her optimal potential.
“Practice makes perfect” is only as true as the practice is directed in a true direction. This is where a teacher, a parent, a coach, or a spiritual guide comes into play. Only one who’s been led well can lead others with grace. We don’t tear down the learner, but ask questions, give guidance, help them see alternative paths, and allow them a safe place to explore their choices.
Art class isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if the painting isn’t successful, and no one’s salvation is at risk if the painting doesn’t come out the way we hoped it might. Art class is a safe place to take risks, unlike jumping from a tall tower without a parachute. Learning to accept failure on our canvases and coming back next time to try again is a mark of resilience and courage. Every time we fail closer to our target, we realize we’re gaining on it! We never say I CAN’T in art class.
The sad reality is we can teach and expand the horizons of young people up til the age of 25 or 30. After that, they seem to lose energy and desire to learn more or to change. They “habitually” repeat their previous acts, for good or for ill. We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Those of us who are no longer young have sometimes been accused of being set in our ways. Some of us are afraid we won’t excel at a new challenge, for we’ve always been held to a high standard of achievement. Since none of us will be the next Georgia O’Keefe or Leonardo da Vinci, we can set that worry aside. They both had more years to practice than we have left in front of us. Instead, we should give our remaining time our most focused attention, so we can get the most from our experience.
My high school chemistry book had the same information in it which my daddy’s college chemistry book covered. He was amazed I was learning “advanced” ideas at my young age. In 1982 R. Buckminister Fuller introduced the idea of the “knowledge doubling curve.” Up until 1900, knowledge doubled every century. By 1945, knowledge doubled every 25 years and by 1982, it doubled every year. Some say it’s now doubling twice a day! The newest computer we buy off the shelf today is already obsolete.
We can’t train our students for the jobs of today because these jobs likely won’t exist tomorrow. We need to train people to be lifetime learners instead. Luckily, we don’t have to know all things, but we do need the skills to find the knowledge and sort through the best sources for the best possible information.
Today, knowledge we acquire in high school, college, graduate school, and our last job may already be obsolete. (I’m one who still grieves the loss of Pluto as a planet; it exists but is a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt). This is especially true in fast moving fields like technology. As futurist Alvin Toffler wrote, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
This means all of us will need to become lifelong learners or we’ll risk losing touch with an ever evolving world. Maybe we think our brains can’t handle something new, for we’ve heard about the effect of aging. Cognitive process studies with older brains show learning, memory, and problem-solving in humans are often less efficient in these areas.
However, it has recently been established that dogs show many of the same kind of age related changes that humans do. A study in Vienna showed that older dogs learned new tasks just as well as younger dogs, although they took longer to do so and required more repetitive corrections. This aptitude is also known as “resilience training.”
I think it’s also important to know why we want to keep our brains agile as we move into our later years. John Wesley was fond of repeating William Law’s summary from the Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection,
“Do all the good you can, to all you can, by any means you can, as long as you can.”
Because Wesley was better known than William Law, this quote is now attributed to Wesley alone. We Methodists have made it our own, however, and have carried its banner around the globe in our world wide mission efforts made possible by our Connectional ministries. Wesley thought enough of Law’s writing to reprint 19 editions of his work.
My late mother, at the age of eighty, learned how to use a laptop computer. She was motivated because she wanted to see emailed photos of her grandchildren, but then she realized she also could find recipes. When a child in her hometown needed a Mercy Flight, she used her new skills to get him transportation to an out of state hospital for treatment. I occasionally had to reteach her on how to double click quickly on her icons, rather than slowly, but she finally caught on.
If we want to keep our brains agile throughout our middle, silver, and golden years, we always need to try new things. Doing art challenges makes our brain build new neural pathways. Every time we look at a still life or a landscape, we have to make multiple decisions: what shapes do I see—circles, squares, triangles, or rectangles; how do these shapes relate to one another on the plane of our canvas; what is most important; what colors will I use; what emotions do I want to express; and where will I begin?
Eventually, we will find our “style.” We don’t find a style by copying another’s work, but we create enough works until our hand becomes one with our spirit. Since God has placed a special spark of God’s own creative Spirit within each of us, eventually we’ll experience the joy of being one with God when we are in our painting moments. As Paul said to the Romans (8:16):
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
Last Friday we had a simple still life as our inspiration. Half our class was out sick with spring pollen troubles, but it was good to see those who could come after a two week hiatus. After a brief show and tell to get us inspired by other artists’ takes on the subject for the day, we got started. I reminded everyone not to make the fruit too tiny, so it wouldn’t get lost on the canvas. I believe everyone succeeded with this goal!
Mike painted his whole canvas with one brush. This gave the fruit a certain texture with contrasting colors, and the background, which was in a close value, didn’t show much brush strokes or texture. I like the perspective he chose, which brings the viewer in close to these fruit.
Gail tried a larger canvas with bolder colors than she normally uses. It was more dramatic and stronger in contrast than usual, while she kept her smooth strokes of paint as usual. She also took a view from above.
I stuck to a traditional rendering of the still life, since I do many abstract paintings in my own studio. I’d call these two Day and Night, for the Apple is quite awake and the Pear seems to need a little nap. It’s a study in contrasts: red and green, blue violet and yellow orange—a color wheel study masquerading as a still life.
Next week we’re in the season of Lent. As Christ turns his face towards Jerusalem, we’ll begin a study on the icons. This will be accessible and interesting. You’ll end up with your own icon for your personal worship center also.
Valentine’s Day is all about love. Television advertisements push candies, dipped gold “eternal” roses, gaudy jewelry—a price for every pocketbook—and the dating apps have been in full swing since the new year.
“Everybody needs somebody to love,” the old song goes. The Blues Brothers sing this oldie before their mad escape from the Illinois Law Enforcement Community. Solomon Burkes treats it with his indigenous soul blues from his lived experience and The Rolling Stones give it their percussive upbeat treatment. Wilson Picket has a good cover, but I don’t recommend the explicit version of Rod Wave’s Sneaky Links. Fitz and the Tantrums was interesting. My “old person “ is probably showing about the edges here.
We all can love our friends or sweethearts, especially in mid February. After all, February is “for lovers.” The bigger question is, How do we love our enemies? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book, A Gift of Love, writes:
“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. (The one) who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us.”
Well, how can I forgive the person who hurt me, my child, my family, my tribe, or my community? We all want that person to come crawling to us and ask for forgiveness, but that’s not how radical love works. We want the wrong doer to show remorse and ask us for mercy and forgiveness. This puts them in a subordinate position and us in a position of power. But that’s not how radical love works. Radical love initiates forgiveness, even if the wrongdoer never shows contrition.
Dr. King goes on to say:
“It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.”
Why must the wronged take on the indignity of offering forgiveness to unrepentant wrongdoers? In this act, we become most like Christ on the cross, who in his final moments, forgave not only the thief who asked for forgiveness, but also all those who crucified him, who had no intention of repenting. Our problem is we enjoy being like the risen Christ, the one with the “name above all names,” but most of us don’t want to “pick up our cross and follow” Jesus, especially if it leads to an ignominious death on that very cross.
As Dr. King wrote,
“The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.”
The injured one, whose heart has been broken and wounded by someone else’s words or deeds, is the only one who can heal the broken rift between them. This is why the deepest lovers of Christ are most often the wounded ones who’ve been healed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The woman with the alabaster jar of ointment anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of the Pharisee, but the host had failed at the minimum hospitality for his guest, so Jesus reminded him (Luke 7:47):
“Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
If we would be healers in our broken and fragmented world, we need to first address our own woundedness. Each of us has a hidden pain or suffering, for this is the human condition. If we give this to God, our healing makes us into vessels where our cracks are filled with precious gold. We can offer more love, more forgiveness, and more hope to people who have been sitting in darkness and despair. People are waiting for joy and love to flow out in abundance from God’s heart into our hearts and into their world. Then we can be the light in the darkness for them, the holy fire that lights the embers of hope in their hearts, not just on St. Valentine’s Day, but every day.
Joy, Peace, and Love,
Excerpt from A Gift of Love | Penguin Random House Canada By Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chapter 5, Loving Your Enemies
Morse Peckham, author of Man’s Rage for Chaos, believed “Order is humanity’s freedom; but the rage for order creates its own limits on that freedom.” Art, he maintained, enabled the artist to fight that rage, which destroys what it would create. Only the rage for chaos can balance the rage for order.
As one who was born under the Aries sun, with an Aries moon, and a Virgo rising sign, I fully understand this rage for chaos and order within my own body. I somehow always have fifty-eleven projects and and even more ideas I’d like to accomplish, but I too have the same limits as all other people: we all have only 24 hours on any given day. Some of these moments must be given to the life giving nurture of the body, which carries our great mind and imagination and the hands which do our good works. Some days the balance scales of Virgo call my chaos into order, while on others my Aries excitement causes the balance to quaver. This tension shows up in my work.
I mention my astrological signs, for once in ages past, people believed the stars ruled their lives. The heroes ascended into the stars—Sagittarius, the archer, while other constellations were named for animals or the humans who were turned into animals, such as bears and swans. Some got their names for resembling objects—the dippers, while others were named for legendary persons—Cassiopeia’s chair and Orion’s Belt come to mind. In the time of dark skies, our ancestors could pick out these sky patterns with ease. Light pollution in our cities makes these shapes harder to discern every year. Our national parks may be the only places our city dwelling future generations will be able to see the night sky in all its glory.
The Ancient Greeks believed the gods ruled their fates. The writer Pausanius listed the many shrines to the deities in Athens, including “in the Athenian market-place among the objects not generally known is an altar to Mercy, of all divinities the most useful in the life of mortals and in the vicissitudes of fortune, but honored by the Athenians alone among the Greeks. And they are conspicuous not only for their humanity but also for their devotion to religion. They have an altar to Shamefastness, one to Rumour and one to Effort. It is quite obvious that those who excel in piety are correspondingly rewarded by good fortune.”
The apostle Paul even noted the Athenians had a temple to an “unknown god,” just in case they didn’t cover their bases with offerings to all the other deities (Acts 17:23). Yet, you already know him, he said, for
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” — Acts 17:24-25
Our creation story in Genesis 1:1-2 begins with familiar words:
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
Milton addressed the same Spirit of God, which was at creation, in his epic poem, Paradise Lost:
“And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread. and with mighty wings outspread. Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss And mad’st it pregnant.”
God is always creating order out of nothingness, but human beings have a tendency to create disorder wherever they go. We aren’t God, or even “as gods,” as the first humans hoped to be in the garden when they ate that fateful fruit. Even knowing “good from evil” doesn’t seem to keep us from our propensity to engage in chaos. I don’t live in a messy home, but because I put away some of my projects when I lose interest, I can forget where I “hid them.” I know what they look like, I can find others like them, but I might need several days to find the intended object of my desire. I’ll put all of these in ONE PLACE when I’m done with them. This will guarantee I’ll lose them all at once the next time I go looking for them!
In art class, we began our projects by thinking about the contrast of order and chaos. The emotional experience of the disruption chaos brings to our sense of order can change our perception of our position in the world. When Frank Hinder was serving in World War II, his bomber was shot down. As part of his therapy, he painted his memory of that occasion. That chaos in his life got channeled into a painting, for art allows us a safe haven in which we can experience cognitive dissonance.
Most of us wouldn’t willingly chose to experience such an event first hand, but we can imagine it in art, poetry, music, or fiction. This is why we exercise our creative freedom. Dealing with raw emotions in paint or other media is better than stuffing them inside, from where they can fester and harm us, or worse, break out and inflict terrible wounds upon others. We seek to center our emotions and focus our energies in a more balanced, positive manner, much like the renaissance genius, Leonardo da Vinci.
Lauralei is finishing up a drawing and is going to work the famous Leonardo Virtuvian Man into it somehow. I can hardly wait to see this. Virtuvian Man is a classic Renaissance image of order: Leonardo saw the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and his Vitruvian Man drawing as a cosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body were an analogy for the workings of the universe. That’s seeing order in the many details.
Mike has been called away from class the past two weeks to take care of courthouse business. He has a 9/11 work in mind, if the judge ever lets him go. He has many images in his mind, so simplifying the many into a few might help him get his ideas out of his head and onto the canvas. He’s got business to attend to, however, so all things will come about in God’s good time.
Gail chose the first day of creation as her inspiration. The tiny words are photocopies from a child’s Bible, which are plucked from the first chapter of Genesis. They read more as white directional or linear strokes than actual words, but I have a major cataract in my right eye, and my judgment on readability is suspect at the moment. Others may be able to see the words better than I. She used a sponge on this canvas, a new technique for her. She also wants to use gold leaf flakes to finish it out, so she may yet have another step to it.
This small square painting began from an image of an old Jerusalem map with the surrounding walls of the city. This site was destroyed numerous times over the centuries, notably in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, in 70 CE by the Romans, while the walls were destroyed by the Muslim Calif in 1250 CE, but Suliman the Magnificent rebuilt them in 1538-1541 CE. In addition to the sacks of war, earthwakes and other disasters have rendered the era of Christ to the deep basements, which are only accessed today by descending narrow, spiral staircases. The era of the prophets of the Babylonian Exile are deeper yet. The famous Western Wall of the Herodian Temple, rebuilt after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, is only the upper third of the structure.
The people of Israel believed God’s favor rested upon them because of their proximity to God’s Temple. The prophets were quick to remind them, “They were to be holy, as God is holy,” for the Temple wasn’t a magic token like a rabbit’s foot. The book of Joel probably was written in the post exile period, around 350 BCE, but could be as early as 650 BCE, due to its description of an eclipse. The prophet reminds the people:
“So you shall know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy mountain. And Jerusalem shall be holy, and strangers shall never again pass through it.” (Joel 3:17)
When the king and his court, the learned priests, all the educated tradespeople, and anyone who had any skill or knowledge was taken into slavery far distant from the sacred land where they worshipped their tribal god, the people had to wonder if God was still their god in this foreign land. Would God hear their prayers? If they could no longer offer sacrifices or make the required pilgrimages to God’s altar, were they faithful to their god anymore? In their grief, they wrote Psalms 137:4-5:
“How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!”
During the Exile, the Hebrew people developed the synagogue as the focus of their worship of God and the study of scripture, as well as a place of prayer and fellowship, and the site of life’s transitional rituals. In 538 BCE, Babylon fell and the Jewish exiles eturned to their homeland to rebuild the walls and the temple. For the people, the earlier promise of God from the prophet was finally being fulfilled:
“Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” —Joel 3:13
Back home, both the synagogue and the Temple prospered, but when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, all of the pious acts transferred to the synagogues and the homes of the faithful. Never again were sacrifices made for Passover, but the thought of the Holy City remained. The closer one came to the Mount where the Temple once stood, because the area was more holy, so the person coming near had to be more ritually pure. They may have chanted from Psalms 125:1 in unison as they made their ascent:
“Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
Today, Mount Zion is holy to the Muslim faith, for there Mohammad is said to have received the words of the Quran and also to have been lifted into heaven from here. This is also the traditional site of the Binding of Issac (Genesis 22), and it’s holy also to Christians because this is the temple where the boy Jesus was found in “his father’s house” (Luke 2:41).
The three great monotheistic faiths have fought for generations within their families of origin over who has rights to be included in the family, beginning with Abraham and Sarah’s attempt to fulfill God’s promise of an heir by using the slave woman Hagar. When God showed up to announce the birth of Isaac, it was unbelievable. When Sarah had her promised child, Hagar and Ishmael were sent out to die in the desert. God saved them, however, but the two blood relatives haven’t gotten along since.
Christians accept the promised messiah, but those years of crusading and crushing the “Muslim infidels” have left a bad taste in their mouths for us, and for some of us too. We all keep fighting, even though we’re all branches off the same tree. We all claim the same holy sites and we’ll fight over them “till the last dog dies.”
As Jesus reminded the Samaritan Woman in John 4:21 & 23:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”
Remember the lesson of the exile: God is everywhere and not fixed to one altar or site. The same God who led us through the wilderness also leads us through the ups and downs of our daily lives, wherever we find ourselves. No disruption or chaos can move the steadfast God of love and mercy from our side.
Joy and peace,
The Project Gutenberg eBook of Astronomical Myths, by John F. Blake, 1877.
Oscar Wilde famously said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” This is because the self-conscious aim of life is to find expression and art offers it certain beautiful forms, through which it may realize that energy. Yet most people who look at artworks judge them for the degree to which they represent “three dimensional reality,” in either two or three dimensions (painting, draw,or sculpture and assemblage).
Often I’ve been asked about my colorful landscapes, “Don’t you ever paint these in normal colors?”
My answer is usually, “How do we know the colors we see today are the original colors of Creation? After all, we now live in a fallen and broken world. Perhaps these bright colors were God’s original palette.” I’m not painting just what I see, but what was and what is yet to come. These are visions of a better world, where the leaves clap their hands for joy.
In art class, we not only struggle to master drawing shapes “as they are,” but also to challenge our minds to break free of our need to exactly reproduce the shapes before us. We always have the tension to make only a “copy of the image before us,” rather than to meet the image on a spiritual plane and portray an intimate portrait of its inner truth.
When we meet a stranger, we can hide behind our masks and keep our distance. Likewise, we can fail to become intimate with our painting’s subject matter. The resulting work is cold and dead, like a limp handshake. It’s a risky business to bare your heart to the canvas and paint. The brush will tell if your heart and soul is in it or not.
We get more comfortable with this risky business by practicing risk taking. It’s not like we’re facing tigers in a circus cage or jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. We can’t lose our salvation in Christ if we make a bad painting. We only have a new level from which to start afresh. All growth requires risk and failure. We discover what works, keep that, and eliminate the unuseful.
Willingness to learn is related to the “growth mind-set.” This is the belief your abilities aren’t fixed but can improve. This willingness is a belief not primarily about the self, but about the world. It’s a belief every class or learning experience offers something worthwhile, even if we don’t know in advance what that something is. Every teacher or parent worth their salt has to believe their students or children can learn and grow, or they need to give up their profession so another can grow. The first lesson even the most recalcitrant student needs to learn is to believe growth and progress is possible.
The Christian life has a parallel to the growth mindset. The whole of the Christian life is wrapped up in this faith: with God’s help, we can go on to perfection. This is a basic Methodist belief known as sanctification. We also call it going on to perfection in love of God and neighbor. Some of us think because we’re not able to change on our own, we don’t need to grow in our love. God has done all the work for us in Christ. The Holy Spirit was sent to be a truthful guide:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:13)
Paul speaks of this truth in Philippians 3:20-21, when he reminds the people of their present state as sojourners in this world, while their citizenship is elsewhere:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our humble bodies that they may be conformed to his glorious body, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.”
If life is a journey, the Christian life is even more of a pilgrimage. We all go through stages of faith if we seriously reflect and consider our beliefs when our life experiences intersect with our faith. Our earliest stage of faith begins with our parents or caregivers. Here we learn to trust or distrust, as we experience an embodied faith. The next stage is early childhood (age 3-7). Faith at this stage is experiential and develops through encounters with stories, images, the influence of others, a deeper intuitive sense of what is right and wrong, and innocent perceptions of how God causes the universe to function.
The next stage has been labeled “Mythic-Literal Faith” (Ages 7-12). Children at this stage have a belief in justice and fairness in religious matters, a sense of reciprocity in the workings of the universe (e.g. doing good will result in a good result, doing bad will cause a bad thing to happen) and an anthropomorphic image of God (e.g. a man with a long white beard who lives in the clouds). Religious metaphors are often taken literally, thus leading to misunderstandings. If God’s rewards or punishments don’t apply in proper retribution, in the believer’s mind, their faith in God’s system becomes fragile.
“The Conventional Faith” stage (12-adult) arises when individuals join a religious institution, belief system, or authority, and begin the growth of a personal religious or spiritual identity. Conflicts occur when one’s beliefs are challenged are often ignored because they represent too much of a threat to one’s faith-based identity.
Théodore Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa,”painted in 1818–19, is nearly 17 by 23 feet large. It commands its space as any proper historic painting of the past ever did. Rather than present a moral lesson from the past, the artist instead chose to paint an event from his present time: the rescue of the abandoned sailors and slaves from a wrecked ship. The French nation had sent the new governor of the Senegal colony, his family, and some other government officials and others on the Medusa. The government officials went to secure French possession of the colony and to assure the continuation of the covert slave trade, even though France had officially abolished the practice. Another group aboard the Medusa was composed of reformers and abolitionists who hoped to eliminate the practice of slavery in Senegal by engaging the local Senegalese and the French colonists in the development of an agricultural cooperative that would make the colony self-sustaining.
On the way, the ship ran aground and broke up. The officials and their families were put in lifeboats, but the 150 others on board got a makeshift raft, which was tied to the lifeboats. When the raft impeded the lifeboats, the officials cut the raft loose and all the lives with it. Only 15 were rescued after days at sea, and only ten lived to tell their tales. It was a scandal of the times. Géricault read all the newspapers, interviewed survivors, and made studies from ancient sculptures to inform his design. When younger artists saw his inspirational work in the Paris Salon, they knew a sea change had happened. Conservative critics and writers were appalled and accused Géricault of creating a disgusting, repulsive mistake. They were not yet ready to leave the past behind.
William Faulkner once said, “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore” (The Mansion , 1959). When we meet that initial storm, our first thought is to bring our fragile bark into port. In life, we batten down the hatches and book it for a safe harbor. In art class, we want to fall back on what we’ve always done before, what we know we can do, and what we’ve been successful with in the past. This is our “safe harbor.”
“Individuative-Reflective Faith” (Mid-Twenties to Late Thirties). The individual takes personal responsibility for her beliefs or feelings, often by angst and struggle. Religious or spiritual beliefs can take on greater complexity and shades of nuance, and a greater sense of open-mindedness. These can also open up the individual to potential conflicts as the different beliefs or traditions collide.
To progress and grow in our art skills, or to move through the “dark night of the soul” when we question our formerly held spiritual truths, is a crucial time. Crucial is a word sharing the same root as crucifix. The crux of both of these situations results in a life and death situation. Not that the person quits breathing or their heart stops beating, but will their old life die and their faith be reborn anew? Also, will they trust a power greater than themselves to bring them back from the depths? Many of us aren’t willing to give up control to anyone, and certainly not to a God we can’t see. We’re two year olds in our spiritual lives too often, for “I can do it myself!” Is our answer to everything and everyone. (Test it out—how many of you read the directions after you start putting a project together?)
“Conjunctive” Faith (Mid-Life Crisis). A person at this stage acknowledges paradoxes and the mysteries attendant on transcendent values. This causes the person to move beyond the conventional religious traditions or beliefs he may have inherited from previous stages of development. A resolution of the conflicts of this stage occurs when the person is able to hold a multi-dimensional perspective that acknowledges ”truth’ as something that cannot be articulated through any particular statement of faith. This is where the Holy Awe begins to fill all the nooks and crannies from which it was once forbidden.
“Universalizing” Faith (or ”Enlightenment”). (Later Adulthood). This stage is only rarely achieved by individuals. A person at this stage is not hemmed in by differences in religious or spiritual beliefs among people in the world, but regards all beings as worthy of compassion and deep understanding. Here, individuals ”walk the talk” of the great religious traditions (e.g. ”the kingdom of God is within you”).
In 1999 Janet McKenzie’s painting “Jesus of the People” was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus by judge Sister Wendy Beckett, host of the PBS show “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” In the words of Sister Wendy, “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus—dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence. Over His white robe He draws the darkness of our lack of love, holding it to Himself, prepared to transform all sorrows if we will let Him.” The model was an African-American woman and the painting includes a yin-yang symbol of Eastern traditions and feather of Native American traditions. (Photo courtesy of Paul Smith)
Next week, we’ll still be working on order and chaos. We got started on this at our first meeting, and the concept is a challenge. I’ll write about our class work then. We’re always open to anyone joining us, for you come as you are and begin where you are. Our art group is a “one room schoolhouse” with all levels of students mixed together. We may all be doing the “same project,” but everyone does it at their own skill level. I give you special attention according to your needs.
Remember, “The only way you can be behind is if you never start.”
Rabbit! Rabbit! Welcome to 2023! This old bunny may not see the clock strike midnight, but I’m recovering from a bad cold. Rest is more important than ringing in the New Year. Every year has its own character.
Zeitgeist is a word that comes straight from German — zeit means “time” and geist means spirit, so the “spirit of the time” is what’s going on culturally, religiously, or intellectually during a certain period. When it comes to the turn of the New Year, we bunnies wonder if our new broom will sweep clean or if the old broom will leave the same mess as always in our cozy rabbit dens.
Are we filled with hope or with foreboding? Do these dark days and deep nights of winter fill us with a gloomy spirit? Or do the imperceptibly lengthening minutes of daytime give hope to the shadows the cold of winter has left in the depths of our souls? Or have the coastal grandmother bunnies among us learned to ignore all this stum and drang by blending their afternoon tea time into early evening wine tasting?
Everything a culture considers taboo, evil, or immoral typically ends up being proscribed or “consigned to the outer darkness.” From there it ends up inside us in what Carl Jung called “the Shadow,” or our inner “Satan,” as it were. Repressed and inhibited, it festers and rages in the darkness of our “unconscious.” Even in extreme cases, it takes on a quasi-autonomous existence of its own, occasionally intruding as the famous “voices in the head” or even as a multiple personality.
Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde is a famous light and dark shadow character from fiction, but too often in real life we rabbits point out our own dark shadows in the lives of those we so easily demonize. As my wise old granddaddy rabbit would reprimand me, “When you point out the faults of others, you have three fingers pointing back at you.”
I always find life more refreshing on the first day of the year, perhaps because I don’t over indulge in strong drink as I once did in my wayward bunny youth. We bunnies all have a wayward youth, for how else would we know what the immature among us are getting into? My old daddy rabbit believed, “Experience was the greatest teacher of all time, as well as its most costly tutor.” Indeed, we remember the costliest lessons best of all. The young ones today say, “Go big or go home.” My grannie would say, “If you’re in for a penny, you might as well be in for a pound.” After all, everyone who participated, either in a small or large way, would be held accountable.
As I look back on old 2022, grizzled and worn out by conflicts both at home and abroad, I can understand why the ancients thought of Janus, for whom January’s named, as a two faced god. One face, which looked backwards, was lined, bearded, and craggy featured, while the forward looking face of the new year was youthful, smooth, and clean shaven. Every new year is fresh and clean as a beardless youth’s face, as well as untroubled by any recollection of pains or past memories. Most of us bunnies also have short memories, for we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Rabbits have short term memories of around 4 minutes, but can remember bad experiences for longer periods, just as humans can.
In Ancient Rome, as the poets Ovid and Horace recount, Janus was the god of war and peace. They differ as to whether the Temple of Janus was a prison for peace or war, but they both agree the prison was meant to maintain PAX ROMANA, or the great Roman Peace. If peace were impounded, peace would be guaranteed to the nation. If war were imprisoned, it wouldn’t rampage about to destroy the countryside. Just as Janus had two faces, Roman religion was open to multiple interpretations and meanings. Perhaps today, they’d be known as “freethinkers,” as opposed to “literalists” or “strict constructionists” in their interpretation of their ancient stories.
Maybe in 2023 we bunnies might want to look at different ways of thinking, instead of one fixed way. There’s a difference between a straight and narrow path and a rut. On the path we can still see other twists and turns, which might change the outcome of our experience and existence. In a rut we’re stuck for life, with no where out, until it becomes our grave. If the world is changing more quickly than is comfortable for us, I give the example of my old granddaddy again. He pushed a button to turn on one of the first electric lights in his home town and lived to see men walk on the moon. Be resilient, be adaptable, and embrace change. After all, we’re always changing, so the option of never changing is death.
Romans would celebrate January 1 by giving offerings to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the new year. They believed their acts set the stage for the coming year, so it was a common practice to make a positive start to the year. Not only did they exchange well wishes and sweet gifts of figs and honey with one another, but according to the poet Ovid, most Romans also chose to work for at least part of New Year’s Day because they saw idleness as a bad omen for the rest of the year. If 1st century Romans were to drop into some of our 21st century celebrations by means of Dr. Who’s traveling blue Police Box, they would wonder how the barbarians, who sacked Rome in 455 CE, had managed to take over our modern New Year.
We toga wearing bunnies, who are long of tooth, know from experience the barbarians are always at the gate of our safe little gardens. Sometimes they’re even inside the gardens of delight, as Peter Rabbit and his Cottontail friends perpetually discover when Mr. McGregror chases them with a rake. If we cast a look back on 2022 with our rheumy eyes, we saw Russia attack Ukraine, an outrageous act which sent millions of people to emigrate from their the destroyed cities and ravaged countryside, with the hope of finding safe haven in another European country.
Across the pond, on our southern border, thousands of migrants have fled disaster and violence in their homelands, but even though the US economy is hurting for workers in our entry level jobs, they have difficulty getting in. Are these people actually “barbarians at the gate?” Or have we projected our Shadow Fears upon them because they are foreigners? We did this with the Japanese, who m we placed into Internment Camps in World War II, much to our disgrace. This bunny asks us to search our hearts in 2023 to see if our three fingers are pointing back at our own selves.
Think about how Woodstock symbolized the 1960s: Woodstock was part of the Zeitgeist of the 1960s. Whatever seems particular to or symbolic of a certain time is likely part of its Zeitgeist. I came home from college one Christmas wearing a necklace of tiny black and white seed beads, only to be greeted by my old fashioned daddy, “Are you a hippy now?” For him, any one thing represented the whole, for he grew up with the ancient bunny wisdom, “One bad apple spoils the bushel.” We were only reconciled when he realized I hadn’t lost my fondness for his beloved Cowboys football team.
If we can find one common interest in this strange and fraught world with those with whom we would be at war, then we might be able to come to peace with them. If we insist on all or nothing, no bunny will get anything. We all want to have endless days of peace and joy, but the life of a bunny also has days of struggle and sorrow.
Carl Jung, the great psychologist once said, “There are as many nights as days, and the one is just as long as the other in the year’s course. Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word ‘happy’ would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”
We also have this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13—
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
Many of my southern bunny kinfolks will eat a variety of this New Year’s Day meal: black eyed peas, ham, greens, and cornbread. We think every pea consumed equals another day of good luck. Of course, we’re not the only superstitious clan.
Our cousins in Japan, celebrating Ōmisoka, or New Year’s Eve, gather together to eat long noodles to cross over from one year to the next. At midnight, many visit shrines or temples for Hatsumōde. Shinto shrines prepare amazake, a sweet low alcohol drink, to pass out to crowds and most Buddhist temples have large cast bells that are struck once for each of the 108 earthly desires believed to cause human suffering.
I found some interesting New Year’s good luck traditions, which are practiced around the world. In Greece, folks hang onions outside on their front doors to ward off evil. On New Year’s Eve, Colombian households have a tradition, called agüero, of placing three potatoes under each family member’s bed—one peeled, one not, and the last one only partially. At midnight each person, with eyes closed, grabs for one. Depending on the potato they select, they can either expect a year of good fortune, financial struggle, or a mix of both.
In Ireland, people bang Christmas bread against the walls of their house for good luck. If any of you bunnies have a Christmas fruitcake still lying around, please choose another loaf to prevent damage to your walls. Good contractors are backed up and hard to find, especially around the holidays.
The Danes chunk plates at their friends’ doorsteps for good luck on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps all that darkness from the winter solstice makes my northern relatives harebrained, but we love them just the same. I suppose every bunny has some weird relatives.
Old bunny weather lore says, “The first 12 days of January foretell the weather for each month of the year.” Another way to forecast the weather for the coming year depends on the wind. The old bunnies are at odds as to when this poem should be recited, with some advocating for sunset on New Year’s Eve and others at the break of dawn on New Year’s Day. This bunny notes the poem mentions New Year’s Eve, and since none of our ancient bunnies had time traveling abilities, I’d think we are safe to practice this on the Eve at sunset, then go out to do our responsible reveling.
If New Year’s Eve the wind blows south It betokens warmth and growth. If west, much milk and fish in the sea. If north, cold and storms there will be. If east, the trees will bear much fruit. If north east, then flee it, man and brute. Then throw your new year wishes to the wind!
My New Year’s wish for 2023 is for each and every one of my bunny friends to have a better year than last year. And especially to know deep in your hearts, each of you are God’s own beloved children. Remember this good word from Romans 8:28—
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
This shortest day of the year is the Winter Solstice, which is on Wednesday, December 21, at 4:48 P.M. EST, in the Northern Hemisphere. Some think of this as the Longest Night, but I’m a person of the light, not the darkness. I always prefer to look to the light, no matter how dim or feeble it may seem.
Yet darkness is a necessary experience in our lives. We do not yet live in the land of the “unclouded sky” or the heavenly realm:
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” —Revelation 21:23
In the darkness, growth often happens: germination and rooting are two types of unseen activity that help produce the plant we see above ground. Without adequate light, the visible plant won’t thrive. So both darkness and light are at work to produce fruit in our lives.
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28
The Winter Solstice in Hot Springs is at 3:48 pm CST on Wednesday, December 21, 2022. In terms of daylight, this day is 4 hours, 37 minutes shorter than the June solstice. In most locations north of the equator, the shortest day of the year is around this date. The good news about the Winter Solstice is the days will begin to lengthen, although imperceptibly at first: one minute, four minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes, thirteen minutes, sixteen minutes, and so on.
In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the sun’s return, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. Today we recognize the source of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song in this festival. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year. Prosperity for all in the New Year!
In this time of stress and strain, grief and gripes, let’s look to the in-breaking light, and the renewal of life and love. Here’s a “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch, for your pleasure:
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, now you are uncurled and cover our eyes with the edge of winter sky leaning over us in icy stars Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing, come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.
Of course, if you can’t get your travel plans together at the last minute to visit Stonehenge, England for the winter solstice celebration, you can always make Rice Krispies Bars in the shape of the ancient monument. The recipe link is at the bottom of the page. Hint: don’t turn the heat up high or your treats will be hard. Due to high carbohydrate count, one “pillar” of Stonehenge Krispies is actually two servings.
Nothing springs full grown to life in an instant. Everything begins in a seed, which is planted, watered, and nourished into full growth. Only in myths or fantasies can an idea come into being instantly. Zeus had a very bad headache, a “splitting headache,” that birthed his daughter Athena, the goddess of wisdom. She leapt out in fully grown from his brow. We don’t take this myth to be scientifically true, but as a metaphor for the difficulty and struggles we undergo to obtain wisdom. As my daddy used to tell me after I’d learned some hard life lesson, “The school of experience is a rough master, and we all earn a costly degree in gaining its wisdom.”
Some of us will repeat the same lessons over and over, as if we expect to get a different result. The purpose of an education isn’t to regurgitate a right answer to pass a test, but to understand why the answer is right. That’s why math classes require showing the steps to the solution, rather than the “full blown adult answer” only. In matters of faith or ethics, many of us haven’t had the training to “set out the proof” for our final answer or deed. In fact, in one situation we may think or act one way, and quite differently in another.
The name for this behavior is “situational ethics.” Less kindly, it’s also known as spinelessness, shiftiness, being two faced, or dishonesty. Mostly it means people don’t have a true center or a plumb line by which they measure themselves. If we’re measuring our lives against other people, we’re measuring against other fallible human beings. Even our heroes have feet of clay, for none of us are gods. When I used to call my parents out on this character trait, they always told me, “Do as I say, not as I do.” This sets up a moral conflict for most people, even those raised in the church or in religious homes.
We need to have a moral center based on a higher authority than our individual or cultural conventions, one that includes or exceeds the ethics of the group to which we belong, and not just our individual beliefs and actions. Professional groups—physicians, lawyers, clergy, educators, and others—all have ethical standards for caring for those they serve, even if they morally disagree with the behaviors that bring them into their care. Who decides the ethics of the group? At the risk of making my favorite seminary professor, Billy Abraham, roll about in his still fresh grave, we United Methodists do have the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience to guide us. Often we assign our personal life experience to this latter quadrilateral edge, but Wesley meant our Experience of the Assurance of God’s All Embracing and Adopting Love. As Wesley once said, “God is able to save all to the uttermost.”
Ethics and morals are often used as synonyms, but ethics refer to rules provided by an external source, e.g., codes of conduct in workplaces or principles in religions. Morals refer to an individual’s own principles regarding right and wrong. Ethics is a a late 17th century word derived from the Greek ēthos (disposition, character), in contrast to pathos (suffering). In Latin it means ‘character, depiction of character’, or (plural) ‘customs’.
Then we have the words moral and morals. The first is concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior. The goodness or badness of human character is another concern. From these, people decide what behavior is considered right or acceptable in a particular society. We often say a person has morals if they conform to standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do. We can speak of “the corruption of public morals, “ or you can hear people talking as if “they believe addicts have no morals and can’t be trusted,” rather than understanding the disease and abuse bases which often underlie addictions.
These distinctions don’t change the negative consequences of the addict’s behaviors, yet the addicted person still has the same image of God and the same potential for wholeness each of us have, but perhaps with more suffering, or pathos. If we judge the morality of a person’s choices, and then refer that moral state to the individual’s worthiness, we can end up losing compassion for the person as well as losing the will to help them better their lives. This leads to hard heartedness and a lack of love. We reject our neighbors and make them strangers, unwelcome to our world. We forget our spiritual ancestors were once strangers in a strange land, wanderers without a home. How easily we forget our savior, who had no place to be born even in his ancestral home, and whose family fled religious persecution and certain death to live in Egypt, far from home. Strange how some Christians have no sympathy for others in the same fix today.
Moral is a word from the late Middle English by way of the Latin moralis, from mos, mor- ‘custom’, with the plural mores or ‘morals’. It refers to one having the property of being right or wrong, good or evil, or voluntary or deliberate, and therefore open to ethical appraisal. When we apply moral attributes to a person, it means “capable of moral action; able to choose between right and wrong, or good and evil.” Not until 1803 did moral come to mean “virtuous with regard to sexual conduct,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
As a noun, we meet the word in the Latin Moralia, the title of St Gregory the Great’s moral exposition of the Book of Job. Later it was applied to the works of various classical writers. All Methodists and the holiness denominations birthed from the seed of the great Methodist revival recognize the genius of John Wesley. We all quote him, but we also apply his wisdom through our own individual preconceived notions of what is “good, true, and noble.”
When John Wesley was asked, “What is that faith whereby we are sanctified?” he answered:
“First believe that God has promised to save you from all sin, and to fill you with all holiness; secondly, believe that He is able thus to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through him; thirdly, believe that He is willing, as well as able, to save you to the uttermost; to purify you from all sin, and fill up all your heart with love. Believe fourthly, that He is not only able, but willing to do it now! Not when you come to die; not at any distant time; not tomorrow, but today. He will then enable you to believe, it is done, according to His Word.”
In the old days, we said we were “going on to perfection,” not that we were so bold as to claim that we’d already arrived there or been perfected. Oh no, we allowed God could complete this for us and had the power to do it, as well as the will, but our human nature was still fallible. If a word comes up more than once in a text, writers go to the thesaurus for an alternative, but in reading scripture, we learned repetition was a sign of importance, a marker especially meant for those of us who are slow learners in the school of life.
Oliver O’Donovan in “Scripture and Christian Ethics” writes, “Moral theologians have a secret knowledge, apparently concealed from other kinds of theologians, especially those devoted to hermeneutics. They know that the most mysterious and most difficult question we ever have to answer is not, what does Scripture mean?, but, what does the situation we are facing mean?, where do we find ourselves existentially?”
We tend to speak as if our selves and our situations were known quantities, so that it only remains to choose out of Scripture whatever seems to fit our circumstances as we conceive them. Scripture has an uncanny way of shedding light on our self and our situation, to overcome our preconceptions about them. We don’t read about our situation directly in the Scriptures, yet it’s from the Scriptures we gain categories of understanding, which re-frame our view of our situation and ourselves. We can’t look for individual texts to guide our actions, but need to consider the whole of the revealed Scripture and God’s nature as we discern our path forward.
In this sense, the Bible is a mirror which reflects our inner nature to us, convicting us of our failings and giving us grace and comfort in our times of need. We can learn much about ourselves from the verses we lean on, just as much as we can by the verses we ignore. There’s a reason we interpret texts by the whole of scripture, and not piecemeal. This is one way we understand the authority of scripture.
As an interesting aside, SWTX, my original conference, which approved my candidacy for the ministry, didn’t think I should attend seminary because I scored so low on the abstract reasoning tests I took. They didn’t think I would make 65, seminary’s passing grade, in my class work. It’s true I learn and process differently, but knowing this, I crammed a three year program into four years. If I’m slow to grasp the whole until I first understand the parts, this doesn’t reflect on my fitness for ministry or my intellectual ability. It merely reflects a different way of processing information. There’s more way to skin a cat, and many ways people learn.
When I taught art classes, I had to make sure I covered all the learning methods for all my students to have success. I talked about the project, I demonstrated the techniques, I had the steps written out, and for some few children, I had to place their hands in the optimum position to get them started. This covered ear and eye learning, visual reminders, and haptic or touch learning. Some students needed multiple types of learning throughout their working time on a project. Some needed reteaching every class period. Some just needed encouragement when they got stuck at a rough patch. Most all had to learn to talk in positive terms about themselves and their work, as well as about others and their creative process also.
I talk about this teaching method, for this is how we consciously or unconsciously teach those around us ethics and morals. As one youth asked me at a church I once served, “Why are you wearing your cross today? It’s not Sunday.”
“Because Jesus is important to me every day, not just on the day I lead church services.”
I realized even though her family was very active and faithful in our congregation, when they were out in the world of day to day folks, they didn’t stand out from the crowd. Maybe one day day this child will come to a time when wearing a cross becomes bearing a cross. Then again, how many people willingly choose suffering for the sake of the body of Christ? This suffering is often difficult for those of us who’ve committed our lives to Christ’s call, but we realize most laity won’t voluntarily submit to that kind of stress. Yet experience is a great teacher. We learn from others, even those who have differing opinions and choose different actions.
Wesley’s Sermon, “The Nature of Enthusiasm,” has some advice for us: “Beware you are not a fiery, persecuting enthusiast. Do not imagine that God has called you (just contrary to the spirit of Him you style your Master) to destroy men’s lives, and not to save them. Never dream of forcing men into the ways of God. Think yourself, and let think. Use no constraint in matters of religion. Even those who are farthest out of the way never compel to come in by any other means than reason, truth, and love.”
As a further reminder from his all time classic Sermon, On Working Out Our Own Salvation, 1785: “By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin…by sanctification we are saved from the power and root of sin…”In modern terms, when we profess our faith, Christ saves us from the guilt of that first sin. Some say Adam and Eve were disobedient. They then emphasize rule keeping as their moral choice. There’s always a reason behind every behavior, however. Why were they disobedient? We hear the answer in the parable of the Tree of Wisdom:
“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
The man and the woman both heard the half truth, saw the shiny fruit, believed the promises of a creature rather than their creator, and ate the fruit they hoped would make them like gods. Instead they only gained knowledge of their nakedness and vulnerability. This first lesson of the school of life came with cost: fig leaves ooze irritating sap. They won’t choose this solution again. God’s providence replaced their poor choice with animal skin clothing even as God sent them out into the world. We might say the attitude of pride or greed drove their bad behavior and was the cause of their negative consequences.
As we grow in holiness and love of God and neighbor, the Holy Spirit destroys any remaining root of sin. One of the important sins, Wesley noted, was pride. Pride is that feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction we get from our own achievements, or those of our family, tribe, nation, or other associated group. In matters of faith, we always have to remember Paul’s admonition to the Romans (10:9-13):
“because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Paul reminds us of the unity of the Jews and the Gentiles, the clean and the unclean, the former masters and slaves, with the gulf now bridged between the former God worshippers and the idol worshiping strangers. Now there’s “no Jew nor Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
When we joined together into one annual conference in 2003, almost twenty years ago, we had good reasons to make one combined administrative body for our faith community. We had underfunded pension obligations, we were over heavy with administrators, and clergy didn’t have equity in retirement accumulation. Likewise, the conferences weren’t equally treated, since one didn’t fully fund pension needs, an act which caused clergy to seek appointments in the other conference, thus robbing the first of talents and gifts. These were the logical consequences of attitudes and behaviors, however.
The logical person thought, “Let’s make Arkansas One Faith, One Focus, One Fellowship,” and this will solve all our problems. It may have looked good on paper, but our congregations had been used to a personal touch to remind them at least once a year they belonged to a greater whole. Their pride in showing off their home church and being a good host for the Superintendent was taken from them if they were just attendees at another group meeting. The moral choice of what’s better for me, a relaxing Sunday afternoon with my family or a meeting elsewhere, gets weighed and measured.
So now here we are, nearly twenty years into this optimistic marriage of the two annual conferences. The seeds for dissent and discontent were planted long ago, even before this joining. When I inventoried the historic memorabilia of the dead bishops at the SMU Bridwell Library, I saw how the chaos of the Vietnam War era and the sea changes our society were experiencing then affected our church in many ways. Some wanted to hold onto tradition more tightly, while others were ready to experiment with new wine in fresh wine skins. These were just “outer trappings,” however, for the message of “saved by faith, sanctified by faith, and made perfect in love by faith” never changes. This is Christ’s work, enabled by the Holy Spirit.
The past sixty years, as the last two decades, haven’t always been smooth sailing. We often have had trials, storms, and tribulations on our shared journeys. Sometimes we’re so far out to sea, we don’t see the land, and the skies are occluded, so we can’t take a bearing off the stars. Yet God’s spirit will blow us along, for even detours are within God’s providence. As James reminds us:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:2-4)
Today we also have powerful economic and political forces that are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They purport to work for religion and democracy, but actually work against the stewardship of our earth ‘s resources and environment, fail to care for the poor and dispossessed, and support military interventions around the world. Moreover, some of them actively work to destabilize religious denominations with social justice callings, such as the UMC, the Presbyterian Church USA, and others. Some today think “things fall apart; the center will not hold.”
Two final words in summary: one is from the ancient wisdom tradition and the other from Paul’s paean of joy in the midst of suffering. Proverbs 22:1 reminds us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” My dying grandfather spoke these words to me in his last hours. Ive always considered them a plumb line for my life.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” — Philippians 4:8-9
John Wesley: Repentance in Believers (Sermon 14), “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.” Mark 1:15. The Complete Works of John Wesley, vol. 1 of 3, Kindle ereader. Read on line here: http://www.godonthe.net/wesley/jws_014.html