Lean to the left

I hate politics.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I know I’ve said it for years, but it’s not quite on-the-mark.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.Politics, simply defined, means:

  • activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government

  • the work or job of people (such as elected officials) who are part of a government

  • the opinions that someone has about what should be done by governments : a person’s political thoughts and opinions (Merriam-Webster)

Politics is just a necessary part of government, and especially self-government.

I hate what politics has become. I hate what a two-party system has morphed politics into in the United States: oppositional extremism, where the filthiest words in Washington are  “collaboration,” “cooperation,” “compromise,” “statesmanship” and “integrity.”

Politics has become gamesmanship rather than statesmanship. The only goal is for party ideology to win; not for the country to win or for the people to be best governed; just for one party to win over the other.

It’s as if the old junior high school cheer has become our new national anthem: “Lean to the left! Lean to the right! Stand up! Sit down! Fight-fight-fight!”

And there are no rules about the fight any longer. If rules become inconvenient, the majority side suspends or repeals them. There is no ethic to govern the behavior of candidates or elected officials or appointees. There isn’t even a basic familiarity with the Constitution and how government works in order to guide the process. No rules. Anything it takes … to win.

The result is:

  • If you don’t pick a side, you’re unpatriotic.
  • If you refuse to vote because the choices you’re offered are unacceptable, then everything unacceptable that happens afterward is your fault.
  • If you think for yourself, you are dangerous and untrustworthy.

Well, I refuse to play that damned game anymore.

In a game where rules are optional, nobody wins.

There are planks of platforms in both major parties and a couple of minor parties that I agree with and fully support.

But there is no one party that unfailingly and unflinchingly represents what is best for the people of the United States. Both are sold out to ideology. Both are sold out to special interests. Both have sold their souls for political contributions because the goal is winning.

So I’m not Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Green or Socialist or any other convenient categorizing label.

I’m me.

Because “my party right or wrong” is just plain stupid. They’re both wrong about some things and they’re both right about some things and when they won’t cooperate on solutions to the nation’s problems, then everybody suffers.

And here’s the one where I’ll really lose friends:

I lean to the left.

I lean to the left, maybe ever so slightly, because I am a follower of Christ. I find that the underlying ideology of the left seeks the good of others and the entire nation over the good of self, and that is a value I believe to be Christ-like. The underlying ideology of the left is built on sharing and trusting and inclusiveness. It is based on love.

I find that the underlying ideology of the right seeks the good of self and only others who are like oneself or close to oneself. It seeks that benefit over the good of the entire nation and over the good of others, especially others not like oneself; others of different social stratum, or religious belief, or skin color, or income or political ideology. The underlying ideology of the right is built on accumulating and keeping and distrust and exclusiveness. It is based on fear.

That may not be the way that the right’s underlying ideology is expressed in noble terms of earning and self-determination and less government and more security and nationalism and capitalism, but that is how it plays out when carried to its extreme. And these days, everything is carried to its extreme.

Oh, but abortion! some might say; we care about the unborn babies! So do I. I don’t believe the vast majority people who lean to the left are dedicated to being pro-abortion or are “baby-killers.” But in all of the 40+ years since Roe v. Wade, I have yet to see the right or left establish landmark legislation that would genuinely encourage a reduction in the number of abortions; something that recognizes that women are going to be the ones making the choice – not legislators – and that there are a huge number of factors which affect that decision.

That’s the subject of another post entirely, or even a series of posts.

My point would be, if you are voting based on this single issue and ignoring the rest of the issues that surround life in the United States of America and how it is governed, then you are voting like the mythical ostrich … head in the sand.

Because the policies of the left, generally – the policies seeking the good of others above self – are the ones which have been and are likely to be more successful at reducing the number of abortions in our nation: a livable wage, maternity and paternity leave, affordable/accessible health care and child care, public education, hunger prevention, and so on.

Now I would be the first to advocate that most of these should be less the function of government and more the function of church and charity, but the fact is that church and charity aren’t getting it done, and when the call of Christ is for us to look after for each other, I don’t really believe He ever specified or gave a flying flapjack whether the help comes from individuals, from people working together as churches, charities or governments. Just as long as the poor and the disfranchised are included and shown tangible love; that’s all He specified.

So I lean to the left. A little. I think I always have. I suspect I always will.

But I know I will always maintain that the best course for the country will never be down a path of partyism, divisiveness and extremism. That’s what two-and-only-two major parties yields. You can line up all the political sociologists in the world and have them recite together for me, “But that is the natural result in a democratic republic” forever and ever, but what is natural will not make it right for the nation.

Agree or disagree; pile up your arguments and defend your extremist party if you want to.

It won’t change the facts:

  • Division leads to disaster.
  • Bias destroys truth.
  • Power corrupts.
  • We work best when we work together.

We deserve a better United States than our party loyalty yields, and so does the rest of the world.

(Comments are closed on this one. You can play political football somewhere else.)


It ain’t over

I’m not in denial about Christmas. It’s over. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I don’t have the kind of let-down, blue feeling that I have had after the holiday in some years past.

You know that feeling, don’t you? All the pressure and shopping and wrapping and cooking and decorating and then … it’s all done. You get a consolation-prize holiday in a week — New Year’s (oh, boy; resolutions, losing weight, being a better person) — but the big glass ornament has really dropped at Christmas and you feel like you’ve gone down with it … Like you’ve had a software failure causing an emotional systems crash.

cosmic-christI really think that following the study of Advent has done its work on me this season: keeping up with the velcro Advent calendar in the kitchen, reading the Revised Common Lectionary readings, focusing on hymns and carols of anticipation as well as God’s delivery on His promise.

Somehow, I still feel that sense of anticipation even though the ghost of Christmas is now past.

Jesus is coming … again. He’s conquered sin and death, and there is no sting for those who follow Him. It won’t be in an humble manger or from a dusty tomb the next time, but all will see and hear His parousia … and the close of mankind’s history … and the full inbreaking of the Kingdom in the new heavens and earth. It’s enormous! It’s cosmic! It’s humanity and divinity; temporal-meets-eternal; imperfect-being-perfected stuff!

It’s really something spectacular to look forward to!

And although the season’s giving of gifts and the feasting on plenty (and the airing of grievances and the feats of strength, for some of you!) are over now, I’m in no rush to take down the decorations or stop listening to the music or cease lighting candles when I wish.

I guess the traditional time for that will be Epiphany, January 6, and that’s as wise as the Magi as far as I’m concerned … even though I’ve had decorations up since before Thanksgiving. (I had to get the cottage ready for my new hometown’s Tour of Homes on December 3.)

Now, having missed two Sundays in a row of worship with my church family here (one due to snow/ice; one from being at my old church home in Little Rock on Christmas), I’m having that sense of anticipation also that’s captured in the phrase we usually see and hear around Easter: Sunday’s coming.

Sunday IS coming. Good-Lord-willing-and-He-don’t-come-back, there will be 52 of them in the year to come … and that, too, is something to look forward to with joy!

But the bigger anticipation — He-DO-come-back! — has awakened within me and is starting to take over as the firmware on which the operating system software of my life is running. It’s basic and necessary and vital to everything else that I think, do or say. Life 2.0 — my OS since my baptism — is getting an upgrade to 2.1, I think.

And it ain’t over till it’s over.

The election is over

And I am dealing with its aftermath the same way I have tried to deal with the buildup to it and the day of it: through prayer.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.I committed many months ago to praying for the two major party candidates — neither of which I could vote for, in good conscience (nor any of the other minor party candidates). Today I decided to renew my commitment.

One is in over his head.

The other must surely be down within her heart.

Both need prayers. Do I need to quote scripture for my fellow believers to explain why? All right, then, I will:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior … — The apostle, Paul; 1 Timothy 2:1-3ff

Even if you consider them your political enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. — Jesus of Nazareth; Matthew 5:43-45

The days ahead will be challenging for our nation and the world as we all adjust to a radically different political paradigm. This is not your usual party-to-party transition; this is from party-to-outsider-only-tenuously-connected-to-party. So pray for believers. Yes, believers. It is through believers that the world can come to know the Father, and they can come to know Him best by the gospel of His Son.

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” — Jesus of Nazareth; John 17:20-25

I know it seems like we should just pray for our nation and the world and leave it up to God, but that’s the lazy way — and it’s not what God had in mind. That’s why Jesus prays for believers: because God believes in them and will empower them to do the work of making him known to the world.

Yeah; I don’t know why. I don’t know why God still believes in us — as messed up as we are, and as confident in ourselves anyway, and as convinced as ever that somehow our salvation is in a particular flag or border or army or leader or party. But He does. He expressed that faith in us through His Son and we need to pray to be strong and courageous in order to be part of the solutions to the problems this world has stupidly chosen and sinned its way into.

The day after the election, I took a little flack for posting my thoughts on Facebook:

We go forward from here.

We do better.

We commit to each other that we will participate more actively in the government of our own nation and of our own character.

We do not slough off all responsibility to elected officials.

We take it and run with it.

We bind up the wounds rather than salting or reopening them.

We respect each other.

We come together.

We fight together, not against each other, but against the divisiveness within and the antagonism from without that would gleefully destroy our Republic.

We live up to our pledge — not to a single person or party or even a flag of cloth — but to each other:

“ONE nation under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL.”

No excuses.

But I make no apology for what I believe. Some of my friends whose candidate lost were hurting, and perhaps I should have given them a little more time and space to hurt. Others were plainly gloating, and deserved a little deflation to the party ego and the divisiveness they were displaying.

I am clearly no party animal, and it will require a willingness to unite and heal this nation if we want to be able to stand on the world stage and not appear weak, divided, partisan and yet still claiming somehow to be “Christian” with all of our bitter infighting.

And we will not be able to do this by ourselves. We need God’s help. We need humility. We need penitence. We need reliance on His power to show a Christlike nature to the world and to agree on what that means and to glorify His name above our platforms and parties and plans and presidents.

We need to pray it.

We need to live it.

‘The War Prayer,’ by Mark Twain

This article was published in Harper’s Weekly in November, 1916 — one hundred years ago — more than six years after the death of the writer, Mark Twain. He had written it in protest of the U.S. intervention in the Philippines and submitted it to Harper’s Bazaar in 1905, but it was rejected as too radical.

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

mark_twainSunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

When It’s Hard to See Jesus

Almost 3,000 feet away and almost due east from my house stands the Christ of the Ozarks Statue. Some of my neighbors call it “Gumby.” I like to call it “Big Concrete Jesus.”

I have no real idea how the Good Lord feels about it, since He seemed to be rather inclined against any kind of idolatry or appearance of it in older scripture. Whether He approves or not, there it is. My neighbor, BCJ. So I have determined that I will love my neighbor as myself.

Truth is, BCJ is a good reminder.

img_0666The last couple of days have been alternating soupy-foggy and stormy-drenchy and even at mid-day or at mid-night with the spotlights of the Great Passion Play campus shining on him, or early in the morning while I was walking Roadie before the sun didn’t seem to rise and shine,  BCJ has been hard to see.

Just as in my life — and I’m guessing, yours — Jesus is sometimes hard to see.

We look at the mess our world is in and we wonder why He’s so hard to see.

Fifteen years ago, 9/11 happened and we all wanted to know: “Where is Jesus in all this?”

Before that, it might have been the Kennedy assassination, or a World War, or the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, and people were asking the same question.

Generations before and since, people in ours and other nations have been wondering the same thing when sin and evil and hatred and death haunted their loved ones — have been asking where He is.

And, just like BCJ on my morning walks, Jesus was where He has been all along.

Jesus is right where we left Him in the story of scripture, since He physically left this world the last time.

At the Father’s right hand. In heaven. In charge.

Doesn’t He see what’s happening down here? Doesn’t He hear our cries and prayers? Doesn’t He know we’re hurting, starving, fighting, dying?

Sure He knows.

He was here, remember? Lived here. Taught here. Healed here. Loved here. Lost loved ones here.

Died here.

Lived again, here, in this world; only to rise to a better one to make a better place for us.

If He’s hard to see, it’s not because He’s moved.

It may be because we have. Or the clouds that obscure Him have. Or the lights have failed and the darkness has, for a time, won out.

And He’s still there.

I moved 800 miles recently — not so much to be closer to BCJ, but to my kids — and I doubt that I’ll be moving any closer to the statue on East Mountain.

But I hope I never lose sight of Jesus, or stop moving closer to Him, or give up and stop trying to see Him — whether He seems obscured or seems as clear as on a crispy, sunshine-drenched autumn day. Even if I do, though …

He’s still there.

Still there, rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Still there, mourning with those who mourn.

Still there, interceding for those who pray.

Still there, providing and remaining and answering the door for those who ask, seek and knock.

I know I need to remember that. Maybe you do, too.

Well, that’s the way I see things from Eureka Springs, Arkansas — where the fog creeps in on little cat’s feet and beats a retreat when a storm is the norm.

And where BCJ says hey.

Home to a Place I’ve Been Before

Quite a lot has happened in my life since my last post.

I sold my house in Webster, N.C. and moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

I’ve never lived here before — well, never more than a few days at a time — but I have long wanted to.

It’s the place where Angi and I became engaged; where we brought our kids for long weekends away from Little Rock; where this little cottage that is now my home was built in 1882 by the ninth governor of Arkansas, Powell Clayton (along with several others, the Crescent Hotel and the Eureka Springs Railway). And where it has been for sale for about three years and three realtors.

But no more.

I’ve bought it and am making it my home as I unpack all my boxes.


Angi and I talked about retiring here. I don’t know if we would have or not, but I hope to. Not yet, of course; I’m still working via web for Western Carolina University … writing and posting news articles to the university’s news website and putting together the weekly newsletter to faculty and staff, The Reporter.

I’ve been coming to Eureka Springs for weekend and holiday retreats for about 30 years now — I can still remember my first trip, riding the steam train and walking a couple of trails on an inexpensive trail map I bought at a bookstore.

I probably missed seeing my house (panorama of it currently featured in the blog header) the first time on that trip … I think I took the stair-step trail by Crescent Spring on up to the Crescent Hotel, and bypassed it. But I saw it many, many times thereafter on the countless trolleybus rides that our family took together. Laura and Matthew, even when little, loved to ride the trolleybuses.

Now they pass in front of my house, on the average of every twenty minutes on the weekend. Except when some idiot with Four Men and Two Trucks is trying to move in on a two-festival Saturday and causes a traffic jam along with a trolleybus and a guided-tour tram.


Eventually, a cooler head in the silver truck behind the tram un-logjammed everything by turning left in front of me, freeing up the Two Trucks full of my possessions behind me to move forward so that the tram beside us could move, too.

But no one really lost their cool, because Eureka Springs is just that sort of place — even when it’s hot and sweltery outside, people are there to chill out. And for the most part, they do.

And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why it feels like home.

Next to last

I watched “What Dreams My Come” just now because I needed to.

It was especially difficult to watch this visually dazzling movie about soulmates, loss, depression, death, suicide, the afterlife and love because it stars the late and truly great Robin Williams.

But it is the next-to-last movie on my list of movies I have had to wait to watch since losing Angi three years ago.

Only “Shadowlands” remains.

Still not ready to watch that one.

I read somewhere long ago – I think when trying to lead a Single Again Class for divorced and widowed people in Abilene – an author who recommended a year of healthy grief for every five years you got to spend with the one you’ve loved and lost.

That seems about right to me.

Next year, “Shadowlands.”