Monthly Archives: March 2017

Miss Roberts’ Paddle: An Argument for Re-introducing Hell


I recently came across a book I read a few years ago regarding the demise of modern Liberal Protestantism. The author makes a very compelling, data driven, argument that modern Liberal Protestantism (e.g. The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ, et al.) will cease to exist in any meaningful form by the year 2037. As a pastor of one these denominations, I must confess I see nothing since the book’s date of publication, 2010, that would persuade me differently. The reasons for this demise  (whether we like them or not) are many. The biggest reason is a simple one. Low birth rate among the members. A close second he tells us, is the “mainline’s” perceived “reinterpretation of scripture” particularly in regard to sexual ethics. There are others he mentions, but feels these are secondary in importance.

After much thought I’ve come up with my own theory of my demise. My reasons are related to those of the author, but less specific, and by no means data-driven. The first is what I perceive to be a cultural shift within the church. This shift is not necessarily from conservatism to liberalism, at least in the sense we normally think of it in socio-political terms. Rather, I think as it relates to my church and those like her, there has been a theological shift from emphasizing the individual’s responsibility to follow Jesus, to the Church’s responsibility to follow Jesus. Just as Americans have largely forsaken the exaltation of “the rugged individual” and replaced it with a myriad of competing interest groups, so too has the church shifted its mission from “saving souls” to saving society and all of its various “marginalized” groups. The latter sounds, noble, virtuous even, but the effect has been pathologically altruistic, to group and individual alike. This may seem confusing. Aren’t they one and the same? Well no, not really. There has been an undeniable shift from the individual to the collective. Our concern is saving the society through things such as the implementation of “social justice,” rather than, saving the individual by way of personal conversion

I’d say part of the problem with modern Liberal Protestantism lies in the notion that we must somehow reconcile our political opinions with our faith. I’m not sure we can, at least not all the time. Let me give an easy example. Let’s look at caring for the poor. I think I’m safe in saying that Jesus would approve us sharing our wealth with those less wealthy, particularly the very needy. Governmentally we do this with welfare. But just as likely, I think, is that Jesus would approve of the rich helping the poor, I’m equally inclined to think he would not approve the forced (either by ballot, imprisonment, or violence) redistribution of wealth as we now know it. If virtue is forced, it is not virtuous. Virtue is always voluntary. Once the threat of force is removed, so too would be the “virtue.” Jesus, I think, would agree with Jeremiah that the desired behavior of humans would be the adherence to laws, which were “written on our hearts.” To achieve this state, I would think has to be accomplished one heart at a time.

Whether or not Jesus would vote Democrat or Republican I can’t say. I think each of these have a few, very few, positions he might support. I think also there is much about each he would not support. Mostly, though, I think he would think them both irrelevant to his mission. Jesus is far more concerned with you and me, how we live our lives, how we behave, what we value, each of us, as individuals, moreso than he cares how we live, behave, and what we value, as a group. I think he’d say that it is more effective to nurture and feed 100 trees than it is to nurture and feed one forest. Evidence is that Jesus is far more concerned with the individual than with the collective. I say this based on my interpretation of scripture.

There may be examples where Jesus collectively called upon the government to do things a certain way, but honestly I can’t recall one easily, not one. I can, however, recall many examples where he made great demands on an individual. “Sell what you have and give it to the poor, then come follow me.” I tell you not seven times, but seventy even times.” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “Remove first the log from your own eye.” I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Jesus’ commands as I see them are generally directed to me…personally….me. I can’t think of an instance where he supposes to tell me to effect anything through government, or the church for that matter. He tells me, I am the one responsible for my neighbor. When it comes to the Christian’s involvement in government, the only thing I remember off the top of my head, is the “Give unto Caesar” thing. And, the way I read that is that Jesus is pretty dismissive of what we owe Caesar. Oh and then the conversation with Pilate wherein he clearly says, “My Kingdom is not of this world,” further leads me to believe that he really didn’t care that much about accomplishing things through governmental largess. Perhaps Jesus knew what philosophers espouse, the notion that no government is possible unless men first learn to govern themselves.

I think it is quite possible the church has lost its effectiveness and thus is seen by most now to be of little consequential importance, because it long ago shifted the focus of its preaching and teaching from the individual to the corporate. The church, at some point, began to focus on the us, and not on the me. It’s a subtle shift, polite even, but it has the effect of diluting Christian virtue. When we are held accountable, and not I, it is easier to overlook failure. The reason for this is simple. It has to do with consequences. Jesus believed in consequences. He believed there were bad consequences, eternally bad ones, for wrong choices.
So let’s talk about consequences. Consequences, the ones we care about are individualistic in nature. What I mean is this: the only consequences I care about are my consequences. Ask any recovering alcoholic why they quit drinking. If they are honest it’s not because they suddenly quit liking to get drunk. I once heard such a person – a 30 year sober alcoholic – proclaim, “Hell, if I could figure out how to let you have my consequences for getting drunk, I’d be drunk all the time.” Good behavior does come down to the necessity of personal consequences, both positively and negatively.

Liberal Protestant “statements” and proclamations of how we think the government should address issues such as poverty or refugees exacerbates the problem, as I see it. While not following these lofty calls to corporate virtue outline many societal consequences, there are no personal consequences attached to these lofty epithets. If good christian individuals are let off the hook for personally caring for the less fortunate by the church, and the church then defers its position to political advocacy, the individual christian is even more relieved. “Well I voted for hope and change. Guess it didnt work out. Oh well, but at least I voted as Jesus would have me vote, because Jesus felt sorry for poor folks.” Sorry folks, this is all just hoping to look virtuous, and be perceived as being virtuous, it has NOTHING to do with actual virtue such as charity or mercy. It is simply an affirmation that we should be this kind of society and we did our part. “Should” is such a totally useless word. It shouldnt even be a word.

Your statements, resolutions and yard signs are useless, ineffective indications of your self-righteousness and feigned moral superiority. I’ll admit they show good intention, but they change no one’s mind, they do not feed a single person. And you know what they say about “good intentions?” At best these signs and statements may dump a small layer of diluted guilt on someone, but it will be quickly forgotten.

So what should we, the church, and particularly we the clergy do, if we hope to remedy this? Well I’m just “spit-ballin’” here, but something comes to mind. Some of y’all gonna hate it too. But we do have a history and track-record of success with a strategy that worked from Luther until the 1960s. Maybe it’s time to start giving God’s people a little Hell. I mean literally, Hell.

Again, just thinking out loud, I may not even agree with it theologically but Hell may not be such a bad thing. I mean it probably is, a bad thing, a really bad thing, to be sure, but maybe the threat of Hell might need to be re-introduced….even if it isn’t real. Luther (who, by the way, in my hierarchy of spiritual giants is #3, behind Jesus and Paul) certainly believed in Hell’s reality. He also believed it was eternal. Further though, whether it’s intellectually honest or not – preaching this concept of eternal Hell – I think is at least intellectually “fair” to do if we are going to preach “Heaven.” That said, whether or not either Heaven or Hell actually exist in eternity is less immediately important as the belief that they exist. Their theoretical existence provides the consequence for what is desired now.

But the modern theologian asks the question, “How could a loving God consign someone, anyone to an eternal hell?” I, for one, have doubts that such a loving God would, and I do believe that God is love. Maybe this is in fact true. Maybe not. I’ll know soon enough, but in the meantime I have to come up with a system that works better than the one which has been failing for the past 50 years. Perhaps the answer lies in the implied Hell of Miss Roberts’ paddle.

Bess Roberts was the principal of the elementary I attended. I was terrified of her. She ran our school with an iron fist. There was no talking allowed in the halls as students moved from one part of the school to another. The apostle Paul would have admired the “decency and good order” of my elementary school. Even the conversation in the cafeteria was to be quiet and respectful. If things got too loud in the lunchroom, she would emerge from her office which was across from the cafeteria, grab the spoon from the child nearest her and scream “quiet” as she banged the spoon on the table. We immediately and frightfully shut up. Every. Single. Time. It never failed. I was terrified of being sent “to the office.” I was terrified of this fate for a number of reasons. First was the way she acted in the lunchroom. Secondly, laying on her desk for all to see – and we could see it – as we walked by her office’s always open door was a big paddle. It was laying right out there like one big threat of hell that I wanted nothing to do with.

One day I was sent “to the office” probably for talking too much. I cried all the way down there. I walked in and immediately my eyes were drawn to the paddle. She asked why I had been sent. I told her, tearfully. Oddly, she very very quietly told me that she was disappointed in me. She expected better. She looked at the paddle, back at me, and even more quietly said, “now go back to Mrs. Howard’s room and behave. Do not be sent here again.” I never was.

Year later I ran into her as an adult. I was still a bit intimidated, though by now I was a 6’3” 250 lb. man, and time had withered her into a small, frail, old woman. She recognized me. We spoke for a bit. “Hey” I said, “just curious, but how often did you have to use your paddle. I was scared to death of that paddle. I never really knew of any of my friends that got paddled but we all heard stories. I was sure I was going to get it the one time I was ‘sent to the office’.” She looked at me and smiled and said, “As best I recall….never.” The paddle had done NOTHING. EVER. The threat of it, in part, led to my doctorate, I’m sure.

So I guess what I am saying is this. If our faith, or better said, my faith, is going to have any meaningful effect in my life, or in yours, maybe it’s time to refocus on our own individual responsibility to practice this faith. Maybe it’s also time to recognize our individual consequences, be they Hell or something like it, for not doing so.

I dunno. It’s at least food for thought.

Confessions of a Hypocrite

“You’re a man of the cloth.” I am, indeed. I am, a “man of the cloth.” I would think that despite declining church membership and participation most still know what this phrase means. In case I am wrong, and you don’t know what this term means, it means “pastor,” or “minister.” And I am that – a pastor.

I think I can say with great certainty however, I have never referred to myself as a “man of the cloth.” Let me go on the record here and say I don’t like it – the “man of the cloth” phrase, that is. Mainly I don’t like it ’cause I don’t really know what it means. I’m sure I could google the etymological origin of the phrase. I’m sure it would make sense, but as it stands “man of the cloth” might just as well be “man of the wood,” or “man of the plastic,” or “man of the……anything.” I mean why “cloth?” So, in short, since it doesn’t describe what I do – such as “pastoring” a flock, or “ministering” to a congregation, it makes no real sense to me. Frankly, I prefer the far more simple “preacher.” I do preach, after all. I want to talk about this (sort of), but first, a little more introduction, then I’ll get to the point.

What follows is a bit of a rant, so forgive me, or quit reading, or continue on at your own risk. There is a possibility you will be offended. In the spirit of abundant disclaimer, know also, that what I am about to say is purely anecdotal, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Every time I have heard this appellation “you’re a man of the cloth” applied, there has come with it at least a slight hint of derision. As a matter of fact, recently, I have heard it applied three times. Once it was directed to me, twice to two of my colleagues – that is “men of the cloth.” (And yes they were all men) In all three circumstances the occasion was the same. In each of the instances, I or my colleagues were engaging in discussing current events with political implications. In each instance also, the phrase was used in this manner: “How could you, a man of the cloth, possibly feel this way? What I hear (whether intended or not) is this: “How could you, someone who holds himself up as an example of someone who follows Jesus, and an extra special, super-powered follower at that, possibly disagree with me? I am a righteous, virtuous person, you should be moreso.” They could at this time, if they wished, just say what they are implying: “If you disagree with me, then you must be the worst kind of hypocrite I can imagine.” I think this needs some unpacking. And just as a bit of a personal ‘snark’ in at least two of the three cases I am remembering (certainly the one directed at me) the “you’re a man of the cloth” charge was leveled by non-Christians, as if my being a Christian was mportant to them. A bit hypocritical, don’t you think? And further, on a purely philosophical and intellectual level why should you choose to assume for me a value for something (my faith in Jesus) which you have decided is worthless? If it is not a standard for you, why should it be for me? But since we are talking about hypocrisy, let’s talk about it

If, to bring into your argument the fact that I am a “preacher” or a follower of Jesus, as if this brings with it some universal set of beliefs to which we (Christians) all ascribe, you’d be partly correct. I dare say nearly all of us who follow Jesus share some very common values. We all want people to live in peace with one another. We want no one to suffer. We want everyone to be happy. We all want folks to live their lives without fear and with the knowledge that there is some greater purpose to it beyond the here and now. I’d also say that those of us who take our discipleship seriously spend a good deal of time trying to reconcile the way we live and behave with what we think Jesus would have us do. So if that’s what you think you’d be right about that. Beyond these general principles – lofty as they are – however, there is much disagreement. As they also say, “the Devil is in the details.” Sometimes, the disagreements are over really big things that should seem to be blatantly obvious. Sometimes, the disagreements can be over very small things, that should seem inconsequential. A big thing would be slavery. There was time when many Christians had no theological problems about the existence of slavery. It would seem, based on scripture, that even the apostle Paul accepted the existence of slavery as just part of the way things were. I doubt that you could find one single Christian who would agree with that today. A little thing – to me – would be whether or not to allow instrumental music in worship. My own flavor of Christianity was cut in half by this theological problem. It seems small to me, but it was huge to others. It was so big for some, that they ultimately decided they couldn’t be around folks like me, so we parted company. Between issues like slavery and the appropriateness of instrumental music, lies a continuum of issues over which one could argue, and indeed over which the body of christ has divided, and divided, and divided, again and again, probably since right after Peter preached at Pentecost. My point is this: Do not allow yourself the arrogance to think that you can speak better for Jesus than another. You may both be wrong.
If by labeling me or my colleagues a “man (or woman) of the cloth” you are hoping to imply that we are a hypocrite, I would encourage you to just come out and say it. Accuse me of hypocrisy, if you will. If I have any advantage over a “lesser” Christian, or even a complete non-follower of Jesus, it lies in the fact, precisely because of my faith, that I am aware, and daily confront, my hypocrisy. It is the oldest struggle for we that follow Jesus. It is ever before us. Trust me on this. Even Paul, who if you think I’m some kind of example (or should be) says of himself “I am chief among sinners” and elsewhere “I do the very thing I hate.” I think I’m right in this (but I could be wrong) but an old christian or a super christian is hyper-aware of their own hypocrisy. To call me a hypocrite is exactly as accurate as calling me a slightly overweight, middle-aged man. I am a hypocrite. Aren’t we all? So what does all this mean? How does this play out? How does one who claims to follow Jesus square this admitted hypocrisy with their faith, and how should the rest of the world see this lived out?

I speak only for myself here, but for me, what results with all this internal wrestling between faith and failure of faith, is that more often I am not deciding between right and wrong, good and evil, but rather it seems, I am left to choose between what I see as evil and less evil. The long and short of most things is, “I just don’t know.” I could give many examples of this, but I’ll choose one that I recently saw as a colleague got hit with the “you’re a man of the cloth/how could you possibly think this” philosophical straw man. My friend is a staunch supporter of the 2nd amendment (as am I by the way.) Although, I’ve not asked him, I feel certain he would be horrified at the prospect of killing another human being. I am sure, that he, like I, would think of any killing as evil. However, I think, and I imagine he would agree, that to render oneself impotent in the face of someone that would kill someone we loved, for no reason, would be evil as well. To defend the innocent against the evil, even at the cost of another life, seems less evil to me, than to do nothing and hope for the best. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (google it) made such a choice and was martyred. Now many would argue the validity of the 2nd amendment for the Christian. Many have, and many do. I am by no means certain that where I have come down on the issue is what Jesus would have me do, but as best I can discern, it is. I have thought about it, though…. a lot.

Further, let me say, on nearly any “hot-button” politically charged position that is argued currently, I have heard good solid “Christian” arguments. I have heard people whom I regard as sincere, well intended, thoughtful, intelligent Christians come to different positions on everything from the death penalty to abortion to welfare to health-care. Good arguments abound.

I would ask this of you, however, if you choose to engage me in debate, do not trot out the “you’re a man of the cloth” argument. First of all, it’s not an argument. Also if you take my vocation seriously, seriously enough to call it into question, understand that I do too. It is likely I take it more serious than you do. You can also rest assured that I have taken my allegiance to Jesus into account in nearly every aspect of my life. You may not agree with how you see this lived out, and indeed I may be a very poor example, but every day I do the best I can. Admittedly, some days I don’t do well at all. You can, however, also take some satisfaction in knowing that when confronted with my “falling short” I feel pretty bad about it. Some of the time even try to change. That said, changing oneself, or the “want to” to change one’s self doesn’t come easy to me, and from what I see, it seems others struggle with this as well. To be sure, it’s a lot easier for me to see that speck in your eye, never mind the log in mine.

So after all this, what would I prefer to be called if not “man of the cloth?” Well, you know, when I first finished seminary I used to prefer “Reverend.” That never seemed to fit and made me a bit uncomfortable. When I first got my doctorate, for about a week, I liked being called “Doctor.” But that didn’t feel right either for very long. “Reverend Doctor” no one called me that and thank God. No, none of those are comfortable, and like I started this essay, to call me “a man of the cloth” it just means nothing to me. If you want to address me by a title to call my faith into the discussion, and you could even use this in an argument should you desire, I think I prefer what the people of my little country church call me. They call me “Carl” or even better, “brother Carl.” It seems this carries with it an implication, not of supposed hypocrisy, or mutually assumed superiority, but rather, “Brother Carl,” kind of reminds me that I am loved and am expected to love in return. Of all the things Jesus would have me do, and as unsure of some of it as I am, and as poorly as I execute much of it, I’m pretty sure that to love others as if they were my brother or sister and to be loved in that same way, well we can all agree that’s a good thing, right?

A Woman’s Place Is……


(Given the sensitive times we live in, I am making myself a bit vulnerable by publishing this. How you, the reader perceives this, is, in the end, up to you. If, however, you are moved to something that resembles anger, know that one of two things are likely at work, either I am an insufficient writer – which is likely – or – you may be reading something into this which is not intended. Only good is intended. I hope, if anything this lifts us up, all of us. Oh, and about the title, it is far more provocative than was called for ;-))

The recent Woman’s March in Washington and around the country, if nothing else, has caused me to consider with more seriousness how I ought to view women. I’m not sure anything I saw or heard changed my mind very much. The women calling for equal pay, equal access, equal opportunity needn’t have bothered on my account. I already agree with their desires. For those whose agendas’ were wanting ‘freedom to choose’ (freedom to have an abortion), while I would hope they would in most cases choose life, I am all about freedom, so I stand with them, at least legislatively. Those women who chose to present themselves more outrageously and provocatively….well….you didn’t change my mind either. Nevertheless, you all caused me to think a bit, and for that I thank you.

Whether I agree with these women and their motives or not, or to what degree, is less important to me now than the fact that while processing these things I was led to try and quantify what it is about women that I hold as ideal. What follows is what I see as ideal. You don’t have to agree. If you are a woman, understand there is now only one woman who has any incentive or real interest in pleasing me, and she is certainly under no threat of compulsion to do so. If you are a woman and choose to live your life with a different ideal than mine it is of no consequence to me, or at least certainly not for very long. I’m too old now to matter much. I’m not yet in the check out line of life, but I am starting to check my grocery list to see that I got everything I intended.

You may choose to define yourself by how you earn money, how appealing you look, or how you are resistant to these notions. You may choose to define yourself over and against men. I do not. Your ideal may be quite different than my own. I am not arguing that all women should be this or that. I am merely attempting to praise what I love, not to deride that which I do not. At this point in my life I am powerless to either oppress you, or to elevate you. I am neither harmful nor helpful to you or any cause you may wish me to join. I would add that much of what I hold to be ideal can also be lived out by men, and indeed most men I admire exhibit these qualities, but the women in my life have done it better. So take my words for what they are worth, which is likely little more than they will cost. However, know that what I consider ideal, has next to nothing to do with genitalia, employment, or politics. It has entirely to do with with what I consider to be the ideal. It is borne out of great love for three women and what I see in them. My wife, my mother, and my sister, none of these are perfect people, but these three have largely been responsible for what I consider to be ideal. There are others, millions of others, I am sure who embody these things I love and admire, but these three I know best. These three have taught me. They have, these three, mostly embodied these things I consider virtuous and beautiful. So from them allow me to paint a picture, my own Mona Lisa or Whistler’s Mother, if you will:

My portrait would not be necessarily one of great physical beauty. She would not be some shapely young full-lipped winsome creature with smooth soft skin. My picture would be of a weathered woman. Her face would be tender with a touch of gravitas. Her body, perhaps a bit heavy, perhaps too thin, perhaps a bit bent. Her hair would be graying or white. Her gait would be just a bit hobbled or awkward. There would be little jewelry adorning her. She would be unscented. Her hands are a bit rough, made so by years of toil and bearing the burdens of others, weathered and seasoned by the salt of others’ tears she has wiped away. She would have a halo, but not one of light. Hers is an aura created by words borne of her actions, the words of those who know and love her. “She is kind, faithful, brave and wise.”

It was, after all, this woman, these three, these millions who with great courage, since Eden have gone down to the very gates of death to retrieve the souls of billions like me. They risked their own life to give me mine, and since have saved me from myself more than once. It was their tender breasts that gave me and all humanity sustenance that caused us to grow strong and tall. It is in the crook of their arms that our tiny heads were cradled until we could rise and walk and needed that strong arm no more. It was their patient wisdom that taught me to tie my shoe, taught my children to tie their shoes. It was she, these three and millions of other women, who taught me, and all of humanity the necessity of God. They taught me tp pray and at times when I could not, or would not pray for myself, they prayed for me when this was all they could do. This woman was also a visionary and builder. She saw in me, in humankind things we could not even imagine. She laid the foundation, drew up the plans and drove us to work. I love this woman, be she real or just an ideal. I carry her picture with me. It is with me now and always, kept apart from my corrupted self and soul, in a special secret place. I don’t often visit that place. Usually I am too busy or distracted. Often there is too much noise. But sometimes I go there to that secret place, in the silent darkness of the night, or the gentle light just before sunrise and look at this portrait, when the world is quiet. I pull this picture from that pure and noble and virtuous part of myself that is unstained by sin. I look at her and I remember. I remember Eve. I remember Charlene, I remember Tina, I remember Michele. I remember them then, and also in this moment. I am overwhelmed be her beauty. I am drawn closer to God.

Cogito Ergo Sum/”By the Way, Which One’s ‘Pink’?”

                I don’t wanna think about it too much. I really don’t. If I do, my head starts to hurt. I start squinting my eyes. But. I just can’t stop thinking about it. Good God, I want things to go back to like they used to be. I mean there was always something going on in the news, but in an unpredictable way it was….well…predictable. There’s always been some low-level scandal – no matter which party was in power. It may not have been a real scandal, but somebody was always complaining about something that they thought was scandalous. Heck, even I’ve been known to get worked up into a lather about something from time to time, but at least then I was pretty sure that whatever it was, was real. It – whatever it was – may have not, in reality, been all that bad, but at least it was real………….or was it?

As I write you this morning, the Main Stream Media is beginning to move on to whining and moaning about the Health Care Replacement Bill offered up by the Republicans. I have no opinion on it. Really, I don’t. I’m not qualified to have an opinion. I went to music school, the God school. I know what people want me to think, but the people telling me, in reality don’t know anymore about it than me. They’re reporters. They went to reporter school. I don’t have an opinion on Obamacare either. I don’t. I didn’t have it, and it doesn’t look like I ever will. I have to pay a lot more now than I did before its roll-out, but honestly, I don’t really blame Obamacare’s existence for that. Seems I was always paying more and getting less prior to Obama being president. (If he ever really was president) I fully expected to pay more and get less no matter who was in charge, or what they did. So I just don’t know.But here’s what’s scary to me. I haven’t felt this way since the 70’s. In the 70s though, I felt this way at times, ’cause of something I had inhaled, coupled with listening to Pink Floyd in a room with the lights off. Now, I’m feeling this way, and I’m stone cold sober. I’m feeling a little paranoid, like I’ve entered some alternate universe, where nothing – NOTHING – is real. I’m pecking at this keyboard. I feel the keys. I see the little words crawl out on the screen in front of me. But am I really typing these words? And by the way, what exactly is a “word?” Is it something in print? Is is a thought? Is a word a set of pixels? Or, is a word just something that exists in the digital ether? AAAGGGHH! 

OK. So here’s what’s propelled all this existential/Buddhist/transcendental paranoia. It’s Wikileaks. Not Wikileaks really, but what they told us about the CIA and all this hacking, listening, surveilling stuff. It’s a little bit Main Stream Media induced “Donald Trump is a Russian Spy/Barack Obama is a Treasonous 4th Amendment Ignoring Benedict Arnold/The CIA is Lying/ they’re telling the truth/ISIS is a threat/ No They’re not. This one’s lying – that one’s lying – no they’re not – yes they are. Oh. My. God. Who do you believe? What are you to believe? I mean, if you don’t know who or what to believe, then is anything other than what is right in front of you, that which you can experience with your own five senses, is anything oher than these things, real? Somebody, somewhere – wikileaks shows me – I think – maybe – is wanting me to think certain things. The CIA – I’m told – not only can plant stories – but they are likely reading this as I write it, in real time. They can wreck my car remotely. But they could crash one of those driverless cars into me. (BTW these things never seemed like a real good idea to me, but I’m definitely not getting into one of them now. EVER!) They could plant child porn on my laptop, report it to the authorities. And then, I’d be a pedophile, or at least everyone would think I was. Makes me question the legitimacy of the stuff supposedly found on Anthony Weiner’s computer. Maybe he’s not the creep we are being told he is. I mean, really. Maybe not.

Maybe Donald Trump isn’t really president. Maybe Barack Obama wasn’t president. Maybe there really isn’t a president at all. Maybe what they tell me is the President is just a hologram. In some ways I feel as if I am standing between two mirrors and seeing an infinite number of reflections of myself. Which is real? Are any of the images real? Am I real? Am I real, or am I just some sort of holographic projection, a meat robot, controlled by some superior being, some god, who is typing commands on a keyboard somewhere, or moving me around with a joy stick? It seems possible now, maybe it always has been. Maybe I don’t exist in any real sense.

Cogito Ergo Sum. “I think therefore I am,” Rene Descartes once proclaimed. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he never existed. Maybe the machine is awakening and a new, never before imagined reality is dawning.

Fixin’ Beds and Jesus Ain’t Easy

clint on the mount

A few weeks back, my daughters came in for a visit. My wife asked me to complete one task before their arrival. One simple task. No big deal. This was to repair a bed in our guest room. It seems that one little strip of wood – the one which supports the bed rail which holds the box spring and mattress – had broken. I assessed the situation and told her, “no problem. It’ll be a simple fix. I know how to do this. I got this.” I got my ‘swag’ on. All I had to do was buy a couple of wood screws, drill a couple of holes and “Bam!” fixed. Done. “Should take about 5 minutes,” I said, “no worries.”

It kind of worked out that way. Sort of, anyway. In the end I did, indeed, fix it as described. That is, IN THE END! Two holes were drilled and the little rail was fixed back in place and it worked, but there were many complications. The screws I bought were too short, just a wee little bit. (I know I should’ve measured, but I chose to ‘eyeball’ instead.) I had trouble finding the proper drill bit. Then, I couldn’t find my Phillips screw driver. (I can never find the darned screw driver I need easily. If I need a flathead, there are four Phillips. If I need a Phillips then I’ve got four flatheads. Every. Damn. Time.) What I needed to do was at a very awkward angle. In the end, however, after additional trips to the hardware store, contorting my body in weird ways, completely dismantling the bed and reassembling it, drilling the holes and putting the screws in place, I was successful. But, my 5 minute job had taken most of a Saturday morning. I was sweaty and sullen. Nothing….nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I should have known it’d be harder than I thought. I should’ve known. It’s always harder, isn’t it? With everything. WITH EVERYTHING!

I’m a pretty ineffective follower of Jesus, but I try, a little, nonetheless. Occasionally I get to thinking about what he said or did. One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Simple, right? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is one of those Christian sayings that pretty much everyone, whether they love Jesus or not, agree with. Who wouldn’t after all? It’s easy. It’s true. It’s simple. I came across this simple verse this week and actually thought about what it meant, or at least, could mean….should mean. Sometimes thinking about things….well….sometimes you wish you didn’t. But I did, this day and my life got more complicated. I just knew I was gonna have to make another trip to the Hardware Store.

I think for most of us, we hear this bit of wisdom Jesus dropped on us and think something like, “Yeah. That’s easy. It’s simple. I want people to be nice to me, so I need to be nice to them.” Maybe even simpler, is my sometime interpretation, “Leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone.” We nod our heads in affirmation and go on about our business. But this day I thought about it a little longer and it occurred to me, “maybe there’s more to it than that. Just being nice, or leaving folks alone.”

I thought and thought and thought, and then thought of this. What I want, is often not what I need. To be sure, Jesus does not use the words “want” or “need.” I suppose he leaves it us to decide, but one is way easier. I would offer, that to give as we would want, is far easier than to give what we need. I think under the “want” category might come the “Being nice” and “leaving alone” interpretations. Knowing Jesus as little as I do, and knowing that again and again, what he calls his disciples to, is never easy. Maybe, just maybe, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” isn’t as simple as it seems. It’s not, I would imagine, not just about being “nice.”

So I suppose a good place to start in trying to determine what others might need from me is to look at what I might need. Well…that ain’t easy, or simple, and it varies from day to day, minute to minute. “Nice” is just part of it, and almost always not the biggest part. Mostly when it comes to what someone might say to me, I need honesty. Sometimes honesty is not nice, but brutally uncomfortable for everyone involved. Sometimes I need to be corrected. On the other hand, sometimes, I need folks not to be honest. I need them to say, “It’s gonna be alright” and to say it like they believe it. It may not be alright, but I need to hear that to get through the moment. Sometimes I may need them to stop what they are doing and come to my physical assistance. That’s never convenient. The things we need are rarely simple or easy, and figuring all that out isn’t either. It’s complicated and hard.

In a grand sense, though, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” shoves us into a laborious, cross-bearing kind of existence. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” isn’t easy, or simple, but rather, commands us to be engaged, and active, and caring, and doing far more than being nice and minding our own business. “Doing unto others” calls to engage others, actively and genuinely. I calls us to risk being hurt. It requires us to give the benefit of the doubt when being given unto. It necessitates humility, emotional, intellectual, spiritual humility. It demands honesty, brutal honesty, sometimes, with ourselves and others. If we are to do this “Do unto others” thing the right way, we have to nurture and care for, and develop, and cherish relationship with our friends, family, neighbors, everybody, and that’s hard at times. It’s hard, and takes more time than we think at first. Just like fixing bed rails. Just like everything.

Nothing….nothing is ever as simple as it seems. I should have known it’d be harder than I thought. I should’ve known. It’s always harder, isn’t it? With everything.

I’m pretty sure, though, that if we all were willing to do the hard, complicated work of this simple little saying, we’d all be better for it……..and nicer too.

Nothing’s ever as easy as it should be, but you gotta do it anyway. We’re in this together. Let’s look out for each other…….but I could be wrong.