The new Dark Ages?

Recently I’ve been watching a show dealing with a 20th century woman–an army nurse–who finds herself in Scotland in the 1700s…and reading a novel about a young Christian in the Middle Ages who travels from England to Persia to learn to become a physician from a Muslim physician who was the most skilled physician of his time.

It’s easy to look back at what we call the Dark Ages and laugh at what passed for science…or to wonder what on earth people were thinking. It’s easy to feel ourselves superior.

But I am finding myself wondering if we are perhaps moving into a time that future historians will look back on and call the New Dark Ages.

Why?

Because I sense in our American society today a denigration of learning…that somehow education isn’t really important, and that teachers are really just glorified babysitters.

Because as we are dealing with this pandemic, the knowledge of those who have studied these types of diseases is being questioned and/or discredited in favor of those who are peddling what in the past would have been called snake oil.

Because we have a president who refuses to listen to scientists in favor of his own gut knowledge…regardless of how dangerous that “knowledge” may be to those who take him seriously.

Because we (as a society) demand that our own wants be met, regardless of the impact on others–especially the vulnerable.

I used to wonder what it must have felt like for Galileo, da Vinci, Pasteur, and others who bucked the current knowledge of their time, open to new discoveries about the universe…our bodies…diseases. When they ran afoul of the authorities because they were willing to look at newly discovered facts, what gave them the courage to keep going?

What will it take for us to acknowledge that we are moving in the wrong direction? What will it take for us to again be open to science? to using that information to help us deal with situations such as the one we currently find ourselves in?

Isaac Asimov, one of my favorite science-fiction writers had this to say:

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

I’m not suggesting that science has all the answers. The best scientists will acknowledge there is much yet to learn. But to turn our back on all that science has to offer us leads us down the road to a time when horse dung and urine were seen as legitimate medications…when bleeding was seen as the answer to almost all medical challenges…and then pandemics decimated countries.

What are you thankful for?

In the United States, we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. For many of us, the story we grew up on–the story of the shared feast between the Native Americans and the English colonists–has turned out to not be accurate. (Here’s a Native American perspective…one of several I found.)

However, the concept of expressing thankfulness and gratefulness is still a valid one–especially today.

So…what are you thankful for?

I’m thankful for family–biological family, but also “chosen” family…those who have become close through a variety of connections.

I’m thankful for the experiences I have had of sharing with individuals in and from different cultures and religious traditions. They have caused me to reflect on the wonderful diversity in our world–and how much that diversity has enriched us. They have also reminded me of how much we don’t know!

I’m thankful for books! They provide magic carpets to places I could not otherwise visit. They help me learn new information. They provide escape when I need it…and challenge when I am ready for it.

I’m thankful for music. It feeds my soul…and sometimes allows me to pray when I do not have the words to do so.

I’m thankful for pets who give unconditional love.

I’m thankful for those I agree with…and those I don’t. Those who support and affirm me help give me confidence–and those I disagree with challenge me to really think about what I believe and help me articulate it more clearly. They even sometimes cause me to change my mind or…at the least…look for those places where we can find common ground.

I am thankful to have a home to live in and enough food to eat. I realize how blessed I am to not have to worry daily whether I will have enough…or whether I (or family members) will be victims of violence.

I am thankful for those who have walked with me on my spiritual journey. Some have been members of my own faith tradition…others have shared from their perspectives. I have learned much from each of them–including how difficult it is for us finite human beings to understand the Divine Infinity. And I have been thankful for those who have walked with me through the dark nights of the soul, offering me care and hope, even when I didn’t see it.

Most of all I’m thankful for life, even with its various health problems and challenges. Each day brings new hope…new opportunities…new lessons…new visions.

What are you thankful for this year?

Hope is the thing with feathers…

This is one of my favorite of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sometimes recently it’s been difficult to have hope. I turn on the news…and hear yet more lies…more insults and name-calling…more negating the humanity of those who are “other”…and it is deadening to the soul.

I find myself wondering what I can do. I am only one person–a not very significant person in the political world–and so what power do I have? But then I am reminded of the comment attributed to Margaret Mead that a small group of committed citizens is the only thing that can change the world…and I know there are others out there who feel the same way I do. We just need to find each other and work together…

In her poem, Dickinson didn’t say that hope would just be around when the going was easy. It sings sweetest in the storms–and I believe we are in the middle of tremendous storms in the world right now.

So hope keeps showing up.

It shows up when I am reminded of Anne Frank’s belief in the innate goodness of people…a belief that in some ways seems naïve, given what happened to Anne and her family. But it’s the only way to keep going.

It shows up when I am reminded of comments like this from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”

It shows up when I remember Mother Teresa saying “If you judge people, you have no time to love them”…and a saying attributed to her: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

And most of all, hope shows up to remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 25…that when we give a cup of water…visit the sick and prisoner…clothe the naked…welcome the stranger…we are doing it to him.

So…I am one person. But I will continue to do what I can…and bring hope to those who wonder if there is any reason for hope.

Yes, we are in a storm–but the bird of hope still sings as long as there are those of us who are listening to our souls.

Reading the Bible through the lens of love

In today’s climate, there appears to be a lot of emphasis on “what the Bible says.”

There are a lot of things that the Bible says…in fact, as we’ve discovered in the past, it is possible to “prove” almost anything from the Bible. We’ve done that with slavery…with the right of humans to dominate the earth…with male dominance in male/female relationships…to deny the validity of same-sex relationships…. There are probably other topics you could come up yourself.

However, if we want to be true to “what the Bible says,” I think it might help us to revisit what a couple of significant people have said about the Bible–and how to read it.

The first one is Jesus…the focus of much of what the Bible says. He spoke about a lot of different things, but what I think is important when we think about what the Bible says came when he was asked what the greatest commandment was. According to Matthew 22:37-40 (The Message translation), he said this:

…“‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

Hmmm…everything in the Law and the Prophets? According to Jesus…yes.

The second person is John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He felt the Bible was absolutely an essential book to read…but not necessarily literally. He was aware that there were some things in the Bible that spoke to people more than others. For him, the theology found in 1 John, especially 1 John 4:19 was the central message:

“We love [God] because he first loved us.”

He felt that it was vital to read the Bible through the lens of love.

So what would happen if we did?

It would certainly challenge us!

But maybe…just maybe…that’s what the world needs today…a people who truly live and see life through the lens of God’s love–towards all of God’s creation.

Maybe…just maybe…that’s what it will take for God’s peaceable kingdom to become a reality…if there are enough of us willing to take that risk.

Words matter!

There was a book by the great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein that I loved to read. Methuselah’s Children was originally a story which was expanded into a novel. It was the story of an incredibly long-lived family and the struggles between them and the “normal” people who believed that the Howards had discovered a secret of long life and were keeping it from them.

Ultimately the Howards were forced to leave earth…partially driven out by the subtle use of words. The words in and of themselves were not problematic, but when they were put together in specific ways, they were weighted in a way against the Howards that built walls and created separation between members of communities.

We have found out again tonight that words matter. Twenty people have lost their lives–and more may yet die.

Why?

We don’t have all the information yet, but it seems that the young man was angry about what he saw as a Hispanic “invasion” of Texas and hated the thought of “race mixing.” Where did he get those ideas?

When the president of the United States calls people with non-white skin rapists, vermin, criminals…when he separates children with non-white skin from their parents and puts them in cages…when he calls the countries occupied by people with non-white skin “shithole countries”…when he tweets concerns about people with non-white skin “breeding”…he is setting a mood and establishing a perspective that says that people with non-white skin are somehow “less than.”

When he refuses to specifically disavow ideology that raises people with white skin to a superior position over everyone else…when he says that there were “good people on both sides” at a rally where people were killed protesting that ideology…when he refuses to shut down a chant of “send them back” towards women with non-white skin who are American citizens…he is signaling that white Americans are more important than anyone else.

He–and we–cannot have it both ways. The words that we use matter, and when individuals use our words as a reason to harass, assault, or kill any other person simply because of their ethnicity or race, gender or sexual orientation, or religious belief, it is hypocritical to then send thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims and the survivors.

Our words matter…and we have to take responsibility for them. That responsibility starts at the top, but it also includes us. If we do not speak out against those words that build walls, that raise one group of people to a superior position over another, then we are also culpable when someone takes those words to heart and decides that those who are “less than” should be killed.

In the words of a leading Jewish rabbi of the 20th century:

Speech has power. Words do not fade. What starts out as a sound, ends in a deed.

We can choose to make our words end in good deeds…or they can end in tragedies. Which will it be?

Not an enemy of the people

“Enemy of the people.” That’s a phrase that has become a favorite of Donald Trump when he doesn’t like something in the news…and it’s a phrase that should concern each of us.

A free and open press is not the enemy of the people. In fact, it’s the opposite. We might not like what someone reports–but without the ability to question…to challenge…we are limited to what any particular administration wants us to know. And that is not democracy; it’s what authoritarian governments do.

Do I think that all reporters are neutral in their questioning? No. They’re human beings like the rest of us–with biases and warts. But by and large, they are doing their best to help us (the people) know what’s happening in our government…how our tax dollars are being spent…the stories behind the decisions that we hear about.

You can find a list of what are considered the most credible and least biased news stories here. It’s a long list–and there are probably a number of them that you’ve never heard of. I know that’s true for me.

I also know that I don’t have time to go through all of them. So I try to at least be aware of the perspective of the news sources I do look at–and try to look at the news from different sources in order to get a more balanced view. Here’s a graphic that might help:

But I think it’s extremely important for all of us–whatever our political leanings might be–to push back whenever we hear newspapers and other news media being called the enemy of the people. That’s the phrase of someone who wants to be able to do whatever he/she wants without being held accountable to we, the people–and that’s not democracy!

Pursue peace.

In my faith tradition, the two words in this title are part of our contemporary scriptures. “Pursue peace.”

That sounds so simple…but what does it really mean? I’ve thought a lot about that recently, especially in light of (1) the lectionary scripture for this last weekend in May and (2) the fact that this is Memorial Day weekend in the United States.

Part of the lectionary scripture says this (John 14:27): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Memorial Day–while often the “kick-off” celebration for summer in the United States–is actually a memorial for those who have died in the service of their country.

And so, as I think of these two things–and “Pursue peace”–I wonder. What does Christ’s peace mean?

I appreciate those who have served in the military. My husband was in the Navy during Vietnam. Two grandsons also served in the military–one a Marine who is now buried in a veterans cemetery, and the other in Afghanistan in the Army. They did what they believed needed to be done to try to bring peace.

But does it?

How many wars have been fought to try to bring peace? And how long has any of those times of “peace” lasted?

The peace that Christ promised (and promises) is not what the world expects. It’s a peace that is so much more than merely the absence of conflict! It’s right relationships… wholeness…reconciliation…completeness…wellbeing…a willingness to give back.

We’re never going to get that through force. Violence begets nothing but violence.

Pursuing Christ’s peace is not going to be easy. It’s counter-cultural. It requires us to see those we disagree with as people of value…people we need to be willing to listen to and work with the find common ground. It requires us to let go of our insistence on our own way and our confidence that we are right and have all the answers.

We don’t.

We can’t go on the way we have. Our world is hurting–desperately–and needs Christ’s peace.

Let’s pursue that peace.

Shalom is what love looks like in the flesh. The embodiment of love in the context of a broken creation, shalom is a hint at what was, what should be, and what will one day be again. Where sin disintegrates and isolates, shalom brings together and restores. Where fear and shame throw up walls and put on masks, shalom breaks down barriers and frees us from the pretense of our false selves. –Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick