Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Transcendence on a Tuesday Night

Old Elvis Costello will do it to you.

I’m watching an early episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello with . . . and this one is with Sheryl Crow, Ron Sexsmith, Neko Case and Jesse Winchester. The music is glorious. Crow sings a heartfelt “Leaving Lost Vegas” and I think I get it for the first time. Each of the artists has a beautiful song to share. One of those was a touching little love song about being a teenager in love by Jesse Winchester.

It’s all about a young man, a seventeen year old, who holds out a hand to a young woman. They touch. They sing the chorus of a teenaged song, shama-ling-dong-ding. Which is the name of the song. “The way we danced was not a dance, but just a long embrace. We held onto each other and we floated there in space.” That perfectly describes the kind of relationship that every romantic seventeen year old ought to have. Unfortunately we also have the need to rut and let loose and let the hormones have control (thank goodness we do).
I had that sweet relationship as a teen. It confused me, but I am so glad I had it, even though I never figured out what it might lead to. It confused me, but it also made me a better person. Nobler? Aspirational? Impractical? Whatever. It was good for me.

At the same time I’m listening to Elvis with I’m scanning negatives from Rock Island. I come to one shot among many I’ve forgotten (I processed 250 shots yesterday). This one shot struck me. It arrived during Winchester’s song so that happenstance struck me as well. There’s a couple in the shot, a young man solid as a block, dark hair, square shoulders and (I think) a spring car coat. She’s got short hair, a “pixie” cut. A sweater. Tan slacks. There is a sequence of 3 photographs.  I was a distance away, shooting with a telephoto lens – as was often my wont. In the 3rd photo the young woman sees the shooter on the hill.
She turns and throws a wave at the photographer, rather flirtatiously. 

No jealousy from the boy-friend. I doubt he even noticed. It was an innocent flirtation anyway, a wave at a distant photographer who used the camera to keep people away from the shy, easily spooked little boy holding his lens in his left hand to keep the shakes away. That boy certainly didn’t notice the wave. I’m relatively sure his response was nothing, not even an acknowledgement of friendship.

Earlier in the scan session I’d found my 1970 negatives from my first visit to Bishop Hill, the mid-19th century pietistic colony in central Illinois that marked the beginnings of the great migration from Sweden. There are no photos of the inside of the community building, but there is the fa├žade. There is the community hall with its one armed clock (hard workers don’t need to count the minutes). And a flood of memories of another type overwhelms me. Suddenly I “get it.” I understand why you would give up a predictable existence in your homeland and leave for a strange land, willing to suffer and die for your new found faith. I understand why normally placid Swedes would suddenly be ready to defy King and Crown and follow the ravings of a mad man. I understand. It all works together – for me, though probably not for everyone.

Yet the best I can articulate what I suddenly understand is to say something like “deep in every human being lies the desire to be something more and other and better than our daily selves.”

But as soon as I write that down I have to admit, “no, that’s not quite what I mean, what I’ve found, what I’ve seen” that links religious devotion, young love and a girl waving hello to a young would be photographer.

It isn’t quite what I mean, but it isn’t quite wrong either.

Something, something, transcendence, ground of being, “here and there, and sometimes even in ourselves” novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner quoted Tillich as saying to his Union Seminary class.

I guess.

But there it is: the purity of young love; the depth of fanatical religious devotion and the smile and a wave from a girl I perhaps knew. They are all linked somehow, and, well, God. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hospitals and Waste

I’m working with my Argumentation class to develop arguments for and against what is generally called “sustainability.” Thus, I may be a little more sensitive to the issue than is needed. Yet my experience of going for EKG at SRHC made me profoundly aware of how wasteful our current hospital system has become.

I went last Friday, so it’s a recent memory. I checked in at the universal check in desks and, as usual received a white plastic bracelet, on which my identity was barcoded, and the pink/orange plastic bracelet that announced I was allergic to penicillin. I also had a sheet with my doctor’s orders, a sheet that allowed the provider to treat me and a sheet of bar code sticky labels– probably 30 labels on the one sheet.  These all identified the bearer as me.

I asked the young woman who checked me in why I needed a wrist band to identify me, a wrist band to identify I had a penicillin allergy, and a page of sticky label bar codes when I was going to get one procedure in one place with one technician and no bodily invasion. She explained that this was all for my protection. “What if someone came in a pretended to be you?” she asked. “They could rack up a bunch of services and charge your insurance.”

I did not want to hassle this nice young woman with the obvious question. Has this ever happened? Is this really a thing? Someone undergoes medical tests in my name, even though they couldn’t get the results except from a doctor. Are there actually doctors who tell their patients to hijack other people’s identities, or doctors who’ll accept results from a stolen identity without thinking? Are there rings of identity thefts getting medical tests under false pretenses? The idea to so complex as to be absurd on the face of it.

Of course, after my feeble attempt at protest I gave in. I might have gone to Noni and complained to her about the waste. But I don’t need to lay my crusade on her shoulders.


I think, next time I go, I’m going to refuse to let them put the bracelets on. I’ll carry them, but not let them put them on. This time, as soon as my two minute test was complete, the first thing the tech did was snip off the bracelets. If I carry them that will eliminate one non-essential task from her workday!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Welcome Little Children

The text this morning was Mark 9: 30-37. The pericope ends with Jesus taking a child in his arms and announcing “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

I’ve preached on this text from all three synoptic gospels. I’ve preached on the “Suffer the little children and forbid them not . . .” texts. Always been abstract about it. The child is a representative of us in humble need. If we don’t need the divine the way a child needs its parents we won’t find the divine. G-d does not force g-dself on us any more than a parent forces a child to accept their affection.

Today I finished talking about the desire to be “the greatest,” a desire that afflicts many of us (but not Kris). And I came to verse 37. I looked out and there were four little guys. Three toddler girls. Four guys under the age of 1. Daddy Derek let me take his son Andrew in my arms. I finished preaching with Andrew’s help.

That changed my understanding of what Jesus was saying. He took them in his arms.

I took that little guy in my arms. It changed how I understand that verse. It made me think about the little guy who washed up on a Turkish beach. It made me think again of the nineteen year old pregnant woman who collapsed in front of Richard Engle on the Hungarian border. It made me think about the helplessness of this little guy in my arms.

And there was more, is more. But I can’t tell you the more. The more was a feeling, deep in my soul. Deep in my heart. Deep in my feelings. There is something more to be said about welcoming children, being children. There is something more to be said, but I can’t say it yet. Maybe later. Maybe not later, maybe never.

So if I can’t articulate this new understanding of Mark’s Gospel do I really understand? And how shall I communicate what I’ve discovered to you in the pew?

Perhaps you too have to take a little child in your arms while reading the passage and have that little guy smile at you, drool on you, be a little guy in your arms. “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones welcomes me, and not just me but the one who sent me.”


More than that I cannot say, so I must simply pass over it in silence.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Republicans and all their lies

Republican truth tellers:

Donald Trump told a compelling story of a “beautiful child” who received a vaccination, went home, a week later had a high fever and came down with the autism.

In a New Hampshire town meeting a Trump supporter wanted Muslims removed from America, especially that Muslim usurper in the White House who is “not even an American.” And Trump says in reply, “We’re going to be looking at a lot of things.”

And Monday Trump presented his military supporters, The Veterans for a strong America. Hundreds of thousands of veterans were members, Trump said.

Carly Fiorina presented an angry emotional statement during the debate. In it she “dared” Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama to watch the video with a living fetus on a slab, tiny heart beating, arms and legs flailing. In the meantime, apparently, you hear someone saying “keep it alive so we can harvest its brain.”

The problem of all these compelling stories is that they are lies. I suspect that the Republican candidates know that they are lies.

If there is a “beautiful child” at all, there is no connection between her vaccination and autism. This is not controversial. It is settled science. Children are not given doses in a needle that resembles a needle/syringe used to vaccinate horses. 

The President is a Christian – who had to denounce his Christian Pastor in the 2008 campaign – and was born in America. That is settled. Done. And Trump knows it – but he also knows that he can dog whistle part of the base into action if he lets that stand. He may, in fact, believe that there are secret Muslim terror training camps, which must be what Jade Helm was actually about since it clearly wasn’t about removing state governments and instigating martial law. It’s hard to know what nonsense Trump believes since he believes that the Mexican government has a plan to send criminals across the border.

The hundreds of thousands of veterans? According to reporting on the Rachel Maddow show it was probably just one guy.

And the video? It’s not of anything that is connected to Planned Parenthood. You don’t even have to watch the video to have your doubts about the veracity of Fiorina’s description. For the “undercover” video to be real means that the videographer was admitted to the procedure room during an abortion. That would require consent from the patient undergoing an abortion. It would also mean that the Planned Parenthood representative and the “undercover journalist” were there and discussing at the same time that this procedure is going on. It’s absurd and absurd on the face of it. If Fiorina thinks she has to recognize how absurd this description of a video that doesn't exist is.


Yet, when asked people complain that Hillary is untrustworthy, a liar, inauthentic. Why?

Monday, August 31, 2015

What Does it mean, Pro-Life?

I’ve heard three pro-choice stories that make me wonder if the mothers made the right choice.

The first was a story I encountered through a Facebook page from “Life News.com” about former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end and practice squad member (also a former member of the Bears, the Dolphins and the Bills, according to his Wikipedia page) and his wife Olivia deciding to carry to term their baby despite the baby having anencephaly and their being advised that terminating the pregnancy made the most sense. But the Rodrigeuz’s chose to carry the baby to term, the birth should happen in December.

Didn’t know much about it before this. I vaguely remembered my parents talking about a child who had a “water head.” That child must have been born to someone they knew. “Hydranencephaly,” I think they called it. Looked it up. Not the same thing. Anencephaly is a condition where much of the brain fails to develop and, sometimes, the skull and skin don’t cover the head. Children born with this condition apparently don’t live long.

The second story I heard was about a Minnesota woman who chose to bring her conjoined twins to full term, despite the fact that she was told that one of the two was very unlikely to survive birth, and the other was distressed. One of the babies survived birth, the other died shortly after birth, and the surviving twin is in critical condition.

The third story was that of entertainer Christina Millian’s sister’s baby boy. The child was diagnosed in March with the condition omphalocele, a condition in which the organs are outside the body. Unlike Anencephaly, treatment options exist for omphalocele, and at least one pediatric hospital gives children with this problem high survival possibilities, if the child has no other problems. (http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/o/omphalocele/). Apparently Danielle’s child had other problems and did not survive. 

The Hollyscoop news people reported that doctors suggested that she end her pregnancy, but that she responded “There’s no reason he doesn’t deserve life.”

There’s no reason for any of the children not to have life. That’s certainly a moral choice that parents are capable of making without my second guessing their judgment.

But I’m going to second guess their judgment.

Not necessarily their judgment, but the ideology that says that live birth is preferable, is morally better, is the only way that a pregnancy should be terminated.

For whom are we giving life that will end in just a few hours? For whom are we giving birth when the birth will result in a predictable death? Is this for the sake of the child or for the sake of the parents?

Danielle Flores (I think that’s her last name) already had a pet name for her little sick baby. After its birth she talked about how blessed that child was. She showed a photo of a tiny foot with an IV. She showed a pic of the child’s chest. She didn’t show a pic of the child’s intestines outside the child’s body.

The Minnesota army captain showed the ultra-sound of her twins, but nothing of the survivor in the ICU.

The Rodriguez’ don’t yet have a picture of their daughter. They probably won’t publish it if they take any photos.

These children will live only a few hours. Will those hours be spent in pain? I don’t know. I do know that they will be spent in intensive care, in medical trauma, with a quality of life that is going to be less than optimal. Is this what it means to be “pro-life?” No matter how much distress you cause this little baby for its few hours on earth, it is better for this entity to be born? Really?