New poem: “One day’s worth of simple pleasures”

There’s a new poem on the site. It came to me in a flash while doing morning pages. Enjoy!

One day’s worth of simple pleasures

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Does God judge fairly? Or some other way?

A Lection Reflection on Psalm 98.

There are certain Psalms in the Bible that just don’t do much for me. Lots of talk about vanquishing the enemy, and God stepping in to make it happen. And then there are the psalms that spend some time praising God in fairly uplifting phrases, only then to reveal that the writer is praising God because God is going to smite some people. Sorta like the athlete that thanks God for the victory, somewhat implying that God doesn’t care for that other team.

This week’s Psalm starts out like that: “Sing to God a new song, for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.” Goes through a number of verses laying out what to include in this song, and so on. And why are we writing this new song? Because “he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.” Yep – cheering on God as God puts the smackdown on people that deserve it.

Then, after a few days of just letting this week’s passages rattle around in my head, I came back to this one. And I was struck again by the last verse, but in a different way.

We often associate the word “judge” with “punishment.” And of course, in our criminal system, that is an accurate association: a judge decides the punishment for someone found guilty of a crime. That modern-day connection obscures other facets of the word, including “rule” and “administer” and even “govern.”

But what really struck me was the very last word: equity.

Equity is getting a lot of play these days, especially as we Americans continue to come to terms with our racist past and all that flows from it. Advocacy groups are including the word and its derivative “equitable” in their calls to action and in their lobbying with legislators. People are having to wrestle with the differences among fairly, equally, and equitably.

However, if you look up “equitable” in almost any dictionary, you will find words like “fairness” and “equal share.” Only recently has the word taken on a deeper meaning, beyond just fair and equal.

I searched for a while to find a definition that reflected this larger meaning, and finally found one – not in the main article, but in the first comment under the article:

Equity accentuates fairness in process and result, recognizing differences and accommodating them to prevent the continuation of inequitable status quo.

But, like many things in life, a picture may be worth a thousand definitions:

Illustration of equality vs equity: Three boys watching baseball game over fence, all standing on equal-sized boxes. Tallest boy has no trouble seeing; middle-sized boy can barely see; and shortest boy cannot see at all. In the second picture, each boy has been given enough boxes to stand on that they can all see the same.

(Illustration from the Interaction Institute for Social Change. Drawn by artist Angus Maguire)

So, God is going to judge/rule/govern in a way that is not only based on final results, but that takes into account the whole of someone’s life, including where one started AND things outside of one’s control.

Let’s be honest: this is hard. Our sense of fairness can be offended by this. We may be okay if God does it at the end of ages – but if our parents, or our teachers, or our government, or our church does this, it can really challenge us.

Take that picture above, which is somewhat touching because it is of children. Change it around to have the boxes represent tax breaks, for example, and replace the children with corporations. Is that how our world works? Or do we give the tax breaks to the biggest corporations, and tell everyone else “sucks to be you”?

Or how about in your church, if there is a sudden layoff at the local factory. Do you give the same amount of monetary help to every family? Or, do you give more to the poorer families, and tell the well-off ones that there is no money for them? I would lay dollars to donuts that at some point you’re going to hear “But that’s not fair!” – perhaps followed by “Do you know how much I gave to this church last year?”

Or, consider this possible approach to education: “Equal opportunity, equitable support.” Can you imagine how that might work?

There are any number of lessons and discussions we could draw from this verse, and from the expanding concept of “equity” in both our society and in our everyday lives. For now, let’s wrap it up with this:

When God interacts with humans, God doesn’t do so fairly – God does it equitably. We need to consider the difference, and then apply it in our own dealings with humans as well.

And, like the Psalm says, praise God that this is how God will judge us all.

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A lost-and-found poem

I was going through some very old posts on a former site, and found a poem I had written after Stephen Colbert ripped into the Bush administration at the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner. After reading it, I thought it was worth sharing. Enjoy!

The Jester Has the Final Word


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Agape love and a Black eunuch

A Lection Reflection on Acts 8:26-40 and 1 John 4:7-21

These two lections are both very familiar. And yet, I was struck by the fact that they are listed on the same day. It’s almost as if they present a challenge to us, when used in combination. Let’s explore that.

First of all, let’s clear up the use of “Ethiopian” to describe the eunuch. While any number of sermons have focused on the eunuch being from modern-day Ethiopia (“he took the gospel to another continent!”), the word does not refer to nation of origin. In New Testament times, “Ethiopian” was used to describe any person with dark skin. (The root of the word literally means “scorched face.”)

In other words, the eunuch was a Black man. And, he was not ethnically a Jew. Some commentators note that he had gone to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, but was not allowed into the inner court because he was not Jewish. He was a “Jahweh worshipper,” somewhere between a Jew and a Gentile.

I did some research on racism in this period. I was not able to find much specifically about the attitudes of Jews toward Blacks. One article notes that the two major forms of prejudice were that of Greeks toward non-Greeks, whom they called “Barbarians”; and of Jews toward non-Jews, whom they called “Gentiles.” When it came to Blacks, the physical differences were noted, but there was not prejudice based on those characteristics. (The “curse of Ham” seems to have come later as a reason to be prejudiced against Blacks.)

Phillip seems to have no hesitancy about approaching a Black semi-Gentile, a stranger, on a deserted road. He is ready to explain what the eunuch is reading, and we know the rest of the story: the eunuch is baptized and goes on his way rejoicing, and Phillip goes to Azotus and preaches there.

The 1 John passage is also familiar – it is an exposition on agape love. In fact, some form of the word “love” is used at least 25 times in the passage. (If you count “beloved” the count goes up to 29.)

The passage emphasizes that God first loved us with agape love. If we are in God, and God in us, then we will love each other with that same agape love.

Even though I’m sure we all are familiar with the concept of agape love, let’s recall a few characteristics of it:

  • Is not based on any attribute or value of the loved person.
  • Is not based on any action of the loved person.
  • Does not expect anything in return.
  • Is a choice or decision of the agape lover, not a feeling.

Do you see where I’m going with this? On the one hand, we have a long passage explaining and extolling the expectations of Jesus followers when it comes to practicing agape love, not only to each other, but to all. And on the other hand, we have an example of that love when a Jewish disciple doesn’t hesitate to talk with a Black man from another country.

So here’s the application of this juxtaposition, at least for me:

When we say we are practitioners of agape love, do we practice it toward all?

Is our agape love passive, or active? Do we reach out to show love toward others?

Do we love and accept people different from ourselves? How about Blacks? Or, for Blacks, how about whites? How about Muslims? How about people of a different political party? How about people who actively hate us?

Do we love these people only as an object of evangelism, or only when they become like us? Or do we love as Jesus loved: every person he met, as they were.

And finally, in these times of Black Lives Matter, do we think Jesus, and Phillip, and John would have been in the streets with the protesters? Or would they have been standing with the police?

Or … both?


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Morning Pages to the rescue – again

For the past 5-6 years, I’ve been running a web site / media organization called Forward Kentucky. I did some of the writing, but also had others who contributed content. And, I aggregated some content from other sources (with permission).

Over time, I did less and less of the actual writing, and more and more of everything else: editing, bookkeeping, social media management, web site maintenance, mail list maintenance, newsletter creation. In fact, most of my actual writing time was producing a morning newsletter we sent out.

About six weeks ago, I decided I had done a full-court press on that site long enough. We were finally breaking even, but even so, I realized we were never going to have enough paying customers to hire staff and let me get back to writing. And, I wanted to not only write about politics, but also about other things, including the focus areas of this site.

At first, there was a sense of release and relief. I did not HAVE to get up every morning in time to get the newsletter done and sent. I didn’t have to worry so much about traffic numbers, and finding more content. I thought, “Great! Now I can do that other writing I’ve been wanting to do.”

And then – nada. I found myself avoiding writing. I had a good excuse: it was spring time, and my wife and I had much, much yard work to do. But even so, when I actually had time to write, I didn’t.

Finally, I admitted to myself: the well was dry. I wasn’t excited about writing, and I didn’t really think I had much to say.

Fortunately, I knew the tool to use: Julia Cameron’s morning pages.

For those who don’t know, in her book The Artist’s Way, Cameron positions “morning pages” — pages you write first thing in the day, then either throw away or store, but don’t publish — as a critical ingredient in being a writer, or any sort of creative. There are all sorts of reasons for why she thinks they are so important, but the bottom line is that the discipline of doing MP will keep the pump primed.

When I first started trying to “be a writer,” I read Cameron’s book. It was, truly, a life-changing book for me. I started doing morning pages, and I discovered the huge difference they made in my creative work.

So, after wallowing in my critical self for some weeks, I got out a fresh college-ruled notebook and sat down with a pen and a cup of coffee, and started a new set of morning pages. Just as before, I had no idea what I was going to say; I just trusted the process.

And once again, morning pages came through. They started the pump again, and the ideas started flowing. I was no longer a “publisher” or an “editor”; once again, I was a writer.

Cameron talks about “creative recovery.” Just like any recovery program, it only works if you work it. And for me, doing morning pages is critical to being a writer.

Thank you, Julia Cameron.

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Timothy Snyder: The “vertical magic” of the written word

I learned of Dr. Timothy Snyder when I read his short but important book “On Tyranny.” (If you haven’t read it, you should.) I enjoyed his writing style – clear, concise, pointed.

So, I started reading other works of his, and especially commentary on current events. When I learned he was doing a newsletter on Substack, I signed up immediately.

What I didn’t know was that he also was interested in writing itself. Today’s newsletter (and the next few, where he will expand on the topic) digs into the magic of words, and why they are magic … including an exploration of just where the words live.

On the page? In your brain? Somewhere between? And what, exactly, is a “book” – and what happens when you have “read the book” and the book then is burned or lost?

It’s a good article, and a thought-provoking one. Go read it. And if you haven’t signed up for his newsletter, do so. You’ll be glad you did.


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Terror, joy, doubt — and διαλογισμός

(A Lection Reflection on Luke 24:36b-48)

I was reading today’s Gospel lesson, and in the midst of the familiar passage, I was stuck by one verse: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering …”

Talk about a maelstrom of emotions! In one moment, as the risen Christ stood before them, they were joyful, but also thinking this was surely fake, and unsure what in the world was going on.

Having noticed this verse, I decided to dig a little deeper. So, I opened up the Blue Letter Bible, turned on the Strong’s annotations, and went through the passage. And I found something else interesting.

In verse 38, Jesus asks the disciples “Why do doubts arise in your hearts?” But using “doubt” there doesn’t capture the Greek, in my opinion.

The Greek word there is διαλογισμός – from “dialogue.” Strong’s defines it as “the thinking of a person deliberating with themselves. An internal deliberation.”

So, in the midst of the event that we just finished celebrating, one of the most amazing affirmations of life over death and evil over good, the disciples are not celebrating. Instead, they are having an internal debate about just what this means.

Why am I pointing this out? Because so many times, we cast doubt upon … doubt. We tell people “just believe” and “your faith needs to be stronger.” And yet, the one group you would expect to take it all in with joy and certainty is like “I dunno, man. Seems a little too bizarre to be real.”

We are especially bad about this with young people. Abstract thought begins at about age 12. What could be more natural than for a teenager to begin questioning abstract concepts like God, faith, and beliefs? And of course, and perhaps especially, resurrection.

And yet, we clamp down on their doubts and questions, probably because we ourselves have the same questions and don’t want to admit it.

Here’s the interesting thing: Churches that encourage questioning, doubting, and dialogue about the faith, wind up producing more mature and more resilient disciples. Faith that is never examined, never rethought, that doesn’t grow and change and deepen along with the rest of one’s life, becomes brittle and useless. It fails when tested. And will eventually be abandoned.

So, let’s join those disciples in that room. Let’s have joy, to be sure; but let’s also allow ourselves, both individually and corporately, to have that dialogue – both about the event and about the meaning of the event.

And, let’s accept whatever balance of joy and questioning we experience ourselves, and that we see around us. Let’s not force others to be at our location on the journey; let’s just celebrate making the journey together.


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A Christian Response to the Trump Election

This post is for all persons who call themselves Christian and are facing a Trump presidency, whether or not you voted for him. As Christians, what is our response? What should we do? Here are six things that seem obvious to me.

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The Scribes and Widows You Don’t See

Imagine a group of people: a crowd at a football game, the downtown of a city, a congregation gathered for worship.

Now pick out the scribes and the widows. And here’s a hint: not all the widows are women, and not all the scribes are men.

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The Last Word

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song …

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