Saturday, April 14, 2018

Christians envying Christians


For Christians only: have you ever envied the dramatic conversion story of someone else?

You know, the kind that begins with drugs, alcohol, sex; then moves to a direct personal encounter with Jesus, and ends happily and sinlessly after?

If you own faith story is rather tame, you will enjoy reading Melanie Springer Mock's "When Big Jesus Doesn't Show Up"--chapter 2 of her new memoir Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else.

Christians who grew up in homes with parents who themselves took their faith seriously often wonder if they count as "real" Christians, never having had an encounter like Paul's on the road to Damascus.

Melanie was a teenager like this who in college found herself asked to share her testimony--and felt compelled to embellish the story a teeny bit... or a lot.

I'm on Chapter 3 now--I recommend it as a gift to any Christian you know.

Kidnapped Girls, 4 years later

New York Times photos of girls kidnapped from Chibok, 4 years later

Thank you to the New York Times led by reporter Dionne Searcey and photographer Adam Ferguson for bringing us these moving photos and stories of the Boko Haram girls, taken from their school in Chibok four years ago, April 14, 2014.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/04/11/world/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-girls.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/world/africa/photos-nigeria-boko-haram.html

Out of more than 200 kidnapped, over 100 now live on a college campus in northeastern Nigeria.  More than 100 are still missing, and 12 or more are dead.

The photos are beautiful, but the girls are still prisoners, now at a university in pleasant surroundings.

They can't return home unless with special permission.  One girl missed seeing her father before his death.  

They can't have visitors except in certain cases.  The children they bore in captivity have been separated from them.  All these precautions are supposedly to protect them from their own notoriety--there are people who would harm them still. 

Some of the other students fear them--are they potential killers, converted to Boko Haram?

They are forced to speak only English, and even the psychologist treating them speaks only English when counseling them.

It's a sad story, but the focus is on giving these young women a future.

The world prays for them today 




Friday, April 13, 2018

Pee and the President


It's hard to "take a step back and contemplate" when the morning's news is full of faces talking about urine and Russian prostitutes in connection with the president of the United States.

Depressing.  Disgusting.  While cooking and eating breakfast.

I keep trying to put this disastrous presidency on the back shelf so I can get through my day--but the fool keeps popping up again with ever more outlandish, attention-grabbing words and rumors.

I will have to return to not turning on my television or radio in the morning--at the risk of not knowing that he has bombed Syria and started World War III.

What has become of our national discourse ?  When will kids again be allowed to watch the news?




Thursday, April 12, 2018

Too Many Lead Stories

NYT, Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You know your country is in trouble when the New York Times places an imminent US bombing of Syria lower on the front page than:

I'm following the first two stories closely, hoping the money trail in Michael Cohen's records will expose enough campaign violations to get Republicans on board with impeachment.

I'm amazed at the third story, that dt persists in following Bill Clinton's recipe for "How To Get Impeached."

As for Facebook, I've stopped looking at it or posting on it.  I'm so angry at FB for allowing Russians and Cambridge Analytica to post lies about Hillary Clinton on the feeds of voters vulnerable to those lies.

The biggest story here is that tonight or tomorrow night, my nation may be bombing big enough targets in Syria to force Russia to bomb US targets, such as our aircraft carriers.  Nuclear war, anyone?

The latest chemical attacks on civilians, including children, in the village of Khan Shaykuhn are horrific enough to justify joint action by the United Nations against Bashar al-Assad--but Russia holds a veto.  So Prez #45 boasts that he will take unilateral action with his "nice and new and smart" missiles.  
Chemical attack on April 4 near Khan Shaykuhn (in 2nd province from sea on north)

A pause in the fast movement of escalation followed that threat, so we don't know what to expect: a peaceful and lush springtime here in the US or a hot branding iron of war clamping down on all our lives.

#PRAYINGFORPEACE

Anyway, thank you to Common Cause for complaining to the Justice Department and to the Federal Election Commission about the $150,000 that Cohen solicited from a Ukrainian billionaire.  I'm hoping we can get dt impeached on the basis of illegal campaign donations.

The Jeopardy music is playing.  When will Mueller's report come out?  When will the impeachment begin?  

Meanwhile, our illegally and barely elected president teeters on the brink of US-Russia conflict in Syria.


The NY Times editorial on April 11 "The Law Is Coming, Mr. Trump," lists the several incredible things happening this week under dt and asks this question:

Why don’t we take a step back and contemplate what Americans, and the world, are witnessing?





Friday, April 6, 2018

What ever happened to the Moral Majority?

Women at the Empty Tomb by Fra Angelico
President Obama is clearly the moral superior of what passes for a president today.

Obama is faithful to his wife.  Trump is faithful to his sex workers.

Yet people calling themselves born-again Christians still prefer 45 to 44.

Thank you to Amy Sullivan for writing about this problem in the NYT Sunday Review on Easter Day. In the print edition, the title is "Trump's Christian Soldiers;" online it's called "Democrats Are Christians, Too."

"Eighty percent of white evangelicals would vote against Jesus Christ himself if he ran as a Democrat,"  she writes.


Her article concludes:
At the 2015 breakfast in the East Room, which featured music by Amy Grant, as close as evangelicals come to royalty, Mr. Obama spoke about the daily challenges of faith. “Today we celebrate the magnificent glory of our risen Savior,” he said. “I pray that I will live up to his example. I fall short so often. Every day I try to do better.”
Conservative evangelicals were unmoved. One year later, a Public Policy Polling survey found that only 13 percent of Trump supporters believed Mr. Obama was a Christian. They won’t have a chance to hear Mr. Trump himself speak about faith and the resurrection this Easter season. After he came into office, the Trump White House ended the short-lived tradition of Easter breakfasts.

I never thought I'd be pining for the good old days of 1970 and 1971 when I worked for Christianity Today Magazine, the beating heart of born-again Christianity.

The Moral Majority seems to have morphed into a confused minority that asks with Pilate "What is truth?"  

They aren't sure what truth is, or what fake is, but they still want the current president to be their leader.

"We knew we weren't electing a saint," they say, but as more and more truth emerges about the man they elected, I don't see many born-again Christians turning away from him.

Cognitive dissonance is hard to bear.  It's easier just not to listen to evil or see it.

Immoral as he may be, he's their man.

But Sullivan does label this group "conservative evangelicals," not just evangelicals.  She notes the presence of progressive evangelicals.

I am among these folks--the Sojourner Magazine, Anne Lamott types.  I'm a member of EEWC-Christian Feminism Today.  www.eewc.com  EEWC stands for Evangelical & Ecumenical Women's Caucus.  

We'll be there to pick up the pieces of the evangelical churches when Trump is impeached. 

Sullivan notes that these right-wingers tend to identify opposition to gay rights and to legal abortion as part of the Apostles Creed.

Someday those idols too will fall, and the followers of Jesus of Nazareth will fully accept sexuality of various kinds as well as the sovereignty of women's control of their own bodies. 











Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Eyebrows and Easter

The Reverend Dr. Lynn Cheyney

"You always get to me," the pastor said, close to tears, turning to the choir as she stood to begin her 8 am Easter sermon.  

The sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses of Westwood Presbyterian Church had just performed the anthem, "My Eternal King," by Jane Marshall. 

Then the Reverend Dr. Lynn Cheyney cleared the choking from her voice and began preaching.

"I was getting my eyebrows done," she smiled, adding an aside: "How's that for a transition?"

The congregation chuckled.  I sat there delighted: only a woman pastor, and a confident one, could begin this way.  It was payback for all the goofy football illustrations I've had to listen to in sermons all my life.

"I was getting my eyebrows done the week before last when the delightful Pakistani woman hovering over my face, a Hindu who knew that I am a minister asked, 'So what is Easter about?  What does it mean?'"

"And I confessed that I panicked.  In a nanosecond the following thoughts flashed through my brain: 'Oh my gosh, I'm a pastor, I should know the answer to that question.  I've been to two seminaries, preached dozens of Easter sermons, taught Bible studies on the Passion and Easter narratives, I've read countless articles and books and read Gospel accounts a thousand times.  What on earth is the meaning of Easter?  Why haven't I prepared my 30-second Easter elevator speech?... And what is she really asking?  Do I need to fit in bunny and eggs?"

We all laughed several times. After a moment, she replied to the woman:

"It can get a little complicated, but most simply, Easter is about two things: it is about love and it is about hope.  It is the ancient story of a God who loves the world enough to die for it.  On Good Friday God's son Jesus was put to death because he would not give in to hate.  But then just when it seemed that death and evil would win, God raised Jesus from the dead, and it means that whatever is bad or terrible or painful now is never the end of the story.  There's always hope because bringing life out of death is what God does.  Easter is about love.  Easter is about hope."

Then she launched into her sermon.  You can listen to it from the church website: http://westwoodpres.org/worship/worship-services/sermon-videos/ 

Here are some excerpts:

About Good Friday:
"The worst possible thing that could have happened happens...  And yet two millennia later, some two billion of us remember and revere this failed moment.  The week that began with hosannas ends in crucifixion as a movement is crushed and a hero is humiliated.  At least that was the thinking when they put their heads on the pillow that not-yet-so-good Friday night."

About the women at the foot of the cross:
"They watched his breathing slow to nothing....  And if you have seen death, you know there is no mistaking it when it comes.  Something is so obviously gone." 

About the women on Sunday at the tomb:
Bewildered and terrified, they sprint for home when they are met on the way with a living, breathing Jesus.  Life too is pretty obvious when you see it. The worst possible thing has happened.  As the Apostles' Creed puts it, "Crucified, dead, and buried"--but that was yesterday's news....  The worst possible thing has given way to the best possible thing.  Jesus is alive.  Christ is risen indeed."

Quoting Harry Emerson Fosdick:
"One of the most colossal defeats in history becomes one of the greatest triumphs ever won."

Quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
(on his way to his own death in a Nazi concentration camp)
"This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life."

In summary:
"The cross alone bears up under the weight of life as we know it...."

"From time to time all of us find ourselves in Good Friday failure.... And we are met in those dark places by Jesus, God's own son....  There is, whether or not we feel it in the moment, hope."

"Easter's profound truth is simply this: that in some mysterious way that is difficult in the moment to comprehend, Jesus reverses the power of death.  Endings become beginnings.  Failures pave the way for successes.  One of the worst possible things becomes the best possible thing."

Quoting Anne LaMott
"I believe in resurrection because I got sober against all odds....  Life happens, death happens, and then new life happens."  

Last line:
"Easter is about love.  It is about hope.  Christ is risen.  Christ is risen indeed!  Amen and amen."

Note: The full texts of Pastor Lynn's recent sermons are available in the church lobby and probably by mail or email request as well:  office@westwoodpres.org  or 10822 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90024.

Maya Angelou's Tragic Birthday

James Baldwin was helpful in the publication
of Maya Angelou's first book

What do you do when your birthday becomes a national day of mourning?

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Maya Angelou's 40th birthday, and for years she could not celebrate her birth.

Thank you to Brian Park of the Los Angeles Times for discussing this tragic conjunction of events in today's newspaper:  http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-maya-angelou-martin-luther-king-jr-20180404-story.html

Today marks what would have been her 90th birthday, and Google posted a delightful reading of her famous poem "Still I Rise" by Oprah Winfrey and others. #GoogleDoodle
https://g.co/doodle/hqbawy?ds=tw

"Still I Rise" resonates beautifully with Easter this year as Jesus's resurrection and Maya's birth nearly coincide.

But with the death of Stephon Clarke in Sacramento, so close to Good Friday, and with our marking of the 50th year since the murder of MLK Jr., the deep undertones of Maya's poem are evident:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes, 
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise....  (read by her son Guy Johnson)

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear 
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise

Racially-linked deaths continue.  Child sexual abuse continues (she was a survivor). Resurrection continues.

We must each walk with Jesus and rise.

See also:

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/maya-angelou-remembered-poet-writer-civil-rights-activist-caged-bird-google-doodle-a8287691.html

https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/google-releases-amazing-new-doodle-in-honor-of-maya-ang-1824309602