Dear Debate Partners:
Here’s my opening disclaimer: This is not a musing about gun control. The most recent tragic carnage in Parkland, Florida, has occasioned my musing. Believe me, I have my opinions about firearms, and I’m pretty sure most of you would not find my policy proposals satisfactory. I’m also sure some of you would respond quickly and aggressively to my ideas. That’s what has me musing—how is it that people of similar experience, education and good will can be so diametrically and aggressively poised against each other?
I have a few theories about our disagreeable nature; hopefully, these are far less contentious than my bone-headed attitudes about the Second Amendment. My goal here is to lower the temperature of civil discourse, to provide some accounting for our incapacity to find compromise for the sake of a common good, or, at minimum, to create a case for constructive engagement.
I’m also not interested in suggesting civility is some treasured skill once commonly held in a pre-internet past; human history is littered with evidence of our inability to listen to one another. I would suggest it is in our nature to argue. When God asked Adam and Eve if they had eaten of the fruit, they both immediately changed the subject and blamed someone or something else.
What confuses me about most arguments over several policy issues is how aggressively we can battle over things that we most likely will never have to endure. I believe the further we are from a direct experience of a matter, the less it directly affects our lives, the easier it is for our attitudes and beliefs to become unyieldingly entrenched. Consider with whom you are most likely to start an argument. People who have little interaction with the impoverished and are the least likely to find themselves in poverty seem to have the most aggressive attitudes regarding the causes and character of the poor. Individuals living in homogeneous neighborhoods are pretty opinionated about diversity, and I hear the most confident theories about childrearing from the childless.
I am reminded of my mother, who told me a few months back they had a special program at her assisted living facility given by a nice young social worker. Her topic was “growing old gracefully.” She said the residents found her insights extremely entertaining.
My observation has been that I can most aggressively defend positions and attitudes that I am least likely to test. We tend to make up our minds about things that we will never have to mind, and there we find our temptation.
Avoiding that temptation is why I find myself spending less and less time talking about heaven or hell because it turns out my opinion will have little impact on what is objectively true. The likelihood of eternal damnation does not magically increase simply because I believe that should be your eventual destiny.
The stuff I have experienced is significantly more ambiguous than the things I haven’t. It’s much easier for me to articulate a coherent policy on social media security than it is for me to figure out what group should use the Fellowship Hall when we’ve accidentally double-booked. My problems are complicated; global issues are easy.
Working hard to avoid pointless fights, I remain,
Dear VBS Voyagers:
2019 Vacation Bible School (VBS) is now in the congregational rear view mirror. Once the songs are out of our heads and we’ve cleared up the glitter and glue from Fellowship Hall, we will start thinking about children’s programming for next summer; but before we pull forward to the TUXIS mission trip and Vacation Cross Trainers (VCT) coming up next month, I think it would be useful to muse over the experience. By the numbers, we were able to provide VBS without charge. Participant families were invited to contribute in any amount through the online registration process, and most did, but the bulk of the expenses were covered by generous VBS-designated gifts from FPCLG members.
Dear Space Racers:
With this year’s VBS program—To Mars and Beyond—reverberating in our church this week, I’ve been reminded of how much space junk clutters my brain, and the brains of my generation. Space Food Sticks were a thing, developed by Pillsbury’s chief food technologist, Howard Bauman, who was working on a nutritionally balanced snack food for astronauts. The first version was space food cubes consumed by Scott Carpenter on Aurora 7 in 1962. The later version, sold to the public beginning in 1972, came 14 to a pack in peanut butter, caramel and chocolate flavors. (The commercials used to bother me because they featured child astronauts eating the Tootsie Roll-like snack through a hole in the front of their space helmets.
Dear Pride Preparers:
During my first year in college I attempted to join the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) that held a weekly campus meeting, but after three or four gatherings, I stopped attending. It was no crisis of faith; I just found their meetings and Bible studies too saccharine and a little paranoid. Their focus—near obsession—was how, because we were Evangelicals, we were persecuted by the academic world hostile to our existence. I just didn’t buy it. While the University of Chicago community provided little encouragement for a Christian Evangelical worldview, at worst I found the environment indifferent, not hostile.
From those IVCF Friday night gatherings, however, I did make friends.
Dear Sabbath Seekers,
I was home from college on winter break many decades ago when I stopped by the Fishkins' for a visit. Art and Jane Fishkin were the parents of my high school classmate Charlie, and I had been a guest at their Passover table for many years. Charlie was my former debate partner; we both left for the University of Chicago and were sharing an apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park with a third roommate, Jim Smither (Hinsdale Central, '78). Art and Jane rushed to greet me. Hellos at the Fishkin household were not for the faint at heart; they involved hugs and backslaps that left the greeted
Dear Fellow Joint Pain Sufferers:
About 12 years ago I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis, abbreviated RA. When it’s not annoying or painful I find the condition to be quite fascinating. RA is an autoimmune disease, a condition where my own immune system has somehow determined that the tissue in my joints is an enemy of my body, so it unleashes its disease-fighting strength against healthy tissue. What makes my body decide that parts of itself must be attacked? Rheumatological research continues to seek an answer to that question.
I’ve been quite fortunate to have avoided the kind of flare-up that merits the use of a class of medications called biologics; these suppress the immune system more generally, dialing back the body’s disease-
Dear Fellow Travelers:
About 10 years ago, my 1995 Cutlass Ciera was stolen from the street two blocks from my apartment in Hyde Park. I did get it back a week or so later, and how that happened can be an illustration for another musing, but today’s focus is on that bizarre moment when I believed something was going to be there and it wasn’t.
I can’t remember where I was planning to go, but I do know from the police report it was August 17, 2009. Relying on a Google search, I can affirm now that it was a Monday. From memory I can only recall my sense of disorientation. What I believed--that my car would be on the west side of Lake Park Boulevard between 55th and 54th Streets--was not confirmed by experience.
Dear Sibling Rivals:
What do we do when our sacrifice is disregarded? When the work of our hands, the sweat of our brow, our calculation, labor and execution are ignored, how do we respond? The question becomes even more intense when we see others respected, regarded and rewarded for their work. To us the adulation, the mobility, the affirmation received by others seems unwarranted. That their effort leads to still waters and green pastures of success angers us, while we remain in the valley of the shadows, stumbling along an ever more treacherous path.
The human response, the one easily at hand, is to flip the script, rewriting our circumstance as a competition
Dear Planet Partners:
“The highest heavens are God’s, but the earth has been given to humanity.” Psalm 115.16
The son and grandson of Pentecostal ministers, John McConnell Jr. was born in Davis City, IA, on March 22, 1915. Not long after his birth, his father, John Sr., became a traveling evangelist, preaching in tent meetings, churches, chapels and street corners from New York to San Francisco. His brand of fervent preaching was much in demand. One news clipping advertising a revival at the Portland Rose Tabernacle in New York City proclaimed his sermons as “scorching, scathing, liquid lumps of burning truth to meet present need.” (Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, 2010, volume 30) McConnell Sr. had received his call to ministry while attending the Stone Church in Chicago in 1911.
Dear Patrons of Beauty,
On Saturday morning it was my privilege to participate in the memorial service for Elizabeth Gottlieb, a child of our church who grew to be a soprano of significant renown. A few months ago she received a cancer diagnosis, and her life ended just 10 days ago. Because so much of her love was lived through music, her choirmates from the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Chorus and Music of the Baroque came to the memorial service to offer tribute through song. Our sanctuary resonated with majestic music.
For my musing today, I wish to share with you the words of my homily. I trust they bring solace to those bereaved and inspiration for those who must carry on.
Dear Fellow Tulip Tiptoers,
For those of you who have not been able to join us on Wednesday nights for our TULIP study of Calvinism, allow me to catch you up on what you’ve missed. (*Note: All are welcome to join for the final two weeks, April 3 and 10, 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Parlor following our 7:00 Lenten Communion service in the Chapel). Historically, John Calvin (1509-1564) was a French attorney who became fascinated with the writings of the early Reformers like Martin Luther (1483-1546). Calvin published many articles and a multi-volume commentary on the whole Bible, except for the book of Revelation, which he said he just didn’t understand. His major work was Institutes of the Christian Religion, which underwent several drafts and translations after its first publication in 1536, when Calvin was 27 years old. (It’s difficult to feel like I’ve accomplished very much in my life when I realize that by the time John Calvin was my age, he had been dead five years.)
Greetings Participating Partners in Prayer:
Following the attack on mosques in Christchurch New Zealand, I wrote a letter of solidarity to the Administrative Assistant and congregation of the Orland Park Prayer Center. FPPLC’s confirmation class received a gracious welcome and tour of the facility and were given the opportunity to observe Asr, afternoon daily prayer, of the community. The following is an open letter to the Administrator and congregation.
I grew up among people who held a paradoxical relationship with Jews. On the one hand, most of the adult men in my childhood congregation were veterans of World War II, and many found great meaning for their service in the liberation of the Jewish people from the brutal tyranny of anti-Semitic Nazism. On the other hand, because the Jews had rejected Jesus, we were confident they were going to hell. There was also a third hand that colored our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, and that was a reading of Biblical prophecy that insisted the formation of the nation of Israel was a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus, something we were weekly enjoined to hasten.
Dear Penitent People:
As we approach the season of Lent, it is important to note that the day before Ash Wednesday in much of the world is known as Fat Tuesday, owing to the historic tradition of not eating fats and sugars during the season of penance. While the celebration known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is a ten-month tourist celebration in New Orleans, in many countries the days of Carnival begin the Thursday before Lent and culminate on Tuesday, the eve of Ash Wednesday.
Dear Broken Brethren:
As Pope Francis gathers with Roman Catholic bishops in the Vatican this week in a summit designed to address clergy sexual abuse of minors, I have had several conversations with individuals suggesting that the Catholics have a big problem. While I hope the magisterium experiences some breakthroughs in discipline and oversight through an event largely organized by Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, it would be a serious mistake to suggest this is somehow an issue confined to the ranks of Roman Rite clergy.
Clergy sexual abuse of minors is not a problem that will be resolved by permitting priests the stability of marriage. To be sure, the recent revelations of the Southern Baptist Convention regarding their own clergy…
Dear President Party Participators:
Here we are with another three-day weekend.
In 1968, the United States 90th Congress passed H.R. 15951 An Act to provide for uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays, and for other purposes, usually abbreviated as the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The original bill stipulated that several holidays be moved to Mondays, but the one commemorating Washington’s birthday remain fixed on the 22nd of February, a date set as a federal holiday by President Rutherford B. Hayes. However, Illinois House Representative and Judiciary Committee member Robert McClory of Lake Bluff had lost his bid to make Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, a federal holiday. The amendment failed in committee due to staunch opposition by the Virginia delegation. In response to his amendment’s defeat, McClory successfully amended the
Dear Service Selectors:
It’s been a few months now since our Sanctuary Choir Director, Jason Fahrenbach, expanded his repertoire to include leadership of our Praise and Worship Team and became FPCLG’s Director of Music Ministry. The response from both the musicians and the Community Service attendees has been enthusiastically positive, and to my knowledge, the Sanctuary Choir has not felt older child neglect in the transition. To my ear the music in both services is beyond magnificent; we are blessed with many gifted volunteers and professionals who inspire our voices and hearts in divine worship.
There are now two of us who weekly experience both Sunday morning services
Dear Confirming Congregants:
This coming Saturday will be our second annual Confirmation Rally, where we invite Confirmation-aged young people from the greater La Grange community to celebrate our common faith and our unity in Christ. There will be snacks, music, conversation, dinner, games and a few special guests. We hope to link our young people in the knowledge that they are members of a church fellowship that extends well beyond the walls of FPCLG, a common faith, a common heritage, a body of Christ with many expressions of tradition, doctrine and practice. In the same way that we do not baptize our children as Presbyterians, we do not confirm our young people as Presbyterians, but in both rites we announce their covenant relationship with Christians,
Dear Winter Warriors,
As the snow accumulates on our back deck, I’m musing how snowstorms have this amazing quality of timelessness. While we are taught that no two snowflakes are alike, snowstorms, in my memory, are all aligned as one big contiguous accumulation of white wonder. Briefly, I suspend all knowledge of snow’s intrusion into my routine, the repetitious weight of the shovel, the crunchy scraping of a windshield, spinning tires rocking from a drift, and I am lost in the anticipation of flapping arms of an angel, the careful engineering of a fort, red runners cutting into the side of a great hill.
The following remarks were delivered by The Reverend Jonathan Krogh, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of La Grange, IL for the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast held on January 21, 10 AM, sponsored by the Caring Place for Kids, Lincoln & Washington Streets, La Grange, Illinois.
In preparation for this morning’s remarks I read the following words in a December 26 New Yorker article by Eliza Griswold entitled “Evangelicals of Color Fight Back Against the Religious Right.” Quoting social activist Sharon Harper: “The whole Bible and evangelical faith, along with Protestant faith and Catholic faith, has all been interpreted through the lens of empire. All of it. All of it has been interpreted through the lens of Caesar. And Caesar killed Jesus. And Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.”
Jesus was an indigenous, brown, colonized man.