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 Culture Curators:
The method is called Nihonga. It’s a tradition of Japanese painting that uses crushed minerals as pigment. Pulverized by hand to a consistency finer than talc, the minerals are then mixed with water and Japanese hide glue, then spread in layers on paper of the highest quality. Each layer requires several days to dry, and it is not uncommon for a nihonga painting to have nearly 100 layers of pigment as background to the final image desired by the artist. The effect creates an iridescent, almost mini-geode-like quality. At a glance the painting simply looks shiny, but after a longer gaze one sees how the light is almost trapped between the layers, creating a mesmerizing optical depth.
Dear Wedding Guests:
This past weekend I read a news story about a wedding venue in Mississippi that rejected a rental application from a couple for their nuptials. No, it wasn’t for a same-sex wedding. The couple was interracial (can anyone believe we’re still talking about this?). Surprised by the emailed rejection, the bride and her mother visited the venue to talk with the owner directly. They recorded her response, in which she gently and apologetically explained that it wasn’t about race, but that her Christian understanding was that same-sex couples and interracial couples were forbidden by the Bible
During our prayer time in worship yesterday we were asked to pray for students who were heading off to college, especially the freshmen, many of whom were leaving home for the first time. The prayer request was followed by an ancillary request for us to remember empty-nesters negotiating suddenly quieted households. These requests triggered my own memories of my first days in college, my parents walking out of my new dorm room, my mom crying, my dad wishing me well. My looking down at the parking lot from my ninth-floor window and seeing their car pull away. At the time my seventeen-year-old self could not comprehend the complexity of their emotions, but in hindsight it wasn’t all about me. I was the youngest of five, the caboose, the last nestling flying from home. For me it was the beginning of a new chapter; for them it was the conclusion of a book in a multi-volume series.
Flashing on these memories yesterday in preparation for prayer, it occurred to me how appropriate it was to speak of them in the Sanctuary.
Dear Fellow Translators:
During my years as a pastoral counselor, I recommended one book more than any other: The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It is a simple, straightforward read in which Chapman suggests that each of us is conditioned to share and receive love in particular ways. When we want to convey our love to our partner, we do so in the love language we understand. We also resonate with love communicated in the language we find familiar. As the book title suggests, Chapman identifies five love languages: 1. Words of Affirmation, 2. Quality Time, 3. Receiving Gifts, 4. Acts of Service, and 5. Physical Touch. The problem, Chapman believes, is not our lack of love, but our failure to translate our love into expressions meaningful to our partner.
Tomorrow, Dani and I celebrate eight years of marriage, initiated eight years and three months ago by my proposal
Dear Commandment Keepers:
The study guide for the 2019-2020 Presbyterian Women (PW) will lead participants on an in-depth journey through the Ten Commandments. The guide, Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments, accomplishes this task in nine lessons by combining the first and second laws in the first study; subsequent lessons take them one at a time. As has become a tradition, Darlene Aniolowski, one of FPCLG's PW Moderators, invited me to provide an overview of the curriculum at the first Presbyterian Women’s gathering on September 5. I know I had best arrive prepared, so I’ve been thinking a great deal about ‘God’s Top Ten’.
Of course, when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he stepped outside of the Decalogue (ten laws) and suggested the twin commandments to love God and neighbor. Regarding this, I stumbled on a
Dear Time Takers:
Well, the fourth annual “All Together Under the Son” ecumenical worship service is now in the books. It has been my privilege to have participated in all of them. This year lacked commemorative T-shirts, but I don’t think we really missed them.
Years ago, I was part of a clergy group planning an ecumenical worship service on the south side of Chicago. There were about 30 congregations who had agreed to participate; they represented nearly every Christian theological, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic slice of our community pie. Of course, those groups who felt
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.