A Wink and a Nod

They are straight
and he is gay.
He’s the bartender
and Friday is the day
they sit at the bar
and discuss what may
be and politics
and they have much to say
and they agree on many things
in the country going astray.
He always gives them
one free martini of the day
and they say thanks silently
with a tip, a wink and a nod
to help till pay-day.
Nothing is said.
What is there to say?
Just mutual appreciation
between two straights and a gay
on Thank God It’s Friday.

A Symptom of What, Dear Sociologists?

They thought, perhaps, it was
just their imaginations or
an age-related condition, but
the snowbirds remembered
no less authorities than
Click and Clack, the Tappet
Brothers, who spoke of the
crazies on the highways.
Each day when those little
birds go out and drive in
the city that rises like a
big bird each winter from
the ashes of seemingly
interminable, summer desert
heat, they hear sirens and,
most often, see accidents —
some of the carnage looking
like a huge bird having descended,
crashed and burned into ashes;
they tick off the consecutive
days of experiencing one
or both like watching
a string of victories or,
more at it, consecutive
defeats by a sports team.
It is what no sports
team ever accomplished —
an unbroken streak of
every day for four
winter months each year
for ten years running —
this, of course, in a city
of six million, but even
back home with the small
city numbering thirty-three-
thousand mostly, conservative
law-abiding folk the
irrational, erratic and
down-right crazy
driving is driving them
crazy. They wonder
when sociologists are
going to wake up
and study why. They
know it has to have
occurred to those
sociologists as they,
too, must brave the
brave new world of
insanity on the roadway.

Benefits of Aging

His long dead parents
are more acceptable to him.
In his dreams, they are
less threatening and
usually partner with him
in some interesting,
dreamy adventure.
He thinks about friends.
So many have come and
gone — some to death,
others just gone from
his life, some with
explanations, some
with none, just gone,
ghost like, apparitions
from his past.
Who were they?
He has had the most
trouble accepting
those — no goodbyes,
no responses
to inquiries, no
explanations, nothing,
just a great, silence
that evokes the cry
of why. But
even those, the
toughest to accept,
he is giving up
to the great beyond
with no recriminations.
Content without an
explanation he doesn’t
need, he wishes
them well, mostly
for his own sake
as they still, sometimes
suddenly flit through
a thought or even
a dream after he
has bid his parents
adieu. Some even
go on nocturnal
adventures
with him but
just a few.

Interesting, Disturbing but Not Yet Despairing Times

Barack Obama’s presidency exposed the underbelly of bigotry and Donald Trump is exploiting it. To paraphrase a friend’s question: Can we do again what we did with the protests of the 60’s and 70’s? It could get rough but in this case America isn’t Germany in the 20’s, ’30’s and 40’s.

Germans, a proud people who, perhaps with some arrogance, saw themselves as the center of Western European sophistication and learning, were humiliated by WWI, their economy was in shambles, they were looking for a scapegoat and Hitler exploited the situation by providing one — the prosperous banking and merchant class of “the other,” the usurpers, the despised foreigners, the Jews, who, “undeservedly,” were taking their money, who were right there in their midst and were caught in the cross hairs as a very easy and vulnerable target. Those were the perfect conditions for the very worst to happen.

On the other hand our economy is solid (if severely unbalanced in favor of the 1%), the majority has their heads screwed on straight and I cannot help but believe that there is just some unique, core cultural value in America where people actually want to get along with each other and who really do support the notion of “promoting the general welfare.”

Yes, we certainly are tribal, but, more and more, I think, if my own experiences and impressions are valid, we want to get along with other tribes and, in some cases, transcend tribal boundaries to incorporate each other, affirm the rights of each other and affirm the multicultural and ethnic makeup of our unique experiment in republican democracy.

Have we as a country had our share of shame? Oh, my, yes — the attempted and nearly successful ethnic cleansing (what a euphemism for extermination) of Native Americans, the continued oppression and economic marginalization of Blacks, the prejudice against Hispanics and Asians, We European whites have had it pretty good for a long time at the blatant and shameful expense of other ethnicities and now we are fearful of losing some of those ill-gotten gains and privileges.

And who are the ones who are feeling the economic pinch the most, whether completely justified or not — the white, working class. In the face of the attention given now to the rights of minorities, it is the white working class, the one’s who fear being left behind and who are reacting in anger against those minorities, the ones most easily exploited by hateful, inflammatory rhetoric being used by those in power as scapegoats for their own agenda. The white, working class are pawns in an unholy, chess match.

The administration’s rhetoric of material prosperity to these people is hollow as seen in the initial action of the administration in choosing cabinet members from the Wall Street, financial elite who don’t have the interests of the working class and poor in mind. Initial talk of a tax plan which aids the richest belies the president’s phony rhetoric to his base.

Those who wanted power and who now are in power exploit that fear and try to reinforce racism, jingoism and rabid nationalism to their own advantage and the promotion of their ideology.

Trump’s inner circle concerns me most: Bannon, Miller, etc. Trump is full of egotistical bluster and is an expert at conning the masses but knows nothing of what has already made our country great, knows nothing of constitutional law, knows nothing of the spirit of what is etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty and is listening to those who have weaseled their nefarious and dystopian way into his confidence. They know weakness when they see it and use it as the pathway to gain influence for those sick ideologies.

As an old, retired preacher who still believes in the power of The Word of God, I’m hoping some brave white preachers will preach prophetically but com-passionately serving as prophet and priest to their white congregations, so that hearts will bend toward the inclusive Jesus and away from the fear that leads to hateful, destructive action.

It surely will cost some their pulpits, but as a wise minister asked me when I was a young, wet- behind-the-ears minister with a Northern, urban background serving a Southern, rural, yoked parish and having a bit of a rough time of it, “Who is your leader? Look what happened to him. They haven’t nailed you to a cross yet, so count your blessings.” It wasn’t particularly comforting at the time but his words guided me along the way.

I had become friends with the local African Methodist Episcopal minister and she suggested a pulpit exchange. I thought it was a great idea and brought it before the elders of the two congregations I was serving. The town church welcomed the idea but the country congregation turned it down telling me that they were perfectly happy having a Black preach to them but they would not allow a woman in the pulpit.

This was the early 70’s and that Southern, white congregation was willing to listen to a Black minister just so long as it wasn’t a woman. They were ahead of their time regarding race if not up to speed on gender. And the white, town congregation was happy to hear the word from a Black female.

The AME minister preached in my town church; I preached in her church and the country congregation used lay preaching that Sunday. Because they, for whatever reason, refused the pulpit to a respected member of the clergy in our county, I felt compelled to resign the congregation which I had served for four years and thankfully the town congregation picked up the tab for my full salary for six months while I sought another call.

My point? That was the early seventies; the ink of Civil Rights legislation was not yet dry; those were Southern, rural, white people and, yet, they made moves toward racial harmony.

That’s an example of what I believe is an underlying, core, uniquely American value influenced by the very best of Jesus’ message of inclusivity. These are always the better angels to be affirmed while the devil tempts.

We Americans are called to extend and expand that inclusivity to those of all religions and ethnicities and rights to all minorities whether gender, sexual orientation, etc. because that is what Americans are supposed to do and it is here that the expansion of the very fabric of our democracy is being stretched and tested.

I think working class whites were duped in the primaries and in the presidential election, but I don’t believe they are the hard-core, right-wing supremacists. I think the fringe haters numbers are very small even if they seem to be crawling out of every sewer in America right now.

If push comes to shove, I don’t believe the a majority of the white, working class will support hate and bigotry if it is really unleashed on people and we see a significant rise in hate crimes. Actually I feel empathy toward those folk. I am a middle-class, white male, the child of working class immigrants. I think today’s working-class whites are envious of and, at the same time, have adulation for the white, super-rich of America and have lived under the illusion that they, too, could be right up there and now they see the push for the rights of others and it has them scared.

I pastored a lot of working class urban and rural whites and their hearts are good and I saw them affirm the “general welfare,” but right now they, unfortunately, are feeling sorry for themselves and are vulnerable to their less than noble instincts. Again, metaphorically speaking, it is time to affirm these American’s better angels while the devil appeals to their darker motives. It is a battle against principalities and powers.

In what surely is legislation passed under the influence of the better angels of the Obama administration (health insurance for twenty- some million more Americans), we could be seeing the positive effect of self-interest. I think the Affordable Care Act may be the thing that wakes up these working class and old, white folks (many, I assume, who voted for Trump.) to their own best, self-interest. It’s like the dumb, old, white guy who told his elected representative to “keep the damn government out of my social security and Medicare.” They bought the lies about “Obamacare,” but now that they have insurance under the Affordable Care Act, as they have had the benefits of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they are discovering that they don’t want to lose it.

The fact that working class and old, white folk at town hall meetings are shouting down their Republican representatives and senators is a heartening
development.

Whatever one’s ethnicity, religion and life circumstance, we cannot allow the devil what he thinks is his due.

What is everyone’s due is peace, harmony, justice, mercy, love and full human rights.

Jesus, the Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and others turned the world upside down toward love through non-violent resistance. We only have to help flip America right-side-up or maybe that’s “left-side-up.” Surely, it is the
side that “promotes the general welfare.” See you at the protests!

Yes, these are interesting, disturbing but not yet despairing times.

A Poke So Slow

My friend The Rev. Dr. Thomas Eggebeen posted a thoughtful piece at his blog (http://thoughtslist.blogspot.com/) about slowing down from life’s frantic pace
to keep good company along the way.

This was my comment (with minor changes) back to Tom:

The other day while I was out for a jog,
an acquaintance passed in her car.

The next day we had a phone conversation
and she said, “I see you were taking a walk.”

And so it goes
for a poke so slow.
A mile I used to run
in minutes numbering eight.
Now I speed along
at a much slower rate.
One day I’ll run a mile
in minutes numbering twenty-eight.
I’d ask you to go for a run with me,
but I’m afraid for dinner you’d be very late,
so let’s just sit sipping a glass of wine
and tell each other
that life is like wine very fine,
which, in the making,
takes a little more time —
to get it just right for the taking.

A Still Life

The red roses stand in a glass,
water pitcher on the granite

breakfast counter next to three
artistic bowls — one, a Native

American style bowl, a gift from
a relative; one, a Hagi style bowl

by an Asian artist; one, a wood
carved bowl found in a second

hand shop. Vine tomatoes rest
in a plastic, utilitarian bowl

on the granite counter below the
breakfast counter, a still warm

toaster sits next to the vine
tomatoes and a glass coffee pot

from a coffee maker rests on
a stove burner across from

the toaster, the vine tomatoes
between them. His wife sits

on the couch in front of a
glass sliding door outside

of which the sun bounces off
roof tiles; an empty coffee

cup sits on the end table next
to her and a plate with a few

bread crumbs on it rests on
the couch next to her and

the dog sleeps by her feet.
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto

#2 plays softly on the old,
portable radio inherited from

their daughter when they first
moved in. He sits at the dining

room table taking in the glory
of the still life in his life.

Integrity, Courage and Resistance

I had a missionary professor who spurned the pastoral care department as so much navel gazing saying that if we students go into missionary work we don’t need to take preoccupation with our Western hang-ups with us to superimpose them on an Eastern culture.

He was right about impositions; he was wrong about hang-ups. If we students were to spend the rest of our working lives caring for others, we would need to know as much as possible about how to care for ourselves through all the vicissitudes of life that would surely and inevitably come our way.

The Beatles may have meant drugs, but relationally speaking, we do get by with a little help from our friends and sometimes those friends, in a broader sense of that word, are the people who are trained to help with that introspection so we not only can survive but thrive in caring for ourselves and others.

We are at a time in our country’s history when we need all the self-knowledge, self-acceptance and I would even go so far as to say all the wisdom we may have accrued over the years not just to survive this trial but to thrive in integrity embracing our core values and living them for others.

So, it seems to me, we need to reflect on our past, conjure those saints and summon all the learning, nurturing, caring, clarifying moments that therapists, pastors, counselors and others facilitated for us and in us in our time of need and gather them all together renewing them in our heads, hearts, minds and spirits so that we will not be “beside ourselves” in this time as tempting as it is to cave and cower in fear, but will, in that integrated, whole self be equipped to meet the challenges of the moment. We need to give thanks for those who helped us recognize our dark side in the metaphor of a shadow and helped us come to terms with that shadow, befriend the shadow thus disarming our shadow so it doesn’t harm us or others.

For we all, this very moment, are struggling with what very well might be a time of national insanity and it is a time calling us to own personal integrity and claim the core values we inherited and made our own — love, morality, justice, mercy and peace — and stand in solidarity with those suffering and in non- violent resistance against all the lies of the present day principalities and powers.

St. Paul, using the metaphor of the armor of war, gave us the attributes necessary to stand against evil. Shed of the metaphor but with interpretation, St. Paul urges us to stand firm in non-violent resistance by clothing ourselves in the truth of Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for others, just living, peacemaking, faith in eternal, inclusive love for all people and the very creation itself, the saving knowledge that all will be redeemed and the word of life to speak that love in courage.

I’m Not a Celebrity, But…

There are people of celebrity and fame
who tweet that the president is to blame
for just about everything under the sun.
All I know is that he thinks he’s #1.
Some contend he is a malevolent narcissist
and that everyone should rise and resist.
All I know is that he thinks he’s #1
and all this resisting sure is fun.
I feel like a college kid protesting Viet Nam.
This time it’s to protest the flim-flam man.
Just ‘cause they’re celebrities doesn’t make them right,
but I have to concede, I’m having nightmares and daytime fright.
So, I guess I’ll keep beating the protest drum,
because no one should think he’s #1.
Just on the face of it that sounds sick
like he really could be a malevolent narcissist.
I may not a famous person be
but I concur with all those celebrities.
I think a guy blind enough to think he’s #1
should pack it in and say he’s done
and go back to his business of real estate
so we will not have to worry about the world’s fate.