About the Billy Graham Rule

The Gospel is very clear and very explicit on this: It is we who must change to include others. They are not called to conform themselves to our standards.

There’s been quite a furor in the news recently (as noted in this link to a column on CNN) about two lawmakers in Alabama who are invoking what they call “The Billy Graham Rule.”  They are using it to shut women out of the political process in ways that are what I’d term antediluvian: resorting to tropes and portrayals of women that we know to have never been respectful, let alone accurate, and which have the effect of oppressing and excluding women from public life; keeping them under the control of men; and treating them more as property than as persons worthy of respect in their own right.

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What is a Demon?

There is a reason why we say that those who are unfairly labelled are “Demonized…”

Let us pray…  …  Lord God, may your peace and Holy Spirit fill this place.  Open your scriptures to us, and may I clearly communicate what you intend us to receive. May your Word take root and flourish within each and every one of us, and through it may we be strengthened and transformed by your unconditional, living, and limitless love for each and every one of your children.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

This morning’s reading about the tormented Gerasene, a Gentile, is the second in an arc of three stories in Luke.  In the first story Jesus calms the waters: showing he is Master over Storms and Nature.  In the last story, Luke tells us of the resurrection of Jairus’s daughter, showing that Jesus is Master over Sickness and Death.

In this, the second story, Jesus is Master of Demons.  But, what are these demons?  Are they real? Or, are they a metaphor for something else?

In this story, the man is seen with no clothes, no home, not even his own will.  He is unclean by every measure of judging “uncleanness” the audience knows of. He doesn’t have any community or friends.  He’s alone, in a sort of living death, as outcast as any outcast can be.

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There But For The Grace of God Go I

Florida Governor Ralph Northam in Blackface,  1984There’s been quite an outcry against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D), just as there was a couple of weeks ago against Florida’s Secretary of State to be, Michael Ertel (R). In both cases, both men – and both quite a few years ago – did some things that were at best ill-advised and insensitive at the time, and which are now seen (rightly) as very racist.
Both are examples of judgment being levied before the facts are known, just as we recently saw happen in the encounter of Covington Catholic High School Students with Native American activist Nathan Philips in Washington DC.
In looking closely at the careers of Governor Northam and Mr. Ertel, we see men who are very focused on a just and fair political system for everyone. We see men who have been taking principled stands against those who would undermine our political systems in the name of power and advantage.

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An Epiphany Prayer

 

A Prayer of Invocation that begins with a poem by written by Madeleine L’Engle in 1973, entitled “The Risk of Birth.”

Lord God,

“The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

O God, you have invited shepherds and kings – and us – to encounter the infant Jesus here, this morning: an Epiphany we are free to embrace, or deny.

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Healthcare Crisis Renewed

The recent court decision in Texas that invalidates the entire ACA (a decision that will be subject, no doubt, to numerous appeals and a future SCOTUS decision) exposes the fatal flaw at the heart of the ACA.  That is is that the ACA in effect requires that universal medical care be funded mainly by employers.  But, is that fair or reasonable to do?
 
The ACA relies on the largely ad hoc mechanisms for provision of healthcare that have sprung up in the USA over the last few decades as a result of our lack of political will and ability to address the issue in a comprehensive fashion.  And, when you think about it, what we have is not a workable or fair approach. Our sky high healthcare costs and byzantine insurance and medical system are the result of all this. — Which is why  employer based healthcare insurance is an approach not used in most other countries; and why government funded universal healthcare is the norm – and very successful.
 
While the Texas decision breaks the partial and beneficial mechanisms that ACA provided. But, it was never a complete or totally viable solution; nor was it ever envisioned as such.  Ultimately, we cannot rely on employer-based insurance to fix all of the problems in our healthcare system; and Congress knew that when the ACA was passed.

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GM is not the problem

Regarding the just-announced GM Factory shutdowns. It’s economic reality: the market is changing, the company is pivoting to be a leader rather than a follower in responding to those changes.
 
Companies that do not adjust as the market changes will die – as Sears recently did.
 
The world is always changing, nothing is ever certain. Much of the “Wisdom Literature” in the Bible: Job, Lamentations, Proverbs, reflects and even dwells on this. The nature of a change can sometimes be influenced or tempered, but change itself cannot be stopped.
 
So, I’m not impressed with all of the furor condemning GM for it’s announcement. It’s all political posturing, and won’t last long – as GM well knows.
 
What I want to know is whether the change is being done in as compassionate and careful way as possible: is the company (and, even more importantly, State and Federal governments) doing enough to help those who will be losing their jobs? Will they be doing enough to help the affected communities and local businesses transition to life without GM?

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Is Government Regulation Simply Bad?

The New York Times recently published an opinion piece (“A Bad Move That Exposes Kids to Chemicals“) that tells us why the Administration’s recent move to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s  (EPA’s) “Office of Children’s Health Protection” is very worrisome, and likely to have profoundly negative effects upon the health of our nation’s children.
If, as I expect, the ultimate reason for this possible torpedoing of yet another important and productive EPA program is because it is “hurting the profitability of American companies”, then one must consider what that long-held gospel of the GOP really means.

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Sexual Violence and Redemption

In thinking of the alleged crimes of SCOTUS Nominee Brett Kavanaugh, I find myself wrestling with a thorny issue: one that has been seen over and over again in the long list of sexual predators who have been revealed (or accused) in the recent past.

To begin with, let’s get one thing perfectly clear.  Any sexual crime, no matter how seemingly minor it is (or was), nor how long ago, nor whom the aggressors (or victims) were, is precisely that: a crime.  It must be treated as such.  It is NOT something to be swept under the rug, nor hidden, nor ignored.  Those who are the victims of such crimes – no matter how fragmentary and disjointed their memories seem to be – must be heard.  They must be treated with respect, with compassion, with impartiality, and without prejudgment as to who they are, or how valid or invalid of a person (or victim) others may portray them to be.

Frankly, any victim of oppression must always be presumed to be telling the truth – until proven otherwise.  Our first and foremost duty is to immediately see them, hear them, and protect them,  They must be kept safe, and feel safe, from further aggression by either the original oppressor / abuser, or from the attacks of others.

And that leads me to my main point, which is a twofold concern.

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Thoughts on Judge Brett Kavanaugh & Professor Christine Blasey Ford

1024px-Judge_Brett_KavanaughBy now I’m sure you’ve heard of the accusation being laid at the feet of Judge Kavanaugh during the Senate’s Confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court.  Namely, that at age 17, while “stumbling drunk,” he attempted to rape a then 15 year old young woman.

Several thoughts…

As we know, the Republicans are crying “Foul” because this accusation was revealed at almost the last minute before the Committee was to vote on whether to recommend that the Senate as a whole approve Kavanugh’s nomination.

Democrats have been saying all along that the process the GOP is using (what there is of it) egregiously flouts both the written and unwritten rules and guidelines that have always guided the process: shutting out all opposing or questioning voices from the process in a rush to get another conservative seated on the Court while Republicans still have control of the Senate.

As I (and many others) see it, it is more than a bit disingenuous for the GOP to call “foul” at the Democrat’s attempt to throw a wrench in the process when the GOP did exactly that with wild aplomb with regards to the nominations of hundreds of Judges for years – until they had control of both the Senate and the White House.  A case in point being President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

So, the GOP will get no sympathy from me on this.  To put it another way, “What goes around comes around.”

That being said, the real heart of the matter is how one should respond to Professor Blasey Ford’s claim of Kavanaugh’s attempted rape of her.

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Loving the Unlovely: Old George

This is an essay I wrote a few years ago (with a few minor edits).  Given how fractious and judgmental our interactions with others have become, it seemed helpful to share these cherished memories of a lovely – if eccentric – friend….

– Pastor Allen


Although I may not have a lot to say about my ex-wife, one quality of hers that I admired was her ability and willingness to reach out to others from all walks of life.  Today, I’m particularly remembering the friendship she initiated with “Old George”.

Old George was a bitter, foul-mouthed old man who lived in a very cheap apartment near the center of Rochester, MN in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  (I am not denigrating the owner of that building, who had a personal mission to provide low cost housing for those who in Rochester had no other place to go, but that’s a story for another time.)

He spent most of his time in and around the downtown of our hometown at the time: Rochester, MN – or at the nearby Apache Mall.  He rode his old bike each day to and from his apartment.  He always dressed the same: a worn and heavy coat apparently made from lambskin which was held closed with an old rope tied around his waist.  Completing his outfit were rarely washed worn pants, a flannel shirt, and old shoes.

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Senator John McCain and the Forgotten Generation

1200px-John_McCain_official_portrait_2009Senator John McCain was born in the 1930’s – just as my parents were.
Those born in the 1930’s are sometimes overlooked – stuck in the shadow of the generations before them who fought the Kaiser in World War I; and Hitler in World War II.
 
Even so, they are a generation that knows just as much about hardship and sacrifice and duty as those that came before them.  They were born in the depths of the Great Depression. They witnessed the events, the rationing, the huge dislocations, the fear, and the losses of WWII. They are the generation who were starting families in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and then had to raise their children in a world struggling to understand and redefine itself.
 
Many of them fought in the Vietnam War, as Senator McCain did. Many protested it, as my parents did. Many of them died there, their names recorded on that black wall that so many of us have visited and mourned. Many still bear the scars of that war in one way or another, as John McCain carried with him his entire life.
 
And they served in so many other ways as well: They sacrificed much to address the evils of social injustice, seeking equal Civil Rights for all. They fought for clean air and water.  They fought to protect wildlife and our land from the effects of rampant and irresponsible exploitation and development. They are the generation that had to face the Cold War and its’ threat of global annihilation. They worked hard to make our country strong, prosperous, and just. They are the generation that walked on the Moon.
 
They are a truly great generation, as great as any generation that preceded them, or any that has followed.

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That Last Dirty Glass

DSC_0806I enjoyed working as a dishwasher in my teens, and still do.  Nowadays I’m often the first one of our family to get out of bed, and use my time alone in the kitchen for finishing up any dishes not done the night before, as well as cleaning the counters & stove top, emptying the dishwasher, putting things away, etc.  It’s relaxing; and a meditative, creative time & activity for me.  (I’ve written many a sermon or blog post in my head while washing dishes, including this one!)

Some part of me – as with most people, I suspect – really enjoys making things neat, clean, and well ordered.  When all is done, there’s a sense of accomplishment.  We’re ready for a new day.  All is right with the world.

My wife and I have this little private joke, which seems to happen at least once a week: As I’m finishing with my morning kitchen cleanup and putting away the last dish – excited at the prospect of having everything DONE in just a few more seconds, I’ll hear a light “thunk” behind me and turn around to see her placing a dirty glass next to the sink.  She chuckles and walks away.  I chuckle, too.  Sometimes I’ll be a little dramatic: “Oh God, NOT AGAIN!!!”

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