Friday, November 30, 2012

Street Love

November 12, 2012.  Capitol Hill. 
The Supreme Court of the United States of America.

These were all behind me as my stroll eastward had turned back toward the west.  Pennsylvania Avenue was my route for a few blocks before I would return to Constitution Avenue.  In January, everything will be cordoned off and swept for President Obama's second inaugural parade.

Ahead of me, I saw a not-so-unfamiliar sight:  someone seated on the sidewalk, earthly possessions wrapped in black trash bags to keep them dry. 

Then a large sign:  NO FREE GHG DUMPING.  GHG?  Oh, as in "greenhouse gases".  OK, cool!  I'm down with that.  Next to the sign, something else:  a moderately sized solar panel.  I was intrigued.

I walked past the man, and around the west side I saw that he had another large graphic with very nice layout:  YOU'LL LET OUR KIDS DROWN?  Info about GHG levels, warming, sea level rise. 

I had to talk to this man and circled back several steps.  We began to chat.  That's when I noticed his laptop computer being recharged by his solar panel.  The man was actively working.  Turns out he was lobbying the Congress for action on climate change, global warming and reducing GHG output.  The graphic showed he had his ducks in a row. 

Here he was, "walking" his talk while seated on his gear.  Actually trying to DO something instead of just complaining or pointing fingers.  Quietly working on behalf of all of us. 

"Hurricane Sandy is nothing compared to what's coming unless we do something soon," he said.  I agreed and pointed out (to me at least) the inadequate sandbags around the ground level ventilation grates and utility tunnel covers in front of the Internal Revenue Service and other major buildings on Constitution Ave.  

I also pointed out what I had seen earlier on a little relic gate house on the Ellipse just southeast of the White House:  high water marks from 1877 and again in 1881.  Either, in my opinion, would easily have overtopped the IRS sandbags.  These watermarks came before sea level rise, a warming atmosphere holding more water vapor, loss of polar ice, and the loss of barrier islands all along our shores.  

We chatted more and discussed why I was in town:  Veterans Day.  30th Anniversary of the Wall.  I mentioned that Washington, DC, with all its memorials, does not show the human cost of war.  There are no bronze sculptures depicting PTSD, alcoholism, domestic violence, chemical dependency, amputations, TBI, broken families, loss of siblings, spouses, parents, sons and daughters.  No public memorial statues, paintings or carvings describe to us the tragedy of these dirty words:  Soldier Suicides.  Veteran Suicides.  Spouse Suicides.  

As I was about to leave, I introudced myself.  "I'm Roger from Portland, Oregon,"  I said.  Shaking the man's hand, I noticed the three crosses tattooed on his forehead.  "And what's your name," I asked?

"On the street, I'm known as Loving," he replied.   "L-O-V-I-N-G."  

"That's a wonderful name,"  I said.  "I'm proud to know you."

God is good, we agreed.  Indeed.  

I often think of the now-ancient lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel:

And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,
and tenement halls...    

Sometimes, even on Pennsylvania Avenue, if we are willing to see and hear or introduce ourselves... 

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Is Truth?

When I was a youngster, there was a TV quiz show Truth or Consequences.  I was much amused as I grew when I learned that a town in New Mexico has the same name.  What are the odds of settling on such a name?  Must have been some local intrigue.

John 18: 33-37.  The gospel text for Christ the King Sunday.  Jesus who has preached the good news of the kingdom of God is under arrest and has been handed over to Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate.  His accusers clearly have already decided on the death penalty.  Despite all the injunctions to stone people for this, that, and the other thing, first century Jews did not have authority to carry out capital punishment.  Romans held exclusive right to that.  And used it liberally when loyalty to Caesar was in question.  

Pilate asks Jesus what he has done.  Essentially, his reply is his hallmark message:  preach the good news of the reign (dominion, kingdom) of God.  Why would that ever be anything but good news?  Maybe if it seemed to threaten someone's earthly authority or control?  Maybe?

Jesus says his purpose in being here was to testify to the truth.  Pilate asks what truth is. 
I've always taken his question to be a sneering, mocking, cynical dismissal of Jesus.  

Maybe not.  Maybe it's very important and appropriate to ask that question.

Look at all of the efforts to find truth in the last half century of American history.  How about the 1950's and Sen. Joe McCarthy's "red scare" witch hunts?  In the paranoid minds of a few, every second American was surely a duped communist under the control of Moscow.  

FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, wrote his seminal work, Masters of Deceit.  Required reading in my high school.  Years later, we found out that Mr. Hoover had a few "secrets" of his own.  Truth or deceit, Mr. Hoover? 

Then in 1964, the Warren Commission investigated the assassination of President Kennedy in '63.  How could this have happened?  Who orchestrated it?  How many shooters? 

Do we really know for sure?

Ten years later, President Nixon resigned from office to spare the country the agony of impeachment.  He was clearly mentally deranged and abusing alcohol, but he had authorized a plot to influence an election and a coverup following the Watergate scandal after it broke.  The famed 18-1/2 minute gap in "secret" White House tapes was surely an effort to destroy the truth.  And the questions asked in the special prosecutor's work were primarily this:  What did the president know, and when did he know it?   

We got some truth.  Never the full story.  We moved on.

Several years ago, we thought we could improve the "truth" of political speech by instantly analyzing and critiquing statements by candidates and office holders.  Politifact.  Comparing what is said to the "facts" should improve veracity.  Perhaps it did for a time.  But the recent election revealed something.  It is possible to so totally overwhelm the "facts" with advertising that comparing daily blurts to the truth seems to make little difference.  Sigh. 

We can text and tweet and blurt and burp truth and untruth all over the universe.  Instantly.  

We've arrived at a different place.  We seem less interested in the truth than how loudly or attractively or angrily it is said.  It is possible to overwhelm truth with sheer volume of speech.  And loudness.  And negativity.  No wonder people are negative.  No wonder many are skeptical that such a thing as absolute truth exists. 

Back to Pilate.  He's not in charge.  God is.  Pilate's question may have been much more divinely inspired and divinely timed than he would have dared admit.

He asks, "What is truth?"  Next thing he does is to go out on the porch and tell the crowds, "I find no fault in him at all."  Bingo!  First truth.

Then why would someone found to have no fault go through torture, crucifixion and death?  It's more than a matter of a miscarriage of justice or political corruption. 

It leads somewhere...  Think about it.  Where does it lead? 

I met Billy Williams playing his banjo outside the George Washington University station on the Metro line in Washington, DC.  Monday, November 12, to be exact.  I complimented him on his classical American musical sounds.  He said they were all his own creation.  We chatted a long while and he talked about his music:  guitar, violin and his newly acquired Russian balalaika.  He hadn't learned how to play it yet, but "I'll figure it out," he said. 

I know he will.  Music is in his soul.  It's what he was born to do.  There is no dishonesty in music.  It works because of the laws of physics and mathematics that reflect the way the universe was designed and built by the Creator.  

Pilate asks, "What is truth?"  The evangelist John fills in the answer by telling us the rest of the story.    Crucifixion, death and burial at chapter 19.  

Then chapter 20.  OMG, chapter 20!  Finally chapter 21...  OMG again!  Truth.

Pilate has opened the door to what follows: 
a)  WHO Jesus is and
b) WHAT that means.  

What is truth?  Read the story to the end.  But don't forget the oft-repeated words at the beginning of John's account:  COME AND SEE!  

Truth.  Amen.

Pastor Roger  

Saturday, November 17, 2012


I like the artful way Rob Bell's short film "Breathe" reminds us of our fragility: creatures of the dust animated by the breath of God. Earlier this month in Nebraska, I met a little grand-nephew for the first time. Isaiah came three months early, so small that his entire hand could fit inside his father's wedding ring. He's one year, now needs oxygen only at night. Soon his own breaths will be enough.

In the final days of Mom's life, after more than 38,500 sunrises here, her breaths needed a little of that oxygen too. When the final one came at last, her breath returned to its Giver. Even the healthiest of us who arrive at a wondrous 8 pounds or so would have few breaths ahead of us, were it not for someone here to love us and care for us after we arrive. Days are numbered. So are breaths. Love can't be counted or quantified. Love never ends. Life is because love is.

All a miracle.