Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Beatitudes

The Gospel reading for the last Sunday in January was Matthew 5:1-12, the passage which is generally referred to as The Beatitudes.  The title comes from the Latin word “beatus/-a” which means “blessed” and reflects the first word of nine of the twelve verses, sayings of Jesus which begin “Blessed are …”  It’s a beautiful and familiar section of scripture, and our worship leaders built the whole service on it.  The minister preached on it.  The choir sang a setting of it from the Russian Orthodox tradition.  The hymns echoed the thought.  It was a good reminder that in the midst of the chaos of the present time, we are all blessed children of God.
In the days following the service, I continued to ponder the Gospel lesson, and in doing so, recalled that there is another version of The Beatitudes recorded in the Gospel of Luke.  Unlike the very familiar reading from Matthew, we rarely, if ever, encounter the Lukan version in worship.  Comparing the two is an interesting exercise.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shouting Defiance and Hope

The seed of the idea was planted in a Facebook conversation.  In response to the link to my latest letter to the editor of the Lancaster newspaper, a friend commented “shouting defiance and hope.”  I recognized the phrase immediately as coming from the song “Compassion Piece” by Carolyn McDade and replied that, in the coming months, that would be my theme song.
A few days later, as I drove into Lancaster to meet another friend for lunch, the final page of the song was humming in my mind.  “I ask you, will compassion walk past shadows deep and many miles long, shouting defiance and hope?”  That evoked anticipation of the thousands of women planning to march in Washington and other cities on the coming Saturday, shouting defiance of the bigotry, hatred, and abuse that marked the actions of the incoming administration, and hope that women and men, children and elders, would rally to build a nation grounded in justice, equality, and embrace of diversity.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

What God Showed Up?

On Christmas Day our congregation worshiped by praying the Christmas liturgy followed by a service of Lessons and Carols adapted from the historic Service of Nine Lessons and Carols presented each Christmas Eve by the choir of Kings College, Cambridge, England.  In our slightly shortened version, seven scripture lessons tell of the Incarnation in the birth of Jesus.  A familiar Advent or Christmas carol is sung in response to each lesson.  The entire service is a moving declaration of the foundation of the Christian faith – Jesus, the Christ, was born among us and recognized by those who heard the good news as Immanuel, God with us.
A few days after Christmas I saw a post on Facebook quoting the Rev. Franklin Graham as saying that Donald Trump’s win was the answer to the prayers of many: “Trump won because ‘God showed up.’”  I found this troubling because what I have learned of Trump’s words and actions so far seems to be at odds with the God who is described in the liturgy and scripture lessons we had read in church just two days before.  Thus I undertook a comparison.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Demand Honesty; Preserve Our Republic

I wrote the following letter to the editor on 11/29/2016. It was published in the 12/09/2016 print edition of LNP, the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, daily newspaper.

How do we live as a nation among nations with a Head of State whose word means nothing?  To Trump down is up, dark is light, the grass is purple, and the sky is orange.  Then tomorrow he will contradict everything he said today and declare that he never said anything different.  Truth means nothing to him.  Facts are irrelevant.

He has said that he will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Accords on Climate Change.  He has named climate change deniers to critical positions on his staff.  On Sunday (11/27) his prospective Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated that Trump “has his default position [on climate science], which most of it is a bunch of bunk.”  His disregard for the basic principles of science is stunning in its ignorance.

Trump’s words and actions are the tactics of an abuser.  They threaten the safety and well-being of our country and of our world.  The worst of the damage resulting from his inaction on climate change will not become evident until after he leaves office.  The harm to our international relationships will be much more immediate.  Our allies will lose trust in our ability to keep our word and to fulfill obligations.  They will quite likely diminish or withdraw their support and cooperation.  Our adversaries will delight in the uncertainty, taking advantage of the confusion and mistrust to further their own ends with little restraint.

We must be vigilant.  We must refuse to normalize Trump’s behavior.  We must demand honesty in our government. We must struggle in whatever way we can to preserve our republic and to insist that all our elected officials respect and adhere to the provisions of our Constitution.  The generations coming after us deserve no less.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins.  She was a wealthy heiress, New York socialite, avid patron of the musical arts … and possessed the most excruciatingly unmusical singing voice ever heard on the stage of Carnegie Hall.  I first heard that voice around 1960, coming from the grooves of a 78 rpm record owned by my violin teacher.  By that time, less than twenty years after her death, her story was already laden with legend and myth.
The recordings were played for comedy value.  The picture that emerged of the singer was that of a deluded coloratura wannabe, rich enough to buy her way into a recording studio and ultimately into Carnegie Hall.  But it is perhaps precisely because she was so stupendously awful that interest in her has never waned.  Eight of the nine songs that she recorded in the Melotone Studio, including the one that I heard at my teacher’s home, were released on vinyl in 1962 and later on CD.  Several of those songs are now available on YouTube.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Sin of Slavery

In her speech to the Democratic National Convention last month, Michelle Obama spoke with poignancy about the fact that she, the descendant of slaves, was now living in a great mansion built by slave labor. “That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters—two beautiful, intelligent, black young women—playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Her speech was an acknowledgment of where we as a country have been and a recognition of how far we have come.  Sadly, it was met almost immediately by some who objected to any mention of the legacy of slavery, and by others who questioned the truth of her words.  Researchers countered the latter with clear evidence.  The White House and the Capitol building were constructed with both slave and paid labor.  Though records are spotty, and it is not possible to determine precisely what percentage of the work was performed by slaves, there is documentation of 385 payments made to slave owners for “Negro hire” (a euphemism of the day for the rental of slaves) between the years 1795 and 1801 by the commissioners in charge of constructing public buildings in the District of Columbia.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


July 6th marked the 601st anniversary of the martyrdom of Jan Hus, the Czech reformer who was condemned by the Council of Constance and burned at the stake as a heretic on July 6, 1415.  One of the charges against Hus involved his vehement condemnation of the sale of indulgences by emissaries of the antipope John XXIII (who should not be confused with the 20th century pope of the same name) as a means of fundraising to finance John’s struggle against his rivals.  Hus argued that the Czech people were being exploited for John’s private benefit.
The complex theology supporting the issuance of indulgences had been developed in the 11th and early 12th centuries as the concept of Purgatory became more popular throughout Western European Christianity.  At first indulgences were granted by the pope, or less often by archbishops and other church leaders, to those who had expressed contrition for their sins and done some act of penitence.  The belief was that the indulgence would lessen the time that a soul spent in Purgatory, hastening the attainment of eternal salvation.