Thursday, April 30, 2009

Arlen Specter, Keith Olberman, Perez Hilton or Swine Flu

The title of this post contains 4 possible answers to a question, the correct one being: all but swine flu. The question is obvious: which one of the following will do the most damage to our culture? Swine flu is no joke; I am deeply concerned about its growth and also the strains that will follow this one. The other possible ‘answers’ are jokes but they each have the arrogance, power and platform to do irreparable harm to our culture. Actually, they’ve already done their dirty deeds and will continue to do so as long as we citizens allow them. Acting in an overtly adolescent manner I shall no longer mention them by name. 
Benedict Arlen has simply come out of the liberal closet and is now wearing the name that represents the politics he has supported all along. Et tu Brute? The reason for his defection is simple: he’s been getting his skinny little ass kicked in the Republican primary polls by a genuine Republican in eastern PA. The writing is on the wall – if he remains in the GOP he will not be re-elected to the senate in 2010. Now Benedict can crawl back to his real pal – Ed Rendell, solicit help from the Clintons and be assured of massive aid from the DNC and the White House. Come on you Keystoners – please do the right thing!!!
I shall refer to the second anti-culture warrior by his American Indian name: Licked By Fox Nightly. He is a left-headed, truth-hiding, angst-driven, race-baiting liar. No more words to waste on him. 
Finally we have Mrs. Elton John, a foul-mouthed, egocentric, one-platform, angry, unloved ‘personality’ who has, in some exceedingly dark and disturbing moment, become a hero and spokesperson for a cause thoroughly rejected by our citizenry – gay marriage. This very evening Licked by Fox Nightly referred to Mrs. Elton John as an intellectual titan. Oh my!
Our country and our world will find a way to fight back against this swine flu. I am beginning to think that we have lost the will and the energy to fight against these other, more devastating diseases. I’m going to go wash my hands. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There She Is

In my younger years The Miss America Pageant was marginally interesting. Young, lovely women twirled batons, played the clarinet, packed suitcases for overseas travel and recited poetry. As a boy I always assumed the winner had three favorable components: beauty, breasts and a moderate ability to speak the English language. Things have changed. Although beauty and breasts continue to protrude as most desirable I believe it is no longer necessary to speak the English language, truthfully. No matter what you believe in, if it does not meet the requirements of the politically correct judges, you will not win. So here are a few tips for you potential beauties:
Learn to lie
Turn your back on your own soul 
Be beautiful, have big breasts and do not speak from your heart 
Piss on everything you have been raised to believe 
Disrespect your parents
Run from your faith
Then you can wear the crown of Miss USA and you will be a perfect reflection of our dying republic

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What a Difference 90 Days Makes

Now that it’s April 16th I can reflect on 2008 from a financial standpoint. All the data has been entered, deductions claimed, checks written and forms mailed. In retrospect I will admit that my gross income was lower last year than it has been in 30 years. Lots of factors led to my terribly imperfect economic storm; I shall not bother sharing that personal information for obvious reasons. Also, I am quite anxious to get to the good news. I am happy to report that the quarter ending March 31, 2009 has been excellent for my family and me. After some cost cutting and belt-tightening we were able to save $2 billion. Yes, there were plenty of unpleasant sacrifices – like forgoing the extended trip to Peru, the new Boxter and the installation of a second pool (indoor) in our third home in Aspen – but we have kept our chins up. And because of this commitment we have turned the corner. Also, it would be unfair if I didn’t mention that we also received $85 billion from the government. What a great country.

Three Views of Fear

In Scenario One a young man is born in Brooklyn, NY to a modest but politically established family. He lives abroad during much of his childhood. He is bright and attends Dartmouth College and is, eventually, launched into a remarkable career landing him a job as President of The New York Federal Reserve Bank where his annual salary was $398,000. He is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations – worked for them, actually – and also dabbled on Wall Street, having been very involved with ominous companies like AIG and Lehman Brothers. It is said that his opinion saved AIG and ruined Lehman Brothers. He understood derivatives, mortgage swaps and all other manner of economic magic and became very rich because of this understanding. Given these accomplishments he was nominated by the 44th president of The United States of America to become Secretary of the Treasury. During his confirmation process it was asserted and admitted that he had not paid sufficient and significant taxes in prior years. He blamed it on his focus on his very important work overseas. He made amends with little or no penalty. He then became The Secretary of The Treasury of The United States of America. Within hours of his confirmation trillions of dollars flowed from the already empty coffers of our treasury; much of it went to AIG and other banker brethren. Many consider him a god. The acts of this one individual have placed our country in a financial conundrum from which we shall never recover. His actions have finally ruined The United States of America. Never served in the military.
In Scenario Two a young man is born somewhere – Hawaii, I suppose – to modest means and confused conditions. But he succeeds in growing up with an acute intellect and a magnificent ability to make friends and communicate. He earns a degree from Columbia University and begins a career as an individual involved in community organization, poverty initiatives, voters’ rights activism and social justice. This young man never seeks, attains or holds a position with a company that earns a profit. He enters politics and soon becomes a United States Senator from The Great State of Illinois. In fewer than 24 months he decides to run for president and he wins. Within 60 days of his swearing in he has taken over the biggest companies in the world, told them that he and his friends can run them better than they, committed more money to welfare and bailouts of failed corporations than any single politician in the history of the world, reneged on his war plans, pretended to reduce taxes on the American citizens, assured that our future generations will crumble in debt. The world loves him. He is The Commander in Chief. Never served in the military.
In Scenario Three a young man or woman is born in Flagstaff, Scranton, Des Moines, Youngstown or Savannah to modest means. They do what they do. They are bright, capable, gifted and perhaps uncertain. They choose to serve their country in the armed services. Maybe they remain in the states but many go overseas – to Vietnam, Cambodia, Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan. They come home and are treated poorly by our government and our citizens. They go back, again. They come home and are treated poorly by our government and our citizens. They go back, again. Next time they come home they are identified as one of the most likely terrorist groups in America by these little pricks mentioned above. They are the real terrorists. There is a revolution brewing, friends. This is getting really nasty! Is anyone listening – Is anyone listening? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Prophet Roger

It could well be stated that the following words, composed by the late, great Roger Miller as part of his musical ‘Big River,’ would have been appropriate and timely at many stages during America’s history. Fair enough. From my point of view there has never been a day more fitting than today, this very day, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 – to appreciate its meaning. Enjoy!

Well, you dadgum government – you sorry so-and-sos
You got your damn hands in every pocket of my clothes
You dadgum, dadgum, dadgum government
Oh don’t you know – oh, don’t you love ‘em sometimes
Well you dadgum government you better pay attention
You’re sittin’ up there like a fool’s convention
You dadgum, dadgum, dadgum government
Oh don’t you know – oh, don’t you love ‘em sometimes
Well you soul-selling no good son-of-a-sgoe-fittin’ fire starters
I ought to tear your no good perambulatory bone frame
And nail it to your government walls – all of you, you bastards
You dadgum government, you sorry rackafratchits
You got yourself an itch and you’re wantin’ me to scratch it
You dadgum, dadgum, dadgum government
Oh don’t you know – oh, don’t you love ‘em sometimes

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Three Shots Rang Out

I got lucky in the lottery draft of 1969 – my number was 235. I did not have to report for duty in 1970 when the United States of America was deeply involved in the conflict in Vietnam. I have stood and wept at The Memorial with a trophy in my hand – a trophy bearing the name of Donald Kilpatrick – a former soccer player in my high school who died in the east. My daughter etched his name in charcoal and gave it to me for a birthday gift one summer. I cried, again. Such waste, such spoil, such heartache. It is both odd and inspiring that support for our military seems to survive. No matter the political posture, we Americans understand the need for and support for those brave few among us that stand and serve. Should you ever wonder about their adeptness, quality, focus, ability, preparedness or willingness to serve, I would remind you of this: on high seas, in raft boats, 3 Navy Seals fired 3 shots, brought down 3 despicable human beings and rescued an innocent American citizen doing his job. Please pay attention to America at its best!

April 14th

I will not tell you the amount of the check I wrote this afternoon payable to The U. S. Treasury. I will tell you that it was written from an account linked to the value of our home. We had no other available cash. It was painful. Our financial life has disintegrated, significantly. Don’t worry – we will survive. It would be easy to take a shot at the head of our Treasury – Tim Geithner – but I shall refrain. I would only make this comment: I just wrote a check to my government to support the inevitable and total collapse of my government because I am a citizen and it is my duty to do so – subject to severe ramifications, otherwise –and I will continue to respect the laws of my country, on time as I have always done, even though, in doing so, I have placed my family in the road of monetary collapse because of economic policies devised by those in our government – on both sides of the ever-narrowing aisle – that have magically confused the average citizen with financial shenanigans from which many in our government have made millions – billions, perhaps – and now have the audacity and authority to take over corporations, set credit standards, publicly denounce bad management and appoint ethical overseers. As elegantly stated in an e-mail I received this morning from a dear friend following a stiff glass of tax day whiskey: ‘I could not get the image of that little Doogie Hauser-looking dweeb, that pious, tax-cheating son-of-a-bitch, that consummate incompetent Tim Geithner out of my head - I envisioned him opening my envelope and endorsing my checks and putting them in that cesspool of largesse, waste, fraud, and giveaways that is our treasury, and the vision made me wretch up a perfectly good swig of hard liquor....’ All the best…

Monday, April 13, 2009


I think I was 13.  I was sitting on the floor of our very modest living room on a Saturday afternoon watching The Dick Clark Show on our recently purchased color television.  My dad was reading the paper, smoking a Chesterfield and drinking a cup of coffee.  The volume was low.  Then The Righteous Brothers were introduced to the Dick Clark stage and they were about to sing ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.’  I could not resist – I turned up the volume.  This may have been the worst mistake I ever made in my life.  My dad maintained his composure through most of the song but then, when Bill and Bobby arrived at that most remarkable vocal outro, he lost it.  He said, in words that still reverberate in my mind, ‘Turn that shit off – that is awful – it’s gonna rot your brain.’  I turned it off.

I loved that recording – still do.  It is, in my humble opinion, as great a recording as has been made in my lifetime.  The mastermind of the composition, orchestration and production had finally arrived.  Phil Spector heard something that we all wanted to hear and he found a way to reproduce it.  He was responsible for many more soul-stirring hits.  He caught the attention of upstart bands like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.  He worked with The Wrecking Crew in LA.  Phil Spector was The Shit.  Go here if you wish to know more:

I shook Phil Spector’s hand one night 20 or more years ago.  He was a special guest at a banquet I was attending.  He was anxious and animated – very weird in obvious ways.  Someone whispered to me that Spector was flaunting a huge wad of cash and also had a gun.  I, too, was anxious in the act of meeting him.  He had done more with music in five years than I could ever imagine doing in several lifetimes.  It seemed to me that the fame, mystique and success had tortured him, twisted him, perverted him, perhaps.  In recent months we’ve seen him arrive in court in dresses, skirts and a new and bizarre coiffure everyday.  Over time something, it seems, rotted his brain. 

But that song, that recording, all those recordings – we felt them so deeply – they spoke to our souls; they gave rhythm to our awkwardness; they allowed white boys to dance.   

He’s guilty now, guilty of murder.  I would like to visit Phil Spector in prison.  I would like to talk with him about the music.                

A Nice Place to Visit and...

According to a segment I saw on a cable news network this morning over 50 million people visited the United States in 2008. This is the highest number on record. Given our apparent low level of respect in this world one wonders why so many continue to come and see what life is like in the home of the free. One also wonders how many of these 50 million folks are still here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Parenting, Part I

My three children currently range in age from 20 – 29. Sarah - my wife and their mother - and I have been married for 31 years and we are both 56. When I reached the age of 50 I began thinking in terms of ‘years I had left’ based on the average longevity of males in my family, a general assessment of lifestyles in America and a hideous conversation I once had with an insurance man while looking over actuary charts and my life insurance policy. All of this made me cease my mental projections and get back to living.
In my adult life two responsibilities have appropriately consumed most of my time, energy and resources: trying to be a loving spouse and an involved father. Although I have not failed I could have done much better – and I still have a shot. After all, the average lifespan of a man in my family is 63. (We are related to Sir Walter Raleigh – not by blood, by tobacco.)
So I wish to cull some wisdom from my good moments and share some knowledge about being a dad.
When your children are at the age of ballet lessons, recitals, Little League and recreational soccer do not plan golf games on Saturday mornings.
If you name a child Thelonius do not be surprised if they choose to become a jazz musician.
Your child will be left out of a sleep over. This is not the end-of-the-world.
Your child will forget something important. So will you.
Parent-teacher conferences should happen every day.
Parent-teacher conferences always include something astonishing.
The most important papers you have to send back to school with your signature will contain stains from your kitchen – most likely French dressing or olive oil.
Do not chastise or spank another family’s child even if they brought a pack of Winston’s to the 5th grade cookout at your house.
Your child may not be an athlete.
Your child may not be a musician.
Help your precious ones find their calling.
Sleeping until 1:00 PM on Saturday is not necessarily laziness. It may be exhaustion. They will wake up and love you.
Yes, we would love them to be our friends. But we are their parents – we are not their friends. You need to figure out what that means – it’s terribly important.
The exhaustion of running your young children from this activity to the next pales in comparison to the needs of young adult children.
Buy cheap used cars when your children turn 16. And insurance.
Point them to God. Let them see you praying or reading a Bible.
Hug and kiss them to Kingdom Come. Love them into Life.

The Absurd Language of Failure

My dear pal, J. Fred Knobloch and I, have been exchanging e-mail the past few days prompted by an article recently written and published by John Cougar Mellencamp. The essence of Mr. Mellencamp’s prose attacked the machinery within the music industry used to promote, market and advertise musical product to the public. The article focused a great deal on the heavy-handed tactics used to ensure current singles find their way onto the playlists of major radio stations in major markets. Fair enough – he made some good points. But Fred and I disagreed on some of our understanding of several components of Mellencamp’s perspective and so, in a good-natured manner, we have been having our little e-debate. (Please note this last word.) 
This morning I received from Fred a most humorous and edifying installment in this communication chain. He had been reviewing some documents he received at a recent confab of music elites and marketing gurus. Fred sent me a list of the words and phrases he encountered with the most frequency. Here is an abbreviated list: strategy, strategic, interactive marketing, brand and design, forward thinking, ‘discover, share and create,’ social media, network, marketing, consumer awareness, executive campaigns, positioning, executing strategic investments, blogosphere, application development, nimbit, Twitter, Facebook, media branding, gaming communities, Meebo, iMeem, DIY, global, provider, strategic music/media relationships, strategic partnerships, key policy issues and The Street.
A few things come to mind when I read this list. Music is mentioned one time and not simply as ‘music;’ apparently it must be ‘strategic music’ whatever the hell that is. Secondly, we’ve been hearing many of these words and phrases for 20 years and the music business is in the slammer. The Internet (inferred in many of these words and phrases) is an absolutely diluted wasteland of self-promotion, vile opinions, awful music and pornography. This makes it a perfect partner for the contemporary music business and those empty and overpaid geniuses that contrived the above list of empty and meaningless tripe.
But Fred’s final assessment was priceless. ‘After re-reading this stuff I think we should start an Internet site called Assbook.’ Stay e-tuned. 

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Let it Be Known

We live in a moment when everything has become outrageous and it is difficult to keep up with the hourly changes in our society.  But we must pay attention. I am posting a brief sermon/speech - admittedly dated as it has been stricken from public view - delivered by Reverend Katherine Ragsdale, an openly gay, ordained Episcopal priest recently appointed (unanimously by the board) President and Dean of The Episcopal Divinity School.  I'll make no further comments.
Birmingham, AL
July 21, 2007
Well Operation Save America came, they saw, they harassed, and they annoyed; but they did not close the clinic. The clinic stayed open, no patients were turned away, and the doors never closed. We remain victorious. And that victory is a good thing – but, make no mistake, even though OSA has gone home; our work is not done.
If we were to leave this park and discover that clinic violence had become a thing of the past, never to plague us again, that would be a very good thing, indeed; but, still, our work would not be done.
If we were to find that, while we were here, Congress had acted to insure that abortion would always be legal, that would be a very good thing; but our work would not be done.
If we were suddenly to find a host of trained providers, insuring access in every city, town, village, and military base throughout the world, that would be a very good thing; but our work would not be done.
When every woman has everything she needs to make an informed, thoughtful choice, and to act upon it, we will be very close; but, still, our work will not be done.
As long as women, acting as responsible moral agents, taking responsibility for their own lives and for those who depend on them, have to contend with guilt and shame, have judgment and contempt heaped upon them, rather than the support and respect they deserve, our work is not done.
How will we know when our work is done? I suspect we’ll know it when we see it. But let me give you some sure indicators that it isn’t done yet:
- When doctors and pharmacists try to opt out of providing medical care, claiming it’s an act of conscience, our work is not done. Let me say a bit more about that, because the religious community has long been an advocate of taking principled stands of conscience – even when such stands require civil disobedience. We’ve supported conscientious objectors, the Underground Railroad, freedom riders, sanctuary seekers, and anti-apartheid protestors. We support people who put their freedom and safety at risk for principles they believe in.
But let’s be clear, there’s a world of difference between those who engage in such civil disobedience, and pay the price, and doctors and pharmacists who insist that the rest of the world reorder itself to protect their consciences – that others pay the price for their principles.
This isn’t particularly complicated. If your conscience forbids you to carry arms, don’t join the military or become a police officer. If you have qualms about animal experimentation, think hard before choosing to go into medical research. And, if you’re not prepared to provide the full range of reproductive health care (or prescriptions) to any woman who needs it then don’t go into obstetrics and gynecology, or internal or emergency medicine, or pharmacology. Choose another field! We’ll respect your consciences when you begin to take responsibility for them.
- Here’s another sign. Did you notice the arguments that were being shouted at us in front of the clinic? They’ve been trying for years, and seem to be pushing especially hard now, to position themselves as feminists – supporters of women. You heard them – yelling that they understand that it’s all men’s fault. That men must do better at supporting women and children so that women, presumably, won’t feel the need to abort. They yelled that they understood that the women going into the clinic had been hurt by men and were reacting to that pain and betrayal. They pledged to help men be more responsible so that women wouldn’t want abortions.
Let me tell you something. Any argument that puts men alone at the center – for good or for bad -- any discussion of women’s reproductive health that ends up being all about men, is not feminism. Nor, for that matter, is it Christian, or reflective of any God I recognize. And as long as anyone can even imagine such an argument, our work is not done.
- And while we’re at it, as long as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States can argue, as Justice Kennedy recently did, that women are not capable of making our own informed moral decisions, that we need men to help us so that we won’t make mistakes that we later regret; as long as a Supreme Court Justice can deny the moral agency of women simply because we are women – and can do it without being laughed off the public stage forever – our work is not done. What has happened to us that he could even think he could get away with publishing such an opinion? Our work most certainly is not done.
- Finally, the last sign I want to identify relates to my fellow clergy. Too often even those who support us can be heard talking about abortion as a tragedy. Let’s be very clear about this:
When a woman finds herself pregnant due to violence and chooses an abortion, it is the violence that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
When a woman finds that the fetus she is carrying has anomalies incompatible with life, that it will not live and that she requires an abortion – often a late-term abortion – to protect her life, her health, or her fertility, it is the shattering of her hopes and dreams for that pregnancy that is the tragedy; the abortion is a blessing.
When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one because she hasn’t the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.
And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use
God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.
These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.
I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing – who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes -- in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You’re engaged in holy work.
Thank you for allowing me to join you in that work for a few days here in Alabama. God bless you all.

Leaping Into Reality

I recall a wonderful scene in ‘Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade’ when Harrison Ford arrives at the crevice separating him from The Holy Grail. He had approached it with great speed and barely stops himself before falling into an abyss that appears to be deep enough to end in hell. His dilemma then: getting to the other side. Given the ingenuity and paraphernalia always available to Indy he seemed, at this moment, both stupefied and terrified. But then he remembered that little book – his dad’s notes, I believe – a collection of all the secrets and information known to mankind concerning the grail. And fumbling hastily through those pages he confronted something edifying and frightening: The Leap of Faith. 
Whether or not the remarkable Mr. Spielberg intended to portray a spiritual crisis in such a dramatic and perfect cinematic package will be left to the critics to decide. However, for a guy who has raced to and then stopped suddenly at this precipice many times in his life, I find this scene to be almost holy in its freakish accuracy. 
A leap of faith, to my knowledge, has no particular Biblical grounding. However, the definition of faith in the first verse of Hebrews 11 – the great treatise on Christian faith attributed to The Apostle Paul – is a likely marker. The King James Version of the scriptures – both maligned and beloved – contains an elegant translation of this verse: ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ But the phrase itself – ‘a leap of faith’ – is nowhere contained in the Bible (corrections welcomed and encouraged!) I suspect, however, that believers have confronted and discussed this unique intersection of the temporal and the eternal since humankind witnessed the first falling star or confronted their own fears and frailties.
The times I have examined my own teetering on this grand precipice I have determined that the issue that causes me to hesitate is control. Most of us, it seems, are built sturdily enough to take on all comers – in whatever form they confront us: emotional, physical, financial, intellectual. At least we think we are. The fact is that if you have yet to face a situation that you perceive has the power to take you under I doubt that you have fully invested yourself in this thing we call living. The moments that ‘drop us to our knees’ are the moments we stand above the abyss. How we respond, I believe, is the act of ‘leaping’ – or not. Leaping is the final act in an intellectual and spiritual process that reaches the conclusion: this is out of my hands, beyond my control and more than I can handle without the quick and eternal assistance of ‘Things Not Seen.’ It is the act of relinquishing control and many of us are most unwilling to do that until pushed to absolute extremes.
But a leap of faith is not necessarily confined to a difficult or challenging moment in life. It may also come as a final act in the intellectual conclusion that we are incomplete, lacking, uncertain and longing for something beyond that which is readily available from both within and without ourselves. Quoting Paul again I refer to his Letter to The Philippians and his profound reference to ‘The peace that passes all understanding.’ If this kind of peace is something you have never desired I suspect you have stopped reading several paragraphs back. For those who are still with me I would point out this irony: a response to your spiritual urges includes the same components as facing life’s most difficult challenges: out of my hands, beyond my control and more than I can handle without the quick and eternal assistance of ‘Things Not Seen.’ We are unable to think, drink, smoke, medicate, earn, succeed, rationalize, laugh, vacation, golf, analyze, eat or argue our way out of this human dilemma of longing. And that is the essence, I suppose, of St. Augustine’s mighty prayer that includes this statement: ‘You have created us for yourself, Oh Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in you.’
So, this leap is a conscious choice to relinquish control; it is to place the future direction and development of our lives and souls into the hands of The Other – The One Unseen. This is illogical, irrational and against every fiber of self. But it is, in fact, the highway to freedom, purpose and reality. Will we land on our feet? Will we, like Indiana Jones, stand solidly on the other side? Can we conjure the courage necessary to let go? Turn back for a moment and gaze down the roads that led you to this place of decision. Do you wish to put yourself back into the hands of Pharaoh or cross the treacherous waters of The Jordan? 
See you on the other side. 

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Future View of the Past

If you’ve ever read The Revelation of St. John the Divine you may describe it as a book both fascinating and difficult. It begins, logically enough, as a series of letters from Jesus (penned via St. John who was, at the time of its writing, imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos for his bold and passionate beliefs and preaching) to the seven primary Christian churches (congregations) in Asia Minor. These churches were located in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Through His words Christ uplifts, encourages, challenges and chastises these foundational congregations for their hard work, spiritual practices and backsliding. (I have spent a lifetime revisiting this book and studying commentary and one issue I have found absurd is that many seem to dismiss the simple fact that these communications were written to very specific groups of people at a very specific moment in time for very specific purposes. I think it is essential to keep this in the forefront of any attempt at interpreting this book.) Following these seven letters The Revelation invites the reader into John’s visions as he is ‘taken away in the Spirit’ through the gates of heaven and transports us into a fantastical journey involving angelic beings, the Throne of God, the Book of Life, beasts, plagues, terrifying horsemen, trumpets, vials, pestilence, Wormwood, armies, prophets, Satan, war, blasphemy, The Whore of Babylon and the ever-mysterious number 666. One is left stupefied and wondering at the meaning and value of this bizarre story.
Believers – and non-believers – have been wrestling with this book since the first century and there are volumes of interpretations ancient and contemporary. Recent scholarship suggests there are four primary views of The Revelation, each having their own point of perspective and each quite different from the other. Briefly defined they are as follows: The Preterist View holds that most of the events described in the book transpired within the years immediately following its authorship. The Historic View suggests that the events described in the book cover the entire Church Age – that being everything beginning with Christ’s ministry through the present day and until Christ’s return to earth. The Spiritual View holds that the book is simply but profoundly a book of encouragement containing lessons for spiritual warfare and the development of faith. And The Futurist View believes the events described in the book will mostly occur near the ‘end of the world’ foreshadowing the Second Coming of Jesus. (For a clear and concise treatise on these brief definitions I would suggest this website/blog:
In previous posts I have admitted that I grew up in a small, conservative Baptist congregation that preached this latter view – almost on a weekly basis. I am both a lover and a hater of The Futurist View. I hate it because I have lived my entire life under the cloud of the imminent return of Christ that, according to other Futurist beliefs, included a final war involving pretty much every nation on earth. I love it because I have lived my entire life with the hope of the imminent return of Christ that, according to other Futurist beliefs, included a final restoration of humankind. The other reason I hate it and love it is this: it makes a lot more sense in 2009 than it did in 1959 when I first started listening.
I think it’s fair to say that this futuristic perspective of The Revelation is not based solely on its 22 chapters. Enter The Book of Daniel, parts of Joel, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Christ’s Mount Olivet Discourse and some words from the not-to-be-outdone St. Paul in his letters to The Thessalonians. It gets complicated. Contemporary futurists overlay passages from these various texts to create a timeline of events that have an uncanny relevance to our current age. (This, of course, is not unique to our generation; every generation has claimed to see the signs.) Daniel’s ’70 weeks’ are essential to this chart of events and the clock seems to have started ticking with the re-gathering of the Jewish nation and the international sanction of The State of Israel in 1948. From that point forward The Futurists have created a checklist of events that must unfold – and, frankly, have unfolded – prior to Christ’s return. A few of these significant events are the formation of The European Union; a global economic crisis; the creation of vast military power; a global focus on Israel; the concept of a one-world government and currency; a ‘falling away’ from authentic Christianity; a lukewarm church; harsh, bizarre and devastating weather patterns; earthquakes and hunger and many imposters coming ‘in His Name.’ These may seem attributable to any age but, in fact, they are not. And, if The Futurists are correct, yet to come is the Anti-Christ (most Futurists believe he is alive and walking on planet earth at this moment,) the re-building of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, the establishment of a world currency and government and all nations turned against Israel.
Christendom has wrestled for 2,000 years with The Revelation. Perhaps the lowest point has been in the past two decades when so many have exploited the concept of the imminent return of Jesus for personal gain. Hey, it’s a popular topic. But it deserves our utmost attention, should not be fictionalized and needs appropriate study and discernment. I hate it and love it – and yes, I am a Futurist. 

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hell, Part I

Most of the young people I work with in youth ministry reject the existence of hell. They have neither the room nor the stomach for a God that would act out in such a punishing and eternal manner. I have often pointed out Biblical passages that refute their postures – not so much to change their minds as to make them aware that hell is indeed graphically and repeatedly depicted in scripture. It would be good to point out that I, too, have grave concerns about hell but my concerns are not about its existence - I’ve seen enough evidence of hell on earth to accept its reality. Rather, I’ve worried about what hell would be like for me if I had the terrible misfortune of being dispatched there forever. For me it could be eternity in a tight space, a room filling up with water, living in a snake pit or listening to an eternally looping recording of ‘The Pina Colada Song.’ All those notions make me tremble. I would also point out that I believe in grace and forgiveness but have enough collective anger in me to live comfortably with the notion that there have been those among us that have carved their own path into that endless dark valley. But these are not my decisions to make.
Recently I’ve been pondering a ‘softer hell;’ one that makes its point but does not linger; one that sets the record straight but then turns the hard-hearted into loving and sensible creatures. I, myself, would certainly have to pass through these portals as I assume most who breathed an earthly breath would have to do, also. In front of all humanity, all heavenly beings, the prophets, the saints, the apostles, my mom and The Lord Himself, Jesus would question me. He would uncover my darkest thoughts, my recurring madness, my weird fantasies, my hidden hopelessness and say, ‘Thom, is this really you?’ And I would have to say, ‘Yes Lord, that’s really me.’ I would be fully ashamed but would finally get it off my chest and I doubt that there would be many on the jury who would send me down to the snake pit with ‘The Pina Colada Song’ playing endlessly. Once my trial was over I could take a seat and watch the rest of the sinners like a Roman citizen at The Coliseum. I imagine the following:
Jesus tells Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens: ‘You see my sons, you were both very wrong. Now, look at all the people and tell them you’re sorry.’
Jesus tells Bill Clinton: ‘By heaven’s definition you did have sex with that woman and stop biting your lower lip as if you were sensitive.’
Jesus asks Lee Harvey Oswald: ‘Did you act alone? Tell me the truth because I know the truth – actually, I Am The Truth.’ Lee says, ‘No.’
Jesus gathers a small group on the witness stand and says: ‘Keith, Bill, Rachel, Rush, Chris, Sean – Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.’
Jesus questions Bill Moyers: ‘Are you a Christian?’ Moyers responds, ‘Yes Lord, I am.’ Jesus says, ‘But I never knew you. You were off trying to become your own version of me on public television and by writing those lame books. I am The Way, The Truth and The Life, not you.’
Jesus to Al Gore: ‘Is it cold in here or is it you?’
Jesus to Reverend Barry W. Lynn: ‘First of all, lose the reverend – that’s inappropriate. Secondly, I’ve separated you from your loved ones as you have separated me from everything in the world other than a church. Hurts, doesn’t it?’
Jesus asks Ted Haggard: ‘Ted, did you think we didn’t see you in that cheap motel with muscle man? Did you suppose we were only watching when you were lambasting the poor souls in your pews – my pews, actually? How’s it going with your wife and kids? Tough, huh? Well, you have been a most terrible example of life in the spirit. You have set my purposes back at least 100 years. Hope you enjoyed your years as an insurance man.’
Jesus questions Dubya: ‘I thought I was your biggest philosophical influence? That’s what you said on the television, anyway. So, what’s with all the warring? You really never connected Iraq with 9/11, did you?’ Dubya says. ‘Well, we had some very solid evidence that led us to the conclusion that they were very involved.’ Jesus retorts, ‘Tell me Dubya, what’s the one thing you think about when you think of me or God or heaven?’ Dubya says, ‘Peace.’ 

My G-G-Generation

We Blessed Boomers, we educated throngs, we pampered children of the 50’s and 60’s, we pot smoking acid droppers, we spoiled rotten culture warriors, we draft dodging bra burners, we know-it-alls, we animal loving abortionists, we depressed and fatigued, we lactose intolerant anorexics, we guitar-playing folk-rock poets, we tolerant ones, we pals and not parents - friends and not fathers, we love promoting divorcees, we dead rock stars, we Godless truth seeking expensive scotch drinking Cuban cigar smugglers, we Internet inventing porn brokers, we 4 cars and 6 televisions, we the people of promise, we O’Reilly-Olberman worshipers, we Kennedy loving Nixon haters, we Reagan loving Clinton haters, we bumper sticking defenders of public education and private school tuition whores, we hedge-funding Wall Streeters, we globe-trotting bike riders, we can’t use a hammer bloated Master Card lovers. I am ashamed, in pieces and as guilty as any. We have not carried the torch of our beloved country; we are failing, here, there and everywhere.