An Incendiary Parable…

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It’s not exactly clear how the fire started. Some believe it happened when a huge storm rolled through the valley along with a brilliant lightning show with plenty of strikes up and down the area. It started burning slowly and then grew in intensity, quickly consuming the dry underbrush and trees. The first people that discovered it burning were surprised as it hadn’t happened in quite a while. Filled with elation and excitement, they started telling everyone else about it – as well as taking a branch, lit by the fire, back to their homes which had been cold for so long. Not familiar with the best way to keep safe, numerous accidents and injuries resulted and countless dwellings were incinerated.  The fire grew in ferocity and spread. More houses were consumed but visitors started showing up, mostly informed by word of mouth to watch the conflagration. They too tried to transport the fire home but found that the flames were not controllable or containable.

Others in the valley and town leaders watched in horror as the destruction increased. They began to speak out against the fire and the people that, in their opinion, had been more fascinated by it than in trying to put it out. They rallied and railed against the fire and the people they accused of helping it spread and get out of control. Those suspect were denounced and driven out of the valley in order for the proper fire fighting personnel and machinery to come in and deal with it. It was a difficult, costly and time-consuming effort but finally, the fire was extinguished and all that was left was smoldering remains of houses, acres of scorched land, smoking ash heaps.

But before the last ember was doused with retardant, the village leaders took a small branch, still burning, ever so slight and placed it in a great steel stove in large, vacant hall, converted just for the purpose of display. The mayor gave a grand speech. “We have through the mercy of God escaped the terrible destruction of the fire. We have been able to eliminate it but have reserved enough so that the dear, good-hearted people of this valley can come and visit it and be reminded of the fire’s terrible ferocity and how dangerous it truly is, as well as the proper method of containing it and controlling it.” The crow was grand that day, and it took hours for the people to pay their admission price and then slowly, ever so slowly, walk through the hall, with hushed “oohs” and “ahhs” (and numerous “shushes” to the eager children) by the great steel enclosure that contained the fire.

As the sun set, the mayor gathered his staff and congratulated them on a job well done. “That’s that! Now we can get back to life as normal! And frankly, I don’t ever want to see any fire again!” As the cool night descended upon the town, the crowds dispersed, the great hall locked up good and tight, no one noticed that the small branch, slowly burning all day, dwindled slowly, until the last red-orange embers changed to ash dull and cold grey.

The next day, the discovery made that the fire had died, and the news communicated to the mayor, he gathered his staff. Amid the questions and queries about what was to be done and what now and oh the waste, the mayor stood up and pronounced – “No fear! No fear! We will continue to have tours of our great hall, and people will continue to pay admission to see where the fire once brightly burned. Even better we will organize tours to the mountainside to show the people the dangers of the fire and the power and mastery we have displayed in defeating it.”

And so, it happened – the tours continued, visitors from all around kept coming and (perhaps most importantly) continued to pay admission for the esteemed privilege of seeing the place where the fire once burned brightly, but no more.

Weeks later, a small child, playing outside, watched as storm clouds started to build over the mountains of the valley. The wind picked up, and a few raindrops sprinkled her face. Farther away, she also noticed brilliant and terrible flashes of bright white, as the lightening, crackled from the clouds, skipped across the sky and headed once again to earth.

“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

Luke 12:49

Toxic Religion

J Jones - Nancy Wong photo

“Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray.  Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”    Mark 13:5-6

(Lectionary Reading for 11/18/18).

40 years ago today,  Jim Jones killed over 918 people in the Jonestown massacre, the culmination of years of manipulation, misconduct, drug fueled paranoia, violence and abuse of all kinds. A one time, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Assembly of God preacher who shared a platform once with William Branham, Jones developed his own eclectic blend of evangelical, social justice, inter-racial equality brand of religion at the People’s Temple in San Francisco, CA but ended in the forced death of his followers and U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan among others.

Jones has been one of many that promised heaven but delivered death. Others have followed like David Koresh (1993- 80 dead) and Heaven’s Gate (1997- 39). In these cases, toxic religion may have first been an opiate that turned into strychnine.

Faith is a force for good in our world. Distorted religion doesn’t present itself as poison. It may look like Kool Aid (or Flavor Aid) at first. But when the gospel is replaced by an ideology, whether of the left or the right, or MAGA nationalism, or supplanted by a cult of personality, along with authoritarian demands for obedience, idealized, hero worship of political leaders as god-like, spineless clergy and court paid prophets, the suppression of dissent and a major dose of media propaganda,  then the body count will eventually add up.

trump kool aid

40 Years later…

Ode to Green Beans

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The woman who created a Thanksgiving staple enjoyed by millions — the green bean casserole — has died at age 92. Dorcas Reilly died on Oct. 15, 2018.

Loved or hated, if you have ever been to a church pot-luck, funeral dinner or otherwise, chances are a green bean casserole was somewhere on the table.

Reilly was a Campbell Soup kitchen supervisor in 1955 when she combined the famous ingredients of the now-legendary green bean casserole (green beans, cream of mushroom soup, topped with crunchy fried onions) for an Associated Press feature.

As for myself, I usually skipped the beans and focused on the crunchy onions!

Source   – D. Reilly

 

 

One Hundred Years After…

R.M. Mitchell - LondonW. Jochman WWI

My maternal grandfather, R.M. Mitchell  (left) served in the British military. As far as family records indicate he signed-up in 1916. He may have been at the Battle of Cambrai 11/30/17. He later was in the Royal Navy and was aboard the “HMS Adventure” after the war and may have been in the harbor of Smyrna in 1919 when the Greeks occupied the city as the Ottoman Empire broke apart.

Though details are few, it seems my great-great-grand father in law, Philip Jochman, served in WWI – for the Germans of course. I don’t know much about him except for a photograph.

Two men – warring nations- opposite sides – same war – both survivors, now one family.

WWI was a colossal destruction of human life that led to another more destructive and horrendous conflagration. Today, we remember Armistice Day as well as our veterans, past and present, especially those who have served (and continue to serve) in the U.S.’s longest war  in Afghanistan. Having worked with veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who are trying to rebuild their lives, recovering from physical injuries or the wounds one can’t see like PTSD, support and care is still needed beyond the bromides and promises from Washington and the fake patriotism of MAGA propaganda.

 

Forbidden Observances

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“Merry Christmas” has become the rallying cry of the jingoism of the (t)Rump pseudo-nationalistic ideology. However, Christmas has not always been popular even among Christians. In 1647, the Puritan-led English Parliament banned the celebration of Christmas, replacing it with a day of fasting and considering it “a popish festival with no biblical justification”, and “a time of wasteful and immoral behavior.” On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature officially banned Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings

“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God & offense of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offense five shillings, as a fine to the county.”

Cotton Mather, New England’s most influential religious leader, told his flock in 1712 that “the feast of Christ’s nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentious liberty…by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!”

Most Western churches mark Dec. 25 for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth though the date is historically unreliable and most likely inaccurate. Many Eastern Orthodox churches mark the incarnation on Epiphany typically the first Sunday in January. Some, who are in the Puritan tradition make no big deal about it. Roman 14:5 tells us “one person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” That seems like a wise policy that spares making “much ado about nothing.” Sadly, Trump’s hijacking and distortion of the day to celebrate the wonder of the incarnation is far more damaging than any supposed “war on Christmas.” Slogans may pump up the crowds but it’s not the faith the church has confessed in the words “for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

So then, either way, have a Merry Christmas, an incredible Incarnation, an effulgent Epiphany, and Happy Hanukkah or for any neo-pagans, a Super Saturnalia!

ISIS? Nothing new…

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Ignatius Maloyan was an Armenian Catholic Archbishop who was trained in Lebanon, served in Egypt and the Mardin province of the Ottoman Empire. In the summer of 1915, the Vali of Diyarbekir, Reşit Bey, commenced the Armenian Genocide in Mardin. Arrested and In court, the chief of the police Mamdooh Bek ordered bishop Maloyan to convert to Islam; the bishop declined, and was beaten, tortured, chained, and imprisoned.

On 10 June 1915, Ignatius and over 400 other Christians, including fourteen priests, were force marched into the desert. When they stopped, bishop Ignatius celebrated an impromptu liturgy with scraps of bread.  100 of their number were taken by Turkish troops to nearby caves and murdered.

As he watched his priests and faithful massacred in front of him, Mahmdouh Bey, offered to spare the Archbishop’s life if he would convert to Islam. Archbishop Maloyan first vowed loyalty to the Sultan in all purely civil matters, but added, “I’ve told you I shall live and die for the sake of my faith and religion. I take pride in the Cross of my God and Lord.” This enraged Mahmdouh Bey, who ordered the column to depart for a valley about four hours’ distance from Diyarbekir. There, on June 10/11, the remaining 200 deportees were killed and Maloyan was personally executed by Mahmdouh Bey. The local population stripped the clothes from the bodies of the victims, which remained untouched for five hours until they were all collected, doused with petrol, and burned.

In this corner of the world, people of all faiths still suffer from hatred and cruelty.

Hear the prayers of those who abide with you in dangerous times and in dark valleys,

and who die with your name on their lips.

Draw them quickly to your side where they might know eternal peace.

AMEN

Christos Anesti!

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How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?

First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he could make us share in the righteousness which he had obtained for us by his death.

Second, by his power we too are raised up to a new life.

Third, Christ’s resurrection is to us a sure pledge of our glorious resurrection.

Heidelberg Catechism, 45

There was a time when faith marched together…

march

“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.”

Martin Luther King Jr.