Friday, January 27, 2017


       One of my favorite Far Side comics is that found above. On the surface it's simply funny, especially when you note how small is the questioner's head; it wouldn't seem to take Mr. Osborne very much to fill it. Yet I think that we often do run into situations where our capacity to take things in is smaller than that amount being given. Or, to use a different, and more current, analogy, my suspicion is that many of us, these days, are feeling a bit like a boxer who has been in the ring several rounds too long. Whether its a matter of the political climate, racial or religious tensions, or, has been the case at DU over the last few weeks and days, deaths of community members -- regardless of the circumstances, we want to yell "I yield!" or "Enough is enough" or "My soul is full. May I be excused."
      And as I've tried to imagine what a good response might be to situations such as these, two things among the many suggestions for stress relief have stood out. The first seems very appropriate for Coloradans, and, I think I have mentioned it before:  Hiking!  Getting outdoors. I've added a video clip below on research from a couple of years ago from some Stanford scholars addressing the benefits of being out of doors. 
       A second, probably much less employed, response these days is the "lament". A "lament" is a prayer that arises out of grief or pain. About a third of the biblical psalms are laments. Indeed there is an entire book in the Hebrew Bible titled "Lamentations". And one of the features of the lament is that anger, pain, frustration are all directed to God. My experience, however, is that many people today are not ready to be angry at God, or at least to let that rage be expressed. The biblical writers had no such qualms. The big questions of "Why?" or "Where are you, God?" are often so much at the forefront of our feelings, but repressed out of some false sense of religiosity.            A practice I've tried in the past, and I think I'm ready to start again, is to take the opening verses of Psalm 22, and add to them my own lament. It has helped me get my feelings of frustration and anger out of my heart and onto the page. And once I can see them, their power over me diminishes a bit.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
     and are so far from my cry
     and from the words of my eistress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;
     by night as well, but I find no rest.

Of course, if writing/journaling with these verses as a prompt doesn't work for you, option one above is a good fall-back. Taking a hike is always good medicine.
       Be well, good people.      



PS:  If you would like to comment on this reflection, please surf on over to my blog "On a Bike and a Prayer" at

Friday, January 20, 2017

What hath (i)Pod wrought?

       Last week, my wife's smartphone fell from grace . . . and cracked its face (significantly, but in a lovely star-shaped pattern!).  Given that it was four years old, and the battery life was shot, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the phone (rather than just the face). So, we made the appointment and headed off to "Cell-Phones R Us". A short while later we returned home, not only with a new phone, but a new learning curve (as we finally moved her from one platform to another). Embarking on that learning curve was important, however, because, as most of us believe, life without that smartphone might not be "smart".
       Coincidentally, earlier in the week an article appeared in the Denver Post observing that it was (just!) ten years ago that Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. The title of the article was "Apple proved a phone can change the world in just 10 years." While that's a pretty heady title, the article did a pretty good job (pardon the pun) of making its case, through statistics, sales figures, derailment of competition (e.g., Blackberry), etc. Has it been only TEN YEARS since the world began to change???

        Has it been only TEN YEARS since we find ourselves reaching into our pockets or purses every 10-15 minutes to see if someone has emailed/texted/messaged us?  Has it been only in the last TEN YEARS that we have seen articles/advise arise about putting down the phone at least a half-hour before bed, since the "blue light" in the smartphones' display can disrupt sleep? Has it only been TEN YEARS since the old "flip phones" (that were SO cool, looking like Star Trek communicators) have almost gone the way of the dial phone---"Well, yes they WORK, but why bother?"?
       In another coincidence, in the last few days, I had reason to read a passage from the Qu'ran (al-A'raf 191-198) that echoes a very similar passage from Psalm 115.4-8:
Their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see;
they have ears, but cannot hear,
nostrils, but cannot smell;
with their hands they cannot feel,
with their feet they cannot walk,
and no sound comes from their throats.
Their makers become like then,
and so do all who put their trust in them.

And I had to wonder how much "trust" we have started to put in our technology. Or maybe, it's not just a matter of trust in technology, it's a matter of where that trust might lead us. I doubt it's much of a surprise that the rise of "fake news" and all that THAT has meant is related to the technology we have created. Or that people are finding "community" on-line rather than in-person. We may have created "silver and gold" idols (just think of the color-choices of most smartphones) to which we are now bound, but which cannot satisfy us.
       I am no Luddite; I, too, rely on my smartphone -- with a self-programmed (created?) custom ring-tone, no less! But I have to wonder where our "creations" will, ultimately, take us? Is it to a more "human" place -- one inhabited by compassion or understanding? Or someplace out of a dystopian science fiction novel. Do we cease seeing, listening, smelling, feeling -- because we think our technology will do it for us? Ancient wisdom would suggest "No!"
       My question is no different than that of the first official message sent in Morse Code across the telegraph in May of 1844 -- beginning, in a way, our technological revolution: "What hath God wrought?"*


* A reference to Numbers 23.23

Friday, January 13, 2017

Danger! Do Not Enter!

       Last Friday, I acted as a sort of co-host for a group of church historians here, in Denver, for an annual conference. My part, as co-host, was to help put together a tour of some significant religious spaces in Denver. It was as fun project, and, even though I had been in some of the buildings before, it was instructive to hear the "tour guides" talk about the spaces. You'll always learn something: about the religious tradition, about symbolism, about local history, about architecture, about finances, about the environment's impact on buildings.
       One of the buildings we visited was surrounded by chainlink fencing, scaffolding and tarps. We had to go in via a side door, and just as we entered, I noticed a sign attached to the fence:  "DANGER  DO NOT ENTER". I commented to some of the guests, "Now, that's an interesting sign to have posted just outside a church!" Chuckles ensued. We entered anyway, and were treated to a lovely interior -- no scaffolding or tarp -- and gracious and informative tour guide.

       As the week has gone by, however, I found myself returning to that sign and its message: "Danger Do Not Enter". I thought of a couple of alternate (i.e., non-buildling-construction) interpretations.  The first might not be particularly flattering to some religious institutions.  Many religious bodies have seen dramatic declines in attendance because of particular positions they have staked-out on thorny social issues; depending on one's personal stance on those issues, entering that building might be "dangerous". Other people have fled "religion" because they have felt that they have had to "park their brains at the door" (or outside the "Danger" sign). Still others have found either the worship/preaching, or congregation, verging on "shallow"--a religious sort of "elevator music". In all cases, preserving one's integrity or sanity might have them in agreement with "Do Not Enter."
       I also considered a second, perhaps a "flip-side", interpretation. I don't want to reprise last week's reflection on  "A bit o' commitment" (although there are certainly resonances) but at their best, religious institutions often challenge people to reconsider some of their long-held beliefs or habits. That reconsideration might indeed be dangerous; making a decision to move in one direction can rule out other paths. As we have seen throughout history (including in our contemporary world), affiliation with a particular religion can mean ostracism from family, or even a death sentence, in a hostile-to-that-tradition country. Yet people often do find something compelling enough to make a "dangerous" change.
      And as I thought a bit more about the "Danger Do Not Enter" sign, I also began to contrast it with another sign more often found outside places of worship: "Visitors Welcome!". The cynical side of me wonders whether some of those places of worship might bend over backwards to make visitors feel good rather than challenging them to make a change. I certainly don't want to paint those worship-centers with that broad of a brush, but raising the question of whether a faith commitment is "dangerous" or "welcome" seems, to me, to be a conversation worth having. That is, what might be so compelling that someone might ignore the "Danger Do Not Enter" sign and enter anyway?


Friday, January 6, 2017

A bit o' commitment

     I am preparing to teach an adult class at St. John's Cathedral in Denver this coming Sunday.* It is the kick-off to a short series on baptism, the Christian rite of initiation. I was asked to provide some historical background. "Happy to do so," I replied. So, I began to dig into the material (I have a LOT of material on this subject!). Quickly I became a bit overwhelmed by how MUCH I wanted to cover, and how little time was available.
      It has been fun, however, to go back through pages of photocopies from graduate school, as well as class notes. I was reminded how preparations for entry in the Christian fold were much more elaborate and time-consuming than I find in most places today (at least in the US). Some of the early writings mention a three-year period of study and prayer BEFORE being baptized. And, of course, before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century, being baptized and becoming a Christian had some danger associated with it. So, I guess the three years allowed for plenty of time to back out.
      Later on, in Christian history—in the 16th and 17th centuries, controversies over baptism arose again, this time among Christians. For centuries prior, baptism was normally administered to infants (lots of reasons for that). But, after the Reformation, a group of "radicals" asserted that only adults should be baptized, that is, only people who could make an adult decision—AND, they should be fully immersed. These Radical Reformers (also known as "Anabaptists" because of their practice of baptizing again those who had been baptized as infants) ran afoul of the religio-secular authorities and were persecuted for their commitment. One punishment was death-by-drowning; "If they want to be immersed, we'll accommodate that" seemed to be the logic.
       I wonder a lot about issues of commitment, whether religious or any other kind. It has been noted for many years that Americans' "brand-loyalty" is fading. Despite ongoing Ford vs. Chevy truck "wars", few people are committed to Tide as opposed to All, or Colgate vs. Crest. And scholars have noted that this lack of "brand loyalty" extends to religion. Many people seem to change houses of worship depending on who's in charge (as in the pastor/priest/rabbi); they "vote" with their attendance. And, of course, if they don't find anyone that aligns with their predilections, they just don't go at all.
       Are we in a post-commitment age? Or, are we simply in a post-commitment-to-anything-larger-than-ourselves age? I'd like to think not. But clearly we in a time when life-altering options seem no longer to have the allure as the "next new thing". This is a challenge to those of us who want to make a significant difference. Finding allies is a bit more daunting, but no less important.


* 10:15 am, if you're interested! (1350 Washington St., 80203)