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September 2021

Take a Knee or a Stand?

Star spangled loc.jpeg
Source: Library of Congress, Public Domain
Will you take a knee or take a stand?
On this day in 1814 – In a turning point in the War of 1812, the British failed to capture Baltimore. During the battle, Francis Scott Key composes his poem "Defence of Fort McHenry", which is later set to music and becomes the United States' national anthem.
The War was a skirmish over borders, land and, especially, who had the rights to take advantage of the indigenous people of America. Both sides were glad to see it end and were happy with the outcome. The war ended in a draw. Indigenous nations have been y seen among historians as the real losers.
The anthem was from a poem entitled "Defence of Fort M'Henry" by attorney Francis Scott Key. It was set to the tune of a British song written by John Stafford Smith as a theme for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club called "The Anacreontic Song"
"The Star-Spangled Banner" was first use by the United States Navy in 1889, and by U.S. president Woodrow Wilson in 1916. A congressional resolution on March 3, 193, made it the National Anthem. So, it is a rather recent tradition.
Before that, three hymns were more often used by Americans to express their patriotism:
  • "Hail, Columbia"
  • "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", to the tune of "God Save the Queen",
  • "America the Beautiful",
At the time that he wrote the words, Key, a devout Episcopalian, was also a slave owner. In his later life as attorney, he represented both slaves and slave owners in issues regarding that institution.
Key represented several slaves seeking their freedom, as well as several slave-owners seeking return of their runaway slaves.
The third stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner makes disparaging mention of blacks and demonstrates Key's opinion of their seeking freedom at the time. There were slaves who were escaping to the British, who promised them freedom and that is what the reference in verse three is to.
Eventually, Key seems to have come to a place of seeing slavery as wrong, but it was a long and ambiguous road for him.
He was a founding member and active leader of the American Colonization Society. Their primary goal was to send free blacks to Africa. As a result of those efforts, the nation of Liberia was founded. He was firmly against immediate abolition of slavery whether it was with or without compensation.
The problematic third verse reads:
"And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote 5th verse during the Civil War:
"When our land is illumined with Liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strike a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that dares to defile
The flag of her stars and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained, who our birthright have gained,
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained!
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
While the land of the free is the home of the brave."
It should actually replace the 4th verse entirely, which is an abomination.
When the U.S. national anthem was first recognized by law in 1931, there was no prescription as to behavior during its playing. Beginning is 1942 and continuing to the most recent updates in 1976, suggested behavior is prescribed through law, with failure to observe it not being a violation of law. There are protocols with regard to standing, a formal salute by members of the military, and hand over the heart by civilians. There are some variations with regard to whether or not a flag is present and where people should face. There is general and widespread confusion over suggested flag and anthem protocols.
For instance, most people at baseball games violate one or more of them.
That is some of the history.
But, it is the future that matters most.
Shall we stand or shall we kneel?
I could enthusiastically stand for the America that Holmes envisioned, an America of justice for all, dignity, human rights, liberty, and truth. I could stand for the ideal, if if not fully realized. It is an America that is evolving and expanding in its vision while narrowing in its sense of self importance. I could stand for that.
I could kneel in prayer for those hopes and aspirations. Whether or not my body stands, my heart takes a knee.
"Oh say, can you see?"
We can see much through the eyes of faith, commitment and heart vision.
"By the dawn's early light" or the "twilights' last gleaming."
Both lights are dim but one is coming and the other going. Yes, I think I can see. 
I see a flag of freedom that flies from the lives of people who put their lives and reputations on the line in war or in board rooms or around supper tables or in the public arena who seek to unchain millions. That flag, I see and salute.
My body may stand in gratitude and resolve, but sometimes, it will kneel and shall always kneel in repentance, trust, and prayer for grace and mercy.
When i do stand, it is for your right to speak and do as you please.
When I kneel, it is a prayer for something greater than our will to prevail and it is an act of humility.
I stand and I kneel for full human rights protections for all people.
I stand and I kneel for full voting rights and protections for all.
I stand and I kneel for immigrants and refugees who see hope in America.
I stand and I kneel for dignity, respect, and community.
I stand and I kneel for representative democracy as the philosophical foundation of our republic.
I stand and I kneel for brotherhood and sisterhood.
I stand and I kneel for my neighbors, friends, and strangers.
I stand and I kneel for peace and stability.
I stand and I kneel for freedom of speech and religion.
I stand and I kneel for integrity.
I stand and I kneel for limits and accountability on power.
I stand and I kneel for racial justice.
I stand and I kneel for America.
God bless America and, America, bless God.

Who Do You Say I Am?

Isaiah 50-6

Who is Jesus?

Who do people say Jesus is? There is only one place they look --- in our faces.

Who are you?

Who is God according to you? According to your attitudes and deeds and face?

Do they see the smile of God or the scowling frown of God?

Where is the cross in all of this?

If the cross is not on our shoulders, it does not matter how many hills, walls, or necks it hangs on.

Wherever he leaads

My Sunday  Morning Message


A Twenty Year Reflection

Just americans
We Have Not Forgotten
We are being reminded to remember, but I would suggest that we also reflect. It is something I do on this day every year.
I wrote most of this in 2009. I am just touching it up a bit and maybe adding a thing or two or three or four or more.
After all, it has been two decades and we have hopefully learned something.
We have not forgotten what happened on September 11 in our recent past.
It has now been twenty years.
I remember where I was when the first hint of news came across the wave via NPR. I remember my thoughts.'
I remember how we came together and put our differences aside.
As Randy Sparks wrote in a song, "On September the 11th, we became just Americans."
It was sort of true, but we had some conditions and there was an expiration date on the sentiment.
I remember how some folks said that nothing would ever be the same again ... but they are in most ways except the ways that time and progress change everything.
Would that we might capture some of the spirit of empathy, caring, helpfulness, and community.
Then, we started using the tragedy to move from being a people who valued freedom above everything else to being a people who would surrender freedom for safety and security.
And we started a couple of wars, at least one clearly in response to a very real threat of terrorism in the world.
And we started rethinking the meaning of our Constitution - not that we shouldn't from time to time. We just need to hold on to what is true and just and good.
And we started bickering again.
We bicker a lot now and we divide entire groups of people along rather arbitrary lines.
Yet, we have not forgotten.
We are not exactly sure what the lessons were, but we learned what it meant to share a common heartbeat and a common heartbreak.
Let me say that again because words slip by:
Common heartbeat.
Common heartbreak.
They go together.
We remember what it was like to deeply care about one another.
I know, I said that. Some things bear repeating.
We remember what it was like, for a moment, to respect our leaders and give them a great deal of leeway and trust along with much prayer.
But, in the long run, we must also hold them accountable while also honoring their humanity and respecting their capacity to be wrong.
What stands out for me in my memory is a heightened value for the heroes among us, in and out of uniform who are willing to lay down their lives for others. Many of these are still placing themselves in daily harm's way.
Again, there is a balance. With any uniform, assignment of limited authority, and permission to use force, there comes great responsibility, accountability, and expectation for a higher degree of integrity and restraint.
We flew flags.
We did not always understand what those flags meant and sometimes forgot that they meant the right not to fly them or bow to them.
flags are great reminders and rallying points and very poor masters. What they symbolize at their best are ideals that are essential to what it means to be free.
We sought the comfort of God and of one another.
We sang together, mourned together, and worked together.
We can remember, but we cannot be defined by tragedy. Nor can we live in a perpetual state of emergency.
The world is dangerous. Horrible things could happen. We could all die -- but that is not the most important thing.
The most important thing is whether or not we will choose to live, and to live as free people until we die.
Will we love each other?
Will we pray when we are not in crisis?
We will show each other respect?
Will we be "just Americans" and not blue or red or whatever that is and whatever that means?
If we will remember, then we can commit to being our best as Americans and working together for common good.
The pictures that move me most are those of tears and hugs and moments of silence, workers tirelessly digging through rubble, first responders moving toward the danger, and people helping people.
You can't bomb any of that away.
For now, let us pause to remember.
And let us grow and keep growing.
Years ago, Mad Magazine parodied an attitude that I so often see cropping up. It is of a caricature of a man who boldly proclaims how much he love America with the Mad editorial tag, "while hating most of the people in it."
Remember this, that patriotism is not about you loving your self-interests, your group, or your ideologies. Patriotism is about loving the central ideas and people that honor people, protect their dignity, and create an environment where we can love one another.
Patriotism is about love and loving people.
God bless you as we all remember and reflect today.
7 Years Ago
I am thinking of whether or not to say something about 911 and maybe this is saying something about 911. There are always things we do not want to forget. There are always people that we always want to remember and honor. There are always lessons from the past that we want to build upon. There is nothing in our past that is tragic that we want to define or confine us. 911 was one of our collective travesties and tragedies and it brought to light the best of those folks who united across all sorts of lines to make a positive difference in the darkness.
Tragedies and travesties continue around the world. Our past is cluttered with them. We have perpetrated some as a people. Our ancestors from most every culture have done so, likewise.
We do not live in shame or regret. But we do not forget our shame or regret. We find redemption, reconciliation, and resolve to be better people individually and collectively by the grace of God.
We look for areas where we, in agreement, can stand together and work together.
We are human. We are frail. My theology teaches that we a "mark-missers (sinners in translation)." But we are also beloved and called.
Grace, mercy, and peace are God's gifts to us in the gaps that our resolve cannot fill. As a follower of Jesus, I am always looking through the lenses of God's desire for the redemption of everyone and everything, the call to a possibility and necessity of mind/life change (repentance) as good news, and the message of the rule of God (the Kingdom) as always present and imminent in every situation.
That is my bias and leaning and it opens doors to vast possibilities of love in the presence of hate, peace in days of war, hope in times of despair, light in darkness, possibilities at the place of dead-ends, handshakes and hugs when the gloves are off, and salt on the unseasoned mundanity of humanity.
911 was a day and is an emergency number. We do not live in a world dominated and ruled by emergency, but possibility.
9 Years Ago
9/11 - I remember well. It touches a place of sadness. It also touches a place of admiration and appreciation for the humanity that was so much stronger than the inhumanity and the courage, heroism, and sacrifice that have been an example to our generation. I also pray for peace and justice and a world where we demonstrate God's love to each other and receive love, even across the great divides of strong convictions. May God bless our country during these days of division and ideological sparring. If we could but join hands for the things that are not in dispute, we could find the time for our disputes, but always come together again as fellow citizens who esteem each other.
1o Years Ago
I had written something profound & when ready to post, the dog & 5 yr old conspired in play to disconnect my plug. Upon reflection - Who cares? What I say, what I remember, where I was - everyone has their own. We are here - still here - same heroism, courage, compassion, love, grief, anger, more love, and grace of a present God as then - at the ready to be summoned. The summons is now, daily. We can be great. We can love & work together. We must do it now. The plug could be pulled any time.
Also 10 or 12 Years Ago
My friend got me thinking about something in a Toastmaster meeting as he was lamenting the controversies and perceived restrictions in the open arena on religious symbols.
We think a lot about symbols these days..
There are lots of protests for and against the cross as a symbol of Christianity being displayed in public places - as a symbol, or even as a decoration. It made me think. Just thinking, 
His question was, "Just where is the cross lately?"
My musing answer was, "Hopefully, it is on our shoulders."
I think we sometimes think the cross is a symbol or a decoration rather than something we are called to take up daily and bear --- that it is always bearing, as did Jesus, the burdens of others. I suspect that if all Jesus followers would do that .... well, you can finish the sentence "
I am thinking, with this 2021 interjection, about symbols, flags, crosses, and others.
I am going with this thought.
If all the symbols came down and all the decorations disappeared, would the cross still be visible in America?
And, in light of the day, would there still be the liberty represented in our flag?
Would Jesus followers bear the cross into the streets of our cities?
Into hospital rooms?
Into jails and homeless shelters?
Into homes and workplaces?
Would it be visible in our selfless services? In our willingness to suffer? In our willingness to forgive? In Our love for people that Jesus loves?
The right to display the cross is not in the hands of any government or anyone outside of ourselves. the display of the cross in entirely on the shoulders of believers who decide to bear it upon their shoulders.
Are we taking up our crosses daily and going on display?
Just thinking ... and praying...
And asking myself as well.
11 Years Ago - Why I Never Called it a War on Terrorism
On 9/11, over 40 nations lost citizens.
Among these, Australia lost 11, Bangladesh, 6 Canada, 24, Colombia, 17, Germany, 11,Jamaica, 16, Mexico, 16, Philippines, 16, South Korea 28, and United Kingdom, 66.
Some were secular in religious persuasion; some were Christian, some Jewish, some Muslim, and some other.
The perpetrators were criminals who distorted their own religious teachings for their own fanatical and political ends.
They represented no legitimate government and no official religion.
To call it war legitimizes what they did. It was a crime inspired by irrational hate.
Many heroes rose to the occasion and went up the stairs to save as the masses (many of whom were also heroic) sought to go down to safety.
These we honor and remember.
Same Year
They said nothing would ever be the same. Not true. Things settle down. We mustn't forget what happened this day, but it does not define us.
It refines us.
Some of our responses have been noble, pragmatic, wise, necessary, and compassionate.
Others have been driven by fear, irrationality, and unbridled anger.
We cannot live in fear, hate, suspicion, and anger. Nor can we cling to grief. Ours is to live and love.
Just Americans
I heard Barry McGuire sing this and so, I dropped him a note asking about it. His wife got back to me and said it was Randy Sparks' song. Thanks, Randy Sparks!
"On September the eleventh
We became Just Americans
Other names were rendered obsolete
All I know about my neighbors
Is that they are Just Americans
Shoulder to shoulder, now, the circle is complete
And we will fight, side by side, in the trenches of the universe
The cause of precious freedom to defend
And let it be remembered that
We are Just Americans
May this day never end
And I pray this day will never end"
- Randy Sparks
God, help us to overcome our legacy of racism, classism, along with our vestiges of  bigotry, partisanship, nationalism, and pride in order to welcome one another into an idea of America that is bigger than all of these distractions. Amen
Psalm 119:49-50
Remember your word to your servant,
because you have given me hope.
This is my comfort in my trouble,
that your promise gives me life.
"God reigns over the nations;
God sits upon his holy throne."
- Psalm 47:8
More Heroes
Oswald Chambers put life on hold to become a YMCA chaplain in WWI. Egypt, 1917: He suffered an appendicitis but would not go to hospital for 3 days, unwilling to take a bed from wounded soldiers. He died of complications at 43 years old. 100 officers carried his casket. Mostly unknown during his lifetime, his wife spent the rest of her life transcribing his lectures including, "My Utmost for His Highest."
911 from Space
A Day of Remembrance
Music Heals the Soul

God bless you.


Labor day meditation -arrogance

James 4:13-5:6 (NRSV):

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money."

Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."

As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.

Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.