Blind Faith & New Life: a personal column

This is a more personal column for a change.  Last September I entered the realm of approximately 600 thousand others who are legally blind.  Since then my eyesight has continued to worsen until it stabilized in the last few months. Even if there is more deterioration, it’s unlikely I will become totally blind.

It’s required some big changes in household life.  No longer able to read books, we are slowly disposing of my treasured library.  However, my iPad is set to read most printed material out loud so I listen to e-books, news articles, emails, texts, etc. I can still write Country Parson, but it’s slow going and Dianna has to edit drafts several times to clean things up.  She also does all the driving, makes all appointments and does all the errands I used to do. All that on top of her own career as an artist with an online gallery of her work at  I enjoy cooking and with a little help from a few electronic gadgets, I can still prepare some pretty delicious meals. I have a hand held electronic reading device that manipulates printed words so I can read three or four at a time: perfect for recipes.  Another device reads recorded labels on spice bottles: Dianna records the labels.  

I use a white cane when out in public even though I can “see” the sidewalks and streets.  Curious friends want to know what I can and can’t see, which is a perfectly reasonable question. The problem is, it’s not this or that.  I can sort of, kind of see everything, unless I’m looking directly at it, in which case it becomes almost invisible. And what is sort of, kind of?  You might try making a veil of several layers of fairly dense gauze.  Make two small discs of three or four more layers, attach them to the inside of the veil about where your eyes will be. Put the veil over your face. What can you se?  Well, everything, sort of.  You can see contrasting colors, light and dark, shapes of objects, movement, but nothing clearly, and almost nothing at all where the discs block vision.  

It’s not hard for me to navigate familiar places and pathways as long as there isn’t too much traffic, but not in a busy airport terminal with crowds jostling their way toward ticket counters and TSA. There, nothing is familiar. There are no pathways.  The crowd feels like an  assault on the senses. Unable to read any signs I rely on my spouse to lead the way. Check-in kiosks are useless and I need a paper boarding pass. Finding TSA and our gate is another adventure into the indecipherable. Surprisingly, TSA agents are  patient and helpful, making that, at least, a breeze.

The other day while standing on the bank of a nearby creek, a friend asked if I could see the trees on the other side. I saw an irregular wall of green that I knew to be trees.  I’m learning to associate shapes and colors of objects with the most likely thing they are. I get fooled from time to time. It’s an interesting learning curve.

There’s more of course.  It isn’t a matter of what I can see.  It’s a matter of how I see, which changes with context of space, ambient light, color differentiation, movement, familiarity, and so on. It’s confusing.

By God’s grace, we ended up in a small townhouse neighborhood near the center of Williamsburg.  I know the streets and sidewalks from our house to Merchants Square (downtown), Colonial Williamsburg, and the William and Mary campus.  With my white cane in hand, I can get to it all.

I’m learning and adapting, but it sucks – some days are just plain depressing. I’ve taught always that life is one big adventure, so it’s best to get on with it, taking delight wherever delight is to be found.  This fall I hope to lead an adult seminar on how to understand the Bible, and we have a two week cruise planned for winter that will take us through the Panama Canal, a little bucket list thing.  As I approach 80 I hadn’t expected to be entering this entirely new way of life, sort of starting all over again.  Yet here we go, and we’ll see what happens.

On The Brink: God, Prophets, Willful Ignorance

A complaint commonly expressed in every adult Christian education class I’ve led has been that the God of the Old Testament is angry and vindictive, but the God of the New Testament is loving and forgiving.  It’s why reading the Old Testament is discomforting so, except for a few familiar stories, participants would rather not.  It’s a deeply ingrained belief and even after extensive conversation they return to their original position.

The reality is that both Old and New Testaments contain the same God, not two, and that the story of humanity’s relationship with God through God’s self revelation is progressive.  The relationship begins as simple, crude, uncertain, mistaken, error prone, and moves step-by-faltering-step toward greater comprehension until the fullness of God’s self revelation is revealed in Christ Jesus. He fulfills all the law and the prophets and interprets their meaning not as a later day prophet, but as the very Word of God himself.

Why then did God use Old Testament prophets to threaten the Israelites with all kinds of terrible disasters?  I think the answer is God didn’t. Time and again God made it clear ‘he’ desired nothing more than the good life for the people, laid down basic guidelines for them to live into that good life, and warned them it would not end well if they went down other paths.  Well they, just like us, didn’t like being told how to live into a good life. Our theme song is “I did it my way.”  If we want guidance, we peruse the self help and get rich quick offerings, choose a few to our liking, and achieve little.  Not to be deterred we keep trying other offerings, all the while ignoring God’s counsel as being too impractical. I don’t know why we keep thinking some self help guru knows more than what God has fully revealed in Christ Jesus. Maybe it’s because God and Jesus are just too religious for “spiritual” people.  A real live guru has physical presence and offers sure thing results and, even better when the self declared prophet claims to be Christian while hawking easy prosperity or conservative social values as scripture.  Self declared authorities like Christopher Hitchens (d.2011) say that religion and its gods are the primary cause of all the world’s problems.

The tested prophets of old repeatedly warned the people that the paths they had taken would lead to horrible disaster and it did.  They were not unlike parents of every generation who watch their children doing something, warning them it will come to a bad end, ignored, and observing their prediction come true.

Today’s tested prophets have been joined by qualified scientists to warn governments and the public that continuing the long history of  abusing and misusing the earth and its creatures will end badly.  Like heedless children, we have ignored them even as climate disasters multiply in number and strength.  We are destroying our only island home for short term gain and reluctance to pay the cost of changing our ways, drastically and immediately.  We are guilty of willful ignorance. The earth is ours to steward for our benefit and the benefit of all.  Its vibrant fecundity is capable of providing all that is needed, as long as it is cared for properly.  The ancient prophets warned the Israelites they were on the brink of self inflicted destruction. They ignored the warning and all but a remnant were destroyed. 

We are on the same brink. God has warned us. Prophets and preachers of every religion have warned us.  Scientists and secular wisdom have warned us. Daily news stories have warned us. Our own experience has warned us. What will we do? Will we heed or be heedless?

According to best estimates a little over two billion people identify as Christian.  They are commanded by God in Christ Jesus to be responsible stewards of the creation God has put into their hands.  They are commanded to love the world as God loves and to call it good. They are commanded to listen with discernment to the religious and secular prophets whom God has called and not to others. The test of who is to be listened to has always been: Do they demonstrate love of God, humanity, creation, and the way of love trod by Jesus? Pay attention to them.

God, Weapons & Morality

Securing national borders and interests against violent attack from others requires disciplined and well equipped armed forces.  Would that it were otherwise, but every time it seems war has become outdated we are proven wrong again.  It’s a cruelly evil truth and one that provides no end of opportunity for the invention and distribution of ever more deadly weapons.  Justified by a specious argument favoring cheaper ways of killing others without risk to one’s own troops, we now have remotely controlled, unmanned weapons. Reduced to video game reality, it can seem like a war of computer against computer facilitated by human agency.  In some ways it’s science fiction turned macabre reality. The temptation is too great not to use the technology against vulnerable non-combatants whose mere presence may stand in the way of some military objective.  And why stop with weapons for national defense forces?  There are plenty of receptive war lords and gang leaders for weapons merchants to peddle their new and deadlier toys.  The opportunity for profit is too great to pass up and all the greater if a little needling here and there can provoke an armed conflict.

The forces of evil enjoy nothing more than fomenting death and destruction in the face of the commandment to “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8). That’s God’s justice, not human justice. It’s important to remember because the forces of evil, often in the name of God, use the language of human justice and put themselves in the place of God.  It’s a clever move that works far too well fooling entire populations, far too often.

An example of a new twist on an age old game was reported in a July 12, 2022, Pro Publica article, citing a Turkish weapons company selling sophisticated drones to warring parties in various parts of the world.  In makes some sense that national defense departments would want them, but more than many are being sold to para-military war lords, rebels, and vicious dictators in places of unending armed conflict.  The weapons are used to attack civilian populations without discrimination, wreaking death and destruction, poverty and starvation.  It will take decades, if ever, for some of these areas to recover a semblance of stable, peaceful, civilization.  Nevertheless, it’s a lucrative trade for the Turks, and not them only.  It seems most drone components are manufactured in western Europe and the United States by companies that know full well what the end use of their products will be.

It’s the ‘If we don’t sell them weapons indiscriminately someone else will.  It doesn’t make any difference and we make the profit.’  The same logic is used by pharmaceutical companies and drug pushers peddling opioids.  It avoids consideration of any moral question.  Critiques of the weapons industry often focus more on outsized profits earned and treat the cost of lives as quantitative measures. The moral questions remain unasked and unanswered.

At the dawn of the atomic age, jet engines, rocketry, and lightning fast developments in electronic technology, Eisenhower warned us (Jan. 17, 1961) of the looming danger of an out of control military industrial complex.  I wonder if he anticipated that the military industrial complex would quickly become trans-national.  From the Cold War on, competing world powers have looked for areas of armed conflict to weaponize, each trying to tilt the balance of global power in their favor.  The last 75 years have seen little gain for the great powers and enormous suffering for impoverished peoples.  In the meantime, weapons merchants have honed their marketing skills and done well for themselves.

I have little knowledge of the rules by which business is conducted in other countries, but in ours senior management and investors in big  companies are rewarded for profits, period.  It isn’t simply a matter of greed and hubris. The tax code and investment fund strategies require it. Failure means the ruin of careers.  Questions of corporate morality may have front page coverage in annual reports and press releases, but at the operational level if things can’t be quantified they have little value.  It’s not a personal thing.  It’s systemic.  The only effective checks come from government regulation authorized by legislation and actively enforced by the executive branch.

We are each commanded by God to live with moral integrity, as best we can.  In Christ Jesus and the prophets, we are fully instructed in what moral integrity means.  Our limitations and failings are not hidden from God, and in Jesus we have the help we need to recover from error.  It means we have no excuse not to do the best we can. The best we can has got to include influencing public policy in the direction of godly justice, which, in this case means seeing that the federal government tightly regulates the military industrial complex as the public monopoly that it is.  It must severely limit the markets to whom weapons can be sold and require profits and executive compensation to remain within reasonable boundaries.  Fund managers would, of course, scream bloody murder, warning that all of our 401k and IRA savings would be in jeopardy. Bah! They need to reexamine that argument and stop preaching such nonsense!

We need to stop allowing it to even cross our minds. The morality that is threatened is much too big a risk for fund managers and individuals to place personal profits above it.

On Being A conservative Liberal:

Some years ago I had lunch with a newly minted college graduate filled with the idealism of Marx, whom he had studied without also studying the history of so called communist countries.  He could not differentiate between the insightful criticism Marx leveled at the injustices of the industrial revolution and unregulated capitalism from his illusions about a more perfect way that was pure chimera. Anyway, my new acquaintance asked me what my politics were and I said center-left.  He went apoplectic as in his view no one could be center anything, it was either one end or the other.  His was an outlook I had come to expect from right wingers and religious fundamentalists, but here it was in the voice of a post adolescent, dreamy eyed, wannabe Marxist.  Well that was some years ago. Perhaps he’s grown up.  There’s an old saying: Today’s radical is tomorrow’s stuffed shirt.  It happens.

So what do I mean by center-left?  I mean I’m  a conservative liberal. What? As a confirmed liberal, I understand the importance of a strong national government able to raise revenue and underwrite programs essential to the  well being of the people. I understand that a United States cannot be a quarreling assembly of competing states, each asserting the right to pass state legislation limiting the full measure of rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution. I also recognize the need for the national government to regulate business and industry to assure the safety and welfare of the people, and to do what it can to establish social and economic conditions creating greater equity for all.

My conservative side recognizes that not all liberal proposals are good ones, some not even workable.  Before anything is established and funded by the federal government, it must be  examined with care to assure, as much as possible, that it is needed, will work, can be measured, and paid for in a reasonable way.  I have little interest in “small government” and a great deal of interest in effective, efficient government.

American liberal democracy, with its checks and balances, is one of the great, if sometimes fallible, political achievements.  It recognizes that strong national governments have only two powers.  One is the bully pulpit, which can be used effectively to sway public opinion.  The other is coercion.  Laws establishing limits to allowable behavior, and imposing punishments for violations. That’s coercion.  It’s a dangerous tool, and must be used with great caution in ways that offer adequate exceptions and variations.  When our representatives function at their messy best, they exercise the needed caution.  With that in mind,  it is liberal policies that have guided us toward the most prosperous century known to any country.

We have seen plenty of ups and owns as the system works well, and then stumbles for a while.  Even in times of stumbling, national commitment to the ideals of the Constitution, as amended, and the Declaration of Independence sheds the necessary light to guide the nation beck to a better place.  It was only under Trump that we witnessed a fragility in democracy that we had not seen before.  It remains to be seen whether we have the national will to recover from his mishandling of it. 

A friend asked if there is a difference between a conservative liberal and a liberal conservative and I think there is. Both are centric.  They can speak with understanding to each other.  But   liberal conservatives are more nervous about granting too much power to the  government, hold a more tight fisted view of government spending, still think Reagan’s policies were good for the country, and are more suspicious of liberalism that challenges established customary social practices. They generally favor what some call corporate socialism while adhering to the American myth of individualism that pretends it needs help from no one.  Just the same, they understand the value and importance of strong federal government addressing national issues, and the danger of states going in too many different directions with basic rights and privileges.

Both left and right centers are willing and able to reach workable agreements that never please the extremes, but manage to move the nation toward a more rewarding future for all. 

Note:  The Articles of Confederation established all sovereignty in the states with the federal government as a sort of well intentioned ombudsman, with little authority.  The Constitution established all sovereignty in the federal government, acknowledging “states rights” within limits and under some oversight.  The former collapsed of its own weight as an unworkable mess.  The latter has enabled the United States of America to become the great nation that it has been.  Today it teeters as a minority of hard right neo fascists attempting to impose authoritarian rule in place of a robust democratic system of three co-equal branches providing checks and balances on each other.  What will happen remains to be seen. 

You Are Worried & Distracted By Too Many Things

You are worried and distracted by too many things.  It seems to be a common condition these days, and it’s unhealthy. To worry about something is to be emotionally concerned about the outcome of an event, and what, if anything, one can do to see that it comes out right. Worry often involves thoughts about how many ways things can go wrong, and the likelihood that they will.

To be distracted is to start off intending to do one thing and finding one’s self doing all kinds of other things instead.  We make jokes about dogs and squirrels, but they’re really about you and me.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus said to Martha, “You are worried and distracted by too many things.”  The emphasis was on “too many.”  Some things are worth worrying about, but there is such a thing as being worried by too many things.  The emotional state of constant worry can become the core of one’s daily life, obliterating any chance of enjoying life’s many blessings, opportunities, and delights.  It’s especially corrosive when one takes on the emotional responsibility for everyone else’s comfort and happiness. It’s a path to never ending guilt and frustration.  We are also prone to silly worries, but there they are anyway.  One of our daughters travels the world on business, often to third world countries.  I never worry about her then, but when she and her husband visit our home and go out for an evening, I worry about when they’ll get home, if they’re safe, and listen for the front door to open.  I guess it’s a holdover from her teenage years.

In like manner, being distracted is not a bad thing by itself.  Life offers so many fascinating opportunities to explore the varieties of creation and experiences that enrich one’s being. But to be so focused on a task or subject excluding all else can make one unable to experience the abundance of life lying all around.  Consider the genius of Leonardo DaVinci: his willingness to be distracted enabled him to explore everything he could about art, anatomy, architecture, hydraulics, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, medicine, and more.  Few of us are DaVincis, but life offers too much for us not to enjoy being distracted, just not by too much.  As my dad said more often than I liked, “A job worth doing is worth doing well,” and “If you start a job, finish it.”  There were times in my boyhood when I was the epitome of the dog and squirrel.

So, are you worried and distracted by too many things?  What is too many?  There isn’t a right answer.  In the story about Martha and Mary, Mary was distracted by Jesus’ arrival along with twelve disciples, and chose to listen to him rather than help in the kitchen.  She chose to be distracted in the right way that day, but on another day it would have been the wrong choice. There are no rules that say this is the right day and the right reason to be distracted. The best we can do is have a clear sense of direction and purpose keeping us on track to meet the day’s needs, yet allowing room for distractions that help keep the day interesting. None of us will get the balance just right every day but we can achieve a good average over time, and should.

When too many worries and too many distractions come together at the same time, it leads to emotional chaos with one of two outcomes.  First, such overwhelming indecision that one is paralyzed, finding it difficult to accomplish anything at all.  Second, emotional outrage at the injustice of everything as one flails about trying to organize and manage everything for everyone at once, and getting nowhere.

An emotionally healthy person is always going to be worried about some things and distracted by others, but neither will dominate her/his life.  Being worried and distracted by too many things is what leads to trouble, so pay attention to good advice from Jesus.

Which brings us back to Luke 10: 38-42.  Martha complained because her sister Mary was visiting with Jesus, leaving Martha to prepare a meal by herself for some sixteen people. Jesus answered her complaint by saying she was worried and distracted by too many things, Mary had chosen the right thing to do.  Setting aside the obvious, that if Jesus and his disciples were going to eat, someone had to prepare and serve it, when Jesus comes to call, stop doing what you’re doing and pay attention.  Today the words of Jesus are spoken through the mouths of others more often than one might think. For those who desire to follow him, it is not a rare occurrence, but it is something that can, and is, too easily ignored by the worries and distractions of life.  Amidst all the competing voices, how can we tell which is from Jesus?  His words will always be words of love, reconciliation and healing. They will sometimes be words of warning, or calling for amendment of life.  If the words you hear cannot be defined by loving God, loving self, loving neighbors, and loving others as Jesus loves us, they are not from Jesus.  When that happens, go ahead, be distracted by something better and get on with the richness of life. 

That Plan You’re Told God Has For Your Life? It’s Not What You’ve Been Told.

As I have often written, too many Christians believe God has some detailed plan for their lives like a divine Google Map route to a specific job site God has in mind for them.  They hear about the mystery plan from preachers who should know better, and, to use words reminiscent of Luther, it’s all donkey dung.  The God has a plan nonsense is corrupted Calvinism and borrowed Hinduism.  There is no kismet, no divine rat maze to navigate to get to the celestial cheese.

Does God have no plan? Are we left to wander on our own?  No!  God has a universal plan for all that each must experience in their own unique way.  It’s laid out in plain sight and plain language.  It is: Love God, Love Neighbor, especially the ones you dislike and Love Yourself.  Love others as Jesus Loves us.  That’s the plan.  There isn’t any other.  If you want specific waypoints along the route, read Matthew 5-7.  The plan does not start in some far off place.  The starting place is where you are, as you are, doing what you do.  You do not have to be anywhere else.  You do not have to be anyone other than who you are right now.  Don’t obsess about trying to figure out who you really are.  Who you are right now is who you are, and God loves you that way.  But, when you begin to follow Jesus on the way of Love, your life will change, your relationships will change, your world view will change, and all for the better.  You will not be perfect or more authentic, but you will be making progress on the way of Love.  You will stumble and have doubts, but Jesus will be there to help you back on the way.  That’s the way God’s plan works.  Don’t let anyone mislead or deceive you. There isn’t any other way.

If God has a special task or role for you to play, it will be made known to you.  You do not have to look for it. So don’t concoct special tasks or roles for yourself and say God laid it upon your heart.  That’s not how it works.

Note:  I write as a Christian priest and pastor, and believe that God is fully revealed in Jesus, who is the Word of God made flesh.  But I hold no illusions about God’s limitations and believe that God can and does engage with people of good faith who follow other religious paths.  With others, I have often been made humbly aware of those who follow in the way of Love better than I, but without them knowing that it is God in Christ Jesus who has laid the path before them. Does that matter?  That’s up to God, not me.

The Alienability of Unalienable Rights


The writers of the Declaration of Independence believed it was self evident that “all men” had rights that were theirs that no government could take away. Their source was the creator of all in existence. To be sure, some were Christians, others Deists, and others of no particular religion, but they shared the idea that one way or another humans were created with unalienable rights. Not all could be named, but among them were the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The current majority on the Supreme Court has held that there are no unalienable rights but for those specifically granted by the Constitution. All other “rights” are mere privileges granted only at the pleasure of Congress as interpreted by the Court. They can be revoked at any time or for any reason. The Declaration of Independence is, after all, not part of the Constitution. It simply declares the ethical foundations for independence from Great Britain. It has no legal standing.

It’s true that the Fourteenth Amendment implies an unknown number of constitutional guaranteed rights, but they are only implied, not specifically mentioned, so the Court is free to reject any they disapprove of on whatever grounds they choose to disapprove.

We are, my friends, in dangerous territory. Our democracy is at risk. The remedy most urgently needed is a filibuster proof Congress that will protect our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in language with which no Court can find fault.

Crime and Punishment: Trump, Trumpism & American Liberal Democracy

Television commentators and late night hosts have wondered how it is possible that the DOJ is just discovering, thanks to the Jan. 6 Committee, that it’s possible Trump may have committed crimes. How can that be when we’ve all been watching him commit them publicly in broad daylight, on national television?

I think the answer is twofold. First, unlike you and me, the DOJ has to have a case so airtight even a gnat couldn’t get out. It takes time. Second, both law enforcement and Congress are accustomed to ferreting out crimes and criminals who try to hide all from discovery. They don’t know what to do with someone who brazenly boasts about planning them, then commits them on the public stage, and brags about having done them, while pointing fingers at the innocent as the true miscreants. They keep looking for the hidden among the obvious. It may also explain why his hard core followers are unlikely to abandon him, no matter what. They love the way he does what they only talk about privately over too many beers. They have a grudge of some kind against the authority others exercise over their lives, and how the elite get away with what lesser folk get punished for: or would get punished for if they had the guts to actually do what they constantly threaten to do. And there’s Trump, speaking as if he was one of their kind doing everything they’ve ever dreamed of doing, and doing it to the extreme right out in public view. He’s their hero. He may go down in flames, but to them they will be flames of glory. Like a demented Greek tragedy.

With that said, it’s likely the DOJ will file criminal charges against many senior White House advisors, probably some members of Congress and even a Supreme Court Justice, or at least his wife. Will they get Trump? It’s possible.

Will it end Trumpism? No! Trumpism is an ideology that now dominates the former Republican Party, and has taken on a life of its own. Ron DeSantis can hardly wait to become the new flag bearer. If he can contribute to Trump’s demise, he probably will. He’s learned from the master: throwing old friends under the bus is how any good mobster wrests control from the has-been old guard. Trumpists are ardent believers in an authoritarian form of “democracy” that can impose its agenda on an unwilling but passive public. They’ve been working up to this moment since Goldwater, and believe the time is now. Keep in mind, Trump is a crude but practiced street fighter whose only goal is to be the final winner of the brawl. DeSantis is a very intelligent strategist and political tactician who knows how to steer a movement.

Sadly, Trumpism is vigorously opposed by equally authoritarian radical leftists. Taken together, both groups represent many millions, yet they are a tiny minority of the voting age population. What gives either of them power is the passive complacency of sixty to seventy percent of the voting age public who favor American liberal democracy They number in the hundreds of millions, but count for nothing if they don’t assume the responsibility of citizenship. Indeed, the ideal of citizenship has drifted into the forgotten mist of middle school civics.

The radical left is loud, but very small, lacking critical mass. Trumpism has the critical mass its leaders think they need and must act boldly to seize the moment. They must be more boldly condemned. There can be no equivocation about a false equivalency with the weak radical left. Failing that, the tyranny of the minority may become ours to live with. Erstwhile libertarians who have supported Trumpists will discover their treasured freedoms to be gone in an instant.