Showing Up

Showing Up
Detours in Life
Pentecost #81-89
Mega Post #3

In my last blog post I quoted Corrie Ten Bloom: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Prayer is often synonymous in today’s world with faith. Today’s battle cry of “Take a Stand” and “Take a Knee” is all about showing one’s beliefs and/or patriotism or the lack thereof. Everyone from the NFL’s youngest fan to the President of the United States has an opinion. Everyone, it would seem, firmly believes in freedom of expression… as long as the person expressing is saying or doing what the listener/observer believes in.

I was not around during World War II but a Caucasian Christian had to think they were relatively safe from the witch hunt that the Nazis were conducting in rounding up people of the Jewish faith and sending them to concentration camps for eventual extinction. And before I go any further, let’s address the issue of “Did it really happen?” Yes and the hundreds of thousands who died and are buried are the proof that it did. Six million of the Jewish faith from all ages and walks of life were killed for nothing more than believing. Germany became a killing ground as did the countries invaded by Adolf Hitler. He had promised to make Germany great. Instead it made it a graveyard.

Corrie Ten Bloom was something of a superstar in her chosen field. She was the first woman in the Netherlands to become a licensed watchmaker. Corrie also ran a club for young girls which provided them an opportunity to learn and expand their lives. She believed in these young women and in a bright future for them all. Such actions were considered dangerous by Hitler and when he invaded the Netherlands in 1940 he instituted restrictions that banned Corrie’s club for these girls.

Because of her Christian faith, Corrie and her family helped their neighbors who had been targeted by the Nazis and were in fear of being sent to concentration camps. As father stood up for his faith, different from those he was helping, by stating: “In this household, God’s people are always welcome.” Word of their actions eventually reached the Nazi authorities and Corrie Ten Bloom and her family were arrested. Her sister and father both died in the concentration camps. Corrie Ten Bloom spent time in two such camps over a span of eleven months. On New Year’s Eve 1944 she was released due to clerical error. The following week everyone in her age group in the unit in the Ravensbrück concentration camp was sent to the gas chambers.

Corrie Ten Bloom returned home and continued to help the disenfranchised, particularly the mentally disabled. She established with her remaining family members a rehabilitation center in Bloemendaal. The refugee houses consisted of concentration-camp survivors and sheltered the jobless Dutch who previously collaborated with Germans during the Occupation exclusively until 1950, when they accepted anyone in need of care. She returned to Germany in 1946, and met with and forgave two Germans who had been employed at Ravensbruck, one of whom was particularly cruel to her sister.

Corrie Ten Bloom lived her faith, standing up for what she believed and showing up by living it, even when the going got impossibly rough and life-threatening. You might say her faith created the detour her life took by being sent to a concentration camp but really, isn’t that what faith and our beliefs do at times? Life is not all about smooth sailing. Any sailor will tell you that the most exciting times out on the water are not those where everything is calm and bland.

The recent furor over whether one stands or kneels during the playing of the National Anthem is not just about one song. It has become a battle cry to respect those veterans who defend our nation’s ideals every day. But is that really the only way to show such respect?

I would suggest that perhaps we should use our faith as our own personal steering wheel and follow in example of Corrie Ten Bloom. Faith should not be something we pull out only when we get in a tough situation or are scared. Neither should patriotism. Both faith and patriotism should be active parts of our living each and every hour of every day. They should be as evident and visible as the noses on our faces.

I would suggest that we should be respectful and attentive during the playing of the National Anthem of our own and any country. I do think we should take it a step further, though. Because this has become such an issue involving our veterans, let take it all the way. I’d like to see people continue to support the NFL so that the NFL can support our veterans. Let each team donate fifty tickets to Wounded Warriors, injured and disabled veterans that could then attend the game. I would like to see those Wounded Warriors who bravely lived their patriotism escorted to the sidelines for the playing of the National Anthem by team players with all present on the sidelines for the flag and anthem.

To be sure, some of those Wounded Warriors will not be able to stand but certainly no one can doubt their patriotism. Let’s stop the shouting and start taking real action. Let’s show up for what we profess to believe in and take a stand… or a knee… or a wheelchair to honor the true heroes of the game of life.

 

 

 

Taking a Stand

Taking a Stand

Detours in Life

Pentecost #66-80

Mega Post #2

 

If you live in the United States, then it was very hard to escape the detour in concentration regarding nationally televised professional football games recently.  The focus has, quite simply, been detoured from sports and centered on actions, taken or not taken, during the playing of the National Anthem.  The speed with which this occurred, stemming from the actions of one player almost one year ago, would give a marketing specialist reason to take notice.  Rather than it being something that occurs without much forethought at the start of each game, those ninety-four seconds of the national Anthem  suddenly became the most talked about action of the games.

 

The National Anthem of the United States should, if played and sung in its entirety, take over five minutes but seldom are all four verses sung.  Most deem it too lengthy and so, only the first verse is played or sung at games.  At the time he penned the verses of his poem, Francis Scott Key was aboard an English ship during the War of 1812, attempting to broker a peaceful resolution.  As he stood on board in the harbor of Baltimore a prisoner of war amid the ammunition being volleyed by both sides, he wondered which flag would be waving victorious at dawn.  He called his poem “Defiance of Fort McHenry”.  The words were later put to a tune composed by John Stafford Smith.  Most people only know of Francis Scott Keys and few, if any, know of John Stafford Smith. 

 

John Stafford Smith was a British composer and church organist.  His song “The Anacreontic Song” became the melody for the new nation’s anthem which was not officially adopted as the national anthem until 1931.  You might be curious as to the irony of a song of spirit to encourage independence being composed by a member of the enemy country.  It is a rather interesting detour.  John Stafford Smith belonged to the Anacreon Society, a group of amateur musicians who were bonded by their love of music.  The name of their society came from the name of a Greek poet known for his drinking songs and hymns.  The young nation was a group of amateur politicians – many simple farmers elected by their neighbors to defend their rights.  Few had served in the British Parliament so the appeal of another amateur group is certainly understandable.

 

In the fourth verse of Francis Scott Keys’ poem is the line “free men shall stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.”  It should be noted that only someone white (Caucasian or of European descent), male and over the age of 21 could be considered a “free man”.  This is the only place in a legal document that mentions standing in connection to the National Anthem, by the way.  There are codes of conduct and protocol for the playing of the anthem as well as showing respect for the flag of the USA but standing is never nor has it ever been a requirement.

 

During the 2016-17 professional football season a player became distraught over the way he perceived people of color were being treated and how the disproportionate number of their deaths was being ignored.  He wanted to pay tribute to these American citizens that he felt were being forgotten.  Out of respect he did what many in Congress do at official meetings during the playing of the National Anthem – he sat down.   A team player noticed this and after much discussion together, the player decided to kneel instead of sitting.  His sitting was never noticed but his kneeling was and it created a media storm that has escalated over the past ten months to the past ten days, in part because of a politician who needed something to get a crowd interested.  In a state with more football championships than most and no professional teams, he highlighted this player’s actions in a negative light.

 

To fully understand the rights of the American citizen and just who is considered an American citizenship who would be expected to show respect to the National Anthem, we need to look at a timeline of citizenship.  In the beginning a citizen had to be male and own property to vote.  In 1791 this was changed to all white males so that they could vote even if they did not own property.  In 1795 free white persons could become citizens after living in the U.S. for five years but still only men could vote.  In 1848 approximately 80,000 Mexican residents of the Southwest were granted citizenship after the Mexican-American war.  In 1857, because of the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that African Americans who were brought into this country as slaves could never be citizens.   Please read that last sentence again because many do not realize a specific law denied forever these victims of slavery from becoming US citizens.

 

In 1868 the 14th Amendment overruled the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, giving citizenship to African   Americans.   Citizenship did not, however, mean they could vote.  Still only white males could vote.  In 1870 laws were changed to say that white persons and persons of African descent could be citizens and the 15th Amendment gave African American males the right to vote.  In 1913 California and other states enacted the Alien Land Laws which prohibited non-citizens from owning property.   In 1920 the 19th Amendment allowed women to vote.  Then, in 1924, all Native Americans were granted citizenship; most states prohibited them from voting, however.  During the 1940’s, all laws banning Asians from becoming citizens were overturned.   In 1947 Native Americans were given the right to vote but many states put obstacles such as literacy tests in their path and many were unable to vote. 

 

In 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march to protest lack of voting rights, and the Voting Rights Act was enacted to get rid of all barriers to voting (literacy tests, taxes, etc.).   The last change to citizenship and voting laws occurred in 1971 when the voting age was changed to 18 by the 26th Amendment.  It should be recognized that the Voting Rights Act did not just benefit African Americans.  Finally, all people of color were to be treated as equals.

 

Corrie Ten Bloom once asked:  “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”  Many consider the most devout evidence of prayer to be kneeling.  In the earliest churches, prayer was done most solemnly when the person praying was prone.  In mosques worldwide, men pray in a semi-reclining position, on their knees with the torso laying outward and down.  Many churches of a historic episcopate use kneelers in their churches and people pray as a sign of devotion and obedience.

 

Last week many teams took to their knees; others stood solemnly with arms joined.  It was the first time in my life I had seen entire teams show respect while the National Anthem was played.  It should be noted that no stadium closes its concession stands during the playing of the National Anthem.  Public restrooms remain open as do ticket agents and sports memorabilia stands.

 

Showing patriotism is much more that simply wearing a red, white, and blue outfit or combining stars with stripes.  Wednesday we will discuss Corrie Ten Bloom and how a respectful Christian came to be detoured to a concentration camp during WWII.  For now, I ask you to ponder her query.    I hope the respectful action of one professional football player has become your own personal steering wheel in thinking about your own patriotism and how it is displayed.  Loyalty to the concept of freedom for all and those who teach it, protect it, and live it certainly deserves much more than merely being derailed by some politician’s spare hot air.

Do We Really Want to Know?

Do We Really Want to Know?

Pentecost 92

 

Over the weekend I became embroiled in an argument of sorts with one of those “friend of a friend of a friend” things that often occurs on Facebook.  Someone had posted something about the National Anthem and posed a question:  Who knew it had four verses?  AS a musician, I have lost count of the hundreds of times I have played this national treasure.  Its complexity often belies the tune’s origin, supposedly as a drinking song.  I responded that I knew all the verses and that knowledge apparently made me both expert and target.

 

If you’ve been reading any of my blog posts over the almost three years this particular blog has been in existence, then you know that mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Last year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, a young girl who dared to follow her dream to learn.  Education is both the key that unlocks life’s mysteries and also puts a target on one’s back at times.

 

Many things seem to defy basic knowledge.  The Christian tradition tells the story of a loving God, a virgin birth, the crucifixion of the child of that virgin birth, and his bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could anyone believe that a man could be born from a woman and some Creator spirit, live, be crucified, buried, supposedly return from the dead to walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church, the Roman Church of the time, became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influenced Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion, a feeling easily and perhaps understood.  These invasions introduced Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  yet, don’t we all live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?  Certainly my stating a few facts about the National Anthem led to great dissension by one “friend”.   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Francis Scott Keys penned the verses to the National Anthem of the U.S.A. while actually a prisoner aboard an enemy ship, a ship he had boarded to broker peace and hopefully, a cessation of the fighting.  “Oh, say; can you see?”  Knowledge is out there for us to discern but only if we are willing to see.  Knowledge takes us out of our comfort zone.  Do we really want to know or are we too willing to stay comfortable in our ignorance?  Is that truly living?

 

 Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”