Posts filed under 'Fig Tree Notes Archives'

Behold The Butterflies

April 16th, 2017  |   

As Easter day comes to a close, I think about butterflies. They have been on my mind today. My love for these creatures runs deep within me.

It was a drab day, years ago. As I stood on the side of a cemetery hill, family and friends quietly awaited the lowering of the casket into a freshly dug grave. The elderly man, lifelessly locked inside the casket, had been a special friend. He never went to church, but I had visited him at home on more than one occasion. He had shown me his workspace where he did beautiful woodwork. I had a deep affection for him.

As the casket arrived at its final resting place beneath the surface of the hill, there to await shovels full of dirt, a brightly colored butterfly that had taken rest in the grave suddenly took flight skyward. It flew from the grave, within easy view. Butterflies, entombed in a cocoon, find a way out of confinement on their journey toward freedom. They are on a long journey.

Butterflies are my favorite symbol of resurrection.  They are all about metamorphosis, renewal, and rebirth. Behold the butterfly.

The Monarch butterfly, once free from its binding, having gone through a five stage metamorphose, takes a remarkable journey from as far away as Canada, all the way to South America. In the spring, they return north. One of the incredible things about the Monarch is that it makes the journey to an unknown, distant place utilizing some inherent, yet unexplainable behavior pattern. One might say they travel, guided by a genetic faith.

I am grateful to Professor Leah D. Shade at Lexington Theological Seminary for putting me back in touch, through her writings, with Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Flight Behavior.

The book’s central character is a mother of two children, living in a poor community in the rural foothills of Appalachia. She has a serendipitous encounter with a swarm of migrating Monarch butterflies that have descended on her land, on their way back from Mexico. Called the “butterfly lady,” she has an awakening. She becomes aware of the fact that not only is her poverty-stricken family threatened by the possible loss of their home and their land, so too are the butterflies, who are losing their home to the very same antagonist, the international logging industry, here and in Mexico.

Nathanial Hawthorne made this observation: “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” That is spiritually meditative guidance for active social justice living.

There is no Easter basket full of sweet solutions to the death, destruction and political oppression we are experiencing in the world right now. Endless war and rumors of more wars are testing our faith and our commitment to peace and justice. Do we have the energy and perseverance for the work that must be done?

The Easter season, which lasts well into the spring, invites all of us, no matter our faith or beliefs, to behold the butterflies. Behold and see the lessons they teach us about taking long journeys to new places, and the persevering energy required in order to engage the struggle it takes to reach a destination. That’s what it will take from those of us who care about life. It will take persistent hope.

Take a couple of minutes to watch the video about the butterflies. Behold the butterflies. They have life saving lesson to teach us.

Add comment April 16th, 2017

The Mother Of All Bombs

April 14th, 2017  |   

“The mother of all bombs.”

Those are the words I heard this morning as I checked the news.

That’s the description of the bomb, a 21,600 lbs GBU-Massive Ordinance Air Blast, dropped on a target in Afghanistan, the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat.

The mother of all bombs? What an outrageous description of this instrument of death.

Mothers do not birth bombs.

Mothers birth babies.

Babies, who too often become canon fodder where, in Matthew Arnold’s words, “ignorant armies clash by night.”

As Good Friday comes to a close, a particular mother comes to mind. I think of her often, have written about her in the past, and bring her to mind once again.  

Perhaps some of my readers remember this woman. I met her at a church service in a rural parish in North Carolina, where I had been invited to preach. It was the summer of 1990, six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that became the Gulf War.

I shared my concern, in the sermon and in prayers, anticipating a possible impending war. A woman in a pew, just to my right, began to cry, very quietly,

After worship, this woman approached me and apologized for having cried. She then proceeded to tell me that her son, a Marine, was on his way to the Middle East. She was worried about a possible war. As if to justify tears, she said, “I hope you understand. I’m just a mother.”

Those words troubled me as I drove home. 

Back in Raleigh, I told Judy what had happened. As a woman, a mother, she understood this woman she had never met, and understood my troubled spirit over her tears and her words. “Just a mother.”

On Monday morning, I called Doug Hostetter, the Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The call resulted in the formation of the delegation that took me, along with 16 others, to Iraq, and then back home to work against our nation’s thirst for war.

Before this Good Friday comes to an end, another woman comes to mind, Phyllis’s Boyens, who introduced me to the Appalachian music written and sung by her legendary father, Nimrod Workman, a United Mine Workers of America coal miner, who later dedicated himself to the task of getting our country to face up to the health concerns surrounding black lung.  On Good Friday, Phyllis sang her father’s songs, intermingled with the reading of the crucifixion passages from the Bible, and my meditations and prayers.    

I still recall Phyllis’ rendition of “O Death,” sung just before the reading of Jesus’ final words before dying: “When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His Spirit.” It was a poignant way, back then and particularly now, to stare down death, divorce mother from bombs, and turn toward nonviolence.

While we have time.

Add comment April 14th, 2017

A Card-Shark With A Trump Card

March 28th, 2017  |   

Ever since Donald Trump leaped into the political pool, announcing his campaign for the presidency, we’ve been subjected to a masterful card-shark. He’s a hustler, an expert gambler, who has manipulated the nation as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a fascist clad in fleece attire. The media he denounces, yet loves, has actually catapulted him into the presidency. We cannot trust the enabling-press, and I don’t mean just Fox News.

His legerdemain has been mesmerizing. This trickster is non-stop entertainment, a constant, unavoidable performance. And we are welded to him. We wake up to his late hour tweets, and go to bed dizzy from his crazy twists and turns. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear “breaking news” all day long, reporting that there is no Trump news?

Never one to wear a poker face, his sour, petulant demeanor matches his bullying personality. His self-proclaimed trick-taking power, however, hides more than it reveals. Beneath it all, his braggadocious behavior is a cover, a stunt, to mask his ignorant impotence. Nevertheless, he keeps showing up at the card table, ready to play with us.

Donald Trump has now lost two card games. He didn’t have the hands (slight pun intended) to win; the cards just weren’t there. He lost to the courts in his attempt to enforce a travel band, and then again in his battle with Congress over healthcare. In so doing, he looked like a loser. But we must keep in mind that he has a trump card up his sleeve, there for the most deadly game—the game of war. It’s the Commander in Chief card. He can run the table with that card, as well as ruin the world.

One might say that the Congress has the power to stop a president from trump-carding our nation into war, since it’s congress that has the constitutional power to declare war. Really? Well de jure, but no longer de facto. The last war to be fought legally, by congressional vote, was WW II. The situation now? Counting the Gulf War, we have been at war in the Middle East for almost 26 years, a long time since I went to Iraq on a peace mission in 1989. Four presidents (Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama) have conducted war without a declaration. It is now President Trump’s war.

The bloodied, broken-bodied news right now out of Iraq and Syria, not to mention Yemen, is March Madness, and I am not talking about basketball. I am talking about the continuing madness that has metastasized in place-after-place in the Middle East. Our misguided genocidal militarism, begun in 1990 with the Gulf War invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, has grown to behemothic proportions. Not content with a modicum allowance, these wars have consumed trillions of budgeted tax dollars, and left behind millions of dead, wounded, and displaced people. The numbers exhaust an overworked multiplication table.

Campaign promises from the card-shark: “I would bomb the s- - - out of ‘em. I would just bomb those suckers. That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. … I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there and in two months, you ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll build that sucker, brand new—it’ll be beautiful.”

This past weekend Vice President Pence arrived here in Charleston. On his way from the airport, he stopped at the West Virginia Veteran’s Memorial and addressed a pro-trump rally. “Thanks to you all in West Virginia, we have elected a man for president who never quits, who never backs down. He is a fighter. He is a winner, and I’ve got to tell you: From day one in the Oval Office, he’s been fighting for the American people and fighting to keep the promises that he’s made to the people of West Virginia.”

That’s right, he promised to bar Muslims from entry to our country, euthanize the Affordable Care Act, and now it’s bomb-time, more troop-time, more budget-money-for-war-time. The question that hangs in the air: Will the rising tide of protest and resistance to the card-shark be sustained long enough to fight against an obese military budget, along with an unwillingness to rally around the flag when we are attacked for our constant reliance on massive bombing and an inevitable increase in troop deployment? The answer will be determined by how we play our cards.

Add comment March 28th, 2017

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Nations will hammer swords into plows, their spears into sickles, there shall be no more training for war. Each person will sit under his or her fig tree in peace.
Micah 4:3 - 4