A Little Boy In A Marine Uniform

May 29th, 2017  |   

As the Memorial Day weekend comes to a close, always a bittersweet holiday, thinking about war and death, I can’t get a little boy off my mind. His picture was on the front page of the Charleston Gazette last week. He was dressed in a Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform. These costumes can be purchased at Walmart or Amazon. He was marching in the Armed Forces Day Parade in South Charleston.

The little boy brought to mind my putting on a Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform in June, 1958, when I was 22-years-old, newly married and on my way to Marine Corps Basic Training School in Quantico, Virginia.

When I set sail for duty in Southeast Asia, just 10 days after my son Stephen was born, I knew nothing about Southeast Asia, its people or history. There’s nothing unusual, however, about that. The troops we have sent to fight in places like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, too often had no idea where they were going, and have had little or no knowledge about the designated enemy they might be called upon to kill.

It’s highly likely that this boy, and plenty more boys and girls his age, will be called upon to go to war. That’s because our nation is in what’s being called a “perpetual war,” more aptly described as an “endless war.” Its roots are buried in the Vietnam War, and a long list of wars that followed that conflict. Sad to say, I see no end in sight. Which means more bloodshed, more military graves, and more little boys and girls trained in the art of killing.

Worthy of note is the fact that since 1991, both political parties—all four presidents—have taken our nation into a series of senseless wars with no exit in sight. We have wasted lives as well as financial and human resources that could have been put to a better use, in an effort to shore up our democracy. The sacrifice has been enormous.

This little boy, in his Marine Dress Blue uniform, is the next generation in our militarized state.

President Trump has just authorized $110 billion worth of military armament to Saudi Arabia. Since Saudi Arabia is supplying weaponry to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Syria, these weapons will be used against our troops. This is outrageous and we must protest his misguided action. If this boy should ever put on an authentic military uniform, I do not want him to face weapons made in the U.S.A.

Since WW II, we have been engaged in wars that have not been constitutionally declared by Congress. This boy may march in the streets of South Charleston, but he should not be sent to any war that has not been declared by Congress.

One last thought before bedtime. Our nation may be too steeped in violence and war for our children to learn, particularly in school and at home, that there are alternatives to military service. Our nation has an honorable and patriotic tradition of conscientious objection to war. I wish to God our places of worship would rise to the task of teaching our children about the nonviolent options available for patriotic service.


Add comment May 29th, 2017

Catching Memories Before They Slip Away

April 28th, 2017  |   

“She went on speaking about how this land had become cursed with a mist of forgetfulness.” The Buried Giant,  Kazuo Ishiguro


I like to sit at the bar. It’s where I go on Sunday mornings for my weekly indulgence—two blueberry pancakes, three pieces of bacon, and coffee, served up at a restaurant a few blocks from my home. Conversation often breaks out among folks at the bar. A few weeks ago, one of those conversations got around to the subject of Alzheimer’s.

The man seated next to me spoke of a friend who had lost her memory to this dreadful disease. It was as if pages out of the diary in her head had been blown away, page-by-page, day-by-day. The memories that defined who she was, the narrative out of which her life took shape, were gone. Afterwards, on the way home, I thought of my father.

Just prior to his death, the two of us went to the Toddle House, his favorite Baltimore breakfast place. The waitress knew exactly what he would order. Everyone there knew my father. A man sitting at the end of the bar held a conversation with him. After he paid his check and left, my father leaned over and asked me, “Who was that man?” It was reminiscent of the words from Paul Simon’s song: “You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.” The fear that many us have, as we move closer to death, is that a synaptic upheaval will disconnect us from one another.

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, “The Buried Giant,” an elderly couple, Beatrice and Axl, recognizes that their memories have washed away like sand on a beach. Their minds have been nibbled away. Memory is no longer reliable. Not only that, they discover that everyone in their community has the same difficulty. There is a mist that takes memories away from everyone, young and old alike. “With this mist upon us,” says Beatrice, “any memory’s a precious thing and we’d best hold tight to it.”

Since the election of Donald Trump, I feel like our nation has a mist upon it. Our memory is no longer reliable. Facts seem to be out of reach, and reason has become unreliable. As for myself, everything I have worked at over the course of my ordained years, all the social justice efforts, are under attack, and the hard won gains are in a state of distress, in a land where the cheerleader in the White House leads the cry to make America great again. It would be easy to forget the accomplishments.

In the midst of this mist, Beatrice reminds us to hold tight to any memory we are able to grasp. Here’s the simple truth I hold tight to: The very best organizing, creative planning and action take place when a crisis occurs. When a heavy mist challenges our vision, we become more alert, and move forward, out of the mist, with more intensity and focus.

It may sound bizarre but Donald Trump may be just what we need to energize a resistance that has been asleep. I see people, young and old, organizing and mobilizing in an active resistance to this con man who has fleeced his way into the White House.

Today I heard from an 89-year-old friend. He wrote: “I don’t keep track of Donald Trump’s daily absurdities. I’m not surprised by the goofiness coming out of Washington. I am focused on the realities of climate change, and that we are very possibly in a life-or-death struggle, unprecedented in the history of humanity. And I know what I have to do.” And what’s that? He is preparing, with others, to do civil disobedience, resisting the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Virginia.

Now that’s an encouraging word, along with an Appalachian musical reminder: “Don’t let the shadows turn into mountains. It’ll be all right when the mist clears away.”



Add comment April 28th, 2017

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

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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