The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #29: “Three Tickets To Paradise”

A few podcasts back, we put ourselves on a deserted island — just us, three movies we love and one book.  Then we returned to the island a few podcasts later and chose three songs.  In this podcast, paradise calls again. But, with a twist!

Here’s a thought experiment the whole family can play: picture the island.  You’re on it for who knows how long.  Could be forever.  The good news?  It’s Eden!  Every creature comfort is there (except the annoying talking snake).  Even better?  You get to choose two people to be with you.  Living or dead.  It’s a thought experiment after all.  One exception: it can’t be Jesus (or any religious figure of that stature — that would kind of be cheating on the experiment).  Aside from that?  It’s wide open.  

Now, remember — as part of the experiment, you will have to spend considerable time with these people.  Ghengis Khan was probably a fascinating guy once you got to know him.  But, he might be a little too “alpha male” to share an island with.  It might help to know a little about your island mates beyond what you already like about them.  When the subject turns toward the more mundane, will you still be able to keep the conversation going?  And, don’t forget, there will be three of you.  The last thing you want on your blissful desert island is a triangle where two sides are always ganging up against one.  

Who would you choose?  Who would be endlessly fascinating?  Who would be as interested in what you have to say as you are in what they have to say?  Whose unexplored depths would you love to explore, given all that time?

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 29: “Three Tickets To Paradise”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

Quick Note: please excuse my mid-podcast befuddlement re the starting date of WWI. I’m keenly aware the war began in 1914, not 1916. This is what happens when one multi-tasks — looking at three things while trying to focus on two — while being at best minimally qualified to do one thing at a time. Apologies… AK.

RANDY’S NOTES

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-56009064

Who would I choose?

I would be afraid to choose some people I admire because, honestly, I am afraid I might learn that I don’t like them as much as I want to like them. But I also need to think about the character qualities that would be key to the experience.

Smarts … Humor… Faith… Adaptability.

I guess the same character qualities I regard highly in my friendships on this island of Los Angeles as well. So, two people:

  1. G.K. Chesterton

First of all, he has an essay entitled, “Cheese” that begins in this way:  (read from book)

Now this is just one of 4,000 essays he wrote as a literary and social critic, historian, playwright, novelist, Catholic theologian and apologist, debater, and mystery writer.

Other titles:

A Defense of Skeletons

A Piece of Chalk

and probably the best title of an essay I have ever read, “What I Found in My Pocket”.  Wonderful!

He wrote around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, and several plays as well as his 4,000 essays (mostly newspaper columns).

He also wrote a biography of William Blake which, to my mind, is the most interesting biography one could possibly write.  

Here is how it begins:

William Blake would be the first to understand that the biography of anybody should really begin with the words, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” If we were telling the story of Mr. Jones of Kentish Town we should need all the centuries to explain it.

Wow!

He is probably best known for the “Father Brown” character in a series of detective short stories that has been made into a TV series by BBC One.  The main character belies his Christian faith.

He wrote some books on the subject. But my favorite of his Christian works is an essay called “The Book of Job” which is one of the best commentaries on any book of the Bible and on life in general, that I have ever read.  Here is an excerpt:

When you deal with any ancient artistic creation do not suppose that it is anything against it that it grew gradually. The Book of Job may have grown gradually just as Westminster Abbey grew gradually. But the people who made the old folk poetry, like the people who made Westminster Abbey, did not attach that importance to the actual date and the actual author, that importance is entirely the creation of the almost insane individualism of our modern times.

Wow and Wow!

G. K. Chesterton

So, if I were stranded on a desert island, I would like to be stranded with GK Chesterton because of his:

  • wisdom
  • humor
  • insight
  • and his incredible ability to express all of this to writing.

I wish we could have him on The Faitheism Podcast!

A period of agnosticism. Then he focused on existence. Existence, compared to “nothing”. The fact that he existed was in itself exciting.  

His hope grew from there. Listen to this:

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.

I can only aspire to such heights, but I would be happy to spend some time with him on a desert island.  I can’t imagine him ever getting boring.

The second person would be, without a doubt, my wife Cheryl.

My marriage to her was actually confirmed in a spiritual experience on an island. Not a desert island, but a deforested island with a dormant volcano in the center.  La Isla Del Tigre or Amapala. (photo)

(She actually visited me there one day, but my host served her iguana and she got sick)

She is the glue that has held, not only my family, but my life together with a rock solid consistency (when she agrees to something, she is committed and that is all there is to it, a great thing especially in the early years of a marriage.) I needed that to make a marriage work having become insecure about my ability to hold a marriage together after my parent’s divorce.

I met her after college, when I was working to assist Mexican and Honduran churches. She had graduated from Stanford and from there moved to Mexico and lived with a family with 6 kids, 5 boys, one bathroom and 2 bedrooms.  (one of the lounges and the laundry room were converted into a bedroom)

She could adapt and make our time on the island the best that it could be.

She really caught my heart when she teared up about having to leave her Mexican family in Neza, a very tough part of Mexico City at the time, to be a leader in our group.  I found that kind of cross-cultural commitment and love very attractive.

She is also super smart and quite quirky.  And she makes friends with anyone who looks upright but under the surface is a “rascal”.  (Friend at ORU)

She also loves mysteries. So, I imagine she and GK would get along quite well.

If I could have those two with me, I am pretty sure I could handle two years (or more!) on a desert island.

ALAN’S NOTES

If I could really, REALLY do this, there’d be one person — my dad.  Now that my head is clear, there’s so much I’d like to learn from him — and so much, I think I could offer in return.  But, that’s too hard to actually talk about, so I’ll leave it here.  

As for who I’d choose… This is one that starts with a huge list that whittles down quickly.  

Two names passed every “either-or” test.  When I tried to think of reasons to exclude them, I couldn’t.  The thought of hanging with them seemed even more appealing, in fact.  In both cases, I’m fascinated as much by what they’re known for as the process they use to do it.  I share their skewed, skeptical views of humanity.  

  1. Groucho Marx

To begin with, “Groucho” was the guy with the greasepaint eyebrows and mustache.  That guy’s interesting.  But it’s Julius — out of makeup — that I’d be sharing the island with.  

There’s plenty Julius and I have in common just for starters.  There’s the whole Jewish thing.  There’s show biz.  A love of language and wordplay.

But, I also identify with one of Julius’ more famous quotable quotes: “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member”.  There’s something so profoundly spot on in that statement… we could spend a decade just going over that fine point all by itself.

  1. Barbara Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman was an historian.  She wasn’t an academic though she wrote with an academic’s authority.  Instead, as she wrote herself, she was “liberated” by not being an academic historian.  It made her a better storyteller.  

Her personal dets make her even MORE interesting (from Wikipedia)…

She was born Barbara Wertheim January 30, 1912, the daughter of the banker Maurice Wertheim and his first wife Alma Morgenthau. Her father was an individual of wealth and prestige, the owner of The Nation magazine, president of the American Jewish Congress, prominent art collector, and a founder of the Theatre Guild. Her mother was the daughter of Henry Morgenthau, Woodrow Wilson’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.

Although she never received a formal graduate degree in history, Tuchman was the recipient of a number of honorary degrees from leading American universities, including Yale University, Harvard University, New York University, Columbia University, Boston University, and Smith College, among others.

Good stories rely on perspective.  The better a story understands and uses the environment in which it’s taking place, the better a story it’ll be.

Barbara Tuchman opened my eyes to the ways getting the widest possible perspective on a subject can reveal the most remarkable, telling details.  Or give the details you can see remarkable perspective.  

I yakked a few podcasts back about my dramatic literature professor at Vassar — Everett Sprinchorn — and how his lecture on Ibsen’s “Ghosts” genuinely opened my eyes to how storytelling works.  Tuchman had a similar impact.  I’d always had this odd fascination with the middle ages — with the Black Death in particular.  Couldn’t tell ya why other than, as a storytelling environment, it’s incredibly compelling.  

Tuchman’s book “A Distant Mirror”, her history of “The Calamitous 14th Century” tells the story of the Black Death but in the entire context of its time.  During roughly the same patch of time — the 1300’s — not only did bubonic plague ravage Europe, but so did the 100 Year War (which ran for 112 years actually) and the Papal schism that set Christian upon Christian even before the Protestant Reformation made that kind of thing de rigeur.  Human history is the ultimate storytelling challenge.  How do we frame such an expansive story?  How do we tame it?  

Typical of Tuchman’s approach.  The second of her WWI histories — the Pulitzer Prize winning “The Guns Of August” — she opens with the story of the funeral of Edward VII of the UK in May 1910.  

Nine of the crowned heads of Europe are there including Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.  Most of European royalty was related in one way or another to a handful of families — the dynasties that had ruled Europe for hundreds of  years.  

The family dynamics that she describes at this funeral are at once remarkable for their commonness and for their outrageousness.  Tuchman describes these crowned heads of state as the petulant man-babies they all were.  And cousin Willy’s petulance was going to drag the whole rest of the family into war before the decade would be over.

It’s that wonderful ability to frame history from a human point of view that struck something in me.  Even a story as grand as History relies on the quality of its characters if it’s going to be any good.  You gotta get the characters right.  You gotta see em warts & all — in fact, you gotta see em warts first.  

The Tuchman book I think Randy would relate to and, in fact love is her “The March Of Folly”.  

The book is about “one of the most compelling paradoxes of history: the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.”[1] It details four major instances of government folly in human history: the Trojans’ decision to move the Greek horse into their city, the failure of the Renaissance popes to address the factors that would lead to the Protestant Reformation in the early sixteenth century, England’s policies relating to American colonies under King George III, and the United States’ mishandling of the conflict in Vietnam.

Other Great (highly recommended) books by Barbara Tuchman —

Stillwell And The American Experience In China” — Pulitzer Prize-winning account of American general Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell, the military attache to China in 1935 to 1939 and commander of United States forces and allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek in 1942 to 1944. While exploring China’s history from the 1911 Revolution to WWII, Tuchman asks a big question: in backing Chiang Kai-Shek over Mao Tse Tung (because he was Communist), did America make a preventable error? Stillwell argued forcefully to America’s leadership that backing Chiang was a mistake — that he was corrupt and that America’s long-term interests would be far better served working with Mao.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stilwell_and_the_American_Experience_in_China,_1911%E2%80%9345

The Zimmerman Telegram” — The least well-known of Tuchman’s WWI trilogy, The Zimmerman Telegram focuses on the forgotten reason WHY America entered the war. We’ve gotten it into our heads that a u-boat sinking the Lusitania was the trigger; it may be been the event that gave Wilson the public reason, but the real reason we declared war on Germany had to do with the Zimmerman Telegram. It turned out that the German government was using OUR undersea cables to transmit communications (some as literal telegrams) wherein they attempted to induce the Mexican government to declare war on America so that we’d be diverted away from entering the war in Europe.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/613792.The_Zimmermann_Telegram

Happy reading!

The Faithiesm Project Podcast, Episode #28: “The Detour”

There’s a well-known joke: how do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans. That’s kind of how episode 28 started. Randy and I had a whole other show planned (which will now be episode 29 — name two people with whom you could share a desert island). We never got that far.

Some background, Randy has family in Texas and as we went to record this podcast, Texas was still frozen and reeling.

Part of the deal with friendship is you zig when your friends zig and zag when they zag.

Sensing that Randy was zagging, I ditched the desert island and the result is The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #28: The Detour. That is exactly what it is — a detour — but a very worthwhile detour. I don’t think I know anyone these days without a well of pent up anger within them. Has anyone’s life NOT been changed in at least some small way by the pandemic? And what about those people whose lives have been profoundly changed? How do we help one another? How do salve the anger and resentment?

A good way to begin: listen. And be willing to zig at the drop of a podcast.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 28: “The Detour”

Or, if you prefer to watch…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #28: The Detour”

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #27: “Miracles & Existence”

In order to ask “To be or not to be?”, one first has “to be”.  As Hamlet goes on to say, “Aye, there’s the rub!”  The fact that we “are” — is that a miracle?  It’s definitely “miraculous” — considering the odds against anyone or anything getting “to be” to begin with.  Even if you see a deity’s hand in your “being” — is that a “miracle”?  After all, isn’t that what deity’s do — make things “be”?  

What makes a miracle “a miracle”?  What makes the miraculous miraculous — and are these things necessarily of one world versus another — the real versus the supernatural?  How should we see “the miraculous” from a spiritual perspective?   Better yet — can a spiritual approach (versus a religious or non-religious approach) offer any insight?

“I think therefore I am” said Rene Descartes.  Ironically, we still don’t know quite “how” Rene did that — think.  We have no idea how consciousness works.  No idea how ideas form from nothingness into the words we use to articulate them.  For all we know, thought itself is miraculous.  

Wait — didn’t we put a “light” conversation on the schedule this week?  Oh well, maybe next time.   

The Faithesism Project Podcast, Episode #27: “Miracles & Existence”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #27: “Miracles & Existence”

RANDY’S NOTES

One thing I learned in Africa was that my own worldview had its limits and problems.

He studied theology at Exeter College, Oxford, receiving a first-class degree in 1948, and completed his graduate studies in the early Church in 1956 under the patristics scholar Frank Leslie Cross.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiM0ReiHy08&list=PLvycVTm6KsytUlVdaBpm4VsBeqIULlVkB  first 40 seconds

Kwame Bediako was raised in a Christian home, the grandson of a Presbyterian catechist and evangelist, and received his secondary education in the Mfantsi-pim School, Cape Coast, originally founded as part of a British Methodist mission. However, he would later become an atheist through French existentialist influences and pursue masters and doctoral degrees in the University of Bordeaux on African francophone literature. Yet during his time in France, he experienced a radical conversion event back to Christianity. Here is how he explained it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqMdQr_n8j8&list=PLvycVTm6KsytUlVdaBpm4VsBeqIULlVkB&index=2    1:12-1:49

ALAN’S NOTES

From Bill Bryson’s excellent “A Short History Of Nearly Everything”

“…For you to be here now trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you.  It’s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once.  For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence.

“Why atoms take this trouble is a bit of a puzzle.  Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level… It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you… The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you.  That is of course the miracle of life!”

The YouTube of Charles Taylor (Modern Dualism) brought to mind this passage from Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens”.  Though homo sapiens have been around on earth — competing with the other humanoids — for about 150,000 years.  But it was only about 70,000 years ago that our species suddenly exploded out of East Africa and began to slowly take over the earth.  

Harari points out that Sapiens had attemped to move out of East Africa via the Levant 10,000 years before — and bumped into the Neanderthals around modern day Lebanon.  The Neanderthals kicked our Sapiens asses.  But, something happened during our retreat to the wilderness.  We got smarter somehow.  Harari calls it “The Cognitive Revolution”.  Along with the Agricultural Revolution (about 12,000 years ago) and the Scientific Revolution (about 500 years ago), the Cognitive Revolution are, to Harari, the key pivot points in human history.  

If our capacity to think is in any way “miraculous”?  That miracle started somewhere back then.  The “why” might be the greatest mystery about us.

Or is this where a “god” steps in? 

Also — to add perspective, insight and just all around erudition to your thinking: I can’t recommend highly enough Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens”. Be prepared to have your eyes and mind opened.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #26: “There’s A Story…”

The whole point of a spiritual journey is to discover truth.  Yours, the universe’s — and, if you’re a theist — God’s.  That journey is “our story”. And, if we find what we’re looking for, it’s natural to want to share that fact.  To, tell our story. Along the way, our stories zig and zag.  There are highs and lows.  Stories we can’t wait to tell other people and stories, well… it was kind of embarrassing, so, we’ll skip it, if you don’t mind.  Then there are stories about how the whole direction of our lives changed. 

Those are the stories we’re thinking about today. They describe moments (small or extended) that were certifiably life-changing.  They might not have changed our lives in that instant; sometimes, it can take years for a moment’s true meaning to ripple across time just so it can bite you in the butt. A moment in your life that you thought taught you one thing turns out to have been about the exact opposite. Seen with perspective — as the ripple finally comes around, you realize how much the game changed without you even realizing it. Hopefully, there’s still time to catch up.

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #26: “There’s A Story…”

Or, if you’d prefer to watch…

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

This is a great addition to our “three-series” as a key way to build relationships with people who are not “like us”-however we define that.  Stories shape who we are and sharing stories helps us to understand where we are coming from and why.

My three:

1-My family’s move London

Built on seeds planted in the previous move to Australia in Junior high.

The world is so much older (and bigger).

This one is really relevant to me (and to all of us):

Very big change (in last part of 9th grade)

Tough start: Took 3 months to find my friend group (tough time)

Tough ending: with my parents divorce and then loss of friend in college.

But I cannot imagine myself without this experience.  

Academics:  found my motivation! Trudell

We are all in just such a time today.  Will be very difficult.  But is a huge opportunity for us if we intentionally move into this very different future.

It was a result of everything that happened in London that in  college I 

made an intentional decision to rebuild my life around my spiritual journey (commitment to Christ) which continues to be the primary source of my identity, meaning and belonging.  As I said last week, you have to be broken to go deep in Christianity.  This was my time of brokenness. 

2-My decision to go to Latin America

City of Joy: inspired by priest character (taken out of the movie with 

Patrick Swayze) to get as close to the poor on this planet and understand, 

as best as I could, life from the majority perspective.

Seed planted in South Africa when with Kruger family member and came across a leper.  How can such disparate experiences happen on same planet?  A chance to build on this experience.

Learned so much about my home country and way of life, and about the way of life of so many others on the planet.

Divested of the hubris of thinking I could “save” others with my ideas, my solutions, giving them my way of life. Learned importance of facilitation.

Met my wife!

Decided to become a pastor

Again, I can’t imagine my life without this experience.

3-Decision to start a fully virtual ministry.

Just beginning but I can already tell that all of my previous experiences 

led me to this point.

Am excited about what is ahead (more podcasts, website re-launch, first digital course “How to read the Bible to create good in your life.”)

ALAN’S NOTES

My three stories in a nutshell —

1 “Ghosts” – How I “saw the light” in the middle of a lecture on Ibsen’s Ghosts and suddenly understood what it meant to be a storyteller.

I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. That was a game changer all by itself — going to Vassar. I was a drama major. Though I’ve always been a writer, I never thought of being one at that point. I wanted to be an actor. I’m no one’s idea of a leading man. I was always cast in comedy support and character parts. But no young actor wants to think of themself that way; I foolishly didn’t.

I went to one audition — one — and decided I’d rather be a writer. Good thing I had this lecture in my pocket to guide me.

2 “My Morning Drive Thru Topanga Canyon” or “How I Sold Out My East Coast Soul And Learned To ‘Love LA’ “.

I grew up in the east. Born upstate NY (my dad was in the air force, stationed at Griffiths Air Force Base in Rome, NY), raised outside of Baltimore (where my dad began his surgical practice), schooled back in New York, as I said, at Vassar. I expected to spend my entire life on the East Coast, most likely in NYC, banging my head against the wall, trying to cut it in the theater. A high school friend had gone out to LA and become an agent at William Morris. “You should try writing a screenplay,” she said.

So, I did. And I sent it to her. She read it and liked it. A lot. She sent it out to people — who also liked it. A lot. They wanted to meet me and hear what else I had in mind. “Want to come out for a few days,” my (soon to be) agent asked, “And meet ‘n greet?”

“Why, sure!” I said, thinking “What the hell!” It’s not like I was burning up the theater world. There was zero chance I was going to go there and stay. Hell, the best that could happen is I get someone interested in buying something I was selling. I’d take my money and go home, happy to write for Hollywood but while I was living in New York.

What’s that joke — “How do you make God laugh?” Tell him your plans. Yeah, well — if I believed in a God, he, she or it saw me coming and started laughing their ass off at me.

3 The Making Of Bordello Of Blood

Hollywood was good to me — compared to how it is to most people who move there from wherever they’re from. I chowed down on real success. I got even got a taste of it early. Within six months of moving to LA, I had my first screenplay development deal in hand. It wasn’t huge money but a dollar compared to zero dollars is a significant difference. Alas, getting paid by Hollywood was, it turned out, the worst thing that ever happened to me.

Well, to my “soul”, as it were.

Part of my all you can eat buffet of success — while I was allowed in the restaurant — included a few dishes I wish I’d never eaten. “Bordello Of Blood” was my own personal Waterloo. Every day making that movie — from the very first day to the very last — was stupider than the day before it. It was an object lesson in everything that’s wrong with Hollywood. The movie’s not horrible. It’s not very good either. It just “is”.

But, no one wanted to make Bordello. Not the filmmakers. Not even the guys who originally wrote the script. None of the actors really “wanted” to do it — except the actors we hired in Vancouver where we made “Bordello”; by the time we were done making “Bordello” , even Vancouver didn’t want us.

“Bordello” is about a whorehouse operating beneath a small-town mortuary but all the hookers are vampires. It’s a horror movie. It is what it is. But the story of “Bordello’s” making, that’s a horror story all by itself. That’s the real horror story as far as I’m concerned. Some horror movies are a game of “Who’s the monster?” I thought I knew, while making the movie (I co-wrote and produced it) “who the monster was”. I thought it was one of my producers — a man notorious for monstrous behavior.

I was wrong. The monster was someone else entirely.

So, yeah — Three Stories that Define us in some way or changed the course of our lives. Let ‘er rip!

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #25: “How To Be A Better…”

How did the Marines used to put it in their ads?  “Be all you can be”?  That’s a great aspiration regardless of what you apply it to.  We adore athletes who leave it all on the field and performers who leave it all on the stage.  They gave us our money’s worth and then some.  The trick is — and there is a trick — leaving it all out there is hard work.  Okay — the truth is there’s no trick, just hard work with no guarantee of success but the potential for payoffs that transcend money.  They can even touch the spiritual — imagine that!  

Randy is in the midst of a unique personal, professional and spiritual experiment that — even just attempting it has opened his future in unexpected ways.  Where it goes?  Who knows.  Alan also is in the middle of a personal and professional rebirth filled with rewards and promise.  They’re both trying to prove F. Scott Fitzgerald wrong — some Americans do have lives with “second acts” in them.  They might even have third acts in them, too.  So, there, F. Scott!  

The goal is always betterment.  Seeing more.  Knowing more.  Being more.  And then doing more.  That’s our obligation — to pay it all forward by doing something.  Isn’t “aspire” one great, aspirational verb?  

And who better to help us aspire to be better than our friends?  

That’s the question on the table today — and it’s really, really timely as we stand on the cusp of change: “How to be a better… atheist or Christian… a better American… a better human… a better spouse or lover… a better friend”.  It all ties together.  But let’s start with how we got here.  We can only judge “better” from the perspective of “where we are”.

Let’s start that by tossing the high falutin’ stuff and just talk nuts & bolts — the day-to-day of being a Christian Minister in a time of spiritual flux like we’ve never experienced before.  Let’s talk about the lay of that land and what it’s like to navigate that in the midst of your own spiritual journey toward betterment.  

By the same token (since that’s what we do here), how does one navigate this world from behind an atheist’s reading glasses?  How would one “become a better atheist”?  What’s the metric?  

As atheists find community the way Christians always have — a sense of community is one of Christianity’s unquestionable strengths — how does that “enlighten” one’s sense of enlightenment if at all?    

How has our personal road impacted our view of the way ahead — and how we intend to travel it the best way we can?

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #25: “How To Be A Better…”

Or, if you prefer to watch…

How to be a better person? As Elvis Costello put it, answer this question: “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?”

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #24: “Is There Still Hope For Hope?”

In life, unfortunately, there is no “grace period”.  Sorry if you needed time to “stretch out” first.  All stats are official.  And, no, there are no Mulligans.  Not on this golf course.  To their credit (and to the credit of their discipline), Team Biden pointed only once to the empty cupboard they were forced to start with, Team Trump having denied them even a modicum of a “normal” transition.  We’ll stick a pin in why that was for a later discussion.   Team Biden was entitled to take smartphone photos of the playing field as it was handed to them.  They did — and then they moved on to getting things done despite the field’s being nearly vertical (pitched against them) and knee deep in garbage.

In our culture of instant responses to everything, everything’s fair game.  Let’s please, please, PLEASE promise to change that — for each other’s benefit.  In the meantime, what is our take on the first few days of Joe Biden’s presidency?  Have they, indeed, hit the ground running?  Have there been stumbles?  Are they running where they should be running (instead of where they shouldn’t)?

Team Biden’s messaging seems right so far — unity but with accountability.  Getting the nation’s work done because the nation needs it done now.  Efficiency, transparency and local responsiveness to well-thought-out top-down-planning.  No “American carnage” so far.  In fact, signs of real hopefulness.  This is where governing meets politics — they’re not the same thing (at least they shouldn’t be).  Maybe that’s our problem — we keep mashing up politics (the art of negotiating our needs) with how we serve our needs.  

Wait a minute!  Is there a spiritual way out of this — neither religious nor irreligious — just a different way of thinking about it?   After all, that’s what spirituality brings to any table it sits at — a different way of thinking than the purely grounded.  What IF we brought a bigger way of doing things to how we govern ourselves?  What if our democracy had a kind of “come to Jesus” moment?  Hmmmmmm… sounds like something we should talk about…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode 24: “Is There Still Hope For Hope?”

Or, if watching’s your thing…

Notes & Sources

As we keep one hand on the nation’s pulse, the other poised to grab the thermometer the instant it beeps, let’s assess what happened to Patient America this week…

Most discernible change to the patient? Light appeared in her eyes for the first time in years.  She didn’t seem nearly as tense.  In fact, she smiled.  A lot.  And laugh out loud.  The patient acted like a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

Dare we say “from her soul”?

Remember the end of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”?  That’s kind of how America was this week.  The inexplicable, violent chaos only seems to end — at movie’s end — when the people get in their car and go away — carrying the thing that just may have sparked the whole “outrage” — a pet bird in a cage.

The moment Trump “won”, I felt how those birds felt.  Offended.  But it wasn’t the politics.  We had “lost” elections before — and in unsatisfying ways.  Bush v Gore was theft and everyone knows it.  But, Al Gore — graciously — conceded for the good of the  nation.  We got W instead.  

Truthfully?  Watching the inauguration, I openly wept multiple times.  Literal tears of joy.  My very English wife wanted to know if I was going to spend the next four years doing that?

No, I said, today was all I needed.  And anyway, there was now work to be done.

Trump losing the election was essential.  It felt good and right. But,  Trump officially losing the power we never gave him — that was the moment when things literally changed inside my head and, apparently, millions of other heads too.

The Faitheism Project Podcast #23: “America — Sink Or Swim?”

America feels increasingly like a powder keg, its fuse lit.  It’s making it hard to have conversations about spirituality — our preference here at the Faitheism Project Podcast.  But, perhaps spirituality (at the end of the day) will be our, um, “salvation”.  Perhaps spirituality (unblemished by dogma) will be the common ground that gives us an opening to speak to each other again without wanting to kill each other.

Ah, but how do we GET there?  That’s the border wall we can’t get over.  

Maybe we haven’t been entirely honest with ourselves about what our problem really is.  Trying to solve the wrong problem with the wrong solutions will never fix anything.  Trying to fix the wrong problems with the right solutions?  Same ending.  We have to be stone cold clear on what our problem/problems is/are first.  

There are signs — plenty of them — from the social media already pouring forth as the investigations begin.  Why did this happen?  Who made it happen?  The more we learn, the uglier the truth becomes.  But then, the truth will set us free provided we’re bold enough to confront it honestly.  

But, can we?

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #23: “America — Sink Or Swim?”

Or, if you prefer to watch…

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

A friend of mine told me that they thought “9-11” would be their lifetime moment:  that one time in life when you remember where you were as some dramatic thing was occurring.  But now he has multiple events.  

Others are just unplugging from the whole thing.

Key Question:  What is the sacrifice required to get our country back together again?

As we seek justice (the definition of justice being quite different to different people in our nation) we need to resist temptation and to offer compassion. Unsurprisingly, there are two sections of the Bible that seem particularly relevant here:

Resist temptation:

Very early in Jesus’ spiritual leadership a story of his temptation is told: (Mt. 4)

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.”4 But he answered,“It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, had him stand on the highest point of the temple, 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Once again it is written: ‘You are not to put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their grandeur. 9 And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you throw yourself to the ground and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and began ministering to his needs.

Three temptations:  1-control 2-celebrity/fame 3-power.  He had to resist these to be able to offer the sacrifice that we required.

Our leaders need to resist as well.  But thus far they see our “salvation” in gaining these three things.  And so many of us buy into that as well.  Therefore they cannot offer the sacrifice required to bring our country together.  

Compassion:

Zechariah:  “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah 7:9

We need three things to actually create good in the time we find ourselves in:

1-Shrink ourselves down to size.

2-Use real power-not coercive power, but the power of compassion and love.

Michel Foucalt:  Strong power:  the power to attract.  Weak power:  power 

through coercion.

3-Work locally. That is where we can have the greatest impact.

Maybe Jesus was right:  the meek really will inherit the earth.

A closing wish: (from Numbers 27)

15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.’

ALAN’S NOTES

There are images that grow larger in my mind as I contemplate what happened & why — and what we must do about it in order to “fix it”.  Here’s one — 

Here’s another —

And another….

And another…

And another…

I am far from alone in seeing this terrible application of the “Onward Christian Soldiers” dynamic.

That, I think, is closer to the mark: what our problem is here.  White Christian Nationalism has burst from its holding pen and run amok.  We are confronting something Paul himself hard-wired into Christianity even as he was inventing it: miles Chrisianus (Christian soldier) or milites Christi (soldier of Christ).  

The “armor of God” led to Chivalry (the sanctification of weapons — they now fought for God & against the infidel) which led to the armed nobility of Europe — those “Defenders of the Faith” who launched the Crusades.

To some modern Christians, the Crusades never ended.  For instance — Vladimir Putin.  Turns out Vlad is very religious.  He’s as deep into Russian Orthodox dogma as he is into restoring Greater Russia.  

Hey, know who Putin has shared time & space with?  Guy named STEVE BANNON — who used to be pretty instrumental in Donald Trump’s world.  Bannon used to run Trump’s presidency before getting fired for a host of terrible behaviours.  But, one thing Steve Bannon has always written about, spoken about and been crystal clear on: he is a Christian Nationalist:

https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-bannon-s-far-right-christian-army-is-marching-on-liberal-europe-and-on-the-pope-1.7151097

Christian Nationalism has had a very happy home in the Trump White House.  Clearly, it does not want to leave.

I think I have (what should be) an easy solution: more Jesus.  Yeah — that’s the atheist’s suggestion.  Much more Jesus and far, far less institutional church.  That might help…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #22: “Of Elections & Madness — What Time Is Is, America?”

This week has been like no other in American history.  Wednesday January 6 was like no other day in American history.  We did not acquit  ourselves admirably.  Trump’s election, his presidency — even the end of his presidency continues to expose things about America that aren’t very flattering.  We keep saying this isn’t who we are.  Maybe that’s our problem.  This IS who we are and we need to own it.

And maybe we’d help ourselves if we stopped seeing this in political terms — as a Republicans vs Democrats issue.  It isn’t.  There may be an ideological struggle afoot, but it’s not between parties.  It’s between Power and Resistance — a struggle as old as time.  Well, as old as time with human beings in it.

On the one hand, this episode was meant to close the circle on our earlier podcast (Episode # 14)  in which we made our election predictions.  Is it just us or does that seem like a thousand years ago?  As the election really didn’t end until Georgia’s Senatorial runoffs, it would have been premature to look back before and measure how we both did.  

As we all know, nothing about this election — literally nothing — has gone “by the book”.  No, this election is, instead, one FOR the book.  For the books — and it may be impossible to calculate how many books will owe their existence to what we just lived through.  

One more thought: after a while — going through repeated moments that have never happened before — one has to adapt to living through things that haven’t happened before.  It feels like what the world really needs is a “How To Live Through This Craziness” guide book.   

Or a podcast to that effect…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #22:
“Of Elections & Madness — What Time Is It, America?”

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #22: “Of Elections & Madness — What Time Is It, America?

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

What time is it? 

So much surfaced yesterday.  Things that have been simmering for quite a while now.

Surprise seems an odd response because these are not disconnected, random events.  

Trump proved how obtuse he is to strategy, to power, to impact.  He is burning any kind of legacy he had by the way he is transitioning out of power.  (As I said in our previous prognostication podcast!)

Those who caused the turmoil in DC have shown their true colors as well.

And the “surprise” of the politicians and media about all of this is incredibly disingenuous.  Hopefully, this is a wake-up call to them to get serious about serving this country.

So, we can rant about whichever group is the evil one here.  But that won’t get us very far in moving forward on this.

This is not the time to “amp up” the self-righteousness.  That is part of the polarization that got us here.  It certainly won’t get us to our desired future.

I want to be sure we go under the surface for a deep dive on this so we don’t keep adding fuel to this fire but instead bring healing to our communities, nation and world.

1-One way we do this:  confessing that we are all part of the problem here.  It isn’t just one side or another that set up the conditions for this to occur.  This is a problem for all Americans, not just for some. 

This then draws us together to do what this podcast is all about.  To hear each other, respect each other, and find commonality so we can move forward together.

2-Another part of bringing healing to our nation is to realize what time it is.  We are in the neutral zone.

Description by William Bridges, Managing Transitions

Anxieties rise

Motivation falls

Old weaknesses emerge in full flower

Become polarized between those wanting to rush forward and those wanting to go back to the old ways

More vulnerable to attack from the outside because we are slow and random in our responses to

competitive threats.

Sound familiar?  Welcome to “the neutral zone.”

The neutral zone is the time when we have to let go of one way of life but have not yet grasped the new. It is a time when “the old clarities break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is given anymore, and anything could happen. No one knows the answers and one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different.”

“Neutral zones occur in organizations, but also in individual lives and in the history of whole societies.”

We are in the neutral zone.  Not just because of politics, but because of the pandemic, because of our ideas running out of fuel before the pandemic, because of the change in our lives and society due to technology, climate, geopolitics etc.

Story of moving to London, England.  Golders Green.  J. Geils Band album Love Stinks (1980).

Did this in Syndney, Houston, L.A., Moz, S. Carolina and more.

We have all been through these times of transition.  Elementary to Middle school.  Middle school to high school.  School to work.  Single to family with kids.  Empty nest. Work to retirement.  In each of these you went through the neutral zone and got to the other side.

But it is hard and takes work.  Easy things are now a challenge.  Getting through days and weeks take some real focus.

Three things:

1.Own that we are all in the neutral zone and that we will be here for the foreseeable future.

2.Get creative in the confusion.

3.Commit to living your most heroic life in this time for the sake of your loved ones.

Our tendency will be toward polarizing behavior.  We are all tired so we also tend toward knee jerk responses.  But being a hero is not about taking action motivated by anger or fear.  (On full display yesterday.) It isn’t about action for action’s sake. 

Take action, but make it strategic action motivated by love and a desire for healing, strategic action that moves beyond short term emotion and power plays and instead intends good for the long haul for those you love (and even your enemies).

Don’t hand over your “hero” job to someone else.  “…people in the neutral zone are tempted to follow anyone who might seem to know where he or she is going…”  There are plenty of people who act like they know where things are going.  But no one does…too many variables now.  A hero admits they don’t know what will happen while working with people, out of love, to help them move forward in their own lives.

Last thing:  think of another transition you made it through.  You will make it through this as well with those you care about.  We can make it through.  Even as we continue to disagree about things.

I am going to go out on a limb today with my first prophecy.  If this prophecy is false I will come to our follow-up show in sackcloth and ashes.  And if my prophecy is true Alan will…

Okay, so here it is…(drumroll please):  Whoever wins the election….Life will go on.  There it is.  I have said it.  I have gone “on the record”.  If Biden wins, life will go on.  If Trump wins, life will go on.

Whew.  Glad to have that “cat out of the bag!”

Three Things That Will Happen if Joe Biden wins:

  • Trump will initially fight it but find a way (or be forcefully given a way) to save face while stepping down.
  • Strengthening of far-right organizations as a large portion of the population will feel increasingly marginalized.
  • Conservative Christianity will grow as those on the political right will re-engage institutional religion out of fear of the future.

Three Things That Will Happen if Donald Trump wins:

  • 4 more years of rancor and social unrest in our cities.
  • Progressive church becomes more hardline and divided from conservative Christians.
  • Formal Christianity will continue to decline.

Internationally:

  • China will continue to grow in strength and influence as well as Turkey and Iran because turmoil internal to the US will continue and that, more than one side of the other winning, plays into their hands for growth in power and influence globally.

Three ways to lead yourself through this election cycle (from Randy the pastor without a church who just keep himself from a little preaching!):

  • Ground your sense of identity, purpose, and meaning in something greater than the ideological left or right and their issues.  Of course, my recommendation would be in faith; more specifically in Jesus.  But how you do this is your choice.
  • Laugh.  Laugh at your life and most particularly laugh at yourself.  Don’t take yourself and your emotions too seriously right now.  You remember how, for those of us who are older, it was when we were younger?  Every loss meant life would be horrible from here on out and every win meant you were “King (or Queen) of the mountain.”  As you get older you learn to tone down those emotions through experience.  Apply that lesson to your politics.  Please, everyone, the only way this is “the end of the world” is if we make it so.  Just lighten up.
  • Take some time to unplug, to rest.  This is not an attempt to escape reality, but to rest so we can be the best citizens we can be in this very challenging time in our country.  As human beings we fatigue.  This is true in any election cycle, but add to it the pandemic we have been struggling through and the racial justice issues and natural disasters many of us have been going through and we have a recipe for fatigue.  We all need to take time to rest, to recover, to recuperate and to regain our strength for the work ahead.

ALAN’S NOTES

Here’s what I wrote back in November just before the election:

  • Donald Trump will get blown out by the biggest margin ever.  More Americans will vote in this election than, perhaps in any other election ever. That’s for a reason: the overwhelming majority of Americans are done, done, DONE w Donald Trump and what he’s doing to America.
  • IF Trump claims victory, it will be through manipulating the courts and the vote count.  As Trump himself has said OUT LOUD: the problem with letting too many Americans vote is it’s always bad for Republicans.  (“They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again” — that’s Trump during an appearance on Fox & Friends.) Again, Trump may claim victory but he will not have legitimately won.  He “got away with it” last time; he won’t this time.
  • Joe Biden will win handily.  The Democrats will increase their lead in the House and they will flip the Senate.  Then, here is what (I predict) they will do

As a Result:

  • The Democrats will increase the size of the Supreme Court — from 9 seats to 13 or 15 at a minimum in order to make the SCOTUS look more like We The People and less like just one segment of our population.  
  • The Democrats will make Puerto Rico and Washington DC states — giving them two Senators each — helping to bring some balance back to the Senate and how it “represents” Americans and their interests.  
  • The pandemic (as much as the Democrats) will make socialized medicine and universal basic income done deals. They’ll launch a massive infrastructure project even bigger than Roosevelt’s WPA — all in order to help get the economy out of the ditch it’s in — the ditch Trump and his coronavirus response put us and the economy in.
  • As Joe Biden said, it won’t be up to him what “happens” to any Republican who might have behaved illegally over the last four years, it will be up to a newly rejuvenated Department of Justice — as per our Constitution and the rule of law.  If the rule of law dictates the Justice be visited upon all the Republicans now fallen from power then so be it.  They knowingly violated the rule of law which is what brought us here.  Behold The Day Of Judgment.

I’d say I got it all pretty close to perfect. The only thing I got wrong was the House – the R’s gained ground.  

What’s become clearer since the election: while we may think this was an election between Republicans and Democrats, it really wasn’t.  By the end, plenty of Republicans were joining with Democrats because they recognized — finally — that this WASN’T about the differences between Republicans and Democrats.

This election — the last four years — has been about Power & Resistance.

In “Doing Theology In The Age Of Trump:  A Critical Report On Christian Nationalism”, editors Jeffrey W. Robbins & Clayton Crockett mirror French philosopher Michel Foucault’s belief that wherever there is power, there also is resistance.

The great human struggle isn’t between political parties, it’s between Power and Resistance.  

In their introduction, they write: “We believe that nationalistic, patriotic fervor easily and often devolves into idolatry, and when it does, that it is important for us to identify it as fundamentally anti-Christian, if indeed there is such a thing as Christianity in any integral way.  Even further, one of the things that unites us… is the conviction that this political opposition to a form of worldly power oriented around military might, domination and denigration is actually the way of Jesus.”  

Politics and theology have everything to do with each other: “There can be no radical theology,” they write, “That is not simultaneously a political theology”.

Politics may be deeply corrupted because so many politicians are corrupt or easily corruptible.  But then, the church is also corrupt.  It cannot honestly hold itself above politics as “less corrupt”.

Tchividjian, the 47-year-old grandson of famed pastor Billy Graham and a Christian celebrity in his own right, is leading a church for the first time since his June 2015 resignation as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in northern Fort Lauderdale.

Tchividjian was forced to resign because he violated a morality contract by having an extramarital affair, according to a filing in his divorce case. But the woman who said she was involved in the affair and an advocacy organization led by his brother call it pastoral abuse and sexual misconduct.

Tchividjian, who said there was no element of sex abuse or emotional manipulation, was also defrocked by the South Florida Presbytery. Now the new Jupiter resident is among those starting The Sanctuary, an unaffiliated church that’s meeting each Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn Palm Beach Gardens ahead of a planned formal launch next month.

https://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/20190817/exclusive-after-sex-scandal-billy-grahams-grandson-is-starting-church-in-palm-beach-gardens

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #21: “Was 2020 An Annus Horribilis Or The Annus Horribilest?”

One couldn’t be faulted for looking back at 2020 and thinking “What in hell’s name was that?  Betcha none of 2020’s “big events” were on anyone’s Bingo card — a worldwide pandemic… a never-ending election trauma here in America… Racism and bigotry run amok… An economy in free fall.  If we weren’t living through it, we’d probably swear it was something we ate haunting us in the night.  If only that’s what it was…

And yet… life goes on.  It goes on strangely and with way more uncertainty than we’re accustomed to but, it does go on.  

From our “safe perch” here in January 2021, what stock shall we take from our experience of the past twelve months?  Aside from the politics — which we’ll tiptoe around ever so delicately, treating it like the live minefield it is — how else did 2020 change or not change our lives?  What imprints will 2020 leave on the future?  Did it improve our circumstances in any way?  Did it make the doomsday clock look a little more ominous?  Was there anything good whatsoever about 2020?

Better question — has 2020 prepped us in any way, shape or form for 2021? And why do we always have to find out the answer to questions like that the hard way?

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #21: “Was 2020 An Annus Horribilis Or The Annus Horribilest?”

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

-Virtual presence:  

21 podcasts!  25 webinars! Launching a new all virtual platform to help 

people move forward in their spiritual journey.

From the Faitheism Project:  your saying I was a political skeptic.  Have always looked down on others that were skeptics but you helped me look in the mirror (like sister’s minivan versus my own).  Thanks to you I will be more understanding of skeptics but also I have a deeper understanding of what my spiritual journey does for me.  One thing it does is give me hope.

Better than guilt for doing well is generosity.  Plenty of chances to do that. So many opportunities before us as other doors are closed on us.

It is about positioning, isn’t it?  Zoom, Amazon, UPS, research scientists positioned well (not by their using a crystal ball, so not about them being wiser than others) but others not positioned well for this and have gotten hit.

Exodus journey is theme (see instagram)

2021: Sustainable, virtual platform.  Looking for “survey team” for this.  People to help me map out the contours of this path so we can help people who are struggling to move forward spiritually.

Neutral zone.

ALAN’S NOTES

Should one feel guilty when truly terrible times aren’t altogether terrible for you?  While the pandemic has certainly altered every business I’m in or trying to get back into, it’s also created situations that cry out to be taken advantage of.  When life gives you lemons, make daiquiris.  Think of something else you can turn lemons into and make that too.  

2020 has exposed a lot of things we probably thought would never get exposed.  A lot of truth about what and who we really are, beneath the self-mythologizing.  America is still in the throes of its “original sin” — slavery.  Every terrible impulse that prevented us from making this obscenity illegal still glows inside us.  But circumstances also have brought us closer to really confronting it for the first time.   Count on it getting ugly. Nonetheless, a very real renaissance lies on the other side of that “curtain of fire”.  

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #20: “Can An Atheist Experience Grace?”

Hopefully, this moment from our recent past, is familiar. President Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” captured something essential about grace itself.  And what it is.  From all appearances, grace is a thing to be wanted.  We should all aspire to live in “a state of grace” if by “a state of grace” we mean… ah — that’s the question, right there.  What do we mean by “grace”.  

Whatever grace is, clearly it’s in short supply these days.  We need to do something about that.    From a theological point of view, grace is something bestowed upon us from above — by a loving God.  But then, a landlord can extend grace toward a struggling tenant — with all the seeming power of a God granting grace.  It may not make a landlord God, but it sure can make her “god-like” in her generosity.

Isn’t that what grace really is?  Generosity — a “reservoir of goodness” of the wallet and the spirit?

In our previous podcast (“Confessions About Confession”), we discussed the “validity” of institutions allowing for and hearing confessions (I say that a good therapist can beat a “father confessor” any day of the week).  But, by the same token, a skilled religious leader can do infinitely more healing than the institution they work for.  In this podcast, we continue that conversation.  If it’s dubious whether or not an institution can stand in for God to hear you confess your sins, it’s just as dubious for said institution to grant you forgiveness for them.  They’re just another pair of ears, really.

Can anyone — person of faith, person of no faith — live in “a state of grace” or is that club “exclusive”?  Let’s discuss…

The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #20: “Can An Atheist Experience Grace?”
The Faitheism Project Podcast, Episode #20: “Can An Atheist Experience Grace?”

NOTES & SOURCES

RANDY’S NOTES

It is so perfect that we are starting this discussion with President Obama singing Amazing Grace.  Once you understand the story behind the lyrics and look back at the journey the song took to get from there to the lips of the first African-American President of the United States, we see how complex, how messy, and how amazing, grace is.  

John Newton, who wrote the lyrics to “Amazing Grace,” has an incredible life story.   

“Newton was born in 1725 in London to a Puritan mother who died two weeks before his seventh birthday, and a stern sea-captain father who took him to sea at age 11. After many voyages and a reckless youth of drinking, Newton was impressed into the British navy. After attempting to desert, he received eight dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of common seaman. 

While later serving on the Pegasus, a slave ship, Newton did not get along with the crew who left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave trader. Clowe gave Newton as a slave to his wife Princess Peye, an African royal…” of the Sherbo people of what is now Sierra Leone.  She treated him very poorly until he was rescued by another sea captain.

Newton then became the captain of a slave ship and an investor in the slave trade while also getting more involved in Christianity.  Over years he became an evangelical, and through the evangelicals of the day, a social activist; specifically, an abolitionist, and an Anglican clergyman.   

Now one of the hymns he wrote was sung by the first African-American President of the United States, President Obama.  Crazy, huh?

Grace.  Grace.  All is grace.

Grace came into English from Old French meaning “pardon, divine grace, mercy; as well as elegance and virtue.” Already we see two different emphases in the word.  In the early 13th century it became a short prayer before or after a meal.  In the 14th century grace as beauty of form or movement developed.  In the 1500s it became a title honor.  Its first recorded use in English was in 1579.

But I want to connect grace to another word; a word that used to be beautiful but has become a dirty word in our day, “predestination”.  The rejection of the word is understandable.  It is a word which was abused in theological circles to support a negative, judgemental outlook. But in the Bible, predestination is a beautiful word of gratitude.  It is used for reflecting back humbly on one’s life (instead of looking forward pridefully as one who is “in” who can tell who is “out” of the state of grace).  Predestination means you realize that all of the important things you have done are not about you at all. They can only be received as “gift”.   The idea is that the longer you live, the more you realize that everything is grace.

Neither providence nor grace mean “success”.  People who follow Jesus get this confused all the time; thinking that following Jesus is a way to make your life work exactly as you want it to work.  Strange since Jesus’ himself a less than successful ministry.  It only lasted about 3 years.  He didn’t write books, star in movies or go on talk shows.  He gathered 12 disciples, one of them betrayed him with a kiss.  And he was crucified. Hardly a “successful” career.  And yet he continues to be one of the most famous humans who has ever existed on the planet.

Jesus’ career trajectory tells us something really important about grace.  Grace doesn’t mean promise success.  Grace transcends success.  Grace takes pain, suffering, wounds, and redeems those experiences. 

I love this quote by Elizabeth Achtemeier:

“We moderns are accustomed to finding God in peace and beauty and silence. The Old Testament most often knows him present behind the violence and flow and clatter of everyday life.” 

My sister committed suicide.  Hearing that news was one of the more painful experiences of my life.  I wish it had never happened.  But years later, as a pastor in Los Angeles, that experience enabled me to build trust with a congregant whose wife had committed suicide.  I was  able to help him walk through the deep pain of this loss and officiated at his marriage to another woman in the church.  My sister’s suicide is still a wound. I still wish it hadn’t happened.  But that painful experience has been “redeemed”.  It has been used for good in someone else’s life.  This is grace.

When you are on your deathbed looking back, you can see that everything, the good and the bad; I hope you can look back on your life and see that it was all grace.

History can be read as a story of grace.  It is messy, it is deeply painful and unjust.  But, as we see in Newton’s life, it is filled with grace.

It’s also a thought that

The most intriguing contemporary description of grace I have read are the lyrics from a song by U2:

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson
Grace lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

But there are two more ancient sources on grace which help me to understand it, experience it and treat others with grace:

The apostle Paul breaks into joyous writing when reflecting on the grace he experienced through Jesus:

Paul:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance…

-Ephesians 1

We see in this passage a number of interesting things about the Christian view of grace.  Grace is:

-God’s initiative in choosing to be “for” people who have turned away.

-God dealing with humanity purely on the basis of infinite, undeserved mercy which is at the heart of who God is.

-There is a counter-intuitive, counterbalance between human failing and grace.  The grace of God expands as human failing is honestly admitted.  It shrinks the more that human woundedness and stumbling is covered over.

-The origin of the universe is found in this grace of God.

-Human life is rooted in this love of God which is beyond cause and effect.

And the second ancient source are the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of Matthew.  

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?   -Mt. 5

Let me end by suggesting a book for those who want to understand the Christian concept of grace more deeply.  It is Philip Yancey’s “What’s so amazing about grace”.  It is well written, challenging and well worth grappling with.  https://www.amazon.com/Whats-So-Amazing-About-Grace-ebook/dp/B000FCJYGO/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1COQI0SM1OPXR&dchild=1&keywords=what%27s+so+amazing+about+grace+by+philip+yancey&qid=1608248181&sprefix=what%27s+so+amazing+about+grace%2Caps%2C355&sr=8-1

In his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Philip Yancey describes a conference on comparative religions where experts from around the world debated which belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis happened to enter the room during the discussion. When he was told the topic was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions, Lewis responded: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

Lewis was right. No other religion places grace at its theological center. It was a revolutionary idea; as Mr. Yancey puts it, grace “seems to go against every instinct of humanity.” We are naturally drawn to covenants and karma, to cause and effect, to earning what we receive.

Grace is different. It is the unmerited favor of God, unconditional love given to the undeserving. It’s a difficult concept to understand because it isn’t entirely rational. “Grace defies reason and logic,” as Bono, the lead singer of U2, put it. “Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions.”

From:

ALAN’S NOTES

I’ve told my story here before.  I kept a secret from myself — protectively — for 45 years.  The darkness emanating from that secret nearly consumed me.  Now that I’m on the other side however, I feel… I’m going to use the word “graced”.  

As I’ve also said in these podcasts, I walk around in a perpetual state of bliss.  I’m hardly oblivious of how dire our circumstances are.  My bliss isn’t the product of my mood stabilizer or the copious amount of THC in me.  I have come face-to-face with my own mortality and walked away (I hope) better for it.  It ain’t a deity that saved me from my darkness, it was therapy, chemicals and perspective.  

I see “grace” differently than I do “beauty” or “racism”.  Beauty and racism are strictly in the eye of the beholder.  It’s not for the racist, for instance, to say whether or not they’re racist.  They have no idea whether they are or not.  They lack the perspective.  The only person WITH the proper perspective is the object of the racist’s racism.  If THEY feel you’re a racist, you’re a racist.  

Don’t deny your racism, talk to those who feel your racism’s sting.  If you really don’t want to be racist, your victims will be super helpful.  But — first — you have to WANT to be “helped”.  

Grace is the opposite.  One can BE graceful all by oneself through acts of genuine generosity.  One can, like a god, dispense grace.  One can, in fact, both receive AND dispense grace.  Wouldn’t that be the real definition of “a state of grace”?  Who needs a church for that?  Who needs a deity for that?  

My dad died with absolute grace.  He lived with grace.  In a state of grace, I’ll argue. 

My dad died in August 2013.  He was born in 1929, in Philadelphia, the youngest son of an upper middle class Jewish family.  My grandfather was a dermatologist.  My grandmother was a force of nature.  

When my dad was a kid, people feared polio even more than they feared the coronavirus today.  Before the Salk vaccine, as is happening now with multiple versions of a coronavirus vaccine being developed, multiple polio vaccines were being created.  It was a real scourge.

My grandparents were part of a large, smart community — mostly physicians and their families.  Among the physicians in their circle was a doctor who was developing a polio vaccine.  It seemed promising, I guess.  I hope that was why my grandparents allowed that doctor to “innoculate” my dad and his older brother.  The vaccine contained live polio virus.  My dad and his brother both CONTRACTED POLIO from the vaccination.

In other words, my dad didn’t “catch” polio, he was given it.  

My force-of-nature grandmother refused to see her sons as “diseased” (my dad especially — he got it far worse; his left leg became shrunken).  When my grandparents sent my dad’s older brother to sleepaway camp, they sent my dad, too.  They treated him as if he didn’t walk with a very noticeable limp.

But, he did.  My dad took his polio-constricted left leg and went to medical school (the University of Pennsylvania).  He became a general surgeon and practice — balanced on his good leg — until the mid 90’s when his good hip gave out.  

He quit medicine and devoted himself to his three other passions — photography, sailing and my mom.

Polio never really leaves — even after the worst has been knocked down.  Most polio victims later suffer from “post polio syndrome”.  The virus weakens other parts of the body.  Eventually, my dad’s good leg got infected — and had to be amputated, leaving him with just his polio leg.

An important detail about my dad: he was hilarious.  He was an empath, too.  That’s probably the more important detail.  He was a great surgeon because… well, frankly, he didn’t give a shit about money.  He cared about providing for his family, of course, but it wasn’t money that motivated him.  Ever.

And, as much as he might bitch and moan about some of his patients, it did not mean he didn’t care about them deeply.  He didn’t know how NOT to care about them deeply.  

Polio was as present in my dad’s life as oxygen.  But it never ever defined him — even after his good leg was gone.  We always knew he was tolerating a remarkable amount of pain.  How could he not?  But, he rarely if ever complained about it directly.  And he never — in my hearing — blamed anyone for his travails though he could have.  

Towards the end, relieving himself — simply peeing — was a huge hassle.  He was not going to surrender to diapers.  To avoid having to pee, he stopped drinking enough water.  He became dehydrated and his kidneys began to shut down.

Kidney failure was my dad’s official “cause of death”.  Interesting side note — among physicians, kidney failure is the favored way to die.  It slowly euthanizes your brain.  Relatively speaking?  It’s painless.

My dad was able to “forecast” the end.  Well, we all were.  I was able to fly to Silver Spring from LA and join my two sisters for my dad’s final weekend.  

I won’t go into any more detail than that because, frankly, I’ll lose it.  But, trust me: my dad went out with such grace… He made his death – made dying — acceptable.  

My takeaway?  Anyone — atheists included — CAN live in a state of grace.  It’s as much a “state of mind”.