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June, more than any other month, is a season of transitions. Perhaps, like me, you’ve already been blessed this month to see singles turn into married couples, high schoolers into adults, college students into professionals.
Dear Andy, Katie and Claire, I mixed your names in the salutation on purpose. I wanted to see you three in a little different way (not always in age order), and mixing the names helped. Looking at people and things in different ways is a good way to clear up our heart-sight, if not our eyesight.
I’m about two-thirds of the way through Alan Weisman’s new book, “Countdown.” His last foray, “The World Without Us,” perused the notion of humanity’s sudden disappearance from the planet and the time that the world would need to, well, recover from us. This time, he’s engaged in a worldwide investigation into population pressure, whether we can mitigate its effects, and whether we actually have enough time left to do so voluntarily. That is, before the planet does it for (to?) us.
It’s been two months since I climbed the cold, narrow stone steps of Ireland’s Blarney Castle. And the jury still is out on the veracity of Blarney’s legend, which promises eloquent speech to all who kiss the stone atop the castle tower. Kiss Blarney stone, the Irish say, and get the gift of gab.
Today is the second Saturday of the month. As it happens, I’ve been convener of a Dementia Support Group in Sandpoint since September. So today is the day when adult children and spouses of loved ones living with dementia gather to find a glimmer of hope. At every meeting, I silently wonder whether any of the participants see that hope glimmer, and if seeing it, embrace it as their own. Today, I won’t be silent. I plan to ask these loving people where their hopes lie. Their hopes certainly cannot lie in “someone” finding a way to reverse the dementia in their spouses or parents. No answers there yet!
I have a couple of anecdotes for your perusal, which may or may not appear related, but first, a correction from my last column. I misattributed the quote, “When I am, death is not. When I am not, death is.” While I like and admire Erasmus, let’s instead credit Epicurus, even more a kindred spirit of mine. Now, having introduced two key words – death and spirit – here are my two little stories. Someone asked me a couple of days ago (I’m writing this on April 19) what I had planned for Easter. I said, “Nothing much, maybe go out for brunch or a movie, and I always consider it a good excuse for an extra nice dinner.” She seemed somewhat shocked at my lack of reverence, I suppose, for the holiday. Oh well. I said that I didn’t follow any particular religion and let it go at that.
Hope is powerful. Hope’s presence gives perspective and purpose for life. Hope’s absence guarantees confusion, pessimism, even despair.
For those of you who are “into Lent” as the run-up to Easter, I invite you to think with me about one of the primary Lenten doctrines, atonement. You might be surprised to learn that atonement has been a source of controversy since the early centuries of the Christian church. Simply put, there is no agreement on what “atonement” really means. For many Christians today, atonement’s focus is strictly on Jesus being sacrificed by God to “pay for our sins.” The “faithful skeptic” in me asks, “What does that really mean?” Does it mean that God is really so bloodthirsty that he is only willing to purify humanity if “we” enter into an agreement to kill an innocent man? I hope not. But I sense that is what too many people in and out of the church think atonement means.
Did I mention that I’m publishing two books this week? No? Well then, you better check in toward the end, as I probably shouldn’t use the whole column for shameless self-promotion. Now, let’s have some fun. I haven’t visited TPM Online to check out any new games in quite some while. That’s the Philosopher’s Magazine, by the way, which should give you some idea of what the “games” are like. (Go to www.philosophers net.com/games.) Here’s one that looks intriguing: “In the Face of Death.” It starts by saying that 55 percent of Christians who have taken that particular quiz think that the murder of children is sometimes morally justified. And, sorry, I don’t know why they decided to mention Christians, in particular. That does appear biased. I’m guessing, though, that I won’t agree with this moral judgment. (To be fair, I’m writing before I take each quiz, so don’t think I’m cheating.) And two of the three scenarios I’m going to read actually occurred. Ouch. Let’s see what decisions I make.
For those of us who try to be followers of Jesus to some degree, let’s begin today with some words he addressed to his favorite foils, the “scribes and Pharisees.” In Matthew 23:23, he called them play-actors. He clearly challenges their legalistic pride, self-sufficiency and resulting hypocrisy when they give their “temple tithes” but “neglect the weightier matters of the law – justice, mercy, and good faith.” They did the light lifting of legalism but forgot those “weightier matters of the law.”
When the Rev. Mike Bullard retired in 2009 after 16 years as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Coeur d’Alene, he didn’t retire from serving people in need. Soon after his retirement, a storm with hurricane-force winds hit Ferry County. One person died. Many homes were damaged. The power was off for two weeks.
How old were you when you found out Santa Claus isn’t real? How old were you when you discovered that God isn’t Santa Claus? Oops! Did that question surprise you? You didn’t know? Oh sure there are some characteristics of Santa that we might easily think started with God. But personally, I don’t think Santa’s “checking his list twice to see who is naughty or nice” is one of those. Many people think God’s character is like that, but I’m definitely not one of them.
Would you accept someone else setting a New Year’s resolution for you? Most of us would not. We rightly prefer to set our own goals for physical, relational and financial well-being. After all, who knows what is best for us than, well, us?
Happy New Year. This year gets 12 months to show her stuff, and then, forever gone. Question: Are you ready? I regard both religion and science as subsets of philosophy. That is, they derive from a presumptuous array of assumptions regarding the nature of reality, its origins, future, and our role (if any) in the giant and mysterious panorama. This is the province of the “first philosophy,” metaphysics, and I’m currently watching the apparent collapse of one that is composed of flawed assumptions. Put another way, it’s the demise of an immortality project, an entire belief system.
As I’m writing this, T-Day is two days past, but still feels like an appropriate topic. I’m engaging in one of my favorite post-Thanksgiving rituals: making stock from the turkey carcass. I simmered it for hours yesterday and then set the pot out to cool overnight. Now I have to lift out the fat and solids, reheat the broth, and strain through cheesecloth. Then, voila! Nectar. It’s relaxing for me and something I do so regularly that I’m surprised I still enjoy it so much. And I think a post-Thanksgiving stock is something special; it’s a communal private affair, so to speak, as stoves across the land share in making soup.
‘What do you say?” The restless youngster stopped briefly, glanced at the clerk, then at the piece of candy, and shyly recited a phrase scripted by his questioning mother, and generations of moms before her: “Thank … you.”
I just finished reading, for the fourth time, James P. Carse’s book, “The Religious Case Against Belief.” I’ve intended to give it a column-length review for some time now. Carse’s dilemma is this: How, when no one within any given religion has been able to adequately define it, can one who is admittedly without religion address the issue? After all, it becomes clear in the book’s progression that Carse himself, professor emeritus of religion at New York University, is not religious in any sense that a believer would recognize.
This week in Ohio a man was sentenced to life in prison for burning a woman to death. A bombing in Syria killed eight. A Utah doctor is on trial for drowning his wife. However, compared to the mass genocides and public executions that were commonplace in biblical times, and the tribal warfares of the 20th century, we’re actually living in the least violent era in history, said best-selling author Steven Pinker.
Editor’s note: This is one of Graves’ occasional letters to his grandchildren.
Is hope tangible? I’m encouraged that area churches now are planning to make it so, as preparations get underway for a Convoy of Hope outreach to needy families in Kootenai County.