Thursday, July 30, 2015

Coughin' in the Coffin

Coughin' in the Coffin “Sounds like coughin' in the coffin,” Mumbled 'taker to the priest, “So I'll whisper through the lock-hole, ‘You be quiet as you feast With the grubs that wriggle near you. Noise is wrong, to say the least. As the organ starts to sound now Let nothing be unseemly. Why should people look around now, Whether floorly or of beamly? So let there be no low moans In time with keys a-clackin' To the beat of sombre tones And the strain of voices wrackin’ And let there be no humming As the angels fold their wings, Nor any finger strumming Nor twang of bony things. The dead should all lie quiet. It's the proper thing to do. Stay on your dead man's diet— We'll hear no more from you! When we plant you in the graveyard, As we most surely will, We'll pile on a six-foot sentry To keep you dumb and still. So no more fits of coughin' From your coffin on the hill!’

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Take Care of That Cat—and That’s That! A Parable. Workmen were busy building a wall in an urban neighborhood. An intricate design with stunning tile. Imported—very expensive. The masons were up to the task—highly skilled. A canteen truck pulled to the curb, honking its horn loudly so the workers would turn to see its gleaming presence. Tony laid down his trowel. Wiping his face, he sauntered over to get his usual coffee and Danish. A cat, nosing around as cats do, crawled into a space in the block work behind the tiles, probably looking for a snack, too. Or at least something interesting to sniff. Tony didn’t notice the cat. The lunch wagon drove off. The men went back to work. Tony’s experienced hands seemed to fly, setting tile after tile. He liked this job. These tiles were worthy of his skill, made by the best craftsmen abroad. He came back to start another row. Tony heard a sound. He cocked his ear this way and that trying to figure out where it was coming from. Then it stopped. He grabbed another tile and trowel of mix. There it was again. Inside the wall. “Hey,” he called to Jellani. “Come check this out.” “Sounds like an animal in there.” “No way,” said Tony. Soon other workers drifted over to see what was going on. As they speculated and argued, a kid piped up. “There’s a cat in there. I seen him go up when you guys were on break.” How to get the cat out. They used their cleverest tricks to coax the cat out. No Luck. “Get Kathy over here,” someone suggested. So Kathy, taking off her hard hat, tried to reach her slender arm up into the cracks but couldn’t bend at the right place. “I don’t think there’s enough room for it to get back out,” she worried. By now most of the crew were standing around making jokes and giving advice. Passersby, too. Finally the boss came over. “Whose cat is it?” asked the boss, hoping the owner could be found to get him out. “Nobody’s,” said the kid. “He’s homeless.” "Just forget him," said one—probably a cat-hater. “If he’s too dumb to come out—serves him right.” “O sure,” quipped another. “If he starves to death in there, the smell will be just great—and think of the wildlife that will come to pick at the parts. Good thinking!” “We could knock out a couple of rows of tile,” someone suggested. “Yeah,” said a bystander. “I’d take the poor thing.” “Are you nuts?” the boss asked. “You know how much those tiles go for? And how long it would take to get more from Italy or where-ever-the-hell they come from? Besides, the next batch wouldn’t match color. That’s out. We’re not gonna wreck the job for some goddam stray cat!” By now it was closing in on quitting time. Nobody seemed to have an answer. The Kevin edged over. “Leave it to me, boss. I got an idea. I’ll take care of it.” Kevin—a guy who can figure out a way to do most anything. Very resourceful. “Give me till morning.” “Good,” said the boss. “I don’t give a damn. Take care of that cat—and that’s that!” He fancied himself a poet because he could rhyme like that sometimes. Early next day Kevin and a couple of his buddies came back. Kevin had borrowed some tools from a plumber friend. One of them you used to look down drain lines to see if there was a blockage. He poked it up to where the cat was. “Tony, hold it for me.” Watching a TV monitor, Kevin reached up with a flexible rod. He grabbed the cat by the head, squeezed the rod hard and crushed its skull. In a few minutes pieces of cat were in a bucket. Kevin shoved a hose up and flushed the hiding place clean. As the crew gathered, hands in pockets against the morning cold, Jellani asked about the cat. “We got him out,” Kevin said matter-of-factly. “Good!” said the boss. “I’ll remember that. Now,” he growled at the others, “what’re you all staring at? Let’s get this job finished.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Seven First Words of Christ

The Seven First Words of Christ: From Crèche to Cross Hebrews 10:7 I Have Come to Do Your Will. A Body You Have Prepared for Me. God always gives the very best—even when it is costly: Blood, sweat, and tears - himself – born to die! His Cross. Our cross. A Body – cells multiply like crazy in Mary’s womb. Thousands every minute. A Body…. God gave his self – as a gift to you, to us, to all. We then give our self – as a gift to God, to the body (church), to the world around us. This is costly in terms of blood, sweat, and tears. His cross. Our cross. Daily. The Crèche tableau turns to the Cross tableau. His entry via a stranger’s home His exit via a stranger’s tomb John 1:10-13 He came to the world he created, but the world did not recognize him; (Crèche) born into his own people, but they rejected him (Cross). BUT – to all who receive him he gives the right to become children of God! We are reborn: a birth from God. (St. John chapter 3) BUT: to all who do recognize who he is, who do receive him, he makes the children of God! This is the Mass of Christ! Christ-mas. MASS C HR I S T Friend, meditate on this: a Cross in His future - and in the end, a Crown. A cross is in your present and - in your future, a crown. Look up the words of the classic hymn: Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne and Thy Kingly Crown.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Justice: it's not fair!

Justice In the Bible the book of Job presents a profound commentary on human life’s most vexing philosophical issue—why do good people suffer so much injustice? This question never goes away. Most of us find this troubling our minds all too frequently. What is justice, anyway? Socrates argues about this with Thrasymachus—a man who concedes the brute fact that if you are stronger you come out on top. That’s just the way it is. More muscle, more money, more craftiness makes you a winner. The rest are losers. Justice, then, is whatever promotes the interest of the winners. Socrates will not cave into this cynicism. Justice arises when each person does what he or she is suited for—for the good of the whole. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker; lawyer, doctor, teacher—do your job well for the good of the whole rather than for selfish advancement. Do it even though you are misunderstood and suffer for it. Hence the parallel between the death of Socrates and of Jesus—the good get punished while the bad prosper. Job maintains his innocence—so why is God punishing him by taking away his family, his enormous wealth, and even his health? His pals say he must be hiding sin, since God does not punish good people. In the end God speaks. But God does not really give an answer, asking us to trust that he knows what he is doing—that everything will be fair in the end and that there will be amazing surprises that will delight us. There is a mystery afoot in the world. Wait and see. Do not give up no matter how bad things get. There is meanwhile the deep turmoil of the sufferer. As adults we echo our childhood complaint—it’s not fair! And God does not come to rescue us. It is not over yet. So hang on. Socrates said virtue (suffering evil rather than committing evil) is its own reward. Your inner conscience is intact—and that is a satisfaction. Socrates accepted death rather than caving in to save himself. Jesus took it a step further. He walked boldly to execution. He did not just keep his integrity intact. He did more than make a heroic statement. He took on himself the cynicism of Thrasymachus, the stubbornness of Socrates, and the quiet desperation of mankind. Jesus brought the philosophical issue of Job and Plato to its gritty end by embracing the cruelty of injustice. He died, as St. Paul says, the just for the unjust. The glorious result is that we expect an end commensurate with the means. In fact, the end will be more glorious than that. We will forget all of the trauma as we are swept into the glorious redemption God has in store. As he drank the cup of poison Socrates comforted himself that he had not compromised his convictions. For Jesus the outcome is infinitely more profound, for Jesus saw the transformation of all existence through his travail. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way. Jesus, ”for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the pain.” Everything that has gone wrong on the planet will not only be made right but will be made glorious beyond our craziest imagination. Job’s comforter, Elihu, reminds his friends of the wonders of God’s creation. God is great and we should come clean and confess our wrongdoing. In the end, God does not contradict this. But God reserves to himself the final word. That word is that what he has in mind cannot be fathomed by our minds. We are living in between. Between things we think we know and things that cannot be known in our present condition. Between things that crush us with perplexity and things that will explode our categories of understanding. Between the things we know all too well and the things that eye has not seen nor ear heard—that we cannot even imagine about what God has in store for those who love him. And all this converges into the man on the cross and explodes from the man whose tomb could not constrain him nor the universe contain him. Socrates died for his principles. Justice denied. Jesus died for the world. Justice for Job. Justice for all.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I Can do It Myself! Sean wasn’t feeling too well. Pain was wracking him in several places—but seemed to be coming mostly from his chest. He knew he needed an operation. He tried to ignore it. Sometimes he felt good for a few days. But it kept coming back. Sean was afraid of surgeons who would cut him—maybe kill him. He had no time for being confined to a hospital and being forced into a long therapy regimen—maybe for life. So he decided he would take care of it himself. Should he meditate twice a day until the pain went away? Maybe some psychoactive drug would give him relief. He went through several New Age and Alternative Medicine websites looking for his own way out. When others heard of his choice of therapy they were in his face. Your life is at risk, they protested. You could die! But Sean said he didn’t believe in traditional medicine anymore. He saw too many people who either didn’t make it or who were left with weakness and had to go on a tough medical maintenance program for the rest of their lives. Some of the doctors were crooks or quacks, he complained. “I can do it myself,” he kept repeating. Sean was typical of his generation. It was the age of individualism. Sean would do everything his way. One of the sad things for Sean and many others like him is that he was mostly alone. No group therapies where people with similar problems supported each other face-to-face. Lack of community closeness, as psychologists and sociologists keep pointing out, leaves Sean at more risk. And philosophers say that Sean can believe all he wants in the reality he is creating for himself, but the bleak realities of life are going to rule in the end. And Sean will lose the battle. Like Narcissus, we can stare into any pool of water we choose but we are only going to fall in love with ourselves. “My way works for me,” he keeps saying. He is only fooling himself. It will not work because the harsh laws of this world do not bend to our prejudices, no matter how sincere we may be. Reality is what it is. It is not what I imagine it is or wish it is. He who doctors himself has a fool for a physician, they say. He who psychoanalyzes himself has a charlatan for a shrink, say I. And he who creates his own spiritual truth has a crackpot for his Pope. Self-delusion can do as much damage as self-surgery. Why would we want a “do-it-yourself” spiritual belief system?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Urgent: Ideas Have Consequences

Philosophy—what about it?

It can make you pull your hair out. Or tie your mind in knots. Or shed light on your path.

Some say philosophy is over. These are the post-modernists of our time. There is no truth, they say. We all just grab some ideas that we like or that comfort us until we croak and that’s about it. No truth can be found.

Some say philosophy can give insights into what is really going on in the world and help us to shape a flourishing life.

Key Question One: what is the basis for any conclusions we adopt? For many the basis is no more than this. “What makes me feel good today?” The truth doesn’t matter. To each his own. The only “sin”—being critical of someone else’s ideas.

For philosophers like me the basis is what stands up to tough questioning. Are my ideas about things logically defensible (coherent). Are they inclusive (comprehensive)? Are they workable (pragmatic)?

Key Question Two: is there a reality beyond my own imaginings that I should pay attention to? Or is the universe whatever I would like it to be?

Examples. “I truly believe I’m not high and can drive home.” Result: sincere, but dead on the road.

“I truly believe I can cheat on my spouse and not hurt anyone.” Result: devastation for myself and my kids.

“I sincerely believe that when I die there is nothing more to it.” Result: Hmmmm….

“I truly think that if I am a good person, I’ll be OK if there is a final exam after death.” Result: Hmmmm….

Dr. Gus’s viewpoint: I had better examine everything with rigor, because the world/ the universe/reality is what it is, and my thinking either helps me to get in line with forces bigger than myself or I could be crushed. I could be sincere but fatally wrong. That would not be good.

Key Question Three: what is the nature of what is? I am in a universe that blows my mind when I think about it. I am going to die, that’s for sure. What is the wisest plan I can come up with for my life?

I suppose I could ignore it all. “Who knows the answer?”

But maybe that’s too big a risk. I, for one, want to think about the meaning of my life as a whole; about the value of my life when all is said and done and the lid of the coffin closes over me. About the purpose that I choose for myself: why am I here and why am I doing what I am doing? At my age I could be playing golf in Arizona or fishing in Florida every day.

Let’s call these big questions the MVP. Meaning. Value. Purpose.

Some say there is no MVP that is based in what’s out there. The universe has no MVP. That means there is no MVP to be discovered. Make up your own MVP. If this is the truth, then philosophy comes to a stop sign—a Dead End. Do what you want and hope you luck out by not being born in Bangladesh or Baghdad and not getting Dengue Fever or lung cancer or taken out by a drunk or a terrorist.

Others say the ultimate reality out there is packed with MVP. We are not just going, we are all going Somewhere. The meaning of life is to do whatever it takes to get in line with a Grand Reality that promises a hope and future. Values either support this quest or de-rail it. There is a purpose for my existence, for our existence. So what we embrace has eternal implications.

This is the big debate in philosophy. Not every answer can be correct. Either the universe is much ado about nothing (in the end when the galaxies run out of gas) or it is pregnant with endless life and value for us.

What clues, what evidence can we find in what little we have to work with here on planet Earth?

Science cannot resolve this, because science rests on philosophical assumptions that may or may not be true. Sorry—but that’s the way it is.

The Bottom Line: we need to think long and carefully despite our busy and often frenetic lives. That is philosophy in terms of the quest for truth and quest for MVP.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Give and It Will Be Given Unto You

Each year in Kenya, I room with another happy bachelor (temporarily so and not by desire), Reverend George Mitchell, PhD. Many a Baptist Union church he has served in Scotland over the decades and is a man of God whom to know is to love.
One token of his esteem is that he does over 60 funerals a year. You see, George grew up with the toughs of Glasgow and he loves the common man and they turn to him, especially if they have not been the church-going type. They know he understands the edgier side of life and can speak fearlessly yet with compassion to those who have lost their way and need a Pilot of the Soul. And we all know Who that is.
We love him here at Scott Theological College. He is a silver-tongued smithy of words, often now enhanced by power point slides. He writes booklets that he sells to a small market of those he comes in contact with wherever he goes.
But the most endearing thing about George—did I mention also that he plays a respectable trumpet and has a fine voice—is that he does works of compassion all the time. It’s in his blood.
As he goes about Scotland, where he is a popular speaker, he advocates for the poor in Kenya. And people give him money and clothing to stuff in his bags and wallet for the needy when he comes each January.
Not that he’s perfect. Without his wife, Jean, he’d be at sixes and sevens most of the time. I know, I live with guy for three weeks every other year.
But he has a wonderful sense of humor and can tell stories without taking a breath for hours on end. It’s a fine tonic just to pal around with him.
Here’s what he did the last few days of this week.
He went off with Vundi to talk to the leaders of a local Anglican diocese about the biblical work ethic. You see people here just pray for rain when they could be developing local irrigation that could lessen starvation. At the end of his seminar he hands over 250,000 Ksh for an agricultural project Dr. Vundi is spear-heading to help the rural folk grow more food. George has touted this when people back home want to reward George for his ministry to them.
George goes down to visit the gatemen morning and often evening. He has a bag. Take some socks – or maybe a shirt. Here’s a bit o’dosh for you. “O thank you—I’ll be buying food with it today for my family.”
He goes out to the town football pitch (soccer field) to meet the coach and cheer the local kids. “Could you use some uniforms?” So he goes with the coach downtown and buys shirts, shorts, socks in bright colors like that of the Brazil team. “Now could you cut and collect some of the grass here to improve your field and feed some cows the college keeps?” “O sure, Dr. Mitchell, we’ll do just that.” Their eyes are big. They never dreamed they could have uniforms! “You look like Brazil now,” says George, “go play like them then!”
George has bags of ties and scarves to sprinkle about among the students and faculty and staff here. And some shirts and pencils, and dresses and even a suit or two. Whatever he can gather from folk or buy in the thrift.
Each afternoon a tap on the door signals the kids have come looking for a balloon from George’s pocket. “What do you say?” he asks with a broad grin. “Thank you!” they whisper.
Here is a man who teaches Hebrew and Greek, New Testament and numerous other courses in a college in Glasgow, now retired, who knows from his youth what it is to be in want and is doing all he can about it for others in need. He’s not wealthy himself. But people trust him to deliver the goods to the poorest of the poor as well as to needs of all kinds.
There’s a story about a guy in Wisconsin who was a fabulous fisherman. When others were skunked he always came home with something—every time. The local game warden asked how he did it. “Come on out with me and I’ll show you.” So on a day they put out into the middle of the little lake and let down the anchor. The man pulls out a stick of dynamite, lights it, and hands it toward his companion. “You can’t do that! The warden screams. Fishing by stunning them is against the law!!!” “Look,” says the other, still holding out the sizzling TNT, “are you going talk or fish?”
George is a guy who is always fishing. He is a wonderful talker you can listen to all day. But he walks the walk. For Jesus. For the least of these…. For those who are easily invisible as they stand to the side in the shadows while we fly on by on our important errands.
You will be fishers of men, Someone once promised. Are we talking? Or are we fishing? He’s holding out the sizzling stick to me—yes to me.