Saturday, March 9, 2019


I feel lost in the thicket. The Methodist thicket. You feel the same? The thicket is the tightening of rules around human sexuality.

I’ve been “methodist” all my life and ordained as elder in 1965. I've played elder roles in various capacities ever since. I am making a point: I am a vintage Methodist. Absolutely,  okay? 

Male-female, female-female and male-male sexual relationships began coming into focus in my Sunday school years within my congregation I learned 70 years ago to live and let live in regard to sexual orientation. After my ordination to the order of elder ("pastor") in 1965, nothing changed in that regard. About then, some clergy colleagues became explicit about their “gay” sexual orientation. My "live and let live" teaching from childhood guided me.

My attitude was consistent, but something changed within my Methodist church. The church adopted explicit rules that forbad the church-sponsored marriage of gay couples and to forbid clergy to conduct "gay marriages."

Nevertheless, I was aware of a continuing fact that some clergy in my denomination were gay. I supported them. Same-sexually oriented persons continued as pastors in other denominations too: Episcopalian and Lutheran for example. 

This past February, 2019 United Methodist representatives from around the world met in a special General Conference to clarify the status of homosexuality in the U.M. denomination. Voting confirmed the intent of the church to continue forbidding gay-oriented clergy and to forbid all clergy from presiding over weddings of gay couples. It's important to realize that the vote was close. An analysis of the voting pattern revealed that a majority of delegates from outside the U.S. voted  for the Plan. A minority of delegates from the U.S. voted for the Plan. 

What does this mean at the congregational level? Will United Methodist Sunday schools start prejudicing your kids? If, in your congregation, they haven't yet, I sincerely doubt that they'll begin now despite losing the vote. 

Response 1: I'd advise you to continue with your local congregation if and until its orientation fits with the denomination’s orientation. 

Actually, it's totally unclear to me how United Methodists in the U.S. will proceed from here. Therefore 

Response 2: I'm advising that you and your family live the Christian life faithfully as you understand that phrase. If at some point it's possible that you cannot in good conscience continue within the UMC it'll be time to go church-shopping.

Response 3a: for now, take courage from Adam Hamilton, the pastor of the largest United Methodist congregation in the world: Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, membership about 20,000 persons.  

To single out monogamous, loving homosexuals for condemnation is cruel," Hamilton observed. I am not going to be a pastor in a church that treats gay and lesbian people this way.” Read the full story here:  Washington Post. 

Response 3b: German United Methodist annual conference announces that the rules are unacceptable in Germany and the annual conference will not enforce them. 

Currently lost in the thicket? Well then, Response 4: pray for grace and courage among United Methodist members, pastors and bishops as they/we find our way through the thicket. A prayer suggestion: "God, give us open hands, open hearts, open doors."

Click here to read a news release on upstate New York United Methodist responses.
Click here to read recent news releases related to 2019 special General Conference

Saturday, March 2, 2019


In celebration of Women's History month, in last week's post I honored Michelle Obama  Please read read the post. This week's post honors Hillary Rodham Clinton. Together, the two reviews give you a terrific way to begin your celebration of Women's History Month, March, 2019. If the posts tease you into reading the books and drawing your own conclusions, it'll be even better.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton received the inaugural In The Arena award on November 13, 2018, from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, with support from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation.

Public domain

Recapping Becoming, Michelle reports how and why she lovingly supported Barack, from his very first political campaign through their last days in the White House. In Hard Choices, Hillary reveals her relating to Bill in a very different pattern. She carved out her own simultaneous and independent political and legal careers even while supporting Bill in his official careers in Arkansas and Washington, D.C.

Each reports on her family life. While Michelle reports a happy and loving domestic life, Hillary shares her love of Bill and reveals her devastation and agony when Bill's affair with Monica Lewinsky came into the picture. This section of her book reads like a marriage manual. Or better, it reads like an extended confession by a terribly abused spouse: betrayal, broken heart, outrage, and on what she did for herself to get back to a normal psychological state and a saved marriage. (P. 478.)

Another contrast: while Michelle writes a bit about her religious experience, Clinton relates in detail her youthful experiences as a Methodist Christian. As should happen in a person's development, her religious strength carried over into adulthood and motivated her to work for peace and nonviolence. She drew on faith insights to recover her marriage.

I really appreciated Clinton's openness: the psychological realism, the depth of detail. The book could serve readers both as a marriage manual and a politician's how-to-do-it guide.

I know you join me in honoring both Michelle Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for their national leadership and their family life skills set aside some time to read their books. I also honor all American women and especially my wife.

P.S. I'm convinced that Americans made a huge mistake by choosing Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton for national leadership as president. To compensate, could we recruit Michelle to run in the next election?

Order or borrow Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices: a Memoir, 2014 and Michelle Obama, Becoming, 2018.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

FACTFULNESS: Why we're wrong about the world, and it's better than we think.

Factfulness  by Hans Rosling (New York: Flatiron Books, 2018.)

Factfulness is about how we best can understand our surroundings and then act appropriately. It’s about avoiding errors embedded in the way humans learn. Read and learn, but also keep in mind the need to think holistically.

Rosling's a medical doctor. His book is written with the care that a good medical doctor gives to a patient. "Here's what's wrong with you. Here's a therapy for you. Do the therapy every day."

Example: it’s a very hot day, so hot that the direct sunlight is a risk. Happiness, short term and long term, comes from avoiding sunburn. Short term you avoid pain. Long term you cut the risk of skin cancer. You’re happy about those results, right?

Elevate this example to the level of selected global trends by reading Factfulness. “Factfulness” is thinking accurately about big trends such as economic development. It’s about gathering your information carefully, paying attention to actual patterns, avoiding rumor. I agree with Rosling: achieving factfulness and avoiding harmful human instincts (the fear instinct for example) can help  immensely in our thought process.

Rosling, a medical doctor, has contributed enormously through his medical service in Africa and his subsequent quest for factual knowledge about the world. I loved his explanation of the psychology of we humans--of how we are attracted, instinctively, to the overly dramatic stories, even if they’re not factful. In other words, learning fueled by our primal instincts (by fear, for example) leads to error. Current example in the U.S.: fear the immigrant, build a wall, keep us safe.  

Rosling spent a lifetime developing his own learning skills, as well as his professional business, around factfulness. I really identified with his stories about his medical service in tropical Africa. He adjusted his medical practice to the needs of the very poor and achieved tremendous results in saving lives. That’s factfulness in action.

He then went on to apply lessons learned in tropical Africa to the worldwide situation. What he advocates is a fact-based worldview instead of the drama-based worldview of hyper-journalism.

The result is an improved view of the current and future world situation: the world is in better shape than we might think. He has a fact-based treasury of knowledge; it’s truly a great contribution.

As you read, however, I ask you to be fact-based about Rosling himself. His audiences have been the elites. Example: he’s been a presenter for the wealthy and the powerful who gather at the World Economic Forum (Davos, Switzerland).

By all means get and read Rosling’s Factfulness. Learn what he means by: “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World--and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” (Quoted from title page.) Rosling is a clever writer about a heavy topic and you’ll enjoy his informal presentation style, beginning with the x-ray of a sword swallower on page 1.

I recommend that you ask this question as you read: what has Rosling omitted? I think he’s omitted a huge swath of disturbing facts about insect loss, global warming, internet threats to political life. His factfulness seems very selective. And selective factfulness is not truly factful.

Learn the great lessons Rosling teaches on thinking factfully, but also learn to think wholistically, not just selectively. Think wholistically and think environmentally. Green factfulness is the goal.   

Friday, February 15, 2019


Months ago I wrote about the intriguing man whom I'd found picking clover blossoms in open grassland in my community. I asked him for his reasons doing that. He answered, I'm teasing the clover plants into producing more blossoms.

Really? But why would you spend time doing that, I asked?

"To help save the bees. They're dwindling, you know."

This stranger introduced me to a something about bees I'd never realized: the honey bee population is dwindling.

Since then I've encountered more information on dwindling insects and the causes. The primary cause is contamination by the insecticides used increasingly in agriculture and gardening. Insecticide use helps the individual farmer and the large agricultural company cut costs by getting rid of harmful insects. That's a gain. But the hidden cost is the loss of valuable insects like bees.

Just this past week I read a statement in the "Manchester Guardian" U.S. edition: "plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature."  Please click the link and read the fine article yourself.

That elevates the threat. It's not just loss of bees but, rather, threat to an entire spectrum of life.

I tend toward caution when I read frightening or threatening headlines. So, do I just dismiss the claim about bee loss and insect loss? Not so.

Not so, because the chain of life has many links. A loss of one link risks preventing the chain from doing its job. (Think of a chain holding a gate closed. If the chain breaks, the gate swings open. And all hell breaks loose in some cases. A trite example: the farmer's cattle flee down the road.)

I've paid attention for years to loss of certain species in Africa: the chimpanzees in the Congo, the elephants and hippopotamus populations in coastal West Africa.

But insects worldwide? I've overlooked that. Thanks to the guy picking clover blossoms and to "The Guardian," one of the world's great news sources, from here on I widen my focus. It's part of "Growing Green," . . .part of learning what to save in the global environment and how we can do it. I affirm: we can, actually must, grow green. Shoppers can help by buying "green."

Friday, February 8, 2019

"BECOMING" BY MICHELLE OBAMA: Lessons on Race and Family

For readers, I'm reviewing Michelle Obama: Becoming.  New York: Crown, 2018.  I enjoyed her book but I wish for more of the drama that she must have lived through in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Becoming is autobiographical. Its main strengths:
  • Easy reading though very long.
  • A window into normal personal and family life.
  • Examples of personal growth and family strengthening--how spouse helps spouse, parent helps child, child helps sibling. 
Usually we use the word “becoming” to mean “flattering” or “attractive.” Like, “he/she is S-O-O-O becoming.” Correct?

Well then, understand Michelle Obama’s special, more philosophical use of “becoming.” She means personal growth and improvement over time. “Becoming” is about her human process of responding to challenge and opportunity plus the growth that follows. Michelle reflects on her  life is a process of growth.

Getting great guidance about the "becoming" process through a special person's life story is the main reason to read the book. 

Obama traces the path of becoming from her childhood in Chicago through her Ivy League education at Princeton and Harvard. Then she forms a family with Barack, which only increases the process of becoming.

Where are you in your life’s becoming process? Young and in high school? Challenged to do better in school, sports, family life?

Are you in college, asking "How can I benefit from accepting the academic challenges thrown at me?" 

Are you a parent? "How can I balance work and home life while growing my skill as a parent?"

If you're in any of these phases, you can gain from Michelle's journey and become--yourself.

Michelle Obama at Prager Child Development Center
Photo in public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The becoming Michelle speaks of ramps up during Obama’s first campaign for president. For instance, she realizes her need for help in speech-writing. Her consultant encourages her to speak out about the things she enjoys the most: her love for Barack and their kids, her connections with working mothers, and her childhood Chicago roots. Each of us can apply easily this advice to our own communications with others.

Once Barack wins the election, the Obama family lives in a security bubble. Family support skills become even more crucial.

It’s a touching scene in which Laura Bush hosts Michelle in scouting out White House presidential living quarters (p. 290). We get a tour through rooms you and I will never see. Michelle credits Laura Bush for providing a very gracious welcome.

Michelle Obama in the White House

Photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you're facing work-family balance--whether political or other?  Michelle uses the term “balance” and it summarizes the book well, perhaps better than the more abstract word, “Becoming”. 

Finally, savor this key quotation: “If there is one thing I have learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried my best to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people who are often brushed aside.” P. 241.  This "one thing" is both the nub of constructive political leadership in America and a lesson for any of us who are required to speak to audiences.

Still, the book has a shortcoming. It lacks drama. Were there no tremendous setbacks over the decades? Has Michelle’s life been a trip upward and onward from a mainly secure South Side childhood through an Ivy League education followed by a happy marriage with Barack and his great political success? No threats to this idyllic existence, no inevitable marital disagreements?  

In sum, you can gain by reading the book and even by just memorizing Michelle’s final sentences about power and grace: “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” (p. 421.)  And for me, I like the way she balances personal power and grace.

Obama writes, “I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey.” But so is your life journey unique. Have you celebrated fully your unique journey? If not, read Obama and be inspired. Become!

I recommend the book on reading lists for high school and college levels, for book discussion groups, and for individuals. 

Friday, February 1, 2019


What's it like to be 80 years old and to be known for it by friends, former students, colleagues, etc.? Like a spaceship passenger headed out to infinity? Like an runner approaching the final bar before the finish line?

My family and friends boosted me across the bar between my 70's to my 80's this past weekend--January 25-26.

First, on Friday, January 25, the official day, I woke up to a highly decorated scene. A long "Happy Birthday" sign hanging on the living room wall. A ton of birthday cards set magically on a table under the sign, as if a mysterious postal delivery service had placed them there overnight. Next: a very special breakfast that Lucy prepared. During breakfast we read the messages in the cards--some from relatives, others from former students, and some former colleagues and neighbors. Joyful memories. What a look-back over the some of the best events of many past years. Years? Well, decades, actually.

Later in the day daughter Christina arrived and we enjoyed a great supper together at home. After supper we migrated over to the Allison Inn, one of the great spots in the entire nation for quiet Friday evening jazz.

Early on Saturday Christina left for home, then returned with her two kids--my grandkids. Two more grand-kids in Seattle sent cards. We skyped with the Seattle family. That was fun.

Soon Lucy's Philomath, OR relatives, my in-laws, arrived too.That turned the solo party into a duo because Lucy's brother had passed a birth day anniversary too.

We enjoyed many hilarious stories from a repertoire collected over dozens of years. The tasty dinner topped off our time together, appropriately culminating in savoring that great cake. With ice cream, or without? It was my choice. What did I choose? Well, forget your and my medical instructions. What would you choose under similar circumstances?

For me, the day was more like jumping the bar, and not at all like the spaceship to nowhere.

As they departed, grand-kids, daughter and in-laws left behind some great memories of the weekend of celebration. 

They'd all experienced helping the old jumper up and over the bar. And what did I experience? I found an unexpected treasure of the jump--the treasure of thoroughly enjoying the two day transition into the growing army of Octogenarians. (Correct spelling?) 

I can't wait to help Lucy over the 80th year bar when her turn comes up. I'll leave it to her to divulge the date if she wishes. I'll just say it's some time in the coming decade. My advice to her: get ready to jump.

Friday, January 18, 2019


Takeaways from Martin Luther King, Jr. for America, 2019 

Martin Luther King, Jr. (abbrev. "MLK") was a great leader in a time of social stress: the 1960s. The U.S. has set aside January 21, 2019, as a memorial to him.

I have memories related to MLK, mainly because I associated with people who knew and supported him. I spent the academic year of 1963-64 in Chicago as an intern at the Parish of the Holy Covenant, located back from the lake-shore on Diversey Parkway. My work there was to fulfill requirements for the Master of Divinity degree at Evangelical Theological Seminary, Naperville, IL. I was newly married to my lovely Lucille. We lived near the church.

An important church executive, Stanley Hallett, happened to be an active member of Holy Covenant. Hallett was Executive Director of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago. Stan befriended me and taught me a lot about urban development, his specialty. But I remember more having participated in a trip he organized to Jackson, Mississippi. 

Stan had a friend, the Rev. Ed King, the chaplain of Tougalou College. Tougalou is located north of Jackson.

Ed King had telephoned Stan for help in saving students' lives. Ed told Stan that 16 Tougalou students had lost their lives for protesting on behalf of black people in Jackson. Stan agreed to help, and did so by organizing delegations of pastors from the Chicago area to stand with the students in demonstrations. Especially as they sought to enter segregated churches. 

I joined one of those groups and remember well the sound of approaching sirens as our integrated group sought to enter an all-white Methodist church one Sunday morning in 1963. After discussion with the police and ushers, we left church property. We clergy returned to Chicago to safety with our families and our congregations. At least, we provided the students with some cover in their quest for freedom and equality. A death of a black student would draw little attention in those days, but an attack on a white pastor from Chicago would get lots of press.

The name Ed King brings to mind Martin Luther King, Jr. (M.L.K., Jr.), whose day we celebrate on January 21, 2019. M.L.K., Jr. fought for equality; Trump has delivered inequality in many ways, especially by delivering higher tax rates for the lower classes while lowering rates for the rich and corporations. M.L.K., Jr. fought for inclusion; Trump is fighting for a wall. M.L.K., Jr. fought for voting rights. Republicans in some areas (with Trump's blessing?) seek to restrict voting roles. 

2018 Peoples' protest  in Seattle. Photo:  Elliot Stoller,
used with permission

1965   President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

What if Hallett, or Ed King, or MLK, Jr. were here today. What would they advise that we, the people, seek to do?

What’s for Americans to do in 2019? Prioritize these six things. I take them from the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

l Steering our President toward decent government, however possible, whenever possible, if possible. Restoring orderly governance is essential for the good of the people. The President’s own staff should advise him, reign him in, or just resign as so many have already done. Yes, it'd be a tough job but that’s their responsibility to us, the people, and our Constitution. It's pure MLK, Jr., too.

l We the People must act as one body, but how? In 2019 let us have recourse to the traditional values we hold in common: liberty and justice for all. Let us refuse to be divided and driven by fear.  MLK boldly strove for unity around those two values: liberty and justice for all.

Work for, contribute to, and vote for candidates who genuinely support liberty and justice for all.  Thinking of 2020 in particular.

l Favor our long-held American taxation measures that impede domination by corporations and the already-wealthy, lift the poor and strengthen the middle class.

l Use the time out to November 2020 to hinder voter repression in every jurisdiction. “Open and fair elections” in 2020. An essential, necessary and worthy goal. Voter registration and motivation was huge for MLK, Jr.

l Let 2019 be known as The Year of Recovery of Our American Values.

I can dream in the spirit of King:

  • that as robots and automation take jobs, no one be left behind. I have that dream.
  • that as Artificial Intelligence replaces human thought that the values of equality and justice be programmed into every algorithm. I have that dream.
  • that as elites thrive on higher incomes, wealth be shared through proper tax programs health insurance. I have that dream.
Let justice flow down like rain on the mountains!

Given the authoritarian rule in our nation just now, what else do you think King's dream would include were he here to lead us?