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Why didn’t I know, as a child,

that there was something wrong

with what I was hearing, regularly, in church?

This message that stated that if one wasn’t “saved”

at the conclusion of one’s life,

an eternity of Hell awaited,

"a Hell of unquenchable flames,

of unfathomable torment

for

ETERNITY.

It did not occur to me then

that there was a strange irony,

a paradox

in what we children and young people were hearing.

God loves you and sent His Only Son to die for your sins.

That’s how much God loves us.

However, if you don’t accept His Son as Savior,

you will be consigned to Hell,

to an immeasurable and unimaginable kind of torture,

a fate that is unthinkable,

incomparable,

since no earthly dictator past or present

could inflict this type of living death to a person.

God loves us so much

and He gave us this Gift,

however, if we did not accept this Gift,

we were eternally doomed.

That message will engender fear

in the mind of any child or young person.

My question: What kind of cruel anger is this-

to relegate one’s creation to eternal punishment?

Is it truly possible for that same entity to also love?

Children, your father will be coming home shortly

and he will be bearing gifts for each of you. My strong

counsel to each of you is that you do not hesitate

in accepting whatever gift he offers for he has informed me,

your mother, that if you reject his gift, he will murder you.

See my performance of "A View from the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer"

 

It’s become a habit,

seeing these old guys around town

as they shuffle through stores

with their Vietnam caps or T-shirts.

I can’t help myself as I ask,

“when were you in Vietnam?”

Don’t know why I ask

except, maybe, to strike up a conversation

about those days

which are ancient history to today’s youth

yet, to me, seem like yesterday.

We were draftees dragged into a reality

we wanted nothing to do with,

confronting enemies we had not created

and losing friends over a nebulous cause,

one created by members of that “Greatest Generation”

who failed to notice that the world they knew

had changed

and that we could not ever win

these military excursions with such flimsy excuses..

These soldiers and sailors are proud of their service

and rightly so in spite of the protests,

and the antiwar rallies of the 60’s and early 70’s.

It’s a fraternity of aging warriors

who become instant friends,

perhaps, to heal the wounds that were never treated.

THE LATEST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST

It’s so sad to know

that Jesus has finally succumbed to Money and Power.

I’d always believed that our Lord

was able to resist Satan’s offer during His time of testing,

however, the latest news is that Jesus has found His chosen people,

the rich and the powerful of our nation.

No place smacks of wealth and power

quite like Dallas, Texas.

They are rich and powerful,

and, by God, they are proud of it!

Two Dallas pastors,

shepherds of two of the largest and wealthiest congregations

anywhere in the world

have announced their unstinting support for the Wild Man,

Donald Trump,

a wealthy, arrogant, hate-mongering pseudo-businessman

who fuels the xenophobia of our nation’s loonies

and gives strong consideration to using nuclear weapons

to fight our many wars.

These two Baptist ministers exercise considerable clout and influence

among those of the evangelical stripe.

These reverends preside over flocks where billionaires

can find peace and comfort amid all the stresses

with which they must contend in amassing their wealth and power.

Jesus is their special friend.

Jesus is their CEO.

And Jesus blesses them with their wealth and power,

never mind the cost to those who are poor and marginalized

in the wealthy and powerful city of Dallas, Texas.

Jesus has found a new church home.

It’s no wonder these pastors are so successful and so influential,

they have Jesus to help them.

My sense is that the scriptures have become passe,

they are antiquated,

they have been upgraded to fit the times

which dictates that those with the money and influence

get a hearing,

those who are poor and marginalized

are relegated to places like the historical Jesus,

to places ‘outside the gate’, to the hinterlands.

This new Jesus would never be crucified.

See my Dietrich Bonhoeffer performance, "A View from the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer"

OLD SOLDIERS AND SAILORS

It’s become a habit,

seeing these old guys around town

as they shuffle through stores

with their Vietnam caps or T-shirts.

I can’t help myself as I ask,

“when were you in Vietnam?”

Don’t know why I ask

except, maybe, to strike up a conversation

about those days

which are ancient history to today’s youth

yet, to me, seem like yesterday.

We were draftees dragged into a reality

we wanted nothing to do with,

confronting enemies we had not created

and losing friends over a nebulous cause,

one created by members of that “Greatest Generation”

who failed to notice that the world they knew

had changed

and that we could not ever win

these military excursions with such flimsy excuses..

These soldiers and sailors are proud of their service

and rightly so in spite of the protests,

and the antiwar rallies of the 60’s and early 70’s.

It’s a fraternity of aging warriors

who become instant friends,

perhaps, to heal the wounds that were never treated.

A few years ago I was in Texas to perform my play, A View from the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for an endowed lecture series sponsored by a Methodist church. Prior to the evening performance, I was the guest of honor at a luncheon sponsored by the committee who invited me to perform. The committee included church leaders, a Bishop and several retired District Superintendents.

After lunch, there was a time for questions and comments concerning the relevance of Bonhoeffer for our time. During the discussion I made the comment that it was my conviction that Bonhoeffer would not have been in agreement with the war in Iraq. I further noted that I did not agree with the decision to have the George W. Bush Presidential Library adjacent to the campus of Southern Methodist University in light of Bush’s decision to go to war, a war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and thousands of our own troops. I explained that there were never any weapons of Mass Destruction discovered as the Bush Administration had maintained. I explained further that Bush and Cheney are considered international criminals and would likely be detained and tried by the World Court in The Hague if they ever left the country.

The first to respond to my statements was the Bishop who explained that the Council of Bishops had taken up the question of the Presidential Library and that he personally had voted for having the Bush Library on the SMU campus. He went on to explain that the council felt that the Bush Administration had accomplished much in regard to women’s issues. After the Bishop spoke, two of the District Superintendent’s also voiced their agreement with the Bishop’s position with one of the Superintendents saying, “after all, Bush isn’t really a Methodist.” Actually, Bush is a member of the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.

A few months later, I was in Dallas to speak at a Baptist church function, a church that is located in the vicinity of SMU. The lodging I was afforded for the evening was just a few blocks from the campus. I took a walk to the SMU campus and observed the impressive structure of the Bush Library which would cost 250 million dollars. I also noticed the enormous amount of construction being undertaken at the SMU campus. While I cannot confirm this, the thought came to my mind of the vast amount of tapped that must have tapped into for SMU construction as a result of having the Bush Library next door.

For the past several General Conferences of the United Methodist Church, the issue of sexual orientation has been at the forefront of controversy. The United Methodist Church has been embroiled in this issue which seems to threaten the unity of this great denomination. And yet, the issue of the Iraq War and our decision to go to war and the fact that the President who launched this war is Methodist has never seem to gain any traction or any further discussion among Methodists. It’s also noteworthy that the current Democratic candidate for President is Methodist and that she voted for the war.

That the war began in March of 2003 makes the issue seem as though it is an old issue, one not worthy of discussion and certainly not one to engender controversy. Yet, a report released a few weeks ago documented that more than 7000 war veterans committed in the year of 2014 alone. That’s more casualties than the entire war caused. I have a young church member who served with distinction in that war and he is a casualty as a result of a roadside bomb. This young man continues to suffer the effects of this war as do thousands of other young men and women. The effects of this war continue, they continue through suicides and through the wounds sustained for service in a controversial war. The effects of this war most certainly continue for families who lost loved ones in a campaign that seems to have no end, no resolution, no victory.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, I think about all those who served and how so many of those who returned from Vietnam have suffered, not only mentally, but physically, from exposure to Agent Orange. The casualties of that war continue to mount to this day.

I said nothing in response to the Bishop’s statement, however, I completely disagree with the decision to place the George W. Bush Memorial Library on the Southern Methodist University campus. The Iraqi people were not our enemies. Our greatest enemy is our fear and our refusal to hold our leaders accountable for such a deadly war that was completely unnecessary. We should not have paid homage to one who led us into this horrific campaign by placing a building in his honor at a campus devoted to Christian values.

“Our defense contractors can create for us an impressive array of weapons and systems in an attempt to provide lasting security and the price tag will be just as impressive.

We can complete a defense shield, set up a vast network with the capability of launching drones to any place on the earth, we can create the largest howitzers and tanks and build the largest fleet of warships, our troops can carry the most sophisticated weapons, we can possess more nuclear warheads than any nation on earth, we can boast of the best trained ground troops and we can fly stealth bombers and fighters….and none of those factors will assure this nation’s survival if we end up on the wrong side of God’s teaching regarding justice.

During this week I recalled the lives of two great saints who died during the early part of April. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Gestapo on April 9, 1945, at the age of 39. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, also at the age of 39. Both Bonhoeffer and King possessed a premonition regarding their impending deaths. In Bonhoeffer’s poem, The Death of Moses, which was written from prison, he states:

My introduction to the power of laughter occurred in August of 1963 on an occasion when my mother was ironing our family’s sheets and pillow cases. Mom relegated this chore and other household duties to Saturdays since she worked during the week as a nurse’s aide at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Little Rock. I must also mention that she had struggled throughout her adult life with severe episodes of what is now termed, “Major Depressive Disorder.” She would have a debilitating battle with depression every few years. During those trying times she could not work outside the home nor carry out any household tasks.

As I observed my mother ironing that particular Saturday, I could see the weariness and fatigue etched in her countenance and in the way she stood. As I watched her from another room, the thought struck me that I should try to cheer her up. I had been practicing comedic impersonations for months and had performed them only in front of a mirror.

For more than four decades I have studied the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the courageous German pastor and theologian who became part of the Resistance to Hitler's Final Solution. As a result of Bonhoeffer's decision to join the plot against the Fuhrer, he was imprisoned for two years and ultimately hanged on April 9, 1945.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to visit a hospice patient, a World War II veteran who was part of the Normandy Invasion, a member of the 82nd Airborne and one of those famed glider pilots. Earl (not his real name) was lying in bed with this very stern expression on his face when I first met him. We hadn't visited long before I asked him about his Normandy experiences. Earl told me about flying in pitch darkness in an attempt to breach the German's stronghold on that fateful day of June 6, 1944.

As a Vietnam-era veteran, I continue to be bothered by what I perceive as a lack of accountability for our nation's most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is deeply distressing to encounter so many young men and women who suffer severe physical and emotional traumas as a result of their participation in these military campaigns which were sold to the American public by the George W. Bush Administration. The reasons for launching these wars have long since proven to be false. There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction. There was no direct connection from either Iraq or Afghanistan to the terrorists who carried out the terrible deeds of September 11, 2001.

"If we want approximate political equality, we must have approximate economic equality." Walter Rauschenbusch wrote these words a hundred years ago in the midst of the Gilded Age in American history. His prophetic interpretations of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus were considered extremely radical in his own day. Yet, the insights of Rauschenbusch are astoundingly relevant for our present Gilded Age which is characterized by an ever growing and escalating gap between the top one per-cent and the rest of America.

This past week I had the opportunity to perform characterizations of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan and Walter Rauschenbusch for a Baptist gathering in Texas. As a performer and former pastor I discover that I am challenged when I consider how Bonhoeffer, Jordan and Rauschenbusch might weigh in on the challenges facing both the church and American way of life.

All three of the above mentioned giants were relative misfits in their own times and contexts. Yet all three of them, their legacies and their words, ring thunderously relevant to our culture of greed and the fear that mainline churches may be wasting away.

Thomas Merton made an interesting observation about southern Protestant spirituality when he noted that the glossolalia movement sprung up in southern churches about the time the Civil Rights Movement was reaching its peak. He said "the irony of it is that it seems to have been an ultimate protest against the inacceptable realities and challenges of the historical situation-a convenient resort to immediate inspiration rather than the difficult and humiliating business of hearing and obeying the Word of God in the need of one's fellow man."

Rereading this phrase caused me to reflect on an incident that occurred during a speaking engagement two years ago at a large southern Methodist church. I presented Clarence Jordan in both of the Sunday morning worship services with at least five hundred people in attendance at each event. I was surprised to hear from the pastor that some of the people did not care for the politics they heard from Jordan. What is noteworthy is that I was invited to speak by the Director of Spiritual Formation of that large congregation and this event was billed as a Spiritual Formation event.

Spiritual Formation, Faith Formation and Discipleship are hot buzz words for an increasing number of churches across denominational lines. Despite this trend, there appears to be significant resistance to hearing how spirituality plays itself out in the arenas of politics, public policy, economics and peacemaking. This has caused me to wonder if our pursuit of "spirituality" is often a means of avoiding the realities of our own historical moment by becoming more spiritual and less relevant to the challenges we face as a society and as a church.

Dallas Lee notes that Clarence Jordan himself observed what he saw as a kind of docetism in the church's tendency to dodge responsibility in human affairs by "substituting worship for obedience, liturgy for service, contemplation for action, programs for people, piety for compassion and a futuristice orientation for the reality of the present."