Categotry Archives: Main Blog

Sermons and theological ramblings of an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.

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Port and Call: October 15, 2017

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Sermon delivered October 15, 2017
at First Congregational Church in Blue Hill (UCC)

Early this week, Steve Pocock stopped by my office with a bottle of fine port. I’m not sure how he knew, whether there was a stray comment over dinner, or if it was pure luck, but port is one of my vices. In fact, I’d absolutely say yes to service as a Yeoman in exchange for the promised glass of port. Sadly, I am not qualified for that task.

The Yeomen of the Guard were created by the British monarch King Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field during the War of the Roses. Today, while they are still understood as bodyguards of the monarch, the role is purely ceremonial. The sixty yeoman are appointed, each retired after distinguished service in the British military. Their uniforms are similar to those of a more familiar group of Yeomen, the Beefeaters.

The payment in port happens as part of the State Opening of Parliament. This day-long event is, on one level, completely mundane. It is the functioning of government in a constitutional monarchy, where the Queen delivers a speech, called the Queen’s Speech, or King’s when there is a male on the throne, a rarity in the last two centuries, that outlines the ruling party’s legislative agenda for the coming session. Continue reading →

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Between Here and Promise: October 8, 2017

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I have a lover’s quarrel with country music. I’m from the south, grew up listening to Hank Williams and country stars of the 1960s and 70s, though by the middle of the latter decade I was hooked on Led Zeppelin, Rush, and rock and roll, with all of the associated sins. I did my best as a teen, young adult and soldier to check every box I could. Though seriously, with all of the boozing and adultery in country music, I’m not sure why rock has such a bad reputation. I rediscovered country music about a decade ago, though it sometimes feels like juggling chainsaws, moving between rock, country, classic and hip-hop, from Pearl Jam to Puccini, from Kendrick Lamar to Kenny Chesney.

It is a lover’s quarrel with country music because so many of the songs speak of love and fidelity, simplicity and hard work, family and faith, things that matter to me, what we might rightly call virtues. But many other songs and far too many of the singers engage in idolatry, worship America’s new gods, the flag, the gun, football. The irony is lost on so many country music fans, the US Armed Forces honored and the US flag venerated by the same folks that celebrate the treasonous Confederacy, the flags of the warring sides side by side from the back of a Ford F-150 pick-up, a bold proclamation of racism. Continue reading →

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Entebbe : October 1, 2017

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With the country more and more divided by the day, it seems that few subjects are safe for discussion in public. Seriously, even sport is now mostly off limits. The weather isn’t safe. That fellow in the checkout line might be a climate change denier with a gun in the truck. We have forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable. Forget “road rage.” We have “nation rage.” Continue reading →

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The Trickster: September 24, 2017

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It is seriously just one step above money and a package changing hands under a flickering light in an otherwise dark parking lot. It was clearly happening before the internet, but the web made it that much easier. The source was overseas traffickers, of course, but once it was in the US, copies were made on VHS and eventually DVD, this illicit video, packages with handwritten labels, and the mere mention on Facebook making tempers flare and bringing racist trolls out from under the bridges.

It is “Song of the South,” a 1946 Disney film I mentioned early in the summer, one that combined live action and animation, Uncle Remus telling tales. It was based on the stories of Joel Chandler Harris, originally published in seven volumes during late Reconstruction. Some would call it cultural misappropriation, for the stories belong to the African-American tradition, and Harris learned them down on the plantation during his childhood. To borrow from another Disney film, they are tales as old as time, with analogs in African folktale. Continue reading →

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He Do the Police in Different Voices: September 17, 2017

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It seemed too good to be true, two recently rediscovered works by Walt Whitman, written during the same period in which he was writing what would become the first edition of Leaves of Grass, a groundbreaking masterpiece that turned Whitman into a transcendent everyman, or at least a transcendent Every American. We might even think of it as a reconfiguration of the Son of Man trope, the Human One or proto-human figure associated with Jesus in the gospels. Whitman then becomes proto-American, at exactly this moment on the edge of catastrophe when America needs to decide who it will be. Here were these two texts that might just shed light on this cocoon moment as Whitman was about to break forth. Alas, as is so often the case, it was too good to be true. The two works, “Manly Health and Training,” exactly what the title promises, and “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle,” pulp fiction in the form of urban mystery, shed little if any light on the transformation that was taking place. Their purpose, quite clearly, was to pay the bills. Continue reading →

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The Shadow Shows: September 10, 2017

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While I love a good rollercoaster, when it comes to movies, I am no adrenaline junkie. I have no interest in chainsaw-wielding bad guys jumping out at me, find no pleasure in the manipulative thud of the music that signals that something dreadful is about to happen. I’ve certainly seen films with horror or violence, but there has to be more than a bloody version of the catharsis Aristotle describes in his “Poetics.” There is enough pain and suffering in life, enough that walks into my study and shows up in the news, so if I am going to see it on the screen, it better offer some insight into the human condition, should end with some hope, for I am a Christian not a nihilist, and you cannot be both. I’m a sucker for a happy ending, improbable things like the resurrection of the dead. Continue reading →

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A Window is Required: August 27, 2017

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Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was in the news this week, angering the hyper-partisans by warning that we face a repeat of the last economic downturn without appropriate financial regulation. She was not the first Fed chair to be targeted by elected officials. LBJ, president during the Summer of Love, had, two years before Haight-Ashbury, summoned Fed chair Bill Martin to his Texas ranch, where he bullied him about interest rates, for manipulating rates can create short-term prosperity, with obvious political benefits, for the party in office. Martin, who served under five presidents, caved. Nixon would pull the same stunt, fueling inflation. Who remembers WIN, whip inflation now, the mantra of the Ford administration? This economic pressure on folks who had generally thrived in the post World War II economy set the stage for the revolution of greed that would seize the nation in 1980, permanently replacing the virtue of the common good with the vice of selfish-interest. Short-term political gain produced long-term harm to our national character. Continue reading →

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Choose Your Own Adventure: August 20, 2017

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Back in my day… oh no, here it comes!… nope, not walking miles barefoot through snow to get to school…that would be Blue Hill in October, but I grew up where there was little snow, plenty of shoes, and school buses… Back in my day, when we were triangulating sound waves and flashes of light to locate enemy artillery, we used a slide rule. The thing was, the technology was already obsolete. The world had moved on and we were stuck in the past. There was this thing called radar. The first drones were being developed at Fort Sill, where I did my basic training. Soon there would even be computers on the battlefield. But not yet.

So we lived in this limbo of not yet, the old not letting go. The result was low morale, low combat readiness, lots of drinking and pot-smoking, and soldiers getting thrown out of the army. I was lucky, keeping myself busy with church, so stayed out of trouble, at least the worst trouble, though I was far from the perfect soldier. Continue reading →

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I’m Sorry, Dave : August 13, 2017

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There is a reason I love the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I was actually that geeky kid with a bad haircut and thick glasses staying up too late playing Dungeons and Dragons. I was always a little more Lord of the Rings than Star Wars, though I have read my share of science fiction over the years… Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Frank Herbert’s Dune series, even Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, though the fact that Card is a hatemonger has taken the shine off of his work a little bit.

I never, however, read anything by the con artist L. Ron Hubbard, nor have I read anything by Arthur C. Clarke, the co-creator with Stanley Kubrick of the 1968 film masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey,” though I have seen the film. And yeah, I don’t get the ending either. Continue reading →

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Monkey Souls and Human Hearts: August 6, 2017

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It started with the simplest of things, a parent defending a child he loved. The parent was Paul Haggis, Hollywood screenwriter, director and producer, and the injustice was his church’s support for Proposition 8, a 2008 effort to ban marriage equality in California.

Haggis, a 35 year member of the Church of Scientology, was not the first to leave. L. Ron Hubbard’s own son fled, on the run until he took his own life. But Haggis was a big Hollywood name in a cult that viewed Hollywood stars as a path to legitimacy, and others would soon follow, including the actress Leah Remini. A cult that once successfully infiltrated the US government and still keeps people in prison conditions in their SeaOrg, destroying lives in this country, has found itself on the defensive, with one book, documentary and television series after another chronicling the abuse and the insanity. Continue reading →

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