The Last Days

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Hundreds, if not thousands of people have sets dates for the end of the world. The one thing they all have in common is that they were all wrong.

Now, with the "blood moon tetrad", in which we will have four lunar eclipses roughly six months apart from each other, some are once again predicting the end of the world. I'm sure someone is taking bets on this somewhere, and I would expect the odds are in favor of them being wrong. (After all, if they're right, the house will probably not have to pay out!)

I can understand the yearning for the last days - or the eschaton, as we like to say in seminary. I can understand the desire for a radical change. I can understand wanting for things to be different: more peaceful, more just.

Hundreds, if not thousands of people have sets dates for the last days. The one thing they all have in common is that they were all right .

None of us knows the future. We do have access to knowledge of the past. Today is always the last day that we can be sure of. And every moment is a moment of transformation.

Every day, justice is being done. Every day, someone is being freed.Every day, someone's thirst is being slaked, and someone's empty belly is being filled. Every day, someone's disease is being cured.

Every day, some lonely person is befriended.

While many await the day when everything changes, every day something changes. And maybe that's what the eschaton is: not a moment in human history when everything is set right, but a moment that weaves through human history, setting things right one at a time.

I live in the Chicago area. Once there was no city there; now there is. In the intervening time there was building and tearing down, fires (including a very large one) and building once again. And every day, something, usually thousands or millions of somethings, changed. The creation of the city didn't happen in one event: it happened in millions or billions of events. And every one of those events happened in the last moment of history, a moment that moves forward in time and is now as I write this, and now again as you read this.

If we are waiting for the end of days for things to be put right, then now is the end of days as we know them. Now is the time of transformation. Now is the time to make new.

We are in the last days. We have always been in the last days.

With the Spring come festivals in many religions - in mine, it's the festival of the Resurrection in Easter. May we take this time to commit to making these last days count.

Asus Vivotab Smart

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A computer review?

Well, I do mention computers on the blog description, so here goes.

I had been using an HP Mini Netbook running Windows XP. One consideration was that it fit in the sidebag of my Honda NT 700.

With the end of life of WIndows XP, I decided I needed something new that still fit in the sidebag. Enter the Asus Vivotab Smart.


A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A.

John 9:1-41

I know someone - his name is Dan - who is a computer programmer and a musician. He plays both piano and organ. And one might think those go together well, both being based on keyboards.

An interesting thing about typing and playing a keyboard-based instrument is that, to become proficient, one has to learn to find the keys without looking. I will confess that, even after decades of writing software, stories, and sermons, I still have to look at the keyboard to find things. I'm not a touch typist. And I don't play keyboard instruments like the piano and organ.

Last year, our church had a sermon challenge. People suggested sermon topics, and the congregation voted by making donations toward the sermons they liked.

One of the topics was "A Walk in Fred Phelps' Shoes." It didn't win, but I really wanted to hear that sermon. Actually, I kind of wanted to preach that sermon.

It has recently been reported that Fred Phelps is gravely ill and has been excommunicated from Westboro Baptist Church. I have already seen posts on social media that celebrate the end of Phelps' life, and that see his excommunication as a sort of just desserts.

Those comments have reminded me of this sermon topic.

A few weeks ago, the Revised Common Lectionary prescribed the following Gospel reading for the seventh Sunday after Epiphany:

Matthew 5:38-48 (NRSV):

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

There's a joke that's been told many different ways.

The joke, in brief, is "she's a MAN!"

Whether in an Austin Powers movie, or an Aerosmith song, or in The Big Bang Theory, or a liberal talk show ([certain conservative woman] is really a MAN!), or an image meme on Facebook, the joke is the same. The humor is based on the idea that a person who is presenting and identifying as female is really a man. There's really no more to it than that. "Surprise! She's a he!"

This joke has many problems.

First, it's an amazingly simple joke that should have run its course already.

Second, it's based on shock and shame.

Third, it belittles transgender women (and it is rarely done the other way around - where a transgender man is discovered to be "really a woman." The statement is that transgender women are somehow not really women.

The effect of this joke, however, is a perpetuation of the idea that transgender women are less-than, not real, and - in some cases - deceptive and/or predators.

This idea feeds the fear-based anti-transgender myths such as the ones i this article:

And it feeds into the gay panic and trans panic defenses - the idea that shock and shame about being with a transgender woman are sufficient defense for murder.

There are rude jokes. There are crude jokes, There are offensive jokes.

And then there are jokes that devalue people to the point that their lives are in danger.

Please don't perpetuate jokes like this. Don't give people a socially approved defense for killing transgender women.

Don't help people get away with murder.

March Forth! is an effort to raise awareness about justice issues. If you click on someone's March Forth! avatar, you may find their Facebook or Twitter page has a new March Forth! cover that emphasizes a particular justice issue.

More than blue avatars, however, March Forth! encourages us to deepen our commitment to justice, whether for Environmental Justice, Economic Equality, Immigration Reform, Racial Justice, Marriage Equality, Inclusivity, Accessibility, or other areas of justice.

You can find out more about March Forth at

And if you want to merge your photo with a March Forth! logo, I made a little applet to do that.
[see bottom for updates]

So Kansas passed a bill that protects the right of people to deny services on the basis of sex and gender, provided they have a religious basis for it. It doesn't matter whether the people are working on their own, for a company, or for the government.

So which religion(s) are we talking about?

Is it the one that says "That nature alone is good which refrains from doing another whatsoever is not good for itself."?

Or the one that says "Regard your neighbor's gain as your gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss"?

Maybe it's the one that teaches "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman. This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary."

Or it's the one that teaches "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself."

Perhaps it's the religion that holds "This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you."

Or it's the religion where adherents are exhorted "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."

It could be the one that says "These eight words the Rede fulfill, 'an ye harm none do as ye will."

Or it's the faith that reasons "Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state."

Or it's the one where the person after whom the faith is named said something along the lines of "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets."

I think what this law does is to give people the legal right to violate a basic teaching of their religion so long as they do it in the name of their religion.

Hypocrisy: now legal in Kansas.


Hypocrisy or Humanity?

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I don't live the life I preach.

I preach compassion, but sometimes I am uncaring.

I preach forgiveness, but sometimes I hold a grudge.

I preach hope, but sometimes I feel hopeless.

I preach generosity, but sometimes I am miserly.

I have to admit I have reread old sermons of mine, and have been convicted by my own words.

The fact is, I preach what I believe should be. And yet I don't measure up to what I preach. Does that make me a hypocrite?

I don't think so.

When I am critical of others for doing what I do myself, then I am a hypocrite. And that does indeed happen.

But when I preach a better world, when I preach a better way to be, I am often preaching as much to myself as I am to the congregation. Most of my sermons end with an assignment for the week, and I usually remember to include myself in that assignment. Whether I'm able to keep my mind on that assignment throughout the week is another matter entirely, and it reminds me to accept that others will forget as well.

I'm human. I fall short. For me to not be a hypocrite, it is not required that I become more perfect and less human; instead, I must recognize the humanity - and the fallibility - in myself and others.

We all could do better. And what I try to do in preaching is inspire people to try again, to remind all of us - myself included - of the better ways we could live.

The alternative is to just preach what people already do, what people already are, what the world already is. That kind of preaching has no power.

Preaching what could be - dare I say, preaching the dominion of God - has the power to be transformational. Transformation doesn't happen overnight: it happens from continuous attention to, and work on, those things we want to transform.

Still, I need to hear what I preach. I need to listen to myself. The preacher who does not see how her preaching applies to herself runs the risk of hypocrisy.

But I will preach about a way of being that I have not yet attained. My sermons are not telling people to "be like me." They are telling all of us to reach higher.

I preach what I wish will come true - for the world, and for me. But I preach a dream of a future, not a reality of the present. Because preaching the present doesn't change anything.

...of Christ

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In the United Church of Christ, part of preparation for ordained ministry is something called Clinical Pastoral Education. Some seminaries - like Chicago Theological Seminary, the one I attended - also require it. Clinical Pastoral Education - or CPE to reduce the syllable count by seven - offers an opportunity for supervised practical experience in offering pastoral care.

CPE programs vary, but many are set in hospitals. At mine, we had six students in our group, though one had to drop out early for personal reasons. The five of us who remained took shifts covering the hospital as chaplains overnight and on weekends. Weeknight shifts ran from 5PM to 7AM; weekend shifts were 8:30AM to 5PM and 5PM to 8:30AM. Weekdays were covered by paid chaplains.

Of course, most people work during the day, so many of the families who came to visit would meet the CPE students as chaplains. And because we took turns covering the shifts, it was common for the family of a patient to meet many of us.

Often, members of the family would take a liking to one chaplain or another. This sometimes led to contention within the family as to which was "their" chaplain: was it the first to visit the patient? Was it the first to meet a member of the family? Was it the first to meet the person who had health care power of attorney? Was it the chaplain we liked best, or who spent the most time with the patient, or spent the most time with the family?
I can't count the number of times I was asked to step out while a family loudly argued over who was the chaplain they counted as "theirs."

The Books in the Photo...

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Yes, those are some of my books, in the bookcase in my home office.

Here's a full view: