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… signs … Jesus … performed … have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Jn 20: 30,31

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Believing or not believing.  Belief in God or belief in nothing.  Theism or nihilism.  We face this proposition more directly today than we have probably in our history.

I have a very dear childhood friend.  He was my closest friend growing up.  We were like brothers – did so many things together.  Shared the same classes and teachers throughout school.  I was like a family member in his home.  His mother treated me like one of her children.  She and my mother were best of friends.

My friend is now in a nursing home.  He is frail.  Spends a good deal of time in bed.  As a child he was bright, friendly, a reader – social, trusted, quite capable.  In his late adolescence he seemed to be at odds with institutions and authority – but more to the point he began to lose interest in the world around him.  He seemed to make a wilful decision to reject this or that – his skepticism began to grow.  His actions seemed to say: life is worthless – this view and his skepticism grew as he aged.

He drank consistently throughout his life beginning when he was a teenager.  His initial adult working life seemed consistent with his abilities.  He had a modest political life and was elected to his local School Board.  His two children were successful.  He seemed at odds with his wife and she with him most of their married life.  She too was a negative person.

His negativity continued to grow – his work history declined as his cynicism strengthened.  He suffered from seizures.  Eventually his downward work trajectory ended when he worked himself out of a janitor’s job, being fired from a government position despite his union membership.  A very hard act to accomplish.  He burned bridges at work and with family members.  He scoffed at religion and those who tried to help him.

If I have to point to one thing that explains my friend’s decline it is this: he became a cynic – lived as a nihilist.  He lived as if to say very loudly – life has no meaning.  Nothing  met his approval – all was more or less rejected.  He lived as if to deny his own existence and existence itself.  

I see his attitude in our culture and politics today.  Those who reject national borders sound like him.  The lapses with the Vatican as to sex abuse, denying law, morality and the Canons of the Church reflect his disposition. The upheaval in sexual mores, in families, in lawless urban enclaves seem to say: “belief in good” no longer holds.   The corruption at the federal bureaucratic level says much the same thing – truth and honesty are not honored in practice.  Drug addictions, suicides, random violence and corporate men preying on women employees – but more indications of decline and decay, amoral behavior – signs of depravity and reasons for serious concern.

All this to say but one simple thing: I do not hear much said about nihilism and the denial of values, morals, conduct – rather, too often, I see others advocating decline and decay – angry people attacking structures and codes of conduct that hold us together and provide a basis for community, peace and prosperity … life itself.

Theism or Nihilism.  Believe in something or believe in nothing.  God or nothing at all.

Shalom.

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” … political liberty is the most powerful, most effective means of self-development that heaven has given us.”  Secret police and fixed elections … and unwise attempts (at) regulation and state planning rather than (trusting) Adam Smith’s “simple and obvious system of natural liberty” … do more damage to our goods and to our goodness than do conventional economic (and political) failings.

Deirdre N. McCloskey, in The Bourgeois Virtues

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Those at the higher levels of government are playing with fire and our freedom.

We have learned that the warrants to spy on nominal Trump campaign figure Carter Paige were extended without any hearing before the very sensitive and very powerful Foreign Intelligence (FISA) Court.

Likewise we heard this week that Robert Mueller’s top assistant was kept advised of matters pertaining to the fabricated Dossier (apparently financed in part by Ms. Clinton’s campaign) before Mr. Mueller’s current ill-defined investigative appointment aimed (it seems) at discrediting Donald Trump and the results of the last Presidential election.

What if the liberty interest we enjoy and that is enshrined in our Constitution is indeed sacred in nature?  Would we not (by these irregular actions) be violating the sacred and unique relationship we as Americans have with God – our Divine Benefactor?

These are serious times – with matters of great consequence front and center.

Shalom.

Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.

Epictetus

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Hear the words of a man who lived 100 years before Christ.  Once a Roman slave, he gained his freedom, studied as a Stoic and devoted his life to philosophy – not as a theoretical proposition but rather as a way of life.

What he says here is good for today.  No doubt you have seen the chaos and dreadful conduct of many.  Indeed, you may have said to yourself or others –“the high tide has come and with it damage … it shows no signs of subsiding … when it leaves it will take many things with it – some very good things.”

Epictetus would have us not be so discomforted by these things over which we have no control for he saw that life is like that – with disorder and damage that we are powerless to avoid but that we will our self to peace notwithstanding.

We live in difficult times.  Disorienting times.  The air is flush with strange notions and odd ideas, and acts decry fetishes and self-destruction.

Yes, we live in rare times where wisdom and ignorance collide and good and evil struggle face to face.  Epictetus is ripe for these times.  Indeed he has lived throughout the ages in the head and heart and works of others.

He has been tutor to many.  Think of Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations and of contemporaries: Tom Wolfe (A Man in Full), V.S. Naipaul (A House for Mr. Biswas), James Joyce (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and J.D. Salinger (Franny and Zooey).

Words of ancient men from distance cultures do not survive the centuries but that they carry truth and have utility.  Yet, we neglect these gifts … and the voices of the unwise: the special pleaders, children, advocates, talking heads, ideologues and those who thirst for power and celebrity spoil the air we breathe.

… peace notwithstanding … that is our task.  Epictetus awaits.

Shalom.

 

Posting late on a lazy summer day.  For the first time since I retired some years ago, I have come to enjoy life as if I am “on vacation” – no need to charge out of bed like a man responding to an emergency.  I even slept late.  This must be what living feels like.

It is my earnest belief that everything we see before us today is more or less polluted, diluted and devalued.

Karl Barth, in Community, Church and State

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Theologian Karl Barth makes his point at the height of America’s success – having been victorious in World War II.  The year was 1946.

One wonders what he might say today when looking at Washington, the Justice Department, the F.B.I., the press and media, the apparent double-standard that once was the justice system where the law was equally applied to all, etc.

It is hard not to conclude we have been corrupted and where impartiality is required favoritism is applied.  Yes, this is alarming.  Nations disintegrate when such things occur.  Divisions of this sort are quite deadly.

In thinking about Barth’s words today, I am reminded of Jesus washing the feet of the Disciples and saying to them “Unless I was you, you will have no part with me.”  (Jn 13:8)

His point is simple and it holds today – like Him, we are to serve others rather than ourselves and our pride.

I am always on-guard when I hear here in Washington that X is an impeccable person, that he is the most honest and trust-worthy man to be found anywhere.  Gang, this is Washington and the culture does not often produce such a species of man – this is a “go along, get along” town – where people advance their own interests while serving the needs of those who can most likely help them climb up the ladder.  Not a lot of feet-washers here.

Strange as he is, President Trump is perhaps the only candidate for the Presidency in my life time that has identified what a great number of citizens around the land have figured out: Washington isn’t heaven … its not even Iowa.

What Barth saw, many now see as well.  Need I say we desperately need more of Christ and far less of self … Would that not be a proper perscription for what ails us?

Very much time to pray for this Nation.

Shalom.

The origin of justice is to be sought in the divine law of eternal and immutable morality.

Cicero, The Laws

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Corruption of a very serious nature in the F.B.I and the Justice Department, apparently intended to discredit a Presidential candidate, seems to have involved individuals in the intelligence community, perhaps the White House, the press, news media and academia, and members of the Washington political consulting and legal community.

Yet, there seems no vigorous effort to root out those who may have acted unlawfully.

The unfathomable failure to hold Hillary Clinton and others accountable for breaches of national security or investigate the questionable conduct of the Mr. and Mrs. Clinton as to their Foundation and extraordinarily lucrative payments for presentations made to those who could potentially have business before one or another of Washington’s governmental agencies or Departments is astonishing – really, really troublesome.

It appears there is no interest in kicking over those rocks no matter the suspicion that is quite reasonably present.

Sexual predators in the Catholic clergy and cover-up in the Church’s hierarchy and virtually no one pays a price – least of all the Bishops and Cardinals in the “chain of command” within the Church.

One concludes from the absence of justice that all involved are far, far from divine law, morality and God.

Time to knock some people of their pedestals, it seems.  Absent that, we let the corrupt corrupt usNo, thanks!  Why would anyone stand for that?

Those in power have failed us.  Show them the door.

Holiness toward God and justice toward men usually go together.

Philo, in Abraham

Shalom.

A gracious woman attains honors, and ruthless men attain riches.  The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm.  The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.

Prov 11:16-18

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HonorMercyRighteousness.  Does this describe you?  Describe those you meet?  Those you admire?  Those you listen to?  Those who have public authority?  Those who wish to lead you?  Those who claim to serve justice?  Those who comment on public affairs?  Those who preach and baptize?

If not, why not?

There is no time in my life that I have seen what I now see: namely, the absence of virtue and the virtuous.  It is as if we have stopped teaching men to be gentlemen and women to be ladies.  More to the point we seem like we emulate Sodom and Gomorrah.  And, it seems that ruthlessness, cruelty and the acquisition of extraordinary wealth and power no matter the cost to our character are just fine by us.

Make no mistake – the human heart longs for what is good, and just, and true and merciful and not what is bad and unjust, false and merciless.

We had best restore the best in us – or bye, bye birdie.

It all starts with you – and it starts now, today!

Shalom.

 

 

Then they set out along the black top in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

Cormac McCarthy, in The Road

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McCarthy writes of a father and his most beloved son who walk under the grayest of skies in a burned out and broken America.  It is both a compelling book and extraordinary movie.  In both I am struck by the love of the father for the son and the son for the father, and by the grayness of the sky amid the ruin.  The latter reminds me of the verbal and video landscape of the present days where hostility is thick as fog and division seems the only objective of the public voices we hear and where each day brings stories of death, cruelty, hatred and the commentaries of the C- and D+ scribes and talking heads whose range of thought is a tad lower than that of a carnival barker.

In a most extraordinary land darkness has descended.  What was once one is now fragmented into many bruised parts .

He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child had known this better than he.  He tried to remember the dream but could not.  All that was left was the feeling of it … he could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was his own ashes.

This father like me had lived a dream – a dream in better times.  I was conceived when the Second World War was near its triumphant end.  My childhood was spent on a street of veterans and their families – remarkable men and women whose childhood commenced in the Great Depression and turned then to World War – its millions dead, others murdered in Stalin’s gulag.

How does one speak of what we had and lost?  How does one make that the known experience of an adult son?  Give him the optimism purpose and meaning I, poor as we were, knew so well?

How do my grandson or my granddaughter gain what had been, but now is so damaged?  How can my ashes live to sign their forehead?

The Road.  Where this father and son had the dark shadow and penetrating cold of a dying orb – they at least had silence.  We have the unstoppable voices and words of those whose lips bring darkness and cold.  They are now our dismal cover.

“You have to carry the fire … It’s inside you.  It always was there.  I can see it.”

So says the father to the son.  So say I to you, this day.

Shalom.

News as Soap Opera – This is where we are in a superficial mass communication, digitized social media culture.  We interview people with no achievement or proclaim and, in doing so, cannot distinguish people of substance from people who have no particular accomplishment.  We are more soap opera than not.  We can no longer tell the difference between depth and shallow, or what is substantive and what is not.  A real astonishing decline.

… many even the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for the loved the approval of man rather than the approval of God.  (Emphasis added.)

Jn 12: 42, 43

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So many lessons in Scripture … so many –

We are social beings and the need to be accepted by others is a very strong influence on us.  We often keep our thoughts and beliefs to ourselves rather than risk the reaction of the loss of social status or exile from our group or community.  At times we forsake what we need most.

Our spiritual and psychological needs are sacrificed when we deny our faith.  Yes, our well-being is neglected at great cost when we deny our faith.  Doing so in secular culture is quite common.  To deny God is common – but, oh my, does the great cost of godlessness not show itself daily!  Is there not story after story in the news of the evidence of this godlessness produced by our denial.

In denying God in secular culture we testify not to the love and power of God, but our weakness and the role of social sanction in secular culture.

You want the tide of godlessness to subside?  Live your beliefs openly- with courage and confidence.  Fear not.  Believers have this obligation.  Be so obliged.

Shalom.

 

 

 

Mary … took a pound of very costly perfume … and anointed the feet of Jesus … But Judas Iscariot … said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor people? … he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money-box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.

Jn 12: 3, 4, 5, 6

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It is interesting to me that Scripture has these small creases in it that convey ageless wisdom or warning.

Here we see Judas raise a concern about something of value and money.  (We tell much about people by the concerns they have.)

Judas is focused on money and in his remarks he shows us this.  In the presence of Jesus, he is thinking about money – not the person of Christ or the anointment of a Messiah.

In modern days, we often hear politicians and others appeal to the needs of the poor, women, children, a minority group, etc.  Yet, from time to time we see the misuse of funds dedicated to help others.  Sometimes we learn that heads of charitable organizations make significant salaries – live rather well beyond the common person.

As in the day of Christ, and so today – people angle to feather their own nest – even in the course of “helping” others.

There is much to learn from Scripture – it records the nature of people and the ageless lure of material life to many – even some who profess selfless dedication.

We have, it seems, feet of clay.  How we need God to this day!

It is wise to pray to God that we might exceed our modest limits and temptation.

Shalom.

Attachment is the great fabrication of illusions; reality can only be obtained by someone who is detached.  (Emphasis added.)

Simone Weil

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Saw a PBS Frontline documentary about boxing promoter/manager Don King.  It was fascinating.  King made a fortune-plus but those who fought did not.  It was pretty clear to many (TV executives, Congress, law enforcement officials, state boxing commissions, fighters and their trainers, etc.) that King was getting rich at his fighters’ expense.  But no one did anything to correct the abuses.  Sort of reminded me of Washington and how the Clintons and their minions get a perpetual free pass.

That brings me to Simone Weil (one of my wife Sylvia’s favorite writers).

Weil makes a very good and wise point – in a world where compromise and corruption take up common residence “being part” of “elite” structures is best avoided if you wish to live in contentment.

The wise person puts himself or herself in the best position to survive independently.  It is far better to be largely self-sufficient than encased in an organization, an onerous structure.

I worked by myself as a lawyer.  I now live in solitude.

While social (I knew all kinds of people), I was never a joiner.  Never had the desire to climb the ladder.  I enjoyed being a friends to many, yet a level of self-sufficiency was my route and allowed me to be a confidant to others.

Was asked one time by a Judge if I was interested in applying to fill a vacancy on the local Court.  My response: “Thank you, but I’ve never been a fan of Pontius Pilate.”  Pilate was stuck in a system that required his compliance with its ways.  “I see no guilt in this man” but … “Good bye, Jesus.”

I see many who are tethered to a group, a system or such, and so often I see them discouraged at having to comply with the culture that pervades their milieu.  Imagine a life of daily discontent – it is bound to make for long days and serious angst.  Some prisons have invisible walls.

In life you have time and a grant of dignity in your sacred birth.  Wasting time you cannot get back again, or besmirching your dignity and the sacred gift of your birth seems like a poor choice.

One makes haste slowly in life.  The purest sound is often a holy silence.  Detachment is often a better course than attachment.  Be a friend to many – but include yourself in that.

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place … Mk 1:35

Shalom.

Imagine – Imagine how the local F.B.I. must feel in watching the those at the top of the ladder mishandling everything and anything related to the Clintons and their associates and having to see the rank partisanship from those at the top of their pyramid.  Difficult to see and experience.

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