Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Pope, Face to Screen


If the Pope is standing right in front of me, I’m going to look AT him–not at a little picture of him on my iPhone screen. Like so many people did last week.

The world does not need another wobbly, grainy video clip of the Pope meeting people in a crowd. But if that’s what you want to do with your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…well, it won’t be the last stupid decision you make. You’ll get your piece of amateur video. But you won’t be able to tell people this:

“I looked into the Pope’s face, and he looked into mine, and our eyes met.”

Consider the encounter from the Pope’s perspective. You weren’t someone who cared about meeting him, but a person who cared primarily about recording a moment in time to replay for people later.

If I were approached by Chuck Swindoll, or Bon Jovi, or Toni Morrison, I would want to focus on them–and trust the experience to be recorded in my memory. I would cherish the personal encounter and whatever personal connection we made. My first instinct wouldn’t be to grab my cellphone and launch the video app.

On my wedding day, when I watched my beautiful bride come down that aisle, I’m glad I was looking into her eyes and fully taking in the moment…not glued to a tiny computer screen. Live in the moment. It’s a concept being lost by people with smartphones.

Of course, if the person is Donald Trump, then you need to keep your eyes diverted to your cellphone. Because even Moses was not allowed to actually see the face of God, “for no one may see me and live.”

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The Pope Goes to Congress



I read the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to Congress. I tend to do that, rather than let pundits slice and dice a speech and tell me what the person said. In this case, the Pope didn’t say anything earth-shaking. And yet, it was great hearing words like these in the public sphere.

Here are some of my take-aways.

  • Overall, he was very affirming of America, the American people, and the values on which America is built.
  • He was not preachy. He made his points without being (too) pointed.
  • It was a positive, hopeful speech–not berating humanity for falling short, but encouraging humanity to do well.
  • There were statements conservatives will dislike, and statements liberals will dislike.
  • Although the Pope has every right to be prophetic, he didn’t go that route. He avoided correction and condemnation. Instead, he stated his case with gentleness, softly prodding us in the direction he wanted us to go.

Here are a few quotes I drew from the speech (but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself):

“We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”

Discussing American Indians to make a point about immigrants: “Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past.”

“We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12).”

“Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

“In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream. God bless America!”

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Divine Ambiguity

Watching coverage of the Pope’s visit, I’m torn over a few issues.

I love watching the rituals Catholics have built around the faith. I find something very beautiful about them, an attempt to attach meaning to even mundane elements of worship. And yet, I’m glad we United Brethren don’t do them.

I like the robes, hats, and other garments. I remember watching a UB man be ordained while wearing shorts–the guy clearly didn’t think it was all that big a deal. That would never happen among Catholics. But I’m glad we don’t place importance on how people dress, and I don’t mind seeing my pastor preach in bluejeans.

I am awed by Catholic cathedrals; we visited St. Peter’s in the Vatican back in 2000, and it blew me away. So much beauty, majesty, and symbolism. But I’m glad we don’t invest that kind of money in our church buildings.

Ambiguity is okay. It’s not necessary to decide definitively that one way is good and the other is bad.

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Thinking for Ourselves


I participate in a private Facebook forum which includes a fellow who really really dislikes Christians. He regularly posts stuff he finds on the internet which he thinks makes Christians look bad.

The other day, he posted the internet graphic above, which consists of supposed quotes by Founding Fathers. It includes this quote from John Adams:

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all.”

John Adams did, indeed, write those very words. It was in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. But here’s the quote in its context:

“Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion at all!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company.”

I’ve seen some of my Facebook friends–white evangelical Christians, primarily–likewise post stuff they find on the internet without checking its veracity. Sometimes what they pass along is merely untrue. Other times it is racist or hateful idiocy, far from the spirit of Christ.

I’ve come to detest these internet graphics (especially the ones which tell us to “share if you agree”). I much prefer that people take the time to write out their own thoughts, and let people react to them. It seems that people have lost the ability to put together their own ideas in intelligible sentences. Instead, they scour the internet for junk that affirms their views, and then “share” it with no more personal comment than “This is good.”

Come on, people, think for yourself. Put some words together out of your own brain. If you’re my friend, Facebook or otherwise, I want to know YOUR thoughts, not the thoughts of some anonymous person who knows how to use Photoshop.

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