One more time: Another report comes that our growing small city has need of more police officers on the streets, on the payroll, serving the community. Columbia, Missouri is woefully inadequate in providing reasonable law enforcement. The shortage creates work loads and lack of coverage that squeezes and stresses the force. And pressure from the top of the food chain simply instructs them to do more with less. We lose officers all the time to other departments or agencies because of low morale.

As the reports continue to come and the noise level rises the public pretends to be concerned. Well, ain’t that a crying shame. But the simple and inconvenient truth is that we continue to vote down tax increases that could remedy this situation. We do that even as our local tax rates already hover in the bargain basement rage for cities our size. But we won’t ante up. Instead, we pretend to care and say inane things to officers like “Thank you for your service.” You want to really thank them for their service?

Hire more officers. Increase their salaries, benefits and retirement programs. Provide reasonable equipment and gear at no cost to officers. Make sure they have the most current vehicles and technology. Keep military style firearms and ammo off the streets and out of the hands of the bad guys and mentally ill. Re-institute the motorcycle and  mounted patrol horses. Offer routine continuing education and opportunities for our force to achieve best peer city practices.

We can settle for mediocre, overworked, understaffed and unsafe, or we can do the right thing. We can pay for this. What that means is voting yes to the next proposed tax increase. Just do it.

And while we are on the subject Missourians, go ahead and increase Missouri state taxes. We are at the bottom of the barrel. It’s ridiculous. The ultimate answer to every fiscal dilemma of our state is not slashing essential programs and lowering taxes even more. No, to the contrary, as a moral issue increase our taxes.

Wake up Columbia. Wake up Missouri. Okay, wake up USA. Stop pretending to care when you really, really don’t.

The first Dean of the School of Journalism of the University of Missouri was Walter Williams, a man who would later become the University’s President. There is one composition by which Williams became known far beyond his own locale and that is The Journalist’s Creed. It echoes  high mindedness of a 19th century moral tome. That, I think, is why it has endured. Though the Creed employs the language of its own time it names truths that may speak to all times:

I believe in the profession of journalism.
I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.
I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.
I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.
I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.
I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.
I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.
I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.

The Invitation She Carries

Posted: January 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

Inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Infinite Power of the universe: Out of Your womb we came, wandering this fair and spacious land. From generation to generation we have covered the face of the earth, standing where those before us walked and lived as we do now. The first peoples made their way with seasons and territory, tradition and tribe. And before them the earth itself unfolded with billions of years of growth and change, a small garden in the corner of our ancient and ever-new cosmos.

Here we are today, the descendants of those who came from every corner of this planet, called to live in this place in this passing moment. How infinite is your space and grand the sweep of time. And how peaceful we feel when we know, deep down, that we are a part of you. In the clamor of events which surround us, so full of potential and uncertainty, we dare ascend the spiral staircase to our highest and best selves.

No matter whom we are or from whence we have come, we ask, we seek, we reach for the peace that passes understanding, the courage to stand for justice, and the wisdom to know what that looks like in our own time. Give us the will and courage to live out our creed so that conviction is matched by virtue and declarations are animated by actions.

In the course of human events, both large and small, some are lifted by a mysterious providence to govern your people for a season. We ask that those who have been vested with the authority of government will honor the positions they now fill. Give them wisdom and courage to fulfill their roles and duties. Let them rise above self-concern to address the needs of whole nation.

May we in our many states of mind and heart devote ourselves to the best good for the whole people, walk in the challenging footsteps of Jesus, constantly pursue truth even when it is unclear, follow the wisdom that exceeds our own, and strive to take the higher rather than lower path.

We do not claim, Creator of the Cosmos, that our time and place is somehow harder and more challenging than any other time. But we do ask you for the insight and solidarity to be forces for goodness and beauty in this time and place where you have planted us. Fill us with your lively Spirit so that we might be your weavers of visions, lovers of souls, painters of hope, models of compassion, voices of justice, and agents of transformation.

We ask all these impossibilities through the spirit and life of the One who makes all things possible, Jesus our life-giving revealer, Amen.

Is it time to refresh our Constitutionally challenged minds?

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

My winter’s read between Christmas and New Year’s has been Robert Nelson’s intriguing God? Very Probably (Cascade, 2015). Nelson is a professor at the University of Maryland. His focus has been on implicit worldviews active in the worlds of the sciences. The subtitle is: Five Rational Ways to Think about the Question of God. No, he’s not going down Aristotle’s proofs for God track. He rather strolls out into the ring as an economist/mathematician and an uber well read student of the Neo-Darwinians/Atheists. He takes the intellectual fight to their own scientific backyards.

If you are looking for some defense of classical theism or creationism you will not find it here. Neither will you find a mindless defense of what has come to be called the Darwinian synthesis. Nelson exposes the conspicuous lack of considering new evidence and screening out of inconvenient facts regardless of the camp in which they live.

For example, creationists screen out a fossil record of millions of of years because they need a creation that took place 6,000 years ago. Neo-Darwinians screen out the fact that almost all paleontologists in the field who examine their core stratigraphy records note that nothing like a gradual evolution of the species takes place; dramatic ruptures in the process are more often the norm and individual species change very little over very long periods of time. As a matter of fact, there is more novelty that takes place through cross-fertilization than within individual species.

Nelson explores the miracle of Mathematical order, Darwinism as a secular religion, scientifically unexplainable human consciousness, divine agency in recorded history and the intersections of secular religions with Christianity and modernity.

Each of these chapters merits a book in and of itself. Nelson gathers them all in one, which is no small achievement. This is not an easy read, but it is written as a popularizing of arguments that have formerly been highly academic. But for the motivated, this is a great winter’s read. Dare you.

It’s not easy to be poor; it’s that simple. A puff of wind pushes you this way or that and you fall off the high wire you’ve been walking. Life is hand to mouth. And if you are a part of the peasant class like Joseph, Mary and their young child, Jesus, you’ll never get out of it. There is no social mobility. It’s not that wages are just stagnant; they are unpredictable. And since a foreign government occupies your land you are heavily taxed to underwrite the cost of the wealthy elite, vast building projects and the empire. Everything is rigged to benefit those in power. Their affluence is funded from the broad bottom. The money runs uphill, the trickle up theory. And that’s where the peasant class lives and dies, on the bottom.

Life is precarious for Mary and Joseph and Jesus, because that is where they live. So the idea of taking a mandatory journey to Bethlehem was no small matter. They could barely afford to live day-to-day.

Living off the charity of extended family and friends in Bethlehem, they couch surf; the manger being that crib, the livestock pen the spare bedroom. That’s what you do when you’re at the bottom, like most the people they knew.

Among other things, that is the absolutely stunning and mind-blowing realization; God chooses to enter the drama through a hatch in the bottom of the stage. It wasn’t the first time, of course. A doomed baby named Moses floated in a basket down the river to a destiny that would change his people. The youngest of Jesse’s sons, David, the one exiled to sheep herding, was anointed to become the king of Israel. And here, again, in the fullness of time and in the basement of history, the Son of David sleeps among the livestock.

I wish I could tell you that it got easier. But I can’t tell you that.

In time, and like a scene from Star Wars or The Hunger Games, the Empire becomes aware of a rebel arising out in one of the distant outposts or districts. In fact, some wandering holy men are escorted by security forces in to have an audience with the monarch of the region, one of the puppet client kings of Rome, Herod. Like most fascist despots this ruler lied and feigned sympathy to locate this rising star. But the wise men are discerning; they intuit the false pretense, the lying, and the posturing. So when Herod releases them – wanting them to find the One for him so that he, too, can pay tribute to him – they know he is not to be trusted. Deeply spiritual people sense the duplicity in those who lust for absolute power. They know that absolute power cannot tolerate a rival. They know he will kill the opposition in one disingenuous way or another.

As a part of a dream fest, the true intentions and situation of threat is revealed to two groups of people. The first is this group of Magi, wise ones, and rather than return through Jerusalem to inform Herod where the star child is they return home by another route. When Herod discovers that his informants have disappeared he is enraged and goes about a campaign of ethnic cleansing to liquidate his supposed rival. He throws a broad net of death over any children who might be in the range of this rival King. The swords flash.

In the meantime, the second group, also informed by means of a sacred dream, has been forewarned. Joseph is shown in a dream that he must flee for the lives of his family. If you thought it was bad to be a peasant, if you thought it bad to be a peasant in an occupied land, if you thought it bad that they had to take the time and resources to travel out of town for an enrollment, it has now become worse.

Mary, Joseph and Jesus have become political refugees. They are not economic migrants moving for better opportunity. No, they are fleeing the threat of death, leaving their homeland that has become a death trap and crossing the border into another land as refugees. Now they are even more vulnerable and depend on the generosity, hospitality and compassion of people they don’t know and that don’t know them. Like their ancestors they have become exiles, strangers in a strange land.

Like his ancestor Joseph of the coat of many colors and his brothers who fled famine in Canaan and crossed into Egypt, so Joseph the father of Jesus headed across the same border but not because of famine. This time he crossed the border to escape the empire’s security apparatus and death squads. The little refugee family hopes the border is open. They hope there is a way to exist in another land. They hope people will take them in.

syrian-refugeesLike this Syrian refugee family fleeing the ancient war-torn city of Aleppo, the sounds of war barely behind them, they hope that someone will take them in. They hope that the doors of Turkey, Jordan, Europe or the United States will be open. The powers and principalities of this world have done their very best to bomb them into oblivion and they flee for their lives, often on foot, by boat, by donkey.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were just such a refugee family.

If you are wondering how and where God enters the world, here it is. God comes by way of the margins, through the basement and undercroft of history, in the faces of the least of these, in ways that confound the places and people of power. The ways of God are found on the other side of violence and hate, through the hallways of hospitality.

If you wonder where Jesus is today, wonder no longer. Jesus is where oppression is at its worst, in the dark little corners of the forgotten world, abiding in hearts of all who are pursued yet remain courageous. Jesus is born and travels ever at the edge and may be found wherever the wise follow and evil attempts to destroy. There you will find him. Not in the conventional religious places that may automatically come to mind. But rather in the surprising places where the God of downward mobility chooses to show up, a trickle-up movement that confounds the world even as it gives unexpected hope. And when you sing the carols of this season it is for the sake of this Jesus and not another that you lift up your voice.