Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

February 4, 2016

Several months ago”Spotify” began making available the entire Beatles corpus, as usual free of charge and available through their Ap on smart phones or whatever. Since then I have spent some enjoyable and nostalgic hours listening to some of this music from my youth, happily “shuffle playing” the songs so that I never really know what to expect next.

I will never forget the first time I heard a Beatles’ song on the radio. I must have been about fifteen and tooling around Orlando with my best friend in his car. It was likely “She Loves Me” or “I Want To Hold Your Hand” – not by any means their finest but enough to get me hooked for life. I had been pretty deeply involved in the coffee house, folk music scene, even playing in a very amateur folk duo with another friend. But this was something totally different.

Listening to them again, consistently after so many years, I am amazed at their evolution as musicians, at the sheer variety of musical styles in which they were comfortable. You get this sense particularly when hearing songs that were never really best sellers, but which may have appeared on an album somewhere down the play list or maybe even never made it on the world stage.

This can range from classic, early-twangy rock and roll, to dreamy ballads, to what sometimes sounds like 1920s honky tonk, to the circus band of Sgt. Pepper, and of course to the psychedelic, drug influenced meditations of their later years.  Listening carefully can also reveal their reflection of the 1960s/1970s culture of which they were so much a part.

They struggled with how to fit together the “flower child” social revolution; the drug scene; the Indian mysticism of George Harrison, John Lennon’s poetic, darker side; Paul McCartney’s genius…and of course the adulation, the money, the rocky relationships between them. But somehow, through it all, this blue collar team from Liverpool captured something of a generation in flux, the birth pangs of — if not the Age of Aquarius — then at least the dawning of a new consciousness in a generation that is still influencing and impacting the world today.

The Beatles did not create that consciousness, but they accurately reflected it in all its glory and confusion, its sins and its redemptive qualities. It is truly, more than the Rolling Stones’ or other representatives of the British invasion, the music of my generation.

It is good to hear it, in its entirety, once again.

Biblical Leadership

February 3, 2016

As I read Psalm 72 this morning, I thought about how it is a really pretty good summary of what might be called “biblical leadership.” At least, these are the qualities the psalmist sought in the “ideal king.” In this political season, when so many are wearing their faith on their sleeves, perhaps this psalm might be a good reflection piece for us all:

(Verse) 1 Give the King your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the King’s Son — so what does justice and righteousness mean here? Read on:

2. That he may rule your people righteously and the poor with justice — so, “rulers” are to treat poor folks “rightly” and with justice.

3. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, and the little hills bring righteousness — assuring economic security and justice for all is part of the role.

4. He shall defend the needy among the people; he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor — sounds like “a preferential option for the poor” to me. Beware, oppressors!

7b. there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more — rulers are to be peacemakers.

9. His foes shall bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust — yes, there is a “commander in chief” role here, in our broken world.

12. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. 13 He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. 14. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, and dear shall their blood be in his sight — sounds like the ideal leader has compassion for those in the realm who are victims of violence and mourns every loss of life (maybe even with tears).

15. Long may he live! And may there be given to him gold from Arabia; may prayer be made for him always, and may they bless him all the day long — best wishes and adequate support must be given the ideal ruler. And it wouldn’t hurt to offer our prayers and blessing as well!

Interesting how much more attention is give to the leader’s concern and actions for the poor than to “national security.” Both are there. It’s just that justice is at the heart of the people’s security. Or, so it seems to me.

 

 

Ready for a Change?

February 2, 2016

“Well, the good thing is, we don’t have to hear about the ridiculous Iowa caucuses for another four years,” tweeted a (perhaps snobbish) Californian this morning. Well, I understand the rap on our caucus process — rural, “flyover” state, mostly white, only a relatively small percentage of folks turn out, etc, etc, etc.

But, if you stood in the midst of very average, but extremely knowledgeable people of all ages (and, believe it or not, colors) in church basements, elementary school libraries, community centers, and saw their passion — and yet patience — with the admittedly messy process, I don’t think you would call it “ridiculous.”

Not unless you want to ridicule good people who are trying to make our democracy work. Iowans don’t claim to have the last word in this, or any, political season. But, we do have the first. There are all kinds of other contests, big state and small, north and south, primary and caucus. It will all shake out in due course. But, for now, we have had our say. And, to a person, the candidates are grateful for the way they are treated and the seriousness with which Iowans take their politics.

As to this year, the only surprise for me was Rubio’s surge. Our conservative evangelicals were sure to pick Cruz. Trump still brings out angry, disillusioned people who apparently will vote against their own best interests. I would have thought a Kasich, or even Rand Paul surge more likely than Marco, but there you have it. Now, if he could only return to his optimistic vision, personal story, and show up occasionally for Senate votes, he might be a real contender.

I knew Bernie Sanders would do well with our “lefter-than-average” Democratic base, but was surprised how well he did. If only he really could lead a “revolution” and turn over both Houses, this country would be infinitely better off. Again, I think that’s unlikely and will continue to support to “pragmatic progressive,” Hillary Clinton. But, I’m going to keep my eye on Bernie.

Maybe this country really is ready for a change…for a change!

Fix The Debt

February 1, 2016

“In your first budget proposal in January 2017, what will you do to begin to address our national debt and deficit?” This is the question a national effort called “Fix the Debt” has challenged us to ask out candidates for President. Unfortunately, I have rarely heard it posed and never has it been adequately answered.

A few Republicans have plans to address Social Security and health care spending, but they also propose huge tax cuts that exceed their specific spending cuts and would worsen the fiscal situation. Some Democrats have proposals to pay for their large expansions of federal programs, but have not put forward plans to address the debt. It’s not enough to pay for new spending commitments when the accumulating debt is already unsustainable.

I am sorry that President Obama did not get behind the Bolles-Simpson debt and deficit reduction proposals and push hard to get them passed early in his first term. There would have been pain all around, but at least steps could have been taken to save our children and grandchildren from having to pay off the debt we have created!

Now, we have another chance. Whether Republican or Democrat, we must press our potential leaders to articulate just how they would raise taxes on the wealthiest among us AND make reasonable cuts in spending that do not hurt the poorest of the poor. There are ways to do this. It just takes the political will to do it.

It’s up to us to make sure that happens!

Local Paper Endorses Sanders and Kasich

January 31, 2016

Our local, Lee Enterprises owned, newspaper the Quad City Times this morning endorsed Bernie Sanders and John Kasich as their choice for the Democratic and Republican candidates for President. It’s not a great paper and I only read it because of the local coverage, but I think the choices are interesting. Here’s how they explain them:

“Americans are tired of the hollow rhetoric. They’re tired of two parties that, in a lot of ways, mirror each other. Any Democrat looking for a clear choice in the general election should caucus Monday for Bernie Sanders…If the Democratic Party is to move forward, it must abandon its compromised policy and differentiate itself come November. Only Sanders can accomplish that goal.”

“John Kasich is the poster-child for all thinking Republicans left behind by a party over-run by an irrational, seething fringe. The Ohio governor is the antithesis of the shrill, bigoted screaming heads dominating the Republican Party field. He should carry the GOP standard heading into November’s presidential election, if re-injecting reason into GOP rhetoric is of any concern.”

While I prefer Secretary Clinton over Senator Sanders as a Democrat, I certainly understand the appeal of Sanders’ consistent record, clear voice for income equality, and the need for a clear choice. I am also mindful of how many young people have been drawn into the process (as happened with Barack Obama) and how disappointed — perhaps even disillusioned — many of them will be if he does not win the nomination. I still think Hillary is the best prepared person in history to be President, but I absolutely get Bernie’s appeal.

I really hope the Times’ endorsement of John Kasic can move the needle a bit for him. Iowa has a long and laudable history of a kind of “progressive Republicanism” which has all but vanished in today’s GOP. Kasich is no Jim Leech or Maggie Tinsman (fine Iowa Republican legislators in Washington and Des Moines, respectively, in the recent past) but as the Times’ article points out, he is in many ways, “…a model Republican.He’s a thoughtful, pragmatic workhorse, who’s disinterested in mounting divisive social battles that reduce people to political fodder…(and is)…one of the few Republicans in the race who honestly believes in big-tent conservatism.”

Well, we’ll see. Tomorrow the first real “votes” in the nation will be cast here in the Iowa caucuses. Can’t wait to participate…and to see the results!

Hillary and John Wesley

January 30, 2016

Worked an event for Hillary and Bill Clinton last night here in Davenport. I was responsible for seating people in the ADA section so that physically-challenged folks could hear, and at least partially, see this famous couple. And, I’ll be on the phones all weekend and on Monday right up until caucus time to try and get out the vote.

Bill was his usual charming, winsome self describing falling in love with Hillary, the amazing accomplishments she had as a young lawyer, working for the Children’s Defense Fund and to combat segregationist academies throughout the south, long before she ever became First Lady, a Senator from New York, or Secretary of State. He said, “She makes everything she touches better.”

Of course, if you dislike and distrust Hillary Clinton, you will continue to believe that her e-mails reveal that she was, perhaps, a spy releasing classified information to damage the United States. And, that she was personally responsible for the tragic death of  Ambassador Chris Stevens (and the others) in Benghazi. Some protesters across the street from our venue obviously believe that as they lowered a banner reading, “Hillary Lied, Americans Died.” And, you will continue to believe that she is hopelessly compromised by her Wall Street donations.

If you like and trust Hillary Clinton (as I do) you will continue to believe that, however, mistaken she was to use a private e-mail server while Secretary of State, virtually all of the microscopic percentage now marked “classified” were done so long after she sent them (hindsight being 20/20) and that in any case no real harm was done. You can bet she learned from that experience.  It will not happen again!

And, I believe that her personal culpability in Benghazi consisted primarily in being Secretary of State while the kind of tragic event occurred which has happened before, and will happen again, in the dangerous world of international diplomacy. Finally, I believe her when she says she will go after Wall Street excesses using existing laws (and working for new ones, if necessary)  but be realistic to know that not all “Wall Street bankers” are either billionaires or thieves and that the stock market, for better or worse, is an integral part of the U.S. (and world) economy and that it is likely best for a candidate for President not alienate the entire system before even taking office. If you want to get things done and not just posture.

As he introduced her last night, Bill Clinton said that Hillary’s values were formed in that “little Methodist church” she attended and that she was motivated in part by the famous quote often ascribed to Methodist founder, John Wesley, about “doing as much good as you can, for as many people as you can, for as long as you can.” I believe that to be her motivation and her life story makes that clear, if people only knew it in its entirety. That’s why I support her.

 

Alone In The Universe?

January 29, 2016

It was easy to see the five planets visible in the southern sky around 6:30 while walking Sammie, our Golden Retriever this morning. I understand they are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and cosmology ever since growing up in Florida, within site of Cape Canaveral and surrounded by enthusiasm for the “space race” in the 1960’s.

My favorite elementary school teacher, Adelaide Davis, and her husband Orville (who was later my high school principle), took a special interest in me and a buddy, Bryan Morris, because we were both “science nerds” and good students. They even took us with them to some meetings of “The Astronomers’ Club” to which they belonged in Orlando.

We spent a number of happy evenings looking through their sophisticated, though amateur-grade, telescopes, peering into the night sky and asking endless questions about what we were seeing. One Christmas I received a “Moonscope” which was an inexpensive, reflective telescope which at least allowed clear visibility of the moon’s surface and the sense that its rugged surface and deep craters were within easy reach.

It is, of course, clear that no “life” as we understand it is present on those five easily visible planets I saw this morning. Equally clear that no such life exists in our solar system. In fact, we seem to have found no real indications of any in our galaxy. I often wonder if we are indeed “alone in the universe.” Of course, given the vastness “of interstellar space” and the possibility that there are even multiple universes, the chances seem quite small.

It would prove no challenge to my faith if we were discover other forms of life, even other religious systems “they” might have developed to understand their place in the universe. But, if indeed, we earthlings are indeed alone in the universe, I would not find that troubling either.

In fact, I would find it…awesome!

All this…and just us?

Cool!

Remembering The Challenger

January 28, 2016

I shall never forget the day of January 28, 1986. A unique team of astronauts was scheduled to launch into space from the Kennedy Space Center, just north of where St. Mark’s was located and on the north end of Merritt Island where the Epting family now made its home. Launches of the Space Shuttle had not, at that time, become the routine occurrences they were in later years and this one was especially anticipated because one of the astronaut team was a woman named Christa McAuliffe who had been a teacher and special broadcasts were to be made by her from space. Students all over the country were looking forward to following this adventure.

The headmistress of St. Mark’s Episcopal School had decided to send several elementary classes on a field trip to witness this historic occasion since we were so close to KSC and many of the parents and parishioners at St. Mark’s worked at Cape Canaveral and for NASA. It was a fateful decision.

Even though we, as Central Floridians, were completely accustomed to space launches, because our kids were to be on site for this particular one, my secretary Judy McCabe and I had the radio on in the church office so we would know the exact moment of the launch and could step outside and watch the white contrail against the blue sky which was always such a beautiful sight.

As soon as the countdown began, we did indeed go outside with students and faculty who had remained on campus that day onto the playground and gazed across the Indian River to look for the blast-off.  Having seen many before, it did not take any of the adults long to realize that something had gone terribly wrong. There was a huge flash and then multiple contrails began spiraling, not upward toward the heavens, but back to earth.

Some thought it was simply the first stage of the rocket that was blasting away. But I instinctively knew differently and Judy and I rushed back in to hear the tragic news that it appeared the Challenger Space Shuttle had blown up before our very eyes. “Maybe they’ll be able to rescue them at sea,” Judy said with tears in her eyes. But I think we both knew that there would be no survivors from that horrific explosion.

The next consideration was how to tell the students, both those who had witnessed the accident with us from the playground and more importantly those classes who had been on site at the space center.  We hastily arranged for a school assembly in the church and, when the teachers and students returned we held a brief, kid-appropriate kind of memorial service during which I spoke of how astronauts are heroes and how, throughout the ages, pioneers and explorers have been such heroes who have taken risks to expand our horizons and open up new vistas for the future.

After an early dismissal so that students could be with their families on this terrifying day, the telephone started ringing. These calls were from the press who wanted to know if we were going to have any kind of public service that day to acknowledge the fallen. It dawned on me that it was Tuesday and that we had a regularly scheduled midweek Eucharist at 5:30 p.m. every Tuesday at St. Mark’s. When I acknowledged that fact and said that we would be offering special prayers for the victims and their families, every major television network wanted to send cameras and a film crew.

Initially, I said a firm “No” feeling that numbers of our people might show up at the service since many worked at the Cape and our whole community knew so many people who would have been involved. Finally, a local reporter for ABC news said, “But, Father, so many people are trying to process this! Surely it would be helpful for the wider community to know that at least one church was responding quickly to this tragedy.”

I was actually embarrassed that it took a member of the press to remind me of my Christian duty in this regard and eventually worked out a plan for one stationary camera to be in the back of the church and that no one could be approached, on church property, for impromptu “interviews” which might catch people off guard. I doubt if that deal could be struck today, but in 1986 the press still had some respect for the feelings of grieving human beings and they stuck to the terms of our agreement scrupulously.

Across the country that evening on network news was a tastefully done piece, showing only a visual of me preaching a brief homily, and later administering Holy Communion to a grieving crowd. Emblazoned on my memory to this day was sitting in our small chapel, cradling a young woman who worked at the space center and whose job it had been that day to be among those present with the stunned and grieving families of those astronauts as they awaited confirmation of what they all new to be true – that there would be no survivors of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

But I was proud of the way St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and School had played a small role in the healing process. It was testimony to just how important a Christian community could be, not only for its own members, but for the wider populace as well.

 

 

 

The “Hardest” Job in the World

January 27, 2016

“My” candidate for President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, often says that the presidency is “the hardest job in the world.” News flash. It is not the hardest job in the world. It is a hard job; no question. But it is not the “hardest” job.  Among the hardest jobs in the world, I would list (in no particular order):

“Doctors Without Borders” working in plague-ridden and war-torn parts of the world…

Coal miners who descend to the lowest parts of the earth, in danger every, single day…

Inner city high school teachers who are expected to be surrogate parents, counselors, role models, and enforcement officers all rolled into one…

Farmers who work 24/7 and are at the mercy of nature’s cycles and whose crops are worth less, the more they grow…

Emergency room nurses who may work swing shifts, for very little money, and must be prepared on a moment’s notice to confront traumatic injury, pain and sudden death…

Construction and power company workers who may be called out at any hour of the day or night in freezing weather or burning heat to repair roads and downed electric lines…

Air traffic controllers on duty in some of the busiest airports in the world and who daily have thousands of lives depending on their skill and judgment…

Almost any single mom who must balance work, parenting, and life itself often making the kind of minimum wage which means that a blown tire can mean the difference between affording dinner and paying the water bill…

And I could go on and on…

The Presidency of the United States?

A hard job.

Not the hardest.

 

Hybrids and Ethanol

January 26, 2016

According to today’s New York Times, “Barely a month after world leaders signed a sweeping agreement to reduce carbon emissions, the global commitment to renewable energy sources faces its first big test as the price of oil collapses. Buoyed by low gas prices, Americans are largely eschewing electric cars in favor of lower-mileage trucks and sport utility vehicles.”

Well, if you look around, it may be possible to do two things at once. We just bought a 2016 Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid which drives like a dream and gets around 40 mpg on average. This is not a commercial, there are a number of such vehicles on the market. They give you the hauling space you need without guzzling undue amounts of fossil fuel.

I will never forget buying my first hybrid automobile after watching Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” on a long, cross-country flight in the 1990s. It was not that I was unaware of, or unconcerned about, climate change and humankind’s “contributions” toward making it worse before seeing that film. But it simply made the argument in such a cogent and compelling way that I really did begin to make changes in my energy lifestyle after that.

Of course, as Iowans, we also are supporters and users of ethanol. I am not unaware of the debate about its effectiveness, on balance, but until something better comes along (and since most of our Iowa corn feeds cattle not people, directly…and we shouldn’t be eating so much beef anyway!) I feel good about continuing to use ethanol.

So, even though the global warming problem will not be solved by individuals conserving energy, but by real commitments by governments and industry, driving our hybrid on ethanol at least makes a small contribution — and keeps us aware of, and working on, the problem.


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