Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Yom HaShoah, a solemn day of remembrance to honor all the victims of the Holocaust, was observed a few days ago in Israel. At 10:00 a.m. sirens sounded and the nation came to a standstill. For two minutes, people stood at attention wherever they were in silent tribute to the millions who were slaughtered in the death camps.

While the word holocaust is often used to describe the evil, many Jews now use the Hebrew word shoah. There’s good reason for this. Holocaust, translated from New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew means “completely burnt offering to God.” The word shoah, on the other hand, is most often translated as “catastrophe.”

Words often convey powerful meanings. Could the wholesale murder of millions of Jews truly be considered a “burnt offering to God?” God forbid. The evil inflicted on the Jewish people was truly a “catastrophe.” Even uttering the word “shoah” itself is perfectly descriptive. The breath gushes out of the body like a pain-filled stream, leaving a sense of emptiness and despair in its wake.

The lessons of the Shoah are imprinted on the Jewish heart. The Jews of Israel and Jews all around the world understand their need for unity. While they desire peace, they recognize they have enemies bent on their annihilation. They also understand the tragic lesson that history has taught them - their collective fates and their survival are in their hands and their hands alone.

It’s been almost seventy years since the dark days of the Shoah. History has moved on. The empty death camps have become vivid reminders to the world of the monstrous sins long ago committed. Israel is once again a member of the family of nations. The promises revealed to the prophets are coming true. Junipers have been set in the wasteland, the myrtle and the olive flourish in the desert, and the ancient ruins are being rebuilt.

The promises beckon the Jewish people on, but there are still many dangers. The hatred at the root of the Shoah is still in their air today. You can find it almost anywhere. In some places it’s open. In some it’s the majority opinion. And, in others it’s hidden in a cloak of so-called humanitarian concern.

On Sunday, April 13th, about an hour and half north of us here in Emporia,   Frazier Glenn Miller, a hate-filled neo Nazi, murdered three innocent people outside a Jewish community center. The fact his victims were all Christians was tragically incidental.  After his capture by police, he shouted “Heil Hitler” as he was taken away.

Four years earlier, according to the New York Times’ Frank Bruni, Miller appeared on the Howard Stern show and proclaimed Adolph Hitler as the “greatest man who ever walked the face of the earth.” Miller, who also hates Blacks, was then asked whether he hated Jews more than Blacks. “Definitely the Jews,” he responded. “A thousand times more.”

I’d seen that kind of hate before, in the early seventies. As part of an undergraduate class project, I went to Chicago and interviewed Frank Collin. At the time I met him, Collin was the director of the National Socialist Party of America, a neo-Nazi hate group. His operating philosophy was boiler plate stuff – distortions, lies, rabble-rousing. His core belief was that Jews have always been the root of all evil. His “final solution” was also boiler plate - “They must be completely expunged.” He aimed to complete what Adolph Hitler had started.

For days after the interview I could still feel my skin crawling.

In the nineties I had the privilege of mentoring a young Palestinian engineer. I grew to love him like a brother. We agreed about many things. When we did disagree, we almost always found paths of compromise. There was one exception – Israel. I believed in a two-state solution and he believed that all Jews had to be “driven to the sea and slaughtered like dogs.”

A few years after I moved here I began receiving e-mail correspondence from someone who wanted to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As things progressed we offered our points of view. My belief in a two state solution was countered by a belief that the Jews were illegal occupiers of Palestine and that they should all go to Texas with George W. Bush.

Seeing no fruitful avenue of discourse, I ended the correspondence.

Jews all around the world have been the focus of this kind of hate for centuries, yet somehow they’ve overcome and continue to flourish.  How have they been able to do this? I think it’s because there’s something very special about the Jewish soul.  It’s best expressed in a poem that’s recited every year at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Shoa:

“I believe in the sun when it isn’t shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when He’s silent.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014


It’s been more than a month since we got back from California and some of what I experienced there is still stirring around in my soul.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that a mentor had once told me that there are times when we see things as they are and then there are those especially meaningful times when we see things the way they really are or ought to be.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to make much sense of 21st century life. I listen. I read. I try to pay attention to the things academics, politicians, dog catchers, pundits, preachers, T.V. anchormen and women, astrophysicists¸ teachers, and lawyers are saying, but they’re all sounding like carnival barkers to me. They’re selling a lot of stuff, but not much of it is worth my time or attention. Author Tom Robbins (“Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas”) described what I’m experiencing perfectly: “We're given Time magazine, and Reader's Digest, daily papers, and the six o'clock news; we're given schoolbooks, sitcoms, and revisionist histories; we're given psychological counseling, cults, workshops, advertisements, sales pitches, and authoritative pronouncements by pundits, sold-out scientists, political activists, and heads of state. Unfortunately, none of these translations bears more than a faint resemblance to what is transpiring in the true theater of existence, and most of them are dangerously misleading.”

Not even a faint resemblance? No, not really. Most of us are looking for truth and meaning in life, but the prophets of this age are filling our hands and heads up with worthless grease. “Buy this. It’ll make you feel better.” “Trust me.” “Your vote counts.”

I’ve been railing against the secular gurus for a few weeks, but I’m realizing that it’s a pointless battle. As Bette Midler famously put it, “Why bother?”  The gurus have the money and the votes.

So, I’m off on a pilgrimage of faith, looking for “the true theatre of existence.” It’s a difficult journey because the waters I’m trying to navigate aren’t easily seen by the human eye.  It’s also difficult because the world of contemporary religion I’m part of all too often seems to be at odds with the world I’m looking for. The world I’m looking for is organic, not man-made. It’s a place where life flows gently, yet powerfully, channeled through an eternal stream. The current world of religion, on the other hand, is deeply earth-bound. It’s been assimilated and co-opted by politics, entertainment, economics, and a misplaced aura of respectability.

Assimilated? Co-opted? What do I mean by that? Just look around; the sights and sounds of what I’m talking about are everywhere. They’re especially evident in the economics of religion today.

A week ago, Bishop Wilton Gregory from Atlanta made the news when it was revealed that millions of dollars which had been earmarked for the charitable work of his parish had actually been spent on building a new home for him.

There must be something in the water in Atlanta. Neo-Pentecostal pastors, Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar, preach prosperity and live extravagantly. Dollar drives a Rolls Royce, flies around in a Lear jet, and lives in a sumptuous mansion. Until his mega-church empire began to crumble around him, Long drove a Bentley, owned Lear jets, and lived in an estate worth millions.

When confronted, Wilton Gregory apologized and said he would sell the house. When they were confronted, Dollar and Long were indignant. As one of their mentors, Benny Hinn, once said, “The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous.”

The power of mammon isn’t just visible in the life of the high rollers. Many churches these days talk about the need to protect their “investment portfolios.” Some religious television networks are making the outrageous claim that they are churches in order to hide their assets from public scrutiny.

In a couple of days Christians will be celebrating the miracle of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. A short time before that incredible event, Jesus walked along the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. He saw money changers profiting at the people’s expense and was furious. “My father’s house should be a house of prayer,” he roared. “But you have made it a den of thieves.” He then proceeded to overturn the tables of the money changers. I’ve been on the temple mount. I’ve seen the tables. They were quite heavy. It took a very angry man to overturn them.

I see the current state of religion in America and wonder – “Is it once more time to overturn the tables?”

I also find myself longing for the day when the money changers, politicians, and entertainers no longer hold sway, the aura of religious respectability fades away, and the organic stream that heals the nations once more flows freely. If that happens before I shed my mortal coil, I’ll rejoice, knowing that I’m finally seeing things the way they really are and ought to be.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


I’ve been flitting in and out of time warps ever since I got back from vacation a couple of weeks ago. I know the one I want to inhabit, but the world’s present realities and the time warps they represent have distracted me. It’s hard to escape them. They seem to be omnipresent.

In some cases the old time warps manage to survive. But, most often the old time warps are overtaken by newer versions.

Nancy and I saw this quite clearly when we were on our way home from vacation. We had some time to spare and decided to spend a few hours in Taos, New Mexico. We’d been there a few times over our years together and had found it to be a unique experience. The Taos pueblo, the new age crystal and candle shops, the tie-dye shirts, or the starving writers’ book stores have always left us with fond memories. The Taos we knew was a time warp, for sure, but, it was a pleasant time warp. This is what we were expecting as we made our way north from Santa Fe. What we actually got was a rude awakening. The Taos of today is a conglomeration of fast food restaurants, a mega Wal-Mart, a home improvement center, and a Walgreen’s pharmacy. The old time warp is gone. Over 30% of the town’s small businesses have been shuttered and tourism is in decline. Taos is now a man-made time warp constructed in the name of progress.

We decided there was no reason to stop and moved north through the Sangre de Christo mountains instead. After all, we know what the Wal-Mart in Emporia looks like. We’ve even been inside. We’ve also got a Walgreen’s and we now have a CVS. If the developers have anything to say about it, we’ll have a home improvement super store and few more chain restaurants offering microwaved food within a few years. Emporia’s movers and shakers call it progress. They’re promising us the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it looks like a low wage, high poverty time warp to me. Zero-sum time warps tend to be like that.

We spent our last night of vacation at the St. James hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico. What an incredible time warp. There was no in-room TV, spotty internet service, and old bullet holes in the ceiling of the bar. The innkeeper told us that many a cowhand or lawman had stayed there, including Bat Masterson, Pat Garret, Doc Holliday, Belle Starr, Buffalo Bill, and more outlaws than you can shake a stick at.

A few days after we got home, I made the mistake of attending a public meeting about the proposed 24th Avenue development. I should have known that the 4-1 vote was a foregone conclusion. The developer romanced the rubes like a 42nd Street three-card monte dealer for over an hour. The mayor and three of his cohorts fell for it.  To paraphrase Bob Dylan, they were “crawlin’ over cut glass to make the deal.” The day after the meeting the Gazette published the photograph evidence of the crime – the commissioners in all their glory. The yes voters looked a lot like the time warp mug shots I’d seen at the St. James. Commissioner Mlynar is a dead ringer for Belle Starr and, if he were to grow a mustache, Commissioner Geitz might bear an uncanny resemblance to Doc Holliday. As for the resemblances of the other “yes” voters, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The time warps are everywhere. According to John Kerry, for example, Vladimir Putin is living in a nineteenth century time warp.

Like so many things our government does these days, the response about Russia was off by a century or two. Vladimir Putin isn’t thinking nineteenth century. He’s thinking of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the handiwork of Peter the Great and his successor, Catherine.

It’s no wonder we’re having so much trouble ruling the world. We can’t even get our time warps straight. A hundred years or so might not seem like much, but in the world of diplomacy, a miss of a hundred years is as good as a millennium.

It sort of begs a couple of questions. First, what time warp is John Kerry living in? The “I’m gonna’ give you a good talking to” time warp? The “Let’s play nice” time warp? And second, does he have any clue about what time warp the Chinese, Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians, or Hassan Nasrallah are living in?

I’m as much a man of my times as any other guy, but I don’t think I like the current crop of time warps. I’m looking for an escape hatch, a worm hole somewhere in our galaxy, or a bucket to retch in. I’ll fill you in on the results of my search in a couple of weeks.