Thursday, July 24, 2014


The decision in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood cases has been rendered by the Supreme Court and the petitions for the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Catholic broadcaster EWTN, and Wheaton College are in the wings. While the rulings/injunctions pleased conservatives, they infuriated the Obama administration, Democratic Party loyalists, and progressives, particularly women.

In a July 5th op-ed, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu observed “The ironic result of this wrongheaded ruling may be that business-owners of every faith will claim a religious right to discriminate, in decisions from health coverage to employment to buying, selling and accommodations.” A few days earlier, Emporian Janet Brassart called the decision “another crack in the Constitutional wall between Church and State that sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Unfortunately, that’s the tenor of our times. We’re living in an age when more and more of us are abandoning religious faith. The result is a public square that’s increasingly “bristling with hostility” toward religion. For example, in her dissent Justice Ginsburg basically told people of faith they should just shut up and sit in the pews. Others are parroting the “religion isn’t important to me, therefore I will not allow it to be important to you” mantra.

While it may seem that this hostility is recent phenomenon, the historical record reveals that it’s not. In 1980, Francis Schaeffer (“A Christian Manifesto”) described the growing fault line between historical Christianity and Secular Humanism. In 1984, Father John Neuhaus wrote about what he called “The Naked Public Square.” He asserted that the public square without religious influence was a vacuum, “begging to be filled.” He further asserted that in an environment where religion is viewed as something detrimental to the public square, “a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church.” This may make secularists feel they’ve set things in order, but “having cast out the one devil, they unavoidably invite the entrance of seven devils worse than the first.” (see Matthew 12:43-45)

About a year before he died, Pope John Paul II wrote a wonderful book titled “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way.” In a section titled “Caritas” (virtue/charity), he described the essence of the Christian life as “the mystery of evangelization through love of neighbor springing from love of God.”

I believe that mystery is meant to be expressed to humanity’s most vulnerable and needy, including the unborn. As a practicing Christian I’ve tried to think of how I can possibly be true to my faith in our current political and social environment. How can I express “caritas” when it’s deemed by many of society’s movers and shakers to be detrimental?  How can I fulfill my obligations as a citizen without compromising deeply held principles in the process? Is accommodation the price I’m now being asked to pay as a condition of my citizenship? If so, I’ve concluded that the differences are irreconcilable, like trying to square the proverbial circle.

This wrestling with accommodation has been going on for thousands of years. The cosmic contest between Moses, God’s representative, and Pharaoh, began with blunt words. Moses told the king that the children of Israel needed to go into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh’s response?  “Shut up and keep working.” “More bricks; less straw.” When the blunt words failed, Pharaoh tried accommodation. “You can go, but don’t go too far.” “The men can go, but the women and children can’t go with them.” “You can all go, but you can’t take your possessions with you.”

Every accommodation was rejected.

I think this is where we are today. People of faith are being told, “Don’t get too carried away with this religion business.” “You can do as you like, but we get to take your kids under our wings.” “You can all do as you please; all we want is your money.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m certain today’s accommodations must be rejected. If our faith is to be lived out meaningfully, it must be lived out in the face of rejection, intimidation, or loss of societal privilege.

Over time, people of faith face the very real possibility that our political system will become increasingly adversarial to us and that the public will be less and less in tune with the language and life of Zion. We may find ourselves cut off from meaningful participation in the public square. There will be a temptation for us to find avenues of accommodation, but we must stand fast. We must remain faithful to the first principles of our faith.

The attitude that people of faith must cultivate today was expressed beautifully in Saint Augustine’s “City of God,” written during the dying days of the Roman Empire - “So it falls out that in this world, in evil days like these, the Church walks onward like a wayfarer stricken by the world's hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I’ve been thinking about the hows and whys of we decided on Emporia as a place to retire. We’d gotten fed up with the corporate grind of Memphis and decided it was time to begin living a sensible life. After ruling out Florida (too many retirees wearing seersucker for our tastes) and Taos, New Mexico (too new age), we sank our roots down here.

Nancy wasn’t so sure of Emporia at first. In her mind, Emporia had seen better days back in the 70’s when she was attending Emporia State. But once we plunked the money down for our home/money pit, she was fine.  I think it was the challenge of making something beautiful out of nothing.

That was fifteen years ago and we’re still here, still hanging in.

There’s a lot I love about Emporia. I love sitting on my front porch in the evening and saying “Hi” to neighbors as they pass by. I love being part of a gritty, non-traditional church. I love the comfortable, protected feeling I get when I come home from Kansas City and see that Taliban vintage tank guarding exit 130. I love long morning walks with Nancy. And, I love the vastness of the Flint Hills and the sense of smallness I feel whenever I have the opportunity to stop at some strategic point on the road and ponder my place in this vast universe.

Several years ago, on my way to Wichita, I stopped and penned a bit of metered prose that expressed why I love the Flint Hills and the life Nancy and I share here. I’ll close this column with those words:

It’s the cusp of dawn.  I’m chasing Orion’s Belt and bull-haulers down the Kansas Turnpike. At mile marker 109, about a furlong or two south of the cattle pens, I stop.

The occasional rush of southbound traffic breaks the dawn silence.  Like a general poised in his appointed place, I review the early morning parade.  Saints and scoundrels, gospel singers and politicians, truckers, ranchers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mothers, fathers, children, all pass by.  Problems and opportunities wind their way down the highway with them.

I touch the highway sign.  Mile marker 109.  I feel the bits of rust creeping up on the metal.  It’s man-made, temporal, placed on the edge of the eternal.  It speaks.  “This is where you are.”  It speaks of commerce and progress passing by.  It speaks of cattle and concept drawings on their journeys past a solitary milepost planted on the edge of eternity.

I turn, take a step, and cast my gaze across the prairie.  Like the storied astronaut of my youth, that one small step transports me from one world to another.  Thoughts pass by.  Some pass quietly, humming like the Toyotas and Fords on the highway.  Others I hear in the distance.  Their low, grinding hums become roars as they draw near, like the Peterbilts and Kenworths hauling their precious cargoes from Chicago to Dallas or the Twin Cities to San Antonio.

While the darkness has not yet surrendered to the day, there are hints of color along the rim of the eastern sky.  I sense that they carry the faint whisper of an announcement of the millennium to come.  The ageless ritual proceeds, moment by moment.  Light overcomes the darkness.  The unbroken sky and the endless sea of grass now join together in a hymn of praise.  The morning breeze caresses the tallgrass.  The blades of grass, in turn, wave gently to and fro, worshippers caught up in the glory of this moment.

Thoughts glide effortlessly through the air, then stop to gently kiss the earth.  The earth gratefully receives the kiss from above and pleads, “Maranatha…..Maranatha.” 

A hawk circles above, wings outstretched, reaching for an unseen spire.  As he circles, the dawn sun touches him, revealing his priestly robes and eyes of fire. 

I sense that I’ve entered a great cathedral.  I’m overwhelmed by my own smallness.  I fear.  The hawk descends slowly, gracefully and speaks.  “You are indeed small.  But, fear not.  You’re known…..You’re known.  This is where you are.  Mile marker 109.  This is the place where the line between now and forever is drawn.  Here you own nothing, but are given the grace to be a part of everything.  The language of the world you left is ownership.  The language here is stewardship.  This is the place where moth and rust do not corrupt.” 

His appointed ministry complete, he now lays hold of the morning currents and moves effortlessly off to the east.

I feel the warmth of a tear as it drifts slowly down my cheek.  My epiphany’s complete.  I turn back and take another small step, returning to the world I left moments before.  I take my place in line with my fellow travelers, the builders and dreamers, the movers and shakers, the commerce and the concepts.  Our daily procession has taken us past this sacred place…..mile marker 109.