Saving Civilization

I don’t usually share my sermons in this blog, but in answer to a request, here is a draft planned for this Sunday:

Feel free to ignore.

“How the Irish Saved Civilization[1]

November 8, 2020

Zion UCC Burlington, IA

Repeating part of the reading we used as our Call to Worship: Psalm 78:2-4 New Revised Standard Version

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

What a strange sermon title. Truth is, the title isn’t really mine, it’s ‘borrowed’ (that is to say, stolen) from a book by Thomas Cahill. Since titles aren’t copyrightable, I ‘borrowed’ it, hoping there might be something to ponder.

Here’s the short version of Cahill’s book. Five hundred years of the Roman Empire falls apart in 467AD. There wasn’t one foe, but several who eventually broke it apart. You remember your European History from High School, right?  The Goths, Visigoths, and Ostrogoths, right? And the Angles, the Saxons, the Franks; the Scots and the Vikings, of course who never were under the Empire but as Rome weakened, they expanded. From about 500 to 1500 AD, Europe was in turmoil; disrupted, vandalized (oh, I forgot the mention the Vandals in that list).

Civilization in Europe declined during this tumultuous time. The Greeks and then the Romans had Engineering knowledge like running water and flushing toilets, used all over the Roman Empire. That knowledge was lost during those dark ages. There was a loss of scientific knowledge, a contempt for books and learning. Libraries were destroyed. We have scraps of some books that were almost entirely lost; some books we have reference to in other books. That is the only way we even know they existed is because some writer mentions them. Those books themselves are completely lost; destroyed by an angry antagonism against education and knowledge.

According to Mr. Cahill, much of civilization preserved was thanks to Monasteries in Ireland. Ireland was at the edge of the continent, away from the big cities and natural resources that made other places targets for invasion. They didn’t entirely escape the ransacking, but they were more isolated than other areas.

Those quiet monks, keeping to themselves, kept a low profile but continued on with their mission of supporting the church and spreading Christianity, even in the face of ridicule and hostility and entrenched ‘old ways’ of religion.

One of the important missions of the monasteries was copying books; both sacred and mundane. What we refer to as The Dark Ages began a thousand years before the invention of the printing press. If you wanted a copy of a book, someone had to write that copy, by hand. And that is the business many of the monasteries engaged in to support themselves. They copied the Bible more than anything else, but they copied lots of other books, as well. The Brother Xerox Copying service would copy whatever the paying customer wanted copied. In addition to The Church, wealthy people, kings and princes also wanted books copied.

Some king finds a book he wants copied; he borrows the book, takes it to the monastery and they make a copy for him. If it was deemed worthy, they might also make a copy for their own libraries at the same time.  They opened their monasteries to noble and commoner alike who sought to learn. If you come in peace, come with an open heart and mind, then you are welcome to sit and read and learn. And so the Irish monasteries preserved not only the tradition of books and writing, but also the tradition of reading and education.

Chaos and anarchy roared across Europe; once-stable institutions attacked, torn down, cities and libraries reduced to empty rubble; civilization collapsing.

In the middle of that collapse, the monks in Ireland quietly go on preserving, copying, keeping safe a legacy for the time when it might once again be safe to re-emerge and civilization to re-appear. The Irish monasteries had their share of invasions and looting. And I just wonder what that encounter would have been like. The Goths are at the gates of the monastery, looking for whatever is valuable enough to build this strong keep far away from the city, to staff it with men. They must have thought whatever is here must be priceless. Can you imagine how disappointed and befuddled the invaders must have been when they finally broke into the most secure of the vaults of the monasteries, prepared to loot the treasury and they find….. books.

They came looking for gold and silver; precious holy artifacts that could be melted down into treasure. But instead, books. What value are books to a looter who can’t read? How foolish they must have thought those monks to be, guarding these useless books as if they were valuable. Did they ridicule the monks for protecting these useless stacks of paper? Did they convince themselves of their own superiority as they killed the scribes and burned their libraries? Did they chase the librarian as he ran out the back way, through the snow, carrying as many of the precious volumes as he could? Did those invaders have any clue as to how precious the books the monks were trying to preserve?

In a season of chaos and a celebration of ignorance, the Irish monks kept on with their task; preserving for a future they could not yet see, but setting the world to be ready when the season for learning would once again come.

Now that we have had our first killing frost, gardening season has shifted from growth time and harvest into the resting time of winter. Some of us have been plucking flower heads, digging through tomato mush and pumpkin pulp, washing and drying the seeds, carefully storing those tiny seeds as investments in next spring. Here in Iowa it would be foolish to plant most of those seeds now. It is too cold; most of them won’t survive the winter. Instead, like Monks in Ireland, we store, preserve, ready to grow copies of our favorite plants next spring. Growth is not now; growth is for later, but there is work to do now in order to be ready for later.

Even when it doesn’t feel as if you are winning, you keep on doing those things which you know will help your faith to grow. You keep on doing those things which show your love for God and your love for your neighbor. Even when it doesn’t bring visible signs of success, or even acceptance, you keep on following Christ. Even when they ridicule you, arrest and beat you, or worst, ignore you; you keep living in that way that loves God with all you have and loves your neighbor as if they were kin.

I wish that we were in that summer season, where every word planted by the Church sprouts and brings about a bumper harvest; where the church was full again, with all the problems success and growth bring. I don’t think that is where we will wake up in the morning. The Church, written larger, as well as Zion Church, are in a time where success by numbers is hard to find.

The other part of this truth is that we are not Church only for our moment in time. We are one chapter of Church that extends for two thousand years. Part of our mission is collect, preserve, and transmit the faith to generations not yet born.

An important part of our work is making sure the Christian story is available to future generations. Warren Buffet says, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

You and I are the beneficiaries of those Irish monks from fifteen hundred years ago, and of the Reverend John Zimmerman, first pastor of Zion German Evangelical Church here; and David Michael, and Gary Chapman, and Jane Willan, and other pastors who worked here, teaching, transmitting, preserving so that you are now receiving this worship time. These few I have listed represent all of the workers, clergy and lay members who kept the faith so that you may benefit from it today.

Some missions take generations to accomplish. Great cathedrals take several generations, decades, sometimes a century or more to finish. Reinhold Niebuhr said “Nothing worth doing can be achieved in one lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” Part of our mission is for the future; even when the present seems unwelcoming, even hostile.

That does not mean we abandon our missions. We are doing important work here at Zion. We are feeding hungry neighbors, helping with utility bills and rent and bus tickets. And we are feeding hungry spirits, even when we are not physically gathered in this place. In fact, in a very odd, maybe I should say very God-thing, being forced to move worship online has brought some unexpected benefits. Being online, we are being watched by lots of people who were not here in person before. Every week, the worship service is viewed by two to three hundred people. We know from the comments that many of you who are watching live far away. And we know that we are reaching hearts with Zion’s message about following Christ in our lives. We know that we are creating a virtual space where faith can be fostered and grow stronger. We are in a quiet moment, but we continue our mission just the same.

I want to thank all of you who are continuing to support our work together as Zion Church. Many of you have given us estimates of how you expect to support our work together next year. That is very helpful as we plan a challenging budget. If you have already sent us an estimate of giving; thank you! If that is something you think you will probably do but haven’t gotten around to yet, would you please go ahead and send us that information?  If you have never done that before, but you have been thinking you should support our work together as Zion, then I ask you to give us your best estimate of what that support might look like in 2021. We aren’t asking for some iron-clad contract, we know that circumstances change and what you had hoped to do changes, but it is helpful to have those estimates as we plan.

Even in this season when it can feel as if the tide of things is moving against the values of Christ, and preaching God’s love, compassion, and justice can feel like shouting into the hurricane storm, we keep on doing our work. Like those quiet Irish monks, we keep on doing our part, even when it doesn’t seem like the accepted, popular thing to do. Even when our way of following Christ is met with apathy or even ridicule, we keep on doing the right things.

Winter may be coming, but even now we preserve and protect, keep on with the work of enriching the garden so that when spring comes (and spring always does come, eventually), we will be here, ready—soil prepared, seeds on the shelf, ready to plant when the ground is once again ready to receive it and nourish tender seeds into bounteous harvest once again.

Hear again those words from the Psalmist:

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

Will you pray with me?

Eternal God, your children are of such a temporal nature, we need reminding that your timetables are not ours; that your view of eternity stretches far beyond our narrow vision. Guard our tongues that our wounded feelings not allow to escape hurtful words that will linger longer than any vote. Grant us the wisdom to imagine longer missions than our own lifespans; Make us bold to keep on telling to the coming generations the stories of your glorious deeds; to boldly proclaim your love for all, even in seasons of division and anger and hostility. When we feel ourselves lost in the wilderness, surrounded by ridicule and resentment, keep us to our missions, let us not lose hope. Grant us patience to keep on proclaiming the light of your divine love even in the darkness, that we might know the peace that comes from living as children of yours. For the sake of Your Son Jesus, hear our prayer. AMEN


[1][1] “How the Irish Saved Civilization” © 1995 by Thomas Cahill. Originally pub. By Doubleday. 941.501

Worship October 11, Zion UCC

19th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 23

Call to Worship (from Psalm 106)

L: Praise God!

P: O give thanks to God, who is SO good; whose steadfast love endures forever.

L: Who can list all the mighty doings of God, or declare enough of praise?

P: Blessed are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.

L: Save us from ourselves, O God; and gather us from every nation, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory to your name.

P: Blessed be God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. Praise God, and let all the people say, AMEN

Invocation

[1]Glorious God! You invite us to assemble our spirits together, even while our bodies remain distant from one another. You draw us into spiritual unity, calling us to step away from the idols we have created to take your place. When we are together in spirit, we sense that nothing else in life substitutes for a vital relationship with You. All the mysteries of the universe are in your hands, and yet you have made yourself known among the peoples of this earth. We catch glimpses of your handiwork in Creation and we are awed. Touch us into healing and wholeness. Renew, remake us in the image of Christ, that we might change the world around us. AMEN

Youth Time (me) Nicodemus and his flashlight; need some light to find your way

Special Music

Call to Confession

God is not fooled by fancy words, elaborate rituals, or towering spires. God sees our fascinations with the golden calves of culture- pastimes and possessions that engulf our attention and resources every day until we are so thoroughly immersed in lusts and greeds and envies that we have lost sight of all that is godly and complete. We bring our petitions to God, seeking after a fresh start.

Prayer of Confession

God of mercy, you have planted within us a desire to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with you. We want to be fair and honorable, delighting in life lived openly and honestly, but we are distracted by the temporary thrills and expediencies. Restore our sight that we might see your path, loving God, and return to follow it. Save us from ourselves.

Assurance of Pardon

God is always near. Our supplications are heard as clearly as our thanksgivings. Know that the peace of God which surpasses all our understandings, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Your desire to do good pleases God. Find joyous focus for life in all that is honorable, just, pure, and excellent. Go in joyous assurance that God’s love for you is unstoppable.

Pastoral Prayer

Tomorrow is October 12, a date we remember because in 1492, Christopher Columbus “Discovered” America. Except, discover isn’t exactly the right word, is it? Columbus didn’t know these two continents were here, but they were not undiscovered; there were 50 million people living in North and South America when he sailed up. To say you discovered something that 50 million people are already living in is a bit like saying you just discovered California. Even so, having Europe become aware of the Americas most definitely changed history for these two continents.

Thinking about discovering something that lots of people already know about… today, the day before the day we remember Columbus and his ‘discovery’ is National Coming Out Day. It has been since 1988.

It’s a day for ‘discovering’ or uncovering realities which some people already know about.

Coming Out to your friends and family is like a voyage of discovery in some ways; it is a venture into unsailed waters, you don’t know for sure how things will go, you know that once you go there, some things will never be the same again.

But you also know that where you were is no longer acceptable.

You need friends to be with you when you sail off to discover, or uncover truths about your life. You need a safe harbor, a place you can begin that process where you know you will be protected. Zion United Church of Christ is one safe harbor; one place where we openly announce that you are welcome here; whatever your orientation or expression, you are safe to be who God made you to be. and from here, you can sail into unsailed waters to discover where God might send you.

Today, a day for proclaiming your deepest self; tomorrow, a day for remembering that sometimes discovery means you found out something that millions of people already knew.

God, whose wisdom no one can own,

whose love no one can limit,

gives a blessing

no one can take away[2].

God of bounding mains and open plains, of galaxies uncountable; open our eyes that we may discover Your presence as near as our own breath. Make us aware that our deepest, darkest secrets are not secret from you; and they do not reduce, in any measure, your love for us. Make us bold to own who we are before you; and know that your love for us is not diminished.

Hear us as we pray for those who live in fear of being found; for those whose stands for righteousness are threatened by terrorists and thugs. Teach us to respect life, and teach us that our rights are always paired with responsibilities toward others. Teach us to redefine what we mean by ‘family’ until we see others as you see them; all of us children of yours.

Hear us as we pray for our friends and loved ones who are grieving—grieving the death of loved ones; grieving the loss of jobs and a sense of security, loss of the joys of mingling and elbow-rubbing. Grant us patience, tender God, that we may ride out this viral storm until it be safe again to hug and be hugged.

Render healing for those we lift before you, healing God. Renew strength, restore hope, return our loved ones to home and hearth and heart and family.

Make us bold to speak of our faith, to show others how we live as followers of Christ, to proclaim and protest and proactively preach from rooftops and street corners, from social media and coffee shops, that You are the God of infinite love, that all Creation are your children, no matter what continent they call home, no matter what color their skin, nor whom they love, nor how they pray—all are children of Yours, and worthy of your love and our care.

Teach us how to live the prayer your Son Jesus taught our lips to pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. AMEN

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-9

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Sermon:

“Fill the Tank”

October 11, 2020

Zion UCC, Burlington, IA

  • whatever is true,
  • whatever is honorable,
  • whatever is just,
  • whatever is pure,
  • whatever is pleasing,
  • whatever is commendable,
  • if there is any excellence and if there is
  • anything worthy of praise,
  • think about these things. 
  • Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Lives flooded with negatives; television, social media, drive down the street and see flags of hostility and aggression waving. Armed white supremacist domestic terrorist groups plotting to storm the Michigan Statehouse, taking hostages; a coup of a state, planning to ‘try’ the Governor for treason, to kill people. We are seeing meanness, hostility, racism, insults everywhere. Every time you absorb another one of these points of shame, even when they don’t change your opinion, your own spirit is diminished, made dingier, more negative; made smaller, pushed further from the imitation of Christ.  With the barrage of hostility, anger, negativity on every side, it is hard not to focus on those distractions.

And what you focus on, you get more of. Are you aware of this? Whatever you search for, you will get ads for in social media. Try this experiment. Pick some item or idea you have never searched for before. Maybe women’s shoes or camping supplies. Search for that in Google. See how long it takes before your social media feed is flooded with ads for that very product you just searched. That is not a coincidence; you are being targeted by what you are searching for. The same works for your responses. If you click ‘like’ or comment on a white supremacist post, you will suddenly be seeing more just like it. If you react to a social media post about a Catholic shrine, you will see more Facebook posts about that. Whatever you focus on, you will get more of. Not accidental; deliberate. And it drives your confirmation bias to more and more narrow, less and less accurate.

When you are surrounded by the loudest voices insisting that you focus on the negativity, you can miss that which is pure and honorable also in your midst.

So, maybe my first step needs to be selecting what images and words and thoughts I allow in. Making that happen might include turning off the evening news; it might even mean that I stop following a friend or a relative on social media in order to minimize the amount of hatred and negativity I am absorbing. It might mean substituting more time reading the Bible and devotional materials instead of Facebook or twitter or Fox. Deliberately choosing my sources for what words and ideas I load into my psyche.

Where will I be able to see something true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise? Go there; spend more time in those worthy sources.

At the end of Paul’s list of positive things to focus on comes the next step. OK, great, we have been focusing on these things. Now what?

Well, two next steps . One is, now that you have begun to see these positive things around you; think about them.

What would the next steps be to move from the symbolic table of the Lord’s Supper, out into the world to make that feast a reality? If lack of sufficient food, or lack of adequate income for people to pay their rent or utility bills is a symptom of the larger problem, then what would a treatment look like? Something more than a band-aid; but a way that leads out of poverty? Some kind of a bridge into a life that is sustainable? And where could I play a part in that effort?

Last week, CBS interviewed a man in Atlanta who looked around the dilapidated neighborhood where he had grown up. He saw abandoned, falling down houses, empty store-fronts, high rates of crime. He thought about what would be true and honorable and commendable in his neighborhood.

The question of “What SHOULD this neighborhood look like?” was easy—houses should be occupied, clean, well kept; stores should be busy, providing convenient access to shopping for the neighbors and  producing a living for the owners.

Thinking about what it should look like though, he realized that was an outcome; the steps toward that hope looked different.

Happy, well-kept homes are often owner-occupied. But banks don’t loan money to buy houses in run-down areas. So, he bought up the abandoned properties, fixed them up, and then sold them, at below-market prices, to families who would live in those homes, strengthen the neighborhood. He is doing the same thing to the retail space, making a way for small family businesses which will sell to the neighborhood.

He realized that thinking about how the neighborhood should look was not enough; he needed to act. One key piece was the lack of financing, and he was able to arrange that. Seeing; thinking about; doing.

Then, keep on doing… seeing is important; focusing shows you more of the world around you; thinking about them moves you along, but then you have to step outside your own mind and do. What brings Paul’s instruction to life is in the doing.

Isn’t it lovely to see and contemplate that which is true and honorable and lovely? But as long as it remains within you, it’s like a secret garden, lovely for you to look at, but no one else can see it. You have seen and contemplated what is commendable and worthy of praise, honorable… now extend that to the world around you. when the sewage flood of negativity comes at you, rather than respond with your own hate-filled flood, do something positive.

Saw on social media last week, someone posted that what this country needs is Jesus. I couldn’t agree more. But that alone, confessing faith in Christ alone while remaining prim and clean in our little pews, is not nearly enough. The country needs Christ; to be sure. The world needs that message from God. But the good thoughts and right attitudes are not enough.

Write; Each of those phrases as a heading; every day write 3 things in each category; ie 3 things that are true; 3 that are honorable; just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent.

If you really want to supercharge that; write a note (yes, a real note, on paper, in an envelope with a stamp), and mail it to the people. “Dear Sir or Madam, on Tuesday, I noticed you doing…… it is rare to find someone actually doing something as commendable as you did. So here  I am, commending you. thank you; I hope this encourages you to keep on doing commendable things. I guarantee you, the results will amaze you and quite possibly change your life in ways you cannot imagine.

Then, as your eyes are opened to see these commendable things around you;

You imitate them; you keep on doing true, pure, honorable, commendable things… even if no one else sees you do it.

When you go to the grocery, return that cart someone left out in the parking spot. If you have the courage to eat lunch out, order the water instead of soda; give the table server what you would have spent on the soda in addition to a nice tip. Make their day.

What our neighbors need are hands and feet and hearts and hugs that DO the work of Christ in the world. It is not enough to sit on the couch and say, all God’s children are beloved. Sometimes, you have to put on your shoes and your mask and march to proclaim to the world that Black Lives Matter as much as any others, and demand in the name of God that systemic racism be acknowledged and scrubbed from our culture. Treating some groups in the culture differently than others is not the will of God; and it will not be solved by sitting on your couch.

It is hard to avoid being distracted by all the flood of negativity. So much of it surrounds us, not matter how hard we try, we just can’t filter all of it out. It is important to try; to work at not being distracted from what is important by that which screams it is urgent. Difficult, not impossible.

We continue to focus on that which is true and honorable, just and pure, commendable and excellent; indicators of the presence of God. We tune our ears to hear those elements. We ponder their meaning for our lives, and we ask ourselves what needs to be done to bring those positive elements to the forefront. Then we ask ourselves, what is my part in that? What can I do to advance that kindom of love and compassion? There we find life’s true mission, and God’s great challenge. There we find life—abundant, exciting, fulfilling, and eternal.

Invitation to Offering

Stewardship is more than paying the bills at Church. Stewardship is a Spiritual Discipline, an engagement between you and God, in which you acknowledge God’s presence and importance in your life, and dedicate a proportion of what you have back to God, who is the ultimate source of all we have. We invite you to designate Zion Church as one receiver of your stewardship before God. You may donate to Zion in a few ways. You can mail or drop checks by the Church Office of course, or you can go to the Church website: zionuccburlington.org and look for the “Donate” button, where you will be able to make a secure donation through PayPal. Thank you for your support of Zion Church. Together, we are changing lives.

Prayer of Dedication

May our offerings help prepare many to feast at your table, gracious God. May our generosity reflect the amazing abundance you entrust to our care. As we find joy in giving, may others be inspired to give their best, and may all of us realize your peace dwelling within us as we serve in the name of Christ. AMEN

Benediction

[1] Invocation, Call to Confession, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, and Prayer of Dedication Broadly adapted from “Taught By Love” by Lavon Bayler, © 1998 by United Church Press.

[2] Maren Tirabassi, from “Psalm 133 for Coming Out Day”

“Scraped from the Bottom of a Shoe” also known as, “Yesterday’s News”

Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf told the truth and unintentionally exposed the root of the problem yesterday. Defending the abysmally small number of African-American employees at Wells Fargo (4.1%), Scharf said it was because of “a very limited talent pool.” To me that sounds like the lynch mob blaming its victim for not bringing a chair to stand on. Here’s a notion, Mr. Scharf: let Wells Fargo spend some of that fancy advertising budget deliberately mentoring persons of color and cultivate your own rich talent pool.

According to Business Insider mag: “Here’s a breakdown of Scharf’s salary package at Wells Fargo: $2.5 million base salary. $5 million target cash bonus. $15.5 million in equity. $26 million Wells Fargo stock, in lieu of awards he will forfeit for leaving his job at BNY Mellon.”

That cash bonus alone could fund Fifty $100,000 starter positions if they were serious about growing a talent pool.

Four percent is embarrassing, but information company Cisco has NO Black people on its executive leadership team. They have pledged to increase the number of Black persons in entry-level management positions to 25% within three years. The report I read did not divulge an amount of money budgeted for the effort. Announced goals not backed up by effort and money are smoke rings on a windy day.

Citi has budgeted over $1Billion dollars for initiatives to close the racial wealth gap. They will spend this money investing in Black-owned businesses, boosting credit access in communities of color, and helping increase Black homeownership.

And the one business/racial item you probably did hear: Mars (food company) is dropping its Uncle Ben label from its rice products. It will also retire the image. The brand will be renamed Ben’s Original.

Also yesterday, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that would ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in the state by 2035. Here in the US, where the fossil fuel industry owns the federal government, this will be portrayed as catastrophic and unrealistic, but 15 nations have already passed similar laws. All the auto manufacturers have been working toward this for decades.

Ford Motor Company released a statement saying it’s “proud to stand with California,” noting it’s in the process of trying to “electrify our most iconic nameplates like the F-150 (pickup truck) and the Mustang Mach E.”

Also yesterday, Volkswagen announced its new all electric SUV  for the U.S. market. The ID 4 costs just under $40,000

15 Ways to Cheat at Arguing

Productive and Unproductive Argument

Many voices from all along the political spectrum are sickened and discouraged by the loss of civility in public discourse today. We DO have legitimate problems as a society, and there are varieties of approaches to find solutions. There are legitimate, honest, productive ways for persons of various perspectives to work together to seek best solutions that work for the most people. There are three classically accepted criteria for an argument to be good.

  1. First, the premises must be plausible; that is, there must be good reason to believe that the premises as presented are true.
  2. Second, the argument must be valid and strong.
  3. Third, the premises must be more plausible than the conclusion.

Unfortunately, those are not the tactics most often used in our current climate. Instead, what we see most often are false argument tactics. These fifteen argument fallacies have been understood since the Classical Greeks, centuries before the birth of Christ.

In case it has been a while since your last rhetoric class, here are the fifteen fallacies and brief explanations. You could make a game of this for yourself. Armed with this list, listen to political speeches. Check them off as the speakers use these illegitimate methods to discredit the arguments of their opponents.

  1. Ad Hominem
    1. Insulting or attacking the person instead of attending to the issue being argued. “Crooked Hillary” or “Cheeto Jesus” are ad hominem attacks. They add nothing to the question being debated. When a disagreement sinks into ad hominem attack, it is no longer a debate about issues, it is a fight.
  2. Strawman Argument
    1. Attacking a position the opponent does not actually hold. “Democrats want to disband all Police departments, so helpless little old ladies will be attacked in their homes and no one will be there to answer their 911 calls.” When you construct your opponent’s case out of straw, it is much easier to knock down.
  3. Appeal to Ignorance
    1. If you don’t know everything, you must not know anything. “Scientists don’t know anything about this Corona virus. One day they tell you masks don’t matter, the next day they tell you everyone must wear a mask. They don’t know anything.” Since the guy who has spent 50 years studying the science says he doesn’t have all the answers, you should instead listen to your neighbor across the alley who didn’t finish high school.
  4. False Dilemma, False Dichotomy
    1. Defining an issue as either-or, or black-white. “Either we spend all our money on missiles, or our enemies will attack us tomorrow.” Issues are almost never this clear-cut or simple. This fallacy is designed to polarize the audience, forcing them to choose between two camps.
  5. Slippery Slope Fallacy
    1. A chain of causes that moves from a seemingly benign beginning to an improbable extreme. Think about the monologue/song in Music Man, “Ya Got Trouble (right here in River City)” that links the playing of pool to the total destruction of the youth in the town. The first big step on the road To the depths of deg-ra-Day– I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon, Then beer from a bottle. An’ the next thing ya know, Your son is playin’ for money In a pinch-back suit. And list’nin to some big out-a-town Jasper Here to tell him all about horse-race gamblin’. Not a wholesome trottin’ race, no! But a race where they set down right on the horse!
  6. Circular Argument
    1. An argument that seeks to prove its truth by repeating what is already assumed. “The Bible is True because it says so in the Bible.”
  7. Hasty Generalization
    1. A position stated without sufficient evidence. “Democrats never agree with Republicans.” Words like “Always” and “Never” are clues that a hasty generalization is being put forward.
  8. Red Herring Fallacy
    1. A distraction from an argument by inserting a sentiment that is not relevant. Ex: To Person A: “Why did you order federal troops into a city when no official there requested them?” Response: “Well, what about Person B’s emails?”
  9. Tu Quoque
    1. A diversionary tactic, distracting from one person by pointing out the hypocrisy of the other. Hypocrites can tell the truth, too. Ex: defending the slave trade in the Americas by arguing that blacks in Africa were also guilty of capturing and selling black people into slavery. More guilty parties does not make any of them less guilty; it attempts to distract from the issue at hand of white involvement in the enslavement of black people.
  10. Causal Fallacy
    1. Correlation does not prove causation. “This” happened, then “that” happened does not prove that ‘this’ caused ‘that.’ Walking under a ladder brings bad luck? Letter to the DNR: “You really should move that ‘Deer Crossing’ Sign. That’s a very busy stretch of road. You should put the deer crossing somewhere else where there is less traffic.
  11. Fallacy of Sunk Costs
    1. When much time, money, and blood has been spent on a project that turns out to be an error, yet you are reluctant to abandon the project because you have so much invested in it. This was an argument used in Vietnam. “If we pull out now, every American soldier killed there will have been futile.” Another way to look at it: “When you find you have dug yourself a hole, stop digging.”
  12. Appeal to Authority
    1. “Four out of five dentists agree…” is an appeal to authority. Just because a person has an M.D. and puts on a white coat does not mean they know anything about epidemiology. A podiatrist is an authority, but don’t ask them for an opinion about psychiatry. A false use of authority argument is using people who are not authorities in the field in question.
  13. Equivocation
    1. Using words to mislead. “The Democrats want to raise your taxes and spend it on big government, but my party will use revenue enhancement for strategic federal investment in critical programs.”
  14. Appeal to Pity
    1. Emotional blackmail “How could you eat that innocent little tomato? It was yanked violently from its plant, scalded with live steam to peel off its skin, boiled alive in a can, and now you are going to eat it? It hasn’t done anything to you. How could you be so cruel and thoughtless?” Truth and falsity are not matters of emotion, they are matters of fact.
  15. Bandwagon Fallacy
    1. This fallacy assumes that popularity indicates truth. Consider “The Bench Scene” from the movie “Men in Black © 1997.” (Look it up on Youtube). “Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody KNEW the earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody KNEW the earth was flat. Fifteen minutes ago, you KNEW that people are alone on this planet. Imagine what you will know tomorrow.” Just because EVERYBODY is on this bandwagon doesn’t make it the right bandwagon. And, of course, if it was actually true that 100% of all people were on the same bandwagon of an issue, there would be no argument. The very fact that the debate is happening is evidence that not everyone is on the same bandwagon.

Happy Arguing!

A Quarter Century

It is hard to imagine. Twenty-five years ago, August 6, 1995, I sat sweltering  in an unairconditioned church sanctuary in Crossville, Tennessee, surrounded by a dozen other equally overheated clergy, all of us in our clerical gear, sweating our way through a service of ordination. Phil Summerlin delivered the homily. He began by saying he had never preached an ordination sermon on the text I had chosen. It was Matthew 25:31-46.

Most people read that as a judgment passage. It is the longest exposition recorded of Jesus speaking about final judgment. Some of you may wish to pause here to go look up the passage. Others will remember it well enough that if I tell you it is about separating the peoples like a shepherd separates sheep and goats. Some sent this way for everlasting torment; others sent that way for everlasting praise and celebration. Most people read that as being about Final Judgment of the World. Since the age of 13, I have read it as a call to ministry.

In this passage, Jesus says, I was hungry/thirsty/sick/in prison, and you did or did not attend to my needs. And based on your action or lack of action you will be judged.

In the passage, both groups say the same thing: ‘When did we ever see you” hungry/thirsty/sick/ in prison,… ? Jesus answers, “Whenever you did (or did not) do this to the least of these, my brothers (siblings), you did (or did not) do it to me.”

The ultimate question: when you saw a need, what did you do about it? Did you make excuses, did you take advantage of someone vulnerable, or did you respond with what was needed?

I notice that there is no mention in this passage of holding membership in the correct church, or even of any church at all. There are no soaring creeds, no strait-laced pietistic doctrines, no hair-splitting Christologies. Just this: when you saw a fellow human being in need, how did you respond? Your response is as if you did or did not respond that way to Christ.

After seminary, having slogged my way through brain-befuddling theologies, Church history, doctrines and creeds, conflicts and ecclesiastical structures, after twenty-five years of service as an Ordained minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it becomes more and more clear to me every passing year that this one passage lights  a pure and simple pathway. Theologians argue over microscopic differences, faithful people simply bring a cup of water to a thirsty fellow traveler.

Go thou and do this: treat every person you meet as if they are the Christ. Give water to the thirsty, feed the hungry, free the prisoners, protect the vulnerable, advocate for the voiceless, care for the weak and wounded. In this simple way of living lies the path to joy. And as far are you are able, invite others to join you in these acts of simple mercy.

Grace and peace,

Brice

Cat Chased Mouse

Cat chased Mouse

Through the asparagus patch,

past the peas,

behind the bee balm bushes.

Great fun for Cat; not so much for Mouse.

 

Mouse found hole, beneath the house.

Too small for Cat,

too deep to reach with claw,

safe at last.

Frustrated Cat; smirksome Mouse.

 

Cat settled in on his haunches.

“Take your time, Mouse

You have to come out eventually

And when you do,

I’ll be right here.”

Smirking Cat; Fretsome Mouse.

 

Mouse is safe within her tunnel.

But safe does not feed the hunger.

Food is out there.

Where Cat awaits.

Mouse emerges; Cat pounces. Mouse is lunch.

 

Mouse is safe within her tunnel, but a shortage of patience will do her in. if she can hole up there longer than Cat can wait, she will escape.

 

Something of the same thing happens between the Coronavirus and us. Social isolation, masks and such protect us from infection. Carried on long enough, by a large enough percentage of us, and the viral infection chain will die out and we can emerge safely. Lose our patience and re-emerge too soon, and all that went before was for nothing.

 

Stay home, stay away from other people as much as you can, wear a mask in public, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

Prayer Retreat Memories

Carrying Hopes to Holy Ground
On Prayer Retreat
November 5—7, 2004

Kissed babies and lovers ‘bye’ and ventured off—
To a place called Holy Ground.
To see if God would be in this place, perceptible.
To listen for the whisper of God’s heart-call,
“come, my beloved; rest in me and be renewed.”

Slept on pillows softer than stones, and waited for the dream.
Opened our hearts and hopes
To see the doorway into heaven—
To hear the angels sing.

Waited with our parched and hungry souls,
Waited for the Bread of Life,
Waited for the Living Water,
Thirsted to hear, “come to me, all who thirst, and I will satisfy.”

Prayed a night. A day. A night… and then the dawn
To signal the end of interlude;
And worship.
To hear again the words of life.
To offer prayers of closing—offer thankful prayers:
For healing.
For peace.
For clarity of tomorrow’s destination.
Thankful prayers for the Holy Presence
perceived, received, in-breathed.

Silence broken. In the awkward hush, back to the familiar…
And yet, not completely back.
Still carrying holy ground; holy silence; holy presence
in our stilled hearts.
Healed. Hopeful. Renewed. Restored. Re-born.

-Genesis 28:10-22

America’s Original Sin

“Slavery is America’s Original Sin.” – Jim Wallis, Sojourners’ magazine
Today is June 19th. On this date in 1865,  the last group of slaves were officially informed of the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln had executed a year and a half earlier. It has come to symbolize the official end of slavery in America. People of Color have been celebrating Juneteenth since 1866. It deserves to be a national holiday, recognizing an important step in the maturing of this nation.

The chattel slavery of Africans has been a part of the story of this continent for four hundred years. As the colonies chafed under British rule and moved toward declaring independence, slavery was core to that discussion. There were strong abolition voices in the debate, especially from the northern colonies, but in the deep south, the plantation system of huge farms growing commodities for export was not economically viable without slave labor. Moral and religious objections to slavery were muffled under the pressure of massive profits. In an attempt to mollify the southern colonies and  induce them to join the revolution, slavery was accepted; a deal to allow slavery to continue for the sake of expediency.

That deal with the devil of slavery did not silence the abolition voices. Nearly a century later, the issue came to a head, and southern states rebelled against the nation. The rhetoric from rebellious states was that this was an issue of “States’ Rights” but the only right these states ever cared about was the right for one person to keep another person as property. Schools in the south taught, maybe still teach, a very different version of this story; a false narrative that glorifies rebellion against the nation of the United States, and virtually ignores the fact that this war ended in the surrender of the rebels and the ratification of Union of all the states.

The end of slavery corrected a sinful error on the part of the original framers; its satisfaction deserves to be celebrated as a national holiday by every citizen because it has more impact than the events celebrated by every other national holiday with the possible exception of Independence Day itself.

Half a century after the defeat of the rebellion of the southern states, white supremacist forces began erecting statues and monuments to honor the leaders of the rebellion. The statues were symbols openly intended to intimidate people of color, reminders of a white majority who held power and intended to keep all people of color from claiming any share of that influence in their communities. If you take the effort to read the accounts from that era, there will be no doubt that these monuments are intended to be racist, white supremacist symbols, threats of violence against people of color.

If you are white and grew up in the south, you have been indoctrinated into a narrative that denies these truths and pretends these monuments are about honoring history. That is an absolute lie. They intend to honor slavery and rebellion; a rebellion which failed. If you are white and grew up in the Midwest, you may not have had the experience of enough racial diversity to understand how the legacy of slavery continues to play out in other areas. If you are a person of color, you have experienced the threats of violence, the continuing animosity of white supremacy all your lives. Enter the halls of legislatures or drive down the main streets of any southern town and you are forced under the shadows of these symbols of racial violence and glorification of slavery. If you are a person of color, you know exactly why these symbols of oppression should be removed from public glorification.

We are one hundred and fifty-five years past the point when the demolition of slavery should be celebrated as a national holiday. Slavery is an unmitigated evil which is a part of our national shame. Celebrate the victory over this moral evil on Juneteenth. Tear down the symbols that attempt to glorify slavery and rebellion. Confine those symbols to museums so that generations to come will learn about how evil is perpetuated. Perhaps our great-grandchildren will be spared the repeating violence by one race over another.

Celebrate Juneteenth as a holiday commemorating all of us being released from the evils of slavery; and resolve that all traces of racism will be rooted out and scrubbed from the American culture forever.

When it all becomes too much to bear

The Good News is the social isolation we have been suffering through for almost three months has been effective in slowing the COVID virus pandemic. It has still been bad enough, but without the isolation efforts, it would have been fourteen times worse. That is good.

The bad news is, this pandemic is not over; the virus is still around. In some places, cases are rising rapidly, experiencing a second spike after the loosening of restrictions on the Memorial Day weekend. But after nearly three months, we are feeling the stress of the isolation efforts. The enforced family time is increasing domestic abuse; the economic damage has been huge for some families, unemployment has soared to near 20%, and has caused the country to enter a recession as of February.

Anxiety in the community adds to individual stress. How do we measure the cumulative impact of the endless news cycles flooding us with images of COVID pandemic destruction, then with the repeated videos of police brutality and racism? The pressure of being isolated from others, not allowed to visit family and friends in nursing homes, of economic pressure, the strain of the pandemic and the social unrest is taking its toll.
Some of us entered into the pandemic with a full load of stress already—job, mental health, physical health, family dysfunction, etc. our plates were already overflowing with problems. Add fears of catching the disease or giving it to an older loved one, the stress of losing a job, and being stuck inside for months now, and then the protests, was too much for an already overburdened psyche. Some are breaking.

For some of us, the stresses mount until we reach our limit and we have more than we can carry. We break from the pain. When we have reached that limit and break, something has to happen to remove the stress or remove ourselves from it. For some, that break means resorting to drugs, self-destructive behavior. For others, when the limit is reached, the only answer we can see is to remove ourselves from the unbearable pain. Suicide is the last coping strategy we have.

Isolation makes depression and hopelessness more of a threat to do self-harm.
Access to mental health crisis workers helps, but many of these response units are inactive due to the pandemic.

Mental health inpatient treatment is absolutely lifesaving for some patients on the edge, but mental health, especially in Iowa, has been grossly underfunded. Before this current pandemic season there was a critical shortage of mental health hospital beds; the pandemic has increased need substantially.

What can you do to protect yourself from falling victim of suicide?
Remember that you are a beloved child of God and that God never abandons us, not matter what happens.
Regular exercise. Walking is the absolute best- it is rhythmic, can be tailored to your own level of fitness, requires no special equipment or training. Three to four times a week at least; daily to your level of fitness is fine.
Keep a routine. Meal time, bedtime, routine. Stay busy. Sitting in the couch glued to Facebook amplifies depression and isolation.
Keep in touch. Use social media, your phone, email, etc. reach out to friends, relatives, talk to people. just because you are physically isolated does not mean you have to be completely alone.
Moderate the use of alcohol or other drugs.
Reach out for help when depressed. The “Black Dog” of depression tells us no one can help, no one cares. That is a deadly lie. If you have thoughts of self-harm, call for help. Now.
Lower the Lethality. If you are having ongoing depression, consider asking a friend to keep your weapons for a time. Clean your house of firearms, knives, etc. Reduce the amount of medications in your home to only what you will use in a few days’ time. Ask a friend to keep the rest for you safely and refill as needed.

What can you do right now, as a Pastor, as a friend, to reduce the danger of suicide in your congregation and among your friends?
Pray. Trust God. For many ministries, you and I are the hands and heart and hugs of God; but God remains steadfastly in love with all creation. Prayer is to be accompanied by our actions, but we begin with prayer. Pray for our own strength, and also pray for our fellow church members, friends, family, and neighbors. Know to the core of your soul that God’s love does not desert you, no matter how depressed and hopeless you may feel. In deepest distress, we seek to feel God’s loving presence, and it comes.
Stay in touch. We can’t visit in person, but phones, email, social media all offer options for keeping in contact. Use them all.
Organize. If your church isn’t already actively organized to keep in touch with ALL of its members, start that right now. By whatever means, sort your members into groups of five to eight families. Designate one or two elders or leaders to contact every one of these groups regularly.
Encourage your members to contact each other at least once a week.
o When you identify an individual feeling particularly stressed or depressed, focus more of your attention on that one who needs the extra attention.
o Ask if they are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
o Get help if the answer is ‘yes’ get your friend to professional help right away. Call 911.

There are provisions in most states to protect people who are a danger to themselves. Your friend may be mad at your for calling the police, but at least they will be alive to be mad at you.
Train Yourself “Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training,” an evidence based, online interactive training. The initial basic course is $20. https://www.livingworks.net/asist
God’s steadfast love brought about all of creation. God’s steadfast love for humanity is revealed in the incarnation of Christ Jesus, who loved us enough to die for us. God’s love continues just as strongly now. Because of God’s love for you, choose life. Because of God’s love for your neighbor, be the helper who just might save another life from suicide.

The Church Deployed

One of the unexpected blessings of our current situation is to underscore how WE are the Church, not the building. Even though we are not meeting in person for worship and most meetings have gone online, the work of the Church is not diminished.
Zion Church is as active and busy as ever. We are meeting with each other to plan and support each other; just not in person. We are learning new words and new techniques, like Zoom and Live Stream. There are some elements of these online meetings that are lacking, but we are overcoming the impediments. We are still worshiping, by live streaming our services. And we are finding that our live streamed audience is much larger than we would ever see in person in the pews. We know that we are reaching out to people who would not be able to attend in person. We are fulfilling part of our mission as Church by proclaiming the Good News of Christ as broadly as possible. We have worshipers from across the US, and even into other countries. This is wonderful!
Your Zion staff are as busy as ever. We are finding that it takes even more time to plan a Live Stream worship than the in-person events; there are new hurdles for us to achieve. We are still sending out newsletters and emails (like this one), bulletins for worship, and as much additional devotional material as we can find and share. We are working as hard or harder than we were before this time of social isolation.
Zion’s expenses have not diminished much, if at all. Our utility bill might be slightly smaller due to not having Sunday morning crowds, but the difference is tiny. All our staff continue to work their regular hours; and staff account for a large portion of our budget expenses.
Most of you have continued your regular giving; thank you. You are bringing your tithes to the Church office by mail or in person, you are making excellent use of our Website PayPal donation system, and you are continuing to use the Automated Giving option. Thank you! Because of your steadfast stewardship, Zion’s work is continuing without a stumble.
Many of you have also been very generous in designated gifts to the Food Pantry and our Love Fund. Because of your generosity, we were able to increase our gifts of food to each family who came in May. And, you have given us enough extra to be able to give an increased amount of food to families in June, as well. Your love for God is being expressed in the way you love your neighbors.
Thank you, all of you who are continuing to support the work of Zion Church. If you have been a regular giver and have let your giving slip due to not being in worship, will you consider restarting your giving? Some of you have been experiencing reduced or eliminated incomes during this time, and we do not want you to suffer financially to support Zion, but if you can give, please give as you are able. If you have never been a supporter of Zion’s regular budget, would you consider giving an undesignated gift at this time? The funds we receive designated for Love Fund and Food Pantry are used 100% for those purposes; no administrative or staff costs are taken from those gifts. That feels like the most right thing to do, but it does mean other givers support the overhead and staff costs of those programs. As you are able, and as you feel led, please consider how you may contribute.
At this time, I cannot make any guess as to how long it will be before we are able to gather in person again for worship. I am eager for that day, as I am sure you are also, but there is danger in reconvening too soon. The concerted efforts of the entire community are needed to break the chain of infections and quell this pandemic. It is not easy work, it is not work whose effectiveness is easy to document, but it is almost all we have to resist the virus at this time.
Thank you again for all the ways you are continuing to BE the Church as a part of Zion UCC. Know that you are lifted up in thankful prayer regularly. We also yearn for your prayers—for staff, for the continuing work of Zion Church, and for all those front line workers who are taking care of us, and seeing that we have all we need. May God keep them all safe.
Until we are able to meet again in person, God’s blessings be upon you.
Grace and peace,
Brice