A TRANSGENDER, A PIG, A FAKE PRESIDENT

Photography by D. Plasman

Several years ago, I traveled to Nicaragua with six members of Edgewood United Church UCC in East Lansing. Our goal was to install dozens of water filtration systems in remote villages. My lodging partner, workmate, and inspiration was Eli, a transgender male. Side by side, we entered the dirt-floor homes of villagers, bringing with us 20-gallon plastic containers, outfitted with plastic tubing and elbow joints.

Once set in place, we filled the empty containers with precise layers of local stone, pea gravel, coarse and fine sand, and an inch of crushed brass alloy. Then, contaminated water hauled from local ponds and streams was poured into the top of the container. Slowly, the water worked its way through the multi-layered system until a steady stream finally trickled from the tap near the bottom. If the homeowner repeated this process for three weeks, the container produced fresh water.

Since the systems had to be built and the sand packed to careful specifications, Eli and I weren’t always sure each container we installed would work. As we waited a long minute for the water to work its way through each container, we often bit our bottom lips and tried to look hopeful. All our installations were successful, and after each victory we did obligatory chest bumps and fist pumps.

In spite of oppressive temperatures, Eli was a workhorse, an inspiration, and a person who thinks deeply about the intersection of theology and social justice.

One evening, I remember hearing a high-pitched squeal. The village pig had been slaughtered, so I was told. Choice parts of the pig were served to us at breakfast the next morning. I couldn’t resist taking this photo of the pig’s head in honor, in memory, and in gratitude for a life given for our nourishment.

Here we are as a nation. We are led by a fake President, a man unable to lead or to govern or to feel compassion, a man who tweets an insane order that bars transgender soldiers from serving in the military—this after an abhorrent speech at the annual Boy Scouts jamboree.

I would call our President a pig, but that would be an insult to the pig whose head hangs from an iron hook. I would call our President a pig, but that would be an insult to Sesame Street’s Miss Piggy, cartoon’s Porky Pig, and Arnold Ziffel–a rather intelligent pig on the 60’s show Green Acres. I would call our President a pig, but that would be disrespectful to the herd of demon-possessed pigs that stampeded down a cliff in Luke 8.

Though fearing a swine protest, I’ll say it anyway: Our President is a pig, and his newly appointed Communications Director, Mr. Sacramucci, is a slimy piglet.

 

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Restless Sleep

I wake up at night more frequently than I used to. I’m not convinced this is yet another sign of getting old, yet, I could be wrong.

Lately (and I’m not proud to admit this), when I wake up I often reach for my cell phone and proceed to track down news feeds. My favorites—labeled by some as “Fake News”— include the New York Times, CNN, and Rachel Maddow.

I track them down at 2:32 A.M. or 3:48 A.M. or whenever sleep eludes me, in hopes that a new development has emerged out of Washington. Another White House shakeup. A resignation maybe. Perhaps the answer to all my dreams, impeachment proceedings.

About two hours ago—realizing I needed a nap—I decided to change my ways. Sleep is simply too valuable. I’m going to see how long I can fast from all political stories coming out of D.C.

Filling the void, I’m going to give more attention to the natural world around me, to contemplate and appreciate those things which, according to Jesus, neither toil nor spin.

Three images on Old Mission Peninsula in Northern Michigan taken by this former news junkie.

 

Top: last light of day reflecting on Grand Traverse Bay

Middle: wild flowers on M37

Bottom: flowers for sale at roadside stand.

I think I’m going to sleep better tonight.

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BLACK & GAY

 

Natasha T. Miller

Photography by D. Plasman

“T” Miller is a poet from Detroit. She performed her poetry at last weekend’s Traverse City Pride celebration. Like the best poets, she speaks prophetic truth with surgical precision. This is a portion of one of her creations, written in response to those who are black and gay, and who imagine that society can be graciously accepting of both.

If you tear half the label off of a jar two things happen.

1. The contents of the jar are still the contents of the jar, the label does not make it what it is, or what it is trying not to be.

2. A half labeled jar is still a labeled jar indeed: if you tear the part that says peanut off of a peanut butter jar that does not make it butter, that does not make it any less brown or any more yellow.

People with peanut allergies will still view it as a threat when they see it, still shoot it down in the middle of the road in St. Louis, in a suburb in Florida, in a Wal-Mart in Ohio, on the BART in California.

They’ll say that it was playing its music so loud that they felt their throats closing, kill it, and blame it on an allergic reaction. . . .

You might think that here is the only language that your skin speaks, but I can assure you that racism is one hell of a translator.

Old black or new black, you’re still black. Outside gay or bedroom gay, you’re still gay.

You’re still a target, you’re still one police stop away from your mother burying you on a land that killed you on purpose.

Don’t make them have to remind you that you’re still one of us.

 

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DANGEROUS WORLD LEADERS

 Photography by D. Plasman

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer justified? Was this German pastor, the author of The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, justified in being a participant in the plot to kill Adolph Hitler?

Bonhoeffer, a minister and theologian in the German Confessing Church, was arrested and ultimately hanged in June of 1945 for his association with Abwehr, a resistance movement that was the breeding ground for numerous failed attempts to kill the German Führer.

Was Bonhoeffer justified? I pose this question in light of Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies” and St. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 13: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities.”

Was Bonhoeffer’s cause righteous? Moral? Godly?

Church historians and Bonhoeffer biographers do not agree regarding his specific role in the plot to kill Hitler. Some maintain he was merely aware of those within the secret intelligence organization who were devising plans to kill the Nazi leader. Others suggest that Bonhoeffer played a more active role. Even if his participation leaned toward the latter, I find myself in agreement with his decision to eliminate a demonic leader who caused the death of six million Jews and the destruction of millions more. At the end of the day, I’m not a reliable pacifist.

I wonder, however, about other scenarios and the resulting influences they would have had on the devoutly religious Bonhoeffer. What if Hitler’s horror had been something less substantial than the killing of six million Jews? Had he gassed, cremated and shot 6,000 or 600 or only 60, or killed a dozen in order to intimidate the rest, would Bonhoeffer and his fellow co-conspirators have been justified in seeking to eliminate this world leader?

Suppose Bonhoeffer and anti-Nazi activists had stumbled upon Hitler’s extermination plan months or a year before a single life had been wiped out. Or imagine a history in which Hitler had gotten his hands on nuclear weapons and announced the date he would issue the command to drop several on innocent populations? Had either of these outcomes unfolded, would it have been justifiable to eliminate with deadly force the German leader?

The past (real or reconstructed) and Romans 13 (read and re-read) prompt me to wonder: When dangerous world leaders, wielding vast power, threaten to commit or actually carry out crimes against humanity, is it justifiable for the Bonhoeffers of the world to seek to slay them?

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12 THINGS I BELIEVE ABOUT EASTER

Old Mission Congregational UCC

Old Mission, MI

Photography by D. Plasman

It’s been 37 years since my ordination as a Christian minister. I’ve preached at least that many Easter sermons. I can’t claim that I never repeated myself. Here are 12 things I’ve come to believe.

1. Something happened on Easter Sunday.

2. That something was an experience by the disciples that Jesus’ death was not the end of Jesus’ life.

3. That experienced “something” is called the resurrection.

4. The resurrection is God’s affirmative “Yes” to the things about which Jesus was passionate.

5. Considering what we read in all four Gospels, the central message of Jesus was not about “getting to heaven” or “obtaining eternal life.”

6. Jesus was passionate about transforming this world—a world that feeds on injustice and violence—into the world God intends.

7. Because Jesus was passionate about changing the status quo of this world into the world God intends, he was killed by those who benefited most from keeping things as they are.

8. Some who brought about his death were political leaders, some were religious leaders, and others simply enjoyed witnessing public executions. (Much like white Americans who in a bygone era gathered by the hundreds to witness black men and women swinging from nooses.)

9. The question posed by the unidentified men to the women at the tomb (“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” Luke 24:5) was another way of saying, “There’s more than one way to be alive! Don’t imagine because Jesus was cut down in the prime of his life that he doesn’t have the power to change your own.”

10. The best way for me to keep “Christ” in the name “Christian” is to take Jesus seriously when in Matthew 25 he identifies his followers as those who: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome strangers and immigrants, clothe the naked, care for the sick and distressed, and befriend the imprisoned. That’s not a liberal/conservative thing. Nor is it a blue state/red state thing. The biblical prophets, including Jesus, knew it to be a God-thing.

11. To be sure, with much eagerness I lean toward evil and destructive ways! What prevents me from embracing Easterized living is passing up all the good that is within my power to do.

12. Christ is Risen! So are we!

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GOOD FRIDAY CONTRARIANISM

Amsterdam Window

Photography by D. Plasman

Like some who stood at Crucifixion Hill, many are the ways we mock the cross, but none is more consequential than refusing to lead a contrarian life. A Good Friday offering from Kentucky farmer and poet, Wendell Berry.

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.

I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts, and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing, and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor, in spite of the best advice.

If I have been caught so often laughing at funerals, that was because I knew the dead were already slipping away, preparing a comeback, and can I help it?

And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not be resurrected by a piece of cake.

‘Dance,’ they told me, and I stood still, and while they stood quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.

 ‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.

When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’ I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me ‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’

When they asked me would I like to contribute I said no, and when they had collected more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had. When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t, and then went off by myself and did more than they would have asked.  

‘Well, then,’ they said ‘go and organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.

Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what, I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.

 

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DEAR ROBIN

“Undoctored” Photograph by D. Plasman

Dear Robin:

Your persistent nest-building activity on our front porch has not escaped my notice.

Please know that I am a nature-loving, animal-caring, environment-protecting, warm-hearted liberal. My God, I still cannot come to terms that someone the likes of Donald Trump occupies the White House!

That said, I need to express my objection to your insistence on constructing a nest with your partner at the current location. In hopes of discouraging you, every day (at times twice a day!) I sweep away the twigs and straw and string that you’ve deposited at the building site. Alas! You don’t seem to get the message!

I’ve even posted written notes, some admittedly harsh: “Please cease and desist from this activity immediately!” You seem neither to notice nor to care. What’s up with that?

Jesus once said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” I say, “Consider all the trees we’ve planted on this once barren property! River Birches. Quaking Aspens. Corkscrew Willows. Japanese Maples. Even a sturdy Basswood growing straight and tall in the parkway.” Why, I wonder, this porch, on top of this light fixture? In another week, you’ll find plenty of shade in one of our trees!

Please reconsider your home site. I’m running out of options. If my latest petition fails to move you, give some thought to our mail carrier who is reaching the point of exasperation!

Sincerely,

Dan at 715 Paris Ave

 

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TRUMP NATION

Nearly twenty years ago, I wrote a story. Since last January (the 20th), I dusted it off, updated the tale, put it in a screenplay format, and retitled it TRUMP NATION to reflect our current political and social climate.

Like watching a movie, reading TRUMP NATION will take an hour and a half, maybe longer. I hope you find the 120 pages thought-provoking and worth your time.

Should the story of TRUMP NATION upset your sensibilities or offend your values, please let me know. If your reaction is even worse, you might consider unsubscribing to my occasional blogs, but I hope you won’t. If we are Facebook friends, we can remain as such, though I will understand should you feel otherwise. Be assured, it gives me no pleasure to bring anguish to anyone’s life, unless, of course, you are the Electoral College’s current choice for leader of the free world.

On the other hand, if you embrace the message of TRUMP NATION please forward the story to others. Copy freely! Paste liberally! Share widely! Distribute recklessly! You have my permission and gratitude. 

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

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PRESIDENTS & MASS SHOOTINGS

presidentsmassshootings

Photography by D. Plasman

I wonder how President-elect Trump will offer comfort and support to grieving families and survivors of our nation’s next mass shooting? I’ve been pondering this ever since Mr. Trump received the most electoral votes. During his term, there will be another mass shooting on our soil, perhaps many more. This is inevitable. We are America.

Nearly two dozen mass shootings occurred during Obama’s presidency. We name them by their locales that include: Aurora, Newtown, Tuscan, Fort Hood, The Navy Yard, Charleston, Orlando (the most deadly with 50 killed/53 injured).

In the aftermath of mass shootings, we expect our Presidents to appear on TV to express sorrow, to share their grief, to offer comfort to mourning families and survivors — to all Americans. Often times, Presidents personally visit the families, attend funerals, and, as Mr. Obama did so eloquently at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, give the eulogy.

Though it is not written in the Constitution, it has become an essential duty of the office of the Presidency. In ways for which a Head of State never prepares, our Presidents, if only for a brief time, become pastors, counselors, soothers of troubled souls, hand-holders, and messengers of hope.

So, I wonder how President-elect Trump will offer comfort and support to grieving families and survivors of our nation’s next mass shooting?

How will this man, who divides the world into winners and losers, ease the pain of those who find themselves on the ash heap of unfathomable loss?

What will our soon-to-be President say to families of victims and survivors of the next mass shooting if those families and survivors include Muslims, the physically disabled, or recent immigrants (undocumented or otherwise)?

Late at night or in an early morning hour, will Mr. Trump activate his Twitter account and tweet: “I told you so, America. This is why you elected me as the law and order President”?

What will this next President, who is lauded as the golden boy of the NRA and considers its leaders, Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, his personal friends, say to a nation and to sobbing families about our epidemic of gun violence?

How deep into his own soul will President-elect Trump dig in order to get in touch with his own losses, his own vulnerabilities, and his own fragile humanity? If he digs deep, will he like what he sees?

Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to imagine a self-absorbed, thin-skinned narcissist able to do with dignity what past Presidents have done so honorably.

So, I wonder about such things, yet in this Advent season dare to believe: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

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TRUMP NOTICE

trump-bridge

Photography by D. Plasman

Some photographs simply beg for comments. Taken from the Michigan Avenue Bridge in Chicago, here are a few of mine.

NOTICE: Hurry! Break this Glass! With the election of DT, American democracy is in desperate need of a lifeline.

NOTICE: With this unqualified and temperamental child-man in the White House, we are no longer a nation of “We the People . . .” which, of course, is the beginning of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution which, of course, DT has never read because by his own admission he’s not big on reading.

NOTICE: If an entire city should slip off this or any other bridge, don’t expect DT to care whether its citizens are rescued. Can you imagine this Head of State offering comfort to the grieving?

NOTICE: The white Evangelical church that voted in record numbers for DT, has lost its soul. Don’t bother throwing a lifeline; resurrection can’t happen without death.

NOTICE: With the election of DT, who received more than 2 million fewer votes, Americans have already thrown a lifeline to his opponent, and HC should grab it!

NOTICE: Considering his love of tweeting, reliable polls project that DT will out-Kardashian the Kardashians.

NOTICE: Become a lifeline to Black America, to Native-Americans, to LGBTQ persons, to public school teachers, to the undocumented, to anyone who depends on Medicaid.

NOTICE: [Feel free to add a few of your own . . .]

 

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Christmas Cards

Here are the Christmas cards I’ve created for 2016. I haven’t heard back from Hallmark as to whether they wish to include my photographic greetings as part of their stock, but I’m sure they will contact me soon.

blacklivesmatter

All lives matter. So why single out black ones? Because racism defines our nation’s past and present. Sometimes blatant, other times subtle, racism is always there. If our nation had a soul, we would establish an annual “National Day of Repentance” and mourn what we’ve done to African-Americans since their enslavement beginning in 1619.  If we had a collective conscience, we’d work toward reparations, not only for black lives but for native-American nations we’ve systematically decimated.

natvity-rainbow-copyNativity Pride

Who knows if the strides made in recent years for LGBTQ persons will receive the protection of a new administration. Trump? Pence? Sessions? Bannon? Stay tuned. Be vigilant. I’m working on a rainbow pole for our front yard.

noplaceforrefugeesNo Country For Refugees

Wall or no wall? Fence or no fence? Internment camps? Will 11 million get deported or citizenship? Garrison Keillor recently mused that the tough talk of our President-elect about a southern wall might be reduced to a “line of orange highway cones” separating the U.S. and Mexico. I have yet to be convinced that immigrants and refugees—undocumented or otherwise—are a danger or a threat!

nativity-friendsGuardian Angels

OK, this one is really for my five grandkids. They’ve amassed the world’s largest collection of “Big Sparkly Eye” characters. Who’s to say these wild-haired dolls don’t resemble certain heavenly beings? They’re so dang cute!

If you live in or near Grand Rapids, MI, stop by and browse the bookshelves of Michigan’s newest Indie bookstore, Books & Mortar, owned by my good friends Chris & Jonathan. They offer these four Christmas cards and a ton of other seasonal gifts, goods, and books.

If you can’t get to the store, and want any of these Christmas cards, call or text me (616-828-2293). The 5×7 cards with envelopes are $4.00. I’ll mail them to you at no charge. I plan to give the profits of any sales to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU’s recent full-page ad in the New York Times suggests they plan to be busy during the next four years.

 

 

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At Large

libertybw

Photography by D. Plasman

This lady was recently assaulted by a man with a mouthful of Tic Tacs. Perpetrator still at large. Use extreme caution and protect your liberties.

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ELECTION THERAPY

yellowaspenblackrock_edited-1-copy

Quaking Aspen – Garden of the Gods, Colorado

Photography by D. Plasman

Were it up to me and I had the power to enforce it, I would mandate that all Americans take a two-week vacation beginning Nov. 9. Save for essential services to protect public health and safety, we would shut down everything. No mail. No school. No internet. And best of all, no political campaigning or recounts. America needs a break, a respite, a nationally required “time out.”

The purpose of this nationwide breather would be to reconnect with each other and repair the damage that a two-year, presidential campaign process has done to many of our personal relationships.

Were it up to me, I would suggest in the most persuasive language that all 300+ million of us spend one hour a day in the next two weeks sitting close to a tree, a shrub, a bush, a palm, even a houseplant.

My choice would be to sit next to a quaking aspen (a populus tremuloides). Recently, I spent a week in Colorado, in part to see some grand autumn colors. I should have done better research because I was about three weeks too late. The one in this photo was a rare find in that it still had some of its foliage.

Quaking aspens are tough trees. They are often the first specimen to reappear and aggressively colonize after a landslide or a wildfire. Though they are not immune to damage caused by insects and diseases, the secret to a quaking aspen’s survivability seems to be in the bark that contains the necessary chlorophyll to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Most other trees carry out this life-giving process through their leaves; during dormancy this process slows down. For quaking aspens, however, the process of producing sugar for energy and survival continues.

Oh, and why does the aspen quake? The leaf stalk is flattened and set perpendicular to the surface of the leaf, making the foliage susceptible to the slightest movement of air. As a result, the leaves suffer less wind damage.

When I got back to Grand Rapids, the local Home Depot had two quaking aspen trees (8’ and 15’ tall) for sale. 75% off. Nobody wanted them. I planted both in our yard. One is five feet from our kitchen window.

Can trees and plants and Mother Nature offer some soothing relief to an anxious political climate? Heck yeah! It might be the only election therapy available.

Plant something. Provide natural mulch. Put it in full sun, partial or full shade, or indirect light. Water when necessary. Mist it if that’s what it requires. Talk to it once and awhile. Listen to your own breathing. If necessary, make amends.

And don’t forget to vote!

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My Tattoo

tikkun-olam

Photography by D. Plasman

I got inked last weekend, just below my wrist on my right arm. The decision was totally unplanned. It didn’t hurt one bit. I got inked at the annual meeting of the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ that met in Flint, MI, where, in 2016, the tap water is still undrinkable—an American tragedy!

I know what Leviticus says, “You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you” (19:28). But, I say, “Screw Leviticus! Sometimes you just gotta feed your wild side.” I blame the Rev. Deborah Conrad of Woodside Church UCC for taunting the less impulsive side of me. “Come out of the untattooed closet,” she challenged, “and get inked!” So I did.

The two Hebrew words, read from right to left, are pronounced: tee-KOON oh-LUHM. The most common translation is world repair. Repairing the world means working for social justice, striving for equality, alleviating oppression, sorting out what belongs to whom and giving it back.

World repair was the job description Jesus accepted when during his first sermon he read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of God is upon me, appointing me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed.”

Because Jesus was singularly driven to repairing the world—more than he was to maintaining unity and purity within his religious tradition—the Man of Nazareth became the Crucified One. Certain religious leaders and higher-ups in the regional government deemed he had to go.

Because of tee-KOON oh-LUHM and, in large part, because the denomination that holds my ordination has taken a giant step away from repairing the damage it has done to members of the LGBTQ community, I added my name to a resolution that can be found at RoomForAll. It reads as follows:

We, the undersigned, are ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). We are pastors, chaplains, professors, retirees; some are currently without charge, and others serve in different roles.

Relying on the Holy Spirit, scriptures, and the doctrinal standards of the RCA, we joyfully and unconditionally affirm the full inclusion of people of all sexual identities and gender expressions in the Body of Christ, and commit our prayers and support that LGBTQ people will be welcome participants in every aspect of the life and ministry of the RCA.

Our personal statement does not necessarily reflect the views of the congregations or other institutions we serve.

Now, I need to come clean. I didn’t get a real tattoo. The words on my arm were imprinted by an ink stamp; tee-KOON oh-LUHM washed down the tub drain the next morning when I showered.

I’m hoping and trusting the words are written on my heart. If not, I’m going to face my fears, act like an adult, take some medication, and get over to Pain For Sale Tattooing in Grand Rapids and get it done.

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Can Bread Overcome Racism?

Racism Bread_edited-1Photography by D.Plasman

First of all, I’m not a racist. That’s what I want people to believe about me, and that’s what I tell my white friends. What I tell my black friends is . . . Wait a minute, I don’t have black friends. If by friends one means close acquaintances in whom I confide and invite to the dinner table or the front porch to sip a local brew or to uncork a bottle of wine, then this is my reality: I don’t know any black people well enough to have them over on a regular or occasional basis!

This is odd, seeing I live on a predominately black street.

Here are some basic (Grand Rapids, MI) demographics concerning the side of the block on which we live and the side across the street. There are 25 houses: 18 houses are rentals, most with 2 units. As single-family homeowners, we are the minority.

This is also true of our whiteness. As far as I can approximate (and this changes monthly as renters come and go), there are 12 white people living on our street, 57 blacks, and 10 hispanics. Including my housemate Jody, I know 9 people by their first name.

Additionally, my unofficial survey reveals there are far too many untethered dogs. I swear, if a certain scruffy, rat-like mutt squats in my tomato patch one more time, the world is going to be relieved of one canine. I will not mourn the loss.

It’s no surprise that racism is alive and robust. As a nation, we don’t seem to be any closer to admitting the causes or addressing the solutions.

I don’t have any answers either. All I know is that I’m tired of reading Facebook posts, and I’m weary of people and pundits talking past each other.

As a modest step in the direction of reconciliation and understanding, we’re going to bake bread. Really good bread. Wholesome bread. Organic bread. Not the Wonder Classic White crap either! Bread that’s even better than the photo I took. Then, we’re going to pass it out to all our neighbors—Blacks, Hispanics, Whites—and let them know that we’re glad we live on the same street with them. Maybe really good bread will contribute to ending racism.

There is only one miracle of Jesus recorded by all four Gospel writers: the multiplication of bread in Galilee whereby several thousand people were filled. Who’s to say such miracles can’t happen again . . . and again?

“Give us this day our daily bread. In our eating and sharing of it, may we starve our racism.”

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FOUR QUESTIONS

BE THE CHURCH GAY PRIDE TC_edited-1Traverse City Gay Pride Parade

photography by D. Plasman

I walked with 3,000 people in the Traverse City (MI) Gay Pride Parade yesterday. Along the parade route, I was reminded again how some religious people, intent on excluding LGBT persons from full inclusion in churches, begin their defense with lead-ins like: “The Bible says . . .” and “The Word of God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” and “Scripture is infallible and inerrant.”

Over the years, I’ve had innumerable conversations with laypersons and clergy who seek to bolster their anti-LGBT position by quoting some of the half dozen, or so, scripture passages that seemingly support their stance. Eventually, I come to the point in these discussions when I introduce the topic of human slavery. Standing in the batter’s box, they’re expecting a fastball, but a slow curve is far more disarming. The four questions I pitch come in this order.

#1 – How many slaves do you own? The question is a conversation changer. The blank stares linger. If no answer is forthcoming, I try to be less a jerk and say, “OK, I’ll assume you don’t own any slaves, and that’s probably a good thing; I’m still rehabbing a house, and I wouldn’t mind a few.”

#2 – Do you know that the Bible approves of human slavery? Most people don’t get this when they first hear it, that’s when I remind them that a dozen books in the Old and New Testaments speak about slavery as if it were as natural to our existence as Google and Facebook – more than 30 passages (50+ verses!). That’s usually when the Bible-believing person I’m talking with reminds me that surely God did not approve of slavery but merely permitted it. Nice try, I think. Thus my next question.

#3 – Do you know that God ordained laws that perpetuated the practice of slavery? The first thing God did after issuing the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) was to make it possible for a Hebrew slave owner to keep the children of a female Hebrew slave when she received her freedom. It’s there in Ex 21:2-4. And that’s nothing compared to the God-ordained laws allowing Hebrew slave owners to bequeath non-Hebrew slaves to their children as an inheritance (Lev. 25:46) much like parents pass on cottages, diamond rings, and sterling silver candle sticks to their heirs. Thus says the Lord!

#4 – In light of all this, why do you assume that supposed biblical condemnations of a man being with a man and a woman being with a woman are anymore valid today than the continuation of slavery? The answer I most often hear (you can probably guess it) is: “Because the Bible says so.” Biblical recycling in its most ignorant form! That’s when I scrape together whatever Christ-like virtue resides in me and reply, “Look, you can be a biblical ass if you want, you just don’t have eyes to see or the heart to embrace God’s rainbow of justice.”

I wish I were more loving. It’s just too hard!

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My Brother

Neuro_edited-1My older brother Doug is fighting for his life in a Florida hospital. Two weeks ago, he was a healthy 65-year-old, that was before a vicious bacterial infection declared war on his body. He’s tethered to more tubes than my mind can untangle – two surgeries in less than a week, and his drug-induced sleep has gone on for nearly as long.

Emails and texts from people around the country have been a God-thing for his wife Rachel and their four adult children. Entries on www.carepages.com appear by the hundreds. Prayers for healing, miracles, and recovery abound, many include snippets and whole paragraphs of scripture reminding us of divine faithfulness and prayer’s power.

Before I caught a plane back to Michigan today, I returned to the ICU at Holmes Medical Center in Melbourne and placed a card on my brother’s chest, told him to keep the light on for me because I will return, and kissed him goodbye.

I share my note not to suggest I have my theology all figured out, but to confess the struggle I experience . . .

 

 

Dear Doug,

I woke up at 2 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I found a Walgreens and bought this card. Hundreds of people are praying for you, and I’m among those at the front of the line. I’m sitting at a Dunkin Donuts crying my eyes out. Like everybody, I’m praying for your healing and recovery. Even though parts of your body look like a war zone, your life is too sweet to leave. My prayer is for you to stay.

But I can’t help wondering what your active mind is thinking, what you in your deep sleep are seeing. Maybe you’re headed down a trail to something glorious, to that place where the trees grow taller, and the air is clearer, and a faithful God is saying, “Come to me and I will give you rest.”

Should my prayer be, “Stay if you can” or “Go into those arms if you must”?

I’m not about to tell God what to do, nor you. So, my prayer is that whatever you’re seeing, feeling, beholding, and experiencing, you will receive your heart’s desire.

I’m going to hedge my bet and keep my tennis racket strung tight and that new can of Wilson yellow balls in the closet in the hope that we will invade the courts at the corner of Hall and Breton to see who cramps up first.

Thanks for being my best brother, my best man, and my best friend. I love you always!

Danny

 

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I Love Horse Poop!

 

Horse Manure_edited-1Photography by D. Plasman

I love horse poop. I can’t get enough of it. Horse poop is good for my soul, even better for my soil. A few days ago, I brought it home by the pickup truck load. Drivers maintained an unusually long distance behind me even as I was careful to drive under the speed limit.

I asked the owner of the horse stable as he loaded three scoops from his front loader into my truck bed, “Do you ever run out of this stuff?” He nodded in the direction of a brown steamy pile the size of two semi-trucks and grunted, “One horse produces 40-50 pounds of this a day. That’s more than a ton a month. We keep twenty-two horses.” I quickly did the math: They never run out of this stuff.

Genesis tells us that on the sixth day of creation God said, “Let earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals.” Assuming God got an early start that day and created horses, say, at 8:00 am, by 8:17 there was horse poop. A bit later on the sixth day, humans were created with shovels in their hands.

Horse poop contains an amazing balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – the trifecta of soil nutrients. And frankly, horse poop that’s been composting for at least six months gives off a non-offensive earthy fragrance. I know this because my next door neighbors have not complained.

Theological lessons? There are none. All I can say is that as an antidote for plodding through the knee-deep horse shit of the political insanity surrounding us, I love walking out to my garden of horse poop knowing that nature rocks!

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BUYING POLITICIANS

AMWAYPhotography by D. Plasman

CAN MICHIGAN’S SECOND RICHEST FAMILY BUY THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?

The short answer to that inquiry is, “Probably not.” The long answer is, “Probably not, but that won’t prevent them from generously using their wealth to influence causes, think tanks, political action committees (PACs), and politicians determined to create a nation where the interests of a few prevail over the voices of the many.”

The family of influence is the DeVos family of Amway fame, the second richest family in Michigan. The top spot belongs to the Meijer family whose supermarkets are fixtures in Michigan and neighboring states.

Forbes lists patriarch Richard DeVos among the 400 richest people in America with a net worth in the area of $6 billion. More importantly, Richard DeVos regularly makes the list of “Forbes Top 50 Givers” in America. With multiple spinoff businesses and four children — one of whom with a Van Andel scion runs Amway, a privately owned company built on a multi-tiered sales strategy of “independent owners” who sell Amway household products and nutritional aids — it is difficult to estimate the total net worth of the family. The DeVoses are among the elite 1% of the 1%.

West Michigan has been a steady recipient of DeVos generosity. In Grand Rapids, the DeVos name appears on the downtown convention center, on hospitals, and on Grand Valley State University buildings. Both Calvin and Hope colleges are beneficiaries, as well as the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America, along with numerous faith-based charities. The DeVoses are deeply religious and take their faith seriously.

Without question, the resurgence of Grand Rapids in the last twenty years is not unrelated to the generous spirit of the DeVos family (as well as the Van Andels, the Meijers, the Weges and others).

The public gifts of the DeVos family are well known, less so their private donations. The DeVoses are no friends of the LGBTQ community and through their family foundations have donated generously to oppose marriage equality throughout the country. If the DeVoses and the candidates they financially support get their way, Planned Parenthood will no longer receive federal funding and women will not have the right to make reproductive decisions about their own bodies. They are adamant about destroying the collective bargaining influence of labor unions. The numerous super PACs (who are not required to reveal their donors or dollar amounts) and candidates DeVos money supports view government regulations and taxes on businesses and industries as a direct assault on free enterprise and capitalism.

I admit my bias, and this is what I hear, “Doing what’s best for the rich is best for the rest of us; the benefits will trickle down.”

Alas, in this tiresome political season I’m left wondering: Why do I feel closer to the holiness of God and to the biblical prophetic tradition when a non-religious Jew like Bernie Sanders talks about the highest ideals of government — a government that should provide quality public schools, free college education, health care for all its citizens, full rights for marginalized groups including LGBTQ persons, and an end to the flow of “dark money” into  super PACs that undermine the democratic process?

I admit my bias, and this is what I hear, “The common good is the highest good and always a Godly good.”

Should you be interested, I commend to your reading Jane Mayer’s, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.

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INDISCRIMINATE FORGIVENESS

JesusonCross_edited-4

Photography by D. Plasman

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Church tradition acknowledges that Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness comprises the first words he speaks from the cross. On several levels, it’s curious why Jesus prays “Father, forgive them” instead of saying “I forgive you.” Because Jesus is the object and target of their abuses and taunts, it would seem his choice to forgive or not to forgive them. Recall also the incident (Luke 5:17-26) of the disabled man lowered through the roof by his four friends; on that occasion, Jesus announces, “Your sins are forgiven.” Why not make the same announcement from the cross?

I don’t know the answer or whether there is one, but I suspect there may be a relationship between Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them,” and the lack of specificity in the word “them.” Who is “them”? To whom is Jesus referring? The soldiers obeying orders? It would seem so, but does Jesus’ prayer stop with the soldiers? Does “them” also include Pilate, who gave the order? And what about the array of religious leaders and temple thugs who plotted against him? What about the disciples who fled, and Peter who three times denied him, and Judas who betrayed him?

Where does “them” begin and where does “them” end? What’s the limit? Might “them” include all those present that day, all those who had lived before that day, and even all those who have lived since that day? Does Jesus’ prayer—vast in time and boundless in place—become a reality when the one universal God hears it? If so, is there anything or anyone who stands outside the scope of this prayer?

On a scale of 1(low) to 10 (high), how large is your circle of “them”?

[This reflection is one of 365 that appear in my book: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available at Amazon.]

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