David Brooks states in a NY Times column that “After World War II the Protestant establishment dominated the high ground of American culture and politics.” I was privileged to have emerged out of that high ground as a Methodist pastor in the 1960s and I have experienced the steep decline in our mainline churches over the last few decades.

The setback hit me like a brick wall while serving as a district superintendent in California a few years ago. A colleague was giving an audit on the attendance for his district churches. When he came to a congregation that had 1200 in attendance, when I was in seminary in 1965, he announced that there were only 70 members in the pews. I sat there stunned and saddened. The other superintendents were used to it.

In my retirement it struck me that we church people, along with most everyone else in our culture, have seldom bonded deeply with each other. We resist revealing our fears and anger but we manage to not hold back on road rage.

Brooks claims “… a new social fabric will have to be woven, one that brings the different planets back into relation with one another.” Our Methodist churches are deeply divided over the gay issue and politics, and in need of relating with one another. We will have to risk bonding deeply one-on-one among our members to turn a corner on finding that high ground again. The social fabric could also start with Congress members getting back to engaging with their counterparts.

Here’s a thought for starters. “Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.”

Katherine Mansfield (d. 1932),Journals



“Every situation – nay, every moment – is of infinite worth, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1823

While teaching at Arizona State University in the 1970s I asked my students in one of my classes if they would consider going to Prescott AZ on a Saturday to meet and possibly bond with total strangers. They were shocked.
One asked with a tinge of fear “Are you serious?” Another remarked, “You’re joking, right?” It took them a month to relent and sign on with 15 students out of 30 in the class.

I told them all they had to do was find a way to urge a stranger to open up for a few minutes or longer and for the students to be candid within the encounters.

We stood in a park and I asked them to go out for three hours and try to sit down on a bench with a stranger or with someone in a coffee house. I asked them to start by asking where they are from and then where were they were born and raised. The second question can be a bit more intimate.

They returned, and I asked “How many of you managed to draw close to your strangers.” Five students shot their arms up and were eager to respond. They were surprised to sense they could have that kind of connection in such a short time. I asked “How many of you were willing to reveal your own feelings?” They admitted it was just one-way moments.

Annie, a first year student, raised her hand and burst out with “I did it, I did it but I will have to admit I walked for two and a half hours and I felt I could never have the courage to run deep with a stranger. I happened to sat down on a bench in front of a barber shop. There was just one patron in the chair and I suddenly decided to wait for him to leave and I was going in. It was a bit like jumping into a fox hole.

“I opened the door as the elder barber was cleaning up and I burst out with ‘I’m on a special project today and my leader, not me but my leader, he thinks it is possible to run deep with a total stranger within a few minutes but frankly I’m terrified right now.

“OK, I’ll start but you don’t have to do your part if you don’t want to. I’m in my first year at university and my parents have covered my entire tuition so I don’t have to work. I stay awake at night worrying that I may flunk out and my parents would be unhappy. I also have two close friends in my town and I have not been able find a new one yet. I will admit that I have cried at night and no one else knows that.

“Now, you don’t have to…”

The barber interrupted her. “It’s my turn now. I have been a barber for 47 years and my wife wants me to retire and I don’t want to let go. My clients and I open up with each other when we are alone in the shop. My wife wants us to be able to travel and not be tied to my work. I stay awake at night thinking and wondering how to deal with this.”

Annie asked, “Have you told your wife about it.”

“Nope, not my wife or anyone else…except you, just now.”

Annie beamed and said “You know what, I think I am going to get an A-plus on this project!”

“If you don’t get that grade you send your leader over to me!”

I believe beings are built to bond instantly with total strangers but our culture has allowed us to pursue prolong friendships and wedlock too soon.



“I believe the future is only the past, entered through another gate.”
Arthur Wing Pinero, 1893

Susy is a rather new-fangled monstrous time machine located beneath the shopping centers outside Geneva Switzerland. What caught my attention was a reference to a book titled ‘Science is Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ by Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist who has come to know Susy.
I have always tried to find a way to comprehend and preach about heaven but I came to believe the philosopher Aeschylus, a playwright around 456 BC, may have had it right when he declared that “The future you shall know when it has come; before then, forget it.”

But I can’t seem to forget the essence and meaning of heaven. I ducked preaching about it throughout my tenure. A decent preacher should at least have given it a shot. So, now in my retirement I am a little braver about such matters. What can they do to me?

I can’t quite grasp how I might live near my mother in the afterlife who died early when my step mother will be on the scene. And what about those who have had numerous divorces? Will they be in the same neighborhood with their families? That’s got to be rather thorny. Who will help us on those matters? Maybe there will be angelic therapists who provide sessions

When I spoke about heaven at a men’s retreat a gentleman in his early eighties approached me and said he was newly married. He told his wife we would be talking about heaven. He happily announced “And we will be together in heaven!”

“Oh no,” she replied “I will be with my first husband there.”

The dejected gentleman said “OK, Reverend, what do I do when I get there?”

“Well, maybe they will invite you to dinner.”

He had a great sense of humor and said to me the next morning “I guess I’ll accept the invitation if it pops up.” It can be complicated over there.

There may be other convoluted concerns when it comes to landing in heaven. In this life our kids and grandkids can grow up and move out of state or country and we may have little contact with them. What if heaven has the same afterlife mode of living?

Who, indeed, will be knocking on heaven’s door, or better yet who is on the other side of that gate and where are they headed? Will the Higgs and Susy particles blow right through heaven and on to another stratosphere out there?

I’ve been thinking about particles being generated and emitted by our mid-brain Insula urges, deep emotions that may converge beyond this life with the dense cosmic elements that have allowed for our existence. But here’s the hitch and it’s a major one, our Insula particles may be destined to unite with the atoms of those unfamiliar to us. We might be connecting with unacquainted particles in a vast universe.

What if we are built to bond with as many strangers on this earth as possible and we have not bothered to do so in our lifetimes? What if our lovely bonding particles are launched into the stratosphere after this life and we won’t know beans about how to connect with those passing us by? That’s got to be embarrassing.

A book by Alexander McCall Smith titled “Trains and Lovers” features four strangers bonding deeply over a four-hour stretch. The last words by one of the passengers when they left each other mused “Loving others is the good thing we do in our lives.”

Lisa Randall, who researches atoms with a fine tooth comb, admits that “Scientists can observe material mechanistic phenomena in the brain associated with thoughts and feelings, even if they can’t put it together to see how it works.” OK, too much intellectual info, but what she seems to be stating is, our deepest emotions have not been examined enough to see how our brain particles work.

Ah, but we have faith on our side. So why not assume heaven’s doors swing in and out?


“What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: we contemplate the future … and that sets us apart from other animals.” -Martin E.P. Seligman and John Tierney.

Some scientists are questioning the discovery but I’m sticking with Selgman and Tierney on this one.

One day while sitting at my desk in my office I had the urge to take a look at the church archives. I wish I hadn’t. The worship bulletins and newsletters from seventy years ago were no different than what I was putting forth weekly. I was a bit repressed wondering why I hadn’t up-dated the latest materials. I was determined after that to do something about it.

I decided to try preaching on the theme of coming up with a vision for the church. The following week a young eager member barged into my office and said he liked my sermon. I was pleased but he didn’t stop there. He was so excited he couldn’t hold back.

“You know what we ought to do, Reverend?”

Before I could reply he blurted out “We should provide a place in our church for seniors in need in the community. We could use that big room that has a street exit and we might hire a part-time social worker and a half-time nurse to offer services. I woke up at 2 am this morning and it hit me like sledgehammer. What do you think of that, Pastor?”

I was stunned. All I could think about was that ‘big room’ to which he alluded had been the choir rehearsal room for over 50 years. The idea hit me like a giant mallet, and aside from that, the church was dead broke. Three other members urged me to go for the senior center. Obviously, the young fire brand who came in first must have pushed for the concept onto others.

I figured I could wear a flak jacket and present the idea to the church counsel. I invited the members to consider revising our bulletins and perhaps coming up with a vision for the church. Big mistake. Several lay persons thought I was a heretic by messing with the bulletins and an irate gentleman bellowed “Why in the hell do we need a vision when we haven’t had one since the church was founded a hundred years ago!” I thought he had a good point but were they the animals that don’t have much to offer by way of projecting ahead?

I continued on nervously and pitched for the senior center. We happened to be in the immense room where the choir had been rehearsing for eons. The new member who volunteered to chair the finance committee turned white. He gritted his teeth but managed to mouth the words “We’re broke and I’m out of here!” He left through the exit door to the street that is seldom used and never came back to the church.

The choir director was a highly regarded and lovable staff person who was in her 24th year. She ran out of the sanctified room. I let the finance guy go and raced after her. I thought that was a smart move. When she got to her car, I can’t tell you what she thought of me in that moment.

The project was passed and it turned out to be a highly successful community center that was adopted later by an interfaith organization and still exists after forty years. And we turned a corner on finances and attendance. My talented choir director took a few weeks off and returned to her music ministry.

OK now, who were the animals in that venture and who were the visionaries? Frankly, I don’t want to know!


“All wars are boyish and are fought by boys.”
Herman Melville, Battlepieces and Aspects of War, 1941

In 1985, I went to Nicaragua with several clergy and lay persons during the Sandinista and Contra battles to learn about the superb ecumenical organization that was a crucial help to those caught in the war.

We got relatively close to the combat zones and met a 13-year-old baby-face boy in a military uniform cradling an AKA weapon. After we came to know him we asked how he lost one of his fingers. He said it was shot off but he was happy it wasn’t his trigger finger. He began training when he was 12 years old.

There may not be many 13-year-old baby-faced Muslim militants on the Mid-East battle fields but if so, have our GI’s had to kill youngsters face-to-face, kids who signed on due to religious commitments or loyalty to their country? Do we want to know? We were horrified to learn about the babies who were gassed in Syria but what if a few of those man-child militants were pulverized by drones? How many of them were slain during the strafing of the airfield by a recent assault? Many of those young teenagers are only a few years older than those precious babies.

Have we owned up to the numbers of fatalities of tweens over the 16 years we have invaded Mid-East states? I have never had to engage with face-to-face battles while serving as a naval reservist for a number of years. We sailors hardly knew where our gun mounts were located.

So, why am I questioning how we fight our enemies? I guess it has a lot to do with having five grandkids in their early to mid- teens, and a couple of them are baby-faced.


It struck me that I left out in my last post the mean-spirited attitudes Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, learned when he got responses to his readers from both sides of our divided citizens.

He states “When I write about people struggling with addictions or homeless, liberals exude sympathy while conservatives respond with snarling hostility to losers who make ‘bad choices.’

“When I write about voters who supported President Trump, it’s the reverse: Now it’s liberals who respond with venom, hoping that Trump voters suffer for their bad choice.

“’I absolutely despise these people,’ one woman tweeted at me after I interviewed Trump voters. ‘Truly the worst of humanity. To hell with every one of them.” (NY Times 4/6/17).

Getting into the fear and anger among highly polarized political party members may call for one-on-one bonding. Shouting and judging from a distance seldom brings hyper beings together. I have four racquetball partners with whom I’ve played for twenty years. They voted for Trump but I didn’t. We stopped talking politics during our coffee times after our games. The only way I found to continue to stay with them was to run deep with our ire and anxieties, one at a time. We’re tribal peoples, whether we belong to congregations, social clubs, sports teams, co-workers or extended families, we are unlikely to divulge what we truly feel about our politics during this time.


“The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things
which surpass it.”
Pascal, Pensees, 1670
We’re living now within a split society that may need some awesome new institutions to humanize our citizens that will call for empathy on a grand scale. There is anger and hate on both sides with hardly any help to address those feelings.

Nicholas Kristof ends his New York Times column by stating that “The humanities do not immunize a society from cruelty and overreaction; early-20th-century Germany proves that. But in balance, the arts humanize us and promote empathy. We need that now more than ever.”

The google team claims “Humanities are academic disciples that study human culture, using primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, and having a significant historical element and include languages, religion and philosophy.”

That means our humanity courses are mainly based on learning through reasoning, an intellectual process that leaves out a whole lot of what humans experience in their lives. I had graduate and post graduate courses in language, sociology and philosophy, and found little if any deep feelings within those courses. Why not? Would it water down the intellectuals sitting next to us? Did the Greeks, who modeled for us our intellectual prowess, manage to overlook our subterranean sentiments?

There was one earthy occasion in my seminary class when my brilliant philosophy professor asked me to give a brief synopsis of the book “Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History” by Eric Erikson. I said “Well, for starters we learn that young Luther wrote most of his 90 theses he nailed to that door while close to a toilet because he suffered from chronic constipation. So he might have claimed ‘Here I sit I can do no other’ rather than ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’”

Dead silence in class at that point. The professor held back a grin and told me to step out of class for a while. That to me was the real world of human learning. Perhaps it was a smart aleck gesture but it felt good to know in those moments that Martin Luther was one of us when it came to surviving.

What if the humanities courses were to allow for students to reveal deeply with their fear, anger, compassion and sex? We learn about those sentiments but we don’t experience them in classrooms. Why not? Perhaps it can complete the fullness of human beings.

While teaching at a university the Dean of Academics declared that clergy can only teach about religions but not promote them. In the last week of a course a student asked if she could wash the feet of her classmates on the last day. She was not religious but she thought it might be kind of fun and provide some bonding with a send-off, and make it a surprise. I was a little nervous about the gesture but we did it.

She stepped out after our session and came in with a towel around her waist and a small tub of water. “How would you like to get your feet washed?” She was very attractive so the guys put up their hands immediately. Everyone seemed to be for it. When she got to the last student he said he could not do it. I figured he was a deeply committed faith member.

He asked if he could reveal why he did not want to participate. I said “Of course you can.”

“My new wife and I wash our feet occasionally as a tender gesture in our marriage.” He paused and relented, “OK, please wash my feet here.”

I often think about that event and I learned from a few students in recent years who claimed it was the best part of the class. I was bummed out on that response but got over it.