Saturday, August 28, 2010


Last night Anita and I went to a small dinner party. There were four couples. It was a good night. Tasty food. Laughter. Some really good conversation.

I want to talk a bit about that really good conversation piece of the evening. Of late I’ve been lamenting the lost art of conversation. Last night I found it again. Here’s what happened. People kidded each other. Questions were asked. Tough subjects were covered (the mosque, the essence of democracy,terrorism, how to find meaning in life, children, faith, etc.). Smart and kind people were discussing some dicey issues and if truth be known not everyone agreed on everything. But there was no scurrying for cover, no fear of thinking out loud (at least I think not) and no need to convert someone else to a particular point of view. There was a nice exchange of ideas. It felt good. It was free and easy.

I've been at other gatherings where the food was tasty and people were happy. But it wasn't free and easy. No way was I going to talk about the mosque, faith, the care and feeding of children or the meaning of democracy. Why? Because it wasn’t safe. There was an unspoken party line that everyone was adhering to. Conversation was stilted, polite, but frankly boring. Everyone was on their best behavior so there were no contrary opinions or even gentle probing of issues and ideas. For sure, there was no invigorating give and take. Most people kept relatively quiet, smiled nicely, talked about the Cubs and the Bears and when it was all said and done were probably thankful that they had walked through a minefield and walked away relatively intact.

Over the past couple of years I’ve learned, that for the most part, most people don’t want good conversation and the thrill of the engagement. We have entrenched positions and are not eager to hear what others have to think. It’s a sign of the times. Additionally, I think most people have forgotten the value of a good question and the probing that’s necessary in order to discover what another really thinks and feels.

Christians stifle conversation all too often. In some faith circles there is a certain ‘group think’ everybody buys into. Whether that ‘group think’ tilts to the right or to the left doesn’t really matter. It pervades the culture of faith and anyone who does want to think ‘out loud’ and take a contrary point of view usually finds out its best to get along and go along. Too bad. We miss out on the variety within the body of Christ. And without hearing the other point of view we never get to that messy 'iron sharpening iron' the Scripture talks about.

I’ve often thought that the most interesting place to have ever been would be around a campfire with Jesus. I bet it was a rich conversation. Good questions. Some interesting give and take. Laughter. Moments of deep silence. I just have a hunch that Jesus loved the probing insight, the practical application question, and even the impetuous comment. It was part of the discipleship process.

So, last night was a good night. No world problems were solved but I felt listened to and taken seriously. I think others did too. How good is that?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thinking about Elections

If the news last night was accurate indications are that Tea Party’ candidates are catching some wind. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in November. Those elections and the next Presidential campaign should be interesting.

The GOP can't be happy that the right is getting crowded with splinter groups and the Democrats can’t pretend the deep discontent brewing across the nation is just a right wing skirmish. Maybe that crowding and that discontent will be the beginning of the end of business as usual. I'm not all that hopeful however.

It would be nice if both the GOP and Democrats started to realize that the 'same old-same old' is ticking people off. Playing to the cameras, lack of win-win solutions, brow beating, and name calling are taking its toll on the electorate. Unfortunately, it's giving life to 'haters'. It's scary to think that big mobs of people, all lacking impulse control, want to take back the government. Out of the frying pan into the fire, heh? Unfortunately, the existing political system plays to that hate and in their own ways encourage it.

The President began his term with great hope and optimism. I’ve got to give him ‘props’ for dealing with tough issues and handling a fair amount of heavy abuse. Charisma and perseverence isn’t going to be enough from this time forward, however. The administration has got to figure out a way of building some legislative coalitions to get the job done. Of course, that’s been the problem from the get go. No one has wanted to build coalitions and so we’re in this tedious position of trying to persuade heavily entrenched ideologues to compromise. Ain’t going to happen.

My guess is that the net impact of the fall’s election will hurt both parties. The Democrats will lose some congressional ground and state houses for sure but the GOP will also find itself playing in a congressional ballfield where some of their 'would be' teammates won't want to play by the existing rules. It could result in a do nothing congress of mammoth proportion. Of course, it could also lead to needed reforms. Those reforms are needed.

Democrats and Republicans alike have forgotten how to work together to the betterment of the country. That's already damaged our country and if the rhetoric doesn’t cool off in the next few years we’re going to be faced with a very divided country that doesn’t know how to ‘reason’ together. That’s what’s most scary to me. When we loose our ability to gain consensus then the lunatic fringes will fill in the gap.

I'm a big believer in America and our innate sense of goodness. We're losing our grip, though, on goodness. We don't know how to reason together anymore and civility is a lost art. We're dealing with very difficult issues and the discussion has been hijacked by too many who are acting only out of their self-interest and lacking the wisdom of history and the desire to look at something beyond their myopic point of view. Thus, we have too much posturing, finger pointing, and shouting instead of reasoned argument by people who seek first to understand.

Institutions, like the church are going to have to step up in major ways. More pulpits will have to have the courage to call their people to civic engagement without the limiting agenda of one or two issues that someone in Christendom has labeled as 'the issues' of the day. Are there enough faith leaders willing to lead beyond narrow parameters? And even if they're willing to lead is there anyone out there who has learned how to follow?

For people of faith I think we lead in the days ahead when we seek first the kingdom of God instead of trusting in the latest and best sound byte or headline.

The next couple of years should be very interesting.

Achy Day

Sick. All through the day yesterday I was starting to get achy. Last night I was just so tired. Laid down and then the chills hit. Of course, that’s a precursor to high fever. Thankfully, the fever broke after a few hours. Today, I’m recovering. Napping. Taking it easy. Beat. I’m sure I’ll be fine tomorrow but today is one of those ‘blah’ recovery days where energy and desire are both low.

Not too many years ago I would have forged ahead and gutted ‘today’ out. I wouldn’t have adjusted my schedule but instead forced myself to go ‘full steam ahead’. Perhaps age and wisdom have truly wedded together somewhere deep inside me. If so, it’s certainly taken long enough.

It’s funny though. I have so much to do. Seriously, a lot. My to-do list is as long as my arm and both legs. And even though I know I don’t have the energy to really deal with much of anything (except writing my blog of course) I’m feeling discouraged about my lack of productivity. Instead of cutting myself slack, I’m heaping on guilt.

Maybe it’s shades of my Catholic upbringing and evangelical nurturing. “ If nothing else works,” I think I was taught,” start feeling guilty about something. “ Then, if memory serves correctly one is to “beat yourself up for not living up to expecations.”

I’ve been taught well how ‘to do’. I’m learning how ‘to be’.

If life has taught me anything it’s that ‘to do’ never ends and is a very exacting taskmaster. ‘To be’ is an art form that is only taught by the Spirit. “Come to me”, the Scripture says, “and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

Sickness is a show stopper and it’s a reality revealer. When I just can’t summon the energy ‘to do’ I’m reminded about how much of my life ‘doing’ has consumed. And in the ‘doing’ I lose touch with just ‘being’.

I’ll get to my ‘to do’ list I’m sure. Hopefully, I won’t disappoint too many people in the process. But in the present moment which is all I’m really guaranteed I need to deal with what is immediately before me and the good God who is here with me. In truth, that’s all any of us can do. We practice the sacrament of the present moment. And then we let tomorrow deal with tomorrow.

Monday, August 23, 2010


There’s lots of talk about the mosque near ground zero. Should it be built or not? It sounds like the proposed center has every legal right to be built. The big question is whether it’s wise to break ground.

But bigger questions and issues swirl through my mind.

I get e-mails. I view Facebook postings. Most are from people calling themselves Christian. There’s a disturbing message coming through. It goes like this.

Terrorists caused the destruction of the Twin Towers and huge loss of life.
Those terrorists are Muslim.
All Muslims are terrorists.

Flawed logic. Coming from people of ‘faith’ it’s disconcerting to say the least. And out of this flawed place comes far too much rumor, innuendo, misconception and flat out lies.

I wrote on a Facebook thread recently that if I ever died in a terrorist attack I’d want to be remembered by friends and family with fervent bridge building efforts towards those who killed me. I wouldn’t want my memory to be tarnished by finger pointing, taunting, and exclusion. I certainly wouldn’t want a holy war to erupt. Christ beckons us to travel a more costly path.

Listen, I know there are extremists in the Muslim camp. They are ugly, ugly tools of Satan. We need to be ‘wise as serpents’ in strategizing against the dangers they bring. But we dare not put the label of extremist on all who pray to Allah. And we’re doing that. In the process we are creating an even greater divide.

Throughout history we have labeled certain people groups as ‘them’. Ask the Jews, ask African Americans, the Irish felt it, so did the Italians, certainly Hispanics. ‘Them’ are always portrayed as the enemy of 'us’. And we have paid the price for doing that. We will pay the price for doing that now.

Could it be that a whole lot of folks are just flat out afraid of the world that is changing before their eyes? We now live in a pluralistic culture. What was will never be again. The times have changed. And they are changing rapidly. But our Jesus hasn’t. He says:

Love your enemy.
Go the extra mile.
Don’t be surprised when you encounter evil.
Do good.
Pray for those who persecute you.

I don’t know what the right solution is regarding the ‘mosque’ in New York City. All I know is that there’s a lot of ‘hate’ being wrapped in red, white and blue. Hate isn’t the American way. It’s certainly not the way of Jesus.

If I was a Muslim listening to the rhetoric of recent days I’d be defensive and afraid. I certainly would not be open to embracing the Christian God. And I’d be very wary of even those who say “We don’t mind that a mosque is being built. Just not there.” America has a long history of NIMBY (not in my back yard). And so how close will be too close to ground zero …five blocks, a half mile, a different borough, a different state, or a different country.

I lost a colleague in the terrorist attack on America. Our church staff watched in stunned silence on 9/11. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for families who sat horrified knowing a loved one was dying and they were helpless in doing anything about it on that horrible day. So, I’m not trying to be cavalier about all this and it might be the wisest and most healing thing to not build that particular mosque in that particular place. Frankly, I don’t know. All I know is that a lot of the discussion around the issue is not the most uplifting.

‘Hate’ keeps us in a prison of bitterness. That’s not God’s place. And that’s not where we should land. I’m just thinking that the people of God need to have a different perspective and a different attitude. I’m not seeing that in the e-mail barrage of late. Hate is winning and it’s trying to disguise itself as the ‘cross of Christ’ wrapped in patriotism. Nope. Don’t buy it for a minute.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Rant

I’m not an end-times nut. I have some aversion to the “I’m not predicting the end is coming but I’m packing my bags” type of folks. Some days though I wonder about the end of days. But I don't think I'm supposed to sit on my back deck, eyes to the heaven, waiting for the final trumpet.

It’s going to surprise me, I think, if we don’t end up just killing each other. There seems to be no end of stupid extremism all over the globe. The leadership of North Korea isn’t playing with a full deck, the Taliban are nasty, nasty fellows, and even in our country liberals and conservative don’t want to play anything less than win-lose games that ultimately will make us all the losers. Add to this all the climatic issues erupting all over the globe (anti global warming people take your shot) plus a growing mistrust of institutional power and we’ve got some real issues in our midst.

So, what do we do? We could shrug and say "Well, that's the way it is. Out of my control. Nothing I can do." But I think there is. If I read Scripture with any degree of discernment I still think God's people have a key role to play even in the most depressing of time.

Let me suggest three things.

Don’t give up. Fatalists abound. You see them and hear them all around us. The religious ones often wrap themselves in prophetic literature and just can’t wait for the next bad report on the news. Then they text and post to their little club of end-timers and look to the sky for their rapture and they're appointment with Jesus. They bide their time by listening to people just like themselves, finding support for myopic points of view.

Non-religious fatalists often wrap themselves in their apathy and indifference. "It's all going to hell in a handbasket" you'll hear them say but when asked to make the world a better place they check their smart-phone and mutter "I'm busy." Ugh. What a horrible way to live. They’ve given up.

Here's the deal. The Kingdom of God is here. We are to live into it with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. If we play little theological games that nobody really cares about and/or buys season tickets the 'Wide Wide World of Apathy and Indifference' all kinds of nasty things will happen to the good people God loves. We can and must continue to make a difference.

So, get on the solution side of something you care about. And if you don’t care then pray to our good God for both a pulse and a conscience. There’s plenty of solutions needing to be discovered and constant care that needs to be given Pick an issue ..the environment, orphans, abuse, poverty, slavery, hunger, injustice, education, immigration, etc. etc. Those are big things. Sure, you might be in charge of choosing the paint for the walls of your pre-school and think you’re busy but I’m saying we’ve got to attach ourselves to a bigger vision. We can do the normal things of life with our eyes closed. Of course, we coach our kids team and we support the PTA and we clean up the neighborhood park. And that might be the season of life you're in. If so, do it well and to the glory of God. But for many of us there is a growing sense of outrage about something happening in this big world of ours that is driving us absolutely crazy. I'm saying we need to dive into that deep discontent and then see what God does.

Get radical in your love of God. I think we play around with this thing called faith. At least I do all too often. I want to go deeper. So do you I bet.

We've abdicated 'faith' and let it become the playground of the nut-job, the apathetic, and the institution. That's why so many are walking away. They can't handle the anger or the lack of focus. Let's take it back. Let's quit praying to the God we've created and instead allow the the real God to shape us into what He wants. Too many people piddle around with stuff that doesn’t matter and ignore the radical call of God on their life. God loves us with a radical kind of love. Why wouldn’t we think He wants us locked in and focused on the Kingdom agenda He’s laid out?

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I went to a family reunion a few weeks past. Lots of driving for four hours of family time. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

There are people in our life who anchor us. There are places we remember that call us back. I needed to find that anchor and those memories again.

The Murphy clan is not an ushy, gushy share your feelings type of people. Like many with Minnesota roots feelings are acknowledged to be part of the human condition but just not shared in public. Our family isn’t particularly nosy so gatherings are relatively safe and tempers only flare up when contesting who’s closer in bocce ball or whether one is safe or out on the softball field.

But they are my people.

We gather together where we’ve always gathered. We go to Hermantown, to Mary’s place. Mary is my aunt. She’s lived in the same house all of her life. She's never wanted to live anyplace else. For me, it evokes a 'sense of place' that is sacred in my memory.

The simple brick home was built in 1937 as part of FDR’s plan to help end the depression. The rules were simple. The head of household needed to be working but the family still needed to qualify as being poor. And the family had to be willing to ‘work’ the ten acres allotted them. So my grandfather and grandmother and their four boys found a home. A few years later my aunt Mary was born. The original 1,000 sq. ft., three bedroom home has seen no expansion. It is what it was for the most part except for some needed interior remodeling.

The family is larger now but only four live in Hermantown. And the rest of us are scattered. We’ve had marriages and divorces, births and deaths, disappointments and intrigue. Mary Murphy is running for her eighteenth consecutive term as a state legislator. My family consists of pipefitters, ski champions, a liquor store owner, ministers (that’s me), teachers, principals, government workers, milk truck drivers, financial planners, a lawyer, business people, a school counselor in training, executive assistants, a social worker, a nurse, bartenders, a realtor, writers, a radio talk show host …and more.

Out of a tiny home in a tiny place in northern Minnesota our family has degrees of varying stripes from St. John’s, St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, American University, Fairfield, St. Louis, Wisconsin, Georgetown, Loyola Chicago, Illinois, Hope, Missouri, National Louis, Bowling Green, UNLV, and Moody. In the next few years we'll have a UMD and Minnesota grad.

Our family is filled with athletes and musicians, readers and wonderers. My aunt would die if she thought we had spawned Republicans (she introduced me to Hubert Humphrey back in the day) although I'm quite sure both red and blue our represented in our midst. We have stay-in-one place types and those who like to wander. Some love God deeply. Others probably not. It's a Catholic family for the most part but some, like me, have chosen other Christian pathways.

It's not about the degree or the job as we all know. It's not about political persuasion or sense of adventure or not. All this is part of the ongoing story of a family on the move. I just find it fascinating to think about the diversity of vocation, avocation, conviction and education. Kind of amazing when one thinks about it. And the good news is that, for the most part,we appear to be pretty solid folk making a positive footprint in today’s world. Not all families can claim that I bet.

So the reunion was good for me. It reminded me of my roots and gave me a greater appreciation for my own journey of faith and life. That always has value.

Sometimes when we think of America we get caught up in the big issues of the day and age. And these are things we need to be paying attention to. Sometimes, though, it behooves us all to just stop long enough to see the bigger picture. It’s helpful to remember and to return to those places and people that have meaning. It helps give perspective. And it reminds us that there is an awful lot that’s good and beautiful in this world of ours. And the Murphy family from Hermantown is one of those good and beautiful things.