Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”

I admit that I’ve never seen a mustard seed. Nor have I seen a fully-grown mustard plant. I must, therefore, take Jesus at his word when he says that a mustard seed can grow into a plant large enough to support a flock of birds. But I have seen the seed of a Pin Oak tree. The Pin Oak produces the smallest acorn of all the oaks, no bigger than the fingernail on your smallest finger. But that acorn contains everything needed to produce a towering oak tree. The Pin Oak begins its life as a tiny seed and will spend its 120-year life reaching for the sun, the source of its very being.  During its life it will provide food, refuge, and shelter for hundreds of animal species, each dependent on the tree in its own unique way.  

What a perfect metaphor for human faith! Faith begins as a small seed within us. Like an oak tree reaching for the sun, faith compels us to reach for God, the source of our very being. And as we reach towards God, faith nurtures us, shelters us, and protect us.  

I’ve come to think of the myriad of human faith traditions as the branches of a great tree of faith. One major branch represents the Abrahamic spiritual traditions; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Another branch represents the traditions of the Eastern world; Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. Yet another represents the traditions of the Indian subcontinent; Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism. And while the beliefs and practices of these traditions vary widely, they are all an expression of the universal human need to touch the infinite. And like the Pin Oak sustains life within its branches, the tree of faith shelters us all, nurtures us all, and, most importantly, unites us all. 


Lord, since the beginning of time humanity has reached for you. And in your love for us all you responded. You touched unique peoples, at unique times, in unique places, within unique cultures, in unique ways. And in doing so, you gave birth to the innumerable spiritual traditions we see today. In a world that seeks to divide, where violence against “the other” is all too common, we pray for the wisdom to see that which transcends our differences. Focus our hearts on what binds us together and to you – faith. Give us the courage to reach out, in faith, to our spiritual brothers and sisters. May our shared faith be a beacon of strength and unity among all people.

Monday, March 18, 2019


- This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here". - Zechariah 3:1-10.  

When I was young, abstaining from something that gave me pleasure during Lent was an act of obedience. Usually this involved giving up some trifle like chocolate or a favorite TV show. When asked, my parents would explain that partaking in this Lenten sacrifice was required to help me remember how Jesus suffered for 40 days in the wilderness. Even at a young age I had a hard time equating abstaining from chocolate with the sufferings of Jesus. But, as an obedient Christian, I “did my time”, as it were.

Traditionally, Lenten discipline centers on sacrifice. As such, Lenten practice places the focus of Lent on self; self-denial, self-control, and self-discipline. But is this God’s intent for our obedience? Micah 6:8 provides an alternate view of what God requires of us.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Perhaps this Lenten season, rather than focus our obedience on some minor token of self-sacrifice, we can emphasize life-giving practices such as justice, mercy, and humility. We can withhold harsh words, curb our unworthy thoughts, and refrain from callous acts. We can forgive someone who has wronged us, stand up for the millions who suffer from systemic injustice, and appreciate the many gifts God has given us. Would such a Lenten practice serve us better than going without chocolate for 40 days?

Lord, during this time of reflection and contemplation, keep us mindful of the many ways we fall short of what you ask of us. Focus our discipline on actions that affirm all Creation in thought, word, and deed. And in doing so, may we come to understand Lent not as a season of contrition, but as participation in the Kingdom here and now.


Friday, November 9, 2018


Thought For The Day

“The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God.”

- Rob Bell

As part of my early physics education I often investigated the properties of light using small optical apertures.  These devices allowed me to observe wavelengths of light isolated from the full electromagnetic spectrum. Different apertures isolated different parts of the spectrum, red, blue, violet, etc.  And while I gained valuable insights by observing those wavelengths, I had to be very careful not to extrapolate that knowledge to the broader spectrum. For example, would the knowledge gained by studying the properties of a wavelength in the red portion of the visible spectrum tell me anything useful about the properties of wavelengths in the invisible microwave portion of the spectrum?

Like Rob Bell, I’ve always had a problem with those who claim to know the mind of God. What little we do know about God can be found in the Bible and other sacred texts. And while we can certainly gain valuable insights about God from these sources, we need to understand that they do not capture the totality of God. Like those optical apertures from my physics classes, these texts provide distinct, isolated windows through which we glean incomplete knowledge of an infinite God. It is disingenuous, and sometimes dangerous, to extrapolate our limited views of God and proclaim complete understanding.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Thought For The Day

“Smiley TV preachers might tell you that following Jesus is about being good so that God will bless you with cash and prizes, but really it’s much more gruesome and meaningful. It’s about spiritual physics. Something has to die for something new to live.”

- Nadia Bolz-Weber

Something has to die for something new to live....

Very few of you know me from my drinking days. I was a very different person back then. I was opinionated, and not afraid to share my opinions with anyone and everyone. I was loud and in-your-face aggressive. I cursed talking heads on TV and railed against sports officials who, in my mind, treated my team unfairly.  I sacrificed small animals, hoping to put a curse on the Ohio State Buckeyes before their annual game with my beloved Michigan Wolverines. OK, not really, but I thought about it. 😃

When I finally reached my end and realized my life was out of my control, I asked God to free me from alcohol.  I asked him to fill the hole within me I was trying to fill. I have told some of you what happened next. Within a few days my need for alcohol was completely gone, never to return.

But that’s not the entire story. There is more that I’ve never shared with anyone until now. When God removed my need for alcohol he also excised those traits mentioned above from my personality. God understood that the two conditions were linked somehow.  In order to become the person I am now, the parts of my personality that needed alcohol to function had to die.

It’s been almost 27 years since my last drink, a fact for which I am profoundly grateful. But I’ve fundamentally changed, and in doing so I’ve come to understand and appreciate the lyrics of the song “Both Sides Now”:

“But now old friends they're acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day.”

Part of me had to die so that a new me could emerge into the light.  Joni Mitchell understood. So does Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


Thought For Today

“Myths are, in fact...neither primitive nor untrue. They are, rather, a kind of poetry that helps us make sense of the world and our place in it.”

- Stephen H. Furrer

Mythology has been central to human culture since the dawn  of time. Myths tell us who we are, both individually and collectively. But myths can be damaging when they prevent us from seeing the truth about ourselves.

American culture is replete with a rich mythology going back to our formation. Our mythology says American pioneers conquered a vast, untamed wilderness. We omit that we destroyed an entire people in doing so. Our mythology says American industriousness built a nation. We omit that much of it was built on the backs of slave labor. Our mythology says we are a nation of immigrants. We omit that each new wave of immigration was opposed and despised by those who came before. Our mythology says our most revered value is our freedom to worship, or not, however we choose, as long as we choose an approved Christian brand. Our mythology says we promote peace and democracy around the world. We omit that, in the experience of other nations, we are an occupying force and leading cause of instability, death, and destruction.

It is long past time to confront our national mythology and see our truth. Only then can we take responsibility for our moral failures and build a just society.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Thought For The Day

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

- Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

I can usually tell if I’m going to enjoy a book by reading the first sentence.  My favorite opening sentence in all of literature has to be the opening of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities.  The opening of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a close second. As you can probably imagine from the first sentence, Anna Karenina is a novel about an unhappy family, described in an excruciating detail only found in works by 19th century Russian authors.

One of the things that bothers me about groups like Focus on the Family (ok, there’s more than one 😂) is their insistence that we all adhere to their idealized notion of the Perfect Christian Family. The PCF, in their view, seems to involve a dad who works outside the home, a mom who stays home, and kids, preferably a boy and a girl, who excel in school and love Sunday school. No single moms, remarried dads, or, heaven forbid, gay people, need apply.  In other words, the Perfect Christian Family is reminiscent of those post-WW2 nuclear families beamed into our homes in the 50s and 60s, like Leave it to Beaver, etc. And if our families don’t measure up to this ideal we are somehow a failure in God’s eye.

Of course, even a casual reading of the Bible shows us that biblical families are far from this ideal. In fact, biblical families are a mess.  One need look no further than the foundational family in the Old Testament, that of Abraham, to see how dysfunctional biblical families really are. And yet even in their disfunction, God was able to work through these families to accomplish great things. In the case of Abraham, God founded a lineage that spawned the three great monotheistic religions that now claim over three billion adherents in every corner of the world.

I believe God revels in the full spectrum of familial relationships found in the human community. And if God can accomplish amazing things through families like Abraham’s, just imagine what he can do through yours.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


The other day I came across yet another article in a seemingly endless stream about church growth. We Christians in the United States spend a lot of our time and energy on church growth. A quick Google search using the term church+growth yielded 218,000,000 hits (and no, I don’t think Google rigged the results to make it appear that the Church is "failing"). Articles referenced include “7 Reasons Why Churches Stop Growing and Decline‎”. In counterpoint to these seven factors you can read “7 Things That Will Drive Future Church Growth”, or, if seven is too many, you can consult “The Five Most Important Church Growth Principles”. Yes, the American Church is obsessed with growth.

But this shouldn’t really surprise us. American culture is steeped in the notion that bigger is better. Growing up in Detroit I was familiar with the phrase “what is good for General Motors is good for the country”. I worked for many years for large multinational corporations and can attest to their single-minded focus on growth as an indicator of heath, often to the detriment of long term health and stability. Analysts pour over metrics like year over year revenue growth, quarter to quarter income growth, and year over year order backlog and punish a company’s stock for falling short of their growth expectations.

Therefore, it’s just natural that American churches would borrow the growth ethos from the business world and try to apply it to their situation. Is our congregation growing? Why isn’t our congregation growing? What kind of programs do we need to drive growth? If we move the service times around to accommodate young families will that help our church grow? If we move to a new location will we grow? Is our budget growing or shrinking? What kind of stewardship campaign do we need to make our budget grow? If we bring in a consultant will that lead to growth? Will bringing in a new minister help us grow? You’ve heard them all. As with industry, growth has become the preeminent indicator of congregational health, sometimes to the detriment of our long-term health and stability.

But is growth the appropriate metric to use to gauge church success? What if growth, rather than being a primary indicator, is a secondary metric or even an artifact of something churches aren’t measuring? Could focusing on a new set of metrics impact a secondary metric like growth? The key question is, are we measuring ourselves against the mission given to us by Christ or against a culturally-driven indicator of success?

I would like to suggest that the primary metric churches should use is “lives touched”. Christian congregations are called to serve the people in their community, but they do not measure themselves against this calling. Using Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church as an example, “lives touched” can be measured in many ways; standards like attendance at worship service, but also the number of people outside the church who use our facility, the number of people fed at Austin Street Shelter each week, the number of children in Sunday school classes, the number of people who attended the annual refugee picnic, how many shut-ins we visited, the number of classroom teachers supported at Otto Middle School, etc. The list can become quite long and it would take practical experience to determine which measure is most effective.

But the bigger question is, would increasing the number of “lives touched” by a congregation result in an increase in church membership and budget at a statistically significant level? I’m not sure what an implementation of a “lives touched” metric would look like, but I’d like to try it. Personally, I believe that if churches focus the considerable energy and talents of the Christian community on being and doing what Jesus called us to be and do, growth will take care of itself.

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Thought For The Day

“The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.”

- Swami Satchidananda

I have often posited that the great religions of the world are all contextual cultural expressions of the same God who revealed him/her self to different peoples in different ways in different places at different times.  One of my reasons for making this assertion is the core principles held in common by these belief systems; in essence, a variation of the “golden rule” found in Christianity.

In her book, “The Great Transformation”, Karen Armstrong traces the root of these common set of core beliefs to what she calls “the axial age”, a period beginning around the 9th century BCE where the peoples of four distinct regions of the world created the religious and philosophical traditions that continue to the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in Israel, and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered offshoots of the original Israelite vision.

Despite some differences of emphasis, there was a remarkable consensus in their call for an abandonment of selfishness and a spirituality of compassion. These two principles underly all of these religious traditions.

What would our world look like if we focused on the God-given universal call for compassion that transcends faiths rather than on the superficial differences in religious practices?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Thought For The Day

“Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.”

- Richard Rohr

In my past life I traveled a LOT.  And, like most travelers, I griped and complained about the indignities and travails of life on the road. I fought against the system with all my might, with predictable results.

Then one day I had an epiphany. While flying over the Mississippi River I thought, is not travel akin to immersing myself into the current of a great river? What happens if I try to fight the current of a river like the Mississippi?

And from that moment I thought of my travels as a trip on a great river. The current may take many twists and turns, and I may get held up in some whirlpool or backwater, but I will always reach my intended destination. By changing the way I thought, not only did my anxiety and frustration with travel disappear, but I seemed to have fewer travel problems. Or maybe they just didn’t bother me anymore.

As Richard Rohr points out, traveling through life is like floating on a great river. We are in it and it’s moving inexorably towards some destination. It’s pointless to resist. Are you frustrated with the trajectory of your life?  Do you have the faith to trust in the direction God’s current takes you or do you continue to resist?

Perhaps it’s time to lay back and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, July 21, 2018


I’ve never been a huge fan of Paul (the apostle, not the musician. I’ve always liked the musician). My lack of enthusiasm toward Paul does not necessarily spring from the things he wrote about women. In that instance, I believe Paul’s words were cherry picked, taken out of context, and used to justify the  subjugation of women within the patriarchal church, and by extension, within the greater society. (Karen and I taught a class on this a few years back). The misuse of Paul’s writings in this manner continues to this day. A recent egregious example can be found in an announcement by the infamous Westboro Baptist Church that they intend to protest the Presbyterian Women’s gathering in August (think of protesting a women’s bridge club on a theological basis).  Follow this link to see the text of their announcement and their heavy reliance on Paul to rationalize their actions.


My main argument with Paul is that he suborned the intent of Christ.  Perhaps the main theme of Jesus’s teaching was negation of the legalism of his day where strength of faith was measured by adherence to the superficialities of Jewish Law. In contrast, Jesus came to show us a new way of living. In Jesus’ mind, strength of faith was measured by actions; loving neighbors, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc. As shown in the book of Acts, early Christians actually believed what Jesus taught and established communities built upon the way of life espoused by Jesus.

But then along came Paul, who reduced Jesus’ radical way of living to a system of beliefs.

And Christianity changed forever. A religion was born.  Christendom began its reign.

Look at the website of any church you choose and what do you find? Confessions, catechisms, statements of faith, doctrinal policies, and creeds. My own church, the PCUSA, hosts a complete list of doctrinal statements, creeds, and confessions. After all, we wouldn’t want to be confused with the Methodists, now would we?  But what is most disturbing about these declarations is that they are often used as a litmus test for entering into a community of believers.  They say, “believe as we do and you are welcome”. If you don’t, you are encouraged to find a home somewhere else. Thankfully, the PCUSA does not use its doctrinal statements in this way.

But rarely in any of these statements will you find guidance on how we, as Christians, should LIVE. What does it mean to live the life Jesus proclaimed? What does loving your neighbor look like? How should we help the poor and the sick? How can we welcome people fleeing violence and oppression into our communities?

In my mind, the transition of Christianity from a way of life to a system of beliefs was disastrous, and today the established Church is paying through shrinking membership and wholesale abandonment by younger generations.  What young people see that established Christians sometime do not is the inherent hypocrisy.

As long as we affirm the tenants of the Apostles Creed we are free to ignore the pain felt by our neighbor.

As long as we attend church every week and participate in the ritual we can turn away refugees from our borders.

As long as we believe that Christ is our personal lord and savior we are free to damage God’s creation in pursuit of material wealth.

As long as we condemn those who do not believe as we do our sins can be ignored.

In creating the system of beliefs embraced by Christendom, Paul gave us an out. He gave us the loophole of all loopholes. We can call ourselves devoted Christians without actually adhering to Jesus’ call to a new way of living.

But we will never bring about the Kingdom by belief alone. It will require work. It will require sacrifice. It demands action.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mortality lately. My mom is 100 years old, my brother just turned 74 and is in poor health, and I will turn 65 next month. I spent the last two weeks communing with trees that were alive long before I was born and will live on long after I’ve died.  Our lives are incredibly short in the great scheme of things

I must admit that I fear dying. Dying can be messy, prolonged, and painful. If I could choose a way to die I’d choose to die lying on my couch watching sci-fi on TV with the remote in my hand and with my cat sleeping on my chest.  Wishful thinking on my part.

But being afraid of dying does not mean being afraid of death. This is an important distinction.  Dying is a physical process, a transition from one state of matter to another. To me, death is a spiritual transition from one state of being to another. For most of my adult life I’ve feared death because I believed I was going to have to stand alone before God and account for my life. I’m not overly concerned with accounting for the things I’ve done throughout my life. Over the years I’ve tried to apologize to those I’ve wronged and make amends by living a better life. My greatest fear has been having to explain the many things I should have done but didn’t.

For not standing up to a coworker who drove a waitress to tears with his abuse at the Holiday Inn in Strongsville OH on disco night in September of 1980.

For not speaking out when family members said things like “I’m not racist but….”

For not speaking out when peers made crude jokes about women, minorities, and homosexuals.

For caring more about what people thought of me than defending those in need.

I feared death because I knew I would have to explain my cowardice in the face of societal pressure to remain silent.

But one day that all changed. During a small group meeting a few years back the fear of death entered into the discussion somehow. After I had expressed my feelings, my friend and mentor, Stacy Ikard, looked at me with a puzzled look on her face and said something I’ll never forget. She said:

“But you won’t be alone. Jesus will be with you”.

And suddenly it all snapped into place. For the first time I understood. I am not alone. Jesus walks beside me through life. He will sit with me as I die, and he will stand with me in death. I will not have to stand alone in judgement before God. Jesus will stand with me. He will speak for me and intercede on my behalf.

So while I still fear dying, I no longer fear death. When that day comes, as it must, I will not be alone.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


If history has taught us anything it is that all empires must fall. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks under Alexander, the Egyptians, the dynasties of China, the Mongolians under the Khans, the Austro-Hungarian empire, the British, upon whose empire the sun would never set – all gone. Even the mighty Roman empire which ruled most of the Western world for 1000 years could not resist the forces of destiny.
These far-flung empires share common causes of their demise. Occupation of lands far beyond their borders, wildly inappropriate military spending that far exceeded defensive needs, government for the few at the expense of the many, and economic exploitation of the weak, both at home and internationally. All these elements led to collapse at all levels of society. Slowly, inexorably, the old empires fell into obscurity, only to be replaced by another pretender.
I feel the winds of change coming to America, like a cold breeze that precedes a blue norther. But like a blue norther, the coming winds will blow away our deeply held national myths and self-image. We are witnessing the beginning of the fall of the Ameri-Christian empire. American troops maintain a presence in 126 countries around the world. Military spending continues consume a disproportionate percentage of our wealth while our nation’s infrastructure falls into disrepair. Perhaps most alarming is the undisputed fact that our government institutions now serve the needs of the wealthiest among us while ignoring the well being of those they pledged to serve. And, as the Romans abandoned their republican traditions to a series of military dictators, so we Americans have ceded our precious democratic rights and privileges in return for unending spectacles of blood and circuses.
• When we advocate for preemptive war, we are diminished
• When we turn away refugees fleeing violence and death, we are diminished.
• When we mock young people for trying to save the lives of their classmates, we are diminished.
• When we ignore the rampant violence inherent in our society, we are diminished.
• When we take food from the mouths of the hungry, we are diminished.
• When we demonize entire races, ethnicities, and religions, we are diminished.
• When we take away healthcare from women and children, we are diminished.
• When we ignore the advice and pleadings of our faithful friends and allies, we are diminished.
• When we turn back the clock on women’s rights, we are diminished.
• When we undermine our most cherished institutions, we are diminished.
• When we abdicate our responsibility to future generations, we are diminished.
We can no longer lay claim to the moral high ground
We are no longer Ronald Reagan’s shining city on the hill.

The Pax Romana lasted for over 200 years. The Pax Americana will not last half as long.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


We had an interesting discussion in my Sunday school class today on the importance of perspective in biblical interpretation.

When interpreting the bible, it's critical to understand the perspective of the biblical authors in terms of target audience and historical context. The bible was written by and to an audience living in an oppressive environment. In the old testament, the prophets rail continuously against the governmental, religious, and economic "powers that be" who use their position to exploit the less fortunate. The same is true of the new testament along with the notable addition of Rome into the equation.

When I read the bible today, I take a somewhat "Rob Bell-ian" perspective.  By that I mean the bible is not speaking on our behalf as members of an oppressed class but, rather, the bible is calling us out in our role as oppressors, both individually and collectively. As individuals, all of us are the beneficiaries of the American system. We lead happy and comfortable lives. As such, we sometimes fail to understand that this system does not benefit all Americans equally. Because of this, we are hesitant to speak out and "rock the boat" lest we upset the system that favors us. It's not that we engage in this behavior consciously. From our privileged position we simply fail to see.

This is true of us collectively as Americans as well. Much like the Pax Romana was to first century peoples, the Pax Americana has imposed relative peace on the world since the end of WWII. Similarly, the Pax Americana does not benefit all peoples equally. Like in Roman times, if you're an American the system provides tremendous benefits to you. And like in Roman times, not all nations appreciate living under American military, cultural, and economic influence. Some even call us exploitative, intrusive, and, yes, oppressive.

Some would say we are the modern equivalent of the Roman Empire, in all it's glory and failings.

None of this makes us "bad people". But it is important that we understand other perspectives in order to interpret the Bible correctly.

The biblical prophets are speaking about us, not for us.

Monday, April 2, 2018


On Easter Saturday my church, Canyon Creek Presbyterian, in partnership with the Gateway of Grace organization, played host to a large group of refugee families. This was the third year we have done so and, judging from the turnout and response, it will not be the last. Our unofficial count put the number of refugee families in attendance at around 100 and the total number or participants (refugees and church members) at around 850.
The refugee families are fleeing violence, war, political upheaval, and economic hardship in places like Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Somalia, and Tibet. They come from all walks of life. They speak different languages. They are of different races. They practice different religions. Yet they all share the same need, to raise their families in safety and security with a chance at a better life for their children. In coming to the U.S. they left everything they knew behind, family, friends, language, and culture. And for two hours on Easter Saturday, the children were free to be just children and parents were free from concern for their immediate safety. It was truly a pleasure to see the smiles on the faces of family members, the cacophony of voices speaking in different languages, and the uninhibited joy of the children as they ran from place to plce.
I’ve often wondered where best to look for the message of Jesus. I’ve seen many who proclaim faith in Jesus but fall woefully short of living by Christ’s example, including myself. Is proclaiming our faith sufficient or is more required of us?
In chapter 4 TNH takes on this question from both the Christian and Buddhist perspectives. He starts by making the distinction between the historical Jesus and historical Buddha and the living Christ and The Buddha. Jesus first was a man born in Bethlehem during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His father was a carpenter. He became a teacher and was executed at the age of 33. Buddha’s named was Siddhartha Gautama (which means "he who achieves his aim") in the city of Kapilavatsu near the Indian/Tibetan border. He married and had one child before becoming “enlightened”. He spent the remainder of his life teaching before dying at the age of 80. Both men were born, they lived their lives, and they died. Was that the end?
Buddhists believe in The Buddha that resides within them, who transcends both space and time. TNH calls this the “living Buddha”, the Buddha of “the ultimate reality” who transcends all human knowing and is available to them at any time. When Buddhists say they believe in The Buddha, they are expressing their faith in the universal Buddhas, not in the life and teachings of the historical Siddhartha Gautama. The historical Siddhartha Gautama was human, but he became an expression of the highest spirit of humanity. Similarly, TNH points to the “living Christ” who lives within us, who transcends all human understanding, and is available to us at any time. When we say we believe in Jesus Christ we are expressing our faith in the Christ universal and not the historical Jesus. 
What both traditions have in common, according to TNH, is that the path to enlightenment (Buddhist) or God (Christian) is an internal one. Both Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus were inherently in touch with the eternal that was within them. That is what made them special and their lives worthy of emulation. By emulating the lives of the Buddha and Christ we too can touch the eternal. 
It is important for adherents of both faiths to read the words spoken by these men. Since we cannot see or hear either directly their words serve as the best secondary source. But their words are only important in so far as they speak to and clarify the lives they lived. To emulate the lives of either man we need to understand the times in which they lived, to whom the words were spoken, and the context in which they were spoken. Only then can the words provide guidance in a contemporary context. We see and interpret the lives of Siddhartha Gautama and Jesus through the lens of what they said. And through interpretation we gain an understand of how to live our lives in the present. Jesus the man is dead. Siddhartha Gautama the man is dead. But The Buddha and Christ are eternal.
So that brings us back to the present and one of many egg hunts held on the Saturday before Easter. In Matthew chapter 22 Jesus says: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is not passive. Love does not stand on the sidelines. To show love is to take action without expectation or condition.
According to TNH, it is acts like this that bring both the living Buddha and the living Christ into the world for all to see.
What do you think?

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Reflection on Maundy Thursday

The various Christian holy days that occur during the season of Lent and Easter were never a big deal in my family when I was a kid. Of course we attended church on Palm Sunday and Easter but I don’t recall ever attending an Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday service. Nor did we observe any kind of reverent meditation on Good Friday. In fact, the only celebration that comes to mind was Shrove Tuesday evenings spent in the undercroft of my church eating pancakes.

So when I became a Presbyterian and Karen asked me to attend Maundy Thursday with her I didn’t know what to expect. We attend every year now and over the years it’s become one of my favorite services of the church year.  It could be the simplicity I enjoy so much. Or maybe the solemnity. Perhaps that’s part of it. But tonight, our pastor, Andy Odom, captured the essence of what I’ve been trying to articulate for years now. Maundy Thursday is special because of the brutal honesty of it.  The story told on Maundy Thursday is not a feel good tale. It’s one of betrayal, denial, pain, and sacrifice.  

Keeping with tradition Andy and his fellow ministers read the verses in Mark that describe the events that we all know so well. But then he did something different, something that drove home the point of Maundy Thursday. After each reading he asked a simple question, where were you?

During the last supper in the upper room, “where were you at the table”.
During Jesus’ arrest at Gethsemane, “where were you in the crowd”.
And finally, during Jesus’ crucifixion, “where were you at the cross.”

It was people just like us who broke bread with Jesus. It was people like us who betrayed Jesus. And it was people like us who stood by while Jesus was brutalized and crucified.

And in our own way we continue to brutalize and crucify Jesus in the form of “the least of these” who walk among us. I believe that Jesus has walked among us many times since his death almost 2000 years ago.  

Jesus was among those murdered in the WWII death camps.  
Jesus was a black men lynched in the Jim Crow south.
Jesus was a prisoner executed for a crime he did not commit.
Jesus was among the men, women, and children slaughtered at Wounded Knee.
Jesus was a gay teenager beaten to death in Utah.
Jesus was in the crowd in Las Vegas when shots rang out from high above.
Jesus was the man who froze to death in a lonely bus stop in Dallas this winter.

And Jesus is amongst the young people speaking out against gun violence and pleading with adults to ensure their safety. Jesus walks with these children that you mock and spit on, just as he was mocked and spat upon 2000 years ago.

Jesus walks among us to see if we truly understand the meaning of his life and death and to see if we live our lives accordingly.  

And Jesus will not return to Earth in power and glory to restore the Kingdom until we have done our part to bring about the Kingdom in the hear and now.  

How many times will we reject Jesus when he comes to us as the weak, the oppressed, and the marginalized living as our neighbors?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


What are you grateful for in your life?

When asked, people often express gratitude for the many physical comforts that surround them, such as a warm house, a soft bed, or a beach to lie on. Others would celebrate relationships such as friends, family, and community. Some might note the material goods they’ve accumulated such as a nice car, a big screen TV, or perhaps a boat. 

But what about gratitude for the basics of life that God (or the universe, to the Buddhist) provides to us? How often do we express gratitude for the gifts of clean, plentiful water to drink, healthy air to breathe, or simple sunshine - the driving force behind
 all life on Earth? How often do we really think deeply about the food we eat?

In Chapter 3 THN uses the concept of gratitude for the food we eat as a means of touching the Spirit within us. Perhaps the most ubiquitous rituals that transcend humanity involve food in some way. Families gather for Thanksgiving and consume a meal while, traditionally at least, expressing gratitude for all we have been given. Lately I suspect that Thanksgiving dinner is more a prelude to a football game than an expression of true gratitude. The Seder is a ritualized meal in the Jewish tradition that celebrates the Jewish people’s freedom from bondage, while at the same time, remembering their suffering while in servitude to Egypt. The Tea Ceremony in Japan provides a highly ritualized example from Eastern traditions. 

But most of us consider food a means to an end. We eat so we can have the energy to do other things we deem important. We rush through meals as if they are an annoyance somehow. The whole “fast food” industry bears witness to this. While not true universally, it is certainly ingrained in American and, increasingly, other Western cultures (case in point, there are McDonald’s restaurants in France now). THN claims that when we view food and the taking of meals in this manner we are, in fact, “ingesting only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxieties”.

THN claims that the Eucharist, the act of receiving communion in the Christian tradition, is a way of consuming spiritual “food” while living completely in the moment and experiencing deep gratitude. I remember attending a Christmas Eve service many years ago at an Episcopal church. In the Episcopal tradition, communicants kneel at a railing at the altar and receive communion from priests. In this church the railing was shaped like an ellipse and surrounded the altar completely. As is often the case with a Christmas Eve service, the railing was filled completely, and it was taking quite a while for the priests to work their way around to me. While waiting I had the opportunity to observe other parishioners around the ellipse. I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on one man’s face as he accepted the bread and wine. I didn’t understand it at the time (this was long ago), but that man was living completely in that moment; all his earthly concerns had been set aside. As THN would say, he was consuming the body and blood of Christ, deeply mindful of the gift he was receiving. Though his mindfulness and deep awareness, he had touched the Spirit within him.

How many of us can say the same when we partake of the Eucharist? I’m as guilty as anyone of going through the motions of communion without really thinking about the implications of the act. After all, I’ve been through the process thousands of times before. How can I be expected to be mindful all the time? I have places to be, people to see, and things to do. But THN claims that the last supper was Jesus’ way of jolting his Disciples and, by extension, us, out of our complacency. When Jesus spoke the words,

This is my Body…
This is my Blood…
Drink it and you will have eternal life,

he was calling them to mindfulness and deep awareness of His coming sacrifice and the new life that would follow. Whenever we take communion, or eat any meal, we are reborn. With each bite we touch the sun, the rain, the earth, the cosmos itself, and, by extension, the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God.

In this way THN thinks that Last Supper is a misnomer. The Last Supper was not an ending, it was a new beginning. He suggests that taking any meal should be considered a “First Supper”, because after each meal we become a new creation, both physically and spiritually.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Living Buddha, Living Christ Chapter 2 – Mindfulness and the Holy Spirit

When the Buddha was asked “what do you and your monks practice?” he replied, “we sit, we walk, and we eat.” The questioner responded, “but sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats” and the Buddha told him “when we sit we know we are sitting, when we walk we know we are walking, and when we eat we know we are eating”.

What does it mean to truly know something, to be deeply aware? We go through our days performing a multitude of tasks without really being aware of our actions. Take breathing for example. We breathe without any conscious effort at all. If we were truly aware of our breathing we would feel CO2 concentrations increase in our body, our diaphragm contract in response, and our lungs expand. We would feel air rushing through our airways and swirling deep in our lungs. We would feel our heart rate increase in response to new oxygen infused blood, and we might hear the sound of blood rushing through our ears. We might feel the calming, peaceful feeling that envelopes us as we exhale, only to begin the process anew. To be aware is to feel, understand, and love the entirety of our experience, no matter how mundane.

For the Buddhist the path to awareness is through the practice of mindfulness. In the words of TNH, mindfulness allows us to “touch deeply the present moment, see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy”.

To THN, the practice of mindfulness is much like the Holy Spirit in that both are agents of healing and a pathway to God. The Buddha was called the King of Healers. Can we not make the same claim about Jesus? Oftentimes in the Bible, Christ was able to heal with just a touch. Sometimes healing required only touching Jesus’ garment. But it wasn’t the act touching that performed the miracle. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit within Jesus that brought about healing. When you touch deep understanding (mindfulness in the Buddhist vernacular) and love (the Holy Spirit in the Christian vernacular) you are healed. 

When the energy of the Holy Spirit is in us, we “are truly alive, capable of understanding the suffering of others and motivated to transform the situation”. When the energy of the Holy Spirit is present, “God the Father and God the Son are there”. THN believes the presence of the Holy Spirit can be strengthened within us through mindfulness. Citing Jesus’ baptism as evidence, he notes that, after the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus during his baptism, Jesus retired to the wilderness to strengthen the Holy Spirit within him. To THN, Jesus practiced mindfulness for 40 days to build this strength. For us, the simple act of really hearing a bird sing or really seeing the blue sky (or become aware of our tongue) through mindfulness allows us to touch and strengthen the Holy Spirit within us.

To THN, all of us have the seed of the Holy Spirit within us, the “capacity of healing, transforming, and loving”. When we touch that seed (through Buddhist mindfulness or Christian prayer) we touch God the Father and God the Son.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


Those of you who know me well know that I’m something of a science fiction buff.  While I do enjoy space operas like the Star Wars series I am especially fond of science fiction that explores deep, universal, human themes.

I recently stumbled across a series on Netflix called “Humans”. Humans is a joint production of AMC and the BBC, with the latter being the reason for the high quality of the series, I imagine.

Humans is set in a parallel contemporary reality where AI has advanced to the point that humanoid “robots” called “synths” have replaced humans in the performance of everyday tasks and menial/dangerous jobs.  But the creator of the AI technology takes his invention one step further and instills consciousness in a small group. And this is where the series diverges from similar themes such as “I, Robot” and uses this premise to explore the nature of intelligence, consciousness, and sentience.

One of the synths is arguably the most moral of all of the characters depicted, human and synth.  Another believes that any action is justified if done for the good of her kind. A third decides to confront human society head on, using the courts to demand recognition of non human consciousness. A human AI researcher dissects sentient synths to try to understand how they became self aware. In a scene reminiscent of a Josef Mengele war crime in progress, a synth asks the researcher “is this fear” just before being cut open on an operating table.

The series raises a plethora of difficult questions.

What is intelligence? Is it the ability to manipulate abstract mathematical terms quickly and accurately or is it the ability to combine new and/or old information in new and creative ways to create new knowledge?

Is it fair or appropriate to measure all forms of intelligence based on human norms and standards?

When does an entity change from a mechanical “sex toy” to a victim of sexual assault and trafficking?

What does it mean to be sentient?

What is consciousness anyway?

And the ultimate question, can a non human sentience become a spiritual being?

With machine intelligence advancing at an exponential rate, questions like these become increasingly relevant.  This is where science fiction shines. It forces us to consider the unimaginable while we still have time to think through the implications of emerging technologies.

AI is just one of many moral and ethical dilemmas we will need to confront in the near future. With the announcement of successful primate cloning this week, the cloning of human beings is another.

Are we up to the task?

Sunday, January 14, 2018


In chapter one T.N.H. continues his introductory remarks by describing his long journey to gaining an appreciation of the Christian faith. As a young monk in Vietnam he witnessed the horrors of that war first hand. But he came to understand the American soldiers fighting in his country were as much victims of the war as were his fellow Vietnamese. Any of you who know a veteran of that war can attest to this truth.

During the war he traveled to the United States to bear witness to the travesty of that war. He met many professed Christians during his stay. But it wasn’t until he met what he termed “true Christians”, men like Martin Luther King and Daniel Berrigan, that he came to understand the power behind Christ’s message of peace.  And isn’t that true of us as well? Isn’t the most genuine and powerful form of evangelism found in a life lived in accordance with Christ’s teachings rather than through words? His personal revelation led him to a deep appreciation of the Christian faith, to the point where he keeps a statue of Christ next to his statue of the Buddha, and reveres both.

But what is truly interesting in the first chapter is his introduction of the term and notion of “interbeing” into the vernacular. Interbeing is the understanding that all of creation is interconnected, that nothing exists completely independent. As an example, he uses a simple flower.  When most people observe a flower they see just that, a flower. We may note its gross physical characteristics, size, color, scent, etc., but that’s about as far as we go. T.N.H. looks much deeper. When he observes a flower intensely, he sees all of what it’s made of - molecules, atoms, etc. – as well as that which made the flower’s physical being possible, rain, sunshine, and soil.  When viewed from this perspective it becomes clear that the boundaries we place between physical entities are artificial. Nothing in creation is truly distinct. Our physical being blends with our surrounding environment and the rest of creation.

Western Christians see the world in binary terms, God/man, us/them, mind/body, man/woman, human/non-human, etc. We can trace this pattern of thinking to our Greek forebears who codified this artificial dichotomy. But the more we learn of ecology, and human nature, the less viable the Greek proposition becomes. Even in our basest form, our physical being, we are not a discrete organism. Rather, we are a symbiotic amalgamation of organisms – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and micro insects - that together, we call “human”. We are composed of water that has been reused countless times over billions of years. We are sunshine in the form of plants and animals we ingest. We are part of the amorphous creation, where everything exists in relation. Taken to the extreme, many believe in Gaia, the idea that the Earth itself is one massive symbiotic organism.

This is the essence of interbeing.

How does Christ’s message relate to interbeing? Have we twisted Christ’s vision of the Kingdom to reflect our Greek philosophical heritage? Is Gaia a secular analogue of the Kingdom?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


I’m the kind of person who rarely reads the introductory material of a book. Rather than “waste time” on the preface or introduction I’d rather jump to the meat of the material. When I opened my edition of Living Buddha, Living Christ, however, I saw the introduction was written by Elaine Pagels. Ms. Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University and has written extensively on the gnostic gospels. As such, I thought her introduction may hold valuable insights into the body of the book. 

I was right.

Jesus said; “If those who lead you say to you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will get there first. If they say, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will get there first. Rather, the Kingdom inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the children of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, then you will dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty.”

In another passage Jesus says “Since it has been said that you are my twin and my true companion, it is not fitting for you to be ignorant of yourself. So while you accompany me, although you do not yet understand it, you have already come to know, and you will be called “the one who knows himself.” For whomever has not known himself (sic) knows nothing, but he who knows himself has already understood the depth of all things.”

If you are unfamiliar with these bible passages you are not alone, because they are taken from the gnostic Gospel of Thomas. This gospel is believed to have been written ca 50 CE and, if that date is accurate, predates the earliest canonical gospel by some 20 years.

The so-called gnostic gospels (aka the Dead Sea Scrolls) were found in a cave at Nag Hammadi in 1947 (see picture). Gnostic works include the Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Dialog of the Savior, the Secret book of John, and the Apocalypse of Paul. None of these texts are part of the canonical works enshrined in our current bible. Reasons for their omission vary, but one common theme in these texts is the notion that the path to God can be found through introspection; by understanding that which is already within us, rather than through Jesus alone (and, by extension, the Church). As such, the gnostic gospels discount the assertion that Jesus is God and the only path to salvation.

It’s not hard to understand why the early church considered Gnosticism a heresy.

The gnostic texts also direct the disciple towards loving compassion of others. The Gospel of Truth admonishes us to “speak of the truth with those who seek for it, and of knowledge for those who have committed a sin in their error. Make firm the foot of those who have stumbled; give rest to those who are weary, and raise up those who wish to rise, and awaken those who sleep.”

Ms. Pagels seizes upon these texts to demonstrate the deep resonances between early elements of Christian thought and Buddhism and wonders if Thich Nhat Hanh was aware of the gnostic texts prior to authoring Living Buddha, Living Christ.

Christian philosophy is far more diverse than that espoused by the established Church. As we begin this study let’s open our minds to the entirety of Christian thought, unconstrained by ancient orthodoxy.

Monday, December 25, 2017


Another year has gone by and once again I find myself sitting on my couch just before midnight enjoying the quiet before the storm.  I love this time on Christmas Eve and look forward to it every year. Both Karen and the Wonder Dog are asleep and one of them is snoring. For the record I think it’s the dog since I’ve been told that proper southern ladies do NOT snore. Izzy the cat is curled up next to me sleeping as well. The lights on the Christmas tree glow with an intensity only found on Christmas Eve. By this time tomorrow the lights and ornaments will have lost some of their luster.

As always, Karen and I attended the candle light service at Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church. I look forward to this service every year, and not just because of the warm Christmas ambience.  You see, every year on Christmas Eve I get to spend time with my sainted grandmother Alice. When I was young, Alice would accompany us to church on Christmas Eve. Every year I would stand with her while she sang O Come All Ye Faithful as the choir processed into the sanctuary, her voice strong and vibrant in the early years but becoming less so over time. Now, years after her death, I leave room for her in the pew next to me on Christmas Eve. Without fail, she joins me to sing that timeless hymn. Tonight, I felt her presence next to me again and, at least for a little while, i was transformed into that little boy holding my grandmother’s hand and singing along with her.

Lately I’ve noticed that time appears to be speeding up.  The years that once dragged on when I was young now flash by. And with each passing year I get a little slower, I have a little less stamina, my eyesight is a little less acute, and sometimes familiar words and names elude me. Such is the way of things I guess. But I no longer fear the passing of my time on this Earth.

This coming year is going to be a year of changes for Karen and me. We have a lot of balls in the air and really don’t know where they’re all going to land. But regardless of life’s uncertainties, I can look forward to next Christmas Eve and spending another evening with Alice. Her faithful presence reminds me that I will be reunited with her again one day, along with family and friends who have passed on over the years. And this is the hope and promise of Christmas, a hope born into this world on a winter night long ago and far away.

So merry Christmas my friends! Keep the gift of Christmas in your hearts and lives throughout the coming year.

Your friend always,


Saturday, December 9, 2017


One Saturday morning a man is sitting on his couch drinking coffee and reading the news on his iPad. His wife walks into the room dressed for the day and announces that she will be gone for the next eight hours or so. Before leaving she hands her husband a long list of chores that need to be done, preferably that day.

True to her word, she returns early that evening and sees the list of chores on the kitchen counter. She’s pleased to see that most of the items have been crossed off the list. She looks for her husband and finds him sitting on the patio in the back yard and thanks him for finishing all the chores while she was gone. To which he replies “oh, I didn’t do anything. I just crossed the chores I didn’t want to do off the list.”

Like I’ve always said, if a man says he will do something, he will. You don’t have to remind him every six months.

I hate lists. Lists are an Albatross hanging from my neck. They stare me down every morning and force me to organize my day. Unfortunately, making lists is also the only way I can remember the things I need to do. Sometimes I forget to look at my lists (Karen will testify to this). I don’t know how to fix that.

I used to make paper lists but that’s not good enough in our modern technological age. Now I have a “list app” to categorize, prioritize, and track progress against my tasks. Where I used to have a simple list scrawled on a sheet of old notebook paper, I now have a numbing array of lists, all available at a moment’s notice, with headings like home groceries, Target, Sam’s/Costco, Home Depot/Lowes, farm groceries, meals, vacation plans, farm projects, etc.  I even have a meta-list, a list of lists that categorizes all my lists. And there is no limit to how many lists I can create.

My failure to complete tasks is now highlighted in yellow or red. To make matters worse, I share my list with Karen, which gives her the ability to add to my lists at will. While I’m in the middle of checking some task off my list, new ones appear like magic.

One item you will not find on any of my lists is “spend silent time listening to God”. Spending time with God is not a chore to check off when complete. Thomas Kelley, a Quaker mystic, asks us:

“Do you want to live in such a divine presence that life is transformed and transmuted into peace and power and glory and miracle”.

If your answer is yes, Kelly says “if you do, you can. But if you say you don’t have time, then you really don’t want to, because we always manage to find the time for the things we truly want to do”.

Is your desire to spend silent time with God on your “to do” list or on your “want to do list”. If the latter, you will find the time.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Attending church services around the 4th of July always makes me uneasy. As I walked up the steps to the sanctuary at my church on July 3 this year I knew what to expect. And, true to form, I found the sanctuary adorned with the red, white, and blue of American mythology. To be fair, the decorations were very understated and tasteful. The sanctuary did not contain any American flags or other national symbols standing alongside the symbols of our Christian faith. Nor did we sing the Star-Spangled Banner before whispering the Lord’s Prayer.  In fact, the only “patriotic” song we sang was America the Beautiful. If you’ve never sung the entire song the second verse is particularly relevant.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

(emphasis mine).

The subdued patriotism displayed by my church stands in stark contrast to the display at First Baptist Church in Dallas. The worship service there, led by pastor Robert Jeffress, was a display of unbridled nationalism paired with Jeffress’ peculiar brand of Christianity.  Huge electronic flags waived behind the communion table while the massed choir and orchestra sang "Make America Great Again", a song commissioned specifically for the event.

Figure 1 First Baptist Dallas 4th of July Service
More and more I’m seeing deliberate attempts to tie Christianity to American na

tionalism, and, as a Christian, I’m concerned. First, let me make the distinction between patriotism and nationalism using the words of Brian McLaren:
“Patriotism is the love for what is good, wise, and beautiful in a country, along with a corresponding desire to improve the parts of that country that aren’t good, wise, or beautiful. When we treat a nation as quasi-inerrant, and therefore God-like, we tip from patriotism to nationalism. We lose our ability to name and identify what is not good, wise, or beautiful about our country".

Patriotism faces our shortcomings, learns from them, and seeks to improve. Patriotism. admits its mistakes and apologizes when appropriate. Patriotism will not rest until the promise of America holds true for each and every citizen

Nationalism brooks no dissent. Nationalism admits no fault or shortcoming. Nationalism is unconcerned about the plight of the underprivileged, caring only about the wealthy and powerful.  Nationalism says “my country right or wrong”, America, love it or leave it”, and “America for Americans”.

And, when combined with a religion giving the state ethical cover and a God-ordained mission, nationalism becomes a dark force that endangers us all.

The alliance of state power and religious fervor is nothing new. Throughout history, even to this day, nation states seek the blessing of religious authorities because they know how powerful a motivator religion can be. When we think of the Pilgrims we tend to think only of their flight to America seeking religious freedom. What we don’t speak of is the fact that many emigrants to this country did so to escape the incessant wars in Europe, many that were prosecuted based on disagreements on some fine point of Christian doctrine.  A prime example is the Thirty Years War, fought between various Protestant and Catholic states in central Europe between 1618 and 1648, a conflict that caused some eight million casualties.

With this war fresh in their minds, the Framers of the Constitution decreed that the new government of the United States would never endorse an official state religion. The separation of religious and secular power was so important the Framers enshrined it as one of our three revered rights, along with freedom of speech and freedom of the press, in the 1st amendment to the Constitution.

The National Socialists of 1930s Germany understood the power of religion when married to the state all too well. While there is some debate about Hitler’s Christianity, most scholars agree that he was not a practicing Christian, and often derided its institutions and practitioners. This did not mean he did not use the faith of Christians in Germany to solidify his power and further his goals. Nazi propagandists often juxtaposed Christian symbols with Aryan mythology to conflate the two. Here are a few examples.
Figure 2 Hitler Youth Badge
Figure 3 Nazi Flag & Crucified Christ
Figure 4 St. Michael Fighting Dragon.
Figure 5 Hitler as Crusader Knight

Figure 1 shows a Hitler Youth badge with a cross superimposed over a Nazi swastika. Figure 2 shows a Nazi flag at the feet of the crucified Christ. The positioning of German soldiers seems to equate the sacrifice of Christ with the sacrifice of the German people.  Figure 3 shows St. Michael enlisting the help of a German soldier to fight the multi-headed dragon. Of particular interest is the Jewish and Communist symbols associated with the dragon heads. Finally, figure 4 depicts Hitler as a crusader knight.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we see similar attempts to associate American and Christian symbols. Here are some examples.
Figure 6 Aryan Nations Symbol

Figure 7 KKK Flag

Figure 8 Flag-Draped Cross

Figure 9 Flag-themed Cross Jewelry

Figure 10 Flag-draped Bible Imagery

The juxtaposition of American and Christian symbols is evident in the symbols of fringe groups like Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan (figures 6 & 7), Churches (figure 8), cultural items such as jewelry (figure 9), and common imagery (figure 10).

Finally, in an act I find particularly reprehensible, Trijicon, a supplier of gun sights to the Marine Corps, included a bible reference stamped on every sight integrated into the serial number sequence (ACOG4X32JN8:12 in figure 11). In this case the verse is John 8:12 which records Jesus as saying: 
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Figure 11  Rifle Scope with Stamped Bible Reference
Does any Christian really believe Jesus would condone permanently stamping his words on a gun sight used to augment military assault rifles?

Now I’m not suggesting that America is facing the rise of a Nazi-like fascist state. The conditions in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s were unique to that time and place. Nonetheless, that does not preclude the rise of a form of fascism unique to American history and experience.

I'm sure many of you have heard this quote, often attributed to Sinclair Lewis:

“When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

As it turns out, Sinclair Lewis is not the source of this quote. Nor can I find any reference to its origin. However, In 1944 John Thomas Flynn wrote “As We Go Marching”, considered by many to be a classic treatise on fascism in America. The following excerpt speaks a warning to us even today.

“But when fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty. Nor will it come in the form of a crusade against war. It will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism; it will take some genuinely indigenous shape and color, and it will spread only because its leaders, who are not yet visible, will know how to locate the great springs of public opinion and desire and the streams of thought that flow from them and will know how to attract to their banners leaders who can command the support of the controlling minorities in American public life. The danger lies not so much in the would-be Fuhrers who may arise, but in the presence in our midst of certainly deeply running currents of hope and appetite and opinion. The war upon fascism must be begun there.”

The state provides the fuel and religion provides the fire. Christians must hold true to the words of Christ as recorded in Matthew 22 verse 21:
"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's"
We must resist attempts to conflate our Christian faith with the power and goals of the state. Christ calls us to build the Kingdom of God on Earth in the here and now. We cannot accomplish that by aligning ourselves with the secular state, and in doing so justify the acts of the state as being ordained by God.