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November 2006

100 Most Influential Americans

Tuesday I read The Atlantic Monthly’s list of the 100 Most Influential Americans. I was very disappointed by the list. I had been looking forward to a list that would go behind the familiar and give us some sense of the figures that may have influenced the more public figures. I thought that the list and its presentation had serious flaws:
• The methodology seemed flawed. 10 historians submitted their lists and the entrants were ranked. I would have preferred the 10 historians discussing and debating it out. Might have been more interesting.
• The list is not very diverse. Though a list about influence shouldn’t force diversity, I think it fails to understand that this is a country (and world) of subcultures where significant influence within that culture does affect the rest of us. For instance, no Hispanic Americans made the list. Really? When a significant amount of this country was originally Spanish-language?
• The list overly emphasized Presidents, politicians, and industrialists. I would have weighted it more to religion and the arts. The list also neglected any major figures connected with television and ignored the technological and scientific giants of the computer age.
• The ranking system seemed absurd. And the presentation gave you a sentence or two about each person instead of an essay, like Time magazine might have done. I expected more of The Atlantic.

The accompanying article discussed the nature of influence. Each historian seemed to have a different idea. Here is what guided my thinking:
• A person has affected the way our culture (or world culture) is currently experienced, with particular attention given to prominent social issues like race, gender, and class where the positions of early Americans affected a landscape the results of which we still live in.
• This wasn’t a list of the greatest Americans, so some of my favourite didn’t make my list. The Atlantic ranked Henry Clay at number 31. Clay was one of the folk who helped to forge compromises that staved off the Civil War. Given that the Civil War ended up occurring, I’m at a loss as to why he is considered so influential (though he is clearly important and would likely be on a great Americans list).
• I looked for the influences behind the familiar. Though occasionally one person takes a lot of other people’s ideas and puts them together in a way that is unique or is able to put them into practice (FDR), so I would occasionally gravitate toward that person instead.
• And I also occasionally looked for types, someone who represented a larger movement or group of individuals. Or even a representative figure from a minority group.
• Since the Atlantic Monthly list included folk who pre-dated the United States, I decided to think broadly about “the Americas” when considering the colonial period. I didn’t go wild with listing the various European explorers, but one figure on my list is a European who lived in the Americas and whose life deeply affected American life to this day.
• Finally, I didn’t rank, but have simply listed my names in alphabetical order. Essays would be nice, but I’m only going to write a sentence or two (though I think the AM could have done better than that).

I spent hours on this looking up the names behind the movements and events that I considered significant influences on contemporary life. I learned a lot in the process of doing this. I look forward to your comments and conversation:

John Adams
Worked tirelessly to establish our government.

John Quincy Adams
As author of the Monroe Doctrine, created a staple of American foreign policy.

Jane Addams
Major social reformer, influenced John Dewey, among others.

Susan B. Anthony
Leader in women’s suffrage, helping pave the way for the changing gender roles debate that we continue to experience.

Louis Armstrong
A founder of jazz music, and thus one of the great influences in American popular music.

Leo Baekeland
Inventor of plastic, which has had a profound effect on every area of our lives.

Alexander Graham Bell
Invented the telephone, which basic technology has spawned so many others and transformed human civilization.

William F. Buckley
The primary intellectual and gadfly of the new post-war American conservatism that was significantly different from the conservatism that preceded it (e. g. Robert Taft)

John C. Calhoun
Arguing in defense of slavery, Calhoun formulated the intellectual argument for secession, but of more importance ultimately is his philosophical defense of states’ rights.

Willis Carrier
Invented air conditioning, thus enabling much of contemporary American life and leading to the formation of the New South and the growth and development of the Southwest.

Rachel Carson
Prominent environmentalist, first brought awareness of many issues to a wider audience.

Bartolome de las Casas
Spanish priest who argued for African slavery instead of the enslavement of the Native Americans, thus paving the way for one of the United States’ two original sins.

Cesar Chavez
Galvanized the Hispanic community as a political and social force and brought attention to farm workers. These debates are as relevant in 2006 as they were at the height of Chavez’ work.

Frederic Church
As one of the leading lights of the Hudson River School of painting, Church was one of the first wildly popular American painters. His work presented an image of America as the New Eden and helped to inspire Manifest Destiny and our continuing imperial ambitions.

Harry W. Colmery
Author of the G.I. Bill which was one of the finest pieces of legislation our Congress has ever passed. It created the post-war middle class by providing money for education and housing.

W. A. Criswell
The fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the most significant social events in recent American history because it allowed a group that had long been outsiders to come to the table with significant power and influence. Criswell was not the architect or leader of the takeover, but was its inspirational figure.

John Dewey
Prominent philosopher who influenced American education and political issues like labor relations, race, etc.

Walt Disney
Created an unrivaled entertainment industry that had immeasurable influence upon generations of Americans.

Frederick Douglass
The first prominent African-American public figure in American life.

W. E. B. DuBois
His thinking on race is still, sadly, quite relevant a century later.

George Eastman
Democratized the power to save and create images. A power that continues to grow and affect how we remember, interact, and communicate with one another.

Thomas Edison
Inventor of the light bulb and much else, helped to create the contemporary way of life.

Jonathan Edwards
America’s first major intellectual and the leading preacher of the Great Awakening, which renewed the power of religion in American public life.

George Henry Evans
His ideas and efforts led to the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862 which opened the West for settlement. It created economic opportunity for common folk to be property owners that did not exist in Europe, but it led to the near genocide of the Native American population.

Albert Einstein
The major scientific figure of the twentieth century who transformed physics and convinced FDR to pursue the atomic bomb.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Called for a unique American culture that wasn’t simply a pale copy of European culture.

Philo T. Farnsworth
One of the inventors of the television.

William Faulkner
His writing style has influenced many subsequent prominent authors.

Enrico Fermi
His theories and work helped pave the way for the atomic bomb.

Charles G. Finney
The leading preacher of the Second Great Awakening that led to the rapid and widespread growth of evangelicalism and the formation and/or ascendancy of many denominations.

Henry Ford
He transformed American life not only with the car but with how he built it and the company he founded.

Benjamin Franklin
Involved in so many aspects of American culture, his most important influence is developing and embodying a set of virtues that were uniquely American.

Betty Friedan
Inspired the modern women’s movement in America.

Milton Friedman
America’s most prominent economist, he advocated a return to greater freedom for markets and was one of the architects of modern political conservatism and ultimately helped to shape and played a part in creating the contemporary world economy.

Bill Gates
Though he may have relied on the technological and scientific work of others, he built the company that made computing and the internet available to almost everyone in our society. But this work may yet be eclipsed by his philanthropy which may ultimately be responsible for saving millions of lives.

William Lloyd Garrison
The leading radical voice of abolition.

Robert Goddard
The inventor of the rocket.

Samuel Gompers
The greatest American labor leader.

Alexander Hamilton
Founder of the American economic system, was the most eloquent defender of the Constitution, and created the American army.

W. C. Handy
Though the origins of the blues are hard to trace and many folk had a hand in developing the new art form, Handy was the first major popularizer who was also classically trained and thus able to leave a written record of musical notation. Almost all popular American music since the dawn of the twentieth century has been influenced by or is somehow a descendant of the blues.

Alfred Hitchcock
The great film director was a critical and popular success. His best movies are (to quote an article I read once) “the Id to our Eisenhower Superego.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
America’s second greatest jurist, he brought pragmatism into American jurisprudence and his heirs carved out greater respect for individual rights.

Sam Houston
Conquered the army of Santa Anna and helped to found the Republic and, eventually, the State of Texas. American expansion into areas once owned by Mexico forever shaped our history and culture.

Edwin Hubble
The great astronomer of the twentieth century, he was the first to discover that space existed beyond our galaxy.

Andrew Jackson
May have made the country more democratic, but he also illegally removed the Native American tribes and destroyed the governing consensus that had existed before him.

William James
America’s most original philosopher who influenced how we think about how we think.

Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of Independence and responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.

Lyndon Baines Johnson
Passed Civil Rights legislation, addressed poverty, and split the country over Vietnam.

Chief Joseph
The Nez Perce chief had a different vision for America than that which was realized. Since his vision did not succeed, it could easily be argued that he was not influential. However, that vision still stands as an ideal quoted often by environmentalists and other social activists.

Theodore Judah
The major force behind the first transcontinental railroad which further opened up the West and was the primary cause for the immigration of many Chinese-Americans.

Jack Kilby / Robert Noyce
The inventors of the micro-chip.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
The leader of the civil rights movement who successfully argued for nonviolent direct action civil disobedience in order to effect political change.

Lewis and Clark
The leaders of the expedition that explored the American West.

J. R. Licklider
His ideas foretold the internet, and he oversaw some of the early research and influenced the computer scientist who built the earliest forms.

Abraham Lincoln
Held fast to the idea of Union and led us into and through our darkest moment.

James Madison
Source of many ideas framed in our Constitution.

Horace Mann
Transformed the American public education system.

George Marshall
Directed America’s effort in the Second World War and rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan.

John Marshall
America’s greatest jurist, he argued that the Court was a co-equal branch with the Congress and Executive and provided it the right to declare actions of the other branches to be “unconstitutional.”

Thurgood Marshall
As the lead lawyer in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka he argued that separate is not equal. That case began the period of civil rights and the ending of legal segregation.

Louis B. Mayer
Prominent movie mogul who helped to create the studio system. His films and actors were among the most memorable in film history, often influencing culture through this popular medium. For instance, how much did Katherine Hepburn help to transform images and the role of women in the twentieth century?

Margaret Mead
Her anthropological research (though later seriously questioned) helped pave the way for the sexual and gender revolutions by illustrating how sexual mores were culture-bound.

Herman Melville
A major voice in American literature, producing one of its greatest works – Moby Dick.

Cyrus McCormick
His invention of the mechanical reaper (and subsequent business to sell it) brought agriculture into the industrial age and led to the dramatic transfer of labor from rural to urban areas.

Harvey Milk
As the first openly gay American politician (who was subsequently assassinated), Milk represents the GLBT liberation movement which has been transforming American understandings of gender and sexuality for the last half century.

D. L. Moody
One of the leading evangelists of the 19th century and forerunners of twentieth century fundamentalism. His successor, R. A. Torrey, was the leading figure in the publication of “The Fundamentals.”

J. P. Morgan
Wall street broker who dominated American finance and industry at the turn of the last century.

Samuel F. B. Morse
Inventor of the Morse Code that facilitated long-range communication for the first time.

J. Robert Oppenheimer
The scientist who oversaw America’s creation of the atomic bomb.

William S. Paley
As chief executive of CBS, he built it into the powerhouse of radio and television. Just mentioning a few of the names from his time at CBS shows his influence on American culture: Orson Welles, Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Kate Smith, Amos and Andy, Edward R. Murrow, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, 60 Minutes, and All in the Family.

James K. Polk
Led us into the Mexican War that seized huge amounts of territory, including California and most of the Southwest from Mexico and solidified our hold on Texas.

Oral Roberts
Pentecostal preacher who pioneered the use of television and raised Pentecostalism from being primarily a religion of the fringes of society to being a major force in American social life.

John D. Rockefeller
As owner of Standard Oil Rockefeller was the richest man in America, exerting almost unparalleled influence over American industry and the economy. In later life he became one of the greatest philanthropists ever.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Transformed American government with the New Deal.

Theodore Roosevelt
The founder of the “modern Presidency,” he also exerted American influence abroad first as an advocate for the Spanish-American War and later in his presidency.

Jonas Salk
Developed the polo vaccine which improved life for millions.

Margaret Sanger
As the leader of the birth control movement and sponsor of the scientific work on the “pill,” Sanger helped to create the environment for subsequent changes in the concepts of gender and sex.

C. I. Scofield
The Scofield Reference Bible promoted dispensationalism to a mass audience. He was one of the founders of the modern Christian fundamentalist movement.

William Seymour
The pastor of the Azusa Street Church where the Pentecostal Movement began, which is now the fasting growing form of Christianity worldwide.

Claude Shannon
Mathematician and electrical engineer who laid the groundwork for the information age by developing information theory. All contemporary digital devices rely on his work.

William Shockley, Walter Brattain, John Bardeen
Working at Bell Labs, they invented the transistor.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
The primary founder of American feminism and the suffrage movement.

Gertrude Stein
She developed a new writing style that included stream of consciousness and was an influence on subsequent authors like Hemingway. She was one of the first collectors of modern art. Her home in Paris was frequented by leading artists and writers. She was a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
When the Fugitive Slave Law was re-enacted, Stowe published Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the mood in the North shifted dramatically toward abolitionism.

Louis Sullivan
The father of architectural modernism, he created the modern skyscraper and influenced generations of architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

Harry Truman
His decisions impacted our culture and world history: dropping the atomic bomb, integrating the military, recognizing the state of Israel, going to war in Korea, etc.

Nat Turner
His slave rebellion became a nightmare of Southerners and a rallying cry for abolitionists.

Mark Twain
Wrote in a uniquely American colloquial voice and created some of the enduring images and characters in our literary canon.

Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo
Leader of the Mexican state of California who chafed at control from the Mexican government and instead saw California’s future as part of the United States. He also checked attempted Russian expansion into California before the United States gained control in the Mexican War. He was one of California’s first state senators and was significant in commerce and founding cities.

Sam Walton
As founder of Wal-Mart he transformed American retail and built what would become the world’s largest corporation. By keeping prices low, a recently study showed that Wal-Mart alone had held down inflation in recent decades. As the company spreads into China and India, who knows what changes it will bring to those societies.

Andy Warhol
Helped to create our contemporary culture, including the celebrity culture, which focuses more on popular culture than highbrow culture.

Earl Warren
As chief justice he oversaw major rulings on segregation, civil rights, and criminal justice. A Republican, he moved the country significantly to the left, but also, inadvertently, helped to create the modern Far Right by being their poster boy for liberal judicial activism.

George Washington
George Washington’s most important lasting contribution was refusing to be anything other than a two term president of a republic.

James D. Watson
Helped discover the structure of DNA and was the original head of the effort to decode the human genome.

Noah Webster
His dictionary defined American English.

Walt Whitman
The greatest American poet, he glorified the democratic spirit of all people.

Eli Whitney
The cotton gin made slavery more economical and guaranteed its continuation.

Woodrow Wilson
Wilson’s most lasting effect, is a liberal, interventionist foreign policy based on America spreading democracy and human rights abroad instead of being focused on economic interest and/or realpolitik. This foreign policy was adopted by the neo-conservatives and dominated American life in the early twenty-first century.

Wright Brothers
The first to fly successfully

Brigham Young
Leading the Mormons across the wilderness to found Salt Lake City is an epic story of the American frontier conquest and of American religious life that has been characterized by the birth of many new sects.

DAMN! That's well said

From the National Catholic Reporter:

EDITORIAL This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date: November 24, 2006

Not bad for melodrama

A year ago we lamented in this space the disappearance of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Well, we meant that in a metaphorical sense. They hadn’t actually disappeared; they had just become far less visible on the national scene than in an earlier era.

Here’s how we put it: “We are watching the disintegration of a once-great national church, the largest denomination in the United States, into regional groupings bent on avoiding the spotlight and the big issues.”

We noted that there was war and starvation everywhere; fresh clergy sex abuse reports out of Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Spokane, Wash., to name a few; 20 percent of U.S. parishes without a pastor; a Congress poised to reduce health care coverage and food stamps; the United States accused of torture and keeping combatants in secret prisons; and so on. And the bishops had nothing to say. They would talk only to each other about internal church matters.

We are compelled, then, to report that the bishops have not entirely disappeared. For they gathered again, in Baltimore this year, and, continuing their trip inward, issued documents on such burning issues as birth control, ministry to persons with “a homosexual inclination,” and how to prepare to receive Communion. Now, none of these matters is unimportant. Don’t get the wrong impression. We’ve had documents aplenty about all of them before. And these topics -- unlike the war in Iraq, say, or what it means to have a president and vice president endorsing torture -- are even covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

So why again? Apparently the bishops feel that people just aren’t listening. If that’s their hunch, we’d agree. Why aren’t they listening? Let’s consider for starters the document on contraception. A lot of the U.S. bishops today might say there are a lot of bad, or at least ignorant, Catholics out there, Catholics influenced by the contraceptive culture, for instance, who no longer know good from evil.

Maybe they’re right. More likely, though, it’s because the teaching makes little sense, doesn’t match the experience of lay Catholics and tends to reduce all of human love to the act of breeding.

In short, the bishops aren’t terribly persuasive or clear when they talk about sex, and they tend to want to talk about sex a lot. To be sure, they say lots of lovely and lofty things about marital love, about how it completes people and cooperates with God’s plan and fills married lives with joy and happiness. You can want not to have children, say the bishops, you just can’t do anything “unnatural” about it. It’s a strange concept, like not wanting to die of heart disease while not doing anything “unnatural” about it.

They make the point that if every time a married couple makes love they are not open to having children, then they’re not giving “all” of themselves to each other. If you use birth control, say the bishops, and every single act is not open to having children, then “being responsible about sex simply means limiting its consequences -- avoiding disease and using contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.” Whew! So that’s it, eh?

It’s either be open to having kids or married sex is no more significant than an encounter with a prostitute. Such a view of marriage and sexuality and sexual intimacy can only have been written by people straining mightily to fit the mysteries, fullness and candidly human pleasure of sex into a schema that violently divides the human person into unrecognizable parts. There’s a reason 96 percent of Catholics have ignored the birth control teaching for decades. We doubt the new document will significantly change that percentage.

So it is with gays. Here again, church authorities try to fit together two wildly diverging themes. They go something like this: Homosexuals are “objectively disordered” (that’s about as bad as it humanly gets, in our understanding of things), but we love them and want them to be members of our community.

Only this time out, the bishops are not using the term homosexual “orientation” (a definite position) but homosexual “inclination” (a liking for something or a tendency toward). Sly, no? The inference to be drawn, we presume, is that someone inclined one way can just incline another way, whereas someone with an orientation is pretty much stuck there.

That science and human experience generally say otherwise is of little concern, apparently, though the bishops were clear they weren’t suggesting that homosexuals are required to change. This time, too, the bishops, while acknowledging that those with homosexual tendencies should seek supportive friendships, advise homosexuals to be quiet about their inclinations in church. “For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.”

The next paragraph in the document, by the way, begins, “Sad to say, there are many persons with a homosexual inclination who feel alienated from the church.” You can’t make this stuff up.

It is difficult to figure out how to approach these documents. They are products of some realm so removed from the real lives of the faithful one has to wonder why any group of busy men administering a church would bother. They ignore science, human experience and the groups they attempt to characterize. The documents are not only embarrassing but insulting and degrading to those the bishops are charged to lead. The saddest thing is that the valuable insights the bishops have into the deficiencies and influences of the wider culture get buried.

Where is this all going?

No one’s come out with a program, but we’ll venture yet one more hunch. It has become apparent in recent years that there’s been an upsurge in historical ecclesiastical finery and other goods. We’ve seen more birettas (those funny three-peak hats with the fuzzy ball on top that come in different colors depending on clerical rank) and cassocks (the kind with real buttons, no zippers for the purists) and ecclesiastically correct color shoes and socks, lots of lacy surplices and even the capa magna (yards and yards of silk, a cape long enough that it has to be attended by two altar boys or seminarians, also in full regalia). In some places they’re even naming monsignors again.

It’s as if someone has discovered a props closet full of old stuff and they’re putting it out all over the stage. Bishops, pestered by the abuse scandal that they’ve avoided looking full in the face, find it easier to try to order others’ lives. They have found the things of a more settled time, a time when their authority wasn’t dependent on persuading or relating to other humans. It was enough to have the office and the clothing. Things worked. Dig a little deeper in the closet and bring out the Latin texts, bring back the old documents, bring back the days when homosexuals were quiet and told no one about who they essentially are. Someone even found a canopy under which the royally clad leader can process.

Now that’s order.

Now that’s the church.

Bring up the lights a little higher so all can see.

Before it all fades to irrelevance.

National Catholic Reporter, November 24, 2006

A Brief Survey of My Weekend

Wednesday I got nervous when the number of RSVPs for my Thanksgiving dinner shot up to 21. They'd go to 24 before settling back down to the 17 that did show and I had planned for.

Michael arrived and we went to a cocktail party at Tarae's. "Don't forget to leave that dip."

Fortunately I had cleaned house on Wednesday, because I spent almost all day on Thursday setting up, decorating, and preparing the meal. It went at a pretty good pace until folk started arriving and my heartrate began racing.

But Michael and Kelli were there to help me in the kitchen, which made for a wonderful moment. This is the first time my sister has met one of my boyfriends while I was dating him. They liked each other.

The meal was great, and a handful of us sat around afterwards drinking and talking and having a pretty nice time.

But there was tons of food leftover.

So, Friday morning I invited a handful of folk to come to a "leftover party" on Friday evening and ordered them not to bring anything.

Michael and I then went shopping all afternoon, finally rushing back home after seven and just in time for the start of the leftover party. A few people showed and we drank and ate and ate and drank and laughed and talked and had a great time.

Saturday was perfect. Slept in. Laid in bed reading. Fixed lunch. Folded laundry while listening to the game and watching tv. Cleaned house. Visited Mom and dropped stuff back off at her place that I had borrowed. Dinner, and then went to see The Departed.

Thankfully I did finally get to see the latest Scorsese. I've been SO behind in my movie viewing. Though I enjoyed it and thought it better than anything since Casino, I also didn't think it was a masterpiece or his best work since Goodfellas, like so many of the reviews said. It was a good movie, but for me it didn't quite have the poetry of Scorsese's best work. Of course, I'm the weird one who thinks Age of Innocence is his best film. For The Departed: 3 1/2 film reels, 4 popcorn kernels.

Sunday, slept in again, but were at the church by 3 setting up for the banquet that is a fundraiser for our Christmas baskets for those living with HIV/AIDS. It was a good night, with a fun dinner. I was exhausted afterwards, but still took the time to drop by the Boom for a drink and to see Casey who was home visiting from Florida.

Michael left early this morning. And I miss him. I really got used to the four days together.

The Courage to Hope

Courage to Hope
Matthew 6:25-33; Psalm 126
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
26 November 2006

No one is perfect, and few people succeed in achieving an unbroken continuity in their lives. Again and again we come up against limits, and experience the failure of our plans for life, the fragmentary nature of our good beginnings and, not least, the guilt which makes life impossible for us. The essential thing in experiences of life like this is the new beginning. If a child falls over it is no bad thing, because it then learns to get up again. Christian faith is faith in the resurrection, and the resurrection is literally just that: rising up again. It gives us the strength to get up, and the creative freedom to begin something once more in the midst of our ongoing history, something fresh. . . . That is the truly revolutionary power of hope.

Those words were written by the theologian Jurgen Moltmann in his powerful little book In the End—The Beginning: The Life of Hope. I’ve talked about this book a few times, including in my very first sermon here when I came as a candidate for this pastorate. This book has a significant place in my life. I read it when I was at one of my lowest and darkest points, and it was this book that helped me to begin the journey out of that darkness.

My very first relationship with another man had ended in a very painful way. I was still early in my journey out and lacked the support structures which would be present later. At that point, coming out to my family and my co-workers still lay ahead in the future. It was a time when I felt great uncertainty and anxiety. On top of that, I was filled with grief, anger, hurt, and depression that my relationship had ended.

Our closest relationships often bring us pain. Broken friendships, harsh treatment by a loved one, fighting within the family—all of these deeply affect us. This month we’ve been talking about the Christian practices of relationships. We’ve been more focused on the positive side. But what happens when those relationships go through difficulties – when there is fighting or even when a close relationship comes to and end?

It is a strange irony that our closest relationships are the ones that hurt the most. I know because I see it all the time in my profession. How many people have I listened to? The lovesick sixteen year olds. The college student trying to figure out if their first relationship is over. The widow in deep grief over the loss of her husband. The forty year old single woman who has never been married whose vibrant personality is sometimes clouded over by a mood of deep melancholy. There are the newly divorced who wonder what comes next. There is the senior adult man who is afraid that he is marrying again too soon after the death of his wife. The twenty-something who attempted suicide because of his loneliness. The person coping with being HIV-positive and how that affects his dating life. And there are those couples who fight, don’t see eye-to-eye, or are facing some big issue or deep grief. Even the best couples seem to have those moments now and then.

Our popular culture is full of expressions of lost or failing love. The best place to look for expression of heartache and despair is music. There’s a whole type of music best described as “break-up songs.” I don’t know about you, but usually when I have a relationship end, there are certain songs that I listen to in order to air my grief and pain.

When I was hurting, I found great solace in the music of Patty Griffin, particularly her song “When It Don’t Come Easy.” This song isn’t filled with agonized despair, but is about those times in a relationship when the going gets difficult:

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home
I wonder if we’re ever gonna get home tonight

But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy

Here is someone who really wants this relationship to continue but is afraid that it won’t. She’s writing to her beloved imploring him to also engage in what it takes to make it home. She’s willing to drive out and find the other person and remind him of her love. But is he also willing to drive out and find her and remind her of his love?

There is pain here because it acknowledges that all is not romance. Relationships have difficult times. Sometimes you can make it through them and sometimes you can’t. Clearly love doesn’t always come easy.

Our experience is often that we cannot do the rational thing. Our love is strongly irrational and it drives us to try anything, sometimes even stupid things that cause more harm. Sometimes we wish we could start over again, because if we could, it would all be different. There is often a deep longing to begin again.

The past cannot be undone and relived. It is settled. But this is precisely where the Christian practice of hope figures in. To remain focused on the past is to sink through regret into despair. Much like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, we can sink into our own “Slough of Despond” composed of “many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together and settle in this place.” The Christian hope points us toward the future, wherein lies promise.

The title of this worship series has been “The Work of Love.” The phrase comes from a poem by my favourite poet, Wendell Berry. Berry is a Kentucky farmer and the poem is first about the work of love that is farming, but I think that the farm is a symbol, as it is in so many Berry poems, for something larger. I think Berry wants to remind us about all of our love relationships. He opens with the lines

We have kept to the way we chose
in love without foresight
and long ago

and concludes with

where we know
we are, even as we do,
the work of love.

The “work of love” isn’t just what we do, it is what we are, who we are becoming. It is the result of a choice, a decision, made without foresight but rooted in our love for another. It is a commitment that we make to one another, a commitment that we hope will be sustained. It flows from our central being, who we are.

How do we become the work of love? What are the Christian practices that sustain the work of love despite the difficulties? What Christian practices help us keep our relationships going or start anew if our relationships end?

First, as I said, there is hope.

Christianity is wholly and entirely confident hope, a stretching out to what is ahead, and a readiness for a fresh start. Future is not just something or other to do with Christianity. It is the essential element of the faith which is specifically Christian: the keynote of all its hymns, the dawn colouring of the new day in which everything is bathed. For faith is Christian faith when it is Easter faith. Faith means living in the presence of the risen Christ, and stretching out to the coming kingdom of God. It is in the creative expectation of Christ’s coming that our everyday experiences of life take place. We wait and hasten, we hope and endure, we pray and watch, we are both patient and curious. That makes the Christian life exciting and alive. The faith that ‘another world is possible’ makes Christianity enduringly capable of future.

That from Moltmann again, and one of the key thoughts that helped me out of the despair I was in when I read that book.

It is one thing to develop a hopeful perspective, it is another thing to live into it. I believe that our hope must be animated by courage. I am quite convinced that courage is the most important virtue necessary for living the Christian life. I think it is courage that sustains us on the journey when everything looks difficult. It is courage that overcomes fear, anxiety, and despair. Courage sustains our peace, joy, faith, hope, and love.

What does courage have to do with hope? I think that it is easy to be a cynic in our world. It is easy to see the negative, to focus on the bad, to become overwhelmed by evil and suffering. And it is understandable -- the world is not always a wonderful place. Sometimes it is difficult to find truth, goodness, and beauty. But it is there. I think that for us to live as positive people of hope takes courage. The world around us wants us to be cynical, skeptical, and ironic. It is courage that compels us to look beyond the bad things in our own lives and the bad things in the world around us to find what is hopeful. We cannot create the kingdom of God without hope, nor can we sustain our own relationships without hope. The task is too difficult. Negativity will destroy God’s work and the work of love. If you find yourself in a situation where it is difficult for you to be positive, to find hope, then you must muster your courage. Draw on your convictions and your passions and step forth with spirit and will power and return to the work of love.

So, it takes courage to be hopeful, to remain focused on the good. Look at today’s Psalm. Here is a song written by people whose fortunes have not yet been restored, but they dream of that day, a day when their mouths will be filled with laughter and on their tongues will be shouts of joy. Though that day has not arrived, they are already acting like it has. That is at the heart of the Christian belief in resurrection. The resurrection proclaims that God’s reign has arrived. We may still be experiencing all the darkness of this world, but we Christians can live as if that great, joyful day has already arrived. We can celebrate with laughter and shouts of joy, even in the midst of situations of despair.

But how do we do that? We have to learn to rely on God and God’s promises. Tonight’s gospel passage is among the most difficult for us to accept and put into practice. It tells us that we consume so much of our time worrying and striving, when what we need to do is learn to rest comfortably in God’s provision for us. This takes courage doesn’t it!?!

I’ve talked about how our relationships help us to find rest and peace. Yet I think we also need to develop our own inner rest and peace in order to maintain our relationships. Our relationships are sustained by the courage to hope. But I think this courage and hope arise only when we are resting comfortably in the peace of God.

So, how do we get away from rush, hurry, and anxiety? How do we find that inner peace that trusts in God? By nurturing ourselves with spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, silence, bible reading, walking labyrinths, or taking retreats. I don’t think we can undervalue just a few minutes spent in silence contemplating the love of God. When you find your breathing becoming fast and shallow, your heart rate increasing, your shoulders and neck tensing up, or your stomach getting tied in knots, then take a few moments to sit comfortably, breathe in long, controlled breaths, close your eyes, and meditate on some verse, phrase, or image from scripture or a hymn. I really do think that this is among the best medicine there is.

Here’s my formula then for sustaining our relationships. Spend time developing the spiritual practices that bring you peace and rest. Engaging in these practices will open you up to the presence of God. As you become more attuned to God’s provision, then you will discover hope and the courage to live as a hopeful person. It is a hope of new beginnings rooted in our faith in the resurrection of Christ. If you are living as a hopeful person, then you will come to your relationships with the attitude that will help to nurture and sustain them. Nurturing these skills means that the work of love becomes not simply something that you do, but something that you are. As the gospel says, “strive first for the reign of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Learning these lessons didn’t mean that I quickly pulled out of my despair after that first break-up. It also didn’t mean that I was spared pain or hurt ever again. But what it did do was give me the resources to move ahead in the journey and begin to develop the skills necessary to sustain my life as a Christian in relationship with other people – friends, family, colleagues, church members, and the men I’ve dated. If we live fully into God’s will for us as revealed in the Christian story, I firmly believe that we can become better people and find more blessing for ourselves and others. This is my firm hope. May I have the courage to live it.

Why This Thanksgiving Will Be Special for Me

This week as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family of choice, you might reflect, at least briefly, on that first Thanksgiving dinner that the Pilgrims had with their Native American neighbors. Clearly that first feast was a symbol of peace and harmony that is rarely reflected in the rest of American history, but I think it still functions as an ideal that calls us to something better.

This year Thanksgiving will be extra-special for me, because this year I will celebrate the holiday as one of the religious descendants of the original Pilgrims -- this is my first Thanksgiving as a member of the United Church of Christ. . . [Read the rest of my column here]

The Queen and Stranger Than Fiction

I am SO behind in my movie viewing this fall. And the list keeps getting longer. I'm not sure why I've gotten so behind, but the reasons must include the schedule, being out of town, being sick, spending time with Michael (oddly, we are two movie lovers, but have not been to a movie together), and the great quality of television this fall.

This weekend I did make it to two movies that weren't at the top of my list, but I really enjoyed both.

The Queen

Even while watching it, I knew I wanted to see it again. I felt I needed to see it quietly at home so I could catch the nuances and the details. My sense is that there is an important ethical and political discusion going on that is much richer than just the story itself.

Michael Sheen as Tony Blair is so good that you sometimes forget that it is an actor and not footage of Blair himself.

And Helen Mirren is exquisite as Elizabeth. It's my guess that her magnificent acting career will finally receive an Oscar this year with this performance. It is very deserving, though I still think Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada has given the best performance of the year.

4 1/2 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

Stranger Than Fiction

I went to see this yesterday because it was the only show that fit my time schedule. Though I don't like Will Ferrell, I had heard great things about this movie.

All true. It is brilliant, I think. The film is not quite what I expected, being far more intelligent and literary. I really enjoyed the writing of the scenes between Dustin Hoffman and Will Ferrell.

Though in the end, this is something of a romantic comedy that ends up more formulaic than you would have suspected halfway through the film, it is something like Amelie which had a quirky perspective on the conventional formulae. I do wish the character of the watch had been a little more developed, however.

My favourite thing about the film was the art direction and set decoration which so acutely set the mood of each character, like a Wagnerian motif.

This may be the best picture I've seen this year.

4 1/2 film reels
5 popcorn kernels


Song of Solomon 1:1-8; John 1:1-18
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
19 November 2006

About three months after I got to Royal Lane as the youth minister, we were sitting in one of our monthly youth worker meetings at the Gonzalez’ who had fixed great fajitas. At these meetings we’d talk about upcoming events, but spent most of our time sharing about the youth and what was going on in their lives. We wanted to make sure that we were all aware of the particular needs of our group. During this particular meeting, Christine Gonzalez asked me to lead a series on sex for the youth. The other youth workers agreed, saying that it had been about five years since the topic had been taught, so none of our current kids really had had any good teaching on sex.

Now, imagine that you were me. You’ve only been in this job three months, hardly enough time to establish yourself. They wanted me to take on the riskiest topic one could! Plus, I was a young, single minister. There was no riskier territory than talking about sex!

This is one of those times when I took the advice of others in my ministry team. I didn’t want to talk about sex, for personal and professional reasons. I felt that I needed to spend more time not only building the personal trust with youth, parents, and older church members, but that I needed to also spend time talking about other, more foundational issues like how to interpret the Bible before I ever got into a discussion of sex. So, over my own opinions, I took the advice and began planning for and researching sex.

And when I say research, I mean it. I spent months reading. I read theological and Christian ethical treatments of the topic. I read studies on teen sexuality. I read articles in journals and magazines on ministry. I had determined that I was going to do my homework and cover all my bases before venturing into dangerous territory.

I also spent those months talking to colleagues and church members, seeking their advice and input. I had one extensive conversation with our openly gay middle school Sunday school teacher to make sure that the lessons I was preparing weren’t heterosexist. I sent detailed letters to the youth parents telling them to start talking now to their kids about sex and detailing exactly what topics we would be covering so that they would be fully aware and not surprised by anything. I even decided to spend one whole lesson on the topic of sexual orientation. I decided that if I was going to risk, then I’d risk it all.

And do you know what happened? Doing that study was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had older church members who volunteered to participate. Let me tell you, it is rare that any older church member simply walks up and volunteers to work with youth. But to volunteer to come talk to the youth about sex!?! Out of those volunteers came a number of people who ended up being future youth Sunday school teachers, Wednesday workers, or youth committee members.

The study revealed my willingness to take on difficult and controversial topics, which actually built trust with my youth and even their parents. After that I had parents talk to me about their kids sex lives or sexual orientation. One mother sought my advice when her daughter asked to be on birth control. Some youth came to me to discuss their sex lives. A handful of kids came out to me.

And then there was the impact of this study on my own life. My research taught me that Christianity has a long tradition of positive, healthy teaching about sex that has often been overshadowed by the negative, repressive, unhealthy teaching many of us grew up with. I learned how to value my sexuality and connect it to my spirituality. And my favourite theologian, James McClendon, became my favourite theologian partially through his teaching on this topic. Instead of my original thinking that I needed to deal with more foundational topics before dealing with sex, McClendon treated the body and sex as the first topic in theology. As a result of this study, I had the theological apparatus that allowed me to begin my journey out just a few months later.

Those youth workers didn’t know what they were asking when they asked me to talk about sex!

Whenever I’ve preached or taught on sex, I’ve found that people are hungry for positive Christian messages. After my series with the youth, I had a woman in her sixties ask me when I was going to do a series on sex for people her age.

One of my favourite memories is the time that I was leading a small group of teenage boys in my youth group in Fayetteville. I decided to read some passages from the Song of Solomon to them to illustrate the positive things that scripture had to say about sex. As you can imagine, they were quite surprised and had that adolescent reaction of blushing and laughing.

The Song of Solomon is a highly erotic love poem that the Jewish and Christian faith communities have accepted as holy scripture, a revelation from God about how we are to live our lives. It is about the relationship between a man and a woman and how the love between them finds expression in erotic experience. Tonight we are talking about our closest relationship, that with our beloved, our spouse, partner, lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever name it takes. The last two weeks I’ve talked about the relationships of friends and family. All of the advice given those two weeks also applies to our relationship with our beloved who is both friend and family to us. With our beloved we should practice humility, celebration, restfulness, forgiveness, and all the other topics we’ve already addressed. But there is one way that our relationship with our beloved is different from all these other relationships, it is our most intimate erotic relationship.

Now let me interrupt my thoughts with a caveat. This sermon isn’t claiming that we have to be partnered to be healthy and faithful Christians. Nor is it claiming that sexuality only finds expression in relationships. Singleness is also a blessed state that itself has healthy sexual expression. But tonight’s sermon is part of a series on relationships, so tonight I will be focusing on the Christian practice of our most intimate erotic relationship.

As I said, the Song of Solomon illustrates that our relationship with our beloved finds expression in intimate erotic behaviour and this is blessed by holy scripture. Since we are all adults here, I want to simply read a few of these passages to illustrate my point:

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
you have ravished my heart with the glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
how much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
Your lips distill nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates with all choices fruits.
Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.
Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits.
I come to my garden, my sister, my bride;
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
I drink my wine with my milk.
Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love.
I slept, but my heart was awake.
Listen! my beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one;
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on again?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?
My beloved thrust his hand into the opening,
and my inmost being yearned for him.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
upon the handles of the bolt.

I suggest that you don’t take a literal reading of that passage. I assume you understand that that is an allegory rife with metaphors about a whole host of erotic activities. That’s scripture that you and your beloved might want to memorize.

And yes, I am being irreverent. I’m being a little shocking. I want you to find these scriptures funny. This is a joyful celebration of eroticism.

The reason even this crowd still might find these verses of holy scripture surprising or my reading of them shocking is that we have taken on shame and guilt about our bodies and about sex. This shame and guilt are rooted in one strain of Christian teaching and found their fullest expression in the Victorian culture that on its surface, at least, repressed and hid the body and sex and considered discussion of such to be inappropriate. I believe that holy scripture wants to liberate us from those mistaken teachings and free us to understand that our erotic love for one another is a practice of our Christian spirituality.

Eroticism is fundamentally delight in the body – our body and the body of someone else. Bodily delight is quite obvious in the detailed expressions of the Song of Solomon. Christian ethical teaching is rooted in the Christian story. Are there resources in the Christian story that we can draw on for our erotic love of our beloved? Does the Christian story speak to bodily delight?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

You see, in the beginning, God created a physical world that included human bodies crafted out of the mud. God breathed life into these bodies and gave them gender and sex and said that their sexual identity was in the image of God. God looked at these human bodies and declared this creation “very good.”

Then in the fullness of time, God entered into a human body. Jesus is the firstborn of creation, the head of a new body. And through him, those who were “once estranged” are “reconciled in his fleshly body.” St. Paul writes in the letter to the Colossians:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The Christian story tells us that we are created and redeemed in our bodies. God has delighted in our bodies, so should we. So, in our most intimate relationship, we find bodily delight. We delight in our beloved’s body and our own while, in mutuality, our beloved delights in her or his body and our own.

Our erotic love can be rooted in the Christian story! I think when we understand this we are transformed and liberated. Listen with me as I read from another passage in Colossians. I want you to reflect on how these words can be applied to your relationship with your beloved:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Our Christian story teaches delight in the body rooted in creation and redemption. It is a delight that finds expression in a variety of ways, but most significantly in our erotic love for our beloved. This bodily delight in and with another will birth compassion, kindness, patience, harmony, peace, and all the other virtues that we need to live in relationship with one another. And as we learn to put those to practice in our most intimate relationship, we will then learn to put them to practice in our other relationships with friends, family, co-workers, and the wider world.

God delights in your body and declares it to be very good. God created you to be sexual. In your erotic relationship with your beloved you give expression to the will of God. I hope you find these words to be a blessing.


John 11:30-44; Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
12 November 2006

In the early years of the last century Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo created an interesting, and ultimately quite influential, household in Paris. This household came to include Stein’s longtime partner Alice B. Toklas. Their home was a place where artists, writers, intellectuals, and other interesting people mixed together. Picasso, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and other greats passed through this home, sometimes staying a part of the circle long enough to become part of the family.

It was often a dramatic and chaotic place, as you can imagine life among such artists and geniuses would be. There is an intriguing line in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,

Gertrude Stein has a weakness for breakable objects, she has a horror of people who collect only the unbreakable.

The line is referring to objects, but I also have a sense that it is referring to people. Gertrude Stein is only interested in breakable people. Of course there is no such thing as an unbreakable person, but there are people who pretend to be unbreakable and that pretense is off-putting. I have this general rule, if a family looks perfect, then they probably have far deeper and worse problems than a family who comfortably wears their dysfunctions for everyone to see.

The Stein-Toklas household is a pretty good lesson in how gay people create families and about how we need to be prepared to deal with the breakability of our family members.

I come to this topic aware that I am entering into sacred ground: Ground that for many of us is paved with brokenness – broken relationships, broken lives, and sometimes broken bodies. My goal tonight is to talk about family from a Christian standpoint so that we can create families that are aware of each others breakability and can heal the hurtful brokenness.

The Right wing uses their notion of family to beat up those who do not share their worldview. They have fabricated an image of the family of a husband and wife and 2.3 kids. It is an image that excludes singleness, divorce, blended families, and gay people. This image pretends that infidelity is not a problem. It pretends that parents are wise and generally good at raising their kids on their own. It usually advocates a patriarchal arrangement. And it assumes that there are no dark family secrets and if there are, then they should be kept as secrets in the dark.

This image of the “nuclear” family is not representative of the wide variety of family arrangements now or at any point in human history. Families have more often been arranged as large clans of kinfolk. Families were a mix of generations and relations, often including folk who were not related by blood but had been adopted, either formally or informally, by the family. The Book of Ruth, for example, illustrates this broader sense of what family means. Notice that when the son is born, it is a child for Naomi, though she has no blood relationship to the child.

The image of the nuclear family does not reflect the way human beings generally do families. It is also restrictive and unhealthy, and ultimately oppressive. As Michael Piazza writes in Rainbow Family Values:

The ‘American Family’ is simply too limiting, and does not adequately meet the emotional and relational needs of all members.

The GLBT community represents a different way to do families that is actually more reflective of the traditionally natural way that humans have formed families. And our image of families is more liberated and healthier. We call these “families of choice.” Families of choice are composed of close friends and sometimes our blood relations, partners, and children.

Not only is our image of family life more natural, healthier, and freer, I think that we are also more reflective of what Jesus taught about the family. Jesus wasn’t very concerned with “family values.” Jesus taught that we should regard the kingdom of God and our discipleship in the way of God as more important than family. That’s the meaning of his statements about not returning home to bury ones dead parents or that you could not follow Jesus without “hating” mother and father. Most telling is the moment when Jesus’ blood relations come to take him home because they think he’s acting crazy. Jesus refuses to see them and tells the assembled crowd of his followers that they, the crowd, are his family. Jesus advocates creating a family of choice.

I believe that today’s gospel gives insight into Jesus’ family of choice. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ household seems to function as Jesus’ family. They speak to each other and treat each other as family members. Jesus is deeply moved by Lazarus’ death and Martha and Mary’s grief. I firmly believe that this is Jesus’ family of choice.

Michael Piazza writes, “The ideal family which God dreams of for each of us is made up of individuals who know us and love us as we are, not as they wish us to be.” Many who have suffered broken relationships with their blood families have internalized a shame and still allow those families to hold guilt and hurt over us. We need to embrace the liberating gospel message that family is supposed to be made up of the people that love us unconditionally just the way we are.

I think that the most difficult issue for any of us in dealing with our family members, either the families we grew up in or the families of choice that we have created, is how to learn to live with each other’s breakability and brokenness. All of our relationships, be it with friends or our beloved or even with co-workers, require that we learn to live with each. We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. We will fail to live up to expectations and duties. We will be selfish. We will hurt one another. How do we learn to live with these truths?

I’m going to use the image of embrace. I intend it as a metaphor, but there is also a concrete literalness to the image – genuine family is often those people that we embrace the closest and the tightest.

Metaphorically, family are those people we embrace and who in turn embrace us the closest and the tightest. They are the people we accept just the way they are, who accept us just the way we are in return. This means that they accept us even though we fail and hurt one another.

Jesus told a story about embrace, it is the story of the Prodigal Son. A man has two sons. One of them decides that he wants to rebel against what his culture considered the traditional duties of a son toward his family. He asks his father for his share of the inheritance and then leaves home to go it alone. The son goes and lives wildly and promiscuously, breaking all manner of cultural taboos. He quickly runs through his money and ends up in poverty. He becomes something of a slave, working in the slop house feeding the pigs and eating from the pigs’ scraps.

Eventually he recalls that servants in his father’s house were treated better than this, so he decides to return home, beg his father’s forgiveness, and plead with his father to make him a servant.

The father has all this time missed his son. Every day he looks out, hoping to see his son return. One day, he sees his son in the distance. The son is dirty and almost unrecognizable, yet the father knows it is his son. He runs to his son and immediately embraces him.

The son then pleads with the father to forgive him and make him a servant in the house. The father says that the son will be welcomed home as a son and prepares a great feast to celebrate the return of the lost child.

The other son, who has fulfilled all his traditional duties, comes in from the field to discover this great feast underway. Immediately he is angry. No such feast was ever prepared for him. He angrily confronts his father. But the father responds to him as well with love, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

This father didn’t need to think or debate. He didn’t need to consider whether the son’s violations of his cultural and religious duties disqualified him from sonship. The father didn’t need to learn tolerance or go to therapy. He immediately embraced his son.

If family is based on embrace, then we have to develop the ability to embrace each other mutually. I think that means we need to practice forgiveness. We aren’t good at forgiveness because it is genuinely difficult. To become good at forgiveness means that we must unlearn many bad habits. We must unlearn taking offense easily. We must unlearn defensiveness and selfishness. We must quit gossiping. We have to develop patience and self control and humility. We have to learn to be honest, tactful, and compassionate all at the same time. We have to learn to listen. We have to try to understand something from a different person’s perspective. It means developing a sense of fairness and mercy.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t ever get hurt or angry or upset. It doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person if our emotions explode. Sometimes that happens. If it happens for you too often, then it is something you need to work on, but occasionally being overcome with emotion is only natural. Practicing forgiveness doesn’t mean that we always sacrifice our own interest for someone else’s. It doesn’t mean that we overlook all wrongs and injustices.

Though ultimately forgiveness is one step in the process of reconciliation, sometimes we can’t find reconciliation. Often we can’t be reconciled to abusers. We can’t be reconciled to another person if that person constantly rejects our attempts at reconciliation. But even in those circumstances, we can forgive. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting; it means that the wrong done to us no longer has the power to control us.

I think forgiveness that embraces one another is the Christian practice that creates genuine family. Let’s face it, family are the people we generally hurt the most. Maybe it’s because we feel free to expose our ugliest and darkest sides because we assume that these people will continue to love us despite our ugliness and darkness. That’s probably true, but what we have to do is learn a spirit of forgiveness that includes our not taking for granted our family members. True familial love requires work.

There is a humility involved because we admit that we are breakable and broken while embracing other people in their breakability and brokenness. We love each other because we both have limitations, not in spite of our limitations.

Once we come to understand that this is the Christian model of family, then we receive the power to liberate ourselves from unhealthy relationships that call themselves “family.” We will no longer be trapped by those parents, siblings, children, or spouses who want to control us with guilt or shame or who refuse to love our authentic selves.

And once we come to understand the Christian model of family, then we also free ourselves to create genuine, healthy families of choice. We will form bonds with those people who do embrace us. Our lives will be shared with these people. We will care for each other when sick, be present for each other at moments of joy and crisis, and share in practices like living together, gift giving, traveling, spending the holidays together, and all the other practices that families share with each other. If we spend our lives with those who embrace us, we will be healthier, more joyful, and whole.

So, what about our families of origin? If they are not included in our families of choice, then what about them? In some extreme situations it will be best to cut off such people altogether. But most are not at that extreme. We do still have relations and ties with these individuals, but I think we should begin to view them differently. There is no one pattern, but we have to find ways to remove ourselves from the pain, guilt, shame, and dishonor that comes from those that refuse to embrace us. As Christians we should be willing and prepared to embrace them if they are prepared to embrace us, but embrace is mutual. We can’t embrace someone who refuses to embrace. Our practice of forgiveness will be tested by our families of origin.

The Christian story, then, blesses what many of us in this community already do. I want you to hear that; the Christian story blesses what many of you are already doing. Our family is those people we mutually embrace because we are broken and breakable people. Our family is those people who accept us just the way we are. May you be filled with the power and glory of God’s Holy Spirit that grants us the courage, wisdom, and humility to be a people blessed with the type of family that God wishes for each of us to have.

OU Number One Football Program of the Modern Era

This forwarded to me from Judge Peter Keltch today:


OU No. 1 Program of the Modern Era

NORMAN, Okla. --Confirming what many Sooner fans already knew, Oklahoma is the winningest program of the modern era of college football. OU has the most victories (513) and best winning percentage (.760) of any team since the end of World War II.

The Sooners have earned seven AP National Championships in that span and are recognized by the NCAA for 16 championship seasons.

OU has spent more weeks ranked in the top five (342) of the AP poll than any other team and is tied with Notre Dame for most weeks ranked No. 1 (95).

#1 Program of the Modern Era

Victories Since 1945
1. Oklahoma 513
2. Alabama 486
3. Penn State 485
4. Nebraska 484
5. Texas 481
6. Ohio State 472
7. Michigan 470
8. Tennessee 466
9. USC 458
10. Notre Dame 457

Winning Percentage Since 1945
1. Oklahoma 513-157-13 (.760)
2. Ohio State 472-159-20 (.740)
3. Penn State 485-172-9 (.734)
4. Michigan 470-172-15 (.726)
5. Nebraska 484-194-10 (.718)
6. Texas 481-190-11 (.713)
7. Alabama 486-191-20 (.711)
8. Notre Dame 457-189-14 (.703)
9. Tennessee 466-197-24 (.695)
10. USC 458-198-23 (.691)

Weeks Ranked Top 5 in AP Poll*
1. Oklahoma 342
2. Nebraska 294
3. Notre Dame 273
4. Ohio State 272
5. Michigan 262
6. USC 256
7. Texas 246
8. Alabama 243
9. Florida State 204
10. Miami (Fla.) 201

Weeks Ranked No. 1 in AP Poll*
1. Oklahoma 95
Notre Dame 95
3. USC 81
4. Ohio State 73
5. Nebraska 70
6. Miami (Fla.) 68
7. Florida State 59
8. Texas 42
9. Michigan 34
10. Alabama 31