THQ weighs in

THQ weighs in

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Some years back the Unitarian Universalist annual denominational General Assembly took place in Portland, Oregon. After it ended Jan & I took a rental car and drove north through Seattle across the border to Vancouver, then on a ferry west to Vancouver Island and Victoria, back down on another ferry to the US and a revisit to Seattle before finally flying home.

Among the vivid images of that trip maybe the most vivid was when we were in Vancouver. We’d found their Chinatown and were wandering through the shops; apparently there’s some common source for tourist gewgaws, as the shops had much of what you’ll find in San Francisco’s or even Boston’s Chinatown stores. But we kept our eyes open for something a bit different.
And we ended up in a kitchenware shop. We were looking at this and that when I saw a lovely wooden kitchen spoon. Now, I’d wanted a wooden spoon for a while, but just had never gotten around to purchasing it. The spoons were displayed in a large vase like container, maybe nine or ten sticking out like wooden roses in a pot. I peered closely at them and saw one in particular had a bit of discoloration along the grain in the handle. I pulled it out and held it for heft, tried the stirring motion and declared to all who were present, well, Jan, “This is the one!”
“The one what?” asked Jan. “Why the wooden spoon I’ve been seeking for so long,” I replied feeling as if I’d found Excalibur. I gave my spoon, it was now my spoon, a sword like twirl in the air. “Oh,” said Jan.

 Apparently nothing else caught either of our imaginations. So we got on line. In front of us were what looked to be a family, two older people and two younger somewhere between the end of High School or a bit beyond. What caused them to stick in my memory was that they all appeared to be speed freaks. That is they all; every blessed one of them appeared to be out of their minds high on some sort of speed drug.

They visibly twitched. They spoke rapidly and disjointedly, and not like I do, I mean really, really over the top. When they got to the register there was of course considerable confusion, not just of language, but also of what they were trying to purchase, its price, and how to close the deal.

 In the snap of a finger my mood switched from ecstasy to a deep sadness.

 Now, some years later, I still have that spoon. I don’t give it the sword twirl anymore. Well, hardly ever. But when I picked it up to stir some oatmeal yesterday, I had a small flash of memories from our trip, of how much I love Jan, of how sad life can be for some people, and with that and the smell of the oatmeal I found myself drawn back to this moment, the one right now, realizing all those things layered as part of the moment.

 And I felt a sense of thanksgiving.

 Now, this is the season within our culture when we’re called to remember each other and life itself and how precious it is.

And of course, how fragile.

It is time for gratitude, but open-eyed gratitude. Our American holiday is shadowed by the fact the Native peoples who welcomed the Pilgrims but would soon discover it was a mistake, sadness as well as joy. But this is something important. That bittersweet quality is in my opinion what is so powerful about this season.

This is a Harvest festival we’re about. It is about getting enough food in, hopefully, to withstand the harsh winter ahead. There are versions around the globe somewhere roughly at this time, or its southern hemisphere equivalent six months out. Think of the western Earth centered Lammas. Or those festivals rooted in these ancient traditions such as the German Octoberfest or the Transylvanian Harvest festivals.

And this is very much a kitchen festival, a time for food, a time for friendship, a time to cherish all that which we are fortunate enough to have.

That wooden spoon is sitting with other utensils in a pot in the kitchen. Today it’ll be getting a bit of a workout. And I know as I grab it, and if no one is around, perhaps swirl it in the air just once before getting to work, I’ll think, briefly, just in a heartbeat, of these things.

And I’m pretty sure it’ll be hard not to be grateful.

Jim Ford

(post gratefully received from an unknown Unitarian blog follower) 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Is ISIS an authentic form of Islam, or is it not?


Abrams was speaking on a panel, "Religious Conflict and the Future of the Middle East," with Shadi Hamid, a fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Should Presidents Call Islam a 'Religion of Peace?' Two George W. Bush Officials Debate
November 21, 2014|9:00 am

 Photo: Rodrigo Valera Photography)
Elliot Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's "Faith Angle Forum," Miami Beach, Florida, Nov. 17, 2014.

MIAMI BEACH — Two former George W. Bush administration officials, Elliot Abrams and Michael Gerson, debated Monday whether it is appropriate for presidents to call Islam a religion of peace.
"What is authentic Islam? Is ISIS an authentic form of Islam, or is it not? I think it's very important that the United States government shut-up about that question," Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, declared at the Ethics and Public Policy Center's Faith Angle Forum.
"It used to annoy me enormously when President [George W.] Bush, for whom I was working, would say, 'Islam is a religion of peace,'" continued Abrams, who served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser.

Abrams was speaking on a panel, "Religious Conflict and the Future of the Middle East," with Shadi Hamid, a fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The "real response" to Bush, and later President Barack Obama, declaring the Islam is a religion of peace, he said, should be "where is their theology degree from?"

"For American government officials to be telling Muslims, 'I know real Islam' ... is ridiculous," he added. "... It would be an outrage about Judaism and Christianity as well. ... For government officials who are 99 percent Christians to be trying to find what is authentic in Islam seems to me to be a fool's errand."
Abrams' comments came during the question and answer session and were not part of his prepared remarks. The whole session lasted about three hours and he made similar remarks later in the session in response to another reporter's question.
When presidents say Islam is a religion of peace, "the average American thinks this is crap," he said, because the average American reasons that "the only people doing the beheadings are Muslims, so don't tell me it's all wonderful."

It would be better, Abrams continued, for political leaders to ask, "is there something in Islam that has led some Muslims to behave in a way we consider to be terrible? And what's the debate within Islam?" Because, "that's a real description of a real problem," but, "saying 'Islam is a religion of peace' isn't [realistic]."

After those remarks, Gerson asked for the floor to offer a different point of view.

"We do praise Christianity as a religion of peace on Christmas, we do praise Judaism as a religion of courage on Hanukah and other things. We praise Islam. And every president from now on will praise Islam on religious holidays because their are millions of peaceful citizens who hold this view," he said.

Gerson was a speechwriter for Bush and may have helped craft the statements that Abrams found objectionable. He now works as a columnist for The Washington Post.

Presidential statements about Islam as a peaceful religion is not only proper due to the many peaceful Muslims who are American citizens, Gerson continued, it is also "theologically sophisticated" because presidents should promote the cause of those who hold values consistent with democratic governance, and this is not unique to Islam.

"Every religious tradition," he said, "has forces of tribalism and violence in its history, background and theology; and, every religious tradition has sources of respect for the other. And you emphasize, as a political leader, one at the expense of the other in the cause of democracy.

"That is a great American tradition that we have done with every religious tradition that comes to the United States — include them as part of a natural enterprise and praise them for their strongly held religious views, and emphasize those portions that are most compatible with those ideals."

Abrams countered that Islam is different due to its relationship to terrorists. By calling Islam a "religion of peace" after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Abrams said, Bush was "basically lying about the problem," because, ... the terrorists "view themselves as good Muslims."

"How is that exclusively a problem with Islam?" Gerson responded, then mentioned other religious groups, such as Christians in Nigeria, who commit violence in the name of their faith.
Part of the role of political leaders, Gerson reiterated, is to acknowledge the parts of every religious tradition that "encourage respect for the other."

Abrams conceded Gerson's point but maintained that presidents are not doing that when they call Islam a religion of peace because the presidential statements lack the nuance of Gerson's argument.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Separate the weeds from the perennials

The message today grows out of four words, "But we see Jesus". They are in the ninth verse of the second chapter of the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews.

When I said the title of that book it reminded me of the professor, who began his lecture on the Holy Roman Empire by saying that it was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.

It might be equally said about the book of the Bible from which I have chosen these four words that it is neither an Epistle, nor by Paul, nor to the Hebrews.

It's more like a sermon than a letter.

It was written by a man, whose name we do not know, to Christians who probably were converted Jews, who were probably living in Rome, and who were most certainly discouraged.

The writer had pointed out that he and his readers - had not yet seen the fulfillment of the promises which God had made; and that they did not yet see all things put under their control.

He might have been more explicit and listed the things that were still out of control; he could have said:
 We do not yet see the end of war. The Emperor's armies are still on the march.
We do not yet see people free from slavery. We do not yet see any improvement in the Emperors. We do not yet see any signs of religious freedom.

The persecution of Christians is getting worse.

But in spite of these things we do see Jesus, who went through denial, death and defeat, and is now crowned with glory and honor.

Today we sometimes wonder whether WE can still see Jesus, whether the violence vice, suffering and sin, are not so massive that they have blotted out the last faint traces of the Prince of Peace.

When we read the morning paper: and see the crime rate increasing, the suicide rate growing, the divorce rate leaping, the drop-out rate increasing, the death by drunken driving continuing, the drug trade flourishing, people still at odds with each other, the clash of religions and cultures, and wars of every kind

When we see these things, can we still see Jesus? Some people do see Jesus and as a result are able to bear the unbearable, But perhaps not every one of us sees him; can't see him.

If that is the case perhaps we are looking too high. We need to look down lower at the world, and we may see him there.

For example, if we want to see him, we should not look above the violence that is raging in the world but straight at it. The violence we see is essentially the same violence that crushed Jesus to death. And as we see it, we may see him and we may hear him say something like this: I know what violence is; I've seen it in other people; I've felt the makings of it myself.

When the leaders of the synagogue criticized me for healing a man because I did it on the Sabbath day and broke one of the laws, I could feel my blood begin to boil; I know what makes people violent: It's their passions when they’re overheated. It's the pressure on them until they finally explode. It's their loyalty blown up in the wrong places. It's their devotion moving in the wrong direction.

When one sees how easy it is for people to be cruel, and how close hate can be to love, it makes one tremble. I could take the cruelty without becoming cruel myself. I could take the violence without being violent myself. It isn't easy, but I can help you to do the same thing.

Again, if we want to see him, we should not look above the confusion that is rocking the world but straight into it.

The human race is moving out of one age into another. Moving is always painful. Patterns that people have been accustomed to are being thrown to the four winds. Dissent is the order of the day.

When we look at this confusion we may see him, and, if we dare once again to paraphrase what he might say, we might hear him say something like this: I know what rebellion is; I was something of a rebel myself. When I was twelve I gave my parents a hard time. I left them in Jerusalem without saying anything to them.

I gave them three days of torture and agony. I didn't realize what I was doing, but I had to find my own way.

Every child has to do that.

When I grew up I found some of the traditions too small to grow in, too tight for the human spirit. You can never stop dissent by resisting it. You can only meet it with understanding. You can weed out the things that have had their day, so that the new life has a chance to bloom.

But you must know the difference between the weeds and the flowers. Some people pull up the flowers; they mistake them for weeds. They don't know that they are perennials.

Some people think that marriage is finished. Others think that religion is a thing of the past. They don't realize that they are perennials, that they have their time for blooming and their time for resting; but they bloom again and again, year after year.

Or, if we are looking for Jesus, we shouldn’t look above the Church where everything is in ecclesiastical and theological perfection. Look straight at the Church, this church - any church. This is a general statement and I always hesitate to make one, but the Church today, is in a state of decline/ and confusion.

It has declined in numbers.
It has declined in its influence.
It has declined in the quality of its leadership.
It is confused theologically.
It is confused morally.
It is confused structurally, and functionally.

If we look at the Church in its decline and its confusion we may see Jesus, and hear him say something like this:

I know something about decline myself. I started out with crowds when I began my work in Galilee. They followed me everywhere I went, hung on to every word I said, watched everything I did. I watched them drift away, one by one, and at the end I was alone, not one of them was there.

I know a little about confusion. I had to think through things at the beginning of my mission. I went into the desert to do it. There were alternative possibilities that seemed equally good, and it was as though things were tearing me apart, until I came to my conclusion. And at the end there was a moment when I blacked out; I wondered whether the God I thought was my Father was really my foe.

The thing to do in a time of decline is to be sure you're going in the right direction;
then get a better grip on things, and keep going. The only thing to do in a time of confusion, is to center down; find the things that are essential and cling to them for dear life.

There is only one essential, it's Love. And it has two objects: God and humanity. Cling to that; and if you need to, let some of the other things fall by the wayside.

Finally, if you really want to see me, don't look above the sea of your troubles no matter how rough the sea may be. Look straight into the most threatening wave.

Again we may see him, and again, we may hear him speaking, not in the words of the New Testament, but in words that he would speak to us now.

You can't live without trouble. I had trouble, not many physical troubles –
I was fortunate in that. I had a strong body and a good nervous system.

My troubles went deeper. I had a dream of the kingdom of God, and I couldn't let it go.

The people weren't ready for it, so they let me go. But I held on to it.

Once in a while it comes true.

You can't do or be anything much without suffering. It all depends on how you take it. If you resist it, it will break you. If you accept it, without resentment, it will make you a real person.

He might go further and say, there never seemed to be any room in the world for me. There wasn't any room in the inn. There wasn't any room in my hometown. There wasn't any room in the synagogue. The temple was too old for me. The law was too small for me. The nation was too proud for me. I never had a place/ that I could call my own.

But the strange thing is that I, somehow have been able to make thousands of others feel at home.

If you're looking for me don't look in the sky, where the ideals are; look first of all right in the place where you are, and you will see me, scarred but not scuttled. And then, when you look up, you will see my glory filling the skies; and like the sun, you will see my light as the Light.

Let us pray.

O God, open our eyes that we may see Christ where we are,in the violence, in the confusion, in the Church, in the troubles that beset us every day of our lives.
In the midst of suffering and sorrow,
lead us to his presence,
and let us so center upon his goodness and love that we may go through the difficulties of life without defeat. 


Dr. John Sullivan 
Former Officer

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Must Be A Bit Daft Part Two (2/2)

Why put myself out at my stage in life?

I saw a video from The Salvation Army in the US. It featured a man who had oxygen tubes in his nose and confined to a wheel chair, manning the SA Christmas kettles. It was snowing quite a lot. He died not too long after the video was produced. I thought to myself: if he can do it, then I can do a similar thing. This may well be the last Christmas season that I'm able to ‘man’ the kettles, and by God's Grace, I will man the kettles this year! 

Just because I’ve been given, so to speak, my death-sentence, it doesn't mean I have to abandon the full and real living drawing on the resolve God’s instilled within me. I am alive and feeling well at the moment, so I refuse to feel sorry for myself, but think instead of the wellfare of others.

Limhamn Corps Sweden
Home of the Malmo brass initiative:

I am reminded of William Booth's one word telegraph message around the world. 

Pastor Jack Hyles, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana for over 42 years said: “I’ve always read biographies a great deal, especially in the early, formative days of my ministry… I have read about the lives of most great men. One of my favorite characters in all of history is General William Booth. General Booth was the founder of the great Salvation Army, when it was more salvation than it was army. He led in spreading the Gospel over much of the world, as he organized street meetings and evangelistic services.

With the passing of the years, General Booth became an invalid. His eyesight failed him, and one year he was in such bad health that he was unable to attend the Salvation Army Congress in London, England. Somebody suggested that General Booth send a telegram or a message to be read at the opening of the convention. General Booth agreed to do so.

When the thousands of delegates met, the moderator announced that General Booth would not be able to be present because of failing health and eyesight. Gloom and pessimism swept across the floor of the convention. A little light dispelled some of the darkness when the moderator announced that General Booth had sent a message to be read with the opening of the first session. He opened the message and began to read the following:

Dear Delegates of the Salvation Army Convention: 
Signed, General Booth.
Lord, let me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray,
My prayer shall be for others.
Others, Lord, yes, others;
Let this my motto be.
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.

Others. That word says it all - it says everything that is necessary for a Salvationist to know about our mission: others!

In the spring of 2015 I’ll be purchasing a portable PA (public address) system that I can use when I sell and distribute thew Army’s weekly, The War Cry. At the same time I can use it to conduct Open-Air Meetings. There are a number of suitable town squares in Malmö, where I can take my place, sell the War Cry and at the same time conduct an Open-Air Meeting. 

Stan, a friend of mine, wrote on my Facebook timeline the following words: “Also remember you as faithful street meeting soldier on the corner of Irving Park and Pulaski!”( large intersection on Chicago’s near north-west sideYes, he was right. When our Corps Officer felt we didn't need to have an Open-Air Meeting on some Sunday evenings, I was ‘in his face’, in a nice way, and reminded him, that “yes, we must be on the street corner because we never know if someone is waiting to hear the Gospel message that we proclaim.

What's the purpose of an Open-Air Meeting? The purpose of any Open-Air Meeting is to proclaim the Gospel message where people are to be found, period! Army history is replete with open-air victory stories and our soldiers the result, thousands who inquired about and accepted God’s gift of salvation right there on the spot. We may be given, by God's grace, the opportunity to lead a soul to accept Christ as Saviour. I think we must remember that saving a soul is the business of God the Holy Spirit, it is not our business. We present Christ as the Saviour of the world, the Holy Spirit convicts and effects salvation of the person's soul. We need to keep in mind what our job is and what is the job of the Holy Spirit. We witness and proclaim the Gospel message, the Holy Spirit effects salvation of the soul. 

As long as God gives me the strength, I will do that to which I’m assigned, my part in the Salvation War. Our Founder, William Booth purportedly said in his last public address: “While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight-I'll fight to the very end!” These words are my inspiration and battle-cry - the example for me to follow, I too will fight to the very end! 

Leonard Johnson
Former Officer 
USA Central - 
Retired and resides in Sweden

Thursday, November 20, 2014

I Must Be A Bit Daft Part One (1/2)

My Crazy Idea

My health is not the best. I’m well into my three score and ten -cataract surgery on both of my eyes, broke my hip and a pin inserted. I've had large intestine surgery to remove a cancerous growth and received a stoma - bag on my stomach. And a year later? 

Again diagnosed with cancer. This time the cancer is inoperable. There is no cure – zilch, nothing to be done. You think poor man; he's going to die. Well, that's a fact of life for us all isn’t it. One day the bells will toll for me - and you. The only question to be answered is when; how much time does God grant me? I’ve been given a time frame: max 2 years of any further living on this earth. Now the sole concern I have left is HOW I choose to live out these two years? This is where my crazy idea comes into the picture, but first let me share a little of what I'm engaged in doing at present.

I have started a project in the City of Malmö, the 3rd largest in Sweden called “Just Brass Malmö”. It is modeled on a project created in the Southern Territory of the Salvation Army in Australia. The aim of the program is to offer positive programming to disadvantaged kids. The aim of the program is to bring disadvantaged kids together and teach them how to play brass instruments, like those used in Salvation Army brass bands for a century and a half.

Now for a slight detour.

I am at present learning, for the second time in my 70+ years, to play a brass instrument, namely the cornet. My 73 year-old kid brother, Lester, has supplied the cornet. He was an excellent cornet player and in his prime played any of the many challenging theme and variation solos placed in front of him.. He was far more skilled at playing that I could ever hope to be, but I can still learn to play well enough to play 2nd cornet in the brass band that practices every Wednesday morning at the SA Limhamn Corps in Malmö. It's know as FA-Brass Skåne. Change the letters FA and insert SA and you will know what I am referring to. My instructor is Johan, a young Christian man who has a real passion for brass banding. At present he is completing his musical degree at the Malmö Academy of Music (Musikhögskolan), where many Salvationists have studied and/or lectured. They produced a video with him as the focus discussing why kids today didn't seem to want to play brass instruments. His answer was simple. Kids can't possibly want to play an instrument they have never heard about nor seen. He's right, how in the world can anyone want to play and instrument they don't know exists! Impossible! It won't ever happen.

Detour ended and back on track -Returning to the subject; “Just Brass Malmö”.

I remember as a kid growing up in Chicago that one of the reasons I learned to play a baritone brass instrument was because my friends were playing in the our Corps Brass Band. I remember it to this day, 75 years later; it was great fun – but also a personally rich and rewarding experience. Wednesday evening was band practice night and every Sunday the band shared in the services, sometimes during Sunday Holiness Meeting (11 AM), but almost always during the Salvation Meeting (7 PM). Then there was summer camp at Camp Wonderland, a Salvation Army retreat offering hundreds of acres, a large lake, cabins and better and more enriching food than I reckon some of my bunk mates ate at home.

I don't believe the kids participating in the “Just Brass Malmö” project will understand that there are side benefits that they will be getting. Like learning to improve their reading skills and improvement to their math skills, but they will be getting that as an added bonus.


Leonard Johnson
Former Officer 
USA Central - 
Retired - Residing in Sweden