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The Courage to Tell the Truth

Here’s my January column for the Holland Sentinel…

I admire people who tell the truth. But I especially admire people who tell the truth when they do so at the risk of personal loss. Losing a job, for example.

So, I admire Napp Nazworth, the former editor of The Christian Post who resigned last week from a position he has held since 2011. Announcing his departure, he said he could not in good conscience continue with a magazine that, as he put it, was “joining Team Trump.” As I understand it, he has two children about to enter high school, and now, at least for the moment, he is unemployed. I call that courage. I would like to think that I would have been able to do what he did.

Similarly, I do not admire the Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Representative from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, who voted “present” on both articles of impeachment in the historic vote taken on December 18. In a statement released afterward, Rep. Gabbard described her votes as a matter of “conscience,” but to me, in what will likely be the two most important votes she casts as a member of the House of Representatives, she whiffed. We elect people to take a stand.

The current political climate seems to demand acts of conscience. Justin Amash, the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 3rd District comes to mind. A conservative and a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Amash left the Republican Party last July when he realized that partisan politics are in what he called “a death spiral.” For his act of conscience Amash will have to run as an independent in 2020 and as a result may well lose his seat in Congress. I don’t agree with all of Amash’s positions, but on this one I admire his courage.

I count the leadership at Christianity Today, Inc., especially its flagship magazine editor, Mark Galli, in this small but growing list of people whom I admire, people who dare to tell the truth no matter the consequences. But politicians and journalists aren’t the only ones who have found themselves in the often-difficult position of having to declare themselves. I could include educators, pastors and others on the list as well.

When I retired not long ago, I unexpectedly found myself in a kind of life review. In all of my financial preparation for retirement, I somehow forgot this other dimension of letting go and stepping back. As I reflected on my life, I was proud of some things, of course, but not, as it turns out, of everything. I regret, for example, not taking stronger stands along the way when I had the opportunity to do so. I regret not having used my voice to advocate for people and causes who needed my voice. I was no Napp Nazworth.

I remember telling my father, when I was a teenager, that I admired Muhammed Ali. Ali famously refused to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces on religious grounds. For his stand, he was arrested and charged with a felony. He then lost his heavyweight title and boxing license and was not allowed to fight during the prime years of his boxing career.

There is of course a lot not to admire about Ali, beginning with his personal life and relationships, but this one time he acted out of conscience, something I had been brought up by my parents and my church to admire. I was never going to convince my father, a World War II veteran, that there was anything at all to admire about Ali, but I nevertheless thought I had a point. I still do.

In Sunday School I learned about John the Baptist, who once criticized Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife and then marrying his brother’s wife. John the Baptist had a pretty good following at that point, according to the Bible, but risked it all to point out something in Herod’s personal life that was profoundly wrong. As a result, he was imprisoned and later beheaded for the truth he dared to speak.

I also learned about Daniel and his three friends who served king Nebuchadnezzar and his successors with both skill and loyalty, all the while managing to keep their religious convictions intact—not easy then, just as it is not easy now. When the Persian conqueror Cyrus came to power, however, Daniel and his friends faced a crisis of conscience. They realized that they could serve God or Cyrus, but not both. At the risk of great personal loss, not just their jobs but their lives, they decided to serve God and found themselves sentenced to unspeakable forms of execution (read the story).

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to read about more people in this country who, as I learned the song in Sunday school, “Dare to be a Daniel/ Dare to stand alone/ Dare to have a purpose firm/ Dare to make it known.”

In the time I have left, I intend to be more like Daniel.

(Photo: From a store in Essaouira, Morocco, January 2018)

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No more let sins and sorrows grow…

creation groans

(reprinted from December 24, 2013)

Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I’m aware this Christmas Eve 2013 that I am joining with Christians all around the world, millions and millions of us, to wait patiently, though groaning inwardly, for God to complete what was started in Bethlehem a long, long time ago.

Come, Lord Jesus.

I wish all of my readers a very merry Christmas and a joy-filled new year.

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The inspiring example of Fred Rogers

Here’s my December column for the Holland Sentinel…

Applications to Presbyterian seminaries have surged in the last week, following the release of “A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood,” a new movie about Fred Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor best known for his popular PBS television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Admissions offices at several Presbyterian seminaries have reported that they are struggling to keep up with a record number of inquiries. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Anthony Rivera, long-time director of admissions at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian school where Fred Rogers received his master of divinity degree.

Just kidding. I’m making this up. The last I heard, applications are trending down at most seminaries, not just the Presbyterian ones.

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The annual Christmas letter

Advent 2019

Dear family and friends,

No one who knows me will be surprised to learn that I crammed an entire retirement’s worth of activity into my first full year. It’s hard to imagine that there will still be one or two things left to do.

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Reading the comment section in online news

Here’s my Holland Sentinel column for November. If you do not live near the Great Lakes, you may not know that lake levels are near or at record highs. The Army Corps of Engineers is predicting that lake levels will continue to increase into next year. Together with powerful storms, lake levels have caused dramatic erosion along the coast line, with many lakefront homes now in danger of falling into the lake. My column reflects on readers’ reactions to newspaper articles about this situation.

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Letter from Lucerne, Switzerland

Here’s my October column for the Holland Sentinel…

The Swiss like to shake hands. They like a firm handshake with lots of eye contact. In Switzerland, it’s considered rude not to shake hands with everyone before leaving a social gathering, even if doing so requires a considerable amount of time.

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“How are you enjoying Holland?”

Here’s my September column for the Holland Sentinel…

“How are you enjoying Holland?” my dentist wanted to know last week at my annual checkup.

I had been a new patient only a year ago, so the question was an appropriate one. However, with his fingers exploring my mouth, I couldn’t do much more than nod and give a thumbs up. I want to give a fuller answer here: I’m enjoying it very much. Thank you for asking.

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The moral urgency of “plastic or paper?”

Here’s my August column for the Holland Sentinel:

“Paper or plastic?” the person at the grocery cash register asked, without looking up (or saying hello).

“I brought my own bags,” I said, proudly, holding them up for her to see. And with that, of course, she looked up—to get a good look at the tree-hugging Green Panther standing in front of her.

I’ll never know if I fit her image of an environmentalist, because she quickly looked down again and began to scan my items before placing them in my reusable bags.

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Living with meaning and purpose

Here is my July column for the Holland Sentinel…

I’m still not sure how it happened, but one day I woke up and, curiously, I was retired. Of course I had planned for it, as much as it’s possible to plan for something like retirement. And I recognize that not everyone gets to choose the actual date and get ready for it. So, I am grateful for that.

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Not going to church anymore

Here’s my Holland Sentinel column for June:

I don’t go to church much anymore, and haven’t attended regularly since 1980, when I stopped being a church member altogether.

I have mostly good memories of going to church, with my parents and my sisters, but for most of my adult life I have worked on Sundays.

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