Troubled People with Guns

Yes, it must be all those mentally ill people who we need to stop
Yes, it must be all those mentally ill people we need to stop from causing violence

Who is troubled?  Disturbed?  Mentally Ill?

We have “sick” and “crazy” and “wacko” “monsters” running around killing people.

We have to stop THEM. . .THEY are the problem. . .

Well, maybe THEY aren’t the problem?

This is a comment I just left on an article regarding new Gun Control legislation.

And let’s not forget other disturbed individuals who shouldn’t have guns:
People who love to kill things for fun and sport
People who have to grab a weapon anytime they get angry
People who need to have a gun in their hand to feel powerful and to intimidate others
People who can’t seem to wait for a new war so they can go shoot some of “them”
People who live in fear so they “need” lots of firepower
(you may have others to add to the list)

There sure are a lot of Troubled People out there.

I wonder how many don’t realize just how troubled they are?

Is it troubling to know they can have all the guns they want?

Is it troubling they always point their (trigger) finger at “the crazies”?

One way to face our troubles:  Americans for Responsible Solutions


Nature’s Everlasting Smile


Re-discovering William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

One has written of his youth in Massachusetts,

“An inquisitive child, Cullen learned to make a companion of thoughts stimulated by nature. The observations of plants and flowers, of birds and sky, and of brooks and rolling fields that occupy so much of his verse were trained by the boy’s delight in investigating his surroundings.”

I was reading his famous poem, Thanatopsis, this morning.  This used to be memorized by schoolchildren.

It begins. . .

“To him who in the love of Nature holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language; for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
Go forth, under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around—
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air—
Comes a still voice—”

Then, I found this verse, that seems to say something about the joy of a secular experience with Nature:

“I Broke the Spell That Held Me Long”

I broke the spell that held me long,
The dear, dear witchery of song.
I said, the poet’s idle lore
Shall waste my prime of years no more,
For Poetry, though heavenly born,
Consorts with poverty and scorn.

I broke the spell–nor deemed its power
Could fetter me another hour.
Ah, thoughtless! how could I forget
Its causes were around me yet?
For wheresoe’er I looked, the while,
Was Nature’s everlasting smile.

Still came and lingered on my sight
Of flowers and streams the bloom and light,
And glory of the stars and sun; –
And these and poetry are one.
They, ere the world had held me long,
Recalled me to the love of song.

Isn’t all “faith” and “religion” and “scripture” as with Life itself, simply and ultimately Poetry?

Not all is good poetry.  Some is quite awful.  Some is inspiring and instructive.

“Breaking the spell” with a love of songs and poems might just remind us, reveal to us again,

Nature’s teachings and, now and again, Nature’s everlasting smile.


The Great American Religion

Monument to Paine, Thetford, England
Monument to Paine,   Thetford, England

The Great American Religion and The Resurrection of Thomas Paine

A colleague of mine just returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. where he and his family visited all the great monuments, museums and institutions.  I agreed with him, you get saturated and overwhelmed by the history in that wonderful city.

Since we just came through the hyper-patriotic Memorial Day weekend, when The Great American Religion (GAR) is unfurled in full glory (that’s NOT Christianity by the way), and since my wife and I watched “Monuments Men,” and since someone I know died this week, I’m reflecting on our obsession with monuments.  While we’re at it, I’ll propose a New Monument!

Why does the Nation’s Capitol not have a monument to Thomas Paine?  This is the man who first wrote “The United States of America,” who championed Human Rights and Separation of Religion and State.  He has No Monument on the Mall.  One WAS authorized by Congress, with bipartisan support (Ted Kennedy and Jesse Helms!) in 1992, but was Never Built!  In his probing article about the Strange Case of Thomas Paine in Washington, Professor Richard Robyn of Kent State says,

“This case of a forgotten hero echoes our own contemporary culture wars over religion and politics.”

“Does the failure of this attempt [to create a monument], added to the fact that no other memorial to Paine has ever been erected, show that his reputation has effectively been damaged in America’s culture wars? Is Thomas Paine just too “hot” to handle?”

In a recent post I spoke of Thomas Paine as a Secular Chaplain, someone who acted for others with courage and conscience.  More than a true blue Revolutionary who wrote a little rag that fired up the Freedom Fighters in 1776 (“Common Sense”), who fought beside Washington and donated money to the troops, Paine railed against the tyranny of Religion (“The Age of Reason”) and got himself in big trouble.  His trouble didn’t end in the grave either!

When I was an Evangelical on a fervent “campus crusade for Christ” one of our apologetic arguments for the “truth of Christianity” and the “uniqueness of Christ” was the Resurrection.  If the Nazarene Rabbi rose from the dead, well then, He was God, everything he said was 100% guaranteed true, and the whole world should now accept this and become Christians!  The evangelistic logic is easy: if there is no body in the tomb, then, presto!  Resurrection!  And, for further “proof”:  LIVES were changed!  People gave their lives for the cause, in the name of this “revolutionary message.”

Ok.  So let’s use this “logic” with another great leader, a radical sort whose message changed the world and caused thousands of people to give their lives; one who ended up with only a handful of “followers” at the end; another firey prophet kind of guy who got himself thrown in prison (in France), challenged the religiously correct of his day and was crucified (in the press).  Yes:  Thomas Paine.

You see, here’s the actual historical fact:  Thomas Paine’s body disappeared!  No one knows where his bones went!  This must mean that Paine Lives!  His freethinking gospel of freedom (in body, mind and conscience) echoes in our country and our world even today.

Maybe, ultimately, we cannot or perhaps should not build a monument to this Freethought Champion.  Indeed, maybe Andrew Jackson was correct when he said (quoted by Robert Green Ingersoll):

“Thomas Paine needs no monument made with hands; he has erected a monument in the hearts of all lovers of liberty.”

Maybe it’s enough that Great Minds like Thomas Edison could say of Paine:

“I consider Paine our greatest political thinker. . . .  We, perhaps, remember him best for his declaration: ‘my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.’. . . . The man had a sort of universal genius. He was interested in a diversity of things; but his special creed, his first thought, was liberty.”

Yes.  Good and noble words.  However, I would say. . .Let’s Build a Monument on the Mall for Thomas Paine.  He deserves the honor.

Another Great Reason to honor this man of Great Reason:  The Man, his Message and his Monument have been shunned, shamed and silenced (so they think) by One of the Newest of the World Religions:  The GAR.  (I’ve taught courses in World Religion for many years.  In my mind, GAR–or simply AMERICA–qualifies as a New Religion).

Creed of the Great American Religion (AMERICA)

1)  God and Country! (always with vibrato and emotional emphasis!).  The American God is the Greatest and Our Freedom trumps the “freedoms” of all other nations.  Ours is the ONLY “Exceptionally Loved and Blessed” nation on the planet and if YOU don’t love it and honor it just the way WE do, you are NOT a patriot!  Go Home!

2)  The Pledge.  Stand and say it loud and often!  Without the added “One Nation Under God” it is not a true American loyalty oath.  You cannot pledge your heart and mind to the Country without pledging to Our God.  Children should be taught this at the earliest age.

3)  The Flag.  This is Everything.  This is what our heroes have fought and died for.  It is Sacred.  Do not “desecrate” this cloth!  If you mistreat this piece of fabric you are not patriotic, not a true American.  The more flags we fly, the more we Love America!  If you can pledge to the flag while standing in a True American Church (especially while singing “God Bless America”). . .this makes Us and God very happy.

4)  The Constitution/Bible.  Don’t touch it or change it from what We Say it Says!  Conserve it, preserve it, and our Theologian-Preacher-Judges will tell us what it Really Says and Really Means.  When in doubt what the Constitution means. . .look to the Bible (the last word and final authority of the American God–in English of course!)

5)  Heroes.  Our troops, every single one of them, is a HERO!  Even if we send them into a needless war and countless civilians are killed in the crossfire. . .NEVER question they are HEROES!  They serve God by serving America.  They are sacred soldiers and cannot be questioned.

6)  Prayer.  Loud, public and proud.  Liberals and Atheists took prayer out of our public schools and they’re trying to take away our “right to pray wherever and whenever we want.”  We want prayer and God back in our schools, courts, congress–everywhere!

7)  In Money We Trust.  No, not really the money.  We trust in the True American God and when you are a true follower of AMERICA you will not be poor or in need of any handouts from Anyone.  All GAR institutions should never have to pay taxes imposed by godless, secular legislation.

8)  Monuments.  We love monuments; we can never have too many Monuments.  The greatest monuments celebrate the Wars our Heroes have fought for God and Country, under the patriotic pledge and flag of freedom.  No matter how much it costs; no matter how much land is used; no matter how many White Males are honored above all others, there is always room for another monument consecrated for AMERICA by AMERICA!

Now, anyone still wondering why Thomas Paine has no National Monument?

In the good mind of Thomas Paine,

A Patriotic Matriot living in One Beautiful Land of Many 

Maya Angelou, Secular Chaplain

Medal of Freedom
Medal of Freedom for a Freethinker

Oh, I know, Maya Angelou (who sadly just passed away) was a “person of faith.”

Everyone likes to claim famous people for their own faith or faction.

So, let’s claim this Great Poet, Writer and National Treasure for Secular Chaplaincy.

I’m sure we could proof-text her many writings and speeches.

But I find her words from this 2013 interview in New Orleans very intriguing (emphases mine):

“It’s a wonderful thing to know that there is something to know there is something greater than I am, and that is God itself.”

“When I was asked to do something good, I often say yes, I’ll try, yes, I’ll do my best. And part of that is believing, if God loves me, if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees, then what is it I can’t do?”

“If you don’t have courage, but if you have courage, you say “well, yes, I’m a human being and nothing human can be alien to me.” So I will see human beings and I believe — whether they believe it or not — I believe they were made by God and I’m not in a position to put them down because they look different from me. They speak other languages than I speak, and because they call God a different name, if they call God at all, I’m not qualified to put people down. My role is to live the best life, stand on a good foot. Try to be kind, fair, generous, try to be courageous. That’s it.”

Q: So it sounds like a lot of that faith is a vehicle for acceptance of all kinds of people.

MA: Well, part of my faith, yes. And also part of intelligence. Just intelligence can tell you. There’s the saying, “what you sow, so shall you reap.” I don’t know why anybody has to be taught that. If you just watch … nature’s been saying that for billions of years. If you plant a tomato seed, if it comes up, it will give you millions of tomato seeds. You’re a fool to have planted an acorn and go out and think you’re going to reap oranges. A fool. And nature shows you time after time, day in and day out.”

A magnificent lady and inspiring artist.  A great human being.  She will be missed by people of faith and no faith.

Here she is reciting one of my favorite poems, “And Still I Rise”

Thomas Paine, Secular Chaplain


I’ve admired Paine for many years.  He stands as a Forgotten Founder in American history.

There’s hardly a more radical book to change Governments than “Common Sense” and hardly any more radical to change Religion than “The Age of Reason.”  Bookends for Thomas Paine’s vision for Independence of Body and Independence of Mind.

It wasn’t all about One Country, for Paine.

“My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” (The Rights of Man, Part II)

To paraphrase cellist Pablo Casals, love of country is a good thing, but why should love stop at the border?

Paine saw the need for change in America, and how that change could stir up radical movements around the world to benefit those who are poor and powerless.

His words remain powerful for anyone of good conscience, faith or no faith.

See these lines, quoted by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

“Where liberty is, there is my country,” Benjamin Franklin once said to Paine. “Where liberty is not, there is my country,” Paine replied. For Paine, the role of a citizen extended beyond national borders. The fight of those living under any system of tyranny was his fight. “When it shall be said in any country in the world ‘My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am a friend of happiness’: when these things can be said,” Paine wrote, “then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.”

Forest Church

Rogue River 2004 018

This gets my attention.

Flagstaff Forest Church (AZ)

Sounds a bit too “New Agey” for me and the quote from Muir may be more sentimental than accurate.

Yet, several students have asked if my “Wild Spirituality of Nature” class might lead to something similar.

I don’t know.

But, this might be on the right trail.

I like the practice of education, particularly learning about trees.

“Church” might need to go, and “God” (at least any particular one).

I wouldn’t go down the Christian Trail with this, as these folks have.

Maybe an idea I’ve floated before, Community Congregation, might grow from this kind of seed.

Non-theists and Theists in Community. . .that might be possible. . .maybe it should be?

Any thoughts or ideas on that?


Here Come the Drones

"Nano drone"
“Nano drone”

“The latest experimental drones include a robot with bird-like grasping appendages, and some that form a robo-swarm or flock. . . .  [Researchers are] currently working on robots that can ‘perch’ on trees and other objects, enabling drones to become ‘mobile networks of sensors’.”

Now, I’m all for technology and I love Sci-Fi, but I think it may be time to sound the alarm about DRONES.

Maybe “Nature is inspiring the design of the next generation of drones” (“Flying Robots,” BBC), but I’m getting worried-er and worried-er.

This NPR series (with links) is almost enough to make me close the blinds and grab a slingshot.

Yes, we have our wonderful winged “predators” soaring majestically over other countries killing bad guys (ethics anyone?), and there are “cameras in the sky” that bring us all the News that “Breaks” (celebrities, traffic and sporting events).

But now we have people taking drones on trails, up the mountains, into the forest. . . (in that tree over there. . .see?!).

NBC says, “federal regulations allow the use of hobby aircraft only below 400 feet in remote areas away from any airport and only for non-commercial purposes.”  I don’t find that comforting at all.

And we’re not just talking about a Go Pro “watch me film everything with a silly camera on my head” thingy.

My wife and I were recently walking in a favorite State Park.  I looked up the trail and saw something hovering about head level.  Sure enough, a guy was playing with his latest toy drone.  Right on the trail!  We had to wait until he landed the humming “buzzard” before we could pass.  I was muttering for 10 minutes about it.  Kinda wrecked the peaceful experience of hiking.  “Honey, I wonder why there aren’t any birds, deer or squirrels around today?”

I’m fine with drones used for Good Purposes, like search and rescue.  But companies are clammoring to get more in the air and the “aerial photography” craze is only beginning, presenting us with some troubling prospects and warnings.  Listen to this London researcher’s view of flying robots designed from Nature:

“It’s important that the applications benefit humanity.  We must take the responsibility to built robots that are beneficial to society and used in an ethical and positive way.”

Sounds hopeful.  But that’s the rub.  Is giving up privacy and peace what we have to look forward to?  Maybe the bombing drones are coming home to roost; they’re coming to photo bomb us!  Pretty soon everyone will have to have their own personal drone to play “spy” on all the rest of us or zip around the oceans.  And, what about the birds?  Anyone thought of that?  What about the joy of looking up to watch birds fly overhead (“hey, are those REAL birds?”) or enjoying the view of a canyon or mountain or sunset without some buzzing piece of expensive sky-turd zooming by?  Am I being alarmist?  Oh yes!  Ring-ring; buzz-buzz; chime-chime. . .

I think someone needs to design a Drone-Killer.  You know, a nice “toy” missile or anti-drone to knock these contraptions out of the clear blue, bird-loving sky.  Maybe we could give prizes to those who come up with the most inventive way to smack ’em down!

Until someone does design a “Clean Sky Drone-Destroyer,” I will simply exercise my right to walk in a park or forest or my back yard as a Drone-Free Zone, using whatever I can throw or swing or loft to swat the pesky micro-mosquito machines.

Stone the drones!

Veteran Suicide: the Lasting Cost of War

Arlington National Cemetery memorial day2 wwii_veterans_023

Memorial Day Weekend.

I left this comment on CNN today, responding to Mike Scotti’s article on the Cost of War:

This should be the top story all memorial weekend (it was the last, bottom, story on my tablet today). As a Chaplain for thirty years working with countless people suffering with mental illness, and having conducted dozens of memorial services for people of all faiths and no faith who didn’t survive the “war within,” this article challenges every dramatic distraction in our “news” today. Hypocritical pundits, preachers and politicians who cry out for “our veterans, our heroes” while they ignore their own part in sending them into needless wars and criticizing the President for being “weak” for not starting more wars. . .all while 22 veterans kill themselves each day. Mike’s article should be read on the floor of Congress.

Seriously, we would rather read countless stories about stars and sports and “reality” shows, than face the Unfaceable.  The facelessness of War and its true Cost.

But War DOES have a Face, we just don’t want to look, at the bloody wounds, the anger, the fear, the scar-shaped question marks. . .We can’t stand it, because we see the End of Youth, maybe the End of Humanity.  What is War but the End of Humanity?

Apart from the lasting tragedy of unwinnable wars for all sides, to turn every single veteran into a “Hero” cheapens them, in my mind, and distracts us from the True Reality Show that is this:

1)  We start wars that are neither necessary or “winnable” (“national security” we say)

2)  We stir up “patriotism” so many of our (primarily poorer) youth scramble to sign up

3)  Our politician preachers (many of whom have never fought a war) proclaim it is For God and Country

4)  Thousands of innocent civilians are killed in the “cross-fire” (“collateral”. . .gosh, we’re so sorry)

5)  The “War on Terror” will never end (it seems many don’t want it to end)

6)  Meanwhile (oh, by the way) thousands upon thousands of “Heroes” return to “life in America” which, for many, is a lifetime of suffering or, no surprise (should it be any surprise?), ended, 22 times a day, by a self-inflicted bullet

7)  These thousands fill VA hospitals (and civilian ERs, and shelters, jails and prisons), cared for (and, yes, sometimes forgotten) by more countless nurses, doctors, social workers, chaplains. . .

8)  Think of the Family Members, the wives, husbands, daughters and sons, the fathers and mothers and all of them.  They suffer too, every day (and how many of them commit suicide?)

9)  Those who won’t let us forget the Human Cost, the Real COST of War (the faces, the finances, the futility and the increase in fear) are labelled UN-patriotic and “liberal”. . .as if that brushes off all those countless faces and daily suffering

Don’t we, in reality, in truth, in many hidden and not so hidden ways, “Shoot our Wounded”?

This Memorial Day (when I especially remember my father and three uncles who fought in WWII) I know that I will be thinking even more of the 22 rifle I owned as a young boy, and the 22 soldiers who kill themselves each day, who were sent into the Hell of War in my name, by Heaven-minded politicians and preachers who are practiced and skilled at looking away, who love to hide their own faces behind flags and faith.


Interfaith Youth Panel. . .with an Atheist!

March 2008 leafdrop

Now and then a Secular Chaplain sees something that renews “faith” in:


Last night I attended a forum for Young Adults called Faith in the Millenial Generation, led by young people, hosted by Dominican Sisters (those sweet radical social activists) and sponsored by the Marin Interfaith Council (actively networking for over 30 years).  The panel consisted of women and men who identify as Zen Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha’i and Atheist.  There were Hindus, Catholics, Unity and other folks in the crowd.  I spoke with several panelists before and after the gathering of 80 people.  Very impressive young adults.  Some just graduating high school, some in college, several married.  Thor, the Atheist, was incredible in his attitude, his words and his leadership forming an Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics group on his college campus (I offered to support his work as a member of the Secular Students Alliance speakers’ bureau).  He acknowledged his mother who was in attendance, giving her credit with raising him to think and decide for himself.

As the panel fielded questions from a moderator who is just graduating from high school and then from the audience, it was amazing to see the next generation giving honest answers and listening to each other intently.  There were smiles and laughter, serious moments of personal expression and a few innocent gestures that made me nod and smile. . .Rachael, who is Jewish, commenting on her secular views, Ariana, a Baha’i, acknowledging the value of meditation to the Buddhist, Lauren; Lizzie, a Christian, saying she loves to talk to her friends about her faith but it’s about goodness and relationships not religion; Thor pouring a glass of water for his fellow panelist Maaz who is Muslim, a fist bump, hugs and other moments between the speakers.   Each speaker had slightly different perspectives on some large issues, but generally found common ground in “shared human values” of goodness, compassion and peace.  This first foray into a youth panel was meant to be respectful and not contentious.  Further forums will include others and no doubt more “edgy” subjects.

Now, I’m aware that the Interfaith Youth Core and other groups have included Non-Theists for some time.  And I know of Interfaith Councils that are inclusive of Atheists.  But for our “proudly progressive” area, this program was significant.  It shows not only a willingness to include non-believers in a room of believers, but to acknowledge that people live, work and go to school together every day without faith being the divisive standard or test of relationship.  No matter what age, those of us in attendance saw potential in that line-up of speakers.  We saw the future of faith, the future of secularism and the future of humanity learning to live beyond mere toleration.  And that future seeks the commonalities and similarities without denying the differences.  As I like to say, why not find common ground instead of battle ground?

I for one strongly support this approach to understanding between the faithful and the faithless.  And, after seeing this happen before my eyes last night, I feel way more confident letting the millenial generation lead the way!