Thursday, March 24, 2016

Father, Forgive

Whenever national elections roll around, our nation has to inevitably endure a certain amount of acrimony, as politicians and parties wage their wars of words. But I don't know of an election cycle that has been as bereft of incivility, and as marked by crudeness as the one we are in. It seems to be reaching a crescendo of vileness, much of which seems to be endorsed by "evangelicals" of our country, just as we should pause to ponder the reconciling and forgiving message of the Cross on Good Friday.                                                                                                                                        

But few if any of us are free of missing the mark. We get caught up in unholy attitudes, spouting hurtful words, even letting the political atmosphere influence us more than we should be influencing it. So perhaps we should all be praying, "Father forgive us all, for we know not what we do."

In the Midlands of England, in the cathedral of the city of Coventry, stands a powerful witness to the forgiving and reconciling power of Christ. It is one for the world at large, but perhaps even more so our own nation needs to hear it and heed it at this time in our history.

On the night of 14 November, 1940, the city of Coventry was devastated by bombs dropped by the German Luftwaffe. The Cathedral burned with the city, having been hit by a number of incendiary bombs. The decision to rebuild the Cathedral was taken the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding would not be an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust, and hope for the future of the world.

Shortly after the destruction, the Cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with moving words 'Father Forgive' inscribed on the Sanctuary wall.The Cathedral was rebuilt, but today the ruins of the old Cathedral are preserved as a memorial and sacred space for the city.

It was my good fortune to visit that place once. It was very moving. It would be good if politicians and us common people alike could make that pilgrimage. But that's probably not possible. But it is possible for all us to pause before the Cross this Good Friday, and let its message of forgiveness and reconciliation sink deeply into our lives....and our nation.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Labels: Conveniences or Clubs?

Labels are important. My wife Joyce, like many other people, is a serious celiac victim, which means she is allergic to gluten in whatever shape or form it comes. So she has to read labels very carefully when purchasing food items to make sure they don't have the slightest modicum of gluten. If they do and she eats thereof, she can react with a day or two of miserable intestinal pain, with accompanying other inconvenient intestinal disorders plus joint pain wherever she has a joint in her body. Of course many people carefully study food labels for other information as well, to check on amounts of trans fats, calories, sodium, etc.

Labels are also important on file folders. At our house, like many people, we have file folders to include important papers for just about everything. They are supposed to be in general categories---taxes, insurance, mortgage, and other similar documents in one drawer, and personal kinds of documents in another drawer. I try to label each folder and place them in more or less alphabetical order. However, that hasn't seemed to facilitate finding the one I want when I need it. I think one of the problems is there are so many. They seem to be multiplying overnight. I think they are breeding, the nasty things. I'll need a huge file labeled miscellaneous.

However, for all of their convenience and wholesome importance, labels have also come to serve as clubs. And as such they have become the tools for intolerance and partisanship, often due to lazy thinking. Obviously these thoughts are heading out into the territories of religion and politics.

Passions run deep in both realms, and it happens that the same labels are thrown back and forth in both realms. They are familiar: liberals, conservatives, leftists, rightists, centrists, and everything else everywhere else on this spectrum in between.

Let us be fair. There are persons who are authentic, consistent, and beloved members of these categories, who are highly respected for their beliefs, mainly because they highly respect persons of the opposite points of view. They are passionate in their points of view, but also civil in their debates and discussions with those who differ. They are good advocates and good listeners.

But for many, whether in political parties or religious organizations, there are those who throw these terms back and forth with sneers, as if the mere words left bitter tastes in their mouths. Apparently there can be no good thing among those who are so defined.

This is sloppy, lazy thinking, and can be very wrong. Why? Because there are many well meaning people who refuse to be so neatly categorized. This is not because they are wishy-washy, or don't know what to believe. It's because they don't always see everything in categories of just purely right or wrong, black or white, conservative or liberal answers.. Things are sometimes more complex than that. 

Of course there must be political affiliations of diverse and like minds, and similarly with Christian denominations. But do we need to use simple descriptive words as epithets of evil?

"...speak evil of no one...avoid perfect courtesy toward all people..." Titus 3:2


Sunday, February 2, 2014


     It's just a one-syllable five letter word, but it's getting stretched in different, if not conflicting directions these days. The word? SHARE.
   Many words of our beloved English vocabulary have different shades of meaning, and this one no less. Let's start with one that's very much in the coinage (no pun intended) of money matters today: shareholder. In the context of pushing for a raise in the minimum wage level across the land, a recent Washington Post piece by Jia Yang discussed President Obama's call in his State of the Union speech for corporations to voluntarily boost worker's wages. The writer went on to point out the problem with that request. Companies have discovered that precisely by keeping wages lower, they have been able to boost profits to record levels and fulfill their ultimate goal: rewarding shareholders. Repeating the point, the article went on to say that executives are hard-wired to think that their primary responsibility is to return value to their shareholders.
   Well, if you hold some shares in a particular company, you aren't going to argue with that point, are you? After all, financial security is at stake, both one's personal and family security now and in the future. But that raises a question: when is enough enough? And your answer might be, "You can never have enough. You can never accumulate too much, even if it means it results in others having too little. So, Mr. or Mrs. CEO, increase my shares!"
   So let's interject another shade of meaning to share. Many families know what it's like to have to share and share alike, not so there is equality, but so there is enough. And then sometimes there is still not enough. Now carry that concept over into the larger family of our neighbors, as well as citizens of our common land, America, and even beyond our borders. It's been said many times that there is enough food in the world that there should be no starvation anywhere. It can also be said that there is enough profit in the corporate offices of America, and enough huge bonuses handed to CEOs, that their employees should not have to work for wages that keep them in poverty.
   So, what are Christians to do? Continue to be good stewards of the resources with which God has blessed us. There's nothing wrong with investing to ensure secure futures. But there is something wrong with bowing to the altar of corporate profits and individual avarice when we know it contributes to the poverty of others.
   Christians can remember the basics of their faith, beginning with Proverbs 22:9 - "Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor." And when the crowd asked John the Baptist what they should do to fulfill the expectations of their faith, he didn't say go to church, or mouth pious prayers, but he said "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."

A share holder is, after all, a contradiction of terms.

Friday, July 5, 2013

To Control or Not to Control Guns: A Draw.....Or Is It?

When I was a kid growing up in Iowa there was always a firearm in our house, or rather a gun that to me was more like a cannon. My dad was Quaker to the core, but he owned a 12 gauge shot gun. I guess it was mostly for hunting, since in safe and conservative central Iowa in the 40’s I don’t recall him thinking we had to protect ourselves from the government. After all, our government was jolly well busy fighting the evil Hitler in the distant lands of Europe. I never tried shooting that 12 gauge shot gun lest as a scrawny Quaker kid I should dismantle my right shoulder at worst, or end up on my posterior at best. When he was old enough one of my elder brothers brought into the family arsenal an over and under gun that was combination 22 caliber long rifle on top of a 410 shot gun on the bottom. Now that was one I could handle. While I didn’t do very much hunting with it (ammunition was expensive for us), I can remember once when I ventured out onto a recently picked cornfield covered with light snow on a moon-lit night to bag a few rabbits. It was no contest. The rabbits were never in trouble. They could hop right by me giggling away and wiggling their cute little tails in the moon light, and the most I could do was shred a few half standing corn stalks.                          

So, until I got married in 1954, I lived in a house with guns. I never gave it much thought, but that right to have guns in our house was protected by the Second Amendment. That’s how it was then and should have been, and that’s how it still is and should be. But my Quaker father taught us that combined with the right to own guns went a sense of sacred responsibility to and for the wider community, and that “wider” meant going well beyond the local confines of Hartland Corner, Marshall County, Iowa, to embrace the worth of people everywhere. Quakers were a small bunch then and still are, but we have staunchly held to a belief that there is worth and dignity to every person, that this worth and dignity must be protected, and it is done so by all of us accepting that we belong to a common human family in which and for which we seek the common good.          

So let’s now cut to the chase. Since the Newtown, Connecticut massacre of 26 persons, including 20 utterly defenseless children, there have been calls to have a national conversation about gun control. Some local conversations have perhaps been tried here and there across our land, but usually the parties have had to admit that they couldn’t hear what the other side was saying because each was yelling so loud. So I am going to herein launch some concerns and questions, and I invite civil, caring, thoughtful responses from anyone, if anyone in fact reads this.

I affirm the right of every American to own as many guns as they want to for their pleasure and protection, and that can mean literally hundreds and hundreds. The Second Amendment has your back on this, and no one is ever going to repeal that Amendment and take away that right. It’s been said that Pres. Obama wants to destroy the Second Amendment. Folks, he may not be the smartest president we’ve ever had, but he’s smart enough to know he could never get that done. For that reason, but more so because I believe as President he sees it as his job to protect the entire Constitution, it’s safe under his watch. So let me say this charitably---those of you who insist the President is going to or wants to destroy the Second Amendment have swallowed too much of Wayne LaPierre (and frankly for all of his words he is too smart to actually believe it himself anyway), and are spending far too much of your precious energy on a non-issue.

Therefore, since our right to own guns is well protected, that brings us to the other side of our personal involvement, and that is our personal responsibility. While we are held responsible to obey certain national, state, and local laws, the failure to do so having certain dire legal consequences, there are various moral responsibilities which are not required by laws, but which can only be carried out voluntarily. And caring for the lives and well being of others all across our land is one of them, which brings me to the following concern.                                                                                                        

After the killings at Newtown, Connecticut, I was very disappointed that congress could not muster the courage and votes to pass a universal background check. I was also distressed that a bill banning military style assault weapons never even got off the ground. In regard to the above and the Newtown killings, opponents to the universal background check and the ban on military style assault weapons insisted that they wouldn’t have stopped the Newtown killings anyway. How do they know? By what powers of omniscience are they able to be so certain? But they rightly counter with the question: how do I, Bill Wagoner, know they would have helped? I can’t be any more certain than they, which seems to brings us to a draw. Or does it?                                                                                    

If there is any question at all, do not the rights of six adults and 20 totally defenseless children to be alive and well rather than killed seem more important than anyone’s right to own the kind of weapon that took away their lives, and could surely be given up leaving literally hundreds and hundreds other guns for the owner’s pleasure? Sure, there are other issues that add to the compelling importance and complexity of this matter, including mental health, and laxity in applying laws that already exist. But there is one issue that is of more importance than any of the above, and that is the balancing of our personal right to own guns, with our personal responsibility toward the rest of the members of our American human family, especially our children.

To conclude: first, I affirm that the right to own a gun is very American. Secondly, I strongly affirm that the right to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is also very American. But when the former above begins to deny the latter, something is wrong and needs to be changed. It comes best when we recognize the problem and are willing to give up precious rights, in this case just one gun right among many.

From time to time my Quaker dad would remind me and my brothers of a truth which required us to reassess many a personal and relational issue, to wit: “You guys aren’t the only ones who live on the face of the earth.”    



Friday, May 17, 2013

One World Government? Yes, for Heaven's Sake!

      Before some readers (if there are any) call the authorities to have Bill Wagoner arrested for treason, he needs to say that the topic above as stated depends on the science of semantics. The English language being what it is, you can use scores of words that are spelled the same and sound the same but have vastly different basic meanings. Such is the case here. In fact, in this case, it’s not just one word, but three: “one world government.” 
     In almost any day and age conspiracy theories abound. They can be intriguing, if not far-fetched, especially when they have to do with our national leaders. These days some United States citizens, including some well-meaning Christians, believe that President Barak Obama is working secretly with the United Nations to establish a one-world government, in which our   U.S. Constitution will no longer be valid, our independence as a nation will no longer be honored, our American individual .liberties will no longer be daily privileges, and our dollars and cents currency will be thrown in the trash. This is not a political blog, so I won’t make any comments---except to say that’s nutty.
     But let’s return to the topic, which is not nutty. Should there be a one-world government? Yes, of course. In fact, for Christians everywhere, there is a one world government already in place which we should acknowledge as having the highest and greatest personal and national authority. It is the realm of God’s rule. It is the Kingdom of God.
     There are more implications to this issue than this one blog can chase down. So I invite your comments, and I might make a few more later myself. But for starters: asserting the above and living it out can be two different things, because it is often easier to say than obey. For example, there isn’t a nation on the face of the earth whose Christian citizens have not struggled with whether to obey the laws of their land, or the laws of God as they understand them. Of course some Christians have casually solved this problem by simply asserting that the laws of their land and the laws of God are one and the same. But many a martyr’s blood has been spilled because they have refused to acknowledge that often dubious fact.
     But there is another important issue posed by the kingdom of God being the one realm of God’s rule for all of God’s people on earth, and it is this: how do all of God’s people within this one realm handle their diversity? The short answer is, of course: sometimes not very well. But we can still appreciate and accept the diversity in understanding and living out the rules of God’s realm between the Quakers of Indiana, and, for example, the newest Christians in the deepest interior of Papua New Guinea. And yet we are all part of one family of God. On the other hand, some North American Christians might reply, “We just have to give those primitive Christians in New Guinea more time, and then they can be like us.” That can be scary. And so is diversity, to a lot of us. What should it look like among the one people of God? Care to pursue that with me?
     In Christ, the people of God all hail one King. In Christ, the people of God should be members first of his one kingdom whoever we are and wherever we live, studying and living by his Word and empowered by his Spirit. That’s a start in what it means to build and be a part of God’s one world government---for heaven’s sake.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Some of the disciples of Jesus would fit perfectly well into our instant gratification society. Following his 40 days of post-resurrection meetings with his them, as he was about to ascend into heaven, they asked Jesus if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel now. “Is this the time?” they asked. Jesus replied that they didn’t get to know that kid of information, because timing was the Father’s business. But he went on to tell them what they did need to know, and that was his agenda for them: “…be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world.” Though they may not have comprehended what “the ends of the world” fully meant, it did sound like a rather long term time consuming job.

 It wasn’t going to be done today. They were going to need some day by day spiritual resources. That’s why Jesus told them to go back to Jerusalem and wait for those resources to come, in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. They did just that, and the Holy Spirit did come. Following that they spilled out into the streets and by-ways, and began the task of bringing his kingdom to bear upon earth---day by day.
I don’t know exactly how many days have passed since that one---just a lot. But I do know that the commission upon God’s people to make his kingdom evident and active on earth has not been lifted. We still need to be at it day by day.
That doesn’t have to happen in great and grandiose ways. Of course we can contribute to or assist in any way we can efforts to bring peace and justice on earth, eliminate suffering wherever we can, and by all means support efforts to bring the good news of the gospel to all nations.
But there are dozens and dozens of day by day ways right next to us where we can help bring his kingdom to earth. These have to do with family relationships---spouse with spouse, parents with children, siblings with siblings, and on and on. It also has to do with how we treat our neighbors, how we spend our money and time, and how we take care of our earth, just to mention a few…and there’s no other way these can be done than day by day.
There are of course all kinds of other things we have to do on a day by day basis. Life is so…daily. But even as we live and move and have our being, let us as God’s people work day by day to bring in his kingdom.
More later....
But for now, dear God, help us not to be in so much of a hurry that we miss even the smallest thing we might do that will help bring in your kingdom.... day by day. Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Date with Life

  If you knew you had just so many days left before you died, how would you live them?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the annual day in the Christian calendar that ushers in the season of Lent, the time many Christians use as a period of spiritual preparation for Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter. While it was invented to give Christians a way of preparing for and experiencing the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it wouldn’t be anything, of course, without the death and resurrection of Jesus in the first place.

So let’s use the days of Lent and try to put ourselves in that original scene. At some point in time in the closing months of his life, Jesus was in fact 47 days away from his resurrection. He was also 45 days away from his death.

Was he aware of that? Many Christology scholars will say he was, that he had foreknowledge in all things, particularly that appointment with his divine destiny to die for the sins of the world. Others will say he didn’t necessarily know, though he did know he was probably walking into trouble when he went to Jerusalem for the last time. The gospel writer Luke suggests Jesus knew death awaited him when he reports of Jesus that, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51 NRSV)

We all have a date with death. What a nice thing to say, Bill. Well, we do. In fact, by virtue of perhaps an unwelcome  medical diagnosis, some people with a terminal disease know they have just ”so many” days or months left to live.  On the other hand, not to be offhanded about it, we are all “terminal” cases. Some of you will have heard me use this story. Vin Scully, the eloquent announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was commenting on an ankle injury sustained by outfielder Andre Dawson. In terms of his playing condition, he went on to mention that Dawson was listed “day to day.” And then after a pause in his voice, Scully added, “But then aren’t we all?” Yes, aren’t we all.  

 But in spite of the inevitability of death, a good spiritual exercise for Lent is in fact to walk with Jesus through his days ahead, beginning with Luke 9:51, as he set his face toward Jerusalem, and see what keys there are to Life with him and in him---not because death is imminent for any one of us, but because life can be full for everyone of us.
We’ll have to explore that some more.