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Maybe Everybody Has A Book Inside Them
December 7th, 2017

     When I do a reading from one of my books, I like to ask the audience this question: "How many of you have a book idea in progress or in mind?" I'm not surprised when about half in the audience raise their hands. Part of what I hope happens after I read from my work is that those who have raised their hands will go home and pick up a pen or begin typing on the computer.

     Perhaps you also have a book idea. If so, you might wonder how to start. Forty years of writing still means I'm a beginner with no shortcuts to suggest, but I'm happy to share tips I've read about or discovered that can make writing a more pleasurable and productive experience.

     There are great books available for new or experienced writers. My friend Michael gave me a copy of Leonard Elmore's Ten Rules of Writing, which I recommend highly. This book is also fun to read, just like Elmore's fiction.

     I would also recommend taking seminars with writing teachers. These seminars can be quite inexpensive, yet full of "ah-ha, so that's how to do it" moments. Most of these teachers are published writers themselves, so they speak from experience.

     Of course, the more you write and the more you share your work with others, the more you discover what works and what doesn't. Here are some guidelines that I have found particularly helpful.
  1. Don't think of writing a novel; think of writing scenes. This guideline is a version of the adage, "A mountain is merely a series of hills." It's easy to become paralyzed if you imagine writing a three-to-four-hundred-page novel. That fear diminishes when you think instead about writing a scene of five to seven pages or even part of a scene. Yes, some very successful writers can write for long stretches, but the most other writers and I write at a sitting is one scene; after that, we take a break to clear our heads.

  2. Every scene must advance the plot. Think of the scenes making up a novel as a car going sixty miles an hour. What you want to avoid is writing a scene that stops the momentum or slows the pace to a crawl. This doesn't mean that every scene must be filled with action, but it does mean that even scenes that fill in the background must move the story along. A writing instructor offered this great bit of advice: "Don't write a sentence or paragraph that gives your readers permission to stop reading."

  3. The more you write, the more writing ideas will come. Every writer's work improves with regular practice—even five minutes of writing a day!

  4. Finally, it was mud first. Hold a favorite book in your hand. Intimidating, isn't it? It's easy to forget that the first draft of that wonderful book was probably not all that impressive. One highly successful writer offered this bit of wisdom: "My first draft is always mud." The second version of your work will be cleaner, as will the third draft and so on. Very likely, the book in your hand has probably gone through thirty, fifty, or even a hundred versions before ending up in print.
     So, here's what to do if you've ever written something and thought, "Who am I kidding? I'm not a writer." Look at what you've written and celebrate by saying, "Hey, look at this muddy mess! I must be a real writer!"

     (By the way, this blog went through eight versions before you're reading it.)


WHY I WROTE A SECOND MYSTERY
November 2nd, 2017

     Writing a mystery is a great challenge, especially for someone who hasn't previously written non-fiction. But I liked that challenge and thoroughly enjoyed the journey of writing Enter by the Narrow Gate. Perhaps the greatest pleasure that I derived from writing that mystery was meeting the characters Christopher Worthy and Father Nicholas Fortis.

     I use the word "meeting" rather than "creating" deliberately. As I began to write the first mystery, the two main characters became persons I was getting to know. The more time I spent with them, they more real they became.

     It was this sense of "meeting" Christopher Worthy and Father Nick that explains why I chose to write a second, then a third, and now, as I write this, am beginning to write number six in the series. I didn't choose to write a series because the first one was immediately published. I even wrote numbers two and three in the series before Coffeetown Press optioned the series.

     The main reason I continued to write the series was that I was curious to find out what my two main characters were up to. Although each book in the series is a separate mystery (in other words, the reader can read the mysteries out of order), I wanted to discover how my two main characters and their relationship were changing.

     Because of my interest in character development, I realized that a second mystery posed a new and different challenge. The new challenge involved working within two guidelines. One, I had to allow both characters to grow from mystery number one to two, from two to three, and so on. In other words, I wanted to treat Worthy and Father Nick as I would any friend-each has the right to move on in his life. Two, my two main characters couldn't change so much from mystery to mystery that readers of the series would find the changes implausible.

     I loved this new challenge. In many ways, I understood that Father Nick and Christopher Worthy would change for many of the same reasons that we all do-they are growing older and wiser or are experiencing changes in their relationships with others. But in a detective series, the protagonists also change because of their relationship with someone else-the killer they are pursuing.

     It is the killer, of course, who drives the action of any mystery or thriller. The reader joins the detective, whether that be Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, or Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis, in sifting the clues to find the culprit. And that is the additional challenge of any writer of detective fiction-to create a culprit who is as complex and as human as the detectives who are searching for that person. Perhaps the greatest compliment a reader can give an author of detective fiction is not "this novel kept me on the edge of my seat," but rather "I can see how someone in those circumstances could end up becoming what she or he never imagined becoming-a killer."

     Writers of detective fiction enjoy writing in that genre for the same host of reasons that readers prefer that genre. Some like solving complex problems. Others are attracted to seeing good defeat evil, while other readers want to see if they can outwit the detectives in identifying the killer. I am attracted to detective fiction for all those reasons. But what I most enjoy is observing how my detectives must come to know and understand their killers before they can apprehend them.

     In the end what makes detective fiction fascinating is what makes life fascinating-the unpredictability of human relationships.


Are We Awake In Our Lives?
October 4th, 2017

     The history of humanity is marked by rare individuals who, sometimes suddenly and sometimes over a period of time, wake up to a different way of viewing something that the rest of us take for granted.

     When he was a young lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi was thrown off a train in South Africa because he refused to vacate his first-class seat because of the color of his skin. That experience changed Gandhi's entire understanding of his life purpose and changed the lives of millions of people.

     Not long afterwards, Rosa Parks refused when ordered to move to the back of the bus. She said later that her feet were tired, but her act incited a revolution.

     Five hundred years ago, a brilliant monk and professor, Martin Luther, risked his career and life to nail to the door of his university ninety-five objections to accepted Church teachings of his day. His personal act also incited a revolution.

     In all these cases, and those added below, these individuals weren't trying to accomplish anything monumental. Rather, they were simply acting out of a personal need to live more fully in the truth as they understood it. And in every case, their acts infuriated the majority. The phrases "how dare they," and "who do they think they are?" have a long history.

     Infuriated people in our country today are uttering these same two phrases, as two highly public persons have risked waking up.

     The first is Colin Kaepernick, the now out-of-work quarterback, who, after reading extensively about the African-American experience in our nation's story, decided to kneel at the playing of the national anthem. As black men and women were being shot by law enforcement at an alarming rate, Kaepernick decided that he couldn't in good conscience agree that the United States is the "land of the free." He wasn't intending to set off a firestorm by his act, but rather to live more fully in the truth that he was discovering and observing.

     The second individual who has recently woken up is Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel is not out of work, and he is the one person of those mentioned who accepted that his comments would set off a national debate and affect the voting in the US Senate. But his stand was still risky. He knew many would tell him as a comedian to stick with comedy and leave the politics to the experts. But what we now know is that Kimmel had a more accurate and honest understanding of the health care proposal than did the bill's sponsors.

     There is a cost to waking up, for no longer siding with the majority. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard understood this nearly two hundred years ago.

     "Truth always rests with the minority ... because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of a majority is illusory, formed by the gangs who have no opinion."

     Kaepernick has never demanded that anyone join him in kneeling during the national anthem. But what he has done is force everyone to think about the words they sing or refuse to sing.

     Similarly, Kimmel has made no demand that everyone think about the health care proposal as he does. What he has demanded is that the truth be told about the bill and that people think seriously about how this bill could affect families with pre-existing conditions.

     The point I am making should be obvious-when one person wakes up, others wake up whether they want to or not. Some wake up relieved to do so; others wake up angry. When Luther woke up, Christians in western Europe were forced to wake up to issues that they'd never questioned. When Gandhi woke up, every Indian and every British soldier in India was forced to wake up to what hadn't been questioned about colonialism. And when Rosa Parks woke up, everyone on that bus and all who heard about her refusal began to wake up to the issue of racial discrimination.

     Kierkegaard's warning is worth considering in our day. If we sleepwalk through life, going with the majority just to fit in and not cause a stir, we have wasted our human lives.


Contemplating Charlottesville
August 28th, 2017

     For a few years, our son lived and worked in Washington, DC. On one visit, we walked to see the two monuments in Washington that mean the most to me: the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

     There are clear similarities in the stories of these two national heroes. Both worked for human equality, and both paid for that commitment with their lives. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech was fittingly delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

     But in the wake of Charlottesville, my memories were of the differences between the two memorials. Lincoln sits on a throne-like chair, a man tired after seeing our country through the Civil War. In contrast, King is portrayed standing, arms folded across his chest, eyes looking ahead. If Lincoln seems to be resting, Martin Luther King stands brooding over our nation's capital and over our country.

     Of the two, it was Martin Luther King's spirit that I felt more strongly as I watched the battle in the streets of Charlottesville. Or, perhaps it would be fairer to say, I found King's spirit most absent from the terrible scenes we watched on TV.

     King would not have been surprised at the presence of violent white supremacists and Klansmen in the streets of Charlottesville. He'd faced their fury too many times to be shocked. King knew that the original sin of America is racism, and he understood perhaps more than anyone else how difficult this deep-seated sin would be to overcome.

     No, the sickening hatred of those offering Nazi salutes and proudly identifying with the Klan was well-known to King. What would have disappointed King about Charlottesville was how his strategy to confront such moral sickness was forgotten that day.

     The white supremacists and Klansmen got just what they wanted that day. They were hoping for a violent confrontation with those opposing them, knowing rioting in the streets would bring maximum media coverage. With each blow struck, the anger of the white supremacists and the anger on the other side accelerated until it was white hot (no pun intended). The streets of Charlottesville turned into a mini civil war-just what the supremacists wanted.

     What King had learned from Gandhi and put into practice in the long civil rights movement was that resistance is essential, but not all resistance is effective.

     Gandhi and King knew that the most effective response to racism is non-violent resistance. Before all his marches, those trained by King knew how to respond to attacks by dogs, water hoses, clubs, and guns. If marchers couldn't pledge a non-violent reaction, they couldn't march with King.

     So here is how Charlottesville might have gone if the wisdom of Gandhi and King had been followed that awful day. Imagine the white supremacists marching down the street, clubs and fists ready, but instead of meeting others with clubs and fists, they met hundreds of people sitting down and blocking their way. Some of those sitting would have been praying, others singing, and others sitting in silence, but no one meeting violence with violence.

     Imagine then that the white supremacists would have attacked those sitting, hoping for a violent response but hearing only prayers and songs. Bodies would likely have been bloodied, but other protesters would have non-violently taken their place in the street. The police might have arrested some of those sitting down for demonstrating without a permit, but it would have been clear to the police, to those watching around the world, and even to some of the white supremacists which side was exhibiting what Gandhi called "soul force."

     White supremacists were emboldened by Charlottesville and look forward to other skirmishes in the streets. Those of us committed to opposing racism must prepare ourselves for what is coming, but we must weigh how best to confront the sickness of racism.

     We can either choose to give white supremacists the battle in the streets that they desire, or we can remember the wisdom of Dr. King: an eye for an eye will eventually leave us all blind.


The Chasm
August 9th, 2017

     When I came to Franklin College in the late 1970s, I had a wonderful colleague who taught me an important lesson. One day, I shared that I'd spent some of my grade school years up in Springfield, Illinois, and that my years there had given me a lifelong interest in Abraham Lincoln. I recalled looking out of my school window to see where Honest Abe first practiced law. I laughingly said that as a youngster I struggled with understanding the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but had finally concluded that the Trinity must be God, Jesus, and Abraham Lincoln.

     My friend listened quietly, without saying a word, before gently sharing that he'd grown up in South Carolina where Lincoln was remembered as no hero. In fact, when he was a boy, they didn't celebrate Lincoln's birthday.

     I was reminded of this difference of perception on a recent trip to visit our son in Atlanta. In a restaurant, I read on the menu that the recipe for one of the house specialties was older than "the Northern Aggression." It took me a moment before I realized that this was one Georgia restaurant's way of referencing the Civil War. How people understand the Civil War still depends somewhat on where they live-North or South.

     There have been other times in our nation's more recent history when we have struggled with news vs. fake news, truth vs. alternative facts. During the Vietnam War, our nation was divided on how to view the war-was this conflict a fight to defend democracy, or was the war a quagmire, a tragic waste of lives, both American and Vietnamese? How people answered that question depended a great deal on what news sources they listened to or read at the time.

     Currently, we are in another time when our nation, our state, and even our local communities are divided over the issue of truth. For some, Trump hasn't been given a chance as President by the media and liberals. For them, Trump is a qualified person for the most exalted political position in the world, a person who speaks and acts forcefully, even a great world leader. Given the support of the country, his supporters believe, Trump will make America great again.

     For others, the truth lies elsewhere. Trump is a dangerous and unstable person, someone whose word cannot be trusted. His relationship with Russia is muddied; what he asks of his children and son-in-law is possibly illegal. To those with this view, Trump's radio-show defenders and far-right Christian supporters are backing a very dangerous horse. For those fearful of what Trump may tweet or decide overnight, the president's only interest is in making Trump great again.

     With each side accusing the other of fake news and deliberate distortion, it may seem that the American people have nowhere to turn to find the truth. There is, however, a less-biased source that we all have access to but rarely call upon, and that is the world press.

     When MSNBC and FoxNews present totally contradictory interpretations of events in Washington, we Americans don't have to throw up our hands and wonder where truth lies. Any American with an internet connection can view within seconds how analysts and everyday people in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Israel, Canada, Mexico London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Jerusalem, Ottawa, Mexico City, Seoul, and elsewhere view events in Washington. To make this task easier, many of the major newspapers from these cities have English editions.

     If friends of mine from both the right or the left were to respond to this invitation by replying, "I don't have to read what others in the world think about Trump; I know what I believe," my response would be a simple one: "What are you afraid of learning?"

     Climate change, the Syrian civil war, immigration, relations with Russia, and health care-all positons the Trump administration wants to reverse from previous policy. Doesn't it make sense to read and listen to what thoughtful observers from other countries, those with more distance from the fray and less bias, have to say about these issues?

     Let's remember that our national symbol is the eagle, the bird with far-ranging sight, not the ostrich that hides its head in the sand.


THE MAGIC OF READING
July 11th, 2017

     I scratched my head as I tried to remember where and why I'd picked up a book the size of a cement block. As I opened part two of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, I discovered the book was 672 pages long. Little wonder that the book had only been collecting dust since I bought it.

     Nevertheless, something prompted me to blow the dust off and open to the first chapter. I would read the first few pages, I thought, and then re-donate it to a book sale.

     But then the magic of reading struck me once again.

     Our culture takes literacy, the ability to read, for granted. "Of course," we say, "I can read. Doesn't everyone?" The answer is "no." Illiteracy still plagues many countries in our world, and low-level literacy in our own country means that reading is a painful chore for many.

     But, as I said, reading a book is magical. Imagine a machine whereby a person could travel to Rome in the time of Caesar, to the Middle East in the time of Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad, or to India in the time of Gandhi. Wouldn't such a device be considered magical? This is the magic of reading-a reader can time travel to any period of the past, to far-off places in our present world, or even to hypothetical futures.

     Even as a person living far from the ocean is landlocked, so a person who cannot read or chooses not to read is "time locked." Their understanding of life is restricted to their present location and relationships alone. Because of this, a non-reader has no other culture or time period with which to compare to her own. She is, in reality, stuck in time.

     Of course, movies, TV, and the Internet can break through this time-locked state. But nothing so rewards our curiosity and takes us into other worlds as does a book.

     That is what Solzhenitsyn's massive book did for me. Until I read this book, I didn't know that so-called work camps existed all over Stalin's Soviet Union, from the suburbs of Moscow to the farthest reaches of Siberia. Until I read this book, I didn't know that one could be sentenced to ten, twenty, or even more years for something as simple as furrowing one's brow while looking at a photo of Lenin or Stalin. Until I read this book, I didn't know that more than twenty-five million people died in these camps.

     Solzhenitsyn could tell this story because he was one of those imprisoned. But his book is focused more on the hundreds of others in the camp, most of whom didn't survive.

     I'm sure Solzhenitsyn made little money from book sales. If part one of Gulag Archipelago is as long as part two, his combined work is over twelve hundred pages. And the subject matter is bleak. Nevertheless, I couldn't put the book down, after I realized that Solzhenitsyn had done something heroic in confronting the Soviet system. Stalin, like all despots and dictators, counted on his victims being quickly forgotten. Solzhenitsyn didn't let that happen.

     The longer I stayed with the book, the more I felt the author challenging me-can you take in all this sorrow? Can you, O reader, imagine how difficult it was to hold on to one's dignity in the face of constant hunger, exhaustion, and death?

     I decided to say "yes" to Solzhenitsyn's challenge, but I don't deserve any credit for finishing the book. Solzhenitsyn himself received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, but if he were alive, I believe he would say that the medal should go to the nameless ones who suffered in the camps.

     Most did not survive the horrendous conditions of the camps, but because of Solzhenitsyn's writing, these twenty-five million souls are as near to us as our public library.

     Stalin believed no one would really care about the millions he threw away as garbage. We can prove Stalin and all dictators wrong by one simple act-opening a book.


Sovereignty
June 18th, 2017

     From my undergraduate days as a political science major, I've found politics a source of both inspiration and amusement. From Eisenhower to the present, however, American politics has never been so laugh-out-loud hysterical as it is currently.
     Over the last several weeks, we have been given a full measure of "no, you-gotta-be-kidding" craziness. While it is difficult to mark a starting point for the latest round of Administration pratfalls, I would suggest we look back to what the world press is calling "the shove heard round the world." In this "yes, he really did that category," Trump prepped for a photo with world leaders by shoving the Prime Minister of the tiny nation of Montenegro aside so he could stand front and center. Talk about embodying the Ugly American abroad!
     So, let's run down his predecessors from both parties. Would Eisenhower have done this-no; would Kennedy-no; would Johnson-no; would Nixon-no, not even Nixon; would Ford-no; would Carter-surely not; would Reagan-no; would Bush the first-no; would Clinton-no; would Bush the son-no; would Obama-oh, please.
     The second hysterical moment of late came when Trump announced withdrawing U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. No, I agree that isn't funny, but his rationale was a "he said what?" gaff. Trump argued that the climate agreement, signed by every other nation except Nicaragua (the agreement didn't go far enough for them) and Syria, threatened U.S. sovereignty.
     I will repeat. Trump said that signing onto the climate control agreement would threaten U.S. sovereignty. If there is any issue in the world that has no connection with national sovereignty, it is climate change. There is no U.S. climate, Canadian climate, German climate, French climate, or even North Korean climate. There is only our common global climate which most first-graders in the world know is systematically changing for the worse.
     Does anyone ever travel from the U.S. into Mexico or Canada and say, "Wow, feel that different climate"? Of course not. We feel a difference in temperature, but rising temperatures are happening globally, indications of climate change for the entire planet. There are only two poles for the entire planet, and both are shrinking.
     For Trump to say American sovereignty is threatened by the Paris Climate Agreement is to announce clearly that America is withdrawing from the world. Every leader Trump met with on during his first trip abroad, from Pope Francis to Britain's Prime Minister, gave him the same sermon-consider the planet; consider humankind; don't withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. All of those leaders know that the biggest polluter on the planet per capita is the U.S.
     But this is not the funniest part of Trump's statement on sovereignty. At precisely the moment when the U.S. is facing the greatest threat to her sovereignty and her democracy in my lifetime, when we are all wondering how much Russia has sabotaged and is sabotaging our way of life, Trump plays the sovereignty card on climate change. I know; "you have to be kidding."
     Lest there is a reader who has not been watching the hearings in Washington, who doesn't know who James Comey and Jeff Sessions are, and who thinks I am exaggerating, please study a recent cover of TIME magazine, where the whiteness of the White House is slowing being overtaken by the redness and the onion-shaped domes of the Kremlin. Is the picture clear enough?
     All of this leaves Americans from both parties with a common demand of this Administration: Explain, Mr. Trump, how you can argue that the Paris Agreement threatens our nation's sovereignty and at the same time say with a straight face that the Kremlin's illegal activities do not.


Dear Mr. Putin
May 18th, 2017

     Dear Mr. Putin,
     I know that both of us are busy - you with trying to remake the world in your image, and I with my grading. But I thought I'd drop a note to ask you to please give me my country back.
     Democracy is not something you understand and respect, and I admit that democracy can be messy. But that mess is our mess, and we actually like the suspense of wondering whom Americans will elect into office. You definitely ruined the 2016 election for us with all your dirty tricks to get your buddy elected. For the three million more who voted for Hillary than Donald, you were the Grinch who stole our Christmas. You played us, and we're left with a sour taste in our mouths.
     But as someone has said, that's all blood under the bridge. Yet, you persist in meddling, which has to stop. At your request, Donald allowed Russian journalists to sit in on his conversation with your ambassador, while American journalists were excluded. In this meeting, your buddy Donald through your ambassador gave you classified intelligence that even some in our own intelligence community were ignorant of. All that makes me wonder which nation's flag was flying that day in the Oval Office.
     Look, as one survivor of the Cold War to another, let's not mince words. Your invasion of the Ukraine led to European and American sanctions for this aggression. You blamed former President Obama for this slap in the face, and I am quite sure I understand why.
     Obama represented all that you consider weak about democracy. He led the nation even as he took the high ground – all the while racial and personal slurs were uttered against him and his family. Obama sought the advice of allies as he faced one crisis after another in the Middle East. He not only considered what was best for the U.S., but what was best for the world. But I think we both know what really galled you about Obama was his absurd notion that telling the truth is important.
     Your concept of leadership, of course, views truth as constructed, rather than respected. In your understanding of the world, the truth is what you say it is. If I listened to you and Donald, I might believe Russia is a great ally in the fight against ISIL, not a nation that is propping up that master of genocide, Assad in Syria. No doubt this cavalier attitude toward truth is something you learned in Stalin 101. With you, Donald is learning from a master. But please understand that most Americans know that a lie, in the end, is just a lie, not an alternative fact.
     Of course, you have crossed moral lines that Donald simply can't. Citizens who hold up a protest sign in the streets of Moscow can be carted off to jail. Despite Donald's rage, Americans will continue to resist with massive protests in the streets. Political opponents and journalists critical of your regime are found shot or poisoned, no matter where they live in the world. All Donald can do is fire those with integrity and wish that he could jail journalists.
     Finally, please note the era of your pranks against America is coming to a close. We're on to your tricks, and, face it, Donald isn't exactly clever. The day is near when we will flush your unwelcome influence out of our system. But cheer up, Assad will still love you.


The Need To Form Spiritual Friendships With People of Other Faiths
April 18th, 2017

     The tragedy of 9/11 changed America and continues to change our country. Even as the imploding towers threw debris in all directions, so Americans responded to the tragedy in very different ways. Predictably, all of us felt fear. For some of us, that fear led to a suspicion of people of other faiths, especially Muslims, but not only them. Mosques, synagogues, and Sikh gudwaras were attacked or vandalized, their members feeling exposed and vulnerable.
     For other Americans, the fear felt on 9/11 led to a far different response, an awakening. They realized that the crisis called for a coming together as peoples of different faiths. These Americans realized that if they did not build bridges to one another, then fear would build walls of separation.
     The program, "Celebrating Interfaith in the Heartland," to take place at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, 100 W. 86th St. (in Indianapolis, Indiana) at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 25th, honors the organizations and program in central Indiana that are bringing peoples of different faiths together.
     A question that I sometimes hear is, "Isn't tolerance enough?" No. We tolerate a headache or a screaming child on an airplane. Tolerance of other faiths is often expressed this way: "You get to be you; I get to be me. Let's leave it at that." No wonder such tolerance wasn't able to withstand the challenge of 9/11. Within minutes of the attacks, tolerance was overcome by suspicion, anger, and hatred.
     Other people have taken the challenge of 9/11 to say, "Yes, we need to be more than tolerant. We need to understand one another." Understanding one another is certainly preferable to benign tolerance. Understanding other religions reduces the power of distorted portrayals of other faiths. Understanding other religions is also essential for making constructive foreign-policy decisions, especially regarding the Middle East.
     But even understanding isn't the most promising response we can offer to 9/11. Understanding others who are different can be done at a distance, by reading books, watching programs on TV, or attending a lecture. A person seeking understanding of another's religion doesn't have to enter a relationship with a living person of that other faith.
     The most promising response to 9/11 is what we will celebrate at St. Luke's United Methodist Church on April 25th, and that response is forming spiritual friendships with those of other faiths. In spiritual friendships, we share our stories, the journey we have taken to know God more fully. In spiritual friendships, we listen to these stories with an open heart, not a debating mind. When we do this, we receive an astonishing gift-we experience the shining presence of God in another's story.
     At the April 25th event, leaders of interfaith organizations and programs from central Indiana will share their experiences in establishing and experiencing spiritual friendships. The program will also officially launch Countering Religious Extremism: The Healing Power of Spiritual Friendship, a record of interviews I conducted in America's heartland with those who have been transformed through these friendships.
     Building walls of separation or bridges of encouragement-those are the choices facing religions at this critical time in history. If you are interested in bridge building, come join us at St. Luke's United Methodist Church on April 25th.


IS NATO OBSOLETE?
March 1st, 2017

     Because I was traveling in Europe in the days before the inauguration, I was able to see the Trump presidency from the European perspective. Clearly, the Trump shockwave that most concerned Europeans was his statement that NATO is obsolete.
     This statement did more than puzzle Europeans; it clearly alarmed them. To understand that reaction, we need to remind ourselves what NATO is and stands for. NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, began in 1949 as a response to the Soviet takeover of Eastern European countries, including East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Georgia, Yugoslavia, Albania, Lithuania, and a major part of Eastern Finland.
     NATO initially bound Western European Countries, such as Italy, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, and Portugal in an alliance that promised mutual support in the event that any one of them was attacked. In subsequent years, Greece, Turkey, West Germany, and Spain joined. Without a doubt, however, the backbone of the NATO promise was the United States' commitment to NATO, a commitment that meant that any attack on one of those smaller countries would face the might, even the nuclear might, of our country,
     In a real sense, NATO created the Cold War, for it froze Soviet aggression in its tracks. Because of NATO, even Berlin, buried deeply in East Germany, was divided into West and East Berlin, with West Berliners enjoying freedoms that those on the other side of the Berlin Wall could only dream about.
     After the Soviet Empire collapsed between 1989-91, 12 Eastern European countries, which had been under Russian control in the Cold War era, applied for membership in NATO. Why? Because they wanted to ensure that they would enjoy the democratic freedoms of the West and never again have to face Russian aggression.
     Did this nearly unanimous decision by these eastern European countries embarrass Russia? Absolutely. It was like Russia's dance partner for 45 years suddenly told Moscow that she has always hated him and wants nothing to do with him in the future. Ouch.
     That is what Europeans find so shocking about Trump's proclamation that NATO is obsolete. Clearly, Trump never heard the alarm bells that sounded across Europe when Putin invaded Crimea in the Ukraine in 2014. Clearly, Trump has never talked with a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Latvian, and, most of all a Ukrainian, who feel that Russia is once again an enemy on their doorsteps.
     For these small countries that border Russia, NATO is their only hope of independence. These countries know that Russian troops, to be a threat, don't have to cross their borders, although Putin might do this. These small, Eastern European countries know that to live even in the shadow of Russia is to live in dismal darkness.
     So where did Trump get the bizarre idea that NATO is obsolete? There is only one person who knows NATO is far from obsolete but nevertheless wants NATO to disappear. And that person is Vladimir Putin.
     If Trump has his way in walking away from NATO, the backbone of that vital organization will be gone. And if Putin even subtly threatens these small nations, such a development would be the biggest betrayal of American promises and values in our history. Such a decision could even mean that the next president would face something no American, Republican or Democrat, wants-a war with Russia to save Europe.


The Hidden Wave That Fooled Us
January 17th, 2017

     In an article I wrote during the Republican primaries, I compared Donald Trump to "the last comic standing." I, along with many Democrats and some Republicans, underestimated the man.
     I now view Donald Trump not as a comic, but rather as an expert surfer who rode a wave that grew higher the closer we came to the election. The fault of liberals like me was that we concentrated on the bizarre actions and statements of the surfer, when we should have been focused on the rising wave beneath him.
     The wave did not start with Donald Trump's candidacy. It began long before, going back at least to the election in 2008 of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. Those of us who loved him and continue to do so noticed, but didn't pay much attention to, the rise in gun sales and the proliferation of hate groups after he took office.
     But it is not fair to many who voted for Trump to interpret the wave as solely an upsurge of racism. The wave is more complex than one issue. World events, particularly the civil war in Syria that prompted hundreds of thousands of immigrants to flood into Europe, frightened many Americans. Would they be coming here? Would that lead to terrorism? The wave grew.
     Syrian refugees were only one aspect of immigration that worried many Americans. Many white males were confused and bothered by the growing number of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. White, Christian, English-speaking dominance seemed to be slipping away. The wave grew yet higher.
     The confusion of many Americans deepened with the rapid change brought by the legalization of same-sex marriages. Those of us who expected a backlash to this sudden openness to alternative lifestyles were surprised at the near silence. Yes, a Kentucky state employee made the news as did our own Governor, but they were quickly vilified and laughed at. But not by all. And the wave grew higher.
     In the police shootings involving while police and black victims, many of us on the left saw the issue as one of eradicating bias with police forces. Others saw these events differently as being attacks on the police and an attack on the need for order in our society. When Donald Trump was asked in a debate about police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, his answer centered on the phrase "law and order." This was the very phrase used by Nixon to crack down on blacks in the late 1960s and 1970s and by the apartheid regime in South Africa. "Law and order" is a coded way of saying police will be supported and not questioned about how they keep the peace. Many Americans understood Trump's coded promise, and the wave grew higher.
     Even seemingly small events built the wave. The controversy in North Carolina about bathrooms for transgender men and women caused many Americans to ask, "What is our society coming to?" and "Where does this all lead?"
     As this wave grew higher and higher, those of us on the left focused too much on the bizarre statements of the man surfing on top. We falsely assumed that with each frightening, racist, sexist, or xenophobic action or comment by Trump, his support would crumble. Those of us who voted for Clinton couldn't believe that rational Americans would entrust the world's largest nuclear arsenal to this bizarre man. We failed to note that more Americans were more concerned about the next U.S. Supreme Court appointee than about nuclear war, increased racism, Trump's infatuation with Putin, or xenophobic promises to build a wall with Mexico.
     But there is sobering news for Trump supporters. History is a river that does not flow in reverse. A strong wave going against the current can only temporarily dam a river.
     The Broadway sensation of 1966 was the musical "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off." This fear of change is the sentiment that fueled Great Britain's exit from Europe and built Trump's wave of support. But Trump and Vice President Pence will not be able to turn the clock backwards. Mass immigration in the world can only continue. White dominance in our country will continue to decline demographically. The climate will continue to warm despite those who deny the existence of Global Warming. Islam will grow as a religion in our country.
     The flow of the river, in the end, will reign supreme. For, as the Buddhists tell us, change is inevitable.


Silence Is Not An Option
December 22nd, 2016

     More than one friend has shared with me that they don't feel much like celebrating Christmas this year, given the direction our country seems to be headed. Friends in this country from minority groups-racial, ethnic, or religious-have shared how frightened their children are with the uncertainty about their status or acceptance.
     Friends from Europe have shared the fear and dismay that they feel in response to the American election. To them, the U.S. moved overnight from being the cornerstone of stability in the world to being one of the world's great uncertainties. Foreign leaders, strong allies of the U.S. in the past, feel abandoned while some countries have already warned their citizens not to travel to the U.S. because of the upswing of hate groups.
     In all of these responses, I hear hopelessness and a sense of "darkness over the land," as the biblical writer expressed it.
     In light of this widespread despair, I have been thinking more and more about a comment I first heard in 2007 and have repeatedly heard in the years since. Leaders within Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions, as well as within various spiritual movements, have been predicting a great spiritual awakening that will soon occur in the world.
     The first time I heard this prediction, I laughed inwardly. Such a change is what our world needs, but I saw little evidence of such a transformation at the time. And on the surface, it would seem that our next president, who demeaned, labelled, and targeted one group after another in his campaign, makes a mockery of any hope of a spiritual awakening.
     But I am now not so sure. In fact, I am thinking that this moving of the human spirit is more likely to occur under Trump than under Clinton. Clinton's victory would have seduced those of us in the center and left of center to sit back and watch as Hillary battled the waves of intolerance, fear, and hatred that had found voice in the election.
     But on November 9th, we who voted for Clinton awoke to the reality that we would not have someone in the White House, nor a majority in the Senate and House to do the work for us. The work is now up to us. The good news is that are many signs of new progressive activism since the election.
     I think of the school systems that, in the wake of increased harassment of minorities, have acted immediately to remind all students that such behavior will be punished.
     I think of the Muslim college student who in the days following the election was blocked from entering her class by a wall of white students. The next day, three hundred fellow students escorted her to her classes.
     I think of the increasing number of persons who are wearing a large safety pin prominently on their shirts, blouses, sweaters, or coats. Although this campaign began in Britain after Brexit, many Americans in the aftermath of the election are wearing the pin to make a similar statement: that they are safe persons for minorities.
     I think also of all those Americans who have pledged, if any government official tries to make Muslims register in this country, to declare themselves as Muslims as well.
     A study of such movements in the past reveals that spiritual growth rarely occurs in times of ease and comfort. Instead, it is times of crisis that stir the human spirit.
     Even as Obama's election and reelection spawned racist and hate groups in our country, so Trump's election is bringing to the surface a commitment by millions to stand with those who are labeled or targeted. We will no longer pretend that we don't hear the racist or homophobic joke. We will no longer lower our heads when someone's religion is demeaned. Those who think the election result gives them permission to belittle others should expect to hear from us. And we won't be whispering.
     So, let us celebrate this holiday season, and do so by changing the story of Christmas. As those of us who are Christians remember the story of Joseph and Mary, that refugee family from Nazareth that was turned away by the ancient citizens of Bethlehem, we pledge to do the opposite: to leave our lights on and our hearts open to the coming of God in the guise of our neighbors-all of them.


The Surfer and the Wave: Trump's Victory
November 13th, 2016

     In an article I wrote during the Republican primaries, I compared Donald Trump to "the last comic standing." I, along with many Democrats and some Republicans, underestimated the man.
     I now view Donald Trump not as a comic, but rather as an expert surfer who rode a wave that grew higher the closer we came to the election. The fault of liberals like me was that we concentrated on the bizarre actions and statements of the surfer, when we should have been focused on the rising wave beneath him.
     The wave did not start with Donald Trump's candidacy. It began long before, going back at least to the election of Barack Obama, our first African-American president. Those of us who loved him and continue to do so noticed, but didn't pay much attention to, the rise in gun sales and the proliferation of hate groups after he took office.
     But it is not fair to many who voted for Trump to interpret the wave as solely an upsurge of racism. The wave is more complex than one issue. World events, particularly the civil war in Syria that brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants flooding into Europe, frightened many Americans. Would they be coming here? Would that lead to terrorism? The wave grew.
     Syrian refugees were only one aspect of immigration that worried many Americans. Many white males were confused and bothered by the growing number of Muslims and Hispanics in our country. White, Christian, English-speaking dominance seemed to be slipping away. The wave grew yet higher.
     The confusion of many Americans deepened with the rapid change brought by the legalization of same-sex marriages. Those of us who expected a backlash to this sudden openness to alternative lifestyles were surprised at the near silence. Yes, a Kentucky state employee made the news as did our own governor, but they were quickly vilified and laughed at. But not by all. And the wave grew higher.
     In the police shootings involving while police and black victims, many of us on the left saw the issue as one of eradicating bias with police forces. Others saw these events differently, as attacks on the police and, in that attack, an attack on the need for order in our society. When Donald Trump was asked in a debate about police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, his answer centered on the phrase "law and order." This was the very phrase used by Nixon to crack down on blacks in the late 60s and 70s and by the apartheid regime in South Africa. "Law and order" is a coded way of saying police will be supported and not questioned about how they keep the peace. Many Americans understood Trump's coded promise, and the wave grew higher.
     Even seemingly small events built the wave. The controversy in North Carolina about bathrooms for transgender men and women caused many Americans to ask, "What is our society coming to?" and "Where does this all lead?"
     As this wave grew higher and higher, those of us on the left focused too much on the bizarre statements of the man surfing on top. We falsely assumed that with each frightening, racist, sexist, or xenophobic action or comment by Trump, his support would crumble. Those of us who voted for Clinton couldn't believe that rational Americans would entrust the world's largest nuclear arsenal to this bizarre man. We failed to note that more Americans were more concerned about the next Supreme Court appointee than about nuclear war, increased racism, Trump's infatuation with Putin, or xenophobic promises to build a wall with Mexico.
     But there is sobering news for Trump supporters. History is a river that does not flow in reverse. A strong wave going against the current can only temporarily dam a river.
     The Broadway sensation of 1966 was the musical "Stop the World: I Want to Get Off." This fear if change is the sentiment that fueled Great Britain's exit from Europe and built Trump's wave of support. But Trump and Pence will not be able to turn the clock backwards. Mass immigration in the world can only continue. White dominance in our country will continue to decline demographically. The climate will continue to warm despite those who deny it. Islam will grow as a religion in our country.
     The flow of the river, in the end, will reign supreme, for, as the Buddhists tell us, change is inevitable.


• Maybe Everybody Has A Book Inside Them
• WHY I WROTE A SECOND MYSTERY
• Are We Awake In Our Lives?
• Contemplating Charlottesville
• The Chasm

Copyright © 2016. David C. Carlson. All rights reserved.

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