Reading the Eternities, Part 1: Baby Steps

Read not the Times. Read the Eternities”

— Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)

Like the majority of Americans, I’m trying to deal with PTSD — Post Trump Stress Disorder. Tweet by tweet, the things we believed to be true yesterday about constitutional government, or even President Trump’s position on Israeli settlements, turn out not to be true today.

TV comedians who tape their shows at 6:00 PM are afraid everything they say will be irrelevant by the time the show airs at 11:00 PM.

Even Republicans suffer from PTSD. The worst cases are the poor people who work for the President. Every day, it seems, they have to explain some new statement  — or explain it away. Sean Spicer’s  shell-shocked and Kellyanne Conway’s shellacked faces look like I feel.

So, OK, let’s put as good a spin on this as we can. A new administration is just finding its feet. An action-oriented President doesn’t spend a lot of time consulting and deliberating. He tweets whatever he is thinking. Driven more by pragmatism than ideology, he can be a bit unpredictable. The guy is a dynamo. It’s hard for anyone to keep up. Except . . .

The stress comes from not knowing what is true. We are told one thing one day and another thing the next day. Often we are told that what we thought we heard the first day wasn’t what was said and our believing it shows just how dishonest we really are.

In contrast to tonight’s tweets, which may or may not be true tomorrow, much of what Henry David Thoreau wrote more than 150 years ago remains true, including the two sentences at the top of this page.

They are short enough to be a tweet and the President would probably agree with the first sentence, “Read not the Times”.

The President, and most of us, would have no clue what Thoreau means by “Read the Eternities.”

I’ve been reading Thoreau and thinking about the difference between the messages he delivers and those we receive from our news media and politicians. Very little of what they say will remain true 150 years from now, or even six months from now, or next week, for that matter.

That observation leads me to the first step most of us need to take.

To paraphrase Thoreau:

“Read not the Tweets. Read the Times.”

Several years ago, I read this advice from Daniel Boorstin, a historian and former Librarian of Congress:

“It is better to read a newspaper account of an event than to watch it on TV.

It is better to read a weekly newsmagazine than to read a daily paper.

It is better to read a book about an event than to read a magazine”.

He was right because the more time that elapses after an event, the more considered is the reporting.

  • Time corrects initial misinformation and the mistaken conclusions that people jumped to.
  • Time helps us see individual events as part of a larger pattern.
  • Time helps us learn from those events before their lessons are wiped out by the next news cycle and we make the same mistakes over and over again.

So, to begin, read not the Tweets, read the Times. And we will talk about what Thoreau meant by “reading the eternities” soon,

Christmas Dinner with People I Don’t Know – The Abrahamic Version

Our sons and their families are not strange. But they are far away — and one family is Jewish, so we don’t do Christmas with them. That’s been OK in previous years, because Christmas Day was the day I collapsed after all the Advent activities, two or three services on Christmas Eve and, if Christmas fell on a Sunday, on Christmas morning, as well.

This year, free of that activity, we learned about some other folks who were going to be alone at Christmas. We contacted them, pooled our resources and everyone gathered around the table at our house on Christmas Day. About half of us were Christian. The other half Jewish.

When the meal began, I knew everyone from a little bit to not at all. Then, we shared stories of where we came from, people we missed at this time of the year, and kindnesses we have received in the past year. After the sharing of stories, I understood at a deeper level my wife, Jacquie’s, observation: “To know someone’s story is the love them.”

The coincidence of the gathering of relative strangers on Christmas Day has made me ponder the theme of hospitality that runs through all three Abrahamic religions.

For example, I have heard stories coming out of Iraq of American soldiers breaking down the doors of houses in search of insurgents, only to be offered tea by the Muslim family whose home they invaded, so strong is the teaching that those who “believe in God and the Last Day” will offer hospitality even to those who come unannounced.

Christians and Jews remember Abraham’s hospitality to strangers who came with the promise of an impossible child. Thus, a Jewish Christian wrote in the first century, those who welcome strangers may “entertain angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).

At Passover, a place at the table is set for Elijah.

At Christmas, our manger scenes testify that Jesus came into a world that believes it has no room for strangers, and those who find the real meaning of Christmas seek to reverse that.

Henri Nouwen defined “hospitality” as making room for other people to be themselves. What I did not realize is that the ostensible host gets to be himself or herself, too.

Often, when we gather with relatives — or even with old friends — we think we know everyone and everyone thinks they know us. Recall a family gathering in which you were treated as if you were the 10-year-old you used to be. Family gatherings are great blessings, but they can hamstring us into old roles that we have outgrown — or want to outgrow.

Dinner with strangers, on the other hand, can reveal something new and delightful — maybe something that you thought was impossible, if you give each other room to be yourselves.

Christmas Dinner With People I Don’t Know

Nine relative strangers joined us for dinner on Christmas Day. That may be better than eating with nine strange relatives. Let me explain . . .

We belong to a co-op for older people. Like a babysitting co-op, we trade favors; rides to the doctor’s office or the airport are high on the list. And we get together socially. We are very close to some of the members, especially our sponsors, but we don’t know everyone. About a week before Christmas, one of the organizers of the co-op sent an email to its fifty-some members asking if any of those who would be alone on Christmas Day would like to join her for dinner and a movie.

WE were going to be alone on Christmas Day, since the East Coast half of our extended family is Jewish and the other half lives so far away on the West Coast. Jacquie decided to invite everyone to our house who wanted to come for Christmas dinner.

The folks who came were people I knew from a little bit to not at all. Jacquie knew everyone at least a little bit. We were about equally balanced between Christians and Jews.

As we began dessert, Jacquie asked each person to respond briefly to three questions:

  • What is your name and what is one thing you want us to know about you?
  • Who did you once spend the holidays with that you are thinking of this year?
  • What was the greatest act of kindness you received this year?

One of our guests talked about her husband of 55 years. She met him at a meeting she had organized to protest the execution of the Rosenbergs.

One guest read a “Lake Woebegone” type of reminiscence about good-hearted women she remembered from her childhood. I noted her detail that a lot of these good hearts were baptized Lutheran but became Methodists as their hearts enlarged.

One guest, a retired physician, described his desire to treat a new patient, humanity, which is in danger of dying from climate change.

His wife described the transformation of her own heart as she participated in caring for a dying friend.

Several people who moved here from such different places as Central Europe, the East Coast or the hills of Kentucky described kindnesses that they received as they found a new home in Cleveland.As we looked back on Christmas dinner from Boxing Day, it struck me that it was different from a family gathering in that, when family gathers around a holiday table, everyone thinks that they know you. They probably do. It is good to be known — and loved.

But when strangers gather around a holiday table, we are open to discovering new things about other people, and ourselves. They get to tell their stories and we get to choose what we will tell them. As we listen carefully to each other, we also get listened to. And we listen to ourselves. We come to know ourselves and others in a new way. A marvelous Christmas present.

Have an Awful Christmas

Another blog to which I subscribe introduced me to this letter written by a German soldier standing guard in the Russian winter in late December 1942:

“The most beautiful Christmas I had ever seen, made entirely of disinterested emotion and stripped of all tawdry trimmings. I was all alone beneath an enormous starred sky, and I can remember a tear running down my frozen cheek, a tear neither of pain nor of joy but of emotion created by intense experience.”’

Can you imagine how awful his Christmas was? How far this young man, barely out of his teens, was from his home and family? How cold he must have been to have tears freeze to his cheeks? How he feared that he would not live to see another Christmas?

Yet, that enormous starred sky created the most beautiful Christmas he ever saw.

It reminded me of Christmas on the farm in Southwestern New York where I grew up. It was a lonely place far from the city lights that I take so much for granted these days. The snow-covered fields and the woods that surrounded us were silent. The barn where we milked the cows steamed in the cold as the animals ate from their feed troughs, AKA “mangers”.

It was easy to imagine an awful Christmas when a young woman and her husband were denied shelter by their fellow humans and found refuge with the animals.

But above all this was the sky filled with stars, so it was also easy to imagine the stars that once began to swirl, like a Van Gogh painting, turning into angels who sang about peace on earth and goodwill for everyone.

Into this night, a baby is born. In some ways the most awful and most awe-full thing that can happen.

I don’t really wish you an awful Christmas, not like the one that soldier had; not like the one Mary and Joseph had. It’s just that awful Christmases are unavoidable.

Sometimes, it is in our awful Christmases that we see the real beauty of Christmas stripped of tawdry trimmings. Just as we are able to see the wondrous stars when it is really dark, so we are able to experience the awe-fullness of Christmas the most when Christmas is awful.

Christmas comes around every December 25th to ask us, “Do you get it, yet? Do you understand?”

“Presents?” asked our 4-year-old grandson.

The word came up in a conversation between his parents and grandparents the day after Thanksgiving. We didn’t know that he was listening — and he probably wasn’t — until someone said “presents”. The very word “presents” conjured visions of wrapping paper and action figures for the 4-year-old and it grabbed his attention. He knew about presents.  The next month would go slow for a 4-year-old waiting for Christmas 2006.

It would go even slower for his Mom, who was eight months pregnant at that Thanksgiving.

I was one of the many adults in my grandson’s life who talked with him excitedly about the new baby that was coming. He listened to this chatter about a new baby respectfully because he loved the people who were talking to him and sensed their excitement, but it didn’t mean nearly as much to him as boxes wrapped with pretty paper under the Christmas tree.

Ten years later, our smart, articulate grandson probably couldn’t tell you what was in any of the boxes under the tree that Christmas, but he could tell you some of the differences the smart, articulate little girl that was born a few days after Christmas has made in his life. Furthermore, I’ll bet he’ll be able to appreciate her impact even more 50 years from now.

“Jesus is the the reason for the season”, probably sounds to most of us like “You are going to have a baby sister” sounds to a 4-year-old. We listen respectfully, because sometimes those who use such words have  internalized their meaning and speak with joy and wonder — just the way a grandparent speaks of the arrival of a new grandchild. But, most of us just don’t get it — and neither does the World into which He was born.

I have seen almost 70 Christmases and I am only beginning to understand what difference this Child has made in my life and in the world.

“Love your neighbor as yourself”

“Do unto others what you would want others to do for you.”

Yes, others said the same thing before Him and independently of Him, but because He said it, those words have a force that pushes back at the attitudes of privilege and hatred that threaten to tear apart our communities, our country and our world.

  • His story about a man of another religion and race stopping to help a stranger counters all of our fears about how those people are out to get us.
  • When we set His life of giving over against our lives of consuming, we cannot help but feel that there is a better way to live.
  • His mission of forgiveness and healing makes us question our military expenditures and our prisons and our vindictive sense of justice that is eroding our economy and our culture.
  • The story and songs about His birth to a homeless couple in a barn in the darkest part of the night at the darkest time of the year have helped hundreds of millions of people look for hope in the most hopeless situations.
  • The story about his family becoming refugees before he could walk have caused people 2,000 years later to show kindness to those that our current King Herods want to ignore or exterminate.

Those are my answers to the question Christmas 2016 is asking.

What are you discovering about Christmas this year?

Riding a Bicycle in Circles

Here are a couple of questions for you:

  • Are we fundamentally BAD people?
  • Are we fundamentally GOOD people ?

 This bicycle has been raising those questions for me recently and I wonder what you think?

Read on for some context:


Imagine a 9-year-old girl riding her bicycle around and around a circular driveway in front of her school every day instead of going to class. 

According to A. S. Neill, that happened at the unique private school he started called Summerhill. Unlike other schools, Summerhill doesn’t have rules that say you have to be in class at a certain time or that you have to study the alphabet in first grade and biology in 10th grade. You could follow your passions and the students there are surprisingly successful in life. 

The girl on the bike had come from a more traditional school with strict, top-down rules.  She had heard that Summerhill was different so, on the first day of school, she got on her bike and rode it instead of going to class. She did that day after day for a couple of months and then one day, she didn’t get on her bike. She went to class instead.

I read Neill’s book many years ago. I had a hard time imagining a school like that.  I went to a school where the principal and the teachers made the rules and the kids obeyed them. We operated on a strict schedule controlled by the clock and bells. If it was 10:15, I was to be sitting in my seat in Mrs. Barber’s Geometry class or else.

I carried this discipline to college and graduate school and into my adult life. It was useful and it made me useful. It also oriented me. I always knew when it was Tuesday morning because I had a  meeting every Monday night.

One of the things that terrified me about retirement was that it has no structure and no rules. I feared that if I didn’t have some kind of discipline imposed by external obligations, I would start drinking Jack Daniels for breakfast, become addicted to “Days of Our Lives”, and play solitaire ’til dawn with a deck of 51.

So, shortly after I retired, I started a blog called “The Second Half”. It got its name from this quotation from Carl Jung:

“Wholly unprepared, we embark upon the second half of life. . . . we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.

Apparently, I did not read my own blog.

We bought bicycles a few weeks ago, and I admit that I’ve been riding my bicycle instead of writing a blog; feeling guilty at first, and then  . . .not so much.

Oddly, I’ve gone back to writing in the past few days. Not sure how often I will be publishing  posts to The Second Half, but I’m knocking out a lot of words for some other projects.

The purpose of this is not to fill you in on  exciting developments in my glamorous lifestyle. It’s to raise deeper questions about human nature.

Do you need disciplines imposed from the outside so that your inner urges and impulses don’t make you run amuck? 

Do you have an inner compass that points toward “true north” that  gets knocked off course by the magnetic attraction of trying to please others or when those more powerful than you are take the wheel of your life? 

What is your experience?

The Path to Enlightenment: The Election as Spiritual Practice, Part 2

Quickly! List 3 things that you really hate about the Presidential candidate you are voting against:




That wasn’t too hard, was it?

I made two assumptions in asking you to do that:

  1. Although you may or may not be voting enthusiastically for a particular candidate this year, you are almost certainly voting against someone.
  2.  I am betting that all three things you listed are personal qualities and not policy positions.

Certainly the candidates in this year’s election have policy differences — and skill set differences  — but my personal polling indicates that we are making our choices largely on personal qualities like honesty or the lack thereof, to name the one that seems to come up most often for both the major party candidates.

OK, writing down those personal qualities you dislike the most in the candidate you dislike the most was step one — pretty easy.

Step 2: Write down one quality in your most-disliked candidate that is deplorable, but you could live with if that was his or her only fault.


That may have been a little harder, but I’ll bet you managed to come up with one.

Step 3:  Ask yourself how those first three qualities reside in you.

I know.

I know.

There is NO WAY any of those three qualities have ANY place in your life. YOU have NEVER said or done ANYTHING remotely like the PERFECTLY AWFUL things that despicable excuse for a human being has said and done!

Take a deep breath, and ask yourself why you get so worked up about those first three things, but you could live with the fourth thing.

Most people will just hit “delete” right now.

That’s because most people (including me) don’t really want to put into practice one of the deepest spiritual disciplines — one that would bring us all closer to what Jesus calls the Kingdom of Heaven:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Matthew 7:1-3.

This portion of the Sermon on the Mount is not telling us to abandon our moral principles. Immorality, lying, arrogance, and whatever else you wrote down will still be bad things. Jesus is  asking us to focus our moral laser vision on ourselves rather than someone else. 

I’m asking you to ask yourself:

What  is there about those three things that gets to me?

How are they different from the one thing I could live with?

I admit that I found this incredibly hard to do. I did not want to find those qualities in myself. But they really are there and I work really hard to cover them up — at least from myself.

You will note that I am not about to share publicly what they are, less because I am ashamed of them than because I don’t want to see in the comments section: “Oh yeah, we knew that about you all along.” 

However, I was astounded at the release of spiritual power that I felt when I faced them. We put a lot of energy into fear and loathing that could be used for improving ourselves and the world around us. 

I was heartened by the fact that the fourth quality — the one I could live with — really is kind of despicable, but it doesn’t bother me because I really don’t have that fault. Such a rare thing — a fault that I don’t have. 

Pro tip: Treat this as a game. Be playful about it. Buy a post-Halloween-discount Hillary mask or Donald mask and mentally wear it for a few minutes and imagine yourself acting out those despicable qualities.

Imagine the mask you wear every day that covers up those qualities in you. How much work do you have to do to keep people from seeing those things in you?

The work we do to remove the beam of wood from our own eyes will go a lot further toward making the world a better place than another Facebook posting about how terrible candidate _____ is.

Try it.  It will change your life and, no matter who wins on Tuesday, your transformed self will be making the world around you a better place — in fact, you will be making it the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Guest Blogger: Responding to that Chair

By Duane R. Miller*

This began as a good friend’s response to the series I just completed about finding our true selves using the metaphor of removing the paint (social roles, learned behavior, etc.) that covers up the “true grain” of our personal characters. What if you reverse the metaphor?  Does this come closer to your experience?

Thanks, Duane, for letting me use this. 

I’ve been reading your [Second Half] blog using the metaphor of a chair that has been painted many times and what it means to strip the layers of paint and find out what is really underneath it all.

The idea seems to be that if you scrape away all the layers of stuff that have been put on you throughout your professional life, you will discover again who you really are.

While your writing is always enjoyable and insightful, there is something about using this image that didn’t sit quite right with me.

I think I have discovered why.

In your image, all your experiences, the layers of paint, are covering up who you really are. Why can’t your experiences and the way you deal with them add new dimensions to whom you are meant to become?
I am going to risk suggesting the metaphor of seeing your life as doing/making a painting.
I’d call the painting: “The Expression of The Spirit through My Life.”

I suggest that each set of experiences might be like

adding a color to the painting.

When you are faced with different experiences and you have to find a way to respond, see that as adding a new color. Any time in our lives can be a good time to look at the overall painting. Maybe you added too much of one color or not enough of another and so you might go back to add some more of one color or cover up some of another.

But you never totally eliminate a color because all of them are needed to express how The Spirit is leading you through your life.

The primary question should always be,

“What should be the next color

that would complement

and bring out the meaning

of all the colors that are already there?”

When I’m quietly listening to that small but insistent voice from within that is also somehow coming from beyond – listening for where it is now leading or directing me. What color can I now add that would make the painting more coherent, meaningful and beautiful?

How do I take what I have learned from painful as well as fulfilling experiences and add thoughts and experiences that help reveal where God/Spirit now wants to lead me?
If I understand the creation of paintings, the painter may have a notion of what the painting is going to look like but, at each stage, each addition of a color, artists discover something  that they couldn’t have anticipated ahead of time. So the addition of each new color is a creative discovery of something you didn’t know was possible before you got to that point in your painting or your life.
Retirement provides a great time to review your life but also to meditate on how God/Spirit wants/encourages you to put it all together so you can rejoice in the abundance of what your life has provided and will continue to give.

*Dr. Duane Miller served as a college chaplain and seminary administrator. He also pastored churches in upstate New York and founded a non-profit community service organization. He is the author of The Memes of My Life: How Integral Thought Illuminated Personal Experiences. 

The Election as Spiritual Practice

Are you suffering from ESD?

Apparently, Election Stress Disorder is a real thing. About half of Americans report feeling significant stress — stress that affects their sleep, their relationships, and their lives.

The media, ever ready to solve problems they have helped create, is publishing advice about how to avoid ESD.

1. Turn off the 24 hour cable channels (says the newspaper).

2. Don’t spend so much time on Facebook (say the cable channels.)

3. Respectfully change the subject when co-workers and friends start to talk about politics (say the advice columnists).

Well, Duh!

Except, in my experience, just avoiding hard stuff leads to spiritual stagnation and broken relationships (and I have had a LOT of experience avoiding hard subjects). When we turn around and face the things that cause us stress, we grow.

The alternative to avoidance

These next few weeks are a fantastic opportunity to try to practice loving our enemies. Note that Jesus does not tell us to avoid our enemies, or to run away from them. On the other hand, Jesus is very clear that we don’t hit them back.

Given the campaign rhetoric, I don’t think the word “enemy” is too extreme. We use words like “attack ad”, “battleground State”, and “adversaries”. According to the attack ads I have seen, my well-being depends entirely on my candidate getting elected. It’s almost too awful to contemplate what will happen if my candidate’s adversary gets elected. It follows that if you are so benighted as to support that other candidate, then you are a threat to my very existence. You are, by definition, “my enemy”.

Our polarized political debates lead us into a spiritual Chinese finger trap.

The more we try to resist the “evil” of the other side’s candidates, and their values  and ideas, the more trapped we become. I don’t know about you, but I often wake up thinking up good arguments about why people should vote for my candidate and should not vote for the other one.  I can obsess about these things, especially when a friend, a relative or a high school classmate posts something completely idiotic on Facebook. Then I am as stuck on arguing with them in my head as someone straining to pull their fingers out of  Chinese handcuffs.

We all know that the only way to pull our fingers out of the trap is to bring them together — the opposite of what our instincts tell us to do.

So, Jesus teaches us a way of breaking out of the spiritual prison that polarization creates by teaching us to do things that are the opposite of what our instincts tell us to do.

Here are some counter-intuitive practices for these last couple of weeks before the election.

Pray for the candidate you would never, ever, in a million years vote for.

I told you this is the opposite of what your instincts say. But what does Jesus say?

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

I know, it feels almost immoral.

I just want to pray for America.

I just want to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

But Jesus says:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 

 Make it a daily practice between now and election day to hold that scum-of-the earth lying traitor in your heart and pray for her or him – for all those crazy people who are going to vote for that person.  Or, if you don’t pray, at least wish that person well, and see what happens to your heart and mind and soul.

No, it’s not easy. Oddly, it brings us into contact with unexpected parts of ourselves — I will write more about that next time. As hard as it is, I’ve discovered that it sets me free to, among other things . . .

Treat the people who disagree with you as well as you treat the ones who agree with you.

This is tough, too, but It is practical. The day after the election, we still need to work with people who voted the other way. We have to have Thanksgiving dinner with people who voted the other way. Can we put those relationships first and our political principles, no matter how deeply held they are, second?

God does it, of course. I don’t know why the sun continues to shine on people who belong to the other party. I don’t know why the rain that waters my lawn waters the garden of the guy down the street who has that awful sign in his front yard. But that’s the way God is. For centuries God has been doing this to us: Methodists and Baptists, Protestants and Catholics, Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists – even atheists. It would be so much better if it only rained on Democrats or the sun only shone on Republicans. Then we would know who was right and who was wrong.

I’m always surprised that, when I put relationship  before being right, it always feels more right than when I put being right first.

Next Practice: Looking at why the other side ticks you off so much and what genuine conviction looks like. 






Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Bible Prophecy

Did you know that Jesus predicted this week’s events in the 12th chapter of Luke?

He actually prophesied Wikileaks’ dump of thousands of emails from the Democratic campaign AND the exposure of Donald Trump’s “Hot mic” description of how he treats women.

Before you toss me in the same wastebasket where you throw Pat Robertson, read these words for yourself:

What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.

(Luke 12:3 New International Revised Version)

So, what do you think? Spot on or what?

 Jesus was warning his disciples against hypocrisy. Here is a more extended version in a popular paraphrase of the New Testament:

By this time the crowd, unwieldy and stepping on each other’s toes, numbered into the thousands. But Jesus’ primary concern was his disciples. He said to them, “Watch yourselves carefully so you don’t get contaminated with Hypocrite yeast, Hypocrite phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. (Luke 12:3 The Message)

I’ve made one change in this passage, substituting the word “hypocrite” for the word “Pharisee”. That’s partly because some of my best friends – and readers of this blog – are Pharisees. Most of today’s Jews trace their lineage back to the Pharisee branch of Judaism that coexisted in Jesus’ time with Sadducees, Zealots, the people who brought us the Dead Sea Scrolls and other groups. I suspect Jesus would have counted himself among the Pharisees, too. That’s probably why he was so often in conflict with them.

That’s not the only problem with using the word “Pharisee” in our translations of the New Testament. When we use the word “Pharisee”,  we Christians think Jesus is talking about someone else. The word “Hypocrite” hits  closer to home.

I thought I had completed my series about Finding the Grain Beneath the Paint, but when this week’s events lined up with these words of Jesus: What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops, I realized that there are darker consequences to being painted than I wrote about earlier.

Taking on the coloring of “parent”, “professional”, or “responsible adult” may have gotten in the way of the full expression of our real selves, but that is latex paint — relatively easy to wash out.

Hypocrisy, on the other hand, is the lead paint that poisons the soul.

What Jesus says to his disciples not only applies to Donald and Hillary, but to you and me as well. My guess is that neither presidential candidate will read this blog, but YOU are reading it. So here are a some takeaways:

The Universe does not love secrets

OK, some readers of this blog don’t believe in God. So, let’s just go with a phenomenon that we see over and over again – stuff we thought was hidden keeps coming out. That goes for the bodies of political enemies buried by South American dictators and the cigarettes that you told your kids you had quit smoking.

Tell me it hasn’t happened to you.

Secrets often come out ironically.

Often the virtues we brag about the most or the sins we most condemn in others are ironically the things that are undermined when the things we say in secret are shouted from the rooftops.

Again, tell me this hasn’t happened to you.

There are psychological reasons why this happens. We often condemn in others those things we most dislike in ourselves – especially when we dislike those things so much that we pretend we aren’t guilty of them.

A famous Christian theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr made a persuasive case that the Bible’s view of human history is essentially ironic.   Our pride in American history often blinds us to the racism, greed, injustice and even genocide that is also a part of that history.

If that offends you, let me point to Hillary Clinton’s most obvious personal fault. She is so convinced that she does good things for people that she cannot see how close to the ethical edge she and her husband have always played in their fund-raising relationships. Donald Trump is so convinced of he is a “winner” that he can’t believe his words and behavior make him the biggest loser most of us have ever seen. 

Whether we are talking about nations or individuals, it’s the same thing. The self-righteous are often blind to the ways they violate their own values in ironic ways — until the contradictions are shouted from the rooftops. 

The way to protect ourselves from exposure is to get honest with ourselves and others

Let’s use another politician as an example.

Harold Hughes was governor and later a Senator from Iowa. He was also a recovering alcoholic. His struggle with alcohol led him, at the age of 30, to climb into a bathtub with a shotgun. Just before he pulled the trigger, he called out to God for help. The result was a major change in his life. Hughes later ran for governor. In a debate, his opponent revealed that 2 years after Hughes’ life-changing experience and joining AA, Hughes relapsed into drinking for a time. That proved, said the opponent, that Hughes was a man without integrity.

Hughes responded by saying, “I am an alcoholic and will be until the day I die… But with God’s help I’ll never touch a drop of alcohol again. Now, can we talk about the issues of this campaign?”

According to the Des Moines Register, “The reaction of the crowd was immediate and nearly unanimous.” Later, the Register editorialized: “In our opinion, any man or woman who wins that battle and successfully puts the pieces of his or her life back together again deserves commendation, not censure.” Hughes won by a landslide. 

Getting Honest With Ourselves is a Task for the Second Half of Life

“Imagine,” Bishop Wayne Clymer once said, “that you open the Sunday paper and  you see in print and photographs every word you have ever said and everything you have ever done. That’s what the Last Judgment is like.”

You may or may not believe in a literal Last Judgment before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15), but sooner or later all of us have to review the lives we have lived or develop a spiritual dementia that will be worse than anything we keep buried.

In fact, bringing these things up to the light may be liberating. When describing the 4th of the 12 Steps, the authors of AA’s Big Book used a business metaphor — taking inventory. We need to look at our lives in order to figure out what is still valuable and what is worthless. Who have I helped? What contribution have I made? Who have I hurt? And how?

We don’t have to publish everything we ever said and did in the newspaper or on the Internet. The most important thing is to come to terms with our secrets. We may need to tell someone — a confessor, ordained or not. We may need to make amends. Above all, we will need to be honest. Not being honest with ourselves is where the lead paint really destroys our souls.

My Dad used to write sayings that struck him as important on the white wash of our dairy barn, one of them was:

“When you lie to yourself, you are down to the last person.”

But when you are honest with yourself, you can handle even the exposure of your worst secrets.