• The news from my dad (who suffered a stroke 8 days ago) is that he is making some labored improvements.  On Thursday they transferred him to Memorial Hospital in Springfield where they have an excellent therapy program for stroke recovery.  He is walking some and also beginning to recover some of his speech abilities.  We are very pleased at his progress...and cannot say enough appreciation for all the prayers and good wishes that so many of you have offered.

April  7, 2018
Keeping My Hands to Myself
In case you haven't been keeping up with the news, the Democrats in the U.S. have formed themselves into a circular firing squad and are blasting away at each other over the issue of hugging...and assorted other gestures of affection...such as unsolicited backrubs, unexpected neck tickling, spontaneous hair sniffing, sudden lip pecks at various points on the noggin...
Republicans, on the other hand, are amused by all the ruckus, having already decided that such matters as rape, sexual assault, promoting pornography, and serial adultery are personal affairs... and nobody else's damn business when it comes to guys who would be president...or supreme court justices...or media moguls.  
Perhaps the Democrats wouldn't be going so nutty if the Republicans hadn't abandoned their long-standing allegiance to conservative moral values. As the relatively religious-averse Democrats have tried to cash in on the Republican's abandoned banner of "morality," it's clear that most so-called progressives are clueless as to what to do with it.  

Witness the debate over Joe Biden.  Unlike the credible witnesses who have accused a sitting president and a supreme court justice of sexual harassment and assault, the witnesses against Joe Biden (also very credible) have accused him of oafish trespasses against their personal boundaries.  Mr. Trump and Mr. Kavanaugh have been accused of using their power to pleasure themselves with old fashioned fornication.  Mr. Biden has been accused of using his power to force his touchy-feely gregariousness on people who find him creepy.  
I realize that I'm probably the last person people want to hear from on this matter...me being one of those fat, old, white guys who creep people out if I get too close.  But, hey...we still have free speech in this country...so I think I'll jump into the fray anyway.
I think that if Joe Biden wants to be elected president, the best thing he can do is put his arms in a straightjacket and his neck in a brace so he won't be  able  to continue pawing and pecking at everyone he meets.  Only then will we be able to trust that he truly "gets it."
While I'm not really one of those hugging types myself, I do sincerely understand where Vice President Joe has been coming from.  Since the 1960s, our culture has been 
promoting the value of hugging....not discouraging it. I've spent all my life hearing things like, "They invented hugs to let people know you love them without saying anything," and "A hug is a great gift:  one size fits all and it's easy to exchange," and "A hug is a handshake from the heart."  
I never bought into all those sayings personally, but if you would have had my Aunt Lenora, you would probably be somewhat hug averse too.  I can, however, understand people who do find comfort, energy, and healing in those touchy-touchy rituals.  And who am I to stand in the way of someone else's healing and renewal?  Joe Biden's wife and little daughter were killed in a car accident when he was only 29 years old.  In recent years, one of his grown sons died of brain cancer.  If Joe found new life in the hugs and embraces of his friends and family, who am I to judge him?  And being the good-hearted man he is (something Republicans and Democrats who know him agree upon) who am I to deny the people he   has comforted...as he reached out to others in the same way that folks once reached out to him?  Don't judge Joe until you know the context of why he is like he is.
Context is everything: which is why Joe needs to learn how to keep his hands to himself...whether he gets elected president or not.  When he is acting in his capacity as a powerful political figure, the context shifts away from  his  need and skill to the  context  of the personal stories of the people who gather around him.  The best thing a politician can offer to the American people today is respect for the varied personal stories (contexts) of the people she or he seeks to lead.  My only problem with hugging was that my Aunt Lenora could be too much.  But there are many people who have more compelling reasons for protecting their personal space. 
In the United States, 600 women and girls are raped every day. Countless people have been betrayed by others who engaged in intimate physical touch...but then absconded emotionally. There are 10,000 instances of domestic violence in the United States...daily!  Some people  do  need a hug.  But countless others need us to keep our arms and our lips to ourselves.  

We don't know who needs what...until we ask. And while "having to ask" may take away the magic and spontaneity 
of the moment, "asking first" also brings honor and respect back  into  our social arenas.
Mr. Biden gave an online, five-cent apology the other day.  Joe is a decent man, but the people he cares about, in this country he loves, deserved a $100 apology from him.  

A five-cent apology says, "I'm sorry if you were offended by what I did...I meant no harm." 

A $100 apology says, "I've done a number of things that were wrong, insensitive, and harmful to people.  I was wrong.  No excuses. I was thinking about myself and the context of my own life...not the people I touched or hugged...and the contexts of their lives.  And because even an old white guy can still learn new things...and grow better...I'm not going to push you to forgive me...but I am letting you know that if you keep an eye on me, I believe you'll see that I've changed."
If all this  does  happen, and Joe does apologize, then it will still only be a short spell before something else is discovered, if not something naughty that Joe did, then some story surfacing that another candidate was a bad girl...or a bad boy.  

I don't know about you, but I don't  want  my next president to be perfect!  How then  shall  we judge another person's bad behavior?  
There are four types of justice we can employ:  retaliation, retribution, reparation, or restoration. In modern politics, the only types that are employed are retaliation or retribution.  

Retaliation as justice for a wrong-doing simply destroys the social-capital of our society. 

Retribution is sometimes okay:  speak up thoughtfully, point out what is wrong, and vote against the scoundrel.  

Reparation is our insistence on change...amends...$100 apologies.  

And restorative justice is a belief that sometimes we simply have to forgive the past and make our best choices for moving forward...and expect others to change and keep up with our new hopes and our new future.
And one more thing please:  let's hear no more of "He's too old to change."  That's ageism.  And if you say that, you owe us old geezers a $200 apology!  

It's a challenging world. We don't need clich├ęs, hugs, stereotypes, moral reprobates, celebrities, hot air bags, narcissists, or know-it-alls leading us. We just need wise and caring people, whose own lives are rich in context, and whose social intelligence comprehends the critical context of 
other people's lives.
If you agree:  you can say "Amen."  Just don't hug me.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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