What's Tony Thinking

Wonder, Sanctified Selfishness and Bridges


Our daughter Laura preached yesterday on “A Doctrine of Wonder.” Coincidentally, or as some of my friends like to say ‘god-incidentally,’ my friend Roy Howard included the following from Barbara Kingsolver in his “Monday Meditation.” Kingsolver:

“I am a scientist who thinks it wise to enter the doors of creation not with a lion-tamer’s whip and chair, but with the reverence humankind has traditionally summoned for entering places of worship: a temple, a mosque, or a cathedral. A sacred grove, as ancient as time.” (from Small Wonders)

I felt such reverence as I stood near this surging waterfall on the Chief Joseph Trail here in the Wallowas.


I am a fan of Margaret Renkl and her occasional columns in the New York Times. I thought today’s on sacrifice, especially outstanding. The title pretty well says it all. “We Were Called to Sacrifice As A Nation. We Didn’t Answer.”

She is talking, of course, about the pandemic and the way the idea of sacrifice for a larger good, for others and their health, was scorned by the former President and many he influenced. Here’s Renkl,

“Lied to by the president of the United States and egged on by craven commentators, many Americans staunchly refused to give up social gatherings, no matter that staying home was the best way to keep the virus from spreading. They refused to wear masks, and they mocked and harassed people who did. Some are, even now, rejecting a vaccine that could keep the virus from mutating into so many variants that there will be no hope of containing it. And they have done it all, they insist, because they are patriots.”

That last bit, dressing all this up as an act of patriotism, is especially galling. Let’s call it what it is — sanctified selfishness.

Over some decades now U.S. patriotism has become gnostic. Gnosticism, an ancient heresy, posits an elect with special insider knowledge along with disregard for actual bodily and historical existence as somehow beneath us. Patriotism in America has been increasingly disconnected from actual people and conditions on the ground while being wrapped up in fantasies of power, violence and masculinity.

Renkl refers to a 1906 speech by the philosopher William James on a proposal for required national service as she continues,

“In short, the coronavirus pandemic became a perfect illustration of James’s “moral equivalent of war.” We weren’t fighting a human enemy, but we were fighting for our lives even so. This national calamity, this invasion by a destructive and unstoppable force, was our chance to come together across every possible division. We could finally remember how to sacrifice on behalf of our fellow Americans, how to mourn together the unfathomable losses — not just of life but of security, camaraderie, the capacity for hope.

“Plenty of Americans — essential workers, first responders, hospital staff, teachers and many others — lost their lives because they made such sacrifices. Millions more complied unhesitatingly with measures designed to keep the most vulnerable among us safe. But too, too many of us did not. Too many were hostile to the very idea that they should alter their behavior even in the smallest way for the sake of strangers.”


So we conclude this reflection with a return to the instructive rhythms and patterns of nature from Pope Francis:

“Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruit; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each others. No matter how difficult life is . . . Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.” (thanks to Grant Sontag for sharing that)

And, referring back to the photo above, I am happy because of the new bridge built by volunteers (toward the bottom of the photo) which allows access, for the first time in many years, to a much longer portion of the Joseph trail. Grace and peace be with you all.



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