Gary Guinn

Literature of the Ozarks

Category: Spiritual Journey (page 1 of 6)

The Great American Eclipse: What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Juliet tells Romeo that nothing’s in a name. “That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,” she says. And even Hamlet seems dismissive in his “words, words, words.” But after the Great American Eclipse, I must rebuff the beautiful maiden and challenge the churlish prince. Au contraire sweet Juliet. And as for Hamlet, well, a noble mind o’erthrown, and so forth.

The Great American Eclipse

Monday afternoon, August 21st, my friend George and I watched the moon creep through those final degrees toward totality. The two of us and our wives were on a quest. Thousands of people rested in lawn chairs or lay on blankets before the capitol building in Jefferson City, MO. On the stage, set up on the capitol steps, the Fort Leonard Wood military orchestra performed. Kids tossed footballs, played in the fountains, chased each other through the obstacle course of resting adults. Clouds drifted lazily by, bringing with them some unease about missing the Great American Eclipse.  photo of totality in the great american eclipse

But when the final seconds ticked into totality, all eyes stared at the clear blue sky, and a roar went up from the multitude. Then just as quickly, the roar died into silence. Awestruck, we listened to the cicadas wailing in the mid-day dark. The bright corona flared around the black ball of the sun. It was an eclipse, but suddenly that word, which had been mundane, even common, was charged with mystery and awe. It had put on a stunning new mantle.

Words, Words, Words

A few minutes later George asked, “What word would describe the eclipse? What word would best communicate something beyond the ordinary, beyond the natural?” We rejected the word “supernatural” immediately as far too tired and burdened with the clutter of history. A dictionary reveals the problem: Supernatural: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially, of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil; departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature:  attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit). Nope, just doesn’t fit. What we had seen was governed entirely by the laws of nature.

The term preternatural offered itself, and we thought perhaps it would work. Preternatural: beyond what is normal or natural, extraordinary, exceptional, uncommon, singular, unprecedented, remarkable, phenomenal, abnormal, inexplicable, unaccountable; strange, mysterious, fantastic. That was more like it. All these words accurately apply to the eclipse. In fact, when taken together, they are, as a whole, a good summary of an abstract description of what happened in the sky above us. But our experience was not abstract in the least. Preternatural would not do.

The Spiritual

Each of us had experienced the eclipse as something spiritual (not supernatural), something natural that seemed to stop time, to pull us out of ourselves. And the response of thousands of people gathered there revealed that the immediate, shared human response was not just awe, but joy. A shout, clapping, and laughter erupted. We were all drawn totally into the moment, and in that moment there were no democrats or republicans, no liberals or conservatives, no northerners or southerners, no believers or atheists. There were only human beings sharing an experience of totality, an experience of total self-forgetting, of good will and unity. It must have been what the ancient Israelites felt when they saw God in a whirlwind or pillar of fire.

And Flannery O’Connor

Looking back now, those so-brief two-and-a-half minutes of totality, and the response that followed, tempt me to a bizarre comparison. Forgive the incurable English professor in me, but I think of the words of The Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” after he kills the meddling, bossy grandmother: “She would have been a good woman,” he says, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Perhaps you can see where this is headed. In some future aeon, after humanity has destroyed itself, I see a cosmic Misfit, sitting on an asteroid, looking down at earth and shaking its head. “They would have been a good species,” it will say, “if it had been a Great American Eclipse to strike them with awe and wonder every minute of their life.”

Evangelical Christianity Redux: Moral Issues?

Here’s a guest post that considers the problematic nature of moral issues in the political realm. It’s a response to Friday’s post on Mike Huckabee and Higher Education

Evangelical Christianity apparently would have us believe abortion and gay marriage are the great moral issues of our day. Undoubtedly these are moral issues, but Christians are deeply divided on these issues. That said, all Christians should agree on this: both the Old Testament and the New Testament teach us that the great ongoing moral issues revolve around loving justice, walking humbly with your God, and practicing kindness and mercy toward “the least of these my brethren,” which includes taking care of “orphans, widows and the poor and welcoming the sojourner” (read immigrants).

In that light, taking away healthcare from 20 million Americans who need it most is most certainly a moral issue, not a political disagreement. Advocating building walls to separate us and excluding immigrants from certain Muslim countries are also moral issues. These actions are clear political ploys to stir up racial and religious hatred and to make us fearful of each other. Racial bias is still prevalent in our communities. Ignoring this prejudice under the guise of “law and order” is dishonest and wrong.

We are failing to live up to God’s charge to us in Genesis to be the gardeners of this Eden we call Earth. It is a grave moral issue to refuse to deal with climate change and pollution because it reduces the profits of the wealthy.

Finally, Micah calls us to “walk humbly.” Any person who engages in demeaning, belittling, disrespectful, bullying, name calling behavior, who fosters fear and hatred between communities and countries, who ignores the poor and disadvantaged, is doing wrong, plain simple wrong. Especially such actions by a person in great power should be vigorously condemned by every practicing Christian, regardless of their denomination.

Indeed, in our day, there are many moral issues that need desperately to be addressed.

George Benjamin, MD


Mike Huckabee and “Higher Education”–Not


My old school, the place I graduated from 43 years ago, the place at which I taught for 35 years, the place I still hold close to my heart, hosted Mike Huckabee, former Baptist preacher, former governor of Arkansas, former presidential candidate, in the college chapel program yesterday. I have to say that I’m very proud of a large group of my ex-students and friends who stood through the chapel program in protest, wearing white T-shirts that said “Love” and “No Ban, No Wall, No Hate.”


Let me be clear about something. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for my old school to invite someone like Mike Huckabee to speak to the students. He represents one side of a very important debate in our society. BUT his appearance is appropriate ONLY if the school also invites someone like Tony Campolo to speak at one of the other chapel programs, because Campolo represents the other side of that debate. It’s important for students to hear both sides. The “higher” in Higher Education doesn’t simply mean a higher number of years of study. It also means an exploration of the life of the mind, an exploration of the most important ideas and areas of expression that are not strictly related to getting a job and making enough money to live on. Faith-based colleges like my old school struggle with the “higher” in Higher Education. Faith-based colleges like to say “All truth is God’s truth,” but most of them seem to be afraid to present “All truth” to their students. The result is something more like indoctrination than education.

Many years ago, my old school actually did have Tony Campolo come and speak in the chapel program. The students loved him. The front row of students in the auditorium brought umbrellas and raised them when Campolo got up to speak because he is one of those fiery speakers who tend to shower the front row. He loved it when they opened the umbrellas. But alas he seemed to offend the powers that be, or more importantly the powers behind the powers that be, and he was blackballed from future appearances. Shane Claiborne, another important voice for the Campolo side of the debate, was also invited to the chapel program back in the day. The students loved him too. But alas he too seemed to offend the powers that be, etc., and has been put on the do-not-call list. My old school has continued to bring in the Mike Huckabees, Asa Hutchinsons, Benjamin Netanyahus, and Franklin Grahams of the world for students to hear. But there doesn’t seem to be room for the Tony Campolos and Shane Calibornes. The chapel schedule for this year includes several guests whose focus is social justice, and I applaud that. I simply don’t see it as an adequate counterbalance to the Huckabees, Hutchinsons, Netanyahus, and Grahams.

Mike Huckabee represents an extreme conservative position. I abhor most of what he says in the political, social, and religious arenas. He does not speak for the Jesus whom I try to follow. He does speak for an earthly kingdom called “Evangelical Christianity,” but it is a kingdom that, as far as I can see, has less and less to do with the Christ it says it follows. It is a kingdom that has become for the modern world what the religious authorities/system in ancient Palestine had become in Jesus’ eyes–the problem rather than the solution. Jesus’ attitude can be summed up in one of the phrases he used to describe them–whitewashed tombs. Jesus’ strongest condemnations, his rare outbursts of anger, were aimed at religious hypocrisy and mistreatment of the powerless in his society, not at the garden variety “sinners.” The only sinners toward whom Jesus lacked tolerance (a bad word in conservative circles) were the religious hypocrites.

Mike Huckabee uses language and promotes ideas that increase bigotry, distrust, and potential violence against the kinds of people Jesus reached out to and spent time with. He is a masterful communicator and seems to sincerely believe he is doing God’s work. The Pharisees and Sadducees undoubtedly believed they were doing God’s work. Jesus didn’t think so.

So I say God’s blessing on the people who stood up for Jesus in chapel yesterday. I’m proud of them.


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