Doug Fletcher Blog

Bio. - Born and reared in Iowa, Douglas Fletcher received a B.A. from Drake University and Master of Divinity and PhD degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.  He served Presbyterian (USA) congregations in Tulsa, OK, Austin, TX, and Hilton Head Island, SC.   Fletcher also has taught in the field of Biblical studies at universities in Oklahoma, Texas, and Zambia.  He was part of a Lilly Endowment Pastor-Theologian program with the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, N.J.  

A trained life coach, Fletcher is committed to working to deepen conversations and understanding in neighborhoods, communities and businesses.  He is involved in his local community on the boards of the Community Foundation and Neighborhood Outreach Connection, an organization with innovative afterschool educational programs.  His wife, Wesla Liao Fletcher, an ordained Methodist minister, teaches psychology at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort.  They attend Campbell Chapel, an African Methodist Episcopal church in Bluffton, S.C.  

Doug Fletcher Blog    March , 2024

Our dog, Zach, makes me laugh every day. We have him in agility training.  We don’t have competitive hopes, but it seemed like it would be good exercise, socialization, and a good challenge.  But when several owners show up with their dogs and a course of obstacles, bedlam is sure to follow.  The tunnel through which the dogs go is guaranteed to bring laughs.  One dog wouldn’t go through the tunnel without having the leash in his mouth. So cute. Other dogs enter the tunnel, the owner shouts “Go, go, go,” and runs to the other end of the tunnel only to see the dog running back out from the entrance. And then there are the owners.  Sometimes they end up having to make the jumps with their dog because the dog is moving so fast.  Sometimes, the owners knock down the supports for the jumps.  I once had to crawl into the tunnel and pull Zach through. Clearly, I needed some agility training too. 

When the dogs succeed or make good efforts, everyone cheers.  The dogs are proud.  The owners beam. It is a special moment for all of us.

But most of life is not lived on a dog playground.  Life is filled with stressors.  The list is long: worry about school, about jobs, about children or a marriage, about health, about money, about relationships, politics, the future, the world.  The list doesn’t end. Worry can be paralyzing.

Jesus included in the Lord’s Prayer an invitation to talk to God about the things going on in our life.  It is the fourth petition in the Lord’s prayer, right between the petitions for alignment and the assignments.  With this petition Jesus reminded us that our lives matter to God.   There is nothing we cannot pray about.  God cares about our whole life.

At the same time, the prayer as a whole gives us some interesting advice.  The subject of the first petition is perspective.  It invites us to think about the perspective we bring to an issue and to examine our own perspective.  Is it the best way to look at this or is there a better way? The second petition is about hope and reminds us that we have a reason for hope even when things are hard.  And the third petition is about trust…trusting God’s love for us.  These three petitions provide a frame for the prayers we make for our life.  And the fourth petition, the one that invites us to share and reflect on our life, has its own suggestions.  As it invites us to pray for “daily bread,” it reminds us to focus on the day and not let worry about everything overwhelm us.  It also reminds us with its language that the Israelites received bread from heaven each day in the wilderness.  God provided for them.  The prayer wasn’t in vain, though it led to a surprising result and required their daily trust.

Years ago, we had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Lucy.  She was made for retrieving.  She took the neighbors’ newspapers in the morning and brought them to our door.   When I started returning them, Lucy started burying them around our yard. Among other things, she made me think about what we were made for.  It isn’t retrieving morning papers. We were made to glorify God and enjoy God forever.  Living into that changes how we look at the jumps and tunnels.

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Doug Fletcher Blog    January , 2024

A Blog on Christmas

Our dog made the introduction.  A young man was sitting at the outdoor table next to ours last summer in Asheville, NC  and asked if I would take a picture of him with our dog.  The dog was the reason we were sitting outdoors in front of the food court and not inside.   “Of course,” I said.  And so I took the picture.  Then he explained that he had a dog back home that looked a lot like ours.  So, I asked, “Where is home?”  He said “Singapore,” and I told him we were going to be in Singapore at Christmas. He had come to Brevard, NC for the summer music program where his daughter was playing the French horn. I learned that like me, he was a Presbyterian minister, but in Singapore, that he and my wife, Wesla, had a shared interest in hydroponic gardening, and that a colleague of ours from Princeton Seminary had been to his church several times in Singapore.  There were just too many coincidences.  We both felt that this was a divine appointment and didn’t know why.  We walked back to our hotel and I gave him a copy of my book.  And he invited us to join his family for Christmas dinner in Singapore.  Three months later, when our ship arrived at the harbor of Singapore, we knew exactly who we wanted to see.  We met Willy’s family and the dog, Arthur.

It changed our trip, from simply seeing sights to having a local connection.  Willy took us onto a rooftop to see a hydroponic garden where he works with autistic kids.  He took us to the national orchid garden my wife especially wanted to see. We ate a meal at their home. And we went to the church with his family on a Sunday morning and for Christmas Eve.  Christmas moved from being something which we were going to be observing far from home, to something quite personal. The connection we had made months earlier created the expectation that this was a relationship we should pay attention to.

The story of Christmas is much like that.  It is the story of God making a personal connection with us through Jesus.  It isn’t a story about divine advice for living, or dogmatics, or the opinions we should have about a host of issues.  It is about a heavenly host and the intersection of the human with the divine.  It leaves us reflecting not about what is impersonal, but about the very personal character of this story. Not about how far away we are from home, but that we can find home whereever we are. The shepherds showed up and so did the wisemen.  It was a moment not to be missed.  It touches our deepest hopes.

My friend Willy preached about Zechariah (also, coincidentally, our dog’s name) in the New Testament and Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Zechariah was a priest, a religious professional.  He went into the Temple and was shocked to meet God, even though he should have expected that very thing.  But the encounter was more personal than he imagined.  The word of the angel was to him and to his wife, Elizabeth.   Mary, on the other hand, wouldn’t have been expecting an angel, but responded with greater faith.  The sermon was an invitation not to be surprised but to expect God to touch us – personally and powerfully.  It is the story of Christmas.  It is the story of Love. 

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Doug Fletcher Blog    October 30, 2023

There are more than enough reasons to feel stress in life.  We may share in a host of larger concerns about climate, wars, loss of human life, political dysfunction.  We may be dealing with  personal concerns.  Or we may feel a compounding effect of all of it that can be overwhelming. It is important that we have a way to deal with stress.

We may need to increase our capacity to function with greater stress.  This may include more sleep, meditation, exercise, friendships, and perhaps professional help.

There are also unhelpful and unhealthy options.

We may deal with stress by looking for diversions. But diversions only buy a little time.

We may try to diminish the stress we feel.  But addictions of different sorts ultimately and invariably lead to more problems, not fewer. Killing time isn’t a helpful answer.

We may try denial.  But while living in an alternate reality may provide a sort of relief, checking out separates us from others and from making a difference. And reality keeps showing up.

The Lord’s Prayer, which begins with three petitions about seeking alignment with God, also offers in them a path to dealing with something as concrete as stress.

Jesus said “Be not anxious.”  It is a good word, because anxiety drains energy without producing any positive impact.  However, he didn’t follow it up with a list of strategies.  Instead, he pointed to birds and flowers that don’t worry much (or at all).  In that shift, Jesus suggested our perspective is critical in dealing with pressure. 

Perspective is also where the Lord’s prayer begins, that is, a perspective that affirms Holiness, even in the midst of the chaos we may feel or experience.  It is to a larger perspective, a perspective that makes space for God to which the prayer calls us.

That perspective invites us also to an expanded hope, the subject of the second petition of the Lord’s prayer, a hope for the whole earth to become what God intends. It is precisely because this hope for the Kingdom is beyond us but also for us that Jesus healed the sick, taught the value of those who were discounted, and modeled forgiveness. He offered a reason for hope and gave witness to it.  A Kingdom hope is hope for the triumph of love on earth as in heaven.

The third petition of the Lord’s prayer, the third of three alignments, is about trusting God.  If there is a larger frame for us to live from, a greater hope before us, and God cares about our well-being more than we can care about ourselves, then there is a freedom and a privilege to invest our life and use our life for good. What Jesus taught doesn’t disengage us from life or reality, it makes living well here our calling.  We will still face stresses.  And we will be tempted to live small, lose hope and trust no one. But Jesus gave us a path to a bigger life, where health and life is found.

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Doug Fletcher Blog    August 20, 2023

ChatGPT only contributed part of this blog!

I asked ChatGPT about growing anxiety in our society.  There was much shared instantaneously.  Broadly, there are anxieties about money, inflation, careers, health, the environment, politics and social fractures, about war, and about the future generally. And, of course, the list can be expanded to include meteor strikes and such. It is fed by a 24/7 news cycle. And then there are the personal challenges each of us faces.  Anxiety is growing.

Jesus is quoted in the New Testament as having said “Be not anxious.”   I asked ChatGPT to write a few paragraphs on those words.  It observed that Jesus was encouraging followers to let go of unnecessary worry and to trust in a higher power.  Jesus was also highlighting the futility of excessive preoccupation with material needs and the burden such worry creates.  But ChatGPT didn’t end simply with a diagnosis of the problem of anxiety.

ChatGPT went on to suggest positively living more in the present moment, understanding that God cares for us, and living with a greater sense of purpose.  It used the context of Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount to construct positive steps. Ultimately, ChatGPT concluded, Jesus’ words reflect a profound spiritual perspective that transcends immediate challenges.

Honestly, it seems a rather thoughtful reflection, though there isn’t any “thought” put into it at all.  Instead, it is a collection of information assembled in a coherent manner in moments.  It also is quite good.

I was struck as I read what ChatGPT had assembled on anxiety, and how praying the Lord’s prayer, a part of the teaching material in the sermon on the mount, can actually help move us from a place of anxiety to greater awareness of a bigger frame for life (perspective), to acknowledgement, but not worry, about the things we need and to a sense of purpose for the life we have received.

It doesn’t eliminate the concerns and needs of life nor does it deny them.  But it invites us to look at life differently, replacing the energy lost in anxiety with awareness of God’s care for us and with creative and constructive efforts to use our life well.

There is a deep wisdom in the teachings of Jesus that ChatGPT can express but doesn’t understand.  Perhaps that can be a human problem as well.  Sometimes, we need, as Pascal suggest, simply to live into the practices of faith and let the experience of living by faith touch and bless our life.

Meanwhile, ChatGPT has itself emerged as a source of new anxiety for teachers! It makes plagiarism easier and more difficult to detect.  Despite its programmed modesty, it will undoubtedly impact our future.  Perhaps it can also challenge us to ask better questions.

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Doug Fletcher Blog     June 18, 2023

The jeopardy contestants were given a $200 question, the easiest of its category this past week.  The host asked for a missing word.  “Our Father which art in heaven, this be Thy name.”  The buzzers of the contestants never went off.  Finally, the host provided the answer:  “hallowed.”

The moment triggered a bit of a twitter storm.  One described it as a demonstration of what’s wrong with America.  Another said that though belonging to another religion, she knew the answer for this well known prayer.   Even an atheist knew this one. One commented that he wasn’t sure that all Christian denominations used the prayer.  Another said that while she was a Christian, she didn’t know the prayer because prayer was encouraged in a more spontaneous form.

I have argued in my book that the Lord’s Prayer is a hidden treasure. I rest my case. It is certainly less well known than many would imagine. But it isn’t the desire for greater use of religious ritual that drives my concern. The great loss is the wisdom that it offers to us.

Perhaps it is easy to assume that things from the past are largely irrelevant to today’s issues and concerns. After all, who uses the word hallowed, anyway? But the subjects of the Lord’s prayer,  are hardly passe.  They are about happiness, well-being, meaning and purpose. Moreover, this prayer is not simply an anonymous piece, but an intentional gift from a person who profoundly impacted world history and who taught us how to connect with God---and more deeply to ourselves.  What if we imagined it as a road map (if not a treasure map)? Simple curiosity about the remarkable impact of this person Jesus ought to spur us to be able to provide the answer to that $200 question.

It is true that “hallowed” is not a commonly used word. But that’s true of a lot of the questions in the gameshow.  Ironically, its use in the prayer invites us to step out of the moment in which we find ourselves, with pressures and demands for the right answer, and to welcome a perspective that has space for the holy.  It is an invitation to live in a larger universe and a larger story, and even to more deeply appreciate the gift of our own life.  Could it be that the greater Jeopardy is actually believing that a buzzer spells the end?

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 18, 2023

It is a strikingly beautiful place, on the top of a mountain with vistas that extend for miles and miles.  It is a memorial site, Mauthausen Concentration Camp, marked by memorials from many nations whose citizens were killed there. Much of the camp remains.  Mauthausen was built near Linz, Austria, the town where Hitler had grown up. Hitler had ambitious plans for a newly created Linz. I had seen a picture of Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, with Hitler examining the model for a new Linz.  For such a project they needed a huge amount of granite.  The proximity of a source for quality granite at Mauthausen marked the beginnings for a camp opened in August 1938 where nearly 100,000 died at the hands of their Nazi captors. It also served as an extermination camp to the end of the war.

I had never been to a concentration camp before.  The guide explained a few things and then simply read the words of witnesses and survivors. It was unimaginable in its dehumanization, crowding and brutality. It was haunting to walk in silence through places which once had been filled with shouting, panic, screaming and death. 

It was on a Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, that I received a tour through Mauthausen.  I couldn’t help but think about: suffering, inhumanity, evil and hope. One thing was abundantly clear.  We have ample evidence from our last century of the capacity of human beings to participate in unthinkable evil. Making such an acknowledgement suggests that we may understand a need for human deliverance from evil. At the same time, it pushes us to a hope greater than the power of evil, to gratitude for such a hope, and to the commitment to using our life for good: to love and to serve.  Jesus did not explain evil. Instead, he gave his life up, sharing in human suffering.  But it wasn’t the last word. The last word is the triumph of God.

Mauthausen was the first camp to be liberated by American forces on May 5, 1945.

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Doug Fletcher Blog     February 6, 2023

The Deeper Game

There are lessons all around us. I wrote this prayer about life lessons in golf. Perhaps you can add more!

Almighty God,

We thank you for this occasion and for this game of golf.

For the way in which it invites us to step

outside of ourselves and to enjoy and

sharpen awareness of natural magnificence,

a dimension of your love for the world.

For the way in which it creates a small

group experience and invites us to do life in

relationships with others. We thank you for

those things that not only remind us of the

obligation we have to others, but also of the

pleasure of life together.

For the rules of golf that teach us that rules

don’t merely constrain and limit us, but that

in fact, they help to bring order and a way

meaningfully to measure progress. For the

ways in which the positive understanding

of the rules of a game helps us to be less

rebellious to the commands you give to us

and to value integrity.

For the ways in which golf teaches humility,

that we indeed are our own worst enemy,

that consistency is important and perfection

is never achieved, and for the ways in which

true humility can prepare a heart to receive

your grace and forgiveness.

For the way in which golf teaches that the

real competition in life is to improve oneself,

that life is filled with challenges and traps

and that every time we take a stroke, it is a

new opportunity.

For the Scottish and Presbyterian heritage

of golf, with its awareness of life’s challenges

and the test of character, its confidence that

there is always a way forward with God’s

help, and the anticipation of a clubhouse and

banquet at the end.

For Pete and Alice Dye, the gift of this

remarkable course, the gift of this day and

the privilege of taking time to give thanks.

In your holy Name we pray. Amen.

The prayer was given at an occasion in 2015 honoring Pete and Alice Dye, designers of the Long Cove Golf Club on Hilton Head Island.

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Doug Fletcher Blog     December 2, 2022

GK Chesterton often critiqued “common” wisdom.  In fact, such critiques served as starting points for his essays.  Seeing a well-dressed young man walking briskly by, Chesterton’s companion said, based on nothing more than appearance: “That man is going places.”  Chesterton wondered about the assumptions that would so confidently result such a judgment.  It was the detective in him, after all, that created the Father Brown mysteries.

Chesterton would have found even more material in our time, attracted as we are to slogans, memes, and words that fit on bumper stickers.  When we actually examine such things, we may notice some faulty assumptions. In fact, in an actual bullring “grabbing the bull by the horns” is a terrible idea.

There are assumptions often make about forgiveness.

I have heard people say that you have to forgive yourself first, as if this were incontrovertible.  Moreover, what such a statement leaves unspoken is what self-absolution really means and how it can truly be accomplished. 

Jesus never spoke about forgiving oneself.  He did, however, extend forgiveness.  In fact, the forgiveness for which Jesus prayed at the end of his life was extraordinary not only because it was in the midst of his own suffering, but also because it was offered before the offenders were  sorry.  “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”  It is not a transactional forgiveness, extended only to the sufficiently contrite, a model with which we have become too familiar.  It is distinctive, gracious, and challenging.  The words Jesus spoke from the cross as he was dying, in fact, echo what he taught in his living “Love your enemies.”  Jesus still intrigues and inspires us because his words were profoundly integrated in his own life and behavior.

It is often said that forgiveness is primarily about oneself, that it is a self-gift.  It is undoubtedly the case that forgiving lifts a burden that we need not carry. It can free us. But such a statement clearly wouldn’t apply to Jesus on the cross who had so little time remaining to him.  His words about forgiveness instead suggest that there is a larger story of which we are a part, a spiritual story, and that we have a part to play that models the gracious life we are invited to live.

When we think of forgiveness transactionally or as a self-serving act, we ignore what Jesus taught and modeled.  Forgiveness, in fact, may be the ultimate expression of love.  It is grounded in a love which is both giving and forgiving.  Forgiveness is not simply a command for occasions of offense.  It is a concrete expression of a generous life.

The Lord’s Prayer connects the forgiveness of God with our own forgiving.  It is a love intended to make us more loving, a grace intended to make us more gracious.  The gracious forgiveness of Jesus from the cross echoes the generosity of Christmas, “for God so loved the world, he gave his Son.”  The Lord’s prayer helps us to understand the source of forgiveness but also the importance of the part we were created to play.

It really doesn’t make much sense to think of forgiveness as a gift, if it is primarily about helping oneself.  And while the Bible describes it as a gift freely given, it does need to be received.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer described our attraction to “cheap grace.”  But even for a free gift, you may have to sign a receipt with UPS.  We may have to acknowledge something, make room for something new, and allow the gift to touch and impact our life. It is not a gift to be ignored. It is the greatest gift we can receive.

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Doug Fletcher Blog     September 7, 2022

One of the most powerful questions is one of the simplest:  What do you want?   Of course, it can be asked in exasperation or cynically.  But when it is asked with sincere interest, it can make us aware of many things, perhaps even that we don’t know what we really want. What do you want? It is a fundamental question in life coaching and in life.

Of course, some people offer their answer before the question is finished.  They know exactly what they want, or what they want next.  Others may hesitate because they realize how important a question it is, perhaps because they need to give it more attention if the answer is taken seriously. 

In the middle of the Lord’s prayer, there is an invitation to pray for what we want and need for our life, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  While the words contain a reference to a story of the Biblical exodus experience (and God’s extraordinary provision) it also invites us to express our desires.  In some ways, it is a surprising petition at the center of the prayer. Often, a spiritual life is understood as the denial or suppression of physical wants or needs. The petition of the prayer meets us where we are.

Of course, an invitation to pray about our life still leaves the question of what one should pray for.  Should we pray for whatever we want or just what we define as a real need---and if so, how do we decide what is really needed?

The problem with many prayers is that they have been edited for God and aren’t really honest.  Prayer is imagined as more of an audience with a King rather than a conversation. They may assume that God doesn’t really know you.  In fact, it is simply fooling yourself to believe that God doesn’t know you.  So what should we pray?

Following the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke 11, there is an amazing, annoying, and surprising story.  Jesus described a man who received a guest late at night and had nothing to offer his guest.  He banged on the door of his neighbor’s house to ask for food for the guest.  The neighbor had already gone to bed and shouted that he wasn’t getting out of bed.  But the man persisted.  It is an odd story and the moral that we might imagine for the story is to be prepared for unexpected guests or perhaps not to ask too much of neighbors at inopportune times.  Don’t be rude!  But Jesus made a quite different point with the story: what won’t be done for friendship, will be done to get rid of an annoying neighbor.   Jesus shared the story as an encouragement to persistence, boldness and audacity! In its context following the Lord’s Prayer, it expressly invites us to be honest in our prayers about the things we want.  In fact, in Luke’s account, Jesus’ teaching goes on specifically to call us to ask for what we want.

Are there limits?  No.  It is an invitation to an honest conversation with God.  However, we may find that there are some things that will impact our conversation.  Praying for us, as in “give US,” may help us avoid praying zero-sum prayers and to include others. Making it something we do daily may cause us to think more deeply about what we want.  And starting, as the Lord’s prayer does, with a prayer for perspective, for profound hope, and for greater trust in God, over time may help clarify what we most desire.  But the fourth petition of the prayer invites and requires us to be honest to God.

I find myself amazed at this petition for our life is in the middle of the Lord’s prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer as a whole is about our relationship with God, about the life we can live and the person we can become, but it is also about our physical life, our daily life.  The followers of Jesus saw these elements brought together in the person of Jesus himself, who both showed God to them and who lived with them and knew something of life, carpentry, fishing and human possibilities.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     June 11, 2022

The last phone booth in New York City was just taken down.  It was a booth in Times Square.  A crowd watched.  Somehow, it represented the end of an era, when phones were something you had to find and when a phone booth represented a sort of private, quiet space in the middle of things. The quiet spaces may be harder to find.   

Instead, we live with accelerating change and increasing stress.  A cartoon in the graduate school library where I studied spoke to all of us there.  It showed a man on a psychiatrist’s couch.  The man looked irritated:  “Don’t tell me I’m burning the candle at both ends.  I know that.  I came for more wax.”  We need more than a constructive frame for thinking about life and the future (the first and second petitions of the Lord’s prayer).  We need something to help us now which is the subject of the third petition of the prayer.

The third petition in the Lord’s prayer is about trusting God.  It invites us even now to trust God’s will more than our own: “Thy will be done.”   It invites us to trust God more than we trust ourselves.  And it invites us to remember that we are not alone.

Sometimes faith is understood in terms of the things we believe.  But the third petition of the Lord’s prayer isn’t a checklist of beliefs.   It invites trust in the relationship with God.   It invites us to believe that God cares about us more than we can and has better perspective.  It doesn’t promise that life will be as we want it or that it will be without challenges and difficulties. It means that we can trust God even when life is hard. 

Trusting God doesn’t mean that we simply resign ourselves to whatever happens.  Trust isn’t passive.  But it does call for a measure of humility that recognizes that we can get it wrong and add to the mess.  Our own desires can be powerful and blinding, our rationales persuasive, our self-deception exquisite. 

God expects us to use our minds and talents, to do our best.  We were made to make a difference with our life for good, to use the gifts given, and to make good and timely decisions.

But before acting, make a prayer and ask God about the wisdom of the decision. Positive confirmation would be great.  Perhaps a verse or story in Scripture will speak to the question you pose, or an experience or encounter, or a conversation with a friend. I have also prayed for some physical distress if I’m not thinking about things in the right way --- or need to let it go.  Prayer is not only about asking.  It is also about listening.

You are not alone.  God is trustworthy and cares about you.  That awareness can quiet the soul amid all the noise and restore confidence and resolve. 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 6, 2022

The images, stories and interviews of Ukrainians have been heartbreaking and also extraordinarily inspiring.  There has been the acknowledgement of the reality of fear and loss, and also the display of courage and resolve born of hope, despite the grimness of circumstances.  Images grab my heart, a picture of a child’s pained, hysterical face.  And the picture of an older woman trying to get across a destroyed bridge with only one possession, her small dog, in her arms.  It is heartbreaking to see the suffering. 

We live by hope.  Hope can keep us from giving up, can help us pick ourselves up again after we have fallen down, or reach for something that might seem beyond our grasp.  Hope can be extraordinarily powerful in life. Dante reinforced its fundamental importance with his description of the words above the gates of hell “Abandon hope all who enter here.” 

But we also need to examine our hopes.  We can find ourselves carried away by false hopes, promises of happiness that don’t really satisfy, or live with diminished hopes that cause us to miss what we are actually capable of doing. We can live with hopes that ignore the dangers or that absolve us of responsibility to others.

The second petition of the Lord’s prayer ["your Kingdom come, your will be done"] is about the subject of hope. We are invited to pray about hopes we have and to examine the hopes with which we live.  The petition gives us a specific object for which to pray.  The ultimate hope is for the Kingdom of God come here, with its peace and justice, beauty and goodness, love and generosity. This hope is also about the life we were made for.  The prayer invites us to believe and to trust that the Kingdom is coming and to live in a way that is aligned with that expectation. 

Real hope is not cheap. We sense that when we watch the stories of the people of Ukraine.  Some seem to know exactly what they can and need to do.  Others are still looking for a part to play.  But hope requires something of each of us. 

Seeking the part we can play in relieving suffering and encouraging others is holy work.  Living with hope for the coming Kingdom only strengthens the resolve to seek to play our part here and now.  In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, we are encouraged to fix our eyes on Jesus “who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame.”  His life was also a model of the hope we have been given that empowers our best and most impactful life with confidence that the best is yet to come.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     January 11, 2022

Perspective is the first of the petitions in the Lord’s prayer.  It invites us to step back from simply praying for what we want and assuming that we already know what we most need.

In fact, the conflicts in our world, society, and personal relationships are often rooted in different perspectives.  We may deny the legitimacy or relevance of another view, or we may discount or reject it in favor of what we believe to be more important considerations.  But we also can inquire and listen.   Curiosity, respect for other people, and the understanding that perspective is always an objective to be pursued, not a possession to be held, can make different perspectives less a source of conflict than an experience of learning.

We have perspectives literally on everything that we can see.  We have perspectives on ourselves, on our neighbors, on our childhood, on how children should or shouldn’t be raised, on money, religious faith, on the importance of the present moment for our world.  The third wave of Covid19 predictably has triggered disappointment and impatience, but ultimately, we want and need to find the resolve within ourselves to carry on and to prepare for the next chapter of life. Sometimes we recognize within ourselves the need to find a better perspective.

Precisely because good perspective is so important, even foundational, to making good decisions, it makes sense to bring a measure of curiosity, humility, and self-examination to the perspectives we hold.  And it can help us in our relationships with others.

Jesus invited us to pray first for perspective.  It is a prayer we can and should make every day.  Behind the prayer are questions we often ask.  How should I understand this?  What does that mean for now and for the long term?  To what should I give my attention?  Where should I put my efforts? 

It is easy to assume that we know what we need from God and from others.  But, in fact, there are things in life that blindside us.   Perhaps praying for perspective is also the reflection of a desire for greater understanding as well as an openness to learning.

Ultimately, the relevance of a prayer for perspective seems pretty obvious.  Jesus makes it the starting point for prayer—an invitation for us to think about things we have learned about perspective through life, ways in which our perspectives have changed, and things that have helped us to see better. At the same time, he invited us to understand that the desire for perspective ultimately pushes us even beyond what we can see.  It pushes us to recognize the sacred, the holy—not only beyond us, but with us.

Life is not simply about what we can acquire or experience before we run out of time.  Holiness invites us to see ourselves and life from a greater perspective still.  It invites us to live purposely, with hope beyond what we can see, a commitment to life and to others, and with an understanding of our unique value to God.  It invites us to live aspirationally and to live with anticipation.  It pushes us to honor our Creator and recognize the value of the time we have been given.

Positions get defended.  Perspectives can be shared.  To pray for perspective expresses the desire to see more clearly. It is the starting point for our prayers and for our best life.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     October  19, 2021

One of the unfortunate consequences of Covid19 was the social isolation it created. People predictably connected most with those with whom they felt most comfortable and familiar.  In a politically charged environment, opinions and viewpoints were more often reinforced than challenged.  It doesn’t serve us well.  It breaks down communities and undermines life together. We need to find ways to talk with others about life, faith, children, hopes and fears and even politics. 

The Church ought to be a place where people can talk.  A faith commitment should be higher than any political commitment or ideology.  It is, after all, about what is ultimate.  In fact, our faith should be able to critique all other commitments. It pushes us to live aspirationally and to strive to become better people, more like Jesus.   It calls us to live as forgiven and forgiving people. The love and grace which is at the heart of the story of Jesus was a gift intended to make us more loving and gracious too.  It is good news for the world.

For the Church, the basics of what Christians believe are laid out in the Nicene Creed.  That creed was adopted formally by the Church when the Church was one.  While it has implications for a whole host of issues (which is part of what theological reflection is about), it doesn’t permit litmus tests of any political agendas.  Instead, it calls us to consider what it means to live faithfully in the place and time where we live, to commit to a larger community of faith, and to reach out to others.

The Church ought to be a place where theology prevails over any and all ideologies.  It isn’t easy.  People gravitate toward groups of like-minded people.   To the extent that this happens, even a church can become identified with or coopted by lesser agendas.   But the Church can be, should be, a place where such agendas and views are not only subordinate, but able to be discussed critically in the light of faith.   

The Church can be a place where we can talk with those with whom we may disagree.  But it takes an intentional commitment. Experiences differ.  So do viewpoints.  But we have been instructed in a radical ethic; we have been taught not merely to tolerate enemies, but to love them.  Only love has the power to turn an enemy into a friend. The commitment to talk with those who see and have experienced life quite differently from ourselves is something important to hear and to seek to understand.

We need to talk.  And we need to listen.  

In the great prayer in the gospel of John, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us, those who would be touched by their teaching.  He prayed for unity for us, knowing that there would be temptations to separate ourselves.  A commitment to unity, in spite of differences, is forged by a commitment to God and to a love not only taught by Jesus but also lived.  He prays for us still. 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     August 7, 2021

The other day on the news I saw a video clip of a fundamentalist pastor declaring that no masks would be allowed in his church even as numbers for Covid19 cases increased in his community.  It makes me sad to see someone act as if this is the mark of a true believer.  What happened to talking about Jesus, repentance or aspirations to becoming a better person?   The pastor’s message was, of course, about freedom.  And who isn’t for freedom? 

In fact, the Bible speaks directly about freedom.  The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians has sometimes been called the Magna Charta of Christian freedom.  I wrote my dissertation on it.   The fifth chapter declares that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (5:1).”  Freedom is opposed to a yoke of slavery, life lived anachronistically subject to the Old Testament law as if Christ’s sacrifice were not sufficient.  The only thing that counts Paul writes, is “faith expressing itself through love (5:6).“

In 5:13, we find an echo of the earlier words, “you were called to be free.”  And then a warning not to use freedom for self-indulgence but “rather, serve one another humbly in love.”  The Old Testament law, Paul writes, in fact is fulfilled by the single command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is then a restatement of the danger Paul sees for the community:   he warns that the abuse of freedom leads to destruction.

For followers of Jesus, freedom is not defined as something we fight for.  Freedom is a gift God has given in Jesus Christ. He paid the price.  The right use of that freedom is the critical question for us now.  And Paul tries to persuade a confused and hostile audience that freedom is for love.  One cannot talk about Christian freedom apart from love.

It seems simple to me. When children are not yet able to be vaccinated, the loving action is to get vaccinated and to wear a mask while there are still too many at risk. It is the right use of the gift of freedom.  

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     July 7, 2021

This has been a challenging year in ministry for pastors.  I have found myself encouraging pastors who found themselves exhausted as they made adjustments in ministry and tried to compensate for the missing community.  Nonetheless, this next year will have special challenges as well for many churches.  The pace of secularization in our culture is daunting.  And working to rebuild a sense of community and a sense of congregational momentum is hard work, especially after a year of "distancing."  The post-covid year will be defining for many churches.

I believe that the book I have recently finished on the Lord's prayer can serve as a valuable resource for this time in ministry. It is titled: "The Only Prayer You'll Ever Need: Unleashing Your Best Life." It is published by Westbow Publishing, part of Nelson and Zondervan and is available from Westbow or on as an ebook or hard copy.  My website shares more about the book and I plan to put a discussion guide on it for small groups.

Many people are familiar with the prayer, but typically recite it and miss the extraordinary treasure hidden in front of us.  In fact, the prayer is a teaching prayer that invites us into seven conversations with God.  These conversations, following the seven petitions of the prayer, are about perspective, hope, trust, life, forgiveness and generosity, self-awareness, and gratitude.  They invite us to live with aspirations to become more fully the people we were created to be as well as to understand our profound connection to others.

Moreover, because these are the seven most important conversations we can have with God, they are also the topics of the seven most important conversations we can have with others.  In a world where we need to talk about more than the things that divide us, these are topics for meaningful conversations that can deepen relationships and reach across divisions. 

As a study, the book readily divides into seven or eight sessions.  It can function as a resource for an individual, a small group or for a congregation-wide campaign with multiple small groups.  A friend of mine is planning to use the book for a small group launch this fall and will be preaching on the Lord’s prayer at the same time - working on rebuilding community and congregational momentum. 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     May 23, 2021

Taking our masks off!

We have hidden smiles, facial expressions, double chins, and so much more.  At last the mask comes off.  Of course, we will breathe better.  But will we be better for it?

The experience has not been the same for everyone.  For some, it has been almost a respite, for others a source of sorrow.  For investors, the last year has been extraordinary with unprecedented returns.  For others, it has been a financial catastrophe and source of ongoing anxiety.  Unlike 9/11, this experience has not brought us together, but has made us more isolated.  It has accentuated differences, political and otherwise.    

On the day after the CDC announcement that those who had been vaccinated could responsibly go without masks, I went maskless into a store.  The young clerk was wearing a mask.  I was apologetic.  “Don’t worry,” she sweetly said.  “My parents don’t wear masks either.”  And then I found myself wanting to distinguish myself from her parents.  It gave me something to think about.

Taking our masks off is a symbol that suggests being honest with one another rather than confrontative, empathetic rather than judgmental.  It may be marked by a greater appreciation for things previously taken for granted.   It may even suggest looking more for ways to connect with others rather than simply pointing out differences.  It is a renewed openness to others created by self-exposure and vulnerability.  It shouldn’t be misunderstood as taking the gloves off.

Perhaps this is a time for new resolutions as we enter a new chapter of life together.  In a world that needs bridges to be built, we can each make a contribution, reaching across divisions, including and engaging people who have a different experience of life from ourselves.  Once the masks are off, it simply requires respect, curiosity, and the willingness to listen.   

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 23, 2021

“Nobody saw this coming,” the commentator noted, reflecting on the March madness victory of Loyola over Illinois, a 71-58 victory over a number one seed.  Then he quickly corrected himself “except Sister Jean.” 

Sister Jean Delores Schmidt is the 101 year old Loyola superfan.  She is a fixture of Loyola games and was an important part of Loyola’s last run in 2018.  She received her covid shots and permission to travel to the tournament.  Before the game, she made this locker room prayer:

“As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win.  We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous.  We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50% of layups and 30% of 3 points.  Our defense can take care of that.”

I have a book coming out later this spring on the Lord’s Prayer as a teaching prayer (The Only Prayer You’ll Ever Need).  But it isn’t the only prayer we can offer and Sister Jean’s prayer reminds us that we have permission to pray for the things we want.  And Sister Jean was aware that this prayer in the locker room wasn’t only for an audience of One (who would be aware of the stats), but was also for the team to encourage their best and remind them of opportunities.  It turned out to be the game plan.

I am certain that Sister Jean prays for more than basketball victories.   In fact, through her life, she was active in the Civil Rights movement, and lives in a freshman dorm.  She has an office in the campus center where students can drop by.  She has been the team chaplain for the men’s basketball Ramblers since 1994.  She reminds us of the importance of things we sometimes neglect and has a special voice and witness.  She reminds us that traditions, deep commitments, and even things we don’t fully understand, like prayer, can make the difference. 

No one could ever say that Loyola didn’t have a prayer! 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     December 18, 2020

We need to talk.  Political polarization in our society is too costly.  It diminishes all of us and it diminishes the better future we could create together. While we may feel most comfortable talking with those who agree with us, we need, especially now, to engage with those who see the landscape differently, perhaps life differently.  They may even be members of our family.

But how do we have the conversations we need to have?  Too often, we step into conversations that simply define and even sharpen the differences.  They can generate more heat than light.

In the classic, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury, a book used for business negotiation, mediations, and even for marriage counseling, two keys are offered for avoiding trouble:  separate people from problems (over against seeing the other person as the problem) and separate interests from positions (interests are those things that are important to us or to our conversation partner and are typically behind the positions we take). Identifying and sharing interests is more constructive than talking about positions and brings curiosity rather than judgment into the conversation. These simple steps can help avoid common pitfalls.

And we can elevate the conversation.  A book I have written on the Lord’s Prayer describes prayer as conversations with God.  I’m not the first to describe prayer in this way.  But if the Lord’s Prayer, a teaching prayer, suggests the conversations we ought to have with God, then they are, ipso facto, also the topics of the most important conversations we can have with others. The topics of the seven petitions of the Lord’s prayer aren’t about religion.  They are conversations about perspective, hope, trust, what we need and want, forgiveness and generosity, self-awareness, and gratitude.

In conversations with another person, we can use these very topics.  For example, with the first, perspective, we can share a story of something valuable we shouldn’t have thrown away (if only we could have seen what it would be worth later!).  We can share the story of a person or an experience that helped perspective to grow, that helped us see greater possibilities or take a step into a bigger world.  Perhaps that person or experience still shapes aspirations.  And sometimes we have had to let go of perspectives that have hurt us. Everyone has a version of the story: “how my perspective has changed.” Hearing the story of another person can help us to understand better and even to reflect more deeply on our own story, too.  

These are the sort of conversations that can build or rebuild a relationship, that can create understanding and respect.  Jesus commended hospitality to the stranger, not circling the wagons.  We need to talk!

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     September 22, 2020

A new book by Garrison Keillor imagines a virus, contained in the cheese, that makes everyone in Lake Wobegon tell the truth.  Following the mold of previous stories about Lake Wobegon, it promises to be hilarious, heartbreaking, and touching.  But it also raises a broader question about our apparent willingness to make truth a casualty of life.

“Respect for the truth is the foundation of morality,” Diogenes Allen, a philosopher, theologian, and teacher said.  The words invite our reflection:    

1) respect for the truth undergirds a moral life.  It aligns belief and action.  It asks something of us and promises more.

2) respect for the truth calls us to an attitude of inquiry, curiosity and commitment. It invites us to aspire together for the good and for better understanding.  It includes the willingness to change our mind.   Respect for the truth can help us avoid positional thinking and the slippery slopes of rationalization.     

3) the truth is not merely a collection of individual facts which we know or believe to be true.  Jesus presumed the coherence of truth when he made his claim “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  Similarly, when he said “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” clearly referring to his own ministry, he wasn’t saying that nothing else is true.  Acceptance of his claim doesn’t take away the responsibility for honesty or integrity.   Such responsibility is expressed all through the Bible, from the commandment against bearing false witness to warnings against liars in New Testament letters.  In fact, Jesus’ identification of himself with the truth stands in contrast to the description of Satan as “the father of all lies,” words that suggest there is also coherence to evil. 

4) morality is not merely a collection of rules or norms.  It has coherence and a foundation. It is our respect for the truth that makes us trustworthy.  While lying may not appear as the most damaging injury, a lack of respect for others is at the heart of all other moral failures. Trust is basic to relationships and morality requires honesty at its heart.

In a political season, we may get used to lies or simply accept them as a part of life as it now is.  But they are profoundly destructive to our life together.  Respect for the truth is something we should expect and demand.  The cost of being easy with the truth is greater than we often realize.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     August 24, 2020

My questioner didn’t want to offend or provoke, but when he found out I was a pastor, he couldn’t resist asking:  how could Christians support Donald Trump?

It wasn’t clear to me if he was alluding to Stormy Daniels, the Access Hollywood tape, or children separated from their parents in cages at the Mexican border.   In fact, he was not asking about Donald Trump at all.   He was asking about Christian voters.

After all, news reports suggest “evangelical” Christians are a fundamental element of his base, with some 80% of white evangelicals supporting Trump.  They had been cool to Jimmy Carter, a Baptist Sunday school teacher and carpenter for Habitat for Humanity.  But support for Jimmy Carter my questioner would have understood.  Trump, on the other hand, seems awkward and unfamiliar with the language of faith.  He has given interviews in which he suggested he didn’t really need much in the way of forgiveness.   And if the fruit of the Spirit is, at the very least, to be morally aspirational in the lives of believers, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, these are not the things that Trump lifts up.   He prefers to describe himself as a counterpuncher rather than a cheekturner.  My questioner wanted me to explain the enthusiasm for Trump among Christians.  

I needed to explain that though Trump has very high approval numbers among white “evangelicals,” that is not all Christians.  And while the word “evangelical” has broad theological and historical significance for Protestants going back to the Reformation, it is used today more as a descriptor of a significant part of Protestantism, politically and socially conservative.  Language changes, “evangelicals” has come to include what once were described as Christian fundamentalists and dispensationalists as well as most nondenominational churches.        

Even so, “evangelical” leaders seldom have expressed any moral concerns regarding President Trump (though the separated children at the border brought protest from prominent evangelical pastors).   Instead, there is appreciation that Trump pays attention to this part of his base and promised to give them power and influence.  They appreciate his promise of supportive judges, especially regarding the issue of abortion.  They don’t criticize.

Understanding the support goes beyond simple alignment of interests.  There is a frequently made identification of Trump as a “Cyrus” figure in evangelical circles.   Cyrus was a Persian King who allowed the Israelites to return to their land.  The Babylonians destroyed Israel in 586 B.C. and took the people away into exile.  Cyrus conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return home and to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.  He is uniquely described in the Old Testament book of Isaiah as “messiah” or “anointed one” (45:1).  Cyrus is the only non-Israelite so described.  It is a title typically associated by Christians with Jesus.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu compared Trump to Cyrus for having moved the American Embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Many evangelical pastors had already drawn a connection of Trump to Cyrus, an outsider used for a divine purpose and described as “the anointed one.”  Some see Trump as a Cyrus figure for America.  It can be taken still farther.  Just as Cyrus sanctioned the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem 2500 years ago, in this time a new Cyrus could help in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, which Christian Zionists believe would trigger the Second Coming.  

There’s more.  While the story of King David is often used to demonstrate that there is a way back from any moral failure, David was deeply sorrowful and repentant.  The story of Cyrus reads differently.   Cyrus was “anointed” by God, though he was not an Israelite but a worshipper of the idol god, Marduk.   His “anointing” and role eclipse all other concerns, moral and otherwise.  Cyrus and anyone in that role gets a pass.        

Such views create cynicism about the church as well as confusion.   Many see the church as irrelevant, immoral, hypocritical and captive to political agendas.  Religious polls show an accelerating percentage of people have no religious affiliation at all. 

Moreover, the use of Cyrus as a type for a contemporary political figure is troubling.  Cyrus’ story is ultimately about  God’s power and promise.  Even the unique labeling of Cyrus as “messiah—anointed one” has the authority of a prophet and Scripture behind it, not simply the judgment of contemporaries and supporters.  The New Testament outsider and “anointed one” is Jesus and his life was one of profound integrity.  He both taught forgiveness of one’s enemies and forgave those who crucified him.

The message of Jesus was not about an interpretation of historical epochs, dispensations, or typology.  It was an intervention and a message of God’s passion for us, of the power of grace for new beginnings, of the hope set before us, of radical responsibility to and for each other.   It has profound relevance for our time.   It would be a great tragedy if now, of all times, it should be obscured instead of shared. 

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     August 12, 2020

In 1983, I sat in an airplane to Fuchow, China.  The elderly Chinese man sitting next to me spoke English and I soon learned that he had been a professor at Fukien Christian College, now Fukien University, where my wife’s grandfather, a Methodist bishop, had served as president.   The time on the flight passed too quickly.  He left me remembering these words from Wesla’s grandfather to churches in China in 1948:  “The world is going to change.  Life is going to change.  But God will not forsake you and I’m not leaving either.”  A year later, with hundreds of other pastors, he was arrested and the churches were all closed.

We are living in a time of accelerated and profound change in our culture and society.  Change isn’t always fun.  It can expose injustice, trigger anxiety, increase alienation, and ruin plans.    

While not always given much attention, the church in America has been going through profound changes.  Long before the pandemic, pollsters of religion noted the decline of denominations and their loss of influence in our culture.   The influence of mainline denominations in support of civil rights legislation in the 1960s may be hard to imagine today.   Nondenominational and independent churches now constitute a majority of protestants, but nondenominational membership overall has been flat.  The most significant trend to demographers has been the growth of a group labeled “nones,” none of the above.  America has become an increasingly secular culture and Christianity is often perceived negatively, captive to political agendas, marked by hatred of gays, and hypocrisy.  And then the pandemic arrived and church buildings closed. 

Moves to adapt to zoom church and zoom small groups and meetings have allowed churches to continue and will have impacts even when the Covid-19 virus is behind us. Church will be different, but these are simply the adaptations of institutions.  

The change that needs to happen is more fundamental.

Christian faith is not at its heart a doctrinal checklist to defend or a set of judgments to make about others.  It doesn’t require political favor to survive.   It is an experience of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to receive and share.  Receiving that grace is intended to make us more gracious, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control because God wants good for us.  It is a gift, an identity, and it is deeply attractive.

Churches were allowed to reopen in China in 1982 after more than 30 years.  When they reopened, they were filled, not only with older people, but also with young adults, families and children.  The faith had been shared and passed on.   God hadn’t left.  And something beautiful had been happening in thousands and thousands of homes.  For us, this time is not something simply to seek to survive or get past.  There is an invitation to deepen our life and wherever we have opportunity to share the grace and generosity of God.   

Be well

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     June 4, 2020

Today, James Mattis gave his second warning. The first was in his resignation letter as secretary of defense about an America which didn’t support our allies. It was a security concern for the future of our country. The second warning is about the failure of leadership in America. Secretary James Mattis said that there should be nothing controversial about a principle carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court building, “equal justice under law.” The death of George Floyd should grieve and disturb us all. He wrote about the right of protest and that the military should not be used against its own people who have the right of protest. That is not America. Mattis said that the president has always played to division, to his base, and has made no efforts, unlike any president in his lifetime, to reach out to be the president of all.

Two republican senators have spoken appreciatively of the words of Mattis. The rest are silent, because they have tied their future to the approval of the president. They are afraid of tweets. John McCain wasn’t afraid of tweets.

The republican party wasn’t always about the things it now seems to represent. It didn’t hold having guns of every sort as a core principle, as if we all need to have combat weapons as the solution to violence. It didn’t hold policies that were hostile to caring for the environment. It wasn’t against working to provide a great America—for the first time, for all.

The republican party was a party that encouraged entrepreneurship and productivity that could provide good jobs for American families. As a conservative party, it sought to respect the best from our past as we deal with the present and the future. It was a party that emphasized a strong defense, sought to be fiscally responsible, and believed that it was the constitution to which we made a common pledge. It believed in accountability and liberty. It promoted respect for the truth. It was a party that began with Lincoln and high minded principles. We need it still.

Mattis is speaking the truth. Some people think that criticisms cancel each other out. But they don’t. The President is responsible to set the tone, provide the maturity, set personal agendas aside and work for America’s best future and to seek to be the president of all the people. His tweet belittling Mattis is sadly predictable.

We are now in a time of testing—of who we are. Racism is America’s original sin. We have ignored it, denied it, diverted from it. But the nation that we can build as we prevail over Covid-19 can be a truly better America. This agenda has been given to us by history, one more tragic injustice, the death of George Floyd. None of us would want this to happen to a member of our family. It is one of a long chain that has reinforced a picture we cannot ignore.

We need to build a better future. As General Mattis indicated, we need better leadership for our country. We need two real parties. And we need to support justice for all. We need to provide better training for police and better pay. We need to expect them to act in a professional way in every circumstance. The acts of bad actors hurt everyone.

We need a renewed vision of America. A house divided cannot stand. Lincoln quoted it from the Bible. The principle of the equal worth of every person is also derived from Scripture. The Bible does not need to be defended or held up, it needs to be lived.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     May 3, 2020

So where is God? Isn’t that an important question in this time for what insurance folks used to uncharitably call an “act of God?” Somehow, talking simply about personal blessings in such a time seems too self centered and too small.

Does God not care about all the suffering in the world or that this hits the most vulnerable most severely? Or does God lack the power to remove this pandemic scourge from the earth? Is there a lack of will or power? Does this demonstrate for some that even if God exists, it is fundamentally irrelevant? Somehow, to leave God out of this and then to pick up again with a gentle God when this is over seems too convenient, if not dishonest. If God is here, God is here all the time.

I have wondered if this is judgment. Not the Last one nor simply God’s hitting of the smite key for irritating God or a pastor one too many times, but judgment as withholding part of the gracious protection that keeps us from fully experiencing the consequences of our own actions. Judgment can function as a mirror that lets us see what otherwise we might not. Divine judgment has the intention of restoration. It offers us the possibility of recovery of a better perspective on life, God, friendship, love, everything. Judgment can be the trigger for new beginnings, for the resolve and commitment to live life more as a gift to be shared.

As I watched a YouTube clip sent to me of pandas mating after ten years, the conclusion seemed inescapable: They had needed some privacy. And that Nature flourishes when we get out of the way. Perhaps this moment will give us the eyes to see the environmental damage and danger before us and the vulnerability of the least. Perhaps this time, that reminds us painfully of the limits of our own power, can also help us notice things about ourselves, about how we care for others, about the world, and can help us to recover a deeper sense of our purpose.

There are lessons for us in these things. It should not leave us unchanged.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 19, 2020

We are in a most extraordinary position - isolated in homes - no sports on tv- worries about life, job, money, vulnerability. Is it possible that this will be a moment when we will rediscover the importance of life together? Is the isolation the occasion for us to realize how interconnected we are, how dependent we are on the sacrificial work of others for our well-being?

A famous sociologist, Robert Bellah, suggested that there were two things that created the secret sauce of American success: entrepreneurship and the church- stressing creativity and initiative but also recognizing that capitalism contains no moral values and that the church reminds us of the responsibility and relationship we have with others. Together they built America. Bellah was concerned that people had forgotten the importance of the church in this equation.

Perhaps this is a moment for us to remember. It honors those who have made sacrifices for us and are taking risks for us today that personal freedoms are not enough.

I have been working on a book on the Lord’s Prayer. It has struck me how it teaches us to pray for “us” and not just for “me.”

The question that this weird experience we are living through invites us all to ask is: how can the next chapter of our life together be a better one-and what’s the part I can play.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 15, 2020

I have been thinking about "essential workers." I think many of us are making special efforts to thank grocery checkers and stockers, pharmacy workers, delivery people, and so many more. And then, of course, there are the hospital workers, doctors, nurses, cleaners, food service, laundry people, all putting themselves at risk for others. There are those who work in nursing homes. The list goes on and on.

Many of them, front line essential workers, people who make the sheltering in place possible, are among the lowest compensated people in our economy. Many struggle to make ends meet. Many lack health insurance, paid sick leave. And yet they care for us. It sounds like a Biblical parable, someone said. It ought to make us think.

Doesn't gratitude need to be concrete? Shouldn't we be reflecting on this experience and letting it touch us with a vision of what can be better, of what must be better, when the all-clear whistle blows? Should things return to "normal" or should it become the moment to aspire and work for a better world?

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 10, 2020

I watched an interview with Peggy Whitson, an American astronaut who set all kinds of space records, including a total of 665 days in space. She was asked by a reporter how she managed the isolation and social distancing.

She described keeping busy with little tasks. Then there came a sense of the fundamental meaninglessness of all the little tasks. While I could identify with both stages, it was what she said next that captured me. She said that she needed to remember the larger purpose and the larger story of which she was a part, the exploration of space and pushing the frontier of knowledge. Remembering the larger story made the little chores endurable and meaningful.

We all can look to a larger frame when thinking about a moment. We may think to a difficult period in life that we navigated or survived, or to family stories that remind us that others have gone through tough times with grit and courage. These stories can help to steel the soul and to keep us from despair and anxiety.

In this Holy Week, we are reminded of a larger story that is bigger than family stories and frames our life and purpose. It is a story of sacrifice, of love, power, surprise and joy. It is a story that has helped people endure through tough times and recover with resilience and grace. It is the story of who we are and the destiny for which we were created. It is the story that can help us to come out of shelter into a new chapter of promise. It is the story of a God who loves each of us and all of us more than we can ever imagine. It is also the invitation to live a bigger life.

God bless you!

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     April 4, 2020

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a day that recalls a story of profound relevance to the stress of our present national emergency.

Palm Sunday is about more than a parade. Jesus knew that his enemies were waiting for him in Jerusalem to do him harm. He could have stayed away. Instead, he went forward, into the heart of the storm. The stress he felt, though people cheered at the time, is conveyed in the account of a prayer he made in the garden of Gethsemane. The story operates on many levels.

I am grateful that because of Jesus' life, we can believe that God understands what human life is like, our worries and fears, our anxieties and concerns. We can believe the evidence and message of Easter's triumph, that love ultimately wins. We have reason for trust that we are not alone through our life. We have reason for a profound hope. We have reason to live with courage, generosity and grace---even when, especially when, life is hard.

It will be strange for me not to be in church for the services of the coming week. But the story of this week is for all of us. It is about evil, death, despair and brokenness. It is about courage, trust, faithfulness, even when things are difficult. And it is about the triumph of love---and joy. Sometimes, we find ourselves in places where this story is able to touch us with particular power. May you be touched and blessed!

Be well!

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 29, 2020 

There have been a lot of moving stories about the medical front line facing the COVID virus. Hospital staffs are dealing with a dangerous situation every day. It is stressful, frightening, and ominous. Many of them are doing it without the full protection of the personal protective equipment they were taught always to wear. The failure to protect first responders puts us in a circumstance often more associated with the third world, not America. They and their families deserve not to be put at such risk. That’s obvious.

And yet they serve, and volunteer and work and care. It is not self interest that drives them. It is empathy. And it is character. In a society that often suggests that self interest is the highest principle, and that those who operate from something else are foolish or misguided, doctors and nurses and cleaning and cooking staff who are serving are modeling something different from those who operate from or celebrate self-interest. It is not foolishness to care. There is nobility in it and even the suggestion that we were made to care for one another, not simply ourselves. Self interest may be cultivated into an art form but it doesn’t exhibit character.

Character used to suggest the cultivation of virtue and not just refer to a crusty uncle. It meant living with an understanding of the value of others and so to be willing to make sacrifices for others. It still does. Character understands that we are more connected to each other than we realize and calls us to reflect on the part we can play for good. It challenges us to bring discipline to the aspiration to become a better human being.

In the middle of this crisis, we have seen great courage and kindness and generosity. It is a gift to all of us. It is also a model and calling for a better world.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog     March 22, 2020

It has been a week since Wesla and I started staying home as a part of the corona virus protocol. It has been slow to sink in that we are living what we never imagined (though the government should be imagining the unimaginable -- isn't that the lesson of Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and why we pay taxes for our troops to prepare for unexpected scenarios? Responsibility and accountability aren't just lessons for teenagers; they matter for government and for the rest of us. They help us make necessary changes and to regain trust.

I have felt what I suspect many have---a range of emotions, bursts of energy to tackle projects around the house, a sense of social isolation and wanting to get out and be with people, anxiety about savings and investment losses, amusement that our children are going crazy locked up with their kids full-time, watching the news and then switching to the weather channel way too much, and awareness that there are many who are in desperate situations, without income, groceries, afraid about not being able to pay the rent, and dealing with profound anxiety and stress.

When I think about those who are living on the edge, I feel some shame about worrying about myself. I remember something my mother once said about her Alzheimer's condition and her faith: "The Lord has seen me through a lot of things (and I knew her life had been tough) and it's no time to change ponies now." There are stand up moments in life. We can show courage whereever we are.

We all have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. Interestingly, it is one of the best ways both to get perspective for our own life and to get out of the self-preoccupation that diminishes us. For every one of us, there are places we are uniquely positioned to help. It may require some inquiries. But you and I can be an answer to desperate prayers. Helping someone who is hurting can both concretely change circumstances and also be a source of encouragement that may help them face the next challenge. It also helps to make us truly alive because we have the power to to make a difference, and were made to live a life that matters, even in challenging times, perhaps especially in challenging times.

Be well.

Doug Fletcher

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Doug Fletcher Blog

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