Sheepdog Demonstrations 2019

Sheepdog demonstrations show what working dogs can do. Photo by Sandi Scott

Sheepdog demonstrations show what working dogs can do. Photo by Sandi Scott

For all of human history there has been a bond between people, land, and animals. The Creator God has given us to each other. In spite of the industrialization of agriculture we all feel the need for to feel part of this circle of belonging.

Sheepdog demonstrations are the way Connie and John try to help people get in touch, or stay in touch, with this beautiful harmony. We try to explain what a marvel it is that sheep provide people with a wonder fabric that keeps us warm, even when wet, and breathes enough to be worn comfortably in the heat of summer. We demonstrate the miracle of the Border Collie who, with a little understanding and direction from human partners, will work its heart out moving, sorting, and penning sheep with a maximum of efficiency and a minimum of stress.

We have seen thousands of people be fascinated and inspired by these demonstrations all over the western suburbs of Chicago, and into northern Illinois. This year we will make our first foray into central Illinois as we bring the dogs to work the flock at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site south of Charleston.

Here is the calendar of our demonstrations:

  • Sunday, April 7, Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster Street, Naperville, IL 60540, demonstrations at 1:45 and 2:45 p.m. There is an entrance fee for the Settlement, and there will be other demonstrations at this historic living museum on this day.
  • Saturday and Sunday, May 4 and 5, Kline Creek Farm (DuPage County Forest Preserve), 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago, IL, 60185, four demonstrations between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. each day. No entrance fee. The weekend will include sheep shearing, traditional spinning and weaving, and tours of the 1890s farm.
  • Saturday, May 25, Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site, 402 S Lincoln Hwy, Lerna, IL 62440 (8 mi south of Charleston, IL). Details to be determined.
  • Saturday, June 1, St. James Farm (DuPage County Forest Preserve), 2S541 Winfield Road, Warrenville, IL 60555, four demonstrations between noon and 3:00 p.m. This is part of the Farm’s annual Family Field Day which offers a host of farm related exhibits and demonstrations.
  • Saturday, June 29, Peck Farm Park (Geneva Park District), 4038 Kaneville Road, Geneva, IL 60134, demonstrations between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. as part of the Farm’s 150th Birthday Celebration.
  • Saturday, July 20, we are in conversations with the Lion’s Club of Waterman, Illinois, to do demonstrations for their annual tractor show.  Keep watching this page for developments.

Jesus Calls All Religions to Repent and Reform

If Christians understood Jesus as he came to us, as the One who calls all religions to reform and repentance, we would listen to and respect, and not ignore or hate, the voices of all other faiths.

Concerned citizens gathered this past week at the Islamic Center of DeKalb, Illinois, to share grief, hope, and shared humanity in the face of the massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was one more bit of evidence that people with hatred in their hearts and guns in their hands can, tragically, cause immense bloodshed; but people with respect for the infinite worth of each human life will always be victorious.

As a Christian, I take heart in the thought that respect, and even love, for all people is a quality that is cherished and espoused by the faith I live for. I believe that this quality is alive in the hearts of good people in all of our denominations. However, there is a viral ideology out there that has the power to infect and degrade universal respect of shared humanity.

That ideology is known as Christian, or evangelical Zionism. To be precise, it is neither Christian nor evangelical. Born out of a false view of biblical prophecy, this ideology leads people to think of God’s love for all the world’s peoples as being trumped by an almighty, cold chain of inevitability. This imagined “divine plan” is all about an idolatry of fate and has nothing to do with the self-giving love of a sovereign God that we see and celebrate in Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The idea that the future we hope for includes a rapture to heaven of true believers to make way for the destruction of despised and rejected infidels is an abomination, and a total distortion of the biblical witness. When Christians are fooled into searching for prophesied signs of God’s plan in the events in Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East, they inevitably look past God’s real, eternal concern: the lives of all of the peoples there—Jewish, Muslim, Christian and secular.

The most tragic effect of this is that it has caused some of the most powerful people in our nation and our world to disregard the real suffering of Palestinians, and to discount their human rights and needs in the equations of foreign affairs. Hundreds of thousands of them have languished for generations in refugee camps, hoping some day to breathe free. Meanwhile, no less a central figure in our nation’s diplomacy than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly declares that this kind of rapture ideology and blinkered understanding steers his vision and work.

It is essential that all people of good will treasure the religion of Judaism, recoil at the horrors of the Holocaust, learn the lessons from that tragedy, and stand against all anti-Semitism. It is also essential that we support the state of Israel as a bulwark of democracy in a region with far too much brutal autocracy, and stand against terrorism as the threat against human decency that it is. But, for the sake of the respect and love for all humanity that the biblical God champions, we must also reject any ideology that causes us to think of people—real flesh and blood people—as mere pawns in a warped vision of some heavenly great game of chess.

The Letter to the Ephesians asserts that Jesus Christ, on the cross, broke down the dividing wall between peoples. In 2 Corinthians 5.17 the Apostle Paul says that in Christ there is a new creation. The impact of Christ is such because he was not the agent of any particular religion, but a power from God to call all religion to repentance and to reformation.

It is inevitable that part of the exercise of religion is to define boundaries in the hope of defining identity and belonging. “We believe this. We do thus. We live and die for these things. And this distinguishes us from them.”

But the universal restoration that Peter talks about in Jerusalem on Solomon’s Portico of the Temple in Acts 3.17-21, means that God’s aim is to break down much of those things we build up in our religion. All that divides is to be swept away. All that gathers is to be championed.

The Banquet of the Blessed and Unblessed

Reflections on the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent


Amy-Jill Levine has a nice Youtube presentation on Jesus’ parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son (the Gospel for this Sunday in Luke 15.

Levine would rather call them the parables of the Frantic Woman, the Frantic Shepherd, and the Frantic Father – all looking for the lost. But she also, wisely, ties these together and points out that Jesus is setting us up for a twist. God is like these people who cherish and will leave no stone unturned in search of the lost coin, the lost lamb, and the lost son. But the whole thing with the son is complicated by the fact that there is another son who seems lost in the shuffle.

Levine points out that upon the return of the prodigal, there is a great banquet given, and the dutiful, stay-at-home son is left in the fields unknowing. He is so forgotten that it is only a household slave who sort of accidentally goes out to inform him that the table is set.

Levine goes on to wisely connect this story with the biblical stories that have other unblessed sons: Cain, Ishmael, and Esau. And this parable of Jesus opens a window for us to see them and to ask, what about them. Are we to think that God forgets those other sons – has God forgotten to count them?

No! No! It cannot be. The father in Jesus’ story says, “All I have is yours.” The banquet is for all these unblessed.

Yes, we must remember the unblessed. And we must lift up this coming banquet that is in all of our futures. A banquet for the scattered lost sons and daughters—the whole creation is aching and groaning and waiting for the revealing of those lost children of God, and for their gathering, and for the Great Banquet that God has promised.

And while creation waits, we who are ambassadors of the good news, have a responsibility to be part of the party of reconciliation and gathering. So says our second reading for this coming Sunday of Lent, 2 Corinthians 5.16-21:

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

In other words, we are to go out into the fields and find those unblessed of every size and shape, and to tell them the banquet is for them and for all of us.


Try Being Less Spiritual and More Decent

“What then should we do?”

That was the cry of the crowds who were touched by John the Baptist’s message in the region of the Jordan, that God’s ax was laid at the root of the trees, and those that produced no good fruit would be cut down (Luke 3:9).

What are those good fruits? What are we to do?

Given the reputation of John as a man made holy by his retreat into the wilderness and famously austere lifestyle, those who asked that question must have expected John to say, “Become spiritual by denying your flesh. Cut yourself off from the taint of society, and starve the impulses of your physical self. Thereby one obtains righteousness.”

But John doesn’t. He says instead, “If you find that you have surplus clothing or food, share it. If you are a civil servant, be fair and honest in your dealings with the public. If you are a soldier, with power and privilege, don’t oppress folks.”

In short, “The ‘good fruit’ God looks for is being a decent human being.” So, perhaps John is telling—even warning us—be less spiritual and more decent!

If we are looking to Christianity for a core belief—for a distinguishing doctrine—for a teaching that sets it apart among world religions—it may well be this simple, but neglected truth: God does not call us to be spiritual by being more than human, but by being good at what God made us to be in the first place.

All about us is the evidence of the destruction caused by people who are striving to climb a ladder to heaven by trying to rise above their essential human condition. Through the history of religions there has always been this disastrous strain of thought that says material stuff is bad and only the rarified, invisible dimension is good. The most common human emotions and drives are all bad, and only pure rationality, whatever that is, is good. Horrible are the results when people seek to become divine by denigrating the common stuff of everyday human life.

God wants good fruits of decency and common, domestic variety compassion. Climbing the staircase to God takes us in the opposite direction.

How many times do we have to see people preoccupied with trying to obey the Bible, or working out airtight doctrine, or suppressing their hunger for companionship or sexuality, doing things to the people around them that are heartbreaking, cruel, and even deadly, before we realize something is dreadfully wrong? Our inhumanity to one another is, so very often, engendered by our self-inflicted and wrong-headed attempt to transcend our humanity—to become some sort of super human beings. Think of the Magdalene Nurseries in Ireland, Palestinians languishing for decades in refugee camps, children abused by priests struggling to keep their vows of celibacy, and the mounting death toll of the innocent victims of terrorists all over the world–all of these things caused by those who were striving to be more godly, or to live for some “higher cause.” One church historian described this sort of religious fanaticism as people who “do what God would do if God only had all the facts.”


The infant Jesus lies in the manger. Let’s wake up. Let’s never forget the point! God so loved the world. The Word became flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. We do not climb out of our humanity to God. We receive. God comes to inhabit our humanity—the humanity God created and blessed in the first place.

Only when we learn to love our humanity as much as God does can we learn to trust God’s forgiveness of our frailty. Only when we get comfortable with our frailty and limitations, can we learn to accept the help that we must have from one another—from other humans who are ungodly, just like us. Then things like simple sharing and fairness will look more like the noble things they truly are. They form the good fruit God is looking for in us.

Watching Dogs in the Cold—Musings on the Widow’s Mite

This past Thursday through Sunday (November 1-4), Connie and I hosted our latest dog clinic, with Gordon Watt presiding as trainer and teacher.

I’m certain some people driving by on Airport Road on Sunday, spotted our little crowd of people, sitting in lawn chairs in a wind-driven cold rain, and wondered to themselves, “What the hell are they doing there?”

Screws loose?

In fact, as for me and my house, it was our way of going “all in.”

This coming Sunday a reading in church will be from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is nearing the end of his life, when he will go “all in” himself. He will give his life for all of us. Just before he does he has a sit down at the Temple, across from the treasury and the place where people deposit their offerings. He spies all sorts of people who have become trapped in play acting their faith for the sake of others. Honor is everything to them, as it is in many cultures, including our own. So, very possibly they started out in their faith journey with all sincerely, but soon became self-conscious about how much spiritual honor they were accruing for themselves—self-conscious thinking about how their piety might look on camera. It had the effect of poisoning their lives so that nothing of it had the ring of truth anymore. Before long all that they could give was pretend and pretense. Nothing was “all in.”

But then Jesus saw a poor widow who put into the offering all she had—her widow’s mite. If a host of cell phone cameras had been there they would have recorded nothing but chump change. But Jesus wisely noted that she gave most of all. She gave completely and honestly of herself.

A couple of weeks ago the reading was about Jesus’ healing of Blind Bartimaeus. Disciples James and John had asked Jesus for the prime seats next to Jesus in his glory. Bartimaeus asked only to see. And when Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak—most likely the only thing he owned in the world, and followed Jesus, whose next stop was the cross.

Bartimaeus too went all in. He and the widow hungered for the honor of giving of themselves to others.

Of course any school child can see the logical conundrum of going “all in” if it is thought of in a crass materialistic way. If we give away all we have, the people we give to are enriched. Then they, if they are to join us in our sacrificial living, must give away what they just received from us. What a wacky circle that would be!

But the authentic widows and blind beggars of life know something of the secret of faithful living. To enjoy it we must be free from the idea of sacrifice, and we must be “all in.” It doesn’t mean losing, but gaining. Giving and receiving become one thing.  Our honor is not in what others think of us, but in what we both give and use to be a blessing to others.

It is a joy for Connie and me to look out on the green pastures, the grazing sheep, the galloping dogs, the beautiful sunsets and even the glowering clouds, wind and rain. But when we go “all in” and open our farm to others, it means infinitely more. We get it all back a hundredfold, as the Lord says.

We could make these clinics more of a business proposition. We could certainly charge more money. We barely cover our expenses. We could keep people outside or in the garage, and avoid messing up our kitchen and living room. But the joy that we get from sharing everything we have with others turns them from customers to dearest friends. The joy we get from farming and from our miraculous dogs is amplified 100-fold as we share it all so that strangers become family.

This spring we will have to sit down with our accountant. He will ask us if we have been trying to make a profit with this farm. That is an important concept for the Internal Revenue Service codes, I know. But the profit we realize is not one that can be calculated or easily explained to the authorities. Nonetheless, I believe Jesus sees us all, shivering in the cold there, with smiles on our faces–and He understands.

Handlers enjoy the crisp autumn day and each other--all prior to the cold rain and wind of the next day. Photo by John.

Handlers enjoy the crisp autumn day and each other–all prior to the cold rain and wind of the next day. Photo by John.

November 1-4 Gordon Watt Clinic

Gordon Watt, champion sheepdog handler and popular trainer of other handlers, has been an important part of life at Heatherhope for many years. Gordon is a lifelong shepherd and dog handler, following in his father’s footsteps, so his experience and understanding run deep. He has won singles and brace championships in Ireland, England, and the World Trials. He was US Reserve Champion on his first outing. So we are delighted to host his clinics here at the farm.

November and April have been good months for us with nice cool weather and lots of learning. We have a great group of regulars, but each year we gladly welcome newcomer to our group.

This November we will have Gordon back Thursday through Sunday, November 1-4. As we put up this post the working slots for the clinic have already filled up. In fact they filled extremely quickly this go-round. But we can put people on the wait list and we ALWAYS have room for people to audit–that is watch and learn as others work their dogs with Gordon.

The clinic goes through just about all of the daylight hours. We get out to the field soon after sun-up and work till just about dusk. Between the wireless microphone that we try to get Gordon to turn on as often as possible, and the debriefing time after each dog works, everyone learns a great deal–even the auditors.

If you are interested in attending this clinic, or any in the future (See our posting for the April, 2019 clinic.),  please write John at, or phone us at 1-815-895-9736. We are sure you will enjoy the learning, the good food, and the good laughs and conversation among friends.

Gordon Watt helps dogs, sheep and handlers work together better. Photo by John

Gordon Watt helps dogs, sheep and handlers work together better. Photo by John

April 25-28, 2019 Gordon Watt Clinic

Gordon Watt will return to Heatherhope Farm for a four day, all ability level, sheepdog clinic Thursday through Sunday, April 25-28, 2019.

Gordon has been coming to Heatherhope since 2007, and we have heard nothing but praise for the great improvements he facilitates with each dog and each handler.

Kathy Farkos works with Gordon Watt. Photo by John

Kathy Farkos works with Gordon Watt. Photo by John



There will be 12 working slots each day–each working slot affords you two times out with Gordon, either with the same dog each time or with different dogs. You can sign up for any number of days you wish to be here, but we cannot guarantee your spot until you get a check in to us. That way we can be the most fair to all who want to enter.

As always we also invite people to audit. If you audit you will not run a dog in the clinic, but you can learn a great deal by observing, and by asking questions about what is happening with each of the dogs being worked.

Please write to us at for all the details about working slots or auditing. A daily continental breakfast, full lunch, and lots of great conversations are part of the experience.


In Memory of Cap

In Memoriam

Cap ABCA 240965

Born 12/25/2003

Died 7/11/2018

By John Seraphine

As this is being written there is a newly empty kennel at Heatherhope. Our remaining six Border Collies, Bilbo the guard dog, and Connie and I salute our beloved Cap as we pass that empty space and remember the magnificent partner, family member, and progenitor who occupied it.

I write this and share it on our Heatherhope website for the sake of our many friends who knew Cap and who share our love of him and all dogs.

Cap turns reluctant ewes. Photo by Sandi Scott

Cap turns reluctant ewes. Photo by Sandi Scott

Cap was part of a litter bred by Wally Yoder. I bought that litter’s sire, Mirk (ISDS 236175), from a wonderful shepherd-breeder-trainer, Bill Elliot in the Borders of Scotland, and Wally Yoder bought Cap’s dam, Liz (ISDS 243853) from the same gentleman. This was 2002 as the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 continued and these fine dogs didn’t have much work as stock movements had ground to a halt. From the outset, Wally and I planned to breed these two dogs that had both done quite well in Scottish nursery trials up to the time they were halted due to the disease outbreak. Once home we bred them as soon as Liz came into season. Wally’s Liz was too shy for natural breeding so we brought Cap’s parents to our veterinarian who got the two of them together in his offices, collected fresh semen from Mirk, and immediately inserted it into Liz.

The litter was born on Christmas Day, 2003. Ever since I brought Cap home Wally has reminded me, tongue-in-cheek, that I got the wrong pup. You see, Cap’s blaze had gotten much smaller in the interval between my choosing him and picking him up. I thought perhaps Wally had handed over a different pup. He thought there was a chance I thought he was pulling over a fast one on me, but actually there was so little difference between the pups my only concern was to wind up with a male. But Wally will forever remind me that I got the “wrong pup.”

Of course, Cap, his whole life through, was always the “right pup” and the “right dog” for Connie and me and Heatherhope Farm.

Cap after his work in the blowing snow and ice shows the beauty of blue collar dogs. Photo by John

Cap after his work in the blowing snow and ice shows the beauty of blue collar dogs. Photo by John

Cap, like his father, Mirk, had ample power to move sheep, along with an extreme reluctance to stop. While Mirk had been well trained by Bill Elliot, and tended to fetch and drive at a steady pace, I was the only one to ever handle Cap, and I couldn’t get that pace right, or the stops I wanted, or the proper shape to wider flanks. Cap’s hard driving style also made me so nervous that my mouth dried out so I often couldn’t manage to blow my whistle. So there was always murmuring around the handlers’ tent and well-intended advice about the virtues of quiet handling.

In spite of me, however, Cap picked up things fast. He could complete open courses by his first birthday, and we could at least attempt international shedding by his 16th month. We managed to wind up on the prize lists from time to time, and even to win a couple open trials. But what impressed me the most was the way he could manage to fetch mishandled sheep that had run back to the set-out pen—a task only the rarest dog is up to.

Cap on the job. Photo by Sandi Scott

Cap on the job. Photo by Sandi Scott

While I was pretty consistently frustrated by not being able to handle Cap better, I started to overhear people whispering that a certain top handler was telling people that he considered Cap to be one of the most promising stud dogs around. I thought I misheard, or it was a joke; but it must have been true, and it must have been picked up by enough good breeders so that Cap sired over 50 pups in eleven litters. There are a handful of his pups and grand-pups that are among the very top herding dogs in the nation today. And many, many others who are doing fantastic stock work and making fantastic companions for people from coast to coast.

So, on Cap’s last day in this life, we laid him out in the shade, waiting for our evening appointment at the veterinarians. He was panting, and he was fading; but he seemed at peace. I stroked him and reminded him that this was his domain—with the grass and the leaves blowing in the wind, and the sheep spread out in the pasture of Heatherhope—the only home he had ever known. He had always been a faithful and honest dog. He had been the most gentlemanly of stud dogs to the bitches brought to him—always waiting patiently until they were ready for him. He enjoyed our sip of Scotch on the couch on an evening, but never outstayed his welcome, soon going to the door to be let back out to his kennel. I thanked him for forgiving me for my ridiculous yelling at him, and all the wrong commands, and for being patient, and teaching me to be patient in return. I thanked him for teaching me trust. I thanked him for those successes and wins that we finally achieved together that convinced some that I had finally learned a thing or two about handling. I thanked the God of Creation for putting a spirit like this into a dog like this. I thanked God for bringing us together.

But most of all, on that grass beneath the Sugar Maple, and a final time as the doctor gave him the injection that allowed him to slip into that ultimate sleep, Connie and I assured our dear Cap that he wasn’t alone…and that we love him always.

What Does A Liar Sound Like?

Perhaps THE fundamental question today is, “How can I tell if someone is lying to me?” Are they trying to rip me off, manipulate me, sell me a bill of goods? Have they themselves been sucked into an entire movement built on lies, and are they unwittingly trying to seduce me into their house of cards? Are they giving me the truth, or “fake news?”

It’s really not rocket science. Here, as a public service, is a short list–a dirty dozen dependable ways to tell a liar–a set of tips that anyone can use in any situation, no matter which side of any political or cultural divide you find yourself on:

  • First: Don’t be mentally lazy by simply siding with your allies. Liars can come at us from all sides. Your mom was right, people who look like good friends might just be forming a parade heading headlong into a murky lake or over an unhealthy-high cliff. Parades like that are thrilling for only a very brief moment.
  • Second: Don’t be mentally lazy and go with the flow. The best liars can easily line up a majority behind them. A whole world thought war was glory in August, 1917. Remember, that graffiti was right to warn, “Eat sh__! Ten million flies can’t be wrong.”
  • Third: If the person talking tries to win arguments with lots of personal attacks (what Latin lovers call ad hominem, or “aimed at the person rather than the idea,” then that person doesn’t have truth on his or her side. If they did they would use it. So consider them liars.
  • Fourth: Of course the giant, economy-sized personal attack is the lie of dehumanizing. If you hear someone talk in sweeping generalities about “those people” who are so bad that they can be thought of as worthless swamp creatures, that person is lying BIG TIME. Billions of people through the ages have been oppressed and even killed because someone wanting power or plenty spread the lie that “those people” don’t think or feel the way we do.” And other people believed it.
  • Fifth: The flip side of ad hominem is the liar whose main argument is, “I’m the only person you can trust.” This argument, of course, goes hand-in-hand with the generalizing dehumanization. “Those others” are the monsters, but I’m the messiah. If you hear any fast talker saying, “believe me, trust me, and follow me because all the people I disagree with made a terrible mess and I’m the one you can trust to fix things,” run. Run far and fast away from such a huckster, whether he or she is selling you a house or selling you a political idea, because the paradise they are selling will certainly turn out to be a graveyard.
  • Sixth: Keep questioning as you listen, “How do you know this to be true?” If the evidence offered is flimsy or non-existent–if it consists only of a few juicy stories or anecdotes, but no real evidence that provides a big picture, or demonstrates a genuine trend, then it’s just a lie. A murder in Chicago is tragic, but it might happen while the overall murder rate there is declining. A million dollars poorly spent sounds terrible until you learn that as a portion of the federal budget it amounts to barely a fraction of a percent.
  • Seventh: Keep questioning, “But what is the CAUSE?” Perhaps the most common thing that throws a monkey wrench into clear, correct thinking is the tendency to accept that since one thing follows another, it must be the cause. Again there is a fancy Latin phrase for this mistake: post hoc ergo propter hoc. Every single business day a pundit will tell you if the stock market went up or down. Then they will almost always throw in some simplistic idea about why share prices went up or down. Of course these are no better than guesses or they would all be billionaires buying low and selling high. Of course they would never last long predicting whether the market will be up or down tomorrow. There are as many reasons stocks sell high or low as there are traders and trading software programmers. But professional liars in any field will keep making up their own stories about cause and effect to sell you on something. They will keep over simplifying. They will keep twisting the facts to flatter themselves and their causes. So, if you hear the simple causes for the complex effects, know it is a liar you are listening to.
  • Eighth: Remember “there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.” Liars love to throw out numbers. Statistics tend to convince because they sound so irrefutable. But who gathered the statistics? Are those presenting them cherry picking the ones they love and ignoring the rest? Is a 25% rise in car thefts as alarming in a town that only had four last year as in an entire state or region where there are thousands? Statistics can be important only if the research is sound, unbiased, and only if we are not comparing apples with artificial apple flavoring.
  • Ninth: Liars work to get you to say “yes” as many times as possible, so that they can then slip you the fatal, false, forced alternative. Door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen used to ask you if you love your children, if you want to provide a good home, if you value education, etc. Then they would work you into a corner where if you didn’t agree to buy an expensive encyclopedia you felt like you were denying your children a future. So too all liars keep repeating feel-good slogans and build up to false alternatives: either you support my proposals or you hate freedom, security, the flag, motherhood, Western civilization and the sanctity of life.
  • Tenth: Liar’s soften us up with fear. The more fear the better. If we can be convinced ruin is around the corner we will fall for just about any garbage.
  • Eleventh: Liar’s do not go to the trouble of arguing against opposing ideas stated well. They argue against absurd, extreme caricatures of ideas.
  • Twelfth: Fluff or BS. The professional liar is a fast talker. She or he avoids specifics because specifics can be tested for accuracy and honesty. The liar instead piles on all sorts of warm and fuzzy “virtue words” such as freedom, security, prosperity, greatness, and extra value for lower cost and lower taxes. The liar takes us into the great blue beyond of etcetera but says nothing that we tell is a lie. Our heads are spinning and we get taken for a ride before the big crash.

Pentecost 8: What Does Greatness Look Like

What constitutes greatness? In this week’s gospel we see a study in contrasts that helps us understand. In Mark 10 Jesus teaches the disciples and the church in simple terms. Two millennia later we still have a long way to go to get it into our hearts.

Herod Antipas wanted to be known as a king, but was officially only a tetrarch of two patches of territory: Galilee and Perea. Mark goes to lengths to show that neither he nor Pilate not the Jewish authorities exercised any true greatness. They were intimidated by the mercurial currents of political pressure. They were victims of what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard called, in his work of the same name, “the crowd as untruth.”

Set side by side the stories of Jesus and John the Baptist and these key political leaders bring into sharp relief the difference between true and false and destructive greatness. Herod Antipas only appears to have power. In fact he is part of a vast dysfunctional family and caught in the grip of dizzying political intrigue. He can afford to throw a vast party to impress potential allies, but when he goes a single step too far to impress with a promise to Salome. So, the horrifying image of the head of a man on a platter is, on the surface, a show of brute force. But it signifies even more starkly the primal fears that move this so-called king.

A few chapters later two disciples of Jesus, who seem to have special place already–James and John, Sons of Zebedee–ask Jesus to do their bidding and to grant them positions of power when Jesus enters into his glory. Jesus replies that these two disciples do not understand that the necessary prelude to glory is drinking from a cup and being baptized. He is speaking, of course, in his self-sacrificial death.

Then Jesus adds this:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The words translated “lord it over” and “tyrannize” are rarely used words in Greek, but they do seem to strongly indicate brute force. But it is crystal clear what the opposite is–the ideal of Jesus and of his church: servanthood, and even an absolute form of servanthood called slavery to all others.

These qualities of greatness John the Baptist showed by speaking truth to power at the cost of his life, and Jesus shows and turns into the Sacraments by drinking of the cup and being baptized into the font of salvivic death.

Our current President has championed a vision of greatness he has summed up in the words “America first.” His method and message has consistently focused on claiming greatness for all his words and deeds. Do we wait in vain for him to demonstrate the true greatness that lives in self sacrifice and servanthood? To whom do we look for such authentic greatness?