Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Despite the Traffic . . . .

You can tell it is high season here on Sanibel.  Traffic is a bear!  There is only one way off the island (by truck, car or bike, that is) and so the main road is often bumper-to-bumper.  From about 3:15 PM to 6:15 PM, it is stop and go, and the two miles from my office to the exit point on the island can take almost an hour!

There is another sign of high season for me as well.  My desk--indeed my office--is a disaster area!  Piles of books and papers and CDs and other things, are just thrown on the floor or on top of my desk when I am done with a meeting or teaching a class or leading worship until I have time to excavate.  Which often doesn't happen for days at a time!

Frankly, I have a serious love-hate relationship with high season.  I love the fact that most all of my p[parishioners are here.  I love the full sanctuary on Sunday, and the fact that my classes are well attended.  I love the energy that oozes from every corner.  But I do hate the traffic, and find it annoying to have to plan around it!

But such is the life of anyone who lives or works in a seasonal location.  When we are busy, we are very, very busy, and when we are not . . . well, you know how that goes.

All that said, however, I wouldn't want to be anyplace else!  I am grateful that as I round out my fortieth year of ordained minsitry, and my forty-third year of working in a parish, I find I really have little to complain about!  Life is good, here on Sanibel.  And while it is not paradise (contrary to all the signs in gift shops here on the island) it is a very special place to be a pastor.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Are You OK with Guns in Church?

I must admit I was rather startled by the headline I saw in last Sunday's edition of the News-Press, our local newspaper.  "Pastors mostly OK with guns in churches," it read.  Excuse me?  Reading through the article I did not see any statistical information to back that up, just some anecdotal materials from two local churches.

Now I realize reporters don't generally write their own headlines.  And it isn't unusual to find a headline doesn't fully reflect a story's content.  But this was pretty blatant!  I went on line to see if there was any poll or survey information to back up this claim, and came up empty handed.  I could have easily overlooked something, so I am not making any scientific claim here.  But still, if such information was readily available I suspect it would have shown up in my search!

The newspaper article itself had to do with a bill currently before the Florida legislature (HB1437) that would allow for concealed weapons to be carried in churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions that are housed in properties where there is a school.  We, for instance, house a preschool that we operate.  This bill would allow for concealed weapons to be carried on our campus.

I don't know about other pastors (or other clergy in general) but frankly, I am not OK with guns in church.  We do pay a fair amount of money for a police officer to be posted at the entrance to our property on Sunday mornings, and he (or she) is armed.  That in and of itself makes me uncomfortable, but security experts have told us that is the best thing we can do to ensure the safety of our congregants.

But concealed weapons?  In the worship service?  No thank you.  I know the recent mass shooting in a Texas church was a most likely shortened by the presence of persons with concealed weapons.  But that could have gone down a whole different way--more innocents caught in the cross fire, for example.  Maybe I am being na├»ve, or idealistic.  Maybe I'm just a coward, after all, I'm upfront in worship--a prime target I suppose.  But I am not OK with guns in churches--headline notwithstanding--and I just needed to say that clearly.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Why We Need Black History Month

Every once in a while I will hear some ask, Why do we need Black History Month?  Isn't the history of black people part of American history?  Why single them out?"

It is helpful to know that Black History Month is not a new phenomenon.  In fact it dates back in an earlier form to 1926.  That is when the first Negro History Week was established.  It grew out of the work of an historian  named Carter Woodson, and a Christian minister, Jesse Mooreland, who had founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, right in the midst of the Jim Crow Era, when people of color were being more and more marginalized in American life.

That first week was set up in the second week of February, to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, February 12, and Frederick Douglass, February 14.  Over time it was taken up by more and more cities, as various mayors and other officials issued proclamations in support of the effort.  In the sixties it morphed into Black History Month and it was officially declared by Gerald Ford in 1976.  In his proclamation he noted the importance of such a month "to honor the often neglected accomplishments of black Americans . . . throughout our history."

Why, these many years later, do we still need Black History Month?  Because there is still so much of the story to be told.  Because America's story is incomplete without it.  Because America would not be the great nation that it is today without the contributions of so, so many black individuals.  Indeed, in so many instances, America was literally built by persons who were enslaved, as well as those who were technically free, but often held down by black codes and discriminatory laws.

Why do we need Black History Month?  To help mend the rifts ad divisions, to help us see the whole picture.

(If you are in the area, I will be offering a three week course, After 1865:  Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Race in 2020 Wednesdays, February 5, 12 and 19, at 10:00 AM or 7:00 PM.  Identical sessions. Here at SCUCC, 2050 periwinkle Way, Sanibel.  All welcome!)

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Peace--A Rather Slippery Word!

Peace--it is one of those words that is rather slippery!  What do we mean by it?  Obviously, it refers to times when we are not at war.  But peace isn't limited to the cessation of geopolitical, military war.  I think it means far more.  It means not being in conflict with the Holy One, but seeking to live as we are called by God to live.  It means not being in conflict with our neighbors, but seeking to understand, affirm and embrace them.  It means not being in conflict with ourselves, but seeking to know and accept who we really are.  Come to think of it, Jesus offered up the perfect definition of peace when he was asked about the greatest of the commandments.

The first, he said, was to love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.  The second, he said, was to love your neighbor as yourself.  He draws them both from the Hebrew scriptures, his Bible.  When we are able to do that we are at peace.

Make no mistake, it takes a lot of work to bring about peace--internationally as well as personally.  It takes a lot of willingness to be open to new ways of thinking, new ways of being.  But peace is possible in all its manifestations.  If we are only willing to give it a chance.

This weekend my congregation joins with our sister congregation, Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands, a reform Jewish congregation, in our annual Pulpit Exchange.  That's something of a misnomer, of course.  For we share the same building,t he same sanctuary, the same pulpit.  So it is preachers, not pulpits that are being exchanged.  It is just one piece of the peace we are striving to build.  For we share much more than mere real estate.  In many ways, we share our very lives.

Ass followers of this blog know, we even shared an adventure this past year in Israel.  It was there where we experienced the artwork on the wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip pictured above. It is bears witness to the hope for peace in that troubled part of the world.  It is our hope, as two congregations living together, working together, being together, that we too bear witness to the possibility of peace in many ways, in many places.

If you'd like to be part of the Pulpit exchange, I'll be preaching for Bat Yam this coming Friday, January 31, at 7:30 PM, and my friend and colleague
, Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, will be preaching at our 9:00 and 11:00 AM services this coming Sunday, February 2.

(Photo Credit:  Janice Block)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Responding to the Crisis

Every year my congregation joins with four other congregations on Sanibel and Captiva, to sponsor the Annual Shared Scholar Lecture and Seminar.  This year our scholar is Mary Evelyn Tucker.  Dr. Tucker teaches at Yale University in the Religious Studies Department, the Divinity School and the School of Forestry.  Her work focuses around the interface between spirituality and environmental concerns.

Much of Dr. Tucker's work has focused around the life and work of Thomas Berry.  Berry was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and entered the Passionist Order as an adult.  Trained as scholar in Western history and world religions, he devoted much of his time to examining Asian religions, becoming especially well versed in Confucianism.

In a collection of writings by Berry that Dr. Tucker and her husband Dr. John Grim edited, Dr. Tucker writes of Berry:  "His commitment to Christianity is clear, yet his wide reading on ecological issues led him to ponder why Christians weren't responding [to the ecological crisis]."  (Thomas Berry:  Selected Writings on the Earth Community, 103)

Berry's question is a good one-=-not just for Christians to ponder, but Jews as well.  Why are we not responding more fully to the environmental crises at hand?  The Shared Scholar Lecture is open to the public, and will be held at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, 2050 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, Sunday, January 26 at 4:00 PM.  Join us as we explore together how we as people of faith might better, more fully, respond to the needs of our environment!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Hearing the Voice of God

One of the joys of being on Sanibel is getting to meet people from all over the country, indeed, all over the world!  That said, there does seem to be a real concentration of folks from the upper Midwest, especially Minnesota--the land of ten thousand lakes--all of which are usually iced over this time of year.  It is also the land of Oli and Lena jokes.

One day Oli decides he wants to go ice fishing.  So he heads out and starts to drill a hole in the ice with his augur.  Suddenly he hears a voice:  "Oli, there's no fish under the ice."  At first he shrugs it off and continues to drill.  But then he hears it again, "Oli!"  Maybe it's God, he thinks to himself.

"Lord," he says, "is that you?"

"No Oli it's me--the skating rink manager!"

Ah yes, hearing the voice of God.  Just what does that mean?  There's an old saying that goes something like, if you talk to God, it's called prayer.  If God talks to you, it's schizophrenia.  But clearly, over the centuries, many, many intelligent and same people have claimed to hear the voice of the Holy One.  Maybe not literally, maybe not in audible tones.  But nonetheless, many claim to have heard God speaking.

A few years back, in a meeting with my spiritual director, I spoke of some of the real challenges I was facing at the time.  The details are unimportant, but after going through my list of concerns, she looked at me and asked:  "So where is God in all of this?  Where have you experienced God lately?"

I knew she'd ask me that question.  Directors often do.  Still I hadn't really thought about it much.  I was so focused on my issues that i had failed to listen for the Holy.  We sat in silence for a bit, and then I remembered something that had happened that morning, how in talking about one of our recently deceased parishioners I had been moved to tears as I recalled the wonderful way his adult children had cared for him in the last year of his life.  In that moment, I had felt the presence of God; in that moment I had heard the voice of the Holy One speaking in and through the memory of children who had truly honored their father.  Busy professionals, scattered around the country, they had given much time and other resources as well, to be with their Dad.  To stay by his side during some difficult days,  Indeed, as I had watched them in action it had been something of a divine call, for it had reminded me of the importance of honoring my own mother as she continues to move through the aging process.

Amazing, isn't it?  God does in deed speak to us in so, many, many ways!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Traveling Light

My father was one of the best packers I’ve ever met.  Whether it was a domestic car trip, or an international journey, Dad always kept things to a minimum.  I remember well the suitcase he used for years.  It was a brown leather, modest-sized bag.  It had a number of pockets—and when Dad packed everything had its own place.  He never took things like bottles of shampoo or boxes of Q-tips—he always had little plastic bags and tiny bottles so that he only took what he needed.  He wasn’t afraid of washing out his socks in the bathroom sink to get another day’s use out of them.  And when it came to the return trip—well, he was very frugal, so he wasn’t weighed down by bags of souvenirs and trinkets—he just didn’t buy them! 

 When I was thirteen, Dad and I traveled to Scotland, and lived there for a semester.  That brown leather suitcase was the only piece of luggage he took with him.  And I was allowed only one bag myself.  My Dad personified traveling light.

That trip wasn’t some tourist junket.  Dad, an ordained pastor, felt called by God to go to Scotland and preach.  He tried to get a leave of absence from his work, but when he couldn’t he resigned to follow the call.  He and my mother simplified their lives as much as they could.  The six of us moved into a one-bedroom apartment.  They sold some of their stuff, stored the rest.  Made a tight budget.  Then Dad packed that brown leather suitcase, and off we went.  Dad didn’t even know how long it would be—a month, a year?  Whatever God wanted.  Things would be close, but trusting in God, he and mother knew they would manage.  And so they did.  So we all did.  That trip was probably the best thing that ever happened in my young life.   It taught me about living as a stranger in a strange land.  It taught me about the importance of simplification.  It taught me how to trust in God.

Not that I always remember the lesson.  Truth be told, sometimes my back pack is overloaded.  Sometimes I’ve got too much stuff in my suitcase--not just material stuff, but emotional baggage as well.   Sometimes I don’t trust in God.  But I know it can be done.  And when I do simplify, when I do trust in the Holy One, I am always the better for it. 
Traveling light.  It really is the only way to go!

(Photo:  Rev. Howard Danner, Jr.)