Monday, July 24, 2017

Come Together, Washington, Right Now!

I have a friend you recently moved from a state where Medicaid had been expanded where my friend was able to get health insurance coverage.  But in Florida, where Medicaid was not expanded, it was a different matter.  Now my friend, who is only able to work part time due to physical limitations, is  faced with the reality that health insurance here will cost in excess of eight hundred dollars a month.  My friend is caught between the proverbial  rock and  hard place.  To qualify for the reduced rates of the Affordable Care Act my friend would need to be earning at least thirteen thousand dollars a year. The part time work

she performs pays a fairly decent wage--but at sixteen hours a week my friend will only make eight hundred dollars a month--before taxes.  Obviously none of this adds up.

There is little question that the Affordable Care Act has made it possible for millions to get health insurance who otherwise would have none.  But it is not a cure all, and some folks still fall between the cracks.  Simply repealing it would have a devastating impact on those millions of folks.  But not shoring it up, repairing it, fixing it, will leave others still uninsured.  Action does need to be taken--but this will require more than a scalpel! 

The Beatles had a song I always loved, called "Come Together"--maybe it is time our representatives in Washington did just that.  I firmly believe this complex issue needs to be addressed cooperatively.  I believe it is time  Democrats, Republicans and Independents set aside the partisan bickering, and the intrapartisan bickering, and come together to truly serve the people they represent.  Everyone needs good healthcare.  Everyone needs to be insured.  It is obviously good for us as individuals to have health insurance, but it is also good for us as a society.  Healthy individuals mean a healthy society.  And a healthy society means a healthy America.

I believe all this because it makes sense, and also, because Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 

Let's stop the name calling.  Let's stop the bickering.  Let's stop the blame game.  And let's come together.  Right now.  For the sake of my friend.  For the sake of millions of other uninsured Americans.  For the sake of the nation.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Missing Barry: Believing in the Dawn


I miss my friend Barry.  He's not dead--he just lives in New Jersey.  Which I realize some folks think is as good as being dead--but I lived there for ten years, and found that I really loved the place.  Such a wonderful mix of seaside beaches, fields of corn and tomatoes and city life.  But I'm not here to do a Chamber of Commerce pitch for the Garden State.  I'm here to tell you about Barry.

Did you ever have a friend with whom you really didn't have a lot in common, yet you hit it off beautifully?  Barry and I are like that.  I'm a pastor--I've devoted my life to matters of faith and religion.  Barry--while certainly very respectful of religion, is not what I would call religious.  Barry is an accountant--and a darn good one at that.  I, though I recently completed a four year stint as treasurer of my Rotary Club, am less than enamored with numbers!  I love baseball and the Red Sox--Barry is a football fan, and follows the Green Bay Packers.  Barry met his wife while they were still kids--Linda and I met when we were adults with children of our own. I ride  a bike--Barry lifts weights.   He's  politically conservative and I--am decidedly not!  I read the New York Times--he reads the Wall Street Journal. You would think with all those disparities we would have a hard time connecting.  But the truth is, some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations I've ever had have been with Barry.  What's the old saying--steel sharpens steel?  The secret, I think, is that we both have a deep and abiding respect for each other.  And we both understand that the other has a well-thought out and caring point of view.  We both long for a day when the world is set right--we just see different paths to getting there!

Barry and I would go out to dinner with our wives, or sometimes party with other couples as well.  But the times when our conversations were the most rich were the long nights we shared hosting the homeless.  The church I served in New Jersey was part of a coalition of faith communities that provided emergency shelter for homeless men and women.  The hosting congregation would provide space for cots, a hot dinner, breakfast, a brown bag lunch and two volunteers to stay overnight.  A recliner was provided for the volunteers, who could take turns sleeping if they wanted--but both Barry and I usually stayed up most of the night talking about everything and anything.  Politics, religion, politics,  social issues, politics and sports.  When I'd come home Linda would ask if the two of us had managed to solve the world's problems overnight.

As the night wore on, our conversation would begin to slow down a bit as fatigue set in.  But gradually we would notice out the kitchen windows there in the church basement, the darkness beginning to fade.  And then, to the east, the light would begin to grow brighter, as we approached sunrise.  When we finally dismissed those in our care and stepped outside, depending on the time of year, it was not unusual for us to be greeted by the golds and pinks of the dawn.  It wasn't a sunrise over the ocean, but in its own Jersey sort of way, it was a thing of beauty--and a symbol of the hope we held in our hearts that the homeless folks we had gotten to know a bit overnight, would have a brighter day than the one before, that they would find a job, or permanent housing, or reconciliation with family. 
Henry David Thoreau once said, "We must learn to . . . keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn."  That's what kept Barry and I awake.  That's what kept us going those long dark Jersey nights.  Hope for the future--and  an "infinite expectation of the dawn."  For each in our own way, Barry and I both believe God can and will work to bring about a better world.  Despite our dramatic differences, Barry and I both believe that the dawn will come.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, Henry!

Two hundred years ago, on July 12,1817, Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord, Massachusetts.  His best known work, Walden, extolled simplicity and solitude.  It was and is required reading in many high schools and colleges, usually held up as a premiere example of journal writing.

Thoreau often difficulties fitting into the usual world of employment, despite graduating
at the top of his class at Harvard.  It is somewhat ironic that he sometimes found work at his father's pencil factory.  But the reality is he made more of a mark with pencils than in making them.

Thoreau was an outspoken critic of slavery and the Mexican War.  He was an advocate for the environment, long before the modern ecological movement.  He is said to have inspired many of the important figures in the effort to preserve the natural world, including John Muir. 

When I was a junior in high school I first encountered Walden.  It was required reading for my AP English class.  I was so enamored with it that I decided to be a bit more natural myself--and so I became a vegetarian.  For six weeks.  A pepperoni pizza did me in.

Still, I have long held a warm spot in my heart for the book and its author. (And not because of heartburn from those pizza pies!)   I even co-taught a course featuring Thoreau recently.

On February 5, 1855, Thoreau wrote in his journal:  "In a journal it is important in a few words to describe the weather, or character of the day, as it affects our feelings.  That which is so important at the time cannot be unimportant to remember." 

Enough of these ramblings--and on to the salutations.  Happy Birthday, Henry!  Might we always remember you and the lessons about life, nature, writing and civic responsibility you taught us.

And by the way, there's a thunderstorm brewing at the moment.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Tilt-a-Whirl World



Earlier this summer we had some vacation time with our grandkids.  They come in a variety of sizes, ages, colors and backgrounds.  They are a pretty diverse lot.  But despite that, they are cousins--and they really enjoy getting together.  Our time was spent on the Jersey shore, and two of the nights we went to the boardwalk.

Boardwalks on the shore are full of honky-tonk.  Rides, games, foods that no human being should ever eat (deep-fried Oreos anyone?)  Fortune tellers and skee ball.  None of it very substantive.  But all of it a lot of fun.

One of the rides the kids went on was the tilt-a-whirl--you know, the ride that turns you on your side and spins you around at gravity-defying speeds. When I saw this photo of the two youngest grandkids, heading hand-in-hand towards the tilt-a-whirl,  I couldn't help but think of our world today.  In so many ways it has been turned on its side.  In so many ways it is spinning so fast that we are being lifted off our feet.  Indeed, if you are like me (and the Anthony Newley character in the old musical) sometimes you just want to shout "Stop the World! I Want to get Off!"

But the world's not going to stop.  Things aren't going to slow down.  Things are going to continue to change at break neck speeds. And short of death itself, we aren't going to get off.   So what are we to do?  Just what my granddaughters did.  We need to be willing  take one another by the hand, regardless of our differences, and forge ahead. Giving each other the courage we need to live life in this tilt-a-whirl world. Because, after all, aren't we all cousins?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Farewell to Tiny: A Lesson in Hospitality

One of our cats died this weekend.  She was something of a hand-me-down, if you will.  In oh so many ways.

About eighteen years ago she showed up on my late mother-in-law's doorstep.  She was a bit bedraggled, and quite obviously a stray.  Hazel loved longhaired  cats, and so she decided she'd feed the stray.  And the next day, the cat showed up again.  And then again and again and again.

 "She keeps coming back," she said to my wife.

 "Well, you're feeding her, Mom.  Of course she keeps coming back!"

 "But I'm just giving her some canned tuna and a bit of canned salmon!"

The next day, the cat moved in.  When they went to name her, she and my late father-in-law, Cyril, debated what to call her.  They had another cat named Tiny.  Wouldn't it just be easiest to call this one Tiny Two?  And so it was settled.  Tiny.  Even though she was actually rather large (all that tuna and salmon, I guess!)

Time passed, and Hazel and Cyril needed extra care--so they, along with Tiny, moved in with us.  We already had a cat, named Alex.  He always stayed upstairs, Tiny lived down.  A feline d├ętente of sorts!

Hazel and Cyril's health, though went from bad to worse, and so two years later they had to move into a nursing home.  But Tiny wasn't allowed.  So she stayed with us.  She outlived our dog, Alex the upstairs cat, and got along tentatively with our newest pet, a tortoise shell cat named Nyla.

In the United Church of Christ we talk a lot about extravagant hospitality.  And that is most certainly what Hazel offered to Tiny.  She welcomed the stranger with open arms (and an open lap!)  I'm glad that she did.  For all of our lives were enriched over the last eighteen years by the stray who loved salmon.

Now if we could only learn how to do that welcoming of strangers with people as well as Hazel did it with a cat.  Wouldn't that make for a better world!

(Photo Credit:  Linda Bradbury-Danner)

Monday, June 19, 2017

What Does It Mean to be Saved?

For the most part we mainline Protestants don't talk much about being saved.  It's just not part of our vocabulary.  We may reluctantly talk about being church members; we may even say we follow the teachings of Jesus.  But few of us pinpoint a certain day, or talk about a particular experience, and say, "That's when I was saved.

Indeed such language makes a lot of us squirm in our pews.  Salvation language conjures up images of a more conservative style of Christianity and reminds us of folks going door-to-door, asking neighbors if they've been born again.  It conjures up images of fans at football    games holding up signs that read "John 3:16."  It brings to mind television preachers screaming about hellfire and damnation, and calling folks to be saved from the clutches of the devil.  And none of that rings true for most of us.  We have a much subtler approach to our faith.  A more private understanding   of our relationship to God.  Not that others can't honk if they loved Jesus, but we'd rather give a little nod of the head.

So here's my take on salvation.  I don't think it's about intellectual assent.  It's not about affirming the virgin birth or the particularities of Trinitarian theology.  It's not about thinking the scriptures are the literal words of God.  rather, it is about your willingness to trust that God's love  is boundless.  And to do that we must be saved--saved from fear and bigotry and self-centeredness.  And saved for life and love.  For when we truly believe, truly trust that God loves us and all creation, then we will behave ion a whole new way.

Don't worry--I'll not knock on your door.  I'll respect your right to wrestle with salvation in the privacy of your own heart.  I won't even honk my horn.  But really, have you thought about it?  What's salvation mean to and for you?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

With Apologies to Texas

I try hard to avoid being a bigot.  I really do.  But I must admit when it comes to Texas I've always had a burr under my saddle (so to speak).  There are just so many things connected to Texas that I  don't like.  The huge emphasis on guns.  The crazy devotion to football.  The politics of the place.  Country music on every station. No question, I suffered from prejudice about all things Texan.

But this last weekend, I was brought up short.  I had to travel to Fort Worth to conduct a memorial service for my wife Linda's cousin.  A good guy, who I had enjoyed.  And he had been very important to Linda.  But he was, despite being from upstate New York, thoroughly Texan.  And a biker (as in Harleys).  I really didn't know what to expect.

Imagine my surprise then, when as we pulled into our hotel, I realized it was right beside an elaborate shared use trail system (Trinity Trails) that wends its way through Fort Worth.  I enjoyed my early morning walks along the river along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Texans out for a run or a bike ride or a stroll.  It was wonderful.

And how about this:  Sunday morning the lead headline in the Fort Worth newspaper heralded the first place finish of the Korean winner of the Van Cliburn Competition, held right there in the city.  The Van Cliburn Competition!   One of the premiere international classical music competitions! 

Perhaps the most important learning, however, came at the memorial service itself.  Linda's cousin had ridden over the years with some pretty heavy duty bikers.  And some of them came to the ceremony.  Dressed in biker regalia. 

After the ceremony one of the guys approached me before leaving.  He had longish hair, and a beard, and plenty of tattoos.  He wore a Harley Davidson cap and a leather vest, complete with a pocket chain.  As he shook my hand, he thanked me for my homily, and said, "Those were some good words.  In fact I heard some of them in church this morning."

Texas, I apologize.  I still don't like the gun culture.  I may still think too much is made of football. A lot   of country music still drives me bonkers. And I know I don't like much of your politics.  But I shouldn't judge a book--or a state--or its residents--by its cover.  And I thank you for a very pleasant visit under less than ideal circumstances.