Monday, September 18, 2017

After Irma

"We dodged a bullet!"  So read the local daily paper's headline after the storm passed.
And so we did.  Irma certainly brought some real damage to our area, but nothing like what might have resulted had we endured the predicted storm surge of fifteen feet.  It will take a while to get things cleaned up and back in shape, but by-and-large, we made out well.  Here.  On Sanibel.  In Fort Myers where I live.  But not everywhere.

A friend of mine noted in one of her Facebook posts during the last week that she hesitates to say we were blessed by not being hit so hard.  She is on to something when she notes that it raises disturbing questions.  Does that mean places like Barbuda and St. Thomas and Key West and Marco Island were not blessed?  Does that mean they were cursed in some way?

There are those who thank God that the storm didn't do more harm here than it did.  And that is appropriate. We must be grateful for all the good things in our lives.  But God didn't steer the storm in another direction.  God didn't bless us and curse others by bending and twisting Irma's path.  We can, and should, thank God for the many blessings we have, but not if we think we are somehow blessed and therefore others must be counted as cursed.  That's a zero-sum approach.  Everything in the end must zero out.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  It may be good physics (though there are those who would debate that point as well), but it makes for just plain bad theology.

We are all blessed, loved, accepted, by God.  That love, that acceptance, is unlimited and is not parceled out to some and not to others.  Period.

But there is also a lot of pain, a lot of destruction, a lot of damage in our world.  And it is our task to share that love in and through our responses to Irma, Harvey, the wildfires out west, and all the other ways people are hurting in our world.

Now that we've dodged a bullet, how will we live?  That's the real question. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Waiting for Irma

And so we wait.  We've made arrangements for shelter.  We've put the yard in order--brought in any projectiles, taken down statuary and locked doors and gates.  We've gotten mother's condo buttoned up.  We've filled a portable filebox with our insurance policies, passports and so forth.  We've stocked up on bottled water, flashligths and batteries.  Wonderful volunteers and staff members at church have gotten things ready there.  We've cancelled church services and activities this weekend.  We've done what we've needed to do to prepare for Hurricane Irma.  And now we just wait.  Wait and pray.

Not that God will suddenly stop the storm in its tracks.  I don't believe God works that way.  No, praying for patience, serenity, courage and wisdom so that I might face the time ahead.

Over the years I've discovered many powerful truths as I've worked with twelve-step spirituality.  And one twelve-step slogan seems especially appropriate today.  Zero expectations. Not denial.  It is important to acknowledge the realities we face in life.  But we should avoid both debilitating negativity and false hope.  There are all sorts of possibile outcomes over the next few days, but they are beyond our control.  Yes, we need to prepare.  But beyond that, we must wait it out, trusting that God will give us the strength to handle things as they come along.

I also have taken great comfort in the Serenity Prayer.  I am convinced it holds the key to how we can move through these challenging times.  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change--like when and where the hurricane will hit, like how strong it will be when it passes over us, like what sort of damage will be incurred.  I cannot change those things, and I will be far more serene if I accept that reality. Courage to change the things I can--like the preparations we've already undertaken, like my willingness to work with others as part of a term, like my attitude and behavior.  Courage, after all, is fear that has said its prayers. Wisdom to know the difference--which requires a measure of patience and a willingness to listen to others.

When I was a seminarian my school's president once wrote in a letter of reference that I needed to learn patience.  In many ways, I am still taking that course almost forty years later.  But with the help of these simple twelve-step concepts, and the grace of God, I am learning every day a bit more about what it means to wait.

Might your waiting be blessed with patience, serenity, courage and wisdom.  Might it be blessed by God's grace.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On Dealing with Fear

It was during the 1932 presidential campaign that Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."  In the midst of the Great Depression, as millions faced poverty, unemployment, displacement from their homes, and so on, it was a rather brash thing to say.  Yet he got elected, and in time, the economy did improve. Setting aside the fact that many historians believe what really pulled us out of the Depression was World War II,  the reality was people did go back to work, and a sense of purpose returned to the nation.

I suppose it could be argued that Roosevelt was able utter such a bromide because he was among the financially secure of his day.  He wasn't unemployed.  He wasn't impoverished.  He hadn't lost his home. But still, he was speaking a real truth that is important for us to hear on this particular day here in Florida, across the nation and around the world.  For there are some real threats out there: the increasing concern about the sabre rattling with North Korea and the possibility of nuclear war; the uncertainty faced by so many children and young people who may lose the protections they have received under DACA; the wild fires out west, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the concerns about  Hurricane Irma.  It is all very frightening.

But that said, what next?  If we allow fear to overtake us, if we become paralyzed by our anxieties and concerns, then we are sunk.  Fear itself has done us in.  But if we acknowledge our fears, recognize that they are real, turn them over to God and ask for a greater ability to identify what we can do to help address them, then we are on our way to dealing with the matters at hand. 

Eleven years before Roosevelt was campaigning for President, a poem by Karle Wilson Baker was published in Poetry:  A Magazine of Verse.  It's a short little bit of poetry called "Courage".  It's final two lines are a powerful reminder for all of us in these anxious times as well:
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
Might you be courageous in the days ahead.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Rain and God, Harvey and You

This past weekend Sanibel and the surrounding area got close to twelve inches of rain in three days.  That on top of what has been a very rainy month.   Most folks had to detour around flooded streets, and some had to deal with flooded homes.  It was pretty wet--but nothing, of course, compared to Texas and Louisiana, where feet, not mere inches, of rain are falling in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

One local church recently had a sign out front which captured the feelings of many people.  It read:  "Whoever prayed for rain, please change your request."  I imagine lots of folks in Houston have prayed for the rain to stop.  As did folks around here.  But while I believe you can offer up anything in prayer, I don't believe that God intervenes in the weather. I just don't think it works that way.

So what, you may ask, is the use of prayer in a situation such as that faced by the millions of folks in Texas?  Is it a waste of time and energy?  I think not.  I think prayer is more important than
ever.  I think we can, and should, pray for the courage to face the problems presented head on.  I think we can, and should, pray for the wiliness to do whatever is in our power to help those who are impacted by the storm.  I think we can, and should, pray that our leaders be graced with wisdom as they determine what they can and should do to come to the aid of those whose lives have been turned upside down.  I think we can, and should, pray that love prevails.

And then, we should get to work and do our part.  If we can physically be of assistance, we should.  If we can financially help out, we should.  For God does answer prayer--but most often God answers in and through us.

(For further information about ways you can help, follow this link to our denomination's website :

(Members and friends of Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ can make financial donations to help in the effort by sending contributions through our church.  Checks should be made payable to Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ and marked Hurricane Harvey.  All such funds will be forwarded to the denominational effort.  Checks can be sent to SCUCC,  2050 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, Florida, 33957)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jesus and the Path of Totality

With all that's going on in the world, it has been rather refreshing to see so much energy focused on preparing for the solar eclipse.  It even seems to have spawned a few business enterprises along the way! 

Here in Florida we are outside of the so-called path of totality.  I believe we will have about 75% of the sun covered over by the shadow of the moon.  Enough to make a difference in the amount of daylight reaching us, but not quite the same as a total eclipse.  Nevertheless it is pretty exciting!

The term "path of totality" is, I imagine, nothing new.  But I never heard it before the current round of news stories about the eclipse. In ancient times, before folks had a scientific understanding of solar eclipses, many saw it as a harbinger of the end of time.  While that's rather outmoded, I still have been thinking about it in theologically.  I've come to believe it is a perfect the term is for describing what it means to follow Jesus.  His way of life is a path of totality. 

When asked what is the greatest of the commandments Jesus responds, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And the second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"  (Matthew 22:37)  Love  with every facet of your being!  The whole enchilada!  Love with and in everything you do, in everything you are! 

This then is the way of Jesus, this way of love.  It is a true path of totality.  One that doesn't bring darkness into the world, but rather one that sheds ever increasing amounts of light into every corner of our being.

After Charlottesville, after Barcelona, after all the darkness of these past days, a little light and a lot of love would be most


Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville: In No Uncertain Terms

When I was a boy if I didn't know the meaning of a word or how to spell it, I was always told to look it up in the dictionary.  So I decided to look up three terms that have been heard a lot over this past weekend.  Not because I didn't know how to spell them, nor because I didn't know what they meant, but rather to make sure I knew what I was talking about.  Here are the terms, with their Merriam-Webster definitions.

NEO-NAZI:  a member or group espousing the programs and policies of Hitler's Nazis

WHITE SUPREMACIST:  a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.

KU KLUX KLAN:  a post-Civil Wart American secret society advocating white supremacy.

These are pretty clear definitions, pretty straightforward.  And they are not at all reflective of the values we espouse as a nation--at least not those values enshrined in our founding documents.  True, in the beginning "all men are created equal" had a very limited meaning.  But we have evolved, we have changed, we have matured.  We have come to a point of believing that all people, not just men, not just white men, not just white Protestant men, not just white straight men, but all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights.

Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and Klansmen believe otherwise.  They believe that only white folks, white Christian folks, white straight Christian folks, especially men, have inalienable rights.  And that, if nothing else, is clearly un-American.  It is bigoted, hateful and un-American. 

UN-AMERICAN:  not characteristic of or consistent with American customs, principles or traditions.

As an American citizen, as the grandfather of six grandchildren, two of whom happen to be black, I want my elected leaders to be clear about all this.  And I want them to be willing to speak out in no uncertain terms.  That's why I'm providing these definitions.

(All definitions

Monday, August 7, 2017

And So Another School Year Begins . . . But Learning Never Ends

This week marks the beginning of a new school year here on Sanibel.  Here at the church our preschool reopens.  Around the state public schools reopen.  Youngsters will be heading to their classroom to learn new things and to reinforce old lessons.    
 Learning, of course, is a lifelong proposition.  We can always learn something new; we can always deepen our awareness of the basic truths of life.  And for that we are always dependent on those who have gone before us.  As Hebrew scripture scholar Raymond Van Leeuwen writes:  “None of us lives long enough to experience enough of God, [the] world and humanity to be adequately equipped without the wisdom of the past.”  (Ibid, 62)  Indeed, as has often been noted, being a good teacher means first being a good student. 

But that said there does come a certain point in life where we are more often in the teacher’s role.  As we grow older, as we mature, we have more to share with those who follow in our footsteps.  That’s not always readily apparent.  In this technologically dependent age of ours you may forget how much you know.  Just because you can’t work an iPhone, just because you get lost on the internet, just because you think tweet is a sound a bird makes, that doesn’t mean you’ve got nothing to share! 

 “What all older people know,” writes Paul Theroux, “what had taken me almost sixty years to learn, is that an aged face is misleading . . . the old are not as frail as you think . . . for we have come to learn that the years have made us more . . . streetwise.”  (Dark Star Safari, 198)  Wise indeed is the admonition found in  the book of Proverbs:  “Listen children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive that you may gain insight.”  (4:1)

 If you are young, if your father or mother, a grandparent even, is still living, don’t lose out on what they might have to teach you.  For the day always comes when the door closes and the opportunity is lost.  And if you are older, if you are a parent, a grandparent, an older aunt or uncle, an elderly friend or neighbor, remember you too are being offered an opportunity—an opportunity to share what you have learned over the years with the younger people in your life.