Monday, April 16, 2018

A Walk, A Wedding and an Important Reminder

I was in Philadelphia this weekend to officiate at a wedding.  It was really one of those lovely moments, as a friend who was widowed a few years back remarried.  But that's another story for another time!

While in Philadelphia I took a couple of long walks and was rather impressed by the number of different houses of worship that I passed in my travels.  A Mormon Temple--complete with the angel Moroni on the steeple.  A Lithuanian Catholic Church.  An Eastern Orthodox Church.  Presbyterian church.  A couple of Episcopal churches.  A school founded by Quakers.  A Reform synagogue listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A non-denominational congregation housed in a repurposed church building that had once housed a denominational church.  And more.  Many more.  It often seemed like there was a house of worship on every corner!

Pennsylvania, of course, was one of the colonies that promoted religious liberty--long before my home state in new England.   It helped pave the way for what eventually found its way nationally into the Bill of Rights and in time each state constitution.

That walk in Philadelphia reminded me that we are not a Christian nation.  And, arguably, never were a Christian nation.  But we always have been a nation that values the right of each citizen to choose whether or not to explore what it means to be human, what it means to be connected to others, what it means to be a part of something that transcends that which is visible.  What a precious right!  Thanks Philadelphia for the reminder.

And Jeff and Lynn--all the best as you set out on your new life together!  Thanks for the honor of officiating--and the chance to stroll through a bit of history!

Monday, April 9, 2018

God's No Handyman

One of the churches in our area has a moveable letter sign board.  Whoever keeps watch over it is very clever, and often posts rather pithy sayings.  I often chuckle as I ride by as many of them are dependent on puns and I love a good pun.  But the saying that is currently posted has left me rather cold.  It is clever.  And I get what the message means.  But I'm not sure I agree with it theologically, which should come as no real surprise as the church in question belongs to a rather conservative denomination.  Here's what it says:

"Duct tape is good, but three nails fixes everything."

I understand about duct-tape--it can indeed be used in a wide array of ways, and I once had a car accident in my '83 Yugo (remember those?) and afterwards held various parts of it together with duct tape!

And the three nails, of course, refer to the nails used in the crucifixion to tack Jesus to the cross.  The clear theological implication?  The death of Jesus sets everything right. 

But does it?  What about the fact that evil is still rampant in the world?  Just this morning I woke up to news that chemical weapons were used on children in Syria this weekend.  Nuclear weapons seem to be up for grabs again.  Gun violence continues to rock our own nation.  Cancer still takes many, many lives.  And the list goes on.  From where I sit, three nails doesn't fix everything--and God's no handyman.

But that said, the Way of Jesus, the way of compassion, justice, peace and love, that could set things right.  But only when and if we work to make that way real.  And sometimes standing up for that which is right and good will lead to our own crosses.  It is then that we can and should take hope in the fact that the cross wasn't the end of the story of Jesus.  And it doesn't need to be the end of ours either.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

One of Those People You Can't Forget

I was at home when my friend Charlie called.  It's one of those things you never forget.  Charlie was something of a prankster back then, and I thought he was joking.

 "Martin Luther King is dead?  Are you serious?" 

"Really," he said, "Some guy shot him in Memphis."

I didn't know what to say as tears welled up in my eyes.  I was a freshman in high school, and I'd just gotten home from school when Charlie called.  I'd never met Dr. King.  At that point I'd not even read anything he'd written.  But his televised speeches; his unrelenting efforts to champion not only people of color, but the poor in general, had made a tremendous impact on my young life.  Truly helped to shape it in ways that are still reflected, lo these fifty years alter, in the things I say and do.  He was one of my childhood heroes.  He still is.

In some ways we've come a long way since 1968.  In some ways we haven't.  Indeed on certain fronts it feels like we've gone a few steps backwards.  The dream he spoke of so eloquently, is still not fully realized. 

We have been hearing a lot about him as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of that day in 1968.  And that is well and good.  We should honor his memory with words and stories.  But more importantly, we should honor his memory with action, for there is much to be realized, much to be accomplished, if we are to become the beloved community that he envisioned.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reason, Raisins and Resurrection

Pastor Matt Fitzgerald once wrote  about  the year his daughter  was in kindergarten. She and all her classmates in Sunday School, were given plastic Easter eggs.  Inside each egg the teacher had placed a little slip of paper with the basic Easter message. 

At the time Fitzgerald's daughter was just learning to read--and so she struggled a bit with the sentence on the paper.  "He," she paused.  "He is . . ."  But then she got stuck.  She tried to figure it out.  Finally she proudly  announced "He is raisins!"

Fitzgerald writes:  "'He is raisins' is illogical.  'He is risen!' is merely incomprehensible."  Some things make no sense--they are illogical.  Others we just can't understand--they are incomprehensible.  As Fitzgerald writes, "[O]n Easter God has done the incomprehensible."  ("Thunderous Yes", The Christian Century, 4-2-14, 10)

For many of us, that is extremely frustrating.  We want to make sense out of everything--especially something as important as life after death!  We want the columns to add up.  We want to be able to explain it all in words and numbers that we can understand.  We want to be able to poke it and probe it and discover what makes it work. 

Don't get me wrong.  Exploring the hows and wherefores of eternal life, examining the inner workings of resurrection is a perfectly acceptable activity.  I mean, I've taught courses that do just that.  But ultimately the resurrection of Jesus, the central event of Easter and of my faith, is incomprehensible--especially when examined with the tools of reason.  And in the end, the story pushes me to belief.  Not belief in the sense of intellectual assent.  But rather belief in the sense of trust.  The Easter story invites me and others to trust that God does love us.  The resurrection of Jesus invites me and other Christians to trust that God will take care of all people not only in the here and now, but in the great beyond as well.  Whatever that means--whatever it looks like!
Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter!


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Not Too Hard, Not Too Soft--Finding Balance in a Frightening Time

I've been struck by some of the language being used in the discussion about school safety, in particular the use of the words "hard" and "soft."  Schools, like churches, synagogues, shopping malls and a number of other public gathering places, are often spoken of as being "soft" targets.  Places and institutions easily accessed and therefore more vulnerable to attack.  In recent years, and especially in these post-Parkland days, we have heard a lot of talk about the importance of "hardening" such places.  We have also heard a wide variety of strategies for doing just that.  Better surveillance.  Metal detectors at entryways.  Security cameras.  Better communications with law enforcement.  Arming teachers.  Stricter gun control measures,  And the list goes on.

My own congregation is wrestling with the issue.  We have a sub-committee of our Church Council working on the matter, exploring the various options, looking at our building and our procedures to see what we might be able to do to create a safer environment.  All of which is good.  All of which is important.  But how much do we want to harden our schools. our places of worship, even our shopping centers and gymnasiums?  What price, figuratively speaking, will we pay?

These are difficult decisions.  These are challenging times!  I wish I could say I have all the answers, but I don't.  But I do think the words we are using, "hard" and "soft" do point to certain things we might consider as we ask the questions that need to be asked.  When something is hard it is often impenetrable, it is often unbending.  When something is soft it is more easily penetrated, it is more flexible.  How do we balance the need for schools and places of worship in particular to be safe and difficult to penetrate for perpetrators of crime and violence, while at the same time allowing for ready access for those who want to worship and learn?  How do we create policies and procedures that a strong enough, firm enough, to do the job of protecting participants, while still being open to change, open to new ideas, in a word, flexible?

Tough questions, for tough times.  But questions we need to address and, to the best of our ability, answer.  Not too hard, not too soft--but just right.

Monday, March 12, 2018

No Joke! It's Time to Get Ready for Easter!

I've been thinking about Easter a lot as we draw closer to that festive day.  And this year it falls on April 1st, April Fool's Day.

Back when I was a boy, April Fool’s Day was one of the highlights of the school year.  We would play tricks on one another, and if we thought we could pull it off, our teachers.  The most ambitious April Fool’s prank I was ever involved in was the year I was in sixth grade.  Our math teacher was the long-suffering Miss Grover, who did her level-best riding herd on a rambunctious bunch of prepubescent boys and girls.

Several days ahead of time we hatched our plan.  It was really rather simple, but it involved the whole class.  Our subject teachers moved from classroom to classroom, while we stayed put.  That morning, before she arrived, we took a big ball of string that someone had brought into school that morning, and we tied together all the moveable desks in the room.  Finally, we attached the end of the string to the door knob, so that when our unsuspecting teacher opened the door, all the desks would go careening across the floor.  Once she made her way into the room, of course, we would all shout “April Fools!”

Our plan went off without a hitch.  Between periods we got to work tying together desks, and then we waited.  Outside the door we heard her high heels click against the linoleum floor, and then, when they stopped, the door knob turned, and as she flew open the door—kapow!  It was marvelous!  We had succeeded!  April Fool!

Miss Grover was not amused.  And a teacher can only allow so much mischief.  And so in the name of safety and decorum, we ended up being the April Fools, as we spent the next afternoon in detention.  So much for our engineering triumph!

Some suggest that Easter is just an April Fool's joke.  That some uneducated country bumpkins from Galilee got tricked into believing Jesus was raised from the dead.  But I disagree.  I don't know exactly what happened.  But clearly something did!  And in some mysterious way they experienced Jesus' presence among them anew.  And while our engineering triumph was rather short-lived back in sixth grade, the triumph over death has endured lo these many centuries!



Monday, March 5, 2018

Coffee, Guns or Me

I recently learned that there are almost twice as many gun dealers (one-hundred and twenty-seven of them) in Lee County where I live than there are coffee shops (just seventy).  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I was.  I kept having visions of people being hyped up on caffeine and then rushing out to buy a gun.  Silly, I suppose.  And one can't help but wonder who decided to compare these two types of business.  But still, it is a rather disturbing statistic.

I suppose that means it is easier to get a gun than to buy a cup of java--Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or otherwise.  I realize that the list of coffee shops probably didn't include other places you can buy coffee, like convenience stores or restaurants.  And I don't know about the gun dealers--did it include sporting goods stores that sell guns along with many, many other items?  I don't know.  But either way, it still is troublesome.

Speaking of sporting goods stores and the like, I must say while I am not a big fan of Wal-Mart, and I rarely step foot in a Dick's Sporting Goods Store, I was impressed by the actions taken by both chains over the last week, limiting in different ways, what kinds of guns they will sell and to whom.  Will it make things better when it comes to gun violence?  I don't know.  Probably in the end it won't.  After all, there are all those gun dealers out there.  But still, I applaud their willingness to take a stand, a stand that may cost them some sales.

I don't have any easy solutions to the gun violence dilemma.  Nobody does.  But we can all take whatever steps are within our power to help change things, whether you take your coffee black or sweet and light.  Even if you're a tea drinker.  There is something you can do.  Write a letter.  Join a protest march.  Work for better mental health care.  Now is not the time to take a coffee break--now is the time to take action.

To read more about the coffee shop/gun dealer ratio visit