Thursday, August 25, 2016

Mother's Bucket List

Regular readers of this blog will remember that last summer I took my mother to Wichita, Kansas, to visit Eighth Day Books, a bookstore she has done business with for years over the phone and through the mail.  It was a great trip, and the first item on her bucket list. 

Earlier, my wife Linda had suggested she make such a list of trips she would like to take so that we could help make them happen.

"What's a bucket list?" asked Mother.

Fortunately, she is a pretty frank person, or else explaining the term to an eighty-three year old might have been something of a challenge.

"Well," we explained, "it means a list of things you want to do before you, well, you know . . . before you kick the bucket."

My retired English professor mother loves a good simile or metaphor, and so caught on I

She gave it some thought and came up with at least two other ideas.  First, she wanted to go to Red Cloud, Nebraska.  Red Cloud, you ask.  It is the childhood home of novelist Willa Cather, and Mother has her PhD from the University of Nebraska--but she'd never made it to Red Cloud.

So the wheels were set in motion, and this past weekend, Linda, Mother and I all set out for Nebraska.  While there we spent time with my youngest brother Mark and his family, and on Saturday, Mother and I, accompanied by my niece Jennie, hit the road and drove across 150 miles of prairie to Red Cloud.

More about the day itself in another post--for now, I'll simply say it was a big success.

The next day Mother was a little teary.  "Well," she said, "I guess that was end of my bucket list."

"No," I quickly reminded her, "there was another trip on the list.  You wanted to go to Boston one more time." 

Immediately she brightened up.  "Boston!" she said, "That's right!  You know it's like Jerusalem for me!"  And so it is.

So Lord willing, we'll make that trip to the city of baked beans, cod fish and the Red Sox in the coming year.

Bucket lists.  It's really never to early to make one--so what's on yours?  Dream big!  Dream wild!  But most importantly, dream now!

(Photo L to R:  Jennie, Mother and me on the porch of Willa Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Going Solar

I will be on vacation at the time of the Florida primary for local and statewide offices, so I recently procured an absentee ballot.  I have a few choices to make in terms of the county school board and the supervisor of elections (a more hotly contested position here in Florida than in most places I suspect), as well as United States Senator.  There is also a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution on the ballot.  It would mend Articles VII and XII of the Constitution and add language to provide tax exemptions around the installation of solar or renewable energy devices.

I'm a big fan of solar--especially here in the so-called Sunshine State.  It makes a lot of sense. And such an amendment would make it modestly more attractive from a financial perspective.  But still, I don't think folks are going to "go solar" for strictly financial reasons.  Indeed, some studies indicate a very long time is needed to recoup such investments.  No, I think the better argument is a moral argument. 

Solar (and other forms of renewable energy) is a gift for our children.  It is a gift for our planet.  And when one gives a gift, while budget does factor in, other considerations are more important.  And in the end, many gifts don't seem to make a lot of sense economically, at least not in the short run.  You give a gift out of love, or respect, or just because you care.  So it may have to be with solar installations, and all other environmental measures.  We do them out of love for our children and respect for the Earth.  We do them because we care.

I will vote "Yes" on the proposed amendment.  But what else do I need to do?  What do I need to do about solar? 

Monday, August 8, 2016


I am a regular supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  I have been for years.  They have often been at the forefront of the effort to expose and disable organizations promoting various hate-filled agendas. 

Recently SPLC sent out a booklet to its supporters titled Ten Ways to Fight Hate. It lists and elaborates on ten actions individuals and organizations can undertake to help create a more loving world.  Suggestions include lobbying leaders for changes in laws, teaching tolerance and speaking up.  All of which are solid ideas, and proven methods for combating racism, sexism, and other forms of hate.

Very realistically the booklet acknowledges that things like hate rallies will continue in the future.  Indeed, as the booklet's writers state, "Hate has a first amendment right." But, they go on to suggest,  "Create an Alternative."  For while they don't state it this way, love, too, has a first amendment right!  It is one thing to engage in the anti-hate conversation with yet more hate and anger.  "What a bunch of idiots!"  "That candidate is a real jerk!" And so on and so on.  Ever pushing us further into the mud and dirt of despair.

But creating an alternative--one rooted in love, one rooted in compassion, one rooted in goodness--now that is an approach that might make a real difference. 

So what alternative can you create?  How can you engage in something good, something positive, something that will contribute to greater understanding, greater tolerance and maybe even greater love?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Two Roads Diverged . . . Which Way America?

This past weekend my wife Linda and I had the joy of hosting our entire family at a cookout and pool party to (belatedly) celebrate our thirtieth anniversary.  As readers of this blog probably know, we have a rather eclectic family.  We are a blended family to begin with, and then in the next generations things got even more complicated.  We've got biological grandchildren, and adopted grandchildren, and step-grandchildren.  We've got grandkids who live with one parent, others who live with two.  We've got white grandchildren, and black ones as well.  And we love them all.  And worry about them as well.  We worry about them as individuals--who's having trouble in school, who can't seem to make friends, the usual stuff.  But we also worry about them as part of a generation, a generation that will inherit the world we leave behind.

Near the end of our time together some of us went on a walk around our neighborhood.  My youngest granddaughter and I were up ahead of the others when the picture was taken that accompanies this blog.  It was only later that I knew she'd even taken it.  And it was after looking at it several times that I realized it provides something a visual parable.  Look closely, and you'll see my granddaughter and I are about to come to a fork in the road.  I have her by the hand, and I'm about to lead her one way or the other.  In fact she wanted to go to the right, but I told her we needed to stay to the left, so that eventually we'd get back home.  She happily acquiesced, and about twenty minutes later we arrived at home.  A bit sweaty (it was July in Florida after all) and having had a good conversation about life in general. 

You see, what's a bit unsettling, is that she trusted me--completely.  She doesn't really know my neighborhood.  She could have easily gotten lost.  She could have gone down the wrong road, or gotten herself turned around.  And never reached home.  But Pop Pop was there to guide her, to take her by the hand and make sure we went in the direction we needed to go to get home safely.

So here's the unsettling part. As I see it  we (as a nation) are at a pretty big fork in the road .  We can choose to be people of love, or we can choose to be people of hate.  We can promote the worth and dignity of all human beings, or we can denigrate folks because of their religion, their race, their physical or mental limitations.  As adults, the choice is ours to make.  But make no mistake, the direction we head off in, will set the course for our children and their children as well.

We are holding the hands of our children, they trust us to know the right direction, so which way, America?  Which way? 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Today, Not Tomorrow

It has happened again, and this time in my own backyard.  A mass shooting.  The details, as I write this, are sketchy, but the basics are clear:  two teenagers lie dead, and sixteen more folks (between the ages of twelve and twenty-seven) were injured, because bullets flew last night at a local club in Fort Myers.  The boys were fourteen and sixteen, and attending a birthday party.  A birthday party.  Three suspects have been apprehended, but as of now no motive has been identified.

I realize that the issues may be very, very complicated.  I've said as much on this very blog.  But one fact is clear:  guns were involved.  Guns.  I really want to be objective here.  I really want to avoid sounding like someone who thinks the 2nd Amendment should be repealed.  I really want to support the rights of hunters to engage in their sport.  I really want to find compromises that will work.  But the fact remains.  Once again, guns--not knives, not bows and arrows, not fists, not bombs, not poison, not slingshots--but guns were involved.  And frankly, there are just too many of them out there.  Too many guns which are too readily accessible. 

On average, 297 people are shot everyday in America.  Every single day.  On average, 89 people die because of gun violence.  In America.  In places like Baton Rouge and Dallas and Newtown and Orlando and Chicago and Fort Myers. (News-Press, 7-3-16, 5B)  And we have got to do something about it. We've got to have the courage to stand up to the gun lobby and say "Enough!  Fourteen and sixteen year olds shouldn't be dying because of gunfire.  Twelve year olds should be able to go to a birthday party and not be injured by bullets."

It is not hopeless.  It is not inevitable.  It doesn't have to happen.  But it will unless we do something.  Of course we need to do address race relations.  Yes, we need to address the poor state of our mental health system.  Yes we need to address the problems of police relations with minority communities. But we also need to address the reality that there are just too many guns in America.  Too many guns and too many ways to get hold of them.

Today, not tomorrow, today, each and every one of us who are concerned need to write to our representatives in government and say stop dithering.  Have the courage to stand up for what's right.  Because tomorrow it will be too late for 89 more people.  And some of them may be only fourteen

Monday, July 18, 2016

God in the Knick Knacks

Propped up against my computer screen are four prayer cards--one that has a reproduction of Rembrandt's The Prodigal, another with a detail from Sassetta's, The Ecstasy of St., Francis, yet another with an icon of St. Francis and finally, a card that has a stylized version of the Beatitudes on it.  In front of the cards stand two little figurines.  One is an angel, playing an accordion.  It was given to me by the wife of a woman named Marge who died a number of years ago from cancer.  The other is a clown that my Dad gave to me long, long ago.

I have all these things in front of the monitor to remind me of why I spend my life the way that I do.  For each in its own way, reminds me of things that are truly important.  And on this particular day, as I reflect on the ongoing violence that has captured our nation's attention, in some strange way, they anchor me in my faith.

The Rembrandt reminds me of the simple reality that so many times in my life, I have been like the prodigal, needing to be embraced and accepted, forgiven and loved, by God--and by so many others.  I too have squandered some of the precious things of life.  But like the prodigal, I am given a second chance--time and again!  It also reminds me that I am called to also be like the father in the painting.  I am to be loving and accepting and forgiving, even of those who have harmed me.

And why?  Well, in part, as the Beatitudes card points out, such an approach to life leads to blessing.  Blessing for me, blessing for others.

St. Francis, as is the case with many people, is my favorite "official" saint.  I share so many of his values, and like Francis am devoted to working for the health and well-being of the church and the world.  I often fall short.  And I have nowhere near the courage that he had when it comes to confronting those in power.  But that's why we have saints--to hold out an ideal--to give us something to which we can inspire.

The little angel with the accordion?  I hate accordion music!  But I sure loved the woman it represents.  Marge was a spirit-filled soul, who faced death with great integrity.  And her wife, the one who gave me the figurine, stood by her to the very end, with great, great love.  The angel reminds me every day, that being faithful to my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my m
other and the rest of my family, is indeed, a lifelong commitment.

And the clown.  I really loved my Dad.  So very, very much.  And I think he gave me the clown because he and I both sometimes wore masks--in front of each other, and as we faced into the world.  But beneath those masks, he and I were much the same.  Two souls, trying to work for a better world, a more peaceful world, a more just world, a more faithful world. 

None of that is very profound, but it does serve to keep some pretty important things before me every time I sit down at my desk.  And after all, sometimes God is found in the details--even in the knick knacks.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Let's Not Merely Mourn

Let's talk about Dallas.  And St. Paul.  And Baton Rouge as well.  I mean, let's really talk.  Let's move past the simplistic statements about race and policing and violence and guns.  Let's, for once, acknowledge that we are facing some very, very serious problems.  Problems that are complex.  Problems that can't be solved by everybody holding hands and singing kumbayah.  Problems that can't be solved by cracking down on one religious or racial group.  Problems that can't be solved by building walls, or eliminating all guns or any of the other so-called solutions that have been offered up.  Let's really talk about the fact that Dallas and St. Paul and Baton Rouge, not to mention Orlando and Newtown and so many other incidents, show us that we have failed on many fronts to really address some of the serious issues we are facing today.  Let us take time to sort out those issues and recognize that while they are closely interrelated, focusing on just one or another of them will not bring about the peaceful society for which many Americans long.

First racism and the things that grow out of it.  Things like white privilege.  Things like ongoing poverty in certain sectors of the population. "But I'm not a racist," many will say.  And that may indeed be true, but our very institutions perpetuate racial divides in many ways.  I'm not pretending to unravel all that here--I'm just pointing out the reality as I see it.  We need to go deeper, we need to really wrestle with the issue of race in America.

Second, violence.  We live in a culture permeated by violence. It is laced throughout our media.  Video games.  Books.  Movies.  The internet.  So what is violence really all about?  Why do we so often feel the need to resort to violence?  I know, these questions are as old as humankind--but we need to discuss them and at least be honest about the answers.

Third, guns.  There are a lot of guns in America.  A lot.  In fact, there is basically one gun for every man, woman and child in America.  (  It only makes sense: the more guns you have available to people, the greater the chance they will be used. But simply making all guns illegal won't solve the problems associated with gun violence.  Our conversations about guns need to be nuanced, thoughtful--but also honest.  Can we for once get away from the all or nothing thinking that seems to dominate this particular debate?

Fourth policing.  Obviously, police policy and practices are impacted by all of the above.  But there are other issues as well.  The importance of recruitment and training.  The importance of providing real support for law enforcement officials (including adequate funding and salaries).  The need to move away from the "us versus them" approach. Law enforcement officials are public servants--and that means the whole public.

On this particular Monday there are families in Dallas and St. Paul and Baton Rouge that are mourning the deaths of their loved ones.  We join them in their grief.  It is right that we do so.  But let us do more than merely mourn.  Let us have the courage to confess that as a nation we have failed to live up to the ideals we profess.  And then, let us work together, across party lines, across ideological lines, across racial and religious lines, to find solutions that work.  Educate yourself about the issues at hand.  Write your representatives in government and share your frustrations, and your hopes.  Join a local group working on one or another of these problems.  Yes, pray about them.  Yes, hold the victims in your thoughts.  But let's not merely mourn. Let's act.