Monday, December 24, 2018

Stealing Baby Jesus



Yesterday's edition of the New York Times had a front page story reporting a recent rash of thefts being experienced across the nation.  In small towns and larger cities, folks are stealing the baby Jesus from nativity scenes erected on public squares and in front of churches.  Occasionally, the Times reports, Mary or a donkey goes missing as well, but most often it is the infant.

To counteract these acts of vandalism, officials are finding all sorts of creative ways to secure the baby to the crib.  In some instances a little bit of superglue seems to do the trick.  Others have used ropes and wires to hold him in place.  And still others, going high tech, have installed GPS systems in the little one. NORAD has been tracking Santa's flight from the North Pole for over sixty years now (and, according to NPR, still will, despite the government shut down!)  So why not track the Holy One of Bethlehem?

One of the thieves was caught red-handed, according to the Times, as she was spotted by a police officer"cradling something" near the spot where the Christ Child had been taken.  It turned out to be the Baby Jesus.  Now don't misunderstand, I'm not a fan of vandalism, but I was struck by that phrase, "cradling something" and I couldn't help but wonder if she was simply a lonely soul, seeking the comfort that can come from holding a child in ones arms?  Maybe a grieving mother, or a person suffering from mental illness.

I do hope the various creche figures are found and restored to their original positions.  But more importantly, I hope that this Christmas we recommit ourselves to finding all the folks who've been stolen away by domestic violence, addiction, poverty, racism, grief, mental illness and despair.  I hope that we might find new ways to cradle them with love and care.  Somehow, I suspect the baby
Jesus would consider that a noble goal, one worth every effort.





Monday, December 17, 2018

O Come All Ye Faithful


For many of my clergy friends and colleagues Christmas Eve means putting on boots, donning a heavy jacket, and making ones way out the door for a service late in the evening on a cold winter's night.  For me, however, it means leading an outdoor service on the beach for some fifteen hundred folks--give or take a few dozen.  We gather just before sunset, and as we celebrate the coming of Light into the world, we are awestruck by the beauty of the skies as the sun sinks into the Gulf of Mexico.

Our annual Christmas Eve Beach Service is my congregation's gift to the community.  It takes some eighty or so volunteers, and costs a fair amount of money for transportation arrangements, and police coverage for the event.  We do take up an offering, but all of the proceeds go to support the work of FISH, a local agency working with needy families on Sanibel and Captiva (yes, there are folks in need, even here--especially this year after summer business tanked due to red tide) and the Salvation Army.

It is a very simple service, we sing some carols, I tell the old, old story, a soloist sings "O holy Night" and then we light candles.  Hundreds of them.  Just off shore a handful of boats gather as their occupants follow along with the service, and on land, grandmothers and grandkids, and singles and couples, and all sorts of folks sit on beach chairs, or towels, or directly on the sand.  It is quintessential Sanibel.

I never know for sure who's out there, who's going to be listening as I recount the tale of Mary and Joseph, the story of the shepherds and angels.  There are, of course, my own parishioners, and others folks I know from the island--even some of my Jewish friends show up.  But a lot of the folks are tourists, just passing through.  Folks who've been fortunate to find a room at the various inns and condo developments that dot the island.  Folks from nearby parts of Florida, and folks who have come from distant lands, like Magi making their way East.  (Or West or South, in most cases.  Lots of Canadians, and Germans and folks from the UK).  It is a rather diverse gathering of people, all sufficiently moved by an ancient story and the promise of music and candlelight and a lovely sunset to come and share the moment with us.

We will open with "O Come All Ye Faithful," just like every year before, and we will set aside our sectarian interests and just assume the mere showing up is a sign of faith itself.  Which, in the end, may be true of a lot of life.  Sometimes the best way to demonstrate our faith is simply by showing up.

Feel free to join us if you're in the neighborhood--the service is held at Lighthouse Beach and starts at 5:00 PM.  But show up earlier--all those faithful folks fill up[ the parking lots pretty quickly!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lessons Learned from Dad and a Dried Out Tree

My Christmas tree is already up at home.  I spoke about it in my sermon this past Sunday.  And it made me think of a Christmas long ago, when I was just nine.

I was in the fourth grade, and a devoted student of my teacher, Miss Barrett.  Like most all classrooms in that time, ours was decorated for most of December with snowflakes we'd cut out of white paper, and chains of red and green construction paper rings.  And, of course, a decorated tree.  Not a plastic tree, mind you, but a real live pine.  It stood in the corner of the classroom for two or three weeks before Christmas.  Then, on the last day of school before our vacation, we had a class Christmas party.  We exchanged our no-more-than-one-dollar-a piece grab bag gifts , sang some Christmas songs and then ate the cupcakes our room mother had made that left us with green lips and red tongues.

I am not sure what possessed me to ask, but as we filed out after the last bell, midst shouts of "Merry Christmas," I asked Miss Barrett what would happen to the tree.  

"Oh," she said, "The custodian will put it out in the trash."

Suddenly I had a nine-year old's flash of inspiration.  We never got our tree at home until the last minute on Christmas Eve, maybe . . . .

"Could I have it?" I asked.  Imagine, I thought, how pleased Dad will be to get a free tree.  He was, I must admit, a real penny pincher, and in retrospect I am sure that was part of his reason for waiting so long each year before buying one.  But in fourth grade I didn't think of that.  I just though how pleased he would be at his oldest son's ingenuity.

It also didn't occur to me that the tree was already pretty dried out.  In my excitement I didn't even notice all the needles I was leaving behind me as I dragged it home through the snow.  And it never occurred to me--not even once--that I might be upsetting my Dad's own enjoyment of our longstanding tradition.  But that Christmas was not destined to be quite as Dad had planned.

He could have laughed at my Charlie Brown tree, I suppose.  Or he could have gotten angry.  Or he could have simply said, "No thanks!"  But to his credit, he treated my tree as a real prize and made me feel like a million bucks!

"That's great, John," he said when I showed him the tree.  "Good thinking!"  And best of all, I overheard him telling another adult how clever I had been.  For me it was one of the best Christmases ever.  All because my father--not known as a flexible soul--had been able to deal with the unexpected--and not just deal with it, but embrace it as well.  But that's certainly appropriate, for the Christmas story itself is all about the unexpected turns in life, and how ordinary folks like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, not only dealt with those turns, but like my Dad, embraced them as well.

Thanks Dad--what a great way of showing me a profound truth!

Monday, December 3, 2018

George H. W. Bush: A Point of Light



All across the nation yesterday morning Christians gathered to observe the first Sunday in Advent.  It is a season of preparation for Christmas.  The Advent season is marked by lighting an additional candle each of the four Sundays before Christmas, an ever growing light as we draw closer to the birth of Christ.

Last night many other Americans, Jewish Americans, gathered to observe the first night of Hanukkah.  It is an eight-day celebration of religious freedom, also marked by the lighting of candles, one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.  With each passing night the light grows brighter and brighter.


It struck me as somehow appropriate that George H. W. Bush died over the course of this past weekend when so many candles were being lit on Advent wreaths and Hanukkah hanukiah.
For it was Bush who famously compared the work of volunteers to "a thousand points of light."

I looked up his acceptance speech from 1988 in which he first used that analogy.  He spoke of the importance of community, and then he said, "This is America: the Knights of Columbus, the Grange, Hadassah, the Disabled American veterans, the Order of Ahepa, the Business and Professional Women of America, the union hall, the Bible study group, LULAC, 'Holy Name" . . . a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky."

It is a wonderful image, a wonderful reminder that despite our many differences, each and every one of us brings a bit of light into the world.  A bit of light we have a responsibility to share with others.

And George H. W. Bush did just that.  While you may not have agreed with everything he said, nor everything he did, while you may never have voted for him, it is hard to argue with the fact that over the course of his lifetime, a lifetime devoted to serving others, he did indeed share his bit of light with the world.
 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Arms Control, Then and Now

When I was in junior high school, back in the late sixties, I took a required first aid course.  The premise of the course was built around the notion that if one was prepared, one could survive a nuclear war.  The course included training on what to do for the sickness induced by radioactive fallout, how to bandage compound fractures caused by falling debris, what sorts of supplies to keep in a basic survival kit, and so on.

The course was designed to augment the drills we periodical had.  Sometimes we were required to take cover under our desks, at other times we were marched down to the school basement to spend a few minutes in the school's fallout shelter.  It was dark, and dank, and stocked with many boxes of dried foods, bottled water, and the first aid kits we were learning how to use.

I suppose such training was worthwhile at one level.  After all, knowing some first aid skills can come in handy under a wide array of circumstances.  But the notion that we could survive a nuclear attack, when my town was less than twelve miles from a large Air Force Base and a large Naval Shipyard, was ludicrous. Fortunately, the powers that be came to realize that in the interest of saving lives it was far more effective to work towards scaling down the number of nuclear weapons scattered around the globe.  Far more effective, and far more realistic.  That work, of course, is not complete.  But the shift in strategy has made the world a bit safer.

I thought about all that when I heard about the introduction of the Stop the Bleed campaign being introduced in Florida's schools.  The basic idea is to teach teachers and students how to deal with gunshot wounds, how to minimize the blood loss from such injuries.  This, of course, coupled with ongoing mass shooter drills that are being held in our schools as well.

Teaching such skills may indeed have some real value, and it might save some lives.  And that is worthwhile.  But I can't hep but wonder if it is also a way to avoid the real issue.  Just as there were (and are) too many nuclear weapons, so too there are too many guns, especially automatic weapons.  And until we get the proliferation of such weaponry under control, we will be finding ourselves bandaging more and more wounds, losing more and more lives, living with more and more fear.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Praying Like a Pilgrim

Did you know that when the Pilgrims prayed they did so with their eyes open?  Their Pastor, John Robinson, once said, "The eyes of the mind are lifted towards God, why not the eyes of the body also?"


I don't know about you, but I pray with my eyes shut.  It helps me to focus, it helps me avoid visual distractions.  But praying with ones eyes wide open is nothing unique to the Pilgrims.  I think, for instance, of praying with icons, a practice in Eastern Orthodox churches.  Or focusing on a candle's flame, or a particular object, as practiced in a variety of traditions.

I am reminded of the an old story in my family that recounts how as a very young child, I clearly must have had my eyes open, as I prayed for every single item on the dinner table.  Asparagus, turkey, potatoes, and so on.

Maybe the Pilgrims were on to something though.  Maybe praying with our eyes wide open provides us with an opportunity to see God not in the skies above, but rather in the faces of those around us.  Try it some time!

And then, if that is helpful, move on to another Pilgrim approach to prayer.  At every meal they prayed twice--once before they ate, and once afterward.  Makes sense to me!  If the meal was extra delicious, you can offer up special words of thanks.  And if it wasn't?  You can offer up a word of gratitude that at least you had something to eat, unlike so many others around the world.

Have a blessed and prayerful Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 12, 2018

25,000 Meals--and a Whole Lot of Fun!







This past Saturday the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club and the Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ joined together to package 25,000 meals.  Meals that will be used in food pantries here in Southwest Florida, and well beyond, including those parts of the country ravaged by Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Close to 100 volunteers of all ages gathered to do the necessary work.  One eight-year old was so short that he had to stand on a chair to complete his task of pouring pasta into a funnel to fill plastic bags.  Some of the older folks in their seventies and eighties, had to sit down to do their work.  Everybody worked hard to reach the common goal of helping folks who needed something to eat get a good, nutritious meal.

And here's the kicker.  Several people, kids and adults, told me, "It was so much fun!"  How often we think of providing for the needs of others as a duty, as drudgery, as anything but fun.  But this work was so well organized by church and club volunteer leaders, and the staff of Meals of Hope, that it proved to be anything but dull!  As cases were loaded up and filled with plastic bags of food, cheers would go up from the team responsible for that unit.  When milestones like 5,000 meals or 10,000 meals packed were announced, the whole room would erupt in hoorahs!  

The work of volunteers helping those in need isn't always fun.  But maybe it would be more often if we approached it as a joy and not as a duty.  Three cheers for the volunteers this past Saturday!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A WORD ABOUT PRAYER


Here's what may strike you as a radical thought:  prayer is not about results.  If it were, it would be as simple as one of my grandchildren's making a Christmas Wish List (which they are already doing, I'm sure!)  No prayer is about our relationship with God.  It is about recognizing that we are not self-sufficient.  It is about aligning my will with that of the Holy One.

I don't understand all its implications.  I don't understand how it works.  But despite my intellectual dilemma, I continue to pray, everyday.  For my needs and for a very long list of others.

I take comfort in a true story I once encountered by Elisa Morgan.

One evening as she was putting her then eleven-year old daughter Eva to bed she was distracted.  Kids pick up on such things, and so Eva asked her mother what was wrong.

Elisa told Eva that she had just learned that Amy, the teenaged daughter of one of her friends, was suffering unexplained hair loss.  Later, when young Eva said her bedtime prayers with her mother, shge made a simple request:  "Jesus," she prayed, "Please hold Amy's hair on her head."

But Amy's hair kept falling out./  And several different treatments failed to stop it.  In time she was diagnosed with a rare disease called alopecia, which can result in total and permanent hair loss.

Elisa finally shared this news with her daughter Eva, and that night as she held her mother's hand, and closed her eyes, she p[rayed a different prayer.  "Dear Jesus," she said, "If you won't hold Amy's hair on her hear, would you please hold Amy?"

I do not understand the economy of prayer.  I don't begin to comprehend its inner workings.  But I do know the heart of God.  And in that heart56 there is room for every Amy.  For in the end, God is not Santa Claus.  In the end, God is love.  All encompassing, never-ending love.  Love made known in Jesus.  Love made available to you and me each and every time we pray.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Eating Us Up Alive

One of the victims this past weekend at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was a dentist nearing retirement, Dr. Richard Gottfried.  He was brought up with three sisters, and on Monday two of them were interviewed by Susannah Guthrie on NBC's Today Show, his twin sister, Debi Salvin, and his older sister, Bonni Huffman.  Though they were still numb, even shaking, they wanted to let people know who their brother was, because, as Debi said, "He touched a lot of people."

There's so much hate in our country," said Debi, and it's got to stop."  Are you afraid, they were asked.  I can't live that way, and I can't hate him," said Bonni.  The shooter.  Because if I do it will eat me up alive, inside out."

Such a brave observation.  Such a wise observation.  Hate eats you alive, from the inside out.  And in many ways, that is what's happening to our nation.  The kind of hate on display in Pittsburgh this weekend, the kind of hate that was exhibited in Charlottesville and Charleston, it will eat us alive!  It is eating us alive!  And it will continue to do so until we collectively rise up and say, no more.  No more demonization of people because of their race or religion or sexual orientation.  No more labeling, no more stereotyping.  Rather, we need to have a willingness to really come to know one another as fellow human beings.  In theological terms, as children of God.

There are many issues that feed the gun violence that permeates our culture as a nation, many concerns that need to be addressed,  but what we ultimately need is something akin to a heart transplant.  We need to allow tolerance and acceptance to replace hate and fear.  Otherwise, Bonni Huffman is right:  it will just eat us up alive, inside out.

With his sisters, we mourn the death of Richard Gottfried and all those whose lives were lost in Pittsburgh.  Yes, the perpetrator must be brought to justice.  But we best honor Richard Gottfried and all those whose lives were lost by working for the day when hate and fear are replaced by tolerance, acceptance and love.

Monday, October 22, 2018

God Talk and October Baseball


When was the last time you had a conversation about religion or spirituality?  When was the last time you discussed theology with someone else?  I don't mean in church--though that is important as well.  I mean at work, or home, or school
?  A week ago Sunday an op-ed piece by Jonathan Merritt in the New York Times caught my eye.  "We Need to Talk About God," read the headline.

As part of his research work for the op-ed piece (and other writings as well) Merritt had the Barna Group conduct a poll focused on religion and public life.  The results are a bit unsettling. At least if you're a preacher like me!  He writes:  "More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year.  Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions.  A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly."  (New York Times, 10-14-18, Review Section)  He goes on to note that regular church goers weren't much better;  just 13 percent reported having regular spiritual conversations!

Merritt cites a number of reasons why this is happening including the fact that so much religious language has been used in ways that exclude and demean others.  We don't like such abuse of spiritual and theological language, so we avoid it altogether.  But, Merritt wisely warns, that is a very dangerous position to take.  "When people stop [using religious language]," he writes, "because they don't like what these words have come to mean and the way they've been used, those who are causing the problem get to hog the microphone." (Ibid)


We mainline, mainstream, Protestants tend to be rather private about religion.  We don't want to step on anyone's toes.  We don't want to push our beliefs on someone else.  But that doesn't mean we can't, or shouldn't talk about such matters.  After all, if you are willing to talk about the World Series, doesn't make sense to talk about far more important matters.  Not that the Series is unimportant, I am a lifelong Red Sox fan after all.  But in the end, there are more significant things in life.  Things worth discussing!



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fighting Hate--Making a Loving World

I recently received a mailing from the Southern Poverty Law Center which included a small booklet titled Ten Ways to Fight Hate:  A Community Resource Guide.  The ten ideas are excellent, and I will list them in a moment, but first I wanted to take note of the name of this booklet.  In particular, the second half of the title: A Community Resource Guide.  In that title, especially in the word "community," one finds the real secret to dealing with hate and prejudice.  Community.

I recently heard a commentator say that it was his belief that our chief problem today is that everybody, and he meant everybody, feels as if they are marginalized.  While I am not sure that is literally true, what really matters is that so many people are feeling that way.  And why?  In part, because we have forgotten that a true community invites all of its members to full participation.  A true community seeks to include the needs of all in its deliberations.  A true community respects the rights of all to hold differing opinions and finds ways to build compromise into the very fabric of its being.  If we are to truly rid our society of hate, then it will take the whole community.

So here's the list:

1.   Act--apathy is our biggest enemy!
2.   Join Forces--we must work together!
3.   Support the Victims--reach out to those who have been injured by hatred.
4.   Speak Up--don't let hateful remarks or actions go unchallenged!
5.   Educate Yourself--learn all you can about other people, other groups, other ideas.
6.   Create an Alternative--be creative in helping people express their fears, their concerns, their issues.
7.   Pressure Leaders--make sure those in various leadership positions, government, religion, business, know these are important issues.
8.   Stay Engaged--don't give up, just because the work is hard and the road long!
9.   Teach Acceptance--and not just to children!
10. Dig Deeper--look inside yourself and see what's there!

We can create a world where all people are welcome--but it's not easy.  It takes a village, so to speak.  It really takes a community!

Monday, October 8, 2018

It Is Broken--So Let's Fix It!



There's an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Well, actually, it's not that old.  While it's origins are a bit murky, it appears to have entered into common usage in 1977, when Jimmy Carter's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Bert Lance, was quoted in an article that appeared in Nation's Business, May, 1977.  "Bert Lance," the author wrote, "believes he can save Uncle Sam billions if he can get government to adopt a simple motto: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it."



I don't know about budgetary matters, but clearly, as the last two or three weeks have demonstrated, something is broken in Washington, and does need to be fixed.  There are those who would argue that a whole lot of things are broken in Washington, but for the moment I just want to focus on one thing in particular, the number of votes required for the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.



How is it that a position as impactful as that of a Supreme Court Justice can be confirmed by so few votes?  In a nation and in a senate as badly divided as ours, that guarantees--literally guarantees--the kind of performance we watched over the past weeks.  Not that its new.  Partisan politics has increasingly come into play in such matters over the years.  Neither political party is innocent in all of this.  Something that should be truly non-partisan, has become a political power struggle.  And, as a result a woman who bravely bared her soul has been left twisting in the wind.  And questions about a man's reputation left unresolved.



Every human being has opinions.  And potential Supreme Court Justices are no exception.  And such things will always be taken into account when candidates are nominated.  It's only human!  But judicial appointments, especially at the highest level, should first and foremost consider other factors.  Knowledge of the law, approach to the application of law, depth of experience, temperament.  Whether or not a candidate is honest and ethical.  These are the things that should be given the most weight.  This is, after all, a lifetime appointment--it deserves our best.  



So here's my suggestion.  Amend the Constitution in such a way that a two-thirds majority must be secured to confirm the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.  Two-thirds.  I realize that could lead to even more political wrangling, but in the end, it should lead to appointments that rise above mere politics.  



No question: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  But when it is broken, it's time to get out the tools and go to work.    



  






Monday, October 1, 2018

Think Before You Post

This weekend, in the wake of the Senate hearings held last week, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites, were ablaze with reactions.  Supporters of Christine Blasey Ford lined up on one side, while those who favored Brett Kavanaugh were on the other.

Personally and professionally, I am very careful not to publicly reveal my political
party affiliation.  It is against IRS regulations for me to promote one party or another, one candidate or another, from the pulpit.  Wanting to protect the church's not-for-profit status, I am very careful to avoid such matters.  But I am free legally--and impelled morally--to speak out about various issues, like the right of women to feel safe and respected.  And I do speak out.  But always, I hope, in a fair, non-partisan manner.

So it was that I was struck by the social media post made by someone I have known for a very long time, a former parishioner, who I suspect does not know my  party affiliation. I was struck by the fact that it was a sweeping condemnation of all those who align themselves with a particular political party.  "Don't be a ______________," he wrote, "or, I'll have to say you SUCK!!!" (The capitalization and exclamation points were part of the original post, which included the name of a specific party.)

I wonder if he would have written that if he knew I was one of the people he was demeaning?  I wonder if the second former parishioner who agreed with him would say that to my face?  Am I taking this way too personally?  Perhaps.  Yet I think such sweeping generalizations are major part of the problem.  And the crudeness of such remarks only raises the ire of those who are targeted.  Name calling, generalizations and threats do not help us resolve the challenges of the day. Indeed, the founders of our nation warned against partisanship--I suspect they would be appalled at what's going on right now.


God is a god of justice.  And as a person of faith, I am called to work for justice.  But no one party has a corner on what's right.  Not all people of integrity belong to one party or the other.  There is a bumper sticker I've always loved that says, "God is Not a Republican . . . or a Democrat."  Maybe I should hand those out at church this Sunday--and send them along to those two former parishioners as well!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Water: A VERY Big Concern, But . . . .


The sign above is popping up around Sanibel.  There are three things you might consider as you vote, it seems to be saying, whether or not someone is a Republican, a Democrat, or concerned about water, but water is most important.  It is, in many ways, the overriding concern here on the island these days. 

This past summer our waters were turned virtually poisonous by red tide.  And across the Causeway in Fort Myers and beyond, canals, streams and parts of the Caloosahatchee River were covered with blue green algae. Dead fish covered our beaches, as well as turtles, manatees and even dolphins.  The birds that normally flock here were often missing.  I can't tell you when I last saw a pelican.  The human cost has hit many a pocket book as tourism virtually disappeared.  Millions and millions of dollars were lost by island businesses and those they employ.  It has been an economic and environmental disaster.  Make it your chief concern as you decide who to elect to office, the signs imply, and first and foremost ask, "Where does this candidate or that one stand on the water issues?"

Which is, indeed, vital.  We absolutely must elect candidates who are committed to the environment, committed to resolving the water issues and committed to addressing the other pressing ecological concerns like climate change.  But, and this is an important but, most if not all the candidates I've read about, heard about, listened to, at least here in Southwest Florida, seem to fit that criterion.  They are all saying we need to address the water issue. We can (and should) weigh out the depth of their commitments by examining their track records. We should ask questions about their ideas and plans for addressing the problem.  But ultimately any politician worth his or her salt, realizes this is non-negotiable for most all of us living here.  Water is not the distinguishing issue--not for most candidates.  Rather other matters are.  

Said another way, while it is vital that any candidate you vote for be committed to resolving the water issue, the responsible voter needs to look at other issues as well.  Where does a particular candidate stand on other environmental issues?  How do they suggest addressing the concerns of the poor?  What's his or her position on guns?  What has he or she said about race relations?  What is his or her position on immigration?  Education?  Women's rights?  Trade?  And perhaps most importantly, how willing is a candidate to reach across party lines to solve the issues that face us as a society?  Which may, in the end, be what the sign is trying to say.

Having the franchise, being a voter, should mean being willing to do a little work before you head for the polls.  Whomever we elect as Governor, Senator, and for all the state and local offices, isn't just going to be involved in decisions about water--they are going to make policies or cast votes on a wide array of issues.  Yes, I along with so many others, want action on the water issue and I want it now, but we all have a whole plethora of other concerns and issues as well.  Let's not forget them when we vote!

   









































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































This past summer our waters were turned poisonous by red tide.  And across the Causeway in Fort Myers and beyond, canals, streams and parts of the Caloosahatchee River were covered with blue green algae. Dead fish covered our beaches, as well as turtles, manatees and even dolphins.  The birds that normally flock here were often missing.  I can't tell you when I last saw a pelican.  The human cost has hit many a pocket book as tourism virtually disappeared.  Millions and millions of dollars were lost by island businesses and those they employ.  It has been an economic and environmental disaster.  Make it your chief concern as you decide who to elect to office, the signs imply, and first and foremost ask, "Where does this candidate or that one stand on the water issues?"



Which is, indeed, vital.  We absolutely must elect candidates who are committed to the environment, committed to resolving the water issues and committed to addressing the other pressing ecological concerns like climate change.  But, and this is an important but, most if not all the candidates I've read about, heard about, listened to, at least here in Southwest Florida, seem to fit that criterion.  They are all saying we need to address the water issue. We can (and should) weigh out the depth of their commitments by examining their track records. We should ask questions about  their ideas and plans for addressing the problem.  But ultimately any politician worth his or her salt, realizes this is non-negotiable for most all of us living here.  Water is not the distinguishing issue--not for most candidates.  Rather other matters are.  



Said another way, while it is vital that any candidate you vote for be committed to resolving the water issue, the responsible voter needs to look at other issues as well.  Where does a particular candidate stand on other environmental issues?  How do they suggest addressing the concerns of the poor?  What's his or her position on guns?  What has he or she said about race relations?  What is his or her position on immigration?  Education?  Women's rights?  Trade?  And perhaps most importantly, how willing is a candidate to reach across party lines to solve the issues that face us as a society?  Which may, in the end, be what the sign is trying to say.



Having the franchise, being a voter, should mean being willing to do a little work before you head for the polls.  Whomever we elect as Governor, Senator, and for all the state and local offices, isn't just going to be involved in decisions about water--they are going to make policies or cast votes on a wide array of issues.  Yes, I along with so many others, want action on the water issue and I want it now, but we all have a whole plethora of other concerns and issues as well.  Let's not forget them when we vote!



   


Monday, September 17, 2018

Tears in the Wake of the Storms

I was watching the news last night and saw story after story of disaster and dilemma.  Somewhere along the line I started to tear up.  I'm not sure if it was the pictures of strangers rescuing folks trapped by the flood waters of Florence.  Or the police officer who had tried to rescue a man caught under a car due to the gas line explosions in the Boston are, even while his own home was going up in flames.  It may have been the follow-up story to the ongoing post-Maria crisis in Puerto Rico, or the story about the typhoon in the Philippines. Whatever the case, I had reached a point where I just could not hold back the tears.

I've heard it referred to as compassion fatigue.  Getting so worn down by disasters, natural and otherwise, that you just can't handle one more story, one more disaster.  And maybe that was it.  Even though I was only tangentially impacted by the stories above (I had to cut short a retreat to fly home a day early due to Florence) I couldn't help but remember my own experiences of Hurricane Irma, 9/11 and other calamities I have faced.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the tears were primarily related to frustration. We human beings have a lot with which we must cope.  Things that are (basically) out of our control.  Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions.  Why then, do we insist on making more problems for ourselves by perpetuating the injustices of violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation and economic disparity?  I know, because, as the old catechism puts it "we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But that's too easy an excuse.  We can't help ourselves?  It's in our nature?  I'm sorry, that's just nonsense.  We can.  We can choose to ally ourselves with love, with peace, with justice.  We can choose to ask God to fill us with whatever we need to do the right things.  I'm not saying it's easy.  I'm just saying it is possible.

Thanks for letting me vent.  Now, on to working for the change I want to see.  So help me God. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Butterflies Will Soon Be Free


I was away for part of this week at a retreat center on the shores of Lake Erie.  The retreat was conducted by my religious order, the Brothers and Sisters of the Way, an order for ordained clergy.  Our retreats are  precious times, filled with good conversation, much laughter, powerful readings and worship, and treasured times of extended silence.

One morning, one of the retreatants came in through the back door and said, "Guys, you've got to see this.  There are hundreds and hundreds of butterflies out here!"  We all rushed out the door and there, covering three or four trees were indeed many, many monarch butterflies, no doubt resting in the midst of their migration south.  It was a beautiful sight.  It was a hopeful sight.  Monarchs are facing certain environmental challenges these days, and it was good to see them--so many of them!

Butterflies are a traditional sign of resurrection.  The transformation that happens in the dark of their cocoons is reminiscent of the transformation that took place (however we understand it) in the darkness of the tomb that first Easter.  In fact, the night before we spotted the butterflies we had sung Natalie Sleeth's delightful hymn, "In the Bulb There is a Flower."  A hymn that speaks of the various metaphors we have created over the centuries for resurrection, including the line, "in cocoons, a hidden promise; butterflies will soon be free!"

I don't know about you, but I need every sign of hope I can get these days.  I need every reminder that God is at work, even when it doesn't seem very obvious.  I need every assurance that even when it seems that hatred and fear are winning the struggle for the hearts and souls of humanity, love is still silently at work, bringing about transformation in the lives of people everywhere.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Have You Forgotten Jacksonville?

I think it has finally happened.  What many of us worried about ahs come to pass.  For some time I've been concerned that a time would come when mass shootings would become so commonplace that we would lose interest in them.  That they would fail to prick our hearts and instead become "same-old, same old".  And I think that's where we are at the moment.

On Sunday, August 26 around 1:30 in the afternoon, 24 year-old David Katz opened fire at a video game competition and shot and killed 27 year-old Taylor Robinson and 22 year-old Eli Clayton.  Eleven others were injured in the gunfire, and Katz finally took his own life.  It was reported in the news, but then, essentially disappeared.  Not in Jacksonville, but around much of the rest of the nation.  Even here in Southwest Florida.

Do we no longer care?  Does the fact that it was a video game competition and not a school or church make a difference?  Does the fact that the weapons were legally obtained make a difference?  Does the fact that the shooter didn't use a so-called long gun change it?  Three young people have died.  And others have had their lives scarred in more ways than physically.  It matters.  There are issues to address.  Let us not forget, there are issues to address.

Monday, August 27, 2018

A Profile in Courage

I've been a bit surprised by the way I have welled up each time I have heard a report on the radio or television about the passing of Senator John McCain.  Frankly, I have often--perhaps more often than not--disagreed with his positions on a wide variety of issues.  He has often been in favor of things I oppose.  So why the sadness?  Why the sense of real loss?

Perhaps some of it has to do with the recognition that in John McCain we had an honest politician.  Someone who was willing to speak the truth as he understood it.  Someone who didn't tailor his message for his audience in order to win votes or gather funds for his next campaign, but rather someone who was willing to take a stand on what he felt was important.

Or, maybe, it has to do with the fact that he was willing to compromise, willing to cross the aisle, so to speak, and work for a solution to the problems facing our nation.  Increasingly, this in and of itself, is a rare quality.  Yet one that is so vital to our being able to address the issues that are boxing us in and tearing us up as a nation.

I think the tears may have something to do with the fact that John McCain had what best be called courage.  Political courage and personal courage.  He courageously endured imprisonment in Vietnam, he courageously took risks to bring about change, he courageously faced his cancer.  Were Kennedy writing today, he would undoubtedly include John McCain in Profiles in Courage.

Senator McCain wrote a farewell letter to America--one well worth your time.  In it he offered this observation.  "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all corners of the globe.  We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of oru ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been. . . . If only we . . . give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times."

In my business, that is sometimes called a "charge" or a "commission"--and sometimes it is called a "benediction."  But whatever you call it, it is a blessing.  As was John McCain.

(You can read the full letter by following this link: time.com/5379383/john-mccain-letter/)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Water, Water Everywhere . . . .

My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Myra Soifer, is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama at the moment.  She is in a teaching role and living in a small community there.  She has been blogging about it regularly, and most recently wrote about the ongoing water problem in her town and in the country.  Periodically, running water just stops.  One never knows how long it will last.  Hours, days, longer?  Myra wrote how she keeps a huge tub of water so that she can flush the toilet if the water stops.  "I do have electricity and food and a safe place to live," she writes.  "I just don't have water.  Frustrating as that has become, it is also a source of personal reflection."  And so it is.  How fortunate we are to have water, clean water, to drink, to use for dishes and bodies and laundry.  How fortunate indeed!

The importance of water has been driven home here in Lee County this summer with a vengeance, as we have faced a major red tide bloom, resulting in hundreds upon hundreds of dead fish, sea turtles, even a manatee or two, being washed up on our beaches, and tourists fleeing or just not showing up at all.  We have also been hit with blue green algae filling our waterways.  And most of it has been caused by human mismanagement of resources.  We have taken water for granted--and now we are paying the price.  Literally, as well as figuratively.

Maybe we all need to live in Panama for a while.  Maybe we all need to go without clean water for drinking and bathing for a few months.  Maybe then we would learn.  But the again, maybe, seeing our deserted beaches and restaurants and businesses, will cause us to take action.

It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his famous 18th century poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who penned the line "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."  In some parts of the world it could have been written today.  And, if we don't pay attention, it could be appropriate anywhere and everywhere in years to come.

(Myra's blog can be found at https://whereintheworldismyra.wordpress.com)


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Taxi Cab Theology

You never know where you are going to run into a theologian.  Sure, you expect to find one at church.  If you are at a seminary or a divinity school it's considered mandatory to have a theologian or two on the faculty.  Even if you are just hanging around a university you might bump into one.  But not when you are riding in a taxi.  But there he was, the best theologian I'd met in a long time.

For most of the ride he was quiet.  We conducted our necessary business, where you headed, and so on.  But I should have suspected something.  After all he had placed religious books in the back pockets of the front seats.  But there was no proselytizing, no "Have you found Jesus."  But then it happened.

It was one of those intersections where folks in the left lane could only turn left, and folks in the right, straight through or right.  But as we sat in the right turn lane, waiting for the light to change, it became clear that the person on our left, who had out of state plates, had accidently gotten into the wrong lane.  He needed to turn right, not left.

The cabbie could have ignored him.  He could have made a snide remark about out-of-state drivers, but instead, he pulled back a bit, made some room, and then waved the other driver through.  And then, as we made our way forward, he turned to me, and said, "You know, some people tend to forget, we're really here to serve others."  And with that, he chuckled.

Taxi cab theology!  Who knew!  I smiled, I said, "You're right!"  And when I got out, I made sure to give him a really good tip.  After all, even theologians need to make a living!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Winnie the Pooh and the Very Happy Day

Linda and I took two of our granddaughters to the movies last weekend to see Christopher Robin.  The film imagines what might have happened to Christopher Robin after he grew up and left Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the Hundred Acres Woods far behind.  It was a rather charming picture--somewhat predictable, but none-the-less refreshing in this day and age of movies based on comic books.

The film reminded me of a book I've long owned and enjoyed called The Tao of Pooh.  In it author Benjamin Hoff illustrates many of the basic tenets and teachings of Taoism using quotations from A. A. Milne's classic stories.

It is appropriate.  In the Tao Te Ching, the basic Taoist text, one reads:  "The wise are not learned, the learned are not wise."  Winnie-the-Pooh, self-described as a "bear of very little brain" is a case in point.  While far from learned, he is most certainly wise.  For Pooh, enjoying Tuesday is far more important than knowing how to spell it!   And as for Thursday?  When queried by Piglet as to why they should go off to visit people, Pooh responds. " . . . [B]ecause it's Thursday and we'll go wish everybody a Very Happy Thursday."

As I write this it is Monday.  Which classically is understood to be the toughest day of the week.  But perhaps we think that way because it isn't Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday.  It is the first day of the work week for most folks.  But maybe instead of being so negative about it, we should be grateful we have work at all!

So let me wish you a Very Happy Monday.  And if you read this on Tuesday, which I do know how to spell, a Very Happy Tuesday.  And if you read it . . . . well you get the point.  If there is a point.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Remembering the Sacrifice

Across the Causeway in the city of Fort Myers they are mourning the death of a police officer, Adam Jobbers-Miller, shot in the line of duty.  I won't go into the details, save to say that the community has risen to the occasion by holding fundraisers in support of his family, posting words of support on line, and so on.  As well they should.  Police officers are working on our behalf.  They are called to serve and protect, and when that service leads to injury or death, it reminds me what a challenging job it must be.  I am grateful for those who are willing to take on such a calling.

Like all positions of authority, being a police officer is a position that can be abused.  And sometimes is.  And such abuses need to be dealt with, swiftly.  Like all positions filled by human beings, it can  be corrupted by prejudice and bias.  And that too must be addressed.  We must strive for police departments staffed by folks willing to recognize  their own personal prejudices and learn to rise above them in order to serve and protect all people.  

But  that said, and it is not in any way to be considered unimportant, when an officer pursuing his or her duty, pays for that dedication with his or her life, we all do well to pause and reflect.  We  do well to remember that a real sacrifice has been made. 

  

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Did You Do This Weekend, John? I Turned Sixty-five!

This past weekend I turned sixty-five (65).  That didn't make me a senior citizen.  AARP sent me a membership card and declared me a senior when I turned fifty (50).  The federal
government said I could start withdrawing money from my IRAs when I turned fifty-nine and one-half (591/2)--leave it to the government to complicate things with a fraction!  The local movie theater declared me to be a senior when I turned sixty (60).  There were benefits that could have accrued to me as a senior citizen at sixty-two (62).  The Beatles crooned about the elder years when I turned sixty-four (64).  But still, none of them felt quite as official as sixty-five.  I am now unquestionably a senior citizen.

I still work outside the home--full-time.  And plan on doing so for a while yet.  So even though I am a card-carrying member of AARP, I am not a retired person.  I've been bald since I was about forty-five, and a greybeard from my early fifties.  I've been a grandfather for almost eighteen years, and love the role.  But none of those things made be feel I was a senior citizen.  But somehow turning sixty-five does.

So what does it mean?  In many ways I am still a boy on the inside, and even though I am helping take care of my elderly mother, she can still put me in my place with just a glance or a well-chosen word.  I still like to do many of the things I've done all my life--cycling, reading, going to the theater.  I still like good science fiction, and am early on line to see the latest Star Wars or Star Trek movie.

Do I feel any wiser now that I'm sixty-five?  Not particularly.  Although I am a bit wiser when it comes to eating really spicy foods for dinner!

Maybe what impacts me the most is the realization that this ride called life isn't going to last forever.  I'm not talking about life after death, or resurrection, or anything like that.  I'm talking about this life right here, right now.  Maybe the wisdom that comes with being a senior citizen is recognizing that you don't have all the time in the world.  You only have today.  That's true whether you're twelve or twenty or sixty-five, but somehow it seems a bit more real than it has in the past.


(Photo:  A family of origin shot--probably somewhere around 1969.  I am in the back row at the left.  I don't think the sixteen year old me ever dreamt about being sixty-five!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

On Not Giving Up on the Dream

Last week Linda and I took two of our granddaughters to Washington. One of them lives in Massachusetts, the other in Florida.  They are just about the same age.  They both love to read.  They both have little sisters that sometimes drive them nuts.  They both spend what seems like hours getting ready in the morning, primping in front of the mirror.  They both have a good sense of humor.  But one of them is black, and the other is white.  And for all their similarities, life will more than likely treat them differently simply because of that difference.

That said I still dream along with Dr. King, whose Memorial is pictured above.  (The granddaughters are the two tiny figures at his feet).  As grandfather to both girls, I dream of a future for them that is better than the world we now live in, so marked by hate and conflict.  That's why we took them to Washington.

That may seem counterintuitive, I know.  But I wanted them to see the Capitol, and to learn more about how we can change things when we vote, when we stay informed, when we let our representatives know what is important to us.  I wanted them to sit in the courtroom of the Supreme Court, and hear how it works and why it is important to be concerned about who sits on the bench.  I wanted them to see the monuments, the reminders of those who've gone before, who've made mistakes, and yet, left behind a grand legacy.

So we read through all the quotations on the King Memorial, stopping at each one to consider it's meaning.  So we read the powerful statement about religious liberty in the Jefferson Memorial, and talked about the difference it makes in our lives today.  So we followed part of the Points of Light Pathway, and talked about how volunteers like Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, Paul Harris and Linda and Millard Fuller have helped shape a better world.  So we stood in the Lincoln Memorial and read the Second Inaugural Address together, and explored what it means to be badly divided as a nation.  So we spent an afternoon at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and learned how important it is to stand up for the oppressed.

I am not giving up on the Dream.  I can't.  I have six grandchildren--four boys, two girls, four white, two black, four non-churchgoers (for the most part) and two very active in a congregation.  And I want a better world for each one of them.  And for all the other children as well.