Monday, January 24, 2022

A Matter of the Heart: A Word about Antisemitism


The recent incident in Texas points up yet again the importance of relations such as ours with Bat Yam.  For those who think antisemitism is a thing of the past, something confined to Nazi Germany, it was a frightening reminder that it still haunts our world.  I know it has proven very unsettling to my Jewish friends and neighbors.  And it is unsettling to me as well.

Annually our congregation is part of a pulpit exchange with our sister congregation Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands.  Bat Yam is a Reform Jewish congregation that shares our space.  We share a number of activities over the course of each year, some of which have been highlighted in previous posts on this blog.  And in many ways the highlight of our shared life was a trip we took to Israel which featured daily posts while we were traveling.  Many of our respective members have gotten to really know one another--and we all are better educated about the lives and faith of our counterparts.

I am not so naive as to think a relationship such as the one my congregation has with Bat Yam is the sole answer to antisemitism.  Certainly, tough laws and the faithful enforcement of them are important.  Being prepared to respond when there are life threatening circumstances is vital.  And speaking up whenever antisemitism or any other ugly bias surfaces is essential.  But long term the fear and hatred that lies at the root of antisemitism is a matter of the heart.  And hearts are truly changed only when we get to know each other at more than a mere surface level.  When I am able to see that you are at core a human being with many of the same concerns, interests, hopes and dreams as those that I have, then I can begin to treat you with respect, or at least with a sense of tolerance.

The reality is this:  my life is greatly enriched and expanded by the shared journey I am on with Bat Yam.  And so too the lives of my congregants.  For when we open our hearts to one another, we can be joined together in a powerful way.  Joined together as human beings, joined together with the Holy One.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Thoughts about God and a Close Call

This past Sunday an EF-2 Tornado ripped through our part of Fort Myers clocking winds up to 118
miles per hour.  It was a stormy morning throughout Southwest Florida, and the tornado here was not the only one registered.  But it missed out neighborhood, our community.  Not 200 yards from our home trees were felled, siding on buildings ripped off, even a roadside building with an icemaker in it was lifted off its foundation and dropped back down fifty feet away.  As I sit in my living room writing this I can hear the chainsaws clearing away fallen trees.  But though our community lost electricity due to damage to lines down the road, it was untouched.

I wasn't home.  I was on Sanibel, conducting worship.  It was stormy out there--lots of wind and rain and some thunder and lightning.  But no tornadoes.  Just the inconvenience of the internet going down in the middle of our livestream.  But Sanibel is well-known for its less than fully reliable internet.  My wife, though, was caring for my mother here in Fort Myers, and they took to the laundry room for shelter at one point.  But as I said, in the end the community was unscathed.

No doubt there are some within our neighborhood saying God spared us, God protected us, or something like that.  But that always bothers me.  Did God abandon, or worse yet punish, the hundreds of folks whose homes were damaged?  Did God look the other way as some thirty or so mobile or manufactured homes were totally destroyed?  I think not.  But that is the logical corollary to suggesting God spared us.

This is not a new conundrum.  Folks have pondered it for centuries.  And I'm not sure how to unravel it.  But for the moment, I am satisfied with suggesting that while God doesn't direct tornadoes or any other natural disaster, God does stand ready to support us when they occur.  And often that support comes in and through other people.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Just What Is Normal?

Here's a phrase I am hearing quite often these days . . . "When things get back to normal . . ."  It's usually said with a sigh, or a light chuckle.  But it expresses, more often than not, a bit of weariness, or impatience, or even, once in a whle, anger.  But what is normal?

I have a therapist friend who used to say, "Normal is just
a setting on a washing machine."  I'm not sure even that's true anymore, what with all the computerization one finds in appliances these days.  (My wife and I were looking at a new stove the other day with a very helpful appliance salesman.  Linda asked him if it had the old-fashioned kind of self-cleaning feature, or the new steam kind. The new er ones, he told us, are mostly all steam, because the old style, where you turned it up to 600 degrees for three hours, gets too hot for the computer-based parts.)

Whatever, my friend's point was that there really is no such thing as normal.  That the world changes all the time, and so do we.  Assuming we finally get past the pandemic, the world will be different than it used to be.  And while we will speak of that as "the new normal," it will quickly change into something different yet again.

I think we are wise to not be waiting for "normal" to return, whatever that was, but rather, doing our best to live here and now as fully (and as safely) as we can.  One day at a time.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Tired of Decision-making--Version 2022

Have you noticed?  It's a new year, but we seem to be faced with a lot of the same old challenges, and decisions we need to make.  Do I wear a mask?  Do I eat indoors at restaurants?  Do I watch church on my phone or laptop, or do I attend services in person?  Do I cancel a trip, or still try to navigate airports and ever-changing airline schedules?  And the list goes on.

For some of us it means making decisions about scheduled events.  Do we cancel or plunge ahead?  Do we go virtual or hybrid or all in person?  For others it means facing choices around surgery--having it or not?  Holding a wedding or memorial service?   Should my kid go to school or stay home and attend virtually?

There can be little question that it is all very wearing.  And as a result, we are having more difficulty dealing with other people.  Tempers are shorter.  Words are less kind.  Some communication cues are missing altogether.

I don't like making all the decisions required these days any more than the next person.  I get weary of them.  And I get short at times.  But I can do better.  We can do better, if we put our minds to it, and remember that key teaching in Judaism, Christianity and virtually (no pun intended) every other major religious tradition.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Let's recommit in this new and challenging year, to do just that.

We'll all be better for it. 

Monday, December 27, 2021

Attic Treasures


I grew up in New England where old colonial and Cape Cod style homes dominated the landscape.  And a feature of such homes often was, and is, a full attic.  In our house, you walked up to the attic on a full flight of stairs, and except for the spaces by the eaves you could actually stand up without banging your head.  It was one of our favorite spots when we played hide n’ seek--big boxes and a free-standing mirror made for excellent places to hide!  And if you wanted solitude and quiet for an afternoon of reading you could find it there.  It was spooky at night and where my father would take us on Halloween to tell ghost stories.  My grandfather’s sea chest full of memorabilia from World War I was kept in the attic.  And it was, of course, where all the Christmas decorations were stored between seasons.   Our attic, like many, was filled with treasures:  treasured items, and treasured memories as well.

Earlier this month a parishioner shared a lovely story with me about an attic treasure.  How one day in what had been his parents’ attic, a rather dusty box was discovered that contained the American Flyer train he’d received one Christmas many decades ago.  It wasn’t just any Christmas, though, because he had contracted measles in a time before the measles vaccine.  Before getting sick he had seen the train, and desperately wanted it.  But he was so sick, he was confined to bed, and was sure he’d miss out on all the wonders Christmas had to offer.  Christmas Day came, and while the rest of the family was downstairs, enjoying the festivities, he lay alone in his bed.  But then, he heard his footsteps on the stairs, and suddenly appeared in his doorway, crossed over to his bed, and scooped him up into his arms.  And then, carried him down the stair to the living room, where under the tree, where the train was set up in all its glory.  The very train he had dreamed of having.  And in the end, what for a sick young boy, what seemed destined to be a very blue Christmas, turned into one remembered to this day.  A Christmas when love was made known in such a wondrous way.

As I’ve pondered things this second Covid Christmas and reflected on the past two years of struggles and challenges, I have been so incredibly grateful for the many Christmas treasures stored in the attic of my memory.  Often thoughts of a special moment from a Christmas past have lifted my spirits as I’ve had to make decisions about masks and social distancing and sanitizers and all the other concerns we’ve had to address.  I have been buoyed up by those memories, buoyed up by those treasures.

I am also reminded that chief of those attic treasures, is the story we remember each Christmas, pandemic or not, of a time so long ago when God chose to be revealed to us in the birth of a tiny child.  It is a story both simple and profound.  A story populated by angels and shepherds, an innkeeper, a tired teenaged mother, and her travel weary husband.  A story rich with detail.  A stable.  A manger.  A donkey.  And cooing doves.  It is a story told round the world on this very night.  And even as we hear it again, even as we witness once more the beauty of the tale, even as we imagine the child being 
scooped up in Joseph’s arms and being handed to Mary, we are touched by the love made known on this night.

Maybe on this Christmas you need to be scooped up and carried.  Maybe you need to be cradled and held.  Maybe you long to be treasured and loved. 

If so, there is incredibly good news.   For in this birth that we celebrate each December, God appeared in human flesh and chose to remind us that human beings have inherent worth.  That you and I are indeed treasured.  Treasured and loved by the Creator of all that is, all that was, all that ever will be.  And God stands ready to scoop you up and carry you through the trials of life. 

Here in Florida we don’t usually have literal attics.  No stairs leading up to a space filled with treasures.  But we do have the attics of heart and mind.  And there, if we are only willing to look, we will find again the greatest treasure Christmas has to offer.  Not a box of decorations, not even a brand-new train set, but rather the love made known on a night so long ago in Bethlehem.  A love that can hold you throughout time and beyond.

Monday, December 20, 2021

So, This Is Christmas

This past Sunday two of our younger church members sang "Happy Xmas--War Is Over" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as our special music at one of our church services.  The older of the two, Henry, is in college and home on his Christmas break.  His younger sister, Anabelle, is in high school locally.  Neither of them, of course, were alive when that song first hit the airwaves in 1971--I'm not even sure their parents were!  But their simple presentation, just a guitar and their two lovely voices, was heartfelt and well done.

I, of course, was alive, and in my first year at college.  It was the year I got my draft card and was subject to the draft, and part of the draft lottery.  The war in Viet Nam was still in full swing, and back then the song spoke directly to me and my life.  I was opposed to the war and concerned about being drafted.  But in the end my number in the lottery was well above the cut off that year, and so I was not at risk of being drafted.

All of that came flooding back as I listened to them sing and reflected on it later.  I am glad that neither of them face the prospect of being drafted.  I am glad we are out of Viet Name, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But the truth is war is not over.  There is literal war in various corners of the world.  There is the ongoing war against Covid in this time of our Second Covid Christmas.  There is the ongoing war with racism.  And the list goes on.  War is not over.  But it could be.  That's what the song says, "War is over, if you want it."  As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One we call the Prince of Peace, perhaps we do well to ask ourselves, as individuals, as a nation, indeed as a global community, do we really want it?  Do we really want war to be over?  Do we really want peace?   I hope so.

(Photo Credit:  Dana Crater)

Monday, December 13, 2021

Tornados and Church

Yesterday, in the aftermath of the horrendous, tornado that ripped through Kentucky, the evening news featured a story about one of the churches in Mayfield that had gathered that morning outside the remains of their church building.  The story included video of maybe two or three dozen folks sitting in folding chairs, all bundled up against the cold, all singing a familiar Christmas carol.  

In an interview with the pastor, we were reminded of a powerful truth.  The church, he said, is not a building, it is the people.  We love our building and are very saddened by the destruction it has suffered.  But the church is the people.

This, of course, is a truth that transcends Christianity.  While our buildings can be extremely important, it is the people who gather in them--whether the building is a church, a mosque, a temple or a synagogue--that are the most significant.  

We will, of course, remember all those who have suffered the damages brought about by the tornado, and especially those who have lost loved ones.  And we can and will find ways to support them with monies, and volunteer hours, and supplies.  We must.  But first and foremost, as people of faith, any faith and all faiths, we must support them with our prayers.  It's what the mayor of Mayfield asked for.  It is what the Governor of Kentucky asked for.  For it is in and through prayer that we are reminded of God's great love for all those impacted, bundled up and singing carols, or not.  And our responsibility to reach out to help as we can.