Monday, July 26, 2021

Retreats, Relationships and Precious Memories

Ninety-one years ago a Unitarian minister named John Wilson founded a religious order for Protestant clergy called Brothers of the Way.  In creating the order Wilson laid out certain obligations which served as the basis for the vows members would take as they were brought into the order.  And one of those obligations was to take an annual retreat with the order.  A retreat which incorporated (and still incorporates) prolonged periods of silence, spiritual reading, prayer, singing, shared work around meals and a daily celebration of Holy Communion.

Wilson built a retreat house on an island off Boothbay Harbor which he called Greystones.  While a beautiful place, it had no electricity and while there was running water it was (and is) limited by the overall water level on the island.

After Brother John's death, the house and the island remained in his family, who were gracious enough to allow the Order to still hold retreats every year.

In the eighties the Order finally recognized that women also serve as clergy, and began admitting women into the Order, changing the name to Brothers and Sisters of the Way.

In time, however, Greystones was sold--and so the Order found other places for annual retreats, including locations in Maine, Rhode Island, New York, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Last year in honor of the ninetieth anniversary of the Order the current owners generously offered to host a celebratory retreat.  Unfortunately, due to Covid, that event had to be cancelled, and eventually rescheduled for this year.  This week, in fact.

My Dad was a member of the Order, and I went on my first retreat at Greystones while I was still in seminary in the late seventies.  Upon graduation and ordination, I was consecrated as a full member:  Brother John.  That was forty-one years ago--I was still in my twenties!

The Order has been part of my life as long as I can remember.  Every year as I was growing up
Dad would head off for retreat.  And then later, we shared time together on retreats.  Going on retreat is always special, but going back to Greystones, for the first time in almost forty years, is more than special.  It is a time for me to reflect on my relationship with God, my relationship with my father, and my relationship with the profession and the religious order that we shared for many years.

(Photo:  Greystones, Fisherman's Island, Maine)

Monday, July 19, 2021

Thoughts about Time and Grandkids and Old Friends and Retirement

Back to school sales are already popping up in the retail sector, even though school for some doesn't begin for a month and a half.  For others, like children and young people who live in our county, school resumes in just three weeks!
This summer three of my six grandchildren have had summer jobs.  And two of them will continue in those positions with fewer hours after school reopens.  My oldest grandson is already in the full-time work force, leaving just the two youngest ones to take part in routine summer activities.  And as they both turn thirteen this year, that will change soon as well.

It is so cliched to ask "Where does the time go?"--but it's true.  The sensation of time passing ever more rapidly is experienced by many, many folks, maybe even most.  

This weekend an old seminary classmate who I haven't spoken to in years, touched base.  It was good catching up, but it too provided a reminder that tempus fugit!  More than once one of us said something like, but that was forty years ago now!  He is older than I am and has been retired for over ten years!  And this coming April I will retire.

My birthday is this week (Thursday) and that may be why I'm waxing poetic about time and age and so on.  I turn sixty-eight. Compared to many, if not most of my parishioners, I'm still a kid! 
 Whatever, I have very little to complain about, and am grateful to have grandchildren who are blossoming, old friends who haven't forgotten me, and a job from which I can retire when the day comes.

Monday, July 12, 2021

How to Pray in the Face of a Hurricane

Last week a tropical storm, Elsa, passed through our area.  It wasn't a direct hit, in fact, Elsa didn't make landfall until she was quite a bit north of us.  At one point in her journey she was a category one hurricane, but off our coast, "just" a tropical storm.

Fortunately here, at least, she didn't leave a lot of damage in her wake.  We did have some flooding in neighboring areas due to a great amount of rain, and some minor debris on the roadways and in people yards from the winds.  But really, nothing overwhelming.

Every time we have a tropical storm or a hurricane that could make landfall where we live there is a fairly long buildup in the days, sometimes week, ahead.  As it crosses the Atlantic, as it moves through the Caribbean, we hear any number of updates and warnings.  At times the buildup is worse than the storm itself.  Sort of like anticipating a visit to the dentist.

Every time we are in the so-called cone of concern, and often even before that, I find myself fairly torn.  I clearly do not want to be caught in the midst of such a  storm.  But I also worry about other places it might go.  No, I say, as if I could actually speak to it, don't come here!  Stay away!  But even as I do so, I realize that means it may go elsewhere.  Does New Orleans need another hurricane?  

Obviously what i hope for is that it will run out of steam along the way, dissipate, simply vanish from the weather maps altogether.  And sometimes that happens as well.  But when it doesn't I never pray that it doesn't hit us--because the backside of that prayer may mean disaster for someone else.  What I can and do pray for is that we all might be prepared for whatever comes, and that we all will have the courage and the compassion to respond in whatever ways are best.  

I suppose that's a pretty good pray on sunny days as well. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

With Liberty and Justice for All

Pursuing justice has always been incumbent on Christians,  but I think it carries a special bit of weight for those of us who live in twenty-first century America.  For we live in a democracy, and as members of a democracy that means that we are a part of creating and maintaining the system itself.  If we are to live justly we must be willing to participate in the politics of the day which shape how the system functions.  We must be willing to participate by voting, by serving on juries, by supporting candidates who reflect our understandings, by making our opinions known to our elected representatives, perhaps even by serving in some elective or appointive office.  We are to do whatever is in our power to make certain we have a system where there truly is justice for all.

But we are also called to bring justice into our everyday living as well.  Yes, we should be concerned about the issue of immigration on a grand scale, we should be as informed as possible about the legal options for addressing the problems it brings into life.  But we must also ask ourselves, how am I treating the immigrants—legal or undocumented—in my day to day life?  Am I paying a fair wage to the folks who mow my grass and trim my trees?  And I treating waiters and waitresses from other lands as human beings, and tipping them generously? 

Yes, we must be concerned about who gets appointed to the Supreme Court, we must remain informed about the laws that undergird the system and how they are made and interpreted.  And if such laws fail to be fair to all people, we must seek to have them changed.  But we must also guard against using the laws and courts to create unfair advantages for ourselves over the poor and underprivileged.

Yes, we must continue to wrestle with how healthcare is provided in this country and struggle to create an equitable system where all people have access to medical care and treatment.  But if we are employers, we need look at what we have made available for our own employees in terms of health coverage.

And the list goes on.  We are to be involved in justice at all levels of life.  The wider systemic levels, and in our personal comings and goings.  Justice should, indeed, be a way of life for each of us.




Monday, June 28, 2021

There's Just Something About a Rainbow

 As June draws to a close we pause for a moment to acknowledge that this is Pride Month.  It is that time each year when we set aside a month to recognize, honor and celebrate the
wide variety of differences in sexual orientation and gender identifications found in the human family.  A veritable rainbow of differences!

I've been thinking about rainbows.  It is the beginning of rainy season here in Florida, and so we are being blessed with more rainbows than usual.  The other day my wife Linda even saw a full double rainbow!  Gorgeous!  

Now don't misunderstand what I am about to say.  All colors of the rainbow are beautiful.  Indigo.  Purple.  Red.  Yellow. Green.  Orange.  Each color brings its own specialness to the overall picture.  But a full-fledged rainbow, with every color, is something else altogether!  It is an exquisite expression of the beauty God has created in this world of ours.  Each color is enhanced by the presence of the other colors.  Each color is made all the more stunning by the others.

So it is when it comes to humanity.  Our differences are not cause for alarm.  Rather our differences are cause for celebration!  For our in our diversity there is great beauty.  And without the whole spectrum, it is just not the same.  Imagine a literal rainbow without red, for instance.  Just not the same!  Thankfully today we can and do acknowledge more freely the wonder of our diversity!  It is a beautiful thing to behold!


Monday, June 21, 2021

One More Time: Prayer in Public Schools

I believe in prayer, and engage in it daily.  And prayer is not impossible for children in public schools.  In fact, as one wag once put it, "More prayer happens in school before an algebra test thyan in church before the sermon."  But prayer shouldn't be mandated in schools funded with public monies.  Period.

But here in Florida folks persist in their effort to do just that.  The latest attempt is a new piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis, mandating a moment of silence at the beginning of the school day for all K-12 students in public schools.  On the surface, it sounds like a good idea.  A bit of time to silently pause and perhaps reflect on the day ahead, is good for all of us.  The trouble is, this is a thinly veiled attempt to get around the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

On signing the bill, the Governor said, "The idea that you can push God out of every public institution and be successful, I'm sorry, our founding fathers did not believe that."  And the signing took place in a synagogue.  How more obvious can one get?

It is also rather presumptuous to think anyone can push God out of any place!  That of course, is a theological view.  A religious view.  But there you have it.  But the question isn't whether or not God is present in public schools.  The question isn't whether or not prayer happens there.  God is, and prayer does.  Trust me.  But my religious perspective, nor that of any one else, should be forced on students.  Not at school.  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Books--Can't Live with 'Em, Can't Live Without 'Em!

Books have always been an important part of my life.  I was read to as a child.  From early on, one of my favorite gifts was a new book.  I collected biographies in late elementary school.  The signature series.  Biographies written especially for young people, with an imprint of the subject's signature on the cover.

I continue, decades later, to favor biographies.  Though I also enjoy a good novel and frequently read volumes on religion and society.  Frankly, I can't imagine my life without books.  I have borrowing privileges in three different library systems, and am on a first name basis with the owner of our local independently owned bookstore.

As you can imagine, I own hundreds, make that thousands, of books, and as I consider retiring in ten months or so, I will have to make some serious decisions about what to keep and what to give away.  Some may go to colleagues, others to family members, still others to local libraries.  And some, no doubt, will go to our congregation's used "bookstore."  But many of them I will want to keep, partly becuase I enjoy being surrounded by books, partly because some have sentimental value (my complete set of John Steinbeck paperbacks acquired in high school when I tore through everything he wrote, as an example)
and others because I will have need of them for research and comfort in my retirement.

I'm not sure I'd take on this vital task if not for the prompting of my wife, who has made it clear our condo isn't big enough for all of them.  She's an avid reader as well, but relies on the library for her selections.  I'll keep you posted.  So far--well, so far I haven't even begun!