Monday, November 29, 2010

Last week my wife and I took our two grandsons to the circus. It was really a rather rundown affair. The big top was set up on an old field in neighboring Cape Coral. You could see the dried up and matted down grass in the aisles. The seats were old metal folding chairs that looked like they'd been bnought at a church rummage sale and then painted red and yellow to match the circus decor.

The circus workers and performers looked almost as tired as the chairs. Ticket takers doubled as dancers and acrobats. Elephants not only performed their tricks, but, for an extra fee, also gave rides to children. Some of the acts were rather tepid--a few were actually fairly good. My grandsons really liked the Globe of Death ( a motocycle act), and the Human Cannonball (moving at 65 miles per hour, according to the ringmaster.) The tigers, though, looked like they'd really rather be in the jungle. And the clowns tried hard--but there were no budding Emmet Kelly's among them. And even as we were walking out of the big top, I noticed workers tearing it down, getting ready to move on to their next stop.

But here's the thing: we had a good time. All of us. And we didn't spend a fortune. In fact, we got out of the evening for well under one hundred dollars--and that included our nutritionally impoverished meal under the Golden Arches! OK, it's true, as soon as we walked in the front door at home, my wife insisted that we all go and wash our hands--but we'd had a good time, germs and all!

I'm not the first to see a metaphor for life in the circus, but I saw it afresh that night. And while sometimes we just go through the paces, and like those tigers would really rather be someplace else, in the end, there we are. Needing to put one foot (or paw) ahead of the other, and do our bit to help make it all work. Even if it means jumping through hoops of fire. And though it often seems that we barely finish up one part of life and we need to get moving on to the next--so be it. Such is life. And, yes, we may need to wash our hands, but we life can still be good, it can be very good, or as my youngest grandson might put it, "Awesome!"

I don't know when the circus will come our way again. I don't know if I'll go back. But I'm glad I caught it this time around for it reminded me again that what makes for a good night out--not to mention a good life--is sharing it with those you love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This past weekend I presented a monologue at our three Sunday morning services and then in the evening at the Sanibel Community Thanksgiving Celebration. I spoke as a Pilgrim, and retold the story of their long and difficult journey as well as that of the first Thanksgiving. Preparing to deliver the monologue which I had written, meant immersing myself in the words of the monologue for days. It also meant procuring a costume.

When the costume arrived via FedEx, I must say I was not too pleased. It was rather flimsy looking, and had been all scrunched up to fit into the shipping container. It looked like some ancient Pilgrim has slept in it for weeks! In that regard, it may have actually been somewhat authentic, but still, I wanted a crisper look for my presentations. So I took it to the dry cleaner here on island and asked if they could spruce it up. They did, and when I picked it up a few days later, I was told there would be "no charge". I was both pleased and surprised. But in retrospect, I shouldn't have been. They probably knew I'd be using it for the community celebration, and it was their way of contributing to the larger good. It's just one of the advantages of living in a relatively small community!

This Thanksgiving, my first here on Sanibel, I've been giving a lot of thought to the things for which I am thankful. There are a large number of items on my list: my wonderful wife and family, the beauty of this place, the organizations and people dedicated to caring for the environment who make Sanibel their home, the pelicans, a good job (no small matter in this day and age!), religious freedom, Sanibel sunrises, a fine church, enough to eat, a roof over my head, music, books, the New York Times, good health and insurance to pay for my health care . . . . There are so many things on my list, including you--the good folks who read this blog week in and week out. I thank you for the opportunity you afford me to share my thoughts about matters large and small.

Yes, I have a very long list of blessings. But I never thought to add the local dry cleaners to the list. At least, not until this past weekend!
(Photo Credit: Mary Bondurant)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Please don't misunderstand what I am about to say for I am a big fan of the Ten Commandments. They provide a concise statement of how to live a moral life. But they don't belong on the walls of city hall. You might wonder what brought that on--especially if you don't live here in southwest Florida. So let me bring you up to speed.

Cape Coral is the biggest city in our neck of the woods (or our corner of the swamp!) During the boom years it grew like topsy. And then during the recession it experienced an inordinate amount of economic difficulty. It is a city on its heels. In the interest of helping Cape Coral flourish once again, one of its citizens has proposed that the Ten Commandments should be hung in city hall. According to the city's daily paper, he believes there are no religious issues at stake. "It's not a political or religious issue," he said. "Cape Coral needs to be revitalized and to begin that process there needs to be a moral foundation." (Cape Coral Daily Breeze, 11-20-2010) Apparently the mayor of the city agrees it would be good to post them.

There is no question that the Ten Commandments can provide a moral foundation for life, but they are most certainly religious! The first commandment alone makes them so--"You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:2) Again, don't misunderstand. I believe that to be true. And my morality is firmly rooted in my belief that I should bow to no other gods but the one I call Lord. But it is a matter of faith--not a matter of civic conviction! The Qur'an has some powerful moral truths in it as well. So do the teachings of the Buddha. And some of the most moral and ethical people I know are agnostics! To be moral one doesn't have to subscribe to Jewish or Christian theology!

If you and I are going to be free to live out of our religious convictions, if you and I are going to be free to speak and worship the truth as we understand it, then we must, absolutely must, protect the rights of others to do the same. That is why we must protect the separation of church (or any other religious organization) and state. Which means various branches of government must avoid endorsing any particular religious beliefs. Even those as noble and as important as the Ten Commandments.

I hope Cape Coral is revitalized--in every way possible. And if more people would live by the dictates of the Ten Commandments, I'm sure it would help. I am sure it would help any city, thriving or not! But as a Christian who believes in their truth, I need to make sure my own life is in order rather than trying to impose my faith on others.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No doubt you know about the just concluded trial of Steven Hayes in Connecticut. Three years ago, on July 23, 2007, Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky invaded the home of William and Jennifer Petit. After beating William, raping and strangling Jennifer, and molesting one of their two daughters they set the house on fire and ultimately caused the deaths of all but William. It was one of the most violent and horrific crimes in Connecticut history. It is hard to imagine the sheer terror of it all--and one can only empathize with William and his family and friends.

It took the jury just five hours to find Hayes guilty of the crimes. But then, in the penalty phase, they took three full days to determine whether or not he should receive the death penalty. In the end, they voted to do just that.

In an recent television interview on NBC's Today Show with several of the jurors they spoke about the difficulty of sitting through such a graphic trial. It challenged each and every one of them. But even though their deliberations prolonged things, when it came to their decision around the death penalty they were determined to explore the pros and cons and review the facts in as rational a manner as possible. Free of emotion. Everyone was given time to speak his or her mind. They wanted to do they could to make a decision that was within the parameters of the law.

Personally, I do not support the death penalty. But I was impressed with the seriousness with which they took their charge to administer justice in a fair and reasoned manner. And as I have thought about the way they went about their work, I couldn't help but think they were onto something. Wouldn't our public discourse about controversial matters be so much more productive if we allowed all people to speak their minds without fear of ridicule or personally destructive criticism? Wouldn't we have a better chance of coming to compromise on important matters if we worked with the facts and set aside emotionality? Wouldn't the quality of such discussions be improved by giving them the time they deserve instead of being satisfied with sound-bites? And while I may not agree with their decision, I can't help but admire the jury's approach. It would serve us well to follow their example.

In fact, maybe we could start by discussing capital punishment itself in such a manner. It is, after all, a matter of life and death. Doesn't that deserve our very best?

Monday, November 1, 2010

In my faith tradition folks don't generally respond in the midst of a sermon. Folks don't usually shout "Amen!" or "Preach it, brother!" You'll rarely hear a "Praise the Lord!" or "Hallelujah!" But yesterday, two days before Election Day, near the beginning of my sermon, folks broke into applause. I don't think I'd said anything theologically astute. I wouldn't say the applause was prompted by the Spirit. Rather, I think I hit a nerve. It was my stewardship sermon, and I was illustrating the point that how we spend our money reflects our core beliefs and values, as demonstrated by the tremendous amount of money spent on this year's political campaigns. In particular, I voiced my dismay at the negative character of the various television attack ads. "I am a self-admitted political junkie," I said, "But like many other people, I will be very glad when Tuesday has come and gone." That's when they started to clap. One fellow told me later, "I've been here fifteen years, and I've never heard spontaneous applause during a sermon."

I have a very active and involved congregation. Many, many of my parishioners are involved in volunteer work at a number of agencies in our area--ranging from environmental organizations to those working to stave off hunger. They are well-educated, and extremely well-informed. I suspect a very high percentage of them vote. But some of them, at least, are obviously worn down by aspects of the political process. Understandably. So too are many other Americans. All of which is rather disturbing. For the truth is, our system of government depends on citizens being willing to participate in the process. Not just by voting, which is so important, but also by being willing to engage in a civil conversation about the important issues that confront us in this day and age.

Mind you, I have faith in my congregation. I don't think folks here will give up on excercising their responsibility as citizens. But I do worry about the nation as a whole. I hope, and pray, that in the months and years ahead, we can move beyond the negativity and find ways to engage in healthy dialogue about the issues. Not just in Congress, but also in the everyday places common folks like us gather. It is the only way we can begin to address the real concerns we all face in the early part of the twenty-first century.