Monday, January 31, 2011

There is nothing new about disturbing reports coming out of the Middle East. We've grown accustomed to stories of death and destruction in that region of the world. Indeed, we have become a bit cynical about it. But somehow, the current happenings in Egypt seem especially upsetting. Perhaps that's because at some level, here in the West, we all share in the long and amazing story of Egypt. We've recounted its wonders in classrooms and museums. We've marveled at the enduring nature of the pyramids and the ongoing mystery of the Sphinx. We've sung about it in spirituals like "Go Down Moses." We've explored it with fictional characters like Indiana Jones. Perhaps, what we've forgotten, though, is that it is a real country, with real people, who have some very real challenges in life.

The current uprising has brought to the fore some of the concerns of the populace there. Despite what some have called thirty years of apathy, the citizens of Egypt appear to have come to the end of their patience with Hosni Mubarek, the longtime President of Egypt. As of this writing, Amnesty International reports that ten people have died in the fighting, and hundreds have been injured. And over the weekend, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was attacked, leaving a fair amount of damage to priceless antiquities. Looters even ripped off the heads of two mummies. (Personally, I was impressed by the courage and wisdom of ordinary citizens who tried to protect the museum with a human chain around it's perimeter.)

In Egypt, the fate of both the living and the dead seem to be literally interwoven. And, in one very real way, isn't that always the case? Sometimes we try to divorce ourselves from the past, but it is always with us. We carry it in all that we say and do. Yes, we needn't be enslaved by it, but we always need to acknowledge its power and its influence in our lives. Trying to destroy it never really works. It comes back to haunt us--for good or ill. Our ability to successfully come to terms with the past, greatly influences not only the present, but the future as well.

I have no expertise in Egyptian affairs, past or present! And others will need to weigh in on how the current problems can be resolved. But meanwhile, we can, as we have so often before, learn from this ancient culture, as we seek to deal with our own histories--as individuals and as a nation.
(Photo Credit: Newscom)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Over the years I've probably watched 35 or 40 State of the Union Addresses and I must admit, the pundits are right--this one was different. Not so much because of what the President said, but because of the more subdued and civil atmosphere in the room. The simple fact that so many Republicans, Democrats and Independents chose to sit together, rather than on opposite sides of the aisle, did indeed seem to make a real difference in how they behaved.

Once word got around that the very liberal Democrat from New York, Chuck Schummer, was going to sit with conservative Republican Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, the idea caught on, and others followed suit. As the cameras scanned the audience, there were many rather "odd" couples like Democrat John Kerry sitting next to Republican John McCain. It was, frankly, refreshing.

As I've thought about it over the last few days, an old bumper sticker came to mind: "Think Globally, Act Locally." The House and the Senate must constantly be thinking in global terms. Indeed, we heard many references in the speech to global and national issues: the global economy, the global war against terrorism, the need to compete in a global market. And we heard many broad stroke reminders of the need for all Americans to get along, to cooperate, to pull together. But such all-encompassing efforts need to start somewhere, and for our elected representatives in the House and Senate, it doesn't get any more local than who you sit next to in the halls of congress. The President was right when we noted, "What comes of this moment will be determined not bu whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow." Seating arrangements won't solve the nation's problems, large or small, but its a good, symbolic first step.

It also strikes me that we all could choose to follow this example. How often do we choose to sit next to folks we know, folks with whom we are comfortable. I see it every week as I look out across the pews on Sunday mornings. I see it at social gatherings, especially wedding receptions! I see it in classrooms and at meetings. We often sit with those we know best. But what if we made a conscious effort to literally sit next to the stranger, or the one we barely know, or even the one with whom we are often at odds? What if we were willing to really get to know one another a bit better?

The late Tip O'Neil, Speaker of the House for many years, famously said, "All politics is local." And he was right. But its bigger than that. In the end, all life is local.

So who are you going to sit next to this week?
(Photo Credit: David Iliff)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This past Monday I conducted a Memorial Service for one of the founding mothers of Sanibel, Grace Whitehead. As I did some research in preparation for the service, I was reminded how deeply committed to this island Grace truly was! In so many ways, she contributed to the well-being of this bit of God's creation.

She was devoted to protecting the environment . Her sister Gloria called her a "tree-hugger", not an unusual term for environmentalists, but in Grace's case, she literally wrapped her arms and body around some Australian pines in an effort to save them from being plowed over! She loved those pine trees!

Grace was also one of the primary shakers and movers when it came to creating what is now a twenty-two mile collection of bike/shared-use paths all around the island. One could live on Sanibel without a car, if one so chose, and get all over the place safely!

Sanibel was only incorporated as a city in 1974. And it happened in direct response to the desire of its residents to have a place that wasn't overdeveloped. They had no interest in skyscraper hotels lining the beaches. Instead they wanted to protect the land, and preserve a place where people and wildlife could live together in harmony. Today, some 65% of the island is protected land.

Halfway around the planet, Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Grace lived her life true to that ideal. Speaking to a reporter in 1999, and reflecting on that time of Sanibel's incorporation, Grace said: "It was such a new idea, that a bunch of people could get together on an island in the United States and keep it so that it was a grand place to live--a paradise--but the main thing was that people were willing to work at it . . . ." (The Islander, 10-1-99, 4)

If we really want to preserve this planet, if we really want to protect the environment, then we all need to be willing to do a little tree-hugging. We all need to be like Grace, and work at it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

She was just nine years old. A third grader, at Mesa Verde Elementary School. She loved ballet, had planned on learning how to play the guitar and was the only girl on her Little League baseball team. And she was fascinated by politics. That's why she was there at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event at the Safeway in Tuscon. She was there because she wanted to learn more about how our country works. Because one day, she hoped, she might hold office herself.

Actually she already did--she'd just been elected to serve on the Student Council. But she aspired to higher offices. You see, Christina-Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001. And throughout her short life she had seen that as something of a sign. Her mother told ABC News that she thought of it as "a day of hope and change, a chance for the country to come together and be united." And maybe, just maybe, Christina-Taylor had told her mother, she would someday be able to bring all the political parties together "so we could live in a better country." How appropriate that Christina-Taylor was included in a book about children born on 9-11 called Faces of Hope.

But Christina-Taylor's dream of holding higher office will never be realized, for she was one of those gunned down this past weekend.

There has been much speculation about why Jared Lee Loughner went on his shooting spree. Some have suggested that the vitriolic nature of our political discourse pushed him over the edge. And who knows, that may have been the case. But even if that is not the case, the current focus on our collective lack of civility on the political front has the potential of being a new day of hope and change. For if we choose, we can use this moment, much as Christina-Taylor used 9-11, to inspire us to become more respectful, and ultimately more productive, in our political conversation.

We may never know what Jared Lee Loughner was thinking in Tuscon this past Saturday. We may never know if it was connected to the acrimonious nature of so much political discussion these days. The two may be totally unrelated. But for the sake of Christina-Taylor Green, I hope we don't mourn for a few days and then go back to business as usual. I hope we really turn things around and become a nation where all little girls, and little boys too, have good reason to be interested in how our country works.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I received an e-mail from the City of Sanibel this week inviting me to attend a program being offered in February called "Skywarn Storm Spotter Training." The training, which occurs in two parts, will address weather safety, thunderstorm formation, how to identify severe weather clouds, lightning patterns and hurricanes. It sounds fascinating!

The training is being offered to increase the number of folks who can spot a storm before it gets here. As our City Manager Judie Zimomra, noted in the e-mail "it is in the community's best interest to have as many trained eyes assisting us in identifying severe weather conditions as they approach our town."

When I was a boy, my mother taught me an old bit of weather-related poetry:
Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning;
Red sky at night, sailors delight.

I guess it was her take on storm spotting! Indeed, Jesus said much the same thing at one time--though without the rhyme! But he followed it up by suggesting we need to be on the lookout for other warning signs as well. And so we do. We need to watch out for those attitudes and actions that threaten the very fabric of society. Things like prejudice, intolerance and hatred. When we see such warning signs, we need to take action. For as dangerous as thunderstorms and hurricanes can be, the greatest dangers in life are not weather-related!

We all need to watch for signs of societal breakdown. And when we see them, we need to speak up. When we hear a racial slur, when someone is derided because of their sexual orientation, when someone tells an ethnic joke, when someone is excluded because of their religious beliefs, we need to speak out! We all need to be storm spotters. It is indeed, in the community's best interest!
(Photo Credit: Google Images)