Monday, July 25, 2011

Reaching for the Stars

Last Thursday, at approximately 5:50 AM I was awoken by a loud boom--actually, a double boom, as the last space shuttle, the Atlantis, passed over Southwest Florida on it's way to landing on the East Coast. My wife Linda and I immediately got out of bed, turned on the television and watched the picture perfect touchdown. I must admit, I shed a tear or two as the shuttle taxied to a stop. "This is it," I thought to myself, "the end of an era." (Hey, who's very original at 6:15 in the morning?) But, truly, it was the end of an era--and the end of many jobs here in Florida, in Texas and elsewhere I'm sure.

Over the years I have heard many of my fellow liberals complain about the space program. "Why can't we spend that money feeding the hungry? Why can't we use it to house the homeless and provide medicine for the sick? Shouldn't we take care of things here on earth before we worry about outer space?" And, a part of me, of course, agrees. Our priorities are out of whack. We are letting the poor and the destitute slip through the cracks. But, personally, I'd rather see us look elsewhere for the money. Rather than dismantling the space program, I like to see us stop spending billions and billions of dollars fighting wars that seem to have no purpose and no end. I'd rather see those dollars go to feeding the hungry and tending to the sick.

I know it's not as simple as that. But then again, maybe it is. Maybe it is as simple as saying we want to place an emphasis as a nation on those things that will help us be better people. And, as cliched as it is to say the space program helped us reach for the stars, it is also true. Literally and figuratively.

I understand that we're thinking about traveling to asteroids or Mars or maybe the moon again. And I hope we do. I hope we recapture the wonder of exploring the heavens. But more than that, I hope the end of the shuttle program causes us to stop and rethink our priorities as a nation. Maybe, if we had a better handle on that which is truly important, the wrangling over budgets and debt ceilings that we're witnessing in Washington these days would come to an end. Call me star struck if you must--but I refuse to give up hope!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Sanibel Rebellion

The City of Sanibel started with a rebellion. OK--not an armed overthrow or anything like that. Nobody dumped boxes of tea in Tarpon Bay. But back in the early seventies Sanibel was still an unincorporated part of Lee County, and it appeared the island was headed for the kind of development that is seen all up and down the Gulf Coast. Hi-rise condos along the beaches, heavy traffic, sprawling resorts, fast-food franchises and so on.

But the residents of Sanibel wanted to preserve not only the character of the island, but also the ecology of the island. They didn't want hi-rises. They didn't want to be swamped with the projected 90,000 residents. Rather, they wanted to protect the wildlife and natural habitats that make this place so special. So they rebelled--in a manner of speaking, and mounted a campaign to become in independent municipality. As one of the founding mothers of Sanibel, Grace Whitehead, once said, "The county considered the citizens of Sanibel to be like the colonists who revolted against Mother England."

After much effort, it happened. In 1974, Sanibel became a legal entity. A city. A self-governed municipality capable of laying out its own rules and regulations for how land was or was not to be used. And it worked. Today, over 65% of Sanibel is undeveloped, protected land. Just this winter the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Fund raised over five million dollars to add another 28.3 acres to that total.

But none of this would have happened without a plan. A city plan. A well-thought out approach to how the properties of the island would be used, managed and protected. It is, sometimes, a rather contentious plan. Public meetings on Sanibel are just that, public. And a concerned and well-educated population isn't afraid to voice its opinions! But it is a plan that works. And Sanibel, this island of ecological wonders, remains just that!

So, with great gratitude to all those who dreamed of the plan, all those who continue to refine the plan, and all those who fight to maintain the character of the plan, Happy Anniversary! In its original form, the plan was first adopted July 19, 1976--two years after the "rebellion"!

Monday, July 11, 2011

First, Last and Only Words About the Anthony Trial

I'm not sure why I'm allowing myself to be sucked into the Casey Anthony stuff--but here goes.

There are far more important issues for us to be tending to these days. The national debt ceiling, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unemployment rate, global warming--the list is endless of problems and concerns that should be the focus of our attention. But they are not. For some reason, this summer we Americans have been caught up in the trial of a woman accused of killing her daughter. Perhaps it is pure escapism. Perhaps it is a way for us to set aside the real issues of the day.

Don't misunderstand. It is truly tragic that this family has been rent asunder by this event, by charges and counter-charges. And it is even more tragic that a young life was cut short. But it happens all the time. Children die every day. And some of them at the hands of their parents. If I thought the Anthony trial would help us to recognize the need to address issues like domestic violence I might not feel the way I do about it all. It is probably good that many states are looking at laws mandating the reporting of missing children, but often that is too little, too late.

So many people have taken aim at the jury, blaming them for the outcome of the trial. But those on the jury appear to have done what they were charged with doing. They appear to have given a verdict based on the evidence presented to them--and not their emotional response to the case. Still, people have expressed real anger about the not guilty verdict, and have laid the blame for it at the jury's feet.

But I wonder if the anger and frustration aimed at the jury is misdirected. I wonder if it is really pent up anger and frustration with ourselves. Why can't we solve the problems that confront us as a society? Why can't we elect officials who will cooperate and do what's best for all concerned? Why can't we truly live as a nation dedicated to liberty and justice for all?

That's it. That's all I'll say. These are my first, last and only words about the Anthony trial. Now let's move on. America, indeed the world, needs are energy and attention for other things.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Technology and the Church

This weekend my denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), held it's bienniel national gathering called General Synod. Delegates from all across the country gathered in Tampa, Florida, about 2 1/2 hours north of here, to worship and study, as well as to debate and vote on a variety of issues including a major effort to restructure the governance of the denomination at the national level. I attended part of the gathering, and enjoyed it immensly!

Like most of these gatherings though, the most important part of of it turned out to be the kind of stuff that doesn't show up on official agendas. I had lunch with a friend from Japan who I hadn't seen in two or three years; dinner with a young clergyperson from New York I had mentored, and chance meetings with folks from many different parts of my life. Call it what you will, fellowship, networking, reconnecting, it all amounts to a very tangible reminder that that nothing can really take the place of face-to-face encounters!

This General Synod there was an even greater emphasis on virtual connections. The denominations website was used extensively before the event to orient delegates. Local churches were encouraged to have a Facebook presence. At one worship service we were even asked to look up a candle app on our smart phones and wave those in the air like we used to wave real candles.

Obviously, as a blogger, I have no major issue with using technology to help advance the cause! And, frankly, things like Facebook and e-mail, allow me to stay in touch with younger members of my family, nieces and nephews, in a much better ways than in the past. And being the pastor of a church with literally hundreds of snowbirds, it does allow me to stay better connected with folks who travel north for the summer. Still . . . it's not the same as being with them in person. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to laptop!

I'm glad the United Church of Christ encourages its members to use virtual technology. I only hope we never forget that we have an incarnational theology. Incarnation--in the flesh. We can text, e-mail, blog, tweet and blog, and Facebook (yes, it has become verb!) all we want. But let's never forget, the importance, of looking someone in the eye, the beauty of wiping away another's tears and the simple value of the holding hands and walking together along life's road!