Monday, September 26, 2011

Just a Nice, Lazy Story

This blog isn't intended to be a travelogue, but I just can't help but write about the visit my wife and I made this past Saturday with another couple to Cabbage Key. It's a small, mostly undeveloped island in Pine Island Sound, not far from Sanibel, and it is only accessible by boat. It is home to the Cabbage Key Inn where, according to local legend, Jimmy Buffett was inspired to write "Cheeseburger in Paradise." I had a burger (though without the cheese) while we were there. It was quite good, if not inspiring!

We had a very pleasant trip over to the island on one of the local island-hopping tour boats. We were regaled along the way with a plethora of facts and figures related to our journey, including the tale of the Dollar Bill Bar.

The Dollar Bill Bar is located at the Inn, and is noteworthy for the thousands and thousands of dollar bills tacked to the walls and the ceilings. Each one has been signed by a tourist, a fisherman, or some other customer (including the aforementioned Jimmy Buffett--his warrants a frame!) Apparently back in the early days of the bar (which was opened in 1944) a fisherman signed a dollar bill and affixed it to the wall to make certain he had money for a drink when he returned. Today the owners estimate that as many as 70,000 bills adorn the bar. And each year, about 10,000 fall off the ceiling and the walls and are donated to charity.

When I heard that story, I said, "Now there's a sermon illustration!" And maybe it is. But then again, maybe not Maybe it's just a nice story. One that should be allowed to stand on its own. No real moral, no real point. Just a nice, lazy story about a nice, lazy island off Florida's Gulf Coast. How perfect! For as the gentle breezes washed over our faces on the boat ride back home, I realized we'd had a nice, lazy day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Matter of Right and Wrong

When it comes to the death penalty, the polls conducted annually by the Gallup organization suggest I am in a minority. While I am opposed to capital punishment, last fall 64% of those surveyed answered yes to the question "Are you in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?" ( I suspect that won't change dramatically when Gallup releases the results of their crime-related poll this fall. It's been like that for many years now. And while I disagree with the majority opinion, I respect that others may feel differently. But I do not respect cheering for executions, which is exactly what happened last week at a presidential debate held at the Ronald Reagan Library in California.

The moderator of the debate, Brian Williams, asked one of the candidates, Texas governor Rick Perry, a question related to the 234 executions that have happened in that state. The question itself, prompted applause from the the audience. The governor then responded and very somberly said that if you come into Texas and commit certain murders, "you will face ultimate justice . . . you will be executed." This time the crowd not only applauded, but some whistled and others cheered. I was appalled. I felt like we'd ended up back at a hanging in the old West!

When is it ever appropriate to cheer someone being killed? Taking a human life, even if you feel it is justified, which proponents of the death penalty do, is still a sad and sickening thing. When someone is executed it is society's way of saying that the precious gift of life has been wasted on evil actions. It is not a moment for cheering, it is a time for reflection.

It is interesting to note that in a 1981 speech given by then President Reagan, he spoke at some length about the death penalty. Make no mistake, he was a supporter of capital punishment, and I for one disagree with some of his conclusions in that speech. But at least one thing he said is well worth remembering today: "Right and wrong matters." (Public Papers of the Presidents, Reagan, 1981) I agree. And murder is clearly wrong. No question. And those who commit it must be punished. But cheering someone's death, no matter how heinous their crimes, is also wrong.

Monday, September 12, 2011

2012 and Beyond

My oldest grandson, Zak, who's ten had been hearing some of the talk about 2012. Not the national elections, but rather the predictions based on the Mayan calendar that the apocalypse will come at that time. (I realize some folks think that, depending on the outcome, those two things may be one and the same!) Anyway, Zak asked his grandmother if she thought the world was going to end next year.

"Oh no, honey, I really don't think so," she said.

"Oh, that's a relief," he said.

"Why do you say that?" asked his grandmother.

"I really want to get my license!"

Zak is only ten--so we can excuse his narrow focus! But as I've thought about that exchange, I realize, there are a whole lot of us older folks, so-called adults, who operate in much the same way. Indeed we only seem to worry about things when they impact us in a very personal way.

Only when we lose our jobs do we consider the flaws in our economic system. Only when we are without health care do we think about the ineffectiveness of our patchwork of methods for paying for it. Only when we have a son or daughter or spouse in the military do we consider the real costs of our long term wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I suppose it is, to some extent, simply human nature. But ultimately, we need to move past our narrow self-interested foci and address the many issues before us collectively. We need to rise above our differences and work together for the common good. For ultimately, what's good for all is that which will be best for each of us as individuals.

Zak's not due to get his license for a few years yet. Maybe by then, assuming the Mayans are wrong, we will have begun to work on some of these issues.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thank God for Work!

Labor Day has come and gone. But I'm still thinking about work.

When I was a youngster--and to this day--almost every meal began with our saying grace. Usually we would all recite a memorized prayer together. But once in a while one of us children would say grace. Our prayers were all quite simple and were usually a list of thank yous. Thank you God for this day. Thank you God for the sun. And so on.

I have been told of a grace I said when I was very young in which, looking over the Thanksgiving table spread with the bounty of the feast, I proceeded to pray: "Thank you God for the olives, the pickles, the turkey, the cranberries, the potatoes, the stuffing, the gravy, the peas, the knives the forks, the glasses and the plates. Amen." Indeed, It was a pretty inclusive prayer! But I don't think, in my youthful zeal, I ever thought to thank God for work. Indeed, only as an adult have I realized how grateful I am for gainful and meaningful employment.

I guess Labor Day got me thinking about it. With high unemployment rates, you have to be grateful for any work, I suppose. But when you have work that is fulfilling, meaningful, purposeful, you can't help but feel doubly blessed! I guess that's what people mean when they say I have a calling.

But it's not just preachers who have a calling. I believe we all have a calling. I believe God has a purpose for each and every person. And when we discover that calling, and act on it, then we become a part of God's ongoing act of creation. We share in God's good work. And when we see ourselves as co-workers with the Creator, we have a real sense of self-worth and identity.

I realize, not everyone is as fortunate as I am. Not everyone has work--much less a sense of calling. Sometimes societal and economic barriers stand in the way. But I am convinced we can

break down those barriers. I am convinced that we can move towards full employment and meaningful employment for all. If we only are willing to make it a priority. That just might make Labor Day more than just another Monday holiday.