Monday, April 23, 2012

More Than a Hut--A Powerful Symbol!

While it's true that Sanibel has an international reputation and that folks from all across the country and around the world flock here in the winter to enjoy our beaches, collect shells, watch birds and soak up the cultural offerings, the reality is we're really just a small town.  Year round less than 6,000 of us call this island home, and over time you come to recognize most everybody.  You go to a restaurant for dinner, and you always see folks you know.  You stand in line in the grocery store, and you very well may meet up with a neighbor.

Small towns don't always do community very well.  And Sanibel has it's shortcomings on that front, I'm sure.  But this past weekend a new Welcome Center for cyclists and others exploring the island was dedicated on Periwinkle Way that exemplifies community at its best. 

Because of the almost twenty-three miles of bike paths (called shared use paths here on Sanibel) we host a lot of cyclists.  The Welcome Center is not only a place to get out of the sun and get a drink of water, but also sports a fair amount of helpful information.  And that's all well and good.  But what made it an example of the power of community was how it was built, how it was funded, how it was planned.  The land was donated by a private citizen.  Many of the supplies were donated by local businesses.  Much of the labor and oversight were provided by the local bike club and a volunteer group of builders known as the Hammerheads (don't you just love it?).  The civic groups in town chipped in.  The garden club helped with the landscaping.  Professionals helped create the signs.  Local environmental groups lent their expertise.  The city provided all sorts of mulch for the grounds.  And the list goes on!  The public sector helped out.  Private citizens participated. Not-for-profit groups were a part of it.  And commercial enterprises pitched in as well.  And as a result there is now a spot for those who visit Sanibel to be informed and refreshed.

OK, you're saying, it's just a Welcome Center--just a hut beside the road.   And so it is.  But it is also a powerful symbol of what can be accomplished if all of us are willing to be responsible, participating members of the community.  Imagine what else could be done if this public, private, not-for-profit, commercial model were used to address some of the bigger issues and concerns we all face? 

Well done Sanibel!  So what's next? 

(Photo Credit:  Tom Sharbaugh)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hangovers, Easter and Ancient Rome

OK, today's blog is not for the squeamish.  If you are weak of stomach, you may just want to forget about reading it this week.  So fair warning!

First, have you ever heard of a vomitorium?  Sounds disgusting, doesn't it?  And it was.  Back in the days of the Roman Empire, folks would go to lavish feasts, eat and drink all they could hold, then go to a vomitorium, purge, and be all ready to start all over again with the food and the booze.  Sounds pretty crude, doesn't it?  But that was back then, today we're much more sophisticated.  Or are we?

Just this week I heard about a new service available in Las Vegas--or Sin City as it is sometimes called.  It's called "Hangover Heaven."  Essentially, it is a bus, equipped with various medical supplies and equipment, which prowls the streets of Las Vegas, providing treatments for folks who've had too much to drink.  Overseen by a medical doctor, Hangover Heaven uses IV drips which have been bolstered with vitamins, amino acids and medications to help eliminate the toxins that lead to the ill effects of a hangover.

The "heaven" theme is played to the hilt.  There are two treatments available, the basic package, is known as "Redemption"--the premium package goes for a few dollars more and is called "Salvation."  Payment is required before you are even allowed to board the bus, and no insurance plans are accepted. 

Not only can you get rid of your hangover and be all fresh and ready for another day of overindulgence, you can also buy a souvenir t-shirt.  One of them reads "I Feel Like Jesus on Easter Morning."  Another says "Now If I Could Just Find Herpes Heaven."

I wish I was making this all up.  But I'm not.  I can take a joke--in fact I'm known for having a pretty good sense of humor.  And a bit of irreverence now and then is good for the soul.  But this whole endeavor stoops to new lows.  And what bothers me the most is the vomitorium sort of attitude that it all implies.  Eat, drink and be merry--freshen up a bit--and then do it all over again.  How hopeless can you get?

I don't know how Jesus felt on Easter morning.  But if it was no better than how it feels when you get rid of a hangover, then we're in big trouble!

(If you still don't believe me, the web site is

Monday, April 9, 2012

Stale Peeps, Jelly Beans and Hope

Easter Monday.  It's not a real holiday.  Except maybe for worn out preachers.  It's just the day after Easter Sunday.  OK, some years it is Patriots Day in Maine and Massachusetts.  And occasionally it is Tax Day.  And once in a long while it's my little brother Mark's birthday (not this year, though!)  But in and of itself, it's just another day.

Christians have faced Easter Monday for centuries now.  And every year they have to decide anew what they are going to do now that the annual hoopla about the Resurrection has come and gone.  There are potted lilies and tulips to water--or perhaps replant outdoors.  There are chocolate rabbits to finish up.  (Their ears disappeared on Sunday at the crack of dawn--but the rest of their hollow forms still need to be eaten.)  And those jelly beans at the bottom of the basket.  And, of course, there will be a week's worth of deviled eggs and egg salad sandwiches.  But all that is really rather trivial in light of the fact that we've just recognized once again that Jesus was raised from the dead.  And that, is far more consequential than Peeps that taste like cardboard and a ham that keeps on giving!

So what are we going to do?  How are we going to live?  How are we going to account for the fact that death doesn't win in the end?  How is that going to impact our lives today--Easter Monday?  Or tomorrow, Easter Tuesday.  Or the next day, or the next day, or . . . you get the point.  How are we going to incorporate this new reality into our lives?

I wrestle with it every year.  I wonder, what does it mean that the Resurrection has happened?  And then I think about all the ways hope has transformed the world.  I think about the Civil Rights movement.  I remember abolitionism.  I consider the way hope motivates cancer research and those who fight poverty.  I think of all the folks throughout time who have refused to give up in the face of hatred and indifference and seemingly impossible odds, and I realize once more that the hope made known in the Resurrection is vital to human existence.

Easter Monday.  Maybe it's not just another day after all!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Signs of the Resurrection

One of the great mysteries of the Christian faith is the doctrine of resurrection.  Frequently it really seems to rip folks up as they try to wrestle what it means for them to be followers of Jesus.  And if we get hung up on various aspects of the doctrine, things like whether or not it is bodily, when it occurs, who experiences it, it can indeed be befuddling.  But I for one think it is important to look for signs of the resurrection in everyday life.  How is it that faith empowers us to overcome the things of death?

I saw it, for instance, in the life of a man we'll call Ed who spent many years caring for his wife.  She had been his companion and friend for years.  Once she was capable and creative, but disease and dementia took its toll.  Near the end of her life she didn't even know the day or time.  But her husband stood at her side, caring for her with love and compassion.  The days were often long--the nights even longer.  Frequently she was up and wandering through the wee hours of the morning.  But belief in the resurrecting power of God gave him the strength to go on.  ""Some nights," he once told me, "It's two or three in the morning before I am able to say my prayers."  But say them he did.  And so he was empowered to go on.

Or a woman I once knew who we'll call Louise.  Louise lived by herself.  She had done so for many years after her husband's death.  She had fallen a handful of times, and found it very difficult to remember things.  She used to leave notes to herself all over the house.  Her family was very attentive and visited her frequently, but they lived out of town in another state.  She was once very active in community and church affairs, but over time became housebound.  She once showed me what kept her going.  It was a Bible verse, written on a scrap of paper and taped to her place mat on the kitchen table.  "All things are possible," it read, "through Chris who strengthens me."

Why do I believe in the resurrection?  Many reasons--but in the end it really comes down to what I've witnessed in the lives of folks like Ed and Louise.  Folks who have lived out of hope. 

My Easter wish is that you might see signs of the resurrection in your life as well!