Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Where There's a Will . . . .

Recently my wife Linda and I met with our lawyer to update our wills.  Having moved to Florida over two years ago, we decided to make sure our wills conformed to Florida state law.  While we were in his office, we reviewed the details of the documents:  who will serve as executor, who gets what, where a special painting will go if our children don't want it, how we will remember the church.  The usual details.  We also considered our living wills and made sure our health concerns would be properly addressed.

Even when I do premarital counseling with very young couples, I recommend that they have wills drawn up.  For dying intestate, dying without your wishes being made known in a will, can lead to all kinds of confusion and heartache. 

But while it is certainly sad when someones tangible possessions get passed on to the wrong people, or worse yet, not passed on at all but taken by the state, it is even more of a tragedy if the intangibles are lost.  We all have certain values, traditions and priorities that we hope will be carried on after we are gone.  We all have beliefs that we hope will not die with us, but rather will continue to strengthen humanity long after our demise.  If we die without a will, our possessions may end up in the wrong hands, but at least they will not disappear from the face of the earth.  But if we have not seen to it that that our values, beliefs and traditions are transmitted to those who survive us, then we do run the real risk that those intangibles will fade into history.

Obviously, one of the ways we assure that such intangibles are preserved for the future is in and through the institutions we support--our faith communities, our schools, our civic clubs and community organizations.  But on a more personal level, we may feel a bit stymied.  How can we make sure that our children, and their children, our friends and others, will know and understand what's important to us?  We can tell them personally, but sometimes things hold more weight, and are better remembered, if they are in writing.  That's where something called an ethical will comes into play.

An ethical will is a document that records the stories, the sayings, the explanations of who we are and what we have learned about life.  An ethical will shares your most cherished values with those who survive you.  I don't have an ethical will, but I've decided I need to create one.  Maybe you do too.  A helpful website if you decide to take on the task can be found at www.ethicalwill.com.

There are many ways we can make certain that we avoid dying intestate, but this may be the most important way of all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Framing Faith

Sometimes I forget that there are people who have never been to church or synagogue or mosque or temple. Sometimes I forget some people have absolutely nothing to do with organized religion.  But this past weekend I was reminded of that by a chance encounter at a local store.

About ten years ago a friend did a lovely charcoal drawing of me.  I was dressed in my robes and had on a stole.  The drawing needed to be matted and framed, so Linda and I took it to a shop that does such work.  A very nice and helpful clerk--probably in her early fifties--waited on us.  As she helped us pick out a frame she looked at the drawing and then at me, and finally asked: "That's you, right?"
"Yes,"I said, "with a little more hair."  "What does that signify?" she asked, pointing to the stole.  "Oh, I'm a pastor, that's my stole."

She looked at me rather puzzled.  "What's a stole?"  I launched into a full explanation of the scarf-like liturgical accessory that many pastors wear. "Do you know the story about Jesus washing the feet of the disciples?"  I asked.  (The stole is a symbol of his towel around his neck, and is designed to remind pastors that they are servants to the congregation.)  "No," she said, "I don't know much about church.  My parents were rebels of a sort--we went to the beach on Sundays.  And I never have gotten to church as an adult.  I probably should one of these days."

I told her she'd be more than welcome at our church.  My wife assured her you can worship anywhere, even on the beach.  She smiled, wrote up our sale, and we were on our way.

I've thought a lot about that conversation.  I wonder if she has as well?

Sometimes I really do forget--but Saturday I was reminded yet again.  Some folks have never been to church . . . .

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chameleons and Context

The approach of Father's  Day has caused me to stop to reconsider the lessons I learned over the years from my late father, Howard Danner.  Actually, Howard Swineford Danner, Jr.  (I was his oldest son, and have always very grateful I wasn't named Howard the Third!)  Even after his own Dad's death, my father kept the junior after his name.  It was, for him, a sign of respect.

Dad was a preacher too.  And one of the most important things I learned from him had to do with the power of words.  I have never forgotten a sermon he preached some five decades ago, in which he compared words to chameleons.  "Words," he said, "are like chameleons.  For just as a chameleon is said to change its color depending on its background and setting, so words change their meaning in different contexts."  As a preacher, discussing ancient texts in postmodern settings, you soon learn how powerfully true that is!

I 've thought about that as I've been seeing more and more politcal ads in which opponent's words are quoted without any real attention being paid to the original context of those words.  Sound bites they are called.  Both parties are guilty of the same loose behavior.  I guess I need to get used to it.  Florida is, after all, a so-called battleground state, so we'll be exposed to more of it than folks in some other parts of the country.  But frankly, such ads treat us like morons!  They are an insult to voters! 

Dad and I belonged to different political parties.  We had pretty divergent views on a number of significant issues.  But we both agreed when it came to words.  They are like chameleons.  Context does count.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Zoo Story

I once read a newspaper story that recounted the tale of a Midwestern zoo's groundskeeper who had been arrested by the local police.  It seems he was caught field-dressing one the the zoo's captive deer that he had shot and killed.  When things were more closely investigated it was discovered that the groundskeeper had also set traps in certain areas of the zoo--and furthermore, had built a smokehouse next to the zoo's maintenance shed.

Unfortunately when some folks read in Genesis that God gave human beings dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:26), that's what they think it means--squeezing out of the planet everything we can for ourselves.  Don't worry about the future--eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you shall die.  We are in charge around here and we can do any damn thing we want.  But that's not good stewardship--it's not even stewardship at all.  It's blatant abuse.  It's the kind of thinking that leads to zoo groundskeepers killing deer and building smokehouses--and it's the kind of thinking that leads to nations ignoring international environmental agreements.

We don't have to take the creation story in Genesis literally to learn from it the profound truth that we are called to take care of the earth.  We are called to love the earth.  And loving the earth means nurturing it, treating it respectfully, seeking to bring it to full flower.  With the privilege of being God's stewards on earth comes responsibility, for the good steward protects that with which he or she has been entrusted.