Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In Retrospect: After Memorial Day

Unfortunately, there are few experiences in human history as universal as war.  Indeed, history books are often arranged around the chronology of warfare.  We speak of the Revolutionary War Era, the Civil War Era, the time between the two world wars, and so on.  When a nation is at war, few lives are untouched.  Whether it is a generally accepted and so-called popular war, like World War II, or a war protested by many, like Vietnam, either way, war tends to effect the lives of everyone.

Most people would agree that war is not a good thing.  In fact some wars have been described as necessary evils.  Most people would agree that the difficulties and sorrows caused by war are devastating.  Soldiers, sailors and others die in batttle.  Mothers are left without sons.  Children are robbed of their parents.  Sweethearts are separated for months, years and sometimes forewver.  Civilians too, often die during war.  Such things as fire bombings, napalm, IEDs, chemical weapons and concentration camps rarely distinguish between those who wear uniforms and those who don't.

No, war is not a good thing.  Indeed, it is a source of death and destruction.  But out of such tragic crucibles can come reminders of the good in our lives.  So we have our days of remembrance, our Memorial Days, our Veterans Days, not to celebrate war, but to honor the good that stands in contrast to the horror of it all.  We have such days to be reminded of the importance of things like courage, selflessness and the willingness to give of oneself for others that often surfaces in times of war. 

I am no fan of war.  In fact, I am a pacifist.  But I still respect the need for our days of rememberance.  Might they remind us not only of those who have died and those whose lives were forever changed, might they also remind us to work for a day when there is no need for war.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Of Bicycles and Boy Scouts

OK, so before anything else I need to talk about one of my pet peeves. 

Sanibel is a biker's paradise.  We have just about twenty-three miles of shared use/bicycle paths.  They take you all over the island, they are well maintained and they are safe.  They are, in short, wonderful!  As a result, we have two thriving bicycle rental places, and lots, and lots of visitors who rent bikes when they get here (not to mention lots of residents who bike.)  Often you will see whole families out for a ride, which is also terrific. 

I love to see kids and adults excercising together.  But this is where my pet peeve comes in.  Kids are required to wear helmets.  The statute is clear:  "a bicycle rider or passenger who is udner 16 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet that is properly fitted and fastened securely . . . ."  (Florida Statutes, Title XIII, 316.2065 (3) d.)  Most parents appear to enforce the law.  Most kids seem to be wearing helmets.  But their parents?  Almost never!  Talk about a mixed message!  "Yes, Junior, you need to wear a helmet.  Why?  Because it will protect your head if you get in an accident or fall off your bike.  And, besides, it's the law.  Why don't I wear a helmet?  Well, I'm an adult.  I don't need to."  What?  Your head becomes unbreakable when you turn 16?  I'm sorry--I don't mean to be so sarcastic, but whatever happened to the idea of good modeling?  What ever happened to the idea that kids look up to the adults in their lives as examples.  Kids need to be able to see adults wearing helmets so that they better understand how important it is!

Which brings me to the real point of this blog (although I meant every word of what I just said about helmets!)  Thursday, May 23rd, 1,400 members of the Boy Scouts of America National Council will be meeting to vote on a proposal to admit gay youth into the Scouting program.  Currently, they are technically not allowed to be a part of this really terrific (there's that word again) program which teaches kids so many fine lessons.  Gay adults, however, will still be banned from taking leadership roles in Scouts.

Some folks don't want any gay people in Scouting.  Others want both youth and adults who are gay to be allowed to participate.  Allowing youth but not adults to participate is a compromise position.  But it strikes me as being a bit like kids wearing helmets while their parents ride around with their hair blowing in the breeze.  Talk about a mixed message! 

Kids need models, kids need examples.  Gay kids in particular (as high suicide rates among gay youth demonstrate) need to know they can grow up, that things will get better, that they will be accepted members of society.  I'm glad there is a chance gay youth will finally be allowed into Scouting but the ban needs to be lifted for youth and adults

Look, adults need to wear helmets when we ride our bikes.  And we need to continue to work for a day when all kinds of folks are truly welcome in Scouting. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Boots, Booze and Baptists

They call Nashville Music City, and indeed it has a long rich history of music--especially country music.  Folks like Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams all walked its streets and sang at that secular temple called the Grand Ol' Opry.

It is also called Guitar City, for obvious reasons.  All across the city there are guitars and guitarists, even big guitar statues on some corners.  You can't walk ten yards in some parts of town without passing a street musician with an open guitar case hoping for your coins, or better yet, your dollar bills.

But what really impresses me about Nashville isn't the music, which I expected, nor the guitars, they make perfect sense.  No what grabs my attention are the boots, the booze and the Baptists.

On one of my walks through the downtown area I passed at least four shops specializing in boots--cowboy boots if you will.  (Though nary a horse was in sight!)  One shop had a six-foot tall boot out front.  Another had custom boots in the window emblazoned with logos from different colleges including, to my surprise, this being Tennessee after all, the University of Kentucky!  A regular Appalachian hoedown!

The number of booterys, though, pales when compared with the number of bars.  Honky-tonk bars, dingy saloons, chain restaurant bars--what in heavens name does Jimmy Buffett have to do with Nashville?  And Hard Rock?  Hardly!  One spot even featured its own craft beers.  I imagine the multitude of drinking establishments makes sense, after all the musicians need someplace to play besides the streets, and most of them will never see the inside of a studio or play the hallowed halls of the Ryman! 

Which brings me to  the Baptists.  The place is crawling with them!  Next to my hotel is a Lifeway Christian Store.  The store is a part of Lifeway Center, a multi-story building complete with a fourteen-story cross on the front.  Lifeway is responsible for the "Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention."  Across town are the offices of the Sunday School Publishing Board, the curriculum producers for the National Baptist Convention.  The conference attending is being hosted by the First Baptist Church (most gracious hosts!)  They worship over 1,000 souls on the weekend.  As I said, Baptists are everywhere here in Nashville.

So what is one to make of this convergence of boots, booze and Baptists?
Is it somehow or another connected to that old joke about sinning on Saturday and confessing on Sunday?  Is it a reflection of society in general, or maybe Nashville's culture in particular?  Or is it no more profound than economics and smart marketing?  I really don't know.  But it makes for a fascinating combination!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Two Old Ladies Changing Lives

My first church was in a tiny hamlet called Temple, Maine.  There were only four hundred people in the whole town, and the congregation itself had a budget well under five thousand dollars.  The church building had just one room, the sanctuary, and seated one hundred at most.  There wasn't even a bathroom---just an outhouse.

When I went to Temple I was still a student in seminary.  The church was about eighty-five miles from school, and before I drove out to my first service there I was warned I'd be very lucky to have twenty people in church, but not to be shocked if there were only eight or nine.

Imagine my surprise then, when I showed up half-an-hour early for the ten o'clock service, and found the tiny sanctuary full of children--about fifty of them!  Many of them were dressed in very worn out clothes, and several of them obviously hadn't bathed for some time.  They were clearly very poor.  And there in the midst of them stood two elderly ladies, teaching the class.  Each child appeared to have a study book, and as they left before the service started, each one got a treat.

The women I learned were two sisters in their eighties.  Florence and Muriel Blodgett.  Florence had been engaged once, but her fiance left her for another woman--or so the local gossip had it.  Neither of them had ever married.  They lived on the edge of town in a rambling old house that hadn't been painted in years.  One of them had been a schoolteacher, and the other had kept house.  They managed to scrape along on what little they had. 

But they knew God's grace--and they shared it!  For they single-handedly kept that Sunday school afloat.  As they had for decades.  They bought the curriculum.  They purchased audio-visual equipment.  And annually they funded a big end-of the-year party complete with lunch for all the students and their families.  A lunch that usually included sandwiches, chips, drinks, cookies, and yes, a piece of chocolate. 

Sometimes people wonder if the stuff you read in the Bible reflects reality.  Especially the upbeat stuff.  But I must say, I never saw a more perfect illustration of St. Paul's words describing one of his churches than I saw in the Blodgett sisters.  "Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty," wrote Paul to the Corinthians, " . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity . . . ."  (II Corinthians 8:2)

The Blodgett sisters died years ago.  And the little church in Temple closed its doors for good about ten years after I left.  But I suspect there are still some of those children, now with children of their own--maybe even grandkids--who remember the Blodgetts, and who know, because of Florence and Muriel, that God is  good.