Monday, March 31, 2014

Rethinking Noah

For years I've been concerned about the story of Noah and his Ark.  It really is a rather unsettling tale--which no doubt it is supposed to be.  After all, it tells of a God so vicious that he (it's definitely a male version of God in the Noah story) decides to completely, totally wipe out the earth.  Except for Noah, his closest kin, and the animals.  Well some of the animals.  Two of each variety (or, if you read the second version of the story in Genesis, seven pairs of each species considered kosher, and one pair of those deemed unclean).  I guess fish got off the hook (pardon the pun).  I mean, it was a flood after all!  But aside from things that swim in the seas, and the select group on Noah's Ark, nothing survives.

Now, don't misunderstand.  I'm not concerned about the fact that there are a lot of holes in the story, and that it doesn't appear to be historically accurate.  I can live with that. I read a lot of fiction--and I'm always finding truth expressed within it's pages. Indeed, a little mystery is good for the soul!  No, that's not my concern.  Rather I am concerned about the way God is depicted--and the fact that this story is so often a part of Sunday school curricula.  I imagine it's because of the animals.  Kids love animals.  And they are fun to draw.  But really, do I want children thinking that God might wipe us out at any minute?  I know, there is the rainbow at the end of the story, and God's promise to never destroy the earth by flood in the future. But kids always want to know why--and that leads to all sorts of interpretive issues, some of which are way beyond the reasoning powers of a six year old!

I'm not advocating cleaning up the story.  I'm not suggesting we throw it out of the Bible.  But  maybe we need to rethink when and how it is told.  Maybe it is a story for adults to ponder--not little kids.

I've not seen the movie Noah yet, so I can't comment on the particulars.  I understand it plays fast and loose with the Biblical tale that lies behind it.  But that is almost always the way with Hollywood.  And if it prompts some discussion about the story, well and good.  I'm just glad it's rated PG-13. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I'm on Facebook (or Remembering Fred Phelps)

I first decided to go on Facebook to keep up with the younger members of my family.  My children, their partners, my nieces and nephews were all posting and friending all over the place.  So I signed up.

Most of the time the pictures and comments they post are just the everyday trivia of life--like most of Facebook.  But sometimes we learn of a new job, or a sick pet, or a tough school assignment through Facebook and we're able to respond in helpful ways.  And sometimes we get to learn a bit more about their thoughts and feelings about the world around them.  This is especially true for my nieces and nephews, who are scattered all around the country, and who I rarely get to see in person.

My niece Jennifer  is a yoga teacher, and a very together young woman. Last week she  posted her response to the death of Fred Phelps.  It brought me up short.  It was just what I needed to hear.  Phelps, as you may remember, was the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church.  Through many years he led his congregation in a calculated effort to demonize gay and lesbian men and women.  He and his congregants picketed various gatherings with signs that read "God Hates Fags" and other such things.  They also picketed military funerals with the same signs, claiming that the deaths of soldiers and other military personnel was God's way of punishing America for allowing homosexuality.

As anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, our family includes gay and lesbian folks.  It would be very understandable if Jennifer had lashed out at Phelps--but here is what she wrote:  "Hate begets hate.  Mr. Phelps, May peace soothe the hearts of those who loved you  May love for all beings finally find and embrace your soul." 

Well said!  While it is tempting to express great hatred for Phelps, he did after all bring great pain to so many, my niece Jennifer's words remind this old uncle that I follow One who says, "Love your enemies."  I'll never approve of what Phelps did.  It was wrong--even evil.  But that doesn't allow me to hate him.  I can't.  Jesus won't let me.  Neither will my niece.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bagels, Beer and Irish Blessings

It's St. Patrick's Day and naturally our thoughts turn to the Emerald Isle.  I'm told that we make a much bigger deal of the good saint's feast day here in America than they do in Ireland.  Perhaps that is always the way it is with those who are far from home!

Whatever the case, most folks will celebrate with corned beef and cabbage, or soda bread, or perhaps, in one of the most American of twists, with green bagels.  (Go figure!)  And, of course, lots and lots of beer--some green, some Guinness, and some whatever's on sale!

But perhaps the best way to celebrate is offer up words of blessing.  For, after all, Patrick was a missionary and a teacher of the faith.  And his work, his many efforts, brought a real blessing to his adopted homeland (he was British, you may remember, and originally brought to Ireland as a victim of a kidnapping).

Most folks know the so-called Irish Blessing: 

May the road rise before you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of God's hand. 

It's lovely.  I sang it to my congregation at all three services yesterday.  But it is far from the only Irish blessing.  Indeed, Esther de Waal, has collected dozens and dozens of such blessings in a delightful volume called The Celtic Vision.  There are blessings for boats, and hearths and children and cows!  One of my favorites goes this way:

The blessing of God and the Lord be yours,
The blessing of the perfect Spirit be yours,
The blessing of the Three be pouring for you
Mildly and generously,
Mildly and generously.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Vistiors, Vistors and More Vistors--It Must Be March!

It's March on Sanibel--which means  those of us who live here are pretty much guaranteed company, visitors from the north who want to escape the cold and soak up some sunshine.  And that's great.  It's good to see old friends and family members, good to have a chance to catch up. 

It also means the island population swells.  Traffic many days looks like a subtropical version of rush hour on the roads outside of New York--but  a bit more laidback.  People rarely honk their horns!  Restaurants are packed--you almost always have to wait for a table.  But that stuff is good as well--our local economy depends on it!

And church attendance is up.  Way up.  Here at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ our Sunday morning attendance quadruples in season!  Amazing!

When we talk about these things we often refer to "the seasonal effect"--how our lives go from the slow pace of summer to the harried pace of winter and then back again.  How everything we plan has to take into account the fluctuation in numbers that we live with year round.  One thing is for certain, it's never dull!

There's a rather snarky bumper sticker that I see every so often here on the island and in neighboring Fort Myers.  It is always found on cars and trucks with Florida plates.  It reads:  "Some of us aren't on vacation."  OK--it's funny--but it's not exactly hospitable!  If you're a visitor, don't take it personally.  Most of us are really glad you're here.  Though some would agree with my grandmother, who used to say about our family with four rambunctious children, "I'm glad to see them come, and I'm glad to see them go!"

But bottom line:  We're delighted you are here!  Enjoy the sunshine, the warmth and the beaches.  And come July or August, we'll return the favor!

Monday, March 3, 2014

It Doesn't Escape Me for One Moment . . .

Last night I stayed up very late and watched the Oscars.  I'm a movie buff, and am always curious to find out who is chosen for the various awards.  I'm not sure there were a lot of surprises last night.  Nobody came out of left field to claim one of the golden statuettes.  But there were some toss-ups, if you will, that were finally resolved one way or the other.

Best Picture, for instance.  Most folks thought it would be either Gravity or Twelve Years a Slave. I saw both pictures, liked both pictures, but as the night went on it appeared Gravity was going to win. And I really thought 12 Years was the better--and much more important--film.  So, needless to say, I was a bit surprised, and very pleased, when it won.

Unfortunately, it has not been seen by many people.  In the list of top grossing films for 2013 it came in 81st.  81st!  Ticket sales for it totaled a bit more than thirty-eight million in 2013.  The animated film Despicable Me 2, number 3 on the list, made ten times that amount!  Perhaps the Oscar will boost the attention it gets.  But the truth is, slavery is an issue we just don't want to face as a nation.  The fact that our whole economy in the first two centuries after European settlement was built on it, seems to be forgotten by many.  The fact that our national struggles with racism is rooted in it is oft times denied.

But there it sits--a spreading stain on our history--and on our life together as a nation today.  Until we are willing to take a long, hard look at the realities of slavery, we will find ourselves bogged down in prejudice. 

12 Years a Slave is a step in the right direction.  The Oscar for Best Picture, along with the other Oscars it received, is another step.  But it won't matter unless you watch it.  It won't really count unless people are willing to talk about it.  Yes, it is graphic, yes it is painful, embarrassing, violent, desperate, raw--but so was slavery.  It's time we grow up as a nation, admit to our past, seek to rectify the harm it has caused, and move toward the day when there is truly liberty and justice for all.

Lupito Nyong'o, the actress who played the role of a slave named Patsy in the film, received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the much-abused woman.  In her acceptance speech she eloquently spoke truth.  "It doesn't escape me for one moment," she said, "that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's."  What is true for one young actress, in reality, is true for us all.  As Americans our joy, our prosperity, our freedom, has indeed been built on the pain of so many others.  We do well to remember.