Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Monday, December 19, 2016
It goes on to talk about mistletoe and Santa Claus, as well as the parish priest coming by to offer a blessing on the household. I’m not sure if it’s a very accurate picture of Christmas in Killarney, or anywhere else in Ireland! But it is lots of fun!
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Barbourville, in the southeast corner of Kentucky, was (and is) a long way from the small Vermont town where she grew up. But when she took a teaching position there at a small liberal arts college and began teaching English literature and grammar to would be teachers, business folks and others, she settled in. So did my Dad, who after a four decade career as a pastor, started fresh teaching religion and speech at the same college. They joined a church, began to make friends, and gained some notoriety as excellent professors.
But then their world was turned upside down when Dad was struck by a drunk driver and almost killed. For seventeen sometimes long years, he was an invalid--a paraplegic, with serious brain injuries. But, with a tremendous amount of volunteer help from church members and college friends, as well as some terrific professional caregivers, Mother managed to keep him at home until he died of cancer in 2009.
When Dad's accident happened, Mother needed to learn to drive. She had never gotten a driver's license. So two or three friends taught her the rudiments of operating a car. One of her coaches frequently took her to the local cemetery to practice. "You all can't kill anybody here," he told her. She was a good student, and got her license to drive. I think through the years she was as proud of that license as she was her PhD!
She retired, and at seventy-five, took up the dulcimer! She even played with a local group--the Knox County Porch Pickers. Amazing! She read voraciously (still does) and worked at the local historical society as a docent. But all that started to change a bit ago. She could no longer drive, and needed some extra help. So the move to Florida where my wife Linda and I live.
On the last full day we were in Barbourville, Mother and my brother Bob and I went to the cemetery where she had learned to drive, and where Dad is buried. She wanted to tell him goodbye. "He was my guy," she said. And so he was. She bought a single red rose, and placed it on the grave. Not a whole bunch of roses, Dad was rather frugal, he wouldn't have approved of such extravagance. So a single bud. "I'm moving to Florida," she told him. She's made us promise to bury her ashes next to his when the time comes. She even has a headstone next to his. It's a promise none of us are eager to keep. But when we need to do so we will.
We shared a few stories as we stood in the damp greyness of the late afternoon, and then we walked back to the car. And the next morning, with some hired help, we packed up the truck, which Linda drove to Florida, and then we left town.
Somewhere on I-75 Mother said to me, "Barbourville seems so long ago now. So far away." And I know it is. But I also know it will never be far from her heart. She loved that little Appalachian town---and, as we saw so many, many times over the years, they loved her right back.
"Bless their hearts!"
Monday, November 28, 2016
There is a lot I like about this C. Baxter Kruger's latest book Patmos, most especially his central thesis that "the assumption of separation is the great darkness." (91) I like the way he continually emphasizes his point that here in the West we have all too often believed the idea that we are separated from God and from one another. But that, says Kruger, is a false notion. We are not separate from God. We are not separate from one another. We just think we are. It is a message that we need to hear often in post-election America!
But that said, there are things about the book that I find less appealing.
It's basic premise in fairly straightforward. The well-educated 21st century theologian, Aidan Williams, is magically sent back in time to Patmos, where he meets the Apostle John. For three days they have an extended theological conversation focusing on many matters, but most especially on the Incarnation. And, in the end, Aidan is returned to his own time and his own home.
I have no trouble with the idea of time travel. It sets up intriguing possibilities like this one. And while Kruger does recognize some of the incongruities it creates, his focus on things like slang expressions which would make no sense to a first century human being seems very forced in most instances. In fact, it is distracting. I suspect some of it is introduced to alleviate the heavy theological dialogue, a bit of leavening with humor, but it usually falls flat. Especially the seventh-grade locker room jokes about flatulence.
Kruger makes some assumptions about the Apostle John with which many scholars would disagree. Not only the chronology of his life, but also, more significantly, crediting him with the authorship of all the Johannine material in the New Testament. While it is true many conservative scholars would agree with his understanding that the John who wrote the Gospel of John is the same as the John who wrote the Book of Revelation, there are many others, of many theological persuasions, or no theological persuasion, who would disagree.
That said, there are some wonderful twists and turns in the book that make sense out of things that are often hard to comprehend. The discussion John and Aidan have about the Trinity, with its emphasis on relationship, is truly enlightening.
I want tor recommend this book--for the sake of Kruger's central thesis. But I hesitate--until I remember most of the action in Kruger's novel takes place in a cave. And when you spend time in caves, if you are really paying attention, you can usually find some gems. Draw your own conclusion!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.
Monday, November 21, 2016
The church I served in Westport, CT has hosted a Community Thanksgiving Feast for decades. Hundreds of folks every year enjoy music played by local musicians, and eat turkey with all the trimmings. Dozens of volunteers shop and cook and set tables. Dozens more procure donations and clean up after the last guest leaves.
For several years some of the finest support for the Feast came from the kids at two local schools. The middle school kids raised a significant sum of money to help underwrite the Feast. The elementary school children made table decorations and cards for each person who attends.
I just loved reading those cards! They were often quite witty, and truly come from the heart.One of the cards one year featured a turkey on orange construction paper and read: “Dear Best Bud, Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a blast. From Eliana.”
Another, decorated with colorful feathers, was very politically correct: “Dear He or She”, it begins, “I hope you have a good Thanksgiving.”
A girl named Blythe must have been told by her teacher that some of the guests at the Feast come simply because they were all alone and wanted some company. Her card, with an adorable brown turkey on blue construction paper, read: “Dear Friend, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you can find a friend after Thanksgiving so you can have a friend before the next Thanksgiving.”
Most of the cards, though, focused on the meal itself. Alyssia wrote: “Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Eat a lot of turkey.” And Jayan got right to the point: “Eat all the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie, even if you have to stuff yourself.”
Across the nation, many, many churches and community groups hold similar Thanksgiving meals. Others, like the church I serve now, raise funds to buy turkeys or food baskets for those in need. Most anyone and everyone can get enough to eat on Thanksgiving. And that is a good thing, a very good thing indeed! But that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case the other 364 days of the year.
Approximately 42.2 million Americans have, what the government calls, "low food security." Put into plain English, that means from day to day they may not have enough to eat--or know from where their next meal will come. They may be undernourished, malnourished, or just plain hungry.
I am grateful for congregations like the one in Westport, and the one I serve here on Sanibel, and for the good work they do at this time of the year. And I am also grateful that both of them, and many other congregations as well, are involved in year round efforts to eliminate hunger in America (not to mention the rest of the world.) But it will take far more. It will take a national commitment to ending hunger here in our own nation. It is time to say, "Enough!" It is time to demand that our governmental officials do more to address this issue. No child should go hungry--neither should any adult. Here in the United States, or anywhere else in the world.
As you share your Thanksgiving Dinner, I pray that you remember those who are not so richly blessed. I pray that you be willing to take up the challenge to help eliminate hunger.
Monday, November 14, 2016
My Dad and I did not always agree. In fact we were often in opposite corners. Our views of the world, and our views of Christianity, were not always in sync. I would characterize myself as a progressive Christian--what some would call liberal. My Dad was clearly an evangelical--what some would call conservative. But we both had regard for the other. And neither of us considered the other beyond the pale! Our discussions could, and did, get rather heated at times, but they were always respectful and marked by the real love we had for each other.
Dad was an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, as am I. And as such, his theology often put him in very much of a minority position when it came to denominational matters. While my theology aligns with most of my colleagues in the Untied Church of Christ, Dad's did not. But throughout his life he remained a part of the denomination that had ordained him to Christian ministry. He often referred to himself as a member of the loyal opposition: those who remain connected to the institution, who continue to respect it, yet who often find themselves at odds with its policies or positions, and who feel compelled to speak out against them. That was Dad.
I raise this issue of loyal opposition because in the time ahead I suspect that's where I will find myself as various issues, ranging from abortion rights and healthcare to same-sex marriage and immigration, are addressed by our national leaders. I will more than likely be a part of the loyal opposition. I have enormous respect for our nation. I have enormous respect for democracy. And those we have elected will be those who hold key roles in the system. But I will not remain silent if I feel the rights and needs of the marginalized, the oppressed, the downtrodden, are being ignored. I will speak up. I will speak out.
I am a Christian. I am an American. And I am proud to own both labels. But, I will not sit idly by if the rights and privileges I enjoy as a white Christian male are denied to others due to their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, or nation of origin. I will, I suspect often, be a member of the loyal opposition.
(The photo above was taken with my Dad sometime in the late eighties.)
Monday, October 31, 2016
"Educate yourselves on what the issues are.
Decide if you are happy with either candidates stand on the issues that matter to you.
Don't listen to the polls, political pundits, or those trying to sway you.
Listen to your heart of hearts, and your conscience.
Cast your ballot!
This country is a Representative Union. Many people have sacrificed much to give you the right to choose whom you want to represent you. Don't do them a disservice by staying home.
If Clinton more closely represents your views, vote for her. If Trump more closely represents you views, vote for him. You don't have to like everything about your candidate, but you do need to choose!"
I couldn't have said it better, Stew. That's why I didn't try to!
Monday, October 24, 2016
OK--so anyone who knows me understands that patience is not one of my long suits! In fact, truth be told, I can be very impatient! In one of my first letters of reference the president of my seminary praised my work as a budding preacher, but ended his letter by noting "John will need to learn that patience is a virtue." That was almost forty years ago! I'm still learning!
Right at the moment we are getting my mother prepared to move down here to Florida from the town she has called home for almost three decades. There are a ton of details, and many things to be arranged financially, legally, medically, logistically . . . and some of the details can't be rushed. They just have to unfold in their own time.
Last week I was particularly caught up in some of those details, and I found myself getting rather irritable. I am delighted Mother is moving here, but I just wanted things to happen more quickly. I didn't want to wait for this person or that person to make a decision, or to take an action. I wanted it all to happen NOW!
Late in the week my brother Bob was here for a very short visit. He lives in Marquette, Michigan, and while he had been to Florida before, it had been quite some time ago, and, needless to say, its a rather different world down here from the Frozen North!
My wife Linda and I decided to take him out for a tour of Sanibel and Captiva on a boat called "The Thriller!" While there are no guarantees, the Thriller prides itself on finding dolphins at play in the Gulf. It was a two hour trip, and as we went along, no dolphins. Forty-five minutes, and all the way up the Gulf side of the islands, no dolphins. Across the pass, and down into San Carlos Bay. One hour. No dolphins. I was getting pretty antsy. We'd promised Bob some dolphins. It would be a long cold winter in Marquette without them!
Seventy-five minutes in, still no dolphins.
Suddenly, the captain slowed down the engines, usually a sign that dolphins have been spotted. We circled slowly, when without much warning, a dolphin's fin was seen on the surface, and then another, and another. And then one of them breached--practically flew into the air! Soon a pod of seven or eight dolphins, including two adorable juveniles, were frolicking in the boat's wake. More dolphins than I had ever seen at one time. It was amazing! Incredible! breathtaking! And brother Bob was spellbound.
And it was right then and there on the boat that I realized while the details of Mother's move may still take some time to iron out, the old saying is true: Good things do come to those who wait.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Monday, September 26, 2016
Monday, September 19, 2016
We do it every third Saturday. You'll see our club's name on one of those "Adopt-a-Highway" signs. Its a messy job at times, one gets rather hot and sticky whilst doing it. I noticed one of my compatriots slapping his calves, brushing away about twenty ants that were making their way up his leg.
As it turns out, this month's clean-up occurred on the same day as the nationwide coastal clean-up day, when thousands of folks took to the beaches and byways to pick up trash and litter. A fine, fine effort.
I'm proud of my club's dedication to this task--and it always feels good to be a part of it. But it also makes me very sad--and even a bit angry. When will we learn to recycle, reuse and reduce? Ladybird Johnson, way back in the sixties, emphasized keeping America beautiful. And, yes, that's an important part of efforts such as ours. But today we realize litter has a far greater impact on the environment than mere aesthetics.
Sometime before I joined the club, our monthly effort was dubbed "roadkill"--someone's slightly twisted bit of humor! (We like to laugh in my Rotary Club--it's part of what keeps me active in it!) But that moniker is also a reminder that our treatment of the roadsides and beaches can kill if we don't, pardon the pun, clean-up our act!
Let me know if you'd like to join us some Saturday. Or better yet, invite your congregation, civic group, Scout troop or bridge club to take on a section of highway themselves! And, if you see someone limping along with just one sock, let me know!
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Earlier this summer my wife Linda and I took four of our granddaughters to a stage production of The Wizard of Oz. Following the same script as the revered 1939 movie starring Judy Garland, the cast sang and danced their way from Kansas to Oz and back again.
No doubt you'll remember that when Dorothy wants to return to Kansas near the end of the play she is instructed by Glinda, the Good Witch, to click the heels of her ruby red slippers together while chanting "There's no place like home, there's no place like home . . . ."
As I write this Linda and I are headed to our home, back to Southwest Florida, after a three week road trip. It's been a good trip, despite a few bumps along the way including some sickness, a death in the family and a rearranged itinerary. But still, we are both eager to get back to our house, our church, our friends, our cat and our Florida family. There truly is no place like home.
But this trip has reminded me how very, very personal and particular home can be. We've stayed with several friends and my mother. We've visited with our daughter Elizabeth and her family, my brother Mark and his family, and many other family members and friends. And in most instances we have been places folks considered their home. Boston and Newburyport, MA. Lincoln and David City, NE. Barbourville, KY. Andover, OH. Gloversville and Broadalbin, NY. And more. All places called by somebody we love "home".
They say "home is where the heart is"--but I wonder, for there is a bit of my heart in all these places--and other places as well. So maybe we've been home all along.
Now, if somebody could do something about the hundreds and hundreds of miles on the highway . . .
say, maybe if I just click my heels together . . . .
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Middle America is different from the coasts--so is the Deep South. Sometimes, as a life long Easterner, I forget that reality. Folks in places like Tennessee and Kentucky are much more willing to wear their faith on their sleeves--or in some cases, as above, on their vehicles. As I sat waiting for Linda in a parking lot in northern Georgia, I was amazed to see a white pick up truck a few rows away, with the words "Thank God I'm a Christian," emblazoned on the tailgate.
Later that same day, I was passed on the highway by a tractor trailer, decorated with a variety of Christian symbols and mottos, including "To God Be the Glory," again in red letters, this time on the side of a white cab, and, on the mud flaps, "Jesus Saves." Somehow that seemed especially appropriate!
I am grateful to be a follower of Jesus, but I'm not sure I'd call it a point of pride. Rather it means humbly recognizing that I can't do it on my own. That I need guidance, that I need help. Perhaps that is all the fellow with the pick up truck means as he proclaims he's a Christian. But I'm not sure I would read it that way if I was not. I might see it as a bit of braggadocio--as a boast. I'm a Christian--I'm saved.
Maybe that's why I like those mud flaps. If you'll pardon the pun, they seem much more down to earth. Jesus' wise words save me from the messes I might otherwise get into. Indeed, the way of Jesus even saves me from myself! But that said, I'm not about to get my car painted with a cross--nor am I about to get a set of mud flaps. I'll just keep traveling with Jesus in my own way. And hopefully, though that won't show up on my vehicle, it will show up in how I live.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
She gave it some thought and came up with at least two other ideas. First, she wanted to go to Red Cloud, Nebraska. Red Cloud, you ask. It is the childhood home of novelist Willa Cather, and Mother has her PhD from the University of Nebraska--but she'd never made it to Red Cloud.
So the wheels were set in motion, and this past weekend, Linda, Mother and I all set out for Nebraska. While there we spent time with my youngest brother Mark and his family, and on Saturday, Mother and I, accompanied by my niece Jennie, hit the road and drove across 150 miles of prairie to Red Cloud.
More about the day itself in another post--for now, I'll simply say it was a big success.
The next day Mother was a little teary. "Well," she said, "I guess that was end of my bucket list."
"No," I quickly reminded her, "there was another trip on the list. You wanted to go to Boston one more time."
Immediately she brightened up. "Boston!" she said, "That's right! You know it's like Jerusalem for me!" And so it is.
So Lord willing, we'll make that trip to the city of baked beans, cod fish and the Red Sox in the coming year.
Bucket lists. It's really never to early to make one--so what's on yours? Dream big! Dream wild! But most importantly, dream now!
(Photo L to R: Jennie, Mother and me on the porch of Willa Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud)
Monday, August 1, 2016
Monday, July 25, 2016
Today, not tomorrow, today, each and every one of us who are concerned need to write to our representatives in government and say stop dithering. Have the courage to stand up for what's right. Because tomorrow it will be too late for 89 more people. And some of them may be only fourteen
Monday, July 18, 2016
other and the rest of my family, is indeed, a lifelong commitment.
And the clown. I really loved my Dad. So very, very much. And I think he gave me the clown because he and I both sometimes wore masks--in front of each other, and as we faced into the world. But beneath those masks, he and I were much the same. Two souls, trying to work for a better world, a more peaceful world, a more just world, a more faithful world.
None of that is very profound, but it does serve to keep some pretty important things before me every time I sit down at my desk. And after all, sometimes God is found in the details--even in the knick knacks.