Monday, October 31, 2016

Down to the Wire

So it comes down to the wire.  While folks are already casting their ballots by mail or in early voting, many polls indicate that this year's presidential sweepstakes is too close to call.  Some years it is harder to believe that every vote counts, but this year it is patently clear.  Your voice, your vote, matters.

For some folks the choice has been clear from the start.  There has been no question who to vote for--or at least, who to vote against.  But others have found themselves on the horns of a dilemma.  They have not been enamored with either of the two major candidates, nor the two other folks on the ballot.  They have felt the need to choose between, in the words of some, the lesser of two evils.  But choose we must.  It is not only the privilege we who are citizens of this nation enjoy--it is also one of our responsibilities.  If this is truly to be a government by and of the people, with any chance at being a government for the people, we must be willing to participate.  And the most concrete way we can do so is by casting a ballot.

I've written before in this space about our obligation as people of faith to use whatever gifts we have been given in the best way we can.  So I won't wax on about stewardship again.  But I will remind us all that we can and should base our choices on our own values--and for people of faith, that means our moral, faith-based values.  Yours may be different from mine, but I would still hope you base your decision on your values.  It is the only way one can be a person of integrity. 

Facebook has been full of thoughtless, mean-spirited and just plain juvenile posts this campaign season.  But an old college dorm-mate of mine recently put up a very wise post.  I quote it here in part, with thanks to Stew Wolfe: 

"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!

Just vote.

Monday, October 24, 2016

What I Learned from Dolphins

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 17, 2016

Giant Meteors and the Right to Vote

Recently I saw a post on Facebook that read:  "Clinton and Trump are like two divorced parents fighting over who gets custody off us--and we just want to go to Grandmas!" 

On the side of the road on my way to work I saw a lawn sign that looked like your standard political campaign sign, but where it would normally say a candidates name, it said "Giant Meteor 2016" and then in smaller letters a "campaign" slogan:  "Let's just end it all now!"

Talk about dark humor!  Still, such things illustrate that while there are indeed ardent supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as third party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, many, many Americans aren't very happy with any of them.  Again and again polls show a very high percentage of voters feel unfavorably about the candidates.  All of them.

So for many voters, there is a dilemma. For whom should I cast my ballot?  Do I pick a candidate simply to keep the others from winning?  Do I opt for the lesser of two (or three or four) evils?  Do I stick with my party--even if I don't like my party's nominee?  Do I vote based on the Vice Presidential nominees, and ignore the choices for President?   Or maybe, only vote for folks "down ballot"--candidates for the Senate, Congress, state and local offices, leaving the top spots blank?  Or--and for many I suspect this is an attractive option--do I just skip voting altogether this year. 

I've already made up my mind how I'm going to vote--but it's not mine to tell you how you should cast your ballot.  However, as a pastor, as a person of faith, it is mine to suggest we are called to be good stewards of every gift we have been granted.  And for those of us fortunate enough to live in a democracy, one of the greatest gifts we've been given is the right to vote.  I won't be coy and say I don't care HOW you vote.  That wouldn't be true.  But what I care about even more is IF you vote. 

I know for many it feels like a Hobson's choice.  I know for many it feels like being between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  But such is life.  Life's choices are often less than ideal.  But still we must make them.  And while that giant meteor may come crashing down on us before November 8, I really doubt it.  So vote.  Whatever else you do on the second Tuesday of November, use that precious gift and vote!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Camelot--Never Really Was, Never Really Should Be!

All weekend I kept thinking of a song from the 1960 musical Camelot.  Based on T. H. White's The Once and Future King the musical recounts the story of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the knights of the Round Table, most particularly Sir Lancelot.  The 1960 production of the Lerner and Lowe classic featured several outstanding performers, including Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and in his Broadway debut, Robert Goulet.  It is a tale of political intrigue and sexual attraction, class divisions and warfare, and the wistful dreams of a world imagined but never fully realized.

The song running through my mind all weekend is sung by King Arthur in the first act as he puzzles his way through his relationship to the Queen.  "How to handle a woman," he sings, " . . .   Do I flatter her . . . do I threaten or cajole or plea, do I brood or play the gay romancer?"

See why it has been running through my mind?  Clearly, it is a question many have been asking over the last few days as we have endured political shenanigans unlike any we've seen in our own lifetimes.  But no matter what your answer to the question (which in the play is the rather charming "merely love her") there is a basic problem.  For it is a flawed question!  A question which grows out of a patriarchal culture.  After all, the marriage between Arthur and Guinevere was an arranged marriage!  The question assumes that women need to be handled. But the reality is women need to be respected and treated with dignity.  Women need to be seen as full human beings, with all the rights and privileges of society. Turning a woman into a sexual object isn't respecting her.  It is denigrating her. And assuming a woman's life only finds meaning if she stands in relationship to a man--her father, her husband, her son--fails to recognize her unique worth as an individual.

How to handle a woman?  Don't!  Don't handle her.  Rather, respect her.  Deal with her as an equal.  It may not make for much of a musical, but it will make for a better world.  For all women and men--not to mention girls and boys.  For it is only when we truly respect one another that we can even begin to merely love. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Why There Is No School--for Some

Yesterday my wife Linda and I joined my oldest son and his family to celebrate the fourteenth birthday of one of our grandchildren.  Actually, it was a day ahead of schedule, her actual birthday is today. October 3, which this year falls on Rosh Hashanah,  She attends a public school here in Lee County, and so has today off from classes due to the Jewish New Year.  She was delighted.

My oldest grandson though was not.  He attends a Roman Catholic high school, which is not closed today.  "That's not fair," he said, "We should have it off too!  After all, Jesus was Jewish!"  We all chuckled, and agreed, what he said made perfect sense.

Reflecting on  it though, I was reminded that despite all the work that has been done in recent years to "recover" the Jewishness of Jesus, work that has been done by both Jewish and Christian scholars, many people forget, and some, sadly, do not even know, that Jesus was indeed a Jew.  A practicing Jew. 

One of the scholars who has been at the forefront of this movement is Amy-Jill Levine, of Vanderbilt.  In her book The Misunderstood Jew she reminds readers of the importance of understanding Jesus in his first-century Jewish context.  "By seeing Jesus as a Jew with regard to both belief and practice, Christians can develop a deeper appreciation for the teachings of the church."

I agree.  And while I understand why my oldest grandson is in school today, despite his wishes, I wonder if any of his Christian teachers are taking advantage of this "teachable moment" and helping him and his fellow students better understand Jesus as a Jew?

For all my Jewish friends, Shavnah Tovah--Happy New Year!  And for those of us who are Christian, let us find in the High Holidays a reminder of our Jewish roots.