Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Building Bridges, Building Walls

I read this morning in the New York Times that the wall on the Mexican border has been ordered as promised by our new president.  He is also, according to the same article, also making good on several other campaign promises to curtail immigration, including blocking all immigrants from war-torn Syria.  In a Twitter post last night he wrote, "Among other things, we will build a wall."  (

This should come as no surprise.  It was, after all, what was promised.  But that does not make it wise--nor does it seem to mesh, at least for me, with Christian understandings.  Not that this president or any president must adhere to Christian values or ethics.  This is a land of religious liberty, after all.  Presidents, and all elected officials, cannot be put to religious tests.  Still this president professes to be a Christian, and so, one would think the admonition to "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" would have some bearing on his decisions.  And building walls and blocking out those who are in the greatest need of protection seems quite contrary to that fundamental teaching.

Jesus also taught that if we are to inherit the kingdom of God we must have the trusting nature of a child.  Recently, on Facebook, an old friend and colleague of mine, posted a little vignette.  It is a tale of bridge building, so needed in this time of walls and barriers.

Shelley lives and works in  Connecticut.  Her congregation, the Church of the Redeemer, is located on the green in downtown New Haven.  One day, as she was unlocking the church door, she noticed a Syrian refugee family attending a class being held by the Integrated Refugee and Immigration Service coming up the steps. She was approached by their little four year old girl--a child she did not know.  "[S]he came running up to me," writes Shelley, "eager top practice what she had learned.  She stuck out her little hand boldly to shake mine, and with an enormous smile on her face, said 'Good morning!'"  (Posted by RocFacebook, 11-17-16) 

Some folks build walls.  Others build bridges. Perhaps one day, as scriptures promise, a little child shall indeed lead us. Then, just maybe, we'll see more smiles, more handshakes, more people being helped, more lives being saved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


So we come to the end of the Obama years.  And later this week Donald Trump will take the oath of office and begin his tenure as President of the United States. For the most part the oath has been taken publicly in or near the Capitol Building in Washington.  George Washington and John Adams took the oath in the then capital cities of New York and Later Philadelphia.  When presidents have died in office, or have been assassinated, the oath has been taken in a variety of places.  Andrew Johnson took the oath at the Kirkwood Hotel after Lincoln was shot.  Calvin Coolidge was at his father's home in Plymouth Vermont when he repeated the words upon hearing of the death of Harding.  And LBJ was in the air, aboard Air Force One, when he raised his right hand after Kennedy's death.

Wherever they took the oath however, they made the same fundamental promises.  I looked it up to be sure of the wording.  In case you've forgotten here's the oath in full:  "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that  I will faithfully execute the office of President of the Untied States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."  In modern times, presidents have added the words "So help me God," but they are not required by the Constitution.

I don't know how our next president will end the oath; whether or not he'll add the words "So help me God."  Surely they should not be required.  While we've never had a president who was openly atheistic, we could.  We could also have someone who is religious but who understands divinity in a different way.  And that's all well and good.  But it does seem to me that anyone who serves in that office is wise to call on all the help they can, divine and human.  For it is a challenging task--especially the part
about preserving, defending and protecting the Constitution.

Indeed, ultimately, it is a task we all must take seriously, and any of us, all of us, who are citizens, would do well to also raise our hands and swear to do what ever is in our power to watch over the Constitution.  And when anyone's right to speak is threatened, when anyone's right to assemble is challenged, when anyone's right to worship as they please (or not at all if they so choose) is ignored, each and all of us must speak up and speak out.  Regardless of the individual who takes the oath on the steps of the Capitol.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Cookies, Vodka, Chips and Guns

So here we go again.

Another mass shooting--and more debate about guns.

Here in Florida, where this past weekend's attack occurred, our legislators are looking at a bill which would for all intents and purposes eliminate gun-free zones.  If the bill passes and is signed, folks with permits to carry concealed weapons would be allowed to bring guns onto college campuses, into airports, and other currently restricted areas.  As I understand it, supporters believe this will make things safer because should an attacker open fire there would be people present who could shoot back and minimize the loss of life.

I'm sorry, but that sounds to me like an open invitation to recreate the shoot-out at the OK Corral here in the Sunshine State.  It just makes no sense to me.  Apparently I'm not alone.  Law enforcement officials have spoken out against it.  College administrators and faculties are opposed to it. Those who might be most impacted by such a piece of legislation have said, no thank you.  This isn't the Wild West.

It seems to me that we should be able to come up with some reasonable solution to the gun violence.  Yes, we need to pay attention to the paucity of mental health services in this country (especially here in Florida).  Yes, we need to address the prevalence of violence in film, music, video games and other popular culture.  Yes, we need to deal with the break down of trust in families, in communities, and between various groups.  But we also need to recognize there are too many guns, and too many types of guns, within our borders, and too little control over their availability and use. 

If I want to lose weight, I don't fill my cupboards with cookies and potato chips.  If I want to stop drinking, I don't stock up on vodka and beer.  Adding more guns to the equation is not going to limit violence. Period. So let's talk.  Let's find the answers that work.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

In Memoriam: Sister Frances Carr

I just got word that Sister Frances Carr died yesterday.  She wasn't a Roman Catholic nun--she was a Shaker.  One of the last Shakers living at Sabbathday Lake in Maine.  Reports indicate that she died of cancer and was 89 years old.

Many years ago I spent a fair amount of time at Sabbathday Lake researching my Masters thesis, a theological history of that community.  I would spend long hours hunched over old journals which recorded the daily life of the community in the nineteenth century.  The entries were written in that spidery handwriting that seemed to dominate back then.

It was not hard physical labor, not at all.  But it was wearing.  My eyes would get tired, I would get hungry, and my seat was often sore.  The intellectual and spiritual riches I uncovered were well worth the effort, but what made my days there even better were the invitations I would receive late in the morning, usually from Sister Frances, to join the Shaker family for lunch.

Lunch!  Goodness! feast would be the more accurate word!  The meal was made from home grown fruits and vegetables, bread that was fresh out of the oven, delicious fruit juices.  And there was always dessert.  Ginger cookies, soft to the touch and tingly to the tongue.  Puddings and cake.  I always went on to my afternoon studies with a new bit of energy.

While I was working on the thesis, my daughter Elizabeth was born.  And so one Sunday (it was in the winter) we joined the Shakers for worship.  After the service of song and testimony, prayer and scripture readings, Sister Frances presented us a with a lovely, yellow and whiter, hand knit sweater and bonnet for my new daughter.  It was exquisite!

Most folks know the Shaker hymn "Tis a Gift to Be Simple"--and so life was at Sabbathday Lake in those days. Yet in its simplicity there was a richness of spirit not often duplicated.  And in her own hospitable way, Sister Frances embodied that spirit,  I was indeed blessed to know her.