Monday, June 26, 2017

Farewell to Tiny: A Lesson in Hospitality

One of our cats died this weekend.  She was something of a hand-me-down, if you will.  In oh so many ways.

About eighteen years ago she showed up on my late mother-in-law's doorstep.  She was a bit bedraggled, and quite obviously a stray.  Hazel loved longhaired  cats, and so she decided she'd feed the stray.  And the next day, the cat showed up again.  And then again and again and again.

 "She keeps coming back," she said to my wife.

 "Well, you're feeding her, Mom.  Of course she keeps coming back!"

 "But I'm just giving her some canned tuna and a bit of canned salmon!"

The next day, the cat moved in.  When they went to name her, she and my late father-in-law, Cyril, debated what to call her.  They had another cat named Tiny.  Wouldn't it just be easiest to call this one Tiny Two?  And so it was settled.  Tiny.  Even though she was actually rather large (all that tuna and salmon, I guess!)

Time passed, and Hazel and Cyril needed extra care--so they, along with Tiny, moved in with us.  We already had a cat, named Alex.  He always stayed upstairs, Tiny lived down.  A feline d├ętente of sorts!

Hazel and Cyril's health, though went from bad to worse, and so two years later they had to move into a nursing home.  But Tiny wasn't allowed.  So she stayed with us.  She outlived our dog, Alex the upstairs cat, and got along tentatively with our newest pet, a tortoise shell cat named Nyla.

In the United Church of Christ we talk a lot about extravagant hospitality.  And that is most certainly what Hazel offered to Tiny.  She welcomed the stranger with open arms (and an open lap!)  I'm glad that she did.  For all of our lives were enriched over the last eighteen years by the stray who loved salmon.

Now if we could only learn how to do that welcoming of strangers with people as well as Hazel did it with a cat.  Wouldn't that make for a better world!

(Photo Credit:  Linda Bradbury-Danner)

Monday, June 19, 2017

What Does It Mean to be Saved?

For the most part we mainline Protestants don't talk much about being saved.  It's just not part of our vocabulary.  We may reluctantly talk about being church members; we may even say we follow the teachings of Jesus.  But few of us pinpoint a certain day, or talk about a particular experience, and say, "That's when I was saved.

Indeed such language makes a lot of us squirm in our pews.  Salvation language conjures up images of a more conservative style of Christianity and reminds us of folks going door-to-door, asking neighbors if they've been born again.  It conjures up images of fans at football    games holding up signs that read "John 3:16."  It brings to mind television preachers screaming about hellfire and damnation, and calling folks to be saved from the clutches of the devil.  And none of that rings true for most of us.  We have a much subtler approach to our faith.  A more private understanding   of our relationship to God.  Not that others can't honk if they loved Jesus, but we'd rather give a little nod of the head.

So here's my take on salvation.  I don't think it's about intellectual assent.  It's not about affirming the virgin birth or the particularities of Trinitarian theology.  It's not about thinking the scriptures are the literal words of God.  rather, it is about your willingness to trust that God's love  is boundless.  And to do that we must be saved--saved from fear and bigotry and self-centeredness.  And saved for life and love.  For when we truly believe, truly trust that God loves us and all creation, then we will behave ion a whole new way.

Don't worry--I'll not knock on your door.  I'll respect your right to wrestle with salvation in the privacy of your own heart.  I won't even honk my horn.  But really, have you thought about it?  What's salvation mean to and for you?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

With Apologies to Texas

I try hard to avoid being a bigot.  I really do.  But I must admit when it comes to Texas I've always had a burr under my saddle (so to speak).  There are just so many things connected to Texas that I  don't like.  The huge emphasis on guns.  The crazy devotion to football.  The politics of the place.  Country music on every station. No question, I suffered from prejudice about all things Texan.

But this last weekend, I was brought up short.  I had to travel to Fort Worth to conduct a memorial service for my wife Linda's cousin.  A good guy, who I had enjoyed.  And he had been very important to Linda.  But he was, despite being from upstate New York, thoroughly Texan.  And a biker (as in Harleys).  I really didn't know what to expect.

Imagine my surprise then, when as we pulled into our hotel, I realized it was right beside an elaborate shared use trail system (Trinity Trails) that wends its way through Fort Worth.  I enjoyed my early morning walks along the river along with dozens, if not hundreds, of Texans out for a run or a bike ride or a stroll.  It was wonderful.

And how about this:  Sunday morning the lead headline in the Fort Worth newspaper heralded the first place finish of the Korean winner of the Van Cliburn Competition, held right there in the city.  The Van Cliburn Competition!   One of the premiere international classical music competitions! 

Perhaps the most important learning, however, came at the memorial service itself.  Linda's cousin had ridden over the years with some pretty heavy duty bikers.  And some of them came to the ceremony.  Dressed in biker regalia. 

After the ceremony one of the guys approached me before leaving.  He had longish hair, and a beard, and plenty of tattoos.  He wore a Harley Davidson cap and a leather vest, complete with a pocket chain.  As he shook my hand, he thanked me for my homily, and said, "Those were some good words.  In fact I heard some of them in church this morning."

Texas, I apologize.  I still don't like the gun culture.  I may still think too much is made of football. A lot   of country music still drives me bonkers. And I know I don't like much of your politics.  But I shouldn't judge a book--or a state--or its residents--by its cover.  And I thank you for a very pleasant visit under less than ideal circumstances.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

After So Many Years: A Visit to Ground Zero

It is hard to believe that it has been close to sixteen years since the attacks on 9/11.  Living in metropolitan New York at the time, I was professionally and personally impacted by the horrors of that day and the days and weeks that followed.  I ended up conducting three memorial services/funerals for victims, including a memorial service for a young friend and parishioner, Jennifer.  Jennifer Louise Fialko.

I had not been back to the World Trade Center site since the attacks.  I had many opportunities.  I continued to live in metropolitan New York for over eight years after that terrifying day.  And I have frequently been around and even in New York since moving to Florida.  But I never have been able to screw up the courage to go to the site.  Until this week.

My wife Linda and I had taken two of our granddaughters into the city for the day.  They had never been there before, and so we did the usual tourist things:  we gazed at the Statue of Liberty; we had lunch near Times Square; we went up the Empire State Building; we rode the subway.  And for some reason, maybe the prompting of the Spirit--it was the Monday after Pentecost after all---we decided to take them to the 9/11 Memorial.

Neither of them were even born when it happened.  And the younger of the two, Megan, wasn't even sure what had happened there.  So it fell to me to explain it as we approached the footprints of what had been the Twin Towers.  It was all I could do to give them a very brief description of that day.  I found myself tearing up several times.  Especially when I told them about Jennifer and the other two victims whose services I had conducted. 

As we made our way around the outer perimeter of what had been the North Tower, we read name after name after name.  Some with the added words "and unborn child."  But we didn't find Jennifer's. Nor Brad's.  Nor Scott's.  I couldn't remember which tower they had been in.  So I asked a guard if there was a directory--which there is.  A computerized directory, complete with pictures of the deceased.  And suddenly, there she was, looking out at us from a computer screen.  Fresh and vibrant.  With the location of her name on the Memorial.

As we found the spot where her name was engraved, it all became a bit more real.  And I was reminded once again why it is so important to honor the dead with such markers, memorials and rituals as well.  I don't know if my granddaughters fully understood why their grandfather suddenly went quiet.  It was just that I couldn't really say much more. The Memorial--especially that engraved name--spoke for itself.