Monday, October 30, 2017

Semper reforma!

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting his ninety-five theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.  It is often considered to be the beginning of the Reformation--though truth be told there were several so-called pre-reformers (like Hus and Wycliffe) who came long before Luther).

Five hundred years.  A lot can happen in five hundred years, and so it has!  I am not sure Luther would recognize the Protestant churches of today as heirs to his work and tradition.  Even in his own time, there were other thinkers approaching the matter of reform in different ways.  That is why some historians insist that we should be talking about the reformations, plural, as opposed to The Reformation.

However we describe it, however we label it, what happened in Wittenberg, and across much of Europe in 1517 and the years that followed, did indeed change the church in the West.  It was never quite the same after that.  Some bemoan that fact.  Some bemoan the reality that the church is so splintered and divided.  Honestly, it bothers me as well. But then I remember one of the key principles of that period in time:  semper reforma.  Not semper fidelis--that's the Marines.  But rather semper reforma, always reforming.  And when we are always reforming, that means of necessity, that there will be differences of perspective and opinion.  We can hope--and pray--for a big enough tent to contain them all.  But sometimes that just doesn't always happen.

Semper reforma--it's a bit unsettling, and it's a bit hopeful.  Most of all, it is where we can find God at work.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pleading for the Widows

One of the great pop anthems of the sixties was Aretha Franklin's rendering of "Respect."  Most anyone raised in that decade can sing along when it comes on the radio, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T!  Find out what it means to me . . . "  It was written by the great Otis Redding, who died much too young.
The song popped into my head today as I was reading an account of the current dispute between our president and the widow of La David Johnson  --one of the soldiers killed last week in Niger. 

I don't know what happened in that phone call.  Some of it seems to boil down to a he said, she said, debate.  I really don't have the information I would need to determine the truth of the matter.  But I do know this, from a biblical perspective, widows are supposed to be treated with respect.  Most especially those who have been widowed by acts of war or violence.  In the many laws of Judaism, widows are often singled out for special care and attention.  But often in the biblical narrative they were neglected or worse. And when that happened the prophets would rail against their contemporaries reminding them of their obligations. "Learn to good," writes Isaiah, "Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." (1:17)

I guess that's what I'm doing here.  I'm pleading for the widow.  Indeed for all widows, especially those widowed by warfare or violence.  And widowers too, for that matter.  They deserve our respect.  They deserve our love and care.  They deserve to be treated as we would want to be treated in a time of great grief.

This is not a political statement.  This isn't about one party or the other. It's not even about the president.   This is about basic decency.  This is about respect, something that seems to be in low supply these days, not just in Washington, but all across this land of ours.  Respect for the fallen, respect for their families.  Respect for one another as fellow human beings.  That's always
a good place to start in any conversation.  Always a good place to start if we want to move towards a more civil society.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On Being the Church in a Broken World

This past weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Delegates from around the state joined together for worship, workshops and business.  Before you decided you're not interested in any of this church stuff, hear me out.  Because I witnessed somethings that I think tells us not only a lot about the state of the church, but also the state of the world.

On Saturday morning John Vertigan,  our Conference Minster (for you non-United Church of Christ readers, that's something like a bishop without the power) gave his annual address to the gathered.  It was powerful, and spoke not only about parochial matters, but also about our role as a denomination in the work of justice in the wider world.

After he was done speaking John and the planning committee had scheduled a town hall style time for folks to offer comments, ask questions or promote their own concerns.  The variety of issues brought up reflected the very eclectic nature of our denomination.  But two of the speakers stood out from the rest.

One was a young black man, who was attending with his teenaged son.  When he was called on, he stood up, introduced himself, and indicated he was relatively new to the Untied Church of Christ.  He then asked his son to stand up with him.  I paraphrase, here, but this is the gist of his comments.

It's hard, he said, to know where you are safe when you're a black man in our society.  Even harder if you're a very young man.  You don't know what the other person is thinking.  You don't know if they are discounting you because of your race, or if they are frightened, or if they are accepting of differences.  I have been so relieved to find this church, because here I know I am loved and so is my son.  He was in tears when he sat down.  And so were most of the rest of us.

A speaker or two after that, a woman in the rear of the sanctuary stood up.  You know, she said, I'm angry.  I'm angry that more people don't know about our church.  I'm tired of being lumped together with folks who call themselves Christian, but who hate gay people and transgendered people and so many others.  I am tired of having to defend myself every time I tell someone I'm a Christian.  She had a hard time speaking, at one point, for she too was in tears.

I don't know about you, but I share her frustration.  And I am continually saddened by the truth spoken by the young black father.  I am grateful to be part of a church that speaks up about racism, the environment, the rights of LGBTQ people and so on.  But I am also very aware that we need to do a better job getting out our message.  Because the world shouldn't be so dangerous for a fourteen year old black teenager and his dad. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Greatest of These . . . .

The Imperial River wends its way through Bonita Springs, and after many more inches of rain than normal in August, and a hurricane in September, the river jumped its banks, and flooded many nearby homes.  The damage was and is devastating.

This past Saturday, as part of a larger effort mounted by the Rotary Clubs in this part of Florida, eight members of my club here on Sanibel ventured down to Bonita Springs to help out.  We were assigned to do debris removal and preliminary demolition of a home that had suffered extreme water damage.  Our task was to cart out all the ruined furniture, clothing, curtains and personal effects, and pile them by the side of the road for pick-up and removal.  And then, under the guidance of a volunteer crew chief, we were to remove the baseboards and all the no-longer drywall in the house up tot he four-foot mark. "Be careful," said the crew chief, "especially if you have thin soles.  There are bound to be nails."

The owner of the house, who we will call Maria, and her young adult daughter, were present to salvage what they could and to give us guidance as to what we should or should not throw out.  As Maria watched, often in tears, we hauled out most of her belongings, now ruined by mold and mildew.  We were told to set aside a few items that had been especially high up.  The almost new refrigerator and stove were still being paid for, so those were kept because Home Depot need to see them.  Hopefully to replace them with new ones. Ironically, one of the damaged books that went into the trash was called The Elements of Feng Shui.  Another was a Spanish language New Testament.

As we neared the end of the time removing household items, I noticed mounted near the top of the door frame going out of the house, a small hanging, with a tribute to Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe)--and hanging from the same nail, a rosary.  I went to find Maria, and brought her into the house and asked if she wanted to keep the hanging and the rosary.

"Oh yes," she said, as she started to tear up.  I took down the rosary, and as I handed it to her, she looked at me and said, "My granddaughter got this for me in . . . ."  She hesitated and turned to her daughter.  "Jerusalem," said her daughter.  "Yes," said Maria, "Jerusalem.  I love it."  Then turning to the crucifix, hanging on the other side of the door frame, she said, "I really love Jesus."

Having lost almost everything she owns, Maria reminded me with her simple words, that there are some things no flood can wash away; there are some things that no hurricane can destroy, that faith, and hope and love, do indeed abide.

We had been warned by our crew chief to be careful if we had thin soles.  What he didn't say, was "Be careful if you have thin souls."

Thank you fellow Rotarians, for being love in action.  Thank you Maria, for granting us the privilege of learning from you in a most powerful way.

(Photo:  Sanibel-Captiva Rotarians in front of Maria's home)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Worried about Vegas--and Lee County Too

I am worried.  Really worried.  I am worried that we will forget about Houston, or San Juan or Mexico City.  Because terror struck last night.  Whether we call it an act of domestic terrorism or not, terror struck last night in Las Vegas.  The men and women, the girls and boys caught in that hailstorm of bullets were terrified.  And well they should have been.  And so, it was an act of terror.  For not only did it frighten those caught in the mass shooting, it also made all of us a bit more fearful, a bit more uncertain about our own personal safety. Truly, my heart goes out to all those impacted, directly and indirectly by this horrendous act.

But still, as I said, I am worried.  Because we as Americans get so caught up in the news cycle.  It is as if we are afflicted with a national case of ADD, a national case of Attention Deficit Disorder.  We can't seem to hold our focus on one concern for more than a week or so.  We are so easily distracted that we speak about the disaster of the week.  And so things often come and go without anything really being done about the underlying factors that figured into their happening.  We live by the motto, out of sight, out of mind.

So there was flooding in Houston after Hurricane Harvey that has disrupted millions of lives?  That's so sad, our thoughts and prayers go out them.  This week.  And earthquake toppled buildings, even schoolhouses, and killed little children as well as adults?  So tragic!  Our thoughts and prayers go out to them.  This week.  An island full of American citizens was laid to waste by Hurricane Maria?  Goodness!  Our thoughts and prayers . . . . You get the drift.

More and more I realize the importance of thinking globally, but acting locally.  I need to support the various agencies that will help address the problems in far flung places like Houston, San Juan, Mexico City and San Juan.  I need to be aware of them.  But I also need to address the problems closest to home.  Flooding?  There's plenty of that right here in Southwest Florida due to Hurricane Irene.  What can I do to help?  An earthquake in mexico City?  Maybe I need to sepak out about the impact of fracking on our fragile limestone underpinnings in South Florida.  Gun violence in Las Vegas?  How can I work for better gun control and readily accessible mental helcth care in my own community?  Poverty in Puerto Rico made worse by a devastating storm?  What can I do to help alleviate the poverty right here in Lee County. 

I'm not suggesting that anyone should close out the wider world.  But I am suggesting we can do more than move on from one disaster to the next.  We can make a difference right where we live.  We can, and we should.