Monday, November 27, 2017

Sufi Muslims: Children of God

And so it happens again.  A group of believers engaged in prayer are attacked and killed, only this time they didn't  live in South Carolina or Texas, this time they lived in Egypt.  And this time they weren't Christians, this time they were Muslims.  Sufi Muslims.

I imagine most Americans know very little about Sufi Muslims. "If you've seen one Muslim you've seen them all."  That's what many folks believe.  But that is far, far from the truth.  And while love is willing to acknowledge, even celebrate, differences, hate never does.  And while the attack this past weekend is being portrayed as a Muslim against Muslim atrocity, it is really hate versus love.  Exclusion versus inclusion.  Narrowness versus broad acceptance.

I read a poem every day--it's good for the soul!  And for the past two or three months I've been reading through a collection of poems by Hafiz, a  14th 
century Sufi Muslim.   Mysticism is woven through the very fabric of Sufism, and that is reflected in so much of Hafiz' poetry.  In memory of our Islamic brothers and sisters killed this past weekend, I offer this poem written so many centuries ago.  This poem that reminds us we are all children of God.

"I Got Kin"
So that your own heart
Will grow.
So God will think,
I go kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Because that is the purest

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Thanksgiving Reminder

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of thank you notes and e-mails.  I like sending them.  I like receiving them.  I even keep a file of thank you notes I've received over the years.

One of my all-time favorites came for a former parishioner named Rose when I was serving the Saugatuck Congregational Church in Westport, CT.  I had spoken at the board meeting of a local social service agency.  It was one of the agencies the church's mission board  supported and Rose served on the agency's board for many years.  She was writing to thank me for taking the time to meet with them, and offered some very kind words about a brief meditation about gratitude that I had offered.  In the note she also expressed her appreciation for the church.

"It's so easy," she wrote, "to take our many blessings for granted as you pointed out.  Yesterday I stopped to think about some of the things I have to be thankful for.  Thanks for reminding me."

I suppose we all need to be reminded from time to time.  Like children caught up in the excitement of new toys at Christmas, sometimes we need to be prodded into offering up our words of thanksgiving.

So consider this a prod--a reminder.  As we move into this week of formal thanksgiving, what is it that you consider among your blessings?  And who do you need to thank?  God? After all, God is the Source of Life itself!   Your family?  A treasured teacher, friend or clergy person?  Maybe the neighbor who takes care of your cat when you are out of town.  Or the cashier at your grocery store who always remembers you like your groceries' packed just so.  Maybe it's the doctor who performed your hip surgery.  Whatever--whoever--now is a good time to say thank you.  Write a note.  Send an e-mail.  Make a phone call.  Just do it!

PS:  And thank you, my faithful blog readers!  I truly appreciate your visiting this site week after week!  Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Empty White Chairs

Among my favorite musicals is Les Miserables.  One of the most poignant moments in the show occurs after the failed uprising intended to overthrow the corrupt government.  One of the student revolutionaries, Marius, survives an attack by the government which has killed most of his friends.  As he revisits the place where they had met to dream about a future of freedom, he looks over the empty chairs and tables, and mourns.
There's a grief that can't be spoken,
There's a pain goes on and on,
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
I couldn't help but think of that song as I read the news about the memorial that has been established in Sutherland Springs.  The sanctuary at First Baptist Church where the mass shooting happened a week ago Sunday, has been cleaned and emptied of the bloody remnants of that attack.  It has been painted a pristine white, and white chairs, twenty-six of them, one for each victim, have been placed in the exact spots where each of the murdered men, women and children fell.  On the back of each chair each victim's name has been painted in gold. And on each, a rose. Empty chairs representing
 friends who are dead and gone.  It is a powerful set of symbols. 
"Here they sang of tomorrow," intones Maurius in Les Miserables, "And tomorrow never came."
But there is a difference for the people of First Baptist Church.  And not because those who died were far from being French revolutionaries.  For the people of First Baptist Church believe that while a tomorrow on this earth never came, a new tomorrow did indeed dawn for each one of the slain.  A new tomorrow beyond pain, beyond grief.  As their pastor said on the following Sunday, the folks at Frist Baptist Church believe that their loved ones are "dancing with Jesus."
 Make no mistake, there is certainly grief here and now for the survivors, pain and grief that will go on and on.  And while empty white chairs may help ease the sorrow, it will not eliminate.  No more than the genuine hope in the life to come will erase the hurt, the ager and even the guilt.  No doubt some of those good folks can sing with Maurius, "Oh my friends, my friends, forgive me, that I live and you are gone."  But there is also faith, and hope and love.
Yes, empty white chairs and empty hearts.  But hearts touched with a measure of hope.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Armed Guards at the Door

Monday afternoon I got a phone call from a colleague checking on a rumor one of her parishioners had heard that my congregation has posted an armed guard at the entrance to our sanctuary. "If they've got one there at the Congregational Church," the parishioner had apparently said, "we should have one too."   I assured my colleague we did not have any guards at the door. Armed or otherwise.  Some well trained head ushers.  An officer directing traffic in the roadway in front of our driveway.  But no armed guards.

No doubt the mass shooting in at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, stirred up the question.  And it does, once again, raise the issue of security for houses of worship.  It is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, no doubt about it.  Indeed, our local police department even offers a special one hour training program on such matters for church staff members.  But an armed guard?

Maybe I am na├»ve.  Maybe my biases about guns in general is showing.  But frankly, I think such a move would be contrary to everything that happens beyond the church entrance and inside the sanctuary itself.  We gather to proclaim our trust in the way of God, not our trust in firepower.  Yes we need to be vigilant. Yes
, we need to be alert to the reality that if it happened in Charleston at a Bible study, or in Texas at a Sunday worship service, it could happen here. At our church.  But that does not mean we need to take up arms.

But there are issues we as the church can help lead the way.  The pervasiveness of violence in our culture.  The paucity of mental health services.  The failure to adequately address domestic violence.  The sheer number of guns in America and the ease with which they can often be procured.  Yes, the church needs to respond to the mass shooting in Texas.  But there are far more constructive things we can do than simply post an armed guard at the door and hide behind our fears.