Monday, February 26, 2018

Lead On, Children, Lead On!

Watching the various news stories in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, I was struck by the contrast between stories about the school security official, who stood for four minutes
outside the building where the shooting was taking place before going inside, and the stories about the Parkland students who have already gone to Tallahassee to meet with legislators to advocate for changes in the gun laws.  In the first instance, paralysis in the face of danger, pain and sorrow, in the second, courage to take action.

I am not here to cast judgment on the school security official.  While there is no question he should have entered the building and taken the necessary risks to protect students, staff and faculty, I can't imagine the fear it must have engendered in him.  He has resigned from his position.  He will have to live with what happened for the rest of his life.  It is not mine to judge.

I am here, though, to not only praise the students, but to stand in awe.  The resolve, the courage, the resilience that they are demonstrating is incredible!  They are acting while so many adults are simply dancing around the core issues.  Will it make a difference that these and so many other students are rallying to the cause and speaking out?  I don't know.  Yet I do know the student participation in the civil rights movement made all the difference.  I do know the student involvement in the anti-war movement during the Viet Nam years made all the difference. 

There is a well known verse from the Bible which speaks of the coming day of peace:  "The wolf shall lie down with the lamb," says the prophet Isaiah, "the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."  (11:6)  All I can say is, lead on children, lead on!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Not So Far from Here . . .

Last week we were all stunned by yet another mass shooting.  A school shooting at that.  Not much more than one hundred miles from where I live in Florida.  We have been saddened, angered, frightened, frustrated and moved by stories of heroic action taken in Parkland.  But most of us have not been shocked, for it has become a seemingly regular occurrence.  The danger, of course, is that we slip into complacency, that we throw up our hands and say, "Well, that's America!"  But I, for one, don't believe that.  I believe we can do better, we can do more.  Yes, we need to keep survivors and victims in our thoughts.  Yes, we need to pray for them--indeed our whole nation.  But we also need to act.  And whether you think the problem us ready access to far too many guns, or an inadequate mental health system, or too much violence in the media, our under enforced laws and regulations, there is something you can do.  Because it will take all of us, working on all these issues, to bring about an end to the violence.

Do you think we need stricter gun safety regulations?  Then take time to write your representatives in sate and federal legislatures.  Support an organization like Everytown for Gun Safety.  Speak up about the problem!

Do you believe our mental health system needs to be improved, expanded?  Then join an organization like NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Help build awareness of the issues and the needs of those who are mentally ill.

Do you feel there is too much violence in the media? Then change channels, go to life affirming movies, play video games other than Call of Duty and the like.  And then write to advertisers, networks, and producers and let them know why you are not supporting their products.

Are you convinced that we already have enough laws and regulations in place, but that they need to be properly enforced?  Then educate yourself so that you know exactly what those laws and regulations are, and then find ways to hold law enforcement accountable through the various governmental bodies that oversee their work/.

The point is this:  you can do something, no matter what you think about the larger causes of the problem.  And I for one, as a person of faith, believe you and I are called to pray, but we are also called to act.  For when we do, we are demonstrating love for our neighbor.

The time for finger pointing and blaming is long since past.  Now is the time to act.

Here are a few links that might help:

Contact information for U.S. Representatives:
Contact information for U.S. Senators:
National Alliance for Mental Illness:
Everytown for Gun Safety:
League of Women Voters:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Why Don't We Like Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday.  Not right up there with Christmas or Easter or even Pentecost.  Not even for the most ardent Christians.  Some branches of the church don't even observe it, writing it off as "too Catholic".  Even among those who will come out for our annual Ash Wednesday Service in a couple of nights, there will be some who are uncomfortable receiving the imposition of ashes who will go home with clean foreheads.  (Don't misunderstand--I am grateful they come at all!)

I am not sure why this is one of our least "popular" holy days.  It may be connected, at least in my tradition, to the overall diminution of Lent.  Most of us Protestants don't do a whole lot of fasting--and the other aspects of Lent seem to be cast aside with that time honored practice.

I suspect some of Ash Wednesday's lack of appeal has to do with the fact that most folks are rather uncomfortable talking about, thinking about, their own mortality.  And having someone smear a few ashes on your forehead while saying something like "dust to dust, ashes to ashes" just strikes a bit too close to home.  We know we are going to die someday--why do we need to be reminded of it in the middle of winter?

Some churches have tried to address the Ash Wednesday issue with alternative ways of administering the rite.  One local church is holding drive-thru ashes in the church parking lot.  Drive up, roll down your window, receive the imposition of ashes and a prayer, and be on your way.  I have a friend who's congregation takes a big sign that says "Ashes to Go" and sets it up on a busy street corner downtown and does much the same thing.  More power to them both!  Bring a little penance to the people, I always say.  Well, not always, but during Lent at least . . . .

Maybe it's na├»ve of me to think continuing to hold a traditional service, with hymns, and scripture, and silence and a few brief words is worth the effort.  Because, Lent can be, should be, special.  Not birthday party special.  Not Valentine's Day special (though this year we are faced with that juxtaposition) but rather "looking deep into your soul to discover the truth about yourself and God" kind of special. 

I pray your Ash Wednesday, and your Lent, will be meaningful, fruitful and filled with the Spirit.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Peacemaking on Periwinkle Way

This past weekend my congregation shared a pulpit exchange with our sisters and brothers who are part of Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands.  I preached at the Friday night service held by Bat Yam, and their rabbi, my friend Stephen Fuchs, preached at our nine and eleven o'clock services on Sunday morning.  Such an exchange between Jewish and Christian rabbis and pastors is not unusual, but what makes this exchange somewhat unique is the simple fact that we don't actually exchange pulpits, at least not pieces of furniture.  For you see, Bat Yam shares our building, shares our sanctuary, shares much of our life.  We engage in joint outreach efforts, joint educational programs and joint fellowship activities.

I began my tenure here on Sanibel exactly eight years ago, and frankly, one of the key reasons I accepted this call was knowing of the unusual partnership that our two congregations had formed over the years.  Twenty-seven years ago, Bat Yam was formed, and then took up residence here--and they've never left!  We have lived together without benefit of marriage, so to speak.  And over that time we have grown evermore close in our work and our ministries, while still retaining our distinctly different ways of approaching the Divine.  Indeed, we celebrate the reality that we have serious differences, for that reminds us again and again that the Holy is beyond mere human capability to explain or define.  And our individual understandings are enriched by sharing those of others.  Indeed, being together as we are, helps us move past seeing one another as "the other" so that we might embrace one another as sisters and brothers, as children of the one same God.

These days I feel even more strongly that what we are doing, simply by sharing life together, is bearing witness in a world that needs to know people of faith, people of different faiths, can get along, can work together, can help repair the world, tikkun olom. 

For while we are of different faiths, we share a common faith, a common trust, in the Maker of the Universe.  And while we who are in the United Church of Christ, do not routinely begin any of our prayers with the words baruch atah Adonai eloheinu . . . we too join in praising the Lord, the Eternal One.

A wise Jewish teacher with whom I have more than a passing familiarity, once said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God."  It is my constant prayer that we are empowered to continue in our efforts at peacemaking right here on Periwinkle Way.
(Photo:  Rabbi Stephen Fuchs and Pastor John Danner, sharing a laugh while greeting worshippers.  Credit:  Bruce Findley)