Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reason, Raisins and Resurrection

Pastor Matt Fitzgerald once wrote  about  the year his daughter  was in kindergarten. She and all her classmates in Sunday School, were given plastic Easter eggs.  Inside each egg the teacher had placed a little slip of paper with the basic Easter message. 

At the time Fitzgerald's daughter was just learning to read--and so she struggled a bit with the sentence on the paper.  "He," she paused.  "He is . . ."  But then she got stuck.  She tried to figure it out.  Finally she proudly  announced "He is raisins!"

Fitzgerald writes:  "'He is raisins' is illogical.  'He is risen!' is merely incomprehensible."  Some things make no sense--they are illogical.  Others we just can't understand--they are incomprehensible.  As Fitzgerald writes, "[O]n Easter God has done the incomprehensible."  ("Thunderous Yes", The Christian Century, 4-2-14, 10)

For many of us, that is extremely frustrating.  We want to make sense out of everything--especially something as important as life after death!  We want the columns to add up.  We want to be able to explain it all in words and numbers that we can understand.  We want to be able to poke it and probe it and discover what makes it work. 

Don't get me wrong.  Exploring the hows and wherefores of eternal life, examining the inner workings of resurrection is a perfectly acceptable activity.  I mean, I've taught courses that do just that.  But ultimately the resurrection of Jesus, the central event of Easter and of my faith, is incomprehensible--especially when examined with the tools of reason.  And in the end, the story pushes me to belief.  Not belief in the sense of intellectual assent.  But rather belief in the sense of trust.  The Easter story invites me and others to trust that God does love us.  The resurrection of Jesus invites me and other Christians to trust that God will take care of all people not only in the here and now, but in the great beyond as well.  Whatever that means--whatever it looks like!
Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter!


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Not Too Hard, Not Too Soft--Finding Balance in a Frightening Time

I've been struck by some of the language being used in the discussion about school safety, in particular the use of the words "hard" and "soft."  Schools, like churches, synagogues, shopping malls and a number of other public gathering places, are often spoken of as being "soft" targets.  Places and institutions easily accessed and therefore more vulnerable to attack.  In recent years, and especially in these post-Parkland days, we have heard a lot of talk about the importance of "hardening" such places.  We have also heard a wide variety of strategies for doing just that.  Better surveillance.  Metal detectors at entryways.  Security cameras.  Better communications with law enforcement.  Arming teachers.  Stricter gun control measures,  And the list goes on.

My own congregation is wrestling with the issue.  We have a sub-committee of our Church Council working on the matter, exploring the various options, looking at our building and our procedures to see what we might be able to do to create a safer environment.  All of which is good.  All of which is important.  But how much do we want to harden our schools. our places of worship, even our shopping centers and gymnasiums?  What price, figuratively speaking, will we pay?

These are difficult decisions.  These are challenging times!  I wish I could say I have all the answers, but I don't.  But I do think the words we are using, "hard" and "soft" do point to certain things we might consider as we ask the questions that need to be asked.  When something is hard it is often impenetrable, it is often unbending.  When something is soft it is more easily penetrated, it is more flexible.  How do we balance the need for schools and places of worship in particular to be safe and difficult to penetrate for perpetrators of crime and violence, while at the same time allowing for ready access for those who want to worship and learn?  How do we create policies and procedures that a strong enough, firm enough, to do the job of protecting participants, while still being open to change, open to new ideas, in a word, flexible?

Tough questions, for tough times.  But questions we need to address and, to the best of our ability, answer.  Not too hard, not too soft--but just right.

Monday, March 12, 2018

No Joke! It's Time to Get Ready for Easter!

I've been thinking about Easter a lot as we draw closer to that festive day.  And this year it falls on April 1st, April Fool's Day.

Back when I was a boy, April Fool’s Day was one of the highlights of the school year.  We would play tricks on one another, and if we thought we could pull it off, our teachers.  The most ambitious April Fool’s prank I was ever involved in was the year I was in sixth grade.  Our math teacher was the long-suffering Miss Grover, who did her level-best riding herd on a rambunctious bunch of prepubescent boys and girls.

Several days ahead of time we hatched our plan.  It was really rather simple, but it involved the whole class.  Our subject teachers moved from classroom to classroom, while we stayed put.  That morning, before she arrived, we took a big ball of string that someone had brought into school that morning, and we tied together all the moveable desks in the room.  Finally, we attached the end of the string to the door knob, so that when our unsuspecting teacher opened the door, all the desks would go careening across the floor.  Once she made her way into the room, of course, we would all shout “April Fools!”

Our plan went off without a hitch.  Between periods we got to work tying together desks, and then we waited.  Outside the door we heard her high heels click against the linoleum floor, and then, when they stopped, the door knob turned, and as she flew open the door—kapow!  It was marvelous!  We had succeeded!  April Fool!

Miss Grover was not amused.  And a teacher can only allow so much mischief.  And so in the name of safety and decorum, we ended up being the April Fools, as we spent the next afternoon in detention.  So much for our engineering triumph!

Some suggest that Easter is just an April Fool's joke.  That some uneducated country bumpkins from Galilee got tricked into believing Jesus was raised from the dead.  But I disagree.  I don't know exactly what happened.  But clearly something did!  And in some mysterious way they experienced Jesus' presence among them anew.  And while our engineering triumph was rather short-lived back in sixth grade, the triumph over death has endured lo these many centuries!



Monday, March 5, 2018

Coffee, Guns or Me

I recently learned that there are almost twice as many gun dealers (one-hundred and twenty-seven of them) in Lee County where I live than there are coffee shops (just seventy).  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but I was.  I kept having visions of people being hyped up on caffeine and then rushing out to buy a gun.  Silly, I suppose.  And one can't help but wonder who decided to compare these two types of business.  But still, it is a rather disturbing statistic.

I suppose that means it is easier to get a gun than to buy a cup of java--Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts or otherwise.  I realize that the list of coffee shops probably didn't include other places you can buy coffee, like convenience stores or restaurants.  And I don't know about the gun dealers--did it include sporting goods stores that sell guns along with many, many other items?  I don't know.  But either way, it still is troublesome.

Speaking of sporting goods stores and the like, I must say while I am not a big fan of Wal-Mart, and I rarely step foot in a Dick's Sporting Goods Store, I was impressed by the actions taken by both chains over the last week, limiting in different ways, what kinds of guns they will sell and to whom.  Will it make things better when it comes to gun violence?  I don't know.  Probably in the end it won't.  After all, there are all those gun dealers out there.  But still, I applaud their willingness to take a stand, a stand that may cost them some sales.

I don't have any easy solutions to the gun violence dilemma.  Nobody does.  But we can all take whatever steps are within our power to help change things, whether you take your coffee black or sweet and light.  Even if you're a tea drinker.  There is something you can do.  Write a letter.  Join a protest march.  Work for better mental health care.  Now is not the time to take a coffee break--now is the time to take action.

To read more about the coffee shop/gun dealer ratio visit