Friday, June 29, 2018

O Canada!

Having just spent most of the week in Toronto at Rotary International's Annual Convention I offer a thought or two stimulated by that experience.

Rotary prides
itself in having a presence in more countries than are represented i8n the United Nations.  And in Toronto that international flavor was readily apparent.  Sessions were offered in English, but simultaneous translation was offered in a number of languages ranging from Spanish to Japanese.  Many participants wore native  dress, colorful saris, gorgeous dashikis, and some Western cowboy hats as well!  I have no idea how many religions were represented, but I have little doubt that most if not all of the major ones around the world had adherents among our number.

Our differences were many.  But we came together out of a common commitment to working across every conceivable boundary, every human made border, to make this a better world.  "Service above self" is the Rotary motto, and it is a powerful call to action!

The convention reminded me over and over again that we need one another.  None of us can do it alone.  No one religion.  No single service organization.  No solitary nation can address the issues we face today.  In this world of ours bound together by the promise of better communication offered in global technologies and the threat of wide spread destruction found in climate change, we can no longer afford isolationism.  We are one world.  If that claim makes me an internationalist, a globalist, so be it. 

Make no mistake, I am proud to be an American, I am grateful to be a Christian, I am honored to be  Rotarian--but none of those parts of my identity make me better than anyone else.

Being patriotic, as I understand it, means supporting that which is best for one's nation, and today, what's best for the United States is to be willing to be an equal and active partner in the world family of nations.  In that way, we can work together across all that divides us for the benefit of our precious planet and all those who call it home.

Thanks Canada--it was a good visit!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

For Christ's Sake!

When I was thirteen I went with my Dad to live in Scotland for what initially was an indeterminate amount of time.  I was not an immigrant, per se.  But I had no idea how long we would be there.  I was not fleeing from poverty or violence.  The journey was not of my father's choosing.  He was going their to preach.  I was excited about going, but it was not my choice, nor was it in any way under my control. And who would have expected it to have been so?  After all, I was barely thirteen!

When we arrived in Scotland, at the border so to speak, it was my Dad who handled things.  He literally held my passport--and all the money.  He had our undated return plane tickets.  I was far from home and totally at the mercy of adults.  Totally.

I can't even imagine how frightened--how terrorized I would have been had some Scottish official had taken me by the arm and said, "Come with me, son, you're going to have to go to a different place than your father.  WE don't want Yanks coming into our country anymore."  "For how long?" I might have asked if I could have choked back the tears.  "A few minutes?"  "We don't know.  For as long as needed."  I can't imagine what would have gone though my thirteen-year-old mind if I'd been taken in such a manner.  Nor can I imagine how my father would have felt.

Over the last six weeks some two thousand children have been separated from their parents by agents of our government when they have sought to enter the United States.  All due to a policy intentionally designed to discourager illegal immigration.  Many of them are being held in facilities like the converted Wal-Mart where some fifteen hundred boys, ages ten to seventeen, are being held.  Others are being detained in what amounts to large cages.

Clearly, we are very divided as a nation about how to deal with various immigration policies.  But for Christ's sake--literally, for the sake of Christ--can't we at least agree that problems created by adults should not be solved on th4e3 backs of children?

On this Father's Day when so many fathers and mothers and their children are living in anxious fear, I urge you to plan to take time in this coming week to contact those who represent us in Washington.  And whether you think we should build a wall or not, whether you think we should change how visas are issued or not, is immaterial.  It is time for all of us to tell those in positions of authority "No More!"  No more separating children from their parents.  No more.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Mother's Cry: Thoughts about Suicide

It happened many years ago now.  Very early in my time as an ordained minister.  I received a call from the local funeral home asking if I would be able to conduct a service for a young woman (in her forties as I remember) who had just died.  I agreed, and after getting the name and contact information for the young woman's mother, I called to set up a time to meet to learn more about her daughter so I could plan for the service.

They had been living together.  The daughter had been dealing with some serious physical issues and needed her mother's continued support.  But there was more.  The young woman had also been suffering from depression, and soon it was revealed she had committed suicide.  Needless to say, her mother was distraught.

I don't remember the details of our conversation.  I couldn't have been much more than thirty at the time.  Ten years younger than the daughter, and, as they say, wet behind the ears.  I knew enough to know what I didn't know.  I hope I didn't say anything that exacerbated her grief.  I do know I spent quite a bit of time simply listening as she told me about her daughter, and in the homily tried to reflect all the positive thing she had told me.  But I didn't speak openly about the suicide itself.  I assumed that would just make things worse. 

The service was held at the funeral parlor.  And after the benediction, the funeral director invited folks to come forward and offer their prayers and last words at the side of the closed coffin.  The last to come forward was her mother.  At first she knelt on the kneeler placed at the side of the casket, but then she splayed herself across the lid and began to scream.  "Don't leave me!  How can you do this?  Don't leave me all alone!"  She wailed.  Literally wailed.  The funeral director waited for a short time, and then asked me to speak to her.  The other guests were waiting to go to the cemetery. 

I tried.  I think I spoke a few words that I hoped would comfort her, but they didn't.  She only cried out more loudly.  Finally the funeral director, assisted by a male relative or two, peeled her off the coffin, and held her up as she limply made her way to the waiting limousine.

I though about that mother  as news programs focused on the two celebrity suicides this past week.  I thought about how desperate the daughter must have felt--and how filled with despair her mother was afterwards.  I don't know if the daughter had received the proper care for her depression or not.  Sometimes the best of treatment fails to prevent suicide.  But I also know of times that good mental health care has prevented what most surely would have resulted in someone taking their own life.

So once again here we are acknowledging as a nation the importance of taking mental health seriously.  Maybe this time we will do something more than just talk about it.  I hope so.  For I have rarely seen the grief and despair like that of that mother trying to hold back her daughter from the grave.

Write your representatives.  Write your senators.  Tell them the time to act is now.

Here's where to find contacts:


And for immediate attention if you or someone you love is entertaining suicidal thoughts:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline--1-800-273-8255

Monday, June 4, 2018

Let Them Eat Cake?

Today the United States Supreme Court passed down its decision on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.  If you've forgotten the case, Jack Phillips, a baker in Lakewood, Colorado, refused to bake a wedding cake for  David Mullins and Charlie Craig in 2012.  The wedding itself was to take place in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and a reception, with the requested cake, was to be held in Colorado.  Mr. Phillips refused to bake the cake based on his religious conviction that same-sex marriage is, in his view, against the will of God and therefore contrary to his religious views.

Initially the case was reviewed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission , who determined the rights of  Mr. Mullins and Mr. Craig had been violated.  Further review upheld the same conclusion.  So the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear it.

Today's ruling, a somewhat surprising 7-2 decision, turned on the question of the baker's religious freedom, and whether or not the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had maintained strict religious neutrality in their review of the case.  A majority of the justices believed that the Commission had not maintained neutrality, that they had in fact, been hostile towards Mr. Phillips views.  Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy wrote, "The Civil Rights Commission's case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated [Mr. Phillip's] objection."

The decision of the Court brings into sharp focus a question that will continue to plague us as a society.  Where do my rights leave off and yours begin?  And how, as a pluralistic society, do we guarantee that all citizens are treated with respect and dignity?  I am not sure it is an issue that can be resolved by legal means.  Yet there are obviously legal implications in so many of the things we say or do--even something as seemingly benign as baking a cake! 

I for one wish the decision had gone the other way. And I long for the day when all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, are treated with every measure of respect and with full access to public accommodations.  But the matter of religious freedom is no small issue. How can we make it all work?  Can we?  The Court has left that open for now--suggesting that this case was decided based on a very narrow set of circumstances, and therefore has limited application.

I urge my readers to click on the link below and take time to read the decision, including the dissenting opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for yourselves.