Monday, July 30, 2018

Remembering the Sacrifice

Across the Causeway in the city of Fort Myers they are mourning the death of a police officer, Adam Jobbers-Miller, shot in the line of duty.  I won't go into the details, save to say that the community has risen to the occasion by holding fundraisers in support of his family, posting words of support on line, and so on.  As well they should.  Police officers are working on our behalf.  They are called to serve and protect, and when that service leads to injury or death, it reminds me what a challenging job it must be.  I am grateful for those who are willing to take on such a calling.

Like all positions of authority, being a police officer is a position that can be abused.  And sometimes is.  And such abuses need to be dealt with, swiftly.  Like all positions filled by human beings, it can  be corrupted by prejudice and bias.  And that too must be addressed.  We must strive for police departments staffed by folks willing to recognize  their own personal prejudices and learn to rise above them in order to serve and protect all people.  

But  that said, and it is not in any way to be considered unimportant, when an officer pursuing his or her duty, pays for that dedication with his or her life, we all do well to pause and reflect.  We  do well to remember that a real sacrifice has been made. 


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

What Did You Do This Weekend, John? I Turned Sixty-five!

This past weekend I turned sixty-five (65).  That didn't make me a senior citizen.  AARP sent me a membership card and declared me a senior when I turned fifty (50).  The federal
government said I could start withdrawing money from my IRAs when I turned fifty-nine and one-half (591/2)--leave it to the government to complicate things with a fraction!  The local movie theater declared me to be a senior when I turned sixty (60).  There were benefits that could have accrued to me as a senior citizen at sixty-two (62).  The Beatles crooned about the elder years when I turned sixty-four (64).  But still, none of them felt quite as official as sixty-five.  I am now unquestionably a senior citizen.

I still work outside the home--full-time.  And plan on doing so for a while yet.  So even though I am a card-carrying member of AARP, I am not a retired person.  I've been bald since I was about forty-five, and a greybeard from my early fifties.  I've been a grandfather for almost eighteen years, and love the role.  But none of those things made be feel I was a senior citizen.  But somehow turning sixty-five does.

So what does it mean?  In many ways I am still a boy on the inside, and even though I am helping take care of my elderly mother, she can still put me in my place with just a glance or a well-chosen word.  I still like to do many of the things I've done all my life--cycling, reading, going to the theater.  I still like good science fiction, and am early on line to see the latest Star Wars or Star Trek movie.

Do I feel any wiser now that I'm sixty-five?  Not particularly.  Although I am a bit wiser when it comes to eating really spicy foods for dinner!

Maybe what impacts me the most is the realization that this ride called life isn't going to last forever.  I'm not talking about life after death, or resurrection, or anything like that.  I'm talking about this life right here, right now.  Maybe the wisdom that comes with being a senior citizen is recognizing that you don't have all the time in the world.  You only have today.  That's true whether you're twelve or twenty or sixty-five, but somehow it seems a bit more real than it has in the past.

(Photo:  A family of origin shot--probably somewhere around 1969.  I am in the back row at the left.  I don't think the sixteen year old me ever dreamt about being sixty-five!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

On Not Giving Up on the Dream

Last week Linda and I took two of our granddaughters to Washington. One of them lives in Massachusetts, the other in Florida.  They are just about the same age.  They both love to read.  They both have little sisters that sometimes drive them nuts.  They both spend what seems like hours getting ready in the morning, primping in front of the mirror.  They both have a good sense of humor.  But one of them is black, and the other is white.  And for all their similarities, life will more than likely treat them differently simply because of that difference.

That said I still dream along with Dr. King, whose Memorial is pictured above.  (The granddaughters are the two tiny figures at his feet).  As grandfather to both girls, I dream of a future for them that is better than the world we now live in, so marked by hate and conflict.  That's why we took them to Washington.

That may seem counterintuitive, I know.  But I wanted them to see the Capitol, and to learn more about how we can change things when we vote, when we stay informed, when we let our representatives know what is important to us.  I wanted them to sit in the courtroom of the Supreme Court, and hear how it works and why it is important to be concerned about who sits on the bench.  I wanted them to see the monuments, the reminders of those who've gone before, who've made mistakes, and yet, left behind a grand legacy.

So we read through all the quotations on the King Memorial, stopping at each one to consider it's meaning.  So we read the powerful statement about religious liberty in the Jefferson Memorial, and talked about the difference it makes in our lives today.  So we followed part of the Points of Light Pathway, and talked about how volunteers like Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, Paul Harris and Linda and Millard Fuller have helped shape a better world.  So we stood in the Lincoln Memorial and read the Second Inaugural Address together, and explored what it means to be badly divided as a nation.  So we spent an afternoon at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and learned how important it is to stand up for the oppressed.

I am not giving up on the Dream.  I can't.  I have six grandchildren--four boys, two girls, four white, two black, four non-churchgoers (for the most part) and two very active in a congregation.  And I want a better world for each one of them.  And for all the other children as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Visit to Washington, Part I

This week Linda and I will be taking our thirteen and fourteen year old granddaughters to Washington, DC.  When we asked them what they wanted to see, both of them, independently of each other, said the Holocaust Museum.  They have both read books, including Anne Frank's diary, that have caused them to wonder and to ask many questions.  Their's is not a morbid interest--it grows out of a genuine concern for other people.  So we will be making it one of our stops.  In honor of that visit, I share with you one of my very first blogs, originally published in April of 2011.
Hitler and his cronies managed to convince many, many people that Jews were somehow less than fully human--that they threatened the well-being of the state. The way, the Nazis argued, to protect the state was to isolate the Jews. So over a period of only a few years, various laws were passed which created a very clearly second-class citizenship for Jews. And to make certain everyone knew who the Jews were, each and every Jewish individual was required to wear a yellow star of David.

A yellow star may seem a little thing, but it led, eventually to Auschwitz. And so the question we must ask, if we are to learn anything from all this, is where are the yellow stars in our lives? Where and how are we labeling and branding people? What divides us one from the other.

One of the many films that documents part of the story of the Holocaust is The Hiding Place. It is the story of a Christian Dutch family named ten Boom that hid Jews during World War II and helped them escape from Nazi persecution.

The early part of the film documents the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands and shows how the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler were put in place. In one scene the camera zooms in on a line of people waiting to receive their yellow star. Standing in the line is Papa ten Boom--but he is a Christian. Standing beside him is one of his Jewish neighbors. He turns to Papa ten Boom and says, "You shouldn't be here."

Ten Boom replies, "I've come for my star."
"They are for Jews," says his neighbor, "You don't have a J on your card."

"You could get it for me," replies ten Boom, "If we all wear them they won't know a Gentile from a Jew."

Ten Boom did get a star--and he wore it. And, in time, he was caught rescuing Jews, and was shipped off to one of the camps where he died.

We may not be called to, as Papa ten Boom was, to risk our lives. But we are called to make meaningless the yellow stars that exist in our own day. We are called to work towards a time when all people are treated fairly and equally. Not just on Yom HaShoah, but every day.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Divided States of America

Independence Day fast approaches and with it various reminders of our past.  Perhaps you remember from high school seeing pictures of a yellow flag, with a the image of a snake cut up into eight parts, each part labeled with the name of one of the original colonies, with just one piece for New England.  Do you remember the words on that flag?  You may be thinking "Don't Tread on Me"--and you would be partially right.  It did appear that way in a second iteration.  But originally it said, "Join or Die."  It was created by Benjamin Franklin to accompany an editorial calling for colonial unity in which he wrote of, in his words, "the extreme difficulty of bringing so many different [groups] to agree in any speedy and effectual Measures . . . . " (Pennsylvania Gazette, 5-9-1754)  Maybe we should be hanging that flag out today, for if we are honest, we are far from united as a nation. In fact on many fronts we are deeply, seriously divided.  And not just politically, though certainly that as well.  There are significant economic, cultural, racial and moral issues which reflect our divisions.  We cannot seem to agree on much of anything.  Perhaps we should refer to ourselves the way Franklin did in that editorial.  Maybe we should just call ourselves the Divided States.

But I am convinced we can do better, if we are only willing to take seriously three basic ideas.

One, we must recognize that our lives, our stories, are interwoven.  We live in a perpetual state of mutuality, and what impacts one of us,  impacts us all.

Two, we must be willing to step across, reach across, traditional boundaries and barriers, we must begin to see those who are different from us as our potential partners.

Three, we should seek to meet the needs of those most endangered ahead of the needs of those in power, those who are well resourced already.

It seems rather simple, but the truth is it's a rather tall order.  But it can be done.  We have seen it done before.

In the weeks following 9/11 we heard a lot about the need to be united--"united we stand" proclaimed posters everywhere.  Still, there was a fair amount of vitriole being spilled, and some of the anger directed at American Muslims.  One mosque a few miles from my church in Connecticut, held a meeting to help inform people about Islam.  Some 200 folks attended--almost all of them came to learn, not to heckle.  Many of the mosque's members spoke of the fear they were experiencing.  One Muslim woman told how she was afraid to leave her own home--even to go to the neighborhood grocery store.  Suddenly one of the non-Muslim women in the audience stood up.  "Here's my phone number," she said to the frightened woman.  "When you want to go to the store, just call me, and I'll go too."

As we approach Independence Day, it is my hope that we can rise to the occasion once again.  That we can work to heal the divide.  So that we can truly be the United States of America, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.