Monday, August 27, 2018

A Profile in Courage

I've been a bit surprised by the way I have welled up each time I have heard a report on the radio or television about the passing of Senator John McCain.  Frankly, I have often--perhaps more often than not--disagreed with his positions on a wide variety of issues.  He has often been in favor of things I oppose.  So why the sadness?  Why the sense of real loss?

Perhaps some of it has to do with the recognition that in John McCain we had an honest politician.  Someone who was willing to speak the truth as he understood it.  Someone who didn't tailor his message for his audience in order to win votes or gather funds for his next campaign, but rather someone who was willing to take a stand on what he felt was important.

Or, maybe, it has to do with the fact that he was willing to compromise, willing to cross the aisle, so to speak, and work for a solution to the problems facing our nation.  Increasingly, this in and of itself, is a rare quality.  Yet one that is so vital to our being able to address the issues that are boxing us in and tearing us up as a nation.

I think the tears may have something to do with the fact that John McCain had what best be called courage.  Political courage and personal courage.  He courageously endured imprisonment in Vietnam, he courageously took risks to bring about change, he courageously faced his cancer.  Were Kennedy writing today, he would undoubtedly include John McCain in Profiles in Courage.

Senator McCain wrote a farewell letter to America--one well worth your time.  In it he offered this observation.  "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all corners of the globe.  We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of oru ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been. . . . If only we . . . give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times."

In my business, that is sometimes called a "charge" or a "commission"--and sometimes it is called a "benediction."  But whatever you call it, it is a blessing.  As was John McCain.

(You can read the full letter by following this link:

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Water, Water Everywhere . . . .

My good friend and colleague, Rabbi Myra Soifer, is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama at the moment.  She is in a teaching role and living in a small community there.  She has been blogging about it regularly, and most recently wrote about the ongoing water problem in her town and in the country.  Periodically, running water just stops.  One never knows how long it will last.  Hours, days, longer?  Myra wrote how she keeps a huge tub of water so that she can flush the toilet if the water stops.  "I do have electricity and food and a safe place to live," she writes.  "I just don't have water.  Frustrating as that has become, it is also a source of personal reflection."  And so it is.  How fortunate we are to have water, clean water, to drink, to use for dishes and bodies and laundry.  How fortunate indeed!

The importance of water has been driven home here in Lee County this summer with a vengeance, as we have faced a major red tide bloom, resulting in hundreds upon hundreds of dead fish, sea turtles, even a manatee or two, being washed up on our beaches, and tourists fleeing or just not showing up at all.  We have also been hit with blue green algae filling our waterways.  And most of it has been caused by human mismanagement of resources.  We have taken water for granted--and now we are paying the price.  Literally, as well as figuratively.

Maybe we all need to live in Panama for a while.  Maybe we all need to go without clean water for drinking and bathing for a few months.  Maybe then we would learn.  But the again, maybe, seeing our deserted beaches and restaurants and businesses, will cause us to take action.

It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his famous 18th century poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner, who penned the line "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."  In some parts of the world it could have been written today.  And, if we don't pay attention, it could be appropriate anywhere and everywhere in years to come.

(Myra's blog can be found at

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Taxi Cab Theology

You never know where you are going to run into a theologian.  Sure, you expect to find one at church.  If you are at a seminary or a divinity school it's considered mandatory to have a theologian or two on the faculty.  Even if you are just hanging around a university you might bump into one.  But not when you are riding in a taxi.  But there he was, the best theologian I'd met in a long time.

For most of the ride he was quiet.  We conducted our necessary business, where you headed, and so on.  But I should have suspected something.  After all he had placed religious books in the back pockets of the front seats.  But there was no proselytizing, no "Have you found Jesus."  But then it happened.

It was one of those intersections where folks in the left lane could only turn left, and folks in the right, straight through or right.  But as we sat in the right turn lane, waiting for the light to change, it became clear that the person on our left, who had out of state plates, had accidently gotten into the wrong lane.  He needed to turn right, not left.

The cabbie could have ignored him.  He could have made a snide remark about out-of-state drivers, but instead, he pulled back a bit, made some room, and then waved the other driver through.  And then, as we made our way forward, he turned to me, and said, "You know, some people tend to forget, we're really here to serve others."  And with that, he chuckled.

Taxi cab theology!  Who knew!  I smiled, I said, "You're right!"  And when I got out, I made sure to give him a really good tip.  After all, even theologians need to make a living!

Monday, August 6, 2018

Winnie the Pooh and the Very Happy Day

Linda and I took two of our granddaughters to the movies last weekend to see Christopher Robin.  The film imagines what might have happened to Christopher Robin after he grew up and left Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the Hundred Acres Woods far behind.  It was a rather charming picture--somewhat predictable, but none-the-less refreshing in this day and age of movies based on comic books.

The film reminded me of a book I've long owned and enjoyed called The Tao of Pooh.  In it author Benjamin Hoff illustrates many of the basic tenets and teachings of Taoism using quotations from A. A. Milne's classic stories.

It is appropriate.  In the Tao Te Ching, the basic Taoist text, one reads:  "The wise are not learned, the learned are not wise."  Winnie-the-Pooh, self-described as a "bear of very little brain" is a case in point.  While far from learned, he is most certainly wise.  For Pooh, enjoying Tuesday is far more important than knowing how to spell it!   And as for Thursday?  When queried by Piglet as to why they should go off to visit people, Pooh responds. " . . . [B]ecause it's Thursday and we'll go wish everybody a Very Happy Thursday."

As I write this it is Monday.  Which classically is understood to be the toughest day of the week.  But perhaps we think that way because it isn't Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday.  It is the first day of the work week for most folks.  But maybe instead of being so negative about it, we should be grateful we have work at all!

So let me wish you a Very Happy Monday.  And if you read this on Tuesday, which I do know how to spell, a Very Happy Tuesday.  And if you read it . . . . well you get the point.  If there is a point.