Monday, October 29, 2018

Eating Us Up Alive

One of the victims this past weekend at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was a dentist nearing retirement, Dr. Richard Gottfried.  He was brought up with three sisters, and on Monday two of them were interviewed by Susannah Guthrie on NBC's Today Show, his twin sister, Debi Salvin, and his older sister, Bonni Huffman.  Though they were still numb, even shaking, they wanted to let people know who their brother was, because, as Debi said, "He touched a lot of people."

There's so much hate in our country," said Debi, and it's got to stop."  Are you afraid, they were asked.  I can't live that way, and I can't hate him," said Bonni.  The shooter.  Because if I do it will eat me up alive, inside out."

Such a brave observation.  Such a wise observation.  Hate eats you alive, from the inside out.  And in many ways, that is what's happening to our nation.  The kind of hate on display in Pittsburgh this weekend, the kind of hate that was exhibited in Charlottesville and Charleston, it will eat us alive!  It is eating us alive!  And it will continue to do so until we collectively rise up and say, no more.  No more demonization of people because of their race or religion or sexual orientation.  No more labeling, no more stereotyping.  Rather, we need to have a willingness to really come to know one another as fellow human beings.  In theological terms, as children of God.

There are many issues that feed the gun violence that permeates our culture as a nation, many concerns that need to be addressed,  but what we ultimately need is something akin to a heart transplant.  We need to allow tolerance and acceptance to replace hate and fear.  Otherwise, Bonni Huffman is right:  it will just eat us up alive, inside out.

With his sisters, we mourn the death of Richard Gottfried and all those whose lives were lost in Pittsburgh.  Yes, the perpetrator must be brought to justice.  But we best honor Richard Gottfried and all those whose lives were lost by working for the day when hate and fear are replaced by tolerance, acceptance and love.

Monday, October 22, 2018

God Talk and October Baseball

When was the last time you had a conversation about religion or spirituality?  When was the last time you discussed theology with someone else?  I don't mean in church--though that is important as well.  I mean at work, or home, or school
?  A week ago Sunday an op-ed piece by Jonathan Merritt in the New York Times caught my eye.  "We Need to Talk About God," read the headline.

As part of his research work for the op-ed piece (and other writings as well) Merritt had the Barna Group conduct a poll focused on religion and public life.  The results are a bit unsettling. At least if you're a preacher like me!  He writes:  "More than one-fifth of respondents admit they have not had a spiritual conversation at all in the past year.  Six in 10 say they had a spiritual conversation only on rare occasions.  A paltry 7 percent of Americans say they talk about spiritual matters regularly."  (New York Times, 10-14-18, Review Section)  He goes on to note that regular church goers weren't much better;  just 13 percent reported having regular spiritual conversations!

Merritt cites a number of reasons why this is happening including the fact that so much religious language has been used in ways that exclude and demean others.  We don't like such abuse of spiritual and theological language, so we avoid it altogether.  But, Merritt wisely warns, that is a very dangerous position to take.  "When people stop [using religious language]," he writes, "because they don't like what these words have come to mean and the way they've been used, those who are causing the problem get to hog the microphone." (Ibid)

We mainline, mainstream, Protestants tend to be rather private about religion.  We don't want to step on anyone's toes.  We don't want to push our beliefs on someone else.  But that doesn't mean we can't, or shouldn't talk about such matters.  After all, if you are willing to talk about the World Series, doesn't make sense to talk about far more important matters.  Not that the Series is unimportant, I am a lifelong Red Sox fan after all.  But in the end, there are more significant things in life.  Things worth discussing!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Fighting Hate--Making a Loving World

I recently received a mailing from the Southern Poverty Law Center which included a small booklet titled Ten Ways to Fight Hate:  A Community Resource Guide.  The ten ideas are excellent, and I will list them in a moment, but first I wanted to take note of the name of this booklet.  In particular, the second half of the title: A Community Resource Guide.  In that title, especially in the word "community," one finds the real secret to dealing with hate and prejudice.  Community.

I recently heard a commentator say that it was his belief that our chief problem today is that everybody, and he meant everybody, feels as if they are marginalized.  While I am not sure that is literally true, what really matters is that so many people are feeling that way.  And why?  In part, because we have forgotten that a true community invites all of its members to full participation.  A true community seeks to include the needs of all in its deliberations.  A true community respects the rights of all to hold differing opinions and finds ways to build compromise into the very fabric of its being.  If we are to truly rid our society of hate, then it will take the whole community.

So here's the list:

1.   Act--apathy is our biggest enemy!
2.   Join Forces--we must work together!
3.   Support the Victims--reach out to those who have been injured by hatred.
4.   Speak Up--don't let hateful remarks or actions go unchallenged!
5.   Educate Yourself--learn all you can about other people, other groups, other ideas.
6.   Create an Alternative--be creative in helping people express their fears, their concerns, their issues.
7.   Pressure Leaders--make sure those in various leadership positions, government, religion, business, know these are important issues.
8.   Stay Engaged--don't give up, just because the work is hard and the road long!
9.   Teach Acceptance--and not just to children!
10. Dig Deeper--look inside yourself and see what's there!

We can create a world where all people are welcome--but it's not easy.  It takes a village, so to speak.  It really takes a community!

Monday, October 8, 2018

It Is Broken--So Let's Fix It!

There's an old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Well, actually, it's not that old.  While it's origins are a bit murky, it appears to have entered into common usage in 1977, when Jimmy Carter's Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Bert Lance, was quoted in an article that appeared in Nation's Business, May, 1977.  "Bert Lance," the author wrote, "believes he can save Uncle Sam billions if he can get government to adopt a simple motto: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I don't know about budgetary matters, but clearly, as the last two or three weeks have demonstrated, something is broken in Washington, and does need to be fixed.  There are those who would argue that a whole lot of things are broken in Washington, but for the moment I just want to focus on one thing in particular, the number of votes required for the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.

How is it that a position as impactful as that of a Supreme Court Justice can be confirmed by so few votes?  In a nation and in a senate as badly divided as ours, that guarantees--literally guarantees--the kind of performance we watched over the past weeks.  Not that its new.  Partisan politics has increasingly come into play in such matters over the years.  Neither political party is innocent in all of this.  Something that should be truly non-partisan, has become a political power struggle.  And, as a result a woman who bravely bared her soul has been left twisting in the wind.  And questions about a man's reputation left unresolved.

Every human being has opinions.  And potential Supreme Court Justices are no exception.  And such things will always be taken into account when candidates are nominated.  It's only human!  But judicial appointments, especially at the highest level, should first and foremost consider other factors.  Knowledge of the law, approach to the application of law, depth of experience, temperament.  Whether or not a candidate is honest and ethical.  These are the things that should be given the most weight.  This is, after all, a lifetime appointment--it deserves our best.  

So here's my suggestion.  Amend the Constitution in such a way that a two-thirds majority must be secured to confirm the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.  Two-thirds.  I realize that could lead to even more political wrangling, but in the end, it should lead to appointments that rise above mere politics.  

No question: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  But when it is broken, it's time to get out the tools and go to work.    


Monday, October 1, 2018

Think Before You Post

This weekend, in the wake of the Senate hearings held last week, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites, were ablaze with reactions.  Supporters of Christine Blasey Ford lined up on one side, while those who favored Brett Kavanaugh were on the other.

Personally and professionally, I am very careful not to publicly reveal my political
party affiliation.  It is against IRS regulations for me to promote one party or another, one candidate or another, from the pulpit.  Wanting to protect the church's not-for-profit status, I am very careful to avoid such matters.  But I am free legally--and impelled morally--to speak out about various issues, like the right of women to feel safe and respected.  And I do speak out.  But always, I hope, in a fair, non-partisan manner.

So it was that I was struck by the social media post made by someone I have known for a very long time, a former parishioner, who I suspect does not know my  party affiliation. I was struck by the fact that it was a sweeping condemnation of all those who align themselves with a particular political party.  "Don't be a ______________," he wrote, "or, I'll have to say you SUCK!!!" (The capitalization and exclamation points were part of the original post, which included the name of a specific party.)

I wonder if he would have written that if he knew I was one of the people he was demeaning?  I wonder if the second former parishioner who agreed with him would say that to my face?  Am I taking this way too personally?  Perhaps.  Yet I think such sweeping generalizations are major part of the problem.  And the crudeness of such remarks only raises the ire of those who are targeted.  Name calling, generalizations and threats do not help us resolve the challenges of the day. Indeed, the founders of our nation warned against partisanship--I suspect they would be appalled at what's going on right now.

God is a god of justice.  And as a person of faith, I am called to work for justice.  But no one party has a corner on what's right.  Not all people of integrity belong to one party or the other.  There is a bumper sticker I've always loved that says, "God is Not a Republican . . . or a Democrat."  Maybe I should hand those out at church this Sunday--and send them along to those two former parishioners as well!