Monday, December 30, 2019

Still Truckin' at 87

My mother turned eighty-seven today.  Like most folks her age she has some medical issues she has to deal with on a daily basis.  But for all that, she's still truckin'.  Not literally--despite the picture above taken last summer.  A friend offered to take her for a ride in the friend's pickup--and with a bit of help Mom got up into the cab and took off.  But most of the time she gets driven around in her tiny Toyota Yaris.

Which, of course, is the point.  She may not drive anymore--hasn't for three or four years--but she still gets around.  She goes to Bible study on Tuesdays, takes communion at the neighboring Episcopalian church every Wednesday (we Congregationalists don't serve it often enough for her!), and then attends a class I teach most weeks.  Thursday she rests--but the Friday we pay her bills and then I take her to the bank and out to lunch at Marco's--a wonderful little family run diner near us.  She always orders two eggs over easy, a pancake and coffee. Mom told me she's love to have a mug from Marco's for Christmas.  So when I was there a couple of weeks back with my sister, I asked "Mama" Marco if I could buy a mug for my mother.  "No, no," she said, as she reached under the counter, "You and your Mom are in here all the time.  These are on the house.  Merry Christmas!"

Today I took Mom to the bank to do some year-end banking, a bit more complicated than the usual check cashing on Friday's.  I had to explain things a couple of times before Mom got it.  mild Alzheimer's will do that to a person.  The teller, who we've dealt with many times, looked at me and said, "You know, we all really appreciate how patient you are with her.  It means a lot."  

"He is patient," said my mother, "I think we'll keep him."

I quietly thanked the teller for her kind words, and patted my mother on the back.  

Later as I got to thinking about it though, I remembered the many years Mom had to be patient with me.  Years in infancy and toddlerhood that I don't even remember, when I am sure I kept her awake many nights.  Years in grammar school when I didn't finish my supper or do my homework or finish my chores.  Years in high school when--well, let's just leave it at that.  All those years of patience that helped shape me into the man I've become.  How can I be anything but patient with her now?

Happy birthday, Mom.  May you keep on truckin'!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Few Words about Hanuakkah, Two Days before Christmas

OK--so tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  And I imagine many of you are expecting me to write about the annual celebration of Christ's birth.  And in a way, I am.  But I am also writing about Hanukkah which started last night.  In particular, I want to offer a few words about my friend, Rabbi Myra Soifer.

Myra was the rabbi here on Sanibel for three years, at Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands, the Reform Jewish congregation that shares our building, and much of our life.  I have had the good fortune of working closely with all three of the rabbis that have served here over the ten years I have been pastor here.  And just this year, as you may recall, my colleague and good friend, Rabbi Fuchs, the current rabbi at Bat Yam, co-led an amazing trip to Israel for both our congregations.

But this post is about Myra.  After she finished up here and re-retired, she decided that the next stop on her journey would be as a Peace Corps volunteer.  It took a while to finally happen, but two years ago she was assigned to serve in a small town in Panama, helping school children there learn English.  First though, she had to learn some Spanish!  And so she did.

Myra has a blog of her own, "Where in the World is Myra," and frequently posts about her adventures in Panama.  Several times she has written about the challenges of being Jewish in a decidedly Christian place.  But she has persevered, maintaining her spiritual life midst all the festivals and holy days celebrating this Christian holiday or that one.

Yesterday, on the first night of Hanukkah, she posted yet again about those challenges.  "You can take the Rabbi out of her synagogue community," she writes, "even plunk her in the middle of a town named for the Christian savior in the middle of a country that is constitutionally Catholic--but . . . ."  And then she goes on to share a piece written by Sarah Hurwitz called "Eight Nights, Eight Jewish Values:  reflections for Chanukah on the Jewish Obligation to Build a Better World."  Myra writes, "I am using her reflections, one at a time, for each night of Hanukkah as I light candles in my menorah."

The piece itself is very moving, and while they reflect, as Myra writes, "a very particular Jewish perspective," I would suggest they offer up values we can all emulate.  They begin with "tikkun Olam"--the idea of repairing the world, and end with "caring for the stranger."  Reading through the list, I have no doubt that the One whose birth I, as a Christian, am about to celebrate, would say, Amen!  After all, Jesus was a Jew, why not?

So, Rabbi Myra, Rabbi Steve, Cantor Murray, and all my many friends who are part of Bat Yam, as well as others who celebrate Hanukkah, like my dear friend Rabbi Bob Orkand, have a most blessed Hanukkah.  To my many, many Christian friends, parishioners and others, might you have a most blessed Christmas!  Might we all work together to repair the world and care for the strangers in our midst.

Thanks Myra, for the reminder!

(Photo:  Myra's Menorah in Panama!  Her blog can be found at h

Monday, December 16, 2019

Sandy Hook Seven Years Later: A Christmas Reflection

This past weekend the news was full of stories marking the seventh anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  The church I served in Connecticut was twenty miles or so from Newtown.  Former parishioners of mine in Westport had grandchildren in that school system.  The sister of a close friend was the principal at Sandy Hook, and one of those killed in the shooting.  While I was here in Florida, hundreds of miles  away, it still hit close to home.

When I heard the news, I couldn't help but think of my own grandchildren.  Three of them at the time were attending grade schools much like Sandy Hook Elementary.  In fact, just the night before I had attended the Annual Holiday Concert at St. Michael's School in Fort Myers, where my then eight and twelve year old grandsons were students.

It was a typical school concert as youngsters just learning how to play their trumpets and clarinets struggled their way through a variety of selections ranging from "Jingle Bells" to a medley of songs from Grease.  The fourth grade band squeaked and squealed their way through four blessedly short numbers--all in unison.  It was hard on the ears, but what a delight to know that they were learning how to make music, open of God's greatest gifts!

when it came to the vocal part of the concert--always much easier for grade schoolers than playing instruments--their childish voices combined to creat6e real beauty as they stood their school uniforms with ties that were too long and shirts that refused to stay tucked in!  When our oldest, on the verge of adolescence, went to school that morning he was worried he would be the only one in a white shirt and tie.  He was so relived, my daughter-in-law had told us, when they pulled into the school parking lot and saw all the other kids in similar attire.

And that is how children should be able to live.  Worried about nothing more taxing than whether or not anyone else is wearing a time.  Worried about nothing more serious than the test they have to take, or the homework project they have to case.  But such is not the case, and seven years later the worries have only grown as so many other schools have experienced similar incidents.

Maybe this Christmas, we can give the children of our world, a lasting gift.  Maybe we can take time to rededicate ourselves to making this a safe and secure place for all of God's children.  Those whose ties fit well, and those whose ties are too long.  Those who are well-fed, and those who go hungry.  Those who have grandparents to shower them with gifts, and those who are orphaned.  All of them deserve to go to school in the morning without having to worry if they will come home at night.

Monday, December 9, 2019

A Little Bit Big Bird, A Little Bit Grouch

Folks of all ages are mourning today that passing of Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer to brought to life two of Jim Henson's most memorable Muppets, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.  Spinney was eighty-five, and he had just retired in 2018.  Up until 2015 he provided both the voices for Big Bird and Oscar, as well as the physical movements.  Recently, though, due primarily to the effects of aging, he only voiced the characters.

Spinney started puppeteering at the age of eight, when he built a home puppet theater.  Years later, when he retired, he said that the Big Bird character helped him find his purpose.  And for five decades, he helped small children learn about life on the fictional Sesame Street.  He also delighted his older fans as well!

Big Bird embodied innocence, and Oscar, well, what can you say about a green monster who lives in a garbage can?  He was far from innocent--and always complaining about one thing or another.

It struck me, as I heard the reports of Spinney's death, that in some symbolic way his two characters represented all of us.  After all, aren't there moments in your life when you are filled with the wonder of an innocent child, and other times when you seem to do nothing but grumble?  I know both are certainly true of me!  Deep in my soul there is a big, somewhat clumsy yellow bird who moves through life always finding something new to explore, something new in which to take delight.  But there is also a grouchy green monster that never seems to be satisfied, who wallows in the garbage of life.

Obviously, we can't move through life naïve to the realities of this world.  Yet, how sad if all we did was grumble and complain.  There must be a sweet spot between the two.  For we can, and must, acknowledge the negative things in life, yet still hope for, look for, the good.  A little bit of Big Bird, a little bit of Grouch.

Maybe we should call that place the Spinney Spot

Monday, December 2, 2019

Making Christmas Great Again?

Allow me a bit of a seasonal grumble . . . . On my commute to work there is a billboard that drives me nuts.  It's pictured here.  It is for a company that manufactures jet skis, outboard motors, and other such things.  It shows Jolly Old St. Nick, in full Santa regalia, stretched out on a sandy beach--he must be sweating to death!  Beside him is his famous sack, filled with either a jet ski or a motor--I can't tell for sure.  And above him in the sky one reads the words, "Making Christmas Great Again!"

Now setting aside any political observations, I must say I object.  Who said Christmas wasn't great already?  How we observe Christmas may have lost something--but really, buying even more expensive toys will return it to what is assumed to be its former greatness?

I have similar feelings about the bumper stickers that read "Keep Christ in Christmas."  Where'd he go?  As far as I'm concerned Christ never left Christmas!  Granted the humble child of Bethlehem has often been overshadowed by the glitter of the holiday.  And certainly many, many folks observe the day without as much as a mention of Bethlehem.  But Christ, the ever present reality that undergirds all of life itself, is very much here.

Here's the seasonal irony--the true greatness of Christmas rests not in adding more stuff to its observance, but rather in stripping it down.  And as for keeping Christ in Christmas, perhaps the best thing to do is simply to stop all the hustle and bustle, and to observe the stillness at the center of the ancient story.

And, if one must DO something at Christmas, perhaps the admonition I saw this morning on Facebook is onto something.  "Want to keep Christ in Christmas," it asked, "Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill,, love your enemies and do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

In Gratitude

Sometimes gratitude lists seem a bit trivial--just the idea of setting down on paper things for which you are grateful can be a meaningless excercise.  On the other hand, it can be a good way to remind oneself of the many ways life is good.  So here goes--I am sure I will leave something or someone off this list, but here is what comes to mind this week of Thanksgiving, 2019.

I am thankful for . . .

Having faith, not blind faith, but faith informed by reason and made richer by emotion.

My wife, Linda, who brings a bit of common sense into my sometimes overly intellectualized life and who cares for me in so many ways.

My mother (and my late father) who gave me so much as a child including the love of reading, the love of music, the love of theater and the love of God.

My children, Matt, Bruce and Liz, each of whom provide me with ever new challenges and delights.

My six grandchildren, Zak, Amirrah, Chris, Haley, Megan and Jyzelle, who keep reminding me that while the world is an ever changing place love can be, should be, is a constant.

My friends, both old and new, especially Charlie, who I've known since third grade, Jerry who has traveled the clergy journey with me lo these many years, and Gil, who helps me stay on the straight and narrow.

My calling, which for over forty years has allowed me to impact people's lives in ways I do not always realize, and which has provided me a way to use my God given talents.

My congregations, the one I now serve on Sanibel, and those of the past, all of which have left indelible marks on my life.

The freedoms I enjoy as an American, especially the freedom of and from religion and the freedom of speech.

And so much more:  books, pizza, Beethoven and the Beatles, hot showers, the poetry of Mary Oliver, Rumi and Billy Collins, books, Sibelius and the Gershwins, the legacy of Martin Luther King, the Brothers and Sisters of the Way, health
insurance and good health care, our partner congregation Temple Bat Yam, my Rotary Club  . . . .

For each of these and so much more, all I can say is thank you.  That and a wish that your list might be a rich and as full as mine.  Happy Thanksgiving!  I am grateful for each of you, my readers!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Challenged in Faith by Richard Rohr

I am a regular subscriber to the daily meditation published by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest working out of New Mexico.  He is well-known in many circles for his deeply insightful commentary on Christianity and modern life.

Recently, in an e-mail sent out to his very large readership on his behalf, he was quoted at length:
"Christianity," he was quoted as saying, "is a lifestyle--a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared and loving.  However, we made it into an established 'religion' (and all that goes with that) and avoided actually changing lives.  One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history and still believe that Jesus is 'personal Lord and Savior."  The world has no time for such silliness anymore.  The suffering on Earth is too great."

Rohr, of course, is a part of one branch of the established religion called Christianity (the Roman Catholic branch) and I am a part of another branch (the Protestant/United Church of Christ branch).  I don't think he is suggesting we abandon institutional religion.  I think he is suggesting we need to re-examine our institutions.  We need to ask our individual churches, and the Church Universal if we are going about the business of transforming lives, or are we simply engaged in institutional maintenance.

I for one, believes the world needs the Church--but only when we are a gathering of those who seek to live the lifestyle Rohr describes.  A lifestyle promoted
by Jesus.  A lifestyle that leads to a better world, where peace and justice, healing and love, are the norm and not the exception.

I am grateful for thinkers/doers like Rohr who challenge me in how I live out my my faith.  I hope you are as well.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Harriet: A Brief Review

"Slavery," Harriet Tubman once said, "is the next thing to hell."  And, clearly, in the recently released film Harriet, that is made perfectly clear, time and time again.

The title role is played by Cynthia Ervio, and it is a powerful performance.  She manages to capture the intensity of Tubman time and time again.

The story of her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad often raises a real measure of tension, and successfully demonstrates the risks taken by Tubman and those she led north.  Tubman necessarily worked in secret, and was named Moses both by detractors and those who relied on her skill to bring them to safety.  And that is far from the only religious or spiritual element in the film.  Indeed, through out there are scenes in church's, scenes involving Quakers, scenes showing the role of prayer and vision in her work.  After all, as Harriet says in one point in the film, "God don't mean people to own people."

One of the most effective aspects of the film is its use of music.  Often that music is presented in mere snatches, but several plot points turn on it.  The use of spirituals is augmented by modern composition as well, including the stirring anthem sung under the closing credits.

This is a film we all need to see.  This is a film that tells a story that we all need to hear.

This is a film that demonstrates why Harriet Tubman belongs on the twenty dollar bill.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pueblo: Why We Went to Israel

This past spring my colleague and friend Steve Fuchs co-led a trip to Israel.  Steve is the rabbi of Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands, the Reform Jewish congregation that shares our building.  Steve and I decided sometime ago to invite our congregants to join us on this intentionally interfaith trip.  And they did.  Forty of them.  Twenty Jews, and twenty Christians.

Naturally we wanted to visit the various holy sites in that part of the world.  And we did.  And we wanted to meet some of the folks who live there--and we did, we met Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Ate with them, worshipped with them, learned from them.  We wanted to share prayers and meals and  meet new friends, and we did.

But more importantly, we wanted to witness to the reality that Christians and Jews can work, live and even travel together!  Because, as we were reminded once again by the arrest last night in Pueblo, Colorado of a white supremacist intent on blowing up a synagogue there, not all people believe that to be true.  Not all people believe God calls us to love one another.   "I hate [Jews] with a passion," the would be bomber told authorities, "They need to die."

We went to Israel together for all sorts of reasons, but one of them was because anti-Semitism is very much a real part of modern life in America.  And we just don't believe in it.  And neither does God.

(Photo:  Rabbi Stephen Fuchs and the Rev. Dr. John H. Danner, near the Mediterranean Sea in Israel.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Wildfires and Worries

Over the summer of 2013 my wife Linda and I took a trip out to the west coast.  While we were there we came close to wildfires burning in northern California and threatening redwoods.  I have thought of that trip more than once over the last few days, and remembered a poem I wrote at the time.  I share it with you this week.



Ancient trees,
Planted before nation
Planted before Calvin and Muslims and Caesar Augustus,
Planted by wind or chance,
Older than dirt
That holds them up.


"They're twenty-five miles away,"
The waitress says
Laying down our burgers and slaw.
"Somedays the smoke here's so thick
You have to put a hankie to your face."

And then she leaves to wait on others
As if burning forests
Were just one more way
To pass time with tourists.

You can tell, though,
She's worried.

--John H. Danner
(This poem originally appeared in the Island Sun)

A poem, and our prayers for the trees, the animals and the people
in the paths of the fires.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Saved on Boston Common

I've been thinking about some of the folks who have served as mentors to me over the years.  And one of them was Dr. Earl Kent Brown.  Kent was my First Reader on my PhD dissertation, and a very wise soul.  

I went to Boston University, and Kent lived just down the street from the main part of that massive urban campus.  He didn't own a car, and did a lot of walking all over that great city.  

In the heart of Boston one finds the Common.  Centuries back it was the grazing ground for cows and sheep owned by Bostonians.  Today, it is the gathering space for all sorts of people.  Clowns and musicians; business folk on lunch break; street people hoping for a scrap of lunch teenagers on skateboards, runners, sunbathers and just plain walkers, like my friend Kent.

One also finds there a wider assortment of religious and political views.  Hare Krishnas will invite you to a vegetarian dinner at a nearby ashram; conservatives will offer you a red hat; some local politician is bout to want to shake your hand and assure your vote; and often a clean-cut Christian young man or woman will approach you with the question, "Have you been saved?"

Now my friend Kent was as liberal as Methodists ever get.  He was also one of gentlest, kindest, most Christ-like folk I have ever known.  He devoted his life to being a teacher of the Church.  He stood about 6'6" and must have weighed close to 300 pounds.  Maybe he didn't look saved--whatever the case, more often than not, when Kent would walk through the Common one of those clean-cut kids would approach him and ask, "Have you been born again? Have you been saved?"

Inevitably the questioner had in mind a very particular understanding of what it means to be born again, to be saved.  No doubt exists in my mind that Kent Brown was a committed follower of Jesus.  But his understanding of what that means would probably be too loosely defined for his questioner.  And so, when asked, "Have you been saved," rather than get involved in a long debate, he would simply respond, "Yes, two thousand years ago."

I miss Kent--and am grateful he was a part of my life!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Thank You, Rex

A friend of mine died in the past few days.  Not a real close friend, but a friend nonetheless.  We would run into each other a couple of times a month, but we didn't socialize together.  I suppose some might even use the word acquaintance to describe our relationship to one another.

Whatever the case, the thing I most valued about my friend was his sense of humor, and his willingness to share that humor with others.  He was a big fan of puns, and on a daily basis he would post a cartoon on Facebook that usually involved some sort of wordplay.  One of his last postings showed two chickens standing in front of a barn.  One of them is wearing a kilt (quite the image!)  "Yes," says the kilt-wearing bird, "I went on to do some research and discovered I'm Scottish.  In fact, my family is part of the McNugget clan."   When I saw that I literally laughed out loud.  And over the course of the next couple of days, shared it with a number of folks.

My friend will be missed by many people for all sorts of reasons.  Things far more important in some ways than cartons and puns.  But even those of us on the fringes of his life will miss the way he was able to bring a bit of light and a touch of humor to each day.  I will do well to not only remember that in the days ahead, but to emulate it as well.

So, did you hear the one about the chicken that crossed the road?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Is There Room for Mercy?

Do you remember the Tree of Life Synagogue shootings last year in Pittsburg?  Eleven Jews were killed by Robert Bowers in an act of pure anti-Semitism.  It was horrific.

The federal government, which is prosecuting the case as a hate crime, has declared that it will be seeking the death penalty for Bowers.  But two of the three congregations have issued statements declaring their opposition to the plan.  The third congregation has taken no stand on the matter.  It is not that any of the congregations feel Bowers should go unpunished, just that the penalty should be life in prison without the possibility of parole as opposed to the death penalty.

I thought of this as I was reflecting on the powerful scene from the closing moments of the Amber Guyger trial, as the brother of Botham Jean, the unarmed man she had murdered offered her very public words of forgiveness and an embrace, even as others outside the courtroom protested the ten-year prison sentence the former police officer was given as being too lenient.

Both stories prompt the same question:  what is the role of mercy in our society?  And how do we balance justice and mercy?  I have always considered justice to be getting what we deserve, and mercy as a granting of undeserved grace.  Bowers, it would seem, deserves to pay the highest price for his crime.  That would be just. Guyger deserves to be severely punished for her crime.  That too would be just.  But what part can, should, mercy play in a court of justice?  

The scriptures--Jewish, Christian and Islamic alike--speak of God as being both just and merciful.  If we are called to be reflect God's will and way, then we too should be both--but how do we do that?    

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Books, Glorious Books!

I got a text today from my daughter Elizabeth which included this picture.  "First day setting up my new digs," it read.  Her new "digs" is a newly constructed library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  It is part of the Cambridge Public Library System.  Three years ago the old building where the new library now stands was torn down in anticipation of the new structure.  So, over the last three years, some of its collection of books ahs been in storage, and Liz has been wandering, working in other branches.  But now, finally, she gets to go home.

Liz is a children's librarian, a graduate of Simmons University, from one of the country's finest library science (or as it is often now called information science) programs.  She is well-trained and well-experienced.  She knows all about the ins and outs of the Dewey decimal system and Google and computers and all that stuff.  But mostly she loves books.  Books and kids.  She loves to help a child discover a new author or dig more deeply into the oeuvre of an old  favorite.  She does story times, and summer reading programs and even slumber parties at the library (what a saint!)

I am so glad the children of Cambridge have Liz in their lives.  Because having Liz means  they will be exposed to the wondrous world of literature, and the joy of reading.

I just got back from vacation myself, and managed to work my way through a ton of reading while I was gone.  A presidential biography, a volume on meditation, a couple of novels, a book about maintaining boundaries, another on twelve-step spirituality and Barbara Brown Taylor's latest volume called Holy Envy.  All were terrific!  I didn't have a Liz when I was a kid, but I did have teachers and parents who encouraged me to read.  And for that I am so very grateful.

Good luck in your new digs, Liz!  And keep those kids reading!

(Photo:  Shelves in the children's section of the Valente Branch Library, Cambridge, MA)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

325 Square Feet: A Word about Immigration

The Tenement Museum in New York's Lower East Side is devoted to telling the story of immigration.  Or maybe I should say stories.  For this tour-based museum purchased a tenement building at 97 Orchard Street in 1988, and has used it to tell the stories of a number of different immigrant families who once lived there.

The apartment we explored on my tour, called "Hard Times," focused on two families, one a German Jewish family who came to the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, and a Italian Roman Catholic family that lived in the same apartment decades later in the early twentieth century.  Both families lived through very trying times financially--the Depression of 1873, and the Great Depression of the Thirties.  Hence, the tour's name:  "Hard Times."

Our tour guide did a fine job bringing their stories to life.  She spoke of a husband who abandoned his family when he couldn't find work, another husband who kept the home fires burning after he lost his job, and two wives who stepped up to the challenge of supporting their families.  She told us about one family playing games on the kitchen table, and both families using outhouses in the tiny backyard.

The apartment they lived in was 325 square feet.  One bedroom, a parlor and the kitchen--shotgun style.  When the German family lived there it housed six.  It struck a real chord because throughout my high school years, my family of six lived in a very similar apartment--both in terms of square footage, and layout.  No outhouse--we did have indoor plumbing.  And electricity.  But still--it was tight.  I can only imagine what it would have been like if it had been as stripped down as the tenement apartment on Orchard Street.

Of course, there are many, many stories of much larger families, extended families, living in such places.  Not just in the past, but today.  Right here in the United States.  It is amazing, isn't it, what difficult conditions people will endure for a chance at freedom, a chance for opportunity.  There can be little question (at least in my mind) that immigrants, then and now, provide real strong threads when they are woven into our national fabric.  Might we never forget that as we debate the future of so many folks looking for what many of our ancestors longed for--and found--in times past.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Thomas Jefferson and Me

Our travels have taken us to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.  It is a gorgeous part of the country.  And today we visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.  Our tour guide was excellent, and offered many insights into the house and the man who built it.  Well, figuratively speaking.  The actual construction, following Jefferson's instructions and architectural plan, was executed by the many hired workers and enslaved people who were owned by the third president.  And therein, of course, lies the rub.

The master of Monticello is best known for penning the stirring words in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident," wrote Jefferson, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . ."  All the while he owned well over six- hundred slaves over the course of his lifetime, emancipating only a few over the years, including the children of his slave mistress Sally Hemings.

That part of the Jefferson story has only been told at Monticello since the nineties.  Indeed the Hemings story, which is now highlighted on the estate, as well as in the narratives of the tour guides, was denied at Monticello until relatively recently.

To this day, of course, there are still those who would have us ignore our own history.  There are those who think we should just set aside any references to slavery (not to mention reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, and so on.)  But the sad truth racism is a very real part of our history.  America's "original sin," as various scholars have noted.  And our past is enormously complicated.  It is a mixture of the very best of human strivings and ideals, and that which is nothing short of abhorrent.  And we often find both in individuals, like Jefferson, as well as in society at large.

Our tour guide suggested that it is important that are honest in our approach to history, acknowledging the good and the bad.  And maybe, just maybe, we can learn something from it so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.  True enough.  And today I am asking myself what can I learn from the story of Thomas Jefferson?  

(Photo:  Statue of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello.  Courtesy Linda Bradbury-Danner)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Georgia--and God--On My Mind

Linda and I are vacationing in the mountains of Georgia--beautiful country!  Somehow it seems appropriate that in my effort to read a biography of every president in chronological order that I am now in the midst of reading Redeemer, by Randall Balmer.  It is a very interesting take on Carter's life story, emphasizing his well-known devotion to his evangelical faith.

I was especially taken by a story referenced by Balmer in the section of the book I read this morning.  It was originally told by Carter himself in his book of meditations called Sources of Strength.

In the late sixties Carter had a renewed sense of dedication to his Christian convictions.  As a result he undertook two missions in 1968, going for a week to Loch Haven, PA and then later to Springfield, MA, to do door-to-door evangelism.

In Springfield he was paired up with Eloy Cruz, a Cuban-American pastor from Brooklyn.  Their assignment was to work with Puerto Ricans who had settled in Springfield.  Carter was very impressed with Cruz and his ability to connect with people.  Carter asked him how he was able to be so effective.  Finally, the somewhat reticent Cruz said, "Senor Jimmy, we only need to have two loves in our lives:  for God and for the person who happens to be in front of us at the time."  (Sources of Strength, xvii)

Now that's something to ponder while I'm here in the mountains of Carter's home state!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Waffles, the Church and Hope

They are ubiquitous in our neck of the woods.  Almost every interstate interchange has one.  The bright yellow sign is unmistakable.  Waffle House.  The food is predictable, if not especially fancy.  The prices are reasonable.  And the servers are like diner waitresses of old--always ready to call you "honey" or "sweetie"!  And, according to an article in our local newspaper this morning, Waffle House restaurants are a reliable sign of how a community has fared in the face of natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes.

It seems local, regional and even federal officials call it the Waffle House Index.  If an area has basically escaped the worst of a storm's impact, Waffle Houses are up and running within hours.  If they are open with a limited menu, it means there has been a certain amount of damage.  And if the local Waffle House is closed, then a community has been devastated.

All this is due to the fact that the folks at Waffle House have a well-thought out and predictable well-executed plan for preparing and responding to the likes of Hurricane Dorian.  Specially trained people, a stock of appropriate equipment, and so on.

One of the people interviewed in the article said that an open Waffle House means "the community has hope . . . It means things might actually be alright.  It's like the sunrise after the storm."  (The News Press, 9-3-19, 9-A)

It is my prayer that the church be thought of in just that way.  It is my prayer that the church be seen as a sign of hope, as a sunrise after the storm.  And in partnership with other public and private institutions, it is my prayer that we will continue to respond to those in need with compassion and assistance.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Now You See It . . .

Now you see it . . .  now you don't!  That's the way it works with Mount Rainier in Washington State.  While it is only eighty miles from  Seattle, and over fourteen-thousand feet in elevation, it is visible from the city a mere 90 days a year.  Pollutants, fog and other atmospheric realities obscure it the rest of the time.  It is very similar with Mount Hood, outside of Portland, Oregon.

Linda and I had the good fortune of viewing both mountains on our trip this week to the Pacific Northwest.  But we just as easily could have missed the sight of either or both and their magnificent, snow-covered peaks!

I got to thinking the simple yet profound theological statement both mountains seem to be making--at least analogically.  For God seems to often work in exactly the same way.  Now you see him (her) . . . now you don't.  Some days the hand of a good and loving God is readily apparent as one makes her or his way through life.  Those times when one sees a beautiful sight like Rainier or Hood is a good example of such days.  Clearly, there is a creative force behind such wonders!

Yet other days, when the human tendency to obscure and abuse the planet is most obvious, one can't help but wonder, where is divinity in all this?

But here's the kicker.  Even if we had not seen either of the mountains, I would have believed they were both there.  And so it is with God.  Even when God is obscured, seemingly absent, not in my line of vision, the mountains remind me that God is present.  And that, in a word, is faith.

I look unto the hills--
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord
who made heaven and earth!
--Psalm 121 

Monday, August 19, 2019

I Was a Teenaged Evangelist

I was a teenaged evangelist.  I know, for some of you that is scarier than if I had said I was a teenaged werewolf.  But it's true.  I was a teenaged evangelist.  A street evangelist, to be more exact.  One summer, back in the late sixties, I was part of a group of high school and college aged kids who went at at nigh to witness to their faith.  We would first gather at the beachside cottage of a youth pastor named Dick and hear a word of encouragement.  Then we would pray that God would lead us to those who needed to hear the good news on that particular night.  After that we fanned out in pairs, walking up and down the boardwalk at Hampton Beach, looking for souls who looked in need of our message of salvation.  And when we had identified such a person, when we felt we were being nudged by the Spirit in a particular direction, we would walk up to them and ask if they knew about Jesus.

Fifty years later, as I look back on that summer, I am both dismayed and impressed.  I am dismayed about the nature of my theological understandings, so simplistic, so naïve, so exclusionary.  So unaware of the broadness of God's love and grace!  I assumed that if someone wasn't able to say Jesus was their personal Lord and Savior, they were doomed, and it was my job to save them from perdition.  But I am also impressed.  Impressed by that pimply faced young man who had the courage of his convictions.

Today, I can't imagine walking up to a complete stranger asking about their spiritual walk!  Even under the protection of my professional role and title I sometimes am hesitant to speak to people about such matters.  Yet I firmly believe one's relationship to the Holy is at the very core of life!

Yes, many of us are often uncomfortable with religious talk.  WE are OK talking about it in an academic way, even discussing the impact of religious diversity on American society.  But when it comes to talking about our personal beliefs and practices, many if not most of us hem and haw and change the subject.

I suspect for those of us that are mainline Protestants, progressive Roman Catholics and Jews, there are many reasons why we do that.  For some of us testifying to our own faith smacks of a fundamentalist approach to religion, and God forbid any one mistake us for one of those type of people!  For others our hesitancy is rooted in a belief that religion is a private matter--it's nobody's business what I believe!  And it's none of mine what convictions they may hold.  Still others don't speak about their faith because they feel inadequate, that they aren't up to the task.  That's they job of ministers and priests and rabbis--not a mere layperson like me, they say.

\But if people make the assumption that anyone who talks about their faith must be a fundamentalist, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If the only people who talk about their faith are those who hold literalist, ultra-orthodox beliefs, then it makes sense that people will make such an assumption!

IT is a personal matter--but that's different from being private!  And, yes, clergy have a special obligation to speak about their religious and spiritual beliefs, but that doesn't mean others can't or shouldn't.

None of that means you have to become a street evangelist--but I think it does mean we all need to rethink the matter of sharing our faith--whatever our faith may be.  Maybe we can all pray for the courage of a teenager on the beach!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Coasting through the School Year--Training Wheels and Trust

Do you remember your first bike?  I do.  It was bright red, with chrome fenders.  It was a gift from my grandmother, the year I turned six.  My folks didn't have very much money back then, and so the really cool gifts often came from Grandma.  In fact, it was the first and last brand-new bike I ever got as a child.  When I outgrew it and passed it down to my younger brother, I graduated to a used Stingray with a banana seat and those really high handlebars.  But that first bike, the brand new red one from Grandma, that was something else!  It even had a horn.

It also came with training wheels, for I had yet to learn how to ride a bike.  I hadn't mastered the art of balancing on two wheels--I didn't trust that when I was in motion the bike would hold me up--and so attached to either side of the rear wheel were those extra little wheels that mark a beginner.

In time, with help from my parents, I was able to remove first one and the other of the training wheels.  But first there were some spills and fall.  A skinned knee or two.  And lots of encouraging words.  "You can do it, John!  Keep going!  Don't be afraid!  That's OK!  Get back up!"  And in time I could do it.  I could keep balance without even thinking about it.  What's the popular expression, "Once you learn to ride a bike you never forget"?

When you are a kid, of course, you can't wait to get rid of the training wheels.  They are a source of embarrassment.  You're eager to go out on your own and tool around the neighborhood.  And once you have shed then, you quickly forget how essential they were to your learning how to balance.  First you trust the training wheels themselves, the person holding the back of the bike while you ride, and finally you learn to trust the bike itself, and your own ability to stay upright.  But while the training wheels' contribution to your bike riding skills may be forgotten, the truth is you probably wouldn't be upright unless they'd been there in the beginning.

Our church's week day preschool opened for the school year today.  And like training wheels, it is designed to help create that ability to trust.  It is firmly rooted in the idea that God loves all children, indeed all people.  It is firmly rooted in the idea that God's love is unfailing, that God can be trusted.  And that love is mediated, made known, through the caring actions and supportive lessons offered up by our staff.
Our preschool is not designed to take the teaching role away from parents.  It is not designed to supplant the church as the only source of spiritual nurture.  Rather it is designed to work alongside parents, the church and many others in the vital task of nurture.  The preschool, if you will, provides the training wheels, but is
parents and others who run alongside offering words of guidance and support.  "You can do!  Keep going!  Don't be afraid!  That's OK.  Get back up!"

I pray that all our students, and students everywhere, are supported in ways that will help them learn to trust enough to be able to ride through the journey of life!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Gun Violence or Trombones?

So now we add three more names to the list of places impacted by mass shootings:  Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton.  A day at the Garlic Festival.  Some school shopping at Wal-Mart.  A night out on the town.  Everyplace, every event, a so-called soft target.  Events and places which are especially vulnerable, especially subject to the possibility of such violence.

According to the experts I spend a lot of my time at a spot deemed a soft target--church that is.  Though we've taken some steps to tighten up our security, things could still go awry here.  I think one of the lessons from this past week (not that it is a new lesson, just that it seems even more obvious at this point) is that such violence could (and does) happen anywhere we gather as a community.

There is little that I can write here that is new.  I have said much of it before, as have so many others.  Things like, we need to tighten up gun control with better, more thorough, more comprehensive background checks.  We need to ban assault weapons of all kinds.  We need to tone down the rhetoric when it comes to talking about people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants and so on.  We need to deal with racism and xenophobia. We need to fund research into gun violence.  We need to address the holes in our mental health systems.  We need to consider the impact of violent video games, movies and television shows.

The problem is this:  we know what to do.  Yet for some reason we just don't do it.  I don't mean to be negative here, but give this all a week or two and we will probably move on to other things, other concerns.  And we will leave this one unresolved. I hope not.  I will still write my legislative representatives and once again encourage them to take action.  But I've done that before.  Many times.  I will consider positions on gun control when I vote in the upcoming elections.  But I've done that, too.  I will send money to support groups working on the issue, groups addressing mental health concerns and so on.  But I've done that, too.  And, of course, I'll keep speaking out.

I really wanted to devote this week's blog to telling you about the fabulous 280 piece band my granddaughter is in, and the great presentation they offered up for families after a two-week intensive time of preparation.  I really did.  They even have nineteen trombone players!  (My band had three!)  But instead, I've felt the need to address, once again, the gun violence in our nation.  My prayer is that one day we will be able to concentrate on kids making music, instead of worrying so much about their safety.    

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

What Do You Call a Grandfather?

My grandchildren have been visiting over the last week or so.  And for me it always gets a bit confusing.  Let me explain.

I'm always interested in what people call their grandparents.  There are so many different names and nicknames.  I guess that interest stems in part by the fact that my six grandchildren call me by two different names.  My oldest grandson, a recent high school graduate, couldn't pronounce Grandpa when he was little, and so he called me Pepa.  It stuck--and now both he and my younger grandson call me by that name.  When my first granddaughter started talking, though, she decided she didn't like calling me Pepa.  She wanted to call me Pop Pop.  And so that stuck as well.  And that's what she and her sister call me.  And while it was confusing at times, it seemed to work.  Grandsons called me Pepa, and granddaughters Pop Pop.

But our youngest child, my daughter Elizabeth, and her partner Erica, decided to move towards adopting two little girls of their own, and so when they came on the scene, I suggested that we stick with the gender-related names.  And it worked.  They call me Pop Pop.  And all was well--that is until one of the granddaughters decided to call me Pepa.  She's heard her boy cousins call me that, and decided it must be, as she put it, "your real name."

And then one day, my wife Linda had two of the grandsons and two of the granddaughters in the car, and she was talking about me--and she got all confused.  "You'll have to talk to Pop Pop about that," when she was asked to grant permission for something.  "Or Pepa--or whatever," she said.  At which point the oldest grandson, who was twelve at the time, the one who had started the whole thing a decade earlier, said, "I think I'll just start calling him Grandpa."

Sigh! Like I said, confusing!  But six years later, the original names seem to have stuck.  And so some of the time I'm Pepa, some of the time Pop Pop, and all of the time a very proud grandfather of six!

(Photo:  Five of the six grandkids at a recent outing theater outing, hamming it up!  The oldest grandson had to work!)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Snoopy and the In-Betweens or, What About Justice?

I clipped out a Peanuts comic strip some time ago that seems to capture some of the current discontent in this country and around the world.  Linus and Snoopy are standing outside and it's raining.  A real downpour.  Linus, ever the philosopher/theologian says, turns to his canine friend and says, "So you're getting a little wet . . . don't look so depressed . . ."  Then as he
walks away he quotes a bit of scripture, "Remember, it rains on the just and the unjust."  In the final frame, Snoopy sits looking rather puzzled as the rain continues.  "But why," he thinks to himself, "Why us in-betweens."

I suspect most of us think of ourselves as "in-betweens"--and not simply about matters of justice.  I can't cite the source, but I remember reading once that most Americans think of themselves as being middle-class, even if they have house worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands, and six figure salaries.  In-betweens.

Perhaps, though, instead of getting hung up on labels, we would be wise, if we truly are in-betweens in terms of justice, to take a look at ourselves and not make excuses for the injustices we ignore or even inflict.  How easy to say, "Well, yes I do this unjust thing sometimes--but most of the time I'm very good, very moral, very just."  Maybe we would all be a bit better if we were more honest, and attempted to make right the things that are wrong.

Not that I am free of such rationalizing.  Sometimes I just sit in the rain and grumble as well.

(Photo:  Charles Schultz, creator of Peanuts)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reinhold Niebuhr and the Serenity Prayer

This past weekend my wife Linda and I traveled to Chicago so that I could officiate at a wedding there.  It was a good weekend--we did some tourist stuff, we had several meals with friends, and finished things up with a visit to Elmhurst following lunch in the city with parishioners who divide there time between Elmhurst and Sanibel.

I had visited Elmhurst College many years ago for a conference.  But it was fun walking around the campus.  It is a very well-regarded United Church of Christ related college.  Two of the most well-respected theologians of the twentieth-century, Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr were alumni of the college, and Richard later became the school's sixth president.

Near the gates into the college there is a statue of Reinhold, and inscribed on its base is the Serenity Prayer.  It is a beautifully, concise summary of a way of life for many as it has become central to those adhere to the 12 Step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous and other such fellowships.

The prayer, originally written in the mid twentieth century by Reinhold for a gathering of the federal Council of Churches, has been shortened to just three lines in most settings.  But the longer version, the original version, is well-worth reading (and praying):

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, 
Courage to change the things which should be changed, 
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking as Jesus did, the sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to your will
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

(Photo:  Statue of Reinhold Niebuhr, Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Dealing with the Past (or What About Betsy Ross, Robert E Lee and All the Rest?)

Most folks are aware of the recent dust up about Betsy Ross--or more specifically, the flag she helped craft during the Revolutionary War period.  In brief, an image of the flag was used by Nike as a bit of ornamentation on a new running shoe.  Objections were raised about it based on its connection to a time when slavery was an accepted part of our national culture and the fact that it has been sometimes used by hate groups.  No doubt part of the controversy was related to the fact that Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL player who took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, was the primary objector.

All this follows on the heels (pardon the pun) of debates about statues of leaders of the Confederacy like Robert E. Lee and the appropriateness of the same for public display, names of streets and counties given in honor of folks who have been discredited in one way or another, and testy confrontations during presidential debates.  

The reality (it seems to me) is that we have yet to find a way to deal with our past.  As a trained historian, I value our national story, with all its many flaws.  Our nation has held out hope and promise for millions over the centuries.  But we have also made grave mistakes as a nation, slavery and its aftermath chief among them.  As a  therapist I know that what happened in the past continues to shape the present.  Sometimes very much for the good, but sometimes, very much to the detriment of many.  

In some ways battles over sneakers and statues are a dodge.  In some ways they are a distraction.  When we argue about such things we are just dealing with the surface, we are not really addressing the underlying issues.  For let's be honest, we have yet to fully deal with our past as a nation.  

Acknowledging our mistakes, acknowledging the ways official and unofficial attitudes and actions have impacted people in years past, and the ways people continue to be impacted by the same, does not make a person unpatriotic.  Saying we must do all that we can to make amends for the past is not unamerican.  Rather it says, "I love this nation enough to take the risk of talking about its flaws honestly, openly.  I love this nation enough to work for a time when its ideals of liberty and justice for all will be fully realized."

It is hard, hard work.  And often times it means making real changes in how we live as a nation and as individuals.   I love America--and I don't want to leave it.  But I would like to see us love it enough to be willing to educate ourselves about the past, and then make the necessary course corrections to ensure a brighter future for all.  Yes, it will be more challenging than changing a pair of sneakers--but isn't America worth it?  

Monday, July 1, 2019

Some Definitional Questions for the Fourth

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  So begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.  Ironically, as most Americans know, the main author of this seminal document, Thomas Jefferson, was a slave-holder.  All men clearly did not include those black men held in chains at Monticello or elsewhere.  Nor, of course, was the word "men" being used in a generic way.  Men meant men, not women and men.  Certainly not children.  Just males.  White males.  And, in fact, in many minds, white male landowners.  So the self-evident truth being spoken of wasn't really about ALL human beings, nor even ALL men.  Just a select few.

Over the ensuing two plus centuries we Americans have wrestled with just what we mean by the words "all" and "men"--and we have also wrestled with the word "rights."  Do we really mean everybody when we say all men?  Do we really mean U.S. Citizens when we say all men?  What exactly do we mean?

And rights?

Life?  If that is an unalienable right does it extend to fetuses?  How about the convict on death row?  What impact does it have on health care?  If life is an unalienable right does that mean we must extend quality health care in the interest of protecting life to all people?  

Liberty?  What does it mean to be free?  Are we to be free from certain things, like fear and poverty?  Or free to do whatever we want?  

And the Pursuit of Happiness?  Lovely words, but about as ambiguous as it gets!  What if it makes me happy to take opioids in excessive amounts?  What if it makes me happy to keep a lot of guns?  What if it makes me happy to make all the money i want without any restrictions?

I am grateful for Jefferson and the other founders.  I am grateful for the vision they set before us.  But I am also convince that how we understand that vison is evolving every day, and that we as responsible members of our society, have a responsibility to participate in that evolutionary process.

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Very Personal Reflection on Rotary

This week I will be conducting my final meeting as President of the Rotary Club of Sanibel-Captiva.  I have been a part of the club since 2011, and have held several offices along the way, including a four-year-stint as Treasurer.  (Those of you who know me well can stop snickering anytime now!  I can do basic math!)

At any rate, it has been a great ride!  I have thoroughly enjoyed having this chance to lead such a great group of men and women who are truly committed to making this world a better place.  One of the slogans of Rotary is "Service Above Self"--and I have seen that enacted many times by my fellow Rotarians.

I joined Rotary--and will continue to be an active member--because as a Pastor it is very easy to be somewhat isolated from "the real world."  Not that a lot of real world issues don't surface in the church--they do.  I had four deaths among my congregants in the space of just ten days over the last week or so.  And we are constantly talking about, and acting on real world issues:  abortion, immigration, addiction, race relations, interfaith relations, and the list goes on.  Still, while we don't all agree about every aspect of theology (we are a United Church of Christ congregation, after all) we do all come from a faith-based starting point.  God is present.  God is love.  We are called to reflect that love.

Such is not the case for much of the world--and in this country, an increasing portion of the world.  But even though the theological basis may be missing, Rotary reminds me again and again, that people can work together despite that reality.

A fellow Rotarian, who served this year as President of her club, wrote me a note today that ended:  "I hope you had a good year as President, I know I'm looking forward to getting my life back."  I understand!  But I also know I will miss ringing the bell that starts our Friday morning meetings.  Like I said, it has been a good ride.  I am grateful to those who entrusted me with the office.  And wish my successor all the best!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Meet Jan and Lee--Domestic Heroes

We have a policy here at the church that says wedding ceremonies will not be conducted for a couple until they have gone through three hours of premarital counseling.  It's a good policy--and on least one occasion prevented train wreck of a marriage!  But the same policy does not hold for folks who want to renew their wedding vows.  Usually it happens after twenty-five or fifty years, but earlier this winter I got a phone call from a woman named Jan who asked if I could officiate at such a ceremony for her sixtieth wedding anniversary.  I quickly agreed.  Sixty years is pretty impressive!  If we'd done any pre-ceremony counseling I suspect she and her husband could teach me a thing or two!

All that said, I never met them until about twenty minutes before the ceremony.  It was to take place in their rented vacation home here on Sanibel, with their children, grandchildren and a few friends in attendance.  I was greeted at the door by Jan's husband Lee.  As well as the family dog, who made his way in and out of the room throughout the ceremony.

Lee had prepared something for me to read at the ceremony, that was a bit of a history of their relationship.  They met in high school in Kansas City, MO.  In their senior year their lockers were just down the hall from each other.  Lee wrote that he "fell in love with Jan the first time he saw her."

They sang together in the school choir--and Lee made sure to sit right behind Jan.  When the class picnic was scheduled, they made a deal--if Lee would drive, Jan would make some lunch for them to share.  It was their first date.

They got married in 1959, and honeymooned in a borrowed cabin in the Ozarks.  They had two children, a boy and a girl--Joe and Lynn.  And they are enormously proud of both of them, as well as their adult grandchildren.

Earlier in the year, Jan told Lee that wedding vows expired after sixty years, and that they would need to re-up.  He happily agreed!

The vows they actually used were written for the occasion.  Lee vowed to "continue to love you, honor you, and care for you forever."  And Jan declared that their years "together have been a blessing to me."

I suppose none of this is especially extraordinary--yet in this day and age in one in two marriages falter, I for one think we should hold such folks in great esteem.  They are, in so many ways, domestic heroes!

I am pleased to have met Lee and Jan--and to have helped them celebrate their many years of marriage.  (The veil, by the way, that Jan is wearing in the photo, came from the original wedding ceremony!)

Blessings on them both!

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Climate Change and Confirmation

This past Sunday my oldest granddaughter was confirmed.  Along with five other young women, all around fourteen or fifteen, she took vows affirming her desire to follow the way of Jesus as an active member of her church.

Each one of the confirmands offered very thoughtful statements of faith.  I was especially impressed by their honesty.  No one seemed to pretend that they had all the answers.  One of the young women even began her statement by saying "Christianity is confusing."  And so at times it is!  Theological explanations are often rather circuitous.  And stated beliefs are not always realized in actual practice.  Confusing indeed!

My granddaughter shared some of her classmates hesitancy.  "I am going to be honest," she said, "at first I wasn't sure if I wanted to be confirmed, I went back and forth on it multiple times.  I didn't really know why, but I figured out it's because I don't necessarily believe all of the religious stuff."

We didn't have  a chance to unpack what she meant by "religious stuff"--I suspect it has to do with Virgin Births and walking on water.  But despite her questions, her doubts, I think she's got what it takes to be part of the church.  "I believe in the human race," she said.  "I believe in what we can do as a whole . . . if we all come together to work."  And that, she says later, in her statement, can happen in and through church.  Working together.  Being community.  "[A] welcoming community," she says, where "everyone takes care of each other."

There's not a lot of God talk in her statement--but from where this proud grandfather/preacher sits, there is all sorts of religious stuff.  And, heavens, this child's statement even includes a word about climate change!  It's a problem, she says, "and [it's] not going away unless we take action fast."

Today I feel better about the possibility of that happening because my granddaughter, and others like her, just got confirmed.