Tuesday, March 26, 2019

On Knowing Your Name

One of the most popular television shows of all time was Cheers.  It was a quirky comedy about a Boston bar tended by a washed out Red Sox player, surrounded by a a group of misfits that included a wise cracking bar maid, a neurotic psychiatrist, a know-it-all postman and a ne'er-do-well accountant named Norm.  Together they formed a substitute family of sorts.  They teased each other, supported each other, and though they rarely said it, they truly loved one another.

The theme song for the show ended with the line "You want to go where everybody knows your name." And both the show and the song tapped into our deep desire to be recognized, to be known by name and truly loved.

Names, you see, do really count.  Mine for instance.  Like many other folks, I have a lat name that was botched up by some clerk when my ancestors entered the country back in the eighteenth century.  Apparently, three brothers, all named Tannen or something like that, emigrated together from Germany, and all three found their names had been changed to Danner on the official paperwork.

That's fine.  It's a simple name.  Rhymes with common words like banner and tanner.  Easy enough, or so you'd think.  But up in New England, where I was born and raised, it seems to be a challenge for a lot of folks.  You see New Englanders are rather fond of dropping their r's.  You knw, "Pahk the Cah in Hahvad Yahd" and all that.  So instead of pronouncing my name Danner, they often pronounce it Dana.  That used to make me furious!

Yes, names really do count.  People you've just met are always impressed when you call them by name.  And one of the great frustrations of growing older for many people is the difficulty they experience remembering names.  Names sum up who we are.  They symbolize our very identity.

As a pastor, I sometimes do forget someone's name.  But the good news is that God does not.  God remembers each and every person, by name.  God knows and loves us for who we are.  And that, at least from where I stand, is good news indeed!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Christ's Church/Christchurch

Sunday morning, March 17, I shared the following statement with my congregation at all three of our worship services.  I share it with you, recognizing that not all of my readers are Christians.  That said, I would suggest the responsibility to speak out that I place on the church is ultimately a human responsibility.

This weekend has seen yet another horrifying attack on innocent men, women and children at prayer.  Not here in the United States, but rather on the other side of the world in new Zealand.  As Islamic worshippers offered up their prayers at two different mosques, they were slaughtered by hate.  The shooter appears to be a man who espoused white supremacy, promulgating the idea that somehow white Christians are better than all other people.

That my friends, is utter nonsense.  In fact, it is blasphemous.  The One who created all people, indeed all of creation, is no respecter of differences.  The loving God who made us cherishes each and every person, each and every creature.  Who are we to suggest that any of us are better, or more entitled, than any one else?  We must stand yp for any of our brothers and sisters who are maligned.  We must denounce white supremacy wherever and whenever we see or hear it.

It is ironic that these murders took place in the city of Christchurch.  It is, perhaps, a tragic reminder that if we are true to being Christ's church, we will live out Christ's command to love our neighbors, regardless of our neighbor's religion, regardless of our neighbor's race, regardless of any of our differences.  We are commanded to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

For those who follow Christ that love, that acceptance, of others is non-negotiable.  It is who we are called to be.  We are called to be Christ's church.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Wheels for Wheels, Redux!

Many readers of this blog may remember how I celebrated my 60th birthday.  If not, a reminder.  I decided to ride from north of Fort Lauderdale to Key West on my bicycle, a trip of about 175 miles.  And I did it in three days.  I invited folks to pledge support for the ride so that through my Rotary Club we could purchase wheelchairs for distribution to those in need.  In the end, I was able to raise $22,000 thanks to the generosity of so many folks!

Well this year I turned 65--and it seemed an appropriate moment to ride again.  This time I encouraged members of my Rotary Club to join in the effort.  And so they have.  Together over twenty of us will be riding on March 23 to once again raise funds for wheelchairs.  We are hoping to top the $22,000 number.  On the 23rd we will each ride varying distances--I am planning on riding 65 miles on that day, one for each year!  Wheels for Wheels!

The first time we undertook this effort we were able to purchase 200 wheelchairs.  100 were distributed in Guatemala, and the other 100 in Trinidad.  I was able to go to Trinidad, and was extremely moved by those who received the chairs.  In some cases it lifted folks off the ground who had literally been crawling around their whole lives!

I undertook the first ride in memory of my Dad, the late Howard Danner, Jr. (pictured above) who spent the last seventeen years of his life in a wheelchair.  It meant the difference between living an isolated life, and still being able to go to church or an occasional special event.  This second ride is also undertaken in his memory.

If you'd like to support the effort, I would welcome your contributions!  $100 buys a wheelchair, but any amount would be most welcome.  Checks made payable to the Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Trust can be sent to my attention at Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club, Box 686, Sanibel, FL 33957.

Monday, March 4, 2019

I am Not a Methodist, But . . . .

When I was in seminary, back in the late seventies, one of my classmates who was a Methodist, was openly gay.  We'll call him Pietro.  Pietro was one of the most loving, caring, pastoral people I have ever met.  He was a decent preacher, and had a real sensitivity to the beautiful.  He would have made an excellent pastor.  But his denomination refused to ordain him, and so eventually, he went into nursing.  A field where I am sure his gifts were appreciated.  Medicine's gain, I suppose--but a real loss to the church.  That was almost forty years ago, and still he would be unordainable in the United Methodist Church.

I am not a Methodist, but still, I am feeling real sorrow this week.  The decision made by the United Methodist Church in St. Louis this past week, has left many folks reeling, unsure where to go, what to do.  I have friends, colleagues in the ministry, who are saddened, angered, frustrated.  For them it is not only a crisis of faith, but also a professional crisis.  How can I lead the people I serve when I am in such major disagreement with this policy, the Traditional Plan, which excludes people loved  by God?  People like Pietro.

My wife's parents, now both deceased. were very active Methodists. Especially my father-in-law, Cyril.  They would bring home the various pages of the church newsletter, and in their living room assemble them and prepare them for mailing.  Cyril represented the church of the board of the Boy Scout Troop sponsored by their congregation.  And he was a loyal usher in a day when even working-class folks like Cyril, who made a living chauffeuring and doing factory work, would dress up in a suit and tie to help folks feel welcome at church services.

When my daughter Elizabeth was in college, she came out.  It didn't really surprise us, and Linda and I were pleased that she had the courage to reveal her orientation to us, and have supported her all along the way.  We weren't sure, though, how her grandparents would respond.  But when we told Hazel and Cyril, they made sure the next time they saw her they made her feel as welcome as always--with hugs, and kisses and "I love yous."  I shouldn't have been surprised by that either. Weren't they just being good Methodists?  After all, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, once asked and answered a question about the faith he and my in-laws shared.  "What religion do I preach?
The religion of love."

I am not a Methodist, but still, I am indeed feeling sorrow this week and pray for all my brothers and sisters in the UMC.

(Image:  John Wesley)