Monday, December 21, 2020

Vaccines and Christmas: A Strange Tale

 I read a story in Sunday's newspaper that seemed to illustrate the true spirit of Christmas.  It was not about a toy drive for indigent kids, as wonderful as such things are.  Nor was it about people cooking special meals for those shut-in over the holidays.  Though those are also good ways to mark the Birth of Christ.  In fact it involved three governmental bodies.  A seemingly unlikely place to find the spirit of giving that marks this season.  

Most folks are aware that there are not nearly enough Covid19 vaccines to go around at this time.  So they are being parceled out.  A need-based system has been set, placing first priority on healthcare workers.  Which is essential.  But in terms of divvying up the precious supply, there are the haves and the not-haves, or at least, those who don't have so much.

Such was and is the case in metropolitan Washington, DC.  A predominantly African-American city, which very much provides the lifes blood for the surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland, with majority white populations, the District often seems to come up short.  The distribution is based on population, so when vaccines were distributed for healthcare workers in that city, only 7,000 does went out in the first round.  Virginia and Maryland each received hundreds of thousands of doses.

The governors of Virginia and Maryland both recognized that many folks who work in the District at hospitals and healthcare facilities there, live in their states.  So both of them determined it only made sense to pass along some of their allocations. As Governor Northam of Virginia said, "It's the thing to do for Virginians and for the region."  (News Press, 12-20-2020, 31A)

For the region.  That is how we all need to begin thinking.  What's best for all of us.  What's equitable for all?  My parents used to say, "Equal doesn't mean the same."  I think they were really speaking about equity.  Where there is the greatest need, there should go the greatest number of resources

A strange tale for Christmas, most assuredly, this tale of metro Washington and the vaccines, but then, this is a strange Christmas in a strange year.  

Might the New Year bring vaccines and blessings to each and everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Christmas and Covid and Singing in the Heart

I imagine Christmas has given birth to more music than any other holiday in history., and one of the real sorrows of this Covid Christmas is the fact that we will be unable to do much group singing.  It is too risky!

There are more well-known Christmas carols and songs than you can list.  There are purely sacred pieces, like “O Holy Night, and purely secular ones like “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas.”  And then there are a few that fall somewhere in-between.  One of those is “Christmas in Killarney.”  Perhaps you know it:

                       The holly green, the ivy green

                        The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen

                        Is Christmas in Killarney

                        With all the folks at home . . . .

 It goes on to talk about mistletoe and Santa Claus, as well as the parish priest coming by to offer a blessing on the household.  I’m not sure if it’s a very accurate picture of Christmas in Killarney, or anywhere else in Ireland!  But it is lots of fun!

 Many years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful concert sung by the Moscow Boys Choir.  Like so many concerts it was a blend of both sacred and secular seasonal selections.  And to my surprise, one of the featured numbers was “Christmas in Killarney.  You couldn’t help but chuckle as boys and men with sturdy Russian accents sang lyrics like, “I’m handing you no blarney.”  It was really a wonder, while at the same time, rather absurd!

 If truth be told, the Christmas story itself, with its baby born in a stable, and heavenly angels singing to sleepy shepherds is much the same.  It is quite wondrous, while at the same time a bit absurd.

 Think about it, for a moment.  The same God who is said to have created the universe, the same God who is said to be all-knowing, all-powerful and ever present, chooses to come to us as a baby—and not even a very special baby.  This is no crown prince born in a royal palace.  No, this is a baby born to a peasant girl in a no-account country.  So unimportant that he and his parents don’t even rate a room at the local inn, and so he’s born in a barn.  And his first visitors?  The local dignitaries?  The mayor of the town?  No, the lowliest of men in the neighborhood—shepherds claiming to have seen angels. 

 
But despite all the seeming absurdity, it is the wonder that we have hung on to for centuries.  It is a story that has been told, and retold, and retold again.  In simple words, and wondrous songs.  And even if we can’t sing them aloud in groups, we can now, and always, sing them in our hearts!

 

 

 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Bright Light of Freedom

I am blessed to have many Jewish friends, including a number of rabbis.  To a person the rabbis in particular all say that Chanukah is (relatively speaking) a minor holiday on the Jewish liturgical calendar.  Not that it is unimportant, but rather that it is rather outsized in America due to its proximity to Christmas.  It is not one of the three major festivals (Shavuot, Sukkot
and Passover)--nor is it one of the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).  But more than likely it is the best known of the Jewish holidays among those of us who are not Jews.

And who can resist it?  Candles, latkes (sour cream with mine, please), a miraculous story, gelt (or at least chocolate coins covered in gold foil), dreidels . . . not to mention gifts.  Still, the importance of the holiday is so often lost.  Because in the end, it is really about religious freedom.

There are those who would disagree, I am sure.  But I think religious diversity such as found in our nation, is one of the things that gives us real strength.  And protecting the rights of others to believe and worship as they see fit, is a foundational responsibility for all Americans.  Not so much standing up for my right to worship as I please (or to not worship at all), though that is important as well, but rather standing up for the other guy, the other gal.

Chanukah calls us all, whether we are Jewish or not, to protect the rights of all to observe or not as they feel led to do.  In his famous letter promising freedom of religion to the people of the Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island George Washington wrote of his vision for the new nation as a haven for all people.  "Everyone" he wrote, "shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."  Might it be so!

As each candle is lit on the Chanukah menorah, might it remind us of the bright light of freedom--for all!


 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Work of Advent

Advent has always been one of my favorite seasons of the church year.  I love Christmas with all its fanfare and beauty--angel choirs and glittering trees and a bright star in the night--but Advent reaches deep into my soul.  This time of waiting and preparation suits my introverted nature.  

Yet how often I let it slip by without really taking the time to settle down and move into silent spaces.  In this year of lockdowns and isolation, one would think that might be easier, but the truth of the matter is it is not.  Simple things, like Christmas Eve services, are made all the more complex with the various restrictions.  Even the ceremony surrounding the lighting of candles on the Advent Wreath each Sunday, have required a different set of preparations.  We are worshipping in two different spaces, so we needed to procure a second Advent Wreath, arrange for it to be set up . . . and on and on.  I'm not complaining, just noting how easily I can be distracted from the real point of Advent.

One of my favorite Christmas poems is Howard Thurman's exquisite "The Work of Christmas":

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among others,

To make music in the heart.

And so it is.  But first, before Christmas, I must do the work of Advent.  I must take the time to focus my heart on the love of God made known at Bethlehem.  I must pause and be still.  I must be ready to be filled with the joy, the courage, the grace and strength of Christ. I must do the real work of Advent, for only then will I be able to do the work of Christmas.


Monday, November 23, 2020

A Pandemic Thanksgiving: Smiles, Handshakes and Other Small Things


I recently came across a quote attributed to noted theologian and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. 
“I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”  I couldn't help but think, "How ironic!"  In this time of masking, seeing a smile is a rare treat!  In fact, to the contrary, I experience a bit of gratitude whenever I can't see a smile because someone is wearing a mask.

A smile is a little thing, isn't it?  Not being able to see one is a small price to pay for a measure of interpersonal safety.  But still, I miss smiles.  And I miss handshakes.  I really like a good, solid handshake.  My father taught all of us, my sister included, that a person is immediately judged by their willingness to offer a firm handshake.  Such a wonderful way to say, I see you, I respect you, I'm glad you are here.  But handshakes too, are not just rare these days, they are almost non-existent, at least in the circles I travel.  Yet they too are a small matter in the greater scheme of things.  Even in flu seasons past I have often found myself forgoing handshaking.

Maybe the pandemic has forced us to realize how important these little things can be.  Smiles, and handshakes, and hugs; how they convey so much.  But though they are often missing as we relate to each other, I am discovering there are other little ways of communicating that say I see you, I care.  The eyes, for instance, peeking above a mask.  They can smile too.  And a wave of the hand to a neighbor passing on the other side of the street.  That can show a measure of caring.  Hey there, neighbor, hope you are well.  Glad to see you, if only in passing.  Stay well!

As we approach Thanksgiving some of things we have always taken for granted will be missing.  But that does not mean there will be nothing for which we can offer up words of gratitude.  Indeed, maybe we will be able to spot some of the things we've missed in the past. 

So in recognition of our national holiday devoted to gratitude, let me say thank you for reading this blog--and for turning to it whenever you do.  After all, what's the written word without readers? 


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Miracle: A Review


I do not serve a megachurch--we are fairly well-sized, for a mainline Protestant congregation, but we are far from being the kind of church that serves as the focal point for Nathan Monk's novel, The Miracle. Neither am I an evangelical, much less a charismatic Christian.  So the world drawn by Monk (there is a certain irony in his name) is one that is rather foreign to me.

I am, however, like the protagonist, Patrick Thackery, a preacher's kid.  And while I never felt any pressure to become a pastor myself, I do understand the inevitable internal comparisons.  And certainly some of the emotions experienced by Thackery ring very true.

That said, one of the chief difficulties with the book was the fact that much of it did not ring true.  Again, that may be due to my contextual naiveté.  But I suspect that is only part of it.  The book often feels in need of a bit of subtlety.  There are, for instance, points in the story where Thackery is reflecting on his evolving spirituality that are rather flat-footed.  

I did read the whole book, and didn't have to force myself to finish it.  But it seemed like a first draft, in need of shaping, pruning . . . serious editing. 

I wish I could be more positive.  Monk deals with an important set of issues.  But the story itself doesn't carry the weight of them.   

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, November 9, 2020

A Tribute to Citizen Mom


My mother turns eighty-eight next month.  She's lived a lot of years, and seen a lot of elections.  She was born just after the election that first put FDR in office and knew no other president until she was a teenager!  She witnessed the surprise Truman victory in 1948. She cast her first vote for President in 1956. She watched the Nixon-Kennedy debates. She lived through Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and the election of our nation's first African-American President.  She has always been aware of current events and politics, always has had opinions about them, but most of her time over the years ahs been devoted to studying things like Latin classics and medieval literature!

But this year it has been different.  There has been a certain urgency to it all, and a real fascination with the unfolding drama of this election season.  She has said any number of times, "This will probably be the last election I vote in."  Obviously, we hope she is wrong, but if it is, she certainly has given it her all, being an extremely well-informed voter.

Like all of us, she was on tenterhooks all last week, waiting for results.  She doesn't watch much television, but more than once we caught her tuning into her favorite cable news network for the latest update as ballots were being tabulated.  Mom is a very early rise, and usually heads to bed around nine.  But last Saturday, when the race was finally called, she took her Saturday night shower early so that she could watch Joe Biden and Kamala Harris address the nation.  I am sure, had it been Donald Trump and Michael Pence doing the same, she would have wanted to watch that as well.  That's her in the picture above, ready for bed, watching the speeches!

Like everyone I am disturbed by the divisions, the rancor, and the deep divide that we must address as a nation.  But seeing young folks excited and involved, seeing my elderly mother so engaged, knowing that a record number of ballots were cast this year, all that, for me, is a sign of real hope.  For when we participate, when we are engaged, our nation is the better for it!

I really hope this isn't her last election, but if it is, I am so grateful for the way she once again has shown us what it means to be an involved citizen!

((PHOTO CREDIT:  Sue Danner)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Making Democracy Work--Really Work


Gun sales are up in 2020.  Significantly.  In fact as of the end of October a new record has been set in the United States.  Over 17 million guns have been sold this year.  And they are not just being bought by the usual gun buyers.  Many are first time gun buyers.  And they come in all shades of red, blue and purple.  People are anxious, frightened, angry.  They feel a need to protect themselves from those with whom they disagree.

I don't know about you, but I find this rather unsettling.  Not because I am unduly afraid of being shot by some outraged citizen who doesn't like how I vote or what I believe.  But rather, because it seems to point to a real decline in societal trust.  Our ability to trust one another enough to openly disagree with one another is a cornerstone of democracy.  It is what makes it work. Because let's face it, we are never going to all agree on everything.  We're probably not even going to come close!  But that should be OK.  That should be part and parcel of what it means to be an American.  You and I both have a right to believe what we want.  We both have a right to advocate for our own position. And we should be able to do so without resorting to violence.

There was a time in this nation's history when even the slightest insult could result in a duel to the death--just ask Alexander Hamilton or Aaron Burr.  But in time we came tor realize (at least legally) that wasn't a very good way to settle differences.  And so, for the most part, the guns were put away.  But which comes first, learning to trust one another, or putting away the guns?  Clearly, that's one of those dividing issues in our society, but really . . . do we need to return to the days of the Wild West?

Call me naïve, call me idealistic, but I've not given up hope.  I still believe we can make this democracy thing work, really work, for the good of all.  But only if we set aside our weapons, not just the guns, but the verbal weapons as well, and really listen to one another.  Really listen.  Maybe if we did that we wouldn't need to stock up on so, so many firearms.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

And I Mean To Be One Too!

My PhD studies focused on Church History, especially American Church History.  No wonder, then, that one of my favorite holy days is All Saints Day.  This coming Sunday, November 1, we will celebrate that auspicious day here on Sanibel.

In many Christian traditions All Saints Day, November 1, is designed to honor all officially canonized saints, folks like St. Peter, St. Francis, St. Mary and so on.  The following day, November 2 is called All Souls Day in such traditions.  It is a day when prayers are offered for all those who have died.  In our tradition the two days are conflated, and we honor all those who have died, recognizing that all who are followers of Jesus are considered saints.

I see it as a time to remember our history, a time to remember that we as individuals, and as a church, didn't just spring out of nowhere, but rather we stand on the shoulders of those who've gone before us.  It is a time to remember that we are part of a long line of men, women and children who have claimed the Way of Jesus as their own way.  As my mother would say, we are all connected.

One of may favorite hymns, one of the ones sung at my Service of ordination, is called "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God."  It has a lively tune, and it concludes with a challenge:  

                                        They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still,

                                        For the world is bright with joyous saints, who love to do Jesus will.

           You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea

In church or in trains, or in shops or at tea;

For the saints of God are just folk like me

And I mean to be one too.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Oh, How I Miss Singing!


Late in September the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade published the results of a survey conducted in cooperation with the Cleveland Clinic.  The survey, taken in June, asked people about different ways the pandemic has changed their lives in terms of  a health and wellness.  While the pandemic is once again surging, there certainly are some interim lessons to be learned, and they are reflected in that survey.  For instance, 62% of those surveyed indicated that had adopted at least one healthy change in their lives.  Changes focused on diet, exercise, stress management and so on.  25% indicated that they are more likely to get a flu shot this year than in the past.  And so on.

The statistic that most intrigued me indicated that 65% of those questioned said they had gained a new perspective on what really matters in life. I know that's true for me.  For instance, while I have always valued music, and really enjoy singing, I now understand more fully just how important congregational or group singing is my life.  I so miss being able to sing hymns with my congregation, or the club song with my fellow Rotarians.  Such singing creates a sense of unity, a feeling of togetherness, and a bit of harmony midst a world filled with dissonance.

Unfortunately singing in group settings is a potential super-spreader, and highly discouraged by medical experts.  Sure we can hum together, we can listen as a soloist sings (so long as we are at a distance)--but it's just not the same.  When the day finally comes when such singing is deemed safe by medical experts I for one will sing out, "Hallelujah!"--and not necessarily Handel!

There are more significant things that I've learned to treasure anew because of the pandemic--the ability to spend time with distant family members, the importance of faith and in particular its communal expressions, the value of community.  All of those in many ways are more important than singing.  But still, I can't wait (well, actually I will wait) for the day when I can stand up with others and belt out a good tune.

(Note:  The full results of the survey were reported in "America's New Normal," Parade, September 27, 2020)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Computers, Serenity and Relationship Issues



This Saturday I spent almost two hours on the phone with Tech Support for our desktop computer.  It was a rather frustrating two hours.  I couldn't fully explain the problem but once the nature of the issue got figured out by the technician and he "took over" my computer remotely he still was unable to fix the problem.  As of this writing it remains unresolved.

Life works that way sometimes, doesn't it?  Sometimes you have a problem and you can't even put a finger on it.  You know something's not working the way it should--a friendship, a marriage, a relationship with one of our kids--and but can't really pinpoint why.  And even if you get professional help, and give them the authority to help you deal with it, it still doesn't get "fixed".

In terms of my computer, I am, for the moment, just ignoring the problem.  It still "works"--I can still do most things I want and need to do on it.  But that doesn't work in relationships.  At least not for long.  We can ignore an issue when it seems unresolvable.  Or we can acknowledge it is beyond our capability to fix.  At that point we have a choice.  We can be nurse a resentment--or we can turn it over to God.

I always find it helpful to use the Serenity Prayer in such situations, maybe it will help you as well:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It may not work when it comes to computer problems--but I find it very helpful when it comes to challenging relationship issues.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

No Respecter of Persons

The announcement that President Trump and his wife, First Lady Melania Trump, have contracted Covid19 demonstrates rather clearly that the corona virus is no respecter of persons.  Anyone can contract it.  Anyone can be impacted by its potentially devastating impact, even the man often referred to as the most powerful man on the planet.

As people of faith and goodwill, I would suggest that we do well to remember the President, along with all others who have fallen sick, in our prayers.  We do well to hope for a full recovery for Mr. Trump, Mrs. Trump and anyone else who is suffering from the disease.

I also trust we will remember that while anyone can be struck down by this disease certain persons suffer a much greater cost:  those without proper medical coverage, minimum wage workers who live paycheck to paycheck, single parents who have no childcare, homeless persons, and the list goes on. The President is receiving first rate care, as he should.  But so should all Americans.

I have held up all those who are sick in my prayers every day over the past six plus months.  I have literally added the President and Mrs. Trump to my written prayer list as well.  But I also pray daily that we will, as a nation, come to realize the need for a more just and equitable approach to providing quality healthcare for every citizen in this great land of ours.

Meanwhile, wear a mask dear reader.  Wash your hands frequently.  And practice good social distancing.  It is the compassionate and patriotic thing to do.  Because Covid19 is no respecter of persons--it doesn't care who you are.  But it does respond to taking steps to protect yourself and those around you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Ode to Autumn (Or Why I Quit Grumbling)

Autumn.  My favorite season of the year.  I love the crisp air, not to mention the crisp apples!  I am awed by the beauty of the changing leaves, the various shades and colors that appear on the hillsides.  I am relieved by having a bit of cool weather . . .

But wait.  I live in Florida, year round!  And while I might normally find my way to New England for a visit in September, this year Covid19 is keeping us home.  So no crisp air, no local McIntosh apples, no leaves turning color in any dramatic fashion on the hillsides (no hillsides for that matter!) and as for cool weather?  Give me a break!

Now I have a choice here.  I can grumble and complain.  I can invoke pity.  Or I can remember I made the choice to move to Florida.  I knew what I would be giving up to live here.  I also knew what I would be gaining--like weather that allows me to ride my bike year round.  Like beautiful scenes of palm tree lined roadways and beaches at sunset. 

And more importantly, I can remember why we moved here in the first place.  To serve a really fine congregation.  And to be closer to some of our family (all our grandkids were here at the time we moved--now we have two more who are in New England, and we miss seeing them more than I miss seeing the fall leaves, but that's another essay.)  The main thing is this.  We always have choices, maybe not in the external details of our lives, but in how we view them.  It's as common a bit of wisdom as the old cliché about glasses being half empty or half full.  But it is still valid wisdom.  One we do well to adopt for ourselves.

Autumn?  It can still be my favorite season of the year.  Just for different reasons!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

I Am Not a Rabbi, But . . .


I am not a rabbi.  I have not devoted years of my life to the study of the Torah, like my friends Bob and Jim and Myra and Steve.  I am not even a Jew, though the one I follow was a Jew.  I celebrate Christmas and Easter and All Saints Day.  Not Passover and Hanukkah.  So maybe it is rather presumptuous of me to comment on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, arguably, so I understand, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.  But allow me to indulge in some cross-faith observations.

It seems to me that we as Americans--Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, atheists, pagans, the whole lot of us--would do well to mark Yom Kippur this year.  The practices surrounding the day include fasting.  There are a number of ways to understand this practice, and certainly other faith traditions engage in periodic fasting, including my own.  But one way of understanding this ancient spiritual practice is to see it as a symbolic cleansing.  

Over time many toxic elements find their way into our bodies, and fasting is a way to flush them out.  So too many toxic elements find their way into our hearts and minds, our very souls.  As Americans we have been exposed to an enormous amount of toxins this past year.  Hatred has rarely had such free reign.  All too often, regardless of our political or social views, we have labeled those with whom we disagree as something less than human, and in doing so we diminish our own humanity as well.  We would do well to be cleansed of such,

To atone for our own participation in such thinking, such speaking, such acting, might not be such a bad idea for all of us.  Owning up to our--here's an old-fashioned, out of favor word--sins, and then vowing to move in a new direction, seems to me to be an exercise from which would benefit most of us. And it would benefit the nation as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

My New Hero

Hugh Starnes is my new hero.  Unless you live in Southwest Florida you've probably never heard of him.  Even if you do live here, you may not recognize the name.  Don't feel bad, I'd never heard of him either, at least not until this past Sunday, when he made the front page of the local daily paper, The News-Press.

Starnes is, or was, a judge, a Senior Judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit.  A well respected judge, by all accounts.  One who served for forty-two years.  But on September 1 he officially stepped down.  Not for health reasons.  Nor to spend more time with his family, though that may happen as well.  No he stepped down so that he could speak up.  Judicial ethics require impartiality.  A sitting judge is not allowed to speak out about partisan matters.  Nor can he or she speak out about social justice issues.  (Yes, there is a certain irony in that.)  So Judge Starnes decided to take off his robes and put on colors.  


In his letter of resignation, Starnes wrote, "My value system will not allow me to sit silently by while our society struggles to deal with . . . flaws that tear at the very fabric of our society . . . . This presents an irreconcilable conflict with my position as a judge, bound by judicial ethics that require me to say nothing."  (The News-Press, 9-13-20, 9A)

Whether or not you agree with the views Starnes is now able to articulate, you have to admire the fact that he so respects the position he held for so many years that he was willing to give it up rather than demean it by violating the code of ethics which govern it.  That's why he is my new hero.

And there is more.  I can relate.  I understand the struggle, for I am also bound ethically (and legally for that matter) to not use my position to advance a partisan cause.  Unlike a judge, however, I can speak out on issues.  And that, I would suggest, I am called to do by the gospel.  So in the weeks ahead you won't find me endorsing any candidates, nor will you find me publicly standing with any party.  But you will find me speaking up for justice, for equity, for peace.  Not just in the weeks ahead, but in whatever time I have.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Presidential Project


After several years I have finally finished what I've come to call the Presidential Project.  Five years ago, give or take, I set out to read a biography of every single former president.  This past Sunday I finally read the last sentence of Peter Baker's Obama: The Call of History.  "For Obama," he concludes, "history is still calling." started the effort reading Ron Chernow's monumental, Pulitzer Prize winning Washington: A Life.  The book itself proved, far, far more inspired than the rather bare title!  Indeed, good enough that I was more than happy to continue along the path I had laid out for myself.  It was a good thing that the six-hundred page tome on Chester A Arthur was not the first one.  I might have hung it up right there and then!

Finding biographies of some of the presidents, including Franklin Pierce and both Harrisons, proved to be a real challenge.  Others, like Jefferson and Lincoln, provided an abundance of choices.  Several authors guided me through more than one life.  David McCullough and Jon Meacham come to mind as real standouts.

I am often asked if I now have a favorite.  And I do.  A surprise choice for most who ask:  John Quincy Adams.  He was such an intriguing figure.  True, his presidency was basically a bust, but his post-presidential life, and the tenacious way he fought for abolition--collapsing in the end at his desk in the capitol, was and is a real inspiration!

Each of presidents promised to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," most taking the oath in Washington, though others in places like New York City, rural Vermont and even on an jetliner.  Some interpreted that task in such a way as to shape how the Constitution would be understood for years to follow, others in ways that proved detrimental to the cause of freedom. But each of them had what proves to be a more and more complex and difficult job as the years go on.

In this presidential election year, though, we are reminded that ultimately we get the presidents we elect and, many would say, the ones we deserve.  They won't all be Washingtons, Lincolns or Roosevelts. Not even Jeffersons or Trumans.  But whoever we elect will reflect who we are.  And that, I have been reminded by this Presidential Project, is  ever changing.  Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the ill.  But always it is in flux.  History is still calling, not just for Obama, but for all of us.
   

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Staycation Blues


 

My wife Linda and I are taking a staycation this year.  I've been grumbling about it quite a bit lately.  We had some pretty grand plans for travel this year.  We were going to Santa Fe for a conference and Honolulu for a convention and New England for our late summer-early fall respite.  And none of that happened.  No desert sunsets and Native American art.  No surf and volcanoes.  No lobsters and visits with family and friends. So we're staying put.  Oh we'll probably manage a few day trips.  And I'll work through a large stack of books.  And I'll put in many extra miles on my bike.  But all of that right here in Southwest Florida.  All because of the virus.  So I've been grumbling.

But, and this is a big but, I need to lay off the grumbling.  Otherwise my time off will be filled with resentment and regret!  And really, the books really look look fascinating.   I've got the latest Carl Hiaasen novel--always worth a read.  And the first of the biographies in my new project, the Chief Justice Project.  (I'm reading the last of the presidential biographies I set out to read some four or five years ago, Washington to Obama.  All the former presidents.  Now I'm starting on the Chief Justices.  John Jay is first up.)  I've got a book on retirement that I want to work through, and a biography of Mr. Rogers, and I'll be adding James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

And the biking.  I'll have some time in the cooler parts of the day to put on some serious miles.  That will be good.  Good for the body and the soul.

And of course, more time with Linda.  That's always a plus.  We've talked about going to Tampa to the Dali Museum, which we are always meaning to do.  And maybe even a trek over to the East Coast.

Come to think of it, this could be, should be, a pretty good time!  And after all, I have a job that I love that offers me some serious time off, not to mention a pay check.  And there are a lot of folks out there without jobs, and others with jobs that offer no sense of purpose.  And we've stayed healthy through all of this.  And while there are real problems to address in the world, most of them haven't impacted me in such a way as to leave me unable to take a vacation--one at home or on the road.  So I'll stop grumbling, and start saying thank you.  Thank you for all the wondrous parts of my life--including this year's version of a vacation. A staycation.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Where the Heck Are We Going?

I am currently taking an online course titled "How to Lead When You Don't Know Where You Are Going."  The instructor is a well-respected church consultant, Susan Beaumont, who I have actually taken an in-person course with a number of years ago.

I think part of what attracted me to the course was the good experience I had in her classroom those many years back, but even more it was the course title.  Because, really, who among us knows where the combination of issues we are currently facing will take us?  And if you don't know where you are headed, it is far more challenging to lead!  This, she argues, is a liminal season.  We are neither here nor there, but rather, somewhere in-between  It is a time of uncertainty.  And part of the task of a leader, she suggests, is to embrace that reality.

Beaumont has built her course (and her book by the same name) around the basic notion that a traditional leadership style just plain won't work. "Instead," she writes, "we can approach this era with a different leadership stance . . . . We can let go of our egoic need to look successful and lead instead from a place of open wonder and curiosity."  (21)

I don't know about you, but letting go of that egoic need to be successful is a real challenge for me!  But I realize she is right.  I need to make room in my soul for whatever lies ahead. I need to be willing to think and act and lead in new ways, different ways.  I'm not going to get all the answers in her course, but at least it will help me think in a new way.  Because they never taught us this stuff in seminary!  Come to think of it, though, they did remind us from time to time that God is with us in all things.  I guess that's a pretty good place to start!  


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

It's August--There Must be a Political Convention Somewhere!

 

Do you watch political conventions?  I do.  Not gavel to gavel.  But keynote speeches, the roll call of states, and so on.  I watch parts of every convention--that held by my party, and that held by the other guys.  I find them fascinating.  They are a snapshot of what's to come in the fall as we move towards Election Day.  OK, maybe not a snapshot.  Maybe it's a picture more like the ones where your mother made you brush your hair, and put on decent clothes, and smile for the camera.  Conventions (today) are cleaned up versions of candidates and platforms.  Even more so in this time of virtual conventions.

It wasn't always that way, of course.  There was a time where conventions were rough and tumble affairs.  Where different factions of the party fought it out (sometimes literally) for the right to carry the party banner in the election.  Read through history if you don't believe me!  And if you are of my generation, you can remember such affairs, especially 1968, when Chicago erupted.

I'm not sure what's best for the nation in terms of conventions.  The rough and tumble ones gave parties a chance to sort out their differences, maybe not come to agreement, but to honestly say these are the ways we don't agree.  That, it seems to me, may be better than the modern approach, where differences often seem to get papered over.  Yet there is a sense, if only for a few days, of a willingness to work together for a common cause.

Some folks have given up on politics altogether.  Wouldn't watch a convention speech if you paid them to do so.  Even a summer rerun is better, they'll tell you.  But it seems to me as citizens we have some responsibility to really participate in the process.  That means to vote, of course, but it also means to be informed.  So I'll keep watching the conventions.  And I'll take them with a grain of salt.

Monday, August 10, 2020

What Can We Do?

Two of my granddaughters resumed school today.  Online.  At home.  They had a choice--in person or online, and their Mom chose to keep them home for the moment.  She is fortunate to be able to work from home, and so it is a viable choice for her.  But of course, there are those for whom it is not a real choice.  They must opt for their kids to return to the classroom.  Because you can't wash dishes or mow lawns or any number of other jobs from home, and leaving kids of a certain age unsupervised is illegal, and of another age unwise.

There are, of course, many very public debates about the advisability of kids staying home and learning on line or returning to classroom settings.  There are many risks involved, so it seems, with either choice.  Some schools are not offering any choice, but requiring one approach or the other, leaving some parents (not to mention teachers and staff) very disgruntled.  I heard today of one teacher so distraught over having to take the risk of being in school with the threat of Covid that she posted her own mock obituary online.

I can't imagine being the parent of school age children today.  It's tough enough being the grandfather who can only stand by as choices are made, and hope for the best.  And I do know our governmental leaders have not done their part in making such choices viable for all parents.  So here's my point:  let's knock off the second-guessing of parents.  Let's knock off the name calling and blaming.  Let's find ways to support them in their efforts to do the right thing by their kids.  And as for teachers and staff members who must either new a new way of doing things--whether online or in the classroom--let's take a moment to acknowledge that they are sacrificing much for ofttimes very little pay, to educate the next generation.

Thank you, parents and teachers, what can we do to help?

Monday, August 3, 2020

Cancel Culture? What's That All About?

I'd heard the term "cancel culture" many times, but was unsure exactly what it meant.  So I looked it up.  "Cancel culture," read the dictionary, "refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive."  (dictionary.com)

OK, I thought to myself, now I understand.  That sounds rather benign on the surface.  If a certain company funds anti-LGBTQ organizations and I hear about their taking such a stance, I will no longer buy their products.  If a celebrity is blatantly racist or anti-Semitic, and that comes to my attention, I will no longer go to their films, listen to their music or watch their television programs.  Does that mean I am engaging in cancel culture?  I guess, by the dictionary definition it does.  

In some ways it is an aesthetic issue.  I have never been a fan of the art for art's sake movement, that you can separate art from it's maker or from its context. The idea that art should simply be appreciated on its own merits.  Context does matter.  Intent does matter.  And the views of the creator, the maker, of a product, whether it be artistic or not, is worth taking into consideration.

But I do see a significant difference between publicly shaming such companies or individuals and withdrawing my financial support.  Maybe the real issue is how we go about showing our displeasure or disapproval.  Yes, it is easy to create a meme and splash it all over the internet, but wouldn't it be even more effective to write a letter to the individual or company in question? A thoughtful, expletive-free letter?  A letter explaining why you will no longer consume their product?  Maybe not.  Maybe I'm just being naïve.  But whatever, in the end I am still convinced the most productive approach is to attempt to enter into a dialogue.



 



Monday, July 27, 2020

Wit and Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic


This past Christmas one of our church staff members gave me a clever desk calendar with a tear-off page for every day of the year.  (OK--full disclosure, Saturday and Sunday are combined into one page.  Somehow calendars, even those designed with clergy in mind, seem to forget that for some of us Saturday and/or Sunday is a workday!)

At any rate, this one does not feature Far Side cartoons or pictures of National Parks or recipes.  Rather, it has church signs.  You know, those signs out in front of church buildings that feature worship times, and sermon titles, and sometimes pithy sayings.  Some of them are extremely clever.  Things like, "God might call you, but probably not on your cell phone.  Turn it off during church."  Or, "Tweet others as you want to be tweeted."

In the last couple of weeks, though, there were two that I thought were extremely pertinent in this time of pandemic.  For those who think you shouldn't need to wear a mask in church because God will protect you from the virus, there was this gem:  "Trust in God, but lock your car."  And for those who are feeling the strains of physical distancing, there was this sweet thought:  "If your arms can't reach someone, hug them with your prayers."

This pandemic is hard on everyone--for a wide array of reasons.  And the church is not exempt (despite Florida's governor's exemption of house of worship from regulations governing the maximum  number of persons gathering on one place at a time.)  But humor--and a bit of homegrown wisdom--can help.  We must listen to what science has to tell us, but that doesn't mean we can't have a chuckle or two as well!


 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Time to Grow Up!




Cartoonist Bill Keane, the creator of Family Circus, had a long running gag about how children often try to escape blame with the words, "Not me!"  Who made this mess?  Not me!  Who ate the last cookie?  Not me!  Who broke this vase?  Not me!  Keane even drew a little ghost figure that would appear in the comic with the words "Not me!" inscribed on its chest.  Sort of a Caspar the Blameless Ghost.

The one panel comic found its humor in the everyday issues of family life, and as a result often brought a smile to the face of readers.  And almost every parent can identify with the truth of the "Not Me" ghost.  Children will do most anything, it seems, to either escape blame or pass it along to someone else.  I know as a kid, more than once I said, "I didn't do it--Bob did it!"  Or, "it's not my fault, Mark made me do it!"  But I was a child--just like Billy and Jeffy and PJ and Dolly in Bill Keane's cartoon.  And so such behavior can be understood, and sometimes

even excused.  But a time does come when such behavior is no longer acceptable.  A time does come when you need to grow up and take responsibility for your actions--good, bad or otherwise.

I must admit, I don't always fess up when I've made a mistake.  Sometimes, in much subtler ways, I still conjure up the "Not me" ghost.  But for the most part, I have tried to be honest and have taken responsibility for my decisions, or lack of decisions, for my actions or lack of action.  I'm not perfect, but I am constantly working on it, and trying to own up to who I am and what I have done.

That said, I wish I saw more of that in our governmental leaders.  Some are indeed handling things well.  But not all.  I wish I saw more willingness to own up to the mistakes that have been made in handling the pandemic. I'm not going to point fingers.  I am just saying, it's time to grow-up.  It's time to live by what St. Paul models in his famous chapter about love in First Corinthians.  "When  I was a child," writes the apostle, "I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." (13:11)       

Monday, July 13, 2020

Guilt By Association


Guilt by association.  It's an intriguing concept. 

This past weekend I was coming out of the local supermarket when I crossed paths with a man wearing a t-shirt that said, "If you don't like Trump you probably won't like me."  

I wonder how much we all do just that?  I'm not speaking specifically about the president and his admirers, I mean how often do we assume things about somebody just because of their political party or their religion or their profession?  I suspect we do it fairly often, and thereby miss out on two things.

1)  We miss out on potential friendships.  I have one friend in particular whose views are diametrically opposed to mine in so many ways.  And she's not shy about expressing them in public.  But she often does very kind things for other people.  If I had written her off because of her politics I would never have come to know her!

2)  We miss out on a chance for meaningful dialogue.  If we all simply crawl into our own corners and surround ourselves with people who always agree with us, we eventually close down any chance at compromise.  Democracy (and for that matter life itself) works best when we are willing to listen, really listen, to a range of views and understandings.

I didn't have the guts to walk up to the guy with the t-shirt and say something like, "Hey, don't make assumptions!  I may really like you if I got to know you!"  It may have been because he was six feet, six inches tall, and looked like he weighed in at least two-hundred-fifty pounds.  Or it may have been because I was in a hurry and wanted to get my groceries home and out of the heat.  But I suspect it was really because I haven't yet fully learned the lesson I'm trying to offer in this brief essay, and made the counter-assumption that he was probably right.  

I've got a long way to go!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Feeding the Wolf




I was reminded today of an old legend, that is often attributed to the Cherokee tradition.  

A grandfather, so goes the story, is trying to teach his grandson an important lesson about the importance of our thoughts.  "There is a battle going on inside me between my good thoughts and my bad ones," he says to his grandson, "It is like a battle between two wolves.  A good wolf and a bad one.  It is a vicious fight." 

"So," asks the grandson, "which wolf wins?"

"Whichever one I feed," replies his grandfather.

I first heard that story on the Sunday following 9/11--when most of us were struggling with many mixed emotions, and many conflicting thoughts.  And somehow it seems equally as valid today.

What thoughts, what emotions, are we "feeding" as we face both the corona virus pandemic, and the civil unrest?  Are we allowing ourselves to dwell on negative feelings and ideas about other people, about our leaders, about groups of people?  Do you only expect the bad in certain people--or are you willing to look for the good?  I am not suggesting we should be taking a Pollyanna approach to any of it.  You need to recognize whatever realities we are confronted with--but how do you then deal with them?  Which wolf do you feed?




  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Masks and Independence

It is rather cliched at this point, but it is also true:  this will be a Fourth of July unlike any other we've experienced.  There will be no public fireworks displays in our area.  The annual parade down Periwinkle Way has been canceled.  The parking lots at Sanibel City beaches will be closed.  And masks will be mandatory.

The later two items were decided at an emergency meeting of the Sanibel City Council held just yesterday.  And I agree with the actions they took.  Some folks don't--especially mandatory masks in public indoor spaces.  "It's unconstitutional," some folks claim.  "I have a right to not wear a mask if I so choose," say others.

I am not a constitutional expert, I won't attempt to tackle the first of the complaints.  But I do hope as we approach Independence Day weekend, we can give some thought to the idea of rights. Having individual rights is essential to our democracy.  But what we tend to forget when we get caught up in claiming our right to do something (or in the case of mask-wearing, not do something) forget that we also have a responsibility to the larger community.  We sometimes forget that we are called by our founding documents not just as  individuals to pursue "life, liberty and happiness" but also to "form a more perfect union."  It is always a balance between individual rights and societal need, recognizing that without a healthy, functioning society, individual rights become meaningless.

I do not enjoy wearing a mask.  I do not like the way it cuts us off from each other.  I do not like the physical discomfort it sometimes creates.  But I do like being healthy.  And I like knowing my elderly mother is Covid free.  And so I wear a mask.  If we all did so voluntarily, we would not need ordinances to mandate such a practice.  But that is not the case. It is o different, in my mind, than mandatory seat belt laws.  It doesn't infringe on my rights--it helps create a more perfect union.

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Theological Aside or, Why I Read Poetry

As some readers may be aware, I have been doing a Facebook LIVE post everyday since mid-March called "A Poem and a Prayer."  Each day I read a poem and offer a brief prayer, usually focusing on current events.  I have made a special effort in recent weeks to include poetry written by Black poets like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Tracey K. Smith and others.

This morning I used a wonderful poem by Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke called "You are the future."  It comes from a volume called Rilke's Book of Hours--Love Letters to God.  It speaks of the many ways we try to describe God, ways that reflect the ultimate futility of such a task.  For God, by definition, is above and beyond all definition.

OK, so here's my point.  The Rilke poem (which may would describe as mystical) wasn't, isn't, directly related to any particular current event or issue du jour.  And my brief commentary on the poem, as well as my prayer, could have been transmitted on any day, in most any year.  And somehow, I felt a bit . . .  I'm not sure, guilty?  Guilty of what I don't know.  Maybe guilty of having my head in the clouds when there is so much pain and misery right here on the ground.  But then I got to thinking about the poem itself.  My favorite line in it refers to God, and reads: "You are the deep innerness of all things . . . "   God, the poet is saying, isn't somewhere out there--above and beyond all that we face here and now.  God is right in the midst of it.  God is at the very core of life itself.  All life.  Here--and there--and everywhere.

So, assuming that is correct (and I do assume that is correct) then the secret to resolving our various problems rests in looking for the Holy hidden within each thing, each creature, each person, and then respecting that being as an expression of the Holy.  In Christian circles (or at least some Christian circles) we call that incarnation.  Amazing.

(If you are Facebook user, I invite you to join me for A Poem and a Prayer, usually sent out at 9:30am.  I can be found on Facebook at John H Danner.)  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Putting the Public in Public Health

Acquiring some things in life does, and probably should, depend on how much money I have at my disposal.  A new television, for instance.  Or a fancy car.  Or dinner at a classy restaurant.  While all of these things are nice--maybe even more than nice--none of them are essential to life.  The old television still works.  My car can still get me around.  And dinner at home is a real option.  But healthcare is another matter.  Getting the care I need to keep body and soul together shouldn't depend on how much money I have. But in this country it does.  As we have seen in the current pandemic, where those with low-paying jobs, often without health insurance, have the highest risk of contracting the disease.

So what are we to do about it?  How can we assure that all Americans have access to healthcare that they can afford?  Clearly the answer rests in changing how it is paid for--which means addressing the issue of insurance.  There can be little question this is a complex issue.  Fraught with problems.  But is it insoluble?  I don't think so.  Will it require a willingness on the part of all of us to see to it that the health of all persons is tended to with care and compassion?  Of course.  Will it require courage and insight on the part of political leaders?  Of course.

I don't pretend to have the answers in terms of specifics.  But I do know that the health of all of us depends on the health--of all of us.  How often we forget that.  How often we forget when it comes to public health we are all part of the public.  And what's good for one, should be good for all.  And all people, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or class, should have full access to the healthcare they need to be able to contribute to public health and the public good.




 

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Pain of Racism

What's the old joke?  It's deja vu all over again?  Certainly that's how these past two weeks have felt to many of us who are older as we have watched the protests unfold..  We've seen such unrest before.  In fact, more than once.  Yes, it does appear to be, as many journalists have said, a "generational event"--a once in a generation happening--but that is far from comforting.  We are seeing before our very eyes the truth found in George Santayana's famous line:  "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."

But just today a parishioner sent me an e-mail with a quote from Professor Julius Lester that may shed some light on things.  "History is not just facts and events," said Professor Lester.  "History is also pain in the heart, and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain the heart our own."

Professor Lester taught courses in literature, history and African American studies at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) .  He was an author of books for children and adults, and even an accomplished musician.  And much of his life was devoted to work in civil rights.  He was there in the sixties, and throughout much that followed.  He died in 2018.

I am trained as an historian as well, and I must say Lester's definition of history is as on the mark as any I have seen.  Over and over again, various peoples have lifted up their pain, and instead of acknowledging it, instead of learning from their outcries and protests, we have found ways to deny it, rationalize it, brush it off.  Mostly, I suspect, because we are afraid of the having to deal directly with the pain itself--or as Professor Lester says, making it our own.  But let's be honest, brutally honest, if we are to ever deal with racism--I mean really deal with it--it is going to hurt.  There will be pain.  Psychic pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain, economic pain.  

Do we need to be masochists to address racism?  No, we don't need to relish the pain.  But we do need to recognize it, and be willing to take it into our hearts, and into our lives. 

Physical pain calls our attention to bodily malfunctions, to wounds and brokenness, to disease and infection.  Whether we like it or not, the body politic, our nation itself, is wounded, broken and in need of healing.  Will we acknowledge the pain?  Or will be cover over the wound of racism and leave it untreated?  The choice is ours.

Monday, June 1, 2020

God Help America

My nephew in Nebraska owns a small business selling, installing and repairing computer systems.  This past week it was vandalized in the midst of rioting.  His fence was burned, his parking lot trashed and curse words painted on the exterior of his storefront.  He wanted to make sure they were painted over before his two young children saw them--not only because of the words themselves, but also I imagine because of the fear they might induce.  Make no mistake, there is no excuse for such vandalism.  Nor for the looting and burning that erupted around the country.  Those who engage in such behavior should be arrested, tried and punished.

It is unfortunate, indeed, tragic that such behaviors surfaced midst the initially peaceful protests held to call for justice in the aftermath of violence perpetrated by a police office on the streets of Minneapolis.  There is no excuse for that behavior either.  Nor for that of the three other officers who stood by and watched.  He has been arrested, he will be tried and he should be punished.  As should the other three officers as well.

But what we mustn't lose sigh of in all this tragedy is the simple fact that the system is broken, and that those who say racism is no longer an issue in this country are wrong.  Those who say we have fair and equitable treatment for all our citizens are wrong.  There is still so much work to be done to right the wrongs that have existed for centuries, indeed from our very founding.  Wrongs which have led to the sorry situation we are now facing.

We are a nation which holds out the ideal of liberty and justice for all.  For now, it is still just that, an ideal.  One not fully realized.  On this day we must be willing to recommit ourselves to working towards that day when that ideal is fully realized. Yes, we pray God bless America, but today, and everyday, we must also pray God help us.

(Photo:  Traditionally a flag flown upside down is considered to be a symbol of distress.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Masks and Making Democracy Safe

My eighty-seven year old mother is headed out to her first medical appointment this afternoon since before the pandemic.  My sister will be taking her--but just to be sure, I called and reminded them both to wear masks.  I suppose I am a bit overprotective, but one can never be too sure, or, in this case, too safe.

I keep a mask in my office--and wear it whenever I step out my own door to talk with a colleague or to use office equipment.  WE have hand sanitizer dispensers strategically placed throughout the church office, and I wash my hands several times over the course of the workday.  I suppose I am a bit overprotective, but one can never be too sure, or in this case, too safe.

When I go to the grocery store, I not only mask, I also wear gloves, which I promptly dispose when I leave the store.  Then I sanitize my hands.  And when I get back home I wash my hands.  I suppose I am a bit overprotective, but one can never be too sure, or, in this case, too safe.

Sometime in the future--maybe even the relatively near future, we may be able to do away with some of these measures.  But for now, we need them to safeguard against the virus.  Do I like doing these things over and over again?  Do I like wearing a mask?  No, not particularly.  Am I a moral superhero for doing them?  No.  I am just doing my part--my,  relatively speaking, very small part.  And like so, so many things in life, that's what it takes, all of us being willing to do our part--no matter how small. In fact, that, ultimately is what democracy is all about, isn't it?  Everybody doing their part, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  Making sure they fill-in census forms, for instance, or casting a ballot.  Writing letters to congress people, raising concerns when they surface.  Reporting for jury duty, and paying your taxes.

I suppose I am a bit overprotective--but I love my mother and sister.   I care a great deal about our staff.  I even care about strangers in the grocery store.  And I most certainly care about our democracy.  That's why I'll do my part. After all, you can't be too sure or too safe.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Changing World, A Changing Church

I have used some of this time to clean up my bookshelves.  It has been an interesting project.  So far I have given away about one hundred of them.  Some to our church library.  Some to members of our church worship team. A large number to The Rookery, our second hand "bookstore".  I suppose some should just be thrown in the recycling bin, but that is something I am constitutionally ill-prepared to do!

One of the things I have noticed as I've been sorting through my very large collection is how many of the "practical" books, those having to do with the "how-to" side of ministry, are sorely out of date.  In a couple of weeks I will celebrate the fortieth anniversary of my ordination.  And for three years before that I was a licensed pastor of two very small churches.  In other words, I have been doing this parish ministry stuff for forty-three years--since 1977!  The world has changed in so, so many ways since 1977.  I can remember the challenge of finding a place to cash a check when I was in my tiny churches in Maine, eighty miles away from my home and bank!  Now, ATMs on every corner and online banking make paper checks almost obsolete.

So here's my point:  the world has changed, and so has the church.  I've had to learn about live-streaming this winter and spring.  Whop would have ever imagined we wouldn't be able to worship in person?  I can't visit sick parishioners in the hospital.  Our meetings are all held on Zoom or on conference calls.  It's a whole new ball game!  (Well, actually, there are no ballgames--not yet!)
Even before the pandemic, the church was faced with a new reality and the need to make changes.  Of course the thirty year old books are obsolete--even those dating back just ten years.

But some books, written years ago, are still on my shelves.  The Interior Castle, by Teresa of Avila.  Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Selected writings of Dorothy Day.  The Souls of Black Folks by W.E.B. Dubois.  And many, many more.  They are still on the shelves because some things don't change.  How we worship, how we pray, how we provide pastoral care, may change, but why we do such things does not.  For our work is still rooted in the love of God and the love of neighbor.

Anyway, that's some of what I've done with this time of isolation.  Do l
et me know if you'd like a used book or two!

(Photo:  Some of the dozens of books I have given away!)

Monday, May 11, 2020

Who Was That Masked Man?

This morning I had to go to the doctor's office for some lab work ahead of my annual wellness visit. As I got ready to leave the house I made sure I had one of my face masks with me.  (I have been blessed with more than one of them by our very competent Parish Nurse, Linda Convertine.)  Whenever I go to the grocery store, or other public place, I make sure I have one with me, and that I wear it.

I was pleased when I arrived at the doctor's office to see signs and measured markers on the floor asking that all maintain appropriate social distance.  I was also glad to see readily available hand sanitizer, and that staff members had face masks.  The three other patients who were there when I arrived were wearing face masks and keeping their distance.  But then a gentleman arrived who did not have a mask, and I must say I tensed up a bit.  I didn't say anything to him.  I didn't publicly shame him, much less arm wrestle with him, but I was uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  Which brings me to why I wear a face mask myself.

All that I have read indicates that wearing a face mask is really more about the other guy than it is about me.  While a cloth mask like the ones I wear will block a small percentage of the droplets that carry the virus from entering into my system, they will prevent a larger percentage of the same from being expelled into the air.  In both cases it is a relatively small amount, but it will reduce the risk a bit for my neighbor if not so much for me.  Further, it serves as a very visible reminder to practice social distancing and good hand washing.  It says I'm taking all this seriously.

Do I like wearing the mask?  No, I feel like a bank robber!  But I do care about my neighbors.  I do care about my community.  And wearing a mask is one way to tangibly demonstrate that care, for as a Christian that is what I am called to do.  Love my neighbor as I love myself.  And with that in mind, I make the assumption that just as much as I want the world to be as safe as possible (understanding that it is never perfectly safe) so too does my neighbor.


Monday, May 4, 2020

What Do We Want to Recover?


In the last few days I've noticed that one of our local television stations has changed the name of their team of reporters covering the pandemic.  It used to be Coronavirus Crisis Team--now it is Coronavirus Recovery Team.  They are not the only ones using the term recovery with more frequency.  But what does it mean for us to recover?

I looked it up, and discovered that the word "recovery" comes from the French word recoverer, which means "to get back, or to get again"--but what is it we hope to get back?  And do we want still want all of what we had?

Obviously, those who have contracted the virus want to get back their health.  And most certainly we wish that for anyone who has been so impacted.  But there are things we have learned about health in this pandemic that we would do well to continue practicing, even after it has passed from our midst.  Handwashing, for instance.  Most of us don't normally do enough of it.  Early in the whole ordeal I saw a meme that said, "It took a pandemic to get men to wash their hands."  Ouch!  But based on my experiences in public restrooms, I would suggest there is some truth in that!

Just as obviously, those who have lost jobs or had to close their businesses want to get back to work.  And most certainly we wish that for anyone so impacted.  But the massive unemployment has demonstrated how many holes their are in the so-called safety net.  We don't want that back.  It needs to be mended and fixed.

And there are other things we don't want back.  The pollution that hung over large cities and other places as well, that was greatly reduced because we weren't driving so much.  The way we were increasingly distancing ourselves from one another, and failing to interact with friends and family in meaningful ways.  And the list goes on.  Somethings we just don't want to recover--we just don't want back.  But it will take a concerted effort to avoid doing that--a concerted effort to not just fall into the old ways of doing things.

Somethings we want back--somethings we never lost--but other things we would do well to leave behind!