Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Peace--A Rather Slippery Word!

Peace--it is one of those words that is rather slippery!  What do we mean by it?  Obviously, it refers to times when we are not at war.  But peace isn't limited to the cessation of geopolitical, military war.  I think it means far more.  It means not being in conflict with the Holy One, but seeking to live as we are called by God to live.  It means not being in conflict with our neighbors, but seeking to understand, affirm and embrace them.  It means not being in conflict with ourselves, but seeking to know and accept who we really are.  Come to think of it, Jesus offered up the perfect definition of peace when he was asked about the greatest of the commandments.

The first, he said, was to love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.  The second, he said, was to love your neighbor as yourself.  He draws them both from the Hebrew scriptures, his Bible.  When we are able to do that we are at peace.

Make no mistake, it takes a lot of work to bring about peace--internationally as well as personally.  It takes a lot of willingness to be open to new ways of thinking, new ways of being.  But peace is possible in all its manifestations.  If we are only willing to give it a chance.

This weekend my congregation joins with our sister congregation, Bat Yam--Temple of the Islands, a reform Jewish congregation, in our annual Pulpit Exchange.  That's something of a misnomer, of course.  For we share the same building,t he same sanctuary, the same pulpit.  So it is preachers, not pulpits that are being exchanged.  It is just one piece of the peace we are striving to build.  For we share much more than mere real estate.  In many ways, we share our very lives.

Ass followers of this blog know, we even shared an adventure this past year in Israel.  It was there where we experienced the artwork on the wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip pictured above. It is bears witness to the hope for peace in that troubled part of the world.  It is our hope, as two congregations living together, working together, being together, that we too bear witness to the possibility of peace in many ways, in many places.

If you'd like to be part of the Pulpit exchange, I'll be preaching for Bat Yam this coming Friday, January 31, at 7:30 PM, and my friend and colleague
, Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, will be preaching at our 9:00 and 11:00 AM services this coming Sunday, February 2.

(Photo Credit:  Janice Block)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Responding to the Crisis

Every year my congregation joins with four other congregations on Sanibel and Captiva, to sponsor the Annual Shared Scholar Lecture and Seminar.  This year our scholar is Mary Evelyn Tucker.  Dr. Tucker teaches at Yale University in the Religious Studies Department, the Divinity School and the School of Forestry.  Her work focuses around the interface between spirituality and environmental concerns.

Much of Dr. Tucker's work has focused around the life and work of Thomas Berry.  Berry was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and entered the Passionist Order as an adult.  Trained as scholar in Western history and world religions, he devoted much of his time to examining Asian religions, becoming especially well versed in Confucianism.

In a collection of writings by Berry that Dr. Tucker and her husband Dr. John Grim edited, Dr. Tucker writes of Berry:  "His commitment to Christianity is clear, yet his wide reading on ecological issues led him to ponder why Christians weren't responding [to the ecological crisis]."  (Thomas Berry:  Selected Writings on the Earth Community, 103)

Berry's question is a good one-=-not just for Christians to ponder, but Jews as well.  Why are we not responding more fully to the environmental crises at hand?  The Shared Scholar Lecture is open to the public, and will be held at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ, 2050 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel, Sunday, January 26 at 4:00 PM.  Join us as we explore together how we as people of faith might better, more fully, respond to the needs of our environment!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Hearing the Voice of God

One of the joys of being on Sanibel is getting to meet people from all over the country, indeed, all over the world!  That said, there does seem to be a real concentration of folks from the upper Midwest, especially Minnesota--the land of ten thousand lakes--all of which are usually iced over this time of year.  It is also the land of Oli and Lena jokes.

One day Oli decides he wants to go ice fishing.  So he heads out and starts to drill a hole in the ice with his augur.  Suddenly he hears a voice:  "Oli, there's no fish under the ice."  At first he shrugs it off and continues to drill.  But then he hears it again, "Oli!"  Maybe it's God, he thinks to himself.

"Lord," he says, "is that you?"

"No Oli it's me--the skating rink manager!"

Ah yes, hearing the voice of God.  Just what does that mean?  There's an old saying that goes something like, if you talk to God, it's called prayer.  If God talks to you, it's schizophrenia.  But clearly, over the centuries, many, many intelligent and same people have claimed to hear the voice of the Holy One.  Maybe not literally, maybe not in audible tones.  But nonetheless, many claim to have heard God speaking.

A few years back, in a meeting with my spiritual director, I spoke of some of the real challenges I was facing at the time.  The details are unimportant, but after going through my list of concerns, she looked at me and asked:  "So where is God in all of this?  Where have you experienced God lately?"

I knew she'd ask me that question.  Directors often do.  Still I hadn't really thought about it much.  I was so focused on my issues that i had failed to listen for the Holy.  We sat in silence for a bit, and then I remembered something that had happened that morning, how in talking about one of our recently deceased parishioners I had been moved to tears as I recalled the wonderful way his adult children had cared for him in the last year of his life.  In that moment, I had felt the presence of God; in that moment I had heard the voice of the Holy One speaking in and through the memory of children who had truly honored their father.  Busy professionals, scattered around the country, they had given much time and other resources as well, to be with their Dad.  To stay by his side during some difficult days,  Indeed, as I had watched them in action it had been something of a divine call, for it had reminded me of the importance of honoring my own mother as she continues to move through the aging process.

Amazing, isn't it?  God does in deed speak to us in so, many, many ways!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Traveling Light

My father was one of the best packers I’ve ever met.  Whether it was a domestic car trip, or an international journey, Dad always kept things to a minimum.  I remember well the suitcase he used for years.  It was a brown leather, modest-sized bag.  It had a number of pockets—and when Dad packed everything had its own place.  He never took things like bottles of shampoo or boxes of Q-tips—he always had little plastic bags and tiny bottles so that he only took what he needed.  He wasn’t afraid of washing out his socks in the bathroom sink to get another day’s use out of them.  And when it came to the return trip—well, he was very frugal, so he wasn’t weighed down by bags of souvenirs and trinkets—he just didn’t buy them! 

 When I was thirteen, Dad and I traveled to Scotland, and lived there for a semester.  That brown leather suitcase was the only piece of luggage he took with him.  And I was allowed only one bag myself.  My Dad personified traveling light.

That trip wasn’t some tourist junket.  Dad, an ordained pastor, felt called by God to go to Scotland and preach.  He tried to get a leave of absence from his work, but when he couldn’t he resigned to follow the call.  He and my mother simplified their lives as much as they could.  The six of us moved into a one-bedroom apartment.  They sold some of their stuff, stored the rest.  Made a tight budget.  Then Dad packed that brown leather suitcase, and off we went.  Dad didn’t even know how long it would be—a month, a year?  Whatever God wanted.  Things would be close, but trusting in God, he and mother knew they would manage.  And so they did.  So we all did.  That trip was probably the best thing that ever happened in my young life.   It taught me about living as a stranger in a strange land.  It taught me about the importance of simplification.  It taught me how to trust in God.

Not that I always remember the lesson.  Truth be told, sometimes my back pack is overloaded.  Sometimes I’ve got too much stuff in my suitcase--not just material stuff, but emotional baggage as well.   Sometimes I don’t trust in God.  But I know it can be done.  And when I do simplify, when I do trust in the Holy One, I am always the better for it. 
Traveling light.  It really is the only way to go!

(Photo:  Rev. Howard Danner, Jr.)