Monday, August 24, 2015

Waiting at the Door

My congregation has entered into some preliminary conversations with Mount Olive AME Church, a predominantly African-American congregation in neighboring Fort Myers.  Our hope is to form a partnership that crosses various boundaries, so that together we might reach out to the wider community.  We have talked about the possibilities of shared mission efforts, youth work and worship experiences.  Time alone will tell how all that turns out.  I am excited about the prospects!

This past Sunday I was off  and so I thought I'd take the opportunity to worship at Mount Olive.  I called the pastor on Friday to give him a heads up that I'd be in the congregation on Sunday.  He said that would be lovely. 

I fully expected to do just that--sit in the pews and simply enjoy the service.  But when I arrived, the pastor had stationed a layperson at the sanctuary doors to be on the look out for me.  Then he invited to be sit in the chancel with him.  During the service I was introduced, asked to say a few words, and very much to my surprise, presented with a gift basket filled with good things to eat!  I was stunned!  Person after person came up to greet me, shake may hand and tell me how glad they were that I was there. 

In the United Church of Christ we talk about "extravagant welcome"--and I experienced that on Sunday!  I don't imagine we could pass out gift baskets to every visitor (in season we can have fifty or sixty visitors some Sundays!) , nor ask each one to "offer a few words"--but we can, and should, be on the lookout for those who are new, offering them a warm welcome, with words and a handshake, and an invitation to Coffee Hour.  Like my new pastor friend in Fort Myers, we can be watching for them at the door!  And not just at church.  We can be expecting newcomers in our wider communities as well, seeking to help them feel welcome.  Folks who look like us--and those who don't. 

Well done, Mount Olive--thanks for a great morning!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Making History . . . Not Just in Missouri

Have you ever been to Independence, Missouri?  I hadn't--at least not until last week, when my mother and I spent part of a day while on our "pilgrimage" to her favorite bookstore (see last week's blog for more details about the bookstore!)

Independence, which is a short distance from Kansas City, is a rather fascinating place.  Not only is it home to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, it also has a Mormon Visitors Center, which highlights the Mormons' time in Independence, and the Temple of the Mormon breakaway group, the Community of Christ.  It is one of those places Chambers of Commerce and tour books describe as "historic."  You know, "Visit Historic Independence, MO!"

It is true, there are many historic sites to visit in Independence, but that term has always bothered me.  For every place, every location, is loaded with history!  Presidential history?  No, not usually.  Major events in religious history?  Not as a general rule.  But every place has political leaders; every place has its religious story.  And far more than that!  For every place has people with rich and varied backgrounds.  Every place has families--and some of them stretch back in time for generations!  There is history to be discovered in every backyard, at every intersection, in each church and synagogue and mosque and city or town hall.

My mother has devoted many, many hours to the preservation of history in her own county in Kentucky.  It is a small place, with a few brief encounters with better know events and people.  Daniel Boone made his way through the county seat when it was still a forest.  The first shots fired in the Civil War in Kentucky were shot off in her county.  But for the most part, it is a quiet, and somewhat remote spot.  But the little museum where she has spent so much time is full of artifacts and stories of everyday folks doing everyday things!  Everyday folks making history!

So what are you contributing to history today?  You don't have to be a Mormon or Harry Truman or even Daniel Boone to add to history--simply by living you are doing that every single day!

(Photo:  Harry S. Truman Gravesite, Independence, MO)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Crazy Tale about Mothers and Books and Wichita

Many years ago my parents owned a bookstore--well, actually, a gift and bookstore.  But for my mother it was the book part that really counted.

Mother loved operating that little shop in part because it gave her ample time to sample the wares.  I can still picture her sitting in her rocker near the checkout counter, engrossed in one or another volume she had slipped off the shelves!

They sold the business over thirty years ago, but to this day, my mother loves bookstores.  Most any kind of bookstore.  from big chains like Barnes and Noble, to small musty ones that sell second-hand books.  She loves them all!  She can get lost amongst the rows of bound pages for hours on end. 

For several years now her favorite bookstore has been a rather eclectic place in Wichita, Kansas called Eighth Day Books.  It is run by an Eastern orthodox fellow who is a big fan of Wendell Berry and C. S. Lewis.  It has sections devoted to literature, liturgy, spirituality, science--even a section devoted to the art of reading!  And it also has a very large stock of icons.  The eyes of Mary follow you all over the store!

But while mother had poured over Eighth Day's catalogues, which included reviews and lengthy descriptions, and while she has ordered dozens of books from the shop by mail, she had never set foot in the place! 

So earlier this summer she was talking about Eighth Day and off-handedly said, "You'll just have to take me there some day!"  We both laughed.  I live, as readers of this blog know, in Florida.  Mother lives in Kentucky.  The store is, as I said earlier, in Kansas!  But when I got off the phone and told my wife Linda about the conversation, she said, "Why not?  Why don't you take her to Wichita?"

So, the next Sunday, when we talked on the phone, I told her--and she was thrilled!

"Wichita?"  she almost shouted, "You're really taking me to Wichita?"  And so an adventure was born.

And this week we've been to Wichita.  The owner of Eighth Day Books, Warren Farha, and his staff, were most welcoming!  I suppose it's not everyday somebody comes all that distance just to visit their store.  But we did!

Crazy, right?  I mean, Wichita?  In August?  But such is the draw of books--for Mom, and quite honestly, for me as well.  My sister, who lives in the same town as Mom, tells me Mother has told everyone about the trip.  Everyone.  her friends, her pastor, her pharmacist, probably the guy who pumps her gas.  And when she gets back home I'm sure she'll regale them all with tales of our trip.

Who knows what the future holds for me and Mom as we both continue to grow older.  But, hey, we'll always have Wichita!

(Photo:  Warren Farha, owner of Eighth Day Books, my mother, Dr. Connie Danner, and me at Eighth Day Books)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Imagine That: Another Shooting

Another child has been shot in the neighboring city of Fort Myers.  Her name is Luxury--Luxury Vance.  She was at a family gathering when she was shot three times--probably for no other reason than the simple fact she was in the way of gunfire.  According to the police, "the child was not ithe intended target."  (News-Press, 8-3-15)

She's a good kid, folks are saying.  A really fine basketball player--and a leader on her school team.  And she's just twelve years old.  One year older than three of my own grandchildren.   It could have been any one of them.  Imagine that. 

Of course, that's the problem.  Lots of folks refuse to imagine such a thing.  Luxury is a black child--she lives in one of the more challenged parts of town.  Of course such things happen--it's Dunbar--what do you expect?  But such a failure of imagination is part of the reason such things happen--  because we refuse to identify.  We refuse to think it could happen to "our" children, "our" grandchildren. But it could--and even if it couldn't, the Luxurys of the world matter.  No child's death should be "expected" or acceptable!  And as long as we also refuse to create and enforce serious gun control measures, such things will continue to happen.

A week or so ago I saw a cartoon that spoke to the problem with real eloquence.  It was published shortly after the most recent mass shooting.  It picture a traditional old man God, complete with long white beard, looking over a cloud, holding a lightening bolt in his hand.  "OK," he said, "enough of the prayers for the victims and their families!  How about enacting some serious gun control measures!"

I don't think we should give up on the prayers, and I'll add Luxury and her family to my prayer list.  But enough is enough.  The time has come to put our imaginations to work, and to finally come to grips with the reality that we need to do something about the guns.

Imagine that!  Really.  Imagine that!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Just Because

A parishioner recently lent me an anthology of sacred prose and poetry titled God Makes the Rivers to Flow.  It is a lovely collection of poems and prayers drawn from a wide array of religious and spiritual traditions.  One prayer that caught my eye was penned by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spanish founder of the Society of Jesus--better known as the Jesuits.

St. Ignatius is especially well-known for a series of devotions he developed based on the scriptures, designed to help one move along his or her spiritual journey, called the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius' discipline is built on using one's imagination to enter into the Biblical story.

Here's a part of the prayer that caught my eye:
Oh, my God, I want to love you,
Not that I might gain heaven
Nor escape eternal hell
But, Lord, to love you just because
you are my God.
As I pondered that prayer I realized that's how it is with all of us.  We want to be loved not because of what we can do for the other, but rather, just because.  Just because we are who we are.  That, in the end, is the purest expression of love--is it not?  To love another, just because.
(The photo is an icon of St. Ignatius of Loyola)

Monday, July 6, 2015

The NEW Modern Family

All six of my grandchildren have been with us over the 4th of July weekend.  All six!  They range in age from seven to fourteen and are all very unique human beings.  While I consider each and everyone of them my grandson or granddaughter, I realized at some point this weekend that not one of them is biologically tied to me.  None of them carry my DNA.  Which may be to their advantage!  But each of them came into my life in other ways.  Through stepchildren, through adoption . . . but not one in the traditional fashion.

I've been thinking about that a lot.  My wife Linda and I have a friend who refers to us as "the New Modern Family"--referencing the popular television show.  I suppose she calls us that because in our mix are folks of varying racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.  But she is, I suppose, right.  Our  family is representative of many, many families in the world. 
Yet we still cling to the mom, dad, and two biological kids model as the ideal.

So is there an "ideal family'?  I don't think so.  I think family configurations are as varied as people--and each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses.  Each comes with its own blessings, and its own challenges.  And sometimes, those are the same--what appears to be a challenge, is a blessing in disguise.  And what looks for all the world like a blessing, proves to be the ultimate challenge!

Whatever the case, I am most grateful for my family.  And all six of my grandchildren.  We're having a good time together--and when they go home, Linda and I will take a very long nap.  A VERY long nap!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Work of Loving

Last week's Supreme Court decision concerning marriage equality is welcomed and celebrated by many.  Various polls indicate a majority of Americans support the concept.  It is now the law of the land in all fifty states.  But that doesn't mean the work is over.  Clearly, there are also large numbers of Americans who are opposed to same-sex marriage.  And, as we have seen in other civil rights struggles, a change in laws--whether legislatively imposed or judicially--is not the same as a change in attitudes and behaviours.

So what can we learn from the past?  First, things take time.  Many have commented on the fact that this change has taken far less time than many other changes in societal rules.  To think it will be implemented free of issues, to think that overnight people's understandings will change, would be very na├»ve.  That will not be the case, most assuredly.

Second, I think we must continue to recognize that the best way to convince someone of any such change is in and through personal experience.  One of the reasons a majority of folks support marriage equality is that they realized they have family and friends who are gay or lesbian.  And they want for them the same considerations as the heterosexuals in their circle.  If people experience same sex marriages there will be a better chance they will accept them in general.

All across the internet and beyond, one sees the phrase, "Love Wins" in reference to the Court's decision.  And I suppose, judicial decisions are always about winners and losers.  But Love isn't really about winning.  It is about accepting the other, caring for the other, doing right by the other.  And the work of loving--like love itself--never ends.