Monday, February 8, 2016

Water, Water Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink: Reflections on Super Bowl Ads 2016

As usual, there has been a lot of hype these past few days about the ads broadcast during the Super Bowl.  Everybody has there favorites, and those that they really disliked.  Personally, I thought the Snickers ad with Marilyn Monroe was a hoot!  Some of the others, not so much.  But hey, what can you expect for four million dollars?

I did see one ad this weekend, however, that made a real impact on me.  I think it was for Colgate Toothpaste, but it really had the feel of a public service announcement.  It showed a fellow standing at his bathroom sink.  He was dressed in striped pajamas, and as the water was running full tilt he was brushing his teeth.  Keeping the water faucet turned on while brushing your teeth wasted four gallons of water every time you do it, we were informed.  That's more than people in some parts of the world have to use for a whole week.

Many wise folks have suggested that water is the new oil.  That our wrangling over oil will pale in comparison to the struggles that lie ahead when it comes to water.  And I suspect they are right.  The problems in Flint, Michigan are probably mild compared to what's coming.  The problems we are having here in Southwest Florida with the discharge of waters from a reservoir upstream into the Gulf of Mexico will seem easy to solve compared to issues we will confront in the future.  And, of course, in many parts of the world, such is already the case--as the toothpaste ad points out.

But we just blithely brush our teeth--as water runs down the drain.  I don't know about you, but I'm taking a closer look at what I do when I get up in the morning.  I hope you will as well.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blossoms of Justice: A Tribute to Veronica Shoemaker

I never met Veronica Shoemaker--but I had certainly heard of her.  Among other things, when I toured the local museum of black history, she was held up as a role model for the community.  And that she was!

This past weekend her funeral service was held in Fort Myers, and hundreds turned out to pay their respects.  Not just black folks, but white folks as well. Over the years she had come to be known as the Martin Luther King of Lee County.  And like Dr. King, she often had to stand up against those who would put her down simply because of her race.  I remember something I once read about Ginger Rogers.  She was even a greater dancer than her partner Fred Astaire--because "she had to do everything backwards and in heels".  I don't know if Ms. Shoemaker wore heels, but the challenges she faced, as a woman in one of the most segregated communities in the country, may have been even greater than Dr. King's!

What most impressed me about Ms. Shoemaker was her tenacity.  She served for years on the Fort Myers City Council, but only after she had run for that office over a dozen times!  Imagine the grit, the determination, the patience, that required! 

I was glad that the city stopped long enough to acknowledge her passing in such a sincere way.  My hope is that we who live here in Lee County realize that the real honor we can afford her, however, is to continue her work of assuring that all people are treated fairly, that right prevails.  Might the seeds of hope that she planted grow into blossoms of justice!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

We've Moved--But Not Too Far Away!

Linda and I moved this past Monday.  Not far away.  I'm still at the church, she's still at the Community House.  But we finally decided to buy our own home, and we ended up with a lovely place just over the Causeway in Fort Myers.

The move means I'll be commuting about nine miles each way.  Not a long commute by many standards, though in season the ride home may take a good deal of time.  And while I don't relish the ideas, it does mean, every day I work, I'll be guaranteed at least two trips, one each way, across one of the most beautiful stretches of roadway in America.  It's hard to exaggerate how stunning the view can be from atop the highest bridge on the Causeway.  Sanibel, San Carlos Bay, Fort Myers Beach . . . all can be seen from that vantage point.  More than once, many times in fact, I have witnessed a beautiful sunrise or sunset (and occasionally both in the same day) as I've made my way across the bridges and islets that make up the Causeway.

I've always been a little curious--not to mention frustrated--by the fact that Lee County, which owns the two mini-islands, and has turned them into a public park--refers to them as Island A and Island B.  Oh my goodness, what bureaucrat thought up that pair of names?  There are so many options, so many possibilities.  One could go with the famous people on Sanibel theme--call one Bailey Island for instance, and the other Darling Island.  You could go with birds, the variations here being almost endless!  You could even have a naming contest, awarding the winner the right to name the island of his or her choice!  Or, you could even sell the naming rights to some local businesses.  Imagine:  Chico and Hertz Islands.  Or (this is something of an inside joke) they could have the same name and be called Morgan and Morgan Islands!  Whatever--anything but A & B!

Moving is always a bit unsettling, and a lot of work.  But mixing things up a bit can be an occasion for a little self-examination.  And now that I've got the longer commute, I may just do some of that on the way home.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Goodbye 2015! Hello 2016!

A new year.
A brand new, right out of the box year.
A fresh start.
A new beginning.
However you want to characterize it, 2015 is done and over, and 2016 has just begun.

Wall Street is happy--if you can believe the business section of the newspaper.  2015 was a less than stellar year when it came to the stock market.  Maybe 2016 will be more bullish.

Washington is happy--2015 was something of a political nightmare, but with elections coming up maybe power will shift in significant ways.  Those who are out may be in.

Yes, 2015 is over.  Thank God!  (Or so say many folks.)  But really, what makes anyone think 2016 will be better?  Don't get me wrong.  I hope it will be better.  I hope we will pay more attention to vital issues like addressing poverty in meaningful ways, giving the environment some much needed attention, curbing our violent tendencies, dealing with our deep-seated prejudice and biases.  I hope all that will happen.  But I've hoped the same things in years past, and where's that gotten me?  Where's that gotten us?

Yet, I still hope.  Because I believe, deep in my soul, that God is at work.  And slowly, surely, if we will only learn to pay attention to the divine prodding within, we can have a better 2016.  If we will only give over our very lives to living the way of Jesus, truly loving God and neighbor, I believe we can see changes in how we function as a society and a world.  And the best place to start--the only place I can start--is with me.  God help us all!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Packing Up Christmas

So Christmas has come and gone--Christmas Day, that is.  Technically we are still in the season of Christmas.  But we in America are so quick to pack up the decorations, put away the lights, turn off the special music and move on to preparing for the Super Bowl (usually brushing past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a mere nod of the head in the direction of civil rights or black history.)  I am not opposed to the Super Bowl, I just think we shortchange ourselves!

We feasted through Advent, with office parties and family parties and neighborhood parties and school parties and, well you get the point!  And so we were worn out by the time we got to Christmas Day itself!  We will rally a bit for New Year's Eve, but that is mostly an excuse for excessive drinking, late night partying and journalistic pontifications about year's best (those ubiquitous "Best of" columns) and the year ahead diatribes (you know, "Forecasting 2016" articles).  And as for Epiphany?  Aside from our Hispanic neighbors who enjoy the day as El Dia de Tres Reyes, most of us forget it even exists.  January 6th, a holiday?  What's that?

It's sad, really, that we've lost the fasting/feasting cycles of life in postmodern America.  There are, of course, those who fast unintentionally, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and those who engage in non-stop feasting, indulging in every whim.  But intentional fasting, going without, and intentional feasting, enjoying the good things of life in a healthy, happy way--that's a lost art for most.

As I move into 2016 I wonder how I can rectify that in my own life.  Maybe you'd like to join me.  Maybe we can use the rest of Christmastide to figure it out!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Branches of Hope and Tree Trunks of Faith: An Immigrant Christmas

Like hundreds of thousands of other German immigrants, Heinrich  had come to this country early in the last century in hopes of finding a better life.  He'd been apprenticed to be a cabinetmaker, and hoped to use his skills to provide for his family.  While he was here his son, Walter, was born--and life looked promising. 

But then news came of a sudden death in Germany, and Heinrich, by now known as Henry, got word that he had inherited a chicken farm in the homeland.  So back he went.  And things went well, at least for a bit.  But it was a time of growing unrest in Germany.  A time when evil was on the rise; when neighbors were being pitted against neighbors by a madman known as Der Fuhrer.  And Henry could not stand the distorted reality called National Socialism.  So he gave up the farm and his inheritance, and with his son Walter in town, returned to America.

They found a tiny attic apartment and scraped by on Henry's meager earnings.  They were good Lutherans, and normally looked forward to Christmas with its special music, and of course, the tree.  After all, wasn't it Luther himself who started the tradition of decorating a pine in honor of Christ's birth?

But money was very tight, and there were other things to worry about.  Still, Henry wanted to keep the tradition alive, if not for himself, then for his eight-year old son.  So he scraped together what little he had, twenty-five cents in all, and went out late on Christmas Eve to look for a tree.  Finally he found a tree seller still open.  He was down to his two last trees.  And a very sorry sight they were!  Both of them were scraggly at best, with only a few branches each.  One of them was as crooked as the Rhine River.  But the second, at least, had a trunk that was straight and true.

Maybe the seller was tired, or eager to get home.  Whatever the case, a deal was struck.  And Henry took both trees for a quarter.

He and his son Walter dragged them home.  And then, undeterred by their scrawniness, and using his carpenter skills, Henry cut the branches off the crooked tree, drilled hole in the trunk of the other, and soon assemble a fine looking specimen.  It was a Christmas tree to make old Martin Luther proud, but it was more than that.  For it was, in retrospect, a symbol, a sign, a reminded that the importance of facing the unexpected twists and turns of life with courage and honesty.  For time and again, Henry did just that.  He embraced the unexpected, and over time, assembled a life that would provide branches of hope, and a tree trunk of faith, not only for young Walter, but for his daughter as well. Henry's granddaughter.  Who told me this story many years later, as we sat one December afternoon in her living room.

My Christmas prayer, for each of you, my dear readers, is that you too might face the unexpected twists and turns of life with courage.  Might you too create branches of hope and tree trunks of faith.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Meeting God at the Mall

This time of year, one often is flooded with memories of Christmas seasons past.  One such memory for me involved a young woman from one of my former parishes, who was living far from home.  She was facing a very difficult pregnancy and, just before Christmas, her unborn baby developed some very serious complications.  First she was rushed to a local hospital, and then to a specialty unit in Philadelphia.  It was vey touch and go.  To treat the fetus meant putting the mother at some real risk.  But she and her husband clung to hope.

Meanwhile, the young woman's mother-in-law was in Northern New Jersey.  She was able to pray.  She did her best to support her son and daughter-in-law with visits and phone calls, still, she was worried.  More than that she was afraid.

But Christmas was coming, and she had things that needed to be done, including some last minute shopping.  So with a heavy heart, she headed off to the mall.  She wrestled the traffic, found a parking spot, and was exhausted before she even got inside.

As she passed though the mall hallways, she came across a group of children singing in one of the courts.  She sat down to listen, and soon the poignancy of their Christmas carols just washed over her, and she began to weep.

One of the children's moms was seated next to her.  She reached over and gently touched her arm.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

With that it all came flooding out:  my friend's fears, her worries, her tears.  But lo and behold, the singer's mother was a woman of faith, and within seconds, she gathered up three of her friends and right there in the middle of the largest shopping mall in New Jersey, they prayed for a woman they had just met, her daughter-in-law a hundred miles away, and a baby not yet even born.

After my friend finished telling me the story, which she gave me permission to share with others, she said, "You know, John, I'm sure God sent those young mothers to tell me, "You know where I am, and you know what you're doing, so just keep doing it."

And right there, in the middle of the mall, my friend knew God was with her.  Emmanuel.

Shortly after that encounter, my friend became a grandmother.

Might you too be blessed by an awareness of God's presence in this holy season.  And might you make that presence known in your own acts of love and kindness.