Monday, April 21, 2014

An Answer to My Prayers

I am not one to pray for specific things for myself.  I pray everyday for others.  I happily offer up intercessions on behalf of he sick, the grieving, those who are hungry.  I pray generically for peace and justice to prevail.  But I don't usually pray for me.  I don't offer up very many petitionary prayers, as they are called.

But this was a very long and at times challenging season.  And Lent, for some reason, had been especially draining.  And as I approached Easter Sunday, I felt spiritually bereft.  I wasn't looking forward to celebrating the Resurrection--instead, I was looking forward to taking a nap that afternoon.  So I prayed that I might move through Easter and find a bit of renewal for my soul in the services that morning.

My prayers were answered.  And then some.

It all began at our 7:45 AM service.  It's a rather stripped down affair--no hymns, a shorter liturgy, and the only music being provided by a volunteer pianist who faithfully plays each Sunday while he is here in season.  Easter was his last Sunday this year.  And he played his own arrangement of several hymns--beginning with "The Old Rugged Cross" and then moving on to "Were You There" and "Up from the Grave He Arose."  He concluded with "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today""--my favorite Easter hymn.  It was absolutely lovely.  And it was, as are all of John's preludes, a labor of love.  It touched my heart and my soul as it mirrored my own journey this year.

At our 9:00 and 11:00 AM services our opening hymn was accompanied by a splendid liturgical ribbon dance, presented by one of our young people.  Tricia has done it for four years now, and through it we've watched her grow into an accomplished young woman.  Her twirling ribbon punctuated each and every "Alleluia!"  I silently wept for joy. 

Our second and third services both concluded with a piano/organ duet which has also been a part of our Easter celebration for several years.  The organ part was played by our church organist, but the piano part is always played by a wonderful retired organist and member of our choir--Wanda.  It's been a challenging year for Wanda as she has had to deal with the loss of her husband of many decades, and then a few months ago, shoulder surgery.  She was really unsure if she would be able to play or not.  But she did!  With great force and beauty.  It was a stunning postlude, and as I greeted folks after the service tears trickled down my cheek.

I still took a bit of a nap in the afternoon.  But I rested knowing once again that God is still speaking.  I rested knowing that my prayers were answered.  I rested knowing Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Response to Kansas

It doesn't always happen this way, but this year it does.  Passover and Holy Week overlap.  As Jews around the world are remembering the story of the Exodus, Christians are recalling the last days of Jesus on earth. 

In some ways the stories are like those Russian dolls--you know the ones I mean--where one doll fits into another fits into another . . . and so on?  Such is the way with these stories.  For Jesus and his followers we are told were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  Like all good Jews in that time, they made the journey to offer sacrifice at the Temple and to share in a special meal.  Without the Exodus, there would be no Passover.  Without Passover, there would be no Holy Week.  Without Holy Week there would be no . . .  well, you get my point.  Interconnected stories.

Over the years the Holy Week story has often been told in ways that foster anti-Semitism,
which of course, makes little sense.  But when does hatred ever make sense?  Jesus was a Jew.  His followers were Jews.  If you hate Jews then you hate Jesus--no matter what you say otherwise.
In this time in which we should be remembering our common heritage as Christians and Jews it especially tragic that a gunman in Kansas has lashed out in hatred.  Every year we Christians must be attentive to how we tell the story of Holy Week--perhaps this year, even more than ever, we need to remember the one we call Savior and those who carried out his work, were Jews.

Monday, April 7, 2014

In Season and Out---The Rhythm of Life

Folks are starting to head up north.  It is still "season" here on Sanibel--as opposed to "off-season"--but things are beginning to taper off.  Every Sunday several of our seasonal residents tell us it is their last Sunday until next season.  Some will come back as early as September, most will return in October or November.  And a number will wait until the holidays are past and arrive in January.  There is always a lot of coming and going here on the island--and at church as well. 

Over the four plus years I've been here I've thought about that seasonality a lot.  It impacts everything we do.  A few Sundays ago we had 570 in worship.  This August it could dip below 100.  Right now we have three services on Sunday morning.  In the summer, we'll have just one.  Even our boards and committees take a four or five month hiatus.  I've already met with some that won't reconvene until October.

I miss the folks who leave each year.  I miss the excitement of a full and busy church schedule.  But I also look forward to the slowing down which comes in June.  I have yet to fully master the rhythm--I don't take full advantage of the off season "lull"--and I've been known to run myself ragged in February and March.  But I'm working on it. 

The seasonality, of course, is not just my life right now, it is also a metaphor for life, period.  There are highs and lows, times of great drive and energy, and times when things quiet down.  It is all so clich├ęd--yet all so true.  And in many ways we spend our whole lives adjusting to the rhythms!  But like a piece of complicated music, the minute you get used to the rhythm, it changes yet again.  And while it may be a bit frustrating at times, it is also what makes it all so beautiful!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rethinking Noah

For years I've been concerned about the story of Noah and his Ark.  It really is a rather unsettling tale--which no doubt it is supposed to be.  After all, it tells of a God so vicious that he (it's definitely a male version of God in the Noah story) decides to completely, totally wipe out the earth.  Except for Noah, his closest kin, and the animals.  Well some of the animals.  Two of each variety (or, if you read the second version of the story in Genesis, seven pairs of each species considered kosher, and one pair of those deemed unclean).  I guess fish got off the hook (pardon the pun).  I mean, it was a flood after all!  But aside from things that swim in the seas, and the select group on Noah's Ark, nothing survives.

Now, don't misunderstand.  I'm not concerned about the fact that there are a lot of holes in the story, and that it doesn't appear to be historically accurate.  I can live with that. I read a lot of fiction--and I'm always finding truth expressed within it's pages. Indeed, a little mystery is good for the soul!  No, that's not my concern.  Rather I am concerned about the way God is depicted--and the fact that this story is so often a part of Sunday school curricula.  I imagine it's because of the animals.  Kids love animals.  And they are fun to draw.  But really, do I want children thinking that God might wipe us out at any minute?  I know, there is the rainbow at the end of the story, and God's promise to never destroy the earth by flood in the future. But kids always want to know why--and that leads to all sorts of interpretive issues, some of which are way beyond the reasoning powers of a six year old!

I'm not advocating cleaning up the story.  I'm not suggesting we throw it out of the Bible.  But  maybe we need to rethink when and how it is told.  Maybe it is a story for adults to ponder--not little kids.

I've not seen the movie Noah yet, so I can't comment on the particulars.  I understand it plays fast and loose with the Biblical tale that lies behind it.  But that is almost always the way with Hollywood.  And if it prompts some discussion about the story, well and good.  I'm just glad it's rated PG-13. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why I'm on Facebook (or Remembering Fred Phelps)

I first decided to go on Facebook to keep up with the younger members of my family.  My children, their partners, my nieces and nephews were all posting and friending all over the place.  So I signed up.

Most of the time the pictures and comments they post are just the everyday trivia of life--like most of Facebook.  But sometimes we learn of a new job, or a sick pet, or a tough school assignment through Facebook and we're able to respond in helpful ways.  And sometimes we get to learn a bit more about their thoughts and feelings about the world around them.  This is especially true for my nieces and nephews, who are scattered all around the country, and who I rarely get to see in person.

My niece Jennifer  is a yoga teacher, and a very together young woman. Last week she  posted her response to the death of Fred Phelps.  It brought me up short.  It was just what I needed to hear.  Phelps, as you may remember, was the pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church.  Through many years he led his congregation in a calculated effort to demonize gay and lesbian men and women.  He and his congregants picketed various gatherings with signs that read "God Hates Fags" and other such things.  They also picketed military funerals with the same signs, claiming that the deaths of soldiers and other military personnel was God's way of punishing America for allowing homosexuality.

As anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows, our family includes gay and lesbian folks.  It would be very understandable if Jennifer had lashed out at Phelps--but here is what she wrote:  "Hate begets hate.  Mr. Phelps, May peace soothe the hearts of those who loved you  May love for all beings finally find and embrace your soul." 

Well said!  While it is tempting to express great hatred for Phelps, he did after all bring great pain to so many, my niece Jennifer's words remind this old uncle that I follow One who says, "Love your enemies."  I'll never approve of what Phelps did.  It was wrong--even evil.  But that doesn't allow me to hate him.  I can't.  Jesus won't let me.  Neither will my niece.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bagels, Beer and Irish Blessings

It's St. Patrick's Day and naturally our thoughts turn to the Emerald Isle.  I'm told that we make a much bigger deal of the good saint's feast day here in America than they do in Ireland.  Perhaps that is always the way it is with those who are far from home!

Whatever the case, most folks will celebrate with corned beef and cabbage, or soda bread, or perhaps, in one of the most American of twists, with green bagels.  (Go figure!)  And, of course, lots and lots of beer--some green, some Guinness, and some whatever's on sale!

But perhaps the best way to celebrate is offer up words of blessing.  For, after all, Patrick was a missionary and a teacher of the faith.  And his work, his many efforts, brought a real blessing to his adopted homeland (he was British, you may remember, and originally brought to Ireland as a victim of a kidnapping).

Most folks know the so-called Irish Blessing: 

May the road rise before you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of God's hand. 

It's lovely.  I sang it to my congregation at all three services yesterday.  But it is far from the only Irish blessing.  Indeed, Esther de Waal, has collected dozens and dozens of such blessings in a delightful volume called The Celtic Vision.  There are blessings for boats, and hearths and children and cows!  One of my favorites goes this way:

The blessing of God and the Lord be yours,
The blessing of the perfect Spirit be yours,
The blessing of the Three be pouring for you
Mildly and generously,
Mildly and generously.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Vistiors, Vistors and More Vistors--It Must Be March!

It's March on Sanibel--which means  those of us who live here are pretty much guaranteed company, visitors from the north who want to escape the cold and soak up some sunshine.  And that's great.  It's good to see old friends and family members, good to have a chance to catch up. 

It also means the island population swells.  Traffic many days looks like a subtropical version of rush hour on the roads outside of New York--but  a bit more laidback.  People rarely honk their horns!  Restaurants are packed--you almost always have to wait for a table.  But that stuff is good as well--our local economy depends on it!

And church attendance is up.  Way up.  Here at Sanibel Congregational United Church of Christ our Sunday morning attendance quadruples in season!  Amazing!

When we talk about these things we often refer to "the seasonal effect"--how our lives go from the slow pace of summer to the harried pace of winter and then back again.  How everything we plan has to take into account the fluctuation in numbers that we live with year round.  One thing is for certain, it's never dull!

There's a rather snarky bumper sticker that I see every so often here on the island and in neighboring Fort Myers.  It is always found on cars and trucks with Florida plates.  It reads:  "Some of us aren't on vacation."  OK--it's funny--but it's not exactly hospitable!  If you're a visitor, don't take it personally.  Most of us are really glad you're here.  Though some would agree with my grandmother, who used to say about our family with four rambunctious children, "I'm glad to see them come, and I'm glad to see them go!"

But bottom line:  We're delighted you are here!  Enjoy the sunshine, the warmth and the beaches.  And come July or August, we'll return the favor!