The Tables Are Turned

fifteenI have been asked to speak to a group of high school students and their parents and friends at a fund raising dinner this coming Friday night.  They are raising money for their annual service learning trip to Nicaragua this spring. One of the reasons I was asked to speak is because I am on the Board of Directors of the organization which works in Nicaragua and who organizes the trip for them.  Another reason is that I, too, lead similar trips each year taking a group of high school students and adults to build homes or schools in the country which is the second poorest in the western hemisphere.

When I was asked to speak I was told, “Something inspirational…”
And, the moment I said “Yes” the tables were turned.
Most of the time I am the one asking the questions.
“What have you learned?”
“What does it mean?”
“What do have you given?”
“What have you been given?”
And, I sit back and listen for the responses.
Now, it is my turn.
They have asked the question of me and I now have to search heart and mind and soul for the words to describe what I have learned and what I have been given and how those experiences have touched and changed my life which they certainly have.  Some of what I will say will have to do with my eyes being opened and with seeing the world more as it actually is than how it is around me.  Some of what I will say will have to do with humility and gratitude and hospitality.  And, some of it will have to do with what it means that my neighborhood is bigger today than it was before I took my first trip.

I was honored to be asked.
And I would do anything that I could to support the efforts of these young adults.  But, they have turned the tables on me and have forced me to find words to describe experiences that have elementally changed my life.  I wonder what I will say.

Safe Places

Instead of a sermon/message this Sunday morning, our congregation will have a conversation. Or, at least start one.
A conversation about…
Violence.
And guns.
And the meaning of the 2nd Amendment.
About assault weapons.
And hand guns.
And high capacity magazine clips.
And, I hope…
A conversation about what it takes to create safe places;
For our children and for our youth and for our households.

I find myself wondering…
How much of the violence that we hear about on the news;
From Aurora to Sandy Hook to the streets of Chicago;
Has to do with alienation and a sense of hopelessness?
Has to do with individuals just not caring anymore?
Or, about pain crying out for attention in the most destructive way possible?

Yes, our elected officials and law enforcement officers and mental health professionals all have an critical role to play in our continued efforts to minimize violence and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who cannot use them safely and properly.
But places like this…
Churches, synagogues, mosques…
Communities of faith of whatever size or shape or brand…
Also have a role to play that has something to do with hope and purpose and making a positive difference. And something to do with a sense of community which is something that many have lost over the last number of years.

I don’t know how the conversation will go on Sunday.
I just know it is an important conversation to begin.
I don’t know what we need to do more of to create safe places.
I just know it is important that we begin.

Not Me

not me

 

Reading through the headlines on Flipboard last night I came across this article.
At a trade show of gun enthusiasts and manufacturers, the head of the National Shooting Sports Foundation plans to tell convention goers they didn’t cause the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT a month ago.  Of course they didn’t, but…

In contrast to that was a meeting I attended of community leaders and school teachers and administrators to talk about how, as a community, we begin to address the issues facing children and youth and families and our communities, including the threat of violence.  Those of us in the room didn’t cause the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT, but…

Here is the difference between the response in the article and the response in the meeting I attended.
The sentiment on  one side is:
I/we didn’t do and therefore we are not responsible.
The sentiment on the other side is:
I/we didn’t do it, but we do have, and maybe bear, some responsibility.

Here, I think, is the critical question.
Each of us…
And each community…
To say nothing of our nation…
Has to decide which of this sentiments if correct and which of these sentiments might lead to the best long term future for our children and our communities.

I believe that the children who group up in our communities are OUR children and that I have a responsibility to do what I can to make our communities and our schools a safe, secure and supportive place for children and youth and families.  And, when children fall through the cracks and something happens, I bear some responsibility for that as well.
What do you think?

 

Today…

January 15

 

There is nothing special about today, O God.
There is…
My list of things I hope to get done.
Several meetings I said I would attend.
The dog to walk.
Dinner to prepare.
The details and rhythms that make up my daily routine.
My daily life.

There is EVERYTHING special about this day, O God.
After all, here I am…
With work to do which I both enjoy and find meaningful.
Surrounded and sustained by the love and support of family and friends.
A list to tasks to accomplish for which I have both the resources and the skills.
A dog to walk who will help to introduce me or reintroduce me to neighbors and strangers on the Village streets.
Food to prepare and to eat which is more than what many…maybe even most…will have today.

There is EVERYTHING special about this most ordinary day, O God.
Thank you.

The Work Is Not Yet Done

Last night I attended the 35th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Banquet organized and hosted by the local black Baptist congregation.  I am deeply grateful for their continued witness to me and to our community.

It was 50 years ago that Dr. King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his I Have A Dream  speech.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even in the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering in the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day in the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.

We have come a long way since 1963.
Last night I sat a a dinner table with neighbors – black and white together.
The local legislator, who is white, presented an official proclamation to the pastor who is African-American.
All stood together and sang Lift Every Voice and Sing.
50 years ago that would have been nearly impossible.
Not just in Alabama or Mississippi, but in Bedford, NY, as well.
We have come a long way…
But, we still have a long way to go.

Last night I was reminded again and inspired again to be driven by a dream.
A dream eloquently articulated 50 years ago by Dr. King, but a dream of equality and justice and peace that is as old as humankind.
Now, it is my turn…
And your turn…
To find our own, often faltering words, to give voice to that dream;
And then, not just to say the words, but to do our best to live them in whatever way we are able, and in whatever place we find ourselves.

Silence is not an option.
I have a dream today.

If It Saves Your Life

So, here is the story…
A number of years ago our famiily was shopping for a new car.
A young salesman for one of the cars we were considering eagerly pointed out all of the safety features on the particular car we were looking at, including the fact that it had side airbags. (Side airbags were relatively new at the time.)  In his effort to make the sale he said to us,
“Even if they only save your life once they are worth it.”
We thanked him for his time and left the showroom.
And, I wrote down what he said.
“Even if they only save your life once they are worth it.”

Now for what I believe…and don’t believe.
I believe my life needs to be saved.
I don’t believe that has anything to do with what happens after I die.
I believe it has everything to do with how I live today.
I need to be saved from selfishness.
I need to be saved from narrow-mindedness.
I need to be saved from arrogance.
I need to be saved from thinking it is ALL my responsibility or my fault.
I need to be saved from taking myself to seriously.

That list can certainly go on.
But if that is what I believe then the next question is:
What is going to save my life today?
What is going to turn me in the direction of hope?
What is going to turn me in the direction of gratitude?
What is going to stop me in my tracks and make me pay attention?
What is doing to take my breath away?
Rather than being rhetorical, these are real life questions that I need to find ways to live with and to pay attention to each day.  Otherwise the life I have to live today will be lost.

He was right, you know.
“Even if they only save your life once they are worth it.”
And we did buy the car.

Mental Health Day

ski

 

First, a confession.
I don’t think of myself as a workaholic, but I probably work more than I should.
Some of that is because I feel responsible.
Some of that is I tend to be something of a perfectionist.
Some of that is that I want those around me and those I work for to be happywith me and with my work.
All of that leads up to today.

For the first time in a couple of months I was able to take a mental health day.
There was nothing on my calendar that could not be pushed back a day and nothing pressing in the office that I just had to do, so Sunday evening I drove up to Vermont to get away for a couple of days…and to ski.  When my children were young, we would take mental health days several times each winter.  I would take a day off work.  They would take a day off school.  And, we would go to one of the closer ski areas and ski for the day.  Back then, it was not so hard to do probably because I was doing it with my kids.

It was a bit harder for me the last couple of days.
While I thoroughly enjoyed skiing…
Blue sky.
Great snow.
No lines.
And, my first two days skiing this winter.
And, while I very much needed the day and a half away…
(I feel rested for the first time in several of weeks!)
One part of me kept telling the other part of me that I should be working;
That I should be busy.
I know that is something I need to learn about myself.
But, I also think it is not just me.
I think many around me, both young and old, have conditioned themselves to think that they must be busy all the time and when they are not something is wrong.
How many of us, I wonder, need a mental health day?
Maybe we all need to learn and to practice a more healthy way to live.

May the words of our mouths…

words

Words matter.
How words are used matters.
Jewish and Christian sacred text includes these words:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” 
Right now, our words are not…
Acceptable, that is…
To God or to anyone else.

When our political leaders speak in ways that denigrate other elected officials, they give tacit permission to those who listen to them to speak in the same way to and about those with whom they disagree.  When our news outlets speak of every political decision or compromise in terms of winners and losers, they help to create a competitive environment where leaders do all that they can not to be seen or labeled as losers.  And, what happens there filters down to here and to me and to my neighbor and to my community.  We draw up sides.
Me versus you.
Red versus blue.
Us versus them.
Urban versus rural.
Black versus white versus Latino.
Neighbors become strangers.
We become suspicious of each other.

Something has to give.
Either we are going to draw the line in the sand deeper and wider making it harder to cross or someone has to be strong enough and brave enough to step forward and begin to speak with and about the other side in a different tone of voice, and challenge the language and the rhetoric of those who constantly belittle and demean.  Maybe that is just wishful thinking in the arena of hardball politics, but I am afraid if we don’t find a better way forward the fabric of our communal life and common good will become much more frayed than it already is.

But, here is the other side of the equation…
What if the rhetoric we hear from our elected officials is merely reflective of what is at play in our communities?  Where you and I live?  What if they are merely saying out loud and in front of a camera what we whisper to each other on the street corners about those who are different or who think differently than we do?  If that is the case then it is not their problem, but our problem.  Then you and I need to be the ones to find better, more civil ways to talk to and with each other.  Maybe if it starts here, it will filter up.  Maybe if you and I can find a way to do it, we will become the model for our elected officials to do it as well.

Rather than looking elsewhere,
Maybe you and I are the ones who need to be the leaders right now.