Making America Great

This past week I attended the funeral of a 96-year-old named Bill.  His grandson described Bill as a quiet man who laughed easily, worked hard, was generous and loved his family.  Bill worked in the shipping and receiving department for a local hospital.  After his shift he’d often visit staff and patients, serving as an unofficial chaplain.

His grandson said:  “My grandfather was a good man.  A family man.  Whose goodness made him great”.

I’ve been thinking about the grandson’s words in this post-election season. President-elect Trump would have us believe that greatness is defined by the wealth one accumulates and the power one possesses.

This is not a new idea.  Nations build statues to military heroes and name buildings after wealthy donors.  By one measure these are great men and women worthy of recognition.

Yet, when I think of the people I consider to be great, I think of people who are humble in heart.  People who exhibit generosity and sensitivity toward others.  Ordinary people who don’t think of themselves as brave but are capable of doing brave things.

People who pave our roads and teach our kids.  People who risk their lives for the well-being of others.  People guided by a strong moral compass.

Mr. Trump now our President-elect ran his campaign on the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’.  I pray that he has the wisdom and dare I say, the humility, to look for guidance from everyday people like ‘Bill’, who was laid to rest at age 96.

A good man.  A man who dedicated his life to his family and being a helpful neighbor.   That’s a definition of greatness I can embrace.

 

 

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Awe…been awhile?

When was the last time you were filled with awe, wonder, mystery? When was the last time you were so inspired that your response was a catch in the throat,  a whispered ‘awesome’ or a shouted ‘whoop’!

Been awhile?

According to a series of scientific studies awe is an essential component to living well.  Awe leads to greater generosity, increased ethical decision making and enhanced capacity for the common good.   One study put it this way: ‘Standing in a grove of towering trees enhanced prosocial helping behavior.’

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/108/6/883/

It seems that being in the midst of nature has a way of putting our grandiosity or worries in perspective.  Looking into the depths of the Grand Canyon, hiking the White Mountains or standing in a grove of trees can speak to the depth of one’s soul.  A reminder that it isn’t all about us. It’s about belonging to something greater, so intricately complex and beautiful that in response, we simply whisper ‘thank you’.

photo-opal-creek-wanderer

Soul is that inner place where we instinctively sense a connection to that which is greater than oneself.  Remember the last time you looked up at the night sky and saw a shooting star?  Perhaps its been a very long time.  But you remember your response…a whispered or shouted ‘wow’ as a million year old meteor burned bright and then was gone.

John Muir put it this way:

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

Since the beginning of time humankind has experienced awe.  Awe inspires, transforms, creates.  Awe fires the imagination…giving us art, science, poetry, music, dance, religion.

The challenge in life is to make space for awe. In our hyper busy, technologically driven lives we can miss out on so much.  Sometimes it takes a natural disaster  i.e. blizzard, blackout, flood to catch our attention.  A whack upside the head from the Universe that says ‘listen up’!

The invitation of course is ours.  To experience the beauty,  wonder, harshness, the sacredness of nature here and now.

Sometimes when I’m kayaking …I feel suspended between the water and sky.  A moment when I can’t distinguish between me and my surroundings.  There’s no duality only unity. I simply am.

Creation speaks in infinite ways…for those with the ears to hear, eyes to see and with lips to praise.

The poet Mary Oliver offers this:

‘Let me keep my mind on what matters which consists of standing still and learning to be astonished.’

May it be so.

 

 

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Post Election Reflection: Not Going Back

Ours is a divided nation.   The rhetoric of this election has highlighted and inflamed the differences within groups and regions and sometimes even within families. We wonder whether we can be restored as a nation.  

We think of the vision celebrated in our Pledge of Allegiance ‘one Nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all’. We are aware that many feel justice is denied them and many feel left behind. An underlying sense of fear and even hopelessness permeate our psyche as a people.

My concern is that our divisions not be glossed over simply in the name of unity.  Rather I hope that we may come to understand the causes of our division…and perhaps in our understanding, we may begin the essential work of addressing what separates us.  Only then can we form what Abraham Lincoln called ‘a more perfect Union’.

A big part of our work is acknowledging the pain caused by harsh words and thoughtless rhetoric during this long election process.   For Mr. Trump to be successful in his presidency (which for the sake of the nation I hope he is) he needs to take the lead in stepping away from the harmful rhetoric that helped him get elected.

Women and girls have been exposed to his misogynistic language.  People of color feel marginalized.  Immigrants, legal and undocumented feel vulnerable and exposed.  If Mr. Trump wishes to truly be a president for all the people he needs to apologize for the words he used and offer safeguards to those who feel marginalized.

Whether he has the capacity or desire to bring people together is an open question. For the sake of our country I hope and pray he does.

I say this in particular out of concern and love for the generation of my children.  The millennials  will soon surpass in size my generation, the boomers.  Millennials have already begun to take on the mantle of leadership and by the next election will be the largest voting block.

Millennials were raised believing in racial justice and full inclusion of LGBTQ neighbors.  They believe too in full rights for women even as they confront the persistent reality of misogyny in our nation and world.

What gives me hope is knowing that the millennial generation will not go back. They will not accept the ‘locker room talk’ of a man who is now our president-elect.   Nor will they allow voter suppression by race to stand. Nor will they allow a government to control their reproductive rights.

photo-of-hope

Nor will they stand idly by while immigrant neighbors, legal and undocumented, live in fear.  Last night in a 60 Minutes interview Mr. Trump said he will move to forcibly remove or incarcerate up to 3 million undocumented immigrants who have a police record http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/60-minutes-interview-president-elect-donald-trump/ar-AAkfQd7?OCID=ansmsnnews11.

I wonder who will be picked up in this massive dragnet in addition to the ‘violent criminals’ that Mr. Trump speaks of?  Will this include people with parking tickets or other misdemeanors?

The reality is that families will be torn apart.  As people of faith will we take to heart these words in Leviticus 19:34?

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

To a large degree our young people have been awakened.  A question to my generation and to people of faith…have we been awakened too?

I will stand up for the hopes of my children. To demand that we become ‘ a more perfect union’.  If need be I will turn to the non-violent example of Dr. King and work to hold our elected officials accountable in our shared pursuit of ‘liberty and justice for all’.

Mr. Trump will have a successful presidency to the extent  he understands that he has bridges not walls to build.  Bridges between generations, regions and cultural groups that make up this great nation.

 

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A Letter to Trump Supporters

The letter below was penned by my friend Ray Schellinger in the wee hours of this morning upon Donald Trump being declared president-elect.  Ray is a Christian missionary who has dedicated his life to advocating for those on the margins. He directed Debra’s House a shelter for women fleeing domestic abuse in Tijuana, Mexico.  He currently works on behalf of refugees fleeing violence and oppression.

This past week he was in Jordan visiting refugee camps for those fleeing civil war in Syria.  Ray is a man of faith and integrity.  He takes to heart the words of Jesus ‘whatever you do unto these the most vulnerable of my sisters and brothers you do unto me’ (Matthew 25:40).  I invite you to read:

My dear friends, I cannot begin to express how heavy my heart feels right now. I know some of you greet this news with the opposite reaction. You are very happy, perhaps because you were truly afraid of what a Clinton presidency might mean. I am happy for you, and hope that this decision that you helped make happen will bring the positive things that you envision for our country.

I am afraid, however, and ask that you try to comprehend my fears and those of so many others who are offended by the character of the campaign that was run. We have seen blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, and a pandering to the worst angels of our nature.

I fear for migrants who live here with us now, the LGBTQ community, Muslims, people of color, and many more of our most vulnerable citizens. I fear for our social safety net, for the advances we’ve made and civil rights, and for the availability of education and healthcare. I fear for the environment, and for the state of the earth that we leave for our children, I fear for the growing chasm between rich and poor in the US, as well as the undue influence of money in our political system, I fear for the relationships we have with the global community and allies, and the difficult International situations that we must navigate with wisdom and consistency.

I know these things are important to you too, and I ask that we join together to safeguard the values that we hold most dear, and to protect the lives of our most vulnerable. Please understand, that though I respect the will of the majority, I do not believe that the majority is always right.

Please remember that it is often a tiny minority which stands in prophetic witness to justice and the right. This incoming administration will have a great deal of power, and one party will hold the advantage in all branches of government. There is a great potential to abuse this majority. I am not at all confident that a President Trump can temper the power he will hold with a desire to protect the interests of the minority or the unity of the country.

If this was your choice, then this becomes your responsibility-to hold your candidate accountable to the wellbeing of us all. I join with you in praying that these fears are unfounded. I pray that we can continue to come together to work for justice, peace, and hope.

Shalom, my friends, shalom.

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Antidote to Election Bitterness

This has been a bitter, nasty political season.  The level of vitriol which transcends political party has created fissures among groups and within families.

Whichever political party wins the presidential and congressional election we will all have  work to do.  It will take work to live into the promise of our Pledge of Allegiance…‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’.

How do we mend the divisions that threaten to pull us even further apart? How do we live into the values that guide us?

To begin we must understand the deep-seated fear and despair that many in our nation are feeling. We need to understand what brought about this alienation and offer practical and effective solutions.

People need to have hope.  In the absence of hope the gulf that separates us will only deepen and grow.  This is the long-term challenge for those we elect and for all citizens.

At the risk of appearing simplistic, I offer two steps that I think are essential in restoring us to unity as a people. 1) Listen.  Find people who voted differently than you and simply ask them ‘why’.  Don’t argue. Listen to understand why they feel the way they do.  Listen to their fears.  Listen to their hopes.

Understanding one another’s fears and hopes are essential first steps to finding solutions.  Listening to understand is a profound expression of respect. We may not readily agree on solutions but when we feel heard we are already on our way to finding common ground.

2) Offer kindness.  This political season has made us more coarse as a society.  We’ve talked at and past one another.  How can we respond?  With kindness.  https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas

Starting with election day intentionally offer a ‘random act of kindness’.  Offer an act of kindness at least once a day for one week.  Who knows, it may become a life-giving habit.

In line for coffee?  Buy a cup for the person behind you.  At an intersection?  Flash your lights and let someone else make their turn.  Passing someone on the sidewalk?  Say ‘hello’.   See someone looking tired and stressed?  Offer a silent prayer of blessing.

Have a neighbor or family member who you’ve been avoiding because of politics?  Offer a gift of kindness.

photo-of-kindness

Not only will the act of kindness bless someone else, it will also begin to soften your heart too.  The path to reconciliation ain’t rocket science. Listening and offering acts of kindness can go a long way in bringing us back together as ‘one people’.

Come Wednesday morning nearly half of us will be pissed off or despondent.

Win or lose we each can choose how we will respond.  We can choose to listen and be kind.  In such simple acts we will find our way as a nation.

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Celts and Geese

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s haze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. ~ Wendell Berry

photo-of-goose

In Celtic spirituality a goose is the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  For the Celts raised on the windswept cliffs of the Irish Sea it is the goose that survives and thrives.

For the Celts a wild, loud, sometimes aggressive goose is a more fitting symbol of that great mystery called Spirit.  Whereas tradition depicts a dove, it is a goose which honks with an explosive energy and flies on wide, powerful, expansive wings.

Wendell Berry the Kentucky farmer and poet believes that wild geese flying over remind us ‘that what we need is here’, that the mysteries of life surround us…seed and earth and honking geese…awakening us to the gift of now.

 

 

 

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Buddy Bench

Think back.  You are 13 years old in Middle School.  It’s Gym class and teams are being chosen.  The best athletes are chosen as team captains.  One be one they begin to choose who they want on their team.

You aren’t particularly fast or tall and your hand- eye coordination isn’t all that good.  You watch as your classmates are chosen and you hope (and pray) that you won’t be last.

Remember what that felt like?  If you were fortunate enough to be the one selecting or the one usually chosen first, you too remember the lesson: Don’t show weakness.  Don’t fall behind.  Don’t be chosen last.

Of course such feelings don’t end with a 7th grade gym class.  The longing to fit in, to not lose face, to be accepted by others persists.

This past weekend I watched as a group of middle and senior high youth built and painted a bench.  This bench is special.  They call it a ‘buddy bench’.

photo-buddy-bench

The buddy bench is being placed at several church camps.  The bench is for anyone who feels alone, struggling, sad, alienated.  It is intended to be a safe place. Where you can sit and draw strength from the words of love and encouragement that have been painted by your peers.

More than words, the buddy bench is an invitation for people to come and sit with you.  A place to sit and remind one another that in God’s eyes no one is chosen last.  In God’s eyes each of us is beautiful, strong, gifted, unique.

Why?  Because each of us is a child of God.

Ever felt like you didn’t fit in? Ever have someone break your trust?  Ever been cast aside?  Ever been picked last…or, not at all?

This buddy bench is more than a place to sit and rest.  It is a metaphor that calls us to reimagine our place in the world.  To see oneself and others as worthy too.

In this unusually nasty political season where our so-called leaders revert to bullying, shaming and blaming their opponents…it’s good to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Good to remember that we each deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.  To know that there’s a place on the ‘buddy bench’ for you and me.

Note:  For directions to  see a Buddy Bench at Grotonwood or Oceanwood Camps  in Massachusetts and Maine,  go to: http://www.tabcom.org

 

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