Richard Nixon, Where Have You Gone?

Richard Nixon on Clean air

In this weird political season we have Republican presidential candidates arguing that Climate Change doesn’t exist. They seek to roll back environmental regulations put in place over nearly 50 years. It hasn’t always been this way. In fact it was a Republican, Richard Nixon, who championed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and pumped billions into a nationwide clean water program. Such vision led to a dramatic reduction in air and water pollution in our country.

Politics isn’t stationary and is constantly evolving or (devolving). In a convoluted way it offers a measure of hope that the reactionary, head in the sand mentality of many Republican leaders, may one day turn around. Perhaps a thumping over a few election cycles will get their attention. Let us remember that conservative values include conserving the health of the environment for generations to come.

This past week I paddled with my cousin Tom on the Blackstone River.

photo Tom and Kent

The river’s headwaters are in Worcester, MA and flows 48 miles to Providence, R.I. Its watershed drains 540 square miles. The Blackstone powered the industrial revolution and on its banks the first cotton mill was built in the 1770’s. Over the next 200 years thousands of factories poured millions of tons of toxins into it. The river was seen as a sewer flushing toxins and killing everything in its wake. As recently as 1990 it was considered the most polluted river in the USA related to toxins in the silt.

Fast forward nearly 50 years since Richard Nixon’s landmark legislation and you have what was an essentially dead river come back to life. The Blackstone is now home to 39 species of fish and soon slated to be safe to swim in. Along its banks is the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor (championed by another Republican, Senator John Chaffee). Thousands now bike, jog, picnic, fish and canoe along this once hard used river. Paddling with Tom up the Blackstone I thought of how resilient a river is when people of good will come together for the common good.

President Nixon’s presidency obviously had its dark side (secret war in Cambodia, Watergate etc. ). Yet, in this political season, I want to offer a belated thank you to Richard Nixon for his vision for the sake of the earth. The air we breathe and the water we drink and paddle on, is so much better because he recognized that ‘clean air, water, open spaces is our birthright’. Politicians of all persuasions, take note.

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Breaking Bread

A common denominator for the human condition is eating. Everybody has to eat and the act of breaking bread creates space for relationships to be formed. Some recent memorable meals include: Enjoying home-made potato soup with neighbors of the church I serve. Three times each week volunteers provide simple, delicious food for neighbors with tight budgets or living on the streets. I’ve gotten to know neighbors by name and those new friendships go beyond the dinner table. We bemoan another slow start by the Red Sox and sometimes go deeper by sharing our struggles. While the circumstances of life may differ we find that we have so much in common.

photo of shared meal

This past week I enjoyed gayo pinto and fried plantain in Nicaragua. I serve on the board of an organization called AMOS which empowers rural communities to improve their health care practices. Board meetings by definition are intensive and include looking at important but mundane topics like budgets and personnel policies. It is over a lunch that we renew, refuel and build relationships so essential for a healthy functioning organization.

This Friday my wife and I are invited to a table for Passover. Alison is a rabbi and our friend. Her husband Chuck is an amazing chef. Their son Leo is a wonderfully creative little boy. Rabbi Alison and family will host an eclectic group of 21 in their home. Over the Seder Meal we will tell the ancient story of Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. In the breaking of the bread we remember our shared need and the opportunity it provides for the common good.

In my Christian tradition the Eucharist is a ritual for communing with God and with each other. When we ‘break bread’ together we remember who we are as we remember ‘the One and the ones’ to whom we each belong.

Breaking bread reminds us that too often people are excluded intentionally or unintentionally from the table by prejudice. Prejudice means we ‘pre-judge’ others without getting to know their story, learn their name and let them know who we are. Some in our political climate seek to build walls of fear and intolerance. They would have us judge and fear those we don’t know.

phot of table

The antidote to fear and prejudice is simple. All we need do is invite those we don’t yet know, to sit at our table or to look for an unfamiliar table and draw up a chair. It’s amazing what happens when we choose to break bread with others.

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Public Health as a Human Right

We live in a world with a profound discrepancy between those with enough and those with little. AMOS is a faith based public health ministry that believes that access to good health care is a fundamental human right. We serve in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. AMOS has a dual meaning, it means A Ministry of Sharing and refers to Amos the Biblical prophet who said:

‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.’

AMOS serves in 22 rural communities and one urban clinic. Collectively we walk alongside 11,069 individuals. AMOS uses a community empowering model where each community commits to electing a health committee and a health promoter. They work with their local community to ensure basic health care and sanitation practices. The health promoter is trained in basic care of wounds and illnesses and with the health committee walk alongside community members to teach disease prevention and promote overall health. During the week they dispense a pharmacy in a clinic and make house calls, providing prenatal care and follow-up care.

AMOS photo

Health Committees and Promoters assist people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, anemia. Anemic children if left untreated after age two can result in permanent damage to the brain. By screening and treating children for anemia we ensure that each child can grow to their full potential.

Since 2010 1,121 water filters have been installed in 19 communities. As a result the dysentery rate has dropped dramatically resulting in fewer childhood deaths and healthier children spending more time in school.

AMOS simply provides a community based health model, training and ongoing support. This model empowers communities to work collaboratively for the common good. AMOS also looks for ways to collaborate with the Nicaraguan government and NGO’s to maximize efforts to improve health care.

I recently attended a board meeting and learned of efforts to respond to the Zika virus. Soon the rainy season will come and the mosquitoes will spread with the disease. AMOS is working with community leaders to educate people about this complex and devastating disease.

The needs are great and sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming. AMOS knows that heath and hope are found when ordinary people like us work together for the common good. If you’d like to know more about AMOS go to http://www.amoshealth.org If you’d like to donate online: amoshealth.org/donate

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Ernie and the Babe

Sometimes a treasure is found in the most unexpected places. Last week my wife and I were exploring Cooperstown, NY the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. We stopped by a used book bookstore which was a rabbits warren of packed shelves and heaps of books on the floor. It was a place seemingly without order, which was also part of its charm. You had the sense that hiding within each pile was a gift waiting to be found.

Being a bookstore in Cooperstown there were lots of books and memorabilia related to baseball. Over one bookshelf was a dusty photograph depicting two baseball players seated by a dugout. One was instantly recognizable, the great Babe Ruth. The other was unfamiliar. Both were young, wearing the uniform of my Red Sox. Clearly this was early in Babe’s career before being sold to the Evil Empire (the Yankees). Who was the other guy sitting beside Babe?

Babe and Ernie

The owner of the shop didn’t know. I took a photo with my phone and texted it to my buddy Bruce. Bruce knows more about baseball than I will ever know. He has kept a scorecard for the thousands of games he has attended over the course of his lifetime. He’s also a walking baseball encyclopedia. Within minutes Bruce texted me back, providing the answer to our mystery man: Ernie Shore.

Later a web search of Ernie Shore provided lots of stats on the pitchers life. I learned he had grown up and played ball in the Carolina’s, been recruited by Baltimore and traded with Babe to the Sox. One headline caught my attention:

Ernie Shore’s ‘Perfect’ Game and Babe Ruth’s Ejection in 1917

The Boston Globe covered this game with as much attention to the fracas that got Babe Ruth ejected after walking the first batter as to Ernie Shore’s feat of retiring the 26 batters he faced in relief, which, with the first batter being thrown out stealing, made 27 straight outs, if not quite an absolute perfect game. It happened at Fenway Park on June 23, 1917, in the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Washington Senators. Here’s part of the Globe’s account:

FAME FOR SHORE, SOX IN TWIN WIN
No-Hit, No-Run and No-Man-to-First Performance
Modest Ernie Shore took a place in the Hall of Fame as a no-hit, no-run, no man-reached-first base pitcher in the curtain-raiser of the twin bill with the Griffmen at Fenway Park yesterday. It was the best pitching seen in this city since 1904 when Cy Young put over a similar feat, the only difference being that Uncle Cyrus pitched to every batter, while the Carolina professor did not get into the exercises until after Ruth, who had walked Morgan, the first batter, had been removed from the pastime for striking Umpire Brick Owns. . .

The rest of the article had to do with Babe punching the ump for not calling a strike. Babe being tossed opened the door for the ‘modest Ernie Shore’ to enter the game and make history. Now this photo of Ernie and the Babe hangs by my desk. In the photo Babe seems to be looking away. But Ernie seems to be looking directly at me. Sizing me up. I wonder if he had that same look on June 23, 1917 when he pitched a perfect game, knocking back 27 batters in a row.

Sometimes you find a treasure in the most unexpected places.

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Brussels: Living in a Good Friday World

More than 30 people are dead and more than 200 are wounded after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. The city is in a state of emergency. Residents and visitors are told to ‘shelter in place’. ISIS has taken credit for this atrocity.

We in the United States watch this horrific story unfold and our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We recognize that such senseless terrorism can come to any of us. I think of my daughter, a college student, who in January spent a week living and working in Brussels. She told us how beautiful Brussels is and how friendly the people. She arrived at the same airport and rode the same subway that were bombed this morning. It could have been my daughter, your child, anyone of us caught up in this tragic story.

bombing in brussels

The world has always known violence. The 24 hour news cycle brings tragedies before us in quick secession. We feel overwhelmed, frightened, even numb. What then, if anything, are we to do? In this political season some would have us isolate from the world and build bigger walls. Others would have us respond to the violence of ISIS with violence of our own. An eye for an eye.

Is there any hope? Any way forward that does not lead to more suffering, create greater fear?

We reflect on such questions during this Holy Week in the Christian calendar. This week we remember how Jesus was betrayed, arrested and on Good Friday crucified by the Empire of Rome. On that Friday 2000 years ago a reasonable observer would have thought that the forces of violence and revenge had won. That death was the final word.

In the aftermath of today’s bombings in Brussels we too may be thinking that hatred, terrorism, fear and death have won.

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem for the last time: ‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of? In my tradition it is the way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

My tradition tells me that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not, believer or skeptic, we are invited to claim this truth that evil will never have the final word.

We think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear. What forgiveness are you prepared to offer? Who are you called to embrace? What stranger (who makes you uncomfortable ) are you called to befriend?

Pope washing feet of youth

Today and in the days to come the prayers and love of millions of many faiths and no particular faith will be with the people of Belgium. In time, ISIS will be a footnote of history. And the story of love’s capacity to persevere and guide our shared path, will continue to be told.

Love wins. It is the only force that can.

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The Boys at 60

There’s something about turning a decade older that gives one pause. It is a time for reflection, taking stock of where you’ve been and where you hope to go. This feels particularly true as I and a group of lifelong friends move into our sixth decade.

We’ve been together since boyhood and have walked with one another through times both joyous and hard. Richard Rohr in his book ‘Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’, writes that in the first half of life we focus on our identity: Who am I? What am I good at? Where am I going? Who will go with me?

But by the second half of life we’ve experienced how fragile life can be. We’ve lost loved ones, made mistakes, dealt with health issues, had our hearts broken. Rohr writes that such painful moments raise questions we’d otherwise not ask, and offer insights we’d otherwise not have. By the second half of life we ask different questions: What do I really value? What do I truly believe in (not what others tell me)? Where do I belong?

The answers don’t come easy. Yet the insights gleaned are ours alone to claim.

My life is graced with good friends. This past week six of us gathered for our annual ski trip to Loon Mountain, NH (known as Loonapalooza). We are growing old(er) together. Each year we ski, laugh (a lot), drink (a lot), eat (a lot). And sometimes we are serious together. We’ve added the ritual of raising a glass to our great friend Larry, whom cancer took from us two years ago.

Boys of Loonapalooza

There’s a wonderful saying that ‘when we laugh, we grow younger’. On our annual ski trip (for a time) we grow younger. That’s a gift that paradoxically comes with age. To each of my friends who are turning 60 with me this year (pictured left to right: Rob, me, Frank, Dave, Clyde, Tom), I say: ‘Happy birthday. Thank you for the gift of your friendship.’ Can’t think of a better group of guys to get older with.

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Drones and Collateral Damage

Since September 11, 2001 the United States has conducted a War on Terror. This war is fueled by the fear that our homeland and all we hold dear is under relentless assault. This fear led to the invasion in Afghanistan (our nation’s longest running war); invasion of Iraq and the use of Drones. President Obama has dramatically increased the use of Drones to attack those deemed a threat.

In the seven years of his presidency (as of February 2016) Mr. Obama has authorized 423 drone attacks (according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism), resulting in an estimated total kill of 2498 – 3999 persons. Of this total it is estimated that 423 – 968 were civilians of which 172 – 207 were children. Estimates for injured 1161 – 1744. It is impossible to get exact numbers as there are no U.S combatants on the ground. This past week another drone attack in Somalia is estimated to have killed 150 al Shabab terrorist fighters.

photo of Drone warfare

Proponents argue that Drone warfare does not put U.S personnel in harm’s way. They also point out that a strict protocol is in place to minimize collateral damage to non combatants. It is further argued that we live in a dangerous world and that war while ‘messy’ is necessary to keep our nation and our allies safe.

Yet, some in the military point to the innocents killed (such as a large wedding party in Afghanistan mistaken as combatants) as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. I wonder too about the emotional distancing that happens when U.S military are making the determination from their computer screen, whether or not to bomb a target half way around the world. It is one thing to see an explosion on a computer screen and another to see and smell the carnage in person.

I am also deeply troubled by the term ‘collateral damage’, to reflect the killing of innocents. Surely such killing isn’t intentional yet the use of a the term ‘collateral damage’ is a profound insult to the lives that have been lost in the midst of our nation’s war on terror. Drone warfare is an inexact form of violence. It is the responsibility of those in our government and military to wrestle with the ethics. And, it is the responsibility of we as citizens to debate the ethics of just how far we will allow our government to go in this so-called war.

As a person of faith I believe that each person is created in the image of God. In believing this I have a responsibility to insert myself in our national debate. And, if a serious debate doesn’t seems to be taking place, then it is incumbent upon us to get it started. Drone warfare should trouble us all. Since 9/11 our nation and much of the world has been led by fear. Are there values that we hold dear that not even fear can take from us?

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