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January 5, 2017, 8:31 AM

My Two Cents

Last week’s sermon concluded with a list of “signs of hope” compiled by various members, friends and family connected with Christian Temple. Here’s a copy of the list for those who might be interested. Enjoy!

 

I see hope in the young friend of mine who just told me she’s going to have a baby in July.

 

I see and hear hope in the cooing of my newborn daughter.

 

I see hope in Asher Ray, a cute-as-a-button, tough-as-nails seven-year-old, who has lived with Ewings Sarcoma, a form of cancer, for more than half of her young life. After having been told they were out of options for a cure and that her cancer had spread, This little warrior has recently been accepted into a cutting-edge clinical trial.  

 

I see hope in the fine adults our children have become.

 

I see hope in the new governor of North Carolina.

 

I see hope in a natural world that remains filled with beauty.  

 

I see hope in people who are inherently kind.  

 

I hear hope when I hear people laugh, especially people I know and love.

 

I see hope in a growing appreciation, especially in matters of racial justice, that we must confront our past.

 

I worry that it is a mark of privilege to speak more of hope than of responsibility. Our temptation may be to take shelter from the storm. Our faith requires us to walk into the storm and find those in need of shelter. 

 

Speaking of the storm, I see hope in the song “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain.

 

I see hope in the testimonies of women who were inspired to be leaders by 19 year old Carrie Fisher’s Princess Lea.

 

I see hope in the number of my former students who, used to be politically apathetic but who are now standing up and speaking out and advocating for justice. That was my primary professional objective so now I can retire in peace.

 

I saw hope three weeks ago here in this sanctuary in the excitement of a young child calling out to his mom in a church service, with joy and surprise,

“Mommy, this is my babysitter!” This happened right after all the young children in the sanctuary had spread through the room to collect socks for Paul's Place from a generous, caring, accepting congregation.  I see hope in that exuberance and generosity.

 

I find great hope in the capacity of ordinary people reach out to each other in love and to do so in spite of their differences.

 

I see hope in the musical Hamilton, making history come alive with such an appreciation of diversity.

 

I see hope in Hamilton’s Lin Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech at the Tony Awards. Whenever I get discouraged, I go back and listen to it again.

 

I see hope in the millennials in our family who, for Christmas, asked for donations to organizations that make a difference every day in this world. They were not thinking of themselves but of others who will be on the fringe and need their support. These young people CARE about the world and are asking the rest of us to help them make a difference.

 

I’ve seen hope in the gathering of amazing friends to celebrate life in spite of death, and in the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

 

I see hope in the strength I’ve received through prayer to be more kind.

 

I think the best hope I see right now is the children. Or the young adults. Both, I suppose there's so much controversy about bathrooms and locker rooms and when are boys boys and when are they girls and who decides. And that looks pretty bleak.

But I'm not sure. I don't think we could have even started to have that conversation when I was in school. A transgender student wouldn't have lasted in high school as long as a fruit fly.  And despite all the outrage, despite the division over it, it's a conversation we can have. We live in a world where children are increasingly safe to look at their families and be honest about who they are. It's a world where hiding is becoming a thing of the past. And that gives me hope. I can see a day when there won't be a need to come out. A day when we walk into mom's kitchen with, not a boy or a girl, not gay or straight, but just *people*. And I think we get closer every day. They give me hope, these brave children- these brave young adults. They give me hope that someday no one will ever live the life I had to live.

 

I see hope in Christian Temple because I've always felt that it was one of the first places that I was just accepted. It wasn't a thing. There was no fight between my faith and how I live my life, with who I am.




December 25, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Two weeks ago, while I was on my morning commute to work- four blocks through the neighborhood- I spied a young man who looked to be in middle school. I’m guessing he was a sixth grader. He didn’t have that “I’m about to be in high school” swagger. But it was too early in the morning for him to be catching the bus to elementary school.

He wasn’t very big. And walking down the sidewalk he looked even smaller because he was lugging a bulky French horn case that was about half his height. That case is so awkward. It’s like brief cases with an aneurism on one end.  Step, bump. Step, bump.

Once this budding musician got to the bus, he would have to lug his case up its precarious steps and around the corner without crashing into the bus driver, or accidentally knocking the bus into gear. Then when he got to the aisle  between the seats, he would have to lift the awkward case above his head to be sure he didn’t knock the pretty Red Haired Girl’s I phone or lunch box to the floor or even worse, hit her in the knee. Finally, he would find an empty bench where he and his case could sit together and make idle conversation.

Then, when he got to school he’d do the same thing in reverse. He’d be the envy of everyone as he step-bumped down the hall, until he got to the band room where all the other cool kids hang out and where, after all that work, he would drop his horn off in the instrument room.

Believe me, I know this routine. What work!!!

But then, later that evening, he’s back at school with his hair slicked down, wearing his Sunday best. He takes his place in the middle of the band. The auditorium is filling to capacity with adoring fans. The lights dim. The conductor climbs to the podium. For just a moment her eyes rest on him and his horn.

Then the baton drops. That same young man finds himself sitting in the middle of the celebration playing his part, swept up in the music and the magic of the season and thinking to himself, “All that work was worth it.”

Let’s be honest. December feels a lot like work. Lugging and bumping and walking and “excuse me” and “I’m sorry”. December can also make us feel like we’re carrying an extra burden that no one else really appreciates.

But, hopefully for all of us this December, that   moment finally comes, when we can set aside all the work of the season, take a moment, sit, and get swept up in the presence of something greater than we can see. The music we add may not seem like much. But then neither did that baby dozing in his mother’s arms, after all that work.

Merry Christmas!

 

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December 19, 2016, 12:03 PM

My Two Cents

Here it is, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Over the past five days we’ve been busy. We left homes still smelling of turkey and gravy to find the deals on Black Friday. We snuck in a trip to the Main Street boutique before the movie began at the metro-plex to be in       solidarity with local merchants on Small Business Saturday. Some of us went to church to hang the greens on Sunday! We sat in front of our screens and ordered Christmas gifts from way over the river and through the woods- to be delivered right to our front door- on Cyber-Monday.

And now finally it’s Giving Tuesday. After all of that eating and shopping and strolling and browsing and pointing and clicking, we have an opportunity to give a little of what’s left over to charities that touch our hearts and lives.

The radio show that woke me up this morning told me how much it touches my heart and gave me an opportunity to give. Advertisements in the newspaper reminded me of how many people are doing such good things in our city. Messages from organizations I love and trust like the Week of Compassion and the National Alliance for Mental illness dropped into the inbox on my computer as I was eating breakfast.

Now it’s our turn!

True enough, most folks will not be reading this until at least a few days after “Giving Tuesday”. And, we know, we are asked to give practically every week on Sunday. But, here’s the deal: We have a unique opportunity before us to make a gift to Christian Temple in the month of December that will make a      difference for a long time to come!

Last spring our congregation voted to take our boldest step in many years toward increasing our capacity for ministry when we included the funds necessary to call Andy Eaker as our Pastoral Resident. The decision back in the spring was to underwrite that bold step by       approaching the congregation this month with an opportunity to BRIDGE THE GAP and make a one-time gift OR an increased pledge for the  remainder of the year to cover the cost.

Andy’s presence has blessed our community of faith in so many ways. He has reached out to the next generation of followers of Jesus- single young adults, new parents, children (or kiddos, as he calls them) and our youth. He has strengthened bonds with our community.     Meanwhile, we have provided him with an      opportunity to be a “pastor” to see how it feels. So much that is good and right.

So, whenever you happen to be reading this, please remember that, while there are so many fantastic organizations out there doing great work, only one of those has as its specific mission to pass along the faith tradition we’ve been so lucky to receive. This year we’re     bringing Jesus Christ to life in new and exciting ways.

Generous gifts from all of us will keep that     ministry alive!

 

Shalom,

Rick

 




November 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

I’d like to believe that the arc of history bends toward justice, but sometimes I’m not too sure. So many injustices persist.

Sexual assault persists. We’d like to think that in an enlightened society such as ours women can feel as safe as men. But intractable injustices persist from the offices of Fox news to the dorm rooms on college campus. Did you know that reports of rape go up 41% on the days of home college football games? Maybe that locker room banter isn’t so harmless after all.

Child abuse persists. Coaches, pastors and teachers violate the trust placed in them by parents. Schools, athletic departments and churches still transfer their problems somewhere else rather than risk the scrutiny of honest disclosure. Overwhelmed siblings are asked too early in their lives to be responsible for their little brothers and sisters.

Poverty persists. The accident of birth is sometimes the only difference between a six year old bound for a career in genetic biology and one bound to be the “lookout” for an open air drug market down on the corner.

And yes, racism persists. After World War II the GI Bill helped thousands of mostly white families climb the social ladder while people of color who couldn’t afford to buy a house in the suburbs languished. That system still persists.

At the church we recently attended the white preacher told the story of how he was caught carrying a pistol while he was a student in a downtown middle school. He was in the musical, “West Side Story”. As one of the characters who was armed on stage, he got to carry a starter’s pistol. One day he was goofing around during rehearsal, chasing another kid down the hall with his starter’s pistol. When the black vice principal rounded the corner right in front of him with his gun drawn, he scolded both of them and took the pistol away. That was it.

The preacher then asked us to imagine the situation reversed. Black kid with the starter’s pistol. White vice principal or security officer. Would it have turned out any different? One has to wonder.

Injustices persist. They don’t go away just because we name them. Like “whack-a-mole”, when we lean into them in one place, they pop up somewhere else. Which makes me think that we, who have the deck stacked mostly IN our favor are wise to temper our judgement about the injustices we see around us. It pains me to hear those of us who benefit from white privilege rail against the police who are asked to stand at a border that helps us keep that privilege. It is equally painful to hear people deny the reality of systemic racism.

Instead of the all-too-common rant, perhaps the next time something happens that reveals the world’s persistent injustice, we concentrate on the log in our own eye and ask what we are willing to give up in order to make the world more just. I’m not sure anything will change until that question is faced.

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October 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

My Two Cents

Little Me and Big Me.

These are the two ways people think of themselves according to New York Times columnist, David Brooks. In his book “The Road to Character” Brooks suggests that our culture has moved from Little Me to Big Me since the end of World War II.

He recalls hearing a rebroadcast of a radio variety show that was aired for American troops on August 15th, 1945, the day after Japan surrendered. As he says, “the allies had just completed one of the noblest military victories in human history and yet there was no chest beating”. Instead Bing Crosby who hosted the show opened by saying, “Well, it looks like this is it. I guess all anybody can do is thank God it’s over.” To be sure there was joy in the country that day. But it was a joy mixed heavily with humility.

This is what Brooks would call the culture of Little Me-a culture filled with people who have a deep appreciation for their own flaws and who go through life with an authentic sense of gratitude and humility.

Big Me culture is different and, today, more the norm. It is filled with people who see themselves as the center of the universe. It can be seen and heard in people who are cultural stars, athletes, even pastors. Brooks quotes Joel Osteen who is the minister of a church the size of Rhode Island, “God didn’t make you to be average. You were made to excel.”

Brooks draws a stark contrast between Little Me and Big Me by mentioning the two quarterbacks who played in Super Bowl III between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Jets in 1969. Remember that one? Johnny Unitas- Little Me. Joe Namath- Big Me. Remember who won?

I’m not a big fan of those Facebook memes that long for the good old days when Pepsi Colas cost a nickel and parents didn’t have to keep such a close eye on their kids. My experience is that all of us, no matter what our generation happens to be, see our childhood as a simpler time than now. Plus, those days when we could all ride our bikes to school are the same days when our neighbors would organize to keep people of color out of our subdivisions.

But, there is something to what Brooks says. The pendulum seems to have swung pretty far toward the Big Me. More and more we define ourselves by what we’ve done than by who we are. Or, as Brooks would say, “we’re more interested by our resume virtues than our epitaph virtues”. Again, not all bad. But somehow a little dangerous.

Maybe one place church can fit into the picture, is to provide us some balance: to remind us that we are loved by God no matter how badly we mess up, but that we also have lots of gifts that God and the world could really use.

What do you think?  Shalom, Rick

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