Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Total Eclipse of God’s Heart

The eclipse of August 21, 2017 is an event of cosmic significance.  We draw our very life from our nearest star, the sun, and its eclipse means we are temporarily bereft of its life giving power.

Late in the evening of August 24, 1997 our daughter Lea took and ended her life.  We learned of her death the next morning, August 25.  On that day God’s heart of love was totally eclipsed by the tragedy and sense of loss.  A darkness large enough completely blotted out any hint of God’s grace.  Red turned grey, and yellow white. (Moody Blues)  In fact there was a deep sense of betrayal, since I had prayed daily for her healing for eighteen months, and the result on that morning was the worst case possible.

This year’s eclipse marks the 20th anniversary of the Great Eclipse of 1997.  As we prepare for and experience the cosmic eclipse, it is a time to reflect on other eclipses in our lives.  What events may have struck terror in our hearts as did eclipses in the lives of people of ages past?  And yet within a few hours the crisis will pass and the full sun will once more rule the heavens.

The eclipse associated with Lea’s departure has proved more long lasting.  For about a year it was as if the moon had moved between the earth and the sun, and then stopped and froze there.  It was a year of near total darkness, followed by years of anguish as the slightest glimmers of light would appear and then seem to recede again. 

Over these twenty years I have come to recognize that there will most likely never be a return of the sun in full force.  There is no returning to the time of innocence and happiness with was ours before the tragedy.  But I have had time and my eyes have adjusted to the lesser light.  I have come to believe that the sun is still there, although it is obscured by the deep sense of emptiness and pain.  Most days there is enough light to function, and even well.  But this eclipse will likely never fully pass.  And yet, as we gaze at the marvel of the sun blocked by the moon, we experience a deeper appreciation for the sun and all it does for us.  So we have come to believe that God’s love and grace have continued to sustain us on this journey.

Twenty years ago the lights went out.  They have gradually come back up.  This eclipse is an occasion to remember and take stock.  I miss Lea and I am glad to be alive.  This contradiction seems to coexist, as do sun, moon and stars.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Two People – One Nation

It appears that we are a nation divided.  That much seems obvious when reviewing election results.  Two candidates, two parties, two people.  So who are these two peoples?  The categories we currently use don’t seem adequate or even appropriate.  Let me suggest some that don’t work.

Trump supporters and Hilary supporters
Liberals and conservatives
Urban and rural
Republicans and Democrats

They all fail because they are too discreet.  They seem to push people into categories that are not a good fit.  One may be a Democrat who voted for Trump.  One may be a rural Democrat.

So I want to suggest two categories that I find helpful right now.  And I will unpack each just a bit so you understand what I am seeking to express.  Here are my categories.

Fearful and Pessimistic

Fearful.  I see these folks all over the political landscape.  They are fearful of a future with little promise of improvement for them.  This in turn leads to fear of those who may be perceived as responsible.  Among these are Mexicans and other immigrants, who are perceived as taking jobs away and draining benefits from the system.  Also Muslims, who are threatening our sense of safety and security.  Non whites are seen as remaking our society with diversity so that the past hegemony is fading.  Now these folks might not describe themselves as fearful.  To the contrary, they may see themselves as bold asserters of values and policies that will Make America Great Again.  But under that bluster of superiority, I see folks who are unsure, afraid and needing help and encouragement.  They may have no intention of hurting anyone else.  They just want to feel OK and they don’t . So they have become a movement in our nation; a movement that will address their fears but whose methods and solutions are had at the expense of others.  Surely there must be a better way to help the fearful.

Pessimistic.  These are the folks who were deeply disappointed by the results of this election.  They have fallen into a deep funk.  Some are protesting and promising to organize resistance.  Others have given in to resignation and cynicism.  The nation is divided.  They see themselves as the ones with the right values and solutions, and they feel rejected by a nation that chose another way for now.  They want things to be better, but they cannot seem to present solutions with enough broad appeal, and the election hit them hard.  They tend to be quite judgmental toward the fearful.  But they too need compassion and understanding, because it isn’t working for them either.

Fearful vs. Pessimistic.  Neither is particularly attractive because neither is inclusive enough to encompass the other’s perspective.  If we met an individual who was fearful, we would want to reassure and offer help.  We also might want to take away their guns.  Fear and guns are a dangerous dynamic.  If we met an individual who was pessimistic, we would likewise try to offer encouragement and hope.  We might also relieve them of decisions about redistribution of resources.  Pessimism and resignation can lead to reckless abandon since the future is beyond repair.

So wherever we find ourselves today, we are deserving of some understanding and forbearance.  We see ourselves in the other and discover we are not so very different.  We all hope for a better tomorrow.  We have differing opinions on what happened and what needs to happen.  But we all agree something needs to happen.

As we journey forward from now as two people and one nation, it is too easy to condemn and too convenient to avoid self examination.  Neither side is all right or all wrong.  We are still trying to get this right.  As two people, let’s not lose the deeper reality that we are also one nation.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and this Election

I am angry, upset and disappointed.  But wait until you read what has upset me.  Trump?  Of course.  People everywhere of conscience are upset.  But what really galls me is the feeling of powerlessness.  I voted.  I got a sticker that says, “I voted today.”  I wrote on it these words.  “And look what it got me.”  But this is what has got me so upset.  My faith community.  By which I mean the Episcopal Church.

In a clergy meeting many months ago, I expressed myself in the presence of the clergy and Bishop of Maine.  My position was that this election had more at stake than elections of the recent past.  My position was that the church needed to name the issues, the characters, and call the spade a spade.  My position was that the church should openly oppose Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency.  I was fully aware of the church’s official position.  “Talk about issues but not about candidates.”  To fail this test is to jeopardize our tax exempt status as a church.

You know what?  I would have gladly sacrificed our precious and mostly unjustifiable tax exempt status if it meant having more power over what happened on Tuesday.  Imagine Dietrich Bonhoeffer being told to hush about Hitler because his church might lose its tax exempt status.  His martyrdom makes us look like toothless wonders.  The church should be willing to endure the fiscal martyrdom of the loss of our tax exempt status if the trade off is the deal with the devil that silences us in a critical time.

Let us honor all those brave leaders who have spoken out on the election from within the agreed parameters.  Let us appreciate that most clergy are under too many ecclesiastical restraints to take a controversial stand.  Congregations generally cannot tolerate clergy who are partisan, outspoken, passionate and who name evil as evil.  My former parishioners in Baltimore know what a mess I might have caused if I had still been their rector during this season of crisis.  In the Episcopal Church, we are far too reluctant to address human sin directly, to name it and to oppose it with word and deed, especially when it costs us.

So our little cozy relationship with federal tax law has led to us muting our voices as a critical time.  And as my cute little sticker says, “look what it got us.”

I no longer have a pulpit so here is where I blow off on this one.  Our Episcopal church has let us down.  We need members, and ordained leaders to put their stuff on the line for the cause when it is this important.  To fail to name Trump as a bigot, a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe, and an islamophobe, is a sin for which we have to repent.  And it is a sin that has consequences.  Could we have swung the election?  Probably not.  But the effort would have been noble and righteous.  We have a lot to answer for.  And that is why I am angry, upset and disappointed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Today is my personal 9/11

We each have our own personal 9/11.  Mine is today.

Remember September 11, 2001.  That’s not difficult for anyone who was alive and aware on that day.  Not only was it a day of disaster for everyone affected.  But the implications and subsequent actions of that day have spread a level of violence around the Middle East and over Europe.  Even our own nation today is gripped by a sense of dread and fear that is a major factor in our presidential election.  And all this is fifteen years after “the event”.

It is hard to think about that day of disaster and the aftermath without the realization that we have been formed by the history we have lived.  And so it is for each of us as well.  We may have lost someone on 9/11.  We may have lost someone in the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or in the other conflicts around the world.  Or we may know someone who experienced this loss.  I would suspect we are only one degree of separation from someone affected by 9/11 and its aftermath.

But each of us has another 9/11.  It is our own day of personal disaster which has formed and informed our lives.  No one makes it through this life unscathed.  In fact, the times of trial are in large measure what make us who we are.  As human beings we know successes and tragedies.  We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays.  But the 9/11 days are often ones we hold in our hearts and suffer in privacy.  How tragic that we do not share these as well since they are equally and sometimes even more important in our lives.

Today is my own personal 9/11.  On this day in 1997 my daughter Lea, at age 22, ended her life by her own hand.  She was beautiful, intelligent and troubled by demons that I know little about.  I carry the deep sadness of her loss every day and cherish the memories which over time are fading, to my great sorrow.  Her life ended and mine was changed forever.

This is not a secret I must keep, or a person I must pretend did not exist.  To this day I hesitate when asked by a new acquaintance, “Do you have children?”  I have two wonderful living children.  Sam lives in Florida with his family and is a medical doctor.  Elizabeth lives in Baltimore and is a nurse.  Sometimes I answer with information about them, and choose not to get into the whole story of Lea.  But every time I feel so insincere and afraid I am committing an act of betrayal against Lea.  Yet mentioning that I had another daughter who died is quite the conversation stopper.  Often it is just silence.  Sometimes in evokes an “I’m sorry”.  And occasionally it brings forth “What happened?” with sincere concern.  I choose the context in which I allow such pain to resurface and with whom to share it.

9/11.  We survived.  We were changed.  We are still struggling to live into the world it created.  And there is no denying it.  But we are all survivors of our own 9/11 events, those times of tragedy and loss which have made and indelible mark on our lives, our psyches, and our subsequent actions and decisions.  I hope Lea’s death has made me a more compassionate person and someone more passionate about making this a world where such suffering is in decline.  And I know that my own 9/11 and your own 9/11 can be shared with one another in such a way that we are all empowered to live more authentic, faithful and decent human lives.

Today is my own personal 9/11, and I will forever honor its memory and meaning for me and anyone who claims to know and love me.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

North Carolina, Mississippi ... BDS?

LGBTQ rights advocates are acknowledging the decisions of many celebrities, businesses and civic institutions.  These artists, corporate boards and city councils have taken actions to boycott taking their money and presence to North Carolina and Mississippi because these states have enacted laws denying equal rights to transgender people.  The power of an economic boycott has been the means by which people are taking a stand for equal rights.  This political action has a long history and has been used effectively to change laws and even national government policies.  Two examples are the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the South Africa boycott that was given such strong expression by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  To those who have lent their support to this most recent expression of opposition to human rights violations in North Carolina and Mississippi I say, BRAVO!

But …  Now that we have acknowledged the legitimacy and appropriateness of this kind of political action, it’s time to bring this approval and support to one of the most pressing human rights issues in our world today.  If we approve of the actions regarding boycotting North Carolina and Mississippi, let’s take it to a larger and more potentially deadly venue.  It is long past time for people of conscience to support this action against those who would deny human rights on the basis of racism, religious discrimination, and ethnic difference.  Are you among those who support the boycott as a means of bringing social change and promoting equal human rights?  Then I invite you to support the boycott against the State of Israel.  The movement is known as BDS, for Boycott, Disinvest, Sanction.

If we care about human rights for human beings who are identified as LGBTQ, then let us care about human rights for human beings who are identified as Palestinian.  I won’t argue the case of the State of Israel denying the human rights of Palestinians.  That seems to be sufficiently documented by the United Nations and the international community of nations.  What I argue for is the crossing of the line that has to date failed to get the kind of attention and participation which the boycotts of North Carolina and Mississippi have gained.  In a sense it is politically incorrect to be insensitive to the rights of LGBTQ persons.  So why is it not politically incorrect to be insensitive to the rights of Palestinians?

The statements of officials from North Carolina and Mississippi are not changing the decisions to boycott.  Only a change in the laws of those states will make that happen.  The statements of officials from Israel should not change the decisions to join the BDS movement.  Only a change in the laws and policies and actions of the State of Israel will make that happen.

Don’t give concerts, don’t hold meetings and conventions, and don’t spend civic dollars on trips to Israel as long as they continue to deny equal rights to Palestinians.  Let our sense of justice for LGBTQ persons also extend to Palestinians.  Justice for some, or justice for all?  It’s time, it’s past time, it’s about time.