Tuesday, July 27, 2010

At Least We Can Try

I just finished an intensive course in public theology at Meadville/Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago. Other than the blistering heat, the ideas and energy expressed by my colleagues, gave me hope about the future of our faith as progressive liberals.  One of the primary ideas came from our professor Dr. Micheal Hogue.  Drawing on the work of William Connolly, Dr. Hogue expressed the need to embrace the radical pluralism of the new generation of thinkers: multiple platforms of understanding, respectfully co-existing around projects that help the most vulnerable. 

The most challenging task for me is to bring those of radically different, even antagonistic faith traditions together around such projects.  Its one thing for Unitarian Universalists and Catholics to work together toward the promise of justice, quite another to ask a fundamentalist who doesn't even think the world is worth saving.

At the end of the day, I realized, what matters is that we at least try.  Grace works its way into our lives when we prepare the way for the possibility of very different people to work together.  If we throw up our hands and say it can't be done, the only certainty is that it won't. 

I walked away understanding that justice can be done, even between those who see the world differently; not because we are all the same, but because God calls us to help in more than one way.

Now if I can just get that idea down in less than twenty pages while enjoying our retreat to Maine.

With Grace and Grit,  John

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Grace of Neighbors

While I was serving as the Chair of the Human Relations Commission in Frederick, MD we heard from one woman, an African American who had moved into a very white neighborhood. She had just lost her husband and son in a traffic accident, and, as a single Mom, she was doing her best to raise her other son. Her new home was to be a place of hope and renewal. It turned out to be a living hell. Her next door neighbor, a bigoted and angry man started calling her the ‘n’ word. When she ignored him, he upped the ante. He started calling the police and telling them she was trespassing on his land. She put up a fence. He installed video cameras over the top of the fence. She put up tarps, he built a watchtower. Her life was so out of control. Her neighbors became her saving grace. They took turns watching her house while she was at work. They walked her son to the bus stop. When finally, this hate filled man blasted this poor woman with a high pressure hose, she went to the police to file charges. They had been expecting her. In fact, because of her neighbors they already had a task force assigned to stop this madman. But as I found out, stopping hate is not so easy. He had a good lawyer. But because of her neighbors, and a new hate crime bill that had just passed the Maryland State legislature, he was convicted, forced to move and she had her life back.

I commend to you a sense of neighborliness when life is out of control. We had our first break in in our neighborhood since we moved here five years ago. Someone broke into our neighbor’s home across the street while she was away at Fourth of July festivities. She might have scared them off because she heard noises coming into her home and nothing was taken. She phoned everyone in the neighborhood to let them know this had happened. Yes, she was still shaken, her life out of control, but she wanted her neighbors to be aware since the police had told them there were other break-ins nearby. Our neighbors were sympathetic, my wife Frances brought her a big bouquet of sunflowers. Our neighbor placed them in her front window for all to see. A sign of compassion in her life which for a while seemed so out of control. This might just be the summer to learn your neighbor’s names. Think of it as a spiritual practice.

The feminist author Annis Zinn once wrote: “We don’t see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.” As we face the trouble of our lives, when life is most out of control, take a deep breath, look around, so what you can do, ask for help and help others. Julian of Norwich put it best, “all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” Enjoy your summer and get to know your neighbors.

With Grace and Grit, John

Friday, July 9, 2010

Out of Control? Act on What Matters Most!

As we were preparing to cross the bridge over the Columbia River on our way to my daughter Courteny’s winery in Washington State, we had motioned for an older gentleman to merge in front of us in the line waiting to pay the toll. He smiled and waved. When we got to the toll booth the attendant told us that he had paid our 75 cent toll for us. He was just pulling away as we were approaching. And, we imagine, he was looking into his rear view mirror to see our smiles and waves of appreciation and then BAM! his car hit the median curb, threw off his hub cab and flattened his tire! All because he was looking at us in the rear view mirror. He was already on the bridge at that point and – because it is a very narrow bridge – he kept driving on the rim to the other side because he knew if he stopped it would tie up traffic for hours. We jumped out, retrieved his hub cap and followed him over to the other side.

His car was pulled over on the shoulder. It was an older car and in pretty sad shape. I stopped and got out. “Are you all right?” I asked. “I am fine” he said in a very slow speech. It occurred to me he was deaf as well. “You did a beautiful thing back there, paying our toll for us. We are heartbroken that you have a flat tire for your trouble.” Thinking to myself, no good deed goes unpunished. “Can we help you change it? Do you have someone we can call?” He kept insisting he was all right, that someone was coming. Talk about life going out of control. We drove away. We had gone some miles down the road and Frances turned and said “its not right”. I said, “no its not” and although we were five miles down the road we swung back around. As we approached, someone else had come, family it seemed, and they were helping with the tire. I pulled out all the money I had in my wallet, $60 and gave it to Frances. She jumped out and handed it to him. “Thank you for helping us” she said, “let us help you, this is for a new tire”. He put up his hands “no, no” he said, “I can’t”. “Yes you can” said Frances “you can pay it forward someday” and she stuffed the money in jacket pocket and jumped back in the car. He ran up to us both smiling and shaking his head, “no I can’t” but Frances had closed the door and we smiled and waved and drove away. And as I watched in my rear view mirror I could see he was saying “God Bless You!”

It is when life is most out of control that I believe we must act upon what matters most. Sometimes it as simple as taking time to pray or meditate or walk; finding that still point within matters a great deal to me. So does affirming our place in the human family. Sure there are mean people who will take advantage of us, but more likely, the small acts of compassion we show, help us take control of that part of our lives that matters most, our sense of caring and self-worth.

Enjoy the summer's ride.

With Grace and Grit,  John

Thursday, July 1, 2010

There is More Than Enough

I have never been a big fan of the fourth of July.  The loud noises scare dogs and little children.  I am also a bit ambivalent celebrating what our country has become; an imperial power in a world  of need and want.

Still, I do believe that the fireworks should go off for what our nation still can promise: a freedom to believe, a chance to create, and a home for those in need.  I will continue to work for meaningful immigration reform so that all those who want to be a part of our dream are able.  It is sad that fear and bigotry are running wild across our great land.  We need to be the voice from the other side.

There is more than enough for those in need.  There is more than enough love.  More than enough food.  More than enough jobs.  More than enough, if we look at the glass half full. 

Representative Keith Ellisons recent address to the General Assembly of the UUA says its best:


With Grace and Grit,  John