A wide spot in my imagination.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Stop Gun Violence. Now.

I grew up in a family of hunters and farmers in Texas.  I understand guns.  I even appreciate guns.  The venison we ate in my childhood home was healthier than store-bought meat.  The memories I have of sitting around the campfire at the end of a day of hunting are irreplaceable.  I learned gun safety and the value of life.  To kill a creature is a serious matter. My father taught me to shoot with precision because life is important and not to be taken lightly. 

Beyond hunting, a gun can be an important farm tool to protect baby chicks from snakes, to keep coyotes from  foraging on newborn calves, even to end Old Bossie's life rather than to see her suffer her way to cow heaven.

I get guns.  

Today, another school shooting took place.  It seems that a student in Littleton, Colorado, used a gun to injure two other students then kill himself.

Friends, we have a gun problem.  

Yes, I know all about the Second Amendment.  And I don't give a damn what Wayne LaPierre says.  (By the way, he makes $970,000 a year.  And the NRA rakes in $220 Million a year.  I don't think they're in the business for Constitutional rights. I think they're in it for money.) 

Since the Newtown shooting a year ago, there has been a school shooting once every two weeks.  We have a gun problem.  They're too easy to get, too easy to use wrongly, and in the hands of the wrong people.

I think that every person in this country who wants to own a gun should have to undergo a background check and be required to take a lengthy and thorough gun safety course.  Even if they're buying the gun from a friend, at a gun show or online.  If we require potential barbers to be trained, take lengthy courses and have licenses we should ask the same of potential gun owners.

Will this kind of regulation stop criminals of owning guns?  Not all of them.  Maybe some.  But the shooters at Newtown and in Colorado and Virginia Tech weren't street thugs.  That's a different issue.

Drug-related gang violence, mental heath care, and a culture of violence are problems too. Huge, systemic problems.  Addressing those is a must. But that will take time.  

At the same time, background checks, education, waiting periods and licenses for gun owners make very good sense.  Now.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vandals at the Church House!

Yesterday, vandals attacked the church where I work.  Brazenly!  Boldly!  In broad daylight! 

Sometime between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, an unknown person (or persons), defaced personal property!  

Without shame!  Without fear!  These wanton trouble-makers placed sticky notes on car windows in the church parking lot.  

Those illegally-stuck sticky notes had phrases written on them such as, "Smile, you're amazing," and "You are beautiful," and "Your eyes shine brighter then the sun."  

Shocking!  Such cheer and good news!  Right here in Bethesda!  Just steps from our nation's 'dysfunctional' capital!   And we all know Washington is about being right, not about being kind.  Clearly these interlopers know not whom they compliment.  

And in the weeks leading up to Christmas!   Who can imagine such bold joy-spreading?  Clearly, these vandals have no sense of the season.   Christmas is about knocking people down in a Wal-Mart, isn't it?  Not random jocularity!

What's more, these sticky notes aren't even truthful!  "Brighter than the sun"?Really. Such scientific falsities being spread with inaccurate abandon!

And let's not mention the waste!  Imagine what productive uses these sticky notes could be put to if they weren't squandered on such happiness and glee.

So, be warned, blithe vandals, we're watching you!

And, if the world is lucky, others might follow your example!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joy to the World, a State Department Spy and Homelessness

People call church offices all the time seeking help.  Sometimes they tell the truth.  Sometimes they concoct elaborate stories.  They always have a need, even if it's not the need they describe.  As a social worker friend of mine says, No one goes begging unless they've got some kind of trouble.

Today we got one of those calls in the church office where I work.  A woman says she needs $85.00 or she will be evicted.  She's talking fast and full of extraneous details.  She has a diabetic four year old and a job that starts next week.  She just needs some help or they'll be on the streets.  "Do you have a lease," I ask.  The reply is long, but the answer is no.  Can she come by and get the money?

"How about if I talk to your landlady," I ask.  "Okay," she says, and gives me a name, a phone number, and the address of her leased home.  But she can't quite spell the landlady's name, which sounds made-up.

"I'll call the landlady and call you back," I say.  "No, you can't call me," she says.  "I'm using a borrowed phone."

I call the landlady.  Voicemail.  And the name on the recording is not the elaborate, made-up sounding name. I think about ignoring the whole matter. But for some reason, I wait a few minutes and call again. The "landlady" answers.  And yes, the quotation marks are real in my head.

The landlady corroborates the story in excruciating detail.  The address offered readily, the diabetic child. But the amount owed is different. Uh-oh.

Then the woman adds some more details.  She works in a top secret role for the State Department, she says, that's why she has this French-sounding name.  And if I ever call her again, she may not be able to answer because of reasons she's not at liberty to discuss.

I explain that I don't want anyone to be homeless and that our church might be able to send her a check if she can wait until later in the week.  That would work, she says. A miracle, I think.  Eviction avoided, all because of some promise from an unknown pastor.  Am I good or what?

She gives me an address for mailing the check.  Street and number, followed by a suite number.  She repeats the suite number several times.  "Got it," I say. We hang up, and I crank up the Google.

Here's what I learn. The made-up sounding name of the landlady doesn't pop up at all.  I guess her State Department work is very top-secret.  I googled the address of the home where the tenant lives.  The tax records say it belongs to someone else, not to Ms. Top Secret Funny Name.  I googled the address to which I am supposed to mail the check.  It's a budget motel across town.  The repeated suite number is just a room number in a shady joint.

I sigh, then chuckle.

The whole story makes me laugh, or maybe I want to cry.  The made-up name, the State Department cover (only in Washington!), the repeated "suite" number, the aching need that would cause someone to call a church and create such an elaborate tale.

I don't really want to mail a check, but I probably will.  This woman has a need, a big need.  And for whatever reason, she couldn't quite tell me about it truthfully.

Jesus, in a couple of places that folks remembered to write down, said, "Give to anyone who asks of you." Life would be easier, I suppose, if I had never heard those words.

But I imagine these two women opening a letter later this week with a check for $85.00.  They'll probably think they hoodwinked some do-gooder preacher.  I hope they laugh.  The world needs more joy.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

SUVs and Cast-Iron Skillets

In the clueless category, Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll says that since God is going to burn up the planet anyway, it's okay for him to drive an SUV.   I guess Driscoll thinks he just helping God out.

By that logic, since Mr. Driscoll is going to die anyway, his wife should just hit him on the head everyday with  a cast-iron skillet.  She's just helping nature out.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Day-After Saints

Poor St. Salvator of Horta.  His feast day on the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is March 18, the day after St. Patrick's Day.  No rivers turned green for Salvator, no drunken revelers.  No shamrocks in our lapels or leprechauns.  In honor of Salvator, people just go back to work and nurse their hangovers.

I don't think Salvator would expect much, though.  He was known for his asceticism, humility and simplicity.  No snake-whispering for him.  He was a cook and a porter.  Later, he became the official beggar for the Franciscans in his town.  What a horrible job.

Not only does Salvator have to follow Patrick on the saints calendar, he doesn't even get his own day.  No, March 8 is the feast day for both St. Salvator of Horta and St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  St. Cyril was know for teaching catechumens, which means was he was stuck teaching confirmation class.  Later he was berated for selling off church property to support poor people. Then he was exiled.  Seems like Irish eyes weren't smiling for Cyril either.

So, God bless St. Salvator of Horta and St. Cyril of Jerusalem and all the other overlooked saints who beg for money or teach confirmation, who cook the meals and carry the bags.

God bless all the second-runners-up, the also-rans and the didn't-quite-make-its.   God bless the losers, the overlooked and the next-day saints.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Facebook, the Death Penalty and Stereotypes

The "Texas Observer" is a hard-charging, left-leaning newspaper from my native Lone Star State.  Last week, they published a fine article about the "hidden progressive Christian community of Texas."  Granted, there are lots of conservative Christians in Texas, but the article's feigned surprise at finding some liberal Christians in Texas rubbed me the wrong way.

That's a common refrain, though: Christians are mean, narrow-minded, hate-filled.  And when you throw in a Southern accent, it just gets worse.

Today, I stumbled across some data that defies those stereotypes.

The House of Delegates in the State of Maryland, where I now live, voted to abolish the death penalty.  I think that is very good news.  There are some who would consider that a very liberal political move.

About an hour ago, I posted a link about that death penalty vote on my Facebook page.  In the past hour, 24 people have liked my Facebook post.

Of those 24 people, 18 of them have Texas ties.  And all of them have deep roots in the South -- everyone of them was born in the South or has lived for decades below the Mason-Dixon line.

Of those 24 people, all of them are, or have been, very active in local congregations.

Of those 24 people, at least 13 of them have seminary training and/or work in church settings of some sort.

Granted this is no scientific poll.  And my sample pool is limited.  They're all liberal Christians, mainly from the South, because those are the kind of people I hang with, even in cyberspace.

But, for anyone out there who clings to the stereotype of Christians as bigoted, vengeful, reactionary conservatives, today the State of Maryland and my Facebook page remind you:  "That ain't always the case ya'll."  Can I get an Amen?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baking Casseroles, Playing Pianos and Preaching Sermons

My friend Nikki is a thoughtful, dedicated, compassionate minister.

I once heard Baylor football coach Grant Teaff tell an injured player to pipe down.  "I've had more pain in my eye," Teaff said.  To paraphrase, Nikki has more pastoral sensibilities in her little finger than some pastors do in their whole beings.  And she's a woman.

A couple of years ago, she and I were preparing for a funeral at the church we served.  The funeral director referred to her as "that little lady."  I pointed out that she was a member of our pastoral staff.  He said it again.  I interrupted to say she was my colleague, has a dual degree in divinity and social work, and is an ordained minister.  He hardly paused and kept talking.  (He also gave me the wrong check and rambled on about how the Book of Isaiah can cure cancer.)

After the funeral, I called his boss to complain.  Oddly, the boss took me to lunch to apologize. Not Nikki.

Today, my friend Nikki took part in a funeral with personnel from that same funeral home.  She introduced herself to a funeral director as one of the ministers participating in the  service.  Later, that funeral director asked her if she was the pianist.  As Nikki pointed out, not that ministers can't be pianists or vice versa, but if she was the pianist she would have said she was the pianist.  

Granted, funeral directors deal with many different religious traditions and many different people.  And, granted, historically more men than women have been ministers.  And, granted some religious traditions still do not allow women to be clergy.

But really?  The same funeral home? Twice?  To the same minister?  So, here's the deal, Anonymous Funeral Home That Shall Not Be Named, I'm putting you on notice.  The third time, and we're calling you out on this.  By name.  Publicly.

And let's get this straight.  Women can be ministers and pianists and scientists and plumbers and astronauts and undertakers.  Yes, some women clergy members are terrible clergy members; so are some men.  Yes, there are differences in men and women.  If I need to carry a grand piano, I'm probably going to ask the burliest men I can.  If the world needs babies carried in the womb, well, women are better at that.   And when people need to be "carried through the valley of the shadow of grief," men can bake the casseroles and play the piano and drive the hearse and preach the sermons.  So can women.