Monday, July 28, 2014

WHAT! SUMMER? OVER!? Not Yet....

“What?! Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!” --John Belushi, as Blutto, in "Animal House",1978

Excuse the cheekiness but I had to find some way to answer the naysayers among us who have already begun to lament that the summer of 2014 is practically over. You know them:  the lamenters, complainers, and kvetchers, who right now are saying that before we know it, the lazy and languid and lovely days of warm temps and slow schedules: it will all be gone.  For them September is pounding on the door already, demanding to be let in, and so we should all just begin to prepare for the inevitable day after Labor Day. 

WHAT! SUMMER? OVER!?  Nothing is over until we decide it is!

Me?  I’m not getting back on the crazy train called back to school and back to work and back to full speed until I absolutely have to, until the last minute, the very last second of summer.  Calendar wise we are certainly in summer’s sweet spot right now. The season officially began June 21st and ends next September 21st, so the mid-point, the exact middle of summer is Tuesday, August 5th.  Not one day sooner. 

The weather’s summery, no hint of fall’s crisp and cool air.  We’re in the dog days, the hottest time of the year, named thus because of the rising and falling of Sirius or “dog star” at sunrise and sunset.  As the ancient Greek poet Homer wrote in “The Illiad”, “Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky, On summer nights, star of stars, Orion's Dog…brightest of all...bringing heat.” 

Summer’s not kaput.    

I mean I haven’t even done everything I need to do each summer, not even close.  Haven’t been to a Red Sox game to cheer on the BoSox who valiantly fight on to defend their world championship. O.K.  That probably won’t happen.  The Sox are in last place as of today, ten and half games out. Reminds me of what life used to be as a summertime Boston fan pre-2004.  But they are still our team, every summer. 

Summer isn’t gone, not yet. 

I haven’t taken a long road trip, miles whiling away, the hum of tires on pavement as the countryside zips by on a muggy evening. Haven’t cracked open my big summer book, Stephen King’s latest.  Haven’t seen the sun set over my island get away.  Haven’t tasted sweet watermelon or eaten enough fresh corn or seen the latest summer blockbuster movie.  In these rituals I find my summer place.

I’ll bet you’ve got more stuff to do too.  Catch a firefly in a jar.  Spend the afternoon at the pond building sandcastles.  Have a picnic on the town green and listen to the tunes at dusk.  Kayak in a quiet bay or cycle on a leafy back road. And when those “Back to School” commercials come on the TV? Switch the station or better yet turn off and put away the screen and get outside. They’ll be plenty of time for vegging on the couch next March.

I’m not quite sure why every July there is always this cohort of people who insist upon reminding anyone who will listen that summer is now “basically done”.  Cooked. Fini. Roll the credits.  Maybe it’s because they took all their vacation days in July and are in anxious waiting mode for the ninth month.  Maybe they’re just killjoys, who whine about the heat in August and snow in February, and forget how beautiful and amazing New England weather is, so extreme, such a gift.  Maybe they’re melancholy.  Summer can break our hearts because it is too short. 

But here’s the news. The big news. IT IS STILL SUMMER and this is the season that God has made and our job is to be alive to it. 

So get moving. Have some fun. Enjoy summer while you can.  We can’t hold back time but we can be fully nailed to this present moment and revel in the miracle of today.  Just this day. Just this one summer day.

It ain’t over.  Happy rest of summer!


Monday, July 21, 2014

When Adults Wage War, Children Pay the Highest Price of All

“...the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child,“Whoever welcomes one such child…welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones… it would be better for you if a great millstone was fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea."   --Matthew 18

I’m not a big fan of the whole “angry God” school of theology.  This “God” has been used much too often throughout human history by religious fanatics and zealots to justify less than Godly behavior. 

But after this past week, as I witnessed how children are treated in our world, I just might have to revisit this notion of a God who holds humanity fully responsible for its actions, especially when it comes to the innocent. Because right now God must be very angry and very sad about all the careless and cruel ways that kids pay the price for the sins of adults. 

Adults who battle in wars. Adults who fight in politics.  Adults who flail away at “enemies”, with no thought as to the consequences of conflict upon the powerless.  When nations and peoples and politicians go to war, it is always children who suffer the most. 

In Ukraine. Last Thursday a plane full of 298 passengers was shot out of the sky by a missile, killing everyone on board. At least 80 children were on that flight, boys and girls who had no stake in, no knowledge of, the bloody and violent war being fought 32,000 feet below. The world mourns every last victim who died at the hands of the barbarians who fired that rocket. Yet there is something doubly tragic about all those young lives ended so suddenly, swiftly, terribly. Photos from the crash site show gut wrenching images of children’s books and stuffed animals strewn across a farmer’s field. 

What kind of people would do such a thing? 

In Israel/Palestine. Last week Israel launched a full scale invasion of the Gaza Strip, after bombing it from the air for days. Israel says it is defending itself against terrorists.  Hamas, the terrorist group firing rockets into Israel, says it is retaliating for crimes against the Palestinians. Thus far 500 Gazans have died, including more than 100 children.  Scores of children on both sides have been injured and traumatized, cowering in basements and shelters, as the bombs fall. Fleeing from their homes to escape the carnage.  “Adults” in this conflict claim moral justification in waging war. Yet it is always the innocent who get hurt the most: kids who know nothing of geopolitics or national security or the “right” to self defense. 

What kinds of governments do such things?

And yes, in the United States too.  Consider the 57,000 undocumented immigrant children and teenagers who have been detained at our borders since last October.  They flee poverty, drug wars and violence.  Sent north by their parents, they are exploited by adults who profit by transporting these poor souls across the desert. 

Our response as a nation? Send them all back home as fast as possible. Use the kids and their plight to score political points. Ratchet up our perpetual partisan war of words. Even the effort to treat these kids with just a little mercy, by temporarily housing them to allow deportations to proceed: that’s a disaster too. States are falling all over themselves to just say no: Connecticut, Ohio, Delaware, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado. Thank God our own Governor Deval Patrick has the courage and compassion to say “Yes”. 

These are children, remember?  Boys and girls as young as four. Orphaned.  Lost.  Most had no choice in their doomed march. Are we as a country now so xenophobic, so politically split and hard hearted, that we would turn our backs on “the least of these, our brothers and sisters”? They are here. They need someone to step up and to care. 

What’s so difficult to understand about that?

Jesus was right.  Adults everywhere have a moral obligation to care for kids, all kids, every last one. When we stumble in that duty as a world and fail to protect the children from violence, we have sinned mightily.

God help the children, because the “adults” of this world? We are not.





Monday, July 14, 2014

Unplugged for a Week: I Lived to Tell the Tale!

Unplug (verb) 1. To disconnect by removing a plug               --Random House Dictionary

Last week I found one of the few remaining places on earth (or at least in New England) that does not have cell phone service. That’s right: no smartphone access.  If you fire up your device within the confines of this signal free zone, you get zero bars, or, in the case of my handheld digital lifeline, a fiery red dot on the screen, indicating complete cutoff from the information superhighway.  For seven days and nights I lived and worked in a cocoon devoid of any electronic stimulation.  


No text messages in or out. No internet to surf. No TV to entertain. No video games to play. No cell phone ringing. Nothing high tech to soothe my digital addiction, my daily need and craving for technology in all its shapes and forms. For 168 hours, I was completely off the grid, unplugged for the longest time in a very long time.

It was tough. But I lived to tell the tale.

Without any screens to gaze upon, it was confusing and disorienting at first. For news from the outside world I read something called a “newspaper”, a broadsheet covered with black ink, words and photos, magically printed on a physical page.  For entertainment, I and my friends were forced to live within a strange place called “the real world”.  With unfamiliar sounds…like wind blowing through the trees. Thunder crackling in the distance. Raindrops pattering on the roof of our outdoor wooden cabins.  Crickets chirping at dusk.  Hot bugs buzzing away in the sultry embrace of a steamy summer afternoon.

I found it hard to adjust, kept reaching for my phone but was always met with a blank display.  “Searching for service” it said, but alas, service was not to be found. 

So at night we had to look up into a star filled jet black sky. There was nothing else to watch. One evening we saw a “super moon”, a bright orange circle that seemed to swallow up the heavens. For music we had to sing using our own voices, no recordings to help us along.  The food was even foreign, and included a strange concoction called a “S’More”, marshmallows melted over a campfire and then smooshed between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate.

We played cards at a picnic table and swatted at annoying creatures called “mosquitoes”, dove into an ice cold lake and came up laughing, sat in a circle on dew covered grass and talked face to face about life and God. We fell asleep to the hooting of an owl as moonlight bathed the camp in an eerie glow and then awoke to the singing of birds and the squeak of screen doors being opened at dawn. 

By week’s end I didn’t much miss all my devices, being unplugged after getting so used to being plugged in.  Now back in “civilization”, I’m fully recharged and “teching” away again.  Funny how easy it is to fall back into familiar patterns of living.  Could I imagine a life technology free?  No. I like all my machines.  I enjoy their convenience, the power they give us humans to connect, communicate, seek knowledge, and reach out. 

Yet my high tech Sabbath did remind me that I need more balance in how and when I plug myself in.  I need regular, scheduled time away from screens. I need to confess that sometimes I turn them on just to distract myself.  I need to remember that my five senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell—must plug into Creation every single day.  I need to thank God for the miracle of technology and the miracle of real life.

And that cell free zone I found?  It’s in Sharon, Connecticut, at the Silver Lake Conference Center, tucked away among rolling hills and cow filled pastures.   I’m already excited to go back there next summer.  But God willing, I won’t wait that long to unplug again.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The PMC: Making the World A Better Place, One Act of Love at a Time

“To leave the world a better know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”     --Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is only a bicycle after all, a simple two wheeled mode of transport, designed to get me from point “A” to point “B”.  The bike I ride isn’t anything all that complicated: stainless steel and rubber, weighing in at 18 pounds. I’m no speed racer.  With a determined cadence and some middle aged muscle, I roll along at an average of about 13 miles per hour, so I won’t be setting any land speed records. And the cycling clothes I wear are…well…kind of strange looking, weird: skin tight black lycra, day glow nylon, padded in the right places to keep my backside comfy, stretched taut over a body which admittedly has seen better days in 53 years of life.

But here’s the miracle.  This bike is more than just a bike. This bike can actually make the world a better place.  Just one bike.  One rider.  This bike can ease the pain of a sick person. Give hope to someone in the hospital. Inspire those who lost to death and disease loved ones.  This bike might even help find a cure for cancer someday.

Because this bike (and bike rider) is riding in the 34th Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), the first weekend next month. The PMC is the largest athletic fundraiser in the country. Since 1980, it has raised almost $500 million for cancer care and research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. This year’s goal is $40 million dollars, so that when a neighbor is diagnosed with lung cancer, or a family member with ovarian cancer, or a co-worker with prostate cancer, or a fellow church member with lymphoma, there will always be world class medical care and compassion for them. 

And that makes the world a better place.

The PMC is a huge happening, a communal, gigantic affair.  Think 5,500 riders and 3,000 volunteers from 36 states and eight countries biking through 46 Bay State towns. Or the 160,000 bicycle strokes it takes to get from the hills of Sturbridge to the dunes of Provincetown. Boatloads of bananas for eating, a platoon of Porta Potties for nature calls, and then there is that weather.  Will it be sultry summer heat or drenching muggy downpours or sun dappled shady conditions? The PMC is a big deal.

Yet the PMC is also a small deal, personal, intimate, a solo enterprise.  For like every other individual act of human kindness, generosity and care which makes the world a better place, the PMC begins with just one person.  A man or a woman who decides to sacrifice in the service of others.  Who commits to raise the funds (often thousands of dollars) and train their body (hundreds of hours on the road) and ride as an act of love.  When the long journey is over no one can dispute that Creation is better because of it.  Lives are filled with a little more mercy because of it.  Hope is given to people who are sick.  A group of strangers who begin the ride on Saturday morning are transformed into a world changing community.

All because every single rider made a decision and a commitment to make the world a better place.

It’s fashionable these days to be cynical about the person who declares she really does want to make the world a better place.  “What’s really in it for them?” we might wonder.  It’s easy to see all the ways the world is broken and then just roll over and give up.  We are daily bombarded with bad news by the media and in social chatter.  It’s all too typical to lose ourselves in our gadgets and our dramas and our daily urgency. Who’s got the time to do good for others?

Yet every single day God gives us the chance to improve the real estate we occupy as human beings, to leave the world better than how we found it .  With a smile for someone who is down.  A visit to a neighbor who is lonely.  A generous check to a charity serving the hurting.  A “good job” for a kid we coach.  A bag of groceries dropped off at a local food pantry.  A prayer whispered for someone who needs help. No big deal.  It really doesn’t take much to bring more light into Creation. 

So my tool for social change is a bike.  It is only a bike but man: it is going to change the world in just a few weeks!  You’ve still got time today to make the world better too. 

What will you do?