Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Dreaming of an Endless Summer (At Least Until Labor Day)

“Over? Did you say over?! Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??!!” --John “Bluto” Blutarsky, Delta Tau Chi House (aka Animal House)

Over? Did you say that summer is “almost over?” Or that school is “just around the corner?!” And that before we know it, Labor Day will be here?! Over? Nothing is over—especially summer—until we say it is!  

Now I hate to be a crank and a stickler for accuracy but to set the record straight, the summer of 2022 will officially end on Friday, September 23rd, and that’s more than eleven weeks away. And even if, like me, you mark the unofficial end of summer as midnight (plus one minute) on Labor Day Monday’s eve, still, that’s 36 days away!  A lifetime in summer days.

Right? RIGHT?

What is it about some folks and our wider culture that creates this need to close the door so quickly on summer, which is for me and so many others, our absolute favorite season. I mean come on. It’s summer. SUMMER! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Crispy deep fried onion rings. Hot dogs and a cold coke and a game at Fenway. Fireflies in the backyard. The buzz of hot bugs on a sultry August afternoon. Enough light to bike until well past 8 o’clock. There’s barely any traffic in the town I call home—feels like so many folks have gone away. Then there are the fireworks in Boston on the 4th.and of course the Pops and the 1812 Overture. Or watching my Goddaughter play baseball on a perfect Midwest summer evening. Grilling and chilling with my best friends in the whole world on Independence Day and making baked beans from my dad’s recipe for the very first time, and hey! They came out good!

I could go on. And on. 

I do like the other seasons. Love the crisp cold air and the sharp blues skies and the crunch of snow underfoot in winter. At least for the first storm.  I love autumn and the colors on the trees but there is just something about the dying of nature and hunkering down for a long winter that makes me kind of melancholy. I do absolutely enjoy spring and all the life that comes back and the chance to take my bicycle out of storage and cycle again, but still, it is such a busy few months. School ending. Graduations. Moves. Calendars so full.

I always come back to summer.

And no, I would not want to live somewhere that had an endless summer, like southern California. What also makes summer so special is its relative shortness, on average just 93 days in the northern hemisphere. Maybe God knew if we were given too much summer we’d get spoiled somehow or too big for our britches. In this part of God’s creation summer is special because it shows up so quickly and then seem to depart in an instant. Where did you go?   

There’s also the truth that for summer to come back in New England it has to put up a good fight. Push aside the howling winds of winter and hurry up the sometimes slow as molasses appearance of spring.  We earn our summers here. It’s like our payoff somehow, for snowplows and blizzards and gray March days and those dark times of December when we arise in the dark and come home in the dark and go to bed in the dark and…repeat.

I was actually inspired to stick up for summer when I read a social media post by my good friend Charlene. In her words, “Please be advised that during the month of August, I will not suffer any discussion that includes ‘fall harvest,’ ‘apple picking,’ “flannel shirts” or sheets, or the worst offender … “pumpkin spice” anything. There’s a season for all this…. Be PRESENT, people!”

There’s clear wisdom in that advice to “be present.”  What is it about humans that makes us forever looking ahead to that which is not yet, and in the process of that projection, missing the beautiful now. The right now. As in this is the day that God has made. REJOICE IN IT! So, I guess that’s the core of my spiritual advice and not just for you dear reader but for me too, as together we walk into summer central, the heart of summer, the dog days of summer, August.

Make that summer list of things you still need to do, or the places you need to see, or the foods you need to eat, or the beloved people you need to visit before summer goes away. And then just do it! So, thank you, God, for summer. Help us as your sometimes impatient creatures to just slow down and enjoy the summer ride.

It ain’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org). He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.





Thursday, July 28, 2022

To Fix Our Broken Civic Life? Listen to Each Other. Just Listen.

Echo Chamber (noun)…an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions [or people] that reflect and reinforce their own [worldview].  --gcfglobal.org

Let’s call him Charlie. 

He’s been my friend for almost fifteen years, and I’ve worked with him in both a personal and professional capacity. He is unlike just about anyone else in my entire life and experience. Not because he is a fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals baseball team, and I root for the Red Sox. Nor for the fact he rides an electric bike, a heresy for this devoted old-fashioned cyclist who still believes in pedal power. What sets him apart in my world is that he is…

A political conservative.

A believer in things I do not believe in. On just about every issue, Charlie, and I most often part ways. He takes a right and I take a left. He moves toward conservation, and I stride towards liberality. We disagree on gun control. Trump versus Biden. Small government or big government. Even in the ways we look at and think about American history, we’ve got conflicting views. 

Yet we are a rare breed in these divided times we live in and in this divided land we live in. We actually continue to talk to and to dialogue with each other, and not so much to change the others’ mind, no. For me it is to hear what the opposition has to say, to listen to a worldview different from my own, to stand in someone else’s shoes. To get the scoop on an opposite belief and not from some hot air talking head on CNN or Fox News. Neither from some over the top opinion piece in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Sometimes, as a self-admitted “lefty” I just need to hear “righty” ideas straight from the source.  No filters. No interpretation by a go-between.   

Just the straight stuff.

Has Charlie changed my mind on any issues? I think somewhat. I also think I might have pushed him to reconsider an opinion or two. But the real gift of our friendship and our ongoing discussion is that we dare to talk to one another and to listen to one another and to respect one another. Even love each other as fellow human beings and as children of God.

One of the things that scares me most about these polarized days is the contempt that so many folks show and speak with towards fellow citizens who vote differently than they do, who think about culture or politics differently than they do. Agreeing to disagree has given way to be downright disagreeable, even violent, towards those we diverge with. 

Yes, at times we should get angry or vexed about what we believe, about what matters the most to us when it comes to our shared lives in these United States. I can be as passionate in belief as any other committed soul. But if we do not and cannot find civil ways to talk to and listen to our neighbors, who look at life from a different perspective than our own, then we are doomed to disunity, incivility and chronically logjammed politics.

Doomed to a civic life where folks on the fringe, who yell the loudest and are often so self-righteous, never give in. For them there is absolutely no room, ever, for compromise, for finding common ground, or even to work for the common good.  These days they seem to be running the show on and not listening to anyone who disagrees with them.

And increasingly Americans no longer live in politically diverse areas where they might actually be exposed to different ideas and people. One study found that since 2004, the number of counties where one candidate experienced a super landslide (more than 80 percent of the vote) has increased from 6 percent to 22 percent of all U.S. counties. The lingo to describe such ideological movement is the big sort—we are sorting ourselves more and more into deep red and deep blue places. Echo chambers. Lands where everyone else believes just what you believe. Says just what you want to hear. Looks just like you. Worships like you. Lives like you.

I don’t want to live that way. I need to try and live a life that sees and listens to others who are different than me, and not just in politics.  White, I need to spend more time with and deepen my relationships with folks of color. Straight, I need to hear what my LGBTQ friends have to say. Liberal, I must open my ears and close my mouth at times, so I can see this world through another set of eyes.

God made this world so diverse. What a waste and shame it would be for me if the only birds I flock with have the exact same color feathers as me. That’s a pretty narrow way to live. Pretty boring too. I need to be with people like Charlie and he needs to be with people like me too.

Who is your “Charlie”? Ask them out for a cup of coffee. Then just listen.





Tuesday, July 19, 2022

How to Help Defeat Cancer? Pedal. Pray. Repeat.

“[The bicycle] is no longer a beast of steel… no, it is a friend… It is a faithful and powerful ally against one’s worst enemies. It is stronger than anxiety, stronger than sadness. It has all the power of hope.”    --Maurice Leblanc, late French novelist

What’s with all the bikes on the road this summer?! Where’d they suddenly come from?

Those are questions on many minds and hearts in this part of God’s creation, at this time of year. One day the roads are clear and quiet and then one Saturday in the spring, bikes are everywhere, especially on the weekends. It can feel as if cyclists have returned to the streets and byways, like those swallows who return each year to Capistrano.  Bikers galore, flying around in their skin-tight lycra shorts and psychedelic bike shirts, riding in packs of two or four or more. Bikers whose numbers are peaking right now, in mid-July. Bikers like yours’ truly.

First, a confession and a plea.

Most bikers, like me, are trying our best to be the kind of biker that drivers like you, respect and even like. Bikers who wave and say “Thanks!” when you let us through an intersection or wait for us to pass by. Bikers who ride as far over to the right as we can, so we don’t hog up the road. Bikers who follow the rules of the road. Yes, these summer weekends you will experience a minority of bikers who are rude, careless, aggressive, and impolite. But hey—that’s not most of us who absolutely LOVE, to cycle. So: PLEASE watch out for us. We do not want to risk limb or life for this sport that brings us so much joy.

We cycle for lots of reasons.

To get in shape, to shed those winter pounds that can no longer hide beneath a big sweater! We cycle to relieve stress, hop on the bike at the end of a long workday and pedal away our cares. We cycle to see this amazing God made world at the smooth speed of 11 or 12 or 13 miles per hour. Fast enough to make forward progress. Slow enough to catch the beautiful show that is found in the warmer months in New England; hawks soaring in a bright blue sky and the yellow and white lily pads that cover a pond and a setting sun all orange and fiery.

But here’s also why there are so darn many of us cyclists in these parts right about now. Many of us are in training for a one-of-a-kind charity ride, the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC).  Come the first week in August the ride’s goal is to raise more than $66 million dollars, which will all go to support the incredibly important and lifesaving care and research that happens at Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute. That sixty-six-million-dollar figure is not a typo. Every single penny raised by riders like me, every cent, 100 percent, goes to that world class place.

You know of the Dana Farber and have been touched by its work.

It’s the place where your neighbor or a kid on your daughter’s little league team or your loved one went to or go to, for hope and to seek treatment to get better from the scourge that is cancer. It’s the place where the absolute best doctors and nurses and scientists are focused like a laser beam on one dream and one goal: to find a cure for cancer and to live in a cancer free world.

We PMC’ers ride for the same reason, and ride for the special ones we love and loved, touched by cancer. I ride for Sue and Nora and Dottie and Scott and Mark and Lynne and T. Michael and Evelyn and Kathy. I ride for folks with cancer I do not know and yet want to help. That’s why me and 6,000 other people will set off on our bikes and ride a long, long way. Cyclists will be spinning their pedals all the way from the hills of Sturbridge in central Massachusetts, to the tip of the Cape, to P-town.

Begun in 1980, the PMC is the granddaddy of athletic fundraising events. In all those years and rides, the PMC has raised more than $830 million.  And all just one pedal, one ride, one mile, one road at a time. Here’s the ask.

We PMC cyclists need your help and prayers. Go to PMC.ORG. Make a general donation. Find someone you know who is riding. If you need someone to sponsor, my PMC page is right here: profile.pmc.org/JH0352.  

So, all those bikers all over the place right now? Please keep an eye out for us. Give if you can. Pray for a safe and fun PMC, for everyone who has cancer, or who has lost a loved one to cancer. We can beat cancer. All one pedal at a time.

See you on the road.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn, Massachusetts (pilgrimsherborn.org) and in his 13th year of doing the PMC. He blogs at sherbornpastor.blogspot.com and is a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For twenty-five years he was a columnist whose essays appeared in newspapers throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He has served churches in New England since 1989. For comments, please be in touch: pastorjohn@pilgrimsherborn.org.