Band of Brothers: A journey into what matters

Some of us keep a bucket list.  From the profound to the mundane we write down hopes and dreams and a plan to make them come true.  As a cancer survivor (ten years out) I’m mindful that life is a gift to be savored, lived as fully as possible.

Recently I spent a day hiking to and skiing the iconic Tuckerman Ravine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuckerman_Ravine   I climbed with  ‘the boys’, five lifetime friends now 60.  We decided now was the time to experience  Tuckerman.

The ‘Tuck’ is a legendary bowl for spring skiing on the southeast side of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  No chair lifts here.

To get to the bowl is not for the faint of heart.  You begin with a three-mile hike rising from 2000′ to 4500′ feet while you carry your skis and boots up a rock strewn path.  Before the final ascent you check the Avalanche Information Board to know where to ski and avoid.

Once arrived you put on your boots to carry skis up a steep incline with toe holds made by others.  The best skiers keep climbing to drop over ‘the headwall’ with no room for error.  We watched two young guys far above us drop like rocks, catching air time and time again and eventually ski past us.  Beautiful to behold.

Suffice it to say I chose the bunny slope.

At 61 I’m happy to be able to get to the Tuckerman bowl.  It’s an awe-inspiring setting that causes one to look up and around and within.  The Celts call such settings a ‘thin place’.  A thin space  serves as a permeable membrane separating the conscious world from the supernatural.

For me (and I suspect many others) Tuckerman Ravine is a thin place a portal into a different way of seeing and being.  A place that calls us to look both outward and within in a deeper way.

The ‘boys’ left to right: Tom, Rob, Clyde, Dave, Kent

Adding to the experience was being with life long friends.  Together we’ve shared good times and hard.  We’ve lived long enough to know that life isn’t so much about the destination but the journey itself.

Back at the parking lot we headed to town for dinner and a beer.  We toasted the mountain and we toasted each other.  We were tired and grateful for this ‘band of brothers’.  Grateful for one more day on the trail.

 

 

 

Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!

‘Immigrants, Refugees and Undocumented, Oh My!’  Grabbing a line from the Wizard of Oz we are living in a troubling time.  Especially if you are a new immigrant or refugee and God help you if you’re undocumented.

Using a time-tested technique, President Trump and minions play the  anti-immigrant fear card to advance their political agenda.  But this is nothing new.

“New immigration” was a term from the late 1880s that came from the influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Italy and Russia (areas that previously sent few immigrants).

Nativists http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nativism_(politics) feared the new arrivals lacked the political, social, and occupational skills needed to successfully assimilate into American culture. This raised the issue of whether the U.S. was still a “melting pot,” or if it had just become a “dumping ground,” and many old-stock Americans worried about negative effects on the economy, politics, and culture.

 Immigration 1930 to 2000:

Restriction proceeded piecemeal over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but immediately after the end of World War I (1914–18) and into the early 1920s, Congress changed the nation’s basic policy about immigration.

The National Origins Formula of 1921 (and its final form in 1924) not only restricted the number of immigrants who might enter the United States, but also assigned slots according to quotas based on national origins. It essentially gave preference to immigrants from Central, Northern and Western Europe, severely limiting the numbers from Russia and Southern Europe, Africa and declared all potential immigrants from Asia unworthy of entry into the United States.

Underneath it all was a desire by those already here to keep America as they knew it.  Essentially ‘white’.

This specter of racism and fear of ‘the other’ has been a reoccurring theme in American history and is once again being played for all its worth by ‘nativist’ like President Trump, advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The antidote of course is building relationships with immigrants, refugees and undocumented neighbors.  In the past two weeks:  An undocumented refugee from Congo (who fled a war) walked into my office to ask me to pray with him.  He spoke of his fear of being deported, separating him from his wife and two-year old son (both of whom are US citizens).

I spoke with a young couple from Brazil who are here on a temporary visa but want to stay and take care of her ailing father who is a US citizen.  And, while my car was being serviced I spoke with a young legal immigrant from Egypt who pumped my gas.  He told me of ongoing insults shouted by passing motorists, calling him a ‘f***ing towel head’ and ‘go back where you belong’.

Such are the stories of  immigrants and refugees that are our neighbors.  ‘Nativists’ would have us believe that they are to be feared, that they are not like ‘us’.

The problem however, is that I’ve gotten to know their names.  Listened to their stories.  Discovered that they want the same things you and I want.  Safety and opportunity.  Their family to be healthy and happy.

Despite  prejudice and hateful rhetoric immigrants and refugees still see the United States as a refuge a place to make dreams come true.  They see what is best in us as a nation…even when we forget.

What is needed is meaningful immigration reform. Something that Congress has resisted since last initiated by Ronald Reagan.

What is needed is the wisdom of a Moses:

‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for once you too were foreigners in Egypt.” ~ Exodus 22:21

Rise Up in Love

On Palm Sunday suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage.  The Coptic church is the earliest Christian presence in Egypt going back to the year 100.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the violence, adding to fears that extremists are shifting their focus to civilians, especially Egypt’s Christian minority. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-egypt-christian-church-bombing-20170409-story.html

That same week in Syria, 70 people, including children died,  the result of an air-launched chemical attack attributed to the ruthless regime of President Bashar al-Assad. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/05/middleeast/idlib-syria-attack/index.html

What are we to make of such horrific events?  Is there any room for hope?

Holy Week for Christian’s begins with these words:

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19: 41,42)

What is this way of peace that Jesus speaks of?

It is the counter-cultural way of forgiveness. Later that week, Jesus would look upon those who betrayed and crucified him with these words:

“Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Christianity teaches that three days later on Easter morning, the risen Christ was seen and touched. Whether you take this metaphorically or literally, the Easter story affirms this truth: That neither violence, fear or even death will have the last word…On that first Easter love expressed in forgiveness had and has the final word.

It’s been said: ‘We are called to be Easter people, living in a Good Friday world’. Whether you are Christian or not we are invited to claim the truth that evil never wins.

Pope washing feet of youthWe think of Pope Francis washing the feet of homeless children (Muslim and Christian) in Rome. A reminder that love has no boundaries, no limits. Each of us are invited, challenged to put love into practice. To offer an alternative to retribution and fear.

What forgiveness are we prepared to offer? Who are you and I called to embrace? What stranger are we called to befriend?

In time, ISIS and the Assad’s of the world will be a footnote of history. But the story of love’s capacity to persevere and show us the way will continue to be told.

This Holy Week let us pray for our Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers in Syria.  Let our hearts rest with our Coptic family under siege. May our Jewish friends be blessed as they walk through Passover.

Let us Rise Up in Love.

Love Has No Walls

I serve a downtown church in a small city.  The building is brick and situated on a busy main street.  We are surrounded by a variety of small business’ and residences.  Cars and people pass the church at a steady clip.

For most the church is a familiar fixture.  That which is familiar can also be invisible.  How many of us walking down a familiar street take the time to really look?  My guess is that First Baptist Church in Beverly is such a familiar fixture on Cabot Street, that most simply walk past.  https://www.fbcbeverly.org/

The invisibility of the familiar is a fitting metaphor for the plight of religious institutions in today’s culture.

New England as a whole is rapidly becoming more secular.  This is particularly true for those under 30 where fully 1/3 have no religious affiliation.  This trend is projected to continue. http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

Yet the same studies show that the majority of those who say that they are ‘not religious’ also self identify as  ‘spiritual’.  By spiritual people refer to a sense of openness to that which is greater than oneself.  A desire to connect to that great Mystery some call God/Creator/Spirit and a desire to find meaning in community.

Recently our church started an initiative ‘Can we chalk?’  The idea is to bring the messages of love and encouragement (rooted in our faith) to the wider community. A box of large chalk is at the entrance to the church inviting people to write on the side-walk words of love and encouragement.

What wasn’t expected is that people began to write words of love  on the brick façade of the church building….At first the messages were in small script

 

Gradually the words became bigger, bolder.   One person wrote: ‘Love Has No Walls’.  Surely this is a message for our time.

I think of President Trump’s promise to build a wall between Mexico and the USA….Israel’s wall between themselves and the Palestinians…The wall that separated East Berlin from West Berlin during the Cold War.   Such walls are ugly and built on fear.  Yet, a passerby took up the invitation of the church and offered a message of hope.

 

Then the messages got even bigger.  A homeless neighbor took it upon himself to create a large mural offering words of love and support.

Such expressions haven’t been appreciated by everyone.  For some  drawing upon the church building is unseemly.  A distraction from the simple beauty of the building. Nothing more than graffiti.

I understand their point.

I think there is an element of discomfort with losing control of our message.  We invited church members and neighbors to take us up on an  offer to spread messages of love on the sidewalk and they did.  But then the messages morphed onto our walls.  We didn’t expect that.

Our space has become unpredictable.

We are no longer invisible.  Each day people stop to read the messages.  Some take photos.   We’ve initiated conversation in the wider community.

‘Can We Chalk?’ as a public art project was not intended to be permanent.  Soon  the side-walk art will be washed away by rain and eventually the walls will be cleaned too.

But I hope we as a church take away an important lesson.  A lesson taught by the early Church in the Book of Acts in the first century.  That the church of Jesus Christ is not intended to be contained or constrained by bricks and mortar.

The church is to be a living, breathing community that goes out into the community to offer healing, hope and love.  To  listen and learn.  To build bridges not put up walls.

Loving in such a way is unpredictable.  Love takes us from the comfort of what is familiar and brings us to a new level of intimacy and engagement with our community.

In doing so we find that we are no longer invisible.  This is Good News.

 

Don’t Mess Your Nest

Today, President Trump signed a long promised executive order that rolls back progress made to lessen the release of carbon pollution into the environment.  Carbon emissions contribute to the heating up of our planet. Never one to let facts get in the way, Mr. Trump focuses on the dubious science of a few outliers who call climate change a hoax.

His executive order rolls back restrictions on coal powered power plants and seeks to relax limits on emissions by cars and trucks.  He has signaled that he will not follow through on promises made at the most recent Paris Climate Accord.   In effect he has ceded leadership by the United States (the second largest emitter of carbon, after China).  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/28/climate/trump-executive-order-climate-change.html

Trump follows in the footsteps of President George W. Bush’s administration, which consistently denied that climate change had a significant human cause.   In the face of overwhelming science, where did the willful ignorance come from?  As always, follow the money:  https://350.org/global-divestment-mobilization-peoples-climate-march/

In the face of this well-funded anti-climate mentality, what are people of faith to do?  How does our faith inform us?

I like the banner  that says:

‘If you love the Creator, take care of Creation’.

This saying is a reflection of the creation story in Genesis where God creates the land and oceans and all that live within.  Each day Genesis  concludes by saying: ‘And God saw that it was good’.

To be indifferent or contribute toward the destruction of  God’s creation is an affront to God.

Just because Mr. Trump and his minions use ‘alternative facts’ doesn’t make it so.   The signs of climate change and humanities contribution to our rapidly heating up planet are breathtaking:  https://350.org/a-glacier-guides-experience-with-climate-change-in-alaska/

What then can we do?  Resist.  Resist the ‘alternative facts’ of the Trump administration and fossil fuel industry.  Get informed. Check out the National Oceanic  and Atmospheric Administration http://www.noaa.gov .  This government site is under threat by the Trump administration but remains a reputable source for climate science.

Find allies in your faith tradition which helps you be a responsible steward of the earth.  For those within the Christian tradition check out: http://restoringeden.org/   http://earthministry.org .  In New England a good source is http://kairosearth.org/about-us/  There are excellent resources within other faith traditions too.

The Northwest Earth Institute offers small group studies on making proactive, practical changes in your personal life and in your local community  https://nwei.org   When my wife and I were raising our young children we took a class entitled: ‘Voluntary Simplicity’.  This class changed how we approached parenting and many of the material choices we make to this day.

Being an advocate for mother nature is a life long journey.  It is a call to take the long view.  A commitment to refute the short-term/quick profit mentality.  It requires a commitment to helping our economy find new and clean ways of moving forward. Helping workers retool for the opportunities that come with renewable energy.

All this is based on the old adage ‘don’t mess your nest’.  We need and deserve clean water and air.   Not only for our sake but for the sake of generations to come.  Our Creator would have us do no less.

In Praise of Paper Bag Princess, Belle and Mrs. Potts

The theatrical sound track to raising our two daughters was ‘Beauty and the Beast’.  The 1991 animated Disney film was the movie of choice on our VHS tape deck.   When I close my eyes I  see our daughters seated at their child size arts and crafts table painting and pasting, while Lumiere and Cogsworth playfully bicker from the screen.

The sweetness of the movie features a strong, book reading heroine named Belle who saves the Beast from prison.   A prison created by his own selfish spirit.  Only if the Beast can learn to love and be freely loved in return can the spell of an enchantress be broken.

This weekend a new live action adaptation of this classic animated movie opened. Starring Emma Watson as Belle.  Always a challenge to attempt a retelling of a classic tale this cast pulls it off.  https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=beauty+and+the+beast+trailer&qpvt=beauty+and+the+beast+trailer&FORM=VDRE

Belle’s father, played by Kevin Kline is asked by his daughter to describe her mother, who died when Belle was an infant.  Her father replies: ‘She was fearless.  Absolutely fearless’.   This is the attribute that Disney emphasizes for the heroine Belle.

In raising our daughters we looked for strong, feminist role models in popular culture.   We knew that such role models would help to fire the imagination of our girls as they grew.   A helpful librarian introduced us to ‘The Paper Bag Princess’, a self sufficient girl who doesn’t wait for the prince to rescue her from the dragon.  http://robertmunsch.com/book/the-paper-bag-prince

In like manner Belle  is an independent heroine who defies the expectations of her village to conform.  She is a fearless in rescuing her father from the Beast’s prison and ultimately her courage and compassion frees the Beast from a prison of his own  making.

This weekend my wife and I went to see the new Beauty and the Beast with our youngest daughter now 22.   That same evening our eldest daughter age 25 went to see the film on the west coast with her friends.  We all agreed we loved it.

It was a pleasure to hear the familiar songs.  Angela Lansbury the Mrs. Potts that helped raise countless children, was replaced by the voice of Emma Thompson.  Both actors brought the same kindness and protective mama vibe to their role.

Adding to the experience 20 plus  years later was seeing the intelligent, compassionate, fearless women that our daughters have become.  Its comforting to know that Belle and Mrs. Potts whose story line and sound track were part of our daughters childhood, will continue to entertain and encourage a new generation to love books, to be fearless and kind.

 

Friends for Life

I’m still recovering from a four-day adventure known as ‘Loonapalooza’.  This annual trip to Loon Mountain brings together a core group of childhood friends. We gather to ski, tell stories and share belly laughs.

All of us recently turned 60.  We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship is a precious gift.  We recount exploits of our wayward youth, while being grateful that we continue to add new adventures to our memory bank.

Left to right: Rob, Clyde, Kent, Frank, Dave, Tom

Together we’ve raised children, built careers, dealt with health concerns and lost loved ones.  When we get together we don’t take it for granted.  We can still revert to Junior High bathroom humor.  Yet, we also easily move into the deep water to talk about what’s really going on in life.  The older we get the deeper and more honest our friendship becomes.

I was thinking about this when I came across an article in the Globe Magazine entitled: ‘Where Have All The Guys Gone?’ by Billy Baker.   The article points to studies that many middle-aged men face a loneliness crisis.  https://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2017/03/09/the-biggest-threat-facing-middle-age-men-isn-smoking-obesity-loneliness/k6saC9FnnHQCUbf5mJ8okL/story.html

The article points out what we men know.  We become busy building a career,  raising a family and oftentimes find that our connection to friends and the emotional comfort provided, falls by the wayside.  As a result we feel isolated.

A recent study by Britain’s University of Oxford presented results that most guys understand intuitively:  Men need an activity to make and keep a bond.  At the risk of over generalizing, women are generally better at making a social connection by talking and sharing, while men need a task around which to gather.

Richard Schwartz co-author of ‘The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century’, offered this interesting comment: ‘Researchers have noticed a trend in photographs taken of people interacting.  When female friends are talking to each other, they do it face to face. But guys stand side by side, looking out at the world together.’ http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/The-Lonely-American-Book-Review

When I look at photos of our ski trips going back over thirty years, we are indeed ‘looking out’ at the world together.

The task of planning for a trip and skiing a mountain is the setting within which we renew our ties.  This past Saturday we skied with a temperature of 5 degrees below zero with wind gusts of 3o miles per hour.  Later that afternoon we savored our survival over beers.  More stories to tell.

The magazine article points to statistics that those who nurture friendships live longer, happier lives.  The answer to finding and keeping friends is making time to get together a priority.

My friend Clyde’s dad meets each week with friends well past 70 and 80 years old.  They meet early in the morning over coffee and donuts to argue politics, tell jokes, share the challenge of growing old and show pictures of grandkids.   Each time they strengthen the ties that bind.

Living well is not for the faint of heart.  Heart break and sorrow come to us all.  Laughter, joy and wonder are waiting to be claimed too.

In the beautiful film, ‘Waking Ned Divine’, a friend eulogizes a dear old  friend: ‘When we laughed we grew younger’. So it was this past weekend with ‘the boys’.  Together we grew younger and our shared memories will carry us till we meet again.