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.

 

 

 

 

 

Spirituality of Extreme Weather

The weather prognosticators tell us a ‘historic nor’easter is about to hit just a few days before Spring. New England is not for the faint of heart. Inspired by the elements here’s a blog that I wrote in 2015. Stay warm, stay dry and savor the awesomeness of creation.

Green Preacher

I grew up in New England where extreme weather is the norm. We can have hot humid summers that rival an Ecuadorian rainforest. Heavy rains can so soak the earth that water seeps from basement walls and rises from basement floors.

Winter however is where New England often smacks you upside the head. I remember the blizzard of 1978 but nothing prepared us in the greater Boston area for 9 feet plus of snow, that accumulated from a series of blizzards in February and March of this year. It was epic and brutal.

Blizzard of 1978

I grew up in New England but for twenty years lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Willamette offers a generally moderate climate with occasional moments of weather related drama. For the most part it is a pleasant climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape flourishes and flowers emerge in late winter. In the valley there…

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Heresy of the Prosperity Gospel

Paula White and Joel Osteen are two of the most prominent advocates of the Prosperity Gospel.  Paula White from her pulpit in Florida and Joel Osteen from his pulpit in Texas will each preach on any given Sunday to more people than in my 30 years of ministry.


Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the ‘prosperity gospel’, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a Christian religious doctrine that financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and that faith, positive thinking, and donations to Christian ministries will increase one’s material wealth.

It is a faith tradition with which Donald Trump and his penchant for conspicuous consumption has long  been associated. His “spiritual adviser” is Paula White, who as the leader of New Destiny Christian Center near Orlando, Fla., is perhaps the best known prosperity preacher in the country

“Every day you’re [living] your destiny, designed by God and discovered by you,” White said in a recent sermon. “You’re either in a position of abundance, you’re in a position of prosperity, or you’re in a position of poverty. Now that’s in every area of your life. … You’re living abundant in your affairs of life — and that includes your financial conditions — or you’re living in poverty.”

The prosperity gospel is a merging of selective excerpts from the Bible, with materialism, with positive thinking going back to Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and more recently Robert Schuler and his ‘Glass Cathedral’.   Oprah in a not dissimilar manner blends positive thinking with a cafeteria approach to spirituality. All speak to the belief that positive thinking leads to good outcomes and is a blessing from a Divine source.

I’m all for positive thinking.  I try to be a ‘glass half full’ kind of guy.

But to equate good outcomes with God’s favor is problematic.  Rabbi Harold Kushner in his classic book ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, shares the story of his own family.  Their son Aaron was born with an incurable disease that they knew would lead to Aaron’s death in his teens.

Listen to what well-meaning people offered to the Rabbi and his wife: ‘God is testing you’.  Or, ‘God is punishing you’.  Or, ‘God is teaching you an important lesson’.  Rabbi Kushner response? “I don’t want any part of a God who is so petty as to punish an innocent child for any perceived sin of another….Nor, do want to worship a God who would test or teach us a lesson with the price tag being the death of a child.”

I wonder what the prosperity gospel adherents would say to the rabbi and his family?   Classic prosperity gospel teaching is that such tragedy is the result of a ‘lack of faith’.

Kate Bowler, a theologian and historian at Duke University, wrote an opinion article in the New York Times in Feb. 2016 entitled: ‘Death the Prosperity Gospel and Me’.  She writes: ‘I am a historian of the American prosperity gospel. Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith.’

She goes on to wonder what such proponents make of her recent diagnosis.  In her early 30’s with a toddler at home, she is diagnosed with Stage 4 Cancer.  Is it because she’s a critic of the prosperity gospel?  Is it because she doesn’t believe deeply enough? https://www.nytimes.com/…/death-the-prosperity-gospel-and-me.html

I understand the allure of the prosperity theology.  But simply put it is antithetical to what Jesus said and how he lived.  In Luke’s Gospel 4:  14 – 30  he stood before his hometown neighbors and quoted from the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then Jesus got specific and sought to apply these teachings to the injustice and societal exploitation of this time. How did his neighbors respond?  They tried to throw him off a cliff.  They didn’t like how he called them to renounce their privilege and stand in solidarity with those who were powerless and forgotten.

Elsewhere Jesus said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me’…and, ‘the last will be first’ and ‘whatever you do for the most vulnerable you do unto me.’   This is hard stuff.  It doesn’t fill huge arenas with promises of personal wealth and good health.

Rather it’s all about standing with and standing up for those who are on the margins, those without a voice.  Those being rounded up for deportation.  Welcoming immigrants and refugees that others would keep out.

The way of Jesus, the way of the Hebrew prophets is about selflessness not selfishness.  Paradoxically it’s about being great as we humble ourselves in service to others.

It’s about washing feet (Gospel of John 13) . It’s about being a servant.

Such a message doesn’t fill arenas or draw a massive television audience.  But it is the Gospel of Jesus.  It’s a Gospel that has withstood all attempts to trivialize or control.

This is the Good News. Thanks be to God.

Rise Up in Love

In my tradition Lent begins today. A six week season leading up to Easter.  A time to slow down and listen for the ways in which that great mystery we call ‘Spirit’ is speaking into our lives.  Sometimes the Spirit guides with a nudge, sometimes a slap upside the head.  Even so, we often miss the cues.

Many of us are over stimulated and over scheduled.  Certain politicians foster anxiety and division by telling us whom to fear.  In the wake of such busyness and noise…how do we tune in to the ways in which God speaks?  Is there a way to get in sync with God’s eternal rhythm?

Last week I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Nicaragua.  Our team of ten spent ten days living in Apontillo, a rural, isolated village in the District of Matagalpa.  Our team worked alongside local leaders installing 40 water filters and staffing a health fair where we screened for anemia in children.   We fell in love with the people.

We were hosted by AMOS: Health and Hope  http://www.amoshealth.org/ a faith-based mission that empowers communities to develop best practices to ensure basic health care for all.  Ada Luz serves as AMOS’ Health Promoter for her community. She is the only accessible health provider for her community of 1300.

On Mondays and Fridays she sees up to 40 patients who may walk three hours to see her.  The other days she walks the mountainous terrain to visit those pregnant, newborns or those in poor health.  She’s always on call for an emergency.

It was humbling and inspiring to see how Ada Luz with the support of her community take care of each other.  A sense that ‘we are in this together’.

Such a witness is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: 34 – 40, in response to a question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus responds: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.  This is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In Apontillo we had fewer distractions…no cell reception, no WiFi, no politicians and  cable news chumming the waters of fear.  Rather, we had time to listen, pray, reflect on Scripture and be inspired by the humble service of people like Ada Luz.

Now back in the ‘real world’,  I want to hold onto what I learned and the neighborly rhythm we experienced in Nicaragua.  I want to spend less time being fearful and more time being generous.  Less time excluding and more time including. To hold onto the eternal truth that what  truly matters is ‘love’.

photo-nica-team-2017
Nicaragua Mission Team with village friends and Ada Luz (in center wearing white).

Maybe like me, you are a follower of Christ.  Maybe not.  But we all need time to slow down.  To look around and know that we’re not really all that different.

For me the Season of Lent reminds us to be mindful, to focus on what truly matters.  To put into practice that which Jesus says is foundational for how to live and be.

Sports: The Tie that Binds

The improbable come from behind victory of the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons left fans exhausted, elated (or distraught) depending on one’s allegiance.  This ‘Win for the Ages’ joins a list of great sport moments in Boston.

I grew up in Rhode Island with a natural allegiance to Boston teams.  Memorable moments in sports, both victories and painful losses, help define who we are and where we belong.

I remember watching the Boston Bruins in my Uncle Freddy’s living room…with  Bobby Orr flying through the air in 1970.  I remember listening to my transistor radio under the blankets, long after I was supposed to be asleep, as the great Johnny Most called the Celtics play by play.

My Uncle Bob, my Dad’s mischievous younger brother, gave me my first beer at age 16 (‘don’t tell your father’) as we watched on television the Patriot’s with Jim Plunkett as the QB.

In 1978 I was working in a supermarket as a tie breaking play-off game between the Red Sox and Yankees was broadcast over the stores sound system.   I remember the cries and curses that arose when Bucky ‘##&*ing’ Dent hit a home run to break our hearts.

On Sept. 12, 1979 I witnessed Carl Yazstremski reach the milestone of  3000 hits.  Witness is a bit of a stretch. My lifelong friend, Clyde Haworth ( a Yankee fan) had a dorm room off of Kenmore Square.  We sat on the roof, sipping a favorite beverage, listening to the game on the radio…with a partial view of Fenway Park. Such are the lengths we fans go to, when a team captures your heart.   https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=carl+yastrzemski+hit+3000&qpvt=carl+yastrzemski+hit+3000&view=detail&mid=0BC1239140A1C60B66D20BC1239140A1C60B66D2&FORM=VRDGAR

In 2000 I rode with my Dad in an ambulance as he went for radiation treatment.  His cancer had spread and the prognosis was poor.  Striving for any type of normalcy, I remember my Dad asking: ‘How did the Sox do last night?’

In 2004, four years after my Dad and Uncle Freddy had died, then living in Oregon, I watched with my friend Win Dolan (another New England transplant) as our Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.  We toasted my Dad and Freddy and all those who hadn’t lived to see this day.

Those who aren’t sport fans may think such stories are over stated, even childish.    But sports with their medley of heart-break and joy have a way of shaping who we are as we remember those living and dead, to whom we belong.  Those with whom we have a shared memory.

photo-tom-bradyThis past Sunday, like most New England fans, I thought all was lost.  But as the second half of the Super Bowl progressed, we found the impossible become the improbable become ‘a win for the ages’.  I shared the moment with friends while our buddy, Clyde Haworth (at the Super Bowl with his son Jake), texted video clips of the crowd… as despair gave way to delirium.

Such are the ties that bind us to one another.  Sports offer a storyline within which we share a lifetime of memories.  Sports serve too as a diversion from the painful realities of life.

In a few weeks, Spring Training begins for baseball in Florida and Arizona. The storyline continues as fans gather around their team and learn a new line up of players.  A new season means a fresh start for our team and for us.

We await those familiar words: ‘Play ball’!