Hate Crime in the Neighborhood

We live in an increasingly polarized society. The hate speech in this presidential election season seems to have ginned up talking at and about one another, rather than talking with one another. It’s been said that prejudice comes when we ‘pre-judge’ without getting to know another’s story and perspective.

Here in Beverly, Massachusetts my friend Alison and I recently hosted an evening of conversation entitled: ‘A Rabbi and a Baptist Minister walk into a bar…’ It was intended as a light-hearted way to enter into the serious work of building bridges of understanding. Alison is the rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham and I’m on the pastoral staff at First Baptist Church.

Over a glass of beer or wine we invited members of our congregations to write down questions that we’d both respond to and then open up for wider conversation. We gathered to understand and respect our differences. We also quickly found that we have much in common. After an hour or so we said, ‘let’s do this again’!

At the end of the evening it seemed like a modest step in the long journey of building understanding, respect and friendship.

A week later I saw on the news (myfoxboston.com) that Temple B’nai Abraham had been vandalized. A dollar sign and the words ‘Merry Christmas’ were spray-painted in large letters on the exterior walls near the back door of the temple.

Temple B'nai Abraham

“It’s probably a seven on the Richter scale of stupid,” said temple president Alan Pierce. “It’s hateful, it’s hurtful, and it’s something that needs to wake up the community as to why this happens.”

Rabbi Alison Adler said, with other recent incidents of anti-Semitism occurring locally and globally, she was not surprised by the incident.

“Even if it was a stupid decision by someone, I think what we want to talk about… are the underlying things it might cause,” Adler said. “I think the conversation isn’t just going to be about the vandalism, but really about what propels concerns or fears.”

The temple was targeted once before, in 1989, when a swastika was painted on the front of the building, Mr.Pierce said. “We made the decision to cover it over, but not cover it up. Acts of anti-Semitism or racial intolerance or bigotry or gay bashing are happening in the schools and happening in people’s homes and it’s affecting all of us.”

This is personal for Rabbi Alison and her community at Temple B’nai Abraham. It’s personal for me too.

Vandalism has defiled the walls of the beautiful temple just one block from my house. Hate speech has been inflicted upon friends with whom I broke bread and shared a beer just a week ago. It grieves me that Alison and her family who welcomed my wife and me into their home for Passover, are the victims of hate speech with a Christian subtext. This is personal.

passover with Rabbi Alison

What is the antidote to intolerance? I think it begins with moving outside our own circle and recognizing that there is no ‘them’, there is only ‘us’. The antidote to prejudice is getting to know someone from a different circle, with a different perspective.

The antidote is as simple as sharing a meal.

It’s not about building walls it’s about tearing them down. It’s about building friendships. It’s about coming together.  Who are you planning on getting to know?

The Boys at 60

There’s something about turning a decade older that gives one pause. It is a time for reflection, taking stock of where you’ve been and where you hope to go. This feels particularly true as I and a group of lifelong friends move into our sixth decade.

We’ve been together since boyhood and have walked with one another through times both joyous and hard. Richard Rohr in his book ‘Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’, writes that in the first half of life we focus on our identity: Who am I? What am I good at? Where am I going? Who will go with me?

But by the second half of life we’ve experienced how fragile life can be. We’ve lost loved ones, made mistakes, dealt with health issues, had our hearts broken. Rohr writes that such painful moments raise questions we’d otherwise not ask, and offer insights we’d otherwise not have. By the second half of life we ask different questions: What do I really value? What do I truly believe in (not what others tell me)? Where do I belong?

The answers don’t come easy. Yet the insights gleaned are ours alone to claim.

My life is graced with good friends. This past week six of us gathered for our annual ski trip to Loon Mountain, NH (known as Loonapalooza). We are growing old(er) together. Each year we ski, laugh (a lot), drink (a lot), eat (a lot). And sometimes we are serious together. We’ve added the ritual of raising a glass to our great friend Larry, whom cancer took from us two years ago.

Boys of Loonapalooza

There’s a wonderful saying that ‘when we laugh, we grow younger’. On our annual ski trip (for a time) we grow younger. That’s a gift that paradoxically comes with age. To each of my friends who are turning 60 with me this year (pictured left to right: Rob, me, Frank, Dave, Clyde, Tom), I say: ‘Happy birthday. Thank you for the gift of your friendship.’ Can’t think of a better group of guys to get older with.

Gift of Friendship

This past weekend I gathered with friends for a weekend ski trip. The six of us have known each other since High School and in some cases since elementary school. Having lived in other parts of the country for much of my adult life, these times with life-long friends are to be savored.

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We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship, both new and longtime are not to be taken for granted. On this trip we remembered our good friend Larry who died of cancer over a year ago. Larry was a graceful skier with a playful spirit and as we skied down the mountain we sensed his presence.

In gathering we were mindful of the many blessings in our lives. But we were also mindful of struggles and losses that each of us have experienced. Rather than dampening our mood we made a conscious choice to celebrate the gift of being together. We laughed and played and skied with joy.

Richard Rohr in his wonderful book,’Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life’, says by the second half of life we’ve been humbled, stumbled and fallen on our nose. Our struggles may have come from poor choices but more often by circumstances beyond our control. Paradoxically says Rohr, it is when we struggle that we become most open to that which is most important. The painful times says Rohr can help clarify that which we hold most dear.

For this group of childhood friends, now in our late 50’s we have lived long enough to know that the gift of a good friendship is something to give thanks for, a gift to savor. So we gathered for our annual ski trip to Loon Mountain. We skied remembering those no longer with us and we skied with gratitude for those who remain by our side.

(Photo of ‘the boys’ left to right: Frank, Rob, Dave, Tom, Clyde, Kent)

High School Reunion and the Art of Growing Younger

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Friday my high school class gathered. It was our 40th reunion and having recently moved back to the area I was savoring the chance to reconnect.

A group of seven friends, all men gathered prior to the reunion for a ‘beverage of choice’. Our wives had been largely uninterested in accompanying us and truth be told it was a time for the ‘boy’ in each of us to play.

In deference to our growing up in Rhode Island we hoisted a Narragansett Beer and toasted our friendship. We remembered our great friend Larry who succumbed to cancer a year ago and who was with us in spirit. We looked around our circle and gave thanks for the gift of being together.

At this age we no longer have much to prove, to ourselves or others. Several of us have stayed close friends over the years, we’ve attended each others wedding, laid to rest parents, celebrated births and watched each others children grow up. We’ve walked with each other through health issues and a few divorces.

We’ve lived long enough to know that friendship, particularly those with some mileage on the odometer are not to be taken for granted. So we toasted each other, re-told old stories and made plans for future adventures.

In one of my favorite films, ‘Waking Ned Devine’, two elderly men are looking back on their friendship, one character named Jackie says: “When we laughed together we grew younger.” On the night of our reunion we toasted one another and marveled at how quickly the years have gone. We shared hopes and plans for the next chapter in our lives. And as we laughed together we watched an amazing transformation, at least for a moment, we grew younger.