An Ethic of Life.

I was listening to NPR this morning on the way to the train and there was a long piece about the Syrian government possibly using Sarin gas on its opposition and there being video of it. The other day, in this country, “an Australian baseball player out for a jog in an Oklahoma neighborhood was fatally shot by three teenagers who decided to kill someone because they were bored, police said. 22-year-old Christopher Lane was visiting his girlfriend in the town of Duncan when he was gunned down at random”.

I am beyond the shock and horror. I am beyond the natural response of “What the …. ?!!!” I am tired of atrocities.  (Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d use about everyday life: “I am tired of atrocities”. ) I am beyond the politics of gun control or non-gun control. I am sick of intellectually pushing a rock uphill against violence and hatred and mean-spirited words masquerading as discussion. I am done with people taking up guns against innocent children, having judgements against the poor and defenseless, governments killing their own people, and people shooting children because they “look suspicious”.  I want to change the discussion. I want to change the reference point. I want people to start from a different place. I want to bring religion to the people, religion to the world. And while I personally am a Christian, I don’t care which religion of at least three that I know of you choose. The starting place for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism is the same —

From the book of Genesis, Chapter 1 — the first chapter of the first book of scripture — 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; …. 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them” (Chapter 1, verses 26a, 27, and 28a)”.

Biblical scholars and rationalists who want to argue about who “Our” is, Creationists who want to score political points, scientists who say that dinosaurs came before humans, secularists who speak of this as “myth” they don’t believe in, aggressive atheists who think that religion makes the world a worse place, all miss the point.

I have wonderful friends from all the categories above, but I don’t understand how they make moral decisions. I don’t understand what their starting point is. The point of this scripture, from the point of view of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity is this:  All human beings are created in the image of God. They are created by God. Their lives are sacred and holy. They are important to God and they should be to us.

You and I are not allowed to take one of their lives. Period. You and I are not supposed to injure or harm one of those human lives because God considers that life important. You and I are suppose to nurture and value that life because God, who is smarter than we are, does.

God doesn’t mean by this “male lives only” or “female lives more”. God doesn’t say, “Value pink skin more” or “the more pigment on the skin, the less value there is to the person”. God does not indicate that vaginas are bad and people with them are unimportant. God does not say that people who are unable to care for themselves — for any reason — are not valuable. God does not say that “this group of people” or “that group of people”, with a disability or without, isn’t allowed to have an opinion.

What God says, in these texts (and we should all believe, it seems to me) is that human life, whether we understand it, whether we can conceive of it, whether we are cynical about it or not, is created by a loving God and is to be treated as such. If the question is, “Are you worthy of my time and effort?”, the answer has to be, “Yes”. If the question is, “Am I worthy of your time and effort?”, the answer is supposed to be,”Yes”. Am I responsible for your welfare? Yes. Am I allowed to cut you, maim you, shoot you, kill you, torture you, rape you, gas you, or abuse you in any way? No. It is as simple as that.

All human beings should be free to live, free to thrive, allowed their voice, and frankly seen as holy, because that is the nature of the God who created them. This is irrespective of location, political affiliation, government in power, economic system, mental status of the person in power, philosophical slant, intellectual ideology, property rights or anything else.

If your ethic or life-view doesn’t believe that, I don’t want to hear it, and neither does God.

Peace,

 

John

 

 

I Don’t Care What You Think, People Are Hungry (Poor, Hurt, In Trouble…)

Once again, I was reading the Huffington Post, and once again, some bigot in government said that people who use welfare or food stamps or some program or other are “freeloaders”. I have moved past the point of caring whether he or she thinks nothing bad ever happens to anybody. It does.

People lose their jobs. People are affected by racism or sexism or all kinds of problems which make it hard to get hired or paid a decent living. People give up. People have mental illness. People have physical illness. People get struck by lightning, or their house is hit by a tornado, or an earthquake. Sometimes they trusted someone who wasn’t trustworthy with their money or sometimes they made actual poor choices, but paid more than their fair share of consequences. Some people don’t have bootstraps any more. Some people are born into poverty and don’t know any other life. Some people are abused and need a place to live. Some people were abandoned and don’t have clothes or a house. Some babies are born with diseases that deform them. Some seniors have dementia and can’t take care of themselves. Some people in the middle have car accidents and are hurt or die.That’s pretty much everyone.

“Into each life, some rain must  fall”, they say. It’s true. To think that you are above the fray is to deny reality — unless you are above the fray. It takes a lot of money these days to stay “above the fray”. If you’re able to, be thankful — and generous — because you’re lucky. It’s not true for others.

But since people do get sick or hungry or homeless — even if it’s not all of us — we had better put some money aside for them. All that most politicians have to do to see this is go to their own districts and look around. All that any of us have to do is go to “that” section of town and open our eyes. Surely, they can’t all be freeloaders. In fact, I would suspect that most of them aren’t.

If your kid were hungry, wouldn’t you want to be able to get them food? If you were homeless, for whatever reason, wouldn’t you want a place to live? Why, then, should others suffer and be mocked for it? If you couldn’t get out of bed, for whatever reason, would you want your family to be left out in the cold?

Enough already. Regardless of what people think, there is need and we’d better address it. And if that makes them freeloaders, then so be it — freeloaders, just like us.

Peace,

 

John

Random! (Or maybe not) Thoughts at 10,000 hits…

Random! (Or maybe not) Thoughts at 10,000 hits…

As of this morning on my way to work, I finally achieved 10,000 hits (views) on my blog. I say “finally” because the last three blog articles were about exceptionally cool people and I thought that they would each get way more hits. That’s the nature of this thing, though. You never know what’s going to “take off” and what’s not.

The top 10 posts basically fall into three categories – People and Politics, Memories, Funerals and Religion, and Music. Of the hits, Treyvon Martin (here misspelled as “Travon”) and racism have by far the greatest number – about 1300.  For a single article, “Ellen Degeneres as Leader and Peacemaker” has the most hits, just above the most popular Treyvon article.  

Next up is articles on people who have passed and the people they left behind – Holly Hassett and Rick Fowler, Daniel and Lynda Kuhn, and Jerry Curtiss, Char Corbett and Sioux Curtiss

Two articles for pastors: “A Theology of Ordination” and “In Praise of the Local Church Pastor” are in the Top 10, followed by a review of Beebs and Her Money Makers’ first album and an article on the Top 100 Albums of All Time”

What does this mean? If I had to guess, I’d say that racism is a vital issue and we are trying to understand each other; that religion and politics still have a lot to say to each other; that we try to make meaning of our lives and the lives of others; that grieving is a huge part of our lives; and that we get through it all with good music, of which my sister’s band is one example.

It also says that good people leave behind a legacy to their friends/they have a lot of people who care about them. Holly was a very caring person, Daniel apparently was a good man who touched a whole bunch of lives in Upstate New York (where there aren’t a lot of people, by the way), and Jerry Curtiss’ way of living the Christian spiritual life made a huge difference with its ripple effects.  

If my readers are any indication, people have the capability of deep emotions, deep thoughts, and deep spirituality and they use them.  Pastors out there seem to remain a focus of those things – the people we go to when we want to deal with those things. In short, the church and pastors still fill a need in people’s lives and in the wider society.

Lastly, to misquote Spiderman comics, “With great passion comes great music”. My pastor friends, my non-pastor friends, the wider world, all seem to really enjoy music. I remain astounded at Beebs’ talent, ear for talent in others, and just great music. She and her band are amazing.

So, what else is there to say? Here it is, in no particular order, or –as my daughter would say, “Random!”

Many thanks to Cathi Chapin-Bishop and Liz Solomon Wright for helping me figure out how to blog in the first place and for being my friends. It’s been incredibly fun, most of the time. Mama Around the House is a great blog, as is Bad Quaker Bible Study. Joe Roberts – thanks for quoting me recently. You know so many things and you have such a different knowledge base that I continue to be impressed.

If Sean Murphy ran for office, I’d vote for him. We don’t always or often see eye-to-eye, but we’re both interested in the truth, have little tolerance for extreme propaganda on our side or the others’, and want people to have better lives.

Rob Mcarthy is a quiet, but supportive presence in my writings.

Bob Cunningham has a good heart and I’m glad to see it back.

Derek and Dawn Cunningham have the healthiest marriage I have ever seen.

Probably the coolest moment in the blog came in “real life” when Patti told me that her mother was proud of her, when she hadn’t heard that before. That made my day.

South Church in New Britain, its members and its recent pastoral staff – George, Jane, Emily and my wife Michelle – are the best around, though Mass Conference, Connecticut Conference, and Rhode Island Conference in the UCC have some pretty cool people as well. Hi to Bob Kyte and Charlie Hartmann, who (with Peter Wells) make up the triumvirate of great pastors I have known.  Deering Conference Center was the best place to grow up spiritually and emotionally.

White people can understand Black folk, don’t let anyone fool you. Why they don’t is anybody’s guess. We should figure that out soon and do something about it. Thanks to Gerry Claytor for noticing.

Despite what the statistics say, the New York Mets are still the best team in baseball. 

Maybe the recent doping scandals will allow us to see sports heroes as people and sports as a game again.

The battle for hearts-and-minds over homosexuality has been largely won. Let’s get it in writing, then start caring about the poor, the hungry, the abused, women and minorities. I want the ERA to be ratified and the Voting Rights Act fixed, Citizen’s United overturned, and people to get what they need. Mostly, I want us to take each other seriously, as God’s children — love made manifest in the world. I think if we can do that part, the rest of it will follow.

Nukes are still dumb. The plant in Japan is still leaking, just like I (and many others) knew it would.

The polar ice caps are melting. It doesn’t look good.

Obama gets 3 ½ stars out of 5 for his presidency so far. George W. Bush gets a negative 3 for his.

Special thanks to Rev. Leigh McCaffrey for being there with my mother and my family in Florida. They all still love you and mention you often.

Carroll Cyr gave me all kinds of good excuses to work on my faith with this blog. Thanks to her.

The church needs Jesus’ model to hold us accountable. We probably won’t get it right, but we and the outside world at least knw where to look.

Liberal Christianity is making a comeback, as it should. So is caring, as it should. Might there be a connection there?

At the same time, where did all the racism and sexism come from? Some woman in Britain got death and rape threats on Twitter for asking to see another woman to be on the currency there. Huh?

I believe that decency and consideration will make a comeback in Texas and North Carolina and Texas and Minnesota and Florida. People can’t hate each other that long without the system collapsing. Having said that, it can’t happen fast enough.

Love makes the world a better place – pretty much always.

Ron Bottitta is that rarest of things – a working actor. The rest of his life’s not bad, either.

David Ratz is a man of faith. Lisa Gustaffson is a woman of faith. Rick Fowler is the best chaplain I know.

We can make the world a better place. We just can.

Peace,

 

John

Rebekah Anderson — Woman/Girl Extraordinaire

It’s been an interesting week in birthday land, and I had already planned to write this post, but it turns out there’s more to this story even today, and there will clearly be more to come…

In the world of political correct language, I am not sure how to describe someone who’s “handicapped”. My wife and I have a very good friend who is blind, for instance, and is proud of it. She sees it as “who she was made by God to be” and she celebrates it. At least, I think she celebrates it. It is soooo far off of who I am that I just don’t get it and I haven’t read enough about disability movements to understand yet. In any case, she’s a cool woman and a good mother and a caring human being, so I’m glad to know her.

I have friends who work with the handicapped/disabled in skiing and the work that they do is incredible as well, but I understand that there are terms that are used and expected-to-be-used in working with folks that I would call “handicapped” or “disabled”.

I get it, in one sense. You don’t want to call attention to a person’s handicap, and you don’t want to say that the person IS their handicap or disability by any means. You don’t want to limit them or see them as limited, because they might not be. They are a person with …..(fill in the blanks). It’s part of who they are, but it\s not the totality of who they are and they should get help dealing with it in their lives.

At the same time, everybody loves an underdog story, which is why Hollywood makes so many of them. I had planned to share a really good underdog-makes-good story because I am so amazed at what the subject of this article has done. I wanted to give her “her props” for doing as much as she has already, despite overcoming tremendous odds!!! (isn’t that how they say it in Hollywood?).  But I learned today that the story goes beyond that, so here we go…

Years ago, two very good friends of mine from seminary who were  in love did the thing that people in love do – they had a baby. Their first-born is everything I would have expected of their offspring — he’s literate, good with words and interested in them, a little brilliant and a little goofy and into music — in other words, the arts is his life and they live in him. Brendan Anderson is a cool kid and I would have expected nothing less. He’s a Sophomore at a college in Vermont and he will add to the good of the world in some way or another. You just know that about him.

After these people had this baby, life led us to drift apart — they went to Maine and back to Boston. I went to Rochester and Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Northern California before returning back East with my lovely wife. Somewhere in all of this, my friends had another baby and they called her Rebekah. She would, no doubt, if the stars had been right and all was well with the world, have become as literate as her brother and able to withstand Monty Python and puns for the rest of her life. She would probably have gone into the helping professions as her parents are wont to do, and so on. She, too, would have been another great kid produced by great parents in a good, intelligent environment.

But the stars apparently weren’t right and all was not well with the world. Rebekah somehow, as a small child, developed cancer of some kind. Needless to say, her parents were “freaked” about their precious child having such a horrible thing happen to their daughter. My wife and I were freaked for them 3,000 miles away. Her illness deeply affected both of her parents and — with miracle after miracle — medical miracles, financial miracles, prayerful miracles, Rebekah’s life was spared.

As I wasn’t around at that time, I don’t know much except what we read on line about her condition and, later, that the Make-A-Wish Foundation had been really good to the family and they had gotten to go to Disney parks in Florida during all of this. In other words, the family had support, Bekah had support and good things happened. Bekah’s life was, as I said, spared… but her sight was not.

Bekah is some version of legally blind in at least one eye, but I think both to this day. As time went by, her parents divorced for whatever reasons, and I assume from my work that that was difficult on her.

OK, so she a) had cancer; b) became visually impaired ; and c) her parents got divorced. With this many things her in life by a young age, many children — maybe most — would have collapsed in a heap somewhere. Many adults, including myself, would have been “out of it” for years given these challenges. I’d like to believe that I could “recover” from all of these things and live a “normal”, productive life and be mentally healthy and be proud of myself for it. That would, as far as I’m concerned, make a great story all on its own — adult faces serious challenges, time after time, and comes through it all to be normal and live a healthy life. I see people all day who do just that and I am astounded often by how much a person can overcome to live a healthy, productive life.

Bekah, who turns 18 today, apparently didn’t take the five-or-ten-year plan to recovery that I think it would have required. She doesn’t really need the Theme from Rocky playing behind her to make it somehow. I don’t know how she did it, but at 18, even with all of this, she graduated High School at age 17, with her classmates. She was not a minute late, not a year late, not a decade late, but right on time. Given the number of kids I know who drop out of school, just that is enough to make a parent proud and Rebekah’s parents are. Your average kid graduates and that’s a moment to be proud of. She or he goes off to college, that’s another moment to be proud of. But, whatever strength, stamina, or blessing Bekah has makes it all the more impressive. I don’t know how she did it, but she did. Despite handicaps, Bekah pushed on against the current and became “just like every other kid” and did better than many kids I know.

Does the story end there? No. Because, in addition to overcoming obstacles to graduate on time, Bekah, in June of this year,  graduated in the top 10% of her class, was a National Merit Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society,  a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society,  received 2 scholarships, a Choral Award, an Achievement Award in Creative Writing, and something called the Mitzi Yates Award for achievement and leadership in the Academy community  So, yes, she’s a scholar, and a musician, and an award-winning writer and a leader. In addition to graduating from High School, of course, she is now the National Merit Scholar for Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Pretty cool, right? Well…

Today, for her 18th birthday, she went from her home state to Rhode Island to protest, in person, the haters of the Greensboro Baptist (supposedly) Church. That is, for her birthday, she celebrated in the service of others. I am astounded that I know such a child — so far ahead of so many people I know who grew to be incredible later in their lives.

All of these things, and I know her as “that sort-of shy kid that comes to my house sometimes and horses around with my kids”. Yes, Bekah is “visually impaired”. Yes, Bekah survived cancer. Yes, Bekah has had some issues in her personal life growing up, but I will be darned if I can figure out how she got to be … well, Bekah — Girl/Woman Extraordinaire.

There are resiliency studies in the field of psychology which describe how some children overcome diversity. The results are this: children can have horrible lives and overcome or transcend them with this one tool: there must be one person that they can always talk to about their lives, who will be both loving and honest with them. Bekah has loving parents, a loving brother, a loving aunt and wider circle of friends all of whom support her both lovingly and honestly.

These are the kind of people that I see in the world who overcame some obstacle or other. These are the people that I see in my office and the person I hope to be with them, that they might develop resiliency. This is God’s spirit alive in the world for “normal” people.

Apparently, if you start with the right genes, and add support-times-ten-or more, you get extraordinary. Rebekah Anderson is that.

Peace,

John