Here’s the thing

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God ain’t a he or she, but an it.”  

Shug from THE COLOR PURPLE by Alice Walker
“Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. Feeling like shit. It? I ask. Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It. But what do it look like? I ask. Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found it.”

In 1995, the United Church of Christ published The New Century Hymnal, its official worship book-in-the-pews. The “black book” (Often sitting next to the “red book”, the Pilgrim Hymnal of the previous Congregational Christian Church), has many qualities to be appreciated. However, it also stirred arguments in many churches. The bone of contention was its use of “inclusive language”. As Wikipedia puts it: “The New Century Hymnal is perhaps most famous both in and outside the United Church of Christ for its approach to using “inclusive language”.”

When it was first published we were “between churches”, so to speak, and didn’t have to face arguments in our local congregation. Then when we went to Hanover, the black book/red book was the thing. Some churches, however, just couldn’t seem to handle the far-reaching changes of language.

The editorial committee probably bit off more than it could chew but there wasn’t going to be another chance for a long time. As a result, many and assorted issues were addressed such as militaristic language, words like kings, kingdoms, and masters, the use of “Lord”, archaic language in general, and on and on.

The easiest for the conservatives to take was gender inclusivity in regards to humanity. After all, “man” can’t really refer to all humans, everyone is not a “he”. However, I would guess the hardest adjustment was about the gender of God. (Picture an old white male with flowing white hair sitting on a throne.) As one writer put it, The editors were “seeking to reduce the solely-masculine use of language for God, and/or balancing masculine images with feminine and non-gendered images”

How has this worked out? The Lord’s Prayer still begins, Our Father. Male pronouns are hard to drop. Some try to use “she” or “her” but does that really do it? For example, does it really help to say, as one writer did recently, “God goes to battle for you, Her weapons of choice are…”? (Sounds a bit like Wonder Woman to me)

My view is that the whole question should be who or what is the divine? Using male and/or female pronouns still anthropomorphizes something that is indescribable. Alice Walker really did get it right:

Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It. But what do it look like? I ask. Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug.

 

 

Why “Neo-Nazi” should scare us

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I have been bingeing on “The Man in the High Castle” on Amazon Prime.* The Nazis won World War II and, after dropping an A-Bomb on DC, established the Reich in the eastern part of our country while the Japanese had the western.

If you can suspend your knowledge of history a bit and enter this alternate reality, it becomes very frightening. The Japanese are despotic with a vengeance but it is the Nazi government, white supremacy personified, that is the most striking to me.

Swastikas are everywhere in one form or the other, Heil Hitler and Sieg Heil ring out, the less than ‘perfect’ human specimens are euthanized, the brown-shirted young people stand with the Nazi salute, on and on.

Normally, such a story, similar in tone to Phillip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”, would just be fascinating fiction. But consider Charlottesville, Virginia in the Summer of 2017. White nationalists marched on the University of Virginia campus. Counter protestors gathered. Chaos ensued with violence, the worst of which was the death of young anti-Nazi protester when a white supremacist drove his car into the crowd.

New American Nazis represent the absolute worst of racism and anti-Semitism. They must be taken seriously. Never, for even a moment, think like Trump that there is “good” amongst them. History, if we could only learn from it, is clear about that danger.

Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, wrote: “We have seen” (referring to the Holocaust) the mounds of corpses and visited the camps where they killed us. . . . By our sides were the ghosts of those who were no longer, whose blood was shed like water because Jewish blood is considered cheap. We saw their outstretched hands and looked into their burning and soul-searing eyes that peered into our very being and heard them say: Never again. Promise us. Never again”

If ever there was a time to renew this promise, the time is now.

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*This series is based on a Philip K. Dick book, one of 44 published novels and approximately 121 short stories. Dick died much too early at age 53. That  he was so prolific and creative was a gift to the world nonetheless.

 

 

 

The days of our lives

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My father and his children. c. 1956

On New Year’s Eve we had a funeral at 2nd Church Newton. We celebrated the life of a man who was 106 years old, born in December of 1912.

Had my father not died at an early age he would have been 106, too. In fact, his birthday was actually on December 31, 1912. He jokingly told us that he wasn’t sure how old he was, especially since was born near midnight. Born in ’12, at 11:30 PM, 106; born in ’13, at 12:30 AM, 107? Not really but fun to think about and no wonder it was confusing.

He had a short life ending with couple of heart attacks, the first at age 53 and the fatal one at 56. He smoked as most men did then and had a nerve disease that required him to start using a walker in his 40’s. Cardiac imaging and coronary artery bypass surgery were in their infancy but who knows how those advancements would  have helped anyhow.

I guess you could say that I was close to my father. I worked with him in his wholesale hot dog business in my high school years. Memories of delivering many seven pound boxes of bulk wieners on the Jacksonville Beach boardwalk are seared into my brain.

I have outlived my father by quite a few years but does more time mean that much? I have good quality of life, all in all, I have been able to take advantage of modern medicine. I share life with a wonderful woman who is the mother of our two great children.  They undoubtedly want me to stick around and I plan to do my best. So for them if not for me, added years would be excellent

I  have no meaningful answers but about the simplest yet most profound way to see it is this: “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.” –Martin Luther King

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Afterthought: One memory I treasure more than others is when years later he told me that to the contrary, he hadn’t pushed me into the ministry. He had hoped I would take over Turner Distributing Company.

 

‘’Enuf said?

May be.

On the other hand, some semblance of our constitutional checks and balances has been sparked by the Blue Wave.

And for us here in West Newton, there is a new home as a part of ministerial compensation in a great new congregation.

In fact, a “good things” list could go and on. So, once again, the keyword is gratitude. With love to our family and friends, new and old, we say:

Wrapped in Love

“… the unsung heroes, the people who have decided I’m worth loving, even though I’m often so needy. They see the toll it takes to be so visible in so many places, and they secure my grounding. They hold me in their hearts. They prop me up when I can barely stand, goad me up when I just don’t want to stand, and stand back and smile when I am holding my own….”

So much wisdom in one page. Thank you, Paula

Paula Stone Williams

I preached a sermon this past weekend about Joseph, the husband of Mary.  I talked about unsung heroes.  I am grateful for the heroes who keep me grounded. A lot of accolades have come my way over the past couple of years, and there is not a day that I do not give thanks for the dear souls who keep me on track.

We are social creatures.  In spite of the American myth of the rugged individual, we were made for community. Even God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in community.  I’ve always had this image of them sitting on the shore of a mountain lake around a warm campfire, a full moon rising in the distance, and a couple of trout on the fire. (Hmm, I think I just described an imaginary Terry Redlin painting.)

The three are talking about life in the world of ordinary time, and the people…

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Transgender Awareness Week 2018

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This flag flew over the Boston City Hall on May 3, 2016 
On November 6th, while most of the country were focussing on who would control Congress in the next term, Massachusetts addressed an important anti-discrimination law.
A yes vote on Question 3 would preserve the current form of Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity, race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, disability, and ancestry. A no vote would strip gender identity protections from the law, undoing Massachusetts’ transgender rights law passed in 2016.
Here is how it turned out:
Question – 3 – Gender Identity Rights – Ballot Issue
MASSACHUSETTS

100 % Precincts ReportingNov. 09, 2018 11:06 ET

Party Name Votes Vote %
Yes

Yes, 

1,788,574
67.77 %
No
No,
850,800
32.23 %

We live in West Newton, so I am especially glad to see the strength of this city’s votes keeping our anti-discrimination law. Elections results are relative, of course, but I am going with 16.81% is better than 32.23%.

NEWTON

32 of 32 Precincts Reporting – 100%Updated: Nov. 09, 2018 11:06 ET
Party Name Votes Vote %
Yes Yes, 32,351 83.19 %
No No, 6,539 16.81 %

Not that it really made that much of a difference overall, but our congregation, 2nd Church Newton and its leaders made it clear that we hoped the vote would result in a big yes. I couldn’t imagine it failing but some were concerned. That almost two million Massachusetts voters support the rights of transgender persons is good feeling. I am totally convinced that those who voted ‘no’ will never see any of their fears realized. In fact, they are false cries of alarm about something that is non-existent, in the first place.

Social and cultural changes abound. Many of us struggle with those kind of shifts but when we simplify things, it becomes much easier. For example, do you know anyone who is transgender? If not, explore sites like Gladd or Human Rights Campaign. Plus, maybe the very easiest and effective thing would be to be “don’t worry about it”. Chances are, no one is bugging you about your sex or gender so why even think about someone else’s choices, unless that ask you to do so.

Boston=Traffic

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I hate sitting in traffic. Often I will try to avoid jams and go my own way which sometimes turns into a big mistake. Like the time Joe and I missed our flight at Logan. Why didn’t I just stay right where I was on the interstate?

But now I am a Lyft driver. In Boston. A kind of aversion therapy because there is hardly a place anywhere that is not filled with cars, the main business area of Boston being the worlds worst.

Well, not actually ‘the’ worse. Cities in India, for example. I was never driving, I was sitting in the back seat trying to remember some kind of prayer. Boston is, however, an evil champion of the those cities in the US that have adequate public transportation.

Adding insult to injury is the horn blowing. Drivers beep whether there is even any reason or not. I am hesitant to react, with finger signs or shouting. One never knows how many handguns they have on the seat beside them.

These days, I am staying in the near west areas such as Newton and Waltham hoping I won’t have to go the Government Center or Fenway. I can do it but then what if I have another request after dropping off? It is always somewhat of a miracle if I can connect with the potential passenger in there.

The big question is, why are there so many automobiles on the streets? It can’t be all that convenient when it takes 15 minutes to move through just one intersection. I guess the answer is that our obsession with being independent has, in the case of transportation, turned into masochism.

Boston has a plethora of public transportation, even water taxis. Wonder how it would go if half the people used them instead of private cars? Heaven.