Thursday, September 24, 2020

Some Things I Think I Think...


1. I like to drive. I just like to drive. I find it generally relaxing, especially during this COVID-19 period when traffic is a little lighter, I'm usually not in a huge hurry to get anywhere in particular, and the weather is still nice enough to let me drive my Miata convertible (which I call the "Batmobile," since it is all jet black). One of the greatest thrills of my life was when I passed my driver's test at age 16. The freedom being able to drive afforded was amazing and still is! I could drive to the country to set up my telescope; drive myself to the library; pick up a friend and go visit other friends; or go on a date without arranging for a ride! One of my "dream" trips in retirement was driving along Rt. 66 and seeing its weird, historical sights. I may not happen now, though, as I recently read a story by an African American writer who said that Rt. 66 was never a place for Black people--it was pretty much a whites-only passageway, and its attractions were restricted. This reality shook me up, and I'm not sure I would enjoy this trip, now. Maybe now we should drive along the routes declared more "safe" for African Americans  by Victor Hugo Green's Green Book?

2. AND this leads to my second thing I think I think: I support the Black Lives Matter movement wholeheartedly. The purpose of this movement is to focus on the many ways that our African American citizens' lives are adversely affected just because their skin is a different color. Lately, the national focus has been on how Blacks are treated by law enforcement, ranging from their treatment by police, to jail sentences that have resulted in the incarceration of an incredibly disproportionate number of African Americans, jamming jails and prisons, nationwide. As Michelle Alexander has pointed out in her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the majority of Blacks in jail are there for minor "three and out" drug offenses and/or just because they cannot afford to pay a fine! Black Lives Matter (BLM) seeks to both shine a light on the numerous ways African Americans are being oppressed, as well as protest when high-profile cases--the latest being the Breonna Taylor killing and subsequent investigation--occur. Of course now we know the outcome of that investigation, and it is no balm for the fears and disparate legal treatment of the Black community. My heart still breaks when I hear an African American parent tell of how they must give their children "the talk" about how to avoid seriously negative outcomes if stopped by police. Even this counsel didn't help George Floyd. As has been stated by many, Black Lives Matter doesn't mean that only Black lives matter, or that all lives don't matter. The movement--and even the statement--only seek to shine a light on an injustice, and one that is unique to African Americans in the United States of America.

3. I think there is something as "White privilege." As a white person, I have never been denied anything just because of the color of my skin. I have African American friends who were told there were "no vacancies" in apartment complexes when there were, or who have had car salesmen try to talk them out of new cars because of the assumption they have bad credit. A couple of years ago, our church had Tim Stevens, former chairperson of the NAACP in Allegheny County, and founder and executive director of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) speak here. During his talk, he asked how many of us in the room had ever been pulled over by police for a "safety check"? No one in the room raised a hand. He stated that he has been--about 100 times. The dictionary defines "White privilege" as: the unearned, mostly unacknowledged social advantage white people have over other racial groups simply because they are white. White privilege doesn't mean that most white people didn't have to "work" to get what they have (a frequently-stated objection to the phrase), it just means white people don't encounter the hoops to jump through or the barriers to overcome that persons of color do. And when we don't have these, we subsequently may deny they exist. Of course, as I have said many times to people who claim racism and/or White privilege don't exist, go ask a Black person. We are not qualified to make this judgment, as they are not in our experience. 

4. I think COVID-19 is a serious threat to all people, not a hoax, and not just a "mild flu." This is not just an opinion, but an assessment based on physicians, medical scholars, and researchers who are members of my congregation. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-Cov-2, a virus that is no respecter of persons. It doesn't care what you "feel" about it when it infects you, and it is the "Russian Roulette" of viruses! Is it true that some who are infected have little to no symptoms of the infection? Yes. But it is also true that people of all ages and states of health are among the 200,000 Americans who have died at the hands of the virus. What reasonable person, what religious believer, what Democrat or Republican, what young, middle-aged, or old person would want to roll those dice? But, here we are, witnessing persons who deny COVID-19's horrid efficacy, or taking a political stand against the closings and restrictions aimed at reducing the impact of the virus and keeping as many people as possible, safe from it. We have people demanding that children be sent back to the classroom in communities where the virus is particularly active. Friends, is there any among us who is not tired of this virus? Is there any among us who doesn't want it to go away, never to return? Of course not. But we cannot vote it away, we cannot wish it away, we cannot will it away. COVID-19 will be conquered by science--an effective vaccine--and by safety measures such as face-coverings, social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and avoiding unnecessary crowds, until one is available. 

5. I think prayer is a thing. I think something happens when we pray--maybe many things. Our prayers for challenges like those listed above (yes, even driving) may effectively solicit God's help. Our prayers may be turned inward by the Spirit of God to change us--altering (OR "altaring") our attitudes, straightening out our "stinking thinking," and moving us to some healing action on behalf of others, as well as ourselves. I also think you don't have to be religious to pray. I have seen it "work" on behalf of persons who profess not to believe. There is no magic to praying, but there is magic in prayer. It's a righteous magic. 

6. I think taking time to read the Bible is a thing. Reading the Bible is not done as a self-help exercise as much as it is a selfless-help exercise. If we read the Bible with this thesis statement in mind--God desires to forgive, redeem, reconcile, and prosper the human community--we will go far in properly interpreting the scriptures. While the book is full of stories of harm, hate, war, judgment, if we focus on the "reconciling" thesis, it will give us the clear lenses to view and apply what it is trying to say to us. Even as the people Israel regularly fall prey to creating idols, modern Christians have tried to turn the Bible--or even the cross--into idols. In fact, both of these point to God's redeeming action in the human realm, luring and enticing us to work to make it look more like the realm of God.

7. I think sin is a thing. Actually, I know so, and not just "because the Bible tells me so." I confess to inordinate anger over the current political climate in a country I love, and to letting that spill into some of my social media posts, the blood-pressure-raising tirades I've regularly held in my inner-dialogue, and in profanities I have uttered at TVs, radios, and computer screens (thankfully not actual persons, but I've come close). I could blame everything on the divisiveness we are experiencing, and which is being fanned into an even larger conflagration by the Coronavirus, but I confess I must look inwardly to where I have let this take root. How about you? Anything resonate here? I think the current social environment--which seems like a terrible retrenchment to earlier times when people actually had less respect for one another, and even voted it into law--has exposed my own sin. I keep thinking, "Preacher, HEAL thyself!" Years ago, a wise preacher told me, "Preach at yourself, and if someone else gets in the way, it's on them." I am trying, with God's help, to "relearn" this valuable lesson. In case you haven't had the epiphany, this stuff is hard! Where would be be with God's grace?!!

8. I think I need to take a drive. It's almost the end of the day, so it will be toward home. Time for a little top-down therapy, motoring prayers, and maybe a little Native American flute music on the Batmobile sound system...and to those of you who waded through my meandering thoughts, Shalom!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Treasure Hunt...


Sorry it has been so long since my last Blog post, friends. I last posted on August 21, just after coming off of a shorter-than-normal vacation, and two days before I turned 66. That's it--I'll blame it on getting old! No, really, I'll bet you don't recognize the man pictured above, do you? I didn't either, but let me fill you in.

His name is Forrest Fenn. He's currently in the news because he just died at 90. He was a self-styled adventurer and art collector, who also got into collecting other treasures, including coins and gold. Over a decade ago, he was diagnosed with cancer, and after treatment, he used his personal rejuvenation to "remake" himself, and began doing things he had never done before, and going places he had never been. About that time, he wrote his autobiography entitled "The Thrill of the Chase." Turns out, he buried a "treasure" of cold, coins, and other collectables worth at least a million dollars somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, and salted his book with clues as to where it was. It's estimated that over 350,000 people read his book and went on adventurous treks through the Rocky Mountains, trying to find the riches. Unfortunately, some of those souls were not experienced at such man vs. nature challenges, and five actually died while searching. That's the bad news.

The good news is that on June 27 of this year, an anonymous Fenn-finder found the booty, and thankfully, Forrest Fenn was still around to see it. But there is better news. Fenn's challenge greatly broadened the lives and interests of a majority of the remaining 349,995 who survived the search and learned to love hiking, climbing, kayaking rivers, and reveling in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. As you can tell from the title of Fenn's personal story, "The Thrill of the Chase," this is the lesson he was hoping to teach by hiding the treasure.

Jesus told a parable about a man who finds a treasure buried on a plot of land. He so wants to possess the treasure that he goes and buys the plot of land so the treasure can be legally his. Fenn's searchers "bought the land"--they discovered the wonders (and some, the dangers) of nature. A number of them have written stories and articles about how enriched they have become by going on the treasure hunt.

Forrest Fenn kind of "pulled a Jesus" on his readers, launching them on the trip of a lifetime. We don't know all of their stories, but obviously many of them left what was normal, or comfortable, or secure, and launched out to find a financial treasure, uncovering instead a new lease on life, beauty, and taxing experiences that jazzed them up with a whole new vision of what living is about. They met new people--including in many cases other treasure hunters--and learned to sleep under the stars. Some even quit their jobs to do a "Come and follow me" act.

OK, I'm 66 and contemplating retirement next year. I've loved my work as a "professional disciple," but am not a very adventurous soul, beyond my spiritual journey and penchant for reading and writing. In these, I may be a legend in my own mind, as they say, but at least I've tried to think--and preach--outside the box a bit. But when it comes to "comfort level," I've often said that my idea of roughing it is the Red Roof Inn instead of a Ramada. I'm generally not the outdoorsy type (stop it, those of you who know me, I can hear you laughing!). When I shared a video of my son's incredible hiking, kayaking, and climbing, 400-plus-mile trek along the "lost coast" of Alaska with his life partner, everyone who viewed it looked at me and asked, "Where did HE come from?" 

My wife persuaded me to join her in getting into bicycling a few years ago. We're doing more of that, now. My daughter and her family like to hike, and on our recent vacation with them, they had us on both a hike and bike trail ride. I bought a new telescope, and one night we stayed up way past the grands' bedtime so we could set it up and view the late-rising moon, as well as a couple of planets. Every day, as I drive through North Park on my way to the church, I find myself drawn to wanting to spend more time there in retirement, hiking, walking with Dara, and maybe even fishing. As I think I mentioned in an earlier blog, at his request, I took a very young Evan on a few fishing trips, and thoroughly enjoyed it! The thing that spoiled it was actually catching a fish--ruined the whole "peaceful" thing, as that was violent, and disgusting (having to de-hook the fish without touching it because those things feel weird, and then gently kicking it back into the water). 

When the kids were little, we bought a used tent camper and even tried camping, because I read an article that families that the common denominator in families that maintained tight relationships over the years was that they went camping. It was fun, actually, but when it became clear that we were all more enamored with visiting historical, scientific, and artistic venues, the camper gave way to just the car and decent hotels. Also, Dara didn't like that she had to do all of the cooking (remember, that's another thing I'm just learning, as preparation for retirement). But now, even camping is taking on a slight lure. Very slight. But a lure. It would seem that the "buried treasure" of retirement has already begun to alter my thinking.

So, what does this have to do with Forrest Fenn, Jesus, and you? Well, lesson one is: don't wait until retirement to try some things "out of the box" for you, and take a few steps outside your comfort zone. And, if like me you did wait, so what? Do it now! Don't let the fact that there are snakes and ticks in the woods keep you from taking a hike. (OK, I'll admit, now I'm preaching to myself...) Read an article or a book about something interesting, and then go investigate!

And that's lesson two: there are treasures out there! People, places, experiences, mission opportunities, lots of stuff to learn about, or see, or find--all of it waiting to be discovered. When Jesus said, "Come, follow me," twelve people took him up on it. My son tells me that he and Shannon may have only been the 11th and 12th persons to go on the "lost coast" hike they did. And while over 350,000 went on the hunt for the pot-o-gold old Forrest planted, most of them found something far richer than the contents of his treasure chest. Engaged with passion, curiosity, and faith-seeking-understanding, life really IS a treasure hunt! Let's get going, Yinz! Shalom!

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...