Childish

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Childish Behavior Image

There are a couple of things I typically don’t do.  Post two blogs in a single week, and make political statements.  Well, both of those rules are being thrown out the window because I just can’t take it anymore. So…

To BOTH of the major party presidential candidates:  STOP IT!  I’m guessing that America is sick and tired of the childish name calling and bullying that have become the unfortunate hallmarks of both of your campaigns.  All you talk about at your rallies is how the other is unqualified for service.  Liar!  Bigot!  Cheater!  Crooked!  Racist!  Sexist!  I’m sure I left something out.  One political commentator was asked if she thought we have seen the bottom.  Her reply was that we were looking up at the bottom.  LOOKING UP AT THE *&$%&#! BOTTOM!  SHAME!  You are both better individuals than that and, for sure, America deserves more than what either of you, individually or even combined, are currently offering.  The political process, already tarnished, has sunk to new lows because of (both of) you.  I wouldn’t doubt that other countries are looking at us and laughing.

Allow me to make a simple suggestion.  Start to focus on the real issues that affect the people of this country.  You can each claim the other is not physically fit to serve as our nation’s leader, but how about a few words on the rising cost of health care?  Are you even aware that the price of an EpiPen rose 400% last week?  Did you know that North Korea launched a missile into Japanese air space?  Care to weigh in on foreign policy?  One of you is a former Secretary of State for Pete’s sake!  A devastating earthquake in Italy has leveled an entire town and claimed the lives of nearly 300 people. Would you like to share your condolences or show us how you might support our allies in a time of crisis?  Many of our nation’s children went back to school this week, not that you would have noticed.  Start talking about how you will improve public education, and what you might do about the rising cost of college tuition.  Maybe your kids don’t have to worry about the excruciating weight of college debt, but at least you could show us that you care that many young adults can’t contribute to the economy because they’re too busy paying off school loans.  Today alone, thousands of people will die from cancer, heart disease, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease and the like.  How much of the national budget are you willing to devote to medical research?  The welfare system is broken.  What will you do to fix it?  I plan to retire at some point, as do a bunch of other Baby Boomers.  What’s your plan for Social Security?  There’s a critical vacancy on the Supreme Court.  The person you would potentially appoint could tip the scales on many important constitutional issues.  Care to discuss?  There’s a push in some states to increase the minimum wage to $15.  Would it be too much to ask either of you rich people take a few minutes to let us know what you think about that?  And then there’s always terrorism, but when’s the last time you had anything to say about it (that wasn’t critical of how someone else chose to address it)?

Until either one, or both of you get back on point, I’m not going to listen.  If I wanted to hear what you’re spewing these days I take a trip to my local school playground.  Get over yourselves and start acting like adults.

It’s Personal

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Handwriting Image

This week I wrote a sermon, literally. I set pen to paper and wrote the whole thing out long hand because that’s how my brain works best. When I reached the end I transposed it onto my laptop, making a few corrections along the way. People have asked me why I do this because it seems to add an unnecessary step. But I think more clearly when I’m writing rather than typing and looking at a screen.

This week I also received a very nice thank you card with a hand-written message inside. I was very appreciative because I know the person who sent it actually took the time to make the note personal. It was in her unique, individual handwriting. I was reminded of my dad’s signature that was so distinctive that I couldn’t even copy it well enough to sign papers sent home by some disgruntled teacher who wanted my parents to know how I botched an assignment.

In last Sunday’s New York Times there appeared an opinion piece surely typed, not hand-written, by Anne Trubek under the headline “Handwriting Just Doesn’t Matter.” Trubek is also the author of the forthcoming book, “The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting.” The full article may be found here:

www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/opinion/handwriting-just-doesnt-matter.html_r=0

Trubek believes that cursive writing is no longer necessary and should not be taught in our nation’s elementary schools. She makes a strong case for the elimination of it altogether since – in her opinion – it has lost it’s purpose, and keyboarding has become a much more useful tool for today’s students. This line of thinking surely has merit. Who writes an essay by hand anymore? After all, I require Confirmation students to submit their final essays in type written form and in a larger than usual font so I can clearly interpret what they are attempting to say. I no longer have time to decipher chicken scratch, which is an accurate description of most 13 and 14 year olds attempts at cursive.

But Trubek is missing something. What makes cursive handwriting so valuable is it’s personal nature. In a culture that spends an inordinate amount of time using a keyboard to text, email, tweet and post, actual personal communication has taken a back seat. Why actually speak a word when an emoji of a smiley face or pile of poop can certainly communicate one’s thoughts and feelings just as well? Why pick up the phone and actually talk to someone when a text gets the job done? Who wants to pay a visit when an email will suffice? And why take the time to prepare a hand-written note when the keyboard and printer are so easily accessible?

I’ll tell you why! Because we can’t afford as a society to slip any further into the muck and mire of impersonal communication. Take cyberbullying as an example. It has become too damn easy for some mean kid to hide behind a text or post or snapchat and not care about the emotional damage that he or she may be inflicting on a classmate.  Whatever happened to teaching our kids the fine art of constructive conversation?  You know, that thing that requires actual face to face communication.  We better get back to it because, mark my words, that will be the next thing to go. The ability to talk to one another. In the future we may just sit in front of a keyboard while we’re all in the same room and text or email one another. We’ll be left to figure out the nuances on our own, and I guarantee there will be a lot of misunderstanding. But hey, that will be better than having to look someone in the eye and figure out how to say what’s on our minds without offending the other person, right? It’s much safer that way.

I say we keep teaching our kids how to write in cursive before it’s too late.  And while we’re at it, let’s teach them the value of a hand-written note, the kind we received from a guest we’ve had to our home for dinner, or for a random act of kindness, or a job well done. I have Father’s Day cards from my kids who are now 31, 26, and 25 years old that include hand-written notes that far surpass the sentiment of the generic Hallmark messages printed inside. I cherish them because they’re personal. Just like it should be. So get out your pens and paper, and let someone know how much you care.

Refugees

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Refugee Image

“You don’t have to live like a refugee.”  — Tom Petty

Um, sorry Tom, love your music but there are actually millions of people who DO have to live like refugees because they have been forced to flee their homelands due to religious and/or political persecution.  Earlier this year we were alerted specifically to the migration of Syrian immigrants, but the fact is that people of many countries seek shelter in refugee camps around the world.

This week I had the opportunity to visit Mary’s House, an arm of Cleveland Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.  Mary’s House is located near 78th and Detroit, and is exclusively for single women and their children, providing transitional housing until mom can find a job, kids can get settled into school, and everyone can make the major adjustment to living in the United States.  The current residents of Mary’s House are from Sudan, a mother and her four children, who came to the United States via a refugee camp in Egypt.  I was told that her husband has recently been located (families often get separated either while exiting their country of origin, or while in the massive refugee camps), and Catholic Charities is working to bring him here so the family can be reunited.

My guess is that everyone has their own perspective about immigrants and refugees, but one thing I learned during my visit really shocked me.  Of all refugees fleeing their countries of origin who end up in a refugee camp in another country, only 2% make it out.  The other 98% live the rest of their lives in the camps.

Each year our congregation participates in a service event called God’s Work. Our Hands. that coincides with our Rally Day festivities.  This year that day happens to fall on September 11th, the 15th anniversary of the horrific terror attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, PA.  As we remember the tragic loss of life, the heroes who sacrificed their lives to save others, and how our country has been forever changed, our church will have the opportunity to work at Mary’s House to assist a Sudanese family who fled from the same terror we continue to denounce every single day.

There is much to do.  Shrubs are overgrown and need to be torn out.  New things need to be planted.  There is painting to be done to freshen up a child’s bedroom.  A hole needs patching in the living room.  If you’re a First Church member (or even if you’re not and you want to help), please show up on September 11th.  Worship with us at 10:15, grab a quick bite to eat in the fellowship hall, definitely wear your yellow God’s Work. Our Hands. t-shirts, and then we’ll head to Mary’s House to serve in the manner our Lord taught us.  This is an intergenerational event and there will be something for everyone to do.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:34-40.

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Truly I tell you just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  (NRSV)

 

 

Autopsy

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Sunshine Rays

The autopsy results are in.  My friend, Dan, died from a ruptured stomach ulcer that bled out.  The biggest irony is the toxicology report indicated no alcohol in the bloodstream at the time of death.  Of course, without a lifetime of drinking there probably would have been no stomach ulcer, so we can connect the dots, right?

This made me think about how every decision, every choice, every word, every action eventually comes together to form the sum total of our lives.  Nothing we do or say happens in a vacuum or has no effect (on ourselves or others).  My father chose to smoke like a chimney for forty years.  Result?  Lung cancer.  Alice Chaney, my sixth grade teacher, devoted her life each and every day not only to preparing a bunch of twelve year olds for the real world, but to caring for her special needs child.  Result?  The respect and admiration of her students and friends.  You get the idea.

What we do with our lives is important.  Where, with whom, and how we spend our time matters… a lot.  It’s easy to think that a decision we make today is no big deal, and whatever happens as a result of that choice will be carried away by the ebb and flow of time, eventually forgotten.  But not so!  Even the smallest things contribute to the cumulative creation of our identities, both perceived and real.  And at some point, if we live long enough, we’ll look back (or others will in our stead) and say one of two things.  Either, “That was a life well lived!”  Or, “What a mess I made of my life.”  That’s a pretty sobering thought, one that should cause us to sit up and take notice.

What do our lives consist of at this very moment?  What are we putting into our lives?  What fills our time?  How are we choosing to treat others, especially those we might not fully understand?  What lessons are we teaching our kids?  What’s going into our bodies?  What consumes our thoughts?  If an “autopsy” was done on our lives this very day, what would be found?  If somebody went poking around inside of us what would they discover?  A generous heart?  A vigorous mind?  A spiritually wealthy soul?  Would it be known that we made lifelong friends, acted in sacrificial love after the example of Jesus, gave our lives away for the sake of others?  Welcomed the outsider?  Tended to the poor?  Visited the sick?  (See Matthew 25.)  Would our lives reflect the hope we have in Jesus?

It’s not too late to be honest with ourselves about this stuff.  But someday it will be.