Thursday, December 31, 2015

Make a Happy New Year

All day I see people wishing others a good new year when a friend posted on her facebook page that she is has "2016 by the balls".  I think while maybe cruder than many of my friends might say, it is a great attitude.  She clearly wants to take the year on head on become the author of her own fate.  It really is what we can do.  There are plenty of ways that we don't have control of our universe but we always have control over how we react to the random and sometimes not-so-random events that befall us.  However we can set up situations that help make our lives not so random.  I hope that you will take the new year in hand, regardless of how you think about the metaphor, and create your new wonders.  Here are some ways you can change your world for the better. Pick one, a few, all, but help you find a better world.

1.  Tell someone you love that you do if you haven't in a while.
2.  Call an old friend just to tell them about your day.
3.  Have lunch with someone you don't know well who may be a different faith or culture, have not agenda just eat together and let it be organic.
4.  Find out what an old roommate is doing these days if you haven't stayed in touch.  (Facebook will find them I promise).
5.  Eat something you have never tried before, hell, make it.
6.  Stare into the eyes of your partner for at least 2 minutes, say nothing.
7.  Turn off your phone for an entire day if you don't do it already.
8.  Spend time with a toddler, pretend with them.
9.  Or just pretend play on your own...regardless of age.
10.  Go find a place you have never been and go.

Happy New Year and have a good one.  

Monday, December 28, 2015

Climate Change is Real,And Other Things That We Should Worry About

So a few nights ago I sat up listening a thunderstorm that blew through Indiana a few days before the new year.  It has ignited more conversation about climate change as the weather around the country has been remarkably unusual.  But these flashes of weather are not enough to be considered conclusive evidence, no more than when a dimwitted Senator brought a snowball to floor in the Capital was a sign climate change isn't occurring because it was cold last winter.  But here is the thing, 2015 will likely be a new record for global temperature.  We see massive changing patterns in glaciers, ice fields and over all weather.  At the Paris Climate Conference heads of over 150 countries agreed the climate in changing and that human action is involved.  And yet there is a small group of individuals, mostly in the the United States, who are actively calling this a global decades long hoax.  Some of them are running for President of the United States.

How is this possible?  Seriously, there is a certain level of arrogance to be an elected official to suggest that the massive majority of scientists working in the area of climate studies are just making this up.  People should value skepticism but in this case there is a growing class of people who seem to be angered by information, reality and facts.  We can see it reflected in the way followers of a candidate for President, Donald Trump, justify his factually inaccurate statements as just another strategy.  They seem to feel that being wrong about important issues is unimportant because he makes them feel good.  And that is part of what I think is cultivated by the anti-climate change crowd.  Working to combat climate change will not be easy or cheap.  It is easier to pretend that it is not real and not worry about.

While a majority of the world and virtually all the scientists doing work in the area agree that human activity is causing real problems in world's climate the loud voice of a tiny minority has whipped up a group that is ignorant of reality. Truth becomes fluid in this world.  The leading Republican candidate for President has had his campaign considered the lie of the year, his entire campaign.  He spoke of thousands of Muslims cheering in New Jersey that he personally saw, when in fact the rumor that this was happening was debunked in real time.  Others have said they have seen videos of live births during abortion procedures only to have the baby's organs harvested.  That didn't occur.  More and more people fall prey to ridiculous ideas because at the highest levels of discourse truth is considered a liability.  So we believe that Mark Zuckerberg is giving money away to people who share post on Facebook, or commenting on a picture will motivate some corporation to donate to the health care of a child or veteran. We have become an uncritical people and there are those who will take advantage of it.  Now forwarding a post on social media is not a big deal, but when people who want to lead our country and by extension the free world just make things up, we should be ready to hold them accountable.

The climate is changing, we have evidence that human action is contributing, the results could be very devastating and we should be concerned.  Facts are important in the world, especially want you want to lead it.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Holidays

There is a meme going around the interwebs that says

If you're Christian, wish me "Merry Christmas!"
If you're Jewish, wish me "Happy Hanukkah!"
If you're Pagan, wish me "Happy Solstice!"
 If you're African-American, wish me "Joyous Kwanzaa!"

I won’t be offended, just happy you took the time to share your joy.  

But here is the problem with this notion.  Wishing someone Merry Christmas who is not celebrating that holiday is like wishing someone Happy Birthday on your birthday.  Think about it.  Why would someone wish me a Joyous Kwanzaa?  Why?  I may recognize it is happening but it doesn't belong to me. Frankly what I think is that we should get to know our neighbor, know who they are and wish them a meaningful holiday for them.  If you are confused by the holiday they celebrate, ask.  It isn't really hard.  Too often we don't take the time to understand the people around us.  That is wrong.  
Now what is missing from this meme is the fact that in many cases you won't know the person well and there is no place to really ask.  If you are a clerk or a customer at a store, when you are in a cab, or simply walking down a busy street.  So the one thing that is a catch all that would plow the way to what might become a conversation is to simply say HAPPY HOLIDAYS.  Many people are celebrating something in our culture from late November to early January.  In more American/Secular holidays take place like Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.  We also slow down as December goes on and people take vacations and celebrate the breaths they can take for a minute before the gearing up again in the New Year.  Saying Happy Holidays opens a door.  It is really that phrase that has caused the most disruption and offense.  Boycotts of stores that use the phrase have been common in recent years, worse for Season's Greetings another wonderful catch all.  Fox News and their army of outrage have said the is a War on Christmas, often citing more inclusive celebrations and expressions this time of year.  All with the intent of trying to homogenize the culture that is deliciously diverse and wonderful vibrant.  
So at this time of year, wish someone a joyful and meaningful holiday they celebrate.  Accept the greetings of others, especially if they try to be inclusive, Attend Hanukah, Christmas, Solstice parties if you wish, or nothing at all.  But remember, the world is full of wonderful people who offer wonderful things and sometimes those things are outside of our normal everyday experience.  Those are the coolest.  
For those who celebrate, may your holiday bring you meaning, joy and perhaps some wonderful treats.  For those who don't have any celebration, may the fact the most do give you a few days of deeper breaths and calm in life.  And to all, each year we strive to do better than the last, take time to get to know someone very different from you.  You may learn something, especially about yourself.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Interfaith, Multifaith, Shared Faith.

Last week many people around the country gathered in interfaith commemorations of the tragic events in Paris earlier this month and at annual celebrations of gratitude around the American holiday of Thanksgiving.  I have a long history of participation and attendance at such events.  I can tell you that one of the most special interfaith service I attended was in of all places the grounds of Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA.  The piece of land owned by the state of Georgia and grounds of a former penitentiary and now a university brought together a variety of religions for a service that honored all and shunned none.  Great attempts were made to be inclusive enough for a Southern Baptist and Jew to stand next to each other and get a feeling of connection.  But that is not the norm. Often through ignorance or cultural myopia there are times that those who are charged to speak for the entire congregation of mixed faiths might pray in the name of, or invoke their vision of godness to the exclusion of others.  Other times there are those who chose to focus on Scriptural passages that exclude or denigrate the other.

Multifaith expressions in services are difficult.  In part because prayer is highly personal even when one is a prayer leader.  Our faith traditions are remarkably segregated when we gather for prayer. Even within a single faith the diversity of expression of prayer can be enormous.  A Hasidic synagogue looks nothing like a typical Reform synagogue but may have expressions different from even other hasidic synagogues.  Think of all the denominations of Christianity.  In that same Milledgeville it took me weeks to figure out the two Baptist churches may not always play with each other on issues of theology.  How then can we expect people to work together on creating something that feeds those who believe in one God, many Gods, No God or are unsure of what God is?  Actually it is quite simple.

The term interfaith is not how we should focus our energies, but on Multifaith.  The true goal of interfaith work is not to blend us all into one lump of an indistinguishable bland worldview, but to celebrate the many paths people take in there pursuit and/or relationship with God or Godness.  So why not celebrate it.  A model would be to allow for many person expressions of prayer in the service.  Have an invocation, benediction and if there is a sermon or message be strictly for all faiths.  Wipe it clean of any sectarian references.  Try to be universal and if a speaker can't or won't then find someone who can.  It is not hard to not make those things about yourself or your faith.  Don't leave someone out.  But then allow room for people to express themselves in their own faith tradition.  Allow for prayers in Jesus' name as long a there are prayers from many places of faith. However make those explicit that these are not prayers that we are looking for the whole group to say "amen".  Diversity is not about simply including minority faiths in a majority service nor is about taking deeply held beliefs off the table but embracing that which we all find comes from our heart.  That which we all find most precious.

I am never comfortable when at a meeting someone prays to Jesus for me or worse expects me to pray to Jesus with them.  But I can understand that they feel the need to pray to Jesus, and it is simple to leave me out of it.  However if the intention is to be inclusive then it would be rude and counter-productive to do that as much as it would be for me to pray the Alenu as a vision of the future.  (A prayer that calls on all the world to believe as we do).

Multifaith is difficult but not impossible if only we can have open dialogue about what it truly means and how we can express it in our actions and services.  People coming together around the idea of being thankful for the gifts we have, giving to those whose cups are less full, or remembering those lost in a tragedy and holding out hands to comfort those grieving are wonderful.  Maybe when we are away from the last time we did it we can think about it seriously and try to do better the next time.  If need help, 20 years ago there were some clergy and lay people in a small college town in Georgia who got it right.  Let's look for that.

Did You Buy a Monkey's Paw

A story by W W Jacobs called the Monkey's Paw tells the story of a couple who are in need of money and come into possession of a monke...