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It is the penultimate day of 2014 and I’m working on getting my writing, and reading, groove back. I am tired after a long day at work. In different parts of the house, other family members are watching various television shows. I’ve fled to my bedroom in hope of getting enough peace and quiet to concentrate, read and then write.
Yesterday, I attended a funeral. Today, as I read the daily office, I am again confronted by the words of Isaiah, “the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces”. Today, one friend posted about his sister’s stage IV cancer. Another friend posted that her husband will be extending his trip to Sierra Leone where he is caring for Ebola patients. A third friend rejoices in her meal after having cataract surgery. The newsfeeds post about flight QZ8501 which crashed over Indonesian waters. There are many tears to be wiped away.
Meanwhile, I continue to read from OpenCulture. They have had a couple interesting pieces on the nature of creativity which I’ve read and plan to read again. I’ve also watched some videos about Cities in Cinema. Slowly, I’ll watch more of these as I try to set a course for 2015 mingling compassion, creativity, and the daily tasks of life.
The other day, I shared a link on Facebook to an article Jesus: the Muslim prophet. The article was published five years ago and recently reshared on Facebook. It reflects thoughts that have been around for a long time.
I was hoping to get some of my Christian and Muslim friends to join in a discussion about this. Recently, I had been in a discussion where a Christian friend spoke about her difficulty reading the Quran. Remembering an old saying from evangelical Christian circles that “believers are the only Bible non-believers read”, I mentioned that I was learning the most about the Quran from posts that my Muslim friends shared talking about their lives and relating it back to the Quran.
Yet the first response to this post was from an atheist Jew saying, “It's all pretty amusing as only a story that has seen the deaths of millions can be”. It wasn’t a great start to an interfaith dialog.
Yet we did get to a point of discussing Unitarianism and Trinitarianism, and hints of Universalism which was something, given the number of atheists in the discussion. One at point, one of the atheists asked, “how could anyone working within your doctrine control anyone else's behavior if it wasn't the one, real, chosen doctrine?”
This raises an interesting question: What is the purpose of theology? Is it to control others? Something else? How do we approach inter-faith discussions about theology? Where is there common ground? How can theology be used to help make the world a better place?
For many years, part of my daily ritual included writing a blog post. I believe there was one three year stretch of time where I wrote a blog post every day, with a few rare exceptions. With other things that have come up, I don’t write as often as I did.
Another ritual is wishing friends happy birthday on Facebook. I currently have around 3000 friends on Facebook, which means on an average day, I have about eight Facebook friends celebrating birthdays. For more distant friends, I take this as an opportunity to catch up on what they’ve been posting, because I don’t always see everyone’s Facebook post.
Recently, I’ve been spending more time reading posts from others on Facebook, especially when it leads to deeper thinking or opportunities for dialog about the issues of the day. Sometimes, I check Google News for the latest news, but often I see that via Facebook or Twitter.
There have been times that I’ve prayed The Daily Office. It provides a helpful counterbalance to the news of the day, a timeless contrast to the ephemeral.
This takes up much of my screen time and reading time each day, yet I also look for things to read and view that broaden my mind, or provide some relaxation. For a broader views of what is going on, I’ve returned to sites like NewsTrust and Global Voices.
In the past, I’ve also written about MOOCs and various online courses as a means to broaden perspective. One of my favorite sites these days is Open Culture
We will see what the New Year brings. Perhaps, it will be posts combining thoughts from many of these sources.
This year, I ran for State Representative again. People often ask if I won. I always reply, “I won. I didn’t get elected, but I won”. In response to their quizzical looks, I explain that I won by getting people more involved with local politics and what is going on in their communities. I won by talking about the issues.
There were people that encouraged me to go negative on my opponent. I might have had a better chance of getting elected, but I also would have more likely lost on the grander scale. People now ask if I plan to run again. It is too early to say at this point.
What I do plan to do is to continue working on getting more people involved with local politics and what is going on in their communities. This goal, and various issues, like health disparities, remain very important to me, so I’m staying involved for the long run. I’ve kicked around writing a book about running for office, and I’m still thinking about that, if I can find the time and energy.
Yet there is something that I try to do every day. On social media, I try to bend the conversation towards greater civility. Many of my friends, on both ends of the spectrum regularly post nasty stuff about our political leaders and then they wonder why we don’t get better candidates.
I was fortunate that I didn’t get much for nasty comments when I ran, at least that I know of. Perhaps the closest I got was being blocked by a woman who claimed to be a Christian, but repeatedly posted vile attacks on certain political leaders.
So, for 2015, I want to expand this. Please, stop and think before you post negative comments about politicians. Is your post going to improve political involvement in our country? Is it honoring everyone who has been created in God’s image? If not, maybe you should spend a little time in prayer, and find a different way to share your ideas.
I remember the first time I went to church with Ronnie. I was a philosophy major at the College of Wooster out in Wooster, Ohio. Ronnie was a townie who would come hang out at various events on campus and we got to be good friends.
I never really found out Ronnie’s story and how he came to hang out on campus. He carried around a rubber ball that he would often squeeze in his hand. I had heard stories that he had been in a car accident, had problems speaking and walking as a result, and squeezing the rubber ball was part of his physical therapy.
One day, he asked if I wanted to go to church with him, and we walked down from the campus to his church. On the way, a car pulled over and asked Ronnie if he was going to church. He said yes, and that he was going with me. They asked if he wanted a ride and we both hopped in.
It was an old land yacht, something like a Buick La Sabre. We crowded in and headed off to church. It was a tight fit, but friendly and Ronnie introduced me to his friends.
As we walked up the steps of the church, one of the women said to me, “I surprised you want to come to church with us.”
I looked at her and said, “Yeah? Why?”
She got all flustered, and apologized and said she probably shouldn’t have said anything. But it got me curious. I looked around for a clue. Everyone was nicely dressed. They probably dressed nicer for church than many of the other churches I had visited. They all sounded pretty normal and I wasn’t expecting to uncover any sort of heresy or strange beliefs.
Ronnie was introducing me to various people from the church and it finally dawned on me when I shook hands with the Assistant Pastor, I was the only white person there. I had never been to a predominantly black church.
It was a pretty normal church service. There was praying and singing, scriptures and a long sermon. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the point in the service was the pastor asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. There were a few different visitors and when I stood up, everyone looked at me and got real quiet. It was perhaps the first time that I ever felt like part of a minority group.
That was many years ago. Since then, I’ve been to services at various black churches, mostly staffing a politician as they stumped across the state.
More recently, I became a fellow in the CT Health Foundation’s Health Leaders Fellowship Program. The program is focused on addressing health disparities and I once again found myself as a member of what is not normally a minority, white males. I’ve met many great people through this program and established some important friendships.
One such friend is an associate minister at a predominantly black church in Bridgeport. She often posts prayers online, and recently posted about a women’s prayer group that prays together at midnight on a conference call. I commented that I probably didn’t fit in with that group, and that I’m unlikely to be awake and midnight, but that I would lift up my prayers early from afar.
She suggested that we should pray together and I took her up on it. Various thoughts came to mind.
"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
If You Believe and I Believe
If you believe and I believe
And we together pray,
The Holy Spirit must come down
And set God’s people free,
This evening, we prayed. We thanked God for the work God is doing in both our lives and the lives of those around us. We prayed for those who grieve, those how preach, and those who march. Most importantly, we offered ourselves up to God, that God might work through us to bring peace, justice, and healing to this broken world.
We go to different churches. We have different ways of praying. Yet we worship the same God. And if we together pray, The Holy Spirit must come down and set all of us free.
So, I offer this as a challenge to each of you. Find someone who is different from you, someone you don’t normally hang out with, pray with them, and be set free.