Monday, December 31, 2012

Blog … Resolutions For a Better 2013 - Cynicism be Damned

After this year of mass shootings, economic hi-jinks in Congress, hateful political rhetoric leading up to the election, one absurd celebrity incident after another, discord and division in every realm of our society, and failed attempts at being a better people - I am tempted to be cynical about 2013. But somewhere deep inside me there is still that kid who gathered with her family around a table on New Year’s Day to eat black-eyed peas for good luck and share the resolutions we made for the new year.

I have not really made personal resolutions the last few years because I typically fail at keeping them within the first few months of the year. But this year I want to try something new – I want to make some for our society. And yes, we may fail in the first few months of the new year but I want to put them out there anyway … and will continue to pray that we try to make them come true.

First, let’s resolve to end the culture of obscene violence in our society. Let’s end the sale of assault and assault-style weapons outside of the police and military. Let’s end the production of and sale of high volume ammunition clips. Let’s set an example as a culture that has been intimately damaged by the slaughter of the innocents and chooses to do and be better as a result. Let’s be a society that values life more than the 2nd amendment. This does not preclude hunters from being able to hunt or cops and military personnel from having the weapons they need to protect us but regular citizens do not need assault weapons or high volume clips. Our society will be better for it.

Second, let’s resolve to be more loving of one another. Let us take care of those around us who are weak, mentally and physically impaired, destitute, sick, and/or living in poverty. Let’s resolve to do the right thing for our neighbors so that they feel love in their lives in ways that are profound and personal. Let’s be willing to show mercy to those in need and not require some means-test from them to be considered worthy of that help. Let’s be our best selves and help others to be their best selves as well. Our society will be better for it.

Third, let’s be more tolerant and accepting of those with whom we disagree or with whom we have profound theological, political, or cultural differences. Let’s look for our similarities instead of always focusing on the differences first. Let’s be kinder to one another – in our real lives and in the digital world. Let’s have civil conversations and listen to the opinions of the others in our lives. And let’s show this to our children as the way to honor each other’s uniqueness so that the next generation learns from us. Our society will be better for it.

Fourth, let’s be a people of faith who trust each other again despite our diverse faith traditions. Let us be a people who honor the faith of others in profound and important ways while still being true to our own beliefs. Let’s be people of faith who welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, help the sick, bring the wounded stranger from the side of the road into a place of care, and accept that we can make a difference in the lives of others by being true to the God who love us all. Our society will be better for it.

Lastly, let’s be a people who are open to affirming the rights of others. Let us see persons of color and work to right the injustices inflicted upon them. Let us listen to the stories of injustice of the LGBT community and honor them with acceptance and greater moves toward full inclusion. Let us hear the desperation of kids in failing school systems and work to make things more just for all kids needing to be educated. Let’s see the elderly and little kids as the gifts they are and cherish them in ways that protect their safety and care for their needs. And let us make the effort to be connected to each other – not just on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest – but in real life. Let us reach out and make a difference in our world. Our society will be better for it.

Maybe we will fail at these … but isn't it worth the effort to try? And to keep on trying no matter what?

Our society will be better for it.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gospel Purée, Newtown, Little Kids, and Grace …

My last name is Wiseman. And I have two sisters. We grew up in the church as the three Wiseman sisters. So you can guess which kids were always picked to play the “Three Wisemen” in the annual Christmas Nativity play at church. It drove me insane. All I wanted was to be a shepherd and wear a bathrobe with a towel wrapped around my head – but the directors of all of these plays thought it was adorable to let the 3 Wiseman girls play the 3 wisemen since it would be “so cute.”

As I grew up and went into ministry I got a bit bothered by the purée of Gospel that is the typical church nativity play. We take some shepherds being visited by an Angel from Luke, add some magi and a star leading them to the baby from Matthew, and the inn keeper from out of thin air. And we get a Nativity created out of Gospel purée. It is familiar to most of us – and at the same time it is not quite accurate to the story.

This week, I went to a Christmas Program and nativity play at my son’s parochial school and he played one of the wisemen – once again because the director thought it would be “so cute” for him to play the role. We had an angel visit the Shepherds, Magi visiting from the east (three of course, even though there is no evidence that there were actually three), and an innkeeper who allowed Mary and Joseph to stay in a stable out back for the birth of Jesus because no rooms were available in the inn. And I survived. As a biblically trained minister and scholar of practical theology – I survived.

One reason I survived – with little to no reaction – was that I had just experienced something so moving it made me weep. The little kids had sung a song about peace. They were Kindergarten and First Graders – all dressed up in red, green, and white with their hair (for the most part) just right and their smiles so big they lit up the room. And as they sang, I thought about the 20 little kids who were killed last week in Newtown, CT. The similarities were eerie. There were a few little boys with mussed up hair and little girls with bows and hairclips. There were missing front teeth and fidgety bodies. There were beaming parents with handheld video cameras catching every moment of their song – a song about peace. It was almost too much to bear.

But I heard the words and saw the smiles of the kids and parents and knew we were experiencing a moment of amazing grace. Many of these parents had hugged their little ones more tightly over the last week and prayed for those who couldn’t do that anymore. Many of those kids had asked if they were safe at school and their parents and teachers did all they could to reassure them.

Many of them were unaware why the audience seemed to react more to them than to any other group singing that night – but we all “got it.” We saw the little faces of “our” kids but were symbolically seeing the little ones from Newtown. When the crowd applauded louder than normal – the kids took an extra bow. And we knew why we were so touched. I doubt they did but it was profoundly powerful.

The entire show was full of big smiles, cute kids, one or two out of tune singers, a few forgotten words to songs, parents beaming and catching every second on digital memory cards. And it was a sign that we can continue to live fully – even in the midst of the mess of death and horror – and that God is with us in the midst of our grief.

We prayed for those families and lit a candle in remembrance. But we did not need that to bring the irony of these adorable little kids in front of us to remember but what a gift to witness their spirit and delight.

And at the same time to be reminded that we have to be better … we have to end this horror.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking A Stab At Our Infatuation With Guns ...

By the late, great Molly Ivins, a columnist from Texas. She wrote this in 1993.

AUSTIN - Guns. Everywhere guns.
Let me start this discussion by pointing out that I am not anti-gun. I'm pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife.
In the first place, you have catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We'd turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don't ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.
As a civil libertarian, I of course support the Second Amendment. And I believe it means exactly what it says: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Fourteen-year-old boys are not part of a well-regulated militia. Members of wacky religious cults are not part of a well-regulated militia. Permitting unregulated citizens to have guns is destroying the security of this free state.
I am intrigued by the arguments of those who claim to follow the judicial doctrine of original intent. How do they know it was the dearest wish of Thomas Jefferson's heart that teen-age drug dealers should cruise the cities of this nation perforating their fellow citizens with assault rifles? Channelling?
There is more hooey spread about the Second Amendment. It says quite clearly that guns are for those who form part of a well-regulated militia, i.e., the armed forces including the National Guard. The reasons for keeping them away from everyone else get clearer by the day.
The comparison most often used is that of the automobile, another lethal object that is regularly used to wreak great carnage. Obviously, this society is full of people who haven't got enough common sense to use an automobile properly. But we haven't outlawed cars yet.
We do, however, license them and their owners, restrict their use to presumably sane and sober adults and keep track of who sells them to whom. At a minimum, we should do the same with guns.
In truth, there is no rational argument for guns in this society. This is no longer a frontier nation in which people hunt their own food. It is a crowded, overwhelmingly urban country in which letting people have access to guns is a continuing disaster. Those who want guns - whether for target shooting, hunting or potting rattlesnakes (get a hoe) - should be subject to the same restrictions placed on gun owners in England - a nation in which liberty has survived nicely without an armed populace.
The argument that "guns don't kill people" is patent nonsense. Anyone who has ever worked in a cop shop knows how many family arguments end in murder because there was a gun in the house. Did the gun kill someone? No. But if there had been no gun, no one would have died. At least not without a good footrace first. Guns do kill. Unlike cars, that is all they do.
Michael Crichton makes an interesting argument about technology in his thriller "Jurassic Park." He points out that power without discipline is making this society into a wreckage. By the time someone who studies the martial arts becomes a master - literally able to kill with bare hands - that person has also undergone years of training and discipline. But any fool can pick up a gun and kill with it.
"A well-regulated militia" surely implies both long training and long discipline. That is the least, the very least, that should be required of those who are permitted to have guns, because a gun is literally the power to kill. For years, I used to enjoy taunting my gun-nut friends about their psycho-sexual hang-ups - always in a spirit of good cheer, you understand. But letting the noisy minority in the National Rifle Association force us to allow this carnage to continue is just plain insane.
I do think gun nuts have a power hang-up. I don't know what is missing in their psyches that they need to feel they have to have the power to kill. But no sane society would allow this to continue.
Ban the damn things. Ban them all.
You want protection? Get a dog.

Friday, December 14, 2012

No words ...

There are no words to express the deep sorrow and grief that the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are feeling. We lift them up in our thoughts and prayers. We ask for God's comfort and grace in this tragic moment - a moment we have endured too many times. 

Lord, in your amazing abiding mercy, we send our thoughts, prayers and positive energy to the children, parents, siblings, staff, administrators, first responders, and community members in Newtown, CT.

God, in your mercy. Christ, in your mercy. Spirit, in your mercy.

Hear our prayers.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Not the Happiest Time of Year for Everyone …

 Growing up, I was sick a lot. And when I say a lot ... I really mean it. Epilepsy, allergies, lots of infections, double viral pneumonia, etc. I spent a lot of time with doctors and with my mom and dad waiting for doctors. It was just part of my life growing up. I got used to it.

Some of the time we were certain of what was going to go on when we walked into the office ... like the regular neurological visits when they would do an EEG to test for seizure activity (I was lucky to have outgrown my epilepsy). Some of the time I was hoping for a quick in and out ... but it was a long wait and I got a shot when I was sick. Some of the time it was for tests ... and they would stick my back and arms for allergies and I would react to just about all of them.

One of the sickest times of the year was always around Christmas. I would be ill from late in the month of November to early January (the same time we had a tree in our home). We began to suspect that it was my allergies. When they tested me for about 500 items, I was allergic to over 400 of them. And I was allergic to just about every type of evergreen there is. So we got rid of our live tree and evergreens and have had artificial trees ever since.

That solved the issue for the most part but it does not solve it completely. I still have to be in places with live trees and greens and they are not easy places for me to be. I visit homes that have pets and evergreens and come home sick. It is kind of hard to avoid at times – especially around Christmas.

I take meds and precautions - sometimes even taking too much just to survive. But still it is a miserable time of the year allergy wise.

Today I was at my church - a church I dearly love - and found that their method of hanging the greens this year meant no safe space for those of us with allergies. It was beautiful and miserable all at the same time.

As I sat there feeling sorry for myself and others who were suffering, I was reminded of all of the people for whom the holidays are especially difficult. Some due to illness, some due to the loss of a loved one, and some due to a dislike of the consumerism and greed that seems to have infected the season. There are many reasons why this time of year is hard for folks. Some of those reasons are very personal and private.

But there reasons are very real. We hear songs about this being the happiest time of the year, but for many it is a time of torment and suffering - depression and anguish. For some it is painful, dreadfully lonely, and a reminder of just how blue they feel. For some it is a constant drumming of joyful songs all around them in the midst of feeling very little joy themselves.

I love Christmas - especially with artificial trees and greens - and live trees from a distance.  When I was a pastor, my churches all switched to artificial greens and trees while I was there which was very kind and caring of them. My family loves their artificial tree now and we never miss the "real thing." Adaptations helped me a lot.

So I pray for folks for whom this time of year is tough. You don't have to fake happy for us. You don't have to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays to us. Many of us will try to be sensitive to your needs and not push our love of Christmas off on you - though unfortunately not everyone will be aware of your feelings.

You don't have to love the lights and carols. You don't have to explain that going to the Mall this time of year is just too much for you. You have the right to feel and experience the holidays as you need to.

Just know that we see you. We know you are there and we acknowledge that this time of the year is tough for you. We feel it too at times. Know that you are loved.

Whether your Christmas is decidedly red and green or some shade of the blues - you are special and God's beloveds.

Feel that, if you can, and know you're not alone.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Whiny Thanks and All ...

I have just finished, I hope, one of the busiest periods of my professional career.  And I am exhausted. I have finished my first book, been on the curriculum revision committee at the seminary where I teach, created a brand new course and taught it this semester, had a lot going on in my church and personal life, presented at the meeting of my professional guild, and have taken on too many writing obligations than I should have. So I am beat.

But I am also so amazingly aware of how blessed I am. I have a family I love, a job I adore, students who inspire me, writing jobs that challenge and engage my mind, and I love to teach new and old courses alike. So I am blessed.

I watch friends and even family members struggling without jobs or suffering in jobs they do not enjoy or are not fed by. I watch colleagues struggling with job searches and reduced teaching loads. So I am thankful.

I have not blogged in a while because my writing was focused on my book. I have not felt good about it and have complained because I missed it terribly. But I hear friends and colleagues struggling to get what they want to say on paper and I am aware again how lucky I am to have these projects and contracts to write. So I am appreciative.

Many times, however, when I am busy and tired - I whine. Many times when I over schedule - I whine. Seldom do I stop - and just sit in gratitude and bask in the blessing.

So this past month I took on the Gratitude Challenge on Facebook. I wrote every day of the month of November about things I was grateful for. Some were silly ... like being thankful for ice-cream. Some were situationally based ... like being grateful for a fantastic sermon preached in class by one of my students.  Some were family focused ... like being grateful for the heritage passed on to me from previous generations and the chance to pass them on to my son.

Some were about vocational and personal happiness ... like being grateful for a job I love and the terrific house that is part of my compensation and the chance to live in our wonderful community. And some were deeply personal ... like being thankful for the safety of my son when some friends of my niece were in a terrible auto accident. And some were intensely spiritual ... like being grateful for being part of my faith community in its inclusive, progressive, challenging, incarnational, and prophetic reality.

I am writing this after Thanksgiving week and at the end of the Gratitude Challenge on Facebook - a natural time to stop and give thanks. And I am immensely thankful for all of these things, people, situations, communities, etc. But today I also want to say thanks for keeping me busy, for making me crazy with deadlines, for my family and community, and for obligations that bless me and my vocation.

I may still whine and complain when I allow too much on my plate, but even in those times I want to stop and say thank you. I am grateful for my life - and all that is part of this fantastic existence that God has blessed me with.

Thank you, God for my life - in the craziness and in the calm.
Thank you, God for my family - in their lovely absurdity and in their caring.
Thank you, God for my faith - in the times of doubt and in the moments of certainty.
Thank you, God for my job - in the crush of papers and in the moments of grace.
Thank you, God for my church - in the challenges and in the growth.
Thank you, God for my parents - in their aging issues and in their spry youthful joy.
Thank you, God for my writing - in the moments it rocks and in the ones when it sucks.
Thank you, God for your presence - in all times and in all places.
Thank you, God, again, for my life - in the blessings and in the pain.
Thank you, God.