Friday, October 26, 2012

Health matters

There was an article in Christian Century magazine this month on clergy health. It reported on a major new study of minister's health habits or lack thereof. Seems we clergy are an unhealthy bunch. We have more health problems than the average person the study found. In the study, some ministers were put on a strict regimen of diet and exercise and, not surprisingly, they improved over the year they were observed. I am familiar with the primary stresses associated with ministry. But, it seems like every job has it's unique bundle of stresses. Some professions are more proactive in dealing with them than others. The clergy are not one of them. It's not hard to tell that most Americans are stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. Our contemporary way of life is unhealthy in so many ways. We are too busy; we don't get enough rest; we eat too much; we eat too much of the wrong stuff; we sit too much; we don't exercise and we spend way too much time on our devices instead of with other people. This is all documented and it pertains to the clergy and most everyone else.

There was an interesting article in the NY Times this week about a Greek American who had lived in the US since around 1950. He married a Greek American woman and lived in Florida. In his 60's he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had nine months to live. Rather than an aggressive chemo treatment he chose to go back to the Greek island, Ikaria, where he grew up. He and his wife moved into his parent's small cottage. He went to bed and waited to die. Yet, he didn't. He got up most days and walked a bit and breathed in the fresh ocean air. His old friends came by during the day and visited. He got up when he felt like it and napped every day. He ate local vegetables and drank local wine. He re-discovered his Greek Orthodox faith. Soon, he was feeling stronger and revived the family vineyard and planted a garden. He walked more and more up and down the hills of his island village. He went out with friends and played dominoes at night. That was over 30 years ago. Today, he is 97. A few years ago he visited the US to talk to his doctors and ask them why they thought his cancer was gone. He couldn't find them; they all had died.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The End of the World (Hollywood version)

What would you do if you knew you had only 21 days left to live? What would everyone do if they knew the planet only had 21 days left before it was exploded to smithereens after taking a direct hit from a meteor? That's the premise of the movie, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World. Steve Carrell plays the lead male role and Keira Knightly the female lead. Both are weakly played, in my view, and there is no chemistry between them. Carrell plays his usual decent character who maintains an emotional distance even though all hell is breaking loose around him. He doesn't get caught up in the drug, alcohol and sex fueled partying - and the general social breakdown - that seems like most of the world is doing as they wait for the end to come. Oh, there are the looters, too. No one needs to go to work. Marriages split up. Most social norms are now seen as abnormal. So everyone does what they want to do. It is original sin unleashed. Carrell is on a search for a long lost girl friend and with Ms Knightly they meet a bunch of interesting people who are coping in their own ways with the end that is coming. I have to confess I gave up on this movie before the end came. I guess I was like some of the characters in the movie. It is an interesting question to consider though and it might be a good question to discuss around dinner with a group of friends. What would you do if you knew the End was in three weeks? What do you think others might do?

Empire of the Summer Moon

When I was growing up Westerns were popular tv fare. Of course, there was Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Wyatt Earp and Kit Carson were heroes in our younger days. The Indians were "redskins" or savages and were always causing trouble for the white settlers who were just trying to make a new life out on the western frontier. There was Tonto, of course, who was the best sidekick a white man could have. But he was an exception to the general rule of Indian - White Man relationships. "The only good injun is a dead one" was the code of the west, we learned. Like so many things - as you grow up - this was a little more than a fairy tale compared to the way things really were. S.C. Gwynne's book Empire of the Summer Moon sets the record straight. You won't watch a Western the same way again. In fact, it would hard to watch one that was attempting to deal honestly with the facts. Gwynn is a journalist and he presents the facts as unbiased as he can. His book is about the last of the Indian Wars on the Texas frontier in the 1800's. In his broad retelling of this story he weaves a smaller tale about the white woman, Cynthia Parker, who was captured by the Comanches and eventually became the wife of a Comanche chief. One of their sons, Quanah, was the last great Comanche chief. It was a brutal war. The Comanche's life was centered on Buffalo hunting and warfare. They were the best horsemen on the plains. As the Plains became smaller and smaller, and as the Buffalo were hunted to near extinction they found themselves herded onto reservations. The Great White Father had decided they would become farmers and he allocated every man some land to live on. With no Buffalo to hunt, with really nothing to do, the proud Comanche languished. More than most, Quanah could see the future of Indian - White relations. He reluctantly let go of some of the traditional Indian ways and adapted to the white man's view of the Indian's future. He made himself indispensable as a mediator, scout, and businessman in the brisk sale of cattle. Eventually, he built a ten room home on the prairie where he could entertain Indians and Whites together. It seemed hopeful. But there were not many Quanahs - most of the Indians were homeless, jobless, and dependent on the guarantees of the US government. And those were not worth the paper they were printed on. Soon the brisker trade between Indians and Whites was in alcohol traded for the meager skins the Indians were still able to produce. Meanwhile, Cynthia had been recaptured by US government soldiers and "saved" from her tragic life as an Indian squaw. Even though she protested loudly that she only wanted to go back (she had seen these same soldiers kill her husband) to the Comanche way of life. She became so miserable and hard to control people figured her life as an Indian had made her crazy. She was moved farther and farther East away from her land and her adopted people. Her son, Quanah, met President Teddy Roosevelt once. He visited Washington and advised the government on Indian matters. But, like his mother, no one really trusted that an Indian knew what he (or she) was talking about.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Baseball playoffs

The baseball playoffs are in full swing. Detroit won their series with Oakland and is waiting for the winner of the Yankee - Oriole series. Today we will know which team it will be. New York and Baltimore have been going head to head for the last 5 weeks. They have been as close as close can be. One game separated them for almost that whole time. Several days they were tied for first. It is fitting in this playoff series that each team has won two games with one left to play. In each game no more than one run separated the two teams at any one time. Two games went into extra innnigs. NY won one, Baltimore the other. Todays game may not be decided til well into Saturday! Baltimore has no superstars. In fact, their best hitter was hit on the hand by NY's best pitcher a month ago and cannot play. NY's superstar third baseman, ARod, who makes about as much as the O's starting lineup combined is struggling so badly the Yankees manager pinch hit for him in each of the past two games! Ouch, how's that for a blow to the ole pride. The Yankee's other superstar, Derek Jeter, is hobbled by a nagging ankle injury and did not play shortstop in one game and was taken out of one of the extra inning games. Last night relief pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, was hit in the pitching arm by an air born  broken bat. The father of Yankees coach, Joe Girardi, died last Saturday.  He had Alzheimer's for the past several years and Joe visited regularly. Joe credits his dad for his love of baseball and especially his love of the Yankees. Joe has had no time to grieve. If the Yankees lose today, Joe can grieve tomorrow. If the Yankees win, they will play Detroit tomorrow and his dad wouldn't have had it any other way.

Parenthood, part 2

After a shaky start, Parenthood is on much firmer footing. One of the things Parenthood does best is to show the power of relationships, in particular, family relationships. The Braverman family is there for one another. In this year's story line Kristina has found out she has breast cancer. For several weeks she and her husband, Adam, have kept the news to themselves. In the last episode, they told their daughter who is away at college and their son who is a middle school child with aspergers. While the family is at a restaurant celebrating the first hit in a little league baseball game by the newest Braverman, an adopted son of Adam's sister and brother in law, Haddie, Kristina and Adam's college daughter walks in. Everyone is surprised, of course, and suspects something is up. With tears flowing, Kristina, shares the news of her diagnosis. The  Braverman family is pretty normal and has their ups and downs but their family's strength is the support they give whenever any one of them is in trouble. St. Paul in his letters often talks about how the body of Christ is to be there for each other. Pray for one another, serve one another, submit to one another, love one another, forgive one another, etc., are the sorts of things Paul writes to his churches.  I think Paul had in mind a bigger version of the Braverman family when he wrote about the church. We have good times and bad times; we have successes and failures; we get some things right and some things wrong. But, we are there for each other. The strength of the body of Christ is our support for each other when any one of us is in trouble.

Christian radicals

I was a couple years out of seminary. I had one year of pastoral experience. I had taken courses like Steve Mott's Politics of Jesus and the Church and the Poor at seminary; I had read Ron Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. We were cooking our meals using Doris Longacre's Living More With Less. We were ready to live out a more radical Christianity and take on the big issues of hunger, poverty, and racism. So we moved from our local church which we didn't think was as ready to engage those same big social issues as we were and we headed for a Christian community in Germantown, Philadelphia. After responding to an ad for a job opening as the first coordinator for Evangelicals for Social Action, I was interviewed and hired. It was a heady time for a wanna be Christian radical. I was interviewed by Vernon Grounds; I stayed with Ron and Arbutus Sider for a few weeks before my wife and young son could move down; I opened an office in a building owned by the Other Side magazine. John Alexander worked down the hall. My wife chose a row house right down the street and we got to work repairing the walls and ceiling and terminating the roaches (you can't terminate roaches). We were living in the city. We joined Jubilee Fellowship which was an eclectic mix of youngish evangelicals, many of whom had their doctorates, some were published authors, and others were experienced social activists. We worshiped in a small community center and we tried to engage the problems of our low income community. We got involved in protests. We stood in lines for hours at the bank, the post office, and the DMV. We had to drive for miles to get to a supermarket or else pay the much higher prices of the neighborhood "convenience" stores which our neighbors had to pay if they didn't have transportation. We heard gunfire from the streets: people were mugged and even killed on our block. There were many anxious nights. First thing I did each morning was check to see if our car was still parked out front. We met our neighbors in our row houses. One night the couple next door was fighting. Her screams for help were so loud I went to their front door and knocked; the husband and I talked for hours on our front steps. On other nights, the neighbors on our other side had parties and we tried to sleep through the steady, loud, boom - boom of the beat of the bass.

I travelled with Ron as he was a much in demand speaker. I wore the ESA hat and spoke on "getting churches involved in social issues" and "why and how we should live more simply". There were many times I felt like I was in way over my head. People would call the ESA office and ask to talk to me, the director, and they would expect some kind of expert on radical Christianity and how to apply it to life. I was only a novice myself but it was funny how when someone has that title, director, others automatically assume you know it all. I had two great assistants from the Mennonite Central Committee. They were young Mennonites who had volunteered for a mission assignment. They were committed Christians who were there to serve. And we had a great time together trying to figure out what we were doing. I only stayed with ESA for a year although I followed its progress for many years. And what ESA was committed to is still very much a part of me. That year helped to me to grow up in those commitments and I had some great mentors. We eventually moved back to New York and I took another job as a local church pastor. I was taken back to that experience with ESA as I read a new book titled Moral Minority this week. It's a fine history of those early years of the rise of the Evangelical Left by David Swartz who is a history prof at Asbury University.