Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 911 Call Heard Around the World

Have you heard the 911 call?   Recorded live as a gunman stormed a school in Georgia on Tuesday, a calm woman took control of chaos and helped avoid another Newtown mass shooting.  

The hero of the moment is Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at the Ronald E. McNair Academy. When the fully armed (packing 500 rounds of ammunition) suspect Michael Brandon Hill stormed the school, by some stroke of good fortune and God's grace it was Antoinette who talked the would-be mass murderer off the proverbial ledge.  You must listen to the call. She schooled those who would ever hope to train as hostage negotiators.  

What is so stunning is that she spoke to the shooter first and foremost as a person and not as potential murderer or mentally unstable person. She called Hill 'sir' and 'sweetie.' She confessed her own struggles. At one point she told him "I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you."  

When it was all over and no lives were lost, it was clear that Antoinette was fully aware of the danger she was in on that day. She also said "Oh Jesus" when it was finally over.  I do not know of her religious upbringing, but I have a hunch that her church and faith formation gave her the words and the courage to tell the shooter that she did not hate him.  All would be well.

We say at each baptism service that we covenant to live out our faith by "respecting the dignity of every human being."  How do we do that? The school bookkeeper from Decatur showed us the way.  Share our humanity. Do not hate. Meet suffering with compassion and look to God to deliver us from moments beyond our ability to manage alone. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Caught between a Kindle and a Hardcover

Christ Church, Exeter
August 8, 2013

Summer Reading: Caught between a Kindle and a Hardcover

I am really trying to like my Kindle. Actually it is an older model that I gave to my wife some years ago. (She's moved on to an I-Pad). I want to like it, and I do, but I am having a hard time giving up THE BOOK.  An actual book.

For me part of the joy of reading is the process of selecting a book. I rarely like a book purchased for me at the holidays because I have been denied the all-important browsing stage part of the process. I need to browse. Read the back jacket. Or at the very least, go online and read the reviews. Plus I like feeling the paper, turning the page, and holding the book in my hand. Dinosaur I am.

So what am I reading this summer? As one always thinking about the next potential church discussion book group, I am half-way through James E. Atwood's America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose ..  30,000 people die a year from guns in America and Atwood, a Presbyterian pastor, tries to get at the why. Sobering read.

Knowing that I would be traveling this fall for a Cross of Nails conference in Germany, a parishioner recommended to me to read Stark Decency: German Prisoners of War in a New England Village by Allen V. Koop.   Stark, New Hampshire is a small town that learned a great deal about war, hospitality and humanity during the cold years near the end of World War II.  I could not help but read it in light of Guantanamo and the challenges we face as a nation today with regard to the treatment of so-called "enemy combatants."

I know I am over ambitious for my week of vacation at the end of August, but I hope to finish at least one of the three real hardcover books I just purchased. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (heard the author on public radio and the books sounds interesting for a history lover). Hope to get my political fix with This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich who spills all the inside info in Washington DC. I am also eager to see what the fuss is all about with Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.  Aslan, a Muslim, who hit the jackpot after an overly contentious interview on Fox recently takes another look at the historical Jesus, which has always fascinated me.  Who would like to read Zealot during August and pitch a book group?

Happy reading.   

Friday, August 2, 2013

Who am I to Judge?

August 1, 2013
Feast of Joseph of Arimathaea

Who am I to Judge?

The world it seems, and many Episcopalians I talk to, are swooning over Pope Francis. I wrote about his first meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury back in June. In Brazil this past week the Pope was met by huge crowds, millions of young people from around the world, and parents thrusting their babies towards him for them to be kissed and blessed.

Perhaps his biggest splash came not on the beach in Rio but on the flight back to Rome when he gave a rare press conference to stunned reporters. The statement that received all the buzz was an answer he gave in response to a question about the presence of gay clergy in the Church. Yet, as he responded, his subject and audience seemed to be much larger than a so-called 'gay lobby' at the Vatican. When asked directly about gay and lesbian people, Pope Francis said "If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized."

"Who am I to judge?"

My first take is this: shouldn't we expect a Pope or any Christian for that matter to be on firm and well-worn ground when he or she is simply quoting Jesus? Should not be news. But it is.

In the gospel for this coming Sunday from Luke, Jesus responds to a question about dividing a family inheritance by saying: "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

We know, as Jesus knew, that people do judge. We judge from our deep sense of self-doubt and insecurity that family pedigree, academic achievement, and material possessions can never paper over. We judge out of a fear that someone is looking over our shoulders and peering down into our lives and secrets. We judge out a place of self-righteousness, political correctness and misplaced superiority.  We judge from our humanity. We do not judge all the time, of course, but enough to be mindful and aware.

So I say: "You go Pope Francis!" Keep reminding us of what Jesus preached. And may Christ give you strength to be a Christian leader from whom all of us can learn and be inspired.