Saturday, June 29, 2013

Talking Chairs

There it was, sitting on a raised platform, centered in the concert hall to give the best view of the orchestra, this massive white chair with lots of space all around so as not to be bothered by the wiggles and noises of the common-folk in surrounding chairs. The crowd, assembled and seated, dressed in their best, waiting for the guest of honor, was about to be shocked.  For when the time arrived for the first notes of Beethoven’s music to fill the concert hall, instead the air was filled with the sounds of confusion, for the guest of honor was a no-show.  Pope Francis again refused the honor of the Pope’s Chair.  In fact, this time, instead of refusing to sit in his chair, he didn’t enter the hall at all.  The Empty Chair had a message from the Pope: “Don’t honor me; honor God.  I have work to do.”  At least that is the message I heard from the chair.  The Chair was talking alright, telling the Vatican and the world that this humble messenger of Christ had other priorities, that his call to serve is not fulfilled in big white chairs in concert halls.

What will the chairs you are offered seating in this week be talking about? What if, before any of us went to sit down in a chair, we would ask ourselves, “Is this a chair that Jesus would sit upon today? What is the message that is sent to others in the room if I leave this chair empty?”  The answer might be surprising, for Jesus spent a great deal of his recorded ministry sitting among people whom the religious leaders shunned.  Jesus sat in the synagogue and in the Temple. What is the message of his filling those chairs? But Jesus also sat next to women and men whose activities wagged the tongues of gossipers. What would have been the message had he left empty those seats?

You can send a powerful message from the chairs you choose to fill or leave empty this week. What will the chairs you leave empty tomorrow say about you? What will the chairs you fill next Friday be saying to those around you?  The chairs you are invited to fill will keep talking.  What they will say about your life and your priorities is up to you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"A Tale of Two Debtors"

Mary couldn’t remember how it happened, but she owed the bank $100,000, more than she could expect to repay in a long, long time. Harry could remember how it happened: he made one bad investment and now he was $10,000 in debt.  What Harry didn’t know was that with interest and penalties he also owed $100,000. What Mary knew, and what Harry didn’t know, was that their bankers were about to foreclose on their homes, and then they both would be penniless and homeless.  Well, Barry the Billionaire was looking for some people to help. He was that kind of guy. His wealth was literally higher than the heavens. Barry spent his time in coffee shops and country clubs, and it was in these places he overheard both Mary’s and Harry’s stories. Barry invited Mary and Harry over to his house through their respective friends. Mary was ashamed to go, but it was a free meal. Harry spent some money he didn’t know he didn’t have and bought a fine suit and shoes and showed up at Barry’s, ready to impress.  After dinner Barry informed Mary and Harry that they were officially debt free. Mary fell on the ground, crying and laughing, and from there, on the dining room floor, she grabbed Barry’s feet and, well, let’s put it this way…Barry’s shoes changed color from her tears.  Barry, bemused by Mary’s foolish behavior, told Barry, “Say, thanks. You know that wasn’t necessary…I only owed $10,000…and I was about to pay it off. But, thanks, bud, and if I can ever do anything for you, let me know. Gotta run.”

Mary was at Barry’s what seemed like every weekend after that. “What can I do for you? Barry, please let me do something!” “No need, Mary,” Barry said. “But I sure do appreciate your coming over to visit every weekend. It’s nice to know that you remember.” “Remember!”, Mary said, “I know I will never be able to forget your saving me from ruin! I just wish I could do something for you.”  “Well, if you insist,” he said, “if you would help your struggling neighbor cover her groceries bill this weekend, I would appreciate it as much as she will. But, don’t feel obligated. Do what makes your heart sing, and that will make me smile!” And that’s just what Mary did. Everyone smiled.

Harry, over time, forgot all about Barry.  He heard about Mary’s old bad habits and Harry was, frankly, upset that Barry included Mary in the same invitation that he had extended to Harry. “What kind of fool would help out someone like her!” Harry never went to see Barry again, although he did think about visiting him sometimes. “But,” he thought, “I really didn’t ask for his help, and I could have covered that little debt.”  As Barry thought about Harry he smiled…or was that the look of a man about to cry?


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Graduation Day

We are in the season of graduation events: the ceremonies, the speeches. And don’t forget the parties.  I’ve been listening to parents and grandparents of high school graduates discuss their plans for celebrating this moment.  What seems clear to me is that, just like it was in 1972, the manner of celebration reflects the personality of the graduate and the parents.  In reality, sometimes the parents are much happier that high school is over than is the graduate.  Some graduates dread being the focus of a party, and they dread even more the thought of crossing a stage while a thousand eyes stare at them.  Some graduates love the attention, and believe it is even more well-deserved than it is.  So I got to thinking about these questions: (1) Comparing your life today to the life you imagined on your high school graduation day, is your life about what you had expected or is it different than you then imagined and why did that happen? (2) Knowing what you know today about life after high school, if you could tell a class of graduates one thing about their life to come, what would it be, and why?

Here’s my speech:  Congratulations. You got to first base.  Enjoy the moment.  You are not finished with learning; you have learned how to learn and to start living.  You do not win the game standing on first base.  Start planning on how you will be able to circle the bases. You will need help from your teammates: family and friends. You cannot advance to second without someone’s help.  And plan on getting a new jersey about half-way through. The clothes you wear today probably won’t fit in another 20 years. That’s OK.  Your body doesn’t define who you are. But you will need to be physically fit to get to third base, so don’t hurt your body with too much of anything. And let’s face it, some things just shouldn’t be ingested if you want to keep on living. You will find that running the base paths of life is a lot more fun if you have someone you love running alongside of you. Find someone with whom you want to share the joys and sorrows of the journey home.  Figure out why the Bard wrote that a rose by another name is still as sweet.  Drown in the joy of the choral movement of Beethoven’s 9th. When you trip, let someone help you up. When you come upon someone who has fallen, be the hands and feet of the One they need. The past was never as bright, nor is the future ever as dark, as you imagine: get a grip. Don’t fret over the goals you miss; celebrate the milestones you reach; when you wander off the path, come back between the lines. You cannot get Home alone.  Persist in your journey. Do not give up. Let the party begin.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"...I Swear It's Not Too Late"

“To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time to love, a time to hate
A time of peace, I swear it's not too late!”  (Pete Seeger/The Byrds)

I was reminded of these lyrics at the funeral of a friend, Flossie. She died “too soon”, following shortly after cancer took over her body.  I was waiting in the greeting line and heard her husband, John, say to the guest ahead of me, referring to his wife’s death in her mid-60’s, “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but it is.” King Solomon couldn’t have said it better, I thought.  As I moved up the line and took his hand I felt this overwhelming mix of emotions, grief for him; “how could I stand here if this was my situation”; and a half-dozen other thoughts.  I asked him about the funeral brochure for his wife, which contained Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and the final line of the Byrds’ version of Seeger’s song. “Flossie wanted this printed”, he explained.  That was Flossie, still preaching to anyone who would listen.

I got to know Flossie from my days in politics. She was the one volunteer every candidate wanted, a dedicated, untiring activist.  She was a special part of our lives, giving vision and life to our campaigns.  And, while our lives are long past our political days, we both remembered so gratefully all Flossie did and her indomitable spirit. My wife helped me to identify one additional reason why I was so emotional about Flossie’s death. We had known she was sick for several months, but we never did make room in our lives to go say “thank you” one last time. “There will be time to do that ‘next week.’” And now it was “too late.”  We committed to each other, “never again.” We are not going to wait until it is “too late”  to tell people we love them, to thank them, to be with them.

  But maybe it’s not too late. Maybe Someone will get Flossie the message. Maybe Flossie’s final sermon was, in some unintended way, for me that day: “You can still make peace…it’s not too late.” So, here goes: “Thanks for everything, Flossie!  You are a special person to us, and we will keep reminding people of what you lived your life to teach:  ‘A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.’”

Peace and Shalom,