Monday, January 12, 2009

Baptismal Joy

In 22 years of appointed ministry (20 of which now counts for Pension credit, and yes, I'm counting), I've had the joy of being of a part of many significant events in the lives of the people I serve.

I've baptized quite a few folks. Babies, children and youth, and adults. I've baptized by sprinkling, pouring and immersion. I've baptized from the church font, in the creek outside the church, in the family pond, and of course, in a 101 degree therapeutic pool.

My youngest baptism was a weeks' old baby. My oldest was a 56 year old man.

Each baptism is a joy. It reminds us all of who we are and in the One who has named us, claimed us and made us Beloved Children of the Divine.

Last Sunday I was honored to baptize an adult, Laura.

The journey that brought her to the font of grace is hers to share, but what was clear to any who observed her at the altar was the joy of something so pure, so profound that it marked her, as surely it did all of us there who shared in the moment with her.

I had met with Laura for some weeks before this benchmark in her spiritual journey. I gave her The United Methodist Church's statement on Baptism, "By Water and the Spirit," When we met days before her baptism she brought it with her and showed me where she had read it, highlighted portions, taken notes...the sister was ready.

It was a beautiful thing to watch her expression through this whole experience. It was "the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace" that had washed over her.

And as it was with the baptism of Jesus, it happened in our sanctuary, too. Did you hear it?

"This is my daughter," the voice said. "Marked by my love. Pride of my life."

Being there for her moment reminded me that the same voice has claimed me in mine.

Did you hear that, too?

Because if that's true, I want to live my life like knowing that truth matters.

How about you?

Sleepless in Memphis

There's something going on in me right now that I can't quite explain.

And it's a problem.

What with my need to know stuff, thereby maintaining the illusion that I'm in control--to not be in control places me in a perilous state. Those who know me know that about me---I want to be able to explain...everything.

To be sure, there's plenty of life (if not most) that I cannot explain. But stuff that pertains to me? Or those around me? Or the things around which I do my work, live my life? I expect to be more than a little conversant.

One of my many character flaws is how much weight I place on the value of knowing something.

But on this matter, I'm in the dark.

Last week, for three consecutive nights, I got a total of 10 hours of sleep. And don't be fooled, this isn't a 3.3 hours of sleep for each night. Nope, this was 5, then 3, and finally 2.

The 2 hour night was a Monday. I remember looking at the clock (again) at 5 a.m., and then in what seemed only a minute later, it was blaring at me with my 7 a.m. wake up call.

If you've ever had insomnia, you know how it goes. Even if you're tired you've developed such a complex about not having gone to sleep, that guess what? You won't!

I was numb...couldn't think straight...even a bit scared. If the progression of sleeplessness continued, I was looking at no sleep at all.

Why no sleep? Hmmm, I'll come back to that one directly.

I find that I usually exist on 6 hours a night, with the expectation of a 8 or 9 hour night on the weekend. May not be the healthiest pattern, but it is the one I've fallen into for the past several years.

When I was a good bit younger, but at the college and especially the seminary level, 4 hours or less on many occasions was a norm. Being the night owl I was/am, I had extraodinary productivity between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

More than a few seminary papers were pecked out during those hours.

Finish at 4.
Sleep until 7.
In class by 8.

Ahh, those were the days.
I could do that for many days in a row and then crash.

But that was then.

My work, my life, my parenting, the maintenance of my health demands much more than then, and quite a bit more than my "regular" pattern.

A good bit my 10 p.m.-1 a.m. time is catching up on office work. Being able to remote into my office desktop is both blessing and curse.

If not working, that time is reserved for my decompression. Being the creature prone to introversion that I am, some time to just "be" is necessary in my living...or at least that's the pattern I've been following.

So, I work, watch TV, read, surf, something..anything..and my mind is up and running. Then I go to the bedroom, pick up my 7 year old. Take him to his bed, and hop into mine.

Periodic insomnia is not foreign to me. It is my usual pattern, though, that I can fall asleep, but wake up in the night unable to go back.

But not this time. I couldn't even nod off at all.

My current bout of sleeplessness began with that hacking cough/cold that's gone around. That hit on Christmas Day and I lived with it in various states throughout the holiday. Even as I felt better through the day, laying down at night brought the cough.

But that's not all it is.

And I'm not sure what all is going on in me...
Actually I do know some of what's going on, but this is a blog, not a therapy session.

But after three nights...I was desperate. So, after much deliberation, I called "a guy I know."

I don't like to take meds for the heck of it...but I needed something.

"Can I have 1 Ambien?"

I didn't need a bunch...I just wanted to sleep one night.

Well, I have more than one. Sleep, like life is a "phase" thing. And it's going to take a bit of work to develop more healthy patterns. I'm a bit out of phase, but working to change some life habits to be more in balance. And for awhile, I'm using some medicaiton to help me.

Balance...you know, that thing I keep looking for?

Anyway, Tuesday night last week, I was so eager to go to sleep, I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. - and woke at 7 a.m.

Now, I've had the benefit of pain relieved when my back was in really bad shape. I've had headaches ease with proper medication.

Nothing has brought me more relief than 10.5 hours of sleep in one night. In one night I slept more than the previous 3. I felt like Superman that day.

I've not used a pill every night since...but until I'm in a good phase, it's good to know I have it.

And for the first time in more than a little while, I'm sleepless in Memphis no more. Whew!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Reflections on Gaza

Micah is a leader in our city.

He is a person of great insight, compassion, vision and wisdom.

He is the Sr. Rabbi of Temple Israel.

He is also my friend.

I've had the privilege to cultivate a relationship with him over my time at Saint John's. We have lunch together with a few like minded clergy monthly. Together with our spouses, we have joined with a coalition of clergy committed to relationship beyond our roles -just children of God, in whatever way we understand the Divine. We've enjoyed dinner in each other's homes over the past year--a true means of grace for us all.
It is that coalition that came together after the Lester Street tragedy to put the service of healing for the city together.

I trust him. I value him.
And when I get something from him I read it. Always.
I received this Sunday morning. It has to do with the current conflict in Gaza. Other than the news we haven't much to go on when trying to figure out the how? and why? of something like this.

Micah's reflections may not answer or explain everything--but it certainly helped me, and I hope it does you.


Little could I know in planning Temple Israel’s December 21-January 2 journey to Israel that our Memphis delegation would be there for the outbreak of another war.

Our scheduled visit to schoolchildren in Memphis’ sister city - located less than three miles from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – was canceled due to 60 missile hits on Sederot on December 24th alone.

By way of background, Israel gave back the Gaza Strip unilaterally in 2005 to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, but within months, Arafat’s more moderate Fatah was overtaken in a bloodbath by a group whose very name - “Hamas” - means “violent crime.” Beyond butchering fellow Palestinians, Hamas has been wreaking havoc on Israel’s western border ever since.

Since we were unable to enter the city, area leaders met with us just beyond Hamas’ missile range at an absorption center for some of Israel’s 30,000 Jewish Ethiopian immigrants. Throughout our journey, we heard the pain Israelis feel for the desperate plight of so many Palestinians. An overwhelming majority of Israelis clearly favor a Palestinian State and giving back even more land for peace. The problem is that the only ones on the other side still standing politically are radical Muslim extremists. Moderate leaders in the Palestinian world are either killed off or too weak to stand up to Hamas who are the real war criminals in this conflict.

Hamas was founded on the principle of three “no’s.” No recognition of Israel’s right to exist; no negotiations with Israel; and no peace.” It is true that with the money received from Iran, Hamas provides some social services and humanitarian relief, but the very existence of Hamas is based on an unmitigated hatred of Israel.

Hamas uses children as human shields and hides its Iranian-supplied weapons in schools, hospitals, and mosques. The newest stockpiles of rockets used when we were there have such long-range capabilities that the number of Israelis in harm’s way has increased from 200,000 to over 750,000 Israeli residents.

With the exception of America – which reacted to Israel’s Gaza operation by labeling Hamas leaders “thugs” who “use terrorism to ignite violence” - international reaction has either been about condemnation or hopelessly na├»ve.

How should Israel deal with Hamas’ logic of hate? What would any of us do if a terror-based group like Hamas bombarded 4,000 missiles on random residents, including 60 in one day alone?!

The leaders of the Western Negev we met with shared the horror of a completely traumatized community. Once a city of 33,000, the 5,000 Sederot residents able to afford a different life have moved out, leaving behind the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community, especially new immigrants and the elderly.

In these towns bordering the Gaza Strip, residents have only fifteen seconds to find shelter when the sirens go off. Businesses can’t operate. Children are not able to play outdoors. Couples can’t sleep safely in bedrooms and over 80% of the population have post-traumatic stress disorder – from teens who are now wetting their beds from fear, to elderly women who faint each time a siren goes off because of the terror these seniors have witnessed firsthand.

We were in Israel when a senior officer in the air force called the Palestinian residents of a housing complex where advanced weaponry and rocket launchers had been intentionally placed by Hamas. The Israeli commander ordered everyone to leave so that no civilians would get hurt. What did the men in the house do? They called Hamas and moved more mothers and children into the house because they know the kind of society Israel fosters will not target innocent civilians.

Hamas, on the other hand, targets Israeli civilians while hiding behind their own children as human shields.

When a group bent on Israel’s destruction hates other people’s children more than it loves its own, you either allow the cult of death and fear to spread, or you do your best to stop it.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing we witnessed in Israel during wartime was its commitment to glorify life in response to Hamas’ glorification of death.


Reverence for life has always been the Jewish way. When the Nazis decimated 1/3 of the Jewish people, the Jewish response was to make more babies and embrace life. In fact, at the end of World War II, the highest birthrate in the world was in the detention camps where the emaciated survivors of the Holocaust managed to escape the Nazi death machine. In response to Nazi brutality, the Israelis built one of the most advanced democracies in the world, one with no parallel in the Arab world.

We arrived not only in time for Israel’s quest for peace, quiet, and calm; we also witnessed the celebration of Chanukah, which commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people’s survival against all odds. My hope and prayer for 2009 is that the survival of this tiny state the size of New Jersey, with the veneration of life shared by all Americans, will somehow prevail over the regime of death and martyrdom in Gaza.

I also pray that people of all faiths – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or any other holy path – will unite to bring about the sanity, civility, acceptance and peace emblematic of the One in whose image we were all created.

Me too, brother.
Me, too.