Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

What follows is a reprint of my lead article for the Vermont Conference's weekly email newsletter, E-KIT, published November 26, 2008.

The current financial situation (or crisis, if you're following your 401(k) value closely) has resulted in many of us feeling less certain about our future. As often happens in these circumstances, folks "pull in the reins" and reduce spending on non-essentials. The spike of oil prices above $140 a barrel earlier this year caused some frantic number crunching in our local churches as the cost to heat sanctuaries this winter seemed unbelievably high. Other congregations are already bracing for reduced giving in the coming year.

To be honest, I'm not really a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" person. Troubleshooter that I am, I'm more of a "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be" person. But having said that, I also know that our God is a God of Abundance, not scarcity! And God will fill our glass - how big it is, is up to us. And we, as Stewards of God, must give from that spirit of abundance, not from a place of fear.

This week there were plenty of reminders of people who know this to be so. An Associated Press article provided many reasons to be hopeful, including:

· In Seattle, Boeing Co. employees tripled their cash donations this year to Northwest Harvest, operator of Washington's largest food bank. And every week, Northwest Harvest spokeswoman Claire Acey says, companies call to say their employees have decided to skip their holiday party and buy food for the hungry instead.

· Contributions to American charities have increased during 39 of the past 40 years in today's dollars, and a change in the tax laws _ not the stock market crash _ can be blamed for the drop in 1987, said Melissa Brown, associate director of research for The Center on Philanthropy. Between 69 and 72 percent of people give routinely, she said.

· A survey released this week by Federal Way, Wash.-based World Vision indicates that 2008 could actually be a better-than-usual Christmas for the nation's charitable organizations. The telephone survey, conducted in late October by Harris Interactive, found that seven in 10 adults plan to spend less money on holiday presents this year, but about half say they are more likely to give a charitable gift than a traditional present such as clothing or an electronic toy.

Now, I'm not a Pollyanna, and I know we face some difficult decisions in both our local churches and at the Conference about our expectations for income in the coming years. But I would encourage you to faithfully explore (it's amazing how different the world looks through the prism of the Spirit) new and exciting ways to be "church", and not to spend too much time worrying and bemoaning our future. The worrying doesn't help - and the time spent moaning is better spent in prayer.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reflections on Veterans' Day…

I have had an uneasy relationship with Veterans' Day my entire adult life. Although I gave 20 years to the service of my country in the Navy Seabees, the label of Veteran is not one I wear without some discomfort. Indeed, due to injuries to my knees while on active duty, I could also correctly be called a disabled veteran, a moniker with which I am even more uncomfortable.

It is not that I am ashamed or embarrassed of my service. The exact opposite is true. I had, by nearly any measure, a successful and rewarding career. A Chief Petty Officer in 8 years, a Master Chief in 17, and half of my career spent in a specialized program supplying utilities to naval facilities worldwide.

And yet.

And yet, my internal pictures of Veterans are, for example, the grizzled survivors of World War II, a group whose numbers are significantly decreasing daily, and of which my father is a part. Those who saw things which should not be seen, and did things you shouldn’t have to do. And when they came home, they locked it all away and went on with their lives as if it never happened. Recent works recognizing “The Greatest Generation” have provided the children of those men (and women) with amazing stories of both horror and heroism they had never heard before.

Or perhaps those who served in Korea, the ‘forgotten’ war. Or those who served in Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans, in particular, were treated shabbily by the country they served admirably when they returned. Many of them still wear the scars of that conflict, whether visible or not.

More recently, we have those who served in the first Gulf War, and those who serve as I type.

Those are the men and women I think of when I hear the word Veteran. To be included in their number seems almost a sham. Did I do some dangerous things during my service? Certainly. But nothing that compares to what millions of others have done, sacrifices paid with body parts, damaged psyches, and all too often the ultimate sacrifice for a sometimes ungrateful nation.

I have many fond memories of my service with the Seabees. There was the Christmas I spent at the Mare Island Shipyard with Barney Baker and others as we provided emergency power to the base after the failure of a transmission tower. The day Lynn and Joe Maynard pinned Chief Anchors to my collar for the first time. The 7 months in Haiti, building a 5.5 mile road around Port-au-Prince, and my crew who delighted in giving their meager off time to rebuilding local schools and orphanages, as Seabees are want to do. The three years Lynn, I, and the kids spent in the Philippines, surviving five typhoons, an earthquake, two coup attempts, and finally, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.

And the month spent in Homestead after Hurricane Andrew. We were part of a small Seabee Unit at the Mayport Naval Station in 1992 when Andrew devastated south Florida. The next day, the Commanding Officer of Naval Station Mayport called and said simply, “Go south. Help people.” Best set of orders I ever received. And we went; clearing roads, providing temporary roof repairs, distributing food and healthcare, repairing electrical systems.

All good stuff of which I am very proud, but which seems deficient when compared to the acts of others. And so, on this Veterans' Day, I hope all Americans will honor those who have to ably served their country. And a day I will wear the label of Veteran proudly, but humbly.

Blessings to all of you,