Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sayonara, Sweetheart

Out of sight . . . out of mind.

The article on the msn.com news page stated that it was not a novel or even an original idea . . . others have tried it before.  New York City, San Francisco, Baton Rouge, and Fort Lauderdale are among the cities that have tried to get rid of their homeless problem by shipping those individuals off to other places.  I have heard the story—possibly myth—that other communities in Montana send busloads of homeless to Billings ever since moving to Big Sky Country.  Billings does seem to have more than its fair share of the homeless in Montana . . . probably more per capita than the other cities . . . so, there might be some truth in the story.  The fact is, shipping the homeless away is not new—it used to be called Greyhound therapy.  Now add the state of Hawaii to the list.

Hawaii is about to embark on a new three-year pilot program in which the state will buy one-way tickets on planes (and, possibly on cruise ships . . . I suppose it depends on who has the best prices at the time) to return eligible homeless people back to the main land.  So confident in the pilot program the state has designated $100,000 over the next three years to accomplish this task . . . a mere drop in the bucket once you start putting the pencil to the paper (consider the administrative costs alone . . . not to mention the cost of the actual tickets).  With this move the state hopes to save on the millions of dollars it spends each year on food, shelter, and other services for the homeless.  They are projecting that it will probably help a handful of homeless people in the long run.  But, the bottom line is: out of sight, out of mind—end of problem.

Denial is one of the great American past times . . .

We are all guilty of it.  Every day, even in the brutal winters, that I drive into the big city to work, I see the homeless.  They are everywhere . . . and, really cannot be avoided.  They are on the street corners with signs . . . they are walking up the street pushing grocery carts . . . they are hanging out in parking lots . . . they are lined up at the shelters . . . sleeping in the library . . . knocking on church doors . . . walking the streets.  The community of Billings has a problem with homelessness . . . adults and children.  I was amazed to discover at a recent workshop on homelessness that the school district in Billings has a 10 percent homeless rate among its student population.  The homeless are everywhere, and most of us avert our eyes . . . we look the other way . . . take different routes home or to work . . . we avoid the homeless with a vengeance.  Isn’t that a form of denial?

The article on msn.com’s news page was correct . . . it takes millions of dollars a year from the state and community to deal with the issues that are created by a large population of homeless people.  It takes money to feed the hungry . . . money to provide temporary shelter . . . money to assist with health issues . . . lots of money.  And, it is true, it is cheaper to buy a bus ticket or plane ticket to ship the homeless somewhere else and let them be someone else’s problem.  Out of sight, out of mind—end of problem. 

Or so it would seem . . . they have been using this form of Greyhound therapy—now plane therapy—for a long time, and the homeless are still with us no matter where we live.

I do not know what the answer is, but there has to be an answer . . . something better than shipping people off whether it is on a Greyhound bus or an airplane.  Maybe the answer begins with all of us dealing with our denial as individuals, communities, states, and nation . . . everything is not rosy and wonderful.  Surely working together . . . putting our heads together . . . we can come up with something better than shipping the homeless off with one-way tickets to destinations unknown.

Kudos to Hawaii for at least admitting that the homeless population is a burden and a concern . . . that there is a problem.  I am not too sure that this will be a popular project with most the people who call themselves Hawaiian.  It is just a version of what has always been going on . . . moving the problem along, but if you can convince the multitudes that it will save money in the long run—what is a hundred thousand over three years?  It is still denial.

What are the causes of homelessness?  No jobs?  No affordable housing?  Poor economy?  Mental illnesses . . . disabilities . . . what are the causes of homelessness?  I have a hunch, but I am no expert. 

The problem I have is that I have given my life to following some guy by the name of Jesus . . . and, Jesus tells those who follow him that it is in serving the least of these that is following his teachings and ways.  The problem is that the “least of these” seem to be exploding in these hard times . . . the homeless are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  Denial does not work with Jesus . . . that is my problem.  I am convicted in my denial.

So . . . who has a solution?  Together we can work this out . . . we can create the Kingdom of God . . . but, first, we have to stop denying that there isn’t a problem.  The first step might be the hardest.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dancing in the Shadows

So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."
(John Prine, Hello in There)

If you look closely, they always seem to be there . . . in the peripheral vision . . . in the shadows.  One moment you see, the next you don’t . . . but they are there . . . dancing in the dark . . . always in the shadows.  They are the people that don’t fit in . . . those with mental illness, disabilities . . . those who are different from the rest of us . . . those who talk too much, laugh too loud, look funny . . . those who are who are not in the groups we run around with . . . those who are too old . . . different races, genders . . . the poor, the illiterate . . . those who don’t speak our language . . . they are there in the shadows, dancing and longing to be invited into the light of the dance floor.

This past weekend, at the wedding I attended, I accidently saw them at the wedding dance . . . in the shadows.  There they were . . . swaying to the music . . . nodding their heads to the rhythm of the beat . . . longing, always longing to be included.  In the pulsing music and lights, I stared . . . they were faces I recognized, people I knew . . . and, then, like a deer caught in headlights, they were gone.  Lost in the darkness that surrounds the shadows . . . only to appear again, in the shadows, on the other side of the dance floor.  Despite the joy of the celebration, my heart was sad . . .

One, lost in the throes of a battle with depression, was someone I knew well . . . often spoke to . . . a nice, talented guy having a tough time with his life . . . dancing and darting around in the shadows.  The other, has one of those disabilities that effect his ability to understand the mores of social behavior . . . the sort of guy who tells way too many stories, laughs too loud, and never knows when to be quiet . . . kind of goofy . . . going through difficult times in his own life . . . a pretty nice guy . . . dancing and darting around in the shadows.  And, they were not the only ones . . . there were others . . . male and female . . . the wallflowers . . . the dreamers . . .the ostracized . . . those on the outside looking in.  There they stood . . . longing, longing to be including in the dance of life that the rest of us were enjoying.

Those who dance in the shadows are all around us in our daily lives. They are in the places where we work . . . you can see them . . . they stand on the edge of the group . . . hang back of the group, never quite walking with everyone else, always a few steps behind . . . always laughing a second too late.  They are in the places where we play . . . the places where we worship even.  Always on the outside, always looking in, always longing to belong . . . to be a part of the group . . . dancing in the shadows.

My sadness did not come from the fact that there were those at the wedding dance who were dancing in the shadows, but because I knew these people . . . they were friends, they were family . . . and, until that moment I was not even aware of their presence.  They were in the shadows . . . dancing . . . people I love.  I was so wrapped up in my world I couldn’t even see those who longed to be included . . . who wanted to come and be a part of the dance . . . the dance of life.  In that moment that I caught them in the shadows dancing . . . caught them in my vision . . . my heart was broken.  I should have stopped . . . and said, “Hello in there” . . . but, I didn’t.

Most of us probably never would.  We would avert our eyes . . . cross to the other side of the street . . . ignore and deny.  I think that I know what I am talking about because we all do it . . . every day, we do it.  We pass the hitchhiker on the side of the road . . . we walk pass the person with the sign begging for money . . . we ignore the person limping . . . we those lonely eyes . . . because we do not want to get involved.  We don’t want the hassle.  We don’t want to ruin a good thing that we have going on.  We all do it, even the best of us who try real hard to be inclusive of everyone . . . our talk is usually better than our walk.  We ignore the dancing that is going on in the shadows of our lives . . . we never stop to say, “Hello in there.”

We should all be sad . . . our hearts should be broken . . . there are those who are not being included for whatever reasons we want to name.  There are those not being allowed to gather at the table . . . those who are not being allowed to dance . . . those who are never, ever, invited in.  Intentionally or not, we are all a part of the problem.

This is a sin.  Plain and simple, known or unknown to us, it is a sin to exclude anyone from life . . . from the table . . . from the dance.  Each and every person is created in the image of God the scriptures tell us . . . in the image of God we were all created.  In others is the image of God . . . to separate ourselves from God is a sin.  When we allow those to dance in the shadows, we ignore the presence of God. 

Jesus taught that we are to love God—completely with our whole being.  Jesus also taught us that we are to love our neighbors . . . and, surprisingly, everyone is our neighbor.  What does that say about us when we do not invite those who are in the shadows dancing to the dance?  That is where the sadness in my heart comes . . .

I need to learn to say, “Hello in there” more often . . . to invite those who are in the shadows to come and join the dance . . . pull up a chair at the table . . . to lift the cup and break the bread . . . to truly welcome everyone in.  I have been in the shadows and it sucks . . . God wants us to all be a part of the dance.  It doesn’t matter how poorly you dance, God wants you to dance.  God wants us all to be family.

Birth of a Dancing Star

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
(Friedrich Nietzsche)

I have never taken a formal poll of clergy concerning weddings, but in casual conversation with most the clergy I know, the majority would rather do a funeral than wedding.  Weddings are tough . . . especially when it involves a family member.  Weddings are unpredictable because you are dealing with live, breathing people . . . funerals deal with dead people.  Dead people are pretty predictable . . . they are not going to show up at the rehearsal drunk . . . they are not going to get cold feet at the last minute . . . they are not going to faint during the service . . . they are just going to lay there.  It is easier to deal with funerals than it is with weddings . . . weddings are a little on the chaotic side.  No, let me take that back . . . they are just plain old chaotic . . . especially when it involves family or future family.  I should know.

I will admit that one of the reasons that I became a minister is because I wanted to be in control . . . but, the joke was on me, ministers have no control or power . . . especially when it comes to weddings.  I am not good at anticipation.  I am pretty lousy at it because I am not good with surprises . . . weddings seem to have lots of surprises.  This past weekend I got to officiate at the wedding of the youngest son to a wonderful young lady.  It was an event that created a lot of anxiety in me . . . a lot of anticipation . . . because I did not know what I would be dealing with . . . I had very little control.  My role in the weeks leading up to the wedding centered on the phrase, “Yes, dear” . . . to both the wife and mother of the bride.  In the last week of wedding preparations I felt as if I had stepped out of the frying pan into the fire.  Everything felt out of control . . . chaotic.

It was like trying to mix water and oil.  Ministers are not always great at mixing water and oil . . . well, at least not me.  Imagine trying to bring together very different families (which all families are) in a matter of two days and whipping them into a wedding machine.  A lot can happen when you bring together a lot of different families, lots of different people, and a whole bunch of strangers (at least to me) to celebrate a marriage.  People came from as far as New York City, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Arizona, Nebraska, and all parts of Montana to attend the wedding of our son and newly ordained daughter-in-law.  Water and oil . . . it didn’t mix very well without a whole lot of shaking up.  In fact, it was chaotic, to say the least.

If you have ever been a part of a wedding, you know what I am talking about.  There is so much to do . . . from the rehearsal and dinner to the actual wedding service, dinner, and dance . . . from arranging flowers and decorations . . . from getting hair done and learning to tie bow ties . . . keeping the wedding party sober . . . to feeding the masses who have gathered and are waiting for the real deal to take place . . . greeting guests . . .looking for boutonnieres . . . leaking pipes . . . entertaining the babies and bored adults . . . more food . . . changing weather conditions . . . and, well, a hundred people who think that their way is the best!  It was chaos . . . plain and simple chaos.  Like herding a herd of cats.

Thus the big wedding began with hopes, dreams, and aspirations . . . wanting the best for the bride and groom . . . after all, it is their wedding that everyone wants them to remember.  I don’t know how well most of the couples remember the weddings I officiated at, but I can tell you that I have had many nightmares over the years remembering the weddings I have officiated at . . . chaos.  Dead people . . . well, they are dead.  Dead people don’t give you grief.

But, weddings always surprise me in the end.  As time progressed, people began working together . . . they set aside differences for the common good of the bride and groom . . . they began focusing on the two individuals that they loved . . . they started talking and telling stories . . . there was laughter, there were tears . . . they broke bread together at the table . . . bridges were being built . . . relationships were forming.  The oil was slowly, but surely mixing with the water.  Things were coming together . . . coming together . . . the chaos was subsiding ever so slowly.

In the end, it all came together.  The couple was married in a beautiful ceremony by the Stillwater River in Montana . . . their vows of love and devotion were affirmed by those who had gathered . . . there was applause as they were proclaimed “Mister and Missus” . . . and, the celebration began.  Oh sure, there were glitches . . . the preacher was a little long winded (wonder what that Bozo’s problem was) . . . the bride nailed the groom with a hammer . . . the wind and rain made a brief appearance about the time the wedding dinner was in full swing.  Despite it all, everything actually went well.  There was joy . . . dancing . . . laughter . . . storytelling with toasts . . . hugs . . . more laughter . . . silliness . . . and, a whole lot of love emanating from everyone gathered there.  Love for the bride and groom . . . and, one another.  There was even a remembrance for those whose lives were way too short and whose presence was deeply missed.  It was a good celebration . . . out of the chaos a dancing star was born.  The bride and groom became a family and our families grew by one.

It is out of the whirlwind that God often spoke and appeared.  It was out of the rainbow, after the flood that God covenanted with the people.  It was also out of the fire that God appeared and spoke to Moses.  Out of the whirlwind that God lead the people through the wilderness.  It was out of the wind that the Holy Spirit made its appearance and blessed those gathered.  It was out of the chaos that God made life on earth, created animals, and all of us.  Out of the chaos comes dancing starts . . .

God was presence in it all this past weekend of the wedding . . . weaving and moving . . . touching and prodding . . . whispering . . . assuring and reassuring.  God was present in the chaos.  Author Jeanette Winterson writes, “In the space between the chaos and shape there was another chance.”  Isn’t that what God is all about . . . another chance?  Isn’t that what weddings are about . . . reminding those of who are gathered, maybe even more than those getting married . . . that there is another chance . . . always another chance when God is involved.  Another chance to be a dancing star.

I think that we all forget that.  It is good to be reminded of that every once in a while . . . I want to thank my youngest son and our newest daughter (in-law) for allowing us to be a part of this special day . . . I am not sure who received the bigger blessing, the couple or those gathered.  Yeah, we clergy have poor memories and keep doing weddings over and over again . . . but we never get bored watching the birth of a new family . . . a dancing star was born out of the chaos . . . may it have a long, beautiful life.  There are more stars to be born . . . the chaos is just beginning, but that is another blog for another time.  Congratulations guys . . . we love you both!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Summer . . . Sleepless Nights

I read that temperatures above 75 degrees can make it difficult to sleep at night . . . at least that is what the gurus at the National Sleep Foundation say.  When temperatures are above that mark on the ol’ thermometer, it takes longer to fall asleep, and once you are asleep you don’t sleep as long, and that means you miss out on the deep and restorative sleep necessary for a happy, healthy life.  Well, it is summer . . . temperatures are abnormal and well above 75 degrees . . . we have no air conditioning and, I am not sleeping a wink!  Ah, the joys of summer and being cheap!

For the past two summers, Montana has been above normal in its seasonal temperatures . . . especially in the summer.  We have been averaging about ten to twenty degrees above normal . . . it is hot.  How hot is it?  Well, it is hot enough that business and restaurants are posting signs on their walls that say, “No shirt, no pants, no problem.”  It is so hot that I saw two trees fighting over a dog.  Yeah, it is hot and hot makes it difficult to sleep at night.

Here it is, past my bedtime, and I am still up.  I couldn’t sleep . . . too hot.  Part of it is my nature . . . I have a difficult time falling to sleep at night.  I am jealous of the wife . . . she has no difficulty falling to sleep each night.  Usually I seethe as I listen to her gently snore each night while I sit there blasting sheep with a shotgun.  Of course, I might fall asleep quicker if I wasn’t blasting sleep with a shotgun.  Then, add summer and its heat to the equation, I don’t sleep.  So, I am lamenting.  But lamenting gets a person nowhere.  Not wanting to lay awake for another two hours or more, I decided to get my butt out of bed, surf the Internet, and see if there were some words of advice at beating the summer heat and sleeping.

I think you can find just about everything and anything you want on the Internet . . . summer sleep advice was easily found.  Seems I am not the only one who dreads the short, sleepless nights of summer!  There was some actual advice on how to try and get a good night’s sleep in the summer.  MSN Healthy Living offered this advice:

      ---Sip icy cold milk or tea before bed.  First of all, ever since they came up with different degrees of milk . . . warnings about drinking whole milk . . . there is not a whole lot of milk in our refrigerator.  What my wife calls milk, I call dirty water.  And, tea!  Tea has caffeine . . . caffeine keeps people up . . . cold or not, it keeps people up.  Besides, if I drink anything before going to bed—at my age, anyways, means a trip to the bathroom around one or two in the morning.  The idea is that the coolness of the drink lowers the core body temperature making it easier to sleep.  I wish I had thought of that while I was taking that pre-morning potty break!

---Take a shower or bath.  Now they are getting personal and messing with my routine!  Take a bath more than once a week!  Are they crazy!  The idea is that a bath cools you off . . . I thought the idea of a bath was to clean you off.  I don’t know if I could handle taking a bath more than once a month!

     ---   Ditch the blankets on the bed . . . sleep only on cotton sheets . . and, use a terry cloth towel to absorb your sweat.  Ha!  According to my wife—no matter what time of the year—a bed is not a bed unless it has sheets, a blanket, and comforter on it.  It does not matter what time of the year it is, a bed is not a bed without those three things.  Needless to say, I attempt to sleep on top of them all.  It ain’t working out too well.

    ---Sleep naked.  Clothes trap heat . . . heat causes sweat . . . sweat causes discomfort . . . discomfort causes restlessness . . . restlessness causes sleeplessness.  The cure?  Sleep naked.  Scary thought, but it would be helpful when I have to get up in the middle of the night to relieve myself after drinking cold milk or tea.

     ---Change your schedule.  Take a mid-day siesta.  It seems that this idea comes from Europe.  Peasants used to hap during the hottest part of the day in summer, then continue working late into the evening while there was still light. I guess these people never worked for the state . . . besides, I don’t have a job that allows me to work leaning against a shovel.

     --- Sleep in a different spot.  The suggestion is that you change the place where you sleep.  For example, sleep on the floor.  Heat rises, the coolest air is on the floor.  It has been a long, long time since I slept on the floor . . . the wife won’t let me drink that much anymore.  If that were to happen I’d probably be sleeping in the dog house.  But, hey!  It might be cooler than our house.

I am not sure who comes up with this advice, but I guess they have all of our good intentions in mind. Nothing seems to work . . . I have watched reruns of Oprah and I still cannot find sleep.  I have tried to go to bed before the wife, but I am a worry wart and worry about people until they go to bed.  I have tried everything, but nothing works.  I have come to accept my plight in life . . . sleep is a pain in the ol’ . . . well, you get the picture.  In the meantime . . . I sweat and remember . . . remember when I could sleep at the drop of a dime.  A dime don’t work anymore . . . anyone got a fifty?  The temperature is above 75!