What a Mistake It Would Be…

WHAT A MISTAKE it would be to hang-out only with people my age or younger. I visit Evelyn a couple of times a month. I always leave refreshed, inspired, educated, humored and challenged. Evelyn is special, but not unique in my life. She is well-cared for by her family, but I have sat in the presence of many elders who are warehoused in facilities, languishing in loneliness; their wisdom & experience sitting like dusty books on shelves, waiting to be opened. What a missed opportunity.

Perhaps we are afraid of our shared fate of aging. Perhaps a symptom of our naivete is the shallow assumption that we will all get old some day and we don’t want to face it in a youth-obsessed culture. With all the disease and war and health crises in the world; just how does someone manage to live so long? What do they have to teach that we are willing (or unwilling) to learn? When (if ever) did they learn to relax into life and let things go a bit better? What, if anything, would they do again, and what, if anything, would they avoid at all costs? Is the world truly different today that it was in the past?

Go find an elder. I you don’t have one of your own kin who fits the category, borrow one. There are plenty of them to go around. Evelyn 2

Peace, Dwight Lee Wolter

The Spirituality of Poets, Punks, Priests & Prophets of Popular Music

I was stuck on the Long Island Expressway in hideous traffic. I was lonely, angry, hungry, tired and late. Someone wanted to merge into “my” lane in front of me and I would rather have died than let him succeed. But succeed he did, by wedging his car directly in I was stuck on the Long Island Expressway in hideous traffic. I was lonely, angry, hungry, tired and late. Someone wanted to merge into “my” lane in front of me and I would rather have died than let him succeed. But succeed he did, by wedging his car directly in front of my massive ego. Pissed, hurt and seeking solace, I turned on the radio.
Within five measures of the song, fond memories of my former girlfriend were so intense they could hardly be called “memories” as her sweet, sweet spirit was so present in my car that she became my soulful companion on my rush hour pilgrimage home. A tear slid down my cheek and into my smile. I gestured to allow yet another driver to take a spot in the lane in front of me. Why not? The driver was in just as much a hurry as I was. My sultry disposition had been transformed in an instant. What happened? Music happened.
It occurred to me, instantly and deeply, that it is often a song ~ more than a sermon, tweet, pet, prayer, family photo or favorite food ~ that touches people’s lives in a spiritual way. And it occurred to me that bars, clubs, libraries, living rooms and coffee houses are frequented by people who just may be the poets, punks, priests and prophets I need to pay close attention to, especially if their craft can transform and transport my spirit as profoundly as did the song I was listening to in my car ~ the song that was still not yet half over.

Spirituality is a river that flows both ways. Houses of faith, ashrams, holistic health centers, metaphysical communities and other businesses, organizations and fellowships often position themselves as repositories of belief, ethics, goodness and morality that they can offer.
But while people may walk into a church or elsewhere hoping to receive spirituality; they just might be ~ sometimes without even knowing it ~ walking into a church not to receive it, but to offer it, if we are receptive to listening to it.
All music is inherently spiritual, from the “sacred” music of Bach to Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” to Kanye West’s, “Jesus Walks.” George Harrison was a Hare Krishna. Paul Simon and Bob Dylan are Jewish. Johnny Cash was decidedly Christian. Leonard Cohen was born and raised as a Jew, but later became a Buddhist monk and lived in a monastery for five years. They all wrote profoundly spiritual music.
I wish more musicians would take their gifts and their power seriously and write songs that bear fruit ~ not only the fruit of entertainment ~ but fruit to feed their followers with the nectar of spiritual transformation that, I believe, we all crave.

A singer in a bar on a Saturday night with a tip cup may reach far more people than a preacher on a Sunday morning with an offering basket. In an era when fewer and fewer people go to church, a popular song may be the only message, mantra, soundbite or sermon many people will ever hear.
My anger and panic about being late to pick up my kid from school that day, as I was stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway turned out to be a blessing. I did somehow make it to the school on time. And, I decided to start a narrative and musical concert series that would explore the relationship between various artists and genres, and the animating “spirituality” that infuses the music, while gathering guests and garnering funds to support the free feeding, clothing, medical screening and hair salon initiatives offered at the church I serve as pastor ~The Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.
The musical series I envisioned would explore the spirituality of music that may or may not mention religion. I would choose the songs, create the groupings of songs according to themes or eras that illustrated the spirituality of the artists; I would write the libretto, (the narrative between sets of songs of the featured artist, band or genre of the evening performance). The music would be performed live. The featured artists would be chosen from a broad swath of music. Just as no religion has a monopoly on spirituality, no one artist or genre of music does either.
Many of our favorite songs are spiritual anthems that flow from one generation to another. And while many songs seem to be written to one person in particular ~ others are more like pastoral prayers for “peace, love and understanding” for everyone, as Elvis Costello once sang about. Rolling Stone Magazine even alluded to the songs on an album by Paul Simon as “hymns” proving that you don’t need to be religious to be spiritual; just as you don’t need to be spiritual to be religious.
“The Spirituality of Popular Music” has, in the past seven years, brought many thousands of people, and tens of thousands of dollars that purchased goods and services for people in deep housing, health and food insecurity. It has proved to be a great attraction to people of various faith and non-faith traditions and organizations; as well those who are decidedly and happily not affiliated with any groups. Many people who attend “The Spirituality of Popular Music” never attend church services; and many people who attend church services never attend “The Spirituality of Popular Music.” Some people, however, have indeed become members. Many hundreds more have developed a relationship as friends of the church and of God, however they understand and define God; than would never have happened if there had not been “The Spirituality of Popular Music.”
People are spiritually hungry, but fearful that the food of faith has been tainted by the church. People who attend this series, held in a church, seem to feel truly safe and welcome. No matter where they are on life’s journey ~ whether they follow Jesus, Yahweh, Allah, booze, sports, shopping, L. Ron Hubbard, Sigmund Freud, the Big Bang, their Higher Power, G.O.D. (Good Orderly Direction), or if they prefer to follow themselves ~ they can rest assured and know that they are truly welcome.
It is my belief that at the core of a spiritual experience, religious discipline or musical encounter… is transformation: a dramatic change in the shape and nature of our attitudes and relationships. Through spirituality, we see hell transformed into help; loneliness transformed into companionship; self-destruction transformed into self-respect; and even addiction transformed into recovery. Through spirituality, we see hope rise like a weightless angel from the crypt of hopelessness. The spirituality triggered in us by music may deliver us to the threshold of change that words, thoughts, attitudes, actions, dogma and doctrines alone may not accomplish.
So far in this ongoing series, we have presented, among others: The Spirituality of Bob Dylan, U2, Prince, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, the Beatles, the Beatles’ White Album with Orchestra, Joni Mitchell, and many others. The genres have included “The Spirituality of the Blues; Bluegrass; and Broadway Musicals. The themes we have presented have included The Spirituality of Heaven and The Spirituality of Addiction & Recovery. Next up is The Spirituality of Tom Petty. The artists must be authors as well. Therefore, we do not do the Spirituality of such as Elvis Presley or Judy Collins. We receive suggestions all the time. Do you have one?
As a conclusion, for now at least, I want to suggest you listen to Kanye West’s song Jesus Walks. It is a bit rough, which is one reason I suggest it here. You may bristle at the language and the anger; but that is the way I feel about some of the Old Testament prophets. But that’s another story.082

Tom Petty Backed-Down By Opioid Epidemic

Tom Petty was born in 1950 and died 66 years later in 2017; having earned three Grammy Awards and having been recognized as a generous and compassionate person eager to help others less fortunate than himself.
But, unfortunately, Tom Petty passed away from a fatal overdose of fentanyl, oxycodone, generic Xanax, antidepressant medication, and a sleep aid in his system that resulted in multiple organ failure. And so, in addition to his legacy of spirituality, artistry, compassion, generosity and love ~ part of what people will remember about Tom Petty is his fatal drug overdose at 66 years old; his “last dance with Mary Jane” and his “one more chance to kill the pain.”
“Despite this painful injury,” his wife, Dana, and daughter, Adria, wrote in a statement, “he insisted on keeping his commitment to his fans and he toured for 53 dates with a fractured hip and, as he did, it worsened to a more serious injury.” Tom Petty had recently completed a 40th anniversary tour with his band, the Heartbreakers. It was intended to be his “last trip around the country.” He told Rolling Stone, however, that he wasn’t going to stop playing, “I need something to do, or I tend to be a nuisance around the house.”
His family said they hope the musician’s death leads to a broader understanding of the opioid crisis. “As a family, we recognize this report may spark a further discussion on the opioid crisis and we feel that it is a healthy and necessary discussion and we hope in some way this report can save lives,” they wrote. “Many people who overdose begin with a legitimate injury or simply do not understand the potency and deadly nature of these medications.”
I understand Tom Petty’s family response about his recent hip injury and the pain that resulted from it. But Tom Petty had been a heroin addict in his 40’s ~ 20 years after he became a superstar and over 20 years before the onslaught of his hip injury. I can certainly respect and accept his family’s take on his from an overdose of opioids. Addiction was not new to him.
But I also wonder how a man in his 60’s can schedule a 53-date tour, knowing he has a fractured hip, unless he knew that the tour was made possible, in part, by being torqued on powerful drugs. And that, in turn, gives me pause to wonder about another great musician, Prince, who also had a hip injury that, according to some people, also caused him to die of a drug overdose, slumped in the corner of an elevator in his home. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness who reputedly was in adherence with his religion’s prohibition against drinking, smoking, swearing and drug use. Petty had hip pain and a history of addiction. And both are dead from overdoses.

This sad, sad situation reminds me that relapse is part of addiction. Those living with substance use disorder who never experience relapse are quite uncommon. Unfortunately, social stigma and stifling shame are also a common part of addiction. Part of that is because, many decades after being classified as a disease; people still think of addiction as a sin, a choice, and a weakness of willpower. But, think about it, no one shames or stigmatizes someone who experiences a relapse of breast cancer. No one has to make up stories and rationalizations to help people know that the breast cancer fatality is not because the victim was a bad person.

And so, loved ones are left not only to grieve; but also to explain circumstances and causes and to try to fend-off the stigma, pain and shame of an overdose death by stressing that the victim did not understand the power of medications, etc., etc. That may be true, but another, life-threatening part of the problem is people not understanding the power of addiction that continues, even after the person has achieved abstinence. One decision, one vulnerable moment, one desperate attempt to avoid physical or emotional pain and you can be found dead and slumped in the corner of an elevator; or someone, like Mrs. Petty, dialing 911 and saying, “My husband is not breathing.”
Yes, fatal overdose can begin with a legitimate injury to the hips of Prince and Tom Petty and many others. And the death of a beloved celebrity can indeed trigger further discussion of the opioid epidemic, as Mrs. Petty generously requested. But, to the hip injuries, let’s also add the moral injuries of denial, relapse, stigma and shame to the list of reasons for overdose deaths. Perhaps that will help to save lives lost to addiction. Perhaps that will help surviving loved ones from suffering for years from the aftershocks of what has become the number one killer of Americans under the age of 50.

Tom Petty album
And now we have come to this: What Tom Petty once wished for others in a song titled, “Wildflowers” ~ we can now wish for him. Allow me to adapt some words from his song, so that it reflects also back unto him: Thomas Earl Petty, you belong among the wildflowers. You belong in a boat out at sea. Far away from your trouble and worries; you belong somewhere you feel free. May Tom Petty rest in peace. He certainly deserves it.

I Know Many Mothers Who Have No Children…

I KNOW MANY MOTHERS WHO HAVE no biological children. And I know Mother Earth who has billions of biological children. I know men who are great mothers. I know people who have never met their mother, who have been mothered by community. I have children who are mothers. I have, unintentionally, been father and mother to my son for many years. I know Mother’s Day is not easy for some; but I choose to believe it is a blessing for all. Peace, Dwight Lee WolterMaya 5

JESUS NEVER SAID…

JESUS NEVER SAID “build a cathedral.” JESUS NEVER SAID create a magnificent, marble sculpture of me so people can come and worship me. JESUS NEVER SAID worship me, but, rather, was always pointing to something beyond himself.

BUT JESUS DID SAY to feed the poor.

 

What a great use for the church I serve as pastor ~ a National Registry of Historic Places Church with its 30 ft. vaulted ceilings, its 2,000 plus pipe organ and its original Tiffany windows to host a fundraiser last night for the 4 soup kitchens in our group in the basement of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island. Thanks to the choir for lifting the spirits even higher. For $35 each, people took up their tray and walked the food line where blessings were served ~ exactly like our soup kitchen guests do when come to us, looking to be fed love and home-cooked food. Dwight Lee Wolter.

Take the Church Out of the Church So As To Be the Church

Twas a Rainy, Quiet Day At the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) today. After church, a small, wet, hyperactive army of children & adults took some kid’s chairs to the front yard for people to “steal.” I posted this photo & suddenly we were in conversation with many people unfamiliar with the church. One artistically paints chairs. She took 8 & I asked her to return one, painted, to display her work to the congregation to illustrate what happens ~ with music, unwanted furniture, love & more ~ when you “put it out there, freely.”

After church… after the heavy, wooden, windowless, National Registry of Historic Places doors were closed & locked, we made new friends; outside, in the cold, peaceful, refreshing, air where heads turned to wonder what the hell this was all about to discover that is was and is about giving it away. Peace, Dwight Lee Wolterchairs at church

THANK GOD I AM A MIDDLE CLASS PERSON DURING A MEASLES OUTBREAK!

THANK GOD I am a middle class person with some $ in the bank to pay for my blood test this morning to determine if I am immune to the measles. THANK GOD this photo is NOT of me. TOO BAD Medicare won’t pay for the test or vaccine. TOO BAD my physician charges $116.97 for the inoculation, but is unsure how much today’s blood test costs. In New York City, Mayor De Blasio has declared a health emergency. Nassau, Rockland  and Westchester Counties are offering free vaccines, but not Suffolk County, New York. I wonder what it will take?

With an outbreak and potential epidemic with a virus that can stay alive and in the air for two hours; so that you can be in a store at 11am and at 1pm the virus is still strong and ready to infect you; and if your church is a gathering place for children, youth, adults and elderly persons ~ and with a readily available vaccine; can’t we do better than this? Waiting for disaster to strike so that we can make heroic and panicky but perhaps too late to avoid unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations seems a little whacky, don’t you think? It is too late for a prompt response, but it is not too late!

Open free vaccination sites now!measles for FB

A PLEA FOR A PREEMPTIVE PROGRAM TO COMBAT MEASLES & FOR MEDICARE & COMMUNITY HEALTH ORGS. TO PAY FOR IMMUNIZATION

In the year 2,000, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared that measles has been eliminated. In 2019, we are experiencing the highest number of measles cases in 25 years.
Medicare does not cover measles immunization or the blood test to determine immunity. I called a national blood diagnostic company and asked the cost of the measles vaccine. They said I must first provide the “test code” from my physician. Thirty minutes later, I gave them the code. The vaccine will cost me $109.96.
Recently, a cruise ship, the Freewinds, owned by Scientology, with 300 guests and crew on board, was quarantined due to measles carried by a crew member. Airplanes at O’Hare, JFK and LaGuardia airports have been quarantined. Measles cases have been reported in Brooklyn and in Hampton Bays, Long Island, near where I live. And yet, some say I am being alarmist.
But get this: the CDC reports that a person with measles will contaminate 90% of the people they come in contact with. The measles virus can remain in the air and able to infect for up to two hours. And so a person with measles (showing symptoms and aware of their illness or not) can walk through a public room; and I can walk through that same room up to two hours later and get measles. But, so far, the websites of the Suffolk County Health Department’s Immunization Action Program and other community health care agencies where I live here on Long Island, reveals little action on this rapidly spreading problem. This is happening through the nation and world.
Every person and organization I contacted, including my local legislator who has children too young to immunize, is making progress on this potential epidemic. But it is, so far, mostly offering information. The next scheduled government meeting is scheduled for next week.
We are not moving quickly enough and our response to date is far more reactive than proactive. Some say not to worry, we are a highly-immunized country and, indeed, we are. But that is not necessarily true for our immigrant communities. And it does not protect the very young in an epidemic who cannot be immunized and must rely on the immunization of others.
In some ways, I may be a perfect victim and transmitter of this highly contagious and very treatable virus. I am from a military family; have lived in nine states and two countries; both of my parents are deceased; and my inoculation records do not exist any longer. The family memory and narrative is unreliable.
I guess I will go to the blood lab and fork over $109.96 for a measles vaccine. But I need a prescription first, and that might mean an office fee. And I need my car and time off from work to get there. Not everyone can or will do this. They will just cough and sneeze and infect without, perhaps, even knowing it.
It is time to immediately address the potential measles epidemic by providing free or reduced-fee immunization at sites throughout our communities. During the influenza epidemic two years ago, the church I serve, the Congregational Church of Patchogue, and the County Health Department offered free flu shots at our church and at other sites. The measles virus is even more contagious than influenza. Let us offer all the assistance we can in addressing the potential epidemic of measles that our communities that form our nation are facing at this very moment.

The Ongoing Massacre of Persons of Faith

IT IS A “SIN” TO PRETEND on this Easter morning that my heart is not aching over the massacre of almost 200 people in 3 churches in Sri Lanka today. It is sickening to remember, during this Passover, that 13 were murdered recently in a synagogue in Pittsburg, PA. My soul sobs over the 50 murdered in a mosque recently in Christchurch, New Zealand. AND YET… joy cannot be defeated this Easter morn. Hope springs eternal. Love never dies. You can kill the messenger (like Jesus & countless others), but you can’t kill the message. With joy, hope & love, we celebrate Easter at 10am at the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York.

Peace Whenever Possible,

Easter DayDwight Lee Wolter

An “Openly Heterosexual” Pastor Responds to Yet Another Anti-LGBTQ Incident

082Here on Long Island, New York, (not the “deep South” or some other easy stereotype of a community steeped in hatred and phobia), I write this in response to an anonymous email, published by print and electronic media reaching millions of people, that expressed opposition, in quite vulgar terms, to the LGBTQ-theme at one of the upcoming Alive After Five (AA5) events that was sent to many business and government leaders. AA5 is a street festival that draws between 20,000 and 30,000 people per event in the summer. This is the second anti-LQBTQ incident in Patchogue, Long Island, that has been covered by the press in just one week. Patchogue, ironically, is heralded as a national model of urban/suburban development; so this undercurrent of phobia and hatred is certainly not the image the community wants to project~ but it is there nonetheless, and recurrent. Many fear that the LGBTQ theme this year will be fraught with contention and counter-demonstration, including a proposed “Straight Pride Day” ~ all of which affirms the “I told you so” that many good people advanced in belief that there is indeed “a can of worms” that the LGBTQ theme of the “family event” will entice.

I am a Patchogue pastor who is ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC), which also ordained its first openly gay minister, Rev. William Johnson, 47 years ago. (I say “openly” gay because, whether they knew it or not, the Christian church has been ordaining not-openly-gay pastors for a couple thousand years). I am also an “openly heterosexual” pastor who is openly supportive of LGBTQ persons and their rights as citizens and as children of a loving God.

The UCC lost many tens of thousands of church members and churches that withdrew from the denomination over issues of full inclusion of LGBT members and clergy. Withdrawing from openly welcoming and affirming churches was and is their right and privilege. Such schisms that are splitting the church, unfortunately, continue to this day in a few denominations, even in Patchogue. Backlash is to be expected against the LGBTQ theme at AA5. But I hope and pray that, now that the LGBTQ theme has already been established ~ the organizers, business sponsors, government representatives, residents and visitors will stay strong and keep faithful to their plan. Hatred is ugly, as is fear; but hatred and fear are inherently more amenable that complacency and indifference. And such anonymous (i.e. “closeted”) attacks in the media can actually inspire pride, courage and joy.

There are many millions of religiously-affiliated persons, churches, fellowships and synagogues that proudly welcome LGBTQ person in their congregations. The UCC is not the only denomination that sanctions and performs the weddings of same-gender and non-binary couples. Other denominations have openly LGBTQ pastors as well.

The anonymous author of the letter in question stated that holding a LGBTQ theme event at Alive After Five is “blasphemous against God.” Blasphemy is showing disrespect or insulting something sacred. I never thought of my heterosexuality as “sacred.” But if, as the Bible states, “God is love” ~ then it is easy to believe, as do I, that all persons, regardless of their gender, sexual preference or identity, are equally loved in the eyes of God. Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality. Not one.

The church I serve (Congregational Church of Patchogue) is directly on Main Street, in the “eye of the storm” of Alive After Five. I have a feeling, deep in my soul, that this LGBTQ theme AA5 is going to be a colorful party. I hope and pray that we will be safe. Have fun. Stay proud. And choose your battles. We also intend for our church to throw open our doors during the AA5 so we can have a 30 minute sing-along of some great “religious” and “church” hits such as “Amazing Grace” (John Newton), “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), and “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke).

Peace Whenever Possible,
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter