USA Versus Everybody

USA Versus Everybody

I DROVE TO MT. SINAI, NEW YORK, after being home with a cold & a bad case of cabin fever for a few days and went to a favorite place to stroll silently, peacefully and gratefully and I came across this. Perhaps it was because I was physically weak and drained by illness that this made me feel even sicker. But then, in my spiritual health, I saw the poison power of the word “VERSUS” and in my mind I changed it to ” AND” as in “USA AND EVERYBODY.” Hope is eternal. Peace is possible. Let’s realize it together. Love, Dwight Lee Wolter

What Musical Instrument Do People Play in Heaven?

LEGENDARY BLUESMAN, Kerry Kearney, once said from the stage of the Congregational Church of Patchogue, “When you get to heaven, they hand you a harp; when you get to hell, they hand you an accordion.” This Sunday, January 19th at 10am, we explore: Is “heaven” merely a myth to control behavior? Who is (and isn’t) in heaven? Is heaven here on earth? Why do so few people believe in heaven, but so many believe in hell? Special music is “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Brad Paisley, sung by Kathy Maguire Ljungqvist. See you Sunday for a bit of heaven! Peace, Dwight Lee Wolterharp 1

Pistol-Packing Pastors & Safety in the Sanctuary?

 

I know clergy persons who carry licensed pistols into the pulpit and several houses of faith that have armed, licensed people carrying pistols during services. When Dylann Roof killed eleven people at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston ~ many people from many faith traditions attended a meeting called by the Suffolk County Police Department and Homeland Security and openly questioned whether they should have armed people in their houses of worship. Many people were aghast at the question, but no longer.
In 2019 alone, we have seen the Easter morning terrorist attack of a church in Sri Lanka that killed 300; attacks at synagogues in San Diego, Pittsburg and elsewhere; attacks at two mosques in New Zealand that were live-streamed on social media; the recent machete attack at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration; and the murder of two congregants of a church in Texas before the assailant was himself killed by Jack Wilson, a licensed, pistol-wielding church member who is now being declared a hero for stopping additional carnage. Wilson’s Facebook post stated, “The events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists and I had to take out an active shooter in church.”

The killing spree lasted only six seconds. The police arrived within two minutes. Three people were already dead.
In a clergy Facebook group, in response to my post, someone suggested, in seriousness, that congregants should turn to the active shooter and throw their hymnals at him and that will disorient him enough to allow people to escape. Does that make you feel safe in the sanctuary or that your kids are safe in the Sunday school? Although I provided a link to a free, national webinar I conducted titled, “An Ounce of Prevention” and even though many other resources are available elsewhere ~ many people choose to make up methodology on the spot to address a potential murderer with a concealed weapon. You don’t have to be an addict to act like one, full of denial, unrealistic expectations, pretending to be in control of things you are powerless over, and a willingness to place others in danger.

This begs many questions, including one posed today in a Religion News Service (RNS) article, “Where is the line between loving people and protecting the flock?” It also poses questions of how prepared houses of faith are for such incidences; what effective measures are in place with congregations that cannot afford or refuse security teams; can we have non-partisan, civil discussion of the pros and cons of armed persons in church. It also begs questions such as: how many open entrances does your building have? Who is authorized to issue evacuate, fight or shelter-in-place orders and upon what criteria? Where would you evacuate or shelter-in-place? Do you have a plan for children and those with physical or mental challenges? Who is authorized to issue an “all clear” bulletin? What about non-active-shooter situations such as a fire, weather event or possible community disaster a such as a gas main break that may require sheltering or evacuating? Should your building blueprints be on file with your local police department?
I and many others have been trained by the Suffolk County Police Department (Long Island, New York) Police-Clergy Council and Homeland Security for “Safety in the Sanctuary.” Handouts from a webinar I conducted, and from similar workshops I presented at the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ will be available at the “Ounce of Prevention” event on January 14th at 7pm at the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) where I am the pastor. I do not believe I am being overly dramatic when I say that, as houses of faith, it is time for us to get our heads out of the sand, before our bodies are in the dirt.
The photo here is of a “panic button” issued by the police department to our church. It sat for a year on the pulpit where I stand each Sunday and it has been used once during that time. It resulted in an arrest of someone trying to enter the sanctuary, and an evacuation of the Sunday School children to a shelter-in-place room in the basement.
I am certain that you readers, as well as those who will attend this event or access the free webinar “An Ounce of Prevention” offered through the Practical Resources for Churches (PRC) of Long Island, New York, have much insight to gain from each other. Printed material, questions and insights will be distributed at this event that others may care to share. Please join us, if possible, for this timely event; contact me at dwightleewolter.com, or post your opinions, questions, suggestions and concerns here.
Peace Whenever Possible,
Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

panic button

INDULGE ME, Please, As I Put a Face on Homelessness

Soup kitchen face

INDULGE ME, PLEASE, AS I PUT A FACE ON homelessness, food, housing & health insecurity. This is one of many fine people with whom I dine, laugh, fear and hope at our soup kitchen, barber shop, food pantry and other places. With sincerity, I proclaim that I am a better person for having known and interacted with persons such as this man.

FORGIVE ME, PLEASE, AS I STRUGGLE with resentment at the many people who call and write to me at the Congregational Church of Patchogue ~ demanding that I remove the “homeless, drug-addicted, dirtbag creatures” that we feed, shower, clothe and offer free haircuts to on a regular basis. Such comments, calls and letters are not surprising.

Housing, health, love, and food-insecure people ~ I have witnessed for years ~ are apparently not even worthy of a smile or utterance of a “Good morning.” They simply do not even exist in the mind and eyes of many. When I recently petitioned leaders to place a portable toilet near our mobile shower unit; I was told that to do so “would encourage them to move to our town when we already have too many.” Can you imagine being “encouraged” to move to a community because it provided a good place to pee? How, then, do we interpret the outrage that someone is seen peeing in a bush? Last time I checked, peeing was not optional.

If we want to figure-out how we will be remembered ~ I bet a dirty dollar that it will not be by our cocktail parties and wit. It will not be by our illustrious watering holes. We will be remembered, as persons, community and country ~ by how we treated those among us who are in distress.

FINALLY ~ INDULGE ME, PLEASE, AS I THANK many of you for your small, large and in-between offerings to help us help others, year round, for 30 years and counting. While our efforts are certainly not “fun” or “profitable” ~ they are absolutely, profoundly and deeply rewarding.

May peace and other blessings be upon you,

Pastor Dwight.

Sometimes, Even a 20 Minute Break Can Make a Difference

Bellport docks

SOMETIMES, EVEN A 20 MINUTE BREAK MAKES A DIFFERENCE between being busy but feeling empty ~ and being busy but feeling fulfilled. If my cellphone needs and deserves to be recharged ~ so too do I. I wish to thank the chattering birds; the whistling wind; the sloshing waves; the soon-to-set sun; and the gift of silence for their part in my spiritual restoration. Peace & Happy Thanksgiving Season, Dwight Lee Wolter

It is with Deep Sadness & Joy that I Announce My Grandson Got His Butt Kicked in the 3rd Grade Election

Oliver for VP

IT IS WITH DEEP SADNESS & JOY THAT I ANNOUNCE that my grandson, Oliver, lost the election. SADNESS in that, well, he lost. Darn! JOY in that he congratulated the winner; did not blame anyone; and still holds hands with those who did not vote for him while they cross dangerous intersections on field trips. He has chosen to learn & become stronger in defeat. He is my role model.

The Russians didn’t meddle. The voting box wasn’t rigged. The polling places did not have hours that rendered persons of certain ethnicities and socioeconomic status from getting to vote. There was no Supreme Court-style of teacher and administrator override to call the election. There were no hanging chads. No Electoral College. Leave all that to the grownups.

After the election it was time for lunch. Everyone sat together. After that was recess. Everyone played together.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Well, imagine it. It happened. Civility isn’t dead. Just napping.

AIN’T NO DENYING THERE IS CLIMATE CHANGE, IMPEACHMENT, SCHOOL SHOOTINGS… BUT THERE IS ALSO THIS

angel drawing

AIN’T NO DENYING climate change; impeachment hearings; school shootings; you name it… And there also ain’t no denying that innocence continues to blossom and bloom; that good people are everywhere; that hope flows like blood through our hearts; and that peace beckons us forward.
Thanks to a, so-far, unidentified kid at the Congregational Church of Patchogue who drew this. She/he raised my spirits up, and I can’t wait to say thank you.
Thank you for the reminder that “Jaded” is not a lifestyle; that “Sarcastic” isn’t a birthmark; that “Resenter” isn’t an occupation. Thank you, dear child, for the reminder that I sometimes fall into pits of negativity and bouts of fear voluntarily and mindlessly.
Thank you for waking me from my stupor; for showing me that my relationship to the world is an inherently creative one. Thank you for showing me what I have turned my back on; and what I can choose to turn to face.
Thank you that ~ on my stroll down a barely-lit hallway in a chilly church long after everyone else had gone home as I was preoccupied with my failure once again to save, heal or be of much help to this or that ~
I saw your drawing of an angel with a visible heart.
Thank you for waking me up to see that they are everywhere ~ and that maybe, sometimes, I am one of them. Today I will act, and see and believe… accordingly.

President Jimmy Carter Undergoes Brain Surgery

CarterFORMER PRESIDENT, JIMMY CARTER, 95 years old, is undergoing brain surgery to stop a bleed. Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, has announced that he will not be teaching Sunday School this week. They have also requested our prayers for him. He has mine.

We, as a nation and a world, will come to better know and appreciate what this man has done since he left office. He is simply an amazing person; and yet, not so amazing in that he has done so as a common person, an American patriot, a global citizen, an interfaith advocate, a model of kindness and perseverance and, for almost 100 years ~ a devout Christian. I cannot speak for you, but in this Age of Angst, I am most grateful for this model of awareness, advocacy and action will keeping dignity and decency.

I do pray ~ not for his recovery ~ for that is up to God. I pray, as would he, Thy Will Be Done, on Earth As It Is in Heaven.

Are you catching any fish? ~ No, never…”

 

 

fisherman 2

“ARE YOU CATCHING ANY FISH?” I asked the first time I saw him on the pier. “No, never.” he said as he cast. “Then why do you come here?” I asked. “It isn’t about the fish” he answered. “Then what is it about?” I asked. He pointed to the sky, the water, the horizon, the dimly-lit houses dotting the distant shore. “This is my church, Rev.” he said. Almost every day, except winter, he is there. He has become like a brother to me, as we pass the offering basket of love between the souls of our two-person-congregation. Peace, Dwight Lee Wolter

Religion, Hemorrhoids, Saoirse Ronan & The Spiritual Journey of “Lady Bird”

saoirse ronan 1

If the film, Lady Bird, had been set in a bordello on the border ~ the cruelties and crudities of teenage bordello life would have been front and center in the promotion. If it had been set at a juvenile detention center in a struggling inner city ~ the derelict denial of resources and treatment for incarcerated teenagers would have been banner headlines in the reviews.
However, the trailer, promotion and reviews describe the setting of Lady Bird simply as “in a high school.” Yup. This coming-of-age tale of a middle-class girl, her silly friends, and her controlling mother who just doesn’t understand was primarily set in a high school.
What is not mentioned anywhere that I could find is that the high school is a Catholic, religious high school. Why is that important detail not mentioned? Perhaps it is because religion in general and Catholicism in specific are, well, currently out of vogue.
Religion, in the popular culture, nowadays, is like hemorrhoids. We know they exist out there somewhere and some people suffer under their influence. It is known to be a pain in the butt, but we just tend to collectively not talk about it. Religion and hemorrhoids are simply not the makings of polite conversation.
That said, the setting of Lady Bird in a Catholic high school is very important to acknowledge and talk about because it provides the context for the spiritual journey of young Lady Bird’s soul.
Like the poems of William Blake, Lady Bird is both “The Little Girl Lost” and “The Little Girl Found” ~ not in the context of the transitions from innocence to experience in the late 1700’s ~ but in the context of a girl’s physical, emotional and spiritual transitions in Sacramento, California in the early 2000’s.
In the subtleties and nuances of this deeply spiritual film, we witness a teenage girl desperate for meaning and purpose in a superficial world populated by barely conscious people. Lady Bird yearns to fly and soar but her wings are clipped by well-intentioned people whose own lives never got off the ground and who, unconsciously, believe the solution to the soaring spirit of Lady Bird is to keep her grounded.
Lady Bird yearns to be free. She dreams of going to Yale, but with her idiosyncrasies and mediocre grades; she will, according to her own mother as they argue in the car ~ Lady Bird will be going to city college, and then to jail, and then back to city college where she will finally “learn to pull herself up.” At hearing that (spoiler alert): Lady Bird throws herself out of the moving vehicle.
That, to put it mildly, is a desire to escape that many persons, including myself, can identify with. As a high school teenager yearning to be free of the mass numbness and dumbness I saw in my family, school and society ~ I sought escape, not by hurling myself out of a car ~ but by hurling myself into a drug and alcohol altered reality that I thought was far preferable, until it almost killed me. Tis a far better thing to die interesting than to live boring. Once free of the unquenchable demons unleashed by alcohol and drug ~ I turned to the fairer angels of art through which I continued my quest to create an alternative life above and beyond the muddy wheel rut into which I had been born.
Many religious strands are woven deeply into the fabric of Ladybird. The film begins with vacuous recitations of prayers and petitions for mercy by students assembled in the high school gym as they mouth the words to “Hail Mary” and the “Lord’s Prayer” that start the school day.
I offer no rebuttal to the proposition that Lady Bird is an exceptionally troubled, yet vibrant spirit. We the viewers feel the shackles that the educational and religious institutions place on youth when conformity, not authenticity, is what is valued and demanded.
But beneath the forms and uniforms of religious education that we so readily dismissed as stupid and archaic in today’s increasingly secular world, lies a yearning for meaning and purpose.
One beacon of light in the darkness of school life is a passionate, loving and supportive priest who teaches the acting class. He believes in, encourages and supports the student actors. This priest is one of those rare teachers that can leave a positive, lifelong impression on a young, unformed, insecure soul. The priest, like his students, is deeply human. He struggles with personal grief and is the first to cry in the class he is teaching on “Authenticity.” When the school play is finally produced, he laments, to himself, that the people in the audience “just didn’t get it.” In a room of teenagers and their families after the show, his depression and Shakespearian sense of futility is palpable ~ just as is the sense of futility in Lady Bird and other students in their young lives of angst and doubt.
We later see the priest with his psychotherapist, revealing how he ~ though of a different ethnicity, age and gender ~ struggles with many of the same issues as does young Lady Bird. Shortly after the scene with the psychotherapist, the priest drops out of his job as teacher and director of the young actors and disappears from the film. He is a foreshadowing of what may be the fate of Lady Bird, and is the fate of many others who abandon their call to dream, to hope, to reinvent themselves and to be transformed by remaining faithful to their spiritual quest and journey.
Another memorable character ~ the Mother Superior of the school ~ offers wise and worldly advice to young Lady Bird, even when she is the brunt of Lady Bird’s jokes; such as when Lady Bird tied cans and a sign “Just Married to Jesus” to the back of the nun’s car. Later, when Lady Bird is called into the Mother Superior’s office; the supposedly strict nun lovingly says that she thought the prank was funny, and that she actually does feel that she has been married to Jesus “for over forty years.” It is a touching, spiritual, loving, non-judgmental encounter between two women who seek a bonding to a power greater than themselves.
The film even ends with Lady Bird engaging in a long night of drunkenness, puking, sex with a stranger, and being taken to the hospital. The following morning, she leaves the hospital and goes, with streaked makeup from the night before ~ to a church, listens to the choir in rehearsal, and has a silent epiphany, a spiritual awakening of some sort and emerges from the church with profound sense of authenticity that it seems she had been fruitlessly seeking in family, society, school and in life all along.
Like a Pope who claims a new name upon their accession; like the Biblical character, Jacob, who wrestles with an angel and receives a blessing and a name change to Israel ~ Lady Bird receives a name change as well. Lady Bird returns to her birth name. She is once again, Christine. It is difficult to overlook the first six letters of her name.

This piece is previously and recently published in The Porch Magazine.

Dwight Lee Wolter