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

Free Barber Shop

This program has been a great way to “get the word out” in the community about what a church can do, to increase its profile while also being of service. The editor & voiceover of the video even alludes to the parallel to foot washing in the Biblical tradition, (most appropriate during Lent). This Precious 1.5 minute video says it all: Free Barber Shop. No questions asked. No gimmicks. No agenda. The response has been great.

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/mobile-haircuts-program-1.29260661#user=56bbbdbe18ff43a1248cf802&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Morning-Update

Palm Sunday Sundae

If Jesus bothers to time-travel 2,000+ years from Israel to Long Island to visit (among other places) the Congregational Church of Patchogue; I have a feeling he would welcome something more than us waving palm branches at him. Tomorrow, April 14th, is Palm Sunday. But there are no palm trees growing on Long Island. We had to import them from Florida. Many of our church kids have never seen a palm branch actually connected to a palm tree. We want to honor and welcome him with local fare that people can better relate to. Therefore, we will make him a root beer float. It might (who knows?) be his first one, so we are going to serve it in a frosted glass with lots of froth on the top. Keeping it real and having fun on Long Island. Peace Whenever Possible, Pastor Dwight.

Palm Sunday

MUCH HOOPLA IS NOW OVER, BUT….

MUCH HOOPLA IS NOW OVER: gifts enjoyed or returned; bellies bulging & diets begun; ornaments hibernating again in basements & attics; parties & parades departed… and Earth settles into a long winter nap. But in the bleak mid-winter, with seeds and soil sleeping, Spring will soon cast off her blanket and rise once more to meet the morn. Peace, Dwight Lee Wolterstrawberry solo

Jesus Was a Donor (& so was my 6 year old daughter)

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19b

Eleven days after doing everything possible to save his life, the family decided to withdraw life support. A while later, someone came out of the operating room and said, “Jim passed away twenty-eight minutes ago, and he has already saved two lives.” Jim, like Jesus, was a donor.

After years of silence, the beepers of two people who had never met went off simultaneously. They needed to immediately begin a protocol for receiving a live-saving kidney. Their two lives were forever bound together by the sacrifice of yet another person they had never met, Jim, who had laid down his life for his “friends” so that they could pick their lives up again. The same is true for those who received his corneas and other parts of the earthly body he no longer needed.

In John 15:13, we hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” But laying down your life for others does not necessarily entail dying. We lay down our sacrifice of blood for transfusions. We donate our food for the bellies of people we will never meet. In church, we benefit from the sacrificial offerings of ushers, teachers, greeters, the choir and others who contribute to our survival. Just attending church is a sacrifice of the opportunity to stay home on a Sunday morning. We also receive the sacrifices of merciful, living, loving people who lay down their unreasonable demands; unrealistic expectations and harsh judgment.

We can lay down our life for our friends after our death. We can lay down our life for our friends before death as well.

Prayer

Eternal God, in our living and in our dying may our love be a holy and sacrificial offering to the friends we know and the friends we will never meet. We pray this in remembrance of you.Maya 5

It Takes a Village to Build a Toilet Paper Pyramid that Benefits Vets & Victims

It takes a village to raise a pyramid. The Congregational Church of Patchogue initiated this project to provide toilet paper for homeless veterans and domestic violence shelter residents. But we could not have done it without toilet paper contributions from the Fire Department; two Chambers of Commerce; the VFW; the American Legion; Temple Beth El; the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI); the Turkish Cultural Center; a few churches; the regional library; the Girl Scouts; the Alive After Five street festival committee; several children and parents from our church; many organizations,; businesses; and 1,500 individuals who contributed and participated in this sweaty and joyous event using 15,000 rolls.

Noteworthy, we received no corporate or foundation support or donations, although we did solicit them. Power to the people! Grants can be given and taken away and often arrive with stifling conditions. But they cannot match the power within 1,500 beating hearts and helping hands, each carrying a single roll of toilet paper.

Scores of lovely individuals created a team of hope, love, caring, sharing and empathy. Plus, at least two legislators (Democrat and Republican) agreed to sponsor a bill to change the laws that classify TP as a “luxury” that cannot be included in grant requests. Founded in 1793, we continue to see great community acclaim and support of our mission and ministries. We took it to the streets and it exploded into joy! This speaks loudly to our continuing relevance and vitality.

http://www.ucc.org/news_as_toilet_paper_pyramid_goes_up_on_long_island_so_does_awareness-07232018

Peace,
Pastor Dwight

TP from Street to MoonPyramid Power 2

The Star-Spangled Banner Still Waves Over a Divided Nation

Frances Scott Key, author of the words to our national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. He was a lawyer and poet who found himself in a boat on the Chesapeake Bay during the highly unpopular War of 1812 in an attempted prisoner exchange of a captured British officer and an American physician. Key stood on deck with pen in hand, hoping against hope that dawn’s early light would reveal the United States flag still waving. Key penned a poem that does not glorify battle; but sees that freedom from foe must sometimes be fought for as it offers gratitude for unexpected salvation.

“Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

In our country today, we face the dawn of challenges too numerous to mention. At dawn’s early light, will there be enough light to notice current threats to freedom that come from within us and among us? Will we find the courage necessary to increase the intensity of the light and to speak truth about what must be done without casting darkness on those who dare to disagree? I will entrust you to your conscience and conviction.
As for me and mine, I pray for a prisoner exchange between inertia and action. I pray that I will be courageous enough to allow my love of God to illuminate my love of country; and my love of country to illuminate my love of God. At dawn’s early light, may I proudly hail that not only is the flag still there, but so too is my courage, my country, and my abiding love of both.

Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter
7.4.18

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: ADDICTION ON PARADE

Watching Anthony Bourdain douse every episode of his hit show, Parts Unknown, in alcohol was always painful to witness. He spoke frequently and eloquently of his addiction, but always in the past tense, as if it was an historical event that happened to a person he used to be. But an addict’s addiction is never in the past. I have no idea what the toxicology results of his autopsy will eventually reveal; but I do know that Mr. Bourdain was an addict until the moment he died. Addiction is a terminal disease. Sober or not, you die with addiction as much as you die with the color of your own eyes.

Anthony Bourdain’s drug-of-choice was heroin. But moving from heroin (often called “dry goods”) to alcohol will, at best, delay the dire and inevitable consequences of addiction. I know that from personal as well as professional experience. Moving from “dry goods” to wet ones, Bourdain made addiction and self-destruction look like so much fun. He made nine straight hours of drinking and eating in a French restaurant with other men in their sixties look so jolly and innocent. His artistry and denial was so well-crafted that it almost made it seem to the addict writing this piece that I too could slosh and slip my way from one adventure to another without consequences. And that, sadly made his dangerous to people in recovery. He was a walking billboard for relapse or, if you were lucky, for relapse prevention.

Anthony Bourdain was a great artist; a seemingly sweet soul; and a fine journalist with a deep and insatiable curiosity about people. But he did not seem particularly interested in himself as an addict. In that regard, Anthony Bourdain’s life was, to its very end, itself a tale of Parts Unknown.

Take heart: Addiction is a treatable disease: it is for you, for me, for Anthony, for everybody. But once your drug-of-choice or even a “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, you just might find, you get what you need” substitute is imbibed… all bets are off. The relapse rate for addicts is astronomical. The deadly game of “Russian Roulette” using drugs to get off alcohol and alcohol to get off drugs is futile. This is true whether you are a graduate of Yale or jail; or you reside on Park Avenue or park bench. But there is hope ~ not for Anthony ~ but for those still living with addiction who can use his sad and beautiful soul as a cautionary tale for anyone who forgets the hell they came from, even for a minute.

A toxicology report will attempt to define the “how” of Anthony Bourdain’s death; but we may never know “why” a brilliant, handsome, famous, wealthy and beloved man died alone in a hotel bathroom with his neck in a noose. Denial, depression, addiction and loneliness will not be on the toxicology report; but they will be written in his book of life. For an addict in recovery, trying to explain addiction to those who are not in recovery ~ no explanation is possible. For an addict in recovery trying to explain addiction to others who are in recovery ~ no explanation is necessary.

And so, another addict bites the dust. Many of us in recovery fellowships have seen so much death with so much regularity ~ the shouting and shrieking and the shock have long-ago worn off. But the sadness and the love have not. Another brilliant writer ~ not Bourdain, but Shakespeare ~ once said, “The world ends not with a bang, but a whimper.” And then we silently and solemnly bury our own.

You have left us wounded and whimpering, Tony. That said, thanks for the life lesson that your death provides. We die alone but we recover together. Your show, as countless people have already said, was about far more than food. It seems to me, as a fellow addict in recovery ~ that your show was always about trying to find just one more reason to stay alive. Thanks for celebrating us. And now let us celebrate you. Free at Last! Free at Last! Thank God almighty! Anthony Bourdain is free at last! Rest in Peace.

 

Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York, and the author of several books on addiction, parenting in recovery, codependence and forgiveness.

 

 

The Carousel of Love

A CAROUSEL OF LOVE
I raised my daughter, Celeste, in Manhattan and we spent about ten hours a week in Central Park. She rode in the seat on the back of my bicycle through the park to and from school each day. Sometimes, on the way home from school, we ate sandwiches on park benches for dinner. On weekends, we entered the park in the morning with picnic lunches and emerges at night having also feasted on endless, free entertainment (not counting tips) and watched an array of interesting people speaking an array of languages. We had countless rides on the Central Park Carousel. My child climbed the “mountains” in the playgrounds countless times and I never forgot to keep a band aid in my wallet.
Now my daughter is married; has twin seven-year-old children and a three-year-old to round-out the army. She has a strong, centered and loving husband. They live in San Francisco now, about as far away from Manhattan as you can get and still be in the continental United States. I go to visit them 3-4 times a year, but it is never enough. Yesterday, they were in Manhattan, passing-through, visiting and staying with old friends in the city and making their way to a wedding in another state.
My portion of their lives this time was four hours. We met in Central Park at one of the same playgrounds where my daughter played as a child. My granddaughter climbed to the top of the same mountain that had been patiently waiting a generation for her. The skyline has changed but the sky has not.
My granddaughter looks like her mother and her mother looks like me. I know how that happens. Atop the mountain, my granddaughter licked her upper lip in the exact same way that my daughter licked her upper lip thirty years ago atop the same mountain. It was and is a sign of their internal excitement and inspiration. Same gesture. Different generation. Thirty years apart. I do not know how that happens. And I do not care.
What I do know, and what I do care about, at least at this moment, is that time circles back to scoop up its own children and places them, like fresh eggs, in the basket of eternity. And I do know that love does not hoard. And I do know that spirit does not end. And I do know that life takes no hostages and yet also spares no one. And I do know that we may be the center of someone’s universe for one inhale and one exhale and then they are gone. They may come back, but only to leave again.
Even the ones that stay, go. And even the ones who go, stay. The comings and goings; the gatherings and scatterings; the traditions and transitions; the introductions and conclusions; all take place as one generation hoists another generation onto the carousel, buckles them in with a flimsy belt that offers little more than the illusion of safety, and then the music begins, as does the creaking sound of life beginning to turn again; and then, suddenly and magically, we are laughing, loving, taking photos in hopes that the moment can be recaptured later.
A menagerie of people climb onto a menagerie of ornate carousel animals that go up and down and round and round but somehow also go nowhere, until a bell rings, and the music stops, and the carousel slows, until it too stops, and children clamor for more tickets to return to a circular moment of life that can never quite be recreated, but which can, at best, be remembered, until the memory also slows, and stops, so that another lip-licking, inspired and excited generation can take its seat on the carousel of love that is the only thing that will never truly end.

Dwight Lee Wolter
6.9.28

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