Pistol Packing Pastor, Rabbi & Imam (Has It Come to This?)

 

Although it has been happening for a long time, there are an increasing number of attacks on institutions, individuals, and houses of faith. Here are a few historic and current examples:

  • Fifty years ago, fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four African American girls were killed and twenty-two others were injured in the blast at the church known as a center of activity in the civil rights movement.
  • Thirty-seven years ago, Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke tirelessly on behalf of the poor and victims of social injustice, was assassinated in church while offering Mass to the very people he sought to defend and protect.
  • Twenty years ago, while serving a church in Florida, I accepted an invitation to visit a mosque and was shown a new hole in the outside wall that was created by a drive-by shooter while the worship service was in progress.
  • Eight years ago, I presided at the Congregational Church of Patchogue (Long Island) over the funeral of an undocumented, Latino, hate crime murder victim named Marcelo Lucero. Shortly thereafter we convened an opportunity for alleged victims of hate crimes who did not feel safe going to the authorities, to come to the church to tell their stories without fear of violence, recrimination or deportation. I received numerous physical and verbal threats against my person, my son and my home.
  • Five years ago, I took my then teenage son to Dachau concentration camp where, in addition to scores of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and disabled persons were over 2,000 Catholic priests and other clergy had been imprisoned for speaking-out about Hitler and the Third Reich.
  • Two years ago, 21 Coptic Christian migrant workers were beheaded by ISIS on a beach in Libya that turned red with their innocent blood. Their execution was expertly filmed and distributed.
  • Two years ago, Dylann Roof murdered nine people, including the senior pastor, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in hopes of inciting a race riot. He represented himself at trial to ~ in his own words ~ show the world that he was not criminally insane and knew exactly what he was doing.
  • A few days after the Emanuel AME church massacre, I and other clergy were briefed at the Police Academy by the Police Commissioner, the Department of Homeland Security, and others on what to do if there is an active shooter loose in the church, mosque or synagogue. The police did their best to educate us and steady our trembling hands.
  • One year ago, Donald Trump came to Patchogue, Long Island. We held a Silent Vigil at the church where police were present. They also accompanied me to the venue where Trump was speaking and where I had been invited to meet him. I later received some disturbing mail that frightened our church office personnel who insisted we call the police. We did. They came and made a report.
  • Three months ago, I hosted a Post-Inaugural Peace Party on the evening of the marches on Washington, NYC and elsewhere. We wanted to be open just in case of violence at the marches and people wanting a place of peace and solace. Police were at the Peace Vigil for our protection. We appreciated the police care and concern.
  • Two months ago, over 100 headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were toppled in an act of alleged anti-Semitism.
  • One month ago, New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, asked state police to investigate the vandalism of headstones in a Jewish cemetery, citing a “dramatic increase in acts of hate and intolerance.”
  • Two weeks ago, 29 Christians were killed and 69 more were injured in a bomb attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt on Palm Sunday. The following week, Easter services in many Egyptian churches were cancelled for fear of similar violence and death on the day marking Jesus’ resurrection from a similar fate of unjust violence and death.

I am aware that it is not only religious institutions and people of faith that are being attacked and threatened. I am also aware that the police will never be able to prevent all future atrocities. I am also aware that the first window immediately inside the front door of the Suffolk County Police Department is for weapon permit applications. And I am also aware that just two weeks ago, the Alabama senate voted to allow Briarwood Presbyterian Church to form a private police force that the church believes is necessary to keep their congregation safe.

Many houses of faith (church, mosque, synagogue, etc.) want to be advocates for justice in addressing and confronting injustice and oppression.  I accept that there is always inherent danger in speaking truth to power, and in speaking truth to madness. But it seems that these attacks are, in part, an attempt to tell faith leaders and congregations to shut their mouth, lock their doors, and turn a blind eye to injustice or else become a target of terror.

Everybody knows that Islamophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, etc. is wrong but clergy and others will be less willing to preach it in their houses of faith if the consequence is being next on the hit list of those who dare to speak out.

I humbly ask this online congregation continue to empower and encourage houses of faith to speak and act boldly for justice; but I also ask you to find ways to help houses of faith to provide internal and external security against increasingly frequent and audacious attacks ~ lest fear and vulnerability succeed in silencing this and future generations if violence and intimidation continue unabated.

 

TRUMP BANS BIG BIRD

 

For the first time ever, a President of the United States has proposed the total slashing of funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This action would also eliminate funds for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR). Thus, the President, in his young administration, has advocated the simultaneous banning of Muslims and Big Bird.

 

 The National Endowment for the Arts represents less than 1/100 of 1% of the Federal budget; and yet the defunding will be a death sentence for many arts and humanities organizations. The obliteration of these programs will barely help Trump fund the Defense Department increases. The $58 billion increase in defense spending for 2018 alone could fund the NEA and NEH for 180 years.

 

 Gone will be NEA funding for a museum that is collecting and displaying the letters, photos and uniforms of soldiers who died fighting in World War I. Gone will be a NEH effort to open dialogues on veterans’ experiences of war with a focus on eliciting their expression on duty, heroism, suffering and patriotism. The list of obliteration of funding also includes libraries; the National Gallery of Art; youth symphonies; creative writing workshops for youth; the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans and many dance companies.

 

 Art often reaches people in ways that mere words cannot. Art and humanities often provide avenues of personal and societal healing; opportunities to gain perspective on our common humanity; and a vision of what we and other people and cultures experience. Art inspires people to accept the challenge to be more connected to each other as well as to their own potential.

Art matters. Humanities help. If you want to conquer a people you could buy more guns. But you could also deprive them of the ability to know who they are. Destroy their museums (ISIS knew this). Burn their historical documents (Hitler knew this). Cripple their transmission of culture and identity (slave owners knew this). Loot the institutions of faith, making sure to destroy or remove art, and the ornate certificates of baptism and marriage. Desecrate the hand-chiseled tombstones of ethnic minorities like we have seen a rash of recently in America. Leave them wondering who the hell they are, and where they came from, and you will wage war against their humanity.

That is why we must always endow our arts and endow our humanity. We must teach, encourage and assist people in accessing their creativity. We must preserve their self-described, sacred writings and other expressions of art. We must archive their/our tales, myths and legends. If you want to know what the world looks like without the arts and humanities ~ read the front page of the newspaper. A creative act by you today might be your resistance to defunding the NEA and NEH. Now that is a picture that is worth a thousand words!

 

 

 

POST INAUGURAL PEACE PARTY & “Letters to America”

Saturday, January 21st at 7:00 in the evening at the historic Congregational Church of Patchogue 95 East Main Street

“This land is your land, this land is my land… This land was made for you AND me…”~ Woody Guthrie.

Warranted or not ~ there is tremendous fear out there. But whether you are elated or deflated; frustrated or motivated; cheated and defeated ~ or ~ victorious and glorious ~ we are going to get through this! Join us (if you can) the day after the Inauguration for a Peace Party. The performances include featuring folk, popular, patriotic and classical musical performances that include: “This Land is Your Land” (Woody Guthrie); “The Times They Are a Changin’” (Bob Dylan); “America the Beautiful” (unaccompanied cello solo); “Give Peace a Chance” (John Lennon); “Higher Love” (Steve Winwood); and “Here Comes the Sun” (George Harrison) ~  all performed by various artists of various nations and ethnicities.

There will also be a lighting of Candles for Peace and a Time for Silence.

We are also collecting “Letters to America” to be read on Saturday night at this event, protecting your identity if you let me know that that is your preference. Send your brief letters to pastor@churchonmainstreet.org

Saint Santa

BREAKING NEWS: Santa has overtaken Jesus as “the reason for the season.” While many claim that a thriving movement cannot be measured in numbers, and that faith will ultimately triumph over folly ~ it is clear that religious festivities and services continue to lose ground to secular ones; spiritual is being routed by commercial; and Christmas is celebrated most often ~ not at communion in the church ~ but at the food court in the mall.

This reality will not be reversed with appeals to “come join us” or with defensive slogans like, “Keep Christ in Christmas” aimed at people who didn’t know he was leaving.

One way out of this dispute is to reach a spiritual détente and avoid an all-out war waged at the mall and manger. The “Christmasites” can celebrate “Christmas” and the “Holidites” can celebrate “Santamas.” We can be of one accord and verify the validity of both realities. Jesus is the Savior and Santa is a Saint. Characters dressed as Jesus and Santa could meet on Main Street. Jesus could offer Santa an olive branch, and Santa could offer Jesus a sprig of Mistletoe. The character depicting Savior Jesus could wear a Santa hat, and Saint Santa could don a crown of thorns.

Oh, church, hear my plea: Santa warrants being considered for sainthood: he has led a virtuous and heroic life in pursuit of peace on earth. Many people proclaim that miracles that have taken place through the intercession of Saint Santa. Scientifically unexplainable healings of frozen and broken hearts have taken place. Lives have been transformed. Hope has been restored. Sightings of Santa count in the millions. Letters, forwarded to the North Pole by the United States Post Office, have been delivered and answered ~ and everybody knows that mail delivered promptly and accurately at this time of year is, in and of itself, a miracle.

How in the world did we get into this simmering tension at the border where manger and mall meet? What would Jesus do? What would Santa say? Here is what both have said to me: We do not need to choose between being a disciple of Jesus and an elf of Santa. Although an ordained minister serving as pastor of an historic church on Long Island ~ I was not raised with Jesus; I was raised with Santa. I was not raised in the church; I was raised in the mall.

The stories of toys and candy made it seem easy to love Santa; but the stories of lepers and the birthday gift of myrrh (an embalming spice) to a baby made loving Jesus seem dangerous. I entered a church for the first time in my life at age 34. Some Christians to me they did not appreciate it that Santa kept a list of who is naughty and nice because it was divisive, shaming and blaming. Other Christians told me that Jesus kept a list of who is gay and who is straight, and that was divisive, shaming and blaming. It left me wondering who is making up stories; what is fact; and what is fiction.

I also wondered why stores at the mall where I encountered Santa were clean and open late; whereas churches where I encountered Jesus were musty and seldom open. It seemed that Santa warmed but Jesus warned me. Santa fed and Jesus bled. The bearded and plump Santa looked like a healthy role model. The bearded and lank Jesus dying on a cross did not. Santa was depicted as a jolly, old elf preparing to enter every home, heart and hearth bearing gifts without price tags. Jesus was depicted as a dead icon from a church asking for your money before even asking your name.

Yes, I entered a church for the first time in my life at age 34 and was baptized at 43 and ordained at 47. And so I say this as a Christian: It is no wonder that Santa is on the fire truck at the Holiday/Christmas parade and not Jesus. It is no wonder that more people go to the mall than to the church. It is no wonder that people choose the easier, softer story.

My first “religious” experience was at Macy’s department store in New York City where I took my then two year old son to meet Santa Claus. It was a Saturday morning. There were several billion (I am not exaggerating!) people in front of us in the line. It seemed like forty minutes passed between each step forward. Finally, (Hallelujah!) we made it through the pearly gates to Santa Land. Once inside, my son and I were instantly mesmerized by thousands of little, white lights suspended from the ceiling like stars in a midnight sky. We walked over wooden foot bridges with magical creatures swimming underneath us in rivers of multi-colored water. Elves sat high on tree branches, whistling Christmas carols and fishing with candy cane poles. Toy children lay on their backs, making snow-angels in fields of cotton candy. Real children, dressed as elves, handed out candy and pointed the way to the Promised Land of Santa’s living room. And suddenly, there he was! ~ a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself. His eyes ~ how they twinkled; his dimples, how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

And this Santa dude wanted nothing more in life than to fulfill the wishes of children, like mine, and their loved ones, like me.

That night I put my son to bed and reviewed the events of the day in my head. The story of John the Baptist came to mind. John was in the wilderness when the word of God came to him and he cried out! And I too had been crying out as a single parent wanting help in learning how to raise my child. It occurred to me that, while preparing to enter Santa Land, I too, like the Baptist, had been in the wilderness, crying out. My son and I were in the wilderness of New York City. We were in the wilderness of anonymity. I was just another nameless person with just another nameless kid standing on line in a department store waiting to catch a glimpse of beauty. And my child and I were in the wilderness of hope itself, waiting and hoping that something spiritually meaningful would happen to us ~ in Macy’s of all places!

What I was seeking, without even knowing it, was an experience of transcendence ~ of rising above and beyond the limits of my self. I did not know enough to care whether I found that transcendent experience in a toy or in a relationship with Christ. Saint Santa at Macy’s led me to Christ Jesus at church; where I have stayed ever since.

I accept that some people love Santa, but hate church and that some people hate Santa, but love church. But I know that Santa doesn’t hate church and Jesus doesn’t hate Santa. Jesus is Lord and Santa is Saint. And I am a disciple, a follower with leadership skills bestowed on me like gifts under a dazzling tree and I have transcended the wilderness and entered the Promised Land of milk and honey ~ by way of the promised land of sugar cookies and candy canes.

Jesus loves Saint Santa and anyone who helps people to get in touch with the living spirit of the God of their understanding with a sense of awe and awareness that there is at work in the universe a supreme spirit of love that is bigger than us all. If the Christian church was as spiritually rewarding and awe-filled as a trip to Santa Land, there would be no need for Saint Santa and he could finally retire to a long winter’s nap. People would see that the greatest gift they could possibly ask for and unwrap is the awareness of God’s presence among us at all times, not just at Christmas.

Sorry to end this so abruptly, but I have important things to attend to ~ I see Jesus in everyone; I hear sleigh bells ringing; I smell cookies; and my heart is held captive by hope.advent sanctuary photo

Beyond Prayers for Peace…

Imagine peace.

Attempt peace.
Experience peace.
Create peace.
Declare peace.
Know peace.
Glow with peace.
Grow in peace.
Be peace.
Rest in peace.
Go in peace.

Make peace with the present.
Make peace with the past.
Make peace in the moment.
Build peace that will last.

Make peace with the rain
And make peace with the crop.
Be at peace at the bottom.
Be at peace at the top.
Make peace with the wind
May the wind never stop

Make peace with the poor in pocket,
And with the spiritually poor;
Make peace with the huddled masses,
cowering on the floor.
Make peace with the blind ones
groping for the door.

Make peace with the Adams and Eves
banished from the Garden.
Make peace with lost and lonely ones
drooling on their dreams.

Make peace with the healing
In the music of the spheres
Make peace with the universe
That lies between your ears.

Make peace with the wise ones
And the ones who haven’t a clue.
Make peace with the ones you love
And the ones who once loved you.

Imagine peace between accuser and abuser.
“I wonder if you can…”
Imagine peace between the lion and the lamb,
between you and The Great I Am.
Imagine peace between vegan and carnivore.
Peace between both sides of the door.

Make peace with the untimely born
and with the soon departed.
Make peace with the inevitable
and that which will never be.

Make peace with the addict
in the attic of your mind.
Make peace with what you fear to lose
And what you hope to leave behind.

Make peace with what you can
and what you cannot be.
Make peace with the you you are
And the you you will never be.

Make peace with yourself.
Make peace with me.

Be at peace with the waters
Be at peace with the land.
Be at peace with the hour glass
Be at peace with the sand.

Taste each other’s music.
Listen to each other’s mood.
Imagine each other’s story.
Share each other’s food.

Imagine peace.
Attempt peace.
Experience peace.
Create peace.
Declare peace.
Know peace.
Glow with peace.
Grow in peace.
Go in peace.
Rest in peace.
Go in peace.
Be peace.

John Lennon & I Will See You on Sunday

I moved into my apartment on Central Park West in New York City on this date in 1980 and hours later John Lennon, who lived on the same street, just blocks away, was killed. John Lennon changed my life. The proceeds from my first book purchased a piece of his art. My second book is dedicated to him. My grandson, Lennon, (2.5 years old now) is named after him. And this Sunday at 7:00 at the Congregational Church of Patchogue, “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” will be sung by Eddie Ayala at the “Holiday Concert & Community Sing-Along.” A classical orchestra & chorus will also perform. $10 helps domestic violence victims. I hope, pray and believe that this would make Mr. Lennon pleased and proud.082

The Proposed Mandatory Registry of All Muslims

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Socialist….Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me ~ and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ German Pastor Martin Niemoller
This poem, as it has often been called, has been adapted to fit many circumstances. That is part of its long and broad appeal. Let’s continue that tradition a bit longer and broader:

First they came to burn women at the stake who had been accused of being “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600’s, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a woman accused of being a witch.

Then they came for women who committed adultery and forced them to sew the scarlet letter “A” (for adultress) on their coats, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not an adulteress.

Then they came for Japanese Americans, including children, and forcibly relocated and incarcerated them during WW2, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Japanese American.

Then they came for the Jews and forced them into concentration camps and tattooed numbers on their forearms and stole their dignity, their property, their names, their health, their freedom and their very lives and I felt terrible about it, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Jew.

Then they came to mass arrest gays at a bar in New York City and threw them into police vans and carted them to jail, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not gay.

Then, barely a few months ago, the President of the Philippines advocated the mass murder of thousands of drug addicts to rid society of its problem with addiction, and I did not speak out ~ because I am not a drug addict living in the Philippines.

But did you know that when the Nazis took over Denmark and ordered that all Jews wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes, the King, who was not Jewish, also wore the Star of David and encouraged all his people to do the same?

And did you know that the German Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller did more than simply write this famous “poem”?  He spent the last seven years of the Nazi regime in concentration camps because of what he preached, wrote and did.

I hereby pledge that if the President-elect of the United States follows through on his intent to mandate the registry of Muslims solely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity  ~ this ordained Christian minister of German ancestry who carries a United States passport will register as a Muslim, and I will encourage all other Christians to do the same.

I will do this as a Christian. I will do this as a child of God. I do this as an American patriot. I will do this because if we enact policy that tolerates and even mandates inhumanity, injustice and immorality ~ I am unsure of who they will come for next.

Maybe they will expand from issues related to ethnicity and immigration to include the elderly who are, after all, past their peak as workers and contributors too the tax base and a financial drain on the economy. Maybe they will come for people with “disabilities” that are so darn expensive to care for.

Does this sound farfetched? I took my son to the “concentration camp” in Dachau, Germany a couple of years ago when he was in high school in America. Before he went off to college, left the nest, and settled into middle class American life ~ I wanted him to see what can happen in a country that falls under the sway of a charismatic leader who offers the opiate of easy solutions to fear and the promise of the realization of omnipotence and power. I wanted my son to learn that many people imprisoned at Dachau were not Jews; including many who were “merely” homosexuals, avant garde artists, Gypsies, the elderly and infirm. Do you know what Hitler called these people? He called them “useless eaters.”

I want my son to remember that Jesus once healed ten lepers and only one of them came back to say thanks, and that one was a Samaritan, a “foreigner” ~ one of the “unclean.” I want my son to ponder whether Jesus is telling us to be careful about what  “foreigners” we are being disdainful and condescending toward.

I want my son to remember that Thanksgiving Day harkens back to the Pilgrims breaking bread with native Indians who were the residents of the land, and that we Pilgrims and Puritans were the foreigners, the strangers in a strange land.

Pardon me while I thump my Bible and remind my son that Jesus said that blessed are the peacemakers for they shall know peace. And blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth. And blessed are those who love their neighbors as themselves.

 

WE DON’T ALWAYS GET TO CHOOSE OUR TEACHERS

WE DON’T ALWAYS GET TO CHOOSE OUR TEACHERS. And the lessons are not always sweet. Donald Trump, I believe, will prove to be a great teacher, but not necessarily in the ways he intended. I may learn how to be or how not to be from him but, either way, I will learn. I will also pray for him and, in so doing, I will be praying for us all. May our eyes be opened; our hands made steady; our purpose solidified; our hearts fortified; our compassion justified; may our pain motivate us; our love strengthen us; and may our lessons be well-learned. I look forward, with caution, but also with hope and faith, to the journey.

NOTHING WENT “WRONG” WITH AMERICA

FRIENDS IN GERMANY WHO SERVE THERE AS RELIGIOUS LEADERS WROTE ME THIS MORNING ASKING, “WHAT WENT WRONG WITH AMERICA ON ELECTION TUESDAY?” AND I RESPONDED:

Nothing went wrong with America. Representative democracy works here. But more specifically, there are huge areas in America populated by poor, white and non-white working class people who feel bitter and abandoned by a self-seeking government (11% approval rating of Congress). These rural and industrial-area poor persons were not content to cheer-on Wall Street financial gains when they couldn’t find a job. They were not interested in having their domestic or international fears minimized or dismissed. They voted for the message as much if not more so than the messenger. Furthermore, the Democratic Party made a bad decision to mock the huge support of Bernie Sanders in favor of an establishment, entrenched, wealthy, old-guard candidate when people were fed up and wanted change. Trump was right in saying, “Poor Bernie.” Trump and Sanders ~ as candidates with a radical message ~ had a lot in common.

Personally, I have been in regular, continuous contact with the Republican Party Chairman here on Long Island ever since my confrontation with Donald Trump that made national news. The Chairman reached out to me, even inviting me to meet Trump at a fundraiser. I have told the Republican Party that I was never seeking their defeat ~ but I was and will continue to seek the defeat of hatred, injustice and evil in ANY of its manifestations. \

Now, as always, my primary prayer is, “Thy Will Be Done.” Greetings to my soul sisters and brothers in Germany. Tell them that hope springs eternal, and if America isn’t great already ~ then it surely will be as we, according to President-elect Donald J. Trump, “make America great again.” Now it is our turn.

VOTE FOR THE SERENITY PRAYER

One primary thing we did not get in the 2016 presidential primary is serenity. Now that the election debates are now over, many people have observed that like it or not, Donald Trump isn’t going to change and neither is Hillary Clinton. And while one candidate has tons of money and the other had tons of experience; neither money nor experience can buy serenity. With all that’s going on in the world today, we could use some serenity. But where and how does one find it? Many wise and learned ones ~ religious, secular, or higher-powered ~ say that serenity comes primarily from acceptance, courage and wisdom.

Serenity, acceptance, courage and wisdom are not religious attributes. They may manifest in religious persons just as they may manifest in those who are not. And that is why I believe “The Serenity Prayer” is the perfect guide to get our nation safely through the dire straits of troubled waters otherwise known as our 2016 presidential campaign.

By way of brief introduction, the Serenity Prayer was written in a little stone cottage in Heath, Massachusetts by theologian and professor, Reinhold Niebuhr, around 1932. It became widely known when it was printed on cards and distributed to the troops during World War II. It became even more widely known when an early member of Alcoholics Anonymous saw it in a New York newspaper obituary and many AA groups began to use it. It remains an extremely popular prayer. Let us begin this three part exploration of the Serenity Prayer with the first third of it:

PART ONE:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept

the things I cannot change…”

Where do you find serenity? I find it by walking the beach and watching the tide coming in and going out. Part of what I like about the tide is that I am utterly in awe of and powerless over it. No matter what I think, feel, or do; and whether I am present or not ~ the tide comes in, and the tide goes out. I accept that.

But how many times do we suffer needlessly because we lack the willingness to accept the things we cannot change? Like trees refusing to bend with the wind, we snap. Like a tide rising despite our refusal to accept the change that life brings ~ we lose the ability to experience the serenity that acceptance often brings. But how do we gain acceptance of things we cannot change?

We can realize the blessings of the Serenity Prayer by accepting (not denying) our present circumstances as they are; by accepting ourselves as we are (not as we wish we were); and by accepting others as they are (not as we think they should be). It is in accepting our weaknesses; our unrealistic expectations; and our unreasonable demands that new strengths are discovered and developed. Acceptance of people, places and things that we cannot force to conform to our desires may feel like defeat; but acceptance eventually becomes the foundation upon which sustainable change can be built.

Notice that the first third of this prayer does not say that “I will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” It says, “God grant me…” The Serenity Prayer is a prayer, not a self-help mantra. It is a petition to God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. But Alcoholics Anonymous, as well as many other persons and organizations, adopted this prayer because of its appeal to all persons, religious or not, and a petition to the “God” or “god” of their understanding. Some people, for example, define God as “Good Orderly Direction” while others subscribe to a definition according to their birth right or choice.

Despite or because of these similarities and differences; the Serenity Prayer calls us to a soulful or spiritual axiom that by accepting what we cannot do; we create an opening where God can gain access to our soul and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

*

PART TWO:

God, grant me the…courage

to change the things I can…”

In part one, we considered the tide as a lesson in acceptance of things we cannot change. You can stand on the beach and threaten retribution if the tide dares to come in; and you can later plead or bargain with the tide if it will promise not to go out. But neither threats nor pleading will change the results. The onus is thus on us to seek the serenity to accept [the tide] we cannot change.

Here in part two, allow me to tell you another beach story: A woman was walking along a beach that was littered with dead and dying starfish. Periodically, she would stoop down, pick one up and toss it back into the ocean. A man was watching her and shouted, “There are thousands of starfish stranded on this beach. Your efforts won’t make a difference.” The strolling woman stooped and picked up one more starfish, tossed it back into the ocean and said, “It makes a difference to that one.” Clearly, this woman knew that she was powerless to completely reverse a dire situation; but she had decided to change the things she can, no matter what a doubting onlooker was shouting at her from the sidelines.

Many times, we feel our actions will not matter and we shrug our shoulders and say things like, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Other times, we give up on our dreams as if they were dead and dying starfish. We abandon our dreams, without first trying to place some of them back into the nourishing water.

We may even choose to do nothing about global poverty and hunger. We feel we can’t possibly make much of a difference ~ so we choose to make no difference whatsoever and we… walk… away… without realizing that when we offer even a simple bowl of soup to a hungry person ~ that one bowl of soup makes a big difference to that hungry soul, that malnourished starfish.

A person saving a dying starfish on a beach, and a person serving a hungry person in a soup kitchen are changing the things they can ~ but what about the word “courage” in this second section of the Serenity Prayer: “courage to change the things we can”? Does it really take courage to change? Not always. You can change a person’s life forever by barging into a situation with guns (or words) blazing ~ shooting first and aiming later ~ but that is not courage. There are other words to describe such behavior.

The Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz says, “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? What makes the Hottentot so hot? What have they got that I ain’t got?”

Many people claim that if they could eliminate fear from their lives then they would be more courageous. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear; but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

What, to you, is more important that fear? If courage is not recklessness and arrogance; then what is it? Courage ~ to many spiritual and/or religiously-inclined people ~ is depending on God (however we may conceive, believe, understand or mis-understand him, her or it) to guide us as we do the next right thing. Courage is demonstrating ~ not what we can do ~ but what God can do to and through us. Courage is not a way to bully our way into victory. It takes courage to realize and accept that while God may not spare us from all adversity; God will surely guide us through it.  God is a source of strength and help in times of trouble. Therefore, we shall not fear… or at least we shall not allow fear to paralyze us into inaction as we ask God to grant us the courage to change the things we can.

*

PART THREE:

God, grant me the…wisdom

to know the difference…”

Welcome to part three, where we pray not only for the serenity to accept the change we cannot change and the courage to change the things we can ~ but also for “the wisdom to know the difference.”

Look around the world today. Do you see a whole lot of wisdom? Maybe wisdom is a thing of the past. Maybe the modern-day wise ones avoid the media, politics and religious. Or maybe people are looking for wisdom in all the wrong places. Or maybe looking for wisdom isn’t such a wise thing to do.

Wisdom isn’t simply deep intelligence, worldly knowledge, vast experience or even compassionate understanding. You don’t get wisdom out of a textbook, not even the Bible. If you could, then everyone who read the Bible would be wise and that clearly is not so. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” it says in Proverbs.

You also don’t necessarily receive wisdom simply by listening to others; even if the ones you listen to are wise. If that were so, then everyone with ears to hear would be wise and that too is clearly not so.

And you also don’t necessarily receive wisdom by accumulating experiences. We all, I assume, know people who have done things over and over again and yet seem to have failed to learn, grow or change from them. A wise friend refers to this phenomena as, “repeating the same year over and over again between birthdays.” Experience, like knowledge, in and of itself is not enough.

And it pains me deeply to admit and accept that you don’t receive wisdom by writing about wisdom either. If that were so, the author of every thesis or dissertation that line the shelves of libraries would be wise; the author of every article in every magazine in the waiting rooms of every office would be wise; and every sermon of every clergy person would reflect their wisdom. But writing about wisdom, like experience and knowledge, in and  of itself is not  enough.

Despite my many disclaimers thus far in this writing that the Serenity Prayer is not the exclusive domain of religiously-inclined persons; bear with me as I tell a story from Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Old Testament and a very brief one from Christian scriptures, also known as the New Testament:

Millennia ago, Solomon became King of Israel. He could have asked God for many things but Solomon asked for wisdom (1 King 3:9) and God said to him that since he had asked for wisdom and not for long life or wealth for himself, nor did he ask for the death of but enemies ~ but had asked for discernment in administering justice ~ God declared that God would do as Solomon had asked. And so God granted Solomon a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like him, nor will there ever be. And people came from the ends of the earth to hear the Wisdom of Solomon.

In the New Testament, Jesus was said to be full of wisdom even as a young child. Later, Jesus taught in his hometown synagogue and people were astonished and asked where he got this wisdom and mighty works (Matt 13:54). The conclusion was that something greater than Solomon was present in the young Jew named Jesus (Luke 11:31).

So where does wisdom come from? True wisdom, as simple as it seems, is found in praying and asking for it. Thus, the Serenity Prayer could also be called the Acceptance Prayer; the Change Prayer; the Courage Prayer; and the Wisdom Prayer. This prayer reminds us that wisdom is, ultimately, a gift from God, whoever we may understand God to be. The prayer petitions: “God grant us the wisdom to know the difference” between when we should accept the things we cannot change and changing the things we can.

In this presidential election season of rancor and debate where one of the few things upon which people agree is that we are hitting new lows on an almost daily basis ~ perhaps it is indeed wise to pray to the God or god of our understanding or mis-understanding that there will be an opening where God can gain access to our soul and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, one day at a time. Most certainly, we could use a little help.

The Serenity Prayer, as written by Reinhold Niebuhr, is actually much longer than the few verses with which most of us are familiar. Check it out. It is a good investment of the ten seconds or so that it takes to read, and the ten seconds or maybe a lifetime that it may take to embody and fulfill.

And if you agree with this, visit #SerenityPrayer2016Election and cast your ballot to make it the Officially Unofficial prayer for the 2016 election. Let’s vote for serenity, acceptance, courage and wisdom. Meanwhile, hear our prayer:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”