Truth and Meaning: Religious Freedom Simplified

You run a business in a small town in Indiana. You have lived in this town your entire life and you know everyone who lives here. You are a devout Christian and you live your life according to the teachings of Jesus. How can you know if your Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion is being violated?

Let’s say that one day, 10 different customers enter your store. Now that your state has passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, you might decide to not to serve certain people because doing so violates your religious beliefs. Which of the following customers would you turn away?
  1. A teenager that spent time in a juvenile facility for petty larceny.
  2. A homemaker who needs help with her drinking problem.
  3. The local state representative who used incendiary mailers to defeat his last opponent.
  4. A Muslim who attends a mosque in a nearby town.
  5. The loan officer at the town bank.
  6. A local pig farmer.
  7. The town fortune teller and expert on horoscopes.
  8. A man who is sleeping with his neighbor’s wife.
  9. A woman who has not been baptized.
  10. A gay man.

If you picked #10, then you believe that your religion preaches that homosexuality is an abomination. If, however, you did not also pick ALL of the other nine, then your judgment about the gay customer is not truly based on religious beliefs, but on prejudice. If you do not refuse all 10 of these customers, then you are condoning either stealing, drunkenness, giving false witness, heathen worship, usury, eating impure foods, wizardry and magic, covetousness, and unrepentance – all sins according to your Bible.



So the very simple question is this: Are your basing your decision to serve any particular customer on your religious beliefs, or simply on your personal bias against certain groups of people you feel are sinful?
Here is another way to look at it. Let’s say that these same 10 customers enter your store. What possible actions that you could take would you deem inappropriate according to your religious beliefs?
  1. Looking the other way because the teen is just acting out.
  2. Selling the homemaker a flask of whiskey.
  3. Printing the incendiary flyers for the state representative.
  4. Selling the Muslim a rug that might be used for prayer.
  5. Co-signing a loan for a friend.
  6. Buying bacon and homemade sausages to sell to others.
  7. Asking what is in store for Aquarians today.
  8. Selling the man a box of condoms.
  9. Selling the woman a gun.
  10. Taking an order for a rainbow-colored wedding cake.

Again, if you picked #10, then you believe that your action would facilitate homosexuality and offer tacit approval of marriage equality. But if you did not pick ALL of the other nine, then you are discriminating not on the basis of religion, but because of your bias against gays.

You are not God. It is not your task to sit in judgment of others. You are not pouring the whiskey down the woman’s throat. You are not defaming a virtuous candidate. You are not forcing people to perform acts of ritual impurity. You are not condoning adultery. And you are not giving a sociopath license to kill. Neither are you putting two men in a bed and telling them to have sex. You are baking a cake. That’s it.
If you want to run a business according to your religious principles, fine. But, you don’t get to pick which rules of your denomination you will follow and which you will not, because that is not faith – that is discrimination and a violation of basic civil and human rights.

I, Zombie

As Halloween approached, a long-time friend asked me, “So why do you people like to get together dressed up as zombies?” Not surprisingly, this is a question I have asked myself as I shambled with thousands of people over the years at Monroeville Mall (site of the original Dawn of the Dead movie).

First of all, we Pittsburghers like to pay homage to one of our own, George A. Romero. Romero redefined the horror movie in 1968 with the release of Night of the Living Dead, bringing a gritty reality to a genre that had long ceased to really frighten anybody. Films like Frankenstein, which had caused heart attacks in the 1930’s, had become quaint anachronisms. And, viewers needed something at least more grisly that the nightly details of senseless mayhem occurring in Vietnam entering our homes daily on the evening news.

Second, Romero brought social consciousness to horror films. From his courageous depiction of strong minority and women characters to the insistence that only reason can overcome bureaucratic incompetence, mindless consumerism, and greed, Romero’s films exude a concern for the future welfare of human society. By showing the slow evolution of the zombies to greater awareness and unified action, he held up his mirror to our society rife with decay and self-destruction.

Third, zombie walks are a fantastic way for geeks and freaks and otherwise “normal” folk to get together and share their creativity and imagination. I have met some amazing folk through these events who I otherwise would never have known (I officated at the wedding of the couple in this picture a month later!). And the work required to pull off these often huge events brings friends together in common effort and joy.

And, in the end, it’s just fun. The fake blood, plastic brains, groaning and shambling are just a riotous good time, especially when you watch the faces of unsuspecting onlookers. In a world that appears too often to be going mad, dressing up like a zombie seems to me one of saner activities. So, this Halloween, get out the makeup, tear some clothes, and drag that leg with the rest of us zombies!

The Transient and the Permanent

I just learned that a small piece of my personal history was no more. The old South Hills movie theatre in Dormont has been demolished. Now, obviously, I am not the first middle-aged person to see his childhood movie house torn down, nor will I be the last. Nevertheless, I will mourn this passing and commemorate the place that the South Hills Theatre will always occupy in my heart.

Before being carved up into four ridiculously sized “cinemas,” the South Hills Theatre was a cavernous place with a huge balcony. In the old days, the place had hosted all sorts of performances, such as organ concerts, before becoming predominately a movie house. But, I wouldn’t know about the rest of the building because I sat in the same seat every time I visited.

It began in the summer of 1972 or 1973, when the theatre ran a promotion, showing a different classic film every night for $1.00 admission. My best friend Frank and I must have seen at least 30 movies that summer, mostly old black and white films like they would later show on AMC and Turner Classics. But, of course, this was before cable TV took over our leisure time. Frank and I would sit in the same two seats, about three or four rows from the front, on the right aisle. We often joked that we would someday buy those seats and have them bronzed in memorial of our loyalty.

Of course, summer came to an end as it always does. After high school, I found less reason and time to visit the South Hills. Like little jackie paper, I left my magic dragon behind and over time its scales fell off as well. I remember returning some years ago and feeling great sadness for its dilapidated condition. I suppose that the place (now renamed Cinema 4) actually died for me that day.

So, now the South Hills Theatre is irretrievably gone forever. Gone are those fantasies of hitting the lottery and buying the place on a lark. Gone are those dreams of reliving that wonderful summer of discovering a new classic every night in my personal seat. Like my youth, those wonderful times of learning to drive and eating Mineo’s pizza with high school friends, live only in my memories.

But, while the bricks and mortar may no longer retain their solid configuration in the real world, the South Hills Theatre stands unmolested in my mind. My love of films engendered by that wonderful place lives on strong. My appreciation of classics stands strong against the wrecking balls of unimaginative writing and needless remakes. The body of the South Hills Theatre may be dead, but its soul lives on with every film I recommend to a young person who thinks that CGI can substitute for good acting. Rest in Peace, South Hills Theatre!

Setting a Course

Steward is one of those fascinating words that acquired a multitude of meanings over the centuries. Today, steward generally means one who carefully and responsibly manages something entrusted to their care. Appearing first in early Middle English, the stīweard cared for the pigpens, the ward of the sty. In time, people applied the term to those employed in large households or estates to manage domestic concerns, such as the supervision of servants, the collection of rents, and the keeping of accounts.

As civilization and technology expanded, steward took on the new role of the naval officer in charge of the officer’s quarters and mess onboard the ship. The word later became applied to all employees on ships, trains, buses, or airplanes responsible for the comfort of passengers, taking orders for, or distributing food. In early 20th century America, the shop steward became the union representative responsible for dealing with management. High quality restaurants and resorts employ wine stewards – quite a long way from tending the pig’s sty.

Today, stewardship expands even further. The Earth Charter resulted from worldwide, cross cultural dialogue on common goals and shared values. The project began as a United Nations effort, but was carried forward and completed by a global civil society initiative. Launched in 2000 by the Earth Charter Commission, an independent international entity, the work is a declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The Charter asserts that “common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning…This requires a change of mind and heart…a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility.” In a sense, the Earth Charter stakes the claim that every person is a steward of every community and of our entire planet.

Every other year, the delegates at the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association select a Study Action Issue for a four-year process of examination. The issue selected in 2008 and currently under review among our congregations – Ethical Eating – may seem from its title to concern only issues of meat consumption and vegetarian or vegan diets. We are certainly not the first religious organization to discuss the production, distribution, and use of food. But, the Ethical Eating Study Action Issue goes far beyond this issue, to include the broad aspects of planetary stewardship.

For instance, some people enjoy many food choices while others remain hungry. The food industry produces wealth, but small farmers and farm workers are often poor. Food production and transportation contribute to many environmental problems. The scope of the discussion encompasses a wide range of stewardship issues, many of which bear relevance as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day this coming Thursday. Let’s briefly review some of those issues.

Climate change
Scientific research increasingly links our food production and distribution systems to climate change and the energy crisis, uncovering deep-seated problems with our agricultural infrastructure. Leaders from many faith traditions now call for politicians, business leaders, the agriculture industry, and religious institutions to assume more responsibility for our planet’s health. Ordinary people – not just environmentalists or those working for social justice and rights issues, but people who are busy balancing issues of everyday living – are recognizing that the true cost of food far exceeds what we pay at the cash register. These costs include global warming, pollution, the destruction of ecosystems, and the degradation of fresh water supplies and arable land.

Hunger
We waste over 3,000 pounds of food per second in the United States. According to the Department of Agriculture, each year 27% of food produced for human consumption in America is lost at the retail, consumer, and food service levels. That’s nearly 1.5 tons of food for every man, woman, and child in the United States who face hunger. Globally, 4.3 pounds of food are produced daily for every woman, man, and child on earth – enough to make all of us fat. Yet every year, six million children across the globe die as a result of hunger and malnutrition – that’s one child dying every five seconds. Hunger and malnutrition are responsible for more deaths in the world than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Trade
In a system of Free Trade, agricultural goods and services flow among countries unaffected by government-imposed restrictions like tariffs, taxes, and quotas that generally increase the costs of goods and services to both consumers and producers. Proponents assert that free trade makes society more prosperous and qualitatively improved by increased commerce. Free trade has been said to decrease war, reduce poverty, enrich culture, enhance security, and increase economic efficiency. Free trade is also understood as a sovereign right of free nations.

In a system of Fair Trade, agricultural goods and services flow among countries based not only on classic economic considerations, but also social, environmental, labor, and sustainability requirements. Fair Trade relies on consumer readiness to pay slightly more for products that empower, rather than exploit, vulnerable populations. Most Fair Trade standards also mandate progress requirements that ensure continuous improvement in the conditions of workers, communities, and the environment.

Fair Trade advocates suggest that we should be at least as concerned with sustainability, environmental considerations, and fairness as we are with efficiency measured in dollars and cents. Also, we must recognize that the conditions in which Free Trade might lead to the best outcomes are not present in much of the Global South with whom the North trades. These include classic economic assumptions such as perfect market information, access to credits and markets, and the ability to change equipment and techniques in response to changing market conditions.

Labor
Historically, large farms in the United States consistently depended on poorly paid labor, often to the point of exploitation. Much of our agricultural system was built on the backs of indentured and enslaved agricultural workers, and in the 21st century farm workers remain among the lowest paid laborers in our economy. In recent centuries, immigrants from Europe have been able to leave America’s fields within a single generation; immigrants from Africa, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands have fewer options, however, and disproportionately toil under inhuman conditions for less than living wages for generations.

In addition to its low wages, agricultural labor today features some of the economy’s most dangerous jobs. From physical demands to operating unfamiliar and ill-maintained equipment to exposure to animal bacteria and massive doses of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, agricultural work ranks as the second most dangerous occupation according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And, workers who do not speak or read English are often at greater risk for injury due to insufficient notification of occupational hazards.

Neo-colonialism
Neo-colonialism exists when a nation or state appears sovereign and independent, but has its economy, politics, and/or culture largely directed from outside, often by a former colonial or imperial power. Modern trade, immigration, and foreign aid policies in Europe and the U.S. continue to exacerbate the historic ravages of colonialism for indigenous and subjugated peoples worldwide.

Poor regions of the world shift from producing crops that support their self-sufficiency to “cash crops” valued by the dominant world economy, like cotton, tobacco, sugar, tea, rice, coffee, cocoa, bananas, pineapples, corn, soy beans, and livestock. Combined with free market economics, this perpetuates dependent, inequitable relationships and a system of poverty, malnutrition, and exploited labor. Because indigenous and poor populations lack access to traditional hunting, gathering, and farming lands, they must resort to foreign diets, whose poor quality and highly processed nature lead to nutrition related diseases.

Environmental justice
Just as power in society has been misused to oppress various social groups in the U.S. (people of color, women, GLBTQ people, people with disabilities, and so on), power has also been misused to create vast areas of environmental devastation throughout the world and to thwart attempts at environmental reform and preservation. Today there is growing realization that negative environmental impacts disproportionately burden socially marginalized groups in developing countries abroad.

Proponents of environmental justice argue that one of the significant reforms needed is a shift in the dominant worldview that commodifies land and objectifies living things. Proponents of environmental justice encourage a shift from viewing the environment as a resource to exploit to a web of interconnected living things, and the source of life itself. In addition, proponents advocate for prioritizing the needs of low income people, people of color communities, and other oppressed groups, who disproportionately lack access to nutritious food, clean air and water, parks, recreation, health care, education, transportation, and safe jobs. Self-determination, participation in decision-making, and gaining control over land and resources are also key components, since justice making activities not accountable to oppressed communities tend to perpetuate the very oppression they try to fight.

Animal rights
The simple act of eating expresses one of our most basic and profound relationships with Earth and life. For some of us, our main connection to non-human animals is through our forks and knives. But, the freezer pack wrapped in cellophane bears little resemblance to the creature that sees and breathes and sighs. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”

Zoologists, biologists, and cognitive ethologists all now agree that animals are emotional beings, and that like us, they evolved capacities for satisfaction and frustration, pleasure, and suffering as biological necessities. Though animals are often considered part of “the environment,” the complexity of their experience suggests that they are much more than animated gardenias or slabs of granite. Animals are not so much a part of environment as they are subjects moving through the environment, with experiences all their own. As anyone who has gotten to know a dog, cat, bird, pig, or cow can tell you, animals are experiencing, sentient creatures with wants, needs, and frustrations. At the heart of the impulse we call religious is the desire to lessen suffering and to extend justice and compassion.

Climate control, hunger, trade, labor, neo-colonialism, environmental justice, animal rights – this is a massive agenda. Even the combined energy, courage, and faith of the more than 1,000 Unitarian Universalist congregations in the United States cannot hope to address all of these issues in significant ways. Some religions comprise mighty armadas in the ocean of social, political, and economic issues. Relatively speaking, one might imagine us a single light cruiser patrolling the shores against the currents of circumstance and the waves of human need.

But, we should not let our size, whether we consider our denomination or just this congregation, limit our dreaming and striving for a better world. O. Eugene Pickett, one-time President of the Unitarian Universalist Association once said, “We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes, not by our words but by our deeds.”

Ours is an empowering faith. We may not make huge inroads in every field of social justice. Sometimes, we are just the jounaling observer of the beauty around us, or the barking dog bellowing for justice. Whatever role we play, we can ever steer our steward-ship in the direction of action and service to humankind and to our planet. Every one of us can live by our hopes and deeds, setting a course toward a world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

The Earth Charter begins with the following Preamble.

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

In our individual lives, as a congregation, and as Unitarian Universalists, may we find ways to steer the course of our stewardship to such lofty purpose.

NOTE: Much of the material cited in this sermon comes from the Ethical Eating Study Action Issue Study Guide, a wonderful resource of information and links for further research.


Back in the Kennel

Well, dear readers, I have been on hiatus for some time as life has intervened. I completed my ministerial internship in New York, moved back to Pittsburgh, spent January in Chicago finishing my last seminary classes, and started my new job as the Consulting Minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Smithton. I am thrilled to be at the helm of this intrepid little church, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary in June.

A great irony in all of these massive changes is moving from our wealthiest congregation back to the real world — a church building with no computer, no DVD player, and no photocopy machine. But, we’ve got a wonderful structure, complete with a working bell in the tower, and a feisty group of folks who very much want this congregation to grow and have pinned a large lot of their hopes on my ideas and energy to help them make it happen.

It is a daunting task. Smithton is a town of 400, with one grocery store, one bank, and four bars. But, it also has a tiny public library (the volunteer librarian is a former Lutheran minister) and, the town’s pizza shop serves amazing food. I find both of these auspicious coincidences.

So, stayed tuned as I expect my muse will be keeping me very busy in the coming months. And, if you ever find yourself on Interstate 70 south of Pittsburgh, take a one mile detour at exit 49 and stop in for a visit.

Food Confessions

A few years ago, I wrote a sermon titled “Confessions of an Unrepentant Carnivore.” Ironically, I never had a chance to deliver the sermon after the church’s schedule changed.

Don’t get me wrong. The point of the sermon wasn’t anti-vegetarian or anti-vegan. Actually, the sermon was more about pointing out weaknesses I saw in some animal rights arguments. I have long admired people who lived without consuming meat, but just didn’t see a time in the future when I could make a similar commitment.

Well, the irony of my unborn sermon has come full circle. A month ago, I decided that the time had come for me to make a commitment to healthier eating and to contributing one more small voice to those arguing that better, more efficient, and more humane ways exist to feed our population than currently employed tactics. My initial efforts have consisted of merely seeing if I could do this thing without going into beef withdrawal. Surprisingly, I honestly have not missed meat at all.

Now, I find the vegetarian substitutes for meat humorous, in that they often try to look like meat. I imagine some manufacturers hope to fool our long-time omnivorous taste buds into believing that that lump of soy protein is really a chicken nugget. But, I actually have not needed much faux-meat in my initial endeavor. As one raised in a household where fresh let alone raw vegetables were rarely served, there has been much I could do to expand my diet with new products. I even cooked my first kale and liked it (hmm, sounds like a Katy Perry song…).

So, I don’t envision much tofurkey on my pizzas, but can see more varieties of other vegetables and cheeses. As for my vegan friends, be patient. I’m asking a lot of my badly nourished body now, without taking away milk, cheese, and eggs. But, the day may come because I can envision a time when we take a new look at our seven Unitarian Universalist principles and see the logical conclusion of combining the two framing principles. When we consider the inherent worth of all members of our interdependent web, then we must consider making all of the changes necessary to truly respect all life, and not just human life.

For now, however, let me have my homemade egg muffin sandwich…even if I now make it with spurious sausage.

Quitting

I work a lot on my computer. And, since my attention has a tendency to wander, I like to play quick games to focus my thoughts. My latest favorite is Internet Spades, but backgammon and various forms of solitaire will do, as well.

One incredibly frustrating thing about multiplayer games, however, is the tendency many players have to quit a game the moment their score goes sour. In spades, for instance, all too often opponents will quit a game if they lose a nil bid or if their assigned opponent fails to make their quota of tricks in a hand. I find the frequency with which this happens annoying, because I would prefer to play against humans than the somewhat predictable computer.

What irks me the most, however, is this tendency of people to quit at the first sign of adversity. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of overcoming a setback, and take great pride in winning a game during which the score was lopsided in the other team’s favor.

But, I think it is the literal lack of willingness to “stay at the table” that perturbs me the most. I suppose that these players are looking for a game where they win 500 to nothing on two blind nil bids, and are not satisfied with anything less. If you want to play alone against the computer in search for the so-called perfect game, be my guest. But, for me, part of the point of playing any game with human companions is the act of playing, of strategizing, and not simply seeking a desired outcome. Frankly, I would rather lose a tight, well-played match than win simply because the other players left the field of play.

Sometimes, staying at the table is not easy. Life does not always deal fair hands to everyone. Sometimes, we might not like the style of other players. And, sometimes, we have to utilize strategies we find uncomfortable in order to achieve our goals.

But life, whether we talk about playing a card game, or running a church, or managing our society, calls upon us all to stay at the table. We may not always get our way. But, as we learn more about others, we learn more about ourselves. And, in the end, the solutions we arrive at will be stronger for our efforts.

Saving My Own Life

The journey toward ministry can be frantic, and I have epitomized just how crazy that trip can be for the past three years. Lately, however, my body has been talking to me, telling me that maybe the time has come to slow down…just a little. Fortunately, I have been listening.

Last Monday night, I was having dinner with a new acquaintance in the Upper West Side, near Columbia University. I took the subway early to explore the area on a gorgeous spring day. At one point, I sat on a bench on a traffic island in the middle of Broadway where it crosses 103rd Street. I sat and read and just soaked in the City. I called my son to share the moment with him, but he wasn’t home.

Later that night, I felt sick – sharp chest pain, short breath, and eventually vomiting, which made me think I had some kind of bad reaction to my spicy dinner. A diagnostician I am not. At 8:00 Tuesday morning, my son returned my call. He had been up all night (ah, to be 22 again) and knew I would be awake. When I told him I was sick, he insisted that I get to the hospital. He persisted until I relented and drove to the emergency room (yes, the nurses yelled at me for that, too).

By the time I lumbered into the ER, my heart rate was 240. It seems I had been in arrhythmia for hours. They shocked me to return my heart to a normal rhythm (not an experience I recommend). The doctor told me that if I had waited much longer, I would have likely passed out and died.

Twenty-four hours later, they installed a defibrillator in my chest. My prognosis seems very good, although I will not ever again be able to use a cell phone in my left ear, or have a long list of other machines within six inches of the device. Now, I am recuperating at home contemplating all of this, and have come to the following conclusions.

  • I owe my life to my son, to his stubborn insistence that trumped my stubborn resistance;
  • I owe my life to the relationship I have with my children, whom I love deeply; and
  • I owe my life to setting aside the time to take a brief moment to sit and watch life pass by.

I am more committed now than ever to my ministry, to getting the most out of every day I have, and to letting go of petty, unimportant trivia that bombards our lives. And, part of my ministry will become sitting on park benches in the middle of major thoroughfares, or other opportunities to just experience life in all its flavors.

Happy National Record Store Day!

After my recent excursion in the hospital (see my post from April 16), I’ve thought a lot about self-care. Frankly, that is an area I have not excelled at in recent years. I love ministry, but I do occasionally need someone to tell me to go home and enjoy the sunshine – which is what happened when I went into work the day after being released from the hospital.

Then, I heard about National Record Store Day – a celebration of independent music retailers. I am a vinyl fan, and saw this as a great opportunity to make a date with myself. There are several record stores in Greenwich Village and the weather forecast was fantastic. So, this morning, I set out for a day of wandering and spending copious amounts of money that I don’t have without caring.
My day started with two discoveries I had not expected. One was to finally find a coffee importer that would spare me from drinking grocery store drek, and the other was a marvelous little book store called Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books. The owner was a delightful woman and she had an amazingly good selection of books for even more incredible prices. My son has suggested that I read On the Road for some time, so I decided to buy the new edition that is the original scroll that Kerouac created for his first draft.
Then, it was off to the quest of the day – records! First stop was House of Oldies (Petula Clark’s Downtown and the 2-LP Doobie Brothers Farewell Tour). The owner told me that he had been in business for 40 years. I can only imagine the changes he has seen in that neighborhood since the Summer of Love. Next came Bleecker Street Records (Theolonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, Stephen Stills’ Just Roll Tape April 26, 1968, and The Young Rascals). I also picked up The Pretenders’ special 7″ red vinyl disk made for National Record Store Day.
Next, I stumbled across Strider Records. The owner, another long-time retailer, presided over a crowded space packed with 45’s and LP’s of all types. I relieved him of two original John Coltrane albums (Crescent and Sun Ship). Then lunch at The Slaughtered Lamb Pub. I had been sitting for some time, enjoying the open window and my shepherd’s pie before I even noticed the life-sized sculpture of the werewolf and his bride, pictured to the left. In a gaudy, Madame Tussaud’s way, it was actually kind of cool. Speaking of food, I forgot to mention the insanely decadent chocolate concoction I ate with my morning coffee. I honestly felt sorry for the other people sitting in the park, watching me caress the delightful dessert.
Last was Generation Records. Although here I was interested in CD’s, since these groups (Evanescence, Lacuna Coil, Sirenia, and Epica) do not produce vinyl releases. My bundle grew heavy as I strolled through Washington Square Park (which BTW has the cutest little dog park I’ve ever seen). I figured that I had pushed my body about as far as I could and headed for the subway home.
This week, I looked at my life through a different lens. My goals remain the same. I want to become a minister, a great preacher, someone who inspires and rocks proverbial boats. I want to be a cool grandfather someday. And, whatever form it takes, I want to love greatly. National Record Store Day let me declare that I will not allow money or any other trivial reservations keep me from being happy and from living life.

The Value of Good Times

One of the reasons I began blogging was to express opinions about “big picture” issues and to discuss matters of ultimate importance. Usually, my posts border on the serious (perhaps ranting), because something has riled me up or otherwise made my hair stand on end.

Not today, folks. Today, the house special pizza with everything on it is free to all. Pull up a chair for yourself and your own muse and enjoy a slice on the house.

Oh, don’t get me wrong…the world is still a mess. The economy is in the crapper, basic human rights remain in jeopardy across the globe, and our vision of beloved community seems a distant dream. Tomorrow, I may well go nuclear and blast some new injustice.

But, today, I am happy. And, there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I highly recommend it to everyone.

Why am I so happy that I risk my daily pizzatorium profits sharing my joy with you? There are many reasons, but the biggest of them is that after years of worthwhile work raising a family and helping others, I am pursuing my dream. I am preparing for a life in ministry – a life of hard work and commitment, a life that is enormously rewarding, and a life that my experiences have forged for me. I am living in a tiny apartment watching my life savings dwindle away, and I couldn’t care less because I am doing what I love to do.

I’ve got my computer, Coltrane on the stereo, fresh-brewed coffee, and you, gentle reader. I’m working at a church that is amazing, but still can use my talents. I am meeting interesting people, exploring the greatest city on Earth, and entering a living historical tradition of courageous men and women who changed the world. And, for the first time in a long time, I’ve got the ability to appreciate it all and know just how lucky I am to have the chance to do the same.

That, of course, is the issue. Every day, people tell us how to live our lives. Companies spend millions to tell us what to buy, what new disease lurks in our future, and how to eat, smell, and look. Bosses tell us how to act and think. Society tells us what is right and wrong. And all of them pretend to tell you how to be happy.

Do you know how to be happy? This is how. Sit down and figure out for yourself what you want to do with your life. Then go do it. It really is that simple. Write down your goal on a piece of paper and post it on your refrigerator. Then make everything in your life serve that goal.

Is it easy? Of course not. Nothing worth having ever is. But, no one in the world can do it for you. And here is the secret. If you are putting off your goal because you are trying to help someone else achieve their goal, it doesn’t work. Because, in the end, you can’t fully help others until you have helped yourself. Until you have pursued your own goal, you are not in the right frame of mind to help another achieve theirs.

Is entry into the ministry a sacrifice? You bet – just ask any seminarian. The discernment process of becoming a minister is painful and frightening, and successful completion of the process causes wounds and loss. But, only by surviving this process, by thriving in this process and achieving this goal, can we as ministers help others to do the same.

So enjoy your pizza. Because when you leave the pizzatorium, I want you to think about your goal in life, whether you are on a path to achieve it, and if not, why not.