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Thursday, September 27, 2012

So what’s religion and health care got to do with car racing?

by Betsy Perry

Last Sunday was a first for me.  I actually sat through the entire 300 laps of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s NASCAR race much to my surprise.  Fortified with ear plugs and binoculars and exceptionally good seats (thanks to my second cousin), I became a focused observer of car racing and humankind.   While I was impressed by the speed of the cars and the control that skillful drivers demonstrated (there were no crashes in this race, only a few bumps), most of my observations were about people.

There were over 100,000 fans in the seats, on the hillside opposite where we sat, and up in two helicopters constantly flying over the track.  The last time I had been sitting anywhere with over 100,000 people was in University of Michigan’s stadium, the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, where we used to live.  I never thought the rural state of New Hampshire would ever hold any kind of a gathering attracting that many people.  And most everyone seemed to be having fun even the kids.  Some people were mighty serious about their favorite drivers, #14 “Smoke” aka Tony Stewart or #48 Jimmy Johnson, with a fan sitting behind us who stood the entire race with eyes glued to Jimmy’s car and commenting on every strategic move.

Another serious fan, a woman sitting in front of me, was writing in a small notebook, and I thought how nice, she is journaling her experience, until I realized she was writing down a vast number of numbers, probably statistics of some sort.  Then she closed her little notebook and it was entitled, “My Official NASCAR Notebook.” 

As I’m glancing at all the pit stops in front of us, I see Aflac, Energizer, Office Depot, Target, and then. . . wait a minute, it couldn’t be but it is, Presbyterian Healthcare?  So what’s religion got to do with car racing (besides the opening prayer at each NASCAR race)?  None of the expert racing fans surrounding me (my husband and my cousin’s husband) had heard of them.  We couldn’t even find out the name of the driver.  I’ll “Google” it later, I decided.

Here’s the Google scoop. . . a hospital opened in 1903 in Charlotte, NC, with help from the Presbyterian Church, and it has morphed into a large healthcare system over the years to partner with car racing mogul Michael McDowell, to reach “a wide audience [to promote] the importance of regular health screenings to save lives.  I find this partnership deserving of great merit from the health care standpoint.  I have a Master’s in Public Health and believe in prevention through health screenings.   From a religious standpoint, I don’t think there is any connection with the Presbyterians of today that I could find. 

But here’s the question:  How much of McDowell’s $1.8 million in winnings in 22 starts brings people to the screening programs and ultimately saves lives?  His pit stop was pretty plain compared to the others like Aflac, so I don’t think they spend too much money there, and the big semi that carried his car was likewise.  So maybe a few bucks go for a really good cause.  I wondered:  What if other drivers whose winnings total upwards of $6 million each did the same and maybe they do?  Then I found that the pole winner, Jeff Gordon, who finished third in NH and has earned over $4.7 million, drives to end hunger.  I’ll research more for the next car race I go to.  I think I’ll have plenty of time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What Are Your Prayers Like?

by Tom Pappas

Maybe you saw this on 60 Minutes last Sunday.  Scott Pelley was interviewing Mitt Romney and he asked if the candidate prayed every night. The answer was, “Yes.”

Pelley then followed up with, “What do you ask for?”  Yikes. Yes, he asked that. Whoever said there are no dumb questions?  (To finish the thought, Romney said, “That’s between me and God.” But then said, “Wisdom.”

I hope other believers agree with me that a view of prayer that assumes a nightly discipline (nothing against it) where the praying person’s only task is to itemize petition items is quite childish.  Enough said about the interview except to say that it caused me to reflect on my own prayer experience.

What I hear myself saying when I pray is “Thank You, God.”  The most regular prayers are at mealtimes and Laurel and I are diligent in “returning thanks” for the plenty in our lives.  We see ourselves and truly blessed.  When we bow and pray in restaurants I usually wonder, and sort of hope, that someone is noticing that that interesting older couple is holding hands and thanking God for their food.

A majority of my prayers are organic, in the moment.  Sometimes they are the wordless ones that the Holy Spirit alone can interpret to God.

I regularly ask God to bless our church. I dream of WPC being the best expression of itself as God’s instrument in the world. I regularly ask God to bless Lumunos in the same way.  I regularly ask God to bless our family. We have awesome adult children, each with their wonderful talents and sometimes almost daunting challenges. I am totally not asking God to smooth the way, but to guide them to summon their gifts and savor it all – glorious and hard.

What are your prayers like?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prayer for Saying "I'm Sorry"

by Angier Brock

I've been thinking this week about the words “I’m sorry.” 

Suppose I say that I am sorry for interrupting someone mid-sentence, for forgetting to do something I had promised, or for hurting someone’s feelings with my thoughtless comment. Or suppose I say to someone, “I’m sorry I backed your car into that mailbox and tore up the bumper.” In those cases, “I’m sorry” is a confession, an admission of my own guilt, and an acknowledgment of my responsibility for what I have done or left undone. Perhaps I did not mean to. For example, my intention when I borrowed my friend’s car wasn't to damage it. But when I backed it into a mailbox, denting the bumper and breaking a tail light, I said, “I am sorry.” I apologized for what I had done. AND I paid to get the bumper and the tail light fixed. (For the record, I confessed to the post office about the mailbox, too.)

On the other hand, if I say that I am sorry that you lost your job, broke your ankle, got robbed at gunpoint, found yourself diagnosed with cancer, or felt publicly humiliated by something someone else said or did, I am not taking responsibility for being the cause of any of those things. I am not making an apology or asking pardon. I am simply acknowledging that I can identify with the feelings the situation has evoked in you, whether those feelings be fear, pain, grief, confusion, anger, shame, or one of the other emotions we usually label “negative” and often go to great lengths to avoid. It’s a way to reach out. To extend the hand of compassion.

The two kinds of “I’m sorry” are different. The first we might call a causal one. That “I’m sorry” takes responsibility for the pain, discomfort, inconvenience, or destruction my words or actions cause. The second is a relational one. That “I’m sorry” acknowledges a kinship. It says that as a human being myself, I understand what a fellow human being must be feeling.

Perhaps you, like I, have had the experience of saying the second kind of “I’m sorry” to someone, only to have that person reply, “Well, it’s not your fault.” That response has always seemed curious—to be absolved of blame that neither I nor the other person thinks is mine in the first place. But it is a response I have heard often enough to wonder: Do we sometimes completely misunderstand what someone is trying to convey when he or she says “I’m sorry”? Do some of us attach one meaning whereas others attach a different one?

If you’ve been watching the news in the last week, you know why this has been on my mind.

So here is my prayer: that we each give thought to how we use—and hear—even the simplest words.  “I’m sorry” would be a good place to start, for though the words may sometimes sound trite to our ears or feel impotent on our tongues, they are important words, and we should be honest about what they mean in the various situations to which they are suited.

One more thing about the words “I’m sorry.” The tagline from the 1970 movie that said “love means never having to say you are sorry” is dead wrong. No matter whether we are using the words to accept responsibility for our actions or to reach out in compassion, love requires that we speak them. In fact, in both cases, love is probably what makes it possible to say them at all.

[You may also connect with The Sorry Project on Facebook.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

You are...You shall be...

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it.  The process is not finished but it is going on.
                                    Martin Luther
Ok all you Star Wars fans, here is a question for you: What made Luke Skywalker the person he was?  How about Anakin? What shaped their identity? 

According to a recent exhibit at the Montreal Science Centre, Luke’s identity (and ours) is formed by a complicated mixture of genes, parents, mentors, significant life experiences, choices and values.   It was a brilliant exhibit that managed to teach the science of identity in a way that captivated a 52-year-old man (that would be me) and his 8-year-old son.

The biblical narrative isn’t quite as popular a story these days as Star Wars.  But there are many insightful stories about identity, including that of Peter.  Peter and Jesus were close friends.  In their earliest meeting, Jesus makes a bold statement to Peter:  “You are Simon, the son of John--but you will be Cephas (which means Peter”).

Throughout the rest of their recorded friendship Jesus usually calls his friend Simon Peter.  Jesus used both names—who Peter was, and who Simon was becoming. Through this friendship with Jesus, Peter’s identity both stayed the same, and was changed.  Like Luke Skywalker and us, Peter’s identity was formed through his parents (“You are Simon, Son of John”), his experiences, his genes, mentors and life shaping experiences.

I continue to find myself in the midst of this “you are—you shall be” equation.  Sometimes I am stunned at my ability to get caught in the same traps, make the same mistakes and stumble over the same rocks. Still Doug for sure.  Then once in awhile, by the grace of God, I look and see that I am becoming a new person.

Richard Rohr calls this process “falling upward.”  He writes, “The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.”  Along the way we embark on a further journey, one that involves challenges, mistakes, and loss of control amongst other things. (Falling Upward:  Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life) This ‘falling upward’ is not always fun—ask Luke Skywalker or the Apostle Peter.  But it does lead to greater clarity about what provides meaning in our lives.  And it allows us to give ourselves to others more authentically.

May the Force be with you as you where ever you are on the “You are—You shall be” continuum. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Let's Just Listen to Each Other

by Tom Pappas

I have two competing characteristics that create quite a dissonance.  I really love to be right. It’s one of my favorite things.  I also think of myself as having an open mind, even about the topics where I have a strong opinion – which is (see characteristic one) the right one.

A story in today’s newspaper indicated that as we listen to those around us with like opinions, we become more firmly set in those opinions.  As the news cycle transitions from the Republican convention to the Democratic convention this principle is perfectly illustrated by the thousands of delegates in their respective arenas. (Talk about a giant information bubble!)  Both groups are hearing what they like to hear and will go home more dedicated to their political views.

In another century when I was in college, my information bubble included talk about God making the world ready for the end times as the Scripture indicates. (Wasn’t imminent; didn’t happen.) Thinking back to those college days, I am embarrassed that I allowed my view of God’s world and my purpose to be distorted by not getting more information. When you hear only (or mostly) one topic it becomes the focus of your imagination and energy.

What to do?

Recently at the Adult Education committee meeting we looked at the calendar and said a collective “Oops!” when we realized that there was but one offering for October. (We like to have two or more.)  I chimed in and said, “What I really want to do is sit in a room with other Christians and talk about the election. Not argue, but talk, and listen.”  we’re going to try it. I hope lots of people with strong opinions come to do those things.

Doesn’t that seem like the way it should be? No need to scurry back to the protection of an information bubble to feel safe.  Let’s just talk. Let’s just listen.  My new goal is to look at those I disagree with as loved by God, someone to listen to, and possibly right.