Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Criticizing Friendliness

The Times Standard printed an article last week that was all abuzz in Fortuna.  The Reverend who authored the article was questioning Fortuna's friendliness by how little services there were for the homeless.  Most everyone I talked to was mad about it.  It wasn't that the guy was wrong in his article.  Most of his facts were right about what we don't have.  But he spent no time in what we do.  All criticism, probably with some political agenda behind it, and no heart or any real knowledge.  Ignoring what the council is doing in the last weeks. A slap in the face to those who are doing great work every week, like RiverLife.  And an example of someone taking pot shots from a distance.

But, as Paul and I preach on friendliness to the homeless population in Fortuna, we know there is a lot of room for growth.  It isn't abstract.  They are people, sometimes friends, who come to church, who come to our community dinners.  They are people Sean and others take food to every week, that we walk around or greet on the streets.  We have questions and we struggle to know how to help.  Sunday was interesting for us, and I can't wait to see how things go for Paul next week.

It is really great to have Sean as a resource for us.  And maybe we will live through, perhaps learn from, folks who criticize from a distance.

Flowers Around My Neck

Harriet and I just went to pick up our daughter who had been in Hawai'i with her grandmother last week.  One of the reasons I was excited for her return was that she would bring plumeria.  In Hawai'i, to be friendly, people, put smelly flowers around your neck.  Aloha, lei over your head, and a kiss on the cheek.  You are loved. Glad you are here.  Welcome.

There are lots of flowers in Hawai'i lying all over the place and that makes sense.  Pine needles and redwood bark isn't quite the same but still smells good.  There is something wildly inviting to this physical gesture of welcome.  And, any time I focus my mind and remember the smell and look of plumeria I remember how much I love and am loved by Hawai'i.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Basic Friendly

Tomorrow we will look at Matthew 25.  Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, providing restroom facilities for people waiting for the Rodeo parade.

That is what we were doing today.  Passing out cookies and water for folks lined up for hours for the parade.  But we got tremendous feedback for letting folks know our bathrooms were available.

Well, that's obvious.

Blue Walmart bags

For our homework last week, we ran into a bit of a snag.  We had this great idea for helping the world, a bit at a time.  Bags for groceries – not exactly a unique idea, but a sound one.  We thought, bags with the Beginning Friendly logo on them.  Pick them up and print and get to church.  No such luck – it would have cost a fortune.  So Paul got some cheap pretty blue bags when he was in Sacramento, the only ones he could find.  From Walmart.  Ok, not what we had imagined, but . . .  Well that is the question.

Can Walmart be friendly? 

It raises some huge questions.  Small businesses around town aren’t too happy about Walmart.  Some things going around about how evil it is are myths, or are past history.  But, it is true that a lot of the money that goes to Walmart goes out of town.  So, does money and business have to stay local to be friendly?  Or fruit, or jobs, or – well the list goes on and on.  We are eco friendly when we eat stuff that is grown close by.  But we also can become insulated, both socially and economically.  Outsourcing takes jobs away from the rich higher paying places and takes them to places that pay poorer wages.  But does it really move money from the rich to the poor, or does it just increase the profits of the very rich?  Where does a call for justice in substandard wages in Haiti really hide a fear of losing jobs where we are?  

What is friendly to the world?  Those are harder questions than I can answer, but they are really worth asking. 

So Walmart bags – to use or not to use, that is the question.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Welcome to the 21st Century -- Almost

Last Sunday I was a bit frustrated because while we were getting ready to talk about friendliness in the country, I had set up the possibility of throwing a Skype screen up on the computer at church and having a conversation in the sermon with one someone who is serving in Afghanistan.  Ted, welcome to the 21st century!  A good question for church last week was what moved you to serve our country in this way and how can we be friendly to you this week.  Not a bad question for the Fourth of July.

But we weren't ready for the 21st century after all.  The connection couldn't be made.  We will try again soon.

In an older congregation, I am often asked about young generations who do so much relating on Facebook or text messages.  We have all noticed "kids" sitting next to one another texting each other.  What kind of a relationship is that.  But I think about the enormity of what we tried to do in church last week.  Very close to us, we have the ability to create communities we carry around in our pockets.  My daughter has an iPod and can use Facetime to talk to a bunch of her friends any time.  Though Skype and conference calls, I can sit all by myself on a hill in Fortuna and talk face to face with a friend or a counselor or a resource person in the Bay Area (or probably the moon).

Soon, we will have the kids in Sunday School partnering with a church in some other part of the world.  They can make friends with someone eleven time zones away. They can see what their mission money is doing right now.  And when we sing "In Christ there is no East or West" we could actually sing it with a soldier in Afghanistan.  Friendliness is, or can, be global.

I am not sure I think like that yet, but the possibilities are staggering.  I am sure that something changes in my relationships to my neighbors, and perhaps something is lost.  But I am asking the question, as a pastor, what it means to visit a member of the congregation twice a year when that young member talks to every one of their friends four or five times a day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Well Paul and I finally got it done last week. 

Weeks ago we sent out a letter to all the pastors in town inviting them to tea in the afternoon.  We got all prepared, set the date, readied the refreshment (well he did ).  Prayed for the event.  And showed up. . . .   and waited. 

As the time to meet drew close, arrived, and passed, our moods went from watching eagerly, to figuring out what we could do with the extra time, to a pox on all  . . .   well, that’s when Dave showed up.  And we had a lovely time with 50% more people than we had when we started.  Great statistics.  However, the reality of the event was far short of the numbers that we expected. On the other hand, I think the three of us began to fall in love with each other.  That slow process that takes years and years to accomplish started as we got to know one another better.

That is an answer to a lot of this summer.  Friendliness plans happen all over the place, but friendliness really only happens with one person at a time.  Even if there is a crowd, friendliness has to occur one human being to another.  Even if we have the greatest event in the world planned, one by one.  We could gripe about the “poor turn-out” but, in fact, is wasn’t poor at all – it was rich in possibility and rich in the friendships that got started. I really like Dave and I really like Paul.  That is a good start to anything.

So, we take a next step, maybe another person and in seven years and six months we’ll have gotten there. 

That’s not bad work.