Feeds:
Posts
Comments

What Did You Resolve?

2012 is here! I have waited a few days before doing this blog to let the reality set in. By now most of our resolutions are just a memory, and there is nothing new or any big changes in our lives.

Something which has helped me with my resolutions through the years is from a sermon I heard by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I was a junior in college and was home on Christmas break. A friend invited me to attend Marble Collegiate Church. I learned a valuable lesson that day and it has served me very well through the years, more than 50 of them!

Dr. Peale was talking about keeping New Year’s resolutions. One of the mistakes, he said, was that we make too many resolutions. As a result, none of them work. Dr. Peale explained that we should just choose one resolution that is manageable. I did not keep my New Year’s resolution that particular year, but I did a few years later. I remembered what Dr. Peale had said,

Take only one resolution, focus on it with breathing space and your life will change.”

That year when I addressed my New Year’s resolution, it worked! I gave myself plenty of time and knew I would make a few mistakes. I did make a few mistakes here and there, but kept my eye on the prize. By the first of August I had accomplished my goal. Since then, whenever I make a resolution I focus on just one, give it time, and watch the results happen.

The formula works! Simply decide what needs to be changed, then focus your mind on that change and give yourself time. There will be periods of time when you forget or are weak, but keep your mind clearly focused. You’ll discover that change will happen in ways you could never imagine.

As you work toward your goal, pray that God will support you and know in your heart that regardless of things going on, God is there. With His power of promise, with His love and acceptance, everything in life can change. 

I pray that you have a productive year with much joy and happiness and the experience of success through a New Year’s resolution.

God Bless.

A Christmas Spirit

Christmas is indeed an exciting time of the year! Seemingly the mood of the entire nation is elevated. People speak with more happiness. Life seems to be so much better. However, this is not really true for everyone. There are some who are hoping that Christmas will bring happiness and joy, but who are very sad and lonely. I can remember countless people who have been affected by sadness and loneliness at this time of year.

I recall someone I knew quite well in my early years as a minister at Marble Church. Her name was Lorie. One day Lorie asked if she could stay after church, hoping to talk with a minister – and I was the one who happened to be there. Lorie began to tell me a story of her mother dying when she was five years old and how a mean aunt took responsibility for her, while resenting every moment. The aunt made life miserable for this young child. Lorie always did what she was asked – chores, errands – while having such animosity with just about everything she was involved with. In the upcoming years I spent considerable time with Lorie, mostly listening. But Christmas was always the worst for her.

Then there came a day when she had enough eternal strength to separate herself from her aunt. Now Lorie was really alone. She did have a good job, but no friends. Then one day she was transferred from NYC to Washington. Christmas was close, so I asked her how she was going to spend the day and she said “I am praying about it.” A couple of days after Christmas she called me and her voice was more upbeat than ever. Lorie told me about her Christmas. She said, “Christmas is supposed to be joyous and I made it that way by having the best Christmas ever.” Lorie said she planned the day by buying special holiday foods like turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and pumpkin pie for dessert. Then she spent the rest of the day reading religious literature and spiritual books. When she described her day to me, she said, “I was going to make Christmas a great day and it was.”

The impressive thing to me was that Lorie made a choice  – and the choice was to have a great Christmas and celebrate it, even if it meant being alone. And she did.

Many of us will have sadness this Christmas, but I hope you are attentive to what Lorie did. She knew she had a choice either to celebrate or be sad and she turned it around.

There is power in the Christmas spirit.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who really fills one’s life and can change the course of a life.

Let Christmas this year be a joyous celebration and thanksgiving.

 

My Christmas Card

The Christmas season is a remarkable time! It has a truly positive effect on the majority of people in the world. The celebration of the birth of the Christ child is felt worldwide.

A number of years ago, I received the most unusual and powerful Christmas card, which in one word told the Christmas story – and in many ways could make the world a better place.

I remember the card. It came from a man who was my mentor at Marble Collegiate Church. His name was Amos Parrish. It was a homemade card. “AP” (as he was called) went to a stationary store and purchased some blank white cards. On the cards in red ink going from lower left to upper right, the word “others” was written; and in the lower left hand corner were just his initials: AP.

The word “others” is the reason why Christmas has such an effect on so many people. The word just comes alive in beauty, laughter and thanksgiving. But it is all about “others.”

I pray in these days as Christmas is on the way that you will be in the spirit and think deeply and lovingly about others.

Pass on the Thanks

A few days ago I realized that Thanksgiving was becoming my favorite day of celebration.

I started thinking about Thanksgiving when I was a very young boy. I remember my parent’s enthusiasm for Thanksgiving. They were recent immigrants from Italy and were so thrilled and excited at the prospect of living their lives in America, where there was freedom, opportunity and more hope than they could ever have imagined. I remember my father’s prayer before the meal and how we children complained because it was too long. Now that I look back, it was probably not long enough; it was filled with so much enthusiasm, energy and hope.

I have learned that Thanksgiving is a time when I can personally give thanks to the people that have done special things for me. This came alive for me a number of years ago when I included in a sermon the story of a man and his teacher. The story goes like this.

Long ago, there was a group of men having a conversation with one another. One of them happened to mention a particular teacher who had changed his life by teaching him about the great poet Alfred Lloyd Tennyson. One of the men in the group said, “Did you ever thank your teacher?” He replied, “No, I never did.” Later that day he thought about what was said and preceded to write her a note of thanks. The letter found its way to her mailbox and her reply was most moving. She thanked him for taking the time to write such a lovely note. Then she said she had taught school for 50 years and this was the first word of thanks she had received from any student. It was like seeing the bright sunshine on a dark cloudy day, and it meant everything to her.

After including this story in the sermon, I suggested that people think about this magical example. A number of people told me that they had written their particular teachers and what a joy it was to have done so. I did the same myself and was overwhelmed by my teacher’s response.

I have repeated the story through the years and hundreds of people have followed the suggestion of thanking someone special. I commend this idea to you and encourage you to call or write your teacher, or someone who has made a difference in your life, and just say “Thank you, you made a difference in my life.”

We all have things to be thankful for, so pass it on!!

I keep waiting for it to stop.

Surely ordinary citizens and the police and community leaders would have a handle on it, but they don’t. It happened again last week. A mother gunned down, protecting her children. It seems to happen at least once a week. Someone with a gun wounds and/or kills several victims. It happens so often that it makes the headlines one day and is buried deep in the paper the next, if it receives any mention at all. Often it’s a young man or a teenager. They get a gun, easily find bullets and for whatever reason, shoot others including enemies, sometimes friends and acquaintances, or innocent bystanders.

Most Americans realize we are a gun culture and we have a right to possess a gun, regardless of how much damage guns do. I don’t understand the strong emotional tie people have with the right to own a gun, especially when the only purpose for the gun’s existence is to kill.

A number of years ago, before my retirement, I was aware of the presence each Sunday at church of a new attendee. He was a handsome man with graying hair and an electric smile. After the sermon of the day he would come to the front of the center aisle with a happy exchange of kind words. Then one Sunday during the sermon I said something critical about guns. This man, who I could have called my new friend, did not approach me with a smile or kind words. The veins in his neck were throbbing. I had said something to upset him. He said everything was fine in this church except the criticism of guns. He went on to say that we have a right to own guns and he was adamant about it. I never saw him again in church.

What is it, pray tell, that makes gun ownership so very important to people? It holds a higher place in people’s minds than Jesus’ teachings on love. Guns leave little children without mothers and fathers. They leave wives without husbands and vice versa. Families and friends suffer needlessly. If ever the problems of the people of the world are to be solved, whether large or small, owning a gun is not the answer. I think that we human beings should agree that no one solves a problem with a gun.

It is my prayer that one day soon, Americans will relinquish their need to own a weapon. Many lives will be saved and just as importantly, people will have a deeper and more respectful relationship with their enemies.

Unite for Peace

I live in midtown Manhattan, two blocks from the United Nations. I love this neighborhood because there is so much diversity and I see people from all over the world. Many of my neighbors complain about the United Nations. They believe the time and money spent is ineffective. In my mind, I would rather have my enemy in a place where we can talk and at least attempt to work things out. We know the world has many problems but we have no idea how many problems have been avoided because of the noble efforts of the delegates at the UN.

The week of September 18 is United Nations week. There is a leader from nearly every country in the world present in New York, meeting in the same room. The possibility of them all working toward peace excites me. If you were to be in my apartment, you may be annoyed by the constant sirens that go off from early morning until late at night from police escorts for all the dignitaries going back and forth to the United Nations building. I ask myself if they are all necessary. Probably not. But on the other hand, to me they herald the potential for us to start living in peace with one another.

Several years ago, while walking to my office I saw something which was an important lesson. I can still see it as if for the first time. I was walking down 1st Avenue, across the street from the United Nations building, and I noticed that the people walking in front of me slowed down. There was a very sick pigeon standing close to a wall. Just a few inches away was a well pigeon, guarding him and standing vigil by his friend. The healthy pigeon knew instinctively to protect his sick friend.

I stopped for a long moment observing the scene and I saw it as a symbol of the way the world should and sometimes does operate. Coincidentally, several weeks later I saw 7 sick pigeons with 7 friends standing close by. I see the UN as strong this week and doing what they can to try to help any of their sick nations. If one is weak, we should care for it.

I pray the United Nations summit meetings of 2011 are inspirational and will work together, helping each other like the sick and the healthier pigeons did. I believe it can happen and pray that it does in my lifetime. If not, hopefully in the next generation it will. We can do great things when we believe big.

God Bless.

I remember as a young boy, the voice of President Roosevelt the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He called it a “day of infamy.” I always thought America would never have a day like it again… but it happened. We call it 9/11. It’s the kind of day where you always remember where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.

At  10 minutes to 9:00 on that fateful morning, I got out of a taxi on the corner of 5th Avenue and 29th street. I remember hearing a low-flying plane pass over my head. I looked up because no one ever hears low-flying jets in New York City. It took me 2 minutes to get to my office and within minutes my phone was ringing. It was my son, Chuck, saying, “Dad, get to the TV. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” I immediately called my staff together and we discussed how the church would respond. I don’t know how long we met as we decided to robe and just comfort people on the street, but it seemed like a long time. This was a different kind of meeting because we were stunned, not really knowing what to do and what would happen next. Would there be anger, violence, or a stunned city? In the midst of our processing, the door to our conference room burst open abruptly. It was one of our deacons, Stephanie Bailey, who worked for American Express right across from the Trade Center buildings and saw firsthand what had happened. She ran out of her building and walked over 3 miles to get to the church. She said, “I just had to be with my church.”

Throughout the day things were radically different. Everyone was stunned; some in complete shock as they searched for missing loved ones. There were people without any shoes walking north to their homes. Many bodies were darkened by the soot and smoke.  As I looked to the south, I could not see the two giant buildings anymore, as I had for so many years. Nothing but rolling clouds of black! I remember the parking lots in the suburban stations that day and all the cars left there without anyone to drive them home.

What are we supposed to feel at a time like that? There a mixture of every kind of feeling: anger, fear, confusion, and so much of the unknown.

Then the stories began of heroism beyond reason, the best of humanity in action. As I speak those words I still get chills, because America’s worst hour also became its finest hour with all the unselfishness and heroism in men and women that day. I remember broadcasting on PBS and the host Bill Moyers made an important statement about our heroic fireman. He said, “As the survivors rushed down, more than 300 fireman rushed up unselfishly to their deaths.”

A New York Times reporter said, “We must be careful that we do not become the enemy.” What she was saying was, we are living in a world where it should not be an eye for an eye. It’s not about getting even. We must find it in our souls to forgive. The best we can do is humble our minds and hearts and seek to forgive. Without that, how is the world going to ever survive?

Almost every day since 9/11 I have been challenged by the word “Peace.” We must declare it in our own lives and urge others to seek it, too, no matter how angry and disturbed they may be. People like you and me can have an effect by demonstrating peace. I encourage you to put aside your feelings of fear and anger and your question of “will it happen again” and focus on personal peace.  Peace is not always determined by our circumstances; but our peace can come from the great spirit of the universe whom we know as God. There you will find peace.

Jesus said in His sermon on the mount,

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

Let us honor our many heroes of 9/11 on this, our 10th anniversary, by sending them all the peace and love in our hearts.