MUHAMMAD ALI

June 12, 2016

I can still remember sitting in the kitchen of our home at 25 Brunswick Road in February of 1964.  With no screen to view, yet with eyes transfixed on the radio atop the refrigerator, it was the 24th of February, and Cassius Clay, as he was known then, stepped into the ring to fight the heavily favored title holder Sonny Liston.

Liston was like the Mike Tyson of his day, and some feared he would kill Clay.  Literally.  For his part, Cassius didn’t seem to help matters much as he antagonized the “bear”, saying he was “too ugly” to be champion, and chanting pre-fight predictive verses like:  “…the crowd did not dream, when they laid down their money, that they would see a total eclipse of the Sonny!”

Liston was indeed eclipsed, and the emergence of Muhammad Ali coincided with the arrival of the Beatles.  For a youngster, it was like the national mourning for our President Kennedy was tacitly over, and totally new expressions of vitality were beginning to rise.

Ali was bigger than boxing, and his fights were more social expressions than sporting events.  Black men were not expected to speak as Ali openly did, and well before Joe Namath’s brash predictions of 1969, Muhammad violated common racist conventions, igniting a revolution with impact far outside any punches in the ring.

Refusing induction to the Army, his title was taken, without due process, and few know that Joe Frazier loaned Ali money in the three years of down time when he couldn’t fight.  Both men would later leave significant portions of their own health behind in the wake of three memorable fights, and Ali would reprise his David and Goliath performance with an incredibly improbable knockout of George Foreman.

Certainly not without flaws, and not an adherent of my Christian faith, Ali stood firm in his beliefs, amidst serious personal risk.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of that going around nowadays, and in this regard, he did us all a service well beyond what would have been achieved in him donning a uniform.

At the victorious conclusion of that fateful first heavyweight title bout, as he screamed, “I shook up the world!” it turned out he would do just that.  Smashing racial stereotypes as definitively as he outclassed opponents, Muhammad Ali forced us to be a better nation.

The “Louisville Lip” transformed a sport and made billions of people across the globe very happy.  In declaring himself “the Greatest” he caused each of us to take stock and consider the values we carry in our own hearts and the commitment to our faith that we undertake in our lives.


A disgraceful cover-up…

April 1, 2016

Thirty-two years in the pulpit have shown me that ministry isn’t based on what you plan, it’s expressed in how you stand up to what can’t be foreseen. That’s why, after wrestling with futile internal protest, and seeing no definitively informative and positive change, I decided to make public the failure of my church hierarchy to expose one of its long-term ministers as a pedophile.

On the contrary, last April, the annual report of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut included praise and gratitude for Eli Echevarria, convicted four months before and sentenced to prison for possessing child pornography involving young girls down to toddlers. The printed endorsement nearly sucked the life out of my soul.

More than a year earlier, the same man began visiting my congregation in Branford. We welcomed him, and in the following months he mixed with the congregation, including the children.

Then, after he had been with us for several months, when I had returned from a summer holiday, it was brought to my attention that Echevarria had been recently arrested for possessing child pornography. The arrest was for behavior when he was still preaching in New Haven, well before he crossed our threshold. I then discovered he had been convicted before on charges of illegal sexual contact in 2006, put on three years’ probation and registered as a sex offender.

Back when I first heard of the arrest, and prior conviction, in September 2014, I notified the members of my church in Branford, and I also called our executive minister in Hartford. I was told that the state leadership had become aware earlier that year of the minister’s transgressions and criminal history. But I had never received any notice. I don’t believe any other pastors were informed either.

Indeed, in the previously mentioned letter from our regional president, relative to not informing local pastoral leadership about Echevarria’s history, he said that the ABCConn executive minister at the time had contacted church legal counsel, who told her that “there is no statutory requirement to make public information more public.”

Therefore, instead of receiving a responsible explanation for leaving local leadership out of the loop, it was fancy legalese with no biblical or ethical basis.

Then, in December 2015, I received the police investigation report leading to the most recent arrest, conviction and incarceration of the applauded pedophile. Just the short file names describing the child pornography involved made me want to cry and throw up. The police report describes images of men having sex with pre-pubescent girls, some described as being “clearly toddlers.” It is a painful thing to face the fact that such evil exists. Yet turning a blind eye is not an option.

There are critical points in all ministries when silence speaks loudest of all. Intrinsically baked into ministry is the response to truth, apart from which there is no ministry.

In January of this year, after the emails and letters to my denomination had essentially come to naught, I approached The Courant with the information I had. I am very grateful for the time and expertise Courant reporter Dave Altimari invested in his story.

SEE THE ARTICLE:  http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-new-haven-baptist-pastor-sex-offender-20160312-story.html

Preying upon the most vulnerable is one of the worst sins committed in the Christian church. Victims of this abuse are given a special place in heaven, I’m sure, but they are handed a life sentence here on Earth.

Given widespread accounts of sexual assaults in other churches and institutions spanning several decades, most people can’t fathom how authorities can fail to alert the community of predators in their midst. Unfortunately, there is an answer that crosses denominational lines. Silence sets in when the energy to guard the institution exceeds the concern for people the institution is supposed to protect. In my view, the institution tends to protect itself.

Jesus had some very harsh words directed at those who would harm children. This obliges denominational leaders to steer away from hiding behind civil law and, instead, consider what pastoral love demands. Passively allowing dysfunctional people, in this case a pedophile, to fly under the radar isn’t restorative grace. It’s repugnant garbage.

For me, being ordained to serve within a certain ecclesiastical context is not the same as signing on to a blind denominational allegiance. I was putting all of my manifestly imperfect faith in Christ. And no faith of any caliber would compromise the protection of children to uphold an institution.

Four decades ago, as a theologically inexperienced and idealistic young man dressed in a dashiki, jeans and tire-soled sandals, I began my walk within the American Baptist branch of the Christian faith. That was a great decision and we represent a justly proud tradition. However, I did not step from the waters of Baptism to eventually fill the shoes of a quietly complicit minister. This issue may well turn out to be the most fundamentally defining matter of my career.

Therefore, without statutory requirement to do so, I chose to make so-called public information much more public.


A Current Spotlight shines…

March 17, 2016

Thanks for the art of sound investigative journalism…

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-new-haven-baptist-pastor-sex-offender-20160312-story.html


Celebrating the Son!

December 31, 2015

People around the northern hemisphere are celebrating the Winter Solstice — the time when the darkness is greatest, but the increase of light begins!

The day of Jesus’ birth was placed at this spot in the year to make this very point.  This puts John the Baptist’s birthday at the Summer solstice, when the light begins to wane.  As he said, relative to himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, but He must increase.”  The dates chosen were intended to be more theologically symbolic than chronologically relevant.

Thanks to the perspective that enlightened those centuries ago, we are left with a tremendous message that’s totally in sync with our lives today.  Reading the papers, watching the news, or checking in on-line, we may well feel that the shadows in our world are indeed quite deep.

But nighttime is not a dynamic unto itself.  It is only the absence of Light.

So, we watch with great joy as our loved ones and friends sing the carols that are near and dear, not because we are woefully naive, or whistling in the dark, but because we are eternally informed, and blowing the darkness away.  Shadows extend themselves across each of our lives, for sure, but any Light puts the shadows to instant retreat, if not completely for now, permanently forever.

At this time, some folks parade around Stonehenge in a re-enactment of surmised rituals we actually know nothing about (alas, the Druids didn’t write too much down).

We Christians place the basis of our celebration on the Rock, the Cornerstone.

Seasons will come and go, and the darkness will wax and wane.  Nevertheless, those who put their trust in the Infant Christ of Christmas will find that the babe lying in a manger is the Savior Whose Light cannot be extinguished.

At times we may wander and stumble in the dusk of the human condition.  Yet, it will come to pass that within our darkest moment, the Light will shine brightest, and by this Illumination we will all find our way into the eternal Bethlehem amidst the everlasting Kingdom of God.


Thanks Darling

August 27, 2015

As a swimmer, I stink.  I could serve as ballast.

People have tried to teach me to float face up, but as they scream, “Arch your back!” I slowly sink, hovering about 6 inches below the available air.

“Arch your back!” as I look like a submerged Yoga Master impaled on a stick, sounds like, “Bbblllarchh, bbllooaa bbbblllll!”

Doing the face down “dead-man’s” maneuver, I can stay buoyant for days, but unlike a dolphin, I don’t have a blow-hole in the back of my head…

I’ve almost drowned 3 times in the past, the first event occurring when I was about 4…  Still, ever since Jacques Cousteau plumbed the depths on the televised voyages of the Calypso, I’ve always been enthralled with the environment underwater.

As a kid, apart from the full outfit of a snorkel and mask, enabling the aforementioned dead-man’s float, sans rubber blow-hole, I was given just the mask.  Far worse than nothing…  Bad idea!

Still, these were the days when people believed the nonsense that swimming within 30 minutes of eating, say, a warm tuna sandwich on the sand, would leave you with cramps.

Truth is, even after an hour, coating the children with tuna oil, before having them re-enter the surf on Jones Beach, not far from Montauk where they catch Great Whites, is FAR more dangerous than tightened muscles.

Time passed, the dream faded, and then I married my wife.

With her prior experience, she got me and my children into proper snorkeling, and then into certified diving.  We have all bonded through this experience, and become better people because of it.

Swimming on the surface, I still resemble a lead weight attached to a large sand-bag.  But sinking with rented scuba gear on, the last 150 dives have been a cinch.

Thanks darling.  And, Happy Birthday!

You opened a world less explored than the Moon, and enabled our children to better know the earth, and indeed, themselves.

BTW, if you check out the video below, click through to YouTube directly, it’ll play much better…


Ferguson again, why?

August 12, 2015

Exactly why are violent protests happening in Ferguson?  We are at the 1st anniversary of what?

Fact is, the DOJ issued a report fully exonerating Darren Wilson.  This is after a Grand Jury refused to indict him.

Why?

Read the DOJ report.  Go on the DOJ website and download it.  Pages 5-8 are worth the price of admission.

Why hasn’t the President used this anniversary to re-frame the whole “race” issue, restate the blatant facts coming from the DOJ investigation, and re-institute a common sense, dispassionate view of law and order?

Fact is, like all life, so-called “Black” lives do matter.  They are being lost violently in nearly epidemic proportions, and not via police action.

Why isn’t the President calling attention to this basic reality?

He is uniquely poised to tell the truth, and set about planting a long-term fix.

Without the diagnosis, we’ll never be able to start fashioning solutions.

 


“We choose to go to the Moon…”

June 24, 2015

When President Kennedy sent us on the quest for landing on the moon and returning safely, his idea was well beyond what anyone on Earth had ever thought realistically possible.

It was an enormous vision.

President Obama needs to do the same thing in envisioning the quest for a society that forgets “race” and looks upon character.

Our current President enjoys a golden opportunity to redefine America, and lift us far beyond the mud of racial division into the stratosphere of universal human reality.

He is uniquely poised to do this.

I hope he will.

 

 


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