“Bless me Father, for I have sinned…”

November 24, 2016

Over a banquet of delicious food, that would be consumed in a fraction of the time it took to prepare, I remember the time my mother began to say Grace for our Thanksgiving feast.  Making the traditional Roman Catholic sign of the cross, starting with the right hand at the forehead, instead of saying, “Bless us O Lord, and these Thy gifts…” she began with, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

This was different.

Instead of the predictable rote pronouncement over the meal, which, in truth, may not have garnered full and rapt attention, we got the opening for a confessional encounter with a Priest!  This was going to be great!  Within nano-seconds, the delirium of an emotional cranberry sauce was being set before us, and all we had to do was wait for a further serving!

Sensing the Eldorado of admissions might be forthcoming, everyone furtively leaned slightly forward in a most careful silence so as not to disturb the current stream of consciousness and therefore miss what might be coming next.  Forget the turkey, this was an appetizer no one wanted to pass by.  The mind still boggles at the potential possibilities.

Unfortunately however, mom caught herself mid-sentence.  Thus, we were left hanging as the more predictable blessing was spoken over the turnip and sweet potatoes.  Darn.

Even so, the lesson lingers.  Gathered amidst hotly contested election results, football games on TV, and rich gravy set upon the table, reality reminds us that we have all sinned and have something to confess.  Interesting as they might be, these confessions need not be broadcast to family or guests invited to partake in our feast.

But we do carry them in our hearts.

Therefore, knowing we have a Savior, well before the Christmas rush to commemorate His arrival, we eminently frail humans have enormous reason to give heartfelt appreciation.  This gratitude runs far deeper than what we happen to have.  It’s totally based in knowing who, and Whose, we are.

Imperfect as we must be, the Scriptures declare that, “Here and now, we are God’s Children.”

Yes.  Even with skinned knees, dirty clothes, bad habits and spotty records, that Divine designation can be stained and soiled, but it can never be taken away.  Ever.

For that eternal fact, infused within and yet superseding all proximate circumstances, we can truly give thanks.


An Open Letter to our President-elect

November 19, 2016

Dear Mr. President-elect,

May you have great success!

In full disclosure, I did not vote for you.

I wrote in for Bernie Sanders.  I thought he and his supporters had long been poorly treated by the DNC.

My sympathies are not in favor of the “Not My President” style of protesting.  You won an electoral landslide, and you are my soon to be inaugurated President.

My family and I, along with all Americans are depending on you.

Personally, I think you can do a great job, and we all need you to.  I have faith that you will.

However, in truth, let me express a lingering bias.

Your remarks about Senator John McCain and President George W. Bush were not your finest hour, or our nation’s.

I’ve seen President Bush working under duress, from a very close vantage point, and his level of strength and integrity are well worth affirming across any party lines or partisan view.

Your past remarks about a lot of people weren’t the best either.

Truthfully, I believe one of your strong points, among many, is the fact that you say what you actually think, and you also listen, so that your thinking may constantly evolve.

This is a tremendous attribute.

That said, may I humbly make a suggestion?

At some point, before your Inauguration, I think it would be a great thing to acknowledge the gift of your being able to speak freely.  That’s a good thing, for sure.

It might also go a long way to say that in the heat of campaigning, and for other reasons, some of what you have said could rightly be received as being quite hurtful.

Recommit yourself to the wonderful approach and pledge to seek the best for America, while being gracious enough to revisit some comments for retraction or clarification.

Not only will that make you an even better President-elect, it will help make America as great as we all want her to be.

Respectfully,

Rev. Bill Keane

 

 

 

 

 


When the towers fell, we all stood up… together.

November 13, 2016

Here is the final excerpt from today’s sermon made as a commentary on the current Doomsday scenarios being bandied about by some who seem to have forgotten that elections mean having those who prevail and those who don’t, holding respect, in freedom, that wins the day for all of us.  I wrote the poem about 15 years ago, as we were nearing Thanksgiving and the Christmas Season.

FOR THOSE IN THEIR LATE TEENS AND EARLY 20’S WHO THINK THE SKY FALLING, KEEP IN MIND, NOT SO LONG AGO, MUCH MORE CAME DOWN, AND WE ALL STOOD UP, TOGETHER.

THIS PAST WEEK IN PREPARING MY SERMON, I CAME ACROSS SOMETHING, BY ACCIDENT, THAT I WROTE AND RENDERED HERE IN THIS PULPIT 15 YEARS AGO.  WE WERE NEAR THANKSGIVING, ABOUT TO ENTER THE CHRISTMAS SEASON.  THE CONTEXT IS FROM 9/11, BUT IF YOU DON’T MIND, I’D LIKE TO SHARE IT TODAY, BECAUSE I THINK WE HAVE WONDERFUL CHARACTER IN AMERICA, BUT VERY SHORT MEMORIES.

RECALLING THE STORY ABOUT WHO-VILLE AND THE GRINCH, I WANT TO RESTATE SOMETHING CALLED  “OSAMA THE BINCH”.

Every U down in Uville liked U.S. a lot,
But the Binch, who lived Far East of Uville, did not.
The Binch hated U.S! the whole U.S. way!
Now don’t ask me why, for nobody can say,

It could be his theology was somehow not right.
Or the sun from the desert had beaten too bright
But I think the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or bad sermon,
He stood facing Uville, the part that was urban.
“They’re doing their business,” he snarled from his perch.
“They’re raising their families! They’re going to church!

They’re leading the world, and their freedom is thriving, I must keep the S’s and U’s from surviving!”
Tomorrow, he knew, all the U’s and the S’s,
Would put on their pants and their shirts and their dresses,

They’d go to their offices, playgrounds and schools,
And abide by their U and S values and rules,
And then they’d do something he liked least of all,
Every U down in U-ville, the tall and the small,

Would stand all united, each U and each S,
And they’d sing Uville’s anthem, “God bless us! God bless!”
All around their Twin Towers of Uville, they’d stand,
and their voices would drown every sound in the land.

“I must stop that singing,” Binch said with a smirk,
And he had an idea–an idea that might work!
The Binch stole U airplanes in U morning hours,
And crashed them right into the Uville Twin Towers.

“They’ll wake to disaster!” he snickered, so sour,
“And how can they sing when they can’t find a tower?”
The Binch cocked his ear as they woke from their sleeping, All set to enjoy their U-wailing and weeping,

Instead he heard something that started quite low,
And it built up quite slow, AND it started to grow–
the Binch heard the most unpredictable thing…
And he couldn’t believe it–they started to sing!

He stared down at U-ville, not trusting his eyes,
What he saw was a shocking, disgusting surprise!
Every U down in U-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any towers at all!

He hadn’t stopped U-Ville from singing! It sung!
For down deep in the hearts of the old and the young,
Those Twin Towers were standing, called Hope and called Pride,
And you can’t smash the towers we hold deep inside.

So we circle the sites where our heroes did fall,
With a hand in each hand of the tall and the small,
And we mourn for our losses while knowing we’ll cope,
For we still have inside that U-Pride and U-Hope.

For America means a bit more than tall towers,
It means more than wealth or political powers,
It’s more than our enemies ever could guess,
So may God bless America! GOD Bless us! God bless!


All Trumped Up

November 11, 2016

People voted, populism was tempered by regionalism, and Donald Trump won the electoral votes necessary to be called the President-elect.

I know many who voted for him.

They are not bigots, racists, misogynists, or ignorami.  They are decent people who exercised their right to mark ballots and pull levers.

In a free country, these things happen.

I have no respect for those, in the face of defeat, who are now spitting in the well of our country’s future.

Donald Trump is my President.

I will give him the chance to reach out and be everyone’s Commander-in-Chief.

Personally, I believe Mr. Trump has the potential to be a great President.  He likes to win, and I believe he really wants to be seen as successful, and not by a few.

At this writing, barely two days after the election, Mexico and Canada have already indicated their willingness to take a new look at NAFTA.

Gee, I wonder how that happened…

 


…for President!

September 29, 2016

I can’t speak to all areas of our country, or even our state.

But, anecdotally, I can’t recall a Presidential election in which people seemed so broadly unwilling to put out lawn signage or bumper stickers proclaiming who their preferred candidate is.

How did this happen?

Personally, I have faith in our country, and our ability to do well regardless of who sits in the Oval Office.

Still, I think it would be helpful to look into the dynamics leading up to an election day where it seems few folks are comfortable with publicly standing behind the individual they’re likely to vote for.


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.