Picking Up Empty Bottles

            When I walk my dog Jasmine in the mornings, she and I always end up on the tow path, which runs along the other side of our backyard. It is a favorite part of the walk for Jasmine as there is much to smell. This morning, as we cut onto River Road and then Trenton Avenue to get back our house, I noticed an empty vodka bottle in the grass. I picked it up to carry home. A long line of cars stretched back from the traffic light near the Calhoun Street Bridge, as is the case most weekday mornings. One guy, sitting in traffic, greeted me, “Hey Pastor Stuart!” My right hand was holding Jasmine’s leash, so I waved at him with my left, which held the empty liquor bottle. The man wasn’t a member of our church and I wonder what he thought.

            Throughout church history, Christians have picked up a lot of empty bottles. Christians cared for children cast aside by families who didn’t want them. Christians forged new ways of caring for the sick, the mentally ill and the imprisoned. Christians were once known as the “Merciful Ones”. We didn’t leave the bottles we’ve been committed to doing something about them. In this way, the church, on the whole, isn’t ISIS. That is, we who try to follow Christ seriously are bent on making the world better, cleaner, healthier. For the Christian, these qualities— love, kindness, mercy, generosity, forgiveness, and justice— are to go with us in the same way that our skin goes with us wherever we go.

            With less than 8 weeks from the election, I’m thinking about the landscape of our country. It’s been a rough election cycle; and it is only going to get uglier the closer we get to November 8th. All elections are rough, I suppose; but what about the garbage gathering around the United States? I see division, hatred, contempt and scorn for people who will vote for the other candidate.  

            I heard this week of a seminar that is to be held at Princeton Theological Seminary on Thursday, September 29th. The day sessions are not open to the public, but the evening session is. The seminar’s title intrigues me. Civil Courage: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and American Politics Today. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who spoke against the rise of the Nazis. His stance and participation in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler eventually cost him his life. Here is a description of the seminar: How should the church address the disturbing rhetoric of the U.S. presidential campaign? And what should we say once the elections are over? Join us for a conversation about what the church can do when, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “unbearable conflicts have worn us down or even made us cynical.” Historians, theologians, preachers, pastors, and individuals with political experience will help move us through this conversation as we look to the outcome of the presidential election in November. The final lecture followed by a reception is open for anyone to attend. For complete information visit: http://coned.ptsem.edu/events/bonhoeffer/

            I have few answers for the challenges our country faces. I’m just looking for the bottles to pick up.