What Do You Say in Horrific Situations?

Horrific situations are devastating for those affected and awkward for almost everyone else. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any words and other times you feel as though you should say something. What do you say to those in the midst of overwhelming circumstances?

I think it’s helpful to acknowledge that words are inadequate. Think about when you are overwhelmed. Do you want someone blathering at you? Is there anything that is definitely not helpful to hear even if it is truthful?

A tweet by a megachurch pastor in Houston made me cringe. (OK, I did more than cringe.) As tropical storm Harvey was flooding the entire Houston area on Sunday he tweeted:

There’s a simple phrase you have to get in your spirit, “God’s got this.”

Besides bad theology, what does this tweet really say?

People are losing everything. They are clinging on for their lives – literally. They don’t know where their family and friends are or how they are faring. There is no let up of the rain or flooding. They have turned to social media because the 911 lines are completely inundated. People are desperate. Their lives are being changed forever. Recovery will take years. Some will never recover.

Do you want to hear “God’s got this” when you’re facing daunting destruction or unfathomable loss? Is that message helpful? Does that bring peace to your breaking heart or hope in your despair?

If you’re like me (if you even want to hear anything about God), you want to hear God has me. God is with me in and through all of this destruction and loss.  I am not alone even if I feel so alone and empty.

What I’ve heard over and over again from the first responders, volunteers, and people interviewed on the Harvey news is, “We need your prayers.” “If you believe in God or anything, please pray for us.” People need hope and hope always comes from beyond ourselves. We need to know that there are others who care about us and are holding us in their thoughts and prayers. People need to know they are not forgotten.

You. Are. Not. Alone.

When we’re in horrific situations we want to know we are not alone. We matter. We will be helped and supported through the long, painful journey of recovery. Maybe more than words, we need someone to just be there. The gift of presence is precious. There will many opportunities to help out in practical ways. There will be times when a thoughtful word from your heart is welcome.

In the meantime, what do you want someone to say to you when your heart is breaking and you don’t know how you’re going to move forward?

Are You Ready for Disasters?

yellow yield sign with are you ready?Disasters strike. The only thing we don’t know is who, what, when, where, how, and why. We may have some information, but never do we have all of the information. Tropical  storm Harvey is an epic reminder. And we’re only in the very early stages of this natural disaster.

Merriam-Webster has this definition:

a sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction; a sudden or great misfortune or failure

The thing about disasters and tragedies is that we can never be fully prepared. Oh, we can do a lot to mitigate the disruption, but there will always be something that is beyond the scope of what we could have anticipated. We can be warned about a weather event, but as in the case of Harvey, the warning could never have prepared the Houston area for the amount for water they would actually receive. There are still a lot of natural disasters like earthquakes, or other losses like accidents, that we can’t determine.

Humanity is resilient.  We may not be able to change the fact that we are in the midst of a disaster, but we can reduce fear, anxiety, stress, and loss by having a plan. There will be uncertainties, surprises, and the shock of it that will hit us later, but a plan takes the pressure off what to do when we can’t – or don’t have time- to think.

I have lived through earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and forest fires. I was not at home and separated from my sons when any of them hit. This was before mobile phones and internet! It was scary. I was not fully prepared.

Not all disasters are natural. Pipes burst, power goes out, or an accident occurs. A motorcyclist might even go through your front window, hitting the gas main. This actually happened recently on our quiet street. The first two houses on both sides of the street had to evacuate themselves and their pets.

Where do we even begin?

Have a Plan

In another life I was a civilian chaplain for a special forces group. They were often called out in the middle of the night to do a covert operation in some undisclosed part of the world. They’d grab their go bag and be gone. Their families never knew where they were or how long they’d be gone. The families had a plan, just as their service member did. It was still disruptive, but the plan did it help families with expectations and helped put into place some coping mechanisms.

Make part of your plan  to have a go bag for every person and pet in your family. Also have a three-day supply for sheltering in place. Having these essentials ready means you can just go at a moment’s notice. Sometimes a moment is all you have.

Make a plan today. Next time we’ll focus on the hard part of being in a disaster – coping with recovery.

Are you ready?

Are You a Bridge Person?

The bridge photo gracing the new Eternal Scheme site is the iconic Folsom Rainbow Bridge. My sister, Janet, took this picture for me on one of her training bike rides along the American River.  I love the imagery of bridges and think it represents the purpose of Eternal Scheme.

I’m not exactly sure how the Rainbow Bridge got it’s name. It was built in 1917 to replace the old truss bridge and to allow auto traffic. The old truss bridge has an interesting and storied history, but I need to do some library research to find out more about the Rainbow Bridge.

I go over this bridge through historical Folsom a few times each week. I go over another bridge to get to my sister’s house. There are two other bridges I use over the American River to go anywhere else. There are several rivers in our area and bridges make it possible for us to get where we need to go.

There’s something majestic about bridges. They are feats of engineering and many are feats of artistic beauty. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Golden Gate Bridge still thrills whenever I drive over it. The Bay Bridge was still being renovated when Saint Sam and I moved from the Bay Area to Texas. It’s a beautiful structure across the bay, especially at night when it’s lit up. So much structural personality in each bridge!

The Bridge of the Americas was a familiar sight for Saint Sam and I as we made our road trips along I-10 between Texas and California. This great bridge spans the Rio Grande between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. It’s one of the three international bridges between El Paso and Mexico making up the world’s largest international border metroplex. I wonder how accessible each country is now.

A bridge is a structure built to span a physical obstacle without obstructing or closing off what’s underneath. They span water, valleys, roads, railways, and such. Bridges have been around for millennia to allow movement between two points that might otherwise be inaccessible or difficult to access.

It seems that bridges may not be as popular among some as walls. Bridges and walls are two very different structures with very different purposes. A bridge spans and and connects. A wall divides and encloses. Whether a physical structure or a metaphorical reference, bridges and walls have distinct purposes. I think of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and  Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Are you more of The Wall or Bridge Over Troubled Water person?

I am definitely a bridge person.

The Great American Eclipse

The Great American Eclipse began its American journey near Depoe Bay, Oregon. Depoe Bay figures prominently in my summers growing up. I wasn’t paying enough attention, otherwise I might have considered a sojourn to Depoe Bay for the total solar eclipse. Instead, Saint Sam and I experienced 78.2 percent of the eclipse from our own backyard in northern California.

We parked our outdoor chairs on the lawn. The breeze was cool, the neighborhood quiet, and the steady hum of morning traffic winding down. We could hear the birds, although they were tucked away in their hide-aways. It was still too early for the butterflies and the squirrels were keeping their distance. Saint Sam becomes Warrior Sam when they try to bury their nuts in his carefully tended plant pots!

Our solar eclipse was pretty uneventful. I thought that a 78.2 percent solar eclipse would have rendered a little more darkness or shadows. It was more like a hazy morning, or what we Californians refer to as earthquake light. The temperature did drop as the eclipse increased. Even though we didn’t experience totality, it was still an awesome and sacred few hours.

Millions of people showed up across the United States to view the total eclipse of the sun. The eclipse became a few hours of shared humanity. It was a few hours when we were invited to consider the heavens and cosmos. The Great American Eclipse was an astronomical occurrence that offered a wondrous respite from the drama and violence that seems to constantly disrupt daily life and threaten any harmony we seek.

It’s hard to find glimmers of hope and comfort in a world wracked by war, famine, economic inequality, violence, deportation, and systemic sin. My privilege and skin color may keep more distress at arms length, but we are all oppressed and as long as any are oppressed. Hateful rhetoric has entered mainstream conversation making attempts to eclipse the dignity, value and sacredness of all people.

The prophet Isaiah was inspired to share a message of hope, help, and comfort to a people in the snare disillusionment and despair. Life was difficult. Their neighbors were contentious and their communities were wracked with destruction and neglect. Isaiah was a spiritual guide with a message that God remains with them, and that God still desires what is good and right and true for and within them.

Several centuries later Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah, reads these inspiring verses aloud, and then proclaims that the Scriptures are being fulfilled here and now.  The pixie dust didn’t just get sprinkled and everything was made right. Jesus spoke to those who were listening. They would become God’s agents of help, hope, and comfort then and inspire generations to come.

Just like the eclipse, a life of true faith often seems uneventful. Maybe our efforts or prayers seem solitary or inconsequential. The spiritual magic is when we see our shared humanity and do something to enhance it. It’s looking at the darkness in our own hearts while waiting for the light to shine again. It’s opening ourselves up to something we don’t fully understand. It’s looking to the heavens and stars in awe and wonder, lifting our vision beyond. It’s kneeling in humility that the God of the cosmos and beyond is the same God who is intimately involved and invested in each and every human being gracing this great planet. No one is eclipsed in God’s sight.

Watching for Surprises


One of the hallmarks of this past year for me has been surprise. I do not like surprises. Surprises are unsettling and mess up time tables and outcomes. Surprises are disruptive and inject uncertainty and the unknown. Surprises force us let go of plans and outcomes and enter into a new sacred space of unknowingness.

When I had my worn out ankle replacement removed and all kinds of bone grafting and metal spikes and screws constructed in its place, I really thought I’d go through an extensive recovery and rehabilitation and come out on the other side be just about good as before. I was not watching for any surprises. Too bad for me because these past sixteen months has been one surprise after another with this ankle!

We truly don’t know what will happen or how things will go. In our Advent reading this week, Matthew writes of one being “taken” and one being “left”, surviving the onslaught of the taker. Two co-workers are on the same work team. One is diagnosed with cancer and another remains healthy. Two well-qualified applicants are applying for the same position. One gets the job and the other doesn’t. Two high school kids are coming home from the football game. One is killed in the car accident and the other lives. You’re in the wedding party of two friends. One couple stays married and the other divorces.

Surprises all around. While not all surprises are tragic or life-altering, they are an invitation to watch for the presence of God in surprises. Sometimes we have to wait awhile to see the presence of God in a situation and that can be painful. But the promise of Scripture is that God is reliable, meets us at the point of our greatest need, and accompanies us even and especially in the surprises and unbearable circumstances.

When I am watching for surprises – and there will be surprises – I know to also watch for God. God will show up. How and where and in whom God shows up may also be a surprise, but God does meet me. God meets me in that unsettling and uncertain surprise. God comforts me in all that disruption. As God accompanies me, a sense of purpose is gradually revealed. The surprise becomes a sacred experience which transforms me. Ah, the little gems along the Advent journey.



Another Advent journey begins today. In a sense, I have been anticipating this Advent for an entire year! It has been a year of watching and waiting. A year of struggle and managing. A year of reunions and saying goodbye. A year of new normals and carving out the sacred in the ordinary. It’s been a hard, bittersweet year. A fresh, unknowingness awaits.

At 11 years, my eldest granddaughter is a prolific artist. She has volumes of compositions notebooks and reams of binder paper filled with stories and poems and drawings of her stories and imaginings. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, she and I talked about how we read and how we write. No one else in our family understands why we read the end of books first or why we write from the perspective of the conclusion. It’s not so much that we must know exactly what’s going to transpire, but that everything we are going to read or write will come together for some meaningful purpose.

That’s how the Scripture for this Advent begins too. Before Jesus left this earthly realm, he reminded his followers that he would return. By the time Matthew writes his chronicle of Jesus, roughly 50 years have passed. His followers have been waiting for a long time and he writes to encourage them to stay alert and watch for Jesus’ return. Otherwise, they might miss God’s advent among.

This is what Matthew says to the community to whom he is writing:

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,  and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” ~ Matthew 24:36-44

Here we are, more then two millennia later, and we are still waiting! In fact, we have been waiting so long, I’m pretty sure most people are no longer waiting. Just as Matthew’s message fell on many deaf ears at the end of that first century, I’m certain most people today are no longer waiting.

Here’s the thing: I think we completely miss the message when we focus on Jesus’ return. Matthew reminds us that not even Jesus knows the hour of his return. It’s going to be unexpected. The real message we need to focus on is the profound sense of uncertainty this passage evokes.

Uncertainty, surprises, unexpected events are something we do know something about. We live in a culture that wants what we want now. We expect on-time delivery and are intolerant of delays. We don’t like waiting and we aren’t very patient. We’re so busy focusing on ourselves that we miss what’s happening around us. We don’t want to wait and we certainly don’t want to watch for something or someone.

Of course, that’s exactly what God wants for us. Not only does God want that for us, God is reminding us how integral waiting and watching are to our very humanity. So begins this year’s Advent journey.

While most advent calendars begin on December 1, our advent calendar will be on this year’s first day of Advent, November 27. Each day we will “open” our advent window to see what God might have for us that day. I hope you will check in each day (or better yet, sign up to have each blog post delivered directly to your email!) and join me on this Advent journey.


The Hummingbird Messenger

hummingbird 3Every morning the first two summers after my brother died, I’d wake up to a hummingbird sitting on the power wires that ran along our back fence line. I’d never seen a hummingbird light anywhere, much less stay in one place for any length of time. Then, to have this reoccur every morning for several months, moved this occurrence from unusual and happenstance to meaningful.

This hummingbird did other unusual things too. He would hover at the end of the table when Saint Sam and I ate lunch or dinner out on the patio. He’d hover across the table from me as I was working on my Eternal Scheme Daily Word book outside on the patio table. When we were inside, he’d hover near the sliding glass doors that entered on to the patio. He’d hover by the window in the dining room if we were sitting there. If I was the paranoid type, I might think this hummingbird was stalking me!

These weren’t occasional hummingbird sightings. These were multiple-times-a-day hummingbird sightings. We laughed about Vic coming by to visit, but deep down inside, I knew this wasn’t merely an amusing matter. This hummingbird was a messenger with a timely message for me to consider.

Hummingbirds, like all creatures, have their own special place in creation. When I look at nature – all nature – I am constantly reminded of God’s incredible diversity and beauty. Besides having their special place in creation’s ecology, hummingbirds can teach us something about ourselves. After all, the inspiration leading to the development of helicopters came from the hummingbird.

Pure Joy

There is something about the lightness and iridescence of hummingbirds that elicits joy. Their gossamer-like wings reflect a rainbow of colors, reminding us that beauty is all around us. They thrive on nectar from flowers for their energy. What sweetness doesn’t inspire a light-hearted joy in the small treasures of life?

Flexibility and Ability to Change Direction

Hummingbirds are so hard to see up close because they’re constantly moving and changing directions. In fact, they are the only birds that can hover or fly backwards! Even though hummingbirds are swift and hard to keep track of, they seem to just glide as they move from one spot to another.

Now there’s where we can learn a lot from these tiny creatures! Would that our lives be marked with a gracefulness and flexibility as we navigate and accommodate the ever-changing circumstances of our lives.

Resiliency and Stamina

Hummingbirds may be tiny, but they can travel great distances. Certain species of hummingbirds migrate from Canada to the Caribbean Islands or Central America! Not only can they travel these long distances, they prepare for the long migration by increasing their weight 100% to increase the potential flying time over water. When not migrating, hummingbirds are always close to starving. That is why they must constantly look for nectar to maintain their energy. They are so efficient, they only store what is necessary to survive the night.

I don’t know about you, but it’s always easy to think about resiliency and stamina before or after a life event. I know I must draw upon the spiritual stores I’ve already laid up for myself to manage what’s necessary to maintain stamina and remain resilient in the midst of a life event. Staying consistent and faithful to my spiritual discipline of prayer, meditation, and study replenishes those stores so that I will be able to go whatever distance is necessary or required as I migrate this life.

That same hummingbird that sat on our power lines every morning and hovered at our patio table is no longer here. I was sad when I first noticed he’d gone. I didn’t have those constant reminders of Vic’s presence. However, the gift of that hummingbird – and the gift of those closest to us – go on giving even when gone from us. Now, each time I see the new hummingbirds, I am reminded of the precious message for me from that special hummingbird and my heart is healed a little bit more for my brother.

The Tedium of Healing

Bare tree against a cloudy skyI am 10 days into a l-o-n-g recovery. In the eternal scheme of things, 10 days isn’t even a blip of anything. Ten days is also a mere breath of what it took for me to get to the place of needing this round of surgeries. Ten days post-op has its own measure of healing benchmarks that the surgeons can celebrate. But for me, it’s hard not to get discouraged that I’m only 10 days into a l-o-n-g healing process.

The tedium of healing is a real lesson in moment-by-moment renewal. Healing and renewal go far beyond the physical. In fact, most of us, if we stop long enough to consider, find out that the deeper and more fulfilling aspects of healing and renewal aren’t physical at all. We find that the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken on an emotional or spiritual level brings the most satisfying contentment and helps to replenish our inner reservoir.

I’m learning that actively experiencing the tedium is much more beneficial than avoiding the tedium. Most of us go to great lengths to avoid those things which are unpleasant. Not every avoiding behavior is overtly destructive, but avoiding those things we need to face only prolongs any healing or renewal available for us.

The other thing about the tedium of healing is that there are no shortcuts. It takes as long as it takes. I can’t do anything to make it go faster. I can, however, do plenty, to make it take longer. I need to be completely non-weight bearing for my ankle to heal properly. Trying to walk on it would not only prolong my healing, but cause other problems that would have to then be fixed.

I don’t have to like being non-weight bearing, but there are things I can learn from being non-weight bearing that will inform the depths to which I heal. I will walk again. But there are many others who won’t. What can I learn from my time not walking that will make me more thoughtful of those who can’t or will never walk again? How am I thankful and appreciative for all that’s being done for me when I can’t do it myself? What new explorations are there for me while I sit parked on the sofa? What can I be grateful for as I heal? How am I being renewed right now?

Most of all, I’ve learned to draw strength from the One who never grows tired or weary. God gives power to the faint and strength to the weary. And the imagery of a soaring eagle is definitely outside the scope of tedium!

Even youths will faint and be weary,
     and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
     they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
     they shall walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:30-31

Glitches and All

Moon_riseThe human body is amazing.

Each of us are a complex network of sophisticated systems. There are eleven major organ systems: circulatory, respiratory, digestive, excretory, nervous, endocrine, immune, integumentary, skeletal, muscle and reproductive systems.

And then there’s the intrinsically beautiful and fascinating field of biochemistry that serves to inform and influence all of the body’s systems on all levels, even a single gene. For example, biochemistry informs the molecular bases for mental disorders such as Alzheimer disease and schizophrenia.

If we were all so inclined, it is possible to have a very intimate understanding about how and why our bodies work similarly to and differently from others. We can understand why one person in our family has a propensity toward addiction and another toward hypertension. Scientists are already working on individually customized gene therapy for specific diseases. It’s fascinating and hopeful.

There are times when I wonder why my body has a propensity to break down. Or I wonder “what happened” to the brain biochemistry leading to one of my son’s being bipolar.  I know the medical and scientific researchers are gaining ground on these mysteries daily. But all the research and data in the world does not remove the reality of living with conditions or glitches in our systems. There is or will be something that falls apart in each of our amazing bodies this side of eternity.

When I couldn’t sleep in the hospital, watching an exquisite moon rise out my 14th-floor hospital window, I was reminded of an eternal perspective:

O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am;
You observe my  wanderings and my sleeping, my waking and my dreaming,
    and You know everything I do in more detail than even I know.
You have surrounded me on every side, behind me and before me,
    and You have placed Your hand gently on my shoulder.

It is the most amazing feeling to know how deeply You know me, inside and out;
    the realization of it is so great that I cannot comprehend it.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
    the light around me will soon be turned to night,”

You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
    For You the night is just as bright as the day.
    Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes. ~ Psalm 139:1, 3, 5-6, 11-12 The Voice

While we may sometimes struggle with really being known even as we desire to be known, we are already intimately known by God. God knows our deepest, most private thoughts and fears. We may have quirks and glitches no judgement or shame or stigma with God because quirks or glitches in our bodies or minds. Our human bodies are amazing. God knows we are amazing too.

The Sadness of Change

2015-03-28 15.56.26I had my left ankle replaced in 2003. It finally wore completely out. Yes, even prosthetic technology wears out.

I was hoping for an update – what they call an arthroplasty revision or a new ankle replacement – but alas, I had too many other problems in what was left of my own ankle area to have another replacement. After 20 years of avoiding an ankle ankle fusion, it happened.

I’ve gotten quite used to these surgical procedures. But I was not prepared for all of the grief! It’s always been slightly under the surface with each major anatomical update, but this one was infused with much more sadness. My gait would permanently change. The kinds of shoe I could wear would permanently change. My activity options would permanently change. It would be a permanent right angle ankle. The only thing left to move would be my toes and a teensy part of my forefoot.

On top of the changes that would take place, the whole procedure was barbaric. The surgeons had to chisel out my ankle replacement hardware which was grown into my own bones. Cadaver bone (I am eternally grateful for those who had that donor sticker on your driver’s license) was ground up and added to bone they took from another leg bone of mine. All those bone chips were added to a special glue concoction to fill in all the empty cavities once the replacement hardware was removed. A very high tech suspension spike was driven into my tibia (main shin bone) through my heel. The bone goop was placed around the spike. Measurements and x-rays and adjustments were made to line everything up. The goal was to have everything aligned so that when I did walk with my special shoe, there would be a fluid rocking movement from my heal through my big toe. Screws were inserted from both sides of my “ankle” to keep everything in place. A boot/cast was the grand finale. Let the healing process begin.

Once the drapes were removed in the operating room, the surgeons knew immediately the alignment was off. I’m missing some key anatomical landmarks (like a patella and patellar tendon) and I have a knee replacement. Plus, I’d had some major reconstruction on my ankle before the ankle replacement. In one of their own words, “They failed to appreciate the complexity of my leg.” They made everything right two days later.

There are no words for the gratitude I have for the expertise and attention to detail and the considerations for my well-being that my ankle team has displayed. I am thankful for the Affordable Care Act because I now have insurance and access to world-class medical care. I have Saint Sam, my supportive family, and so many other holding me in a sacred place.

When Saint Sam and Janet, my sister the nurse (at the same hospital), came to see me, I found myself getting very emotional talking about what was changing. I’ve already adapted and changed about so much in my life, why was this any different? There was nothing life-threatening about any of this, why did I have such sadness?

No doubt I will be exploring and meditating on this. This sadness didn’t just surface because of this surgery. I have some other “grief” that I have been aware of, but reluctant to share.

My Eternal Scheme Daily Word was “Flexibility” the day I came home from the hospital. Here is the prayer I wrote for that focused inspiration was this:

As the tree bends in the storm or the reed is soaked and bent to weave a basket, so may I too be flexible in all that I encounter today. Because I am rooted and grounded in your Divine care, I am able to withstand whatever blows my way. I may sway and I may bend, but I will not be broken or uprooted. Amen.


RosesPruning is an essential gardening skill. I’ve discovered that my plants will only thrive and produce optimal blossoms if they are pruned at the right time. Right now the nearby vineyards are becoming lush with greenery. The upcoming summer season will ripen all the grapes and, after the harvest, the gardener will drastically prune each plant until they look like nothing will grow from them again. Every January I prune my roses, certain I’ve finally pruned it too much and killed the poor plant. Several week later, I witness new growth and leaves and buds. Amazing.

How often do you feel like you’re being pruned, each disappointment or piece of news cutting a little more or wounding a little deeper? I’m at that magical age where every time I go to the doctor I’m facing yet another surgery. These old limbs have been pruned so much they need to be reinforced with titanium! Sometimes we can accept life’s curveball and see it as an opportunity to grow and other times we feel like we’re being cut down at the root.

That’s why I love what Jesus says about vines. You can read the short passage here. Many read this passage and think it’s about judgement and threat. But when we consider the context of Jesus’ narrative, you see that this a metaphor of promise and hope.

It is the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. He knows what is about to go down when everyone else is having trouble following what he’s talking about. He knows they are bound to be cut down by his crucifixion and death. He anticipates that things will get worse before they ever get better and knows they will be at their wits’ end. John, who is writing this account many, many years after Jesus’ crucifixion, has seen the community scattered, most likely thrown out of their synagogues, and persecuted for their beliefs. No doubt he has heard conversations of how they feel abandoned and uncertain about their survival. John is writing to assure them that they have not been abandoned and, that while they have indeed been pruned, they will still have abundant life.

I’m sure that was a tough sell! There sure wasn’t much evidence that anything good was coming their way, much less how they were going to even get through it! A fruitful future was not on their horizon. At all. And isn’t that how we feel too? We’re so beaten down by uncertainty and distress, it is difficult to see much of anything good coming from it. IF we make it that far.

It’s in the midst of that uncertainty and distress that Jesus invites us to abide. He promises that he will cling to us as the grapevine clings to the wire it grows along for support and strength. No matter what happens, Jesus will be with us. No matter what happens, Jesus will hold on to us. No matter what happens, God in Jesus will bring something good to us in the end.

When we remember that Jesus is sharing these words with his closest friends before he’s about to be snatched and strung up on a cross to die, we begin to see God’s commitment to wrestle life and hope in the middle of all that seems most devoid of life and hope. I don’t think the cross is the mechanism by which God forgives and redeems us because we are so wretched. I believe the cross is a reminder that God chose, through Christ, to get involved with all life’s frailties and trials, hopes and triumphs, so that we might know God’s unending, eternal commitment to us. The cross is not the instrument that made it possible for God to love us. The cross is the evidence and testimony of how much God already loves us. The resurrection reminds us that those hardships and disappointments, even death, will not have the last word.

It’s not always easy abiding or even drawing upon God’s promise that we will never be abandoned. And then I see beautiful roses and grapevines laden with juicy grapes supported by the wires strung up in the vineyard. And I am reminded.


Who Isn’t Here?

Photo: Linda Fouquet
Photo: Linda Fouquet

The last field trip I chaperoned was when my youngest son was a senior in high school. The school’s wind ensemble was invited to a competition of other bands from around the Pacific Rim. We parent chaperones were assigned a specific group of kids to oversee. The kids were great. Mainly I herded kids from one location to another and made sure they were where they were supposed to be at night. My only question was, “Who isn’t here?”

That’s what stands out in the scripture passage for this fourth week of Easter. Almost everyone is familiar with this passage. So familiar that they don’t even glance at it when they encounter it or listen when they hear what passage is to be read. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. But have you ever thought about who are the hired hands and who are the other sheep? That’s right, tucked in all that familiarity is a little nugget.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (v.16) 

The gospel of John is full of stories of other sheep. The Samaritan woman Jesus approached at the well. The tax collectors who were hated for their unethical behaviors. Revolutionaries, lepers, disabled, homeless and addicted, immigrants, and a whole host of other sheep we’d rather not have to associate with, much less allow into our flock!

The other sheep that do not belong to this fold is what captivates my imagining. Those are the sheep who are not here. And who are they? This phrase reminds me that who belongs to the Jesus’ flock are beyond my imagining. There’s a remarkable expansiveness and inclusiveness that might be a calling for our generation. I cannot know all that God has in mind for those who walk or follow different paths. I do know that the Good Shepherd laid down his life for all the sheep and that mercy and grace are for all the sheep purely because of God’s abiding and eternal love.

I love the subtle reminder that almost gets missed,

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. (v. 12-13)

We are not the shepherd, we are the sheep. When we make judgments as if we are the shepherd about what the sheep should look like or how the sheep should behave or what the sheep should believe or who the sheep are, we need to step back and remember we are not the shepherd. We are sheep. When we think we’re shepherds, we end up becoming hired hands!

No, I’m better off being a sheep who looks around for other sheep who are not here in the flock.

When in Doubt

New LifeIf dead people don’t stay dead, what can you believe? I think that is exactly what Jesus’ close followers were thinking every time he appeared in their midst after his death. Seriously. Wouldn’t you?

Go back and read the stories. While each of the stories about the resurrection have variations, there is one thing they all have in common. No one, absolutely no one, believes the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. No one believes it, and that includes Jesus’ closest friends. The same friends who gave up their careers to follow him! In fact, doubt and disbelief start with his followers.

We’ve been making the rounds of the resurrection stories this Easter season. We looked at Mark’s version on Easter and John’s version next. Today is Luke’s version. Luke tells us the men dismissed the women’s of the empty tomb as an idle tale, and they did not believe them. No doubt that’s exactly what you would expect from women.

But when Peter came back with the same news of the empty tomb and, while the two who encountered while walking on the road to Emmaus are recounting their story, Jesus just shows up! Out of nowhere. Jesus invites them to touch him to dispel their doubts, and yet they are still not quite sure. Luke describes it like this:  While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering. 

I love this. Even after all this, they still don’t believe. What’s even more marvelous is that they have both joy and doubt at the same time. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. In fact, I believe doubt is very much a part of faith. Faith is not just belief or just knowledge. Faith is much more dynamic. Faith is trusting even when all the evidence isn’t in or all the facts known. Faith is acting as if something is true even if there is no proof.

That’s why the disciples had joy even when still in doubt. That’s the kind of faith that will sustain when there is also doubt about how. That’s the kind of faith that will bring peace when there is chaos. That’s the kind of faith the will comfort in the midst of great pain and sorrow.

Alan Jones, former dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, the opposite of faith is certainty.” If we’re really honest with ourselves, with all the death and trauma and disappointments and tragedy that touches every human life, and you’re not having some difficulty believing Jesus was brought back from death, much less believing God grants second chances through grace and forgiveness for everyone, anyone … then you aren’t paying attention.

Jesus’ faithful followers continued to gather in all their joy and doubt. And somewhere along the way, they went out as if all that Jesus had taught them was true. If it’s true that God will renew all creation and grant all a new life … If it’s true that nothing or anything can ever separate us from God’s all-encompassing love … It it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us, but always be reaching for us with forgiveness and grace … If any of it’s true, much less all of it’s true, how might I now live my life differently? How might this living, trusting, courageous faith change me?


Keeping It Real

Double Rainbow Off MauiSometimes I think we forget that Easter is a season. It’s not a one-day event or even the culmination of a week of less than holy outcomes. In the world of faith, the resurrection was a game-changer. It still is.

That’s why I like Thomas so much. Thomas keeps it real. Thomas was that friend of Jesus’ who was around when Jesus was condemned and crucified, but happened to be out when Jesus made his miraculous appearance to the rest who were hiding out after the tomb was discovered to be empty. He says a few things and becomes forever labeled as “the doubter.” You can read all the particulars here.

I don’t think Thomas was a doubter at all. In fact, I think Thomas was quite grounded. And he wasn’t afraid to speak up. Even when Jesus was still alive, Thomas spoke up if he didn’t understand something or couldn’t quite grasp what the heck Jesus was even talking about. Check it out here.

Most of us probably can relate to Thomas. Our rational, intelligent selves wonder how this can be or what does this mean or what do I do now. Where we might be different from Thomas is that we do not speak up.

We don’t ask for the things we need, the things owed us, the things promised to us, the things we can’t or won’t speak up about because we wonder who will listen to us. Or, if they do listen, will they disregard what we’re saying, calling us names or giving us a label instead? We don’t keep it real because we have learned it is unsafe to ask our questions or state an alternative point of view.

Sometimes life gets turned upside down and we feel we’re turned inside out. I have no doubt that Thomas thought his world was turned completely upside down when Jesus died. I have no doubt Thomas felt completely unmoored and wondered what he was to do now. He had all kinds of questions and concerns. Nothing about any of this made sense. Everyone else didn’t seem to be too bothered and, when his anguish surfaced, the silence became awkward and no one would look him in the eye.

That’s when Jesus appeared to Thomas. When Thomas felt most alone and isolated from his friends, Jesus came to him. When Thomas asked the question everyone thought, but no one would ask, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5), Jesus told them that if they knew him, they’d know the way. Thomas never doubted Jesus. He only wanted be reminded, experience again, Jesus’ abiding presence. Like it was before he died.

Thomas knew the way of Jesus was not a roadmap. Thomas knew the way of Jesus wasn’t a claim of beliefs used to exclude or reject others. Thomas didn’t doubt. He knew. He also had the courage to voice his deepest sorrow and greatest fear and ask for what he needed. He needed to be reminded that Jesus, who said he was the way, was still there abiding with him.

Thomas’ story is captured in the bible because it is our story. It is our story when we keep it real. Jesus appears to Thomas because Thomas asked. Jesus was listening to Thomas and Jesus listens to us today. The way of Jesus is before us too. The way of Jesus does not discriminate. The way of Jesus does not disregard. The way of Jesus does not discard. The way of Jesus does not leave out. Sometimes personal tragedy and hardship cloud our vision. The resurrection ushered in a new reality. The resurrected Jesus came to Thomas to remind him of of what he already knew. Jesus would always be with him. No matter what.

It’s Only the Beginning

SD Lolitas - Balboa Park-4776I was thinking about Easter and realized I never preached an Easter service using the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of John is probably the most used, followed by Luke and Matthew. Mark is rarely used, if ever. And no wonder! This is how Mark ends his account:

So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. ~ Mark 16:8

Not exactly the captivating, shout-it-from-the-church-spires-with-full-orchestra-rendition-of-up-from-the-grave-he-arose-Christ-the-Lord-is-risen-today-hallelujah we expect in the Easter story. Nope. Mark devotes exactly 7.5 verses to the resurrection, the most significant event that sets Christianity apart from all other faith traditions.

In fact, this is what Mark has to say:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. ~ Mark 16:1-8a

What an awkward, unsatisfying, and completely distressing way to end the story! Can you imagine if that was the end of a book your book club was reading?!? Your sister readers would be so bothered by the abrupt ending, they’d be adding alternative or additional endings that would tie things together a little better.

And that’s exactly what happened with Mark’s gospel. Numerous later manuscripts have alternative and longer endings. but the earliest manuscripts end just like what’s above, which means that’s most likely where Mark intended his story to end.

No doubt the men (I’m assuming they were men because women were so inconsequential back then) who were copying this gospel were so shocked by this completely unsatisfying end to such a faced-paced, riveting story, they took matters into their own hands adding an ending or two to tie things up. That is why our Bibles now have The Shorter Ending of Mark and The Longer Ending of Mark. The shorter and longer endings neatly tie things up up into a tidy theological bow so Mark is more like the other gospels.

But what if Mark was serious about how he ended his account? What if he intended to leave his story hanging at the peak of disappointment and failure? Why would he do that?

Maybe because Mark knew that there was nothing neat and tidy about any story with death and resurrection. Maybe because Mark knew that anyone reading this gospel would be more than a little uncomfortable and unnerved with the idea of a convicted criminal coming back to life. Maybe because Mark knew that the story was far from over and that each person would have their own ending they would write into this story in how they lived their lives. Maybe Mark intentionally left the story open-ended, inviting others to join in and continue the saga with their part in it.

All throughout Mark’s gospel, we see the failure of those closest to Jesus to step up and share the good news of Jesus’ message. The other thing we see are the ones who do get what Jesus is all about aren’t exactly the most reliable witnesses. Several of the various demons Jesus casts out instantly recognize Jesus and the power of his ministry, but you can’t really rely on the testimony of demons, can you? The Roman centurion who was a member of Jesus’ execution team, acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God, but he just executed Jesus and is not likely to go around sharing his new insight, is he?

So Mark continues his pattern, ending the story with the failure of the women to share their discovery at the tomb.

Here’s the thing. The story of what God is doing does not end with the empty tomb. In fact, the empty tomb is only the beginning! The resurrection isn’t the end of the story of what God is doing in the world, but an invitation to live the story of your life with God in it. The whole point of Mark’s gospel is to invite us to live resurrection lives and continue God’s work of redemption in the world.

Mark starts his gospel with, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It’s only the beginning of the good news of what God has done, and is doing, in the world through Jesus Christ. It’s only the beginning and we have a part to play in God’s redemptive work in the world. We only need to read the headlines and open our eyes to the awful distress all around us to see that God’s work is far from done. God is inviting each of us to join in sharing the good news of Jesus’ complete identification with those who suffering and his triumph over injustice and death with everyone we meet.

The resurrection is only the beginning. We are invited into the resurrection story. The wonder will be how it unfolds before us and the parts we will play in God’s great love story.

Good Friday

The Storm ComethSometimes I think the only thing that’s good about Good Friday is the stark honesty and hard reality it represents. Good Friday is a time for truth-telling and there’s nothing trivial about the events of that day.

Maybe it’s been awhile since you’ve read the biblical account of that day. I invite you to reacquaint yourself with the story here. I’ve selected a modern translation alongside a traditional translation. It’s long, but well worth the read! (Don’t get so engrossed that you forget to come back here!)

There is nothing nice and neat and tidy about Good Friday, or even the Easter story. And it’s not meant to be because there is nothing nice and neat and tidy about life! There are plenty of moments of beauty and wonder and joy in life. But where we really struggle and have our questions are in the cracks where we encounter pain and grief and uncertainty. When we ready in-between the lines of this passage, those are some of the same questions we ourselves ask.

Why does Jesus let himself be tormented?

Which power group is more responsible for Jesus’ death – the religious leaders or the political leaders?

This same crowd that hailed him with palms on the first day of the week is the same crowd that is screaming for his execution. What’s with that?

Why does Pilate still sign off on Jesus’ execution even though he says Jesus is innocent?

A handful of women remain at the foot of the cross during those agonizing hours of dying. Where are his faithful friends?

And when we’re done asking questions about the passage, we start in on the deeper, hidden questions in our lives.

Whether unexpected or anticipated, how do I deal with the gaping loss of someone I love? 

Will my son self-destruct or will he accept his mental illness? How will I make peace with any of this?

How do I cope with the losses inherent in aging or illness or when I can no longer work?

Will I ever be accepted for who I really am? Will I be safe because of who I am?

What is so amazing about the Good-Friday-gone-devastating-Friday is the transformative work of God. God works in and through vulnerability and weakness through the door of new life. The truth of Good Friday is that suffering love has transformative powers that the “executioners” never suspected.

We know the outcome of Good Friday in Easter. But those who were there, did not know what would happen. And even then, they did not have a clue what it meant or what they were supposed to do. They lived through the mystery. And so do we.

God did not abandon Jesus in his greatest hour of suffering and need. And God will not abandon us in ours. When we feel as though we can go no further or endure anymore, when we are certain of being crushed by the weight and enormity of all that we face, God whispers “It is finished” in our ear. Simple. Honest. Good.

Uncle Gary

It’s Holy Week and my heart is still heavy with grief. My last, and favorite uncle, died suddenly on March 9, 2015. We celebrated his life in an intimate memorial service in Anacortes, Washington on March 28, the day before Holy Week began. What follows are few brief thoughts I had the privilege of sharing at the service. 

Uncle Gary and me at Paulina Lake, July 2013
Uncle Gary and me at Paulina Lake, July 2013

There are some people who just exude life. Hub, or Uncle Gary as I knew him, was one such person. He was out-going, talkative with an infectious laugh, and a presence wherever he was. He knew everyone and had a story for everything. His untimely death is leaving a gaping hole in his family, and among his friends and colleagues.

We’re here today to celebrate Uncle Gary’s life. I think of this as him holding court. His favorite throne was his lazy boy chair, but he held court on the golf course, in a fishing boat, at the bbq or store counter, even on the phone. He genuinely loved engaging with people and before you knew it he was off on a story and soon had everyone laughing so hard you couldn’t stand up.

Uncle Gary didn’t just tell a story, he told epic stories. He could take some mundane, inconsequential piece of information and weave it into a saga. Before you even knew what you were in for, you were hooked. I don’t think he ever told a story that didn’t have humor. Usually he’d start laughing and before you knew it, you all were laughing. You might not even remember what the story was about, but you could barely breathe because you were laughing so hard! He was a master at embellishing those epic stories as well. I think it was a male Hubbard trait; one he inherited from his father, my grandfather. They were legendary story-tellers.

Uncle Gary was a true, died-in-the-wool salesman. I think he could sell a Dairy Queen burger to a vegetarian. Today, we might refer to him as a serial entrepreneur, but in reality, he was a true salesman. Like his storytelling abilities, his sales abilities were also a gift. I think he loved having something to offer you that would really enjoy, want, or need. Sales was just another avenue he used to connect with others.

Uncle Gary had two main hobbies: golf and fishing. All those Dairy Queen conferences were just an excuse to play golf at yet another resort. Not only did he love playing golf, he loved engineering and crafting his own custom golf clubs! I know there are some who received some of his treasured, hand-crafted golf clubs. The same was true for fishing. His laid-back nature was perfect for fishing and he brought that same focused craftsmanship to making custom-fishing rods. No doubt Aunt Carol was relieved when he completed that golf club or fishing pole and the living room could be reclaimed! Uncle Gary saw it as his patriarchal responsibility to make sure every new family member was properly introduced to the fine art of fishing. His was a family of fishing fools.

I was almost eight when Uncle Gary married Carol. And it was a very good thing. Carol grounded Gary and gave him his most precious gift … his family. There was nothing on this earth more precious or important to Uncle Gary than his family. Every family has his challenges, but any challenge can be weathered and withstood when there is love that anchors you together. Gary and Carol have anchored their family with an unbounded love. Tom and Heidi, Kim, Brandon, Rachel, Ian, Tori, Gavin, Andrew, Hunter, Gabe and Camden – it is now up to you to anchor your Mom, “Bob” or Gram, and one another with the love your Dad and Papa left as his legacy to you.

Even though we know that death is a part of life, we are never prepared when it comes to someone we love. The loss of someone close to us is a bittersweet reminder of just how precious are our lives. It’s a reminder of what is important, like family and relationships, and treasuring all that we’ve been given. Whether you knew him as Hub or Gary or Papa or Uncle Gary, you know your life was enriched because he was a part of it. His legacy lives in the stories and memories and lessons he’s left behind. We honor him and the sacred gift of life given to each of us by our Creator by remembering and sharing and loving each other on this journey.

I want to close with one of my favorite Scriptures from the Psalms.

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.
For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears (Psalm 39:4-4, 12). Amen.

Five Daily Resolutions for the New Year

The Path AheadWe’re already into the New Year and I just set my New Year’s resolutions. I know there are many who don’t even bother with resolutions because they feel defeated before they even begin. Maybe it’s time to nuance our resolutions and use them to actually guide us in real behaviors we want to incorporate in our lives.

Here are five daily resolutions I am endeavoring to experience every day:

1. Ground each day with God. For years I have begun each day with varying spiritual practices. The one practice that is essential and that I do daily is to take time to be quiet and listen to God in prayer. The operatives are quiet and listen. Study and reading are always edifying, but the discipline of being present with God with a quiet mind and listening heart is grounding and equips me for the day ahead. The Eternal Scheme Daily Word is designed as a daily spiritual practice to help you get grounded with God.

2. Expect an epiphany every day. Each day holds little treasures that are waiting for us to discover. I think of them as the little surprises or epiphanies – those ah-has – that are little gifts given to us at just the right time. Often we are so distracted or busy we don’t even notice. It might be something your read or heard; something your saw or noticed; something that just came to you. Think of it as your daily treasure hunt. What will you discover today?

3. Smile and make eye contact with a stranger. I may not be able to save the world, but I can show little acts of humanity by smiling and actually making eye contact with those I pass in the parking lot, see on the corner, or stand with in line. So many of our relationships are digital that we “forget” or don’t see the real people right in front of us. It’s also an opportunity for us to expand beyond ourselves, widening our circle of, “Who is my neighbor?”

4. Walk 30 minutes every day. I walked everyday for 30 minutes when I was recuperating from my shoulder replacement. It was a great way to explore my neighborhood which I had not even driven through since we moved here in January 2013! There’s a lot to say about getting fresh air and natural sunlight, not to mention counting down those 10,000 steps we all should be taking everyday. Since I’m in an aircast, I may not be able to walk a continuous 30 minutes, but I can break it up into manageable segments. The point: Just. Do. It. Not only will you feel better, you’ll probably be able to check off a few other daily resolutions in the process!

I love what Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh suggests, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.”

5. Disconnect digitally before going to bed. You may not be one of those people who sleep with your iPhone, but do you play games or check Facebook or Twitter just before crawling under those covers? I love reading books on my iPad, but have found that I have a harder time going to sleep if I’ve been reading digitally. Quality sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. In fact, less digital and more what-we-used-to-do-before-digital (book instead of screen; letter instead of email; conversation instead of text) might not be a bad thing occasionally either.

What’s on your list of New Year’s resolutions?

The Wonder of Pain

Most Colofrul View of Universe_FotorEighteen hours had passed since my total shoulder replacement. It was 2:00 AM and I was looking out over Sacramento neighborhoods toward the Sierra Nevada foothills from my 14th floor window at the UC Davis Medical Center. It was quiet and quite dark. The crescent moon had not yet risen. I was watching for shooting stars.

I was also thinking about pain.

At eighteen hours post-op, I was still fairly uncomfortable. The local given to me during surgery had long worn off and the nerve block inserted to help alleviate pain afterward wasn’t particularly effective. Pain medication, including Tylenol, cause me to go into cardiac arrest, so I’m pretty much left up to my own resources. Although I’ve honed my pain practice, I still cannot sleep when I’m this uncomfortable.

What do you do when you cannot sleep? I think.

I began thinking about pain. What is pain? How do we define pain? What kinds of pain are there? What is the purpose of pain? And I started exploring the purpose of pain and all the reasons we usually think of for pain.

And then I saw a shooting star! It was way off in the distance, but I watched it as it arced from the heavens to earth. It was a little gift, just for me as I lay awake in the middle of the night in a hospital room. It was wondrous.

Then it hit me. There is a wonder aspect to pain too. The pain I was experiencing at that moment was the result of the wonders of medical technology. The wonder that new metal parts would relieve me of the pain of bone grinding on bone. The wonder that this pain during recovery would gradually fade away. That the permanent pain I’ve been experiencing for the past several years will be virtually gone. That this pain I have post-op and that I will have during the recovery process is temporary. This temporary pain is the path away from permanent pain.

There is a lot we can learn from pain, especially about ourselves. It’s just nice to have a more positive context, for a change, in which to contemplate a subject which most people go to great lengths to avoid. I, for one, would rather step into the world of wonder.

Photo credit: Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a comprehensive picture of the evolving universe – among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the 24-year-old telescope.

First Families: The Messy Reality of Home Life

Happy Scarecrow CoupleNo one has an idyllic home life. Even the first families of Bible story fame didn’t have idyllic home lives. In fact, the first families had some of the most messiest home lives, recorded in all their ugly glory for us in the sacred texts of Scripture! The National Enquirer has nothing on scandals and gossip. Inquiring minds need only open their Bibles for all the intrigue for real life that they could possibly want.

There is a lot we can learn from these First Families and I thought we’d tackle some of these thorny stories. These stories are reality for many. Maybe there are underpinnings that resonate with you. Regardless, life is messy. We mess up or we’re subjected to someone else messing up. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we thought they would or we find ourselves on a major life-detour. Stuff happens. Thankfully, God happens too.

Let’s start our First Family series with Abraham, his wife Sarah, her infant son, Isaac, Sarah’s maid, Hagar and her son, Ishmael. And, of course, Abraham is the father of both boys. This is the first, but not the last, brothers-by-different-mothers recorded in Scripture.

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt. ~ Genesis 21:8-21

It’s a messy story, isn’t it? Envy, jealousy, rivalry, probably some bullying, and exile. That’s just what we see in this part of the story. What we don’t see, from what happened to get to this point in the story, is how Abraham’s character and behavior significantly contributed to the division, danger, loss and pain we encounter here. Messiness in someone’s life can often be pinpointed to messiness somewhere along that life’s timeline.

Sibling rivalry is not new in Genesis. Cain and Abel is probably the most famous sibling rivalry story. Abel ends up dead and Cain exiled as a result of trying to garner The Most Faithful award from God. This time, two half-brother’s are vying for their father’s attention. Their mothers don’t make it any easier, Sarah being the most upset that her son has a potential inheritance rival. Of course, Sarah complicated matters in the first place when she didn’t believe God was going to provide her with a son, but I’m pretty sure she’s not remembering all that at this point. Abraham’s decision, like God’s after Abel’s death, is to banish Hagar and Ishmael.

The questions this raises and the decisions Abraham makes are enormous. How can he banish his son and the child’s mother just because his wife is worried about the inheritance? What about Sarah? Does her insecurity truly warrant what she demands? Is God endorsing what Sarah wants? Is Abraham hearing correctly? Did God really say such things?

The story clearly indicates God did say these things, and more. God tells Abraham it’s okay to throw Hagar and Ishmael out of the household because God will take care of them and make a nation of Ishmael. God repeats that promise to Hagar after she is thrown out of the family and after she pleads that God not make her watch the death of her child, which is to say, only after she has undergone a horribly traumatic experience.

It’s a messy story about a messy home life, isn’t? It’s also a reminder of the fully human nature of life and the fully divine provision in, through, and despite the realities of our particular circumstances. That’s doesn’t justify anything . It’s simply reality. It’s a constraint we all live with and it constrains us all.

The good news is that is does not constrain God or what God can do with the imperfect vessels of each of us. With God, and because of God, we can face the adversities we encounter – whether of our own making or due to circumstances outside our control. It certainly isn’t idyllic, but neither is it bleak. It is reality and God does make provisions – for even the messiest of home life.


My Dad Turns 80

Dad at PaulinaMy Dad is 80 years young on June 11. The last time we had an all-family celebration for his birthday was when he turned 60. At that birthday celebration, my brother gave him a t-shirt that said, “60’s not old when you’re a tree.” That seemed o-l-d then, but now that I’m pushing 60, it doesn’t seem o-l-d at all. Dad is making 80 look very doable!

I always say that birthdays are reminders that each of us is a unique, unrepeatable, miracle of God. Much gets made of God breaking the mold when we are created. Our DNA may link us to our ancestors who have gone before us, but our personalities and what we do with our life in the midst of an incredible number of variables, is all that we have when all is said and done. Unique. Unrepeatable. Miracle.

Saint Sam and I moving back to California after my brother’s death has given us more time together as a family. My brother’s death was the awful reminder that life is both short and precious. It is a reminder that our relationships are important and it is our responsibility to preserve and protect them by actively attending to them. We don’t all live in close proximity, but not more than six weeks goes by without some configuration of us getting together. Birthdays and special days give us the incentive, although we don’t have to have an official reason to gather.

Every family has their own stories that get told and retold over the course of get-togethers. As my Dad has aged, he has begun telling stories that none of us have heard before. These snippets and impressions and events are part of a rich, textured, diverse tapestry of his life. Threads of his life and work, when woven together with the threads of others’ lives and work became a day, like all days, filled with the events that make history. Literally.

My Dad may be turing 80, but he’s in excellent health. He is the only one left from his brothers. My parents are among the age where memorial services of neighbors and colleagues are regular and frequent. He still rotor tills the orchard on their half-acre, collects and chops wood from felled trees in the neighborhood, and works out calculus problems in his head while walking on the treadmill every morning.

My Dad is turning 80 and we will celebrate. He’s asked for meatloaf (!), corn on the cob, and salad for dinner with Boston Cream Pie (with extra custard and chocolate frosting, of course) for dessert. His great-granddaughters may have to help blow out 80 candles, although he’s probably in great shape with all that wood he’s chopped and thousands of miles he’s put on his treadmill (he’s on his second motor). I can’t wait to hear the stories he’ll have for us this time. I know we will be laughing. He will definitely be holding court.

Happy Birthday and lots of love, Dad. Carry on!

Out with the Old, In with the New

pentecostOut with the old, in with the new. That’s how I think of Pentecost. Pentecost (Pentēkostē), is the Greek name for Festival of Weeks, the prominent Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. Shavuot, the Hebrew name for the festival, is still celebrated in Judaism, as it has been since Moses’ time.

The Old Testament tells the story of God’s relationship with humanity, especially God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, a ragtag bunch of tribes and renegades that struggle in their place with God, each other, and other nations. At the time, the Law given to Moses by God symbolized a new way to live and move and have being for the people of Israel. Of course, this is much oversimplified, but it defined how things were done for a very long time. There were various updates along the way, but no major operating system changes.

Then comes Jesus. With Jesus, everything changed. It was like a whole new operating system with a new interface, new fonts, icons, and apps. Oh, and you needed a new device to run that operating system. The old technology was not capable of running the new operating system. Everyone – religious leaders, political leaders, the devout, seekers, deniers, atheists, regular people – were now presented with something completely new to consider.

Ever since Jesus’ death (crucifixion on Good Friday), resurrection (Easter), reappearance (40 days after Easter), and disappearance again (Ascension), his followers were trying to get a handle on their new life. I imagine lots of late nights or lingering at the table piecing together their stories and experiences from the past three years, not unlike what the families and friends do after the death of a loved one. So many twists and turns and, just when they think they have a handle on what’s next for them, something new happens that upsets what they thought it was going to be. Even referencing their Scriptures against the teachings they heard of Jesus, doesn’t give them much of a road map. They have new experiences they’re trying to interpret through old traditions. That brings us to Pentecost.

Jews, including the steadfast followers of Jesus, were in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot or Pentecost. Jerusalem was quite cosmopolitan, so a lot of other people from other walks of life, cultures, and countries were also present. Something remarkable happened.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” ~ Acts 2:1-13 

Peter goes on to give to give his first recorded public sermon and it was the beginning of something very new, very unexpected, and very evolutionary. The older focus of closed, ethnically based community and even Shavuot now became the teachings of Jesus and an inclusive community that welcomed anyone and everyone. Pentecost and the outpouring of God’s Spirit was the final piece to everything Jesus had been telling them. It was now up to them to live out that message everywhere and with everyone. The old way was out. It was now in with the new. The Spirit was the new device to help power the new operating system. Everything was now completely powered up.

The early believers didn’t erect a church building and expect people to come in the doors. They didn’t just talk to their friends and only others who spoke their language or looked like them. They didn’t demand lifestyle changes or a probationary period or a secret handshake before someone was let in. There weren’t rules or catechisms or even creeds to believe and follow. Instead, they came together to talk, sing praises, share a meal, lend a helping hand, feed the hungry, clothed the naked, visit the prisoner. They welcomed the stranger, protected the vulnerable, loved the unloving. God’s Spirit infused them moment by moment as they found their way – a new way – to live and move and have their being.

A movement was born that Pentecost. Now the world was really going to be turned upside down. It is a new day.


Dem Bones

Shadow From Skeleton MobileI was laying on the MRI table for the second time in three weeks and the old spiritual Dem Bones kept going through my head. You know; the one about Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.

The African-American author and songwriter James Weldon Johnson composed Dem Bones based on the famous oracle from Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of those prophets buried at the back of the Old Testament that’s so full of imagery and prophetic language it’s tough to figure out exactly what it all means. Think apocalyptic science fiction and you might be able to wrap your head around it.

The imagery is what makes this passage so powerful to me. God brings Ezekiel into a valley of strewn, unburied dry bones. Desolation is all around and God asks Ezekiel if these bone can live. Ezekiel has his own opinion, but he’s certainly not going to voice it to God! Like the prophets before him, he thinks the only thing that is going to bring these bones back to life, and fix everything else on earth, is direct, heavenly intervention. But far be it from him to tell God how to do God’s job! Instead, he uses the time-tested diplomatic approach and says, “Certainly You know that answer better than I do.”

God responds to Ezekiel by telling him to relay a message direct from God to the dry bones:

“Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” ~ Ezekiel 37:4-6

And the most amazing thing happens:

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. ~ Ezekiel 37:7-10

I love this imagery of God, not only as the Creator of life, but also God as the Restorer of life. No wonder this oracle continues to speak to the hearts of the oppressed! It’s not enough for people to worker harder and do better. The bones can come together, but it isn’t until God’s breath – God’s grace – is breathed into them that they live and can stand on their feet.

God is not going to intervene and fix everything this side of eternity. But God does breathe life into our dry, dusty bones so that we can stand together as a vast multitude and work to fix things ourselves. God raises us up to stand up to oppression, violence, and daily evil. God breathes God’s breath into us to speak out against discrimination, misogyny, and the many ways we fail to recognize any other as much a child of God as we are ourselves. God calls us to be covenant partners.

Dem bones be connected
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Prayer: Our Lifeline to God, Ourselves and Others

Safe FortressPrayer, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, is one of those subjects that makes most of us a little uncomfortable. It’s one of those great mysteries that we wonder about. What happens when I pray? Who, if anyone, is listening to my prayers? What’s the purpose of prayer anyway? Are prayers really answered? Why do some prayers seem to be answered and others not? What about those prayers before a sporting event or city council meeting? Are they really necessary?

Those are some of my thoughts that I think about from time to time. Oh, I know all the theologically correct answers and even most of the theories behind prayer, but let’s be real, who cares? I, for one, am not motivated to do something just because someone said so. I am, however, more than motivated when there’s something in it for me. And that’s precisely why prayer is important.

Prayer is my lifeline to God and myself. Prayer is also my lifeline to others. We have the finest example of that in John’s gospel. It’s often know as The High Priestly Prayer, but I think that title is an inaccurate and alienating description of a very intimate gift and example Jesus gives his friends as he prepares to leave them.

Here’s the passage. I want you to read it slowly and, if possible, out loud to yourself. Don’t overthink it as you read. Instead, observe what Jesus is saying to God as his friends are listening in.

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. ~ John 17:1-17

There is enough material in this passage of Scripture for several blog posts, but I just want to consider prayer as a lifeline, because that’s what I think Jesus really wants to convey to his friends and himself.

Everything in Jesus’ world is on a collision course toward conviction and death. All throughout their time together, Jesus and his friends have been followed, and stalked and challenged. Jesus knows his earthly time is very limited and he knows his friends are overwhelmed by the quick pace and turn of events. Jesus has been their mentor, teacher, confidant, friends, traveling companion, referee, brother for three years. He’s concerned about them, their mission, and their community once he’s gone. There’s only so much he can do to prepare them. The rest is up to them. He pours all of this out in his prayer. This prayer is as much for him as it is for them. It’s his lifeline to God, himself, and them during a very chaotic and uncertain time. His example of prayer is also a reminder for them once he’s gone.

It’s also a reminder for us.

You can pray anytime, anywhere, and for anything. When we look in the Gospel’s, we see that Jesus prays in the morning, in the day, in the evening, in the middle of the night, in the light, in the dark, on a mountain, on a plain, by himself, with friends, when he’s distressed, giving thanks, for other people. The point is that it doesn’t matter what, where, when, who, or why. Whatever is on your mind, wherever you are, and for whatever reason, God is always listening. Prayer is meant to be an ordinary part of the fabric of our lives.

Prayer is about whatever is on your heart. It’s east to get lost in all the “I’m in you and you’re in me and we’re in each other” in this passage. If we don’t get hung up on all that, we simply see the intimacy Jesus has with God and he’s inviting his friends in to that intimacy. Jesus is merely saying what is pressing on his heart at that moment – that he’s coming to the end of his earthly mission, that God would see him through to the end, and that God would take care of his friends when he leaves them behind.

We never pray alone. If we look a little further in this Scripture passage, we learn that Jesus is praying on behalf of everyone! Sometimes, we just don’t have it in us to pray. There have been many times when I am so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to start. At those times, I just say, “Help,” knowing Jesus is praying for me. And don’t we do that for others? We pray for them when they don’t have the strength or where-with-all to pray for themselves.

That’s it. There is no right or wrong way to pray. There doesn’t have to be any extraordinary reason or place or purpose to your prayers. In fact, sometimes you might even have the words. Just pray.

The Prophetic Voice of Children

Keana White Tiger_FotorChildren are the prophetic voice of our future. I was reminded of this in my son’s recent blog post when he was sharing some of the end-of-school year projects of our two oldest granddaughters. Of course, I am completely biased. However, the young voices of all children now will be the voices of adults before we know it. Maybe we need to listen in on what they’re saying, what they’re learning, and how they’re processing the information they have.

Our oldest granddaughter is nine years-old and in the third grade. She’s a scholar student at her International Baccaluareate public school. This is the girl who, when she was in the first grade, educated her class on the social ills of places like McDonald’s where they stopped for dinner on the way home from the school field trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. This year her end-of-the-year school performance theme was Not Waitin’ on the World to Change. She was selected to share her poem, “Save Me”, on the white tiger, endangered animal she researched. Listen to it and ask yourself, “Is that prophetic or what?”


Maia Research ProjectThe middle granddaughter is in kindergarten at the same school. Her first research project was on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Did you have a research project in kindergarten? I didn’t. I was reading On Cherry Street, reinforcing 1950’s white suburbia!) Besides the poster, she had to write four paragraphs about her topic. It doesn’t take a six year-old to tell us our planet and ecosystems are in danger because of our irresponsible and irrational denial of our human contribution to pollution, waste, and lack of stewardship of our limited natural resources. However, if we don’t listen to those voices, what will there be for them when they are our age now?

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’ statement, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Here’s the context. A lot gets said about needing to have the faith of a child or the innocence of a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus was constantly challenging his followers to look at old things in a new way. Children are open because they are learning and exploring. Jesus wants us to be like that, open to new possibilities, learning and exploring the edges. We are to live out our faith while researching life. Discovering and exploring and learning are transformative. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we teachable?”

There are plenty of ossified, nay-saying adults babbling around us. They have nothing prophetic or edifying to say. I can’t believe anyone listens to them. But then, even Jesus’ own followers got caught up in all the control, even trying to prevent children from coming to him. We know what Jesus had to say. I wonder what those children had to say?


You Are Not Alone

You are not aloneWe all know loss. Death may be the greatest loss, but there are many other types of loss that impact us personally and deeply. Whatever the loss, that is when we feel the most alone and most vulnerable.

Loss is one of those unchartered arenas that is still difficult for many of us to navigate. Yes, there have been huge strides made in the field of death and dying, but we are still deficient when it comes to the many other losses people face. It’s painful losing a family member to Alzheimer’s or watching a family member gradually be lost to dementia. It’s hard seeing a friend go through divorce or a breakup of a significant relationship. Losing a job or having to move to keep a job is another loss. Then there are the personally losses of careers or health or abilities we once had. Even when there are positive outcomes the emerge from loss, that period of uncertainty and transition still conjures up anxiety and fear. We’re suspended, all alone, in a weird sort of limbo.

Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance, commemorated at 3:oo pm on Memorial Day, are specifically set aside for all Americans to remember those who have died in service to the nation. Memorial Day was established a few years after the Civil War to remember all the lives lost by those who fought in the United States bloodiest, and most costly war at that time.

It seems every generation has a war that defines that generation. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the wars of my sons’ generation. Vietnam was the war of my generation and the Korean War was my parent’s. My grandparents was World War II and my great-grandparents was World War I. I don’t think I had any great-great grandparents who were part of the Civil War, but everyone was affected nonetheless. And we haven’t even touched on all of the international regional conflicts and our own civil rights conflicts, for which those we know and love have fought and lost their lives in the sake of freedom and hope.

Loss and more loss to come.

Jesus was very aware of the loss his friends were soon to experience. They had spent an intense three years living and working together, surviving threats, and forging a new way of looking at and living life from the inside out. He knew his death was certain and soon, and he is preparing them for his departure. Of course, they aren’t entirely sure what Jesus is talking about and they are very distressed.

That’s what the threat of loss does. It shakes us our sense of security, safety, and stability. Jesus tells them this:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” ~ John 14:15-21

Jesus reassures his friends that he will not leave them orphaned, or abandoned, or alone. He tells them that another Advocate will be sent to them.

I love the meaning of this. An advocate is someone who comes along side another. Jesus tells them another Advocate will be sent. Jesus is the first, coming along side us in the Incarnation so that we might know and see an otherwise invisible God. The other Advocate is the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in the through us. We we come along side someone else to comfort and encourage and when we act like Jesus, we are living into the Holy Spirit’s invitation and very being. We are not alone because God is with us and those we care about are not alone when we come along side them, bringing God’s – and our – love, faith, comfort, and encouragement.

This Memorial Day, as we remember those who gave their lives in service to this nation and others who are no longer with us, may we also be aware of other losses those we know and love and care about are also experiencing. May we step up as their advocate, coming along side so they know they are not alone … ever.

Three Personal Benefits of the Affordable Care Act

affordable care actI am a poster person for the Affordable Care Act. Well, not a literal poster person, although I could be. I was willing to pay for insurance, but it wasn’t available to me. I was willing to be a private pay patient, but reputable health care clinics weren’t willing to accept me. I humbled myself and went the low-income clinic route because they take almost anyone. That experience alone fueled me to persevere in getting signed up for the Affordable Care Act. I was determined to get decent health insurance or not have any health care at all.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it’s better than what we had, which was nothing for a significant number of us. There are three glaring reasons why the Affordable Care Act is necessary and needed.


Most people in the United States think that if you obey the laws, play by the rules, and work hard and are willing to pay the price, you can have anything you want. We know that is only true when things like education, employment, healthcare, housing, citizenship, and other basic human rights, are accessible to everyone. The reality is those basic rights and services are not accessible to everyone. Healthcare was not accessible to me.

Let me clarify something. When we moved to Texas, I was not able to purchase any private health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. I was eligible for the Texas Risk Pool which offered health insurance, at increased rates, to those unable to qualify for regular policies. The cost of my monthly premium was more than twice what most people paid for a mortgage or rent! I still had co-payments and out-of-pockets charges for which I was responsible. No wonder my blood pressure was high!

There was no risk-pool option for me when we moved to California and I wasn’t able to qualify for any coverage. That’s when I started the process of trying to find some kind of clinic so I could just get the basic medication I needed. I wasn’t even thinking about addressing the health issues I was starting to treat before we left Texas. I was just trying to hold out until the Affordable Care Act kicked in.

When I was finally seen at a community clinic (there is more to even that mini-plot), I also had to get enrolled in the county and state programs that pay for the services at those clinics. That was the beginning of my whole “indigent” experience. I have been indigent and never experienced anything like this. Once I jumped through all those hoops, I could no longer receive services at the clinic that did see me and filled my prescriptions. I was assigned to another community clinic, further away. I never saw a doctor. I never got a diagnosis. I never got a clear treatment plan. I never got my questions answered.

That leads me to the second glaring reason for the Affordable Care Act.


I would have been satisfied receiving health care at Cares Community Clinic. I had a primary care physician I liked. She thought the issues I’d begun treating in Texas were worth pursuing here and we had a follow-up plan in place, once approval came through. When the approval came through and I was directed to another clinic I decided I would at least see about getting physical therapy for my shoulder. After all, PT is fairly straight forward and there are standard practices and exercises. I’ve had two previous shoulder surgeries so I knew what to expect.

I never saw a doctor. I never got a diagnosis. The physical therapy for my shoulder was riding a stationary bike and getting ice. When I suggested that maybe this wasn’t the best use of resources [my] time, I was told that I would not be allowed to be seen again unless I completed the six weeks of twice-weekly physical therapy.

While this was going on, it was decided by someone on my health care team, which did not include a doctor, that I needed to have more lab tests to determine if I was indeed on the correct medication. I was only taking medication for blood pressure which is not determined by blood work. They wanted to do an entire rheumatoid arthritis/lupus work up because “my shoulder problems indicated the need.”

The threat that time when I refused “to comply” was that they would not renew my prescriptions. The doctor at Cares had only prescribed three months of refills because she wanted to do an entire work up that included some other issues and wanted to leave the medication options open.

That was when I decided I was done. I was not going back … ever. I also decided that if we ever could not afford our healthcare premiums, I was not going to have healthcare. The quality of care I experienced was so substandard – and this was before the Affordable Care Act was available – I was better off with nothing. I had no confidence in the clinic or it’s health care providers for even basic healthcare. I was afraid that if I ever had to have surgery or a procedure while in their care, they would kill (that’s a whole other sub-plot).


When you don’t have access to quality healthcare and you’re doing everything you can do to have a healthy lifestyle, you find your hope being leached away. You wonder what it’s going to be like to find a tumor and not get treatment. Or gradually lose the use of your dominant arm because it won’t move or function like it should. You gradually withdraw or find yourself limiting your activities because you’re so worn down coping with chronic pain.

I’m educated, white, and savvy and I found myself losing hope trying to work a healthcare system that was broken, inefficient, and ineffective. Part of the problem was I knew what it was like to have accessible, quality healthcare. I have had excellent doctors and treatments and options. I know what it’s like to have chronic pain from injuries and what it takes to forge your way back to health and maintain that healing. I also know that things just happen and none of us are immune from disease or injury, that accidents and horrible things happen, or something from our gene pool decides to rear its surprising head. At those times, we need all the hope we can muster to push through and emerge on the other side. A big part of that hope is that we have access to a competent medical team we trust and who will work with us every step of the way.

Healthcare is still our largest monthly expense, but I am ever so grateful I now have access to affordable, quality healthcare, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. I know many do not have financial resources and must rely on medicaid … if it is available to them. There are still places, and Texas is one, that have not expanded their medicaid programs to include their own people. Many are still falling through the healthcare cracks.

It’s time we grab healthcare by the horns and figure it out. Disease and injuries are not going to miraculously stop afflicting humanity. We know prevention and early detection lead to less expensive treatments and better prognoses. I know. A year ago my shoulder most likely could have been repaired with arthroscopic surgery. Today I am looking a a total shoulder replacement.

I can’t help but think that had I had access to quality healthcare a year ago, the financial outcome for both the insurance company and myself, the treatment and rehabilitation, as well as other intangibles like the quality of life, might be very different. I’m just thankful I didn’t have anything life-threatening. I might not be alive today.

Untroubled Hearts

banksy - peaceful hearts doctor - 4Do you ever have one of those days when you can’t seem to stay focused on anything? Even with your itemized to-do list, you can barely keep the blinders on to get your tasks completed? I’m having one of those days. Actually, the past few weeks have been like that.

I don’t do well having unfinished business hanging over my head. I’m a fairly disciplined person. Over the years, I’ve learned what is realistic for me to accomplish in a day, how to prioritize tasks to get everything done, and then I stick to the plan.

Sometimes, however, there are pieces that can’t be scheduled or completed until something else happens. That’s the vortex I’m in now. One appointment led to having some tests, which is taking me to specialists, who are asking for more tests and more appointments. It’s all happening rather quickly, but with four different areas, there are several pieces of data that must be collected in order to create a treatment plan for each area and then prioritize what gets done and in what order. It’s project identification, planning, and execution except that this project is a little more personal and I want to know what I’m dealing with.

I laughed when I opened the Scripture text for this week. Timely, as are my Daily Word, as usual. Here is the passage:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. ~ John 14:1-14

This is a doctrinally rich text, but I’m only going to focus on one small aspect: an untroubled heart. That’s what Jesus is focusing on for his friends. He knows his time among them is coming to a close and he’s trying to prepare them without overwhelming them. He wants to give them an anchor they can hold to when they enter the vortex of great uncertainty that is sure to come once he’s gone.

A troubled heart comes in many forms and disguises. Sometimes, I think it’s not so much the particulars of the trouble, but what’s unknown or unfamiliar that creates uncertainty and a troubled heart. Most of us want to know what to expect, so we know how to behave. We want to know what to do, so we can do it. We want to know the question, so we can formulate an answer. We want to know the problem, so we can create a resolution.

The other aspect of the troubled heart we don’t often factor is that we are never fully untroubled. There is always something waiting in the wings for it’s opportunity. Sometimes it builds on a previous trouble, like an out-of-control lifestyle behavior that creates or leads to other problems. Other times, it completely takes us by surprise and we have no inkling, like a tragic accident or unanticipated death.

We may never completely experience an untroubled heart, but knowing we are not alone and that we are equipped for whatever comes along can go a long way in helping us find and maintain peace even in great upheaval. That’s the untroubled heart Jesus is talking about. He’s not telling us about an untroubled heart. He’s telling us that he will untrouble our hearts.

We can add the untroubler to all of those I am statements Jesus makes throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus reminds his friends that everything they need to know, they know. Not because they know the plan or what to do or where to go, but because they know the person who is and does.

Do not let your hearts be troubled because I am whatever you need for whatever you face wherever you are. ~ Jesus

Another Routine Execution for Texas

Lethal injection table

A stay of execution was granted to Robert James Campbell because of mental incapabilities just after I published this post. 

There has been another routine execution in Texas by the time you read this. Texas is extremely efficient in their executions and, as is consistent with most Texas attitudes, they take great pride in the fact that they execute more men and women than any other state in the union. They really don’t care what happens elsewhere with executions and aren’t bothered by the botched execution recently in Oklahoma. To Texas’ credit, as of March 14, 2014 and of the 144 exonerations, twelve have been in Texas.

I know people have strong feelings about capital punishment and justice. I know many base those strong convictions on religious principles. What I have yet to understand is how any Christian or Christian denomination reconciles capital punishment, the death penalty and execution with Jesus? At one end of the denominational spectrum is the Southern Baptist Convention strongly supporting capital punishment and at the other end, the United Methodist Church strongly opposing it. The Southern Baptist Convention says nothing about Jesus in the resolution endorsing capital punishment and the United Methodist Church bases their opposing position entirely on Jesus.

So what’s the big deal, right? It kinda is a big deal because Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save. Jesus forgave even his own executioners and we are called to forgive as well. Forgiveness, or even grace for that matter, does not mean releasing a murderer back into society, but it also does not mean executing him or her either. In fact, key people in the Bible were murderers who were given second chances – Moses, David, and Paul for starters.

In Jesus’ day, it was completely appropriate to execute a woman for having committed adultery. In fact, the religious leaders tested him on this very matter, bringing a woman “caught in the very act of committing adultery.” As a Jew he was bound by the law of Moses which commanded death and they were trying to trap him so they could bring him up on charges for not obeying the Law.

We all know what happened.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” ~ John 8:1-11

Grace is a scandalous thing. Scandalous because it looks everyone – even someone who did great evil – in the eye and says, “I forgive you.” Scandalous because, “not only do I forgive you, but you deserve to live, even if you took the life of someone I love.” No one, ever, is beyond the reach of God’s grace and love. An outcome of grace is reconciliation. And as the mass murderer Paul would later proclaim, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:19).

No Texas, execution is not routine, nor should it ever be.

The Gatekeeper

Sheep_FotorMost of us hate gatekeepers. We don’t like our access controlled, especially by someone or something we don’t like or trust. Or maybe we don’t like our access controlled. Period. We want what we want when we want it. Period.

So a story about a gatekeeper might not be listened to today. And a story about a gatekeeper and sheep, really might not be listened to today. After all, how many of us have ever been near a real, live sheep? Certainly not a flock of sheep. Or a shepherd with the shepherd’s hook wearing long flowing robes in a pastoral setting of meadows and pastures. Many of us didn’t even grow up eating sheep! (I don’t even want to think about eating a lamb.)

Add to that a familiar Bible story about a gatekeeper and sheep and I really hope I haven’t lost you yet because this story has some surprises. Here’s the story:

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. ~ John 10:1-10

Here are the obvious metaphors: Jesus is the gatekeeper and Jesus is the shepherd. Everyone else are sheep. Every story needs some bad guys. Those are the thieves, bandits, and wolves. They want to steal the sheep or eat the sheep. (Wolves will eat anything, but are licking their chops for a tasty lamb morsel.)

And the assumptions usually made are: Not everyone is in the flock; only those who respond the the shepherd’s voice are in the real flock. Sheep are stupid animals and that’s why they need a shepherd. Only those who come and go through the Jesus gate find the pasture to eternal (abundant) life. Finally, woe to the sheep (oops, people) who get snatched or stray by the wiles of the evil ones.

Now for some [new] thoughts I have on this story. At the very end of the story is what I consider to be Jesus’ mission statement: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. It’s simple, succinct, and doesn’t mention anything about sin or sins. It’s not that Jesus is avoiding sin, but he certainly isn’t emphasizing it either. His emphasis is on life – abundant life – now and always. In contrast to all that would rob us of life and prevent us from having an abundant life, Jesus offers life, not just to survive, but to thrive.

This is hard for us to hear and grasp. It certainly was hard the religious leaders and the blind man whose sight was given to him. For the blind man, it was his sight that was preventing him from having an independent and abundant life. So Jesus gave him sight. The religious leaders, focusing on the man’s blindness, assumed it was his sin or his parent’s sin that contributed to his blindness. Jesus dismissed that notion altogether. The religious leaders would continue to use the sin factor as a way to discredit Jesus and his message. It didn’t work because that’s not Jesus is about.

That brings us back to the gatekeeper. What if the gatekeeper wasn’t trying to control or limit access, but was trying to open up access? What the thieves attempt to rob us of are different for each of us. For the student who is being bullied, it might be acceptance and an advocate. For the orphan, it might be an adoptive family. For the chronically ill, it might encouragement and practical help. For the retiree, it might be involvement in a worthwhile cause. The abundant life Jesus is talking about is a response to anything that threatens to rob us (the sheep) from our God-given inheritance of life, purpose, and joy.

The gatekeeper isn’t trying to control or limit our access to abundant life. The gatekeeper is there to help us live into our abundant life. There will still be thieves and bandits and wolves who want to rob and devour us. Often they look like poverty, oppression, violence, ignorance, and other nastiness. That’s why we need the gatekeeper and why we need the flock to stand up to and against anything that threatens the abundant life available to all of us.

Maybe, then, abundant life isn’t a goal to strive to attain, but a byproduct of following the the one who opened the eyes of the blind, fed the hungry, comforted the distraught, and everywhere and always witnessed to the universal and unending love of God.



ScarifyingI recently finished reading Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War. It was an excellently researched, intimate portrayal of Lincoln narrating his own experiences and struggles from the time he washes up in an Illinois river as a young man. That’s where I was introduced to the word scarifying.

It’s one of those informal, archaic words that has morphed into a different use. It isn’t used at all to connote terrifying or frightening. No, now it connotes making small incisions like She was scarifying her snakebite with her jackknife. Frankly, I’d be scarified either way!

All this is a long, round-a-about way of saying I read two scarifying news articles this week. Both involved guns, which was particularly disturbing because my brother’s birthday was this week. He would have been 54, had he not had his own encounter with a gun. It doesn’t matter which side of the gun debate you are on, a lot of lives are forever changed when someone dies by a firearm, no matter the circumstances in which that firearm was discharged.

First scarifying article: School Mourning Shooting Victim. A ten year-old boy was accidentally shot by his uncle when he was showing his nephew his gun collection. The laser was fixed to the boy’s forehead when the gun discharged. The uncle didn’t know there was a bullet in the chamber. A young boy is dead. The entire family is devastated, including the uncle who is now up on homicide charges. The boy’s school friends and families are now thrust into the explaining and coming to grips with such a senseless death. Horrible.

Second scarifying article: In Youth’s Death, Some See a Montana Law Gone Wrong. A 17 year-old German exchange student was shot by a homeowner when the homeowner went to investigate the intruder in his garage. The local teens called it garage hopping. Stupid and illegal, but death-worthy? Even if this homeowner is not charged for homicide or is acquitted, his life is forever changed. And so is his infant child’s and, possibly his relationship with his partner, the child’s mother. We already know the German family’s life is forever changed, as is the host family’s. Then there are all the teens who have been garage hopping and the communities in which all these people live. Devastating.

The overall scarifying fact that statistics don’t address is that life is hard and complex enough as it is. One gun death impacts countless people who now have an additional burden to bear because someone they may or may not have known died from a firearm. Scarifying.

Photo: This was the back page ad that came in today’s mail.

What Composer is Your Soul Mate?

BeethovenWhat composer is your soul mate?

If you’ve been following my blog, you already know I am a huge classical music fan. We even named our female kitty after the world-class violinist, Midori. When my sons were kids, they named one of their hamsters Mozart. Even my Okie husband Saint Sam has found that streaming classical music is an excellent backdrop for coding and web development.

So, of course, I was very interested to learn what composer was my soul mate. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is the brainchild behind this fun quiz. Why not take a few seconds to find out which composer is your soul mate and then share in the Comments. Mine is Bach. Who knew he could dance?!?

Burning Hearts

Estrangement of the Heart“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” ~ Luke 24:32

Burning hearts. What an interesting phrase.

But before that interesting phrase was a whole conversation between two friends and a companion they picked up on their walk to the neighboring town. In fact, the two friends where stunned that their walking companion didn’t seem to know the recent news events that turned Jerusalem upside down.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hadn’t heard something about last week’s botched execution at a prison in Oklahoma. Or the thoughtless, racist remarks by the LA Clippers basketball team owner. And then, there were the reprehensible remarks by Sarah Palin using water-boarding and baptism in the same sentence! News is reported, recycled, rebutted, and redistributed until we’re all sick of hearing about it.

Some news, that is. Some news we don’t hear anything about or are hard-pressed to find it anywhere. We are still hearing news about the missing Malaysian flight from March 8, 2014, but most barely know about the abduction of over 300 teenage schoolgirls from their dormitory in Nigeria April 15, 2014. Information is becoming more visible only because of the international outrage organized by activist groups. The tragedy of schoolgirls being abducted and sold into slavery or marriage for $12 is not as tragic as missing flight? People are outraged and calling for the sale of a basketball team because of remarks made by its owner and yet we turn a deaf ear to addressing sexual assault on college campuses or the human trafficking that is going on in our own neighborhoods.

No doubt the two friends walking to Emmaus were still reeling from the news that their hope died on that cross. Yet, in the course of conversation while walking with their new companion, they heard something in what this stranger was sharing that resonated with them. It wasn’t until they sat to share a meal and their new companion gave a blessing as he broke the bread, that they recognized and realized who their companion really was! And then poof! He was gone. They couldn’t wait to get back to Jerusalem and tell their other friends, who were all hiding, what they experienced.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

Unbeknownst to the friends, Jesus stepped into their journey. They shared. He shared. They invited him to join them. He invited them to partake with him. And their hearts burned. Now they believed what the women had already told them.


Broken Hearts

A path of no returnEaster is the season of broken and burning hearts. And as Easter people, we are constantly held in the tension between grief and glory, despair and hope. It’s the sacred space of movement and stillness, speaking and listening, knowing and being known, trusting and being trusted. It’s coming into and going out from. It’s having our hearts broken wide open and then the burning awareness and desire to share our experience.

That’s what we see in one of my favorite Scripture passages, commonly known as the walk to (and from) Emmaus.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. ~ Luke 24:13-35

Two friends are walking together and talking about their friend’s unexpected death, trying to piece together and make sense of the unbelievable chain of events. Someone sees them so engrossed in conversation and asks what it is they’re talking about. Stunned that he doesn’t seem to know the biggest news story that just happened, they fill him in on what they know … which is a bit about what they’ve seen and a lot from what they’ve heard from others. 

I love this passage because it is so real. Tucked in the middle of a long paragraph is an honest revelation that is almost missed: but we had hoped. Can’t you hear the heart-wrenching heartbreak in that phrase? All the possibilities, all the hopes vanquished in an awful turn of events. We know that kind of heartbreak.

We also know that too often that kind of heartbreak is glossed over or the subject is changed. Someone shares her disappointment in being passed over for a promotion and is told at least she has a job. Someone reveals she had a miscarriage and is told that lots of women have miscarriages and still get pregnant. Someone tells his friend he thinks his wife is having an affair and is told he must still honor his marriage vows. We listen and then move on to resolve the conflict as if what was hoped for is a problem to be solved.

It’s also that kind of heartbreak that prepares us for what is to come. But first we must be allowed to grieve for the hope that was lost. People don’t need to be reminded of their brokenness or coerced into admitting their failures. That’s just part of being human. What they do need is to be invited and allowed to grieve those lost hopes – that the cancer came back, that job did not come through, that the addiction wasn’t overcome, that the loved one died.

As we move through the grief and lost hope, Jesus reveals to us the God who holds fast to us through all the details and depth of our broken heartedness. Only then can we be open to and receive the path God has created and prepared for us. We hear as we are able and when we are able. And then we trust the Spirit to set our hearts on fire in her own good time.



Photo: Janet Peterson
Photo: Janet Peterson

Security: the state of being free from danger or threat; the state of feeling safe, stable, and free from fear or anxiety. Interesting.

Security is my Daily Word today. It was randomly generated for me this morning as part of my daily spiritual practice. Nuances of the quotes, Scripture, prayer, and action are discovered depending on what is going on in my life at that time. I was able to spend some time with my son yesterday and now have another interesting layer of thought to add to this word.

Security and what constitutes security is different for everyone. Someone with millions in the bank may have anxiety around finances that prohibits security. Someone who until recently was unemployed may not yet feel secure about food and housing even though they now have employment income. A host of factors, including uncertainty and experience, significantly contribute to how someone negotiates security.

What happens if you remove what is familiar and find yourself in a situation that feels unsafe and threatening or that you don’t understand at all or that includes people you don’t know or don’t know if you can trust? We don’t usually wake up one day and find ourselves in an unsafe, threatening, uncertain place. It usually happens gradually, the familiar and usual eroding bit by bit until we find ourselves in a place we don’t know or understand at all. And then, one day, we do wake up and ask ourselves, “How did I get here? What happened?” We question everything and don’t trust anything because all security is gone.

That’s how I imagine mental illness. Gradually all your skills to cope and hold things together erode and then, they don’t work any more. In that spiral, you try other things, that also don’t work and may even make things worse because now others are watching and noticing. And then when you finally realize you have to try something else, like medication, you’re really thrown off because nothing feels like you AND it makes you feels horrible and non-functioning in the process. Like how chemotherapy can make you sicker than sick and it’s supposed to be fighting your cancer to make you well!

Add to that that you can’t work and can’t get health insurance and don’t have a place to live and you have to go to a clinic and to get plugged into county or state services that are never-ending mazes that are more concerned about you filling out the correct form in the right color of ink and, and and, and and. Oh, and you have other health issues that must now be factored into this complex equation.

I don’t know if that’s exactly what my son is experiencing, but that’s the picture I get as I listen to him over lunch. He’s very intelligent, he understands the system, and he’s been navigating the system for over almost four years. And yet, in many ways he is not better off than he was four years ago. He accepts his mental diagnosis now whereas four years ago he was resistant to medication. But after not seeing him for nine months, I sense he’s trying to hold the last vestiges of his spirit together with wisps of silk thread. He’s disheartened and frustrated and feels there is no trust with those who seek to help him. He’s afraid he won’t be able to reclaim himself from the abyss that seeks to take him without his permission.

As heartbreaking as it is to see my own son struggling, I know there are far more people who are not anywhere near as high-functioning or intelligent as he is or don’t have any family or friend support. Who will be their voice? Who will care about their experience? Who will sit with them when they aren’t pleasant to be around? Who will call or text or drop by just to say “hi”? Who will bring them a treat or make sure they have a warm sweater or a toothbrush? Who will help them find security in an environment that is not stable or always safe?


Heartsick and Heartbroken

ImagineI was bringing in the mail when I noticed the picture of a teen with the caption, “Have you seen me?” I instantly thought about those parents and how heartsick and heartbroken they must be since their child was last seen October 9, 2013. I then thought about all those parents of the nearly 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped from the school dormitory a few weeks ago. And I thought about the hundreds of thousands of girls and boys that are rounded up daily and sold into slavery as sex workers. Then there are all those kids and young adults who seemingly drop off the planet, labeled as runaways or derelicts when something much deeper or more sinister may be going on.

Sometimes I wonder which is worse: not knowing or what I imagine? I haven’t had any contact with my oldest son since a brief text on my birthday in October. His brother had a call from him on his birthday in November and he answered his phone when his brother called him on his birthday in February. That is all the contact we’ve had in the past six months. We think he’s still in the area and still has a place to live, but we don’t really know for certain.

My son is 35 and has mental illness. It’s a world I do not understand, although others I love also have mental illness. In fact, the National Institutes for Health suggest that nearly one-quarter (25%) of American adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia, an anxiety disorder, or something else. There is a lot of awareness, education, and acceptance around diabetes (only 8.3% of U.S. population) and heart disease (11.3%), and cancer. We all know someone who has had cancer, yet only 8.5% of adults have ever been diagnoses with cancer. And yet, families and individuals struggle and suffer in silence because of the lack of understanding about and the stigmatization of those with mental illness.

We moved back to California to be closer to family after my brother’s death and my oldest son was a big factor in that decision. Every time I reach out to my son, I am an emotional wreck. It’s not that he doesn’t return my texts or take my calls. I even understand how difficult it is to manage the medications and hate the way it can make you feel. What wrecks me is seeing this wonderful, gifted human being ravaged by a disease chemistry he himself is fighting against. It is painful and agonizing to witness the slow, self-destruction of someone to whom you gave life.

A postscript: Wonders never cease. I called on the off-chance he would pickup. I will be downtown for a doctor’s appointment tomorrow afternoon and wanted to try connecting with him. As it stands now, we are meeting up after my appointment. P-r-a-y.

What Are Your Questions?

QuestionsIf we’re truly going to be honest, Easter raises more questions than it answers. In fact, I think true faith is all about the questions. A vital faith is developed only through inquiry and examination. How else are we to deepen our understanding and learn to apply our faith in the crucible of real life?

Over the years, I’ve noticed my questions about this passage of Scripture that gets used every Sunday following Easter have changed as well. I have probably preached more on this passage of Scripture than any other. As No. 2 in the clergy lineup for many of those years, the Sunday after Easter was my Sunday to preach since it was considered a “low” Sunday. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on this passage and plenty of questions over the years. Maybe you have too!

Take a look at the passage. What questions come to mind?

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. ~ John 20:19-31

Here are some of my questions I’ve pondered over the years:

  • Why is it so hard for Thomas to believe? He’d seen a lot of stuff with Jesus over the course of roughly three years, much of it pretty fantastical.
  • Why didn’t he trust what his friends were reporting to him? And why wasn’t he with the others in the first place?
  • Why was Jesus so harsh to Thomas? What was he really expecting from Thomas?
  • What’s the writer – whose not named but we assume is John – really trying to tell his audience?

I’ve found that asking questions leads me to asking more questions which leads me to new insights and new insights offer a richer faith experience. Here’s what I mean. Years ago, the obvious question was Why is it so hard for Thomas to believe? He’d been on the road for three years with these friends! They had shared a lot of stuff over those years and yet, he didn’t automatically believe what they were telling him. Over the years, Thomas’ doubt and disbelief started making more sense to me. He didn’t hear about Jesus’ crucifixion from his friends; he actually witnessed it with them. He saw first-hand exactly what happened and Jesus was d-e-a-d. Given that stark reality, I can fully understand why he would question them. Jesus being alive AND appearing to them in a locked room is a bit much to absorb, and does seem a bit too unbelievable to be true.

Another time, I was sharing about this passage with a group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison and when I read Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” one of the guys said, “Ooh, that’s harsh! Jesus shouldn’t be treating his homies that way.” It does seem harsh. You’d think Jesus would realize Thomas is only asking about what the others had already seen. So why the rebuke? Over time, I have come to think that Jesus’ response wasn’t a rebuke at all. In fact, I don’t think Jesus’ response was for those in that room with Thomas. I think John shares these comments of Jesus because he is talking to us and all those who, like Thomas, wouldn’t have the benefit of seeing the resurrected Christ. Sure, there is the testimony of others, but that’s not the same as being an actual eyewitness.

In fact, John says just that at the end of his dynamic account: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. He’s telling this story so that first-century and twenty-first century people can find themselves in God’s great story of love. 

John selects each encounter with Jesus to show the many ways people come to faith. There is the revered teacher who comes at night with questions and leaves more confused. There’s the doubly despised person Jesus meets at the well – an alien AND a woman – who leaves as an evangelist. There is story after story of how someone encountered Jesus, giving us many examples of the breadth and depth of God’s love and options for choosing a different path and a different life. Thomas represents that even the most hardened realist and skeptic can come to faith. We don’t know if Thomas really put his fingers in the wounds, but we do know his response when Jesus invited: “My Lord and my God!” 

My question today is: What would prompt a similar confession of faith today? Do we want to see Jesus like Thomas? Are we looking for a welcoming and accepting community that allows us to be who we are? Do we want to see God’s grace and mercy enacted in service and concern for those who are marginalized and voiceless? Do we seek someone who will hold on to us when we’re struggling with life or faith? Or do we just need to hear John’s encouragement that faith is hard to believe and the invitation is always there?

Ask away. God is listening.

Holy Earth Week

Double Rainbow Off Maui_FotorI love that Earth Week is right after Holy Week this year. Holy Week walks us through God’s full-spectrum of emotion for humanity. Earth Week reminds us of God’s ingenuity and complexity displayed throughout all of creation. Personally, I believe more people are moved to consider God because of the awe-inspiring, breath-taking beauty of nature than through any well-reasoned intellectual discussion. Besides, most people are visual learners anyway.

I was in 8th grade when Earth Day was established. It’s always been easy to remember because my sister’s birthday is also on April 22. Between how we were raised and Girl Scouts, I was already conservation-oriented. We were taught to leave an area cleaner than we found it, pick up after yourself, and respect nature and wildlife. Not only did it seem reasonable, it was the right thing to do. Creation or nature is a common resource shared by a common humanity. The Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated) applies to all of life.

We were taught that nature was a renewable, but limited resource. Its ability to renew itself was limited or restricted by humanity’s excessive and consistent disregard or indifference. Maybe that’s why I am utterly flabbergasted that there really are people who don’t believe humanity is responsible for the ills wrecked on creation. I especially am appalled that so many who profess to be devout Christians deny climate change, of which humans are mostly responsible. Greenhouse gasses impact droughts and flooding which then impacts health and economics. Not only is the beauty of God’s creation being desecrated, but God’s people are also being violated.

Newton’s third law of motion (even the devout don’t deny basic physics) is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If we build pipelines, drive fossil-fueled vehicles, heat with coal, pave over forests, spray chemicals we must be prepared for an equal and opposite reaction. Let’s just hope we come to our senses before the reaction is any more life-threatening.

Holy Week and Easter remind us of what God has done for us. [Holy] Earth Week reminds us of what we are responsible for to God. We bear God’s image. God’s creation needs to be a priority.

Photo: Janet Peterson (my sister). Double rainbow off Maui.

Happy Birthday to My Sister

Janet and Me 5.13_FotorHappy Birthday, Janet! It’s my sister’s birthday and our little family is gathering to celebrate her awesome 56 years! I bet my parents can’t believe their children are all in the 50s and that they are turning 80 this year! And then there’s always the bittersweetness that our younger brother isn’t here to celebrate with us and his birthday is just a few weeks after my sister’s. But today we’re celebrating Janet.

Janet has the dubious honor of being the middle child. She’s 18 months younger than me and two years older than our brother. Even though we represented the majority gender among the siblings, she often sided with my brother opposing the wiser, even if more bossy, sister. I considered it diplomacy, she might tell you it was co-dependency (smile).

She’s also the athlete among us. She played sports all through school, including college. Not the usual sports like softball and track, but field hockey and rugby! That’s probably why she can just jump on her bike and do a 100 mile bike ride having not ridden in months!

Two years ago she rode the 330-mile NorCal AIDS Cycle (NCAC) raising awareness and money for HIV/AIDS services in the Sacramento area. She rode with Team CARES, the organization that my oldest son plugged into when he was diagnosed with HIV in 2010. She raised $3,000 her first year riding and $5,500 last year.

This year, however, when it came time to register and begin her fundraising efforts, she wasn’t sure her heart was in it. It had been a tough year with our brother’s death. Plus she’s a nurse at the UC Davis Medical Center hospital and has crazy 12-hour shifts that make it difficult to join in on training rides.

With all of the excitement building about this being NCAC’s tenth year and the weather also getting nicer, she was feeling a little sadness about not participating. That’s when she decided to join in on the 100-mile training ride! If she survived and had a good time, she’d register and start her fundraising. Needless to say, she not only survived, but started getting donations right away. Now she’s hooked.

This year she’s riding with a new team, Team Sunburst, as part of the NCAC ride and her goal is to personally raise $5,000. Sunburst is an organization that benefits from funds distributed through NCAC. They’ve been providing support services for children, youth, and adults living with HIV/AIDS since 1988. It’s personal and a powerful statement for many riders on her team.

I am so proud of her and all her efforts. Of course, this is also my shameless plug for you to contribute to her cause. You may not know it, but you probably know someone somewhere who is living with HIV. It’s even likely they may not even know it.** Even though the money raised through Janet goes to services in the Sacramento area, consider it pay-it-forward karma for where you are (big smile). Here is the link to her donation page.

So Jani, happy, happy birthday! You may be the younger and more athletic sister, but I’m still younger-looking! I love you!! ~ Ninna

**About 16% of people living with HIV in the US do not even know it. In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections was highest among 25-34 year-olds (31% or about 14,500 individuals), followed by individuals 13-24 year-olds (26% or 12,200 individuals).


Easter Monday by Jasper Bunny

JasperBunny_FotorPhew! I survived Easter and made it to Easter Monday. Easter is so stressful for us bunnies. Easter bunny this. Easter bunny that. You’d think Easter was our holiday, but we all know bunnies don’t really get their own holiday.

Thankfully, there were no chocolate bunnies at my Mama’s or Auntie’s house, although my Auntie did send dark chocolate See’s Easter bunnies to her granddaughters and their parents. She did it in secret because she knew how upsetting it would be for me. The thought of someone biting off bunny ears or cute little bunny tails is enough to give me the wiggle-willies.

The real reason Easter is so stressful for us bunnies and chicks is because people think bunnies and chicks make cute little Easter gifts to children. There is no denying we are adorable … and high maintenance. Adults don’t like high maintenance. Children really don’t like high maintenance. That’s why so many of us get abandoned. Some bunnies get taken to a rescue center, but others, like me, get dropped off in the wilds. I still get nightmares about being in the wilds with all those coyotes and foxes and other beasts lurking around for a tasty morsel.

Did you know that Easter Day lasts eight days? I about freaked out when I learned that. The build up to Easter is stressful enough, and to add fifty more days on to it?!? Why don’t they just call it Easter Octave? Maybe the Roman Catholics do. I’m a Protestant bunny, myself. The fifty days of Easter is called Eastertide (not very original). The next big Christian holiday is Pentecost. Now that is a wild time!

My Mama was asking by Auntie about Jesus and did he hang around or go away again. I’m glad she didn’t ask me because I certainly don’t know! I can tell you this: God knew what God was doing with this whole resurrection-life-changing thing. I was reading about the man whose daughter won a bunny at his company’s Easter party. The next year he took the bunny with them to the party. He had a sign that said, “Free bunny to good home or recipe.” That man needs Jesus!



This is a picture of a roadside tomb in Israel.Resurrected. That was the last thing the Marys expected to hear when they went to Jesus’ tomb at daybreak the first day of the week. The whole week – Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, him being betrayed and abandoned by his closest friends, his arrest, crucifixion, and burial – was surreal and unbelievable. And now this?

Matthew’s account of what the women experienced when they arrived at the tomb is dramatic. Epic is probably a better word. A massive earthquake, an angel of the Lord descending from heaven, rolling back the stone, and sitting in the empty tomb of Jesus is enough to terrify anyone. Matthew tells us the guards “shook and became like dead men.” In other words, they fainted in terror! The Marys were grief-stricken, heartbroken, and now, afraid.

Angels, at least in the Scripture, are messengers who arrive at key moments of tension and drama in the biblical story. They usually begin their announcement with, “Be not afraid.” They are heralding a restorative and empowering word of courage. The Marys – and certainly the guards – certainly needed a word of courage now! No doubt they were wondering, “What was that?!? What just happened? “

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” ~ Matthew 28:1-10

There is a lot going on here. First the angel speaks words of courage and comfort – Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Then the angel has a command –  go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’  And the women do just that. They come and see and then the run and tell, all with fear and great joy. Therein is the message of resurrection.

Isn’t that what life is this side of eternity? A mixture of fear and joy? Fear of what may happen to our children and joy that they are such a blessing in our lives. Fear about the prognosis of a loved one struggling with an illness and joy of what they mean to us. Fear about the messy state of affairs around the world and joy in the little kindnesses shown by a stranger.

The message of the resurrection is that they can keep faith even when afraid and share their good news in spite of their anxiety. The resurrection doesn’t take away their fear. The resurrection allows them to persevere and flourish even when life is difficult. Fear and joy, despair and hope, doubt and faith, are the two sides of our lives in this world. 

The resurrection changes everything: life is stronger than death, love is greater than hate and indifference, mercy overcomes judgment, humility is more powerful than arrogance, peace trumps violence. While all the sufferings and difficulties of this life are real and painful, they are transient and do not reflect the final reality.

The resurrection changes everything in the epic drama of God and humanity. It is a reverie. It announces that this is a new day, God has a new message, and is calling us to a new life. The fearsome and joyous news is Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!


Ancient_Tombs_in_the_Kidron_ValleyJoseph of Arimathea boldly asks Pilate for the body of Jesus so he can be buried. He buries Jesus, rolling the large stone in front of the tomb, while the Marys look on.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guardof soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone. ~ Matthew 27:57-66

What would you like to bury?

What preparations do you think must be made to make that happen?

What does burial signify to you?

Gracious and loving God, releasing someone or something to be buried is often more difficult than we imagine. Give us strength, courage, and peace to lay these things or people to rest. Amen.


CrossJesus is crucified. It’s a dramatic conclusion to a tense, tormenting, tragic week.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. ~ Matthew 27:32-56

How does Jesus’ death tell the truth about our lives and world?

How does it give us hope?

Where do you see God still at work to redeem and preserve creation?

Where do you long to see God?

Gracious and loving God, on the cross you suffered the very depths of our human life, even to the point of death. When we see the cross, let us remember that you became one of us and endured all elements of life to show us your great love and to give us hope. Amen.


Crown_of_Thorns_#2__K_Being mocked is humiliating and degrading. It’s a form of bullying we have all experienced. It wounds your inner resolve and resources, and leaves you feeling exposed and vulnerable. It requires you to dig deep within yourself and cling to God’s love and strength for you to withstand the urge to retaliate back.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. ~ Matthew 27:1-31

Where do you see the struggle for power and the easy resort to defamation and violence in our world today?

In what ways does fear poison our relationships at home and at work as well as in the larger world?

What one thing would you ask God to change about your life or the world? How can you contribute to making that happen?

Gracious and loving God, use us as instruments of peace in a world too often broken by violence and a thirst for power. Amen.


Abandoned ArtJesus is abandoned.

Judas abandons his mentor. He is disappointed.

The religious leaders abandon their faith in God and take matters into their own hands. They are threatened.

Peter and his friends abandon each other and Jesus. They are afraid


While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,

From now on you will see the Son of Man
    seated at the right hand of Power
    and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth. Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. ~ Matthew 26:47-75

What strengthens you to keep faith with others? What tempts you to abandon them?

Where have you felt abandoned?

Where do you need the support of good friends? Who needs your support?

Gracious and loving God, protect and preserve us that we might keep faith with the promises and responsibilities we have undertaken. When we feel alone remind us that you understand and you are with us. Amen.



This time she was snatchedJesus knows the test that is before him. His friends do not. In fact, they don’t really understand what Jesus is saying to them. Too much is happening, too fast. Just when they think they are beginning to understand Jesus, he throws a slider and they wonder if they missed the sign.

Life is like that. Faith is like that. You’re cruising along the highway of life with a little God-action in the mix and a boulder rolls right in front of you. What do you do? I’d probably slam on the brakes and swerve, hopefully missing the boulder while not running into someone else at the same time and staying on the road! It’s a test of reflexes, judgment, reaction, action, and stamina.

We’ve all had those moments – the life-defining, life-altering events – that we don’t fully understand or grasp at the time, but looking back, it all makes sense. Jesus’ friends are having that kind of moment.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you;for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.” ~ Matthew 26:17-46

When were you tested, but didn’t believe it or thought, “It can’t (or won’t) be that bad?”, only to find out you weren’t prepared at all for what was to occur?

How did you react or what did you do?

Knowing what you know now, what did you learn from that test?

Gracious and loving God, I know I will face tests that don’t make sense or seem insurmountable. Equip me with strength. Guide me with wisdom. Fill me with love. Amen.


WhiteFoundryHoly Week is bracketed by two unexpected, triumphant events: Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem and Jesus’ resurrection from death. The days in-between take Jesus, and his followers, through the full spectrum of emotion and experience. His followers sense a shift in Jesus, but don’t grasp what he is trying to tell them. Religious and political leaders have been losing control of the masses and, wanting to staunch a rebellion, plot and strategize how to take back control – namely remove this popular Jesus. Jesus knows his mission is coming to completion and wonders if he’s up to the task of fulfilling it.

The events of the week are easily overlooked as we move from one triumphant Sunday to another. Easter is what sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems and the events of the week leading up to Easter are pivotal. Entering into the experience enriches our understanding of the magnitude of what transpired and grounds our hope in what is to come.

Each day through Holy Week will feature a reading, a few questions for thought and a prayer. I invite you to read your daily activities in light of Jesus’ experience and see what emerges in light of your daily routine. Be open and alert. Who knows? Maybe Easter will mean more to you because of your journey with Jesus from the gates of Jerusalem to the foot of the cross.

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him. ~ Matthew 26:1-16

Where do you see hostilities and betrayals in our world?

Is there anything that would be worth it to you to betray a friend?

What small betrayals have you been ensnared by, and how can you make amends for them?

Gracious and loving God, make me mindful to not allow bitterness or disappointment lead me to harm others whether in thought or deed. Amen.

Who Is This?

PalmAnyone in Jerusalem would have wondered what was going on. Crowds were gathering along the main thoroughfare into the city. It wasn’t your typical day either. Pilgrims had made their way into the city to celebrate Passover, one of the biggest holy days that all devout Jews celebrated. And to celebrate it in the holiest of cities, where King David and his son King Solomon had restored the nation of Israel to power and prominence, was a once-in-a-lifetime dream to experience. Extended families excitedly gathered, anticipating the week of preparation before Passover. The atmosphere was already electric.

As people bustled through Jerusalem, shopping and meeting up, there was an undertow of something else. People started asking, “What’s going on? Who’s coming?” They stopped to see what all the talk and excitement were about.

People in front were laying their cloaks and palm fronds on the dusty roadway. Is it a new king? Who else could possibly be coming to warrant so much regal fanfare. You knew he was coming near because shouts and hosannas swelled as people glimpsed him coming.

And then he is in your line of vision. And you wonder, “Who is this?” He’s on a donkey! He’s in a plain tunic. He rides alone! No stallion. No weaponry. No brigade. No finery. A plain, ordinary, bearded guy. Who is this?

That’s what this day, known now as Palm Sunday, is all about: Who is this?

How is this guy being hailed as messiah by peasants and lepers and prostitutes and day laborers? Who is this guy that looks like a backwater hick and yet rides into the city like a king?

As the week goes on – when his devoted followers turn on him, his closest friends disperse, and the crowds call for his death – they’ll still be asking, “Who is this?” Who is this that so threatens the religious and political power-elite establishments, they drag, beaten and bruised through the streets, forcing him to carry his own cross to the execution grounds? Who is this abandoned and forsaken person? Who is this?

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” ~ Matthew 26:1-11


All Things New

NewDon’t you love getting new things? There’s something magical about opening the box and discovering all the specialness of your new item. It doesn’t even have to be something extravagant or novel. Maybe it’s a lemon zester that is easy to use AND clean. Maybe it’s a pair of earrings you bought for one outfit and you discover they go with several outfits. Maybe it’s a new fountain pen purchased specifically for hand-written gratitude intervention.

My new MacBook Air arrived a few days ago and I’m enjoying discovering all the magic in this beautifully designed piece of hardware. Apple is the master of The Experience. From the plain, brown shipping box to the sleek, white product box and how the item is nested in its product box, you are already in The Experience. Each phase of the opening, unwrapping and starting up reveals a bit more, all leading up your first sensation of using your new Mac product. I’ve purchased several Apple products over the years and the magic never goes away.

The magic makes The Experience fun, but there are some new insights I have that make the experience real.

A new operating system on new hardware is just that … new.  Technology upgrades happen for a reason, usually to improve performance and user experience. Personally, I love improved performance and always welcome a better user experience.

Sometimes, however, if the developers haven’t invested enough time and testing in planning and designing the user experience, no amount of magic will win converts. Some people don’t like change of any kind and are resistant to any learning curve. Magic won’t help them either. And there are always those who think hardware is hardware and an operating system is an operating system. Maybe, but they don’t believe in magic anyway so it won’t make much difference to them over the long haul.

I really do believe the user experience is essential, and that goes for faith as well. Faith isn’t an all mental exercise or an all heart experience. It’s a blending of the two that is rooted in both the mind and heart. It’s experimenting with experience and exploring with empathy. There is magic, as well. It is the belief in a power larger than myself (that I call God) that allows me to venture into the unknown and unknowable.

The very last book of the Bible has this verse:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” ~ Revelation 21:5

God wants the best for creation, of which we are a part. We’re reminded of the newness of creation every spring. Plants go dormant and animals that hibernate to survive the harsh winter months. New blooms and new life emerge each spring. The beauty that colors our landscapes in the spring brings wonder and is a reminder that we’re in a season of newness. God pays particular attention to the faithful’s user experience. It’s even more magical than my new MacBook Air.

Deciding to Decide

Deciding to decide is the story of our modern-day lives. It seems we decided on something and then begin re-thinking our decision before we even act on our decision. It’s like we select a pair of shoes, walk around the store with them, put them back, walk around the store without them, pick them back up, pay for them, try them around the house, and still take them back, only to wish we kept them in the first place!

Life was like it is now when Jesus arrived on the public scene. Governments occupied territories that were not their own. Religious leaders were demanding people live, think, and believe a certain way. Everyone complained about taxes, worried about supporting their families, and muddled through their lives.

Along comes Jesus. Jesus wasn’t the usual new age thinker with reworked principles on how to live your best life. His revolutionary message was about the transformation of the total human being – moving from animal instincts (flight or fight) and ego to love and compassion; from a judgmental, either/or worldview to forgiveness and acceptance. The transformation Jesus spoke about was a complete system upgrade and baptism became the symbol of that upgrade.

In fact, the season of Lent has always been a time to prepare new believers for baptism. A decision to become a follower of Jesus and join the community of believers was a conscious, emotional, life-changing decision. Jesus died for the message he brought and his followers were also targeted. It was necessary to count the cost prior to making a public confession of faith because no one knew whether or not they too would be persecuted and executed for their beliefs.

Most of us today don’t face the life-or-death reality for our beliefs. But there is still a cost. Wanting a change in my life is different than deciding to change my life. And change in my life is different than an upgrade of my life. Once I upgrade, I will have updates along the way. Am I willing to embark on that journey? Am I open to what I may learn about myself? Am I willing to let go of my old way of looking at people and issues and trust my new eyes and new heart to guide me? Is or will God really be there for me?  What am I expecting from myself and God? Does a first century Jesus even make sense in my 21st century reality? How am I going to decide to decide?


In the Now

nowNow ~ at the present time or in the moment.

There are a lot of different ways we hear this admonition: being in the moment; living in the present; being mindful; launch yourself on every wave; find your eternity in each moment. Since we don’t know how long we’re given, or even what the quality of our lives will be, we are encouraged to live our lives as though there is no tomorrow.

We’re reminded of this everyday. A brother dies in a car accident. A neighbor has a heart attack while gardening. A classmate takes her life. An argument gets out of hand and one man shoots another. Even a long illness or a long life isn’t long enough to fully prepare us for the finality of death. And yet, we are asked to live our lives as if death could come at any moment.

Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, were great friends of Jesus. They lived in Bethany, a suburb of Jerusalem. Whenever Jesus had business in Jerusalem, it was likely that he stayed with his Bethany friends. So when Jesus gets word that his close friend has died, he stays away two more days! He had his reasons.

I know this is another long scripture passage. As you read it to refresh your memory of the story of Lazarus being raised from death, pay attention to the undramatic parts. See if something new and fresh peeks out.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. ~ John 11:1-46

There are so many powerful messages in this passage that we often overlook the most simple and profound.

When my brother died unexpectedly sixteen months ago, my parents, sister and I were loosely comforted knowing we each had talked with him that day. Of course, we went over every nuanced detail looking for signs of what we might have missed, but in the end, we knew there were always going to be unanswered questions.

Martha is looking to Jesus for those answers about her brother. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” What could have been done differently to give a different outcome? What strikes me is how asking the questions and expressing those regrets is really a sign of love. Jesus doesn’t try and talk over her or dismiss her comments. He gives her the space to ask her questions and express her grief.

Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again and Martha even comes back with a religiously appropriate response about a future resurrection. I hear Martha acknowledging resurrection as some abstract concept that happens so far in the future that it has no meaningful impact on her in this moment. Maybe I’m wrong about Martha, but that’s how I often think about the resurrection. “Yeah, I believe in the resurrection and that I will see my brother again one day, but so what? By then, it will be out of my hands and I’ll be dead too, so what?”

But Jesus isn’t talking about some abstract doctrine that has no bearing on this moment now. I imagine Martha is looking behind with some measure of regret and forward with some measure of hope. But Jesus cups her face in his hands, looks directly into her eyes, and says, ““I am the resurrection and the life.” I am here and now the resurrection and the life.

The point is Jesus and the Gospel make a tangible difference now, make things possible now, open up opportunities and options now, transform relationships now. The promises of God are present tense, not just future. As we journey through Lent, let’s remember that we journey in the company of the resurrection and life now, even when we journey through grief, regret, or forlorn hope.

Getting Ready to Upgrade

upgrade 2I’m getting ready to upgrade. After seven years with my current 13-inch white MacBook, I am facing reality. It’s time to get a new MacBook. I’m both excited and sad.

It seems odd to be sad over a laptop. I’ve had two 13-inch white MacBooks and each served me dependably well. I used them even when they could no longer be upgraded. I found I could still get a great deal of productivity out of them even though I was two operating system upgrades behind. Why get something new when what I had still worked so well?

At some point, however, I wanted or needed to use software or web apps that required newer hardware. I needed to get a new laptop or accept that I was going to remain limited by my old technology. I probably could continue limping along for awhile, but eventually I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted to do with what I had. I would need to upgrade.

It’s the same with our spiritual lives and Lent is the season we think and re-think a spiritual upgrade. As we move closer to Easter, we look back on the familiar stories of Jesus with an eye to what’s also coming. We know the outcome is the resurrection and transformation. It’s a whole operating system upgrade and we are preparing for it.

An upgrade is not without its challenges. Carol says it perfectly, “When I think upgrades I think computers. Sometimes when I upgrade my computer there are good new things, but often some incompatibility issues that cause problems. Sometimes old software no longer works and peripherals become unusable. I think this happens with personal upgrading too. Sometimes old patterns and habits are incompatible and friends or hobbies might no longer fit with the new upgrade.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Carol says and think it will be our focus this week of Lent leading up to Palm Sunday. It’s perfect timing too since my new MacBook Air is due to arrive at the beginning of that week! I will experience a technology upgrade as we explore a personal upgrade. Fun times ahead!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Most of us know exactly what Carol is talking about when it comes to upgrading our computers. But what about when you’ve done a personal upgrade? What has been that experience for you?

One Nation Under Sin

There is a lot of rhetoric around the United States being one nation under God. Some graduate students at Kansas State University have another possibility: one nation under sin. Geographers at Kansas State University created a spatial distribution map of the Seven Deadly Sins across the United States. They used demographic data collected for each sin. Red is more sinful. Blue is less sinful.


Wrath was calculated by comparing the total number of violent crimes per capita – murder, assault, and rape – reported to the FBI.


Envy was calculated by the total number of thefts – robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen cars.


Gluttony was calculated by counting the number of fast food restaurants per capita.


Greed was calculated by comparing average incomes with the total number of inhabitants living beneath the poverty line.


Lust was calculated by compiling the number of sexually transmitted diseases — HIV, AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea — reported per capita.


Sloth was calculated by comparing expenditures on arts, entertainment and recreation with the rate of employment.


Pride, as the root of all sin, is the aggregate of all data in this study.

How does where you live fare in the list of sins?

Seeing Our Blind Spots

Blind TrapEvery time I read news stories, I’m reminded of the various blind spots we have. We are blind to facts, blind to our neighbor, blind to diversity, blind to change, blind to justice, blind to ourselves. We are blind to the fact that we are blind in the first place!

I believe our blindness is rooted in hardened hearts and we are in need of healing. Lent is the time we re-examine and re-imagine our spiritual lives. It is a time to re-think our faith and explore deepening our spiritual spring roots in the soft, loamy soil of the gospel. It’s an opportunity to shake off our spiritual hibernation and open our eyes to the newness of life that is all around us.

How do we do that?

First, we acknowledge we are blind or short-sighted. The fact is we all have blind areas. The danger isn’t having blind spots, but allowing those blind spots to influence how we view others and the world around us. Regulating and requiring certain behaviors, beliefs, or lifestyles of others is enforcing your blindness on them. Conformity is not God’s end game.

Second, we face our fears that contribute to our blindness. Only a handful of things make us fearful: lack of control, the unknown, and being vulnerable. Hmm. As someone in a 12-Step Program would say: Exactly why we need a Higher Power in the first place. God’s grace secures us to step into these voids one step at a time. Each step scrapes away a little more of the opaqueness that clouds our vision.

Third, we release all judgment and expectations. Another challenge. I find that if I get myself out of the picture and just let the other person be who they are, in the way they are, I am on the road to releasing judgement and expectations.

Amazing Grace has a line:

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

John Newton penned those words from his experience of God’s grace finding him and giving him sight. It didn’t happen overnight nor all at once. He continued running slave ships even after his conversion and continued to invest in the slave trade when he no longer was an active sea captain. While he himself was left as a slave in West Africa because of his problematic behavior as a young sailor, it took decades for him to see the full extent of his own blindness to slavery.

There are only a couple of weeks left in Lent. What blind spots are you willing to discard? What do you see?

Fools or Food?

1951 sealtest Raspberry Vanilla ice creamApril 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. ~ Mark Twain

I am an avid reader of food labels. All kinds of secret, and not-so-secret, ingredients are often hidden in our foods. After being diagnosed with celiacs at age 48, I learned that gluten is often “hidden” in other ingredients and not required to be listed on food labels. A whole lot of other “foods” are hidden as well!

In honor of April Fools’ Day, I thought we’d take a look at a few ingredients you may have ingested today. “Natural flavors” and “natural flavorings” may be more natural than you thought!

Lanolin is often used as a softening agent in cosmetics. It comes from the sebaceous glands of wool animals. It’s often used in chewing gum.

Sugar doesn’t contain any animal ingredients, but most companies use bone char (think of it as animal charcoal) in filters to reduce the color in sugar. Thankfully, animal bone ash is regulated. It can come only from cattle that have died from natural causes. Pakistan, Nigeria, Brazil, India, and Morocco are the main supplies of this fine filtering agent.

Next time you plan on using a package for flavoring tacos or chili, take a look at the ingredients listed on the back. Way down the list you’ll find silicon dioxide. It’s also known as silica. Silicon dioxide is the main chemical compound in sand. It’s also a favorite anti-caking agent. It’s everything from processed meat, spice powders, instant soups and sauces, snack bars, supplements, pharmaceutical drug tablets and more. It’s OK. The FDA only allows 2% of product weight to include silicon dioxide.

Sodium borate is a crystalline compound of boric acid. It’s more commonly known by its commercial name borax. Borax keeps mice, bugs, ants and mold away.  It is used as a multipurpose cleaner, fire retardant, fungicide, herbicide and as a food preservative. Borax is banned as a food additive (E285) in the United States, but it is allowed in imported caviar.

Gelatin is in everything! It’s flavorless and translucent substance (Jell-O anyone?) used as a stabilizer, texture enhancer, or thickening agent in foods.  The active element of gelatin is the collagen obtained from various animal parts.  The most abundant sources of gelatin are pig skin, bovine hide, and pork and cattle bones. Yum.

Shellac is a natural product – obtained by refining the secretions of the Kerria lacca insects.  Native to South-East Asia, the insects reside in colonies of thousands on trees such as Kusum, Ficus, Palas, and Ber.  It takes approximately 300,000 lac bugs to produce a one-kilogram sack of shellac. Yes, it’s used in furniture and floor waxes. It’s also used in coating fruits and vegetables, as well candies, snacks, and pastries, to make them look fresher and more appealing.

Starbucks stopped using carmine as a colorant in their products (e.g. Strawberry Banana Smoothie) in 2012 as a result of consumer concerns. Carmine is obtained from female cochineal insects. After the bugs are killed by immersion in hot water, or exposure to heat, and then dried, their abdomen (it contains the most carmine) is extracted and cooked at high temperatures. The cochineal extract is added to everything from meat to marinades, juices, jams, gelatins and candies, baked goods, toppings, icings, and dairy products. Yep. Red bug guts.

L-cysteine is a common flavor enhancer and dough conditioner used in bakery products, like pizza, crackers, bagels, bread, croissants and donuts. While some L-cysteine is chemically synthesized in labs, most manufacturers use human hair or duck feathers. Remember when McDonald’s and grocers were accused of using “pink slime” in their hamburger meat? You can rest assured. McDonald’s confirmed that it uses L-cysteine made only from duck feathers, so there’s no human hair to worry about.

I know you have noticed cellulose (aka powdered cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, or cellulose gum) in foods! manufacturers add cellulose to their products because it acts as an extender, reducing breakage and providing structure.  Food producers from all over the world save almost 30% in ingredient costs by going for cellulose as a filler or thickener.  Powdered cellulose can replace as much as 50% of the fat in some biscuits, cakes and cookies – hence “high fiber” or “fat reduced” labels can be used. Next time you drive through KFC, Taco Bell or crack open a package of Sara Lee remember you are really eating bamboo or cotton-based plant matter.

The two best secret ingredients are last!

The same substance that beavers naturally secrete to mark their territories, is an especially useful ingredient in raspberry and vanilla-flavored foods, like ice cream, candies, syrups, pastries, and cigarettes. Castoreum is a bitter, strongly odoriferous secretion, produced by the beaver’s sacs, located by the anal glands. The gross part is that castoreum doesn’t have to be listed on the label by its name because it is considered a natural flavor. Good thing. No one would willing eat beaver-butt, even if it does taste like raspberries and vanilla.

Finally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration condones a certain percentage of natural contaminants in the food supply chain. That means we are eating some mold, maggots, and insect or rodent poo. Reading Chapter 5: Foods, Colors, and Cosmetics on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s site will reduce your appetite! Here’s a sampling of allowable filth (their word!) on just a few items:

  • Berries: average mold count is 60% or more; average of 4 or more larvae per 500 g; 10 or more whole insects or equivalent per 500 g
  • Canned and dried mushrooms: 20 or more maggots of any size / 100g; 75 mites / 100g
  • Tomato paste: 30 or more fly eggs / 100g; 15 or more fly eggs and 1 or more maggots / 100g; 2 or more maggots /100g in a minimum of 12 subsamples

Other cultures show us that there are true benefits to eating insects, but there’s a huge difference between eating processed remnants of bugs and rats, and consuming healthy and edible insects that are rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Happy reading!

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

See your historyMy sister is a nurse at a prestigious, teaching hospital and she has stories to tell. She sees disease and healing in all of its raw and ugly glory. She sees how it impacts not only the one going through the disease and [hopefully] healing process, but also how that person’s family and friends react or respond the patient and her disease and healing process. Death is also a very real process and it reveals a lot about how people live, or don’t live, their lives.

Recently she was telling me about one of her patients who was circling back through the unit. She was 28 and in the end-stages, as in days, of her life. Alcohol and drugs completely ravished her body, which now was slowly and painfully shutting down. With her liver no longer filtering toxins out of her body, she was now a sickly orange-green color. It’s a horribly painful way to die and her mother refused to allow pain medications for her daughter. She didn’t want her to become addicted. It was a very unhealthy mother-daughter relationship and there was not going to be any graceful transition from this life into the next for her daughter. In fact, there was a lot of discharge discussion on what was best for this dying young woman. It was extremely sad … and extremely familiar.

The [long] story of the man born blind and later healed by Jesus, illustrates how seeing is not always believing. In fact, change – even good change – is always, always, always disruptive.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. ~ John 9:1-41

What I have come to appreciate over my years of dealing with people is just how blind we are about our own lives and how blind we are to change in others’ lives. Blindness comes in all sorts of forms – physical, emotional, and spiritual – and sometimes we aren’t even aware what we are blind to or that we are even blind at all.

While there are many potential observations and lessons in this passage, one common thread runs throughout this passage and all of the passages we are looking at this Lenten season. Encountering Jesus will change your life. That all sounds great and good until you realize change is disruptive. And then we wonder if the change is worth it. We may decide the change and new life are indeed worth it, but then those around us don’t – or won’t – recognize or accept the new life we have now embraced. Our own blindness is removed and we can see the new path before us, but those around us refuse to acknowledge our new sight. Even worse, some will try to sabotage our new life because if we can change, then the possibility exists that they too can change, and they do not want to change. They would prefer to remain blind.

Seeing isn’t always believing, but for the man blind since birth, Jesus giving him sight and a new identity (he was no longer the blindman), was belief. What Jesus wants for us isn’t the status quo or a life of eeking by and persistence. Jesus offers us a life that is full of color and texture and abundance. Transformation is disruptive, but seeing ourselves as God sees us – precious and loved – is worth it.



Heart to Heart

Old Water WellWhen was the last time you had a heart to heart conversation? In this era of communication via technology and in 140 characters, it seems that face-to-face conversation is a dying artform. And if it can’t be tweeted, pinned, shared, or posted, it doesn’t happen. We communicate, but often what’s missing is the heart to heart connection that comes through hearing, seeing and being with someone.

One of the longest passages in the Bible is an exchange Jesus has with an unnamed woman from a different culture in a public place. It’s an interesting and powerful encounter, but not for the reasons we’re usually given in sermons and commentaries.

I know the passage is long, but it is worth a read (smile)!

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called sa, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” ~ John 4:1-42

The Samaritan woman has been accused of a lot over the years, but one thing this passage does NOT say, is that she is a sinner. In fact, it says nothing at all about a scandalous or immoral lifestyle. Many have assumed she is a prostitute because she comes alone in the middle of the day to draw water, but that is just an assumption.

People have also come to assume that she has questionable morals since Jesus does mention five husbands and that she is currently living with a man who isn’t her husband. Yet Jesus never mentions that she must repent or change or be saved. There is no, “Go and sin no more” command so common in many other encounters. This woman could easily have been widowed, divorced, or abandoned. The fact she is living with a man who is not her husband was common. It was known as a Levirate marriage. A childless woman was often married to their deceased husband’s brother in order to produce an heir. They were technically not considered married to their brother-in-law, although they were completely dependent on him. Focusing on the scandalous instead of the tragic, distracts us from the rest of the story and the real message Jesus has for us.

Here’s what I mean. Immediately after Jesus describes her past, she says, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.” It would be easy to dismiss this comment as a diversionary tactic by the woman when Jesus mentions her past in such detail. However, if we’re open to re-thinking this passage, we see she has great faith in spite of everything separates her from Jesus. Her questions about where the proper place of worship is gets right to the heart of centuries of religious divisions between the Jews and Samaritans.

In Jesus’ world, everything was against this woman: she’s nameless, a Samaritan in this Jewish story, a woman in a male-dominated society, she’s had a tragic life and is dependent on others. Yet Jesus saw her and engaged with her. Regardless, she was a person of significance to him and treated differently than she was accustomed.

The transformative moment of the story comes when, surprised by Jesus’ answer that is both hopeful and penetrating, she leaves her water jar behind to tell her neighbors about this man. She leaves her water jar – perhaps symbolic of the of all she’s hauled in her tragic life – to a new life God has for her.

I wonder what holds us back from the life God has for us? What are we still hauling in the jars of our lives that can be replaced by living water God offers us? Perhaps there are tragedies or grief or sorrows. Perhaps it’s a dead-end job or no job at all. Perhaps it is an illness in your body or spirit. It can be anything.

Maybe it’s time to have that heart to heart with God or someone you makes you feel safe and valued. Naming our challenges or even praying about them won’t change everything. But it will give us an opportunity to invite God more deeply into our lives and practice connecting our faith more fully with the realities of life.

When the woman tells her neighbors about Jesus, she tentatively asks, “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” She anxiously expects a negative answer. Her story, however, tells us otherwise.

An Upgrade to Our Operating System

UpgradeUpgrade has become an important element in our modern lives. We upgrade our technology for bug fixes and performance improvements. We upgrade our services when we’ve accumulated enough points to move from one level to another. We upgrade our products when our personal preferences allow it. We live our lives from one upgrade to another.

Technology has also given us a new set of metaphors to use when talking about topics that are difficult to grasp. In fact, metaphors and stories were the primary means by which Jesus communicated his message. Most of us are not moved to action through a lecture (and I do consider sermons a lecture). Even more of us are not motivated to change because of a sense of obligation. But suck us in with a good storyline or a metaphor that catches our attention, and we’re hooked. Not only do we listen, but we think about and consider what we heard for a long time afterward.

Our passage for today has one of the most familiar Bibles verses. It is also one of the most familiar stories. And it has some metaphors that made a lot of sense to the Jewish leader who came to Jesus with his questions, but not so much for us 21st-century [Western] readers.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘Youmust be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. ~ John 3:1-17

This awesome passage of scripture has sadly been co-opted to bludgeon people into salvation – as if that is even possible – or used as the secret code to get inside the exclusive [but not magical] kingdom. That binary way of thinking – either/or – is the old operating system we came with already installed. This passage tells us we have the choice to upgrade.

God’s love for us is such that we are offered the opportunity to upgrade. We are given the choice to move from the either/or (binary) operating system of the mind to an operating system of the heart. Western culture considers matters of the heart to be based in emotion and, therefore, unreliable. Wisdom tradition, of which Jesus was most familiar, considered the heart to be the the organ of spiritual perception. The heart was the highly sensitive instrument for keeping us aligned.

Saint Sam (happy birthday!) and I recently had a flat tire. He could see the uneven wearing of the front tire when he removed it. In fact, the other front tire had also been wearing unevenly. Sure enough. The car needed to be realigned. Putting new tires on an old alignment only guaranteed that the new tires would wear unevenly too. By replacing worn tires and doing an alignment, we performed an easy upgrade on our [old] car.

The upgrade Jesus is talking about in this passage is not so much difficult as different. Under the old operating system something or someone either is or isn’t. They either believe like me or they don’t. They either are from my tribe or they aren’t. Decisions about how to relate to someone are based on which side of the / someone or something falls.

The upgrade to the spiritual operating system is a completely different set of behaviors. Now it’s not whether or not someone is from my tribe, but that since they are part of the human family, I am to treat them as if they are from my tribe. And it doesn’t matter whether they believe like me or think like me or look like me. In fact, none of that matters. My new operating system guides me into being aligned with God and “see” things  and people as God sees them.

Lent, this time leading up to Easter, is all about re-thinking our lives and how we live our lives. It’s a time when we can delve into our upgraded operating system and discover all the new features brought to us in the upgrade. It’s exciting because it’s like having a new life! Exactly the point Jesus was making with Nicodemus.

Have you upgraded? What are you discovering about your upgraded operating system?

Some of My Favorite Feminist Quotes

The "Library"Feminist: one who advocates for women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. ~ Oxford Dictionary

March is Women’s History Month. I know many believe this is frivolous and unnecessary, but we only have to listen to what is being said all around us (and it’s not just conservative politicians who are guilty) to know that we still have a long way to go before women are equal in more than a trite phrase. We must remember what it has taken, and is currently taking, to bring women and girls into the equality fold.

I’ve selected a few of my favorite feminist quotes as inspiration.

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.  ~ Abigail Adams, in a letter to her husband John Adams, March 31, 1776. John Adams would become the second President of the United States. She was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States.

I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights, human rights are all that I recognise.  ~ Sarah Grimké, in Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman (1838). Sarah Grimké was from a slave-holding South Carolina family. Banned from formal education so she educated herself. She was an abolitionist, writer, and suffragist.

I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.  ~ Rebecca West, “Mr. Chesterton in Hysterics” in The Clarion, November 14, 1913. Rebecca West was the pseudonym for Cicely Isabel Fairfield, a British author, journalist, and one of the most public intellectuals of the 20th century. She was a prolific writer in multiple genres.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.  ~ Marie Shear, in an article she wrote for New Directions for Women, in May/June 1986. Marie Shear is an American writer. Her quote is one of the most popular feminist mantras.

We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all civil and political rights that belong to the citizens of the United States be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.  ~ Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper in History of Woman Suffrage (1886).

Rock the Red Pump

It’s time to rock the red pump or at least rock some red shoes for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness day! Nothing’s wrong with a gimmick and some fun to bring attention to and get us talking about the serious impact HIV/AIDS has on women and girls.

Every 47 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in the United States. That’s 30 women who test positive for HIV every day! There has been incredible progress made in understanding HIV, how to prevent contracting the virus in the first place, and treatments for HIV that help keep HIV from becoming AIDS. But the fact that we still have such a high rate of new infections indicates that we are not doing all that we can to keep ourselves safe.

It’s not easy or comfortable talking about the risks and behaviors that set up someone for becoming infected. Non-consensual sex, sex without a condom, and unknown and/or high-risk behaviors of partners are major risk factors that may lead to HIV infection. Teen dating violence, intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and condom use are not common, casual conversation starters.

You may not think you know someone with HIV, but the odds are you do. Someone at work, in your neighborhood, among your friends, in your family, and yes, even at your church.

What puts women and girls at risk? The facts:

  • Some women may be unaware of their partner’s risk factors for HIV (such as injection drug use or having sex with other men) and may not use condoms. In some cases, women may be afraid that their partner will leave them or even physically abuse them if they try to talk about condom use.
  • Vaginal sex without a condom carries a much higher HIV risk for women than for men, and anal sex without a condom is riskier for women than vaginal sex without a condom. More than one in five young women in one survey reported anal sex in the past year.
  • Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) greatly increase a woman’s chance of getting or spreading HIV.
  • Exchanging sex for drugs, having multiple partners, or having sex with a partner who is physically abusive when asked to use a condom all increase risk of HIV.
  • Some HIV infections among women are due to injection drug and other substance use—either directly (by sharing drug injection equipment contaminated with HIV) or indirectly (by engaging in high-risk behaviors while under the influence of drugs or alcohol).
  • A higher percentage of African American and Hispanic/Latino women are living with HIV compared to other races/ethnicities. This coupled with the fact that women tend to have sex with partners of their same race/ethnicity increases the risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.

What can women do? Be empowered:

  • Get tested for HIV. To find a testing site near you, call 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636), visit hivtest.cdc.gov, or text your ZIP code to KNOW IT (566948). You can also use a home testing kit.
  • Choose not to have sex or choose to have sex with one partner and agree to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for HIV, and share your test results with one another before you make the decision to have sex.
  • If you currently have more than one partner, make the choice to limit the number of people you have sex with. The fewer partners you have, the less likely you are to have sex with someone who is infected with HIV or another STI.
  • Use condoms correctly every time you have sex.
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Anal and vaginal sex are the highest-risk sexual activities for HIV transmission. Oral sex carries much less risk.
  • Get tested and treated for STIs and insist that your partners do too. Having an STI increases the risk of getting or spreading HIV.
  • Talk to your doctor about HIV medicine to prevent HIV infection (known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) if you routinely have sex without a condom with someone who may be HIV-positive.
  • See a doctor right away (within 3 days) if you have a single experience of sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive. Starting medicine immediately (known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) and taking it for about a month reduces the chance of getting HIV.
  • Do not share injection drug equipment, such as needles, syringes, or works.
  • If you are HIV-positive, start treatment as soon as possible with antiretroviral therapy (ART), and stay on treatment. ART can lower the level of virus in your body enough to improve your health and prevent you from spreading HIV to your partners.

Here are the stories of five women like you and me who are living with HIV.

Awareness. Information. Testing. Treatment. Empowered. Rock the red pump!


Testing Our Identity

HandsTesting our identity is the central theme of Lent. Actually, it’s pretty much the central theme of life. And it’s a theme that runs like a red thread from Genesis through Revelation. The Bible is full of stories of people – who they are; who they are in relationship to others; who they are as God’s chosen; what others are saying about who they are; who they are when no one’s looking. It’s not just about their character. It’s more about their identity.

The first Sunday in Lent always begins with the story of Jesus being tested in the wilderness after his baptism. As soon as the clouds part and the voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” he is led into the wilderness for forty days.

This passage from Matthew contains several phrases that are familiar to us even if we aren’t familiar with the Bible.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him. ~ Matthew 4:1-11

Often when we think about testing and temptation, we think in terms of status and power. We think about things that tempt us. But that’s not where the tempter goes with Jesus. The tempter goes right to trying to undermine Jesus’ identity: If you are the Son of God. The tempter isn’t questioning whether or not Jesus is the Son of God. The tempter knows Jesus’ identity. He’s testing to see if he can separate Jesus from his God-given identity and replace it with one of his own creation.

Essentially the tempter is saying, “Since you are the Son of God, then turn stones to bread, call upon angels for safety, or claim your rightful power and dominion.” Each of the tests has a righteousness about them. Turn the stones into bread and feed a hungry world. Throw yourself off the temple and when you’re rescued everyone will know you’re God’s anointed and really listen to you. Rule the world and you can finally bring in justice and peace. If you don’t do these things, then are you really who you think you are?

How and why Jesus resists temptation is important for us. Jesus didn’t resist temptation through sheer will or brute force. Instead he took refuge in an identity founded and secured through his relationship with God. Jesus’ life, teachings, and even death are about an interdependent relationship with God and an identification with humanity. Jesus is content being hungry because others are hungry. Jesus will risk and be vulnerable as all humanity is, finding safety in God’s promises. Jesus will refuse to define himself or seek power apart from his relationship with God because true power is defined through our God-given identity.

Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness wrestling with all those things that would undermine his who he was called to be and what he was called to do. Once he stepped into that public arena, the scrutiny and accusations would never cease. And it’s the same for us.

It’s not that the tempter only seeks to steal our identity. Every day we’re besieged by countless advertisements that seek to create in us a sense of lack, insecurity, and inadequacy. The message of the consumer-culture is you are not enough; you are not acceptable unless. It’s all about undermining our own sense of who we are by telling us we aren’t skinny enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, rich enough to deserve respect, love, and acceptance.

God has already declared us worthy of love, dignity, and respect. God has already pledged to be with us and for us throughout all of our lives. Stepping into the human arena would be the most difficult challenge for Jesus, for in doing so he shows us that, not only are we loved and accepted, but we are also treasured and priceless beyond measure.


International Women’s Day

IWDInternational Women’s Day (IWD) began to be observed in the early 20th century as oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Women began demanding shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights, marching through New York City in 1908. By 1910 women were organizing internationally.

Today International Women’s Day is an official holiday in many countries, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

There has been a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality and emancipation. More women are in the boardroom. There is greater equality in legislative rights and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life.

However, the unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts. Women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics. And globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men. Even in the United States, the insidious war on women continues to wage on.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Inspiring Change. This simple slogan reminds us that statistics show that

Although women make up more than 50 percent of the global population, less than 20 percent of parliamentary seats are filled by females.

Women make up 80 percent of those displaced by conflict and are often victims of sexual violence. Yet, they are largely excluded from formal peace proceedings — women have been involved in peace negotiations only once in 13 times since 1992.

Women produce up to 80 percent of food in developing nations, but still have difficulty accessing funding, technical support and even ownership of the land they work on and are likely to be paid less.

In education, 10 million more girls than boys are out of school and women make up two thirds of the world’s population that cannot read

Women are often paid much less than men in the same job functions and less likely to be acknowledged and promoted in the workplace.

These facts might seem surprising to us, but the truth is that we exist in a world where many women do not have basic rights to empower themselves educationally, economically or in matters relating to policy and governance. Women must continue to fight for the rights of all women and girls until equality is finally achieved.

And, of course, there is a Google Doodle!


Job’s Wife in the Ashes of Life

ladybug partyJob (of Old Testament fame) is probably the most famous ash heap sitter. Job’s wife, whose name we don’t even know, is undoubtedly the patron saint of ash heap sitters. But why do we even care about these two ash heapers?

Since we’re in the season of Lent, Women’s History Month and, recently Ash Wednesday, I thought we’d look at someone who knew a bit about self-denial and had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life. That would be Job’s wife. There is only one verse pertaining to her in the entire book of Job, but that one verse has survived several millennia, and has inaccurately branded her as the bad wife who stood by her man’s side.

We all know about poor Job. In fact, he’s a lot like us. He’s living his good life, doing his good things when, through no fault of his own, his entire life is turned upside-down. He loses all of his property, all ten of his children, and then is afflicted with some nasty skin disease. Symbolizing his complete alienation from everything and everyone, and in a deep depression and horrible grief, he goes and sits among the ashes. Job’s wife was the only person (or property as it was in those days) that wasn’t taken from him.

Job’s wife finds him at the ash heap and we read her famous verse: Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)

She courageously gives voice to the inner turmoil of one who is suffering. It’s an honest statement from one who is trying to make sense of something so senseless. Job wasn’t the only one suffering. Job’s wife lost her children and everything else too.

The book of Job is a unique, rich story told to show how all of the intellectual, well-thought, logical theological treatises fall short in the crucible of real, ash heap experiences. The friends and even Job himself all try to make sense of something so senseless. The Accuser does all that’s possible to alienate Job from God. In the end, they all are left with nothing to say. That’s when God speaks.

Lent is a time of introspection. It’s a time when it’s perfectly alright to look at those nagging uncertainties. It’s a time of honesty and authenticity. Traditionally it was a time set aside to prepare for baptism. The forty days of Lent corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his public ministry, set into motion after his baptism.

Whatever you do for Lent this year, make it a time that is meaningful for you. Consider it a seasonal gift to your spiritual self. We all know what Job’s wife said and she was not instantly incinerated. In fact, her words were a gift to Job because he was too afraid to go to that dark corners of his mind and heart. When you’re hanging on by a thread, you don’t want to sever the last thin tie. Job’s wife could say the words Job thought, giving him a brief breath of relief.

There is a lot we can learn from those on the ash heap.

Raised from the Ash Heap

Burnt AshesAsh heap: the place where forgotten or marginalized persons, events, artifacts, ideologies are relegated.

Today is Ash Wednesday, traditionally a time when Christians place ashes from the burned palms fronds from the previous year Palm Sunday on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of the season of Lent, the weeks before Easter and a time of self-denial as an act of repentance, or re-thinking things. Actually, all major religions have a period of self-denial at its core: Jews have Yom Kippur. Muslims have Ramadan. Christians have Lent.

Lent is a good time to pause and rethink how we live and think. Most of us go through each day with blinders on. We’re blind to the ongoing armed conflicts in the world. We’re numb to the daily deaths from gun violence. We’re frustrated with the economy, affordable health care, and education. And then there are the social issues of poverty, race, mental health, immigration, gender equality, marriage equality, and the list goes on forever and ever.

Ash Wednesday is a good time for us to stop and remember that there are real people, real events, real issues that have been relegated to the ash heap. They are tossed there, removed from our pristine and scenic lives, so we don’t have to see, touch, smell, taste, or feel their presence or be reminded of their existence.

There is a Psalm from the Hallel (Hebrew for “praise”) that observant Jews recite during major holidays. Psalm 113 through Psalm 118 make up this unit. In fact, the gospels tell us that Jesus and his friends sang a psalm during their last meal together, which was the Passover. That may have been the Hallel. Psalm 113 begins the Hallel:

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
    praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

What I love about this psalm is the intimacy of God as the helper of the needy. Raising them from their dirt floors. Lifting them from the ash heap. Seating them with rulers and heads of state where they will not be forgotten.

Ash Wednesday is the reminder that we have all been raised from the ash heap. Lent is a time when we pause to examine our own lives and rethink how we – especially we in the First World – contribute to relegating others to the ash heap. We need to remember how we too have been raised from the ash heap. They will not be forgotten because God’s faithful will not forget.

Clouds of Change

Photo: Janet Peterson
Photo: Janet Peterson

Change: make or become different; make or become a different substance entirely; transform. 

We talk about change. We know we need change. We want change. We resist change.  We don’t want change. We hate change. We’re afraid of change. We don’t change.

Change is difficult, elusive, and essential. Real change comes from a transformative encounter.

This week’s story from the gospel of Matthew is all about the encounter. For some reason, us Western believers have exchanged an encounter with Jesus to expositing about Jesus. Big mistake. But it does explain why so many fail to experience change – the true transformative experience – that only comes from an encounter with Jesus.

Here’s our story. It’s out of linear sequence from where we left off with Matthew, but it brackets the season of Epiphany. Epiphany follows Christmas and takes us right up to Ash Wednesday, which launches us into Lent. Lent leads to Holy Week with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We live our lives in seasons. The liturgical year is but another seasonal experience.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” ~ Matthew 17:1-9

This is one of those passages that defies interpretation. We’re given a peek into the mystical encounter between God and God’s Beloved. We’re also observing those who at the center of the story – Jesus, Moses, and Elijah – and those who are watching – Peter, James, and John. Then there are all of us watching all of them and trying to figure out what it all means.

What if the point wasn’t trying to figure out what it means but to encounter it? I think the Bible starts to make a whole lot more sense when we look at it less as a book of certainties and absolutes and more as a book of encounters. The Bible is really more about a long parade of people who run into God, each other, life … and are never the same again. What don’t people run into in the Bible? It’s all there. Crazy relatives, armed enemies, depression, life-saving strangers, children, food, friendships, and love.

Biblical encounters come disguised in many forms. What we see is how the encounter breaks open biblical people where they see God’s movement in their ordinary lives. Traveling from one place to another. Changing their perception or perspective on something or someone. Experiencing something familiar in a new way.

These encounters dissolve certainty, more often than not. The encounters are also a catalyst for change. That’s what’s important about this passage. Everyone enveloped in the cloud, changed. They may not have seen the change immediately, or been aware of the invisible shift taking place in their hearts and minds, but the encounter planted the seeds for which change would come. Not just a little change, but a complete transformation.

When I feel like I’m in the cloud and can barely see my hand in front of my face, I’ve learned that it’s an opportunity for an Encounter and change is a probability. I’ve also learned that I’m not alone in the cloud, but that God’ Beloved is standing with me. It’s a time to listen to those words of guidance and comfort, ““Get up and do not be afraid.”  Things might get scary before the become holy, but that’s the whole point of the meeting, the cloud, and the change.

Where Have All the Unicorns Gone?

San_Giovanni_Evangelista_in_Ravenna,_unicornUnicorns exist. For the Bible tells me so!

The Bible is full of all sorts of surprises. Of course, you have to know your translations, of which there are about 96 different English translations of the complete Bible. Unicorns, however, are in only one translation – the King James Version, of course.

I know you can’t wait to find out where the unicorns are, so let’s get right to it!

God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. ~ Numbers 23:22

God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. ~ Numbers 24:8

His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. ~ Deuteronomy 33:17

Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee? ~ Job 39:9, 10

Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. ~ Psalm 22:21

He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. ~ Psalm 29:6

But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil. ~ Psalm 92:10

And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness. ~ Isaiah 34:7

Sadly, linguists have learned that re’em, which is translated as unicorn in the King James Version, actually refers to aurochs , an extinct large wild cow that once inhabited Europe, Asia, and North Africa. No doubt the translators used poetic license, but unicorns are much more exciting than over-grown cows. Some Creationists, however, believe it to be a triceratops, while some believe it to be a rhinoceros. I guess if you can’t have unicorns, you might as well have dinosaurs!

The image used at the beginning of this post is from the church floor of San Giovanni Evangelista in Ravenna, Italy.

Be Different

A different Point of ViewI love how Jesus mixes things up and really messes with the minds of his audience. It’s been awhile since I delved into the gospel of Matthew. It’s been a bit like visiting a friend you haven’t seen in awhile. Your visit with them is a reminder of why you enjoy their friendship so much.

Sometimes familiarity breeds complacency, especially with familiar biblical passages, like the Sermon on The Mount. It’s already challenging reading a book translated from other languages about lives in other cultures in distant historical eras. So when you do come across a familiar section, it’s easy to gloss right over it and tell yourself, “I’ve got this part.”

Our trained indifference without thinking deeply about actually trying to follow any of them is what makes us the same. It’s doing what Jesus suggests (the clue is But I say to you…) is being different.

Here’s the whole passage we’re referencing:

Concerning Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ~ Matthew 5:38-48

This is an eye-rolling passage. Every time I preached on a familiar passage like this and got to the turn the other cheek or love your enemy part, there were always some who would actually roll their eyes! They might as well have been verbally saying, “You can’t be serious! Be a doormat? My enemies don’t need love, they need to be annihilated! Jesus’ idealism is nice, but not meant to be applied in the real world.”

In fact, both sides of the spectrum think this teaching of Jesus is crazy. Ayn Rand, political philosopher, author, and now darling of the Tea Party movement wrote, “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” On the other side is Karl Marx, philosopher, economist, and revolutionary socialist who wrote, “The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submissiveness and humbleness.”

The critics are correct. Turning the other cheek and returning hatred with love is not the way to succeed in the world. Survival in this world is about money and power and neutralizing your opponent. And that’s precisely Jesus’ point. He’s not trying to modify the rules of this world. He’s presenting a completely different approach. He calls the powers of the day into questions by laying out a completely different way to relate to each other. He invites us into relationships governed not by power but by vulnerability grounded in love. “’An eye for an eye’ makes all people blind,” Gandhi would say almost two thousand years later. Here Jesus invites us to overcome the urge to retaliate and be different by being with loving and forbearing.

Jesus isn’t just suggesting merely overturning this world. He’s also suggesting that the only possible hope for this world is love. Strength eventually fails. Power corrupts. Survival of the fittest leaves so many bodies on the ground. Love alone transforms, redeems, and creates new life. Martin Luther King, Jr., a student of both Jesus and Gandhi said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Jesus is, not so much commanding us, but commending us to be different. He says even the lowly tax collector loves his neighbor. But he commends us to be different and love everyone, even those we don’t like, those we don’t understand, those who are not from our tribe, those who have lifestyles different than our own, those who deserve to be locked up and the key thrown away.

Be different … and maybe our world will become different.


Data as Opportunity

SymbolismData is a landmine for intuitive people like myself. Actually I should probably recuse myself from any data judgment because I will most likely ignore what it has to say anyway. Yet, I have spent years trying to make data my friend.

Any herein lies the problem. Data could care less about being my friend. Or about being friendly at all. Data doesn’t care one iota about anything. Data is. It’s up to the user to interpret what she will with the data. And, as Saint Sam always reminds me, “Numbers are numbers. What do you want to do with those numbers?”

Most of us will say we want the numbers to tell us. And then the data dudes, like Saint Sam, patiently ask us again, “Tell you what?”

All this and we haven’t even gotten to the other real issue: What am I really going to do with the data I have? I was reminded of this after reading an article about the Roman Catholic Cardinals gathering in Rome to discuss issues facing the church, like contraception, marriage equality, and whether or not divorced and remarried people may receive Communion.

Pope Francis asked for the hierarchy in each country to provide feedback about the attitudes from their churches on these issues. It doesn’t take a computer scientist to know that Pope Francis is interested in learning about the mass reality of his flock. As the hierarchy has learned, the blunt responses so far have already made public the sort of views that many church leaders would prefer to ignore or only speak about privately.

It’s a classic case of wanting to ignore what the data suggests because the data is revealing what we don’t really want to know. In this case, congregants are not adhering to the teachings of the Church. Congregants are using contraceptives. Congregants do believe and will participate in marriage equality. Congregants are cohabitating. Divorced and remarried congregants are receiving Communion. All eyes are on Rome as we watch to see what the Cardinals and Vatican are going to do with this data.

I’ve learned to appreciate that data creates opportunity. If I let the data be data and let the data inform me, I am free to humanize my response to that data. My guess is that Pope Francis is going to do just that. He’s inviting the Cardinals to let the data inform them and, from there, create a response strategy. The data reveals that their congregants are not doing as they are told or believe as they are instructed to believe. The data gives the hierarchy a new starting point.

If only the process for a purposeful outcome was so clear-cut!

Snake Handling and Other Signs and Wonders

Easter Cross ~ Alleluia ~ "Praise the Lord"By now you’ve probably heard about the snake handling pastor that died from a snake bite. I don’t watch TV or read newspapers, but online headlines catch even my attention. Wonders never cease!

Wonders of nature, that is. I’ll just cut to the chase: if you handle poisonous snakes, it is likely that you will be bit, and even more likely that you may die, especially if you’ve been bitten before, and are not treated with an antidote. So why tempt nature?

Snake handling has it’s roots in the holiness movement. It’s not mainstream, and those who practice take a few verses from the Bible and apply them literally to their practice.

And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” ~ Mark 16:17-18

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. ~ Luke 10:19

While proof-texting is not the way in which to read or apply the passages of scripture, there are those who take the Bible literally. But even those in the literal camp, do not ascribe to snake handling. And even snake handlers will seek medical treatment for other ailments. I know. Crazy.

Here’s the deal. Snake handling and other nature-defying signs and wonders aren’t what draw people to faith. Changing the laws of nature won’t change the mind of someone who thinks religion is bogus. And those whose lives are changed because of faith, are not changed because someone the pastor survived a snake bite…this time.

I hate snakes and certainly consider anything to do with them outside the scope of all sanity. It’s not a sign and wonder I care to observe and refuse to consider. On the other hand, I have seen the signs and wonders of a transformed life, that others have refused to consider. As with beauty, it’s all in the eye – and heart – of the beholder.

February 19

ManzanarSome days are just bittersweet. Today is one of them. Sweet because it’s my son’s 36th birthday. Bitter because we haven’t had any contact for several months. Actually no one in my family has. I pray he is safe.

I found this today. I didn’t know Executive Order 9066 was executed on February 19.

On February 19, 1942, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese warplanes the previous December, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order calling for the displacement of one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans to internment camps. 

My sons’ have family members who were among the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interned. Their great-grandmother, grandmother, and great-aunt were interned at Manzanar. Their great-grandfather was separated from the family and sent to a camp on the east coast. Their grandfather was a student at UCLA. Instead of being interned, he was drafted into the Army. Executive Order 9066 was a terrible blight in American history.

The thing about history is that it will repeat itself if we don’t listen. It’s time to listen to what we’re saying about immigration reform, violence, the immorality of stand your ground gun laws, affordable and accessible health care, voting rights, mental illness, human trafficking, marriage equality, global violence, and every other issue that touches humanity. It’s time to stop and take a breath. Think before we speak. Consider thoughtfully before we act hastily.

It comes down to this: How many wrongs will we allow because we dwell in fear? How long will we continue to turn our differences into discrimination? What are we willing to lose because we’re greedy and self-serving? Who or what will we sacrifice because we are unwilling to look at the bigger, more complicated picture?

I may not be able to stop an outcome, no matter how wrong it is, but I can retain my humanity in my own little sphere and not get sucked into the hysteria propagated by fear or terror. One by one, we can make a difference. One by one, we can make a change.


Rules of Engagement

hands in heart -- let's cure extreme materialism togetherNow that we have Valentine’s Day behind us, we can talk about the real rules of engagement. No, I’m not thinking about a “directive issued by a military authority specifying the circumstances and limitations under which forces will engage in combat with the enemy.” I’m thinking more about how Jesus radicalized relationships and that changes the rules of relational engagement.

I’m at the place in Matthew’s gospel that talks about anger, adultery, divorce and oaths. Good stuff for keeping it real, in case you ever wonder if the Bible is relevant. In fact, Jesus is updating the relational operating system in this section. The old relational operating system was “You have heard it said.” Jesus updates it with, “But I say to you.” People grumbled then and they’re still grumbling today about it. Just like when you’re notified it’s time to update your computer operating system.

Here’s the passage for those who are interested. The rest of you can skip down past the italicized text, but you’ll be missing out on lots of exaggerated, gory images.

Concerning Anger

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Concerning Adultery

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

Concerning Divorce

It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Concerning Oaths

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one. ~ Matthew 5:21-37

I know this a lot to digest, but let’s look at the bigger picture that is here for us. First and foremost, Jesus is all about recasting, re-interpreting, and re-imagining what it means for the living Presence of God to be among us. And that includes the Scriptures. Jesus would never, ever have said (as the bumper sticker proclaims), “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” Jesus would have said, “The point is not to be faithful to the Scriptures, but to be faithful to the living God who continues to be present among us.”

Both Jesus and Matthew are taking the Scriptures and re-casting them for a new moment. I love the idea of thinking of moving our thinking of Scripture from a noun to a verb. It’s the same principle as googling. Google (noun) is the company. Google (verb) is “search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google.”

Scripture is accounts of how God is really present among God’s people. The stories of creation, Moses leading the people out of captivity, the poetry of the Psalms, wisdom of Proverbs, and the prophetic visions are all ways of scripturing God’s Presence in different times and contexts. The whole point of Scripture isn’t the written account, but the real incarnation of God’s word through God’s people through various times, places, and circumstances. It’s God’s real engagement in real people in real times.

What is it that Jesus is trying to get us to see in these before-and-after examples of anger, adultery, divorce, and oaths? Basically, he’s telling us that with the new operating system (God’s incarnation in us) is about mastering the temptation to judge, condemn, and dismiss the value of others. It’s being people who model reconciliation as a way of life, people who are overcoming the power of lust, people who value their marriages even when times get tough, and people who are known for being true to their word.

When we break it down like that, we see and understand the new rules of engagement. The question for us now is will we engage under these new rules, in this new way?

Dwelling in a Place of Love

Love Letters | Schipul Love Fest 2011Are you dwelling in a place of love? I know Valentine’s Day is all about romantic love, but love is so much greater. Real love is all about being inclusive. Always. Besides, Saint Valentine is no longer a saint so it’s time to get with the times and reset our love button.

Love is a difficult concept for most Westerners because it is not linear and it’s not binary. It’s one of those zen-like concepts that isn’t quantifiable or easily defined. As with most things Jesus gave us, full of head-scratching paradoxes that don’t seem to make sense. And because what does make sense isn’t what we really want to do, we rationalize or intellectualize it into oblivion. Box checked. Case closed. Done.

This is what Jesus says about what we are to do:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ~ John 15:12-13

I can picture the scene when Jesus was sharing these things with his closest friends. About the time he gets to “as I have loved you”, they start reflecting back on how he showed them that love. This is when they start squirming because the things that they remember aren’t exactly things they wanted to do then. And they still don’t want to do them.

Things like accept and treat everyone with dignity and without any judgment. Everyone. Giving voice to those others want to silence, including the immigrant, the violated, the poor, the elderly, women, children, the transgendered and every other “group” you don’t want to acknowledge. Everyone. If it makes you squirm, it’s a God-sign. Pay attention.

And none of this “love the sinner, but hate the sin” stuff. That has no place in anyone’s phrase bank, especially a Christian. Neither you nor I nor anyone else is in a position to judge whether someone is a “sinner” and to determine what “sin” is getting in the way of their relationship with God. It’s none of our business and we’re in no position to judge. None. Never.

That leaves us with Love. Period.

Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863February 12 marks the birth anniversary of 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. Back in the olden days, before Monday holidays and Presidents’ Day, we school children got both Abraham Lincoln AND George Washington’s birthdays off from school. That was two days off from school in February for almost all of my school years. Hence, we knew Lincoln’s birthday was on the 12th and Washington’s on the 22nd.

While I don’t know any other President’s birthday, those two have stuck with me all these years. With Valentine’s Day on the 14th and my oldest son’s birthday on the 19th, the ten day stretch between the 12th and 22nd is full of commemorations.

I’m wondering how we are better served by combining these two President’s birthdays into one Monday holiday? Other than calling it “President’s Day” holiday do we even think of the individuals for whom this holiday is named? Do we talk about their legacies in the history of our nation, enough so that we have a holiday in honor of their significance? Do we even care? (Yes, those are rhetorical questions.)

Sometimes we just need a gentle nudge to open us up to explore and think about why someone like Lincoln is worth considering and remembering. Twentieth century American composer, Aaron Copland, an orchestral work, which also incorporates some of Lincoln’s lesser known words, that gives us that nudge.

Thankfully, these are not the olden days and there are many selections on YouTube of Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. I am posting two that I like. The first link has a slightly shortened orchestral version narrated by actor Gregory Peck, and is accompanied by historical pictures from Abraham Lincoln’s life and times. The second link is the full orchestral version, narrated by former Illinois Governor and presidential candidate, Adlai Stevenson, II. Incidentally, Stevenson’s grandfather, Jesse W. Fell, was a close friend and political ally of Lincoln.

Gold Medal for Imagination

Aliya Swamp ChildIt’s the 2014 Winter Olympics and the race is on for the prestigious gold medal. While the athletes competing in their sport are going for the gold, no doubt any medal is welcome. And then there are those teams and individuals for whom just being able to compete in the Olympics is success.

I don’t know if we have any future Olympians in our family, but we do have a granddaughter who is deserving of the gold medal for imagination. It’s her picture that is at the beginning of this post.

This is the same granddaughter that brought us Purple Power and had a scary entry into this world. While she looks like Swamp Child, I’m sure there was a much more creative and detailed account that precipitated her awesome, natural look. She, and her sisters, are never at a loss for imaginative play.

I think that’s what is also inspiring about the Olympics. It takes incredible determination and commitment to train and compete at the highest level. The journey is full of sacrifice for individuals and their families. But it must also be rich with imagination. It’s a vision of what can be. It’s the harnessing of creative power and channeling it through the athlete’s body to achieve what few can. It’s using raw talent and honing it to precision, and then presenting it on the world stage in sport competition.

Of course, there is an underbelly to everything and these Winter Olympics have it’s own. There is ugliness and wrong in just about everything humanity touches, but that doesn’t mean we ignore or refuse to celebrate those good things come about as a result of individuals, teams, and nations coming together to compete in sport.

Maybe we need to be a little more like three year-old Aliya and unleash our gold medal imaginations. Maybe we need to go with what we have – even if it’s just mud – and create an opportunity to just enjoy what’s here. Maybe we take a risk, even if we know we won’t win, knowing we’ve competed just for the pure joy of participation. 

Surprised Swamp Child

God’s Gonna Love on You

"Inside Of Love"Debra’s mantra was, “God’s gonna love on you.” Debra was homeless as a result of a hard life battling addiction. She hung around the downtown neighborhood and the church. About once a week, she’d bring me a letter she’d written to her son who was in prison. I’d put the postage on it and make sure it got mailed. She never received any letters in return.

One day I got a call from the hospital that was several blocks from the church. The social worker wondered if I’d come in and identify a woman patient. She had been brought in a few days previously. She was found on the side of the freeway, severely beaten. She was still in a coma and the hospital had no idea who she was. She didn’t have any I.D. on her when she was found.

As I was walking down to the hospital, I racked my brain for who I hadn’t seen recently. Who hadn’t been to our lunch program? Who hadn’t signed in for the court-ordered AA and NA meetings? Who hadn’t picked up mail delivered for them at the church? I was always busy and often didn’t see “our usuals” who hung around the church during the week.

I went up to the ICU room the social worker gave me. The nurses were busy, but nodded to me as I entered. I found the woman in question. Her head was completely bandaged with a small opening for one eye. She had tubes coming from everywhere and machines making noises all around her bed. The rest of her was almost completely wrapped as well. One gnarled and bruised hand lay listless on the bed next to her.

I took her hand and introduced myself. Of course, there was no response. I had no idea who she was. I said a quiet prayer, promising to return. I went in search of her nurse and then the social worker. I told them I didn’t know who she was yet, and that I’d be back, but to call should she awaken or, God forbid, die.

There was a group of people Jesus mentioned early on in his teaching. He said they were blessed. We’ve come to know the passage of Scripture where they’re mentioned as The Beatitudes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. ~ Matthew 5:1-12

Contrary to what we often hear in sermons on this subject, The Beatitudes are not a roadmap to your best life now. They are not a recipe for success. And if you look at the people Jesus mentions as blessed, they are not the people our society or culture thinks are blessed.

That’s precisely Jesus’ point, demonstrating once again that God regularly and relentlessly shows up just where we least expect God to be in order to give to us freely what we can neither earn nor achieve: blessedness. Jesus chooses these states or conditions – poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted – because it’s in our brokenness that we finally are likely to abandon our cultural stereotypes about blessing, often mixed up or misunderstood as happiness, wealth, power, or fame.

It’s only when we let all that go, and we meet ourselves in brokenness and vulnerability, that we are can experience God’s blessing for us. In Debra’s words, “God’s gonna love on you.”

And that’s how I discovered that the Jane Doe at the hospital was Debra. I received a call from the ICU nurse a couple of days after my visit. She asked if, “God’s gonna love” made any sense to me. Debra. The ICU patient wasn’t a Jane Doe, but Debra.

Hari-Kuyo ~ Festival of Broken Needles

hari-kuyoHari-Kuyo, Festival of Broken Needles, is a remembrance ceremony that takes place every February 8 in Shinto and Buddhist temples all across Japan. This traditional Japanese festival is a tribute to the old and broken needles that served their users well. It’s also an opportunity to pray for new and better sewing skills in the coming year.

Hari (needle)-Kuyo (memorial service) has been celebrated for hundreds of years. As beliefs shape culture, the Japanese hold high esteem for objects in their daily life. It is believed that if objects and utensils are used roughly and without respect, they will come back as monsters (tsukumogami) to haunt the people who were wasteful or threw things away thoughtlessly. Rituals, like Hari-Kuyo, are observed to honor and put to rest these objects to prevent tsukumogami from occurring.
Shinto is the indigenous spirituality of Japan. My sons’ great-grandparents on their father’s side came from Japan. Granny, as I called her, kept a Shinto shrine on a dresser in one of the bedrooms, much to Grandpa’s dismay. He was proud of his conversion to Christianity and would talk to anyone about the Christian Kami (spirit) he worshipped. Granny, on the other hand, felt there was quiet room for those traditions that were an integral part of who she was and where she came from. 
Sewing and fine needlework were once considered valuable and essential skills for Japanese women. Her needles and pins were part of her soul. As they broke and wore out, she carefully placed them aside until Hari-Kuyo. Dressed in her finest kimono, she would present her needles and pins at the temple. The needles and pins are put in tofu. The soft, silky texture of tofu soothes the broken edges of the needles and pins, allowing them to rest and be comforted for all the fine work they provided. These faithful needles and pins are blessed to reflect their passage from work well done to rest. No sewing is done on this day.
I haven’t done any needlework at all this year. In fact, I completely forgot about Hari-Kuyo. I was reminded that it was coming up when I opened a package of counted cross-stitch charts I ordered from Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, among the Christmas stocking charts I purchased, was a flyer about it. I’m stitching Christmas stockings for each granddaughter this year. I am also finishing up the Lord’s Prayer project I started in 2012. No doubt I will have a few well used and broken needles. They will be lovingly put aside for next year’s Hari-Kuyo and my own private Festival of Broken Needles.

Bunny Love by Jasper Bunny

Jasper in hayFor the record: this is not about burlesque bunny love. I’m an upstanding kind of bunny and didn’t even know about that stuff! Anyway, I’ve been hearing a lot about puppies and love lately. It is February, afterall.

Dogs have been in the news lately because of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. There have been lots of reports in the news about all those homeless dogs being intentionally poisoned. I think of how many are puppies and it makes my little bunny heart break! I was really glad to hear that a rich guy came forward to provide shelters for them.

Then there was the puppy and clydesdale commercial during the Super Bowl. Who doesn’t love a cute little puppy, especially one who makes a special friend with the pony and doesn’t want to leave his best friend, even if he is being adopted into a loving home?!? Did you see how happy that little puppy was when he got to stay? That was a very happy puppy happy dance!

Puppy love is sweet, but true bunny love is for reals. Bunny love isn’t a crush or an infatuation. It’s sincere. Us bunnies have had a hard go of things. I was like those homeless dogs. If I hadn’t been rescued, I most certainly would have been eaten by some other animal. I’m so little, I would have only been a little tasty morsel. It’s not nice to treat us fur-beings badly because you don’t want us around anymore. We share this planet too.

Adoption is definitely better than the alternative, but we also like having a say on where we go. I am very grateful every day for my human Mama. The Boy was very nice, but he wasn’t able to take care of me on his own. I miss him, but I am glad I also got to have a say on where I live. It’s really hard being homeless and not having any biological family around. People don’t understand we have feelings and fears too. We need to know we will be protected and loved.

I guess when it comes right down to it, all of us creatures are not really so different from each other. Maybe we all need to take a moment and remember to share a little bunny love.


Love Everyone

LOVELove, heart stuff, and red are everywhere. Businesses and services have created their own marketing and sales twists in order to capture a piece of the lucrative Valentine’s Day market share. Wearing red and the whole red dress campaign bring awareness to the #1 health issue facing women – heart disease. (Red) got in on the action during the Super Bowl, offering a new U2 song download in partnership with Bank of America donating $1 for each download. Over $3 million was raised for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS.

We’re sharing the love through our money and bringing awareness to issues close to our hearts (sorry, no pun intended). But how are we doing with just loving everyone?

My Eternal Scheme Daily Word for today is Worthy. And it has a love quote in it!

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can. ~ Henri Nouwen (French-American Trappist monk, writer, and social activist, 1915-1968)

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know we judge others. Consciously and unconsciously we are constantly assessing everyone. We take in data about everyone. It’s processed almost imperceptibly in our computer brains and a judgement or assessment is formed. The data we take in is from all the visible and verbal cues we receive and observe, and historical data we’ve amassed through our experiences. Factor in any and all gossip, what our friends and families think, and we have a highly constructed case for all the reasons we don’t love that person, or everyone else, for that matter.

The truly enlightened person, however, knows that judgment is a trap. Judgment is not enlightening, but enslaving. We cannot dismiss the intrinsic worth of everyone without also dismissing our own intrinsic worth. We can only be worthy ourselves, by acknowledging the worthiness in everyone else as well. What we’re left with is love.

We are to love. Everyone. Just because.

If we were in Jesus’ presence, he would add, “Go and do likewise.”

Kindness as a Sign of Love

The kindness of strangersMy Daily Word for today is kindness. I was struck by the opening quote by French moralist Joseph Joubert:

A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.

It caught my attention because of a couple of subtle twists in the phrase. Instinctively, we associate kindness as an extension of love. But Joubert, turns that upside down and states that love is an extension of kindness. Not only is love an extension of kindness, but we are to love people more than they deserve.

That subtle twist changes everything the intention completely. Joubert’s assertion is that when we offer kindness, a part of what we offer is love. And we are to love more than what they deserve. Kindness challenges us to love unconditionally.

I’m not sure most of us think about kindness as an act of unconditional love. But when you really think about it, that’s exactly what it is. You may think you’re just manifesting a random act of kindness, but what you’re really doing is loving someone unconditionally.

Many of our acts of kindness are to people we don’t even know! When we are kind, our actions are saying, “You matter enough to me that I will hold this door open for you.” Or, “I may not know you or your circumstances – person in the car behind me – but I am grateful for this $10 bill and I’m going to share it with you by paying your toll behind me on the bridge.”

If my faith calls me to love others unconditionally, then kindness is one sign of me genuinely manifesting my faith. When I’m mindful of kindness, I am mindful of others. When I’m mindful of others I look beyond the rough exterior or erected barriers to another vulnerable human being like myself. All humanity is in need of receiving unconditional love. Kindness opens the door for us to demonstrate that love.



Photo: Linda Fouquet
Photo: Linda Fouquet

Where there is great love there are always miracles.

~ Willa Cather
(American author, 1873-1947)

◊ ◊ ◊

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

~ Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.
(French-American Trappist monk, writer, and social activist, 1915-1968)

◊ ◊ ◊

Love is patient; love is kind;
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13

◊ ◊ ◊


May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

~ A Four-fold Franciscan Blessing

◊ ◊ ◊


Our concept of love is fraught with all sorts of perceptions and expectations. That is not love. True love – real love – lets go of everything. What is getting in the way of you being able to love and be loved?

February by Jasper Bunny

Jasper in BasketIt’s February. I’m having a hard time getting my little bunny head around how humans orient themselves. We celebrated the New Year on the first. Then I find out that the last day of January was the beginning of the Lunar New Year. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. We have to wait until 2023 until the next Year of the Rabbit! I have to suffer through all those other animals before we come to MY year.

Here’s the other thing I don’t get about February. The origins of the name come from the Latin word februum which means purification. I guess there was some purification ritual those ancients did. I can see why February has been conscripted as the month of love. Who wants to be purified? It sounds like pureed. My critical care food is pureed. Actually its dried and get constituted into a pureed-like gruel. It’s still disgusting.

I think my human Auntie is going to spend the whole month of February blogging about love. I tried to tell her there isn’t enough stuff about love to write about, but she seems adamant. She likes to have themes and series and all this structured stuff. Nobody and certainly no bunny – especially this one – cares, but she told me it helps her organize her thinking. Saint Uncle Sam thinks she thinks too much.

So if she’s determined to dedicate the month of February to love, here’s what I thinks she should focus on:

  • What does it really mean to love one another?
  • Why am I supposed to love my enemy? I don’t like them, so why would I love them?
  • What do you do if you love somebunny and they don’t love you back?
  • What is self-love anyway?
  • Is it true that all you need is love?

Well, she hasn’t asked me my opinion so I guess we’ll just have to see what she writes about. The 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to the U.S. is this month. What better way to kick off a month of love than their classic, All You Need Is Love?!? If you watch this YouTube video of their recording session, you’ll see they used an accordion!



Meatless Mondays Morphed into a Meatless Month

Vegetable standOur meatless Mondays morphed into a meatless month. I didn’t plan to make meatless meals for a month. It happened somewhat unintentionally. In planning some new menus, I noticed that they were all meatless.

I eliminated dairy before college and gluten about 11 years ago after being diagnosed with celiacs disease. I’ve never eaten processed foods, mystery meats, or anything that has chemical ingredients, not so much because I knew better, but because my gut rejected it. I haven’t eaten any white foods in years either, usually because it’s full of chemicals, gluten, or dairy. We probably didn’t eat as much meat as the average American, but it was still a staple in our diet.

Our meal plan for the first week of the year just happened to be meatless. It wasn’t intentional, but it did give me pause to think about the food choices we make. I also wondered what it would be like to go meatless for the month. Could we do it? Would I miss meat? How would I feel? How would it impact our food budget? What are the bigger social and environmental issues surrounding meat?

Here are a few things I discovered during our meatless month:

I was already very particular about where and what meat I purchased. Since we are what we eat, I did ask the questions: How was that animal raised? How was it treated? Where did it come from? What about antibiotics and growth hormones? Was its growth accelerated to get it to market faster and reduce feed costs? I learned from my finicky gut (literally) that it wasn’t worth eating non-quality meats. And I do believe it’s important to be an informed consumer.

You do pay for quality so we already had cut back on how often we ate meat. Therefore, I really enjoyed when we did have a meat meal. I thought I’d miss eating meat and was very surprised that I didn’t miss it, or even want it, at all!

We also had a lot more variety in our diet as a result of eating whole grains (quinoa and brown rice), beans (black beans, pinto beans, and lentils), nutritional dense vegetables (kale, mustard greens, collards,  and spinach), and roasted vegetables (beets and squashes). I perfected the smoothie (recipe below), so I actually got fruit into my diet. I’ve always been big on vegetables, but didn’t eat much fruit at all. The smoothie became my go-to option for lunch because it was easy and filling.

Meal prep time was cut significantly. I never had to worry about whether something was defrosted or if I had the necessary ingredients on hand. I added to the quantity of vegetables I was roasting or quinoa and beans I was cooking for one recipe to have on hand for future meals during the week. Inevitably there were leftovers for lunches or another dinner. Nothing was wasted and it was easy be creative combining was was left on hand for savory bowl meal.

Here’s the most significant fact: Our food budget decreased about 45 percent! Whole grains and beans are very inexpensive already. By eating seasonally (produce that grows in the current season) and locally grown foods, even purchasing organic produce, we still lowered our food bill significantly. I knew our food costs would be less, but I had no idea it would be so much less!

Maybe it’s a good thing we had this little meatless month experiment. In the process of reviewing our monthly expenses, I discovered we spent more than twice our food costs on our monthly health insurance premium this past! Now that I finally have health insurance, I don’t want to have to use it! The health benefits of a plant-based diet are looking a lot more appealing!

The Perfect Smoothie

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 banana (about the only way I can tolerate bananas)
big handful of berries (I like blackberries) or 1 piece of fruit (apples and pears are excellent)
big handful of baby spinach
2 large leaves or very big handful of kale

Put everything into blender. Using food processor setting, blend until smooth. Makes enough for 2 large glasses.

I Gotta Get Me Some Lambroids

Lady Bug on Fuzzy LeavesOne day, completely out of the blue and as serious as can be, our eight year-old granddaughter comes out with, “I gotta get me some lambroids.” We couldn’t help but bust out laughing! Where did that come from?

Over the holidays, our son Luke and his family were staying with us. Grandpa Sam and I were up early with the three granddaughters. We started the day with a healthy serving of cinnamon rolls (gluten-free qualifies as healthy) and lactose-free milk. The youngest, whose three years-old, stands up, does a quick one-two karate jab and yells, “Purple Power!”

There’s something to be said about spontaneity and imaginative abandon. Kids are full of both. There’s an unconscious freedom they exude and it’s especially evident when they play. Whether entertaining themselves or playing with others, children create, develop, and embellish stories and scenarios that help them explore and navigate their environments. Imaginative play is an important part of good child development.

Maybe adults need to take a lesson from kids. What if adults occasionally traded the scripted role for a spontaneous activity? Instead of cleaning up after pulling weeds or watering, why not lay on the grass and find hidden shapes in the clouds? Remember making kites out of newspaper and getting the tail just right so it would fly? What about a paper boat or rubber duck race in the town fountain or local creek? The possibilities are limitless. Planning not necessary. Make do with what you have on hand. Use your imaginative play as a break in the otherwise mundane chores of adult life.

It’s very easy for my to get stuck in my routines. I’ve never been good coming up with fun, spontaneous things to do. I’ve found that interspersing routine chores with little fun diversions, not only makes the routine stuff more tolerable, but I’m always refreshed instead of worn out.

Our granddaughters reminded me of something else: it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Doing it together is what makes it special. They want you to play with them, not merely be in the same room, watching. Hmm. Being actively present and engaged is definitely a lesson for adults. Taking a cue from Aliya, just standing up, raising my arms and yelling, “Purple Power,” gets me in the right frame of mind. Or, I can always use Keana’s, “I gotta get me some lambroids” for a little motivation.

What are some of your ideas for spontaneous fun?

The Hammer Song

The Hammer SongYou know The Hammer Song. You might not know it by that name, but you know it.

I was in elementary school in the 1960s and music was part of our regular curriculum. We had hardbound music books and once a week we had 30 minutes of music. We pulled our music books out of our desks and had a sing-a-long. Our music book was full of folks songs, patriotic songs, and Christmas carols. We’d raise our hand, hoping we’d be picked so we could sing our favorite song. If picked, you went to the front of the class, announce the page number of the song, and start the singing. Eventually, we all joined in. Our women teachers sang, our male teachers didn’t.

We sang The Hammer Song just about every week. You probably know it as If I had a Hammer. In first through fourth grades we had no idea it was a protest anthem, but it wasn’t long after that, as many of us started playing guitar and picking up songs off the radio, that we began to see greater meanings in the songs we sang in our weekly music class.

Pete Seeger, folk music icon and veteran of the peace, labor, and civil rights movements, died January 27, 2014. He believed music had the transformative power to build communities and unite people, making the world a better place. The music he wrote and the songs he sang gave voice to raw, honest human experience, struggle, and hope. Getting others to join in the singing was merely an opportunity to share in a collective consciousness.

So much of the music that defines my adolescent years are Pete Seeger songs or songs he collaborated on: We Shall Overcome; The Hammer Song; Turn, Turn, Turn; Where Have All the Flowers Gone; Kisses Sweeter than Wine; Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, Muddy; Guantanamera; Little Boxes; This Land is Your Land. The Civil Rights movement, the migrant farm workers, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the sameness of suburbia were relevant social issues of my era and Pete Seeger gave voice to all of it, just as he had been doing since the Depression and he continued to do until his death. He never strayed from his idealism and social conscious.

In the words of Pete Seeger and Lee Hays:

If I had a hammer

I’d hammer in the morning

I’d hammer in the evening

All over this land/ I’d hammer out danger

I’d hammer out a warning

I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters

All over this land. 



Storytellers have a gift. A gifted storyteller weaves her tale of life and issues and conundrums through characters with whom we can relate. At the end of the story we’ve not only learned something about an issue, but we’ve gained some insight about ourselves.

Jodi Picoult is a master storyteller and I think she achieves her goal to get her reader to think about big issues and the conundrums that go along with them in her latest bestseller, The Storyteller. She tackles the big issue of good and evil against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Can you participate in something really horrific and still wipe away the stain? If you consider yourself a good person, what would tip you over to doing something bad? What does it mean to be a non-practicing religious person in making moral decisions? To what lengths will we go for self-preservation? And forgiveness; is it our responsibility or moral obligation to forgive? Can we forgive?

Storytelling is the compelling mechanism of the many storytellers in this book. Minka’s fictional story is woven among her real story and serves as a touchstone of hope as she and her family suffer through the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent imprisonment at Auschwitz. She is the lone survivor of her family and friends.

Sage’s, Minka’s granddaughter, story becomes intertwined with Josef, a former-German officer at Auschwitz. Josef’s story gradually unfolds and we discover the shared threads of lives across generations and cultures. The lurking question always remains: What would I do when asked?

The Storyteller is a work of fiction, but that only intensifies the real story upon which this story is based. We think of the Holocaust as a Jewish issue and part of Jewish history, but it’s really a human rights issue. Six million Jews were exterminated, but five million non-Jews also perished. It’s part of our shared human history. We have to ask ourselves if we’ve really learned anything since the Holocaust since genocide is still happening and we still continue to turn a blind eye as millions of people are displaced and murdered.

Interestingly, I am writing this blog post on January 27, 2014. It is the 69th anniversary since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Red Army.

Fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Secrets, lies, stories. We all tell them. Sometimes, because we hope to entertain. Sometimes, because we need to distract.

And sometimes, because we have to. ~ Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

Ordinary People Called to Do Extraordinary Things: The Contemporary Story

friends will be friendsYou might want to read Ordinary People Called to Do Extraordinary Things: The Backstory first.

We all have a calling. Often it’s in reference to a particular vocation, like the ministry. But I like to think of it more as our purpose in who we are. It’s not so much about a job or profession, but more about who we are and what we do as a result of who we are. It’s being our ordinary selves in our ordinary lives, but we do extraordinary things as a result of the call of our faith.

Now let’s see what happened when Jesus called his people.

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. ~ Matthew 4:18-23

Those who pay attention to details will notice that this story of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James, and John is very different than what we say in Come and See: Invite. The place is different – north in Galilee, not across the Jordan in Judea. The timing is different – John the Baptizer has been arrested by Herod and transported to Galilee, not active in ministry around the Jordan river. How the brothers are called is different – Jesus is walking along the shoreline, sees the brothers together, calls to them, and they immediately follow Jesus. Andrew doesn’t drag his brother Simon to Jesus.

We can make all sorts of conjectures about the differences, but it’s much more useful to look at this story within the context of the bigger picture. One thing that really stands out to me is the fact that Simon, Peter, James, and John left their nets and immediately followed Jesus. Because we know the outcome of the whole story after the fact – their dullness, resistance, contradiction of Jesus’ teaching, and their denial and desertion of him once he was arrested – we know that these men were not sensitive to the voice of God or have any special level of faith. They were very ordinary that way.

Then we remember where and when they lived. Galilee of the Gentiles. Land of deep darkness. Lands ravaged by outside forces. People treated as worthless. Jesus is declaring the kingdom of God drawing near here, right here, light in the darkness. Suddenly, his message sounds very appealing and they decide now is their time to act. They have hope that maybe something can be done. The ordinary seeing a glimpse of the extraordinary. That’s why Christianity, although declining in the U.S. and Europe, is growing in Africa and Asia.

The other thing that really stands out to me is Jesus’ appeal to make them fishers of people. Their call was to bring people into and build relationships. The quality of their relationships (unconditional love and acceptance), the people with whom they were in relationship (everyone), and why (just because) is what was extraordinary. Every encounter Jesus lived and every story Jesus told exemplified this shift in whom and how his followers were now to relate with all the people in their lives. Ordinary people in their ordinary lives called to extraordinary things.
The contemporary story is not much different than the backstory. There are people in our lives who need good news. We all know people who are miserable in the jobs, but thankful to have a job. We all know people who are secretly bearing burdens: illness, financial worries, a family member in prison, being bullied, addiction, undocumented, and every sort of secret shame they want no one else to know. We all know people who are isolated or lonely. Ordinary people with ordinary problems.
The contemporary call Jesus issues to us is the same call he issues to his people. We’re called to be in genuine and real relationships with the people around us. We’re called to be in those relationships the same way Jesus was in relationship with his disciples: bearing each other’s burdens; caring for each other, especially the vulnerable; holding onto each other through thick and thin, always with the hope and promise of God’s abundant grace. Sometimes that call – to be in Christ-shaped relationship with others – will take us far from home and sometimes it will take shape in and among the persons right around us. Extraordinary because it completely overturns operating in the ordinary, fearful, alienating way so prevalent in our culture.
That’s our call: Ordinary people in their ordinary lives called to do extraordinary things. Amen.

Ordinary People Called to Do Extraordinary Things: The Backstory

We only one peoplesJesus picked ordinary people right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things. He still does.

You don’t have to go to seminary. You don’t have to quit your job. You don’t have sell all of your possessions and move to a remote rain forest. You don’t have to knock on doors, pass out pamphlets, or even go to church. You can continue to live your ordinary life. Jesus will make it extraordinary.

Now that you’re wondering where in the world I’m heading with this, let me fill you in on the backstory. I love backstories.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” ~ Matthew 4:12-17

The writer, Matthew, is telling us about the beginning of Jesus’ public life. His few sentences, if you know what the context, have a lot of information in them. Knowing the context helps us see how ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Galilee was a region of Gentiles. Since Gentiles were non-Jews, devout Jewish people avoided them as much as possible. Jesus intentionally moves to this region which is also controlled by another horrid Herod after the arrest of John the Baptizer.

This area was known as a land of deep darkness, just as Isaiah said. The region was formerly known as the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali (two of Jacob’s sons who became part the Twelve Tribes of Israel). Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel fought numerous wars, targets of ethnic cleansing campaigns of one conqueror of Palestine after another. By keeping the mix of languages and cultures there mixed enough, and people oppressed enough, and no one of them would have the strength or the urge to resist the new overlords. This is why this place was known to Isaiah as the land of deep darkness. And it still was known by that nickname at the time of Jesus. If light is to shine in darkness, this is where Jesus must go. And he did.

We see how this place continues to live up to its ancient reputation. The darkness at the heart of Galilee wasn’t satisfied to keep to its own borders. The tetrarch Herod, like his namesake who ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth, was noted for over-extending his power. John the Baptizer lived and worked primarily in Judea, not Galilee. Despite the fact that John was openly critical of Herod’s taking the wife of his dead brother as his own wife, Herod had no real jurisdiction over John. And yet he had John arrested, jailed, and later, we learn, beheaded in Galilee.

That John was arrested and taken to a dungeon in Galilee becomes part of why Jesus headed there, too. He was not running away from Herod, as the phrase “he withdrew into Galilee” (fairly common in English translations) may suggest. A better translation would be something like “he made his home in that region again.” Galilee became home base for Jesus’ public ministry not just because an old prophet said so, but because the people there, governed by a man like Herod who had sought to silence John, desperately needed good news.

And that is what Jesus began to give them. Good news. The core of everything Jesus said and did was represented by “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew uses “heaven” in place of “God,” a sign of his Jewish heritage in what is the most Jewish of the gospels.

That’s the backstory. The next post will be about the contemporary story.


Won't you be my neighbor?I have neighbors. I bet you do too. We’ve been in this house one year and I still haven’t met all my neighbors. In fact, I haven’t even seen some of my neighbors. I used to think that was an urban California phenomenon, but we experienced it in rural Texas too. Maybe it’s a sad sign of our times.

My Eternal Scheme Daily Word for today is Neighbor, so I’ve been thinking about all things related to neighbors and faith and, of course, the famous Love your neighbor as yourself verse (Matthew 19:19). I love what British writer and lay theologian G. K. Chesterton says about neighbors:

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.

Actually I don’t have any annoying neighbors. My next-door neighbor brings in everyone’s garbage and recycling bins on both sides of our street. He’s a retired pharmacist and is out there right after the garbage and recycling trucks come down the street. He starts on our side of the street, pulling our bins up to our back fences. Once our side is done, he crosses over to the other side of the street and brings those neighbor’s bins in. It’s a very thoughtful gesture for our older neighbors and the ones who are at work all day. I think many don’t even know who brings in their bins every week!

When Jesus was talking about loving our neighbor, he really was talking about thinking of our neighbors as ourselves. What would we do for ourselves? Then we also do that for our neighbor. Being a follower of Jesus is treating others with exactly the same care and attention as we would ourselves. Of course, as soon as we hear a something like this, we are already erecting barriers and creating exceptions to what we think Jesus really meant. Not a good idea to second guess Jesus.

Jesus broke down barriers: the barriers between humanity and God; the barriers between men and women; the barriers between slave and free; the barriers between neighbors and enemies. He showed us a new way to relate to one another, a way that was meant to eradicate any and all barriers between ourselves and others.

That’s a difficult concept to accept, much less implement. It’s not just thinking it through and creating a strategy for change. It’s a complete operating system upgrade. Let that percolate for awhile. There’s more where that came from (smile).

The Interrelated Structure of Reality

Patrick's Sculpture Plotter Kill Nature Preserve Rotterdam NY 8693Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s truly appalling that only 85 people control more global wealth than the bottom 3.5 BILLION. Here it is again: 85 people own and control more global wealth than half of the global population. That is obscene.

Oxfam, an international confederation of 17 organizations operating in approximately 90 countries to find solutions to poverty and other injustices, reported some staggering results in a recent report.

Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.

The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.

The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world.

Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.

The richest one percent increased their share of income in 24 out of 26 countries for which we have data between 1980 and 2012.

In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.

While the Oxfam report acknowledges some inequality as necessary to drive progress and growth, extreme inequality undermines democracy. As US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we cannot have both.’

It’s not just that the 1 percent control the majority of the world’s wealth, the widening gap of inequality lends to societal instability. When a few exclude the vast majority from access to quality education and health care, economic and entrepreneurial opportunities, the wheels for generational advantage make it nearly impossible for anyone in the 99 percent to climb up. Oppression and violence replace democracy and stability. And the groundwork is set for horrible things to happen like apartheid, genocide, slavery, and every sort of violence and atrocity known to humankind.

Horrible things are happening everywhere. It’s just a matter of time before more of us are more affected. It is the interrelated structure of reality.

Our Animal Instincts by Jasper Bunny

Jasper at CampI don’t think Our Animal Instincts has ever been used as a theme for Vacation Bible School. It might not be appropriate for school-age children. But then my kitty sibs and kitty cousins aren’t children. I’m not a human child either, but given how things are going at Camp this week, I’m definitely more evolved than these four cats!

My human Mama is at Lake Tahoe and has left us with my Auntie and Uncle Saint Sam. While my kitty relatives are displaying their finest versions of animal instincts, my human Mama is only 11 miles away where the infamous Donner Party succumbed to their animal instincts and ate members of their party. Is that ironic or what?!?

I was really looking forward to going to Camp. I get to camp out the entire time! I have my own bunny-version tent which allows me to be out all day and all night! Auntie makes is a fun place for me with little areas to hide and make me feel safe. Actually, I think she didn’t like me eating her Hebrew Bible the last time I was here. She’s knows my new hobby is stripping cords so I don’t have access to any cords here. I’m really okay with that since there are so many other fun things to do. We listen to classical music all day too. I’m particularly fond of Beethoven. I think if more humans listened to his music, it would help soothe their animal instincts.

The kitties are also listening to classical music, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to make any difference with their animal instincts. I think they are prideful and it gets in the way of them playing nicely with others. Actually, Midori and I are playing well together. I have been sharing my carrot toy with Midori and Takuma. It’s not my favorite toy, but I’m still sharing it.

I really like playing catch. Midori taught me. She has a favorite soft ball that has a bell inside. Auntie throws the ball, getting it to ricochet off the furniture. If she just throws the ball, Midori catches it in her mouth and no one else can play. Midori runs after it and brings it back to Auntie. She picks the ball up in her mouth and drops it right off at Auntie’s feet. It looked like lots of fun so I decided to join in. I try to get to the ball before Midori and push it away. I can’t pick it up in my mouth, but we play bunny-kitty soccer for two passes, then Midori picks up the ball in her mouth and brings it back to Auntie so she can throw it again. It’s really fun and we’re playing nicely with each other.

I can’t say so much for the other three. Spirit hisses and growls at every one and every thing. She’s hiding out behind the knives on the kitchen counter. I don’t think that’s good energy for her animal instincts. Takuma wants to play with everyone, but he’s needs to work on his social skills. Maui is staying out of the fray right now. I’m okay with that because he likes to taunt me. That’s not nice.

Auntie understands we all have our animal instincts. She says we need a time out and she puts us in isolation when we start bothering each other too much. We may have our animal instincts, but we are way too civilized to eat each other!

Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK NobelFifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the youngest recipient, at age 35, of this prestigious award and received the phone call during a routine medical exam at St. Joseph’s Infirmary in Atlanta, Georgia. He presented his Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964.

His message is as relevant and important as it was 50 years ago. Poverty, civil rights violations, and violence continue to plague America and threaten to undermine the American ideals of opportunity and equality.

I know some will be making this day a holiday while others will be commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. However you choose to spend this day, make a few moments to read his Nobel Peace Lecture.

A video of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Acceptance Speech is here.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Lecture is here.

Photo: New York Times, Martin Luther King, Jr. taking a break during the ceremony.

Come and See: Invite

DSC_6614b - The Zoo, butterflies!We invite and we’re invited. There’s something about an invitation that makes us feel special. Even though others may also be invited, we’ve been included in this elite group. The pleasure of our company is requested. Our opinion is being sought.  We’re being asked to share our expertise. We’re invited.

Jesus was all about the invite. All the time. I bet there are some things we all can learn from his invitation style. The gospel of John has one account.

John the Baptizer is hanging out with a couple of his own followers when Jesus walks by. Anyone who was with John the day before recognizes Jesus. John is taken by Jesus’ celebrity and is recounting to his followers the cosmic commotion that occurred when he was baptized.

When Jesus comes walking by them again the next day, John wants to make sure his followers were paying attention and he again draws attention to Jesus. This time, not only do they notice, they start following after him!

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). ~ John 1:35-42 (for the whole context, read John 1:29-42)

I love the subtlety and uniqueness of each invitation. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to God … as demonstrated by Jesus!

We know that one of the men who followed after Jesus was Andrew. My guess is the other is John who later recounts this story in what becomes the gospel of John. When Jesus realizes they’re following after him, he asks them, “What are you looking for?”

These two have been hanging out with John the Baptizer. Only those seeking something would hang out with someone who is more on the margins, than in the mainstream, of polite society. John and Andrew are looking for something. They’ve been hanging with John the Baptizer long enough to know that maybe he’s on to something about Jesus. Now they’re going to find out.

These two have probably been ridiculed enough by family and friends for hanging out with Crazy John, that they’re cautious in revealing too much to this still-unknown-Jesus. Besides, they don’t really know what exactly it is they’re looking for. They decide to give a safe, benign answer: “Where are you staying?” That’s like asking, “Are you staying at the Marriott or Motel 6?”!? Maybe they’re hoping to learn a bit more about him by where he’s staying?

(I love this:) Jesus extends a provocative invitation: Come and see. Those two – who are curious about what they don’t yet know – are now very intrigued. They follow Jesus and hang out with him the rest of the day.

Andrew can’t wait to tell his brother Simon about this. Not only does he tell Simon, he drags Simon to Jesus. Simon is not like Andrew. He’s not looking for anything. He’s probably one of those who chides Andrew about hanging out with Crazy John. He probably rolled his eyes when Andrew started talking about Jesus, thinking his brother is so gullible. He only agrees to go with Andrew to see Jesus to shut him up.

(I love this too:) Jesus meets Simon and re-names him! No polite invitation. No warning. No further invitations. Jesus skips all the stuff that Simon doesn’t care about and welcomes him. In essence he says, “I know I don’t know you, but I want you on my team. And to show you how important this is to me, I’m giving you a new name as a symbol. I want you.”

Jesus invites. Jesus welcomes. Simple. We’ll find out just how hard this was for people to accept soon enough. What we must ask ourselves today is how simple do we keep our invitations and our welcomes? Is our invitation simple or selective? Do we welcome everyone or must they meet a certain criteria before we fully embrace them? Do we meet and accept people where they are or do we start screening and eliminating them when something’s not quite right in their background? Are we really willing for the judgments we harbor to be exposed and eliminated?

Will we come? Will we see?

The 25th Anniversary of the Cleveland School Shooting

Cleveland SchoolJanuary 17 marks the 25th anniversary of the Cleveland School shooting. The gunman, who had a long criminal history, shot and killed five schoolchildren, and wounded 29 other children and one teacher, before killing himself. Some think it began the most recent cycle of school shootings.

On January 17, 1989, the gunman, a disturbed drifter and former Cleveland School student, began his attack by setting his van on fire with a Molotov Cocktail after parking it behind the school. The car later exploded. He then moved to the school playground and began firing his Type 56 Assault Rifle from behind a portable building. He fired 106 rounds in three minutes. All of the fatally shot victims and many of the wounded were Cambodian and Vietnamese immigrants. The gunman shot himself in the head with a pistol.

The multiple murders at the Cleveland School in Stockton received national news coverage, Michael Jackson came to the school, and it spurred calls for regulation of semi-automatic weapons. “Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?” Time magazine asked.

That was the beginning of California’s crusade defining and then banning assault weapons. Today, California has some of the nation’s toughest gun legislation, thanks in part to the teachers who were there that horrible day and whose students were among the victims. Others who were injured are also part of the gun debate, however on the side for gun rights. Twenty-five years later, it is still a difficult issue. One thing everyone does agree on is that their lives were forever altered.

January 14, 2014 – 25 years later and the third school shooting so far in January 2014 – a 12 year-old boy brought his modified shotgun to school, wounding two other students before putting down his firearm at the request of a teacher.

When will it stop?


photo: Recordnet.com

Publicity Stunt or Personal Journey?

Buffalo road sign at Delta Junction, AlaskaPublicity stunt or personal journey? That’s what I’m trying to figure out about the latest pastor (well, he’s now no longer a pastor) to embark on something unorthodox. A California man – a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor and former adjunct Christian college and seminary professor – has embarked on a year of living without God. Ryan Bell’s New Year’s resolution (I think this qualifies as a New Year’s revolution) is to “do whatever I can to enter the world of atheism and live, for a year, as an atheist.” He’s also blogging about his experiment.

I usually roll my eyes and wax on to poor Saint Sam, pontificating on my personal disgust of pastors who use publicity stunts to elucidate their message without realizing that their stunt only patronizes the issue because awareness isn’t the problem. Changed hearts and behaviors of their congregants, in combination to policy changes that tackle the underlying issues that contribute to their issue-du jour, is what is really necessary. I know. You probably got lost in all that verbiage. You now know what Saint Sam must endure.

Let’s see. We’ve had the Mormon bishop in Utah who disguised himself as a homeless person, hanging out before the service. We had the Tennessee Methodist minister who went undercover as a homeless man for a week. We had Florida pastor who issued a 30-day sex challenge to his congregation. He also wrote a book about it. Then there was the Texas pastor who challenged his church to a week of “congregational copulation”.  Her and his wife followed-up their sexperiment by putting a bed on the roof of the church building. He and his wife also wrote a companion sexperiment book.

Before you groan again, I’m only going to mention two more. Rick Warren, of The Purpose-Driven Life fame, confessed to needing to lose 90 pounds and asked his congregation to help him do it. His church collectively lost 250,000 pounds over the course of a year. It’s all in The Daniel Plan book. Rick Warren’s life has always been an open book, most recently with the suicide of his 27 year-old son who struggled with mental illness.

Even I have talked about the Food Stamp Challenge. This one has circulated among clergy, community organizers, food pantries and others for several years. It has been effective is bringing awareness to the difficulty of adequately feeding a person on $4.38/day or $133.41/month. But that’s where it stops – awareness of how difficult it is to eat on $4.39/person/day. It doesn’t begin to address the real difficulty a person or family has living a subsistence life. We have a kitchen, a rack of spices, other items already in our pantries, and don’t need to “trade” our food stamps to buy toilet paper or soap. Doing the food stamp challenge doesn’t begin to educate us on how depressing, humiliating, exhausting and frustrating it is to be poor in our society.

And that’s my point. Life is a complex, chaotic connection. A publicity stunt may bring an awareness that there is an issue. Homelessness, lack of intimacy in relationships, unhealthy lifestyles, food insecurities, and doubts in one’s faith are issues some or many of us face. But they didn’t become issues in our life or the lives of others overnight. A host of factors and choices contributed to the reasons these are now issues in someone’s life. And they are not all factors or choices that any one person has ultimate control over. It’s only one piece of a larger puzzle with many if-this-then-thats or if-this-or-thats.

It still takes a personal journey and, often a commitment to public policy informed by a personal journey, that will ultimately determine whether something was merely a publicity stunt or truly an act of transformation. Sadly, most fall into the publicity stunt with an added financial book bonus. The personal journey is much more difficult, takes much longer, and can be lonely or isolating. I do know this: publicity stunts don’t change anything.

Common Things in an Uncommon Way

ChairsWhen you do common things in an uncommon way, you’ll command the attention of the world. ~ George Washington Carver

That is the quote that introduces my Eternal Scheme Daily Word for today – Practice. It’s a great word, one that we’re prone to gloss over in search of a short-cut. It’s a word our Western culture wants to eradicate in its effort to streamline life. It’s a word that makes us uncomfortable but not uncomfortable enough that we’re willing to change our behavior.

Practice is common, unglamorous, and often unnoticed. Yet it is essential in developing any skill or habit or craft. I believe that because it is common, unglamorous, and often unnoticed is precisely why it is so important to our inner character and sense of self-worth. Having mastery over the common things is what sets us apart from the majority of humanity who are content with mediocrity.

Common does not imply mediocre. Common is something that’s prevalent and mediocre is something that’s uninspired. I think that’s what George Washington Carver was getting at: doing the common thing in an inspired way is uncommon. People will notice because they are so accustomed to common things being done with mediocrity. Why? Because it requires effort and thoughtfulness regardless of being common.

Day-to-day things are common and often done in common ways. But when we do a common thing – like when we practice a random act of kindness – it becomes uncommon and gets noticed. Even if it doesn’t get noticed publicly, you know you’ve done a kindness and feel better for having brightened someone else’s day in some small way.

There are also a lot of thankless day-to-day activities that someone has to do. Most of us feel this burden falls on us. Making dinner every night day-in and day-out is one of those activities. I decided that since this fact isn’t going to change, what can I do to make this uncommon for both Saint Sam and myself. I also wanted to introduce more meatless meals into our already gluten-free, dairy-free diet. That meant more planning on my part, new shopping habits for an activity I already abhor, and disruption to an already fine-tuned task. I wanted this to be an adventure, like trying out a new restaurant, rather than a health-conscious, budget-friendly, domestic chore.

Our meatless month practice is going exceedingly well with some unexpected surprises. I have to plan. I’m spending a little more time hunting and gathering (aka shopping) and I’m trying new recipes. I’ve taken a common activity and applied some uncommon ways. The world may not be noticing, but we are. And that’s what matters most.

Making the Most of the Day-to-Day

The kindness of strangersAre you back into the full-swing of the day-to-day? It’s hard to believe that the holidays and New Year’s are only two weeks behind me as I write this. In fact, my granddaughters just went back to school after a three week holiday break. Even the Church has a name for this time: Ordinary Time. Leave it to the Church to make something we spend most of the year in sound as blah and uninteresting as possible.

The thing about the day-to-day is that there is nothing extraordinary about it. It’s routine and regular. Normal, for whatever that vague word is worth. For most of us, it conjures up boring and lifeless. That’s why so many manufacture drama to give themselves a sense of “life” and action, albeit not a healthy approach.

In the movie The Hobbit, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is having a conversation with Gandalf (Sir Ian Fleming), the wise wizard. He offers this:

Saruman (good wizard gone bad through the corruption of power) believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness, and love.

There is so much hope and truth in Gandalf’s words. If we had to rely on the mostly-white millionaire men in power (like those in the U.S. Congress), we’d be lost in despair. In fact, I have to limit my political news intake because it is so disheartening and disconnected from our day-to-day. It really is incumbent on us ordinary folk to live our lives from a place of kindness and love … exactly what our faith instructs and inspires in us.

We can always do more, but here is a list of 10 minor acts of kindness we can easily do in our day-to-day lives:

1. Smile and make eye contact with everyone you see.

2. Let someone merge into your lane of traffic, even if they don’t use their turn indicators. Oh, and use yours when turning or changing lanes.

3. Open the door for a mother with a stroller or hold the door for the elderly person behind you.

4. Say “Good morning” to the person in the elevator or the person standing with you in line.

5. Give a homeless person your doggie bag.

6. Put a coin in someone’s expired parking meter.

7. Ask someone how she’s really doing, then really listen to her response.

8. Put your shopping cart back in its place.

9. Say “please” and “thank you” often and always – and really mean it.

10. Throw away your trash – and someone else’s – when you leave the park, parking lot, or movie.

And a bonus act: say, “I love you” to someone you love.

Small everyday deeds done in the day-to-day by ordinary folk do keep the darkness at bay.

My Housework Epiphany

Iron - door stopMy epiphany of about housework was my last hurrah of this year’s season of Epiphany. Yes, even housework has a spiritual component.

For some reason, Sunday’s have become the housework day. I think it’s more by default than purpose. We have the usual housework: laundry, bathrooms, dusting, and vacuuming. Certain housework is weekly and the rest is as necessary, which, much to Saint Sam’s displeasure is too necessary. Those tasks I need his help. I really can’t complain because we have a fairly equitable division of labor.

Housework is relaxing. I discovered this while ironing. The thing about housework is that it isn’t mentally demanding. It’s also not too physically demanding. That allows plenty of time to daydream, plan, and zen-out. It’s the perfect relaxing activity for an over-the-top Type A person like myself.

I can’t remember when I shifted my thinking about cooking and cleaning, but it was sometime in the last six years. I’m sure I had an epiphany about it because that’s what it takes for a major shift to occur. I have been evolving ever since, finally being at a place where Sunday housework doesn’t elicit an imposing sense of dread.

Housework is also a time of great productivity. I’m sure studies have been done on this subject, but I think we’re actually more productive when we’re relaxed. I reserve housework as the place where I do long-term planning, problem-solving, and ideas for remodeling. My work week is more productive and creative. My time management is increased. My live-work environment is pleasant. I am not thinking about or worrying what has and hasn’t been done. Nothing feels better to a Type A+ person than checking items off that To-Do list and not being stressed out!

I wonder if I’ll ever develop a hobby?

Let That Go

DoveHas a phrase or image in a familiar passage ever jumped out at you and you wonder how you never noticed it before? It happens all the time to me as I’m reading the Bible.

I’m in “the Bible business”, as my grandmother would often say. (Well, she didn’t say it quite like that. It was more like, “How in the hell did you ever end up in the Bible business?”) Yet, I am forever amazed that something new emerges from a passage I’ve read and re-read hundreds of times, even preached on many times. And that’s how it should be: I am evolving and [hopefully] transforming. I would hope new insight or something new gets noticed even when looking at something familiar. I am looking with new eyes and noticing from a changed heart.

So what am I talking about? This year, I’m reading through the gospel of Matthew. You’ve probably already noticed (smile). I’m now at the passage where Jesus comes to his cousin John to be baptized.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” ~ Matthew 3:13-17

Even non-Bible readers will recognize familiar things or phrases, even without the movie version. Biblical imagery is throughout our literature, phrases and colloquialisms, art, and pop culture. Plus, if you’ve been to Sunday School or catechism, you’ve heard these stories over and over. Most likely the only thing that’s changed between when I was in Sunday School in the Dark Ages and if my granddaughters went to Sunday School in the 21st century is that Jesus isn’t pictured as white with blue eyes and light brown hair. Other than that, we haven’t incorporated much new information into our understanding of the biblical narrative. And that’s all I’m going to say about that … for now.

What jumped out at me was Jesus’ response when John objected to baptizing Jesus: Let that be so now. A better translation might be, Let that go, now. Matthew is the only gospel that mentions John’s reticence at baptizing Jesus and the only gospel to include Jesus’ response.

Let what go? Jesus insists that John is to not only baptize him, but that he needs to also let go of how his vision of how things “should be”. Letting go allows both of them to “fulfill all righteousness”. With Jesus, it is now a whole new game and everything is no longer what it was. This new way of being is slowly unfurled throughout the Jesus narrative.

The heavens opening, the dove descending, and the voice declaring all show God inaugurating something dramatically new. Jesus’ baptism is another epiphany of God breaking in and being manifest in our midst. It’s out-there thinking, for sure.

But the whole thing is out-there for most of us who pride ourselves on being logical and rational, and ordering ourselves and our lives accordingly. We’re being asked to Let it go, now; to let go of our vision of how our life – or a life -should be.

For those who are baptized and take their baptism seriously, it also means the inauguration of something dramatically new in our lives … and I don’t think it’s what we’ve always thought is was supposed to be. It’s not merely about salvation and new birth. It’s not about adhering to a certain dogma or identifying with a brand of Christianity. That is not dramatic or a new.

For those who aren’t baptized, you can still get in on the action. The real test for all of us, and all of our objections, is: Am I really willing to let it go, now?

Pushing Boundaries by Jasper Bunny

Jasper BoundariesPushing boundaries is my New Year’s revolution (that was not a misspelling nor a typo). In fact, I think it should be everyone’s New Year’s resolution. Maybe then we’d have a real revolution and life would be better for every living creature, but I’m getting WAY ahead of myself.

My Auntie has been blogging recently about Epiphany and epiphanies. Bunnily (since I’m a bunny it doesn’t make sense to say “personally”), when you get to the place of pushing boundaries, you’ve had an epiphany about something and are testing it out. So my little post fits right into her theme this week. Don’t you just love it when everything comes together nicely?!?

I’ve been relegated to a limited space, with limited time out of my gated home. My human Mama, who is a nurse and works very long hours saving people’s lives, thinks this is best for me, especially after my last attempt at pushing boundaries. Sometimes there is no reasoning with her, so I decided to take a new approach. I also thought this would be a great way for me to see if extending my boundaries was something I really wanted.

I live in a gated house that really is a euphemism for c-a-g-e. When I’m let out of my gated house it’s into a gated community which really is a nice way for saying “fenced-in” area. The fence is a barrier and it restricts access to certain areas like the back of the entertainment area, the tiled hallway, stairs, and corners that I’ve begun removing her unwanted carpet for her. I thought she’d be happy about the carpet. She removed all the carpet in another part of the house and has been talking forever about removing this carpeting too. I think she’s resisting my help because she’s resisting change, but my Auntie told me that was being judgmental and unbecoming to such a wise bunny as myself.

The good thing about all this fencing as boundaries is that it has challenged me to think outside the box (pun intended) and try some new things. How else will I grow and develop if I don’t try new things? How will I know my greater potential if I’m not creatively exploring new frontiers? How will I discover my greater purpose, and it’s not rabbit gloves, if I don’t expand my abilities? You don’t survive all that I’ve survived only to languish in a cage bored to near-death!

Here’s what I’ve learned initially about pushing boundaries:

Decide. You first must decide what one boundary to push. You won’t know if you’re successful at achieving what you want if you’re pushing too many boundaries at the same time.

Plan. I really have to plan because my time out of my cage is so limited. I’m also very small and have limited bunny resources so I must make the most of everything I have.

Execute. This is the funnest part of pushing boundaries: doing it! I’m a very determined bunny and once I get started, I’m on my mission to accomplish as much as I can, in the time I have, with the resources available to me. I always, always, always feel good after executing.

Celebrate. Sometimes I’m so tired after all of my efforts, and a little worried about what my Mama is going to say, but I always do my little celebration dance when it’s all over. I look so cute doing it, she can’t stay mad at me very long. Usually she joins in and we play a little game of tag too. Win-win!

Here’s to your own New Year’s revolution and pushing your own boundaries!

Finding Meaning in the Mindless

WD-40Finding meaning in the mindless is my empathy epiphany. (For some of this to make sense, you may want to view the 9 minute video. It’s a great investment of 9’22”.) So much of our lives are lived in the trenches of the mundane and mindless. It makes complete and total sense that this is the prime area we must find meaning. After all, the mundane is also the arena that we have the most freedom, choice, and responsibility.

Think about it. How do you spend chunks of your day? Just yesterday I spent two hours before I started working getting everything ready for the day! And that was after I got myself ready. The kitty box, a routine quick-run to the market for several days worth of food, putting the groceries away, putting the bags back in the trunk of the car, prepping the ingredients to go in the crockpot for dinner, cleaning up after setting the crockpot, powering up my laptop, resetting the Wi-Fi, finding the one pen we have in the house that the kitties are always co-opting, and FINALLY sitting down with my laptop and work accoutrements. It’s endless and it’s every day; year in and year out forever and ever. Amen.

Thank God I have a choice, the freedom to make that choice, and the ability to take personal responsibility for making it meaningful, purposeful, and fun. That’s where the work comes in. The mundane and mindless doesn’t just magical transform into something meaningful. I must work at finding meaning in those mundane moments. I must choose to find the pearls of purpose that propel me to continue to do the mindless. I must take responsibility for all of my thoughts and actions in the mundane. And finally, my worth and dignity are not tied to the activities of the mundane. My worth and dignity are inherent in who I am created to be and the choices I make along the way.

The mundane is a sacred and spiritual place. It’s where most of us are most of the time. It’s also where it’s easiest to tune out and miss the people and moments that elevate the mundane to something magnificent.

The grocery store is one of the mundan-est, least fun places to go for me. Necessary, but definitely mundane. I had a small basket of grocery items, but the LOL (little old lady) behind me had only two items. I invited her to go ahead of me. She could barely hear and was so stooped over I wondered how she could see where see where she was going, much less drive. By the time she understood me, – the guy behind her was rolling his eyes – the entire line of the three of us could have been checked out and driving away. She placed her two items on the conveyer belt thing and turned to me. She thanked me for letting her go first and proceeded to share with me that her husband, who has dementia, was in the car (he refused to come in with her), and she was worried he’d be gone by the time she got back to him.

Wow. That put everything in perspective. That was a moment of grace. Not my actions letting her go first, but me being shaken aware from my distasteful-tasks-that-must-be-done-when-I-have-so-many-other-things-I’m-trying-to-also-get-done-so-I-can-get-to-the-real-stuff-of-work. Here was a woman with a history, in a life full of context, doing the best she could with difficult circumstances … and whatever else I couldn’t begin to fathom. And I got to share that sacred moment with her.

I love what Anne Lamott says:

Grace is spiritual WD-40. It eases our way out of grippy, self-righteous stuckness. 

Freedom. Choice. Responsibility. Grace.




Empathy Epiphany

goldfish-jump-to-another-bowlEmpathy. The ability to identify and understand the feelings of another. It’s a noun. And I had an epiphany, thanks to a video a reader of my son’s blog shared with my son who shared it on his blog and I am now sharing with you.

The video is part of a 2005 commencement address David Foster Wallace – one of my most favorite authors of all time – gave to the graduating class at Kenyon College. It is a mere 9 minutes and 22 seconds. It will probably be the best 10 minutes you spend all day.


Any epiphany? I’ll share my empathy epiphany in my next post.


Image credit: www.wallpaperswala.com

Three Ingredients of an Epiphany

Orion's BeltAn epiphany dovetails nicely into New Year’s resolutions and goals. (Remember those?) There is the spiritual context of Epiphany completing the Christmas season that precedes the New Year. And there’s the mindful context of an epiphany that cements your resolve to actually follow through on your New Year’s resolutions and goals.

The spiritual Epiphany and regular ‘ole epiphanies have three similar ingredients. These three ingredients are what separate a true epiphany from an awareness. Some may think this is splitting hairs, and maybe it is if you want to remain static. However, if you’re listening to your life and paying attention to the signposts along the way, knowing the ingredients of an epiphany may be helpful.

Ingredient # 1 ~ An epiphany is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed … just like God. Like the Magi, we only have limited knowledge about that which is being revealed to us. We must trust our instincts. As we follow those instincts, more is revealed.

Ingredient # 2 ~ We cannot create or control an epiphany; we can only be open and receive. An epiphany comes to us. It comes from the Greek meaning manifestation, awakening, or showing forth. We cannot control what the epiphany is; we can only be open to it. Like a gift, we have the option of receiving it or refusing it.

Ingredient # 3 ~ An epiphany demands for us to change. Well, maybe ‘demands’ is too strong a word, but a true epiphany calls forth something in us, for us. You know it in your knower. There’s a resonance that begs you to take action.

And we’re brought back to that place of trusting. Am I going to follow through and be open to what is revealed next so I can take the next step in my transformation process? Makes you excited for an epiphany!


Photo credit: Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka; Digitized Sky Survey, ESA/ESO/NASA FITS Liberator


Swarm of Ancient StarsEpiphany. We finally get to talk about the final figures of the Christmas story, the Magi. These three mysterious men, who traveled from what is now modern day Iran, taking seriously the message they say as the stars and planets aligned in a most peculiar formation signifying an extraordinary event. So extraordinary that it was not even an once in a generation opportunity. They wanted to see and experience it for themselves.

Do you approach your personal epiphanies in such a way? Do you take seriously those flashes of insight? Think on and about what it might mean for you? See them as life-changing possibilities?

I may not understand Mars animating my sign, Venus in my fourth solar house, Mercury in retrograde, or the second New Moon inviting Pluto and Uranus along, but I do know that when something zings into my consciousness or a recurring dream interrupts my sleep or that I can vividly recall in the morning, I need to pay attention: something extraordinary is brewing.

Epiphany Scripture

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. ~ Matthew 2:1-12

 Here’s what I find so fascinating about the Magi:

They were open and trusting: The Magi had their own beliefs and systems of study. They were steeped in their own traditions and were serious, devoted practitioners. They did not worship the God of the Hebrews nor did they study their sacred texts. Yet, something emerged from their own study that compelled them to act. They were open to what they saw from their studies and trusted their insight to go seek out this child born king of the Jews.

They persevered and remained discerning: There must have been enough vagueness in their study that led them first to Jerusalem, the central worship center of the Jews and logical place where to find the child born they sought. They then had to seek out the Jewish religious leaders to find out what was written in their sacred scriptures. The Jerusalem rumor-mill alerted Herod to these exotic travellers. His paranoia was sparked. There was something they didn’t trust about their encounter and then the warning in their dreams. They did not return to Jerusalem.

They were prepared and and willing: The trip was long and arduous. They came bearing gifts fit for a king and whatever else they saw in the stars. Gold for a king, incense for a priest, and myrrh for embalming a corpse. They paid their homage and respect to the child and his family, and returned back to their country. I wonder what the impact was for them personally from that whole experience.

Epiphany Action

What epiphanies have you had recently? What are you doing about them?

Epiphany Prayer

I know I’m given moments of insight. May I learn to pay attention to those details; may I be open to their message; may I be discerning and also trusting. May I seek your guidance and wisdom, as those Magi of old. Amen.

Image credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, AURA.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

danger. lighthouse, big surWe have arrived and the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the final day of Christmastide. In the olden days, as in Tudor England, Twelfth Night was devoted to intense merrymaking, capping off the festive season of Christmas. I don’t think King Henry VIII needed much prodding for merrymaking, but it looked good to the Church to officially limit the excesses that go along with festivities.

It’s fitting that we end our Christmas season with the image of light, bookending Christmas Day and the Twelfth Day of Christmas. The darkness of Advent gives way to the light of Christ and everything changes. Or at least we’re posed with that possibility.

During Advent we ask: Will light break into the darkest corners of our hearts, our families, our lives? Will God take the wretched mess of our world and redeem it? Can we trust the light to come?

God answers in the birth of Christ.

Twelfth Day of Christmas Scripture

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. ~ John 1:1-5

John deliberately echoes In the beginning of Genesis and the time of creation. He links Jesus to this creative moment when light first shone in the darkness of the world. During the Exodus when the children of Israel escaped Pharaoh in Egypt and entered into the Promised Land, they wandered in the desert, guided by a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of fire by night. Light is used as a metaphor throughout the Bible.

Light is also used as a metaphor in our own lives, almost without even thinking. When someone offers new information on a subject, we say, “she shed light on the subject.” We refer to a good plan and a “bright idea”. Cartoons use the image of a lightbulb for a new or creative idea. An intelligent person is “very bright”. The Dark Ages is referred to as the indistinct time after the Roman Empire when education, discovery, and invention was suspect. “The Enlightenment” marked the rise of education, exploration, and expansion.

The essential idea all this plays off is that ignorance and the darkness of sin and suffering go together; while education and intelligence and learning will throw off that darkness and bring healing and wellness. There’s truth in that, but it’s not the complete truth. We still need a light that learning and intelligence and technology cannot provide.  We need to learn the lessons of love and caring and compassion and sacrifice. Those lessons require a living example to show us the way.

God provided this living example in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Twelfth Day of Christmas Action

That’s a lot to digest and certainly isn’t meant to be so intense it dampens the merrymaking of the Twelfth Day of Christmas. In fact, it gives us a lot to celebrate.

As we leave our Christmas season, these are the questions we must ask ourselves now: Will we allow the light that shines to illuminate the darkest corners of hearts, our families, and our lives? Will we follow Jesus to untwist the mangled mess of our souls, allowing ourselves to be redeemed? Will we trust the light or will we hide from it?

Twelfth Day of Christmas Prayer

May I walk in the light as a child of the light. Amen.

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Dry Advent WreathThe Eleventh Day of Christmas and almost the end of the Christmas season. If there’s one thing we’ve seen throughout Advent up through the Eleventh Day of Christmas is that nothing, absolutely nothing goes as expected. Every time we think that everything is going back to normal in the story, there’s a twist and our expectations of everything social, economic, political, and religious is upended.

And that was God’s plan all along.

If you look back over this journey we’ve taken through Advent and Christmas, we see God mixing it up time and time again.

We began Advent: Advent is a time of waiting for God to show up and wondering what God is going to do. But it’s not just waiting and wondering on our side about what God is going to do. God is waiting and wondering too. God is waiting on us and wondering what we’re going to do.

We met John the Baptizer, who could have easily been voted least likely to succeed at Nazareth High. In fact, he’s beginning to wonder if he missed it about Jesus. He was waiting for the Messiah and had even preached all about him. John was expecting someone who was going to be to a little more kingly, a political ruler setting people free from oppression and all that. Instead, he’s his cousin Jesus socializing as one of Jerusalem’s most popular dinner guests, healing people and talking about the poor and meek being blessed.

We were introduced to a host of ordinary, relatable people with real lives that God singled out to be used for something extraordinary. Mary. Joseph. Other tidbits from life.

On Christmas we were challenged to reinterpret Christmas: The Word becoming a human being – being born of flesh and blood to participate in life, to experience struggles, and the events of daily life – to give us an awareness of a life full of grace and truth.

Because of Jesus our lives can be reinterpreted. Because God has come to us in this way, we can reinterpret our pasts and move toward a life lived in the light of truth and grace rather than a life overshadowed by the darkness of our painful memories and experiences. This is the promise behind this amazing birth.

We can reinterpret, rework, rewrite, experience rebirth of our own lives. The light of Christ shines into our darkness. And the darkness did not, does not, and will not overcome it. Ever.

Christmastide Action

We’re getting ready to move into a whole new season – Epiphany. If God is anything like God has been so far on our journey, we can be certain that the adventure will continue. No doubt, we’re in for some surprises of our own.

This might be a good time to reflect back on your Advent and Christmastide experience. A lot has happened between the beginning of Advent and the Eleventh Day of Christmas. Maybe looking over a few of the posts during this time will jog your memory. I encourage you to write down anything that jumps out and surprises you.

Christmastide Prayer

Waiting and wondering in Advent. Light in our darkness in Christmas. The new year stretching before me. On this Eleventh Day of Christmas, may I remain alert to what’s next. Amen.

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Dry Advent WreathIt’s the Tenth Day of Christmas and my Advent wreath is very dry and brittle. My Christmas tree is still up because I didn’t feel like taking it down on New Year’s Day as is my usual custom. While some keep their Christmas decor up through the full Twelve Days of Christmas, most of us are ready to put it all away, another Christmas survived, and move on to conquer the New Year.

I bet that’s how Joseph and Mary felt after the birth of Jesus. They were probably looking forward to returning to Nazareth and beginning their life together as a family. Especially Joseph. He was looking forward to returning to his carpentry shop and some things that were familiar and routine. Mary’s unexpected pregnancy and then that angel were not exactly how he envisioned starting married life. Then you add on having to travel to Bethlehem for the census, the baby’s birth in a cave with the animals, the local shepherds showing up, and three complete and total strangers arriving from someplace in the East, bringing gifts he never, ever imagined. No, this was not normal. Yes, he was really looking forward to getting home.

And then he had another dream. If I was Joseph, I might be afraid to fall asleep!

Christmastide Scripture

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” ~ Matthew 2:13-15

Christmastide Action

Sometimes we think we’d welcome a warning of impending disaster. However, there are always accounts of people who, even when warned to evacuate, do not do so and find themselves having to be rescued. Most of us live by our faith, our choices, and our instincts. We live knowing that the decisions we make, while often guided by a deep sense of God’s guidance, are often still very much our own.

Recall a time when you were given a clear warning? How did your respond?

Christmastide Prayer

As I start this New Year, may I be ever-mindful of Your presence in my life. May I listen for Your voice guiding me and sending me to safety. May I feel Your touch healing my pain. May I know joy and wonder, even in the unknown. Amen.


The Ninth Day of Christmas

Photo: Janet Peterson
Photo: Janet Peterson

The Ninth Day of Christmas and the second day of the New Year. Yep. Weird and not worth thinking about, in my humble opinion. Which brings me to my word for the New Year: humility.

My spiritual practice on New Year’s Day has been to select a word that serves as a character-building trait for the year. This year I let the Eternal Scheme Daily Word’s algorithm choose for me. My word for 2014 is Humility.

My sister, Saint Sam, and I were all selecting our words for the New Year together. My sister received her word, Dedication, and Saint Sam got Understanding. I got Humility. I hate to admit it, but my immediate response was to get another word, definitely an indicator that Humility is the perfect word for me for this year.

I hope you will go on over to Eternal Scheme and select your own word for the year. You can look up the information selected or created to illuminate the word – quote, scripture, prayer, and action – if you have the Daily Word ebook, or you can sign in to get the same information for free.

Here is what I will be pondering about Humility this year:

~ ~ ~

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.

~ Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.
(French-American Trappist monk, writer, and social activist, 1915-1968)

◊ ◊ ◊

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.

~ Philippians 2:3

◊ ◊ ◊


Great God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.

Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.

Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.

We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.

We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.

Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.

For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.

And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.

This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen.

~ Sister Joan Chittister, O.S.B.
(American Benedictine nun, author, and speaker, b. 1936)

◊ ◊ ◊


Humility is a difficult trait for us prideful creatures to consider. While many consider humility a weakness, true humility is an admirable strength. It’s having a realistic view of one’s self, seeing ourselves as no better or no worse than anyone else. Who are humility role models for you? How can you practice more humility in your own life?

You might consider writing in a journal or sharing what you experienced.

~ ~ ~

I will be heeding my own advice and definitely be writing about my experience with Humility in my digital journal. Over the years I have gained great wisdom and insight from journaling. Journaling taps into and helps unlock our unconscious minds where all sorts of goodies reside.

On this Ninth Day of Christmas and second day of the New Year, I know another of God’s gifts to me will be using Humility in my personal and ongoing transformation. What about you? What is your word for the New Year?

The Eighth Day of Christmas and Happy New Year!

New YearHappy New Year! There’s something magical about the first day of a new year. It’s like there 365 new days of opportunities and adventures waiting to unfold. So many unknowns waiting to be revealed as we begin and end each day.

We really have no sense of what will transpire this coming year. We know there will be good things and bad things. There will be stuff that’s expected and there will, undoubtedly, be stuff that completely stuns us. We know there will be change and we also know with all certainty, we cannot control every outcome. As our Eighth Day of Christmas Scripture reminds us, there is a time for everything and everything will have its own time.

Christmastide and New Year Scripture

For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:

    A time to be born, a time to die;
        a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
    A time to kill, a time to heal;
        a time to tear down, a time to build up;
    A time to cry, a time to laugh;
        a time to mourn, a time to dance;
    A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
        a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
    A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
        a time to keep, a time to throw out;
    A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;
        a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
    A time to love, a time to hate;
        a time to go to war, a time to make peace.

What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions? I have seen the kinds of tasks God has given each of us to do to keep one busy, and I know God has made everything beautiful for its time. God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doings of God. I know there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 (The Voice)

Christmastide and New Year Action

The Teacher who scribed our passage tucks in a special nugget for us: We may not understand the doings of God, but we can be joyful, do good, eat and drink, and see the good in all our hard work – all gifts from God. It might be good to write this out and post it alongside your seven questions for yourself as a grounding touchstone for come what may this new year.

Christmastide and New Year Prayer

As I look back on the past and ponder the future, I know there is much I do not understand. May I accept the gifts given to me each day and the experiences that unfold with it. May I find joy in all I undertake, wisdom in the encounters, and peace in the moments. Hold me close to Your heart this New Year. Amen.

The Seventh Day of Christmas and Seven Questions for the New Year

QuestionsQuestions. We all have them. We all ask them. But how many of us really consider asking them of ourselves? Today this Seventh Day of Christmas, we are on the precipice of one year ending and another year beckoning.

Many earnestly begin each new year with a set of resolutions only to find themselves sabotaged before the first week of the year is complete. A whole lot more is involved in fulfilling resolutions than merely stating them or writing them out and posting them on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.

That’s why I like questions. The purpose of questions is to elicit information or raise a doubt about the truth or validity of something. Questions cause us to go deeper and probe, so that we come out better informed or more confident about whatever it is we’re questioning … including our priorities.

Christmastide Scripture

Think carefully about your choices. ~ Haggai 1:5

If you’re like most people I know, you feel pulled in a myriad of directions: full schedules, necessary and worthwhile activities, family, work, friends for starters. And then there’s God. Priorities isn’t a 21st century challenge. It’s was a challenge when Haggai raised it to the first group of exiles returning to their homeland over 2,500 years ago. Priorities we set for ourselves often get lost in the pursuit of other worthwhile activities.

Christmastide Action

These are the seven questions, in no particular order, I am asking myself this year:

1. What is one important thing I will do to improve the quality of my family life this year?

2. What spiritual discipline will I commit to this year?

3. What social issue will I learn more about it this year?

4. What books (besides the Bible, of course) do I want to read this year?

5. What will I simplify in my life this year?

6. What new health habit will I develop this year?

7. What relationship will I cultivate this year?

What are your questions for the year? Post your questions where you will see them every day, preferably in a couple of key locations, to remind yourself of your personal priorities for the new year.

Christmastide Prayer

I am thankful for the close of this year and grateful for all of the lessons of the year. May I be ever open and hopeful going into this new year. I will think carefully about my choices. I will trust Your guidance. I will seek to be empowered by Your Spirit. Amen.

The Sixth Day of Christmas and Top Six Posts

seagull_year6clearI don’t have six geese a-laying, so I thought I’d highlight the top six posts for 2013 on this Sixth Day of Christmas. Saint Sam always reminds me that numbers never lie, so here are the top six posts by the numbers.

Number 6 – An Attitude of Gratitude. I wrote this post two years ago around Thanksgiving. It goes to show that some topics, like gratitude, are timeless. They resonate and remain relevant regardless of when written.

Number 5 – Asking Saves Kids. This one surprised me. I learned about this national day, Asking Saves Kids (ASK), while attending an Organizing for Action event on reducing gun violence. I wrote it as a public service announcement; my code for not being disappointed if my numbers takes a dip. Every blogger has those topics that need to be written, but no one wants to read. Was I wrong! Parents are concerned about firearms in the homes of where their children play. Just one statistic: 80% of the children who are injured or killed in unintentional shootings are shot in their own homes or in the homes of relatives or friends (Pediatrics 2005).

Number 4 – The Gandhi Social Sins Series: 

I grouped them together because if someone read one post, they then read the rest of the posts in the series. Mahatma Gandhi wrote about these seven social sins, or blunders as he called them, in 1925. They were the foundation of my personal Lenten study in 2012. Still relevant, maybe more so, today.

Number 3 – A group of posts about my brother’s death:

My brother died at the end of 2012. Needless to say, 2013 was a tough year. Grief is both personal and universal. Grief can also be healing and divisive. Grief exposes the good, the bad, and the ugly in individuals and families. Our family is no different.

Number 2 – Eternal Scheme Daily Word. My sister gave me a set of “angel cards” when I came out to California for the birth of our youngest granddaughter in 2010. I took that concept and created a devotional based character-type words like beauty, gratitude, integrity. Each word features a beautiful photo taken by my sister or myself, an inspirational quote, a sacred text, an action, and a prayer. Saint Sam wrote an algorithm that generates a randomly selected word with the click of a green button. I love the idea of a randomly given word and beautiful picture to be my thought or spiritual guide for the day. It seems, that others do too.

Number 1 – Gun Deaths Since Newtown. I was so disgusted with Congress’ inability to pass common sense gun legislation in the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, December 14, 2012 – also the same day of my brother’s memorial service, and his was a gun death. I wondered how many had died from gun deaths since Newtown and found Slate magazine’s online graphic that was being crowdsourced to document the real lives lost behind the numbers. For the past year I updated the daily list as a way to honor those who have died from gun violence and to illustrate the enormous public health issue gun violence is in the United States. I know many found my site in their search for more information regarding a loved one’s death. Others emailed with questions, and some in anger, but all came from that raw place of grief. There are a lot of people trying to make sense out of the senselessness of gun violence.

On this Sixth Day of Christmas, I am thankful for you readers and the privilege of sharing my thoughts.

Image credit: Ramu

The Fifth Day of Christmas

saturnseasons_hubble_960It’s the Fifth Day of Christmas and we’re living into the Christmas story. In fact, that is the whole and sole purpose of any and all of the stories of the Bible: as we live into the stories and experiences of our lives, God is available to live into our story and our experience. The caveat is that God is not rude or intrusive, but waits to be invited.

As we saw in the Fourth Day of Christmas and the Massacre of Innocents, there is a messy and painful side of the mystery of God with us in Jesus Christ. I, for one, am grateful that Matthew and other Biblical writers don’t dodge this reality of this shadow side of life. There is a lot in our lives that is not safe and secure. The whole point of God taking on human flesh – the Incarnation – was precisely to be among us, to be in solidarity with all who suffer from the consequences of sin and death that abounds this side of eternity.

Christmastide Scripture

I love our Christmastide Scripture for today. It’s a reminder that when a savior is needed it’s because there is distress and someone is in trouble. God is personally interested and invested, never turning it over to a messenger or angel.

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
    the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
    and the great favor to the house of Israel
that [God] has shown them according to [God’s] mercy,
    according to the abundance of [God’s] steadfast love.
For [God] said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely”;
and [God] became their savior
    in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
    but [God’s] presence that saved them;
in [God’s] love and in [God’s] pity [God] redeemed them;
    [God] lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. ~ Isaiah 63:7-9

Christmastide Action

How have you seen God at work when you have experienced hardship or suffering? What sort of distress might you consider turning over to God?

Christmastide Prayer

On this the Fifth Day of Christmas as I live into my Christmas story, may I be ever mindful that God is waiting and available to be part of my story too. Amen.


Image Credit: R. G. French (Wellesley College) et al., NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team 

The Fourth Day of Christmas

220px-Kerald_(Meister_des_Codex_Egberti)_001It’s the Fourth Day of Christmas. In the midst of all the festivities and feasting we have the Massacre of the Innocents. Yes, you did read that correctly. It used to be people could not read. Now people do not read, so the church does whatever it takes to get in teaching opportunities. (Well, that is a little facetious, but you get my point, even if it is the Fourth Day of Christmas.)

The most evil of the four Herods was king when Jesus was born. He was notoriously ruthless, killing anyone, including three of his own sons, at the mere rumor of threat to his throne. So when the three Magi showed up looking for the newborn king of the Jews whose star they had seen, Herod’s paranoia was on high alert. What? A baby born to be king of the Jews? And since there might have been some lag time between the birth of this baby and him receiving this news, he had every male child under the age of two killed in the area surrounding Bethlehem.

Matthew, the gospel writer whose purpose was to establish the Messiah lineage and  fulfillment of Hebrew prophecies surrounding Jesus, is the one who mentions this horrific event. Even the renowned first century historian Josephus doesn’t record it. Nevertheless, it is consistent with Herod’s personality and behavior.

Christmastide Scripture


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Massacre of the Infants

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” ~ Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18

Christmastide Action

We should not be surprised at the possibility of Herod’s horrific actions. Infanticide and genocide are still carried out today. We’ve all read accounts and seen pictures of the atrocities carried out against humanity today, as well as over the centuries. We cannot, we must not, forget that it has happened, it is happening, and we have in our power – with the help of God – to keep it from happening.

Christmastide Prayer

[Gracious God], receive our prayer of tears and sorrow over those children consumed by a world that holds no regard for them. We pray for children left hungry and thirsty, left to fend for themselves on the streets, left to be abused by poor, twisted souls. In your mercy receive our prayers of intercession for children around the world. Amen. ~ from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

The Third Day of Christmas

Big Blue MarbleIt’s the Third Day of Christmas and most of us have already forgotten Christmas. All of the anticipation and build up to The Magical Day and when it passes we sigh another sigh of relief that we survived. Not only did we survive, many of us are already thrust back into the daily grind of work and laundry, with the little twist of kids home from school. There’s no gradual wind down to Christmas, it’s an abrupt end. You know because you don’t hear carols any longer in stores when exchanging gifts and taking advantage of after-Christmas sales.

Hence, this Third Day of Christmas, we’re going to sing Joy to the WorldI’m thinking about the carol Joy to the World, but Hoyt Axton’s version – “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” – made famous by Three Dog Night will do if you don’t know the hymn. They both make reference to the essence of Psalm 98, our Christmastide Scripture today.

Christmastide Scripture

O sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
    have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
    he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the victory of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands;
    let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity. ~ Psalm 98

Christmastide Action

Isaac Watts, who wrote Joy to the World, was the first hymn-writer who, instead of quoting Scripture directly, wrote lyrics like he would poetry. He was the first to bring original songs written from the Christian experience into worship, a practice that is essential to worship three hundred years later.

Here’s you chance to belt out Joy to the World, whichever version you choose, this Third Day of Christmas.

Christmastide Prayer

May I continue the joy and wonder and noise of Christmas long after the season ends. Amen.

Photo: NASA

The Second Day of Christmas by Jasper Bunny

Jasper FireplaceHappy Second Day of Christmas! I know some people call this Boxing Day, but us Netherlanders (remember I am a Netherland dwarf bunny) call it the Second Day of Christmas. Besides, my Auntie is blogging through the Twelve Days of Christmas so this is much more appropriate. Mostly, I’m just glad I finally get to write! You’d think there was something special about Christmas since I hardly got to write anything at all leading up to it!

Since it is the Second Day of Christmas, did you get your true love two turtle doves? That’s what’s so great about the Twelve Days; each day’s gift is specified for you and you don’t have to rack your little brain for ideas!

Now you all know I’m not the most religious bunny on the planet, so I’m just going to tell you that someone, probably the same person that started the whole thing about seeing Jesus’ face in the clouds, has put religious symbolism with each of the Twelve Days. The First Day of Christmas, True Love, is God. The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments. Personally, since the words were first printed in a children’s book in 1780, it’s more likely a fun culmultive song for the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The other thing about the Twelve Days of Christmas is that there are a whole lot of saint feast days. I guess those Middle Ages people needed an excuse to party hearty. All those religious political power people who liked making up religious rules and regulations probably felt guilty for just partying, so they attached all these religious feast days to sanctify their partying. Personally, I think God gets it. Jesus, who is is whom this season is all about, was Jerusalem’s most popular dinner guest and they all drank wine in those days. I think Jesus liked a good party.

Well, I wasn’t planning to write about all that! I have a whole lot of other good stuff to share and I hope I get another chance before it all dribbles out of my head!

In the meantime, I going watch this video that tells the story of the good King Wenceslaus, which is special for Boxing Day and the Second Day of Christmas, while sitting in front of the fire. That is if it isn’t a spare the air day in my part of California.

Christmas Reinterpreted

Star BubbleHave you ever thought about how you approach Christmas? Are you aware of your own expectations for the holiday? The traditions of what’s always been done and when you move through the motions they just don’t feel right or work anymore anymore? It’s like Christmas past is bumping up against Christmas present and you don’t even want to fathom Christmas future.

Christmas is fraught with both expectations and memories. It’s one of the few holidays where we use the same materials to create a similar play: the Christmas tree, the gifts, the holiday meal, the relatives. The script is always the same. The pressure is always high to get it right. The choices people make never seem any clearer or better. Nothing changes.

Christmas traditions must always be reinterpreted within the context of current circumstances. Divorce, illness, aging, death, moving, children, no children, and a bunch of other possibilities all create a different set of circumstances which must be factored into each current Christmas.

And it happens every year. Each year, Christmas must be reinterpreted.

Christmas Scripture

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. ~ John 1:1-14

John’s Christmas story is a complete reinterpretation of the old, traditional Christmas story that is read every year. There are no heavenly hosts singing, no shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night, no star, no stable and manger, no mother and child. It is only the Word.

John’s reinterpretation of the Christmas story is not so much about the birth of Jesus as it is about the birth of God into the world and God giving birth to the world. It’s about God’s creation of the world and all that is in it. It’s about how in the beginning of time, the Word of God became flesh – God incarnate, God with us – all in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Word becoming a human being – being born of flesh and blood to participate in life, to experience struggles, and the events of daily life – to give us an awareness of a life full of grace and truth.

Because of Jesus our lives can be reinterpreted. Because God has come to us in this way, we can reinterpret our pasts and move toward a life lived in the light of truth and grace rather than a life overshadowed by the darkness of our painful memories and experiences. This is the promise behind this amazing birth.

We can reinterpret, rework, rewrite, experience rebirth of our own lives. The light of Christ shines into our darkness. And the darkness did not, does not, and will not overcome it. Ever.

Merry [reinterpreted] Christmas.

Christmas Action

How are you reinterpreting Christmas this year?

Christmas Prayer

We are the people that walked in darkness.
We are the people who have seen a great light.
We are the people who have dwelt in the land of the shadow of death.
We are the people upon whom has the light shined. Amen.

Photo credit: NASA Astro Pic of the Day from Chandra X-ray Observatory. This cosmic bubble lies some 5,200 light-years away and covers slightly more sky than a Full Moon. 

Family Christmas 2013

Fam Christmas 2013Family Christmas for the Peterson-Fouquet-Hokama family arrived at the end of Advent this year. Every year we celebrate Christmas together as a family some weekend prior to Christmas. We started this tradition when I was still in church ministry. Christmas Eve is THE biggest church event of the year and I was obviously not available. My sister is a nurse and often was scheduled to work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. All of us with families had multiple commitments, so gathering at an off-time allowed all of us, for the most part, to be together.

Saint Sam and I hosted Family Christmas this year. I planned to continue writing and posting my Advent blog posts real-time, as opposed to writing and scheduling them to publish. After all, our faith and spiritual practices are lived out through regular life. Well, I was able to write and publish a post the first day everyone was here. Now they are all gone and here I am, alone with my computer and my thoughts. It is Christmas Eve.

It was truly an awesome blessing hosting Family Christmas. We have loved being closer geographically to my family this year. Since my youngest son Luke and his family were staying with us, my parents stayed with my sister. My parents have stayed with us so many times this past year, they now have their own chores. As I tell anyone who stays at Chateau Fouquet, you get treated as a newcomer the first time you come and stay. After that, nos casa y tu casa (Our house is your house. I need to learn the French version!)

It is impossible to capture all the precious moments so I will just share a few that I’m thinking about right now.

Details matter because they are part of the magical moments. When everyone was here for Thanksgiving, our three granddaughters left little surprises for us to be discovered after they left. We found they placed flowers where my brother died outside. They also hid flowers in the Christmas tree. Angels were placed at each of their favorite places throughout our house. Anticipating their arrival, I choose each of their favorite angels and placed them on special doilies in their room. That was the very first thing they noticed when they put their things in their room. Seeing the delight, surprise, and wonder in their eyes was priceless.

Sparkle magnifies everything. We don’t go overboard with gifts. The adults draw names for one other adult. Most of the gifts under the tree are for the kids, but we still don’t go overboard. My mission is to make each package I wrap a gift of anticipation itself. A beautifully wrapped gift, no matter what it’s price tag, means it is given with love and chosen carefully. Sparkly tulle and a hand-crafted bow are my secret.

Family traditions are treasured. My grandmother would always make cinnamon rolls, fudge, and divinity for Christmas. You can imagine what a treat that was for us when we were children! Since my son’s family and I are all gluten and lactose- free I tackle the gluten-free cinnamon rolls and my Mom makes the regular cinnamon rolls. After making them for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t sure I would be up to it for Christmas. My oldest granddaughter, age 8, must have intuited my thoughts because she asked if there would be lots of cinnamon rolls when they came for Family Christmas. That’s when you know it’s a tradition. Besides, cinnamon is good for your bones!

Trust your meat thermometer. Traditionally we have prime rib for our Family Christmas dinner. We are a family of carnivores, but not everyone likes their meat rare like me. My roasting pan barely fit in my vintage 1967 avocado green oven. Two MIT educated men help calculate the exact and necessary roasting time. But, when a thermometer check was performed an hour before the calculated completion time, it indicated the roast had reached its ideal internal temperature. A great discussion took place as I took it out as to whether we should trust the time or the thermometer. I made an executive chef decision to trust my tools. It was beyond perfect. Yum-yum!

It’s never too early to wake up in the morning. Especially when three precious little girls are climbing into bed with you. Their father told them they have to wait until 7:00 to come in. They listen for the clock chimes to strike 7:00, but what can it hurt to peek in a little earlier on their way back from the bathroom? They are so excited we are already awake because then it’s okay for them to come in before 7:00. Those moments being all snuggled together are some of the most important conversations of the day.

The Christmas story is our story. My son and his family may not attend church or follow any prescribed doctrinal tradition, but that doesn’t mean pieces of what he was introduced to in his upbringing are missing. They do not have a traditional nativity scene in their home, so our nativity set is a novelty. They love playing with it, weaving tidbits of the traditional Christmas story with their own stories. Isn’t that what God intended when God entered into the human experience? To become a part of our story and invite us becoming a part of God’s story?

The birth of a baby. From nowheresville Nazareth. A refugee in an occupied country. Born to a mother who was pregnant before she was married. A simple carpenter agreed to help raise him, later to become apprenticed as a carpenter himself. A family who struggled to understand him and his purpose. Loved and reviled because he didn’t meet people’s expectations. Friend to the oppressed and marginalized. God with us.

Aliya, age 3, put everyone to bed for the night.
Aliya, age 3, put everyone to bed for the night.

December 22 ~ God with Us

Advent 4Advent is a time of waiting and wondering – this God with us. We are at the point in Advent when we are looking back and looking forward at the same time. Matthew tells the story surrounding Mary’s pregnancy and the difficulties presented in her relationship with her fiancé, Joseph. It is in a dream that both revelation and resolution come.

Dreams are often discounted, ignored or forgotten in our culture. But in our Advent Scripture passage, and elsewhere in Matthew’s narrative, dreams are often a basic source of revelation from God about matters of great import. Somehow, when our active minds are stilled, the fragments of anxious thoughts and feelings and what we have learned of God all come together in a compelling harmony that offers a living word from the living God.

This God is with us – the One who speaks to us by whatever means available to show us the next step. This God is with us – the One who invites a respectable man to receive a child not his and the child’s pregnant mother as his spouse. This God is with us – the One who chose to become vulnerable to the decision of a man thus placed in a difficult predicament. This God is with us – One who trusted Joseph to choose love and life over honor.

Advent Scripture

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. ~ Matthew 1:18-25

Advent Action

There is a practice in Yoga, and a variety of stress therapies, of tightening every muscle in your body for 30 seconds to a minute, and then quickly releasing the tension. The Advent Action will be a variation of this practice:

Stand; take a deep breath and tighten all of your muscles. As you are tightening, become aware of everything that is tightening in around you and all that you want to do about it. Then, as you release the tightening, commit all of those things and you bodies to God.

Advent Prayer

In the closing days of Advent, may I be ever more aware of You being this God who is with me. You are this God who trusts me and makes Yourself vulnerable to me, trusting me with choices that are love and honor for myself and those I love around me. Amen.


December 21 ~ Nativity Scene or Reality?

Advent 3I stood in front of the nativity scene and realized there was nothing realistic at all about the scene. The figures had alabaster white complexions. Mary and Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes! Everyone has a beatific smile as if they haven’t a care in the world. Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus are all in royal blue robes which are what nobility would wear. I guess it’s called a nativity scene because nativity reality would be too much for people to bear.

A young girl, pregnant by another than the one she is engaged to. Traveling 70 miles to register in their ancestral towns for a census required by the occupying Romans at the end of her pregnancy. Then, having to give birth without her mother or even family women there to help. Birth is messy by itself, but a first birth, not at home or even in a decent dwelling? Not a beatific moment.

Joseph has signed on to stick with Mary, but only because he too had a visitor. He must have been confused and angry finding himself now stuck in these circumstance, but to have to help with the birth definitely not knowing what to do? Not how he expected to start his married life.

Lives of real people are not picturesque or sanitized. They aren’t plays or pictures. They are the daily, hourly, moments of real-ness … of hope and fear, beauty and filth, belonging and alienated. The reality of the nativity is that God chose to enter into our experience – with all that comes with it. God never leaves us alone or abandoned, even as we wait.

Real people in real circumstances with a real God. That’s nativity reality.

December 20 ~ Sanitized Christmas

Advent 3There is nothing sanitized about Christmas. At least not in the Christmas story I know.

My [non-religious] sister came over for dinner last night. She is my most faithful blog follower and usually reposts most of what I write. She calls my Advent series the Adventure and was telling one of her friends that “we’re getting to the good stuff.” I bust out laughing! Even our outlaw family drama has nothing on Mary’s reality drama!

My sister is right: we are getting to the good stuff. And it’s not Thomas Kincade lit cottages and coziness. It’s not Away in the Manager sweetness either. It’s certainly not Silent Night “all is calm.” Nope. It’s not the sanitized, saintly version we celebrate with peace, comfort, and belonging. Instead, it’s a story of fear, pain, and alienation. That is the good stuff God knows something about.

Advent Scripture

I’ve decided to mix it up a bit with Amy Grant’s classic Breath of Heaven. The pictures throughout the song are from the movie The Nativity.

Advent Action

It may be hard to find a nativity scene, but someone in your neighborhood must have a plastic replica in their yard! Your Advent Adventure Action is to visit the nativity scene. I’d love to hear your thoughts or experience. I’ll share mine tomorrow.

Advent Prayer

Breath of heaven, hold me together.
Breath of heaven, help me be strong.
Help me be.
Help me.


December 19 ~ The Double Standard: Pregnant Mary and a Pregnant Modern Girl

Advent 3The double standard is alive and well during the Christmas season. I just returned from my first shopping venture in a shopping mall in many, many years. It still is not a pleasant experience. What made it even more unpleasant was overhearing a conversation between two Christian women. I think they didn’t get the memo about God mixing everything up in the birth of Jesus. If their judgmental conversation was any indication of the status of their hearts, they are missing out on the joy and good will toward all that usually softens most hearts.

Apparently, a prominent church family’s teenage daughter is pregnant. If that wasn’t bad enough for them, they are even more appalled that she is considering an abortion. Now, “she is going to be a murderer on top of being a girl with no moral compass whatsoever. And what does that say about her family? Should her father really be in a position of leadership in the church?”

I wanted to throw up.

Advent Scripture

More than thousand years ago, another teenage girl found herself pregnant.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. ~ Luke 1:26-38

Advent Action

Double standard is defined as “a rule or principle that is unfairly applied in different ways to different people or groups.” We know double standards exist everywhere. God, however, doesn’t have double standards and has been working through humanity for over two thousand years to eradicate the double standard.

Pregnant, unwed Mary is key to the Christmas story. What about this modern-day teenage girl who was the subject of gossip? What about her?

Advent Prayer

Sometimes I forget that the Christmas story is rooted in the real lives of real people. God inserted God’s self into the nitty gritty of their lives. I know I’m supposed to want God in the nitty gritty of my life, but do I? Help my ponder that in my heart. Amen.

December 18 ~ What to Do About Pregnant Mary

Advent 3I’ve been thinking about Mary this week. Actually, I’ve been thinking about girls who are in Mary’s position, but haven’t had the good fortune of being visited by the angel Gabriel. And I’ve been thinking of the wisdom and insight of Mary in what is known as Mary’s Song of Praise.

Let’s just consider her wisdom and insight today.

Advent Scripture

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” ~ Luke 1:44-55

This is Mary’s response to the deeply moving encounters she’s had with the angel Gabriel and her cousin Elizabeth. (Here is the whole context.) Her powerful poetry isn’t simply religious, although she does draw upon a personal faith. It also has not-so-subtle social and political overtones. It speaks about a great reversal, almost like a social, economic, and political revolution.

Mary’s neighbors and country-people knew exactly to what she was referring. The Jewish people were oppressed and living under the occupation of the Roman Empire. To speak of a King who will demote the powerful and rich and elevate the poor and humble meant only one thing: God was readying and moving toward setting them free!

Advent Action

It’s hard to imagine a young woman – a girl really, since Mary was probably about 14 years old! – speaking with such wisdom and insight. But to get the full impact of of Mary’s situation, her words, and the context in which Jesus came to be born, we must immerse ourselves into her historical and cultural context. What do you imagine it to be? What would Mary’s experience translate to today?

Advent Prayer

I am humbled and amazed when I think of Mary’s courage and fortitude in the midst of her difficult circumstances. May I too be open and receptive to the bigger picture when presented with things I don’t understand. Amen.

December 17 ~ The Season of Advent is also the Season of The Nutcracker

Nutcracker Keana 2013The Nutcracker ballet is synonymous with the holiday season. Nutcracker performances start about the time Advent begins and end about the time Advent ends. Probably the only reason Santa doesn’t have more competition from the Nutcracker is because it is a ballet (smile).

Our oldest granddaughter recently danced in her first Nutcracker. She is relatively new to ballet, so to audition and receive even a small part, was momentous. It was an enormous undertaking for her parents with rehearsals, costumes, makeup, and performances on top of an already busy family life. Her sisters are already looking forward to when they are old enough to audition.

The Nutcracker is like a rite of passage for girls in ballet. It’s often the first and only serious ballet they will ever perform. Most girls take ballet classes for a few years before moving on to other activities or having to drop out because of the financial commitments. It’s expensive enough for one child, much less multiple children in a household.

Keana has blazed the trail for her two younger sisters. I’m sure we have many, many years of The Nutcracker ahead of us, along with the wonder of anticipating their roles and experiences.

Advent Scripture

Advent is a sort of rite of passage too. Auditions and rehearsals prepare the dancers for their performances and our spiritual preparation and reflection prepare us for Christmas. We may know the story of Christmas and have our own traditions we do every year, but it is making opportunities to reflect and ponder what the coming of the Christ Child means to us that makes it truly meaningful.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God. ~ Isaiah 35:1-2

Advent Action

Expectantly waiting for the coming of Christ in your life may not be as exciting as anticipating the Sugar Plum Fairy, but we we can at least relate to the anticipation the beauty of blooms and blossoms after a drought and birdsong after a long , cold winter.

What are you anticipating, from the deep wells of your being, this coming Christmas season?

Advent Prayer

As I get more and more caught up in the traditions of the holiday season, may I also take time to reflect, wonder, and enjoy the little gifts presented in this Advent season. Amen.


December 16 ~ The Unexpected

Advent 3Jesus didn’t follow John the Baptizer’s plan for ministry success. He didn’t even subscribe to the same mission statement as the other religious leaders. John told his followers the axe was lying at the root, ready to chop down the unworthy trees. He had promised the chaff would burn with unquenchable fire. But Jesus didn’t seem to be pointing the finger of judgment. There was no smoldering woodpile of sinners.

This must have meant more than mild disappointment for John. He was sitting in prison because he had dared to stand up and challenge King Herod for Herod’s marriage to his sister-in-law. If Jesus were looking for some chaff to burn, he could start by lighting a match to King Herod, and get John out of prison.

Like John, each of us has our own expectations of the kind of Messiah we want. We don’t want a Jesus that does something unexpected. Some may want a fire-and-brimstone Jesus who points out where everyone else is wrong. Some want an advocate Jesus who will champion our favorite cause and demonstrate God is on our side of the issue. Maybe we want the gentle shepherd Jesus who will not demand anything of us, only assuring us the we are loved no matter what.

Advent Scripture

Sooner or later our expectations of Jesus will collide with the reports of what he is doing either in Scripture or in the world through his followers. And it will be unexpected, like this:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ~ Matthew 11:28-30.

Advent Action

Because we’re surprised by the unexpected, could it be that you’ve counted on your own version of what to expect? Like those who have made Jesus into an idol of their own making?

Advent Prayer

There is so much freedom in letting go of the expected. Wonder is allowed to percolate up when we let go of the outcome. Awe happens when we experience the unexpected. May that happen to me. Amen.

December 15 ~ Not What Was Expected

Advent 3Have you ever invested yourself in something, only to find out it wasn’t what you expected? It happens all the time, doesn’t it? I remember the first time I saw Plymouth Rock, the famous Plymouth Rock of pilgrim fame. I was expecting a huge landmark-type rock jutting up out of the Atlantic that the Mayflower would anchor near. I was not expecting a small boulder – if you could even call it that -smaller than some rocks we have in our yard!

Our Advent Scripture harkens back to our old-on-the-fringe-of-society friend, John the Baptizer. At this point in his life, he is languishing in prison, and has been since the shortly after Jesus began his public ministry. It seems no one likes to be called an incestuous adulterer, especially the ruler Herod, so he put John in prison.

John has lots of time to think about his life and he’s been hearing a lot about his cousin, Jesus. In fact, he’s beginning to wonder if he missed it about Jesus. He was waiting for the Messiah and had even preached all about him. John was expecting someone who was going to be to a little more kingly, a political ruler setting people free from oppression and all that. Instead, he’s his cousin Jesus socializing as one of Jerusalem’s most popular dinner guests, healing people and talking about the poor and meek being blessed.

Since he can’t go ask Jesus directly about all this, he sends his disciples.

Advent Scripture

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ~ Matthew 11:2-11.

Advent Action

Our focus for this third week of Advent will be all about our expectations and God’s answers to those expectations. The answer Jesus gives to John’s disciples is almost a non-answer. He asks the disciples of John to look around them and see what’s happening—blind people seeing, lame people walking, deaf people hearing, lepers being cleansed, dead people being raised, poor people getting good news for a change. Tell John what’s happening, he says. Let what’s happening be the answer. Not the answer John was expecting, I’m sure.

What is your expectation for God’s role in your life or our world?

Advent Prayer

As I look around and see what’s happening, help me be open to being used by God in God’s answer to the questions being asked. Amen.


December 14 ~ What Does Tragedy Change?

two candlesLast year on December 14, my family was wrapped up in the memorial service for my brother, himself a victim of gun violence. Family from Oregon had arrived the day before. My youngest son and his family came in from Fresno. My parents had arrived the day they learned their son was gone. Sam and I arrived earlier in the week from Texas. We were all navigating the unchartered territory of grief and disbelief.

It was the next day before I even heard about what happened a continent away in a Connecticut elementary school. A tragedy occurred that no one should ever have to face. Lives forever changed by tragedy; citizens shocked that gun violence would once again claim the lives of children and teachers. An occurrence that, as unbelievable as it was, was becoming much too familiar.

While families and friends were frozen in shock, lawmakers immediately vowed to make the changes necessary to make our schools and neighborhoods safe. A year and over 35,000 gun deaths later, they have failed. In fact, more gun restrictions were loosened than tightened!

Advent Scripture

It was into this kind of darkness and because of this kind of darkness that God stepped into human history in the birth of Christ; to shine a new light and light a new path. In the meantime, we wait and listen and turn to God.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
    when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent forever,
    find refuge under the shelter of your wings. ~ Psalm 61:1-4

Advent Action

Guns are a public health issue like wearing a seatbelt and not driving when you’ve been drinking or text while driving. Keeping this relevant to commemorate lives lost because of gun violence: Do you really need a gun? If your answer is ‘Yes’, you must write out your response, including why, and post it on your refrigerator in order for it to count as your Advent Action.

Advent Prayer

While I wait in this season of Advent, help me to look into my heart’s recesses for motive and intention in the things I choose to do. May we be motivated to truly change our ways as a way of redeeming tragedy. Amen.

December 13 ~ O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

two candlesO Come, O Come, Emmanuel is Advent’s most famous hymn. Even us low-Protestants know it (smile), which cannot be said of most Advent hymns. It’s low, haunting tune resonates. The words woven from the rich texts of the Old Testament telling the story of “God with us”.

The words to this compelling hymn were penned by some anonymous monk during the Dark Ages. Civilization was despairing, sliding further and further into chaos, ignorance, pestilence, and warfare. The Dark Ages were the bleakest of wildernesses, resembling more a circle of hell than a wilderness.

The Bible was not accessible to most people in the Dark Ages. The monk who composed this song must have had a full and rich knowledge of Scripture.  The song is built on phrases from Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah. For those living in Medieval Europe who did not read or have access to any Bible, this song was a teaching tool, expressing the hope, truth, and fulfillment of prophecies in the birth of Christ.

Advent Scripture

Here are is the English translation to this hymn with biblical references:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
(This first verse appears to be based on Psalm 137 where the people of Judah are lamenting their captivity in babylon.)

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
shall come to thee o Israel!
(The text is based on the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel, God with us. Also referenced in Matthew 1:23.)

O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain.
(The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ~ Isaiah 11:2.)

O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe. Refrain.
(From Exodus 19:16-20 when Moses brings the Israelites to meet God at Mt. Sinai and God summons Moses to meet on the mountain.)

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain.
(Another reference from Isaiah 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”)

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh. Refrain.
(“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” ~ from Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7)

O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Refrain.
(From Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after the death of Moses, Numbers 24:17).

O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace. Refrain.

Who knew that words penned before 800 A.D. would stretch across the ages and speak to the hearts of those in the 21st century?

Advent Action

Advent Prayer

O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.

December 12 ~ The Righteousness Wilderness

two candlesWhen exactly did the righteousness war on Christmas begin? You know. When the righteous declared you were censoring Christmas if you said “Happy Holidays” and bemoaned that traditional Christmas carols were deleted from the mall Musak.

Righteousness has nothing to do with saying “Merry Christmas”, putting up a nativity scene in the town square, or singing carols anywhere. Righteousness, however, does have a lot to do with right behavior.

Advent Scripture

As Isaiah continues his vision of the peaceful – and righteous – kingdom on earth:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins. ~ Isaiah 11:4-5

Advent Action

Is this righteousness?

Supporting overspending and mass consumption messaged by the spend, spend, spend culture? (Americans will spend more than $450 billion on Christmas.)

Creating Hallmark moments instead of a hallmark lifestyle. (Searching for sentiment versus a distinctive life of excellence.)

Equating love with the price of the gift. (He loves me. He loves me not.)

Dropping off a bag of canned goods for the Food Pantry with no thought to the hungry the rest of the year. (The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in eight worldwide were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012.)

Worrying about finding the best bargain when millions worldwide are without clean water, medicine, or are homeless. (There are 22,000 homeless children in New York City alone.)

Buying cheap products without concern about the person who made it, their working conditions, their pay, or even their age. (An estimated 211 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working around the world, including the United States. 120 million are working full-time to support their families.)

Advent Prayer

Before I point the righteousness finger at someone else, help me to first look into my own heart. Amen.

December 11 ~ Detours in the Wilderness

two candlesDetours. That long or roundabout route to avoid something OR to visit somewhere along the way. Most of the time we see detours as a nuisance, a road closed for someone else’s convenience – like the pothole fillers. Sometimes detours are our own because we don’t know where we’re going and our GPS routes us according to its software. And then are the detours we choose because we want to see or visit something specifically. Those are the spontaneous detours that usually delight and surprise us. And we’re glad we took them.

I like to think of Advent as a delightful detour to Christmas. It’s a time to listen; a time to enjoy the scenery. It’s a time to pay attention to the guideposts along the way and look for something new as you wander through the wilderness. There is beauty, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to be found even in the most desolate of places.

Advent Scripture

Isaiah painted a picture of a peaceful kingdom when the people would return to their homeland from their detour of exile, and God would dwell among them.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear; ~ Isaiah 11:1-3

Advent Action

The rest of that Isaiah passage mentions wolves, leopards, lions, bears, asps. Oh my! A reminder that there are dangers in the wilderness. As one Eternal Scheme reader reminded me, the holidays are full of landmines. And indeed they are.

How can you make your Advent a delightful detour that is full of wonder and opportunities to listen?

Advent Prayer

I know You are here with me on this detour I am taking. While wandering, may I discover more of who I am, where I am going, who I am with, and what I must do. Thank you for the wonders along the detour. Amen.


December 10 ~ Justice Not Only Up to God

two candlesJustice is a big reason God broke into human history in the person of Jesus. It wasn’t the first time God called on a person to do something to accomplish God’s purposes. God used Moses to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and exile and through the wilderness detour into the Promised Land. God later used Jesus to raise up a movement to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. But here we are, still in the wilderness.

Just as the Israelites couldn’t blame God for wandering in the wilderness for forty years, we cannot blame God for our own wilderness experience. We are still wandering in the wilderness because we have failed to do our part of justice. Certainly not a message we want to hear during the festive holiday season!

Justice is based on a fair-minded, equitable system for all members of the community. Justice does not guarantee equal outcomes, but it does promise equal opportunity, that everyone deserves the opportunity to walk out the wilderness, not because they were born into a wealth or privilege, but because of their effort in pursuing the opportunities available.

The opportunities available in just the United States are in peril when:

  • Productivity goes up 90-percent but the average income increases only 8-percent in the past 35 years.
  • The top 10-percent take home half of our income. CEOs earn 273 times more than the average worker.
  • A family in the top 1-percent has a net worth 288 times the average family.
  • 1 in 6 Americans experience food insecurity, meaning they miss a meal because there is not enough food.
  • A general overview of household income in the U.S.

Justice is access to a way out of poverty: affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, and food. A child born into the top 20-percent has a 2 in 3 chance of staying near the top. A child born in the lower 20-percent has a 1 in 20 chance of making it to the top and is 10 times more likely to remain in the bottom 20-percent … and it’s not because they are lazy, are having more children, abuse drugs and alcohol more, and want to stay on welfare.

Advent Scripture

Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
    and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the needy,
    and crush the oppressor. ~ Psalm 72:1-4

Advent Action

Celebrating Advent is to remind us of the glowing vision of God’s righteousness and justice, and to inspire us to join it here and now. God, through Jesus, began a new way of relating to the world. God’s justice and righteousness call for all of our relationships to change. God isn’t calling us to be like John the Baptizer, but does challenge us each individually to consider what our role might be. Well?

Advent Prayer

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to consider justice and even more confusing to know who to listen to or what to do. When that happens, may I be reminded of the simple Golden Rule; treat others the way I want to be treated. Forgive me when my response to human suffering is making sure it happens to someone else somewhere else. Amen.

December 9 ~ Hope in Exile

two candlesExile is nothing new. All throughout history, and certainly today in most of the war-torn areas in Africa and the Middle East, people have been forced into exile or have fled for safety, finding themselves exiled from their native countries. I think of exile as the ultimate wilderness experience. I can’t even fathom what it’s like to be uprooted from everything familiar and thrust into a completely foreign country or refugee camp with barely enough to survive.

During the exile, God’s exiled people longed for freedom. The psalms from their sacred scriptures began to take on new meaning as they looked forward to a coming ruler from the line of King David who would usher in an eternal kingdom and perfect peace. That hope was fulfilled in Jesus and that’s why the earliest followers went back on these scriptures time and again.

Advent Scripture

The entire Psalm 72 can be read here. My favorite section from this Psalm is:

For [God] delivers the needy when they call,
    the poor and those who have no helper.
[God] has pity on the weak and the needy,
    and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence [God] redeems their life;
    and precious is their blood in [God’s] sight. ~ Psalm 72:12-14

While exile may not be avoided or may be beyond someone’s control, this passage is designed to give hope to those in exile; they are not abandoned and not forgotten by God.

Advent Action

While most of us will never experience true exile, from time to time we do find ourselves in a wilderness of sorts. How have you kept hope when in the wilderness?

Advent Prayer

Just as You heard the cries of one in the wilderness centuries ago, may You still hear my small cries when I am in my own wilderness. May I know Your presence is with me. Amen.

December 8 ~ Oh No! Not the Wilderness!

two candlesComfort, warfare, iniquity, wilderness, prepare. That’s how Handel’s oratorio Messiah begins. It’s Messiah season and a good time to reacquaint yourself with the words of this beloved masterpiece. The oratorio covers the purpose of the Messiah from beginning to end, starting with the wilderness.

Now who is the most famous ancient, wilderness dude you can think of? You got it: John the Baptizer. John is all about wilderness. He lived in the wilderness. He subsisted on a wilderness diet. He wore wilderness clothes that made the thrift store clothing look like haute couture. He was the original fire-and-brimstone preacher, taking over where the Old Testament prophets left off. Makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would listen to him, but they did!

Advent Scripture

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” ~ Matthew 3:1-6, 11

The only good thing about being in the wilderness is the exodus out of the wilderness! That’s our theme for this week. Think of it as a nice diversion from all those wacky holiday songs about the reindeer running over grandma.

Advent Action

Pull out your favorite recording of the Messiah, or you can listen here. Fear not. The part that relates to today’s post is in the beginning, right after the overture.

Advent Prayer

Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art.
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart! ~ Charles Wesley, 1744.

December 7 ~ Discovering Advent by Jasper Bunny

Jasper and CordsDiscovery is like an epiphany. (I now know it’s Advent and Epiphany comes in January.) I have been a very busy bunny discovering all sorts of things! I discovered new places in my bunny territory. I discovered that I’m creative. And I discovered Advent.

You can probably tell by the picture the new place and creativity I discovered. Everyone had gone to bed. My kitty siblings get to sleep upstairs in a cozy bed with flannel sheets with our human Mama. I, on the other hand, have to stay in the same old downstairs. Most of the time I don’t mind too much because they all sleep and nighttime is my most creative time. It’s actually kinda nice not having all those other beasts around.

I was starting to get complacent. That is never a good sign for anyone, bunny or human, so I decided to explore the outer edges of my confinement. I’d been practicing moving things around and testing my strength with my house and litter box. I was able to move my fence and discovered a whole corner of the room I hadn’t explored!

Oh my! A bunny’s delight! Cords!! Lots of cords! Not only were there lots of cords, there was a virgin territory of carpet I hadn’t explored. I was is bunny paradise! I got busy because my Mama gets up at 4:30 to go save lives as a nurse at the hospital and I had an idea she would make me leave my new playground. (How do we know these things?!?)

Luckily for all of us, it’s Advent. We are not a formal, religious household and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in this house who didn’t know about Advent. My Mama says she leaves all that up to her sister.

 Advent Scripture

Then, oh then, a tiny shoot cultivated and nurtured by the Eternal will emerge new and green, promising beauty and glory. And it will be a resting place, protected from the heat of the day, a place of shelter and retreat amid storms and rain. ~ Isaiah 4:2, 6

Anyway, I’m discovering that Advent gives us hope and allows us to begin again in a new way. I also discovered there is a God (Yes. I did not get made into a rabbit glove for my misdeeds.) and God fulfills God’s promise of constant presence, provision, and protection. I experienced God’s protection first-hand because I didn’t get fried when I chewed on all those cords. My Mama says it’s because they were unplugged, but that could have been God’s presence, provision and protection; my discovery, expressing my creativity as a creature of God, the unplugged cords, and living to see another day!

Advent Action

This Advent stuff is new to me, but it has got me to thinking. How do you see God’s presence, provision, and protection in your own life?

Action Prayer

Thank you, God, that I can discover new things about myself and You every day. Amen.

December 6 ~ One Year Anniversary

Dec2Today is the one year anniversary when we learned my brother, Vic,  had taken his own life. It’s been a rough year. Death is inevitable. Grief is necessary. Time tempers the pain. Deep reflection heals. Everything changes.

The coroner told my sister, Janet, when he arrived at my brother’s house that Vic most likely died on December 2. Janet, Sam and I had our own little memorial this December 2. We wanted to honor him and acknowledge the sacred place he chose. We burned some sage, scattered a few of his ashes, and shared some quiet thoughts under the stars. Janet and I were surprised that we remained dry-eyed! It hasn’t always been like that this past year. And then we laughed as we recalled some of our adult escapades, which is exactly what we’d be doing if Vic was physically present.

Grief is an interesting phenomena. The trauma of loss is so great that our psyche shuts down, something like going into shock – like the physical body does when traumatized – to give it time to absorb the impact and reality of death. It’s like realizing you’ve been holding your breath.

For me, Advent is like that. You’re settled in your seat. You’ve looked over the program. The concertmaster comes on stage signalling the musicians to tune to his violin. Then the conductor comes on stage to applause. Everything quiets as she turns to the orchestra and raises her baton. And then you realize you’ve been holding your breath. Advent is the name of that moment.

Advent Scripture

There’s a wonderful phrase tucked into only a few places in the Bible.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent [God’s] Son, born of a woman.
~ Galatians 4:4

I believe there’s a fullness of time moment for each of us. One thing I’ve come to understand through the passage of this last year is that my brother had his own sense of his fullness of time. I don’t need to, or may not understand it. I don’t need to, or may not be able to make sense of why. It’s not even my place to make judgements or excuses or apologies. The fullness of his time had come.

Advent Action

We are never prepared for unexpected, horrifying, accidental, or much-too-soon death. Even when someone has had a long, full life, we’re not ready to let them go from us. And there are no shortcuts through grief. When going through your first anniversary of a loved one’s death, when do you realize you’ve been holding your breath?

Advent Prayer

Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears. ~ Psalm 39:4-4, 12


I’ve been holding my breath for one year. It’s time to breathe again.

December 5 ~ Pennies for Heaven

I was in Home Goods looking for a roasting pan for my 20-pound turkey. Since I hate to shop, I am very focused on getting what’s on my list and out of the store as quickly as possible. Surprisingly for the week before Thanksgiving, it wasn’t very busy in the store. Not long after I started my hunt, the Christmas music was interrupted by, “Thank you to the angel at register 4 for her very generous donation of $5. We have the best friends who are going to make a real difference for Kiley at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.” Well, I thought, it is the season for giving. I guess everyone is getting in on the action and I went back to hunting for a roasting pan.

Advent Scripture

[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” ~ Luke 21:1-4 

While the religious elite were keeping tabs on who was giving what, Jesus’ ears perked up to the tink, tink of the two pennies the little old lady dropped into the donation box. The cockles of Jesus’ heart was warmed by the sacrifice of love and her hope that her tiny gift would make a difference to someone with greater need.

Sacrifice isn’t something we like to talk about even if we’ve been sacrificing because of tough economic times. Many of us have already been counting our pennies for things like food and heat and fuel. We’d love to be able to be generous again, able to donate to our favorite charities who are facing tougher challenges because of the struggling economy and so many un-or underemployed. And when we do give, it feels like our small pittance isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever.

Times are tough. If you are trying to figure out how you’re going to manage this season, you’re not alone. If you’re trying to find the balance between giving and surviving, you’re not alone. If you are trying to scrape together your pennies to share hope and joy with others, you are not alone. God sees what you are doing in secret and will multiply your sacrifice with the sacrifice of others for greater blessing and love.

In the 20 minutes I was in Home Goods, lots of angels donated $5 or less because the last amount I heard when I was at the register was $1,000.

Advent Action

Your Advent adventure for today is to scout out or act on an opportunity to give. You might only have two pennies, but shared together with all the other pennies in the Salvation Army ringer’s bucket, you know you are making a difference to others in greater need. Oh, and if you think about it, let me know how it goes!

Advent Prayer

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by my need and the needs of others. I wonder how any sacrifice I make will make any real difference in my life, much less the lives of others. Help me to be thankful for what I do have and may I be open to being a blessing to others. Amen.

December 4 ~ Death, Resurrection and Advent

We usually decorate for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. The family gathered at our house for Thanksgiving and our granddaughters were so excited that we were putting up our tree. They’d never seen our tree or ornaments or decorations.

Of course, we didn’t get everything decorated. After they went to bed, I unpacked my various nativity sets and set them up. The next morning when they got up they discovered the figures of Mary holding baby Jesus, Joseph, the shepherds and their animals, angels, and the three wise men and camel. They were amazed.

The wonder of three little girls – ages 3, 6, and 8 – was like Christmas for me! They had questions and their own stories about the people. The connection clicked between the nativity set representing the Christmas story and the Advent calendar revealing little snippets of the same story.

We collected the angel figures I had throughout the house to add to the nativity scene. That sparked a conversation about death. Of course, my brother who died about this time last year was often in our conversation throughout Thanksgiving, and the girls wanted to know where he died, and about the angels, and Jesus, and death, and life after death.

Advent seems like an odd time to talk about death and resurrection, but then part of the mystery of God is how it all comes together in its own purposeful way.

Advent Scripture

Jesus said to them, “Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Now [God] is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to [God] all of them are alive.” ~ Luke 20:36, 38 

A group of religious leaders who did not believe in resurrection came to test Jesus. They wanted to pick apart the “hows” of the resurrection in their desire to know and control. I love his answer which is our Advent Scripture above. God is God of the living, and all are alive. His answer was more than the religious leaders could or wanted to get their heads around! The whole passage is here and I encourage you to check it out to get the context.

That is so like God! Invite the questions, listen to the intent, and then frame the answer as a clue to peek still further into the mystery.

That’s why children are so wondrous. There is so much they’re discovering and learning, and making connections between what they’re discovering and learning. We learned that about Keana who was 7 years-old when she shared at my brother’s service. We saw that over Thanksgiving weekend when she and her 6 year-old sister, Maia, asked where my brother died, and then later found flowers from the yard and placed them in the spot where my sister found my brother. I saw that in their play with the nativity set and angels. Their Christmas story included birth and resurrection and a new life in heaven.

I think they got it right.

Advent Action

What new insight about Advent or Christmas is swirling around inside you?

Advent Prayer

Help me enjoy the wonder in waiting. Help me see the clues discovered on my path. Help me peek further into the mystery that is life. Amen.

December 3 ~ Swords into Plowshares

I think of Advent as an in-between time. Advent is in-between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Doctrinally it’s the time in-between the first coming and the second coming of the Messiah. Advent symbolizes the time in-between the Kingdom of God being at hand and preparing for the Kingdom of God. The Church sure can make something intended to be simple very complicated without much effort!

The prophet Isaiah had a vision that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.” In other words, since there is no longer a need for swords, iron smiths would refashion swords into plows. Spears would be remade into pruning hooks.

And why not? Why couldn’t instruments of war be destroyed and remade into tools for agriculture? Why couldn’t military installations be used to solved the world’s housing crisis? Why couldn’t military bases be turned into summer and science camps for children? Nuclear fission projects that were accelerated for World War II weapons needs have been repurposed for civilian use in generating electricity and medical radiopharmaceuticals.

Advent Scripture

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more. ~ Isaiah 2:4

Advent isn’t just the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas or us marking time until we can open gifts under the Christmas tree. It’s the time of waiting and preparing for the kingdom of God on earth. It’s a time of wondering and pondering how the truths of Christ coming and coming again, of being here in our midst are lived out practically in a world torn with division and poverty and war.

Advent Action

We all have tendencies toward violence and retaliation in our relationships – some more overt than others. How can you break that cycle of violence and retaliation and turn it into peace and reconciliation in your relationships?

What are some creative ways nations could turn their swords into plowshares?

Advent Prayer

Gracious and loving God, I confess that my own self-interests often clouds my perception and views toward others who are different from me in thought, word, and deed. Help me to welcome the Prince of Peace into my life so that I might be reshaped more and more by Your kingdom. Amen.

December 2 ~ Sharing the Gospel of Ourselves

I was a student at UCLA in the mid and latter part of the 1970s. Campus Crusade for Christ members were rabid in their efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I could spot them a mile away and would anxiously look about to hide from them! They didn’t think my salvation was secure even though I was leading a Bible study in the dorms. It was offensive.

No one hears the Good News of the Gospel, or anything for that matter, when you’re assaulted with dogma and barraged with shoulds, oughts, and have tos. The wonderful message of grace, forgiveness and restoration seems forced and inauthentic when they come from a deeply wounded, overcritical, and bitter soul. There is so much more to communicating and sharing the Gospel than getting the facts right.

The Gospel is a story that’s intended to be lived out. It’s a narrative that is meant to be embodied in our attitudes, our behavior, and our involvement in the lives of others. It’s incarnational.

After the death of Jesus, a devout, highly educated, politically-inspired Jewish man named Saul encountered the Good News while traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians. It was such a dramatic encounter that he changed his name to Paul and began sharing how the Gospel changed him. Besides visiting places where Christians gathered, he wrote letters of encouragement and instruction to churches. Many of those letters are part of the New Testament.

Advent Scripture

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica – the modern city of Thessaloniki is the second most important city of Greece – Paul wrote this:

So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. ~ 1 Thessalonians 2:8 

As Paul reminds the Thessalonians, the Gospel is more than a story to be told. It’s good news to be embodied. When God was ready to share Good News with us God didn’t simply write an e-mail or tell a story. Instead, God sent Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The power of the Gospel is God sharing God’s life with us.

Advent Action

The power of the Gospel in our own lives is us sharing our lives with others. How will you embody the Gospel in your life this season? How will you tell the Christmas story of God sharing God’s life with you?

Advent Prayer

Part of the wonder of the Gospel is that it meets me exactly where I am. I do not have to have it figured out or even completely understand all that it means in my life. Help me to hear Your Good News for me with an open heart. Amen

December 1 ~ Walk with Me

I’m usually a little behind when it comes to media crazes. I didn’t start watching The West Wing until the show had run its course. A serial political drama with complex, interesting characters was right up my alley. One of the things President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, would say when he wanted to talk privately with one of his staffers was, “Walk with me.”

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and our Scripture passage is from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a Hebrew prophet who lived in the Kingdom of Judah during the 8th century B.C.E. During the time of Isaiah, prophets were recognized as astute observers of the events of the time. They spoke what they understood God’s message to be for the people and expectations God had, especially the actions, from the people. Prophets did not hold back and often the message was harsh and not well received. After all, who wants their less-than-compassionate behaviors and actions to be revealed!

Advent Scripture

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

~ Isaiah 1:10-20

Most of us will read that passage and think that it is harsh; that Isaiah was alienating his audience right out the gate! But what God is really saying through to Isaiah is, “Walk with me. Let’s walk and talk. Let’s work this out.”

Advent is a time of waiting for God to show up and wondering what God is going to do. But it’s not just waiting and wondering on our side about what God is going to do. God is waiting and wondering too. God is waiting on us and wondering what we’re going to do.

Now that’s something to get our heads around: God waiting for us. God wondering about us.

That’s exactly what this passage is about. God is telling Israel that God has had enough of sacrifices and burnt offerings. The rituals they practiced and festivals they celebrated had become an empty burden to God. What God wanted from them was their faithfulness, their devotion and love. God was waiting for them, in their faithfulness, to reach out to the oppressed, defend orphans and care for widows. In other words, God wanted Israel to look beyond themselves and see a hurting world that needed their help.

Advent Action

Maybe it’s time to take up God on that request; let’s walk and talk. How are you waiting for God to show up in your life? What are your wonderings about what God is doing in the world? Likewise, God is waiting for you to show up to be a presence in the world around you – maybe your home or school, or work. Maybe God is wondering what you’re going to do. What is your answer?

Advent Prayer

During this time of year, especially in this season before Christmas, it is easy to get caught up in things that are good, but still miss the things that are important. Help me to be faithful to You, myself, and others around me. May I be ever mindful that You continue to seek those who are lost, using even me to bring Your love to those around me. Amen.

The Last of the Holidays

The Five 2008Thanksgiving is the last of the holidays, marking a year of holidays and birthdays since my brother’s death, December 6, 2012. Last Thanksgiving, 2012, my parents, my sister, my oldest son, and my brother gathered to celebrate at my brother’s new house. He had a new job, a new living situation, and was embarking on a new life as his wife of twenty-two years decided to divorce. Sam and I could not make the trip from Texas and my other son and his family were spending Thanksgiving with his wife’s family. It was a small gathering at my brother’s, but considering we usually don’t get together for Thanksgiving, it was a perfect opportunity to get together and a new way of doing things.

As the family sat down to eat, my brother offered a toast, noting this was one of the happiest days of his life because his family was here. No one thought too much about it because he had had a rough several months with all of the changes. Things had come together and seemed to be moving forward.

That weekend was the last any of the family saw my brother. Oh, we all talked on the phone, almost daily, the following week. He’d post pictures, giving clues to family treasures he was unpacking, surprising all of us with the stuff he had from our grandparents and even our parents! Then he’d call and we’d stroll down memory lane. His memory was iron clad and I knew I would have to produce evidence if I was going to challenge him on a date or event. I constantly teased him that he alone was our family’s institutional memory.

It was a Sunday, the 49ers were playing, and we all talked to him at some point that afternoon. And then oddly I heard nothing. Even though all of us called to check in as was our custom, we figured he was busy when we didn’t get an answer. Then my parents became concerned and called my sister to check on him. That’s when she found him. A nightmare none of us were prepared for or ever imagined. It’s still hard knowing he was outside for several days before my sister found him. I still am sad he died alone as I believe everyone should have someone with them as they transition from this life to the next. Even a year later, it is difficult to accept that he chose to end his life. But he did, and I can honor that he did it on his own terms.

This year we are gathering at our house for Thanksgiving as we have for every birthday and holiday this entire year. It’s been a year of pilgrimages and moves, of sadness and joy, of questions and acceptance, of loss and emptiness and the slow process of healing from unspeakable grief. Grief changes you and sets a new normal, one that has an empty seat at the table or a pause texting or calling as you remember he isn’t at the other end of the phone.

The first year without my brother is almost to a close. And then we will begin another. But for now, we will gather for Thanksgiving. I give thanks for my family. I give thanks that we can still gather. I give thanks that we can be sad and still laugh as we always do. And most of all, I give thanks for my leetle brother whom I love and miss.

Bible Exhortations for Employers by Jasper Bunny

JasperBible exhortations for employers sounds ominous, if you ask me. It also sounds like something no one will read. That’s probably why I got assigned to write about it! Sometimes a little bunny has to do things he doesn’t want to do … like this.

Let me start by telling you I am not religious. I’m a bunny, a very spiritual bunny. Maybe that’s why I didn’t completely freak out when my Auntie said this topic was up next in the blog queue. (Believe me. I tried talking her out of it.) Think about it. Humans take advice from all sorts of ancient wise people and not-so-wise contemporary people. So why not a few verses from the Bible? There’s some good, even radical, stuff in there if you can get past the begets and who smote who.

This hasn’t been a very good week for employers like Walmart and McDonald’s or student groups like Young Conservatives for America. It makes a bunny wonder if they’ve never heard of the Golden Rule! Even this bunny knows you ought to treat bunnies – or people – the way you yourself would like to be treated. That was revolutionary thinking in Bible times and it would transform the workplace if it were applied today. (But no one is asking for my bunny opinion.)

There was this guy in the Bible whose name was Job (That was his real name!) and he was a really righteous man. He said this:

If I have rejected the cause of my male or female slaves,
    when they brought a complaint against me;
what then shall I do when God rises up?
    When [God] makes inquiry, what shall I answer [God]?
Did not [God] who made me in the womb make them?
    And did not one fashion us in the womb? ~ Job 31:13-15

Bible Exhortation #1: Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven. ~ Colossians 4:1

Jasper Translation: At the last day you will not have to answer to the stockholder or to the customer or to the government regulator or to the person in the company higher than you, but to and only to the Lord Almighty.

It sure sounds to me like a worker deserves his wages. And its application of that principle cuts right across capitalist considerations of the cost of labor. No doubt what a company pays an employer will, in many ways, be determined by its balance sheet, by market forces, by the availability of labor and the like. But Scripture is well aware that market forces can place an employer in a position of advantage over a worker, making it possible for him to pay his workers less than they ought to be paid in accordance with principles of Christian equity, justice, and love. (That’s Professor Jasper, for you!)

Just to make sure that one verse wasn’t a fluke, I found all these too!

Don’t exploit the poor and needy people whom you hire to work for you, whether they’re fellow Israelites or some of the foreigners who live in your cities. Pay them on the same day they work for you, before the sun goes down, because they’re poor and they’re really counting on the money. If you don’t, they’ll cry out to the Eternal, and He’ll find you guilty of wicked actions. ~ Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Listen. You held back a just wage from the laborers who mowed your fields, and that money is crying out against you, demanding that justice be done. The cries of the people who harvested your crops and made you a profit have fallen upon the ears of the supreme Lord of heavenly armies. ~ James 5:4

Woe to the one who builds his palace on the proceeds of unrighteousness,
who adds upper rooms on the gains of injustice,
Who forces his own people to labor for nothing,
who refuses to pay them for all their hardwork. ~ Jeremiah 22:13

Then I will approach you for judgment, and I will be a swift witness against the constant sorcerers; the chronic adulterers; the habitual liars; those who continue cheating wages from their hired laborer, a widow, or an orphan; and those who always reject the immigrant, not fearing Me, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies.  ~ Malachi 3:5 
(The workers were paid something, of course, but not what was rightly theirs!)

For 20 years, I have been in your household. I served you 14 of those years in return for your two daughters, and six years for your flock. And you have altered my payment 10 times. ~ Genesis 31:41

(Laban is an example of a crafty employer who uses all manner of strategies to pay as little as possible to his workers and keep as much as possible for himself! He changed Jacob’s wages 10 times in an effort to defraud him of his due! That was one messed up family!)

Bible Exhortation #2: Employers are obliged to consider the general interests of their employees as human beings, valued by God and created in God’s image.

Jasper Translation: It’s not enough that if the wage is adequate, the company has done its duty to its employers. God would never look with favor on a moneyed class whose pleasures were earned by the blood and tears of the working poor.

Today there are a number of ways in which employers can mistreat employees: cruel speech, poor, unsanitary, or unsafe working conditions, a failure to appreciate and commend faithful labor, little concern for job security, sexual harassment, and a bunch of other yucky stuff.

And in case you think I’m making this up, here is what it says in the Bible:

People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.

Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers. ~ Isaiah 58:3

In condemning employers in his day, the prophet says, ‘you exploit your workers’ or ‘drive them on’; that is, you require them to work when they ought not to have to. In this case, a fast day; in other cases a Sabbath; or by simply requiring too many hours a day of labor.

If my land cries out against me,
if my furrows gather together to weep over my mistreatment of them,
If I have eaten the fruit of the land
without payment to those who tend it
or exasperated the lives of its tenants, the farmers, in pursuit of greater harvest, or in poor management of them;
Then let thistles grow instead of wheat
and stinkweed instead of barley. ~ Job 31:38-40

In this passage, Job is inviting God’s curse to fall upon him if he has broken the spirit of his tenant farmers.

Well, that’s enough theologizing from this bunny! I can tell you this: I’m pretty sure the Walmart and McDonald’s execs, and politicians who don’t want social safety net programs like SNAP aren’t thinking like Job, inviting God’s curse to fall upon them if they break the spirits’ of their sales associates and working poor. I’m not even sure they’re really contemplating the Golden Rule. All I can say is that it’s a good thing God isn’t it in the smiting business anymore.





Real Life Advice from McDonald’s

McResourceHere’s a new one: McDonald’s is in the advice business. The McResource Line is a dedicated service for McDonald’s employees offering answers to a variety of questions or provide resources on topics including finances, health, housing, child care, transportation, grief, elder care, education and more. Hmm. Sounds weird to me, but maybe they really do have their employee’s best interests in mind. After all, a happy employee is a productive employee.

In the wake of Walmart’s recent headlines, it was an opportunity for the other largest low-wage employer to shine in the media spotlight. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Helpful holiday tips: An entire web page (it is no longer accessible) is devoted to helpful holiday tips. Here is my favorite:  “Selling some of your unwanted possessions on eBay or Craigslist could bring in some quick cash.”

I know what it is to be the working poor and I can tell you I did not have ANY possessions, much less unwanted possessions. We creatively used everything we had. Low-wage earners improvise and shop at thrift stores. When something becomes unwanted, it definitely is not re-sellable or re-donatable. It is trash at that point. No one pays for trash. The average person pays to have trash hauled away.

Extending your food budget: Most of us draw upon culinary creativity when we think of extending our food budget. We find ways to extend a main dish or creatively use leftovers to make food go further. We cut back on the amount or type of meat we buy. We make our own stock from bones for homemade soups. We never buy packaged or processed foods. Even doing all of that, it can still be difficult to make food go far enough. My kids and I supplemented by eating twice a week at our church’s food program.

The McResource Line didn’t have any of these ideas as possibilities to extend your food budget. They suggested breaking apart food when you eat meals, as “breaking food into pieces often results in eating less and still feeling full.” Of course, that questionable piece of advice still might not be enough. That’s when they suggest applying for SNAP (food stamps). If the McDonald’s franchise you work for pays into the McResource Line service, the resource person will help you apply for SNAP and other federal assistance programs. If your franchise does not pay for that service, they only give you a number to call. Even McAdvice isn’t really free!

According to a group of labor economists from U.C. Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in a report released in October 2013, found that 52 percent of fast-food workers rely on public assistance. That’s compared with 25 percent of the rest of the population. No wonder these low-wage corporations do not want to raise the minimum wage! Why pay your employees a living wage when you can have the taxpayers pay for those supplemental needs like food (SNAP), housing, and health insurance (Medicaid).

Monthly Budgets: The McResource Line has something to offer about monthly budgets. CNN compared the McResource proposed budget with five McDonald’s employees. The McResource budget did not include food or transportation, nor did they think you should budget for heat. They suggested a second job to increase income. One employee does have a second job at another McDonald’s and it still didn’t bring him any closer to making ends meet.

Stress Reduction: The unbelievable piece of advice for McDonald’s workers to reduce stress? Take a vacation! On top of their low-wages, most McDonald’s workers do not get paid sick leave or vacation. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. I’m pretty sure the McResource budget did not include a line item for vacation either.

Finally, the pinnacle piece of advice for stress reduction about your meager paycheck: “Quit complaining,” the site suggests. “Stress hormones levels rise by 15% after 10 minutes of complaining.”

Not all employers are people of faith nor do they claim to be. There are, however, a lot of lawmakers who do claim to be Christians and are very vocal on some of these issues – minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, SNAP and other social safety net programs –  that directly impact our working poor and low-income citizens, and indirectly affect the rest of us. The Bible has a lot to say to employers about their workers and how we are to care about others. That’s up next!

They’re Called the Working Poor

Walmart BinsThey are called the working poor: working people whose incomes fall below the poverty line. Nobody even takes notice of these long-suffering, hard workers until a headline about an employer asks employees for food donations for other other employees. 

Walmart is the world’s largest private employer. The average Walmart sales associate makes $8.81/hour. That translates into $15,576 a year IF the associate works a full-time schedule of 34 hours a week. Most Walmart sales associates have erratic or limited work schedules – not by their choice – that are not even close to full-time.

The 2013 federal poverty level for a family of three is $19,530. The average Walmart sales associate’s income is below the poverty line, making them eligible for social safety net programs like reduced school lunches, SNAP (food stamps), housing assistance, and other programs.

Walmart may be signaled out, but they are hardly the only employer whose employees do not earn enough to meet their families’ basic needs. It’s estimated that nearly one-third (32%) of all working families fall below the federal poverty line, even though they are working full- or part-time, often cobbling together several part-time jobs in order to increase their incomes.

What do you know about the working poor? Let’s see what the misconceptions are about the working poor.

MYTH: Low-income families are takers, relying on government assistance instead of working.
FACT: The average annual work effort for low-income working families is 2,552 hours, roughly one and one-quarter (1.25) full-time jobs.

MYTH: Low-income working families are headed by single parents.
FACT: 52% of low-income working families are headed by married couples.

MYTH: Low-income working families are headed by immigrants.
FACT: 69% of low-income working families have only American-born parents.

MYTH: Low-income working families have very young parents.
FACT: 89% of low-income working families have a parent between ages 25 and 54.

MYTH:Low-income working families are overwhelmingly minority.
FACT: 43% of low-income working families have white, non-Hispanic parents.

MYTH: Low-income working families are dependent on public assistance.
FACT: 25% of low-income working families receive food stamp assistance.

To work hard and still not make a living wage is challenging. But to work hard with no chance of ever earning enough to provide and care for your family slowly gnaws away at your self-worth and pride. The vast majority of working poor are doing everything possible to provide and care for their family in the midst of incredible obstacles. We must do our part. We can start by living and working for justice. There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.

Next headline stop: Life advice from McDonald’s.

In cased you missed it, here’s where it all began.

Disturbing Headlines and Mixed Messages

UT Austin BelltowerThree disturbing headlines with matching mixed messages articles came across my Twitter feed this morning. My faith hackles were raised, which admittedly doesn’t take much when it comes to social issues.

Headline #1: University of Texas Students Cancel ‘Catch an Illegal Immigrant Game’.

“Thank God,” was my response after I said a few other unrepeatable things. Thankfully, only my kitty, Takuma, was present for my mini-tirade. I am forever amazed at some humanity’s short-sighted and offensive thoughtlessness.

The University of Texas at Austin chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas planned the event posting on their Facebook page: “Any UT student who catches one of these ‘illegal immigrants’ and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card. The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.”

If the Young Conservatives of Texas wanted a meaningful discussion, then have a clear, respectful discussion. A “game” is not a campus-wide discussion. Mixed messages are never clear or respectful.

Immigration is part of the founding fabric of this country. History is clear about how immigrants behaved in their guest country displacing, oppressing, and stealing from its indigenous peoples. The initial immigrants were all “illegal”. They showed up, conquered, and imposed. It’s been a matter of control and power ever since. Was this “game” designed to be a thoughtful, long overdue discussion about immigration reform or merely reinforce attitudes of control and power hidden in the mixed message?

Using ‘illegal immigrant’, or ‘undocumented immigrant’ for that matter, further muddles the immigration reform matter. Using terms like “illegal”and “undocumented” are dehumanizing. They also are not accurate. It is true that an immigrant is one who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. However, our political discussion around immigration has also become one of legal status. Maybe a clearer, less presumptive approach might be to change the word altogether. A migrant, on the other hand, is someone who merely moves across national borders. It doesn’t make any presumption about the legal status of people. If a true discussion is wanted, then it’s important for all sides to be both appropriate and non-judgmental.

Texas state law does not allow enrollment of students who do not have legal immigration status. The everyday lives of students at UT, Austin are not impacted by a population who are already excluded from their student body.

Rarely, if ever, are labels helpful. People do not wear “Illegal Immigrant” labels in real life, just as they don’t wear “student” or “homeless” or “abuser” labels. People do not “wear” labels and we send mixed messages when we employ labels. Labels are assigned by the user, and labels are most often inaccurate and restrictive. None of us like to be labelled and we certainly do not want to be profiled, coerced, or turned in for a gift card because a label. (I can’t help but think of free man Solomon Northup’s narrative in Twelve Years a Slave).

I wonder: could the gift card that was to be offered as the reward for capturing an illegal immigrant be for Walmart? If so, nice segue to my second headline: Walmart asks its workers to donate Thanksgiving food … to Walmart workers. I’ll leave that to next time (smile).

Family Genealogy by Jasper Bunny

JasperPoseMy Auntie came to see me today! She was really bringing my Mama home after having both ends scoped (I’m telling you; that’s how my Mama-the-nurse talks all the time!), but she did come in to see me. Those two sisters can talk! It makes my little bunny ears tingle.

My Auntie was telling Mama that she and Uncle Saint Sam (he deserves every honorific title) are going down to Fresno watch the granddaughters for the weekend. That got me thinking about how the granddaughters are related to me. I don’t have any bunny siblings or relatives that I know of since I was an orphan. My human family isn’t so big, but you start adding in the granddaughters and first-cousins-once removed and it gets complicated really fast.

If I really wanted to be correct about this genealogy, we’d also have to figure out how The Boy fits in, since he’s the brother of the father of the granddaughters! That’s WAY too complicated for even a very smart bunny like me.

The granddaughters are Mama’s grand-nieces since she is the aunt to their father. That makes me a first-cousin to the granddaughters’ father and his daughters (aka the granddaughters) are my first cousins-once removed. Now when they have children, their children will be my first-cousins-twice-removed.

Now, if I had children – which I’m not because the whole world now knows the story of my nibbly bits – my bunny kids and my first-cousins-once-removed kids (aka the granddaughters’ kids) would be second cousins to each other and my first-cousins-twice removed.

It’s a good thing I only have a human family. If bunny’s really bred as much as people say bunny’s breed, I’d never be able to keep my bunny genealogy straight! It’s also a good thing that I don’t bible-talk. We’d all be lost in who’s begetting (begotten?) whom!


This Is Getting Ridiculous

No GunsThis is getting ridiculous. Actually, it’s beyond ridiculous. Let’s add children’s hospitals to our list of of unsafe places from the threat of gun violence.

A suspect was visiting in the neonatal unit at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin when police approached to arrest him. He was holding a baby! He put the baby down and ran before police shot him in the wrist. No one else was injured.

I am stunned and nearly speechless. While the suspect brandished a firearm, he never fired. The police fired several shots. While chasing this guy in the hospital. Unbelievable.

Here’s my list of unsafe places: schools, porches, airports, theaters, parking lots, spas, streets, your own home, freeways, turnpikes, libraries, places of worship, cars, parks, libraries, driveways, gyms, military bases, stores, beaches, offices, universities and colleges, friend’s home, garages, and now hospitals.

Here’s my list of people who are unsafe: police, spouses or intimate partners, neighbors, family members, co-workers, classmates, everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know.

Ridiculous. That is all.

Can We Unlearn Gun Violence?

New York 2009 - Non Violence SkulptureGun violence is a volatile topic. I had no idea how volatile until I started posting the thousands of names of gun deaths since the mass shooting in the Newtown elementary school December 14, 2012.

A common comment I get is also a favorite statement of the National Rifle Association: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Technically that’s true. A gun needs a person to pull the trigger. Guns are the means by which a person kills another person; violence begetting violence.

Here’s the thing: violence is learned and we know a lot about the factors that contribute to violence. Violence is by no means only among gang members in blighted neighborhoods under the decay of poverty. Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness also contribute to violence. While we will never eradicate every factor that contributes to violence nor change the behavior of every potentially violent person – we all possess the ability to become violent – most of the gun violence we see and hear about it preventable.

If something is preventable, then it becomes a public health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines public health as:

the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.

Violence shortens life and threatens the health of the people involved, just as does poor food handling practices or contagious diseases. Yet, we’re willing to enact laws and best practices to help curtail certain public health crises. We’re reluctant, however, to enact common sense laws and support programs that will help mitigate the violence that is rampant in our homes, schools, theaters, neighborhoods, places of employment and business, churches, clinics, parks, and every other place people are found.

I think we can unlearn violence by addressing the factors that contribute to our culture of violence:

  • how we raise our children as parents and as a community
  • how we end domestic violence
  • how we treat alcohol and drug dependency
  • how we promote gun safety and legal accountability of firearm ownership
  • how we create and consume media and entertainment in which violence is so prominent
  • how we build a culture that says enough is enough

Extreme violence permeated ancient Roman society. Slaves, criminals, prisoners of war, and other expendable humans were rounded up either as participant or persecuted in the violent sport that some believe may have contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Jesus and his followers lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire. They were acquainted with the culture of violence. The temptation to be pulled into their own version of Arab Spring was very real. Yet, Jesus, and subsequently his followers, continuously espoused a radical way of addressing and dealing with violence.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).

We can unlearn violence. We must unlearn violence … especially if we are a follower of Jesus. Enough is enough.

My Favorite Veterans Day Quotes

Veterans Day_1Here is a short list of some of my favorite quotes that fit the spirit of Veterans Day.

The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.
~ Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (Indian diplomat and politician, 1900-1999)

Without heroes, we are all plain people, and don’t know how far we can go.
~ Bernard Malamud (American author, 1914-1986)

Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves.
~ Carol Lynn Pearson (American poet and author, b. 1939)

In war there are no unwounded soldiers.
~ Jose Narosky (Argentine notary public and writer, b. 1930)

I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, “Mother, what was war?“
~ Eve Merriam (American author and poet, 1916-1992)

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.
~ Cynthia Ozick (American-Jewish short story writer and novelist, b. 1928)

Freedom is never free.
~ Unknown

How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.
~ William Shakespeare (English poet and playwrite, ?-1616)

So many in our world today are suffering from isolation, war and oppression. So much money is spent on the construction of armaments. Many, many young people are in despair because of the danger of nuclear war. Today as never before, we need communities of welcome; communities that are a sign of peace in a world of war. There is no point in praying for peace in the Middle East, for example, if we are not peacemakers in our own community; if we are not forgiving those in our community who have hurt us or with whom we find it difficult to live. Young people, as well as those who are older, are sensitive to this vision of peace. It must continually be announced so that hearts and minds are nourished.
~ Jean Vanier (Canadian philosopher and humanitarian, b. 1928)

May we remember that Veterans Day, originally Armistice Day, was really a prayer for peace.

You Know Vacation is Over When … by Jasper Bunny

Jasper HomeWell, vacation is over and we’re all back at our own house. My human family tells me re-entry to regular life is hard for them, but they don’t have any idea how hard it is for a little bunny like me! It’s like being a kid. You don’t have much say in anything. And I have a lot to say about most things!

You know vacation is over when …

You’re sleeping in your own bed. Don’t get me wrong, I like my bed and I actually have my own bunny condo. But part of the magic of being on vacation is being somewhere else.

You have to re-train your human. My human Mama was on vacation too, so she also has to get back in the swing of things with me.

You are back in a schedule, or as much of a schedule as a nurse with a schedule that changes every few days can be. When I was on vacation at my Auntie’s I got to kinda set my own schedule. My Auntie had her own little routine with me, but I pretty much got to do as I pleased. It’s not like that at home!

You have to unpack and put everything away. I’m still unpacking and putting my stuff away! I’m pretty little, so it takes me a little while to move everything back where I like it and reclaim all my space. My sibling kitties will try and take some of my space, if I don’t stay on top of them! They get to roam the house house; both stories! And I’m restricted to one area! Sheesh! 

You start planning for your next vacation. I learned this from my Mama. She works so she can play and she’s really good about taking vacation. I’m pretty sure she’s already planning her next vacation! Yippee! That means I will get to go on a vacation too AND I might get to go by my self! She has a friend who likes to house sit, but she’s afraid of me! She doesn’t mind my kitty sibs, but I’m a little too Alpha Bunny for her. That means I’ll get to go to my Aunt and Uncle’s all by myself. Now that would be an awesome vacation!

Phew, I’m so glad I have another vacation to look forward too! My life would be SO boring and bleak if I didn’t have something fun and different to look forward to. Humans, especially, need to always have something to look forward to. Maybe they wouldn’t be so cranky.



Simple Living

NailsSimple living in the 21st century is not so simple. Most of us have crammed our lives so full of stuff and events, that digging out from underneath it all can be a challenge. Even if we aren’t the gather-and-hoard type, it still takes concerted effort to maintain that simplicity. I consider simple living a spiritual discipline and I’m always learning.

It’s difficult to change anything in our lives, especially our lifestyle. It takes discipline, planning, and perseverance. It is not for the faint-hearted. It is definitely a journey well worth taking.

While simple living can encompass all areas of our lives, I’m just going to share one area that is proving insightful. We are a one car family. Well, there are only two of us, but living in suburban California does make it interesting.

We unloaded my old car before we moved to Texas in 2008. In fact, we unloaded just about everything. We had very little worth paying money to move. We crated up business files we had to keep, Sam’s motorcycle, one piece of furniture, and our kitchenware.

We thought we’d probably get another vehicle in Texas, but found we really didn’t need one. We lived in a small town and worked from home. We planned to reconsider our transportation options if we built a house on our property ten miles outside of town, but then we moved back to California. After my brother’s unexpected death, it was evident we needed to be closer to my family.

Now we live in a suburb of Sacramento, have one car, and Sam recently took on contract job that requires him to be at the start-up. Thankfully, we live within walking distance of the library, pharmacy, and other shopping. It is right at the mileage limit for my bionic ankle and knees, but I can do it. I have a rolling backpack, but definitely need to upgrade to a cart (And, no, I’m not thinking granny cart or homeless cart).

I could to these tasks in the evenings or weekends like everyone else, but that is most unappealing to me. I already hate to shop and I definitely do not want to be shopping with the masses. I’d rather figure out how to work it around my other responsibilities. That requires a shift in how I view the additional time spent to complete these errands.

I decided to focus on what I get to see or would otherwise miss if I was driving instead of walking. Here’s what I discovered yesterday on my 5-mile, 1.75-hour errand excursion:

My endorphins perked up being outdoors on a beautiful autumn day. Sunshine and fresh air are nectar for the soul and body. Plus, I got my vitamin D allotment naturally instead of by a pill.

A few other people were walking somewhere too. Smiling and saying “hi” as we passed made them feel more like neighbors than strangers. After all, we do share a human connection.

I stuck to my shopping list because I was going to be hauling it all home. I usually plan menus and my shopping list, but being mindful of not only what we were going to eat, but what we really needed goes a long way to sticking to a budget. Healthy and frugal: win-win.

Walking allows you to notice more details and actually see what’s around. Christmas decorations are already out! One shopping area already has their holiday banners up in their small parking lot. One wooden power pole has hundreds of nails in it from all the flyers that have been posted on it over the years. You can still find lost coins on the sidewalk! (Yes, I picked them up!)

It’s inspiring to see what people do for landscaping and planting. One house mixed in a little vegetable garden in the flower beds. Another had an interesting fence. There are still lots and lots of oleanders, California’s ubiquitous answer to low-maintenance shrubbery lining its highways. White and pink are the usual variety, but I did notice some red. I still don’t like them.

It’s sweet seeing adolescent couple holding hands as they walk home from school. This couple was two girls, chatting away as they swung there their hands together. It’s refreshing to think that they are that secure enough in themselves and there is enough public acceptance for them to be public with who they are.

I get to choose; many do not have that option. We’ve made the decision for simple living as part of our spiritual responsibility for good and wise stewardship of all God has given us. Others struggle to simply live. With the reduction in food stamps, minimum-wage jobs that do not pay a living wage, unemployment, and high housing costs there are many of our neighbors who do not have the choice to live simply. They are struggling to simply live.

Let’s not forget or lose sight that we live simply so others can simply live.

Why Memoirs Are So Important

Twelve Years a SlaveEvery time I read a memoir I am reminded of their power to connect us to something beyond ourselves. A memoir invites us to step into a life and an experience that are not ours. Even if we have experienced something similar, we are able to relate, but that particular experience is not ours to claim. And because we cannot claim that experience as our own, it exposes us to a different and possibly broader perspective. It’s that broader perspective and different experience that is so important for us.

I recently read three very compelling memoirs that were a far cry from anything in my little, limited life. Each story had pieces that resonated with me; threads that I understood because of something in my own experience. But more powerful were those things that opened my eyes and exposed me to reality for someone else. When we are open to someone else’s reality, even if we don’t understand it and may never experience it for ourselves, we become connected. And when we become connected, we care.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup has recently been made into a feature film, but the Northup’s memoir of being born free in New York and then captured and sold into slavery, was published in 1853. Out of the 101 slave narratives written between 176o and 1865, Solomon Northup’s was the only one that told by someone who was free, captured and sold into slavery, before escaping back to the North.

Slavery is a scourge in U.S. history that is really hard for any of us to fathom. Not only have we not dealt with the horrific atrocities of slavery, we haven’t confronted the despicable remnants from the institution of slavery. Northup’s book poignantly tells the dehumanizing effects of slavery on everyone. We may say slavery was wrong and deny holding attitudes of superiority over any group of people, but our true attitudes will be exposed in how we treat others, especially strangers, immigrants and people from other religions and cultures.

Amanda Lindhout was a twenty-something avid world-traveller trying her hand at freelance journalism when she and her partner were kidnapped and held for 460 days in Somalia. Her account of finding her passion for travel and her brutal experience in captivity is masterfully portrayed in her recent memoir, A House in the Sky co-authored by Sara Corbett.

What is impressive about this memoir is the ability of Ms. Lindhout to transcend her horrific experiences of being repeatedly gang raped, starved, beaten, and kept isolated from her companion to seeing how lack of education and constant war and poverty have led her captors to who they are. She is then able to understand them, and while not excusing their behavior, at least forgive them. She has gone on to found Global Enrichment Foundation addressing women’s empowerment, education, and famine relief in Somalia.

Next time you are looking for something thoughtful to read, why not pick up a memoir. Of course, you’ll learn something about the person whose story you’re reading. But more importantly, if you’re open to the possibility, you just may learn something new about yourself!

One of these days, we’ll have to tackle the Bible as memoir.

My Purpose in Life Is Not Rabbit Gloves by Jasper Bunny

Bunny WhispererTo be clear: my purpose in life is not to be a pair of rabbit gloves. Can you believe someone actually said that of me?!? That I’d make a nice pair of rabbit gloves?!? I know my special friend the Bunny Whisperer said that jokingly, but it might have hurt my feelings if I wasn’t such a scrappy little bunny.

I really miss the Bunny Whisperer. I gave him that name because he was so good with me. He used to say he was a real bad ass, but if he was, he was the most tender-hearted bad ass around. When he made the decision to put his really old, really sick, best dog-friend, Moose, to sleep (that’s a terrible euphemism for death), he called my Auntie to pray for them. He was really, really sad. It was a terrible, horrible, really bad day.

The Bunny Whisperer came to stay with his sister, my Mama, for a few months. My Mama’s nephew was also staying here at the time. My Auntie called it the crazy house, but I’m not allowed to tell you why it was the crazy house. She says it’s not nice to gossip. I tried to tell her that gossiping surely can’t be worse than calling people names. Some people don’t like to be called crazy because crazy is their normal and who are we to judge anyway. Sometimes you just can’t reason with adults!

Anyway, the Bunny Whisperer was helping to take care of me as I was recuperating from my near-death experience after my nibbly bits surgery. That’s when he told his sister that I would make a really nice pair of rabbit gloves. Actually, I’m so little I would only be good for one rabbit glove. He told me it would be like a Michael Jackson glove, just one. Then he and The Boy would start singing and dancing to Thriller. Sometimes humans can be so weird!

I was thinking about how much I miss the Bunny Whisperer this morning and the music my Auntie streams from this classical station in San Francisco suddenly stopped. Uncle Sam went to check on it and “someone” had turned off the router! The whole power strip switch, that is behind this really big piece of furniture, was flipped all by itself. I know it was the Bunny Whisperer and he was justing letting me know he’s thinking of me too! He likes to do funky things with certain lights and fans in Auntie’s house. Not only was the power strip switched off, but the bedroom light where the power strip is was on!

It definitely was the Bunny Whisperer.

Saintly Sinners

Maui SunsetSaintly sinners. That’s who we are: people who have missed the mark (sinners) and still find ourselves the object of God’s transforming love (saints).

My brother loved shocking his friends saying that he, the redneck reprobate, had a minister sister, and he could probably get them a great deal on marrying and burying. He jokingly used to remind me that he was pretty sure he was “going to the other place”, if he was going anywhere at all. Then I would remind him that Jesus, in fact, was all about the loser, so he was covered any way you looked it.

Never, as we chided each other back and forth over the years, did I imagine I would be doing his memorial service and remembering him as part of my personal All Saint’s Day practice.

I think it’s appropriate that we stop and remember those we’ve known and loved who have gone before us. We have Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day as national days of remembrance for those who have served in the Armed Forces. We have World AIDS Day and International Women’s Day and a host of other days set aside for awareness and remembrance of people and causes.

Even though our loved ones who have died are never far from our thoughts, there’s something sacred about pausing and observing and remembering. I haven’t served in a church for a number of years, but I have created my own personal ritual for All Saint’s Day. I carve out a short period of time in my day. I light a candle, select a special hymn (This year I’ve selected Jesus, Lover of My Soul, a hymn I picked for a three year-old, my very first funeral in 1980) and read aloud the names of everyone I know or who has been brought to my attention, like the gun deaths since Newtown, who have died this past year. Often I name others that I have been remembering. Simple and sacred.

I hope you’ll take a wee bit of time today to remember those saints from your life who have died, but still left you gifts from their hearts.

This is my favorite version of Charles Wesley’s hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul by Ken Medema. I’m not fond of the video, but you don’t need to view it in order to enjoy the music. Blessings.


The Spirit of Halloween

Golden Observance - Avia VeneficaHalloween traces its origins back to the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain. More than 2,000 years ago, the Celts lived in what is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1. The harvest was complete and they would be settling into the long, dark months of winter.

The Celts also believed that the night before the new year held a mystical blurring of the boundary between the living and the those dead. They would extinguish their own hearth fires and join together for a large sacred bonfire. The often dressed up in costume and told each other fortunes, enhanced by the spirits of those gone before. Once the festival was over, they relit their hearth fires from the communal bonfire. The new year was begun.

The Roman Empire reached the Celts around the middle of the first century. As with all cultures that intermarry and mix, traditions morph to reflect the blending of cultures. Festivals take on additional practices and meanings. The Roman festival Feralia, which honored the passing of the dead was held in October and, over the course of several hundred years was blended into Samhain.

Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Roman Pantheon to all martyrs May 13, 609 and established Roman Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day. Pope Gregory III expanded the feast to include all saints as well as all martyrs and moved the date to November 1. By the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had penetrated the Celtic lands and gradually supplanted the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain. Soon the festival began to be called All-hallow’s Eve and eventually Halloween.

Halloween is now established as a commercial holiday, at least in the U.S. and All Soul’s Day is mostly relegated to the first Sunday worship service of November. I think the ancients had a better grasp on the natural world. There’s a rhythm and cycle to seasons and life. There’s something to remembering and recalling the lives of those who’ve gone before that connects us and grounds us over the course of time.

Those who are transitioning between this life and the next, often talk about who they see as they bridge leaving this life and arriving in the next. I like to refer to it as the great homecoming; we’re greeted by those who’ve gone home ahead of us and are now awaiting our arrival.

The boundary between this life and death is a sacred, hallowed place. We’d do well to consider All-hallows Eve.


The Business of Halloween

batman and wonder womanThe leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and it’s the end of October. The business of Halloween is in full swing. Vacant mega-buildings, all around our area at least, are open just for the season of Halloween. I don’t know about television, but there are plenty of Halloween commercials online.

And why not? Americans will spend 330 MILLION on Halloween costumes for their pets. That’s up $20 million from last year. Halloween is nearly a 7 BILLION-dollar industry and that’s down $1 billion from last year. That’s a lot of Halloween fueled by enterprising, entrepreneurial, and entertained Americans.

Here’s what’s really scary when you compare the business of Halloween with reality.

Just for starters, $330 million could:

  • Pay the salary for 6,111 teachers for a year at the national average of $54,000/year
  • Buy 664,000 of Wireless Generation’s new K-12 specific Amplify Tablets with two years of subscription fees
  • 4.8 million Kindles, at $69 apiece, that could save even more money by replacing paper textbooks

Maybe someone will take this full-circle and come up with a pet costume education fundraiser for local schools. (Yes, I’m being facetious.)

At $6.9 billion, Halloween is the eighth largest spending holiday behind winter holidays (Does that include Thanksgiving too?), back-to-school (A holiday, really?!?), Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Father’s Day, and even the Super Bowl.

While it’s difficult to fathom those billions of dollars, the reality of Halloween is something like this:

  • 65.8% of Americans will celebrate Halloween
  • $75.03 is what an average person will spend, and that’s down $4.79 from last year, or the cost of a bag of Halloween M&Ms
  • 72% will hand out candy
  • 47.5% will decorate their house
  • 44.2 will carve a pumpkin
  • 43.6% will dress up
  • 31.7% will take a child trick-or-treating
  • 30.9% will host a party

The business of Halloween doesn’t factor much in the eternal scheme of things, but the spiritual side does. That’s this week’s theme of blog posts. I wonder what Jasper Bunny will have to say?

We’re on Vacation by Jasper Bunny

Jasper and TakumaMy kitty siblings and I are on vacation since our Mama is on vacation. She’s in Hawaii and we are at our Aunt and Uncle’s. It isn’t very exotic, but what do you expect. We’re just fur kids.

Our kitty cousins are very friendly, maybe too friendly since they really like my things and I have no privacy. I think Takuma wants to be a bunny! He really likes my hay and has taken all of my toys to other parts of the house where I can’t go. He threw up all over the place after eating my hay. Serves him right.

One of the best things about being on vacation is there are so many new things to do, my siblings, Spirit and Maui, leave me alone. Actually, I think they’re not used to other friendly kitties. Takuma really wants to make sure Spirit and Maui feel welcome, but they’re a little shy and like their space.

Spirit and Maui are really lucky because they get their own rooms and don’t even have to share with each other. They also get room service, eating their meals in their own rooms. I know part of the reason is Maui will eat Spirit’s food besides his own and he has a special diet.

Actually we all have special diets and my poor Auntie is becoming quite the special diet chef. I really like how she mixes my Greek yogurt into my critical care mush. I’m on antibiotics and my nurse Mama is worried about the flora and fauna of my gut. My Auntie really likes kale and she is very generous sharing some of her kale with me. I’m the only one who gets kale and that makes me specialer than the others.

I probably shouldn’t say I’m specialer, because that’s prideful. But then Takuma shouldn’t try to be a bunny. God made me an exotic and the kitties are just regular kitties (Is it prideful when it’s true?). I’ve heard my Mama talk about how my Auntie’s kitties are feral. That doesn’t sound like it’s something you should call other kitties. I’m not sure it’s nice. I learned that from humans. It’s not nice to say things about other beings unless you’re willing to be called that too. The thing is humans say a lot of things and do a lot of things without thinking about it.

Another things I really like about being on vacation is reading. My Auntie has a huge library of books right where I can get them. I’m especially enjoying the Hebrew Bible (It’s in Hebrew, in case you didn’t know) and a commentary on the minor prophets. I bet you don’t even know who Haggai and Zephaniah are! I do. They are fierce and say some pretty fierce stuff. Makes my little bunny ears burn!

Well, it’s time to shake things up. I think I’ll go pester Midori and Takuma. Maybe I’ll move Midori’s bed and take one of Takuma’s toys. I know all about the Golden Rule and maybe this will remind them that should know it too! Do you think they’ll think me fierce like the minor prophets?

Bullying Is For Real

Bully Free ZoneMy sons were in preschool when they first experienced bullying. It continued in various forms throughout the rest of their years in school, including college. They are half Japanese and look more Asian than white. In fact, when they were 21-months and 6-weeks old, I was approached on more than one occasion wondering “where did you get your kids?” I was in seminary (!) when asked why I would marry and have children with someone who wasn’t “my kind”.

Bullying has been around since the garden of Eden and won’t be going away anytime soon as demonstrated by the bullying our political leaders continue to employ with denigrating voter rights, eliminating safety nets programs, and perpetuating the unequal distribution of wealth and power. Bullying has permeated our language, our attitudes, and our actions and our youngest citizens are suffering the most.

My sons are now 33 and 35. Social media wasn’t around when they were preteens and teens. They had already graduated from college long before Friendster and MySpace (remember them?). Home was a respite and haven from whatever went on “out there” at school and church (yes, the church is a huge offender). They had the opportunity to debrief, regroup, and recharge before facing the onslaught again.

No matter how hard you work at parenting or how much you stay on top of what’s happening in your kids lives or how equipped they are in handling real life, things will slip through the cracks and have an impact on their precious psyches. No matter how much love and support they receive, eventually they must be launched on their own path.

Recent news cycles have had a lot on bullying and the effects of bullying on children. School shootings, teens suicides, and the rape culture link back to bullying. Teachers and school administrators know it’s a problem and parents feel powerless to protect their children. It’s happening in rural and urban areas, public and religious schools, and home schooled children are not exempt. It’s an epidemic and we know it.

Here’s an email I received today from a regular reader of this blog. School shootings was a recent blog topic. I’ve changed the names to maintain this family’s privacy:

I can see why people shoot at schools! My Dtr in regular Ed is being bullied so bad! Sexual harassment as well! As a 5th grader, she stated to me I feel like I’m going to be raped and Id rather throw myself under the bus! Kids are telling her she is better off dead and why should she really be in this earth! Sexual harassment I won’t even go there! School is trying to do something ( not really). I am documenting all meetings and stupid mistakes the classroom teacher is making! So I get it! My child has it all! Brains, looks and talent but no self-esteem! I can only protect her at home! I was told the school is safe! Really! It’s Mary who needs to feel safe! Duh! School is not safe! Just my opinion on why this could happen. They protect the bullies and not the victims! 

This girl is 10-years-old! Rape should not even be in her vocabulary, much less something she should be worrying about ever! And kids telling other kids that they are better off dead or shouldn’t be on this earth?!?

We are failing these kids and we are failing each other. When we focus on our differences in order to elevate ourselves (our own pride and prejudices), when we tolerate evil and fail to exercise consequences (as in protecting high school football players who rape), and when we distort facts to perpetuate stereotypes (such as people on food stamps are freeloading, drug users who refuse to work) we feed into the bully culture. Whenever we fail to embody the Golden Rule – treat others the way we want to be treated – we fail to model right behavior and treating others with care and respect.

Maybe we need to be reminded of something that Jesus said:

Later the close followers of Jesus began to argue over the stupid and vain question, “Which one of us is the greatest disciple?”

Jesus saw what was going on—not just the argument, but the deeper heart issues—so He found a child and had the child stand beside Him.

Jesus: See this little one? Whoever welcomes a little child in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. The smallest one among you is therefore the greatest. ~ Luke 9:46-48, Voice

School Shootings More Prevalent than We Think

School ShootingsAnother school shooting. This time a middle school in Sparks, Nevada where a 12-year-old student shot and killed a popular math teacher and wounded two students before shooting and killing himself. This brings the school shooting tally for 2013 to sixteen by what I can find through a scattered online search. We’re on track for averaging two school shootings a month for the year.

It isn’t because God is absent on school campuses. It isn’t because we do not have armed people on campuses. School shootings are only an extension of the ongoing violence we tolerate in all areas of life. The accessibility of guns only adds to the already complex mix of bullying, abuse, mental illness, and personality instability prevalent in all of our lives.

School shootings are not a modern crisis either. In fact, the U. S. has a long, rich history of school shootings! The earliest known school shooting was the Pontiac Rebellion School massacre in July 1764. Four Lenape Native American warriors shot and killed the schoolmaster Enoch Brown and nine children near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania. When the warriors returned to their village, the Delaware chief rebuked them for their cowardice in killing children.

It’s now 2013 and here is where we stand in school shootings:

January 10, 2013 – Taft, California: A 16-year-old Taft High School student entered a science classroom with a 12 gauge shotgun and opened fire. A 16-year-old male student was shot in the chest and critically wounded. Another student was shot at, but was not hit. The classroom teacher, Ryan Heber, convinced him to drop his weapon, which he did and was later arrested. Mr. Heber suffered a minor wound from being grazed by a shotgun pellet during the ordeal. The teacher and the student that was shot at were believed to be intended targets of the gunman. On January 14, the student gunman was charged with two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm.

January 12, 2013 – Detroit, Michigan: A 16-year-old boy was shot in a field across the school campus after a basketball game at Osborn High School. He was hospitalized in serious condition.

January 15, 2013 – St. Louis, Missouri: A part-time student shot and wounded an administrator in his office at Stevens Institute of Business and Arts. The student gunman shot and wounded himself. He was charged with three felony charges, including assault.

January 15, 2013 – Hazard, Kentucky: Two people were shot and killed and a third person was wounded at the parking lot of Hazard Community and Technical College. The third victim, 12-year-old, died from her wounds the next day. A 21-year-old was arrested and charged with three counts of murder.

January 22, 2013 – Houston, Texas: Two men got into an argument on the Lone Star College–North Harris campus. One of the men pulled out a gun and shot and injured the other man, a student. A maintenance man suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The gunman accidentally shot himself in the leg. After the shooting, the gunman fled into the woods and was arrested hours later.

January 29, 2013 – Midland City, Alabama: Known as the 2013 Alabama bunker hostage crisis, a man in his 60s, boarded a school bus and shot and killed the bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66. The gunman abducted a 6-year-old child and held him hostage in an underground bunker. The gunman was shot to death by police several days later.

January 31, 2013 – Atlanta, Georgia: A 14-year-old student was shot and wounded in the back of the neck at Price Middle School by another student. The two boys were arguing with each other before one took out a handgun and firing multiple shots at him. A teacher was also injured during the shooting. The student gunman was disarmed by a school resource officer. He was charged with aggravated assault.

March 18, 2013 – Orlando, Florida: A 30-year-old student at the University of Central Florida pulled a fire alarm in a school dormitory. According to plans he had written, he intended to attract a large amount of people inside the building to shoot them. He then pointed a handgun at his roommate and threatened to shoot him inside their dormitory room. He released his roommate who ran into a bathroom to call 911 before then fatally shooting himself. Authorities found an assault weapon, a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs inside his backpack.

April 19, 2013 – Cambridge, Massachusetts: Two men responsible for the bomb attack at the Boston Marathon, shot and killed a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer.

April 29, 2013 – Cincinnati, Ohio: A 17-year-old student shot himself in a suicide attempt at La Salle High School.

June 7, 2013 – Santa Monica, California: Six people, including the shooter died and four others were wounded at or near the campus of Santa Monica College when a lone gunman opened fire on the school campus library after shooting at several cars and a city bus at separate crime scenes. The gunman was fatally wounded by responding police officers. Among the dead were the shooter’s father and brother, both of whom died inside a house that was set on fire a mile or so from the Santa Monica College campus.

August 29, 2013 – Decatur, Georgia: A 20-year-old man with an AK-47 fired six shots inside the front office of elementary school Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy. After the gunman fired the shots, he barricaded himself in the office and police at the scene returned fire. Antoinette Tuff, a woman who worked in the front office, called 9-1-1, talking him down and helping him surrender to the police before anyone was hurt.

August 30, 2013 – Winston-Salem, North Carolina: A 15-year-old student was shot in the neck and shoulder at Carver High School. An 18-year-old student was apprehended by a school resource officer without incident. The shooting was believed to be the result of an ongoing dispute between the suspect and the victim.

October 15, 2013 – Austin, Texas: A 17-year-old student fatally shot himself with a handgun in the courtyard of Lanier High School during lunch.

October 21, 2013 – Sparks, Nevada: A 12-year-old student opened fire in the back of Sparks Middle School, critically wounding two students. He then shot and killed a teacher before shooting himself.

Clearly, people who choose violence have a host of issues that contribute to their decision to use firearms. Universal background checks and limiting the availability of firearms will lessen guns being used – and it needs to happen – but it won’t end the use of violence we do to ourselves and others.

A Shooting a Day

In Memory of AndrewI’ve randomly chosen a story from a shooting a day for the past week.

Monday, October 21, 2013: A middle-school kid shot two students and a killed math teacher Michael Landsberry, 45-years-old, before shooting himself before school started. Sparks, Nevada.

Sunday, October 20, 2013: A church worship leader arrives early to set for Sunday worship when he notices a man lying in the alley, dead from a gunshot wound. His identity is unknown. El Paso, Colorado.

Saturday, October 19, 2013: Samarri Tyana Beauford, a two-year-old little girl accidentally shot herself when she found a loaded handgun under the couch. Her 19 year old father faces manslaughter charges and was also charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Friday, October 18, 2013: A neighbor heard gunshots. He found his 29-year-old neighbor, Michelle Williams, with a gunshot wound to the chest. She was shot and killed in her front year. She has a 13-year-old daughter. Hampton, Virginia.

Thursday, October 17, 2013: When she couldn’t reach her twin sister, she became concerned. When he didn’t show up for work for a couple of days, a co-worker went to check on him. Apparently, this young couple was having marital problems when Senior Airman Cody Hooks shot and killed his 22-year-old wife, Kayla Rihn, before killing himself. San Antonio, Texas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013: A grandmother is accused of shooting and killing her 52-year-old husband, Randolph Alan Ford, and critically wounding her 20-year-old granddaughter. A 5-month-old boy was found unharmed. The motive is being investigated. Burson, California.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013: Adrian Alvaresz, 16, was sitting by himself during lunch when pulled out a handgun and shoots himself in front of other students. He posted his intent with a message on Facebook for his friends to help his mother and infant son. Austin, Texas.

Monday, October 14, 2013: An investigation is under way in the police shooting of a 22-year-old man, Jacob Westberg, who was suicidal and said he needed someone to talk to. When he came out of the house with his shotgun during the negotiations, the police shot and killed him. His brother, who arrived just after the police, tried to convince the police he could talk him down, but was not given the opportunity. Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Each of these stories represents only one shooting a day. Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention.

Lucky Rabbit’s Foot by Jasper Bunny

JasperI’m pretty sure my unscheduled trip to the vet was because everyone was talking about their lucky rabbit’s foot! Talking about such a barbaric subject in front of a sensitive little bunny was not very thoughtful. Humans are always saying things about other humans when those other humans can hear what they’re saying. That is not very kind.

The family was talking about the lucky rabbit’s feet they had as kids. Some were blue. One was white and the other was purple. One had a natural looking rabbit’s foot. Eeewww! My Auntie was telling everyone she kept her bicycle lock key and skate key on her lucky rabbit’s foot until she found the rabbit’s toenail hidden in the blue fur! That gave me the willies just imagining it!

I must have been so distraught, I broke two of my own toenails off and bled all over everything! Of course this happened when my human Mama was at work saving lives. The thing about having a Mama who is a nurse is she is going to probe and poke you all over looking for the problem. With all of my medical trials and tribulations, I’m surprised she doesn’t have an I/O spreadsheet on me (that’s input and output and it’s not the same as 1s and 0s). I was really worried she was going to think it was something to do with my nibbly bits. Really. Nothing is sacred in a medical household. My poor Uncle Sam isn’t used to all of this anatomy sharing.

My Auntie had to come and get me and take me to see my vet friends! I’m a celebrity in their office. My Mama bagged up everything I bled all over – my pellet dish, my pad, the hay – and had a whole page of observations for Dr. Brick! Ay yi yi! I didn’t even get to say anything to Auntie because she was going on and on about a wild turkey that dropped out of the sky.

I was SO glad Dr. Brick figured out why I was bleeding and could explain it all to my family. I have a yummy antibiotic. I even got an alfalfa block as a treat when I got home!

My human grandfather was telling everyone about the bunnies that are in their yard. He’s a little upset with them because they are eating his grass and plants. It’s a good thing he was a rocket scientist rather than an entrepreneur because an entrepreneur would capture all those bunnies and make them into lucky rabbit’s feet! What the entrepreneur may not know is that not just any ‘ole rabbit foot is lucky. Lucky rabbit’s feet only come from graveyard bunnies. They say the luckiest rabbit’s feet are the left hind foot of a graveyard bunny killed in the dark of the moon! Now that is a frightful Halloween story perfect to scare all little bunnies and children!



And a Wild Turkey Drops from the Sky

The ReasonSo I’m driving over to my sister’s to pick up Jasper Bunny and take him to the vet when a wild turkey drops from the sky, landing on the hood of my car! If this had happened when we lived in rural Texas, I wouldn’t think too much about it. Wild turkeys were quite common, although, in my rural ignorance I initially thought they were buzzards.

But this is suburbia! We have sidewalks and landscaping and speed cameras at intersections. We have birds and butterflies with some squirrels and skunks. It’s all civilized and tame. There are a few ducks who like the swimming pools in the backyards behind us and our unincorporated town of Fair Oaks does have chickens which I encounter on my twice weekly walk to the library. But other than that, I don’t see too much wildlife in the neighborhood. I have to walk along the American River to see deer, which I do miss. I’m sure I was the only one who named the deer who ate my plants in Texas.

If the wild turkey hadn’t just dropped out of the sky on to my car, I probably wouldn’t have thought too much about it. I know there are turkeys somewhere around here. I almost hit one while driving not long after we moved here. I also see them along the trails in Folsom. A wild turkey dropping out of the sky, however, is too weird.

It got me wondering about the significance of wild turkeys, (I’m sure Saint Sam is also rolling his eyes reading this. It’s not a one or a zero.), as the English poet William Wordsworth reminds us in his poem The Table Turned to “Let nature be your teacher.” Surely, nature was telling me something with that wild turkey dropping right on my path.

Wild turkeys used to be plentiful in North America. Long before the Pilgrims arrived, Native Peoples saw wild turkeys as sacred and sacrificial. Their abundance made them a good source of meat and therefore they were seen as givers and sustainers of life. Turkeys remind us of the blessings bestowed upon us each and every day and we commemorate those blessings in our national holiday of Thanksgiving.

Wild turkeys can fly and run fast, but only in short bursts. Knowing how and when to effectively use their energy is quite helpful when staying away from predators. Maybe if we adopted wild turkey survival instincts we would be better equipped ourselves to assess threats and run from a bad situation when warranted. It’s taken me a lot of years to be okay walking away from toxic people and situations.

I remember the first time I heard a wild turkey gobble. It was the weirdest sound and I had no idea what it was nor could I see where it was coming from. That turkey was voicing something to his tribe – or whatever you call a turkey herd. Sometimes we have to find our own voice and then project our message. I’m not talking about the kind of voice and message of a particular Texas Senator during the government shutdown. That was not edifying for anyone. We can, however, take a nature lesson from the wild turkey and know that there is a time and audience for our message or opinion as long as it is honoring to ourselves and others.

If my brother were reading this, he would tell me it’s time to toast with Wild Turkey. Being as wild turkey spirits are not gluten-free, I will abstain. Instead, I will give thanks for that wild turkey that dropped out of the sky on to my car and consider the lessons she brings me from nature.


A House, Hospitality, and Honor

Photo: Janet Peterson

My Daily Word for today is Hospitality. It’s also the one year anniversary of my parents buying this house for my brother as he was transitioning through a divorce. A year later, I’m contemplating hospitality in a house we purchased from my parents and all I’m left with from my brother are memories by which to honor him. It’s been a tough year full of transitions and lots of hospitality.

There’s a classic hospitality passage in the Bible:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. ~ Hebrews 12:2

Hospitality is an ancient cultural norm that has lost most of its heritage, at least in this country. Ironically, hospitality was an important part of the survival of the Mayflower newcomers, the pioneers of the frontier in the westward expansion, and those riding the rails looking for work during the Depression. Sharing food, providing shelter, taking in strangers while they healed was all a part of what was expected of any decent person.

Hospitality is also a central theme that runs from the very first book – Genesis -through the very last book – Revelation – in the Bible. A thorough study of hospitality is beyond the scope of this blog post, but suffice it to say it is right up there with loving your neighbor. In fact, it is wrapped up in, and as essential as, loving your neighbor because part of the Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) is the word stranger (xenia; and where we get xenophobia). God has always been big on a stranger as a friend not yet met.

While modern day hospitality may look more like a social get together among friends, sometimes it is family just gathering together to heal. That’s what a lot of our hospitality has been this year: my family gathering together for birthdays and holidays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and any other occasion that presents itself. Our house is the hub and my brother Vic has drawn us together, even though this is not longer his house and he is no longer with us.

Even though this was his house, he really didn’t have much of anything of his in it. My sister’s living room furniture is still here from when they moved it for him to use. Some of the cast off furniture his friends gave him is still here. The few items of his that he did have when he separated went back to the family home. He wasn’t here long enough to truly make it his own home.

Sam and I moved here from Texas and we didn’t bring much with us. We haven’t yet made this our home, partly for financial reasons and partly because of something deeper, I’m sure. Yet, we are glad to house and feed family who come. We’re really looking forward to the end of November when we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, my son’s birthday, our granddaughter’s birthday, and my mother’s birthday.

And then we will face the anniversary of my brother’s death. My sister and I are already talking about it, but being aware of what’s coming never really prepares you for what will be. I’m sure we’ll all be wrecks as we go through it together.

The quote I selected for hospitality in the Daily Word is a Jewish proverb:

Hospitality is one form of worship.

Hospitality, like worship, gathers humanity together to be feed, to be sheltered, and to heal. When we do, we honor each other and the God whose love is poured out for all of us, bringing strangers together as family.

Meatless Monday

Meatless MondaysIt’s Meatless Monday and we’re having Kale Lemon Pesto with Gluten-Free Fusilli for dinner tonight. I’m trying a totally new recipe and my sister will be joining us for the experiment.

I reduced red meat in our diets several years ago. It was a great budgetary move and had it’s health benefits as well. Even though we don’t eat very much other meats, I’ve been wanting to reduce our intake. We already have a fairly healthy diet, being gluten-free, dairy-free, seasonal locavores. We NEVER eat processed foods (gluten hides out in all those nasty chemicals) or mystery meats (never, ever! And that was before I read Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle in high school).

Meatless Monday was introduced because it fit in nicely with my systematic approach to meal planning. Planning out meals and having staples on hand totally revolutionized my readiness to prepare meals. There’s nothing worse than having to think of what to eat, and then hunt-and-gather on the way home from an already l-o-n-g day at work. I can be very creative, but it certainly helps to have some forethought organization and planning.

I had no idea Meatless Monday was an international public and environmental health campaign practiced in almost thirty countries! I thought some vegetarian or vegan was being clever!

Meatless Mondays have been around since 2003 and have a historical precedence, at least here in the U.S. Traditionally, devout Catholics and Orthodox have refrained from meat on Fridays. During World Wars I and II, reducing consumption of meat on Mondays and wheat on Wednesdays was a conservation effort because so much food production and availability worldwide had been interrupted by war. Today, Meatless Mondays public health and environmental sustainability initiatives are obviously catching on with celebrities, campuses, communities, and countries actively participating. Even Paul McCartney and his daughters have a website for meat free Mondays.

Health benefits, planet sustainability, and expanding our solidarity and cuisine diversity with other global communities is one way to extend hospitality and welcome others to the great table of life.

Here’s my recipe for Kale Lemon Pesto with Gluten-Free Fusilli

Serves 3 as a meal and 4-6 as a side dish.

2 cups torn kale leaves, tightly packed
1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup walnut oil *
1/4 cup flaxseed oil *
1/2 cup Percorino Romano **
2 tablespoons lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
12 oz gluten-free fusilli ***

Start large pot of water to cook pasta and follow package instructions.

Wash kale under cold, running water, tear into medium-sized pieces, discard ribs, and spin dry in salad spinner.

Place pistachio nuts and garlic in food processor bowl. Add kale, oil, cheese, lemon juice, and zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Process to fairly fine consistency. You want the pesto to retain a little texture. If the pesto is too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of pasta water.

Drain cooked pasta and transfer to a large bowl. Add pesto and toss to coat pasta. Adjust seasoning and add a few tablespoons of pasta water if the pasta seems dry.

Serve in shallow bowls.

* Most people use extra virgin olive oil, but I almost always use walnut oil as it is lighter and healthier. Instead of using all walnut oil, I divide the total quantity of oil between walnut and flaxseed oil because of the health benefits of flaxseed oil.

** Percorino cheese is a hard cheese from sheep. It’s easy to get and dairy-free!

*** Not all gluten-free products are equal. Many gluten-free products are made with lots of chemicals and are NASTY tasting. If I’m going to eat carbohydrates, even if it’s gluten-free, it must be high quality and tasty. I recommend Schär or Tinkyáda gluten-free pastas.


My Sun Spot Keeps Moving by Jasper Bunny

Jasper Oct 13While all the fur people and tea bags are absorbed in the government shutdown, I am concerned my sun spot keeps moving! If the tea bags don’t care about their people, they certainly won’t care about this bunny. I guess they think since my fore-fur-fathers made it on Noah’s ark, I’ve evolved enough.

Actually, I’m quite resourceful and am glad for as little interference in my life as possible. Believe me, I’ll let you know if I don’t like something. My fur-Mama is a nurse and she is gone a very long time when she’s working at the medical center. That means I don’t get out of my bunny house for very long. I have learned how to escape my bunny-approved free area and found a nice corner in her dining room to chew up the carpet, showing my displeasure at being cooped up all day. She should just get rid of the allergy-causing stuff anyway.

Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so hasty. She took out the carpeting in my other bunny-approved area and put in hardwood floors. Obviously, she never consulted me because I hate hardwood and tile floors. I can’t get any traction whatsoever on them and will not make a spectacle of myself like my fur-siblings the kitties do. Really, I’m much too evolved.

Now that I’m done waxing eloquent off-topic, let me share my sun spot dilemma. With the changing seasons, the sun is lower in the sky and doesn’t come in the windows like it did all spring and summer. So now it’s less sun for less long AND I have to fight my fur-siblings for it. Sometimes it’s exhausting being the Alpha Bunny, but I’m telling you, if you aren’t assertive, it’s “your own damn fault!” I LOVE that phrase! The Boy’s great-grandmother used to say that quite often, I’m told.

The other aspect about my sun spot moving is I know the cold season is coming. I was rescued from the wilds and would never have survived the cold season even if I managed to elude some beast from devouring me. But with this whole government shut-down mess, what are the old and poor people going to do when their energy assistance, early education programs, and nutrition assistance to women, infants, and children are cut-off or terminated? There is no one to rescue them and that makes me very sad.

I was rustling up the pages of my fur-Auntie’s special book that had this in it:

The Lord said: If any of your people become poor and unable to support themselves, you must help them, just as you are supposed to help foreigners who live among you. ~ Leviticus 25:35 (#faithfulfilibuster)

I think those tea bag people who are always talking Noah’s ark and God creating the whole universe and everything in it in six days flat, don’t read that part of the Bible. It seems to me it’s a whole lot easier to understand and is very clear what is expected than how God could create everything there ever was, is, or will be in six days! Those are the same people that will probably tell me to shut up and just worry about my sun spot moving.

The Awareness Issues We Don’t Talk About

49ers and breast cancer awarenessIn a recent football game, the San Francisco 49ers were playing the Texans. Although pink is not in either team’s color scheme, the both teams sported all sorts of pink-paraphernalia as part of their uniforms as a way to honor Breast Cancer Awareness month. What was once never talked about in polite company, and rarely among friends, is now mainstream because of annual awareness campaigns.

Some annual October campaigns, like Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness, are highly publicised and mainstream. Others, you never hear about. Here’s a partial list of some of the health-related awareness issues for the month of October:

Why do we know and hear a lot about breast cancer, but virtually nothing about mental illness or any of the other issues on the list? Breast cancer awareness and participation in breast cancer awareness programs has penetrated every strata of American society and culture, only the only time we hear about mental illness is when there is a mass shooting?

I am all for breast cancer awareness campaigns. I had an uncle (!) die from breast cancer and a grandmother who had breast cancer. I’m in the age group of women who have a six percent chance of developing breast cancer and yearly mammograms are an important health screening.

Mental illness, however, affects a greater percentage of the overall American population and we are very uncomfortable and uninformed about it. Twenty-six percent of Americans over the age of 18 suffer from diagnosable mental illness. That is one in four Americans, men and women. Six percent, or one in seventeen, suffer from serious mental illness.

And then there is substance abuse. I cannot think of a single family I know that is not affected by substance abuse! If we consider underage drinking (kids age 12 to 18), more kids admit to drinking this past month than all of the people in Michigan! Ten million (!!) American kids admit to drinking just this past month! Did you know that? I know I was not aware of the number was so high!

Most of us already feel inundated with worthy causes and the pressure to donate or participate in worthy cause events. Obviously awareness campaigns work as we have seen with annual breast cancer awareness over the past couple of decades. Everyone jumps on board – and that’s a great thing.

We also need to find a way to raise awareness, educate and reduce stigma, and talk about these other issues that affect our family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Being aware makes us more thoughtful and sensitive to others who now struggle in isolation because “someone” has made pejorative remarks.

This side of eternity, we all are afflicted with something. It’s time we are aware of the issues we don’t talk about because someone we know is struggling and we are not even aware.

Geography of Gender Pay Gap

gender-pay-gap-graphic-finalI’m on a geography roll. Recently there was the geography of haters and the top ten homicide states for women. This post will cover the geography of gender pay and the top worst cities for pay for women. Geography may not be exciting, but it’s certainly more exciting than deconstructing the impasse in the House of Representatives!

The gender pay gap is very near and dear to my heart. One of my earliest summer jobs was as a nurse’s aide in a convalescent hospital. I was paid $1.10/hour and my male counterpart was paid $1.25/hour. We were both college students and we had the same job description.

In the 1990s I was an associate pastor at one church making $18,000/year with no benefits and no allowances while my male counterparts were making $65,000/year with full benefits and allowances. I was at another church when we entered the 21st century and had 25 years of ministry experience. I was making $36,000/year. My colleague, who was my age but with less years of experience, was making over $100,000/year. The Christian church is still in the dark ages when it comes to gender equality.

It seems that women have been averaging $0.77 on the [white] man’s dollar for a good decade. It is an improvement since 1967 when women made $0.58 to a man’s dollar. However, it will take another 45 years to eradicate the gender pay gap at the current rate.

Pay gaps don’t just affect women, they impact families. In nearly two-thirds of families, women are the primary breadwinner – either as a single-mother or she makes more than or as much as her spouse – OR she’s a co-breadwinner contributing more than one-quarter of the family income. Families depend more on the income from a working mother than a working father.

Based on our geography lessons, these states seems to be particularly unfriendly toward women: South Carolina, Alaska, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Idaho, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Delaware. Homicides for women are higher, pay is lower, and if your non-white, disabled, or gay you are more likely to experience hate language.

And if you’re a working woman, you might also want to avoid these ten cities, many of which are in less than desirable states for women already!

10. Scranton, PA
Men’s annual earnings: $55,026
Women’s annual earnings: $36,822
Gender wage gap: 33%

No. 9 Tulsa, Oklahoma
Men’s annual earnings: $57,478
Women’s annual earnings: $37,749
Gender Gap: 34%

No. 8 Charlotte, North Carolina
Men’s annual earnings: $67,178
Women’s annual earnings: $44,089
Gender wage gap: 34%

No. 7 Jackson, Mississippi
Men’s annual earnings: $56,234
Women’s annual earnings: $36,792
Gender wage gap: 35%

No. 6 Ogden, Utah
Men’s annual earnings: $60,463
Women’s annual earnings: $38,407
Gender wage gap: 36%

No. 5 Boise, Idaho
Men’s annual earnings: $60,156
Women’s annual earnings: $38,067
Gender wage gap: 37%

No. 4 Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Men’s annual earnings: $61,778
Women’s annual earnings: $38,371
Gender wage gap: 38%

No. 3 Knoxville, Tennessee
Men’s annual earnings: $61,813
Women’s annual earnings: $38,376
Gender wage gap: 38%

No. 2 Provo, Utah
Men’s annual earnings: $60,023
Women’s annual earnings: $35,770
Gender wage gap: 40%

No. 1 Stamford, Connecticut
Men’s annual earnings: $118,060
Women’s annual earnings: $63,553
Gender wage gap: 46%

Well, I think I’ve had enough of geography!

Top Ten Homicide States for Women

Nine WomenHere’s a public service announcement for women: there are ten states you need to avoid living in if you value your life and the lives of your daughters. It is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is obvious we STILL have a major problem in this country regarding domestic violence. Not surprisingly, it is a problem directly connected to gun violence. Also, there’s a case before the United States Supreme Court now whether someone convicted of domestic violence can be prohibited from owning a gun.

The Violence Policy Center recently released a study based on 2011 homicide data of women killed by men. The numbers were obtained from the FBI and included only homicides including one female and one male. The goal of this report was to dispel some of the myths surrounding lethal violence against women.

In 2011, there were 1,707 female homicides of single victim/single offender:

  • 94% of the time women (1,509 out of 1,601) were murdered by men they knew
  • 60% of the murder victims (926) who knew the man, were wives or intimate acquaintances
  • 264 of the women were shot and killed by their husband or intimate partner during an argument
  • when a weapon could be determined, the majority of women (51%) were killed with a firearm, predominantly an handgun; 20% by stabbing, 14% bodily force or blunt trauma

Here are the top ten dangerous states for women based on the 2011 study:

2011 Top 10 Dangerous States

It is not a coincidence that the top ten dangerous states for women are also among those states with high gun ownership and lax gun laws. Women who are or have been in abusive relationships often consider getting a firearm as a means of protection. Yet, gun ownership contains clear risks which should be a serious concern for women. When a gun is in the home, a women is three times more likely to be shot and killed by a husband, partner or family relative than if no gun was available. In other words, a gun purchased by a woman for protection is more likely to be used against her than in protecting her.

The case before the Supreme Court involves James Castleman, who in 2001 pleaded guilty under Tennessee law to one count of misdemeanor domestic violence against the mother of his child. In 2009, Castleman was found in possession of several guns, which was prohibited by a 1996 law that made it illegal for those who have misdemeanor convictions of domestic violence involving physical force or a deadly weapon to possess guns. Allegedly, Castleman was purchasing weapons and selling them illegally. An appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the federal law does not apply in Castleman’s case because his domestic violence conviction did not involve physical force.

Besides the known fact that  guns and domestic violence are a lethal mix, many offenders are able to plea their conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor. If a violent offender were allowed to legally possess firearms, it’s then just a matter of time before that misdemeanor assault becomes a felony homicide.

As my geeky husband Saint Sam is always reminding me, numbers do not lie. If we value the sanctity of life, we must value the sanctity of women’s lives. It’s time to face reality. To those who say “guns don’t kill, people kill” my response is, “men use guns to kill women.”

An after-thought to ponder: how many of those states also fall into the geography of haters? Coincidence?

Name Meanings by Jasper Bunny

JasperBunny2I suppose you have considered name meanings. Maybe you were told why you were named with your name. Sometimes people use names from someone special in their family tree or in honor of a special friend. Maybe you have children and picked their names out of a little book of names and their meanings. I’m pretty sure that was NOT how I got my name.

My name is Jasper Bunny. I’ve channeled other blog posts on Eternal Scheme before. I know you must have already read them. But if you don’t want to hurt my feelings or lie, you can read them here and here. You will also learn a little bit about me and, no doubt, be enlightened by some of my wisdom.

When the mother of the boy (he’s not really a boy any more. He might even be middle-aged because he is 35 years old!) asked him how he picked my name, he told her I looked like a Jasper. Obviously, he knows nothing about jasper because I don’t look anything like a spotted or speckled precious stone!

Sometimes people pick names out of the Bible. I’m pretty sure he didn’t pick my name for that either! His name is in the Bible AND he was named after special relatives. His great-great grandfather had the name Peter and his middle name, Kamejiro, is from his great-grandfather. I know that animals don’t always get the same consideration as humans, and that is why we end up with such weird or ordinary names. I guess I should be grateful that Jasper isn’t too ordinary. That would be a definite insult to my exoticness.

Actually, my name isn’t a name in the Bible. Jasper is in the Bible, but it’s a precious stone. It’s a pretty important precious stone too! God told Moses to put jasper in the breastplate of the vestments for his brother Aaron, who was a special priest over all the other priests and people. God had all kinds of things for Moses to do. To make sure Moses didn’t get distracted, God had Moses climb up the mountain. They had a forty day and forty night training program or something up there. That’s when God told Moses about putting jasper in the breastplate of the vestments. In fact, there were four rows of precious stones. Jasper was in the fourth row with beryl and onyx. We were set in gold filigree too. I’m sure I was the most stunning stone in the whole outfit! (If you have a Bible and can find it, your can read all about it in Exodus 28).

That whole get-up must have weighed a ton! A little bunny like me would have been completely squished. The boy’s mother told me that when she wore vestments at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, she could hardly move, they were so heavy. I don’t think hers had rocks in them, but I guess gold can weigh a lot. Back then, everything was built for men.

The other place jasper is mentioned in the Bible is in the very last book, Revelation (just a reminder, people: no s at the end of Revelation). Jasper gets mentioned in all the radiance glimmering around the new Jerusalem. That must have been one spectacular vision for John who wrote Revelation!

No one really knows what the names of the three dudes who brought baby Jesus gifts when he was born, but tradition has it one of them was Jasper! Actually, he was Persian, so his name was probably Kasper. He was the one who brought the frankincense. Besides, Americans all know Casper as a friendly ghost and that makes it really confusing for kids who are trying to get all these people and stories figured out!

Next time you get the chance to give a human person or a fur person a name, I hope you’ll pick a special name. We are all stuck with our names for the rest of our lives (unless you change your name and that is a whole other interesting topic!). Plus, if you’re anything like the humans I live with, they make up all kinds of songs and ditties with your name. Sometimes I wonder about human grown-ups.

One final thought … Kamejiro is often represented as a turtle. I am an exotic bunny. I’m pretty sure that was not on purpose.

Geography of Haters

Geography of HateSocial media gives us a peek into all sorts of things, including the geography of haters. Yes, a Humboldt State University professor and her team of undergraduate researchers aggregated 150,000 hate language tweets over a period of 11 months and mapped them. It certainly looks like fire and brimstone are raining down all across the Bible belt to me.

The idea behind the mapping was to test for geographic relationships to hate language. Tweets of highly offensive homophobic, racist, and disability terms were collected from geocoded tweets and then plotted on a map using the Google Maps API.

Although the data looks damning, it gets a little more murky when taken within its context. The haters’ tweets were culled from Twitter users who were both active and had geotagging enabled. That only accounts for slightly more than 1 percent of Twitter users. They also had to be willing to engage in hate speech publically. While the geography is close, more technology must be used to pinpoint locations more accurately.

Regardless, it is very disturbing to see that hate speech is still very prevalent. It’s also distressing to see where the geography of haters are the most dense. When you also factor in those geographic pockets where the voting rights, marriage equality, women’s rights, racial equality, and immigration reform are most challenged, you can’t help but notice a geographic overlap.

More than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love…

No doubt he had the passage from Matthew in mind:

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Jesus rebuked his follower who unsheathed his sword in an effort to protect Jesus from being arrested).

What if the forces of hate were met with the power of love over Twitter? Instead of fire and brimstone would we see pink sparkles and unicorns? Is it possible that the Bible belt would morph from the geography of haters to the bastion of love? Now that would be something to behold!

I’ll See You Again: A Memoir of Unspeakable Grief


I’ll See You Again by Jackie Hance and Janice Kaplan is not the kind of book I pick up to read. I’m very selective about the type of memoirs I read and I usually steer away from tragedy-to-triumph stories. I know that seems weird for someone who sees God’s redemptive work in the strangest of people and places. Consider it another one of my qwerks.

I was especially hesitant to read this particular memoir. The unthinkable tragedy was in the headlines when it occurred in July 2009. Often headline tragedies become sensationalized memoirs of shock and awe. I really dislike that kind of drama.

I’ll See You Again wasn’t like that at all. It is a raw, intimate account of how a mother encounters the unimaginable loss of all three of her daughters in a traffic accident caused by her sister-in-law. It is grief in all of its despair and disruption for Jackie, her husband, and their family. It is bears witness to the lifeline of support their friends commit to over a period of years. It exposes the flaws and vulnerabilities of people and acknowledges the tensions in the unknowable and unanswerable. It is heartfelt and heart-wrenching at the same time … just like grief.

What makes this book so powerful is its reminder of the depth and extent of the grief process. Grief is not the same for everyone. While there may be stages of grief, it is really more a process, and a messy process at that. Relationships are difficult under the best of circumstances and become extremely threatened or challenged during grief. This book reminds us that even the bonds of love fracture, and can still withstand, devastating grief.

I’ll See You Again is intense. But then so is grief. Sometimes by experiencing it through someone else’s story we can tuck away some insight that will be useful in our future.

Children and Guns

Flower Girl & Toy GunChildren and guns. Two words, when combined, are a family’s worst nightmare.

Gun deaths of children are like domestic violence. It is pervasive throughout every strata of society. Law enforcement and law violators. Close-knit families and fractured families. Urban houses and rural farms. Wealthy and poor. Law-abiding gun owners who have attempted to store their firearms safely and law-abiding gun owners who are negligent.

Gun deaths of children are more likely to be accidental and done by other children. The greatest tragedy is that all gun deaths of children by children could have been prevented. And now it is too late.

In case you missed it, the New York Times recently reported about the hidden toll of children and guns in their Bearing Arms series. The article goes into depth about how and why the numbers of accidental children gun deaths are so under-reported. It also tells the stories of parents who think they’ve safely stored their firearms, only to tragically find out otherwise. We get a glimpse behind the stories we read in the headlines about children and guns deaths.

There is no doubt gun violence takes more than the lives of those killed. We know there is unspeakable grief for families of those whose children die because of something so preventable. We don’t want to really think about the irreparable consequences of accidental gun deaths have on the child who accidentally shot their friend or sibling. The article also has a video taken while attorneys are interviewing a 14 year-old boy who accidentally shot his friend. It is heart-wrenching.

Children – those who are accidentally shot and those who accidentally shoot – are the truly innocent victims of preventable gun violence. It doesn’t matter which side of the gun debate you choose. We all must ask ourselves: Am I willing to do what it takes on an issue that can be prevented?

If not, be prepared for sadness upon sadness.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth

diossa-swearing-in“The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is the foundation statement for oaths or affirmations in many countries when giving sworn testimony. Bearing witness or giving testimony is a commitment to tell the truth. The penalty for not doing so is the crime of perjury.

Our lives are based on the presupposition that truth is the bedrock in public discourse, business, relationships, economic transactions, academic pursuits, and legal dispositions. Truth underscores fair play and following the rules, all inherent in the American dream. We count on honesty and truth in our lives.

We especially depend on honesty and truth from those in power. After all, those in power are charged with oversight for the welfare and benefit for all under their purview. Parents are responsible for the nurturing and development of their children. Employers provide payment and benefits for work received from their employees. The obligations and purposes of law and government are to protect public health, safety, and morals, and to advance the common good—including, protecting people’s fundamental rights and basic liberties.

The true responsibility of those in power is not to dominate or control, but to maintain and protect humanity and secure their well-being. The ideal civil and democratic society draws from all spheres of power influences with honest and truthful exchange for the welfare of its citizens.

Our esteemed elected officials take an oath of office, but nowhere are they required to tell any truth. Their oath does not compel them to be honest. They are however promising to “well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” Yet a dysfunctional minority are blatantly lying and withholding information, undermining programs, like SNAP and the Affordable Care Act, designated for the common good for the people they serve.

I will be the first to say that the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect. I am experiencing a form of it first-hand in California. It has not been pleasant and I am not happy. However, it is better than the option of nothing I had before. Not only could I not get health care insurance, much less affordable insurance, health care providers no longer accept private-pay patients. I could not get any health care. That is just wrong in the wealthiest country on the planet. I will go so far to say it is sin that we do not provide a basic human right – access to affordable healthcare – for all of our people.

The Affordable Care Act is not the only area where truth is not being told. Falsehoods are also actively told about immigration, the poor, marriage equality, the climate, fair pay, gun violence, the mentally ill, and education.

One of the quotes I use for the word ‘honesty’ in my ebook Daily Word is from American religious leader, lawyer, and politician James E. Faust:

Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.

We deserve to have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – not lies or distorted or misinformation – about programs, services, laws, practices, in other words everything, that affect any and all of us. We deserve to have leaders who are honest and truthful in all their dealings. We deserve to have a truthful conversation with one another even if we disagree or are not guaranteed to get our own way.

Truth is essential. It is time for all of us to look honestly into our hearts and commit ourselves to truth telling, truth living, and truth loving. Our future does depend on it.


Refreshing Leadership: Pope Francis

Pope FrancisPope Francis is providing refreshing leadership when abysmal U.S. leadership has contributed to our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad last week. No wonder he’s trending!

Pope Francis is not only showing refreshing leadership, he embodies the good news he preaches. He lives out his authentic faith for all the world to see and has not gotten caught up in the trappings of power like so many others. Not only do we need to talk about this, we need to pay attention for ourselves.

This is what I’m paying attention to:

Humility. The Pope is the most powerful man in Catholicism in the wealthiest denomination of Christendom. The Roman Catholic Church has been steeped in power and politics since its beginning. And yet, despite any temptation to do what every preceding Pope has done, Pope Francis has chosen to remain true to his calling and consistent with how he’s always lived.

When I added humility as a Daily Word in my ebook, I wondered if this would be one of those words that people skip over. Many consider humility a weakness, when in actuality true humility requires great strength. Humility is what makes us real. Pope Francis’ humility in how he lives, in what care he drives, in his refusal to separate himself from others, but to continue to live in community makes him real to us. It’s a powerful visual that this great man of power has chosen to live like the rest of us, making him relatable. If he’s relatable, we will listen. An incredible act when so many within the Roman Catholic Church feel disenfranchised, unheard, and forgotten.

Listen. A pastor’s job is to listen, but most pastors of large churches are removed from the day-to-day pastoral duties of making calls, personally responding to correspondence, and getting involved with those on the lower rung of the church ladder. I’m thinking of youth (Yes, youth ministers and youth groups, while not on the bottom rung, are very near the bottom of the church ladder), those in prison, the poor, the unemployed, rape victims (aka the least of these), and definitely the least of these of other faiths.

Empower. The other aspect of listening is to respond to what you’ve heard. How often are you asked a question about how you are or how’s the job search, knowing the person asking doesn’t want to hear your real answer? They let you answer and then give a totally inane platitude that is not helpful.

Those hurting feel heard by Pope Francis because he will scrap his prepared remarks and instead address what he has heard from those with whom he’s spoken. His thoughtful response empowers the hurting individual to whom he’s responding.

When the Pope was in Sardinia recently, a married father of three who’s been unemployed for four years told the Pope, “[being unemployed] oppresses you and wears you out to the depths of your soul”. Pope Francis didn’t tell the man to have courage, trust the Lord and it will all work out. (Yes, people still say these stupid things. I heard a woman tell another woman exactly that in the organic produce aisle at the grocery store).

Instead, Pope Francis said, “It’s easy to say `don’t lose hope,’ But to all of you who have work, and to those who don’t, let me tell you: Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope.” The message of hope is there in both statements, but one statement empowers the person who feels hopeless: don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Subtle, but wisely powerful difference.

Priorities. Pope Francis called out the global economic system saying that, “The world has become an idolator of this god called money.” He went on to say, “We don’t want this globalised economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wants, not money.”

We are worshipping at the altar of money when corporate profits increase at the expense of employees, when companies refuse to consider a living wage, when a chasm widens because the middle-class is annihilated, when lower health insurance premiums also severely limit access to doctors and hospitals through narrow network health care.

Jesus simplified our priorities as people of faith: love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Oh, and everyone is our neighbor.

Transformative leadership. The premise behind transformative leadership is that as we change the world we also change ourselves, and as we change ourselves we also change the world. Pope Francis is a transformative leader. He brings a new way of being, relating, knowing, and doing to the papal position. His collaborative and pastoral approach is a model that works as much in secular venues as it does in ministry, especially in the 21st century. Refreshing leadership.

There’s a reason Pope Francis is trending. He is connecting with the social media generation because he is accessible in position and attitude. His message and his actions are in alignment with how most think followers of Jesus should behave. And he doesn’t impose a rigid morality or make judgments about lifestyle.

Jesus trended. Pope Francis is trending. What about the rest of us who call ourselves Christian or people of faith?

Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

IMAGINE • NO WARThis has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week in the United States. Thankfully, I don’t have television so I don’t hear the shameful, ignorant rants, but it is difficult to miss them in the online news headlines.

Racism is alive and well. If there was ever any doubt, it was revived with the outpouring of tactless racist remarks about a Miss America contestant winner. That these remarks are made in the 21st century is appalling! We are nation built on the breadth and depth of immigrants and their cultures and yet we cannot celebrate or even be gracious about one woman’s achievement.

Mass shootings (yes, plural) are another daily occurrence. Ho hum. The Washington Navy Yard shooting claimed twelve lives. The Chicago park shooting claimed three lives and twenty-three were wounded. Those were the mass shootings. Then there were the usual daily shootings – murder-suicides, homicides, accidents, suicides, drive-bys – that happen daily, devastating the lives of families and communities. And we go on, impervious to gun violence.

The growing disconnect between those in power and the rest of us. We learned this week that three percent of the population are millionaires and more than sixty percent of Congress are millionaires (aka Hillionaires). Most in Congress have no idea about the financial insecurity that is now the new norm for most Americans. They demonstrated the fullness of their disconnect when they slashed SNAP from the budget and passed a budget after removing funds for the Affordable Care Act (for the 41st time!) without even having the facts or talking seriously with their constituents who are the working poor and uninsured. I guarantee if they spent even one day in the life of one of their constituents, their eyes would be open to reality for most people.

I think God must grieve when God sees the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way we treat one another and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way our elected officials treat those whom they have been elected to serve. Scripture is full of passages that provide guidance, but one passage has been on my heart all week:

Do not plan harm against your neighbor
who lives trustingly beside you.
Do not quarrel with anyone without cause,
when no harm has been done to you.
Do not envy the violent
and do not choose any of their ways. ~ Proverbs 3:29-21

or the same passage from a contemporary version, The Voice:

Make no plans that could result in injury to your neighbor;
after all, he should be more secure because he lives near you.
Avoid fighting with anyone without good reason,
especially when no one has hurt you;
you have nothing to fight about.
Do not envy someone who profits at the expense of others
or copy any of his tyrannical ways.

I know it’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week and most of us are worn down trying to put food on our tables, pay our bills, find gainful employment, deal with grief and heartache, and everything else required to live life this side of eternity. May we be faithful and hopeful as we pray:

Source and goal of community, whose will it is that all your people enjoy fullness of life: may we be builders of community, caring for your good earth here and worldwide and as partners with the poor, signs of your ever friendly love; that we may delight in diversity and choose solidarity for you are in community with us our God forever. Amen. ~ Unknown



Schools, Sanctuaries and Starbucks

[Barcelona] Take a breakWhat should schools, sanctuaries and Starbucks have in common? Here’s your hint: there was an outpouring of opinion with Starbuck’s recent announcement.

First, my confession. I have never been a fan of firearms. Maybe it has something to do with being shot at multiple times while making a home visit on a Special Forces troop when I was working as a Chaplain for the Department of the Army. I can say with all certainty that the MP dispatched to follow me saved my life. I had no idea what that sound was that caused me to jump as the MP is yelling, “Hey Chap! Get down!” while tackling me and returning fire!

Or maybe it was the time when a young man walked into my church office with a knife and gun, obviously agitated about something. My office on the church campus was isolated from the rest of the staff offices.

Then again, it may have been the 30 self-inflicted gunshot victims I saw when I arrived on the scene. The youngest was 13 and the oldest was 87. My uncle and brother are not included in those numbers.

Of course, the gang shoot out behind my UCLA apartment, the shattered lives of parents in the Parents of Murdered Children group I facilitated or the blind date with the police officer who laid his firearm on the truck seat all got filed away in the deep recesses of my memory. And these few stories aren’t even all of my gun stories! With every new mass shooting, with every new suicide of a family member, friend or stranger, with every new homicide these buried memories are resurrected to remind me of the reality of gun violence.

My other confession is I am now distrustful of anyone and everyone who handles, owns, and legally carries a firearm. I know that even the most sane and competent person can have an impulsive moment. And IF a firearm is available, there are no guarantees that they will not use that firearm in an impulsive moment.

As a parent, I never thought about asking parents of their friends if there were firearms in the house. I never thought that a teacher would be allowed to carry a firearm in the school. I never considered that a parishioner at a church where I was preaching would have a weapon on their person. Now I look at every one of those situations and wonder, “Do they carry a firearm?” I’ll be sitting in my car at a traffic light and look over to the car and driver on my left and wonder if that person has a gun.

These are all learned behaviors. Experience teaches us and we learn from those experiences. Just as I learned to look and see who the registered sex offenders were in my neighborhood and around the churches I served, I am tempted to see if anyone I know has a concealed carry permit*. I know with all certainty, that if I was still raising children, I would never allow them to attend a school where any teacher or staff person was allowed to have a firearm while on school premises. I would never serve in or attend in church where firearms are allowed. My children would not be playing at any friends’ homes where there are firearms.

I, for one, am thankful that Starbucks is considering their customers’ concerns for safety and declaring their establishments gun-free zones. None of us can control what happens around us and declaring a place a gun-free zone does not guarantee there won’t be a gun violence incident. But I can make my own pink bubble a gun-free zone and do business in gun-free zones.

Guns do not belong in schools, sanctuaries, or Starbucks or even on our streets.

* Many places prohibit the release of records related to Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) holders and applicants to the public. Just as most of us don’t know that the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in the Newtown mass shooting donated one million dollars ($1M) to the NRA this past spring. Blind persons in Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Texas are allowed to carry firearms. When will we get serious about gun violence as a public health issue?

The Evil We Continue to Invite

Evil rimfireI wasn’t even finished reading a New York Times article on the growing divide in the gun debate when an alert came across my iPad about the Washington navy yard shootings. My outloud comment to no one but God was, “Another senseless massacre that won’t change anything. We continue to invite evil to dwell among us.”

We will never have a perfect society or a perfect anything this side of eternity. But inspite of that, we are still commanded to address and alleviate those things we can do something about. Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11), and yet scripture is full of admonitions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and take care of “the least of these.” Our efforts won’t alleviate all poverty, hunger, or illness, but it will make things better for everyone over the long haul.

Reducing gun violence is one of those areas we can do something about. Universal background checks would help reduce gun violence. Removing assault weapons and the rapid loading/rapid firing capabilities would help reduce mass shooting capabilities and thus reduce gun violence. These are just common sense measures that don’t take away anyone’s right to legally own a firearm and still, with little effort, will reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.

The more difficult issues that contribute to gun violence, but that aren’t so easy to address are mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Poverty and joblessness can also be added to that list. Usually there are a combination of these challenging factors that increase the possibility of escalating gun violence. Yet, just because they are more challenging does not absolve us from our responsibility to address underlying issues that contribute or exacerbate these issues – like poverty, access to mental health services, education, a living wage, and economic stability.

What price are we willing to incur by not addresses reducing gun violence and deflecting mental illness, domestic violence, and substance abuse from any substantive dialogue? We continue to invite evil to dwell among us when we don’t a serious effort to reduce gun violence or a serious effort to address issues that contribute to gun violence.

I was updating the list of Gun Deaths Since Newtown and I noticed the names of three year-old girl and five year-old sisters. Their 33 year-old mother was also listed. I was struck because I have two precious granddaughters who are 3 and 5 and my son, their father is 33. I decided to take a look and see how many gun deaths on that list were people who were the same ages as people in my immediate family.

Five hundred forty-four (544) names later, here is what I found. I only selected gender and ages that corresponded to the gender and age of my family member. For example, my Dad is 79. There were 10 names of 79 year-olds, but only 4 were male. I recorded only 4 for his age group, even though there were 6 more 79 year-olds who died from being shot by a firearm.

My Dad, 79 = 4 male gun deaths
My Mom, 78 = 3 female gun deaths
Me, 56 = 12 female gun deaths
My sister, 55 = 15 female gun deaths
My brother who was 52 when he died from self-inflicted gunshot = 105 male gun deaths
My husband, 48 = 67 male gun deaths
My son, 35 = 120 male gun deaths
My son, 33 = 171 male gun deaths
My daughter-in-law, 34 = 31 female gun deaths
My granddaughter, 8 = 5 female child gun deaths
My granddaughter, 5 = 6 female child gun deaths
My granddaughter, 3 = 5 female child gun deaths

Five hundred forty-four gun deaths – plus the twelve massacred at the navy yard and all the other gun deaths since December 14, 2014 – that we all bear responsibility for because we continue to invite evil to dwell among us.

Three Anchors to Sanity in an Insane World

A random shooting of a six-year old girl while standing with her Dad in their driveway. A domestic violence homicide a mile from my house. Disturbing video of Syrian civilians attacked with chemical weapons. A twelve-year old jumping to her death because of bullying. A Congress intent on maintaining political barriers. The usual insanity that touches all of us in the course of living: illness, death, dysfunction, jobs, family, and an endless litany of stuff that disrupts our otherwise manageable lives.

How can we stay anchored to sanity when insanity is all around us?

Here’s what I’ve discovered works for me when I find myself discombobulated by the craziness surrounding me:

1. Step into the Pink Bubble. Your bubble doesn’t need to be pink, but it does need to be happy color for you. Stepping into your bubble symbolizes removing yourself from the insane dissonance around you. It’s a place of sanctuary, a refuge (yes, you are a refugee from the insanity) to allow you to center or re-anchor.

When I’m in the Pink Bubble, I’m settling myself and tuning out all of the distractions so I can engage my next anchor. The other great thing about the Pink Bubble is I can step into it wherever and whenever throughout the day. I also like to start my day in the Pink Bubble because the things I do in the Pink Bubble frame the rest of my day. I can’t control any of the insanity outside the Pink Bubble, but I can put myself in an optimal place for staying grounded, character development, and personal transformation for my own sanity.

2. Engage a spiritual practice daily. I don’t know how anyone functions this side of eternity apart from God. I believe we all seek a power greater than ourselves on some level and the only way to find out if that is true is by applying it to our lives.

I have started my day with a spiritual practice for eons (yes, I’m older than dirt). I change it up from time to time to keep it fresh and engaging. Right now I’m using my Eternal Scheme Daily Word. It’s based on a compilation of practices I’ve done over the years.

I start my practice with a simple prayer: What do I need for today? How can I be an agent of God’s love and healing today? I then get my Daily Word (it’s randomly generated) to use a guide. I read the quote. I reflect on the scripture verse. I pray the prayer, adding anything I want to add. Then I consider the action. The action looks simple, but it isn’t always simple to enact. I write down my initial thoughts in a journal (yes, it’s digital) and consider how I will implement the action as I go through my day.

I check in with God and my action on the word throughout the day. Having the Daily Word ebook on my iPhone and iPad make it easy to reference throughout the day. I am serious about my own spiritual growth. I am intentional in applying what I’m discovering in my spiritual practice through the things I do and say. I can jot down any new insight or challenge in my journal. At the end of the day I have something to show for my efforts. I may not have affected world peace, but I did affect my own peace. And my peace affected peace in the household. You see where this goes.

3. Find kindred spirits. Life is not a solo venture. We don’t come into this life on our own and we don’t survive life on our own. We need at least one kindred spirit with whom we are accepted just as we are and with whom we can share openly and honestly.

Your kindred spirit relationships do take an investment. That’s why it is important to be selective. Your kindred spirit relationships must also be mutual. That means you accept each other with all the flaws and stars. You exercise a sacred trust with each other, knowing what you share together is confidential and unjudged. Your kindred spirit may not believe as you do, but you each are free to be in your own process.

Acceptance, respect, trust, and listening are essential for meaningful kindred spirit relationships. You’ll know you have a kindred spirit relationship if you feel they could read your journal and it wouldn’t change how they see and feel about you. Not that you have to share your journal; you’re comfortable knowing it wouldn’t change your relationship with each. After all, a kindred spirit is someone you can turn to to help maintain your anchor in an insane world.

Yes, the world around us is insane and in great need of transformation. However, for any social transformation, personal transformation must take place first. That means WE must be transformed too. When we anchor ourselves and allow the transforming grace of God to infuse us, we can be a beacon in the dark insanity.

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do. ~  Mahatma Gandhi

Time to enter the Pink Bubble. And yes, my Pink Bubble has sparkles.


Rest ~ An Excerpt

Photo: Linda Fouquet

~Photo: Linda Fouquet

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.

~ Etty Hillesum
(Dutch Jewish writer who died at Auschwitz, 1914-1943)

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Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.

~ Walter Brueggemann
(American Old Testament scholar and theologian, b. 1933)

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So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

~ Genesis 2:3

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The Eternal is my shepherd, who cares for me always,
who provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water;
who soothes my fears; making me whole again.

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The whole point of Sabbath – rest – is to cease working in order to be refreshed and renewed. It’s a mandate, not an optional activity. It’s also for our benefit.

When will you rest today?

You might consider writing in a journal or sharing what you experienced.

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I am almost ready to rest from my labors on Daily Word, which means it will soon be available for you! We are taking full advantage of all kinds of technology for this little project. To think that, prior to the printing press, everything was painstakingly done by hand, only elevates the commitment and care of all those scribes and calligraphers of ancient texts.

In honor of Labor Day, may you enjoy rest from your labors and the pleasure of good company!

Humor ~ An Excerpt

HumorHumor is the sunshine of the mind.

~ Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton 
(British novelist, poet, and politician, 1803-1873)

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You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.

~ Anne Lamott 
(American writer and social activist, b. 1954)

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May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.

~ George Carlin
(American comedian, social critic,and author, 1937-2008)

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Humor is an essential ingredient in life. Laugh out loud at least once today!

You might consider writing in a journal or sharing what you experienced.

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Imagine this is the word randomly generated for you. That’s part of what’s behind Eternal Scheme’s Daily Word. You’ve already been introduced to two other words, Abide and BeautyI will soon be finished with this little project and you’ll be the first to know! I can’t wait to launch Daily Word and share it with you.

I’m also looking forward to getting back to my regular blog. Of course, I thought I could do it all – write my regular blog posts and create all this interactive content for Daily Word. I don’t know what I was thinking! Gun Deaths Since Newtown is still being updated everyday. Sadly, gun violence doesn’t take any breaks.

Beauty ~ An Excerpt

BeautyPeople are like stained – glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

~ Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, MD
(Swiss American psychiatrist, pioneer in grief and near-death studies, 1926-2004)

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Love beauty; it is the shadow of God on the universe.

~ Gabriela Mistral
(Chilean poet, educator, diplomat, feminist, Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945, 1889-1957)

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With your feet I walk
I walk with your limbs
I carry forth your body
For me your mind thinks
Your voice speaks for me
Beauty is before me
And beauty is behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful
I am surrounded by it
I am immersed in it
In my youth I am aware of it
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

~ A Navajo Prayer

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Beauty is all around us and within us. Sometimes we miss it. Where did you see or discovery beauty when you might have otherwise missed it?

You might consider writing in a journal or sharing what you experienced.

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This is a sneak peek of a new Eternal Scheme feature
to be introduced soon. Daily Word offers an inspirational focus that can be used as a daily spiritual practice. Each word is randomly generated just for you.

Most of the pictures were taken by my sister, Janet, who has traveled extensively. Each word was matched with a picture to help you remember your word for the day. I’ve selected a wide-range of quotes, scripture and prayers to add depth, and an action to make it all real and practical.

We have a few other surprises we’re baking into the experience, as well as a companion ebook. You’ll hear more as we get closer to our launch!

Coming Soon



Photo by: Janet Peterson

Accustom yourself to unreasonableness and injustice. Abide in peace in the presence of God Who sees all these evils more clearly than you do, and Who permits them. Be content with doing with calmness the little which depends upon yourself, and let all else be to you as if it were naught.
~ François Fénelon (French archbishop, theologian, author, 1651-1715)

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Let me abide in your tent for ever,
find refuge under the shelter of your wings. ~ Psalm 61:4

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Gracious and loving God, I seek to abide in your Presence. As I abide in you, and you in me, may I bring compassion and wisdom in all I do and with all whom come across my path. Amen.

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The concept of abiding is rich and sustaining regardless of what is happening in your life. How can you practice abiding given what is going on in your life today?

You might consider writing in a journal or sharing what you experienced.


This is a sneak peek of a new Eternal Scheme feature
to be introduced soon. Daily Word offers an inspirational focus that can be used as a daily spiritual practice. Each word is randomly selected just for you.
You’ll hear more as we get closer to our launch. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Right Place at the Right Time

Living for 32When someone is shot with a firearm, whether they survive or die, someone inevitably says, “They were in the wrong place at the wrong time.” But when Colin Goddard was shot in his Virginia Tech classroom April 16, 2007. He was exactly where he was supposed to be: in class. So were the 32 other students and professors who died and the 17 others who were injured. They were exactly where they were exactly where they were supposed to be.

What was wrong was that a mentally ill person had a firearm on a campus. What was also wrong is that firearms are easily acquired at gun shows and privately in many states without any background check whatsoever.

Recently, Saint Sam and I, along with other members of the community concerned about the ongoing proliferation of gun violence, attended a screening of Living for 32, an award-winning documentary featuring Colin Goddard’s recollection, recovery, and response to the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. It was sponsored by: Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence/Sacramento Chapter, League of Women Voters of Sacramento County, Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, Sacramento Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Sacramento Chapter Organizing for Action (OFA). Members of the Sikh community, honoring the one-year anniversary of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting, were present as well as state and national congressional leaders. Colin Goddard was there.

I assumed all states required background checks for purchasing any firearm. I had no idea that only a handful of states require any background checks at all! The majority of states do not require any background checks. Most employers require some sort of background check prior to hiring, but there are no background checks for firearms?!? Something is seriously wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I think the right places for people to be safe from gun violence is in their school, on their campus, in their sanctuaries of worship, in the home, in their neighborhood, on the road, at a parade, in their places of employment, at a movie theater or any other place where they deserve to be.

It’s time to rethink what we say and not re-victimize someone who was right where they we meant to be. It’s time to consider that the wrong person with a firearm is in the wrong place. Period.

July 2013 Gun Death Statistics

gun?Every day I update my list of gun deaths since Newtown. There are nearly 7,000 gun deaths listed from my Slate source. It’s an incomplete list, only drawing from what is reported in the media. Nevertheless, as I was posting the names, ages, city and state of these gun deaths throughout July, it seemed like there were more than any previous month in 2013. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look more closely at the data for July 2013, even though it is definitely incomplete. As of the writing of this post, there were 1,038 gun deaths in July 2013, second only to January (1095 gun deaths). That’s roughly 16 percent of the gun deaths so far in 2013. Here are some other breakdowns of July’s statistics:

Female – 14% Male – 86%

0-12 years (16) – 1.5% 12-17 years (52) – 5% 18-19 years (53) – 5%  20-29 years (614) – 59% 30-39 years (197) – 19% 40-49 years (132) – 12.7% 50-50 years (61) – 5.8% 60-69 years (28) – 2.6% 70 and older (47) – 4.5% (the oldest was 95!)

Unknown Name – 47% (Often minor children’s names are NOT listed.)

Unknown Name and Age – 11%. Nothing is known about these poor souls.

According the the Brady Campaign*: Every day, 282 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents, and police intervention. Every day, 86 people die from gun violence: 32 are murdered; 51 kill themselves; 2 die accidentally; 1 the intent is unknown. Every day, 196 are shot and survive: 140 shot in an assault; 10 survive a suicide attempt; 43 are shot accidentally, 2 are shot in a police intervention. If we were to use these statistics to extrapolate more realistic numbers for gun deaths only in July 2013, we’d begin to see a very different story of lives lost and families changed by gun violence:

July 2013 gun deaths from crowdsourced media: 1,038 Averaged monthly gun deaths: 2,666 (86 gun deaths/day x 31 days)

The breakdown for a month would look like this:

    • 992 murdered
    • 1,581 self-inflicted
    • 62 die accidentally
    • 31 intent unknown
    • 373 female
    • 2,293 male

I know numbers make most of us glaze over or they’re numbers we have a difficult time relating to. But what if you were to look at the numbers in relation to something you can relate to, like your friends on Facebook? If I have 60 friends on Facebook and I related it to one of these numbers, roughly all 60 would die from accidental gunshot in one month! Half would die without knowing why! Many have more than 100 friends on Facebook. If roughly 86 people die each day from guns, how many days before all of your friends on Facebook would be dead! Grizzly and scary when you put it in relatable terms. Numbers and statistics are impersonal and separate us from the real lives impacted. We must never lose sight of the fact that each number relates to one person who dies. And each person who dies was connected to a family, a network of friends and co-workers – a greater circle of people whose lives are irrevocably altered because of the misuse of a firearm.

*The Brady Campaign averaged the most recent three years of data from death certificates (2008-2010) and estimates of emergency room admissions (2009-2011) available via CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System, www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars/. Data retrieved 12/28/12. Numbers may not sum to 100% because of rounding. **Estimate may be unstable.


Practicing the Presence

Summer backstreet cleanup with neighborsHave you ever felt that the bulk of your day is chock-full of routine and mundane tasks that seemingly have little or no eternal value? Some things are everyday like making the bed or brushing your teeth. Other things are once a week like cleaning the toilets and laundry. Some are multiple times a week like going to the market or watering the garden. All tasks that get squeezed in between the other events of your day that are also fairly routine and uneventful: charting on a patient, writing a report, answering phones, the commute.

I can’t remember exactly how I was introduced to Brother Lawrence. I’m pretty sure it was over forty years ago (yikes!) when I was still in high school. I’ve been thinking about a lot about his immensely practical concept: practicing the presence of God.

Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in 17th century Paris. He was uneducated and therefore unable to become a cleric. Instead he was assigned to the kitchen and in his later years repaired sandals. While performing his tedious tasks cooking and cleaning, and at the constant bidding of his superiors, he developed his rule for spirituality and work. Everything, no matter how mundane or tedious, could be a channel for God’s love.

To Brother Lawrence, the motivation behind the task, not the task itself, was what mattered:

Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him … It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.

Cultivating a keen awareness of God’s constant presence in our everyday lives is a lifelong endeavor. It requires a constant mindfulness on our part to be aware of what we’re doing, no matter how routine or unimportant, as if God is present with us. It also calls us to be mindful of everyone around us as we are a conduit of God’s love to that person. It forces us to be thoughtful and thorough, bringing a simplicity back to our otherwise frenetic and disjointed lives.

Brother Lawrence felt having a proper heart about tasks made every detail of his life possess surpassing value. And I think the same holds true for us today in the 21st century. Yes, some of us may have vocations that significantly impact the lives of thousands of people. Most of us, however, spend our lives just doing the stuff of life; behind-the-scenes, routine, necessary, and seemingly mundane.

One thing I’ve learned, however, is that sometimes the most mundane is the most sacred. Our lives are rife with stress and strife, and it’s not without basis. What I’ve found is that the more stress and strife that I’m experiencing is exactly the time I need most to practice the presence of God. I may be relegated to the indigent medical clinic for example, but I can be a conduit of God’s love and presence to the others who are also tossed into the abyss of the uninsured. I may be fixing a theme on a chicken variation for dinner, but the care and presentation of a well-loved recipe is a but a backdrop for a good time with family or friends around the table.

Your mission – should you chose to accept it – is to practice the presence of God in one thing you do daily this week. The more mundane, the better. I’d love to hear how it goes!

The Tale of Two Waiting Rooms

standing room onlyRecently I had the opportunity to spend time in two different medical waiting rooms on the same day. Waiting areas of any nature are an interesting study in human nature and people watching. Usually there’s a diverse sector of people waiting – like the lines in your local market or the DMV – that represent a decent cross section and various segments of the socio-economic-ethnic-cultural heritages of the community. Medical waiting rooms, however, are a different story.

Medical waiting rooms are a microcosm: those with health insurance and those without. The disparity continues by gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, and lifestyle. It didn’t used to be that way. Sadly, I think medical waiting rooms are but one manifestation of the widening gaps in America today.

As with all tales, this tale of two waiting rooms has a very interesting twist.

My husband, Saint Sam, is very wary of the medical profession and pretty much has to be scared into going to any doctor. He finally had a swallowing episode that scared him enough to make an appointment. He has health insurance so getting an appointment as a new patient for the next day in a prestigious medical group was not a problem. The referral to and consultation with a specialist, the approval for and completion of an endoscopy all happened within one week. (A very different experience than mine.)

I spent the morning of his procedure in the waiting room. The facility is located in a new development catering to the upscale community nearby. The entire facility was new, open and spacious. A large waiting area had plenty of seating and current magazines on the tables. There were a handful of other spouses waiting while their spouses were having colonoscopies and endoscopies and whatever other technologies they put up, in, or down. Interestingly, the other spouses waiting were all older men who also managed their wife’s handbag while she was having her procedure.

Among the patients I observed going in and coming out for office visits, most were individuals by themselves and a few families with children. Everyone was white! No person of any color. I didn’t quite expect that.

Later that afternoon, I had a return visit to the [indigent] clinic of which I am now a patient. I need to be referred to a specialist, but the out-of-pocket costs for tests and treatment are prohibitive even if your have a decent income, so I first had to complete a ream of paperwork to determine which indigent program I was eligible before I can be referred. It will take about 60 days.

I began using the term “indigent” just to make a point, but all of these forms use “indigent” as part of their title! The caseworker and I were laughing about social worker stuff, including the pejorative and unclear language used by bureaucrats who design these forms. But that’s beside the point.

The clinic’s waiting room was almost a complete polar opposite of the waiting room I spent my morning. The clinic recently expanded from treating solely HIV/AIDS patients and the colorful population within that strata to becoming a community health center for a broader population.

The clinic is a few blocks from the state capitol and medical patients are seen in the basement of an older building. The clinic has made the most of their limited, dungeon space by making it well-lit and cheerful. The seating is very limited, but healthier patients thoughtfully relinquish their seat for another. I was the oldest person there both times, the only white person, one of the few women, and the only married person. There were no children.

Here’s the interesting twist: no one talks to anyone else in one medical waiting room and no one is left out of the conversation in the other. I brought something to read when I went to both clinics. I got a lot read while waiting in one and nothing read while waiting in the other.

I shared my observation when I met with the caseworker. I told her that Cares is the most social waiting room of any medical environment I have ever seen anywhere, and I’ve experienced many! I remarked how people smile and greet you all along the way from the street to the basement. They offer their seat and they engage you, and everyone around, in a meaningful conversation. They are respectful, but they will comment about something, like your handbag or what you’re reading, and that opens up the conversation that truly is engaging and interesting, bringing in others who are also in the waiting area. No judgment. No unease. Just people talking to people.

Then I told her about the other waiting area that morning. A doctor got in the elevator with us. “Going up?” was the only thing said. No one sat near anyone else and certainly no one talked to anyone else in the waiting area. In fact, no one made eye contact with anyone. If I wasn’t there with my husband, I would have had no human interaction whatsoever.

She said they get told that all the time. Most people say it’s like a family. And it is. As I was leaving, a guy (dreds, tattoos all over including his forehead, and a mint in piercings) held the gate to the stairs open for me. He recognized me from last week and wanted to know if I finished my book. I told him I did. He said that our discussion inspired him to read the book so he went to the library and checked it out. He’s now reading it and hopes we’re there at the same time sometime soon so we can talk about the book! A.Maz.Ing.

I may not have health insurance. I may be receiving my health care at an indigent clinic with other indigents, but I am continuously blessed. Thanks be to God.

For the Beauty of the Earth


For the beauty of the earth,
for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth,
over and around us lies …

There’s something about being outside in beautiful, remote locale surrounded by water and trees, and open sky. No traffic noise. No electronic devices buzzing. No clocks. No to-do lists. Your only goal is to relax and reconnect with yourself, your family or friends, and creation.

I thought of this old hymn often when we were up at Paulina Lake in Oregon. This spring-fed lake in a volcanic crater surrounded by pine trees and lava flow remains is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It holds many happy memories of family fishing trips with my Mom’s side of the family. And it was a fitting place to gather as a family to spread my brother’s ashes.

I grew up playing outside, riding my bike everywhere, walking to school, and fishing, camping and backpacking. I was fortunate to live close enough to beaches and mountains in a state that valued state and national parks. Santa Clara Valley morphed into Silicon Valley, but the house I grew up in (and my parents still live) was nestled on a half-acre lot that was a rural-like oasis in a valley whose orchards were gradually replaced with corporate office campuses and high density housing.

Maybe that’s why the outdoors calls to me. Or maybe it’s because we are part of creation and it’s embedded in our DNA. Although I find places of beauty and serenity wherever I am, being able to truly get away to places like Paulina are necessary to refresh and restore my worn out soul.

So here are my few simple thoughts from Paulina:

Unplug and power-off. I confess. I am dependent on technology for an alarming amount of activity from waking up to working out. We may laugh when we say “there’s an app for that,” but there is a lot of truth in that statement! Unplugging removes distractions that keep us from being present with ourselves and engaging with others. We are more aware and attuned to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and feel.

Be in the experience. I know. A little esoteric for most of us, but I’m not talking about tapping into your personal om channel so you can commune with the primal essence of the universe. I’m talking more about being invested in whatever you’re doing or whomever you’re with.

I can’t swim (I know. California girl who doesn’t swim.) so being out in the middle of a deep lake in a small boat where you can see the deeps is a bit unnerving for me. But the experience of being on a crater lake, surrounded by ancient lava flows and towering pines, soothed by the sun while helping my granddaughter catch her first fish was more powerful than my fear of water and a memory gift I will always have.

Grandpa Sam and I experienced a different hike with our eight, five, and three-year old granddaughters than we would have by ourselves. Being able to belly-laugh about “fishing with Vic” (literally) and then watch your husband pull in (literally) his first fish is stuff you just can’t make up. Epic stories come from epic experiences.

Give thanks. There was a bittersweetness about this trip to Paulina. It was a much more emotional trip than I anticipated. My brother would have loved everything about this trip and he was never far from most of our thoughts. Being able to give thanks for his life and honor him in a simple tribute might have been the impetus for all of us getting together, but it wasn’t the only thing.

My grandparents brought their kids to fish at Paulina, who brought their kids, who brought their kids, who are now bringing their kids. Families who have had their share of tragedies and triumphs and differences, and are still able to be blessed by the ties that bind us together … in one of my most favorite places on the planet.

Lord of all to Thee we raise,
this our hymn of grateful praise.




Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

For I am your passing guest,
an alien, like all my forebears (Psalm 39:4-4, 12).

Before he died, my brother talked to my cousin Heidi about getting together for an all-family fishing trip to Paulina Lake in Oregon. You know how that goes. You usually talk about it and then when it gets down to finding a date that works for everyone, it doesn’t materialize.

We lived in California and the rest of my parents’ families lived in Oregon. Every summer, we’d go to Oregon for a two week family vacation. One week was devoted to seeing relatives. The other week was devoted to fishing either in Pacific City or Paulina Lake with my Mom’s side of the family.

It was an annual tradition my grandparents, my Uncle Gary’s family and our family looked forward to every year while I was growing up. Even after my cousins and I started having children, we’d still meet at Paulina every few years. If I wasn’t able to come, Grandma would bring my two sons up with her. Gradually, our individual families made their own plans as it became impossible to coordinate so many schedules.

When Heidi, my other cousin Tom and Uncle Gary were here for Vic’s memorial service in December, Heidi brought Paulina up again. We weren’t sure we’d be given any ashes to scatter, but regardless it would be a fitting final tribute to Vic to gather the family together for a fishing trip. By the end of January, we had the dates set, the cabins booked, and everyone cleared for vacation. Four generations of our family were going fishing at Paulina Lake in honor of Vic.

Vic would have loved everything about the week. He loved to fish, he loved a good time, and he loved family. He was unabashedly emotional, usually being the first to tear up, and there was plenty of that from the rest of us. I felt like I was channeling him helping my granddaughters reel in their first fish or seeing the cigars light up on our boats as anchors were dropped or one of our boats trolled by. He was an epic storyteller, and now his nephew and second cousins have taken up the mantle. We laughed so hard we cried. Everyone (except me) caught fish. The third and fourth generations beat the first and second generations in our fishing derby by a long shot. We taught them well (smile).

Vic used to tell people I married and buried people and he got the free family rate. I did officiate his wedding (which he, Tom, my sister and I cried through), but never thought I’d be officiating his memorial services. As with Grandma, Vic’s was a privilege even though it was very difficult.

Death is a part of life. We often don’t think enough of our life and even less of death. The loss of someone close to you is a bittersweet reminder of just how precious are our lives. It’s a reminder of what is important, like relationships and family, and treasuring all that we’ve been given.

Our last full day together was selected as our time for Vic’s celebration. It was a beyond-gorgeous day, the lake as smooth as glass. We loaded up in our five boats, forming a flotilla as we crossed the lake. Dad’s boat led our procession, each of us with our own thoughts. We beached and walked a short distance to a small beach just large enough for us to gather. Vic would have been so touched that we did this, honoring him and all that he meant to us.

My son Luke played Gershwin’s Summertime on his trumpet as we scattered Vic’s ashes. A monarch butterfly fluttered among us, starting with Dad, as we were concluding. A poignant reminder of God’s transforming love and that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever separate us from God’s eternal love.

And so we said farewell to Vic for now. No doubt he will be waiting for each of us, in our own time, with a string of fish, a cigar, and a welcoming hug.

Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection we commit you, Vic. The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift his countenance upon you, and give you peace, both now and evermore. Amen.


Family, Fishing, and Farewell

Paulina LakeThe trip we began talking about in December is happening. All four generations of my uncle’s family will be present from Washington and Oregon. Most of my parents’ four generations, all of us in California now, will be represented. We gathering at Paulina Lake, Oregon as a family to fish and celebrate. We have a wedding anniversary, a birthday, and a farewell as we scatter my brother’s ashes.

It will be a wonderful, bittersweet time. I haven’t even met some of these people! And some of my uncle’s clan hasn’t met some of mine. My brother’s daughters won’t be there and I’m very sad my other son won’t be joining us. This will be the first large family gathering ever and we’re going to be at a place that hold many wonderful family memories initiated by my grandparents many moons ago.

My brother would love that we’re all getting together, especially to fish,  and would remind us that this was all his idea in the first place. No doubt he’ll be among us.

It’s remote and I’m pretty sure I won’t have any WiFi, so I won’t be able to post blogs the week we’ll be gone. Please keep my family in your prayers as we travel, welcome new family members, have fun, and say farewell.

Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears (Psalm 39:4-5, 12).

More Lessons from Jasper Bunny

JasperBunny2I’ve been a very busy bunny lately. I forgot how much work it is to get well! The only good thing about it is I get out of the house every day. Going to the vet isn’t my most favorite past time, but sometimes you have to find little niceties in the unpleasant things in life.

This whole vet thing got me thinking about a few more things I have to say. My human Auntie told me it’s good to write things down and share. It helps you because it gets it out of your worry brain and it helps other fur creatures because they probably go through similar things. Besides, I’m a really wise bunny.

1. Embrace your exoticness. I found out just how exotic I was in a most unpleasant way. My people took me to a regular ‘ole vet to have my nibbly bits removed. (Is that considered TMI?) That’s when I found out that the fur monster who took a bite out of my ear also snacked on another tasty morsel because a nibbly bit was missing! (Now that probably is TMI.) The regular vet recommended we see a vet who specialized in exotics. Good thing because I had so many problems after my nibbly bit surgery.

Being exotic is being really special. I sometimes remind my human family that us fur creatures are more special because we were created before the human creatures. Even fleas were created before the humans. Sometimes they just have to be reminded because they think they are most special. No, they’re special too, but not more special.

The only thing I don’t like about going to an exotic vet is that other exotics see her too. And I REALLY don’t like snakes! The other day a snake came in when my Auntie was getting me and my cousins. I was worried my Auntie was going to have a heart attack or stroke before we got out of there. She hates snakes as much as me. She can’t hate snakes more because they won’t eat her. I’m sure I’d be a sumptuous appetizer. Four snakes came in today. I was really glad to have my own fortified chariot.

2. Take things as they come. I sure do wish my human family would remember this. There is so much a little bunny cannot control. There are a lot of things my human family cannot control, but they are so silly and think they can. They really need to listen to me. I am always modeling taking things as they come. Like this parasite. I have a very sensitive tummy and sometimes it gets whacked out. I just have to be a good bunny, take my medicine, get my enemas (that does stretch me sometimes), and eat my critical care mush. If I take things as they come, before I know it I’ll be over it!

3. Maintain an [good] attitude. Personally I think having an attitude is just fine, but I do live with others and need them to help me, so I try to have a good attitude most of the time. It’s okay to let them them know when you’re displeased. Just use your words. Since I don’t have any words, I thump or rearrange my house. Sometimes its good to throw things. It’s never okay to throw things at other creatures. That’s not having a good attitude.

4. Treat others well. You never know when you’re going to need them. I really like Dr. Brick. When I was so sick after my nibbly bit surgery, I sometimes called her Dr. Pick because she had to pick at ickies on me. But I don’t think that’s very nice, so I try to be respectful and bring treats (Yes. Humans like treats too.) Good thing because when I get sick I have to see her a lot! Everyone at the clinic knows me. That’s because I’m a special exotic and have survived lots of ickiness, but only because Dr. Brick, Andie, Cassie, and Greg have taken such great care of me and Laura makes sure I get in because I’m special. I’m don’t know Dr. Sanchez as well, but she takes good care of me too.

5. Be hospitable. This is going to be a real stretch for me this coming week. My people are going to Oregon. They’re going fishing, but they’re also going to put the Bunny Whisperer’s ashes somewhere special. I was really sad when the Bunny Whisperer died. He was one of my special people.

Us fur creatures have to stay home. I have two kitty siblings – Maui and Spirit – and my two kitty cousins – Takuma and Midori – are coming to stay with us. I have stayed with my two kitty cousins before so I know them. I know they like my bunny house! I would growl at them, but they didn’t seem to pay any attention. Oh well, chasing them is very effective if I want to be left alone. See, that’s why you have at be the alpha bunny!

The lady coming to stay with all of us is bringing Diego the Dog. Maui, Spirit, and I know Diego really well. We’ll see how Takuma and Midori like Diego. They are so laid back, I’m sure it will be fine. I have already been informed that since I’m the alpha bunny, I have to set an example and be hospitable. So much responsibility sometimes.

I’m so glad I wrote this for you. I feel better already!

Lessons from Jasper Bunny

JasperMy name is Jasper and I am a Netherland dwarf rescue bunny. I was really little so I don’t really remember what happened, but I know I was found by two really nice men. Even though they didn’t know anything about bunnies, they brought me to one of their houses. I was so relieved to be out of the wilds! A big scary fur monster took a bite out of one of my ears! I don’t have to worry about any of that anymore.

My fur people have a lot to say about me. But I have a few things to say too. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned since being rescued from the wilds.

1. Sometimes you have to find a new family. I don’t know why my old family dumped me in the wilds, but they did. I was fortunate enough to get a new family. Sometimes that’s just the way it is; your family may be doing the best they can with what they have to work with or maybe they have too many of their own problems. They will always be your family, but it’s okay to have a few others in the human tribe that are like family. Sometimes they find you and sometimes you find them.

2. Sometimes you have to tolerate others who aren’t like you. I live with two other cats and one human. They can be so pesky and I have to assert myself as the alpha bunny. It works most of the time. Sometimes the human can be a bit much, like when she puts that cold stethoscope on my tummy to listen to my bowels. What does she think I am?!? One of her hospital patients? Sheesh. But then I remember she takes really good care of me and buys me my favorite hay. The cats pretty much leave me alone. I think one of them is scared of me and I have to remind the other one I will share up to a point. Being tolerant does not mean being a doormat.

3. Sometimes you have to eat poo. I know. Gross. Humans say it all the time, but I don’t think they really eat poo. I do eat my cecatropes because they are really important for my digestive track. I must have the most sensitive digestive track on the planet. Right now, it’s a bit messed up because some I got some alpha parasite that didn’t want to play nicely in my gut and I have had to see my doctor every day for enemas and other nasties. I know. Double gross. And I do eat poo!

4. Kick up your heels. My favoritest thing is to be out of my bunny house. I have a three-story bunny house with toys and lots of good things to eat and two water bottles! But I still like to get out. When that cage door opens up, I hop right on out, kick up my heels, and do my twistees in the air. You really should try it. Even when things aren’t going really well, you can still kick up your heels. It just makes you happy.

The Saga of the Uninsured

dandelion spokesThe saga of this uninsured person has taken another twist. I am really curious what the experience is of someone else who is also uninsured. If you too are uninsured, please comment or email me! I know there are some kindred spirits out there!

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about or are among the privileged who has or can get health insurance, let me bring you up to speed.

Here’s a brief recap:

  • I had health insurance through our company when we lived in California.
  • We moved to Texas and I was denied by six insurance companies because of pre-existing medical conditions.
  • We moved back to California in 2013 and I was no longer eligible for the Texas Risk Pool. I also was ineligible for any risk-pool type insurance in California because I had been insured (You must be uninsured for six months before applying). Even if I was elegible, the premiums were in excess of $1,500 per month, making it unaffordable since we are currently under-employed.
  • I called one of the resources given to me when I was looking for coverage in California. I was referred to a local clinic system that takes uninsured patients. The prescriptions I transferred from my pharmacy in Texas were going to expire and I needed to find a local doctor in order to be able to continue taking medication.
  • I made an appointment with the [indigent] clinic. The earliest appointment was two-and-one-half months out. I took it. In the meantime, I called my Texas doctor and she extended my prescription refills for three more months.
  • When I showed up for the appointment, I was told I had been cancelled because when they called me to reschedule, my phone was disconnected. They had the wrong phone number. The next available appointment was another three months out.
  • I decided to try Planned Parenthood, knowing I could at least get a mammogram and basic lab work done. I had an appointment within the week and results from my lab work the next day! Unfortunately my lab work came back abnormal and I had to establish a primary care physician for treatment. I was referred to a clinic for the uninsured. It turned out to be the same [indigent] clinic system I had already tried only under another name!
  • I called the main number given to me by Planned Parenthood and was told I couldn’t be seen for three months at the main clinic, but that I was welcome to try one of the other six clinics. Four of the phone numbers given to me were no longer in service and the other two clinics didn’t have appointments for four to five months.
  • I gave up, completely frustrated (actually I told my insured husband I was was f**king frustrated).

That brings me up to today. Since I know I will be eligible for something when the Affordable Health Care Act is fully implemented, I decided to be a self-pay patient just to get this recent issue resolved and my prescriptions refilled. Well, it seems no one is taking any new self-pay patients. No one. Not only are they not taking any new self-pay patients, they do not know “of any resources available for someone in [my] situation.” Really?!? I can’t be the only uninsured person in the entire Sacramento area who has called for an appointment and been refused. I understand having a policy for accepting new patients, but it’s unacceptable to not have resource options when denying someone.

My last resort was to call the clinic where my oldest son receives treatment for HIV and other other issues, and my sister raises money through the NorCal AIDS Cycle. I learned they recently expanded their services.

Hallelujah! I have an appointment! It could have been seen sooner, but we’ll be at Paulina Lake, Oregon on a family fishing trip and scattering some of my brother’s ashes. In the meantime Planned Parenthood has called me again to see if I have an appointment. They are serious about making sure I am seeking treatment. I’m tentatively hopeful. This is my last option.


The Common Good: One in Three

Old Feedsack Rag BallsYears ago I was at a sales seminar with ten thousand other women. Cosmetic queen, Mary Kay Ash had just established her charitable foundation raising awareness and funding for cancers affecting women and resources for women coming out of domestic violence. She told us to look at the woman on our left and then look at the woman on our right. She then said, “One of the three of you will get breast cancer.”

I will never forget the impact of that statement. I knew the woman on my right and the woman on my left. The thought that one of us would contract breast cancer brought a statistic to reality. And it held true. Eight years later the woman on my right was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer.

One in three jumped out at me again when I was on the Planned Parenthood website to schedule my appointment. One in three women will have an abortion by age 45. I know a lot of women who have had abortions. I wonder how many of them realize that so many of their sisters have also had abortions? How different would the conversation be about this issue if women spoke up, like they have with breast cancer and ovarian cancer?

Here’s the thing: one in three is a really common occurrence.

And I could go on and on!

Not only are these issues much more common than we think, someone you know is impacted and you don’t even know who that might be.

This brings some interesting thoughts immediately to mind:

  • The likelihood of me having an opinion on a social issue that affects one in three is very high. Do I spout off my opinions on a subject without thinking of the other person and what I do not know about them?
  • Am I willing to acknowledge something for the common good even though I might have a differing personal opinion?
  • How does my faith inform how I think about these social issues?

I learned early on in my ministry that I must always remember that behind every issue was at least one person who was personally affected. I might be talking about our outreach programs to “the least of these,” knowing at least one person in my congregation was also a “least of these” of which I was speaking. And everyone, regardless of their circumstances was deserving of dignity and respect as a member of our collective human family.

I know several people in each of the one in three groups above. I am very dismayed by the tone and thoughtlessness of the conversations in religious circles regarding marriage equality, immigration, health care, voting rights, and economic disparity to name a few.

By being mindful the one in three, we are considering the common good for all of us. The idea of the common good predates Jesus, was espoused by Plato, Aristotle and Cicero, and is part of the bedrook of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

As Jesus warned, have we “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. … You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24) Stay tuned! Or better yet, what do you think?


Human Rights and Planned Parenthood

Happy 4th of July! The American Flag in FireworksBeing uninsured is an opportunity for creative health planning. It’s one thing to be uninsured in your 20s when you’re young and healthy. It’s another thing to be uninsured when you’re my age (I’m not sure if I’m still considered middle-aged or if I’ve crossed over into the senior category) and have had 59 major surgeries.

After the fiasco at the medical clinic for medicaid and the uninsured, I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood provides a broad range of health services and screenings in addition to services for sexual and reproductive health. I knew Planned Parenthood could handle some routine screenings I needed, such as my annual mammogram and blood work.

The experience between the [indigent] clinic and Planned Parenthood could not have been more different. The appointment at the clinic was two-and-a-half months out, whereas Planned Parenthood was the following week. I received email and phone confirmations of my appoint with Planned Parenthood. The clinic input the wrong phone number so when they couldn’t reach me (which is very common for their population), they cancelled my appointment. When I showed up, they told me I’d have to wait another two-and-a-half months for another appointment. That’s when I decided to try Planned Parenthood.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to Planned Parenthood, but I can tell you I did not expect to see so many men! In fact, the only seat available for me was on a row of all men! They were filling out their own paperwork so they were there for themselves. There were a couple of other men with children so I assumed they were waiting for their partners. I was definitely the oldest person in the room!

Most of the time when you go to a medical office, it’s like a morgue. No one talks, not even people who are there together. The waiting area was very vibrant at Planned Parenthood. As soon as I completed my paperwork, one of the pierced/tattooed father’s asked me if I had children. I told him my sons were grown and I was actually a grandmother now. He asked me how I got through the teen years and that opened up a conversation that included most of the people in the waiting room. Not what I would have expected anywhere, especially at Planned Parenthood.

My name was called within 10 minutes of arriving! Often does that happen?!? The intake was very thorough, asking if I had ever been in an abusive relationship (most doctor’s don’t ask those questions at all), about my current relationship, sexual preferences all without judgment. Specific questions as well as the usual health history. I only waited a few more minutes before the nurse practitioner came in to examine me. She ordered blood work and the tech drew the blood in the exam room. Everyone – the receptionist, nurse assistant, nurse practitioner, phlebotomist, account clerk – was professional, thorough, and friendly.

I have already received the results from one of the labs! (My appointment was yesterday and I just got off the phone with the nurse practitioner). It was abnormal, which I expected, and she went over all my options since I do need to be seen by a primary care physician for ongoing treatment.

I’m a seasoned patient. I know how to advocate for myself and I am not easily intimidated by health care professionals. I have learned to listen to my body, but only after years of trying to ignore it. I cannot think of any better place than Planned Parenthood for a young person – male or female – to learn to take responsibility for their own health care in a safe, non-judgmental, you-and-your-body-are-special, environment. Even more mature men and women can feel safe learning and understanding the changes that are certain to occur in their own bodies as they age. That’s just plain good stewardship of the body and person created by God.

Planned Parenthood and other clinics that offer health care to to low-income or uninsured are being threatened because they offer reproductive health services. It’s really coming down to access to health care. And health care is a basic human right.

Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called human rights because they are universal. Human rights are the rights to which everyone is entitled—no matter who they are or where they live—simply because they are alive.

Yet many people, when asked to name their rights, will list only freedom of speech and belief and perhaps one or two others. There is no question these are important rights, but the full scope of human rights is very broad. They mean choice and opportunity. They mean the freedom to obtain a job, adopt a career, select a partner of one’s choice and raise children. They include the right to travel widely and the right to work gainfully without harassment, abuse and threat of arbitrary dismissal. They even embrace the right to leisure.

The United States is celebrating independence July 4, founded on the premise that its citizens have these inalienable human rights. I, for one, intend to support organizations like Planned Parenthood to make sure those rights are available to any and all. Amen.


Mid-Year Highlights

My Fenway perpetual calendarThe summer solstice has passed. We are officially in summer, verified by today’s temperature of 108! The calendar year has passed it’s halfway mark. Sam and I have been back in California six months. I just entered the the 865th name from gun deaths for June alone. My family will be be making a pilgrimage to Paulina Lake in Oregon to scatter my brother’s ashes in two weeks.

It’s been an intense six months. I thought I’d share some interesting highlights from my blog that might give some insight into these last six months.

Most Viewed Post: As with most things in life, we find ourselves serendipitously drawn to certain things because of experiences or circumstances we encounter in the normal course of living. That’s what happened for me with gun deaths. As we were leaving  the church where I officiated my brother’s memorial service, the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was happening. Two events on two coasts bookended by gun violence.

I started Gun Deaths Since Newtown at the end of April as a way to honor the thousands of children, women, and men who died from gun violence. Congress had shamelessly failed to pass responsible, common sense legislation proven to reduce gun violence. This post alone had nearly 500 unique views! I update the list every day and there are over 5,000 gun deaths since January 1, 2013!

Most Dramatic Post: Grief exposes the cracks or chasms in families. I’ve explored some of those tensions in a couple of posts, but Made for TV Family Drama has exceeded all the other grief posts put together. It seems that many people have similar family issues.

Most Difficult Post: My brother’s death shocked all of us. Suicide always does. I shared my homily from my brother’s service in When Your Brother DiesWords are always inadequate, but it’s all we have when we gather to celebrate a life. Several hundred people were at his service, but I think this post was shared with many who were not able to attend or who found out about his death later.

Most Surprising Post: Sometimes I write posts knowing the topic is not something many people will read. I still write it because someone needs to say these things and I might be the only person in someone’s circle who will say something. Asking Saves Kids was one of those topics. I was truly shocked when the number of views kept increasing! Apparently it hit a nerve.

Testing Trends: I have been working on a really exciting project that we hope to launch around September 1. It’s been a HUGE undertaking. We’re calling it Daily Word and you’ll see some sneak peeks in due time. In the meantime, I thank my testing team because they’re testing is a trend for Eternal Scheme!

What Doesn’t Matter Does Matter

CreativityDear God,
I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.

Dear God,
Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?

Dear God,
Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother.

We may smile at these children’s letters to God, but sometimes the best wisdom is wrapped up in heartfelt innocence. After all, who of us hasn’t wondered these things ourselves?

The problem with becoming a grownup is we outgrow our hope and trust in the God who does love everybody in the whole world, whose sense of humor and diversity is reflected in all of creation, and who offers simple solutions for humanity. And maybe that’s our problem. We want to intellectualize, rationalize, theologize our way out of doing what matters by augmenting what doesn’t matter.

Jesus had two main themes he reiterated over and over again in his stories and teachings. He taught that we need to forgive because we have already been forgiven and everyone – absolutely everyone – was welcome. Not only was everyone welcome, they were welcome no matter who they were or who they weren’t, what they did or didn’t do, who they knew or didn’t know. In other words, everyone was welcomed unconditionally.

When we look at the story of the son who squandered away his inheritance in profligate (great word) living, we see a father who ran to his son whom he had been watching for. When we meet the woman drawing water from the well during the hottest part of the day because no one was there to shun her, not only did Jesus talk to her (men did not talk to women who weren’t family members in that day and culture), he talked to her knowing her scandalous story. The tax collector, the prostitute, the unreligious, the outcast, the leper, the destitute, the scholar, the uber-religious, male, female, married, not married … I’m certain even gay and straight … were included.

Inclusiveness is defined as not excluding any section of society or any party involved in something. It seems to me that we’re long overdue in throwing open the doors and letting whomever walk through. In the eternal scheme it’s not up to us anyway.

Mother Teresa put it like this:

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Dear God,
I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tue, That was cool.

Safe Sex in the City

NHIVTestingDayWhen was the last time you were tested for HIV? I thought so. This is the 21st century and it’s time to get tested! Heck, get all of your friends and go get tested together on National HIV Testing Day. Take the test. Take control.

I can tell you’re resistant, so let’s play a little game and test your knowledge. The answers will be at the end of the blog. No peeking!!

True or False?

1. It is recommended that everyone between the ages of 15 and 65 get screened for HIV at least once in their lifetime.

2. Untreated HIV is almost universally fatal.

3. You can have HIV and not have any symptoms.

4. You are very likely to infect someone else during the two to four weeks right after becoming infected with HIV yourself.

5. The South has the most number of people living with HIV that other regions of the U.S.

6. Married people can become infected with HIV.

7. Women with HIV should not have children.

8. Young people, ages 13 to 24, are among the fastes growing group of new HIV infections.

9. Heterosexual men and women account for about 25-percent of new HIV infections.

Sometimes we just need to hear someone’s story in their own words. Individuals featured in Let’s Stop HIV Together have shared their stories to raise awareness, fight stigma about HIV, encourage HIV prevention and testing, and champion the power of relationships in the personal and public fight to stop HIV. These are people just like you and me.

True or False Revealed

1. It is recommended that everyone between the ages of 13 and 65 get screened for HIV at least once in their lifetime. TRUE.

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested at least once as part of routine health care. Almost one in five people in the United States who have HIV do not know they are infected.

HIV is spread through unprotected sex and drug-injecting behaviors (plus mother to child), so people who engage in these behaviors should get tested more often. If you can answer “Yes” to any of these questions, you need to get tested more often.

  • Have you had unprotected sex (sex without a condom)—anal, vaginal, or oral—with men who have sex with men or with multiple partners since your last HIV test?
  • Have you injected drugs (including steroids, hormones, or silicone) and shared equipment (or works, such as needles and syringes) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or sought treatment for hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB), or asexually transmitted infection (STI), like syphilis?
  • Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions or someone whose history you don’t know?

You should also get tested if

  • You have been sexually assaulted.
  • You are a woman who is planning to get pregnant or who is pregnant.

2. Untreated HIV is almost universally fatal. TRUE.

HIV disease has a well-documented progression. Untreated, HIV is almost universally fatal because it eventually overwhelms the immune system—resulting in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV treatment helps people at all stages of the disease, and treatment can slow or prevent progression from one stage to the next. That’s why it is so important to know your status!

3. You can have HIV and not have any symptoms. TRUE.

The only way to know if you are infected with HIV is to be tested. You cannot rely on symptoms to know whether you have HIV. Many people who are infected with HIV do not have any symptoms at all for 10 years or more.

4. You are very likely to infect someone else during the two to four weeks right after becoming infected with HIV yourself. TRUE.

Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, large amounts of HIV are being produced in your body. Your ability to spread HIV is highest during this stage because the amount of virus in the blood is very high. And most people do not even know they are infected.

5. The South has the most number of people living with HIV than other regions of the U.S. TRUE.

So much for abstinence, monogamy, and the resisting sexual sin our bible-belt brethren espouse.

6. Married people can become infected with HIV. TRUE.

Now if you’re married AND monogamous AND you both tested negative for HIV, then you’re not in any risk category. However, if you or your spouse has been sexually active with another, whether male or female (I know, TMI, but reality is reality), then you need to get tested.

7. Women with HIV should not have children. FALSE.

HIV testing is recommended for all pregnant women. Pregnant women who test positive for HIV have many op­tions to stay healthy and protect their babies from becoming HIV infected.

8. Young people, ages 13 to 24, are among the fastes growing group of new HIV infections. TRUE.

Young people, aged 13-24 are especially affected by HIV. They comprise 16% of the US population, but account for 26% of all new HIV infections in 2010 (most recent statistics). Half of high school students report having had sex, but CDC data show that only 13 percent have ever been tested for HIV.

9. Heterosexual men and women account for about 25-percent of new HIV infections. TRUE.

  • Heterosexuals: 25%
  • Men having sex with men (MSM): 63%
  • Injection drug use (IDU): 8%
  • MSM and IDU: 3%

Take the test. Take control.

In the Body of the World



Every once in awhile a book comes along whose message is so powerful, so raw, and so profound you can only be amazed that someone found the words to write it. Eve Ensler’s memoir, In the Body of the World, is one of those books.

Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologue fame has devoted her life to to the female body – how to talk about it, how to protect it, and how to value it’s sacredness. When she finally addresses her cancer, which began in her uterus and affects her all her organs in her pelvic area, she is forced to confront her own unfinished story and her own dissociation from her own body.

She weaves her experience undergoing debilitating surgeries and treatment to call attention to the resilience of the hundreds of thousands of women of Congo and the unspeakable atrocities inflicted upon them and our own violation of the Earth.

After being literally gutted and all the infections have finally subsided, Eve Ensler prepares for the agonizing onslaught of chemotherapy by meeting with a former therapist, Sue. Here is the consciousness shift Sue shared tying Eve’s own past to her activist work:

The chemo is not for you. it is for the cancer, for all the past crimes, it’s for your father, it’s for the rapists, it’s for the perpetrators. You’re going to poison them now and they are never coming back. Chemo will purge the badness that was projected onto you but was never yours. I have total faith in your resilience and the magical capabilities of your body and soul for healing. Your job is to welcome the chemo as an empathetic warrior, who is coming in rescue to your innocence by killing the perpetrator who got inside you. You have many bodies; new one will be born out of this transformational time of love and care. When you feel nauseous or terrible, just imagine how hard the chemo is fighting on your behalf and on behalf of all women’s bodies, restoring wholeness, innocence, peace. Welcome chemo as empathetic warrior (p. 113).

Eve Ensler bears witness to the things we don’t want to see or acknowledge or experience. But in doing so, she invites us to our own journey to our connection to the world and our responsibility for the world.

When You Don’t Have Health Insurance

Maze GeometryToday was my appointment at the health care clinic. I made this appointment two-and-half months ago. I wasn’t seen.

Maybe I should give a little background. I have pre-existing conditions. Actually, it’s not that hard to be tossed into the pre-existing condition category. When I applied for health insurance when we moved to Texas, I was denied by six different insurance companies. No two insurance companies denied me for the same pre-existing conditions!

As a result, I applied and was accepted into Texas’ Health Risk Pool. I paid A LOT in insurance premiums, but at least I had coverage. Good thing, as I had two total knee replacements and a few other minor orthopedic surgeries in the four years we lived in Texas.

I began looking into health insurance soon after we moved to California. I was ineligible for California’s pre-existing condition coverage because I did not have the same plan in Texas. California has another pre-existing condition program, but you must be uninsured for at least six months before applying. And, if accepted, the monthly premiums are more than what most people pay in rent!

I swallowed my pride and made an appointment at a clinic for the uninsured and low-income. That was two-and-a-half months ago.

It was what you’d expect: a very unsafe part of town, dilapidated building at the end of a pot-holed, unpaved parking lot. I waited my turn at the reception desk. I gave the clerk my name and, of course, she could not find my in their system. Eventually she found what she assumed was me. The correct first name was entered and the correct date-of-birth. The last name wasn’t even close. I’m sure I was asked to spell it when I made the appointment because it is an unusual surname.

She then told me that they tried contacting me to reschedule, but the phone number had been disconnected. I asked her what number was on file – you got it – whoever I talked to when I made the appointment had transposed several numbers so it wasn’t even the correct phone number! The next available appointment was two months away!

I told her to take me out of the system. I thanked her and left. Oy vey! And people wonder why we need health care reform.


Asking Saves Kids

I-ASK-Website-LogoI had a litany of questions I asked other parents in preparation for my sons going over to play. I raised my children in the dark ages, back when they walked or road their bikes to go play at friends’ houses. If I didn’t know the parents or the house, inevitably I’d call the parent and ask:

  • Is there a dog?
  • Is there a fence around the pool?
  • Who else is invited to play?
  • Is there a safety lock on the medicine cabinet?
  • Will you be there?

never thought to ask if there was a firearm where the kids would be playing or if there were guns of any sort at the house!

The first day of summer, June 21, is ASK Day. Kids are out of school and play more often in other homes. ASK Day, Asking Saves Kids, is to remind parents nationwide about the importance of asking if there are guns where their kids play.

Here are some startling facts:

  • An average of 8 kids and teens are killed by firearms every day and 42 additional children and teens are seriously injured (Injury Mortality Reports, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, 2010; 2011).
  • 27 children and teens are seriously injured by BB or pellet guns every day (Injury Mortality Reports, 2011).
  • Studies show that between 33% and 40% of American households with children have guns (Johnson, Renee, “Firearm Ownership and Storage Practices, U.S. Households, 1992-2002.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 27, 2004; Peter Hart Research Associates Poll, 1999, American Journal of Public Health, April 2000).
  • 1 in 4 kids and teens whose parents own guns say they have seen or touched a gun without their parents’ knowledge. (Global Strategy Group Youth Study commissioned by CPYV, 2011).
  • Almost 90 percent of accidental shootings involving children are linked to an easy-to-find, loaded handgun in the house (Society of Pediatric Nurses, 1998).
  • 80% of the children who are injured or killed in unintentional shootings are shot in their own homes or in the homes of relatives or friends (Pediatrics 2005).
  • 42% of parents with guns keep at least one unlocked; 25% keep at least one loaded, and 14% keep one unlocked AND loaded (Global Strategy Group Parent Study commissioned by CPYV, 2011).
  • Over 75% of kids in homes with guns say they know where the gun is hidden (Benenson Strategy Group Study commissioned by PAX, July 2002).

As horrifying as these statistics are, the heart-wrenching real stories of parents brings home this reality. Hear, in their own words, spokespeople from the Center to Prevent Youth Violence:

  • Diana and James Bunten kept a loaded gun in their home where their children could find it.
  • Karen Berard-Reed’s family was visiting the home of friends whose children had a loaded pellet gun near the computer.
  • Mylissa Bellamy’s son was spending the night at a friend’s house. Unbeknownst to the friend’s mother, her son brought home a gun after hunting with his grandfather.
  • Loralee Choate’s husband, who has a concealed carry permit, got distracted after unloading and holstering his gun, and forgot to lock it up.
  • Ge Wu’s honor’s student son shot himself with a gun his friend had taken from the house without his mother’s knowledge.
  • Ann Marie Crowell’s son was at a friend’s house. His friend was excited to show him the gun he found in his mother’s room.
  • Sonya Barge’s was picking up her toddler from the babysitter. The babysitter’s own child found a gun…

Take the time to ASK before it’s too late. Here are some ideas for how to start the conversation:

  • “We all know how curious kids can be…”
  •  “I hope you don’t mind me asking a few questions about the kids’ safety…”
  • “I heard the most surprising fact from my pediatrician…”
  • “Do you remember that tragic story about the kids who found a gun?….”
  • “Remember what we found in our houses when we were kids!”

Under-Told and Under-Reported

Guns & Ammo 2It’s hard to believe that over 5,030 gun deaths* since the mass shooting in Newtown on December 14, 2012 is under-reported. But it is. That’s like an entire large high school being wiped out or my entire undergraduate class of graduates at UCLA being annihilated.

The story of gun deaths is also under-reported because approximately 60-percent of all gun deaths are suicide. Suicides are rarely reported. The data captured in Gun Deaths Since Newtown is culled from media sources soon after they are published. Murder-suicides are reported, but solo suicides almost never.

The most recent estimates from the CDC for yearly gun deaths is slightly over 30,000. A more accurate picture of actual gun deaths as of June 20, 2013 is around 15, 687. Compare the more realistic estimate (15,687) with what is reported in the Slate gun tally (5,030) and you see just how under-told the story of gun violence really is in the United States.

* Data as of June 20, 2013 according to Slate’s crowd-sourced gun death tally.

She’s Turning Three

IMG_5748Our youngest granddaughter is turning three. Each of our granddaughters’ birthdays are special, but there’s something extra special when Aliya’s birthday comes around every year.

We call her our miracle baby. The wonders of modern medicine greatly increased, not only her chance for survival, but a full recovery from any permanent trauma. You can read more about those wonders in a previous post.

Her feisty and sweet personality compliment the unique personalities of her two older sisters. She’s more than capable of holding her own in the lineup. She’s a total bundle of pure joy.

The wonders of modern medicine wouldn’t have been enough if it wasn’t for some basic things accessible to her parents.

Health Care Benefits: My son, Aliya’s father, works for a nonprofit that has excellent health care benefits for the whole family. Luke also has a college degree and those with more education have access to employment with better benefits. Only about half of all employees have access to health care through their jobs.

Comprehensive Care: My daughter-in-law, Aliya’s mother, comes from a long line of midwives and always intended to have her children at home with a midwife. While their heath insurance didn’t cover all costs for midwife care, it did cover some. The midwife they worked with during her pregnancy with Aliya required concurrent care with an obstetrician. The midwife monitored all prenatal visits and Sarah saw the OB for certain visits during her pregnancy.

Prenatal care is only one part of reducing infant and maternal death. Access to family planning services before and after pregnancy and well-baby visits with a pediatrician are also important. These services are not consistent, so it does matter where you live in the United States.

The United States has the highest infant and mortality rates of all developed countries. Currently, the United States does not ensure that women have access to comprehensive health care services for the four key periods for women and children – before pregnancy, during pregnancy, at birth and during the first year of life. Countries with universal health care that includes women’s health coverage (including family planning) before and after pregnancy — that is, prenatal care as well as infant and child health care — have better outcomes than the United States.

No Firearms in the House: I have always been a proponent of reducing the number of guns on the street. Maybe it has something to do with being fired at doing home visits when a social worker for the Army and going into violent neighborhoods to visit parishioners when a pastor.

There have been over 90 gun deaths for kids under age 12 since the day after Newtown. Most of those gun deaths were accidents with the balance being alleged homicides. The most common scenario was one child shooting another child. Ninety children who will not see their next birthday. Twenty-nine of those children will not turn three.

I am thankful everyday for Aliya and her precious sisters, Keana (8) and Maia (5). I give thanks for their awesome parents, Sarah and Luke. Happy Birthday, Aliya.


Made for TV Family Drama

Image 1Every family has drama. I know I’ve certainly contributed my share with my two divorces and three marriages. Even the Bible doesn’t spare us the intrigue of family drama. In Genesis alone we have deception, incest, rape, adultery, and jealousy. Real lives with real life issues.

My parents came up for a few days so we could celebrate my Dad’s birthday and an early Father’s Day. We’re gradually making our way through the first year of my brother’s death and try to gather together on birthdays and significant days as we move through our grief. We’ll be scattering some of his ashes this summer with the rest of my extended family and wanted to finalize the last of the details for that trip. I’ve always lived away from my family so I’ve really been enjoying living closer and being able to participate in more family gatherings.

Death is difficult. Oftentimes there is an opportunity to get things in order and say good-bye as chronic illness or cancer is wrecking its final havoc. Family and friends left behind will still be sad and grieve, but hopefully they’ve had an opportunity to have a certain amount of closure through the dying process. Of course, not everyone has an ideal situation and often a family member’s death spotlights the problems that were already there.

Untimely and unexpected deaths have an additional messiness to them. That is the situation with my brother. His suicide completely ambushed us. We knew there were some parts of his life that were in chaos, but none of us foresaw suicide. And his death has highlighted a strained family relationship that was always there, but is now fully exposed because he isn’t here to be the buffer.

Here’s the thing. This isn’t unique to my family. I have witnessed this time and again over the course of my ministry. Every family has something and whatever IT is, it will surface during a crisis.

My brother’s divorce was not quite finalized at the time of his death. Most divorces are ugly, but his was particularly ugly. Community property had been divided, the divorce paperwork filed, and visitation with his three teen daughters, whom he was very close to, wasn’t going well. And then he died.

My husband and I bought the house from my parents that my brother was living in. My brother didn’t have much, but we invited his daughters to select anything they wanted from what was in his house before we moved in. The only thing we got rid of were his guns. Since he used a gun to kill himself, and the coroner had cautioned about having guns around because it’s very common for another family to also commit suicide, we disposed of the guns immediately. My sister later found another gun that she took to her house because she didn’t want it in the house when Vic’s daughters came to get what they wanted.

Years ago my brother bought a classic car from my Dad. The car had custom license plates, which my Dad had asked for in the event the car was sold. The car sold and arrangements were made for the license plates to be returned to my parents.

In our lighter moments we refer to my sister’s house as Switzerland. It’s considered neutral territory; not the house where my brother died or the house he vacated in the separation. It was to be the place where the license plates and remaining gun, were exchanged. When my sister arrived at my house for dinner, she had only one license plate.

These things happened when my brother was alive, but we overlooked them because in the eternal scheme of things, our relationships with Vic and his family was our focus. He was the reason we would put up with demands and conditions placed on us. Because of him, we could have contact and connection with his family. Now that he’s not here, that is frayed and fragile.

My sister-in-law never had any intention of returning both license plates and she purposely deceived her daughters’ grandparents, including the girls in the deception. The other aspect of the sad reality is the one-sided filter his daughters are receiving about their father from their mother. The reality is their parents’ marriage was in shambles for years. Now he is not here to provide another perspective to balance the bias.

My brother was many things, but he was not “a very sick man.” The drama that is now unfolding doesn’t include the greater story of his incredible and rich life. These are the stories from those who raised him, who grew up with him, who were always a part of his life, and who he knew would never forsake him.

In a few weeks, twenty-four family members will spend a week together doing what my brother loved to do most in his favorite place: fish at Paulina Lake in Oregon. We’ll fish, tell stories, and scatter his ashes. His nephews have inherited his talent as epic storytellers, so he will be well-honored.

It’s too bad his daughters won’t be there.



Six Months Later

crosses-symbolizing-grave-markers-sit-on-the-national-mall-in-april-as-part-of-a-24-hour-vigil-toIt’s been six months since the gun deaths of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-two other people also lost their lives to gun death and my brother’s memorial service, also a gun death, was that day.

Since December 14, 2012, there have been close to 6,000 gun deaths according to Slate magazine and the Twitter feed @Gun Deaths. There have been 14 mass shootings since Newtown. That’s more than one mass shooting per month since December! It’s an average of 28 shooting per day.

The shootings tell a familiar story that is becoming a trend in our county. Besides suicides, domestic violence is the most common reason for shootings. The gunman begins by shooting his spouse, partner, or another family member. Often the gunman has a history of violence or a criminal record.

December 20, 2012, Blair County, PA: Jeffrey Lee Michael, 44, went on a shooting rampage that ended in a church, killing three and injuring three state troopers. Police confiscated an arsenal of ammunition and guns from his house. He had his girlfriend purchase the guns and ammunition because a restraining order was out against him.

crosses-symbolizing-grave-markers-sit-on-the-national-mall-in-april-as-part-of-a-24-hour-vigil-toDecember 24, 2012, Webster, NY: Ex-con, William Spengler, 64, killed two and shot three. He had previously murdered his grandmother with a hammer. 

January 21, 2013, Albuquerque, NM: Teen Nehemiah Griego, 15, shot and killed his parents and three siblings with his parents’ .22 caliber rifle and another semi-automatic rifle. He intended to shoot up a WalMart, but changed his mind. He confessed to the shooting and explained he had “anger issues.”

January 30, 2013, Phoenix, AZ: Known to be extremely paranoid with anger issues, Arthur Douglas Harmon, 70, shot into an office building. Two people were killed and a bystander was injured. He later killed himself.

February 19, 2013, Orange County, CA: Twenty-year-old college student, Ali Syed, shot and killed four people during the morning commute. He had sought help for ADHD, panic disorder and anxiety from the student health department. He left a suicide note explaining how he planned the massacre.

March 13, 2013, Herkimer, NY: Kurt Myers, 64, opened fire on a barbershop and car wash, killing four and injuring two. He had 50 rounds of ammunition on him and another 45 round in his car when he was killed in a shoot out with police.

April 18, 2013, Akron, OH: Two men and two women were shot execution style in a townhouse where students were having a post-production party. Two felons have been charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, robbery, and illegal possession of firearms.

April 21, 2013, Seattle, WA: Dennis Clark, III shot his girlfriend Justine Baez before killing three other random people. Clark had a concealed handgun license, but had previous clashes with police over domestic violence.

April 24, 2013, Manchester, IL: Rick O. Smith, 43, had a criminal history of homicide, drugs, and writing bad checks. He shot and killed a family of five. One six-year old girl survived.

May 12, 2013, New Orleans, LA: Akein Scott, 19, injured 19 people ata Mother’s Day parade. He had recently made bail for charges for illegal gun and herion possession. He had two recent prior arrests for possession of stolen guns and extended clips.

May 25, 2013, Hampton, VA: Two teens, 15 and 17, have been charged with the shooting death of 16-year-old Ralphael Davis and injuring several other teens at a carnival.

May 26, 2013, Concho County, TX: Active duty Marine, Esteban Smith, shot and killed his wife in a motel room before going on a shooting spree that killed another woman and wounded five others. He was in possession of an assault rifle, handgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

June 7, 2013, Santa Monica, CA: John Zawahri shot and killed his father and brother before burning down his house and indiscriminately shooting several other people. He had a history of mental illness and enough ammunition to kill more than 100 people.

June 13, 2013, St. Louis, MO: Two men and two women died in a murder-suicide in an office building. There was a semi-automatic gun at the scene.

We hear about mass shootings, but there are countless children, teens, women, and men who are shot and killed everyday who never make the national news. Neighborhoods and communities, schools and churches, homes and offices are all witnesses to the devastation, destruction, and disruption of gun deaths.

Heather Johnson is a regular person like you and me who is paying attention and offered names that didn’t make my list. You can see her album honoring those who died by gun death in Cincinnati, OH.

Gun Deaths Since Newtown is updated daily to reflect those who died while Congress dithered on the gun issue.


Photo: Crosses symbolizing grave markers sit on the National Mall in April as part of a 24-hour vigil to “remind Congress action is needed on gun violence prevention.”

Opera and NASCAR

Opera CarI had an interesting epiphany recently. Opera lovers and NASCAR fans have a lot in common. Well, they don’t have the same things in common, but there are some common traits. I’m not sure how any of this matters in the eternal scheme of things, but here’s a go at it anyway.

I was raised going to auto races. My Dad got interested in auto racing through a couple on his paper route when he was growing up. Johnny and Alma owned midget cars and before long Dad was going to races, working in the pits, meeting drivers, and cultivating a life-long love of auto racing which he passed on to his family. We went to midget and sprint car races at the San Jose Speedway and listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio.

Stock cars, and definitely NASCAR, was not a part of my auto racing education. It wasn’t until Sam and I got married that I knew anyone who followed NASCAR. I hate to admit it, but I considered it a white, male, redneck fellowship. Of course, stock cars got their start during Prohibition. Drivers delivered bootleg whiskey primarily in the Appalachian region, modifying their cars for greater speed and heavier cargo. It has evolved to now be the second most watched sport next to the National Football League.

I went to my first opera when I was in the eighth grade. Chorus was a yearlong class and it was my only alternative to Home Ec. This was the 1960s and I was already bristling about certain cultural expectations. No way was I going to take any classes that perpetuated gender roles – like Home Ec and typing! The end-of-year field trip was to the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco and a real opera. Thankfully, the opera was Bizet’s Carmen. It’s probably the most accessible opera and a great one to introduce to a group of twelve and thirteen year olds – or anyone, for that matter.

NASCAR and opera both have dedicated fan bases. NASCAR, I would guess, has a larger fan base, but opera lovers are their own fierce group. Just listen to the Saturday afternoon matinee of the New York Met and you’ll get what I’m talking about. In fact, the