Honest Labels

Who are you? Really. Ponder that for a moment. We all, no doubt, have familiar labels based on our relationships, vocation, accomplishments, hobbies, gender and age. These labels are important to communicating an understanding of who we are, but what about the uncomfortable labels that are part of us as well? Do we live a life such that we are honestly human?

Williams Sloan Coffin once said, "You are all so interested in putting your best foot forward, when it is your other foot that is far more interesting."

If we are honest, we all have 'the other foot,' those labels that represent another part of who we are. Try on a few of these: divorced, addict, depressed, confused, failure, angry, hurtful, prejudiced... you get the idea. How willing are we to let others, particularly those closest to us know the full truth?

Do we allow our children to see us struggle with our limitations? Can they ever learn to deal with failure if they don't see us fail and recover?

"Your children need a model of honesty. If you pretend you have no weaknesses, and cover them under masks and facades, your children will learn to do the same and the game will go on. Begin today to see, and accept, the real you beneath the role." - William Martin

As a former pastor, I recall yielding to a similar fallacy. My belief was that if I allowed too much of my humanity to be known, I would not be accepted, liked, loved by the people I served. The trick was not to look perfect, but rather to look just a little bit human, a slight bit flawed - but not reveal the true depth of brokenness that I felt and believed everyday. Instead, I played the self inflicted game of privacy and loneliness.

It seems to me that when I truly listen to others, when I get the gift of connecting with other people on a deep level, we are all deeply broken and sincerely fearful of our true selves...

What say you?

The call of the Divine to us is one of acceptance and knowing, that no matter how bad we may believe we are, that no matter how misunderstood or broken we may think ourselves to be, we are nonetheless loved. Ours must be a journey of progress, not perfection, of trying and failing and trying again. Ours is a tale of human imperfection and amazing accidental moments of perfection. We are all the labels - those we cherish and those we fear revealing. To further Coffin's metaphor, we need both our best and other foot to walk forward.


Are You Thirsty?

Are You Thirsty?

One past August, I went on a work related trip to Scottsdale Arizona. It is desert there. It is dry, very dry, there. The heat was around 100 degrees (a cool Temperature for that part of the world at that time of the year) and the humidity was about 0, none. We are talking dry.

Some respite could be found at sidewalk restaurants. Pipes are run overhead and sprayers shower mists of water down on sun baked travelers, cooling and soothing. Yet, as I sat there I was amazed. I could see the water. I could feel the cool effect. But, no matter how long I sat under it, I did not get wet. It was fascinating how I could be so close and yet still be dry.

Jesus and the disciples walked in the heat. The dry, hot journey from Judea to Samaria had taken its toll. They arrived, mid day, at Jacobs well. No one was there. Those who had needed water for the day had long since left, hiding from the noon heat. Earlier that day, the well had been busy, as it would that evening, with towns’ folk filling their jugs, skins, and buckets with water for the next day’s needs. The task was no doubt coupled with chatter about the life of family, shop keeping, travelers, and the daily socializing of a thriving community. The well was one of the meeting places, a place of nods and smiles, and a place of conversations and caring that make-up much of what we know of and need of community. The well was a place of refreshment not only of body, but of spirit, community.

Jesus sat at the well alone. His traveling companions had continued into town. Time passed. A woman approached, alone. She, an outcast of the community, chose to arrive when the others where gone. Perhaps she had been forbidden access to the community at the well. Maybe she simple could not withstand the taunts, sneers, or worse, the silence of others as they judged, ridiculed and condemned her. The exchange between them is recorded in John 4: 7-26.

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The 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.)* 10Jesus 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.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.’ 15The 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.’ 
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’ 

Their conversation reveals two thirsty people: one parched from the desert heat, another from a cracked and broken existence. Jesus’ exchange with the ‘woman at the well’ drives our attention from physical need to spiritual lack. It is amazing how close we can be to refreshment and still be parched. Yet, there is more.

The image of these two can do a wonderful job at reminding us that there are two very real levels of need for the human existence: mission and forgiveness. The woman arrives needing healing for her broken life. Forgiveness and acceptance goes a long way to empowering us to rise from our brokenness. And, if we look a bit further, we find that forgiveness is only part of what heals.

It is interesting to note the exchange upon the disciples’ return.

27 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?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,* can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him. 
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do 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. 36The reaper is already receiving* wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.’ 

 Here we find Jesus as the one who speaks of being refreshed by a spiritual food. His life, his very spirit has been enriched by his giving to, his caring for another. “It is in giving that we receive.”

Giving and receiving. By this shower of being we are refreshed. By the touch of godly actions on our lives we are transformed. By touching others with our charity, we are enlivened.

What need brings us here today. Do we sit burdened by the judgments of an ungracious community? Are we taunted by the fire of our broken self-esteem? Do we simply lack that quickening of spirit to bring zest to our lives, our relationships, again? Or, are we compelled by compassion to seek guidance today? Have the images of death, destruction, and chaos from the world around us caused us to arrive here and ask, “What can be done? Is all lost?”  Have you, like me, been so assaulted by the images from the disaster in Asia that you almost fear to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio? What is the death toll in Asia following the tsunamis now? 150,000? Who knows how many will still die from starvation, infection, or disease before the disaster gives way to some new normal way of existence, again?

Perhaps our message of hope here today is the same. The deepest, aching needs of human life are met by God, in Jesus Christ. We meet at the well this day and are offered the gifts of forgiveness and mission to begin the healing of our community, ourselves. It is amazing how close we can be to the refreshment we seek, and still be in such need.

So, the question remains: Are YOU thirsty? Yes?

13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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 Church is a Whore - Love Her

A recent post over at Her-menetics deserves a read: Called to Love The Whore.

Karen Swallow Prior does a nice job of admitting the many ways that the Church is deserving of our criticism and disappointment.

"They have studied history and are rightly angry over the racism of the church.
They have witnessed the present and are bewildered by the continued marginalization of some by the church.
They say the church is too shallow, caught up in outward trappings which sacrifice the substance of the gospel.
They have found the church too unwelcoming of hard questions, expressions of doubt, and spiritual struggles.
They have heard the call for war made in the name of the church."

The article goes on to catalog the sins of the Church. Then, in a fashion oddly prophetic, she reminds us that when we are judging others for their sins, we need to allow the same grace we would covert ourselves.

Is the Church a whore of a bride? Has she gone too far for our grace? Is the church a periodically errant servant or a lost organization?


Gasoline, exhaust fumes and the aroma of God

The heat this month is intense and makes mowing the lawn an adventure. I have one of those old fashion push-it-yourself gasoline mowers and the back yard at my home rest on a steep slope down to the stream. My mowing path takes me back and forth along the side of this hill, in and out of the shadow of the hickory trees, and white barked beech trees that tower above.

My weekly yard mowing has always been a time of physical exertion and spiritual awareness. It was in my back yard that the pains of early recovery and the exhaustion of body were met by the simple truth that one step at a time in the right direction will result in success, in time. It was here that my struggle with the 'weeds from hell' formed the framework for my belief that recovery and life is about helping and receiving help. And, it is here that I got a lesson about the aroma of god.

After my hour long journey over hill and weed in the back yard, I turn my sweat drenched body to the sun owned space known as my front yard. Here there is little shade and as my timing usually has it, I arrive here to complete the lawn mowing task in the peak of the day's scorching laughter, the blast furnace of hell!

My routine path takes me back and forth along the length of the now level ground. This day seemed especially oppressive. Perhaps the combination of heat and humidity, or the burden of the thoughts that my mind carried, or an unearthly union of both found me wishing for an end to this chore. Yes, it was an unseemly chore.

My thoughts had drifted to the past. Memories of days, now revisited, filled with personal failure, broken promises, misdirected passions, and self centered choices. I could see again the faces of those I had hurt with my addiction, feel the trauma of their pain, the poison of disappointments filled me. I coughed and felt the burning in my eyes of exhaust tainted sweat, the fumes rancid in my lungs. I tried breathing shallow, but my lungs screamed for air, for relief.

It was then I passed near a brief spindle of shadow, the transparent touch of the lone Magnolia standing in the grass. For a second it offered relief, and then gone, as my path carried me on. My mind wandered again...regret, remorse, heat and gas blasted me. Onward I trudged. Will this never end?

A turn of the mower and back. This pass brought me closer to the fat leafed tree, still bearing the last of its browning blossoms. This pass brought me more shade, and an unexpected scent, the gentle, unmistakable drifting aroma of magnolia blossoms. For a few steps it followed me, the coolness of its shade and the delicate scent...a blend of magical fragrance that brought back memories of laughter at the movies, and climbing thick closely entwined limbs in childhood. The heat returned in a flash and with it the roar of my mower and, yet, my thoughts remained on sweet magnolia memories and faint hopes of new blossoms. My next pass took me beneath her, that towering column of serenity. I stopped, felt the shadows shelter me, the air stir around me cooling my skin, let the drifting scent arrive.

I let the safety stop on the mower go. It fell silent and with it died the last of those haunting images of failure. I stood, forever, letting the aroma of god and the shadow of the spirit heal me. Another part of me, sometime later, finished the mowing. I think I’ll wait here awhile.


We Are Not Entitled to A Wonderful Life

I read this quote on a blog post recently:

You were not born to struggle. You were not born to live a life where the moments of joy are few and far between. You were not born to toil in your work five days a week, with fleeting moments of happiness on weekends. You were not born to live with limited energy, feeling exhausted at the end of each day. You were not born to worry or be afraid. You were not born to suffer. What would be the point of your life? You are meant to experience life to its fullest and have everything you want and, at the same time, be filled with joy, health, vitality, excitement, and love, because that is an amazing life. — Rhonda Byrne

Life has great beauty. Being a human on the journey of living is nothing short of amazing and inspiring. Sometimes the simplest of things, the fragrance of a flower wafting into the blazing noise and heat of yard chores, can bless us with the pleasure of the moment and make life sacred. Or we might find ourselves marveling at the grandeur of nature as a majestic suns bows victoriously, closing the curtain on a rich and bountiful day. Life's beauty is found all around us. There are too many ways to recount. Consider these...

The giggles of children
The gentle weight of a grandparent's hand resting in yours
The attentive compassion of a friend who is moved to tears by your sharing
The exhaustion after a long hike that wandered through glorious vistas
The simple...rhythm...of the sea...bathing the sand...

You can, and I hope you will, add to this list. Yet, despite my deep and enduring belief in the value and commanding beauty of our living, I find myself aggravated by the quote above. Here's why....

Byrne says:

You were not born to struggle.
You were not born to worry or be afraid.
You were not born to suffer.
You are meant to have everything you want

Really? Does this make any sense at all? Aside from the obvious inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities in third world countries making such a global assertion insane, is this really true? Is life meant to be all roses? What of the hard won affirmations of a number of spiritual traditions that proclaim suffering is embedded in the very nature of our existence? What of the notion that it is not getting what we want but rather an acceptance of our part in the midst of real scarcity, our role in a larger picture, that brings life value? I'm sick of platitudes and hollow affirmations

The only people I've ever met who truly affirmed such crap were either suffering from drug induced euphoria or mentally unstable, walking around in denial of the abuse and pain of their own living.
Sometimes I don't really need to get what I want because my wants are selfish, limited and in truth, harmful to others and myself.

Yes, joy and serenity are worthy pursuits. Yes, being happy most of the time and unhappy only seldom is a better way of life, but are any one of us really entitled to such a life? Aren't the philosophical and theological goals of this life more about finding, achieving, accepting one’s life in the particular context of this moment, this occasion of our living? Beauty is all around us, and so is suffering (and the most grotesque of human malformation) and all of this intersects our living. Is anyone really meant to walk only among the beauty, insulated from pain and tragedy?

It is my experience that the very struggles of my living were and to some degree are a part of my necessary path, my grinding and beautiful life. The quote above speaks as if the suffering is unnecessary, even an indicator of our mistake. We were born to suffer, to toil and to mature in wisdom, compassion and strength. It is not as if there is some short cut, some life hack that we can claim or understand to allow us to omit such journeys. Such an affirmation isn't realistic and is insulting to people who have suffered – especially those who have suffered because of the consequences of someone else’s choices. Stop this insane spouting of platitudes and get real. People deserve more.

Instead let’s develop a methodology for living that empowers us to move through it all – pain, failure, ecstasy and victory – with a level of acceptance and peace that this particular journey is ours to live. Yes, we do get to make choices and learn, but no matter what – we do not get and are not entitled to a free pass through life. I think we owe it to ourselves and others to start acting like it.


Like You Have A Clue WWJD!?

It isn't as popular as it was a few years ago, but I still hear it said, “What would Jesus do?” The intention is innocent enough and the catchy phrase certainly sticks with you.

The initials make a great bumper sticker. WWJD.

It is a good question and one we can certainly ponder. Asking this question about Jesus, about anyone really, is the gate that enters into the realm of that person’s core make up. The question, “What would s/he do?” always implies other questions, “What motivates this person? What is his/her decision framework, or moral compass, made of?” In short, if we are to take a stab at knowing what someone would do in a particular situation, we need to really know them, and the better we know the, the better the odds are we could predict what they would do.

Perhaps the best way to know what, or who, someone is, is to ‘walk a mile in their moccasins,’ to live as they lived – to be them.

Here’s the problem: Can we ever really be Jesus, even for a moment?

As much as Jesus was fully human, he was also fully divine. We are not. We are imperfect, struggling, fractured human beings. We can imagine what it might be like to be fully human/divine, but can we really understand what it was like to be Jesus?

There is an even deeper problem. Jesus had a very specific life ministry. He was born, grew and accepted a dramatic calling directly from God: Love people, minister to them, make and teach disciples, and (here’s the problem) give your life for the redemption of humanity. Last time I checked, that mission, that ministry was done.

We not only can’t be Jesus, we shouldn't try to be Jesus. Asking WWJD may be the wrong question.

We need a better question.

What if we focused on being ourselves? What if each of us accepted that the goal of our spiritual life is to be the very best “me” he or she could be? What if growing spiritually wasn’t about being or behaving like someone else – but rather was about being you? Then the better questions would be, “What would Jesus have me do? What is God’s will for me? What does Jesus want ME to do?” This life, this gift of personal mission, can certainly learn from Jesus’ teachings and choices, AND I need to figure out what I need to do to fulfill that mission. My purpose and my spiritual journey are tied to my choices about my life decisions.

What if we asked, "What would Jesus want me to do?"


Your God Is Too Small

Your God is too small. Let me say that again. I don’t want you to miss it. Your God is too small. Now, while you are mulling over this pronouncement, let me offer a little perspective: My God is too small, too.

I learned the prayer as a child. Come on; fold your hands with me. Bow your head and let’s pray together, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands we all are fed. Thank you God for daily bread.” Or, as my nephew first uttered it, “God is grape. God is good. Let us spank him for our food. By his hands we are fed. Thank you God for jelly bread.” Either way works, right? God is great.

From our earliest moments, we are instructed that there is something greater, bigger, better than us and everything else in creation. There is something higher than the highest mountain. There is something larger and brighter than the sun. Talk about the vastness of the oceans, but remember there is something even grander. We might write poetry or songs proclaiming the depths of human love and devotion, yet we are taught that, as rich as human love may be, there is divine love that is even more so. We learn that a mother’s love is endless and yet, God’s motherly love is finer, more complete. Adults read us stories about a father’s devotion and sacrifice and then quickly yield that the only perfect Father is in heaven. God is great, grand, expansive, larger than – well, anything else. For the child, God is magical, amazing. God can – at any moment – do anything and will always do the right thing.

Then something happens to us, something perfectly appropriate. We begin to grow up. The simple interpretations of what it means for God to be good and great fall apart. If God is good, then why is there so much suffering in the world? If God is great, all powerful, why doesn't God do more to change the world for the better? Then, as we grow and begin to answer these questions, we develop adult thoughts and ideas – we develop explanations and interpretations for our ideas. We begin to theologize and canonize our thoughts. We adopt religion. It is a good thing, really. We need to understand and agree on the answers. We seek common truths. We find comfort in the agreement of likeminded people. We become Baptists, and Methodists, and Catholics and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and … our God becomes the God of our religious choice, our God becomes the God of our particular faith, our God becomes small.

Here’s a true story, attributed to the Buddha. (I know it’s true even if it didn't really happen.)
A king has the blind men of the capital brought to the palace, where an elephant is brought in and they are asked to describe it. When the blind men had each felt a part of the elephant, the king went to each of them and said to each: “Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?"
The men assert the elephant is either like a pot (the blind man who felt the elephant’s head), a winnowing basket (ear), a plowshare (tusk), a plow (trunk), a granary (body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (back), a pestle (tail) or a brush (tip of the tail).

The men cannot agree with one another and come to blows over the question of what the elephant is like, and their dispute delights the king. Then, as the story is told, the Buddha ends by comparing the blind men to preachers and scholars who are blind and ignorant and hold to their own views:

"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

The human dilemma is that we grow comfortable knowing what we know and doing what we do. Over time, both for us as individuals and for us as denominations, we stop seeing anew and stop asking questions in order to learn. We walk around blind to the totality of God, Why? Part of it is that we just can’t understand it all. God is great, immense, and infinite. Remember. Imagine the story again, but this time, without the King – without anyone who can see and without anyone who really knows what an elephant is. How long would it take for the elephant to be understood? Such is our dilemma today. Some of us are holding on to an infallible scripture. Some of us are touching equality of genders, sexual preference, and race. Some of us are grasping a piece of it that feels like inclusiveness. Some of us are holding fast to a particular language, or translation. We have some very good clues as to the size and makeup of this Divine beast, but in truth we are probably still piecing it all together.

What’s the solution? I don’t believe there is a single solution. There are some things we can do. We can begin by listening to people of different beliefs. We can begin by setting aside fear that considering something new and different to us will certainly be our downfall. We can begin by realizing that it isn't necessary for everyone to believe exactly as we do. We might just be “seeing” things from a different perspective. Most importantly, we can begin by simply accepting (this one isn't easy) that we don’t have the entire picture ourselves – that our particular view of God, no matter how dear and delicate – is a view of God that is too small.


Weaning Moments - Some Thoughts on Psalm 131

Psalm 131

1. O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
My eyes not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2. But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like a weaned child that is with me.
3. O Israel*, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

One of the greatest struggles of the spiritual life is finding a place of balance between pride and self-deprecation. The human spirit longs to soar and fill itself with grand and glorious exaltation. Yet, our life often brings us face to face with our limitations and shortcomings and we may wonder about our worth. At times, we struggle to know who we are and to know our own value. These feelings of unworthiness and thoughts of self-doubt are difficult to navigate, even in the best of circumstances.

Psalm 131 speaks to the space between pride and self-doubt, the place of humility. The psalmist speaks of a spirit that is balanced and at peace. The image of the weaned child offers a message of contentment and security. Ponder that analogy. Do we reach weaning moments, times when we have to let go of one understanding and perception in favor of something more mature? How do we travel through such letting go times?

I am reminded of the phrase that says, “It is not who you are, but whose you are that counts.” For all of its simplicity, these words remind us that ultimately our worth is determined, not because of what we have done or not done, but because we are loved. Most importantly, we are loved by God. The author of Psalm 131 has found that truth and its reward is beautiful.


*it may help to read ‘Israel’ as “God’s People”, for that is who they represent in this passage.


The Face of God

(The following is a re-sharing of a post from my personal blog - Kim Williams' Kim's Korner)

I saw the face of God the other day.

I was in a stranger’s home and was taken by an unframed painting hanging in the foyer. After dealing with several matters of business, I could not help but ask.

Me: I hate to pry, but who did that painting?

Proud Mother: My daughter.

Me: It is lovely, very moving, actually.

Proud Mother: That one over there was the first painting she ever did. (She pointed toward the dining room)

I am a father. I have seen the ‘firsts’ of a lot of things. My daughter is a good artist, and her first attempts look just like that: efforts that show promise, but lack the presence of an educated and trained talent. This painting showed nothing, and I mean nothing, of being a first, except the first masterpiece. I then heard how this young artist had never as much as drawn a stick figure (beyond childhood), nor shown any interest in art until her senior year in high school. Her family had moved her to North Carolina from New York the summer before her senior year and she reacted as one might expect. To make matters worse, not only had she been ‘forced’ to leave her friends and classmates, because of the North Carolina educational requirements, she had to take two art classes, one a junior class and the other a sophomore introductory art class. After a brief introduction to the use of canvas and paint, she had responded to her first assignment with a painting, a painting that now held me captive. Her muse had been a photo taken of her cradling her cat. She had decided to paint the self portrait and replace the cat with an infant child.

I wish you could see the work as it is now permanently burned upon the canvas of my mind. I wish I could post a photo of it for you to see. I wish that my ability to write could come even within a universe of describing what I saw hanging on the wall in that home. I wish you could feel the chills running up your skin as I did. I wish that every human could see the wonder and awe of the creative moment that she managed to capture. It is pure beauty. I long to describe what I saw, but I cannot. I will simply honor the wonder and miracle of that moment when the efforts of a young woman captured for me and gifted me in that moment of time with a glimpse of the Divine.

I saw the face of God the other day.


Religious Freedom and Same Sex Marriage?

So, now enters the fray - religious freedom - a deeply American privilege  insured by the constitution and generally accepted as the rule within the walls of the United States - as a right whose arguments should be considered in light of the current legal conversations about same gender marriages.

Here is a well position article, to consider: Sexuality More Like Religion Than Race.

I wanted to weigh in on a couple of thoughts.

1. This is a legal not a moral decision. The laws of this land are designed, by in large, to protect the space needed for individuals and groups to freely practice their own morals and ideals. Even if I disagree with your morality, the law should generally protect your right to it. Perhaps the question is, how can the right to gay marriage be legalized in such a way as to not limited the rights of people who object to it? Is that an issue, after all?

2. Religious groups will not agree on the morality of same-sex marriage. They can't. The arguments - pro and con - appeal to their own sources of authority and unique interpretations of those sources.

It is this second point that strikes my world most often. My beliefs are informed by a minimum of 4 sources of authority. With all due credit to my United Methodist background, these sources are scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I believe each of these deserves consideration when making weighty decisions about matters of faith. However, in this debate, scripture gets quoted, flung, proof-texted until the congruence of it is lost.

Scripture - I come from a protestant Christian tradition. As such, 'scripture' refers primarily to the bible known as the Old and New Testaments. Interestingly enough, even the names of these collections reveals something about my prejudice. What I call the 'old' testament is in fact what another group would call the Hebrew scriptures or a portion of it the Torah. Yet another Christian group would say my 'scripture' is incomplete - missing certain apocryphal books.  Yet, because of the prejudice of my particular faith tradition, I place importance on the bible as I understand it's contents. It is the written record of the events and beliefs that inform my faith. It is worthy of study and understanding. However, I cannot usually discuss the role and message of scripture with people - even of the same faith tradition - with any success, if we don't agree on our understanding of the role of that material in the formation of belief. I am not a biblical literal-ist (I'm not even sure what that exactly means), and if someone else is, if they read the scripture as a flawless life map of instruction - then we had best find something else to talk about, because we are going to disagree on many things.

The legal issue of same-sex marriage isn't going to be decided by religious and theological agreement, nor should it be. It is an issue of providing a safe and non-punitive space for individuals to follow their own beliefs. American society will change to allow for adult people of the same gender to enter into a marriage contract. It will happen sooner or it will happen later, but it will happen. The proverbial cat is out of the bag, now and as our society evolves, it will grow in it's acceptance of same-gender marriage. Too many people have accumulated reasons - life experience, rational arguments and traditions (newly formed, but traditions nonetheless) - and these life experiences are paving the way for the fall of previously accepted prohibitions and judgments.

Since we are to make this journey, we must find a path to allow for both religious freedom (for differing parties) and legally protected space for a variance of life style. This is a difficult space, likely to be fraught with fear, uncertainty and limitations. What can we do to be loving and caring as we move through?


Success Is When You Win

The Pelican

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His mouth can hold more than his belly can,
He can hold in his beak,
Enough food for a week!
I'm damned if I know how the hell he can!

-Dixon Lanier Merritt, a Southern newspaper editor and President of the American Press Humorists Association, penned this famous limerick in 1910. It is carved in stone and displayed prominently at Brook Green gardens in SC.

Watching several Pelicans feed in the tributaries of Murrells Inlet, SC, I was taken by how often they fail to catch fish. It is fairly easy to mark a successful dive, as the stately bird will raise its beak skyward to send the fish wiggling down its gullet. I began keeping score. I counted a total of twenty five dives between four birds and could only verify a catch seven times. With a slightly better than 25% success rate, these gobbling fowl still are known as great fishers.

I guess nature confirms the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

1. Hunger for something will keep you trying.
2. The pain of failure is quickly forgotten once the benefits of success arrive.
3. Never give up.


Forgiveness Belongs to The Injured

Rabbi Wolpe nailed it. Don't add insult to injury by throwing around forgiveness verbiage like platitudes. Read his warning about Being Quick to Forgive the Tsarnaev brothers - and others.

Uncredited/AP - FThis combination of undated file photos shows Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, left, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19. The FBI says the two brothers are the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, and are also responsible for killing an MIT police officer, critically injuring a transit officer in a firefight and throwing explosive devices at police during a getaway attempt in a long night of violence that left Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar 

Evil acts and senseless human death and injury are difficult for us to handle - we don't like living with the tension between right and wrong, good and evil or the painful reality that our living isn't neat, justice and pretty much of the time.

A mature faith can allow for this tension, without trying to erase it with casual comments like "I forgive the sinner but not the sin,," or "God will make it all right," or worse yet, "They are in a better place." Such positioning is an insult to the suffering of the victims and the complexities of the amazing world in which we live and the God of faith.


41 Nuggets of Life Wisdom - Turning 41

Today's guest post is contributed by Cyndi Briggs, teacher, writer, dreamer and recent TED presenter. You can read more at her blog, The Sophia Project. 

This month, I turn 41 years old. To celebrate, I share with you 41 nuggets of wisdom I've collected over the past 41 years.

Life is too short for bad coffee. 

Ditch the automatic drip and invest in a French press or Melitta filter. Buy the whole bean stuff (I prefer the dark roast from Trader Joe’s = $5). Grind it yourself. The ceremony and process of making coffee is as rewarding as the drinking. Don’t shortchange yourself.


Please, just go. Nearly everything of importance I’ve learned about myself I learned because I got my butt up out of the chair and moved it to new places. Travel teaches me courage, patience, mindfulness, awe. Travel introduces me to the fears and biases crouching inside of me, helps me tame them and transform them into vulnerability and hope. Leave the country. If you can’t afford it right now, take a road trip. If you can’t afford that right now, drive 30 minutes to a town you’ve never visited and walk the streets and notice. Just go.

Compound interest. 

Go to T. Rowe Price. Set up a Roth IRA. Automatically contribute to it each month. It takes minutes and your future self will thank you. The earlier you start the better (I started at age 26). But it’s never too late.


I’m a neat freak. Here’s why: the inside of my head is a mess. It’s full of ideas, bits of dreams, colors, song lyrics, dance moves, memories, poetry, faces, names, facts, figures, sharp angles and rounded corners. I believe there may also be a hamster in there, running on a wheel. When my physical space is tidy and free of clutter, my mind gets to run wild. Get rid of stuff. Gather plastic bags and old boxes, go through closets and drawers. Unload anything that doesn’t make you happy or fit in your life. Take it to Goodwill, where someone who needs it will cherish it.


I believe the single greatest cause of mental health problems in our culture is our lack of movement. We sit. All. Day. We are not designed to be sitters. We’re animals, after all, and animals need, crave, thrive on movement. Stop making excuses. Admit you know you need to be more active. Find something you love and start by doing it for five minutes a day. Put on music and dance in your living room. Walk. Turn cartwheels in the back yard. Just move.

It’s OK to be selfish. 

Not the “Greed is good” brand of selfishness. The kind of selfishness that says, “My needs matter, and it’s OK to make myself a priority in my own life.” Women in particular need to heal ourselves from the misperception that everyone else’s needs come before our own. They don’t. We cannot truly nurture anyone if we don’t know how to nurture ourselves. Our own lives are the great testing ground for our strengths and abilities. Practice on you, first.


We (counselor-type people) used to believe that the brain stagnates at a certain age. That neurons died and weren’t replaced so forgetting (keys or names or to put on underwear) was an automatic outcome of aging. Not so. We know now that our brains are wildly regenerative, and new neural pathways are built all the time. And can be created throughout life. Until we die. And we can create them ourselves. Your brain is a miracle. Use it.


I’m a big fan of quitting. I think hanging onto a job or relationship or situation that no longer serves is pointless. It proves nothing to no one to stick with a horrible, life-depleting situation simply to prove one’s loyalty. Be loyal to yourself first. If it isn’t working, it’s time to go.

Quit smoking. 

I know it’s hard. Right now, there are boardrooms full of tobacco executives spending billions of dollars to keep people addicted to their product. It really, really pisses me off. So do your best to quit. If you relapse, quit again. Think of it as a war of righteousness against an industry that wants to kill you. You can beat this thing. I believe in you.

Dream recklessly. 

One of my unfulfilled dreams: to buy a little RV and spend a year seeing everything I can possibly see in the 49 continental United States. It’s a dream that makes no sense. That has no rational purpose. It’s utterly illogical and makes my whole body vibrate with excitement and happiness. Make yourself vibrate like that. Make your cells dance with dreaming.

Tip well. 

Restaurant servers are the hardest working people on earth. And many, many of them have other jobs: students, artists, actors, parents. AND, in North Carolina, servers are still paid the criminally low hourly wage of $2.13 per hour. So if you receive good service, tip well. It’s one small way to be kind.

Make friends with your fear. 

So many of us (including me) get stuck in fears about the future, about stability, about money, about rejection. Fear lets us know we’re pushing our boundaries, moving beyond what is known. Making friends with fear (invite it out for coffee or host a sleep-over) lessens its power over our decision making. Embracing it not as something to be avoided but as a compass that lets us know we’re heading in a new and exciting direction turns it from a weapon into a tool.

Allow for ambiguity. 

It is the height of wisdom to admit “I don’t know”. It’s easy to look around and assume everyone else has it all figured out. They don’t. Most of us are confused most of the time. Knowing that confusion and lack of clarity are an integral part of evolution lessens the stress they can cause.


Seriously. Floss. Your teeth.


Getting enough sleep changes lives. Being rested increases productivity, lowers stress and cortisol levels in the body, prevents a whole host of diseases including heart disease and cancer, increases focus and attention, and makes for a happier you. Stop pretending that skipping sleep is a worthy thing to do. It isn’t. Get some rest!

Change is inevitable. 

A few years ago, a colleague of mine went on a one year sabbatical. While she was gone, our whole department changed: retirements, resignations, promotions, new hires. When she got back she said, “All I did was go on sabbatical and everything changed.” The lesson? Change happens. To resist this fundamental truth is to experience unnecessary suffering.

Meet your needs. 

Eat what feels good. Get enough rest. Pay your bills. Relax when you need to. Create what longs to be created. When you meet your own needs, you communicate to the world and to those around you that you are a person who gets her needs met. And then, miracles.


Three deep belly breaths. Right now. 

Art supplies are awesome.

I keep them around all the time. Colorful markers, crayon, paper, collage materials. Knowing I can throw down some art at any moment keeps the creative fire burning in me, ready to roll.

Move toward love.

Go to those people who seek you out and invite you in. If the door isn’t opening, be it a love relationship, friendship, or employment opportunity, then that door isn’t the one you’re meant to go through. Keep walking til you find the right one.

Google isn’t wisdom. 

The answers you truly seek can’t be found on a search engine. Only the hard but important work of looking deep inside yourself yields true wisdom.

Surround yourself with what you love.

My little home office is decorated with photos of my best friends, my sweetie, my family. I’m surrounded by pictures of travels, inspirational sayings, cards from old friends. I love being here, and the love that surrounds me inspires me and helps me create.

Dream big...

Dreams and imagination are language of the soul, the best version of ourselves longing to surface. Nurture your dreams. Encourage the outlandish, the seemingly impossible.

... And do your Work. 

Sacrifice and discipline aren’t as fun or sexy-sounding as dreaming, but they are necessary to making dreams real. I’ve been writing my blog for three years. Most weeks, I write twice per week, 1000 words per post. In an average year, nearly 100,000 words. I did not build this blog by dreaming alone.

Ask for help. 

Most people (women in particular) are great at giving, bad at receiving. We view asking for help as weakness, as a burden to the people we love. Yet allowing space for others to help us gifts them with the opportunity to serve. Make a practice of asking.


Most people who are struggling don’t want advice or a quick fix. They are simply looking for someone to hear their story. Sit. Still your mind. Don’t interrupt. Just listen.

Give it away. 

Every month, no matter now much or how little money I have in my checking account, I make a donation to a charity or organization I believe in. Doing so benefits the causes I care about, but it also makes me feel generous and reminds me of the abundance in my own life, even when my bank balance is low.

Practice gratitude.

BrenĂ© Brown says that happiness can’t exist without gratitude. Happiness is not some future state that might happen if certain changes or conditions occur. Cultivating gratitude in the abundance that exists now helps lay the foundation for present and future happiness.

Age isn’t just a number. 

I’m 41 years old. I’m about halfway done with this little life of mine. As much as I would like to believe that age is just a number, the truth is my time here on earth isn’t infinite. I only have so many days left (and may they be plentiful). I can postpone happiness, or I can live it now. The passing of the years makes the decision so much easier to make.

There are very few problems that can’t be helped with a good walk in the woods (being chased by a bear is probably one of them).

Blow your mind. 

Here’s one: What if before you were ever born, your wise soul met up with your parents’ wise souls and you entered into a contract to be a family together? What if you, in fact, chose your parents? What if they were the exact people you needed to teach you in this lifetime? Chew on that one for a while.

Cultivate wonder.

Good God, you’re a miraculous being. Right now your lungs are breathing air without you thinking about it. Your heart beats in the same way. Your eyes see the words on your computer screen. You feel an itch on your face and your hand moves automatically to scratch it. You can smell apple pie, or in the absence of such pie, you can imagine the smell of apple pie. Holy SHIT! You are AMAZING!


Pretending you are not brilliant and wise serves no one. You are brilliant and wise. You have so much love and wisdom to offer the world. Offer it. Extend a hand. Be generous. Share what you know.

Learn to be alone. 

I have learned to love my own company. This is the greatest gift I have given myself and I cherish it. I can entertain myself in a million different ways, and experience no fear about being out in the world, alone, as a traveler; nor in my apartment, alone, on a Saturday night. Learning to be alone is freedom.

Not everyone will approve. Make peace with it. 

I occasionally get critical feedback on my blog. Critical feedback of the caring, sensible, helpful variety I appreciate and incorporate. Then there is the other kind. Like the reader who called me out publicly for using a certain four-letter F-word. That kind of feedback I catch and release, the kind that is clearly about someone else’s hang-ups, not my own.

I am going to die. 

Not today. Hopefully not tomorrow. But someday. My body will let go of my spirit and I will be nothing more than a memory. Keeping this knowledge close beside me liberates me from so much fear and angst. Since I already know the ending, I may as well enjoy the ride.

Poetry heals.  Read. Now. 

Dancing is magic. 

Our bodies are meant to dance. It is our birthright and our connection to the divine. It doesn’t matter if you’re “good” at it (and you are, trust me), or if you ever dance in public. As a wise man once said: Get up off of your feet. Dance and you’ll feel better. Start here, now:


Tell the truth. 

So obvious. Yet so hard. Most of us are honest when it comes to the big things. But when it comes to the “little” things, like expressing a need or want or desire, we so often lie to ourselves and others. Stop. Speak what you need. Speak what you want. If you’re too cold, say so. If you want some alone time, say so. If the sex isn’t doing it for you, say so. Tell your Truth.

Write thank you notes. 

In this world of digital everything, taking the time to hand-write a thank you note is precious. It will never go out of style. The recipient will thank you and you’ll have a gratitude boost from the process.

I love you. 

I may not know you. If we met, we might find we have different belief systems, different opinions or ideas. Regardless, I feel fully confident in my love for you. Right there, right in the middle of you is a heart and a soul and a person of tremendous value, worth, and meaning. I believe in you. I believe in you. 100%. Today, tomorrow, always. I've got your back.


Life Wins

Today is as good a day as any (and better than some) to reflect on the apparent and unreal failures of our life...those times when it seemed as if we had failed, as if opportunity had passed us by, as if loss had won the day. Yet, we can now look back upon those times and see that life would not be undone, that failure created the possibility for another victory and something larger than us had won the day.

For this, I am most grateful. Happy Easter.


If You Aren't Seriously Screwed Up – You Don’t Belong Here

God has an insane tendency to pick screwed up people for doing big things. In fact, if we take even a cursory look, it seems that the business of God interacting with humanity is all about screwed up people, which causes me to ask, “Am I screwed up? That was a rhetorical question. Some of you are a little too eager to chime in. Thanks a lot.

There's a bumper sticker that comes and goes in popularity that reads, “Christians Aren't Perfect We're Just Forgiven.” It’s a true enough statement. What interests me most about it is that it needs to be said at all. There has grown this assumption that Christians are, in some manner, positioned as better than some other group of people – non-Christians for example. The erroneous process behind that thinking is that there is an initial condition of imperfection, often seen as sinfulness, brokenness, or being generally screwed up, and that this condition needs to be fixed via a religious course correction. The next step is for the person to engage in the particular faith and spiritual rite of passage that addresses this condition and then through the wonder of one doctrine or another (take your pick – sacrament of baptism, sanctification, redemption, indulgences or scape goat sacrifice) the broken person is fixed and the problem solved. It’s a great story (brokenness gives way to perfection) and it is told over and over again from pulpits, podiums and stages. There’s just one problem. For many people, their experience is that it doesn't work that way.

If we give this broken-to-fixed process even a cursory thought, we know it isn't true. How many people do we know that have been indoctrinated or converted into a particular religious system and are now outside that system still struggling? Or, ask yourself, how many people do we know who are still within their religious system that are struggling with deep and personal demons? The myth that religion is a magic elixir that once drunk will fix us, must be abandoned. We are creatures with complex and enduring psychological and behavioral habits: some of them very destructive and many of them highly entertaining.

Have you ever had a deep, flesh ripping, and blood gushing wound? The kind that is worthy of a medical slide next to the term “complex laceration?” Well imagine placing an adhesive bandage on it and calling it fixed. Yet, we somehow expect a momentary religious experience to fix deep seated issues in our life. Some of us need more.

Think on this. Our religious beliefs and practices are only part of what we need to learn, develop and do to be better humans. If our faith journey isn't about more than a chronological event that designates us as saved versus condemned, then we are all in trouble.  Here’s why.

Look at the people, traditionally, that God called to do wonderful and amazing things. Moses reportedly couldn't speak very well and complained to God about this. Yet, God called him to be God’s spokesperson to Israel. David, the greatest King of all Judaism started as a shepherd boy, followed his lust to the point of arranging murder and having an affair. The first disciples were vagabonds: fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Paul was originally a persecutor of the early followers of Jesus’s way. Jesus was the son of a carpenter. Do you see a pattern here? God has an amazing tendency to choose the least, the last and the lost among us to do God’s work.

Story time.

I have a favorite Christmas TV special. What’s yours? Frosty the Snowman? How the Grinch stole Christmas? The Charlie Brown Christmas special? How about White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 42nd Street? Nope. Mine’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. You with me, yet? I’ll bet you a sleeve of communion wafers you will be in a few sentences. Here goes.

The whole Rudolph story is about how certain characters don’t fit in. Obviously there’s Rudolph. His nose is too bright. He looks and talks funny. There’s the elf who wants to be a dentist. The there’s this prospector, Yukon Cornelius, looking for gold by licking his mining pick. Top all that off with a terrible beast that turns out to be a bouncy ride and you have a group of odd and abnormal characters. They all end up exactly where they belong – on the island of misfit toys. There they are with the swimming bird, the square wheel train and the Jack in the Box named Charlie! What a group of misfits!

Then the story turns and Rudolph and his friends are cast off even the island of misfit toys. Of course, we all know that in a strange turn of events, they each discover that their strange talents are in fact just what is needed to save the day. The elf dentist pulls the monster’s teeth, Yukon Cornelius protects his friends, the Bumble monster places the star on the tree top and Rudolph saves Christmas. The misfits are just the fit, as it turns out. They even get Santa to pick up the misfit toys and find them homes.
Are you with me, or do I owe you those communion wafers?

We love the victorious misfits. Maybe it is because we see ourselves in them. Maybe we all have those parts of ourselves that aren't normal, that don’t fit with preconceived ideas of who we should be and what we should do. Perhaps it is because this story tells that grace isn't about becoming something you are not, but rather about being accepted as you are and beginning the journey of being a better version of yourself. Whatever our reason for cheering for the misfits, the reality is we can all relate.

The next time you’re around the folks called Christian, take a mental inventory. Are their misfits in your midst? Remember to look at yourself, too. Of course they are there…the addict, the divorced, the troubled, the angry, the mournful, the depressed, the emotionally needy, the criminal, the list goes on. God’s people aren't perfect and it is high time we started acting like the lovable misfits that we are.

If you’re not seriously screwed up you don’t belong here and because you are, you are an integral part of God’s work. What I am saying, in a sentence is this: you are a child of God, nothing more and nothing less. Can we lay aside the pretense of perfection and attitude of ‘better than’ and live with this amazing truth?


Gender Equality ... Progress, Please!

If I were in the pulpit this week, I'd be preaching about the long, arduous and still un-won battle for gender equality and respect. Despite the long standing and erroneous biblical references to female subordination to the male, I hope most contemporary clergy are NOT espousing a patriarchal culture under the guise of religious doctrine.

I would also be talking about the Oscars. Recently, even Hollywood fell prey to tasteless and demeaning gender bias at the Oscars. For a well written and logical account of the Oscars gender bias, please see PeaceBang's article: "Girl's Remember Who You Are..."

The 2013 Oscars telecast was a teaching moment for women in the industry, or should I say, a moment when women in the industry got schooled, which is a different thing.  The Oscars schooled uppity Hollywood women about their place, which is to be hot bodies to ogle. The takeaway, reinforced in joke after joke after joke was, “Girls, remember what you are, and what you’re good for.”

In the 1980s, the need for a reformulation of gender roles was captured in books like "The Hazards of Being Male," by Herb Goldberg and "Why Men Are The Way They Are," by my friend Warren Farrell. In the early 1990's John Gray brought us "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus."

I wrote a short story (see below) during that time period to raise the question of societal expectations and gender roles. At it's base, the roles that are created in any society are the result of the expectations that are placed on children that in turn shape their self image and development into adults. These expectations and promoted via parents, role models and media influences. While a great deal has been done to advance the freedom of choice without gender based prejudiced when growing into a personal life role, we still have a long way to go. Read my short story below and see - are we there, yet?

“The Land of The Nams and The Nims”

Once, long ago, in a far away land there lived an odd group of people. They lived much the way we do, eating, sleeping, playing and such things, but in this land there where two types of people, the Nams and the Nims. Oddly enough, the only difference between the Nams and the Nims was a simple steel plate.

You see, when a new child was born, it was decided if that child would be a Nam or a Nim. The Nams were the rulers. They made all of the important decisions, did all of the hard work and were served by the Nims. Both the Nams and the Nims where born exactly alike, small hands, round hairless faces, big brown eyes and most importantly, with a small hole in their chest, right over there heart. It was a dangerous hole, because, as every Nam knew, if anyone touched your heart, you would surely die. Thus, those that were picked to be Nams had a steel plate fixed to their bones over their heart hole. This made it safe for them to rule, of course,”

“On one day, a young Nam named Ned was following the instruction of his teacher. ‘Remember, Ned,’ he said with a strong huffy voice, ‘Your job will be very important and you must always remember to hold your head high and work hard.’ ‘Yes, sir,’ the young Nam replied. 

As they walked down the hall, two young Nims passed them and quickly entered a room off the hallway, laughing as they went. “What are they doing in there,” Ned asked? “Just silly Nim stuff, cooking, cleaning… Don’t worry about,” grunted the teacher. 

At that moment another Nam ran up, “Master Teacher,” he excitedly announced, “there is trouble in the outer garden! A dragon I believe!” 

Well, before Ned knew what happened, his teacher and the messenger had left him there, standing alone in the hall. “Figures,” he thought, “I miss everything.” Ned turned to head back down the hall to his room. When he passed the door the young Nims had entered, Ned heard them laughing again. Then Ned had a thought, a clever little thought. “I bet I can find out what they are doing,” he reasoned. Without another thought, Ned ran down the hall to the storage room and slipped inside. Making sure no one had followed him; he closed the door, and grabbing a chair, the young Nam climb up and into an air ventilation pipe. He knew he could find his way, and soon had crawled into the pipe directly back to the Nim room and was peering down the vent at them. 

Teacher was right, they where cleaning, washing dishes, and stacking towels, and all the while, they would laugh and giggle with each other. He was a little disappointed, but figured that The Master was right. Nims were silly and less interesting than Nams. “It was good to be a Nam. It is good to rule,” he thought. Ned touched the plate over his chest proudly and started to slowly crawl back down the pipe. Then he heard a scream come from the room below. He looked quickly. One of the small Nims had been hurt. It looked like a tray had fallen and hit him in the head, cutting the Nim's face. The nim knelt to the floor and began to cry. Then Ned saw the most peculiar thing. The older Nims moved closet to the young nim and gathered in a circle. One by one, they reached out and, to his disbelief, touched the nim's heart hole. Ned gasped. “They are going to kill him,” his mind raced, “What should I do?” But, the little Nim did not die. Instead, as each one touched his heart, he began to feel better. The nim stopped crying, his face stopped bleeding and soon they were all laughing and singing again.

Ned looked down at the steel plate that separated his heart from all others, and wondered.

The End??


Religion Needs to be Wrong - Dare to Consider Not Believing

I ran across an online article about how "Religion and faith can be good for you." It is an interesting read and mostly got me thinking about how difficult it is to have a conversation about religion among those of divergent opinions.

I'm in sales (yes, you've been warned) and many good sales people will tell you to stay away from two topics: politics and religion. It is a tricky minefield - talking about politics and religion. It isn't the same as discussing an alternative driving route from home to work. We are very willing to listen to something that might lessen our commute or make it more enjoyable, or at least give us an alternative if traffic is bad. Not so much with religion.

Part of the challenge is that many of us consider the route dictated by our religious path a single path to a singular destination. There is only one way to get to the one place. What is more, we tend to be rather cautious about considering that our route might not be THE one. It is understandable, in part. If the metaphorical alternative is a ride that will take you off a cliff to your death - exchanging religious ideas might be dangerous.

The part that doesn't make sense to me is that historically speaking, we have all been down the wrong path. There isn't a religious tradition or denomination that hasn't, at one point or another, driven full throttle over the cliff all the while insisting that it was on the right path. Consider - the crusades, the US Civil War, Civil rights, and any number of pseudo-political religious actions.

However (and this is a really BIG however), what about the value of open mindedness? What about the momentary suspension of one's personal convictions in order to hear, understand and perhaps learn from a contrary point of view? One of the greatest freedoms available to us as citizens of the USA is freedom of speech - yet, we seem to be among the last to freely exchange ideas and contrary opinions without going all fisticuffs on each other.

While in college, I was vehemently opposed to atheism. The thought of disbelief in God and all of the trappings of my personal faith was appalling and, well... terrifying to me. Somehow I had thrown up a wall around my mind and if the conversation turned to anything that smacked of atheism, I was gone - as fast as my little doctrinal legs would carry me.

One day a religion professor - a educated, kind and openly Christian man - suggested I take the risk and talk with one of the better known atheists on campus. He suggested I NOT talk with him with the intent of changing his mind, but rather seek to listen and understand why and what he believed. I forced myself to listen, to ask questions and allow myself to hear another point of view.  At one point he said, "I don't believe in God." Seeking to be open, I asked him, "Tell me about this God you don't believe in." He talked for an hour or more . When he was done I could honestly say to him, "It is interesting. I don't believe in that god either." When spent many hours together over the following years talking about our personal beliefs and similar hopes and fears. He never came to believe as I did (perhaps he did admit a few times he had grown to be more agnostic than atheist),  and I never lost my faith (although I did learn some difficulties with my beliefs). We would both agree, however that we were better because of the friendship.

Perhaps there is something to fear in the failure to listen to others of different beliefs and traditions - that's scary!



For your Lenten pondering, I'll direct you to a nice post by Elizabeth Cottrell.

Enjoy, as well, her poem, cast artfully below.


Finding God in Artistic Angst?

After attending a faculty concert at the University Of North Carolina School Of The Arts in honor of Mozart’s birthday (great music), my wife and I decided to rent and re-watch “Amadeus.”

The movie is a master piece and tells the story of Mozart’s musical genius through the eyes of the aged, embittered Salieri, a court composer and contemporary of Mozart. What struck me profoundly was Sallieri’s struggle – he speaks of holding within himself the appreciation of and desire to create, divine music and yet, he must live with the reality of his inability to do so.

I believe many of us struggle with similar tensions, unrealized passions. I believe we often find ourselves frustrated by the limitations of our craft to contain something larger than us. Yet, I also believe that it is this desire to manifest something greater than ourselves that can make us truly a vessel of Divine love and empowerment.  It is a reoccurring theme and one perhaps worth acknowledging…

I like the way Harry Chapin dances with this idea in his song, "Taxi."

“…Oh, I've got something inside me,
To drive a princess blind.
There's a wild man, wizard,
He's hiding in me, illuminating my mind.
Oh, I've got something inside me,
Not what my life's about,
Cause I've been letting my outside tide me,
Over 'till my time, runs out. “
-Harry Chapin, “Taxi”


Get Up. Move. Live.

Hanging on the wall in my office, there is a picture of a tree that changes color and definition to reflect the four seasons. As you walk by the angle of the print causes the tree to shift from a winter scene of bare branches and snow, through sprouting spring foliage, the full greening of summer and then the autumn leaves of fall. From my desk seat, it always looks like autumn.

I like seeing the different images of the picture. The variety, changing colors and shapes offers a nice change from what is often the static unchanging art of an office space. There are times when I will just move to a different place in my office to see and enjoy the picture differently. It isn't that I don’t like seeing the fall tree, I do. I like seeing the other images, too.

Here’s my thought: My living is often the same way. It is easy to settle into the same routine, the same patterns of moving through life and soon – everything seems to look stagnant. In the same way I have to get up and move to a different place in my office to see the variety of the tree picture, I can move to a different place in my living to see life with new colors.

From a simple move, like visiting a different coffee shop, to a more dramatic change, like ending or starting a new relationship, we can experience the very different seasons of our living. I’m not advocating change for change sake, but I am encouraging myself to remember that sometimes I need to move a little and change my perspective in order to appreciate the rich variety of life.

I sat in a meeting yesterday with a successful local entrepreneur – a very rich man. He was clearly tired, almost exhausted throughout the meeting. After we had finished our business discussions, the conversation shifted as he explained his fatigue. He had spent the previous evening volunteering at a local homeless shelter. As he begin to tell the tale of his time helping others that night his energy lifted, his spirit soared and the conversation moved me to a different place. The business of life glowed more brightly than the drab hues of the previous conversation about his business.

Get up. Move. See. Enjoy.


My God in 1975 and NOW

We've had some winter weather. Time at home has allowed me to dig out some old CDs and take a musical ride through time.

Today I've managed a few minutes to simply sit in the living room and listen to music. I would normally listen to satellite radio or an iTunes play list, but today I've dusted off some of the CDs stacked about the room and found an array of music that I haven’t heard for some time. Right now, it’s Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung.” With this music comes a specific memory. This album takes me back to 1975, Myrtle Beach, SC where I grew up.

I remember one very specific day in May, an afternoon after my birthday but before the summer break in between my junior and senior year of high school. I was still driving the hand-me-down family car, a 1966 Chevrolet Bel Air, and at that particular moment was cruising north on Highway 17 between Murrells Inlet and Myrtle Beach headed into town to join friends for pizza and some night time fun. The car stereo was blasting, powered by an 8-Track tape player as I listened for the first time to “My God.” What I remember today, is somehow in that drive I felt very free, and I knew that even though I didn't fully understand what Tull was saying – I knew two things: 1. There was more about God to learn than my parents had taught me and 2. I liked this crazy, in-your-face, music.

 I still know those two things.

"My God"
Jethro Tull

People -- what have you done --
locked Him in His golden cage.
Made Him bend to your religion --
Him resurrected from the grave.
He is the god of nothing --
if that's all that you can see.
You are the god of everything --
He's inside you and me.
So lean upon Him gently
and don't call on Him to save you
from your social graces
and the sins you used to waive.
The bloody Church of England --
in chains of history --
requests your earthly presence at
the vicarage for tea.
And the graven image you-know-who --
with His plastic crucifix --
he's got him fixed --
confuses me as to who and where and why --
as to how he gets his kicks.
Confessing to the endless sin --
the endless whining sounds.
You'll be praying till next Thursday to
all the gods that you can count.


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