On coffee shops and listening skills…


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imagesIt was the typical, “May I take your order?” Sure! I ordered three beverages – one for Don, one for myself, and one for Lucy the Puppy-girl. The summer weather finally gave us a reprieve from the heat and we took the opportunity to walk to our local coffee shop. Lucy loves to drink her water out of the plastic ‘grande’ cup. No ice please, and save the lid for someone else. Really, she doesn’t care. By the way, we haven’t been able to teach her the finer points of using a straw. It’s something about the oral musculature of a mature canine that makes the straw an impossibility. You can save the straw for someone else, too.

The barista smiled at me, thanked me for my order, which, by the way, included directions for Lucy’s plain cup of water and a request for ‘room’ in my iced coffee. Coffee without cream is like bread without butter. It’s okay, but it definitely falls short of being that spectacular blend of great taste and complete personal comfort. You know, that ‘ahhhhh’ moment when the first taste passes you lips. I am a Minnesota girl. Believe me, cream and butter make our Scandinavian hearts happy!

One of our beverages was completed as requested. One out of three. One. Only one.

Now, the caveat here is that the coffee shop was not crowded. I was the only one in line to order. Another customer was waiting for a beverage and the drive through line was virtually nonexistent.

Only one of our beverages was completed as requested!

This in and of itself is not a big deal. Through conversation we eventually reached a place where I received the drinks I ordered and life went on.

The thing is, only one out of three – and I might add, three simple drinks – was initially prepared correctly. This had nothing to do with the skill of the barista. It had everything to do with the ability to listen. Listening is becoming a lost art.

Take the evening news, for example. Conflict is main topic. How often do you see someone yelling to be heard about something? How often do we hear about this side or that side or some side that disagrees with something someone else says or does? It’s rampant! Whether it’s about racial relations; political agendas; a neighborhood riff; changes in educational structures, boundaries or agendas; or a myriad of other person-to-person conflicts, the method of dealing with it is to cling to one’s own perspective while devaluing the beliefs, thoughts, or rights of another.

Sometimes, in the midst of conversation or conflict, we don’t even know what the other perspective is simply because we refuse to listen.

Cell phones and ear buds connect us to the world, yet we tend to spend our time listening to things that we already agree with. Is this really listening? Or are we simply reinforcing what we already believe?

Facebook posts and memes are often followed by visceral, angry comments from those who disagree and feel free to hit out words on a keyboard that let the person who offended our sensibilities know how naive, silly, uneducated or just plain stupid they are. Yet, did we actually read with the desire to understand a view point different than our own? Or was the intention to prove how right we are at another’s expense?

Who we are and what we think come from a lifetime of experiences. Some folks allow those situations to become a wall around their understanding that brick by brick…thought by thought…constructs a limited perspective of indignant self-righteousness. We have all been around those who refuse to listen objectively to concepts that are not familiar to them. They become closed minded, encapsulated in an understanding of the world that belongs only to them and those who agree with them.

The thing is, we live in a huge, messy community of people who have even bigger and messier life experiences to draw on. Those big, messy experiences lead to understandings about life that are as different as the colors in a jumbo box of Crayola’s. Any child knows that weaving those colors together in and around a design or picture can lead to something better than any individual color offers by itself. Yet, the colors have to work together in harmony or they will become a dissonant hodgepodge.

Life is like those colors. We all have something to offer. Our beauty as a society is dependent on weaving our diverse ideas, beliefs and perspectives into a tapestry that represents the diversified hopes of all who walk this crazy path called, ‘life’.

To do this, we need to listen. Maybe it starts with a coffee shop barista learning to look a weary customer in the eye and hear the words that make up a simple order. Maybe it’s a conversation between friends about political beliefs that are diametrically opposed, but each one is intent on understanding the other and how they came to believe what they know to be true. Maybe it’s a journalist who attempts to capture both sides of a emotionally charged story. Maybe it’s simply letting our ego’s take a break long enough to realize that someone else has a perspective that we must consider.

Maybe…maybe…maybe, it’s about listening quietly and intently. Listening as if there is nothing else we need in the moment except to understand the voice of another.



Pink popsicles and Biblical perspective…


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UnknownIt can be a struggle to deal with theological interpretations simply because our individual worldview determines the lens through which we understand the words our ancient sisters and brothers penned, quilled, or carved in stone. Unfortunately, it is as common for that lens to be myopic as it is for it to be just a bit foggy, knowing that whatever we think is ‘right’ is affected by our life experiences. Who we are and where we come from determines how we understand and respond to that which we call The Divine.

You see, God is more than we can possibly comprehend and when we try to wrap God and God’s will in a neat package of rules-to-live-by we will miss the deeper concept of living a life of compassion for those around us.

Let me explain. The ancient texts for the world’s great religions are written by…well, people who were inspired by The Divine. Some conclude that this inspiration was given to selected individuals as a command to document exactly what was dictated to them by God. Others suppose that the sacred writings are recorded events to tell the story of those places where God and humanity rub against each other.  The lens through which we read these stories will determine our perspective on who God is and who we are in God’s world.

Think of it like interpreting the following story.

One day a little girl asked her mother for a pink popsicle. The girl’s mother tried to find pink popsicles at the grocery store, but couldn’t. There were green popsicles, red popsicles, orange popsicles and even blue popsicles, but no pink popsicles. The mother decided to make pink popsicles. She bought sticks and popsicle molds to make the classic double popsicles like she found at the store, only this time they would be pink. She mixed water and flavorings with just the right amount of food color to make the most perfect pink popsicles. The next day the little girl asked for a popsicle and was delighted to have a pink popsicle. Now, the little girl wasn’t alone when she asked for the pink popsicle. Her friend looked longingly at the pink popsicle. At that point the girl quickly snapped the popsicle into it’s two parts and presented her friend with a pink popsicle. They sat side by side on the back steps, enjoying all that they had been given.

Now, some will read this simplistic story and determine that pink popsicles are the only color or flavor we should desire because that’s what was described in the story. Others may see the love of the mother for the child. Still others may see it as a story about sharing and gratitude for what they were given.

In reality, the details mean nothing without understanding the big picture. The pink popsicle could have been replaced with a cheeseburger, a bag of chips or a paisley umbrella. It simply doesn’t matter what the object was. The objective of the story is to experience the mother’s love and the child’s gratitude and sharing.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The final words are, “Now, go and do likewise.” We understand this to mean that when we see a need in another, we are to do what we can to help them through their time of struggle. The details set the stage for a story about the deeper meaning of respecting and loving others in a way that surpasses our cultural, and sometimes religious, norms. It’s about cleaning the lens through which we view the world long enough to see all that God created and know that it is good.

The thing is, we can get caught up in the details of this story as well. We can read it in a way that the Pharisee becomes an example of all that is wrong with Jewish leaders, as does the Levite for those who make the laws. We might see the Samaritan as a claim that those marginalized in the world are really better people than those in power. None of these are the intended message! They are details that can divert us from the depth and truth of this story if we let them. It’s kind of like making our focus pink popsicles instead of love, gratitude and sharing.

These are easy examples. The difficulty comes when we read passages that seem to speak to the issues that divide our communities today. It wasn’t long ago that slavery was supported, and condemned, by religious people – depending on how they read the Bible. Women have been excluded from ministry and leadership positions in many denominations based on Biblical interpretation. Hate has been spewed about issues of sexual preference and sexual identity…again based on the lens through which we read these beautiful, complex, ancient writings. We live in a world divided by religious perspective when indeed the ancients gave us stories about God’s love for all that God created and in knowing that, we should be inspired to live life embracing and sharing that same kind of love.

Instead, we point fingers and divide ourselves into groups that we feel are acceptable to God. Of course, the group we find ourself in is always the group that we think is somehow special to God. We, in our broken human form, continue to power-grab for God’s love as if it is limited and we need to claim it as our own for our little, exclusive group. No wonder God weeps.

It is time to sit on the back steps and share that pink popsicle with gratitude for all that has been given to us by God the Father, the Mother, the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer. And…we need to understand that, even though the story tells us about two little girls sharing and enjoying the day, it could have been two little boys, a boy and a girl, a girl and her mother, a boy and his father, a child and an elderly neighbor or any combination of humanity. The intended message is not in the details of who experienced the gift, it’s in the message of how the gift was freely given, received and shared.

And that, friends, is how we need to read scripture. It’s about meeting God, the author of love, the creator of all that we know. God, who was truly delighted by God’s own creation and claimed that all of it was good. God, who loves us more deeply that we can know and longs for us to walk with God. God who gives freely. God whom human words can never fully describe…

It’s always about the deeper message of who we are and Whose we are…and living as if it matters.




Surprise in a prayer…


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Mike offered to start the class in prayer. It was the standard variety giving thanks and asking for guidance as we began our discussion. Then he said something that caught me completely by surprise. His words were, “Give us questions to our answers.”

Think about it a minute. We all find ourselves engulfed in moments when we want to pummel God with a bazillion questions blasting The Divine for our grief, frustration, depression, anguish, loneliness…well, the list is endless. And, we want answers! Life isn’t fair and we tend to point out to God just how unreasonable our circumstances are.

Yet, what if we actually found embedded in our discontent a litany of questions designed to shake us out of our arbitrary assuredness of what life should be? What if, like Job, we faced a series of questions designed to let us know that God loves us so much that in spite of our rhetoric, God continues to nudge us toward becoming all that God created us to be? What if those questions shifted our understanding from self-magnification to that of what it means to live in God’s world as a single part of the fullness of God’s creation? And…what if we lived as if that mattered?

Questions to our answers.

We can become complacent in our understanding of right behavior based on doctrines and dogmas. We have answers for what we believe and in whom we believe in an attempt to justify why we do what we do…sometimes to the point of rationalizing horrible behavior. I read this morning about a family…and I use the word loosely…in Pakistan who strangled and burned an 18 year old daughter and sister because she eloped with the man she loved, a man who was not accepted by the people who shared her DNA. “Family honor” had to be restored. What??? And this is somehow based on religious precepts?

Most world religions have a base of compassion. Radical interpretations of sacred texts can result in factions that pull away from the concept of getting along with each other. Even in Christianity we have crazy people who think it is somehow acceptable to preach hate and violence. And for what??? To preserve an answer??? To keep thinking that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong??? To give us exclusive membership to the Righteous Club???

What if we put our rhetorical answers to a simple test? Are we clinging to a concept that belittles another or a group of others? Does our ‘answer’ give us justification for verbal or physical abuse of another? Do we hide behind our perceived notions of religion to exclude those who share different beliefs? Do we take time to listen and understand those who see life in a way that is unfamiliar to us?

Questions to our answers.

We must be comfortable questioning, questioning and questioning again what compassion looks in each and every situation we find ourselves in to limit the extreme division and polarization plaguing our culture  One day it may simply be holding the door at Target for that mom struggling to corral 3 small children. Another day it may be joining a conversation with someone who is struggling with the trials of life. Hopefully there will also be a day when compassion pulls us to the other side of the city; to the other side of the aisle; to the other place of worship; to the other perspective on life long enough to question our answers and realize that others also have answers that may be contrary to our own. Then, we must pray that we can find answers to our questions that are formed out of and through our conversations and the resulting realization that our previous answers may be painfully wrong. Maybe then we can form new answers that are broader and less exclusive. Maybe then we can live harmony where compassion constantly and consistently  leads us to question our answers, allowing us to find that sweet spot of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.

We-uns and you-uns…


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imagesWe-uns and you-uns. Us and them. Republicans and democrats. My neighborhood, school or church and your neighborhood, school or church. Christian or Muslim or athiest or Jewish. American citizen or immigrant. Male or female. Haves and have-nots. Baptist or Episcopal. Liberal or conservative. Straight or gay. Black or white.

Whatever group is identified lets us know where we belong and where we do not. We have successfully developed a world seeped in separation. You are either part of ‘us’ or you are one of ‘them’. When you get right down to it, we either don’t really like ‘them’, or, even worse, they are simply invisible to us. It is easier and gentler on our egos to cling to those whom we know, the groups where we understand the rules or those who accept us with all of our foibles and warts. Oh, it gets worse. Our human nature causes us to inappropriately elevate our group above the others making us and ours special and right. The others are simply naive, wrong, stupid, silly or naive. We have come to a point where we neglect to respect the fact that life experiences lead us to different places and understandings, ultimately internalizing the bogus opinion that we cannot possibly learn from or learn to love others who are ‘not like us’.

We-uns and you-uns. The underlying implication is that if you aren’t part of us, you are one of them and they aren’t worthy of our time.

You disagree with me? Think about it. We are caught up in recent worldwide bombings. Our media tends to focus on how many Americans are killed. It’s as if those are the only lives that matter. Tell that to the Pakistani families who are engulfed in sorrow or the Belgium survivors who are preparing to bury a loved one. Us and them…

Polarizations constantly challenge us. Who do we socialize with? What parts of town do we visit? Where do we spend our time? How well do we understand the perspectives of others that are not familiar to us? How much time do we spend talking through problems with the very real understanding that our view point is not the only viable alternative. Do we cling to our degrees and positions so mightily that we forget someone outside of our group could have insights that will make a difference? Whom do we listen to? Whom do we shun?

The very real problem is when we surround ourselves with similarly thinking others, we can become locked into a uniform perspective that tends be narrow and prejudicial. We begin to think that all people who are part of another group think, act, talk, dress and eat the same. They like the same things, make the same mistakes and listen to the same music. We forget that the ‘others’ are like us with unique skills, insights and ways of looking at life. Instead, we pigeon hole them into categories based on something other than what we actually know about them as a person, most likely because we never took the time to actually know them as a person.

We recently celebrated Easter. Families dressed up in pastel dresses and seersucker suits, enjoyed brunches, planned egg hunts, and slowed down enough to celebrate this Christian holy day. Some even took time out of their holiday events to spend time in worship. It’s as if we have forgotten who and what we are dedicating this day to. Is it the life, death and resurrection of Jesus?  And…knowing that how we live our lives is the greatest thing we can do to honor him? Or is it a chance to kiss winter good-bye with thoughts of bunnies, flowers and spring clothes?

Jesus was the great equalizer. He didn’t care if you were a Samaritan, a woman, a tax collector, a child, a Roman soldier or an invalid. He didn’t cling to his merry band of 12 and make jokes about those who weren’t part of his ‘in’ crowd. Instead, he spoke with whomever he came in contact with…not shunning, not judging…rather listening and accepting.

He didn’t know the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

I am cynical. I listen to ‘good Christians’ bash those whom they have decided are not worthy. Jesus never did this. I see educated people slam others for their ideas, stating that ‘the other’ doesn’t know what they are talking about. Jesus didn’t do this. Our media pounces on differences, inciting people to pick sides and hate those who are part of the opposition. Nope…not Jesus. We can verbalize what he taught, pontificate on how he lived his life and theologize the depth of his love and compassion. Yet, when we observe the actions of those around us… and, if we are honest, of ourselves…it’s easy to question who or what we actually memorialize on Easter.

I wonder how many more Easters we will need to celebrate before we realize that it’s not about we-uns and you-uns. The real message asks us to ponder who we think we are in God’s world and how we will show love and respect for all who occupy it.

Lent, leaves and new life…


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13078766-girl-walking-a-dog-in-park-in-spring-silhouette-layered-one-in-the-series-of-similar-imagesThe snow finally melted and an occasional robin could be seen rummaging through our bird feeder. My neighbor spent an unseasonably warm afternoon in his garden; gently raking away decaying leaves to reveal the bold tips of iris, crocus and tulips peaking though the soil, brilliantly green against the dark earth as if to herald the promise of spring and new life.

It gave me pause to ponder. Is there something like leaves forming a protective barrier in my life? A barrier that needs to go away so I, too, can welcome newness in life? I suspect most of us have them. They tend to flutter over us during times of emotional turmoil. I also suspect many of us keep our leaves a bit longer than necessary simply because they shelter us from something or someone we think we need protection from. Then, over time, they become such an entrenched part of us that we let them cover our potential for living renewed, restored and refreshed in this crazy world. Some of those leaves have names, like “fear of failure”, “over commitment”, “entitlement”, “complacency”, “impatience”, “blame” and the list goes on.

It happened at about 2:00am. My mind was twisting around the day that was theoretically laid to rest about five hours earlier. But, as it so often occurs in the female brain, closed eyes become a screen for an instant replay of the day. I suppose that means there is unfinished business or something hanging, like a task or conversation that needs to be resolved. Whatever the reason, it’s frustrating! This particular unsettled night revolved around more angles than a complex geometric diagram and refused to choose any predictable path. I finally put it, and my weary self, to rest by pulling out that indispensable iPhone and writing a note to myself. It read:

We go through life with the delusion that another’s perception makes us who we are when the only thing that matters is our understanding of who we were created to be in God’s world.

I guess the light of day filtered the depth of those thoughts a bit reminding me that there are things in our lives that make it difficult to recognize who we truly are. Through words and actions people tell us who they think we are or who they want us to be. Sometimes they are motivated by their own comfort or benefit; sometimes they are right and we are encouraged by their insights; and sometimes they are wrong, yet we begin to doubt who we are and Whose we are because of their words. Yet, like the fall leaves remaining in a spring garden, we need to take time to gently rake away the doubts so we can continue moving toward the self we were created to be.

This brings us to Lent and the tradition of giving something up for the 40 days leading toward Easter. I have heard this described as a spiritual discipline designed to let us know how deeply damaged we are and how desperately we need salvation. I have also heard Lent portrayed as a time to focus on our personal list of foibles as if pondering our inherent awfulness will lead to anything positive, let alone new life. It’s as if Lent is a time when we are supposed to brow beat, self flagellate and generally focus on everything negative we have ever been or done as a means to convince ourselves that we are nothing but trouble in need of a great deal of grace. Wow! That’s depressing…

Lent has also been more positively described as a time to let go of the things that hold us back, keeping us from becoming all that God created us to be. A time to reflect on the things that are keeping us from entering the complete fullness of the relationship God longs to have with us; to repent those things, which simply means to turn away from them, replacing them with a more positive behavior; and rejoice that God loves us unimaginably and wants us to shine in the world with the new life freely offered and given to us.

I have made several failed attempts at giving up chocolate for lent. I just can’t see the point in it and, as a friend told me, “Lent is not a diet.” Lent is supposed to be something like the leaves…something to remove so that something else can grow. Several years ago I gave up shopping, much to my budget’s delight! By the third week, the grip of the mall lessened. I found myself sinking into gratitude for what was and not continually longing for something I didn’t have. Another year I gave up an item every day. My closets have never been so clean and I was again humbled by the unnecessary abundance that can clutter the importance of life.

So, what about this year? What will actually make a lasting difference in my perception of who I am in God’s world? What warm and comforting leaves do I need to let go of so that I can fully embrace who I am and Whose I am in God’s world? What sprouts of new and refreshed life do I need to nurture and allow to bloom as I navigate, and often stumble, through life? All of these are deep and difficult questions, worthy of a long walk outside where the fresh air and new life of spring will most certainly add some clarity to the answers.

What are you waiting for…



UnknownThis week wraps up Advent, the liturgical season of waiting and preparation. Theology tells us we are waiting, as our ancient brothers and sisters did, for Emmanuel – the Hebrew word for “God is with us.” We, as they did, wait for God to come again as a powerful leader who will let us live our lives in peace, harmony, utopian perfection and all those things beauty queens talk about in their final interviews.  No doubt, we will be just as disappointed as they were when they finally came face to face with Jesus, the long awaited for king who was to take away all of their troubles and disappointments; who was to slay the enemy; and who was to make life in the land of milk and honey a reality. You see, we, too, have created our idea of the perfect savior and he…or she…most likely looks nothing like the model of compassion seen in the person of Jesus.

The question is, what exactly is it that we are waiting for? Is it that we long for time with God? You know, like the conversation starter, “If you could have dinner with anyone living or not living, who would it be?” I mean, who doesn’t have a list of questions for God all the way from the trivial to an explanation for the deeply painful events of life…things like why young mothers have to die or why hate is so prevalent in our world.

Or, are we stoically waiting for a time when we can live exactly as we think life should be. Maybe we long to be out of poverty; or we yearn for healing in a fractured relationship, for a child, health for an aging parent, or peace around the holiday table. Maybe we want the security of reassurance, as we fear for a loved one who is depressed; addicted to drugs and/or alcohol; or who is deployed to places we neither know nor understand. We might even be filled with anger at entire groups of people who don’t think, believe or live the way we do and we wait for our version of justice and wrath to change them so they see the world as we do without ever really understanding who they are.

We become absorbed with our ideas of what changes we would like to see in our world without considering that the next guy has similar thoughts. Often, we don’t even know the other guy…or gal. We just suppose they must be like everyone else who looks and acts and dresses the way they do. We vilify ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, genders, professions, bosses, politicians, neighbors, family members and anyone we can lump into a group of people that we perceive as different than us and the group we identify with.

And, we wait for God to let them know they are wrong and we are right. I mean, the world would definitely be a better place if only…right? And…we wait for Emmanuel to take care of our lives, our stresses, our frustrations and our anger.

There are those of us of a ‘certain age’ who remember the screech of a needle scratching across a record when someone quickly and recklessly wants the music to cease. It’s that sound of “stop” that should be playing in your head as you ponder these musings defining what we might be waiting for. Our wait should not be passive as if we are waiting for something outside of our control. Nor should our wait be narcissistically focused on self-interests and desires no matter how noble they may seem to be to our selves or those around us.

Rather, the question, “what are we waiting for” should be a call to action. What are we waiting for? Why don’t we cross cultural and ethnic barriers to learn about our neighbors? Why don’t we listen in conversation, a skill that can only guide us toward understanding, compromise and breaking down barriers? Why is our main action to point at another to magnify the splinter in their eye when we are suffering from a log in our own? (Matt. 7:3) What exactly is it that we are waiting for? Since the beginning of time we have been guided by God toward a better way, God’s way. Some call the place where God is in control heaven and they wait for the kingdom of heaven to simply happen. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is among you.” (Luke 17:21) Was he talking about his presence with humanity? About God’s presence with us always and everywhere? Or was it a call to us to consider how we might be instrumental in bringing this crazy thing called heaven into a broken, hurting world?

Maybe it’s all of the above. Why are we waiting for God, in the form of Jesus, to come into the world again at some nebulous point when all we have to do is look around us to see God’s constant joyful, playful, and beautiful presence, laughing, weeping and beaconing us to walk with him…or her…as we navigate this complex thing called life?  And, once we see God’s presence…once we believe that God came to us in the form of Jesus, and again in the form of the Holy Spirit…once we truly believe that God constantly and consistently calls us as his very own sons and daughters to live as only she could create us to live, then – and only then will we understand the answer to the question, “what are we waiting for?” We must not wait! It is time to come together, not to belittle, berate or judge some other person; nor to act out of arrogance, entitlement or exclusivity. It is time to love God more than anything imaginable and, out of that immense love, it is time to compassionately engage in all of God’s creation so much that we have no possible choice other than to nurture all that God so masterfully and beautifully put together on this humble little planet.

We have been created and empowered by God and taught through the example Jesus set before us how to be light in the world. As the Christmas story unfolds, we see kings and shepherds; men and women; rich and poor; powerful and oppressed all come together, united and awed by the presence of God. If they could do it, what are we waiting for?




A Rant about the iPhone and the Pope…


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I thought it was just a simple update for my iPhone. You know the kind…it will work better, faster, be more user friendly, etc, etc, etc. When the update was complete, I noticed an icon for a new app. The amazing people at Apple decided I might like the “News” app, the one that would allow me to get personalized news stories. You know the kind…the more I read the news, the more my News-feed will be tailored to my interests.

Wait…what??? So, now there is an app that will feed into my biases, blind spots, phobias and generalized interests without the clamor of thoughts, insights and opinions that don’t support my ideals and agendas? Is it just me, or does anyone else see the audacity and danger in this approach to cementing one’s worldview? The more you read about a given perspective, the more that perspective will show up in your News app to distort it into the only appropriate way to think, feel, behave or react.

We already have a problem with polarization in this country. We shove people into categories based in their political perspective, skin tone, language, age, gender, sexual orientation and, well…the litany of “us against them” divisions grow with each issue presented in our neighborhoods, the media, our families and even our churches.

It has become acceptable for some groups to point fingers at other groups and refer to them as supremacists, homophobes, idiots, greedy, self-centered, rich capitalists while denigrating the targeted group for looking in another direction to make equally absurd assumptions. Really? Are some stereotypes okay? Does it depend on what’s politically correct? How big your groups of followers are or how big your voice is? Is it ever okay to categorize people, no matter what you think you may know?

And, Apple wants me to use this silly app that chooses articles for me based on what I am already reading without counterbalancing those thoughts and opinions with equally important views that I may or may not have considered?

The Pope is in town. Oh, not the town I live in. He has come to visit our country and all forms of media have brought him into our homes so we can feel his presence wherever we are throughout the nation. You would think his presence would remind us to celebrate our diversity and think in terms of unity, reconciliation, grace, and working together on the problems that plague us.


Open any Facebook page and you will find rampant finger pointing and scathing comments that only work to divide us even further into our exclusive niches. “Did you hear what he said about…?” “Have you read his perspective on…?” “He didn’t address my concerns about…?” “He’s changing…” “He ate with…” “Did you see how he reacted to…”

It seems to me the Pope isn’t actually taking sides. Smart man! Instead he is speaking from his understanding of grace – what loving God above all things and loving neighbor as self looks like.

Read that again. Instead he is speaking from his understanding of grace – what loving God above all things and loving neighbor as self looks like. Maybe we need to read that again and again and again. Instead we, in our antithetical views, have twisted his words to be about us and our egocentric agendas.

This beautiful creation that God entrusted us with, this place we call home, the people around us – the ones we know, the ones we only read about, the ones who we love and the ones we take issues with – these are our neighbors. These are the people we are to see as children of God, whether they are living in poverty, or wealth; look like us or not; share our political convictions, concept of religion or the constitution…or not; relate to an understanding of gender and family in a conservative way…or not; drive a Prius or a gas guzzling SUV; believe in global warming, climate change, non-GMO foods…or not; are vegetarian, card carrying members of PETA…or not; demonstrate for gender equality in religion or embrace traditionally roles for clergy; speak out on abortion and divorce, or realize that simply navigating life can lead us to places we never expected to be in and don’t know how to maneuver; prefer lemonade or a martini, cats or dogs…or neither…these, friends, are our neighbors. Every. Single. One. Of. Them.

We need to accept the lessons of the Gospel and live as if God’s gift of grace to each and every one of us matters. We need to remember Jesus walked and partied with women, outcasts, adulterers, rich tax collectors and lepers without condemning any of them. He showed compassion for all, not just those who deem themselves to be politically correct. Actually, he had little time for those interested in making and enforcing rules. He was more concerned with people and how they learned to live joyfully and with limitless love for others. He even broke the rules when they led to oppression. Imagine…

I am glad the Pope is here. Maybe he can refresh our perspectives, help us move past our limited views and politicized agendas and encourage open conversation on difficult issues that may guide us toward truly compassionate living and grace which can only be defined as living as if God and the message of love given to us through the life of Jesus mattered.

Epilogue: I have tried to delete my News app. No such luck. Apple made sure it’s there to stay. Maybe that too is a good thing. When I see the icon, I will use it as a reminder of how dangerous it can be to limit exposure to those things that can be used to divide us into dangerous, exclusive groups.



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It was my first day of seminary. Classes were cancelled for an impromptu chapel. The first meditation was simple. John 11:35…”Jesus wept.”

Certainly, God’s weeping occurred many times before that day and it continues as we trudge forward, making our mark on time.

You see, 2000 years ago Jesus came to show us something…he modeled behavior for us about what it means to be joyfully alive in this crazy world we find ourselves in; to care for those who look and act and understand life differently than we do; and to know that every minute of every day we are surrounded with the spirit of God who loves us more than we can comprehend. And, just as a loving parent cries for the naive mistakes their adoring child makes, God weeps over us when we make absurd assumptions about people; when we disrespectfully misuse any part of this amazing creation; when we destroy others in a misguided attempt to gain power; and when we forget who we are and Whose we are.

The thing is, we talk about remembering 9/11…but for what purpose? To continue hating the perpetrators? Or is it to remember what it felt like to let disagreements fade away because loving our friends, family, business acquaintances and neighbors is more important than petty arguments? We pulled together…skin tone didn’t matter, nor did sexual orientation, religion, culture, ethnicity or gender. Families made time to be together. We cared for our neighbors and those who were in distress. We prayed more and worshipped more. We became united as a nation – as people who were involved in something greater than individual or personal ambition. We were a team, without self interest, focused on working and living together. In the midst of our suffering we saw the beauty of what we could become.

And…that is the very thing we must bear in mind if we choose to remember anything about that day and the weeks, months and years that followed.

Unfortunately, as a nation, we have forgotten. Some stand on their interpretation of Biblical principles to shun others. Some feel it is appropriate to target entire groups of people for the mistakes of a few. We generalize, stigmatize and stand on some misdirected concept of self-righteous political correctness that changes from day-to-day depending on who is featured most centrally in the media. Getting along means finding like-minded people to hang out with while ranting against anyone not part of our exclusive group. “Jesus wept…”

We need help, as individuals and as a nation, to remember…

Lessons while hiking…


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Seriously, how bad can a hike be? Particularly when you have the right gear! We had hiking boots, daypacks, layered clothing, and gloves along with the questionably essential cell phones and cameras. The brochure suggested the trails would be strenuous. In all reality, strenuous is a relative word. Strenuous compared to what? To whom? We were in shape, although I should have learned years ago that ‘in shape’ can also be relative based on variables like age and the activity one finds one’s self confronted with. I remember having a similar attitude years ago when challenged with a 50-mile bicycle ride. I was ‘in shape’ for running and aerobic exercise as well as soccer and tennis. Bring on the co-ed league softball! Being active wasn’t the issue. Being ‘in shape’ was and I wasn’t ‘in shape’ for serious bicycle riding. 50 miles hurt…a lot!

Our guide met us with a small boat and his springer spaniel, Daisy. He outlined that we would travel to his float house/office to get ready for the hike, boat across the cove to his canoe and paddle into shore to meet our trail. He directed us to multiple pairs of high rubber bog boots, packets of trail mix, bottled water and granola bars. We were instructed to pick out a pair of boots and load our daypacks with water and snacks. Wait…what??? We had the latest and greatest waterproof hiking boots that could withstand any amount of rain or wet trail we had ever encountered. Didn’t he understand that we were ready just as we were? He insisted and we eventually complied. Then, as we loaded back into his boat, he handed each of us a walking stick. I took it, thinking it was rather silly and cliche, but what the heck???

We reached the canoe, which could only hold 3 at a time. He instructed us how to step into it so it wouldn’t tip and made the 3 necessary trips to transport six of us to shore and our hiking adventure. Daisy made sure she was in the first load and barked anxiously until we were all ready to hike. This was her day to shine! Her job was to run ahead of us and warn our guide if a bear chose to use the path…the path carved through the wilderness by bears and deer…a path our guide, our group of six and Daisy shared with them. Instructions were given regarding our best response should such a meeting occur. Our guide was outfitted with a rather large pistol to use as a last resort should the potential bear not choose to not leave us as he found us. It was his philosophy that it was better to have the gun should he need to use it than to not have it and need it. Ultimately, the best option was not to have to use it.

My city-loving, height-fearing, mud-hating, worry-hearted self should have heard bells screaming a warning in decibels requiring earplugs at this point. Yet there was something about the calm reassurance of our guide as he casually explained our hike was only about a mile in and about a mile out with a 450-foot elevation. Hey, I can do that!

He instructed us every step of the way…where to place our feet, when to use the walking stick, what branches to cling to as we made our way through a minute piece of the temperate rain forest in Alaska. This was no ordinary hike. Rain forests have bogs and a muddy, mossy, wet concoction that will suck you in well past your ankle and can suction the boot right off your foot. Moss can be found on almost every limb and exposed tree root. Soon we were adept at finding the horizontal roots to gain footing and avoiding the vertical, more slippery roots. We jumped over what appeared to be narrow creeks, learning that they can be deceivingly deep. A twist of the boot released it from the grasp of the sludge. His gentle instructions encouraged us as we ascended the trail, the same one used by indigenous animals as they foraged for food and water. We didn’t know what we were walking towards, we only knew that we were going somewhere with someone we literally trusted with our lives…someone we had only known for a short time…yet, someone whose gentle guidance encouraged us to keep moving forward, literally through the muck, when our natural instincts would have kept us anchored in one spot.

And there it was!!! Just in front of us was a clearing with a small, perfectly clear lake. Our guide had built a temporary shelter to welcome us to his utopia. Split logs made comfortable benches, a fire pit provided heat and a tarp provided a ‘roof’ to protect us should it rain. A separate area several yards away was surrounded by tarp and made into a makeshift latrine complete with more comforts than any Johnny-on-the-Spot has to offer. We were ready to pull out our trail mix and waters when our guide took off his pack and presented us with hotdogs, marshmallow, chocolate bars…both milk chocolate and dark chocolate…and graham crackers. A hammock hung between two trees and kayaks were available for those who wanted to explore the lake. It was simple; it was unexpected; it was hospitality beyond our expectations; and it was all and everything we needed.

The hike back to the water’s edge was spectacular. One step at a time, don’t worry about ten steps ahead, simply think about where your foot is going to land on the next step…then the next step…the next step… And, before you know it, you are out of the wilderness…changed…the same…but different…calm…grateful for it all…connected to the beauty, the challenge, the guide, Daisy, the others…hopeful for what is to come next, knowing that there will always be another wilderness to encounter.

It doesn’t take much to realize the metaphor for life in this simple hiking experience.

  1. There will be plenty of muck, but the right tools will help you get through it. 
  2. Sometimes all you can do is think about the next step. 
  3. It helps to have someone to guide you, someone who has been there before and can encourage you to keep going.
  4. There will be a place of unimaginable beauty and hospitality when you reach the clearing.
  5. The wilderness will is always waiting…just ahead, but this time we know that we can keep going. 

You see, God lives in and through all things – even the things that make us anxious, overwhelmed or scared – always sharing with us the essence of who we are and Whose we are; beaconing and nudging us to live as if God matters; compelling us to reach out and walk with someone who needs us or to let someone guide us when life drops us into the middle of the wilderness. Even the muck can become beautiful when we realize that there will be a clearing complete with all we need…a place that is peaceful where we can laugh and share life…a place where we can hear the gentle giggle of God as she threads her majesty and love into our stories, amused by her creation and how beautiful it is when we find her.

Oh, and one more thing…a dog will always help you on the journey!!!

Sense and Non-sense…


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The world is changing. Nothing new there! This has been the lament of many, the inspiration for others…the plea, the angst, the hope, the frustration, and the divide among generations; races; genders; countries; religions; neighbors; brothers and sisters; spouses and…well…change can cause conflict wherever 2 or more are gathered…

Wait! Isn’t that supposed to be a statement of unity and love? Matthew 18:20 states:

For wherever 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, I am there among them.

Of course, theological scholars will say this was meant for the church. You know, for those times when turmoil surrounding rules and laws cause people to argue and fuss about what should be done…or forgotten…or forgiven. Everybody has an opinion! So often those assumptions are based on personal interests, individualized worldviews and self-centered desires. Sometimes our opinions change and evolve when we dare to remember who we are and Whose we are, a practice that involves stepping outside of ‘self’ and into understanding we are part of something huge and amazing; something we can’t fully understand; something bigger and better than me or mine or the small perspective of an isolated group of people that I might be part of.

Peter, Paul and Mary sang about it in The Wedding Song, taking the appropriate liberty to swap the word “love” for the phrase “I am there among them.” After all, God is the author of love, thus streamlining the phrase into one word still says it all. God is with us when ever we are with others. I guess that means God is there when we meet in worship; when we go to the mall; when we drink wine with the neighbors; when we argue with our spouse; when we walk past the homeless; when we scream horrible things at people who love someone we wouldn’t choose for them; when we make despicable assumptions based on race or religion; and when we simply choose not to share our time, talents and resources with someone in need. God is there, always and everywhere. Sometimes God smiles and, most surely, sometimes God weeps as she attempts to get the attention of our heart by peeling back our selfish, limited vision of what it means to live in her perfectly created world.

The problem is, we don’t allow love to show up in so many of our interactions. We cling to prejudice; political stances; the ceaseless yearning to be right; and world views that exclude those who are different, even though to them we are the ones who are different. We migrate towards people who share our limited thoughts and we talk about others who are not like us. Sometimes we laugh about their shortcomings, as if the log is in their eye and not ours. (Matthew 7:3-5)

This brings us back to change. In recent weeks we have had reports of riots over racial issues; protests and celebrations over Supreme Court rulings; supposed religious groups randomly killing innocent people; political rhetoric aimed at polarizing groups of people; and the list goes on. In each instance, one groups clings to a viewpoint that isolates another group. Rarely do we hear about honest conversations between individuals with the sole intention of understanding rather than condemning or persuading.

I stepped in the proverbial ‘pooh’ this week by entering a conversation that has polarized women for years. The odd thing is, perspectives are so opposed that finding enough middle ground to begin a necessary discussion is almost impossible. We know we must try, but how do we calm our own perspectives long enough to hear thoughts that are difficult for us to embrace without hurling our “log” at another person? How do we peel the differences between us away long enough to hear and to see the potential beauty in life’s inevitable diversity…and change?

You see, what makes sense to one can be utter nonsense to another. What we accept as sensible is the composite of our education, news feeds, social interactions, region, country, heritage, family values, religion, conversations, and life experiences that churn together until we are able to rationalize any and all of our behaviors so completely that we forget the One who created us also created the one who makes no sense to us…the one we snub, or isolate…the one who is different than society’s norm…the one who thinks differently…worships differently…loves differently…

“Wherever two or three are gathered together, I am there with them.”

Oh that we would remember that! Wherever…whenever…however…as two or three or five hundred or thousands of us gather, let us humble ourselves long enough to feel God’s presence. Then, may our interactions with others be energized by love for God, neighbor and self rather than by our limited sense and combined non-sense.