A rant on politics and truisms…


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Writing-Clip-ArtIt doesn’t take much to make me crazy – particularly when I hear or read something that attempts to make absurd generalizations truisms. You know truisms, those statements that seem to be obviously true or things that we have heard so often that we accept them as truth without consideration for the source, the scientific quality of the claim, or the motivation of the speaker.

We are on the cusp of yet another election year. Doesn’t it seem that every year has become an election year? Just when we rid our media of hate filled political campaign rhetoric plagued with alleged truisms about the other candidate, we enter another round of ugly, despicable claims. Unfortunately, it seems that the more something is said and publicized, the more it becomes true in the minds of the public. Truisms abound…some that are not actually true.

It doesn’t matter on what side of the hypothetical aisle someone leans, there are plenty of not-so-truisms to support their agenda. I guess we believe what we want to believe then find truisms to garner support for our cause.

The problem with so many of our truisms is that they point out the flaws of the other guy, or gal, without making substantial claims based on science, economics, history, compassion and all those things we are supposed to learn during our growing up years. They simply show up again and again and again until we think they are…well…true, even when they are not.

Some ‘truths’ are the result of a sound bite taken out of context to prove how misguided someone is, followed by the process of repeat, repeat, repeat until that person’s media created character takes on a life of its own with very little representation of their actual statement, intent or beliefs. Yet, we find it okay because our agenda is supported and we can claim to be knowledgeable because we have proof in the form of a truism.

What ever happened to coming together and talking about an issue? Why don’t we take the time to meet and know the other person, you know – someone who isn’t like us or part of our club…whatever our club happens to be whether it is a neighborhood, religious affiliation, work setting, baseball team; where we shop, do business, or buy laundry soap; or if we resonate toward the affections of a dog or a cat? Why do we think we understand all we need to know about “the other” simply because of some  annoying generalizations that somehow become truisms…truisms that seem to allow us the right to judge anyone and anything that doesn’t agree with us…truisms that divide rather than unify…truisms that are used to justify horrible behaviors…truisms that corrupt our understanding of what it means to be a member of God’s amazing creation…truisms that have nothing to do with loving our neighbor, let alone loving God. Doe Zantamata said it well:

It’s easy to judge. It’s more difficult to understand. Understanding requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to believe that good hearts sometimes choose poor methods. Through judging, we separate. Through understanding we grow.

It’s time for growth.

Holy Week and mothering…


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imagesA friend asked me a series of perplexing question in the midst of a conversation about a single, young woman and an unexpected pregnancy. She asked, “What do we say and how do we support a mother through and after pregnancy? What is our role? Should our mothering solely be for our own children or is there a greater responsibility to extend our grace beyond the boundaries of our homes?” She continued, “I guess it goes back to God being in and around everything and God’s love not being limited to just the human form of Jesus, but to all his children.”

On the surface her statements seemed obvious and the answers simplistic. However, very few things in life are what they seem to be on the surface. In our polarized, egocentric culture the responses to her ponderings could range on a continuum from casting the young pregnant woman out of her place in life because of her…ahem…’situation’ to eliminating the ‘problem’ with a host of equally deficient alternatives in between.

What remains is a young woman who has entered a place in life that she never expected to experience and isn’t prepared for. She is in the proverbial wilderness and needs someone to walk through it with her; to listen to her angst, worries, hopes and dreams for her baby; to coach her; to guide her; and ultimately to help her forge a path through unknown and uncomfortable territory. She needs someone to nurture her and help her to quickly mature into a woman who, in turn, can nurture, love, guide and do what is best for her child. She needs to be mothered so that she can become a mother.

Yes, yes!!! We can agree with the grandiose notion in those words…but, whose job is it?

A contemporary version of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar portrays Christ on the cross agonizingly begging, “Where is my mother?” That particular line doesn’t show up in the traditional Seven Last Words of Christ. I suppose it’s Hollywood’s spin on the traditional, “Woman, here is your son” entwined with an interpretation of Matthew 12 when the disciples tell Jesus his mother and brothers are looking for him. He responds with, “Who are my mother and brothers?” and “looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”’

You see, Jesus’ entire ministry can be defined as living as if God matters. Oh, we believe in God…but where are we when hard times come to others? They might be financial; health issues; relationships problems; a lost job; or a baby that wasn’t planned or expected coming to a young lady who is closer to being a child herself than to being a woman. The age old question is, “What would Jesus do?” Unfortunately, some religious agendas have hi-jacked the answer to force followers into behaviors that don’t necessarily represent the living example Christ modeled to us and for us leading us to the last week of his life…something we uncomfortably try to get through as we wait to celebrate the joy of Easter.

I have wondered for years why this time in the Liturgical year, Holy Week, is referred to as “Christ’s Passion”. Dying a humiliating, excruciating and brutal death never seemed like much of a passion to me. The passion is more clearly seen in the life of Jesus. This man…God incarnate…came to walk among us simply because “God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) Every event, every story, every parable that we cherish about Jesus and his interactions with those around him tell the story over and over again. “God so loved…”, “God so loved”, “God so loved…” God and all that God created and loved mattered to Jesus enough that Jesus lived as if God mattered – even when it wasn’t convenient…to the point of death. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Do you see the connection? Jesus never budged from his conviction that God’s love mattered and because of that belief he never deviated from a life of loving all of God’s people…not even when his own life was on the line.

That kind of love is hard to understand. I truly believe that’s why it is so important to remember Christ’s love – or passion – for humanity each year during Holy Week. As we walk through the events of that final week of his life, we are reminded over and over again that not even the threat and reality of death could make Christ deviate from that love. “There is no greater love…”

I think about the words moaned from the cross in Jesus Christ Superstar. Who hasn’t hit the depths of despair and longed for someone to hold them, to nurture them, to console and love them – and tell them that everything will be alright? We all have times when we long for a mother – whether it is our biological mama or someone who can walk with, or carry, us through our ‘stuff’. The unfathomable response of humanity to Jesus’ love is beyond most of our understanding, yet his basic cry was heard. “Where is my mother?” Where is someone who loves me enough to do the will of God? Where is someone who can lighten my load, hold me, care for me, nurture me, soothe me? Where is my mother? Who is my mother?

That brings us back to our young woman and my friend’s questions. Who is her mother? And, when her child is born, who is that beautiful and innocent child’s mother? Is it simply a gene pool that is expected to care for him or her? Or, if we truly embrace the teaching exemplified through the life and passion of Jesus, do we need to also look in the mirror to see the answer? Is it enough that we see our neighbor’s child in need and hope someone is there for him? Or is the answer in how we response to that need? Can we simply listen, love, nurture, care for, hold, soothe, and lighten the load of someone who needs a mother? Or do we judge behaviors and choices that led to the problem? Or do we simply look the other way because, quite frankly, it isn’t our responsibility?

What would Jesus do? Exactly what he did throughout his life, including when he faced sentencing and death. His actions were motivated by love and compassion for those in need. They weren’t about what was socially acceptable, convenient or even what religious agendas would dictate. Ordinary love and compassion…nothing more and nothing less.

My friend is there to mother those whom she encounters who are in need. The young, expectant mother is lucky to know her!

Benches, Lent and new life…


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imagesI have an old, wooden bench. It has been many colors over the years, the latest being a boring, mushroomy beige. Admittedly, the color seemed like a good idea at the time. Colorful pillows perked up its quiet and somewhat dull facade.  Time, complete with sunny summer days and brutal winter snowfalls, had their way with the bench making it appear old, worn out and uninviting. But, it’s a bench and its entire purpose is to be a place for the weary to sit and become refreshed enough to go about the rest of the day and the remainder of their business. To be uninviting is not what it was made to be.

Orange, specifically smoked paprika, resurrected its purpose as an indication that one should come, be still and sit for a while. Orange is welcoming, encouraging, social, enthusiastic, healthy, warm, and just plain happy.

I didn’t know it would take so long to cover that blah, deep mushroomy beige with smoked paprika. Benches can be interesting. This particular piece has wood slats for the seat and back, meaning there are four sides to paint for each slat. Had they been butted end to end, there would only be two. The back of the bench has a carved sunburst-like motif with nooks and cranny’s that almost spit the paint back at me as if mocking any intention I might have to perk up its appearance. Little by little the transformation continued. Stroke on the new color…brown appearing through orange…let it dry…paint another layer. When I retired my paintbrush for the day, I was satisfied that what was once dull and wasted had been restored to new life.

Those hours of painting gave me plenty of time to ponder, meditate and recognize life lessons could be found even in a simple activity like painting a bench.

You see, my bench became beaten down and tired – just as can one feel lost and troubled by the things life has an uncanny ability to throw our way. Maybe it’s an illness, the loss of a job or a relationship gone bad. Or maybe it’s simply the fatigue that creeps up on us from worry, a monotonous routine or our own lack of creativity to change the crappy things we encounter in life forcing us into our own version of that tired, old bench.

And…maybe that’s why Lent is so darn important. Maybe it’s not about chocolate – or the lack thereof – or penance and fasting, self-flagellation or denial. Maybe it’s something so much deeper.

You see, when we follow the story of Lent, we walk through the life and ministry of Jesus as well as with him in his passion and death only to be catapulted into his amazing resurrection and new life. It’s no mistake that this season occurs in the spring when we are surrounded by budding trees; new growth on old shrubs; flowers; the birth of bunnies and chicks; birds nesting and laying eggs; and a warmth that recharges the winter weary soul with energy. New life is everywhere, reminding us that resurrection is real and waiting for us let go of what is tired, old and dull to embrace all that is pleading with us to remember who we are and Whose we are. It’s sanding down the splinters of the past allowing that vibrant orange to seep into our hearts, just as it did into the crevices of that old wooden bench, soothing the rough and jagged pains from the past. New life transforms us back to that which we were so lovingly created to be.

New life…the magnificent culmination of the Lenten story…is real.

On becoming a grown up…


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It started with an essay question: “When did you first realize you have become a grown-up?”

Then came the Facebook message: “Happy Birthday! Hard to believe we are entering another decade…how is that possible?”

The “…” part of the message alluded to memories of little girls playing dress-ups or Barbie dolls; birthday parties with paper favors and pink party dresses; and neighborhood moms who knew when to offer a popsicle or a chocolate chip cookie. The children in those recollections were us – daughters from the 1950’s. Somehow we had become older than many of our grandparents were when we huddled with them around a single black and white television to watch June Clever vacuum in her dress and pearls and Ozzie and Harriet ponder the responsibility of rearing two rowdy boys.

I looked through my Facebook page. High school friends smiled at me from profile photos – pictures that looked more like our parents than the yearbook shots that showed up on our nametags at class reunions. Seemingly, we were grown up. Ask any of our children or – gasp – grandchildren. They will certainly tell you we are old! However, the question remains – “When did you first realize you had become a grown-up?” The befuddling answer is, “I don’t know…”

Was it high school graduation? College graduation? Marriage? First house? Children?

My daughter plastered herself against a glass door and sobbed when I took her to kindergarten. She was sure she did not want to be there – at least she wanted me to think that she needed to be with me. Day after day we went through the same routine. Her teacher, a kindergarten expert, told me how to respond to her when she clung to me, begging me to stay. The fact that she wanted me to stay was the good news! It indicated her desire was to be at school, just not without me. I was told to peel her off of my leg, tell her I would return for her after school and simply walk out of the door without looking back. How do you ignore your screaming child? How do you not look back? Her sobs became my broken heart. I stoically walked away. If she saw my tears, she would know I shared her preoccupation with our impending separation.

Her five-year-old understanding wouldn’t allow her to know the depth of my emotion. She wanted her mommy – plain and simple. My mind filled with memories of those intimate moments between a mother and child when all that mattered was cradling her in my arms while gently rocking her into peace and calm. Mothers know the look on their baby’s face when anxiety morphs into serenity, when sleep absorbs chaos simply because Mommy is there. There is no stress, no frustration – just peace and trust. Now, I was walking away from her when she knew only one thought – she needed me. The experts tell us that we must allow our children to feel emotional pain, to learn how to self-sooth. Life is not perfect and our job is to guide our children through their many life traumas so they learn coping skills for the next and the next and the next complicated moment. I thought the experts were crazy.

We lived through the kindergarten anxieties. Her teacher assured me she was fine within five minutes of my leaving. She played with the other children, learned the suggested curriculum and was considered a successful first grade candidate. I was proud of her accomplishments, although I longed for the lost tender moments we shared when I could hold her in my arms – the ones that changed so poignantly with her growth and development.

I certainly could have used some of her kicking and screaming when we dropped her off at college. Her final hug was filled with eager anticipation as she looked forward to an exciting new life as a co-ed. She dutifully hugged her father and I, displaying a smile that assured me she could conquer anything life presented to her. I was the one who wanted to plaster myself against the glass door of her dormitory building and cry out for her to come back to me. Instead, she strolled down the long corridor to her new room, new friends and new life. Didn’t she know how much I needed her? It was surreal to appreciate how much our roles had changed. Alas, once again the experts suggested that I bury my own needs and let her fly as she is intended to fly – to become the woman that God created her to be. I continued to question the quality of the experts’ advice. Was she ready? I knew in my heart she was. The real question was about me. Was I ready?

Maybe I was a grown up at that moment, although don’t think so. In my world “grown-ups” were those who had reached their place in life – people who were done being shaped and formed into a better understanding of life as we know it; those who had reached their potential. Letting my daughter go as she entered kindergarten, college and all the milestones in between prepared me to let go one more time as she pursued a career choice that would literally take her around the world. And, in like manner, I understood that each life experience prepared me for the unknown hovering in the future. My Facebook friends and I had more nuggets of experience in our chains of life than sweet June Cleaver had pearls in her cleaning day necklace. We have lived through times when our worst moments ultimately led to our finest hours. Likewise, we still have difficult times when we question all that is right and true and good. If we are wise, we recognize the continual process of renewal and the opportunity to grow closer to our own true essence, the one God created into us. Our job is to be open to the opportunities life presents, and sometimes bombards us with, so that we never become stagnant.

Grown up? Maybe.

Finished? Completed? Thank God for the courage to embrace life with all of its joys and hurts; its longed for as well as its dreaded changes; and the resulting wisdom that comes from the experience of living so that the only honest answer to those questions is a single word: “Nope…”



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imagesThere aren’t many reality TV shows that I will watch. I don’t care what housewives in Some City, USA are doing. I am not captivated by barns full of old stuff and the people who sort through them to find that one special nugget of nostalgia to purchase and re-sell. Survivalists and their primitive experiences with bugs, snakes and rodents bring me to the brink of a full-blown panic attack. And, please, don’t get me started on pawn shops, car dealerships, communal living, stage moms or the plethora of lives that have been hooked up to a video camera, directed and edited into some crazy series intended to show us how other people supposedly live.

That said, I love contest shows about fashion or food with weekly eliminations. Give me a season of Project Runway or MasterChef and I am glued to my corner of the couch. The contestants scurry around their respective workrooms creating fabulous outfits or tantalizing meals challenging the viewer to emulate a style or stretch their culinary abilities. Both shows tease the viewer with clips from interviews with the contenders. Comments can be just plain snarky while others seem to be genuinely caring – creating villains and heroes to confuse the audience. A beautiful dress or fabulous meal are nothing less than ugly when the viewer has been guided into thinking the person responsible for it is despicable.

Then…there are the judges. Who picks these people and on what level do they feel it is appropriate to act like out of control bullies when they dislike something? Their caustic comments about the work of an aspiring designer or chef – complete with smug expressions that give an air of haughty exclusivity – are inappropriate and unnecessary. However, the more they vilify an underling, the more bound to the show we become.

A unique challenge is presented each week. Sometimes it seems ridiculous – like designing an evening gown out of disposable diapers or making a 3-course gourmet meal featuring peanut butter, brussel sprouts and bacon. I suppose, given enough time, either is genuinely possible. Yet, time is the critical insufficient factor, heightening the intrigue as the clock mercilessly advances. At some point designers are sent to the runway with their creations whether a garment is finished or not. Chefs are given a countdown, then told to raise their hands in the air with the intention that everyone stop at once, however, the effect makes one think that they are indeed surrendering their magnificent meals to the scrutiny of the judges. Yes, the same pretentious group mentioned above. I sidebar – but, there truly is a way to guide and mentor someone without kicking their knees out from under them.

Time…and the race against it…

A recent movie featured a restaurant committed to French cooking. Food was prepared slowly – allowing flavors to bloom into something unexpected and magnificent placing the establishment on a world-class list. Trips to the market procured the freshest, finest and, at times, exotic ingredients. A view of the dining room showed guests dressed for a special evening slowly sipping cocktails, wine, and coffee while savoring course after course. Not a cell phone was in sight. No one looked stressed or anxious for the meal to be over.

Time…and the beauty of it…

So much of our lives are spent like the fashion and cooking reality shows. We race to complete tasks simply to get them done, as if finishing is the most important achievable factor forcing the value of creativity to become secondary. Our lives turn us into human pinballs bouncing and ricocheting off deadlines that are perceived to control us. Our culture has become captivated with the concept that success is the result of abundant productivity. Sleep, rest, and leisure become overrated. We strive to do more in less time than any generation before us. As a result, we must also claim an abundance of stress related illnesses ranging from physical complaints to emotional, spiritual and relational instabilities.

Time…and our inability to appreciate and respect it…

A Buddhist belief is that if you don’t have 30 minutes to meditate, you must meditate for an hour. The great religions of the world all have deep roots in the need for prayer as a means to refocus and center our lives and attitudes. Yet, we tend to ignore these practices as we spin out of control, claiming that there isn’t time to add yet another ‘to do’ to our list of potential accomplishments for the day. We are surrounded with expectations from family, friends, jobs, the media, and a plethora of forces that claim a piece of us – and our time.

Time…and the things that we let claim it…

The Apostle Paul reiterated the importance of prayer in his letters to the Philippians, Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians. Somehow, we have twisted his teaching to mean that we can and should ask God to make the world what we want it to be through our petitions and it will work as long as we approach God with the right measure of adoration and a dab of humble thankfulness.

In reality, I believe Paul was trying to guide the young church toward prayer in a deeper, meditative sense. Prayer, when approached as a centering, meditative practice will calm the chaos in our lives. No, it doesn’t change the events around us as they unfold. Rather, prayer transforms us and, changing our reaction to life. Meditative prayer forces us to pause long enough to still our aching hearts and jumbled brains so that we might recognize the presence of all that is good woven throughout any given situation. In seeing the presence of that goodness, we are able to adjust our attitudes and behaviors to live in and through the stuff of life with compassion. We become true servants of God as we act as Gods eyes, hands and heart in the muck of the world.

Honestly, in a world as crazy as the one we find ourselves living in, we don’t have time not to pray…to meditate on what is right and good and true…to spend time letting all that is goodness – the thing we call God – guide as we navigate the mine fields that are ever in front of us.





And now…I’m ready for Christmas!


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k15495267The last of the Santas, trees, ornaments, trains, figurines, garlands, and bows have been nestled snuggly into their boxes and bins until next year…so I think. There is always a stray bauble lurking somewhere to remind me of lists that were made, completed, and made again and again and again to insure that everything was purchased, planned, prepared and perfectly ‘ready’ for a festive season speckled with theological intent and magnificently adorned in temporal longings. We had a ball and I wouldn’t change a thing from the last few weeks!

But, now that all of those celebratory events are over, I am ready for Christmas. No, not to return to the time that just passed, rather for the Christmas that Christmas was meant to be. It might be wrapped in quiet night enjoying the winter sky with a gleaming star. Maybe it is the cry of a baby coming into the world, beautiful in her innocence and potential; or a long walk with a puppy who doesn’t have a clue that cold afternoons were not meant for walking, but simply delights in being with you wherever you happen to be; or savoring a juicy orange in all of its simplicity, knowing that something greater than we can begin to understand created the sky, the star, the baby, the puppy and the orange.

You see, as much as I enjoy the winter holiday season, it is now, in the quiet time of winter, that we truly have time to embrace and sink into simplicity…to breathe, to ponder and to respond to that which beacons us to live as we were created to live. Mary’s little boy, who was born so, so long ago, shared with us God’s plan for creation – to love God and, dare I say, all that God created.

Maybe there will be a year when I remember that conviction amidst the frenzy to make every holiday event special. For now, I am happy to finally settle into the hope, peace, joy and love of the season while focusing on being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by one who “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

The happiness factor and Lucille van Pelt…


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We all try to find it. For some, it’s illusive. Happiness can seem to be about just a bit more money; one more designer bag; a bigger house; improved health; weight loss; a more perfect relationship; the next promotion; a desired job; a higher degree; living in the right neighborhood; less worries; and the list goes on. Each of us has a litany of what happiness is supposed to be.

The thing is, we have to look at what happiness actually is, not as some abstract concept defined by personal expectations of what life should offer.

I remember a conversation I was involved in several years ago. A group of mothers were asked what they wanted for their children’s lives. “Happiness” seemed to be the standard answer. However, when they were asked to define happiness, the conversation changed from one of confidence in their hopes for the future to conflicting descriptions of what it means to be happy. We all want happiness for those we love. The perception of that means takes on a variety of definitions.

Lucille van Pelt can teach us something amazing about happiness. You may know her simply as “Lucy”, the bitchy little girl who torments Charlie Brown, Linus and all the other Charles Schultz characters in the Peanut’s series. Lucy spends the majority of her time feeling put upon by the idiocy of the children who surround her in her family and her neighborhood. She gives demoralizing advice as a pseudo-psychiatrist, hoping to receive 5¢ per insult. She seems arrogant, callous and insensitive to anyone or anything who doesn’t buy into her brand of life. Yet, she is devastated when she is criticized for her poor behavior. People just don’t understand Lucy. Or, maybe we simply understand her too much…

You see, Lucy longs for life to be exactly as she wants it. The people around her are to behave according to her desires and she is supposed to have whatever she wants – whether it is approval, love or possessions. She shuns Snoopy, the dog, who fervently tries to kiss her and gain her affection, but is enamored with Schroeder, the piano player who barely knows she exists. Lucy isn’t interested in something or someone who cares about her. She is only interested in conquering what she does not have and what seems to be out of her grasp.

Yet, one day Lucy is found holding Snoopy in her arms. Can you feel it? The comic strip shows her arms are wrapped around that which finds her irresistible. If you read between the lines, you can resonate with her as she closes her eyes and smells the warmth and love emanating from Snoopy’s little body. Can you feel how soft his fur is beneath her fingers? Does your heart beat in agreement with hers as she gently whispers, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” In that instant Lucy learned that puppy kisses and devotion can take her to a place of complete harmony in a complex and often chaotic life, slowing time long enough for her to let go of her longing for a perfect future and actually see that all she ever wanted or needed was right in front of her. Happiness…

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the aim and end of human existence.” Where do you find your meaning and purpose? What is the aim and the end of human existence? How one defines these things will determine how one finds happiness.

I know what I am about to say isn’t politically correct. And, I also know that there are sometimes when emotional issues are the result of physiological imbalances. Yet, I maintain that many of our societal problems are the result of self-centered attempts toward happiness, like Lucy’s, without considering that our happiness cannot exist in a family, community or nation that is filled with people who are also obsessed with their own personal happiness. As long as we look for self-fulfillment separate from compassion for the growth and wellbeing of others we are doomed to depression, obesity, anger, hostility, frustration, stress and a litany of other problems linked to happiness gone wrong. Abundance surrounds us, yet it is rarely enough because someone, somewhere has more. We strive for the elusive more, more and even MORE believing that we are entitled to happiness on our own terms and anyone or anything that thwarts our plans is wrong. Rarely do we see that warm puppy sitting there, waiting patiently for us to realize that we have all that we need…right in front of us.

God gave us some directives about happiness in the 10 Commandments. You know them: Love God; don’t try to create other Gods or false stories about God; take time for rest; don’t lie, steal, betray those who love you, murder, or long for something that isn’t yours. Jesus clarified the list when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

The hard part is in recognizing what loving God and neighbor looks like. The quick answer is to look at what motivates us. Jesus had a way of answering complicated questions with direct answers. (Matthew 6:21)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Where is your treasure? Is it in loving God? Loving your neighbor? Social climbing? Wealth? Climbing ahead? Hugging warm puppies? Caring for and nurturing the ones around us? When we know what our treasure looks like, we cannot help but make all of our decisions within the framework of what our treasure means to us. If love, caring and compassion for our neighbor is our treasure, we will live as God intended for us to live. If gratitude for all that is right in front of us is part of our treasure, we will not feel entitled to something we don’t have. If we live out of jealousy, thinking that “things will be better when I have [fill in the blank]”, then happiness will be elusive and lead to living life less fully than we were created to live.

All I know for sure is warm puppy hugs can calm the chaos of striving long enough to contemplate the true source of happiness.


A young man, a police officer and human nature…


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Recent events in a suburb of St Louis have monopolized the news. A young black man was shot by a white police officer. That’s about all we know of the situation. Various opinions have been offered by the media as to what actually happened. Yet, at this point the investigation continues and the general public is not privy to facts…only speculations surrounding the entire event.

The president spoke about restoring calm in the community. Sheriffs and now the National Guard have replaced local law enforcement. There is a national controversy about police departments, how they maintain the public trust, what equipment they should or should not use in explosive situations, and how they respond to groups of people identified by categories such as “minorities”, “impoverished”, “uneducated” and a litany of titles used to pit ethnicity against ethnicity, socioeconomic level against socioeconomic level, and community against community.

I am not a young, black male. I am a woman of a certain age who happens to be Caucasian. I know nothing of the day-to-day life, joys, frustrations, hopes, dreams, or lack of hopes and dreams that can come from growing up in a difficult urban setting. In kind, most young, black males know nothing about people who look like me. Yet, our human nature tries to make some crazy, twisted sense out of seriously misguided attempts to categorize groups of people by what they look like and where they come from when indeed the only means to know someone is to listen to their story with the intention of appreciating what they know about life based on where they come from and what they have been through. This is not to say we must condone every action with some Freudian rationale that the events of life forced the person to act as they did and therefore they are no longer responsible for what they do. Rather it is to understand that all of our behaviors are the product of what we believe life to be. That does not minimize the fact that we are always personally responsible for the choices we make – even when life does not seem fair.

Over the past generations, people who look like me have come through discrimination in academics and professions like medicine and law; religious roles and ordination; equality of wages; and business advancement opportunities. We have experienced cutthroat tactics from those who ”made it” and joined the rank and file of the “good old boys club” rather than mentoring those who came behind them. Some expected my generation of women to be submissive or subservient to men. I recall the question a fellow seminary student asked during a classroom discussion on women in ministry. “Why a woman would ever want to be a pastor?” He went on to question why women couldn’t simply find their fulfillment in being a wife and mother. The year was 2004. The young man asking the question was African-American.

You see, the discrimination against women wasn’t simply the result of a white, male dominated society. One must note many women held similar beliefs of who we were expected to be. It took radical thinking people of both genders and a variety of backgrounds and races to change the thought controlling paradigm which kept women and girls from using all of their gifts and talents to enrich the world we all live in. And, it took time to move all of us from a place where we accepted a dated archetype – even if we didn’t like it – to a place where we were respected for our abilities. We had to enter unknown places, boldly and with respect for those who were attempting to navigate the same uncharted territory with us. Mistakes were made, however underlying everything was the knowledge that we all have something to offer society that cannot and should not be squelched because we happened to be born female.

I remember asking the young man why he wanted to go into ministry, suggesting that his motivation and mine were very similar. Our differences in appearance could act as a barrier to understanding each other or our similar beliefs and perspectives on ministry could form a bridge to navigate who we are and whose we are in God’s world.

That brings us back to the young man, the police officer and a media frenzy. Certainly what happened in Ferguson, MO was not isolated. Reports of police brutality are plenty, not only among young black men, but also among people of every ethnicity. So are stories of law enforcement officers, caring and compassionate men and women, who put their lives on the line everyday to protect and serve. It’s not only African-American families who need to teach their young how to respond when confronted by an officer. We must all teach our children respect for authority as well as how to diffuse a situation that is moving out of control. Even bigger is the need to teach our children not to pigeonhole another into ethnic, socioeconomic, political, religious, or sexual orientation categories complete with characteristics that all people within a certain demographic must have.

Women had a difficult task as we moved forward toward gender equality. I am convinced that part of our ability to change the perception of what our roles should be was because of family life. No, I am not going down the path of who’s a good father and who isn’t. Nor am I going to focus on what makes a “good family”. Those are not my issues to judge. I am saying that at the end of the day, whether it was the suffragette protesters demanding the right to vote or the corporate executive trying to break through the glass ceiling, women went home. And, in that home they interacted with fathers, spouses, sons, uncles, brothers, and male neighbors.  In work and at school they spoke with counterparts who were men. Every step of the way, women had opportunity to talk and to be heard about life as it was compared to life as it should be. These conversations impacted attitudes on so many levels! Men began to question whether or not they would want their daughters, wives, sisters or mothers treated as second class citizens. Conversations from the dinner table, the family reunion, the conference room, the classroom and the bedroom slowly changed a woman’s role in America so that opportunities for girls and women began to resemble the opportunities available to boys and men.

Unfortunately, the task is even more difficult as our nation attempts to bridge racial divides. Many homes and communities remain homogenous. Our human nature elicits a sense of comfort and acceptance when we spend time with people who look and think the way we do. Social media and news publications generate information that pits liberals against conservatives; affluent communities against impoverished communities; race against race when indeed these sources spew conflict as a means to sell something for a profit and not to actually inform the reader in an attempt to bring people together. We go about our business setting barriers around town of where we are comfortable going and places we avoid. We talk among our friends about “those people” and “what are they thinking” when indeed we are all in this game together. We become “those people” to individuals and groups with whom we have not had the opportunity or taken the time to share meaningful conversation. We don’t understand each other’s viewpoints and choose not to take the time to listen to what we have done to perpetuate attitudes and reactions to…well…people who look like us – whatever the features are that lump us in our particular groups whether they are based on skin tone, religion, socioeconomic levels or any other polarizing characteristic. And, at the end of the day, we all go to our homes without the luxury of having to talk, listen, compromise, yell, cry and finally understand someone who looks, feels, and acts differently than we do.

The thing is, life isn’t fair and the more we expect it to be fair the more disillusioned we will become. But, if we can begin to act out of compassion for others and the desire to get to know them and what makes them who they are; if we can show respect for another person and their experiences in life; and if we can share our abundance, whether it is riches, knowledge, or the ability to see the good in all of God’s creation, then, and only then, we might have a chance at changing this mess we have all created.  It’s about knowing that the world is bigger than our problems – even when our “stuff” seems insurmountable. It’s also about knowing when to ask for help and finding that place or person who will gently and lovingly guide us as we stumble through this crazy, mixed up thing called life.

Ferguson, MO can be a turning point for all of us. Which paradigms will we cling to and which ones will we shift and change to reach for that utopia Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully described when he challenged people everywhere to judge others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character? I might add that list could include to not judge someone based on the town they live in, their income level, what political party they ascribe to, or any other polarizing characteristic we can think of.

It’s time for us to move forward together and create a reality of compassion and inclusion. Life will never be fair, but it can be better.




Unexpected life lessons…


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13078766-girl-walking-a-dog-in-park-in-spring-silhouette-layered-one-in-the-series-of-similar-imagesI wasn’t prepared for what I saw while walking with my dog this morning.

Walking Lucy can be an interesting endeavor. We have learned which houses have dogs that bark at us. She knows when to sachet that little golden-doodle backside of hers past them and when to immediately put me between her and the barkers. We visit every telephone pole and fire hydrant as if she is checking to see which old friends have or have not walked by recently. She has an affinity for zoysia grass, lowering her head like an anteater into the shaggy turf. She frequently squats to marks her territory and has taught me to carry several bags for – shall we say – elimination collection purposes. And, she inspects and investigates every new sound, weed, trash barrel, paper scrap and used Kleenex she comes across with excitement. They are all treasures to her. She doesn’t care if it is raining, sunny, humid, cold, steaming hot or snowing – she wants her walk. She is my work-out coach, letting me know that it’s time to pull my bones out of the house and hit the streets to check on life in our community.

This morning we came upon an elderly couple slowly walking hand in hand. As we got closer I saw the tall, somewhat hunched over gentleman wore a backpack with a transportable oxygen tank and hose. I assumed the tiny woman next to him was taking him for a walk as he recovered from, or endured, some illness or surgery. I put Lucy into “heel” to keep her from invading their space as we walked by. It was then that I noticed the oxygen hose was for the woman. The man was sharing his energy with her by carrying her oxygen on his back and holding her hand while they enjoyed a brief walk on a spectacularly beautiful morning. We exchanged a brief, “Good morning” and smile. Lucy and I kept up our moderate pace, however I spent the remainder of our walk thinking about marriage, partnership, compassion and what it truly means to love another person.

I don’t know if they were a married couple or not. My romanticized guess is that they have known each other for many years. Maybe they shared raising children, having barbecues and holiday celebrations. Maybe they took trips together, or went hiking, snorkeling, dancing or simply shared the day-to-day routine that weaves one’s soul into a beautiful tapestry with another. It’s also very possibly that they met recently, finding comfort and companionship in each other’s company while sharing stories about other loves, dreams and passions that defined their earlier lives.

It doesn’t actually matter what led them to the point they are currently living. What I do know is they have something deeply personal in whatever their relationship is during this chapter of their lives, he shares her burden and she accepts his compassion.

I guess that brings up some questions that should be the gauge we use for all of our relationships:

  • Are we there when our friends, children, family, neighbors or spouses need us?
  • Do we feel safe when they offer us help dealing with whatever burden we have been given?
  • Do we trust those around us enough to allow them the opportunity to hear our stories – even the ones we pretend never happened – and to still care for and about us in spite of where we have been and what we have done?
  • Are we willing to let someone walk with us, hand in hand, when we trudge through the muck of life?
  • And, are we there as completely for them?

I think of weddings I have been to where people are encouraged to have Christ at the center of their marriage as insulation against the relationship failing. For so many years I thought that simply meant they were supposed to share the same religious beliefs, go to church together and regularly remind themselves that they believe in God. Unfortunately, that superficial approach to marriage is a recipe for failure.

You see, to have Christ at the center of the marriage isn’t about what you say or even about what you do that others can see. Christ enters the marriage when partners trust the other one has their back no matter what. So it is, as well, for partnerships and friendships. Do the people around us feel trusting and at ease in our presence or are they on edge, unsure of what we will say or do? Who do you call for at 2:00 in the morning when the world starts to spin uncontrollably? Who can safely and trustingly call you?

Christ was like a magnet for the lonely, the disabled and the outcast without regard for socioeconomics, ethnicity and gender. His acceptance and compassion, even in the face of broken lives, always led to something exciting and new. The funny thing is, those who were arrogant, seeking power or immersed in their positions were threatened by his message of love. They couldn’t drop their fabricated personas long enough to look into his eyes and realize some things life lures us into just aren’t important.

Christ at the center means living as Christ showed us how to live. It isn’t about saying a certain prayer or following a litany of religious rules. As he said in, Matthew 22:36-40:

 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets.’

God, the author of love, loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to show us how to live as God created us to live. In turn, Jesus loved God and humankind so much that all of his actions were based on those loves.

So, back to relationships, partnerships and marriage…if we live life as Christ modeled life for us, we, too, will love the one who created us and we will love those around us. Another way of reading this is to say we will respect that God created each and every one of us as only God can, full of goodness. When we let that goodness shine, we will be kind, compassionate, loving and trustworthy to all we encounter in our daily lives. That includes our spouses, partners or companions.

You see, relationships don’t end when the behaviors Christ modeled for us are present. Those are the things that draw people together to grow and live life as God intended for us to life it. It’s when selfishness and personal gain become the reason for the relationship that it fails.

The elderly couple knew it. Oh, I’m sure they have had their moments of conflict and frustration. But, they also seemed know how to carry each other’s burdens so completely and with so much trust, that nothing could come between what they had for each other.

And so it is for all of us, by living life compassionately sharing God’s loving ways, as modeled to us by Christ, at the center of our relationships, we have a tangible a plan to use as a guide for our interactions, behaviors and attitudes toward each other.

Jesus and politics…


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I am sick to death of books, articles and comments that draw conclusions about God, Jesus and politics. Just today I saw a blog titled, “How would Jesus vote?” In my humble perspective, the two words “Jesus” and “vote” don’t belong in the same sentence. Nor do “God” and “politics”. Further, I take offense at writers who maintain someone’s faith is questionable if they don’t agree with the political slant of the writer. Good grief! Who are they to judge??? It is simply another form of religious bullying.

Let me explain.

How we live our lives matter. What is the right thing for one person to do might be the wrong thing for another. In Wesleyan theology, the term for this is, “the intention of the heart”. In common vernacular one might say, “what were you thinking when you did what you did?” In other words, the rationale behind our behaviors is what makes them the right or the wrong thing to do. If I take food to an elderly neighbor because I am hoping it will be noticed by the other neighbors and…let’s be honest…by God, I am doing the right thing for all of the wrong reasons. However, if I know my neighbor needs help and I offer that help simply because they need it with no strings or hopes for personal gain attached, I am doing the right thing for the right reasons. What motivated my actions? What was the intention of my heart?

I have a hard time seeing Jesus as a political activist. Instead, he modeled right behavior through the actions of his life. He attempted to change legalisms that prevented caring for others even when it wasn’t convenient or considered to be ‘right’. Take for example healing on the Sabbath. Jesus put relationship and compassion above following the rabbinical laws. Yes, these were religious laws as opposed to governmental decrees, yet they were powerful and offenders were subject to serious consequences, including death. It’s hard for those of us living in Western Civilization cultures to understand the magnitude of the ancient religious laws. We talk about our religious traditions, some of which impose excommunication for those who choose not to recognize them. Yet, at the end of the day, we do not fear prosecution if we act outside of those traditions.

We also see liberal and conservative religions making claims that are diametrically opposed, claiming God’s sanction for opposing perspectives. Consider the abortion issue. One side claims it is a mortal sin and seeks compassion for the unborn while the other side seeks empathy for situational crises and the need to show compassion for the mother. Who is right? Who is following God? I would wager neither and both.

You see, our faith doesn’t come in a neat little package. For every law that is passed, we can find a person or group of people that the law oppresses. That’s because life is messy and no law or series of laws can address situational peculiarities. Some laws that are intended to offer compassion to groups of people unintentionally, yet actually, withdraw compassion from others. Certain groups become ‘politically correct’ in their approach in one decade and 10 – 15 – 20 years later they are recognized as oppressors to the rights of others.

Think of the low fat diet craze of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Saturated fats were on the dietary hit list. We were encouraged to substitute trans fats for saturated fats. Some products limited fat all together but added high fructose corn syrup to make up for the bland taste when the fats were removed. Now, with additional studies, we understand that trans fats and high fructose corn syrup are not good for us. Some studies even report that we need saturated fats in our diets! The balance has to come from knowing something about health and nutrition and making wise choices based on that knowledge. It might involve getting to know a respected dietitian or nutritionist and visualizing them whispering in our ear as we navigate the grocery store or a restaurant’s menu. What would they do when confronted with a minefield of choices? Their advice would be given through the lens of knowing what nutrients promote healthy living.

I believe Jesus offered us the same kind of guidance. To follow Christ and the life he modeled is to consider all things through the lens of compassion, justice, mercy and love particular to a situation. It isn’t about governmental laws forcing us to make certain choices. It’s about our own hearts and what we are thinking as we stumble through life. And, it’s about allowing the still, quiet voice of Jesus to stir our conscious into right action.

Yes, we need governments to manage some things and that requires laws. John F. Kennedy aptly stated, “law alone can not make a man do right.” The bigger picture is personal responsibility and owning our shared responsibility for those who need a hand. It isn’t simply the rich handing over resources to the poor for that helps neither live within the fullness God intended for all of us in creation. Nor is it ignoring human need whether that need is for friendship, food, healthcare, dignity, education, housing, love, trust, justice and the list goes on. The thing is, the list does not have socioeconomic boundaries. Human need is present in palaces and slums; in rich nations and impoverished countries; in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. All we have to do is look around us and we will find it.

So, what does that have to do with voting? Actually, nothing. It has everything to do with each of us as individuals living life as God intended for us to live. You know, loving God with all of our heart, our mind and our spirit and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It isn’t about imposing our will on others, rather it is seeing our neighbors’ need and responding to it as we are able.

Jesus never forced his will on anyone, either through religious condemnation or the power of law. He did teach us to do what is right through the beautiful lens of compassion, mercy, justice and love. Of course, we all attach our own meanings to these words. Therein lies a problem. Yet, if we strive to balance these components and use them as guides, we won’t be too wrong. And, when we simply don’t know what to do, humble prayer and meditation help us find the still, quiet voice and reason of God to help us along the way.