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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Rain

"We sure could use some rain."

"When will it ever stop raining."


We have all felt and expressed the above in some form, depending on our location and time. Rain is a fact of life. In fact, it is necessary for life. Without rain there would be no life. So, how come we humans are always grousing about rain?

Maybe our basic problem is we insist on keeping on regardless of rain while most of the rest of nature simply takes it in stride and waits it out. There are exceptions of course like hurricanes and floods when we are forced to acknowledge rain.  But for the most part rain is seen as a major inconvenience to "normal" life.

We have this audacious notion that somehow we are separate from and apart from the rest of creation. Unfortunately, this notion of environmental autonomy has led humanity to abuse our planet to the point that weather is becoming more and more threatening, not only to our comfort, but to our existence.  Places that need more rain don't get it and places that could use less get too much. Our climate is changing and we are a major factor in that change.

It is long past time for humanity to stop hiding our heads and sipping lemonade and realize that rain or shine we have an effect on our environment. In the end regardless of what we do or don't do the weather will be fine. But will we?


Rain - The Beatles

If the rain comes
They run and hide their heads
They might as well be dead
If the rain comes
If the rain comes

When the sun shines
They slip into the shade
And sip their lemonade
When the sun shines
When the sun shines

Rain, I don't mind
Shine, the weather's fine
~ Lennon and McCartney

 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

from Andrew to Andrew

Dear Andrew,

We welcomed you into this world less than a week ago. You surprised us and came early. But that’s ok because you’ll discover that some of the best things in this life come as surprises.  Your early arrival is a pretty good example of that.

Coming early the way you did also means you need a little extra care. That’s another thing you’ll learn about living. It is awfully tough to make it alone in this world, practically impossible. Even though you’ve shown us you have a strong will to thrive, you need other people in order to survive and thrive.  As your Mama Carina, recently pointed out, it really does take a village of family, friends, and community --all of whom have already surrounded you with support and love. 

Always remember, it is ok to ask for help. It is natural to need other people. This wonderful creation you have entered is mysteriously and amazingly interconnected and interdependent in ways that you have already experienced without even knowing.

That’s another thing. There is a whole lot of information in the world that you will learn, but simply knowing something doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve experienced it, or vice-versa. So many of the best things like joy, peace, gratitude, and love are experienced before we know what has happened. 

There is so much more you need to learn and know about life in this universe, but there will be plenty of time. Right now, you just keep on thriving, surviving and experiencing the sounds, touches, smells, and tastes that tell you, not only are you loved, but also that you bring joy, peace, gratitude and love to Mommy Jayme, Mama Carina, Brother Oliver and all of us other family and friends. Come to think of it, you bring love into the whole world. 

So one day I hope you’ll look back on these days and truly know that you are deeply loved and that you are the presence of love in this world! I also hope you’ll never forget this!

Well that’s all for now. I’m sure there will be more later.

Your Papa, Andrew.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Children

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.
~ Jesus, Mark 9

Teach your children well
Your father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks
The one you'll know by
Don't you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you
~ Graham Nash (Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young)

And when I die and when I'm gone, 
there'll be one child born,
and a world to carry on, to carry on.
~ Laura Nyro (Blood, Sweat, & Tears), (Laura Nyro)


The quotes above invite you into a couple of ear worms I have this morning - two songs from my youth, two songs among many about how the past becomes the present, becomes the future. 

If you want a glimpse at the future look at how children in the world are being treated today. There is a wide range from total neglect and cruelty to obsessive attention and smothering love. Countless children are born into fear, poverty, and violence, while others come into comfort, wealth, and safety. The divides that exist in the world today become tomorrow's, or not, depending on how we welcome, teach, and nurture all children, not just our own.

Today, as the song says, "there'll be one child born," one child, and another, and another and... "and a world to carry on."  May we do our part to "teach them well."
  

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Father's Day To Remember

On Father's Day this past Sunday I remembered something that Peg and I experienced on Father's Day back in 1976. My reflections on that day were subsequently published in a religious weekly publication in 1981. It took me a couple of days to find my yellowing copy. So I'm sharing it now.  

On a technical note, in order to make it readable I inserted a large photo copy that requires using the vertical and horizontal scrolling bars on a computer and/or the zoom functions on phones and tablets. Sorry for this inconvenience. I hope you are able to read and enjoy. 


Thursday, June 13, 2019

Believing

"Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." ~ Thomas - John 20:26

"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."  ~ Jesus - John 20:29

"A man [sic] hears what he [sic] wants to hear and disregards the rest." ~ Paul Simon - The Boxer

"I'll believe it when I experience it," said a deputy sheriff as we told him about the good experience friends had at the local small community hospital. "Don't go there unless you have to," one person after another told us. But our friends "had to." And what they discovered was a hospital under new management, a recently remodeled facility, a friendly, efficient staff and highly qualified physicians -some local and some resourced from other "big city" hospitals. The once inefficient, sketchy hospital has evidently taken a turn for the better.  It is changing.  But that doesn't change the past experiences of many people in the community who continue to believe their hospital is bad.

Which comes first - belief or experience?  In the Gospel of John, Jesus' disciple, Thomas, won't believe Jesus is alive until he sees and touches his wounds. Then Jesus blesses everyone who will believe without seeing and touching.

There are also those who say, "I can't believe this is happening." in spite of their experience and evidence all around them - hearing and seeing what they want to hear and see.

Believing can save us or it can lead us into destruction. What we believe, how we believe, and why we believe is a tricky thing.  I really believe this!



Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"words" Expressing Word

“Words make worlds” — because it’s true...language in poetry is magical language. It creates a world. It summons a world into being. The existential necessity of poetry — lyric poetry and song — emerges from the magical power of language to create worlds that dramatize both our experience of disorder and our need for order — vividly present, both.   

In the beginning is the Word. The Word becomes flesh and lives among us.  
~ John 1:1, 14, my paraphrase

Language constitutes our reality. It is the expression of the human experience of the essence of existence. The Word (Logos) is the embodiment, the becoming flesh, of experience. And words give shape and meaning to The Word. 

My Old Testament professor at Columbia Seminary, Walter Brueggemann, once said in a lecture, "Yahweh lives on the lips of Israel's praise." This is truly Incarnation! If this is also true in our time, that God lives on our lips, then God may very well be on life support today.

In the same interview quoted above, Gregory Orr shares the following lines from William Wordsworth:

“Let’s remake the world with words.
 Not frivolously, nor 
To hide from what we fear,
 But with a purpose. Let’s remove
 the dust of custom so things
 shine again, each object arrayed 
In its robe of original light. And then we’ll see the world
 As if for the first time.
As once we gazed at the beloved
 Who was gazing at us.”

In order for humanity to survive and thrive we must "remove the dust" of the current, rampant abuse of language, stop "tweeting," and sing in full measure of the great goodness of all people and all creation. 

Words matter. Language makes a difference. We must pay attention to what we say, write, and hear because in the end "The Word" is expressed through our "words."






Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"ins" and "outs"

According to an online dictionary the word "in" has at least eleven different meanings and functions, and "out" has at least six. Both can be prepositions, adverbs, adjectives, nouns, prefixes, suffixes, and more. The function determines the meaning.

For example, when I say I "believe in love" am I saying I believe something called "love" exists or am I believing while surrounded by love?  If something is considered "out" is it physically away from you or not under consideration?

What is in and what is out may very well be the primary decision process of most of human thought as we continually choose which objects and ideas receive and hold our attention. Attention then becomes thoughts, which become actions that become our life. Much of this process takes place subconsciously in the routines, habits, preferences, and prejudices of our lives. We choose one thing/person or another without realizing we are choosing. We also make conscious choices, but my guess is that even most of our conscious choices are somewhat predetermined by subconscious ones.

Another tendency of this process is that whatever is "in" probably provides comfort and love, and the "out" stuff generates suspicion and fear. This does not necessarily mean that one or the other is good or bad. We can embrace bad things and be fearful of good things.

My point in all of this is to heighten awareness of what/who is "in" and what/who is "out" in our lives, and to realize that we make choices every moment of everyday whether we realize it or not. Our "ins and outs," whether conscious or not, determine our lives 
  

 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Rest Patterns

Do you remember TV test patterns?  Recently in a conversation with some peers we were reminiscing on those odd looking, but familiar, mandalas that occupied TV screens while stations were off the air. 

Image result for tv test pattern


Among the several purposes for test patterns was the need to occupy the frequency of the broadcasters signal while programming took a break. The patterns also gave technicians reference points for adjusting things like focus, contrast, and eventually color. Perhaps the most beneficial purpose of the test pattern was hidden and even unintentional - they gave the world a break, time off from the consumption of images and sounds. They helped sustain rhythms and cycles of activity and rest, awake and sleep. They even mimicked the mandala, an ancient art form of introspection, contemplation, and meditation of the universe.

I've rarely been one to pine for the "good old days" but wouldn't it be nice to have test patterns again, not just on televisions, but also radios, computers, phones, and all of the "smart" devices that occupy so much of human time, energy, and imagination? Wouldn't it be nice if the whole world, within our respective time zones, could pause each day, take a deep breath, and get off the media grid if only for a few minutes?

Of course we can do this as individuals and groups. We humans have been meditating, worshiping, gathering, relaxing, and sleeping since our beginnings. However, we also have a strong tendency to be drawn toward whatever is flashing and shining in front of us. 

Our current reality is one of constant exposure to all manner of media containing information and data in imagery and sound. There are no more test patterns. This leaves us to our own devices. And, we do have a choice. We have on/off switches. We have imagination. An amazing creation surrounds us and already provides seasons, cycles, and rhythm, if we will only turn away* from flashing shining screens on our walls, our desks, and in our hands. We may not have test patterns on our media today, but we can develop and practice "rest patterns" in our lives!

*"repent" - to turn from one thing and toward another 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Propaganda

Propaganda: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause.  ~ Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Our modern lives are fueled by information, so much so that we've labeled our time as the "age of digital information." An older friend recently shared that several months ago he had given in to  his children's chiding to trade in his flip-phone (now considered ancient technology) for a "smart" phone of which the "phone" part is the least used. "Now," he says, "I can't imagine not having it with me,  and I feel disconnected if I don't."

The more we learn about the technology in our lives, the more we realize how we literally live in a multilayered maze of manipulation of information that feeds our desires and fears while shaping our perspective of the world. Remember the phrase (I suppose we call it a "meme" now) "you are what you eat." Updated a bit, it becomes "you are what you read, watch, and hear on the various screens in your pockets and on your desks and walls." Swirling about in this sea of information, sometimes surfacing enough to see it, is propaganda.

The original meaning of the word "propaganda" was religious.

The Congregatio de propaganda fide (“Congregation for propagating the faith”) was an organization established in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV as a means of furthering Catholic missionary activity. The word propaganda is from the ablative singular feminine of propogandus, which is the gerundive of the Latin propagare, meaning “to propagate.” The first use of the word propaganda (without the rest of the Latin title) in English was in reference to this Catholic organization. It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that it began to be used as a term denoting ideas or information that are of questionable accuracy as a means of advancing a cause.  ~ Merriam-Webster online dictionary.

Of course the "faith" being propagated was that of the Doctrine of Discovery, a Papal Bull from a previous century that sanctified domination and exploitation by European "explorers."

The only thing that seems to have changed in five hundred years is the means of communication - from Papal Bull to Presidential Tweet.

Our dilemma, and task, is first being aware that we live in this maze and sea of propaganda, and second to discern how our own desires and fears are being fed by the information we consume. Humans have a tendency to gravitate toward things we desire and hide things we fear.

There is a reason most spiritual traditions hold at their core detachment from unbridled desire and release of unfounded fear. These are truly worth propagating.



   

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Breakfast Tree

Sorry about the late OEP this week. I've been kinda busy because my grandson, Oliver, and his Mommy and Momma are visiting us this week. A four and half year old boy in the house keeps you pretty busy! He's up early and goes 100% all day long!

Oliver is into super heroes theses days and his favorite is Cat Boy on the animated series "P.J Masks." Picking up on this we've had fun imagining some other "boy" names connected to all of the things he's been doing this week.  Oliver now has a string of aka's like Pool Boy, Beach Boy, Surfer Boy, Noodle Boy, Drip Castle Boy, - The different "boys" just keep showing up.

This morning I made Oliver his favorite breakfast - a ham and cheese omelet and, you guessed it, Omelet Boy appeared. While enjoying our omelets and some fruit, Oliver made the observation that we could save money by planting orange seeds in our back and then pick our own oranges for breakfast. So, I suggested why not go for the whole works and plant an omelet tree!

You can imagine where the conversation went from there. 

"What if it were a breakfast tree with any kind of breakfast on it?"

"We could have a lunch tree too!"

"And a dinner tree!"

"What would be on the dinner tree?"

"Tacos!"

That's when it occurred to me -

"You know, Oliver, actually it all comes from seeds and plants."

"What? Even meat? And eggs?"

"That's right. Even meat and eggs. Meat comes from animas that eat plants that come from seeds. Eggs come from chickens that eat grain that comes from plants, that come from seeds."

Thanks, Oliver, for reminding us that we are all connected to each other and to all of creation.

There really is a Breakfast Tree!   




Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Life is a Poem


"We’re taught that poetry is some kind of elevated language about an elevated life we don’t live. It’s ordinary language about an ordinary life that we live." ~ Dionne Brand


April is National Poetry Month. I discovered this from my car radio last night as I drove home form a church meeting.

As is the case for many of us who spend time in and out of automobiles, I caught a snippet of a radio program. The program is "q" with Tom Power from the CBC and it airs on our local NPR station when I'm driving home from evening church meetings. I've never listened to an entire program, only snippets, but I usually like what I hear.

The bit I heard included the above quote from Dionne Brand an acclaimed Canadian poet. Brand, in the interview, goes on to describe poetry as where "...the music and matter of language come together..."  Her ordinary poetic definition of poetry sent my thoughts to an OEP blog I wrote last year about poetry. It also inspired me to ponder the extraordinary reality of the ordinary in our world.

The convergence of music (spirit) and matter (body) is how I have come to think of, believe in, and experience religion and spirituality. We are spiritual bodies. This is an ultimate teaching and tension in every religious tradition. Our problems seem to come when we think of spirituality as "elevated" beyond our grasp, when in reality it is forever within our reach in the ordinary. Even our rituals, sacraments, and holy days point us in the direction of talking, listening, eating, bathing, giving, receiving, living, and dying.  It's all so ordinary yet so poetic.

We are God's poetry, created in One Eternal Presence to be artisans and poets of good as we live in God's eternal poem.  Ephesians 2:10 (my translation)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Where is Your Jerusalem?

It's Wednesday of Holy Week. According to the biblical Gospel stories, this is the week Jesus finally went to Jerusalem, the place where he knew he would be killed. During the days (at night he went to safe places outside the city) he taught in the temple, mostly about the corruption of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and their capitulation to imperial powers. By Friday afternoon he was dead.

I know it sounds cliche (probably because it is always true) but we live in such times. Imperial powers, which include untethered corporate greed, threaten not only human dignity, but also human existence. And religions in which many of us participate prop up these forces with theological acrobatics, but mostly through apathy.

What would happen if all the people who claim to follow Jesus actually did? What would happen if people of all faiths began to live by the basic values of these faiths - love, compassion, generosity, justice, grace, hope...? What would happen if each person of faith was to identify a threatening place in their life, a "Jerusalem," and enter proclaiming and living true values of human dignity? 

Would we be killed? Maybe. But like a man on the news last night who escaped starvation in Northern Africa by crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat when asked, "Why risk your life crossing the water?" said, "What did I have to loose. I was already dead."

There is life and there is the illusion of life. In which are we living?





   

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Space and Time

Thirty-five thousand years ago a human migration began in East Asia and for thousands of years made their way across frozen oceans to what we now call Alaska, eventually spreading east and south into North, Central, and South Americas. My daughter and son-in-law recently flew from Beijing, China to Newark, NJ in less than thirteen hours.

It took only five hundred years or so for European conquests to decimate most of those ancient people. Today a "tweet" can span the globe in seconds and affect millions of lives.

We have always been One Planet, One Creation, and One Human family. Space and time are just getting smaller and faster.

One Eternal Presence still holds it all together.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Attention!

In our neighborhood brewery recently, the room was filled with sound: conversations, laughter, and not too loud jukebox music.

The guy beside me at the bar and I talked sports until he left. On my other side was a couple engaged in their own conversation so I took a minute to sip my beer and take in the room. But I couldn't help hearing snippets, then more, of the couple next to me. I looked straight ahead pretending not to listen. They were engaged in a fairly common conversation between couples about how he/she "never listens."

He got into a long explanation of how when he first comes home from work he has so much on his mind and that was why he often didn't hear what she was saying to him. In the middle of this rather rambling rationalization he stopped mid-sentence and said, "I've always loved this song."

Of course, my own attention at the time was on the couple's conversation. I had never even heard the music, nor did I recognize it when drawn to it.  He loved it. I had never heard it. And the expression on her face screamed, "See what I mean!" 

Attention. What are we hearing, seeing, feeling? Where is our attention? Is it focused? Scattered? Bouncing all over the place?

Remember the scene from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends finally come into the presence of The Great Oz?  The "great" oz turns out to be a "little man" who is good at creating illusions. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" He shouts.

Meditation can be described as the practice of paying attention to our attention. Taking a few minutes each day to sit quietly and let the myriad attentions of our lives settle into silence is perhaps the only way we can begin to cope with the too often chaotic cacophony of attention grabbing noise around us.

The "man behind the curtain" is all around us, but most if all he is us.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Long Time Passing?

What has been is what will be,
   and what has been done is what will be done;
   there is nothing new under the sun.  ~ Ecclesiastes 1:9

Is there really nothing new under the sun? It sure does seem like we humans keep having the same conflicts and conversations about all the same things. How many times have you thought or asked out loud, "Didn't we get all of that worked out back when?"  Yes and No.

The problem may be that we keep thinking "back when" is "now," or that we can somehow go back to "back when." Today's world is inhabited by different people, information, and  technology that have changed "the way we used to do it." Besides, those good old days many people long for never really had things as settled as we thought they were. Some people were always left behind or worse trampled down.

Perhaps the thing that doesn't really change is the human penchant toward cultural amnesia and shortsightedness.  Most of the time, we forget where we come from and have no idea where we are going, which means we don't even know where we are.

So, if what's going on in our lives and the world today seems like deja vu. It probably is. The illusion of change swirls around us, when real change only takes place in the human heart.

So we keep asking the same questions.  When will we ever learn? 






Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Here Comes the Sun!

Today at 5:58 p.m. is the vernal equinox. Below is a slightly adapted reflection from 2013.

Spring Threshold

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?   Isaiah 43:18-19

Today is the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere of Earth. At 5:58 p.m. today the tilt, rotation, and orbit of the Earth are such that the Sun is directly over the Equator and moving north.

The wonder and vastness of this mysterious yet predictable moment becomes evident to us as days become longer, the sun rises higher in the sky, and the dormancy of winter stirs awake in countless ways.

The early days of Spring are days of transition not only in the Earth as green shoots appear, blossoms flourish, and foliage comes alive; but also above the Earth as cold and warm air collide in turbulent ways bringing both destruction and nourishment.

Spring reminds us that transition and change in our lives just like the seasons of Earth continually ebb and flow between dormancy and new life. And like the storms of Spring, changes in life produce turbulence as former ways collide with the new.

Today, and everyday for that matter, is a threshold where the "no longer" and the "not yet" meet. To stand in the threshold too long is to endure unnecessary turbulence and even pain.  However, stepping through opens us to emerging possibilities and potential of Life.

Enjoy this from 50 years ago -   Here comes the Sun!  

Happy First Day of Spring!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Reformation? or Transformation!

Many people in religious and spiritual circles think and believe that we are living in a time of reformation similar to time in Western history we know as The Reformation or The Renaissance.

Both The Reformation and The Renaissance were times of great change that involved reshaping and reforming the religion, art, and science of the time. However, this was mostly change in form rather than substantive, transformative change. Such transformation, or dramatic change in form and substance, came later with The Enlightenment when seeds of radically new concepts of freedom, equality, and independence took root. This created a tension that we continue to live with today between the dynamics of reformation, which cling to old substance in new forms, and transformation that seeks new substance and form.

In the broad story of the Bible we see this same tension between reformation brought on by empires and kings, and transformation imagined and announced by the prophets of the Old Testament and evangelists of the New Testament. Kings and empires preserve the status quo with just enough change in form to placate most people. Prophets and evangelists inspire toward radical change that fulfills deep desire for meaning within all people.

The New Testament word for transformation is metamorphosis, the word used to describe the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. This is the kind of radical change in form and substance called for by not only prophets and evangelist of old, but voices of today calling us into transformation not merely reformation.


Here are some biblical voices of transformation:

Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old. 
I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.   ~ Isaiah 43


Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transformed before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. ~ Matthew 17

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  ~ Romans 12

Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. ~ 2 Corinthians 3

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Several readers have suggested that "Stardust to Dust..." is not just for Ash Wednesday, but also a meaningful contemplation throughout Lent or anytime.  So, I'm keeping the link here for a couple of weeks.

 "Stardust to Dust - A Deep-Time Creation Contemplative Liturgy for Ash Wednesday."

Feel free to share!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Stardust to Dust

Ten years ago I ran across a concept called a "cosmic walk" that had been conceived by a progressive, evolutionary minded nun, Sister Miriam Therese MacGillis.  I adapted her labyrinth walk into a 28 station pilgrimage through creation in deep-time. The first version of my adaptation was the culmination of a study on evolutionary faith by a group at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The second and subsequent versions have all been on Ash Wednesdays. We go station to station in a darkened, candle lit sanctuary in a participatory, meditative experience which ends with imposition of ashes. Through the years I have added scripture, tweaked photography, updated some of the readings, and given it the name, "Stardust to Dust."

Tonight at Trinity Clearwater Presbyterian in Clearwater, FL a group of Ash Wednesday pilgrims will again travel through time and space to experience our oneness with the universe, our interconnection with Creation, and the One Eternal Presence in our lives. From Stardust we come and to dust we return. If you are in the Tampa Bay, FL area I invite you to join us in this unique Ash Wednesday observance.

For those in other parts of the country and world, I offer for the first time a video version of "Stardust to Dust," available to One Eternal Presence readers.   Sometime today, Ash Wednesday, or anytime really, find a quiet, darkened place where you can be undisturbed for about 25-30 minutes, light a candle, follow the link, and experience "Stardust to Dust - A Deep-Time Creation Contemplative Liturgy for Ash Wednesday."

Feel free to share!

 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Universal Language

I love music.  Even though I don't identify as a musician,  I enjoy all kinds of music, even music that many don't recognize as music.

Music has been called the universal language. It has been said to bridge the bounds of culture. It can ignite anxiety or sooth the soul. Music stirs our imaginations as well as calms a racing mind. Music communicates in ways that words fall short. Even words themselves are musical.

I looked up online the elements of music and found numerous lists claiming anywhere from 5 to 12 basic elements. Music is not as simple as it sounds. So, tapping into my thoughts last week on "complex simplicity," I've come up with my own simple list.  To me, in order for music to be music, it needs three things: sound and/or silence, combined with pace.  I think all other elements are derived from these three.

This week our church is hosting the the Florida Vocal Association assessments of all the Pinellas County, Florida middle and high school choral groups. What this means is about 2500 teenagers cycling through our building, pouring from buses in the parking lot, warming up in the music room over my study, sight reading in our chapel, and performing in the sanctuary.

There is literally music everywhere in the building, all week long! It's not just in the rooms already mentioned, but on sidewalks, in hallways, and lobbies.  Anxious silence sings as a group files into the sight reading room. Nervous sounds come from the warm up space. Excitement exudes as rapid chatter fills the lobby when all is done.

Our lives are also made up of music. Everything we experience has a sense of sound, silence, and pace, generated from without and within. Our hearts beat. Lungs breath. Minds imagine. Ears hear. Eyes see. Voices speak. Music abounds.

Ancient philosophers, sensing and observing the sounds, silence, and pace of creation itself, described them as "music of the spheres."

Take time to enjoy the music of life. It may not be as dramatic and obvious as a building filled with teenage choirs, but it is always with us, waiting for us to stop and listen - even better to sing, play, or dance with it.

Music really is the universal language!
















Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Complex Simplicity

The amazing complexity of the most simple things reveals the miracle of life. As I write this blog, impulses in my brain fueled by chemicals generated in my gut go to my brain and produce thoughts that generate other impulses into the muscles of of my hand causing my fingers to push particular buttons that send signals throughout my computer resulting in characters on a screen arranged in a particular way and sent through a web of electronic beats and waves so that someone who happens to be motivated through their own impulses to see the characters, understands their arrangement and comprehends meaning. I type in my living room and you read wherever you are.

Similar complexity exists in everything we see, touch, smell, hear, taste, think, imagine, as well as the processes of seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, tasting, thinking, and imagining. Yet it all seems so straight forward that we rarely stop to contemplate the wonder of it all and simply enjoy it.

The wonder of the universe hides in plain sight around us.







 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

SOTU is SOTH

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!  ~Jesus, Matthew 6:21-23


You probably know by now what the acronym SOTU represents. Did you watch it or listen to it last night? I chose not to because on one level I can sense what the state, not only of the Union but the World, is today - FUBAR (look it up).  However, this is looking with eyes that desperately need new vision to see God-given goodness within apparent chaos, to see within FUBAR the seeds of A-OK.

When we do this we begin to see from inside, from who we really are, from our created goodness. In other words, from our hearts. So the real question for us in not "What is the SOTU?" but "What is our SOTH (State Of The Heart )?

The SOTU is in our soul.

The SOTU is actually the SOTH!

It really is this simple, but not always easy.



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Welcome to Life!

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. ~ an ancient Buddhist teaching

This morning an imaginative meme was shared by a friend on Facebook. It mused about living on a billions year old "spaceship" Earth that hurls through space while sustaining life as we know it.  It ended with, "Welcome to life! It's more exciting when you think on a larger scale."

Then I read the comments and was taken back by the mostly unimaginative cynicism that spewed out. At first these responses made me a little angry because I know my friend is an imaginative, thoughtful person who is on a faith journey open to potential and possibilities beyond static understandings of religion and science. My anger quickly became sadness for people whose imaginations are not open to the amazement of life.

Ultimately, I know I have to accept where these people are in their lives and realize they are not ready to imagine and entertain such thoughts and understandings of life. They just don't know that even cynicism has its own wonder.

Life is exciting and amazing on all scales, or it's not. We see it, or we don't. It isn't, until it is.  But when the moment comes, the universe opens up and we become participants in the wonder rather than observers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Creation's Nightlight

Moon:
Super,
Blood,
Full,
Fingernail,
Moonshine,
New,
Blue,
Man in,
Man on,
Dark side of,
Crying for,

What is with our fascination with the moon? Maybe it's because we can actually see it, as opposed to the sun that we can only see just as it rises or sets - hence our fascination also with sunrises and sunsets, but I digress.

As we were recently reminded with the lunar eclipse, the moon does not have light of its own. Its illumination is reflected light of the sun. And this reflection is so bright that when it is full and passes in Earth's shadow (cast by the sun) the moon still has a glow, as we witnessed with the recent "blood" moon. 

The reflected light of the moon is comfortable, pleasing, intriguing, restful, whimsical, and harmless. Have you ever heard of anyone suffering from moon-burn or needing moon-screen? Have you ever seen a moon scorched field or had the moon beat down upon you? Of course not. This is because, according to the Bible,  the moon is the "lesser" of Earth's lights. The moon is Creation's nightlight, a comforting presence reminding us the Sun, our source of light and life, is still there, just on the other side of Earth.

“Even 
After 
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth (and the Moon),

"You owe me."

Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”

~ Hafiz




Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Signs Of The Times

They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them...Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.'

There is a street in our neighborhood that has signs, similar to the one above, posted where the street dissects a small lake. I've driven past and mused at these signs many times. Well, yesterday while taking that route to the Post Office, I was annoyed by a car stopped in the middle of the road, before realizing that a big fat duck waddled across the street between these signs, within the painted lines of the crosswalk. This has me wondering how many "signs" of the times are all around us that we muse upon as quaint, take for granted, and otherwise ignore.

Prophesies, parables, and predictions like the one above by Jesus, and found in numerous sacred texts,  are in many ways actually timeless - meaning they can be True in any age and context. However, as we look around our communities, our nation, and the world today there are signs that we live in times of disruption intended to deceive that have us off balance and anxious. These signs, as well as human history, are telling us something - disruptive deception leads to destruction.

The signs of our times are not quaint musings to be ignored. Just as sure as the fig tree yields its fruit and fat ducks cross the road, the chaos being sown in our world today may very well be a sign that the One Eternal Presence of Truth cannot be deceived by disruption. However, when signs are ignored, there are consequences.

To use another metaphor, perhaps we have used the "snooze" on the alarm enough and it's time to wake up.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"Before I built a wall..."

It seems appropriate today to share the iconic Robert Frost poem that gets at the truth of current craziness. Unfortunately the most often quoted line is the last one instead of the first one, missing the whole point of the poem by not reading the entire poem. Poetry and scripture are often treated similarly in that we think we know it from often quoted parts without taking in the whole story.

Mending Wall
BY ROBERT FROST

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Pic and A Prayer for A New Year

On this second day of a new year I offer you a photo and a prayer. The grainy photo is from this morning's pre-dawn sky, capturing Venus, the Moon, and Jupiter among clouds and palm fronds. (Mercury is somewhere behind the clouds below Jupiter )



Prayer for a New Year

God of time and space, 
known by many names 
sought through many traditions, 
as a new year begins we are reminded  
of the Eternal Presence. 
Beyond this moment and this place 
Spirit bonds all creation 
in a tapestry of interdependence, 
transcending vested interests and personal privilege.

Standing on the threshold of a new year 
may we forgive the discord, mistrust
and disappointment of our past, 
as we are forgiven, 
may we receive a grace-filled future 
of promise and potential that awaits 
nothing more or less than 
our open minds, our loving hearts, and our open arms
stretched out to one another and thus to God.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Re-Gifting!

What better is there to do on the day after Christmas than to re-gift?  I give you a quote from Howard Thurman that a friend gave me today:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart...
                     --Howard Thurman 

May Christmas Blessings continue in your life! 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

"You Go To Heaven When You're Born"

Next Monday is Christmas Eve. It is also the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most iconic photographs ever taken. The astronauts of Apollo 8 were the first humans to orbit the moon and see Earth "rise" on the moon's horizon. On that space mission they saw, and shared in photography, what no human had seen before - Earth suspended in space.

earthrise apollo nasa AS8 14 2383HR


James Lovell, the last surviving member of that crew describes it this way: "...we brought back a picture of the Earth as it is 240,000 miles away. And the fact is, it gives you a different perspective of the Earth when you see it as three-dimensional between the sun and the moon, and you begin to realize how small and how significant the body is. When I put my thumb up to the window I could completely hide it, and then I realized that behind my thumb that I'm hiding this Earth, and there are about 6 billion people that are all striving to live there."

Earth, he says, "...has the proper mass, has the gravity to contain water and an atmosphere, which are the very essentials for life,..  orbiting a star just at the right distance — not too far to be too cold, or too close to be too hot — and just at the right distance to absorb that star's energy and then, with that energy, cause life to evolve here in the first place."

From this amazing perspective, Lovell concludes, "You have to really kind of think about our own existence here in the universe. You realize that people often say, 'I hope to go to heaven when I die,' In reality, if you think about it, you go to heaven when you're born. God has really given us a stage, just looking at where we were around the moon, a stage on which we perform. And how that play turns out is up to us.

Next Monday many people around the world will tell an ancient story of the birth of a child named Jesus, which means "the one who saves."  Could it be that the salvation we seek and the salvation Jesus brings is similar to Lovell's observations? Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is already here and now.  When we realize this, we are born into harmony with our planet and all of its inhabitants-- heaven!

( I recently read the title quote in the Dec-Jan "AARP Bulletin." Quotes from Lovell are from this article: https://www.businessinsider.com/earth-is-heaven-james-lovell-lunar-astronaut-2017-3 )


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Behold! Good News of Great Joy!

A wrong number started the whole thing. Way back before the internet, smart phones, cell phones, caller ID, or even answering machines, we used dial telephones, got busy signals, and "hung up" after too many rings. And since there were no robo calls and telemarketing, there were very few unsolicited phone calls.

In those more simple days, one year about two week before Christmas my uncle received a call from a child who asked to speak to someone not known by him. He gave the usual reply for such a call, "Sorry, you have the wrong number."

The child asked, "Who is this?"

My uncle decided to have a little fun, "This is Santa Claus."  He had no idea what he was starting.

"Really?" The child said.

"Yup. That's me"

"Where are you?" The child asked.

"Why, the North Pole, of course."

After some conversation about what the child wanted for Christmas they hung up.

Immediately the phone rang again. It was the child.  "Is this Santa?"

"Didn't we just talk?" My uncle asked.

"Yes. I just want to make sure I had the right number."   Click.

For the next two weeks my uncle's phone rang off the hook, as we used to say. Child after child called to speak with Santa. He played the role with every caller and even enlisted my aunt to be Mrs. Claus when he wasn't there. Hundreds of children in our community were filled with joy that Christmas because they got to call the North Pole and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus. And there's no telling how many called when my uncle and aunt weren't home.

One amazing thing about this story is how fast Santa's phone number got spread around. Remember there was no email, texting, or snapchat. This happened the old fashion way by passing notes in class, whispering in lunch lines, huddling on playgrounds, and walking to school in packs. Another wonderful thing is how one simple, spontaneous moment of fun ignited joy in so many, especially my aunt and uncle. Small acts of kindness can be and often are contagious.

There is an old saying about news - "Bad news travels at the speed of light, good news like molasses." I'm not so sure about that, especially when there is so much bad news around and good news seems to be rare.  The first words of the angel announcing Jesus' birth are "Fear not!" The next words are, "I bring you good news of great joy!"  Maybe if more of us would actually "fear not" and act upon our impulses of "kinder angels" more joy would be ignited and shared.

By the way, my uncle was a "newsman." He was News Director for a local radio station, and columnist for several local papers.  His spontaneous, "This is Santa Claus," may have been his best ever lede!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miracle Babies

Somewhere in every genealogy is an unexpected birth, a story in our lineage of the baby who was not supposed to be. In many cases that baby may even be us. The scenarios of unexpected conceptions are many. Among them are: supposed infertility, way too fertile, illicit liaisons, miscalculations, chance encounters, unleashed passion, desperate measures, violence, careless contraception, or past the prime years. Whatever the story is and whoever the baby was, the reality is that if they weren't then you aren't. Most of us don't have to look very far to find a "miracle baby" in our lives that allows our life.

In the Bible all of the major birth stories of iconic figures are stories of barrenness, infertility, obstacles, and impediment to conception and birth. In many cases the these stories are actually the same story, retold with new characters and circumstances. The Christmas story is one of these.

The story of Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus is an echo of Abraham, Sarah, and Issac; the Hebrew midwives and Moses; Boaz, Ruth, and Obed; Elkanah, Hannah, and Samuel; David, Bathsheba, and Solomon; Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John. Miracle babies galore!

All of these stories of unexpected, unplanned births remind us that life itself is often unexpected. Even lives that are planned and come off without a hitch are possible because somewhere, sometime, someone in our past was born unexpectedly.  In a fanciful way, we are all Miracle Babies!


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Path to Tyranny...do nothing.

A bully finds someone who they think is weaker, then taunts and terrorizes with name calling, lies, barriers, demeaning gestures, lines in the sand, and physical threats. Ignoring and walking away from the bully is always one option, however a true bully will always pursue, drawing another line, then another until their victim is in a corner, back against the wall, with what seem to be only two options: submit or strike back.

Submitting, like walking away, leads eventually to more derisive treatment from the bully because what the bully really wants is for their victim to strike back, even in the least way. Unfortunately, because of the bully's gradual, incessant tactics, striking back without force becomes more and more difficult. Then the bully has a reason, although twisted, to attack with pseudo moral authority.

However, when the bully is confronted with true moral authority they will melt. Standing up with such authority reveals that the bully is actually the weak one. The bully is actually a coward. The bully is the real victim of his or her own delusion.

There is a lot of bullying going on in the world today that needs confronting. Already there are too many backs against too many walls. A bully, large or small, left unchecked by true moral authority will become a tyrant. As numerous wise people have noted, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  





Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm taking a few days to relax away from the regular hustle and bustle of daily routines, the internet, etc.  I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day wherever and with whomever it may be.

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Here Forever!

"Let's stay here forever, Papa!"
the young boy said to his grandfather
"Ok. Let's." replied the old man,
stretching out on his back
in the shallow water of a warm tide pool
while proclaiming
"This is the life!"
A broad grin filled the boy's sun kissed face.
"This is the life!' he mimicked.
They laughed as one.
"Where will we sleep, Papa?"
"Right here. Under the sun and stars."
"What will we eat?"
"I dunno. Tiny crabs maybe.
What ever comes into our tide pool."
"Maybe a big fish!" the boy stretched his arms
nearly as wide as his grin.
Laughter.
"This is the life, Papa!"
"Yup! This is the life.

Silence settled in.
They both watched
wet sand sift through the boys fingers.

Here forever
knowing without knowing
forever is here
in a moment
in a tidepool
on a beach
under the sun
wrapped in laughter
held in silence and wonder.

Looking up from the sifting sand,
eyes toward the sky
as if he knew the sand's source
the boy said
"Let's talk about planets, Papa."
"Ok, let's."



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Better Place?

Yesterday, while a quarter of the people of the "United" States of America were voting, word came  that a parishioner had been admitted to a hospital with chest pains. I went to check on her. It turned out that she had already been through a corrective procedure, was in a better place, and looking to go home in a day or so.

On the elevator back down to the lobby I struck up a conversation with a woman with an armful of cards, other papers, and a flower arrangement. Her forty-something daughter had been in the hospital for a month and was going home - under hospice care. I offered empty words of consolation for which she thanked me. Her parting words were, "At least she will soon be in a better place."

A better place. We all seem to be striving for a better place. Some walk across Central America and Mexico escaping violence, poverty, and oppression most Americans can't even imagine. Many Americans simply want adequate health care, or security in old age. There are others simply looking for meaningful work that provides shelter, food, and comfort for family. There are even those who appear to have everything anyone would could want or need, yet they too look for an even better place. And yes, some look to death for their better place. We all have an idea, hope, or dream of a better place.

The elections are over. Some people feel, at least for now, they are in a better place than they were yesterday.  Many are still walking, still wanting, still looking, still needing a "better" place in life. Our hope, to quote Thomas Merton, lies in "...labor[ing] with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever [we] can, and first of all in [ourself], the capacity of love and which makes [humanity] the living image of God.”

There is a better place.   


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Reformed and Always Being Reformed

I'm thinking about Martin Luther this morning and wondering how he may have felt five hundred years ago when he nailed his grievances against the empire on a church door. As he looked around his world,

  • Did he see power and wealth in a few people who used their privileged positions to manipulate and control the masses? 
  • Did he see persecution of people as a way of dividing, conquering, and turning fear into loyalty? 
  • Did he see truths of faith being twisted in order to portray God as the source and authority for the absurdities surrounding him? 
  • Did he have any idea what he was starting and how his courage was part of an unleashing of freedom that would change the world?
  • Did he have any idea that five hundred years later there would be the need for another list on another door, another unleashing of freedom?




Wednesday, October 24, 2018

How Much Is Enough?

What does is profit a person to gain the whole world but lose their soul? ~ Jesus

When speaking of someone considered to be rich and exactly how rich they may be, I often quip, "Let's just say they don't have to worry about paying the light bill."

Last night somebody in South Carolina won the largest single jackpot in lottery history, 1.6 billion dollars. Yes, that's "billion!" They definitely won't have to worry about paying their light bill. However, they are probably in line for many other worries never dreamt or imagined.

All of this begs a question - what is my/your benchmark for being "rich?"  If it really is "not worrying about paying the light bill" then a whole lot of people are rich, even those who don't have a light bill to pay. Some people will immediately go to a broader definition of "rich" and talk about the riches of family, friends, community, etc. Others may consider safety, freedom, or security as riches. But whatever our commodity, we all have, or need to have, a standard for how much is enough. Finding this standard is not so easy in a culture of production and consumption that survives and thrives on creating scarcity in order to convince us that we never have enough of anything.

Once we can come to our own personal place of enough, anything over and above is superfluous and available to help others reach their place of enough. And there really is enough of everything for everyone to have enough.

Enough, whatever the commodity,  really is the place where we begin to find our soul.



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tea Time

“A young seeker, keen to become the student of a certain master, is invited to an interview at the master’s house. The student rambles on about all his spiritual experiences, his past teachers, his insights and skills, and his pet philosophies. The master listens silently and begins to pour a cup of tea. He pours and pours, and when the cup is overflowing he keeps right on pouring. Eventually the student notices what’s going on and interrupts his monologue to say, ‘Stop pouring! The cup is full.’ The teacher says, ‘Yes, and so are you. How can I possibly teach you?’”
~ A Zen story conveyed by Cynthia Bourgeault in The Wisdom Jesus

The story above arrived in my email box today by way of Inward, Outward, Together.  It speaks to me in a way that illuminates the darkened times in which we seem to be living. Some may even ask, "What dark times?" Aren't the markets at all time highs? It's reported that world-wide poverty is at an all time low. My life is better than ever. And perhaps they are correct.

However, many people feel as if the world has become un-moored and is flailing about in a sea of unprecedented deceit, cruelty, and violence, driven by insatiable appetites for wealth and power. All of this is fed by floods of unexamined information that is calculated to confuse and distort reality. Our lives, like the young seeker's life and the master's teacup, are overflowing.

Perhaps it's time for someone, anyone, you and me to place our hand over our own cup and say "Stop pouring." Then and only then can we begin to clean up the mess and begin to enjoy the cup of tea.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Journey Continues

Seven years ago this week I started writing this weekly blog. I had just come off of a three month sabbatical much of which was spent participating in and exploring several spiritual communities where people intentionally seek the Presence of God. 

I experienced silent solitude in the natural mystery of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, where I also encountered a regional gathering of Quaker Friends who introduced me to the wonder of communal silence. A week with Zen Buddhist monks at Tasajara in the mountain wilderness of California, showed me how intention, ritual, and contemplation, both individual and communal, transcend time and space to reveal an eternal now. The isle of Iona in Scotland offered the experience of "thin places" where heaven and earth, divine and human, touch one another. Time with my family on the ocean cliffs and deep forests of Costa Rica provided exposure to exotic plants, animals, and tropical rains revealing the breathless diversity of creation. 

These experiences led me to re-examine other experiences in my life, opening my mind and heart to truly know that IT is all connected and interconnected as One Eternal Presence in which we live. On a weekly basis I've tried to share some inspiration, imagination, and insight with you.

Seven years later, I continue the journey. Sometimes, especially the fractured times, I struggle to see and know the Presence that holds us all together. It's not easy to seek and see the Presence in greed, anger, deceit, hatred, violence, and suffering. There are times when only a past Presence offers comfort in a present Presence, and hope of a future Presence. In one word, Eternal.

Thank you to the faithful few who continue on this blogging journey with me. As we begin another year may you continue to seek, find and rest in the One Eternal Presence in our lives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"You just can't make up this stuff!"

Following the course of current events these days is more and more like watching, and therefore participating, in a bizarre scripted production spread across various media. People and events, for the sake  of swift sensation, are too often presented and portrayed as one dimensional caricatures of a poorly written morality play.

More and more I say and hear the phrase, "You just can't make up this stuff!" when in actuality this is exactly what is happening. The players, our so called public servants and leaders, are assigned roles by various casting entities and producers using the power of access and money to cajole them into "playing their parts." As soon as a new person appears in the story they are assigned roles as well - the victim, the accuser, the cad, the villain, the wily attorney, the scrupulous judge, and so forth and so on. The masses are told who the characters are in  "playbill bios" on front pages and screens disguised as "news."

In so many ways the spectacle we see unfolding around us is but a projection of inner turmoil within countless individuals struggling with eternal human questions of identity and purpose: Who am I? Why am I here? Our challenge as individuals and responsibility to the human community, is to not defer these questions to the script writers, but rather grapple with them by living into them.

In reality the spectacle around us will continue. The "show must go on" - this is life. Some challenges, opportunities, and questions for each of us when we step on to the stage or into the screen each morning are: Will I take time to contemplate and discern my true self? Will I embrace my true self or accept false selves assigned to me? How will I participate, as spectator or actor? Will I allow others the same freedom that I seek? And above all, is it true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise - think about these things.  (Philippians 4:8)     


 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lose the "lose!"



Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  ~ Jesus

Sometimes I get the words "lose" and "loose" confused, not their meaning so much as their spelling. I'm forever wanting to ad or omit that extra "o" which of course changes the meaning of what I'm writing.  For example I may want to say "my dog is loose in the yard" but leaving out that "o" has him losing in some kind of competition. There are times when accidentally adding the "o" may even spark an imaginative twist as in "losing one's mind" or "loosing one's mind." Instead of going crazy you are freeing your mind.

Such is the case with the saying above by Jesus. What if losing our life is not so much dying as it is letting go of, i.e. loosing, our life? By loosening and letting go of our perceptions, prejudices, pride, and fear we discover new ways of experiencing life and old ways are lost. Seen this way, Jesus' teaching is not as foreboding as it is inviting.

Maybe Jesus is simply telling us to loosen up, relax, let go and open ourselves to the full possibilities and potentials of the wonderful thing we call life.  In other words, lose the "lose!"

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Life Is Fra-gee-lay!


Dad: “Fra-gee-lay” …it must be Italian!
Mom: I think that says “fragile”, honey.
Dad: Oh, yeah.
~ A Christmas Story

Patient: "Am I going to die?"
Doc Martin: "Yes. But not today."
~ Doc Martin

There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do not know about it!
~ Kay, Men In Black

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. 
~ Psalm 90

Life is fragile. This week many recall the shattering horror of a tragic Tuesday seventeen years ago, remember losing love ones in fiery crashes, and recount the the lost lives and years of senseless retaliation. Thousands of people in various places flee war torn communities seeking refuge. Many look at miles of scorched earth, smoldering homes, and lives gone in smoke.  Millions prepare and evacuate the oncoming devastation of wind and water wondering who and what will survive when the surges subside.

Life is fragile. We never know what a day, a week, or even a moment will bring. We never know if a "goodbye" really is goodbye or if a meal with someone is the "last supper." We never know, but sometimes we have warnings. Sometimes we get evacuation orders, or wake up calls. Sometimes we pay attention and avoid catastrophe.

Life is fragile. However, if we live on the edge of death all the time we never experience the wonder and fullness of life. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 90 because it captures for me the tension of life's fragility, while offering the comfort and wonder of life itself. The Psalmist calls this comfort God's grace and steadfast love. For me it is the One Eternal Presence, Breath of Life, sheer amazement of being here at all. 

Yes, life is fragile, but the fear of breaking can keep us from living fully. So why not embrace life today with a little Italian flair - "Fra-gee-lay!"

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

On The Go

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from...
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, v.5

In the last six weeks I have traveled over 15,500 miles to and from destinations for family vacation and personal continuing education- time with family, friends, professional colleagues, and fellow faith pilgrims in places both familiar and new; via cars, trains, buses, boats, trains, and my own two feet, from sea level to 12,000 ft. above while on the ground, and 40,000 while sailing the clouds. I've gone, seen, and done more beyond my immediate home in six weeks than most people on earth do in a lifetime. All of this is even insignificant to thousands of travelers who do so regularly for business and pleasure.

Back in the place I now call home, sitting on a sofa reflecting, it all seems like and dream filled with other times, places, and people, yet people, places, and times that are now part of who I am - somehow different from and the same as who I was before the journeys began.

We human beings are a curious and seeking sort, always wondering what's over the ridge, or across the water, and even beyond life itself. We have always been and are still on the move, whether hunting and gathering food, exploring new lands, or traveling to distant planets and beyond. Our travels and explorations usually begin in the time and spaces of imagination, often leading to the tangible journeys and destinations of life.

But wherever we go, we are always home, because home is not only the place beneath our feet, at the ends of our fingers, and before our eyes, but that place deep inside each and every one of us. This place is always the same yet ever changing, a place that is ours alone, that we also share with all humanity, the One Eternal Presence.

We rest in this place even as we begin the next imagination, the next journey, the next pilgrimage, the next adventure in the time and space we call Life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Worship Attendance? (encore)

originally posted on August 27, 2014

For four out of the last five Sundays I haven't been in church.  And, with one more week of vacation in process, I don't plan to be there this Sunday either. Strangly enough my absence from church services has me thinking a lot about the difference between "worship" and "church."

The four Sundays I've been away from church were spent in order: hiking with pastor colleagues in the Rocky Mountains, sitting with my wife on a seashore beach, hiking with long-time friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and driving alone along the highway listening to favorite music.  On each of these days I experienced extended moments recognizing and experiencing God's Eternal Presence in awe of nature and in gratitude and thanks for colleagues, friends, and family.  I spent time in informal prayer through thoughts, music and conversation with others and with myself.  I saw sunrises, sunsets, mountains, oceans, and night skies that drew me into the sheer wonder of life and death.   I shared ideas, laughter and tears with people for whom I care and love.   Even though I wasn't "in church" I worshipped.

I must also admit that on each of these Sunday mornings I thought about not only the little congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian (now Trinity Clearwater Presbyterian) where I'm pastor but also the thousands upon thousands of places where people were gathered "in church." They came together with not only like minded people for whom they care and love but also with people with whom they disagree and who sometimes irritate and frustrate them.  They came together to intentionally worship through closely held and long standing traditions of liturgy and symbol.  They came to church to worship.

Please don't take any of this as encouragement for abandoning participation and attendance in a community of faith.  Quite the contrary.  Regularly gathering together, even with those whom we disagree, in culturally comfortable yet challenging communities of faith to honor and practice time tested traditions of worship has been and continues to be a staple of human existence.  To paraphrase Jesus, when two or more are gathered and God gets mentioned, they are "in church."    

However, worship can occur wherever we are, alone or together.  But even when we are alone, our worship immediately draws us into the interdependence and interconnectedness of Creation.  Learning to recognize and appreciate this opens our spirits to the One Eternal Presence that permeates and binds all of Creation, anywhere and everywhere - even in church.

Worship attends us. It happens.

We attend church. It's intentional.

We need both!