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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A New Year Dawning

As one year ends and another begins, I offer for your reflection two of my favorite poems by the late Irish poet, philosopher John O'Donohue.

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Blessing for a New Year (Beannacht)

Both poems are from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


The fourth and final Word of Advent is "Love."

The expectation of Hope, the wholeness of Peace, and the belonging of Joy all lead to a profound and pure sense that each of us is inseparable from one another, from the Divine, and from all creation. Far from a sentimental, romantic, or physical attraction, the Love of Advent is the glue that binds humanity and holds the universe together.

Love is not something we have, hold or give as much as it is participation in and relationship with the Life Force of all creation. The intensity is greater in some relationships than in others, hence the mystery of love between humans and for animals, nature, music, art.

Through the ages, as humanity has searched for meaning and purpose, we always seem to come around to that "crazy little thing called love."  It is the at the core of most religion.  Christian scriptures say that without love we are nothing but "clanging cymbals," and that God IS Love. Hebrew scriptures say that the first and foremost rule of life is to love God, others, and self with our whole being.  Love is the basis for the five pillars of Islam.

Love is what we discover in pure vulnerability with ourselves, each other, and with God or whatever our concept of the the Divine may be.  The Words of Advent - Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love - bring us to such a place of vulnerability.  We call this place "Christmas."

Here is my Advent / Christmas offering for you - one of the best expressions I know of Love as vulnerability, "The Rose" by Amanda McBroom.

Merry Christmas!

Amanda McBroom sings "The Rose"

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed

It’s the heart that fears the breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed
That with the sun’s love, in the spring
Becomes the rose

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


The third Word of Advent is "Joy."   

Like the other words of Advent, joy has a much deeper meaning than our popular understanding.  Most of us have a tendency to equate joy with happiness.  Even though the two are often experienced together and one usually leads to the other, joy and happiness are not the same.

I have come to think of joy as a state of being or a perspective on life, while happiness is a fleeting experience of pleasure. Joy is the source of happiness. However, one can be joyful even in sadness. Joy is the deep gladness that we are alive, that we participate in and affect this amazing, wonderful experience we call life. 

Joy is the wellspring of laughter, tears, smiles, and frowns.  Joy is the immense sense of belonging when hiking canyons, climbing mountains, standing on the seashore, or looking across vast plains. Joy is knowing the One Eternal Presence is with us, in us, and around us.  Joy is light in darkness.

This is how Advent Angels sing of "great joy" among us, and the Psalmist says, "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Continuing to explore the words of Advent "Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love," we consider the second word of Advent - "Peace."

Ask most people to define "peace" and we use words like "calm, serene, and tranquil;" or phrases like "lack of conflict" or "absence of war."   Peace is all of this, yet much more.

The Peace of Advent is grounded in a biblical understanding of completeness, wholeness, and harmony.  The Hebrew word for peace is "shalom" which is used to describe the wholeness of body, mind and spirit; covenant relationship between two people, or nations, or with God; prosperity or success; and the end of military battle.  The Greek work "eirene" takes on all of these meanings with Christ as the model for and source of peace, hence the title "Prince of Peace."

In this biblical sense the Peace of Advent is not passive or theoretical, but active and practical.  It is also both inward and outward. We can be peaceful in the midst of conflict, as well as a peace maker between conflicting parties.  However, in order to bring peace to those around us we must have peace (wholeness and harmony) within us.

The Peace of Advent, the same sung by angels to shepherds, is not so much an invitation into tranquil rest as it is a call to action within ourselves and with others.  Just like the popular hymn says, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin in me."

May the Peace of Advent be with you!

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Last Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) was the unofficial beginning of the “holiday season.”  Over the next six weeks or so there will be many parties, dinners, musical programs, family gatherings, and public celebrations.

In the midst of the holiday season we Christians observe Advent, four weeks before Christmas that remind us of the fullness of our human experience.  One way we do this is by centering on four words (one for each week): Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.  Hope comes first because without hope we can't experience the others. Unfortunately for many people the word "hope" has become confused with "wish."

Here's how I see the difference. On the one hand, to wish is to have a strong desire for something to occur that has an equal, if not strong, probability of not happening. Hope, on the other hand, is a state of mind, an attitude or perspective of assurance that the world is as we expect it to be.  One could even say that wish is a verb - something we do, while hope is a noun - something we have.

In a theological, spiritual sense Hope is the assurance that Divine Goodness (meaning wholeness and fullness) is at the foundation and core of Creation.  At first glance, in light of all the pain and suffering in the world, this may seem rather glib or pollyannaish.  And, if we think in terms of "hope" as "wish" it is.  However, coming to a place and perspective that within each and every person and all of creation there is a Divine Spark (however dim or bright it may be) we begin to sense the essence of true Hope.  Wishing comes and goes.  Hope stays.

Advent is a season to reclaim Divine Hope in our lives.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgivng!

Wherever you are and whoever you are with, I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and weekend!

Give thanks with a grateful heart!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's In Your - - - Obit?

What's in your wallet?
~ a credit card commercial

Several years ago I got the idea for a fun group (or individual) exercise from one of author Robert Fulghum's books.  It goes like this - ask everyone to bring out their wallets and/or purses and basically go on a scavenger hunt using a list of things like a band aid, expired drivers licence, grocery list, etc.  Make it your own fun list.  It is always interesting and often surprising (sometimes embarrassing) to see what people carry around with them.  It also gives a little insight into who we are.

Recently I heard an interview with another author, Austin Kleon, who shared his regular practice of reading obituaries to remind him that "living" is the real purpose of life.  Years ago I also regularly read obituaries to remind me of the impermanence of life.  There is also that funny line attributed to several people from Mark Twain to Henny Youngman, "I read the obits everyday to make sure I'm not in them."

Bringing these two things together with the quote above raises the question, "What's in your obituary?"  How do you want to be remembered?  Who will read it?  Who will write it?

How about writing it yourself? That's right. Take a few minutes and write your own obituary.  Tell those closest to you, your family, your friends, your work colleagues, your neighbors - tell the world how you want to be remembered. Write it down.  Ponder it.  Then share it, not by letting others read it, but by - living it!  Give whoever will eventually write your actual obituary enough good material to work with.

(Camera zooms in to close-up of Samuel L. Jackson)             "What's in your obit?"

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Day

Veterans Day (and others like it) always sends me into a turbulent spiral of conflicting emotions.  To put it plainly, I want to honor people who have served, while at the same time resist sentimental glorification of war and militarism that parades as patriotism in today's world.

My observance of Veterans Day has for the past forty-something years been simple - a phone call to my brother Tom Walton to simply say thank you, without any elaboration.

This morning I am painfully lamenting that I can't make that phone call today.

And so I observe the day by sharing what I said about my brother's military service and patriotism at his funeral this past July.   


"Tom was a worker.  I think he had his first job when he was 6 years old.  At least that’s the way it seemed to me.  He was always cutting grass, bagging groceries, stocking shelves, or working the butcher counter.  He was a true worker.  He put his all into anything he did.

This is one of the main things that made him the patriot he was.

Tom loved and served his country with the same honor and trust he lived the rest of his life.  He loved his fellow military veterans in a bond that only those who have been there have and know - a bond forged in the abyss of war.

I’m going to say something here that may offend some of you, but many of you will know deep inside the truth of it.

Regardless of ideology, nationality, creed, or pledge - War is the tragic flaw of humanity and it not only takes life, it ruins it for many who survive.

My brother, patriot that he was, was also a living testimony that 13 months, perhaps a single day, or even a particular moment in war will change a young man’s (or woman’s) life forever. 

Tom lived with the demons of Viet Nam. But in spite of his war demons, Tom was a patriot.  And his patriotism was forged in places many have been but most of us don’t really want to go.

Having said all of that, I want to publicly say thank you to Tom’s brothers and sister of the American Legion, especially post 145 where he served with utmost pride.  You were truly a second (and maybe sometimes first) family to him.  God bless you."

Thank you, Tom, and all other veterans!  

My simple hope and prayer is that the human family can one day eliminate the need for Veteran's Day.  After all it did begin as Armistice Day of "the war to end all wars."

Thursday, November 5, 2015


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”    ~ Jesus

I'm trying to adjust to a new life rhythm.  You see, for the past twelve years my work week has been back-loaded with the lion's share of deadlines and meetings coming Wednesday afternoon and evening through Sunday.  Since moving to a new congregation this schedule has been flipped 180 degrees and now my week is front-loaded from Sunday to Wednesday morning.  The thing this change seems to have affected most is this blog space since from its beginning I have mostly written and posted it on Wednesday mornings.  All of this is to partly explain why you didn't see this post yesterday and why it has been coming to you sometimes later on Wednesdays. My muse has become confused as to when to appear!

Now, with that out of my system, this whole dynamic also has me thinking about life rhythms and how physical routines and activities affect our thoughts, imaginations, emotions, and spirit.  I'm reminded of the body-mind-soul connection and how Spirit traverses every aspect of our lives. 

Mindful and thus authentic spirituality requires attention to all areas of our being.  Most of us are pretty good at one or two while neglecting the other(s). Maybe while exercising we ruminate on negative thoughts of things in our lives.  Or perhaps we feed our minds with good reading or listening while consuming a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream.  We could be meditating every day while sleeping only 4-5 hours a night.  There are too many examples in our lives, so I won't belabor the point other than to repeat that body, mind, and spirit (heart, soul, and mind) are integrated, and care of our whole person is necessary if we are to care for one another.

Jesus reminds us in the quote above of the ancient Truth that in order to love and care for another we must first love and care for our whole selves.  It all goes together. 

So, whether it's Wednesday or Thursday, be kind to yourself and then to someone else!   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


This coming weekend we celebrate and commemorate two holidays: Halloween (All Hallows" Eve) and All Saints' Day (All Hallows' Day). At least one of these, Halloween, has evolved in the U.S. as another huge cultural event and "consumer holiday."  For all practical and economic purposes Halloween is just an extension of the ever lengthening "holiday season" that was once Christmas.  For me it conjures (a good Halloween word) an image of Santa sitting with a Jack-o-Lantern on one knee and the Easter Bunny on the other.  All we need do is give him an American flag backdrop and we can extend all the way into July!  Or why not make it a whole year by putting a hard hat on him and take it all the way to Labor Day?

Now, after a little fun cynicism, what is this all about?  The answer is straight and simple: Spirit(s)! There is something in the human spirit, which is really just and extension of The Spirit that needs to celebrate, commemorate, remember, and honor the wonder of our existence. No one should be surprised that most of the holidays (holy days) we celebrate have their roots in religion, either directly or grafted.  Even our so-called "secular" celebrations like July 4th, Labor Day, Veterans Day, etc are infused with religious language and imagery in order to give spiritual credence and validation to nationalism, consumerism, and militarism.  Ironically, even all of our human "isms" are, in their own rights, rooted in and driven by Spirit(s).  

There is something deep inside the human experience that yearns for meaning and purpose and the expression of the same. The dark side of these yearnings too often leads to "isms" that fuel fear, violence and war.   However every now and then this simmering yearning boils up and over and we have the overwhelming, uncontrollable urge to light fires, string lights, dance, sing, wear costumes, adorn domiciles, gather in communities, laugh together, cry together, remember the tenuous amalgam of life and death - all in order to experience and express an Eternal Connection to the utter wonder, awe and amazement of the existence of it all.

Happy Halloween / All Saints' Day!  And may the Spirit(s) boil up and over in your life in fun, reflective, and joyous celebration!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

God Sized Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
~ Hebrews 11:1

Recently a parishioner shared that her understanding and experience of God took a dramatic turn years ago after reading J.B. Phillips best selling and now classic book Your God is Too SmallThis got me to thinking about the "size" of "my God," and how the size of our God affects our faith.

Our faith is only as great as our understanding of God. Now this may sound like a simplistic, formulaic statement but it really is true in exactly the opposite way. The smaller our God, the easier it is to create simple formulas and rituals to please and appease in order to gain favor. Unfortunately much of formal religious practice falls into this category as we attempt to define and categorize God. And in doing so we make God simple, ironically, through complex theologies.

But what if, as most religious scriptures proclaim, God defies definition and categorization? What if the "size" of God is unlimited? And if we are indeed infused with the Spirit and Image of such a God? Then potential and possibilities within any given moment of our lives are also boundless. Another way to express this is that God is present in all experiences of life whether small, large, or in-between. God is not large or small, but rather One-Size-Fits-All. God is the universe. God is also each and every breath we take.

The opposite of faith is not doubt but rather certitude. Whenever we are certain of God's size, be certain this is not faith. Faith is living in the boundless, unknowable mystery and awe of a One Size Fits All Eternal Presence.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Life - Use It or Lose It

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.    ~Jesus

Last Sunday I gave a sermon on the wealthy man who came to Jesus asking, "What must I do to have eternal life."  And Jesus tells him that knowing and keeping the commandments (being a good religious person) is not enough. The man must also "sell everything he owns and give it to the poor."  Jesus then goes on to say to his disciples that giving up one's possessions is the path to true riches, i.e. eternal life.

For most of us this sounds pretty drastic and even harsh.  However, looking at a couple of Greek words used in this passage opens the story up so we can reimagine it and appropriate it.

The word for life used by both the wealthy man and Jesus is "zoe" (pronounced dzo-ay') and it means vital, animated, full, vigorous life.  The man is not talking about life after death or going to heaven. He wants to know how to live fully and authentically here and now.  Most of us can resonate with that!

But what Jesus tells him, to give up all of his stuff, disturbs us just as much as it does the wealthy man.

Perhaps a better way to understand this is to harken back to Jesus' words quoted above which he says to potential disciples earlier in the story.  When he talks about losing and gaining life, Jesus uses the word "psuche" (pronounced psoo-khay') which means the breath of life, the seat of feelings, desires, affections, and aversions, or the soul.

Now, what if eternal, full, authenic life is found by letting go of our souls?

This all brings me around to something I heard on a podcast recently.  Author Todd Henry in talking about his book "Die Empty" shared a story from a group he was in where the quesiton "What is the most valuable real estate?" was asked.  The answer turned out to be - a cemetery - because this is where an endless wealth of hopes, dreams, ambitions, ideas, and inspirations lay unlived. Henry then goes on to say that we should strive to live out as much of our life (our "psuche") as possible in order to experience optimal life (our "zoe").

So, it looks like life is a whole lot like vacation time - use or lose it!  Or, we could echo Jesus and say, "Lose it and gain it!"  

Why not go out and give up some of your soul to somebody or something today?


Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Last week we moved from Washington, DC to Clearwater FL.  The cultural and climatic change is quite dramatic and will take some "getting use to."  However, in time we will become acclimated and life will be as "normal" as ever.  One day in the future it will feel like home.   After all, isn't "home" what we are all looking for - to be who we are, to be loved, to love, to be needed and appreciated, to be safe.        

This week marks the 4 year anniversary of One Eternal Presence.   It began as a way to share my experience while on sabbatical in the summer of 2011and soon became a weekly reflection on faith and life.  Along the way I've shared wisdom gleaned from others and offered some of my own insights on experiencing the interconnected wholeness of life.  In many ways OEP is my way of encouraging us all to be at home wherever we are.

Since OEP's anniversary always comes the week after World Communion Sunday, it is a reminder that even though we may practice religion in different ways we still remain one human family, sharing the same planet while carrying similar hopes, dreams, sadness, and joy.  Our common needs far exceed our individual fears.  We really do share the heart of God.

In the end, as the old saying goes, home is "where the heart is."  Our true home is in the One Eternal Presence of God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


We are in the throes of moving and so it was several days after the fact when I realized I did not post a blog last week.  This week I thought I should at least briefly bring you up to date on the status of "One Eternal Presence" (OEP) as we move from Washington, DC to Clearwater, FL. 

Thanks to some people who have asked will I continue publishing OEP.  The answer is absolutely Yes!  There will not be a post next week as we settle in at Clearwater.  I plan to resume regular publication the first week of October, which by the way will be the fourth anniversary of the "One Eternal Presence."

See you in a couple of week!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Midnight Madness!

I was wide awake at 2:30 am this morning. You have probably been there before - you're dead tired the night before and are fast asleep "before your head hits the pillow" only to wake up in the wee hours with your mind full of life's troubles.  The lists of troubles that kept going through my mind had too much to do with the Washington Nationals blowing another baseball game, but also things at church that need to be done before my final Sunday at CHPC, as well as the many details associated with moving.  I am also currently consumed by bureaucracy as I try to get a recently purchased used car tagged so I can get it out of our back yard and actually drive it. I finally did go back to sleep close to 4:00 am, so the 5:30 alarm was way too soon!

After Peg and I put out 15 bags of clothing on our curb for the Purple Heart to pick up, putting finishing touches on a prayer to say at the House of Representatives tomorrow, taking Peg to the Metro so she could make a flight at DCA, and walking the dog I finally sat down for a few moments of quiet time.

It was then that I began to put things in perspective.  As much as I love baseball, it is just a game played by millionaires who are making even more millions for others.  In preparing for our move we have already given away more "stuff" than most people in the world would ever hope to own. Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church has been here for 150 years and will continue to thrive without me. We are moving to another wonder congregation Trinity Presbyterian Church in a sub-tropical vacation destination and can afford to purchase a 2nd car to make life there more convenient.  Modern travel makes Peg's work possible. I've been invited to pray at the Untied States Congress 13 times.  I know where all of my family members are and everyone has a job, clothing, a roof, food, accessible health care, and friends and family who love them. And, my dog Wilson reminds me to be the person he thinks I am.

So, what's the problem?  I think I'll take a nap!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wisdom from Wayne

Dr. Wayne Dyer died earlier this week.  I've heard him speak on several occasions, watched many of his PBS specials, and read even more of his books.  His practical, inclusive, holistic, and interfaith approach to spirituality has spoken to me and helped me grow into more non-dualistic understandings of the human-divine experience.   My observation is that he also evolved through the years from a psychological self-help author into a true enlightened mystic.

In four years of writing this blog I have referred you to many quotes and sources of my own spiritual evolution.  Rarely, if ever, have I deferred totally to a blog by someone else, but I do so today in memory and honor of Wayne Dyer.

Please follow this link for a brief reflection on Wayne Dyer and a few quotes from among his many quotable insights.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stuff and Joy

A person can accumulate a lot of stuff over a lifetime.  In preparation for moving, I'm spending a lot of time these days going through stuff, both at home and at work.  Among many reactions to the things I'm finding, two seem to come to the forefront.  

The first is - "Why in the world do I still have this?" The response to this is usually a quick heave into shredding, recycling, trash, yard sale, or donation pile.  Examples:  old college and seminary text books, cancelled checks (remember writing checks?), old bank statements, 3.5 floppy disks, photos of people I don't know, playbills, church bulletins, ticket stubs, and so much more.

The second reaction is - "Oh, I'm so glad I still have this!"  The response is usually to sit for a moment and remember someone or some place special in my life, then putting it aside to be packed.   Examples: just about anything my children created, family photos, little things that belonged to my parents, my great grandfather's pocket watch, things I will actually use, and not so much more.

The main difference between these two reactions is a question I learned to ask from reading a book about downsizing, Marie “KonMari” Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. The simple question is: Does it bring me joy?

It's a good question for all of us to ask about much of life - Does it bring me joy?  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Anything / Everything

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle.  But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.  Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes.  All is a miracle.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet God feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ...Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Look deep enough into anything 
and you will see everything.
The universe in a grain of sand.
Eternity in each fleeting moment.
A leaf holds the milky way.
Each breath the Wind of Creation.
The faintest sound the cosmic "ohm" -
an echo of the Eternal Voice,
"Let there be...!"
And it was good - very good!
Look deep enough into anything 
and you will see everything.
Look deep enough into your soul
and everything is a gift.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Musing on Jesus

Recently a Facebook Friend asked in a post, "What if Jesus had not been crucified? What would his life have been?  Would we even know of him today?  My friend's questions stirred my own imagination.

Who was Jesus?  I often muse about this. There was a flesh and blood person who lived two thousand years ago in the eastern Mediterranean region called Palestine. He was a baby who absorbed through his senses, learned, developed and grew, like all humans do.  He was a boy who played, got into mischief, tested his boundaries, and loved his parents.  He was young man who worked, studied, worshipped, dreamed, struggled and enjoyed life.   He had all of the life experiences that every human who has ever lived has had or will have.  His teachings of love, compassion, justice, forgiveness, and grace really aren't that exceptional when placed among the wide array of religious, philosophical, and moral traditions of his time and prior.  Like many prophets, priests, teachers, and shaman before him, he brought hope and transformation into the lives of people who encountered him.   He eventually died at the hands of imperial power because of his political and religious convictions, an end suffered by countless people through the ages.  Then his story took a dramatic turn into the world of mysticism, myth, belief, spiritualism and cult.  Eventually the story was institutionalized, appropriated and domesticated by the same empire that killed him.

Today, over two thousand years later, on the other side of the earth, in a culture that would be unrecognizable to Jesus, I sit and muse about who he was, and have dedicated my life's work to this musing.  Through it all Jesus' life, teachings, and story still bring hope and transformation in people's lives.  I think not so much so that we may believe he is God, but because he is so much like us.  For me, this means hope and transformation come through following the humanity of Jesus, more so than worshipping his divinity.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Surprise Visit

Last week I was in Estes Park, CO with a group of pastor colleagues for a third annual Pastor Theologian Retreat.  It is a week of fellowship, hiking, and conversation around a reading list of books we’ve all had for months ahead.  It truly is a week of sabbath, study and nurture.

This year the retreat could not have come at a better time.  The week before on the heels of resigning from Capitol Hill Presbyterian congregation where I’ve been pastor for the past twelve years, my brother Tom Walton died suddenly and unexpectedly.  So, a week I had intended to spend making personal contact with many church members, turned into a week with family and friends in the town where I grew up, mourning the death and celebrating the life of my brother.  It was the day after doing my brother’s funeral and burial that the retreat began.  

Four days into the retreat our group hiked the trail to The Lock and Sky Pond. While descending the trail, a colleague and I were on a section between Alberta Falls and the intersection with Glacier Gorge where a rather long, flat, rocky path hugs a craggy cliff above with a gorge far below with magnificent rock cliffs on the other side of the gorge. It is one of my favorite parts of the trail. We noticed a group of people ahead of us looking up into the craggy cliffs.  This usually means wildlife has been sighted.

As we approached we also realized a park ranger was in the group identifying their object of attention as a Big Horned Sheep. Friends who frequently hike in Rocky Mountain National Park tell me that it is rare to see Big Horned Sheep near the most traveled trails, especially one as popular as the trail to The Lock and Sky Pond.   

At first it was difficult to see the sheep because he blended in with the earth tones of the cliff.  He was posed for a few minutes as if to say, I’ll stay here as long as you want.  Then began to effortlessly move along the cliff in the direction we were walking.  For several hundred yards we walked together, pausing occasionally, the sheep high above looking down, and us gazing up to see if he was still there.  He followed along beside us until stopping just before we turned around a bend.  I looked back up one more time and watched him watch us until we were out of sight.

Later when I looked at my photos and zoomed in on several of them it seemed as if that Big Horned Sheep was looking straight at me. That’s when I remembered my brother Tom’s zodiac sign was Aries the Ram.

I don’t put much faith in astrology but I do know that we are all connected with each other and creation in more ways than we can ever imagine.  All of Creation truly is One, in life and in death.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


I picked up a bread clip and put it in my pocket,
just in case.

The small plastic square with a slit and hole
lay there on the dinning table with no bread bag in site. 
What would it do now? 
It had fulfilled its purpose, kept the bread fresh until the last piece
was spread with butter, peanut butter, mustard, or mayonnaise.
Now it was just another piece of plastic
headed for the trash or recycling bin. 
Instead it went into my pocket
As a reminder of closure. 

I need something to seal a bag of memories,
to keep them fresh until I am ready to consume them,
before they become stale
or they consume me.  

Slices of life need order,
to be taken one by one and
spread with tears, or laughter, or regret, or contentment,
to be slowly smelled, tasted, chewed, swallowed, digested. 
Each slice nourishes, satisfies, and sustains. 

Funny thing about this loaf of life,
it somehow stays full. 
No matter how many slices are eaten,
when the clip goes on new memories are
folded and kneaded into the old,
to sit, to rise, to bake.  

There is always an “end piece,”
the one nobody wants to eat,
the one fed to the birds or squirrels,
or put in the freezer for thanksgiving stuffing,
the one that leaves the bag empty,
the clip on the table.  

However, if that final slice is taken from the bag,
spread thick with hope,
turned around and
placed back in the bag,
it becomes a “beginning piece” for the next loaf.

I picked up a bread clip and put it in my pocket,
just in case.                 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Two Links

Sometimes life is so full you think there is no room for anything else.  Then the Spirit moves and reminds us that "the room" has no bounds.

Sometimes in a writer's/preacher's life the muse is silent and there are no words.  Today is such a day, so I offer two links.  Please follow both in the order I've listed them. You can't see them at the same time the way they are in my heart right now.

A Letter

An Obituary

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Last night a group from our congregation at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church were guests of the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies (IITS) at their Iftar dinner, the meal which breaks the daily Ramadan fast.   Each year the IITS invites other faith communities to share this meal with them nearly every day of Ramadan.

We had an educational tour of their mosque, and delicious food, but more so, delightful and insightful conversation with their Imams as well as the people of their community.  Looking around the room everyone sitting around the tables was engaged in animated conversation as they shared bits and pieces about themselves and their faith.

My own table conversation was with a couple who had just move to Fairfax from California and had been a part of IITS for only two months.  They wanted to know all about Presbyterians, while I asked questions about Islam, and Turkish Islam in particular.  And of course it was impossible in an hour's visit for either of us to have no more than a glimpse of the complexities within both traditions.

What did shine through however was something people of different cultures, religions, political parties, races, and nationalities discover time and again when we sit at a meal together and share our lives - we are far more alike than we are different.  We all have similar hopes, dreams, frustrations, fears, love, and joy in our lives.  We really are one human family, the conscious expression of the Eternal Mystery we call God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahman, or no name at all - One Eternal Presence.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
~ Romans 12:9-10

The twelfth chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans is one of my favorite biblical passages (read the whole chapter here - it's short!).  The particular verse quoted above came to mind this morning while listening to a podcast of an interview with Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus.  In the interview she talks about a conversation with some of the most wealthy CEO's in the U.S. and discovering that their motivation was not making money but rather "winning" and that money just happened to be the standard of competition in our economy. Then, she mused about what it would be like if another standard were used.

That's when I thought of "outdo one another in showing honor (or kindness in many translations)."  Sister Simone's "what if" is, and has been for eons, the standard for moral, ethical, spiritual, and religious life as taught by just about every religious and spiritual tradition - love one another as if the other is you.
Paul steps up the standard a bit by saying "outdo one another" in this effort.

Now there's a "what if" for us!  Oh, how the world changes when love, kindness, and honor become the standard for competition and winning in our lives.

Let the games begin!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Poison and Medicine

I just read a daily blog from Brian Johnson titled "Let's Change Poison Into Medicine."  In it he shares this wisdom from another author, Alex Lickermann:

“From the Buddhist perspective, I told him, all of us have the capacity to make use of any circumstance, no matter how awful, to create value. This ability to “change poison into medicine,” as it is known in Nichiren Buddhism, makes plausible the transformation of even the most horrific tragedy into something that enables us to become happier. . . .

... Believing in your ability to transform poison into medicine when you don’t know how, and often won’t except in retrospect, is difficult, I admit. But that’s the confidence you have to find. That’s the confidence that represents your greatest defense against discouragement.” 
Upon first reading this I couldn't help but think of the tiny pill I, and millions of other people, take every day that keeps us alive.  This tiny pill is commonly known as the drug Coumadine. It's generic name is warfarin.  That's right.  One of the most widely used and successful drugs in the world is actually a controlled dose of what was first developed as rat poison.

Without getting into the particulars of current events, let's just simply say there is a lot of poison in the world today.  Some of the most deadly poisons of human interaction are fear, hatred, greed, pride, and prejudice.  Perhaps it's time we as races, nations, communities, and individuals begin the difficult but necessary work of transforming our poisons into medicines.   

The very thing we fear may just be the thing we need to work with the most.  We just may need to first learn how to control the dose. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Nones, Dones, and Knots

There seems to be a lot of blogging, tweeting, talking, and just general buzz these days about different categories of people's religious and spiritual experiences.  We have the "nones" or "spiritual but not religious" people who do not identify with any institutional religions but still claim spirituality.  Closely related to nones are the "dones" who have been, and perhaps still are, part of institutional religion but are tired of traditional church and the way things have always been.  These people are done with business as usual and are looking for new ways to "do church," or "be church."

I want to add another category to this mix - the "nots."   The nots are the people with whom the dones are done with and the nones have nothing in common.  Nots are the people who are not going to change, as the old saying goes, "come hell or high water!"  Nots are happy right where they are and most of the time could care less about the nones or dones.  However, nots also see "the way things have always been" slowly slipping from their grasp.  So, they hold on tighter.

In many ways nots are like "knots" in a rope that get tighter or loose depending on which parts of the rope are pulled.  It you've ever untied a knot, especially a tight one, you know pulling at it from both ends only makes it tighter.  You must get in the middle of the knot and work or massage it, then pry and pull to create some space in the entangled loops.  Once this space is created the knot is easily untied.

I am not sure where all of this leads, except to suggest that perhaps the Nones and Dones of the world, whether in religion, politics, education, business or any other institution, may need to make sure they/we are not pulling from both ends and tightening the Nots.    

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Big Dots, Little Dots

To a worm in horseradish the world is horseradish.
~ Yiddish Proverb

Sometimes I wonder if there really is a dog.
~ The Agnostic Flea

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Recently I've been pondering big dots and little dots.  What started this pondering was an observation in a blog by Seth Godin in which he writes, "If you were able to shrink the Earth to the size of a billiard ball, it would be the roundest sphere ever created. Hard to believe this if you live near the edge of the Grand Canyon."

Actually the "if" of Godin's statement is true when you consider our current ablility to see the earth from both outer and deep space.  The famous photo of the "blue marble" circa 1968 shows Earth as a round ball. Later photos from Voyger 1 show Earth as just another tiny dot in what we commonly call a "starry sky."  As for the Grand Canyon, compared to the entire surface of the Earth it is a tiny dot. And, when we stand on its edge we feel tiny in comparison.

This is where human consciousness and awareness comes in.  Our worlds are as large or small as we perceive them to be.   We can be like the worm or the flea above- oblivious to the vastness of Creation, or we can be like the Psalmist who dares to look beyond, wonder, and question our place in the Eternal.

As is common in the Psalms, the Psalmist immediately provides the answer to his/her own question: Yet you have made them a little lower than God...   Another way to translate this would be Yet you have made humans almost Divine.  Then reading a little further in Psalm 8 we discover it is our purpose, our job as little dots, to take care of the big dot.  Even so, we are reminded as "almost Divine" dots we are still little dots participating in Eternity.  


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ready-Made World

"When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord..."
~ Deuteronomy 6:10-11

I've been thinking a lot lately about how humans are amazingly creative creatures.  Human imagination and physical skills are the source of so much that is around us.  Perhaps so much so that too often we take most of the wonderful things we call "modern conveniences" in our lives for granted. 

Actually many modern conveniences are imaginative adaptations of ancient ones.  Rarely does a truly new idea or discovery come along.  In so many ways we are given and live in a ready-made world. This is both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing is that as individuals and communities we don't have to start over. As the old expression goes, "we don't need to reinvent the wheel."  Countless intelligent, imaginative people have come before us who have discovered, adapted, created and left behind a world filled with art, industry, and institution.  Each of us is born into a ready-made world that we don't have to create.

This is where the curse comes in.  Because so much is handed to us from the beginning at least two dynamics come into play.  The first is that for many people so much is provided for us we lose our creative edge or use our imagination to create in negative or superfluous ways.  Our innate human creative nature becomes dull or dark.  The second dynamic is the assumption that everyone comes into the same ready-made world, that others have the same opportunities and advantages we have. The truth is some people's worlds are more ready-made that others.  In fact many people are born into worlds filled with the the dark, negative residue of the lost and misplaced imagination of others.

We live in a ready-made world.   Everything is a gift, even the imagination we use to create more. Many may think we hit a triple when we were actually born on third base.   Our challenge is to take the ready-made, innate, incarnate, God-given world and creatively adapt it for the common good of all which is the glory of God.   

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It's The Little Things

"...from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."~ Jesus, Luke 12:48

It was 7:00 a.m. and the streets of Capitol Hill were quieter than Christmas morning.  I was out for an early morning walk/jog on Memorial Day and walking up 8th Street SE, the section known as Barracks Row. The usually bustling street, even at 7:00 a.m., was empty.  At the intersection of 8th and D a police cruiser pulled in front of the only car on D St. that was parked in the last space before the "no parking" sign.  The police car was on the no parking side of the sign, partially blocking the crosswalk.  A lone officer put on his cap, got out of the car and strolled toward the Dunkin Donuts across the street. 

A simple question that I wish I had stopped and asked him began to turn in my craw and began to ask more questions like: "How many times have I seen the exact or similar thing happen in our neighborhood?  On another morning I saw an officer turn on the blue lights of his car, stop traffic while another police car u-turned, then followed the u-turning car to park (illegally) in front of a popular breakfast spot.  

So, here I am the epitome of priviledge (a comfortable, middle class, white guy) peeved at the arrogance of this and other police officers and I muse - no wonder in many places respect for those who are supposed to "serve and protect" has disintergrated into suspicion, fear, and in some cases violence.   

I know the disconnect and discord between law enforcememt and some communities is far more serious than little things like parking places and u-turns, but it had to start somewhere and most likely it was with little things.  Maybe this is where some rebuilding of trust and re-earning of respect might begin.

I wish I had asked that officer on Memorial Day morning,  "Why didn't you park in one of the many "legal" available parking spaces?"  I wish I had asked, not to confront him, show him up, or dress him down, but to simply let him know that someone noticed, and it didn't look or feel very good.