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Wednesday, September 25, 2013


As one walks the sidewalks and parks in Washington, DC on any given day you will encounter numerous people wearing badges.  Actually I think it's safe to say there are more badges on the streets of DC than perhaps any other city in the country and perhaps the world.  And, I'm not talking about badges of law enforcement.

The badges to which I refer hang at the end of lanyards (some disappearing into shirt pockets), and are clipped to belts, purses, and backpacks.  These badges identify people who work for our government, are contracted by our government, or are businesses and non-profits who work closely with our government - all providing vital services, many of which go unnoticed and unappreciated in our daily lives.

Many of these people are my friends and neighbors.  Some of you are reading these words right now.  I was once myself a civilian employee of the Army for nearly 12 years before going to seminary and becoming a minister.  In a sense as a pastor in DC my work is still closely associated with government because as most of our parishioners and participants are active or retired "badge wearers" during working hours.

"Of course this is true of Washington, DC," you might say.  Because it's a company town and the company is government.  But the same is true no matter where we live or whatever size the city, town, or community.  Our friends, neighbors, family, and perhaps even we are the clerks, commissioners, council members, maintenance people, planners, educators and citizen committee members of government in our communities.  I have intentionally but not disrespectfully omitted firefighters, law enforcement, and military from this list because in many ways we already notice and appreciate them.

All of this has really come home to me in the past week as our neighborhood of Capitol Hill was traumatized by the tragic shooting deaths at the DC Navy Yard.  And now a little over a week later after the media frenzy, obligatory outrage, moments of silence at ball games, and solemn memorial services, we are left to ponder - who were the people who died and are the wounded both physically, emotionally, and psychologically?

They were people who went to work on a Monday morning to jobs that perhaps they had done for years and were looking forward to retirement, or jobs to which they were new and thankful to have.  They were and are mothers, fathers, grandparents, wives, husbands, partners, friends, neighbors all with hopes, fears, dreams, and imagination.  They were the government of Abraham Lincoln "...of...for...and by the people."  They were and are you and me.  They are us.

If you are a "badge wearer"  I say to you right now,  "Take it out of your shirt pocket and wear it proudly.  Do your best to make it a badge of honor."   But most importantly, I simply want to say, "Thank you!"

Wherever you may live I suggest that today you begin noticing who in your community are wearing these badges of honor.  And even if you disagree with their ideology or politics or governing style, say, "Thank you."   They, you, we deserve it!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


"I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
Psalm 23

In times of trouble, despair, fear and loss a place to which I often turn for comfort is the 23rd Psalm of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.  I have done just that this week as in my own neighborhood tragedy visited the Washington, DC Navy Yard, then quickly echoed throughout the community and country.  At the same time pounding rains feeding raging flood waters subsided in Colorado to reveal more loss of life, property and livelihood.  

As shocking and disturbing as these tragic events are in our communal lives, the pain and grief of those who lost family and friends is even more profound.  It is times like these when we, the ones left behind, truly are in the "shadow of death."  

But we must remember, being in the shadow is not death itself.  We are still here, painful and confusing as it may be at times.  And, even though we are in a shadow, we know that somewhere there is light.  However, sometimes the shadow is so dark, so faint we think we are in darkness.  But because there can be no shadow without light, we know it is there - somewhere.  So we turn, looking, seeking the light. 

In most spiritual and religious traditions the image of light is intertwined and often synonymous with the Holy, the Eternal, the Divine, God.  In nearly every tradition there are teachings that this Holy, Eternal, Divine, God - Light is not only other and apart from us but also within each of us as the spark of life itself.  

So, when in shadows and we turn outward finding only more shadows, perhaps turning inward we discover the spark that is our own life waiting to be kindled.

"...I will fear no evil for God is with me."
Psalm 23

“You are the light of the world...No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others..."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where were (are) you?

Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Hiroshima, Nagasaki are "where were you" moments for my parent's generation.  I was born seven years after the end of World War II.  The images and words of these events in my personal memory come from the stories, books, photos, and movies of others where for the most part good guys were romanticized and bad guys were demonized.  Yellowing folders of discolored construction paper from elementary school are littered with childlike drawings of planes, ships, and soldiers battling "the enemy."  Audie Murphy and John Wayne were my heroes.

It wasn't until October, 1962 that I would have my first and own "where were you" moment.  Seared in my memory is the somber voice of President Kennedy talking about missiles in Cuba.  Then there was Nov. 22, 1963.   Five years later when I was 16 years old, and entire year was filled with personal "where were you" days and moments, among them: Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and my own daddy's sudden death.  There were also thousands of television images from a place called Viet Nam.

"Where were you" moments are of course not always tragic.  In the wee hours of a July morning in 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.  There were high school  and college graduations.  Then came the first time I saw my future wife, and our wedding day.  The births of our daughters. An inner voice calling me into a new life of ministry.

Twelve years ago today I sat in my car in the parking lot of the Forsyth, Georgia Post Office and listened to the early and confused reporting of a "apparently small" aircraft flying into one of the World Trade Center towers.

There is an entire generation alive today who have a similar  relationship with what we simply call "9/11" as my generation had with World War II.  They have no memories of their own, only what they read, hear, and see - only what is passed on to them.

My question today is simple.   How do we remember, individually and collectively, not just 9/11 but all of the "where were you" tragedies of our lives in ways that honor lost life with integrity without perpetuating the dehumanizing anger and fear?   Perhaps another question we can ask in not so much "where were you?" but rather "where are you?"



Wednesday, September 4, 2013


"The disciple is not above the master."
- Jesus, Matthew 10:24

The Greek word for disciple is "mathetes" (math-ay-tes'), which means: a learner, a pupil, a student.  It is the word Jesus used to describe the people who followed his teaching and example.  The "disciples" were students and Jesus was their teacher.

It is the season, and this week in particular, when millions of students of all ages from pre-K to graduate level in the U.S.A. and around the world are "going back to school."  Classrooms, lecture halls, and seminar settings are alive with learning as teachers and students interact, share, and explore.

Being students and teachers is not just confined to formal education or religion.  Somehow the process of learning is innate in all creation.  As information, knowledge, and experience are given, taken, explored, examined; then shaped, molded, and adapted in light of new information, knowledge, and experience - learning changes lives and the world.

So as we enter the rituals of official beginnings of a "school year" perhaps it is good for us to remember that every day is the "first day of school" and all of creation is our classroom.  Within every interaction we have with nature and every exchange with another person there is a teacher and a student learning together.  And there is always the caveat of  - who is teacher and who is student?

"...go therefore and make disciples..." 
 - Jesus, Matthew 28:19