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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day of Atonement

Tonight at midnight people around the world will commemorate the passing of one year and celebrate the beginning of another.  Large crowds will gather in public spaces, friends will come together at parties, many will spend quiet evenings at home while counting down the last few seconds of 2014 and reveling in the first moments of 2015.

Looking back on the past year, some people will see it as the best ever, filled with accomplishment and purpose. Others will see a year of disappointment and regret.  Regardless of our perspective one thing is true for all, it is past.  There is also another truth - the perspective with which we look back is probably the one through which we see the future.   That is unless we change our perspective.

The beauty of setting aside a day for reflection on the past and contemplation of the future is it gives us the opportunity to change.   Most religions have days set aside for rituals of ending and beginning, of cleansing, repentance, and atonement.   The word "repent" means changing perspective, a change of heart.  This is change that goes far deeper than the resolutions and intentions of our diaries and journals.

In its own way New Year's Eve is a global day of clensing and atonement, a day of death and resurrection, a day of darkness and enlightenment.  We stand in a threshold of time and take one last look back, however long or brief, and step into the future.  And then we do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the..."

Every New Year's Eve I remember a bit of widsom from my late father-in-law who at some point during the day or evening of Dec. 31 would say, "If there is anything you want to do this year, you better get it done quickly."  His was a reminder of not only the fleeting nature of time, but also of the importance of acting in the moment, and making the most of each and every Day (of Atonement).

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Below is an excerpt from a longer essay entiled "The Last Supper."   It says a lot about how I have and continue to celebrate Christmas Eve.  For me it is a day of merriment as well as melancholy!

"...I do remember some of the suppers, especially those on Christmas Eve.  That was my daddy’s birthday, December 24, when we always had, and continue to have, our family Christmas gathering.  Some of my earliest memories are of the wider Walton family; grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, gathering at the old home place.   The air was filled with the smell of oyster stew, country fried steak, turkey and cedar boughs; accompanied by loud conversation and laughter.  Presents were piled higher than me under a fresh cut cedar tree that reached the ceiling.  I remember being confused because everybody called my daddy by the family nickname that I heard once a year, “Bub.”  It surprised me that he responded to it so naturally.  Looking back on it now, I think part of the genuine comfort I felt was in seeing him be a brother rather than a daddy or husband.  He loved Christmas Eve.  I did too.

When my Papa Walton died and my sisters, brother and I grew older, we began to have our Christmas Eve / Birthday celebration at our house with just our immediate family.  Some of it was the same.  There was still oyster stew, country fried steak, and turkey.  The presents weren’t piled quite as high, or else I had grown taller.  However, there was nobody there to call him “Bub.”  I imagine he missed that.

After that last supper, Christmas Eve suppers were never the same.  We even gave up on the oyster stew and country fried steak.  It’s turkey, ham or other things now.  There are still a lot of presents, loud conversation, and laughter.  One thing we can always count on is that somewhere during the evening, someone always manages to ask, “How old would Daddy have been this year?”   The profound sadness in the question is that now he would now be so old that he probably would have died by now anyway."

However, whenever, and with whomever you celebrate Christmas or Christmas Eve, my hope for you it that your celebration is filled with joy.    

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Last Sunday in our congregation we had a service of Lessons and Carols.  Before the service began I asked the readers did thay have any questions and the woman reading the lesson of The Annunciation said, "I'm ready to enunciate the The Annunciation."  She was closer to the truth with her quip than I think she realized.

Actually he story of The Annunciation as told in the Gospel of Luke  (Luke 1:26-56) is a clear "enunciation" of the purpose and message of Christmas, i.e. The Gospel.  In this rather strange story of two women, one elderly and barren and the other young and innocent, an angel visits them both and tells them they are pregnant and that the babies they grow and carry in their wombs will fulfill ancient promises of God's Presence, Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy for all people.

What is also unmistakenably clear is that these promises are fraught with the burden of becoming real in the anxieties, doubts, and vulnerability of human stories like those of Abraham, David, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  The "Gospel" is enunciated in stories of life and death so real and so common that they are shared by all people of all times, until it comes our time to speak clearly in our lives, with sharp diction and pure tone those same promises of Presence, Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy for all people. 

Christmas reminds all of us that each and every moment is our turn to enunciate along with Mary, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Then we, like her, become "God Bearers!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I don't know about you, but when I was a child the longest weeks of every year were the first three weeks of December.   It seemed like Christmas would never come!  The anticipation of Christmas morning and discovering what Santa would bring was nearly unbearable.

Of course that was before Christmas beginning as soon as, or even before, "Trick or Treat" fades from our ears.   And back when I was a child there were no such things as shopping on Thanksgiving or "Black Friday."  (why is it called "black" anyway?)  Christmas was all about Santa, except for the carols, cantatas, and pageants at church which were usually well over and done by mid-December.  In our Southern Baptist congregation there were no Christmas Eve candlelight services, much less Christmas Day worship.  "Advent" wasn't even in my vocabulary until in my thirties I discovered I was a Presbyterian.

My early understanting of Advent was that it was all about anticipation and waiting for the birth of Jesus.  Then I encountered a little phrase that shifted that perception, "waiting for one who has already come."  In recent years, I have shifted my perspective even more by giving up on the "waiting" part and focusing more and more on "already come."  Advent, has become for me a wonder-filled time of year to contemplate and experience the here and now Presence of God not only in the scriptures, stories, people and customs of the Christian Faith Tradition, but in all Creation.

Don't get me wrong.  I still anticipate Christmas and enjoy carols, cantatas, pageants, trees, lights, ornaments, presents, parties, and yes Santa!   What's different now is that through the years I have learned to appreciate the deep wonder and truth in The Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus and how it is so real and earthy and at the same time mysterious, mythical and even magical, and how so many people of different times and cultures have experienced this same wonder and truth in their time, place, and traditions.  

As a seasoned adult, the weeks (four instead of three) before Christmas go by faster than ever, and I find myself wishing they were longer. You might even say that when it comes to Advent and Christmas I'm a lot like that line from the old Bob Dylan song - "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

I hope you're having a good Advent, or whatever you wish to call it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The "Season"

Yup, it's that time of year!  Just last night in a conversation with several people I said, "As soon as Thanksgiving is over the rest of the year seems like a blurr."

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not a Scrooge.  I really do enjoy the "holiday season" even though it does get kind of hectic and over commercialized. But I can always make choices to slow down and not get caught up in the shopping frenzy, and also selectively participate in the madness.

I pretty much keep my December celebrations to Advent, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.  But, did you know that there are over 40 religious and cultural festivals and holidays observed around the world in December alone?

Something about this time of year brings out the introspective and extroverted nature of people. In my part of the world, maybe it's the long nights and short days that force us inside both literally, intellectually and emotionally, while at the same time motivating us to bring light into our lives with fires, candles, strings of electric lights, and parties.

Whether we are Christian celebrating Christmas, Jewish - Hanukkah, Pan-African - Kwanzaa, or even Seinfeld geeks celebrating Festivus, perhaps one of the best things for all of us is to enter the "season" with wide eyes, open minds, and grateful hearts, realizing we all share a common human bond:  the need to contemplate and celebrate who we are and what we believe.

So, here we go - Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

90 Seconds

Ninety seconds of confusion, fear, anger, panic, violence, and what actually happened in that minute and a half will never be fully known.  What we do know is that in a flash of time a life ended, families were devastated, and a community, both local and national, was splintered and drawn into the same fear, anger, panic and violence of those tragic fleeting moments.

Ninety seconds is the time it takes to brush your teeth, or put on your shoes, or drink a glass of water, but also enough time to say or do things you will regret having said or done, enough time to determine the rest of your life.

On this day before Thanksgiving Day is there anything we can find in these ninety seconds for which to be thankful?  Perhaps, but not until we understand that every "ninety seconds" is the result of all that has come before it.  When we feed our lives with fear, anger, panic and violence, guess what the next ninety seconds will produce.

Maybe on this Thanksgiving Day, in addition to turkey and all the trimmings, we, as individuals, families, communities, and nations need to begin a steady diet of kindness, patience, calm and peace. This is our only chance that the next ninety seconds will be any different.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


A friend recently asked, "Why is it I never heard about a Polar Vortex until a couple of years ago?"  I agreed with his question, but then immediately began to wonder what is a "vortex" anyway?

So I did what most of us do these days.  I "googled" it and discovered that a simple definition of vortex has to do primarily with liquid dynamics and is motion as that of a whirlpool.  It is also used to describe similar dynamics in gaseous and atmospheric form, such as a cyclone or tornado, or as in the case of our recent weather, the atmospheric phenomana know as a Polar Vortex.

I, like most people, am not a scientist or meteorologist all I know is that in the past few days here in North America the balmy days of autumn have rapidljy disappeared and it is suddenly winter.  We went from light sweaters and windbreakers to overcoats and scarves in a matter of hours.  In other words things changed rapidly.

The Polar Vortices of Earth, both northern and southern, are always there just like change is inevitable in our lives. Change may come in the form of a gentle breeze or babbling brook giving us time to gradually adapt and adjust, or it may come like a vortex sweeping away what was and sucking us into somthing different with little time to make adjustments.  We may have the luxuary of basking in Indian Summers, or it's "batten down the hatches!"

One thing we can count on is change, whether gradual or sudden.  The seasons come and the seasons go, and life changes.  Sometimes the only thing we can do is grab our coats, hats, gloves, and shovels and dig our way through.  Or we could build a fire, pull out the comfortors, settle in, and ride it out. Most often, as with winter, life requries both.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Beyond is Within

The Truth (with a capital "T") of most spiritual traditions is found in paradox.  In the Christian tradition, Jesus is a walking paradox as he continually proclaims the first as last, the poor as rich, the humble as exalted, the outsider as insider, and ulitmately life in death.

Paradox draws us into perspectives that are usually alternative to the dominate thinking, suggesting that perhaps our "way" of livng may seem progressive and productive, but is actually counterproductive.

One of these "ways of living" is the human propensity to first seek the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs of our lives from outside sources only to eventually discover what we really need comes from within us.  Literature and mythology are filled with examples of "hero" stories in which a person sets off on a journey to find something only to be led back to the beginning to discover what they are looking for was right under their noses all the time.  I also venture to say that most of us have our own hero stories of this sort.

So why do we keep looking for answers out there somewhere when deep inside, beneath layers of "coulds, shoulds, woulds, and oughts," we know were to look and seek.   I think perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, "Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven [within], then all the things [beyond] will be added."

The Kingdom of Heaven is sort of like the rear view mirror message - it is "closer than it appears to be!"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ritual Exchange of Power

Every two years we drive to the fire station and overthrow the government, and there’s not a policeman in the street. 
~Will McAvoy, character in Newsroom

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
~Exodus 1

Yesterday the people of the United States went to fire stations, schools, community centers, churches, and courthouses to participate in the peaceful ritual of choosing leaders at all levels of government.

Today some are celebrating victory while others nurse the wounds of defeat. A huge sigh of relief can also be heard from many because whether their candidate(s) won or lost, at least it's over for now. 

However, the ebb and flow of kings, empires, congresses, and city councils continues as the ritual of the next elections is already in motion.  And as the preacher of Ecclesiastes says, "There is nothing new under the sun."

Just beneath the surface of all exchanges of power, peaceful or not, lies the eternal human search for benevolent leadership that offers safety for purposeful participation by those being led.  Even if an empire "forgets Joseph" there will always come along a Moses to stir the memory, reminding that ultimately the leadership and deliverance we seek is not in the ballot box or coup d'etat, but rather beyond us and within us, in both burning bushes and flaming hearts.      

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists...
...The Master doesn't talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!"

~Tao Te Ching, #17

My kingdom is not from this world...I came into the world, to testify to the truth.
~Jesus, to Pilate

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Pay Attention

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles...what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles...In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.
~ Jesus

Most of what we think, say, and do in life goes unnoticed.  Sorry, but it's true. Many of us are not even aware of our own thoughts, words, and actions much less those of others, or theirs of ours.  Someone once said, "We wouldn't worry so much about what people think of us if we only knew how seldom they do."   

So, why should we even care?  Here are two good reasons:

#1 - Because what we think determines what we say and do, even when we are unaware of what we are thinking.  Our brains are constantly at work, even when we are sleeping.  Much of this work is unconscious and automatic to keep our bodies functioning.  However, neuroscience has shown us that even those brain functions are altered by the conscious thoughts.  What we think really does matter. We literally become and are our thoughts.

#2 - Because we never know which thought, word, or action of ours will affect someone else.  We rarely know when someone is paying attention, or not.  How many times have we thought we were paying attention to someone but realized our thoughts were a million miles away?  How often does an unexpected smile, kind word, or pleasant tone from someone catch us by surprise and stay with us?  So why not pay more attention to what we are projecting into other people's lives.

You can probably think of many more reasons as to why we should care about our thoughts, words, and actions.  But now the question is, how do we do this? 

Take a look back at the first words of this blog - Most of what we think, say, and do in life goes unnoticed.  We can change this by simply paying more attention to what we are thinking, and in turn saying and doing.  When we are mindful of our inner lives our outer lives begin to reflect that awareness.   

Even if no one else notices, we do.  And that should be enough, because we spend more time with ourselves that with anyone else.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Blank Pages

One of the most frightening and exhilarating things to a writer is a blank page.  Sometimes it glares back at you, telling you the "idea" bank account is empty.  Other times it invites you into the abundance of imagination, potential and possibility.  Either way, the page sits empty awaiting the pen or keystroke that makes it no longer blank.  Then we're off and writing!

Each and everyday we live is also a blank page.  "What!  Is he crazy?"  I can hear you now, because I also hear myself.  "You should see my schedule today.  Empty?  Hardly!  If only I had the luxury of and day with nothing on my calendar."

This may be true, and probably is.   However, just because we have things on our schedule doesn't mean we have no control on how are present in those spaces of time during the day.  We can determine our attitude toward the people with whom we meet and the items on our agenda.  Then if we look closely at each day's schedule we also discover blank spaces between our meetings, phone calls, and emailing.   Are we compelled to fill these spaces or satisfied to leave them empty and open to imagination and possibility?

Then again, we could look at the day ahead and say, "Chuck it!  I'm going for a hike, or reading a book, or taking in a museum, or..., or...

Regardless of how we fill the day ahead, we will fill it by the choices we make.  The content of each and every day is really up to us.

So, wherever you are in your day, filled or not, look for the blank pages and know that you hold the pen or keyboard that will fill them.  Then you're off and living.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


"Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch."
~Jesus,  Luke 5

Many years ago I was a lifeguard at a public swimming pool and one of the sidelines of that job was also teaching swimming lessons, mostly to young children, for the public recreation department.

We always started out in the shallow end of the pool were we learned to be comfortable in the water and under the water.  Then came the basics of breathing, floating, treading, kicking and finally arm strokes.  Once we had the basics in hand we worked on distance. Our first major goal was swimming across the pool without stopping. 

When students were able to swim across the pool they could go into the deep end of the pool. This is where things got interesting. There was usually one or more students who were afraid of going in the deep end, even though they could swim perfectly well across the pool, and sometimes back as well.    

My response to them always began with, "You can swim.  And when you're swimming it doesn't matter how deep the water is."  With most students it only took a few minutes in the deep water to realize this. Before long they were gleefully jumping from the diving board, which of course was usually their ultimate goal.

Like those children in the swimming pool, when we trust our capacity to acquire new knowledge and learn new skills, and then trust what we already know, this is usually enough for us to take the next step. Before long we're "swimming." And when we're swimming it doesn't matter how deep the water is.  Then comes the fun of jumping from the diving board!

So, it is time to get out of the shallow end and into deeper water?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Applied Knowlege

"Knowledge isn't power until it is applied."
~ Dale Carnegie, from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

" doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves."
~ James 1:22

"‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock."
~ Jesus, Matthew 7:24

If it is true that the fundamental teachings of all major world religions are some form of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and peace, and that most people in the world are familiar with these teachings and say they "believe" in them, then why is there so much hatred, selfishness, cruelty, condemnation, and violence in the world?

Dale Carnegie, quoted above, also says, "...if you would never read anything more basic or more profound than such hackneyed proverbs as ‘Don’t cross your bridges until you come to them’ and ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk.’...—instead of snorting at them—...we would lead almost perfect lives."

Truth be told, most people already know what we need to know to lead peaceful, meaningful lives if we would only put that knowledge into practice.  As author Robert Fulghum says, "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten."

We know "loving our neighbor as we love ourselves" and "loving ourselves as God loves us" makes life better, but how many of us actually do it?

How many of us "religious types" are actually practicing the compassion, kindness, forgiveness and peace taught by our respective religious traditions?

Just like the old song says, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin in me." Sounds to me like a pretty good place to start.  Actually it's the only place to start.

More quotes by Dale Carnegie

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


"For everything there is a season..."
~The Preacher of Ecclesiastes

Today is the first day of Fall.  I know the official first day of Fall is the Autumn Equinox on or about September 21.  But it just isn't Fall to me until October gets here.  The name even sounds like cooler temperatures, turning leaves, later sunrises and clear blue skies. Another unmistakable sign of Fall for me is the first hint of red in the small maple tree just outside our front door.  Soon it will glow like a burning bush in the early morning sun.

Seasons are creation's way of reminding us that change is not the exception but the norm throughout all of creation.  We live with an illusion that there is constancy in our lives when in actuality the opposite is true.  Quantum physics tells us that everything is, at some level, always in motion.   The Seasons are a constant never-ending cycle of decay and regeneration.

So are our lives. Like the leaves of trees, the cells in our bodies fall away and then regenerate.  The experiences of our lives quickly fade into yesterdays while tomorrows quickly become today. Every moment quickly becomes the next.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes, quoted above, also famously says, "There is nothing new under the sun" indicating that there is a "sameness" to the cycles of Creation.  But, what if the the constancy of Creation is it's ever changing nature? The more things remain the same the more they change, but change they will.

The wisdom for us in all of this is the more we know and accept change in our lives, the more likely we are to actually affect the changes, or at least our attitudes toward the changes.

One more bit of wisdom from The Preacher: "I know that there is nothing better for [us] than to be happy and enjoy [our]selves as long as [we] live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all [our] toil." 

Have a great Fall Season!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream. The oak sleeps in the acorn; the bird waits in the egg; and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs. Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”
~James Allen, from As A Man Thinketh

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…"
~Jesus, Matthew 13:24

I invite you to participate in a little exercise today.  As you go through your day notice all of the things you encounter through your senses and imagine who was the first to ever dream it. Who was the first ever to envision a fork, a coffee mug, a piano, a concrete sidewalk? - You get the idea.  I think you'll be surprised at how many fulfilled dreams surround us!

All the things we know as reality were once ideas, visions, dreams of someone.   This includes not only the positive that grows from thoughts of joy, peace, abundance, and generosity, but the negative things in the world the grow from thoughts of anger, fear, scarcity or greed.

Having done this for a while, then begin to notice your own thoughts and dreams.   What kind of seeds are you planting?  What are you bringing into reality in your life and our world?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
~ Melchizedek to Santiago in Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist,  "

The news around our house this week is the arrival of a new dog.  After nearly a year of "letting go" of our beloved family dog of 15 years, Baloo, we decided it was time.  Dog people can go only so long without a dog.

My wife Peg has recently been surfing the Washington Animal Rescue League website and last Friday night announced she had found a promising prospect that had just been posted, a five year old, black lab, retriever, chow mix.  So the next afternoon we call the WARL to see if they still had the dog.  They said someone had shown some interest and was thinking on it but had not put in an application, so off to the WARL we went.

We arrived only to discover that in the time between our call and getting there someone, probably those interested people, had put in an application on him.  The dog had been "pink carded" and moved to the non-public area.  Peg, convinced the attendant to let us at least see the dog.

As soon as we saw him our hearts jumped, but then quickly dropped.  He was just what we had been looking for but not available.  So we trudged off to look at the other dogs to no avail.

On our way out we stopped at the desk and Peg asked if we could leave our name just in case the application were to fail.   She gave our name and the lady said, "You're the ones who called before coming, aren't you?"

 "That was us."

"When you called I put a pink card on him for you just in case. The application on the dog is yours."

And as they say, "The rest is history!"

It all sounds and feels like conspiracy to me!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Just Another Day

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
~ Jesus

Slipping into stockings, stepping into shoes
Dipping in the pocket of her raincoat
It's just another day
~ Paul McCartney

It was just another day.  Thirteen years ago on this date the day began as so many had before and have since.  People awoke from a night's rest and started a new day, while others were going home after a night's work.  As the sun rose, commuters filled highways, trains, buses, and subways. Airports buzzed with normal early morning activity.   Farmers were already in fields, and sailors on seas.  People went about their morning routines, many of which included casual goodbyes to people they loved.  Most people, as we usually do, went into the day with apathetic, blind benevolence toward others and the world in general.  There were also people whose lives were filled with pain, suffering and anger.  People awoke hungry, afraid, and alone.  The sun did not shine in some places.  There were no jobs to go to, no one to say goodbye to.  It was just another day.  Yet, it became an extraordinary day.

Today is also just another day as are each and every day.  It lies before us empty.  Even though our schedules my be routine, busy or relaxed, and our plans elaborate or vague, the day ahead is still yet to be played out.  Much of how it unfolds depends on our expectations.  Things will occur beyond our control, yet we do control how we react to what happens outside our influence.

Most religious and spiritual traditions and practices teach that constantly dwelling on the past or continually dreaming of the future are discouraged because we can't change either.  What we do have is the present moment and a choice as to how we live it.  What we do have is today.  But it's not just another day, it's the only one we have.  It invites us and awaits what we have to offer.

Every morning, I find myself a different person. I’m always a mystery to myself. If I knew in the first hours of the morning, what I’m going to do, what is going to happen, what attitude or decision should I take? I think my life would be deadly boring because, well, what makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of a single day.
~ Paulo Coelho 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Plight of Toil and Pleasure

A questioning expression I've heard more than once in recent days is "Wasn't it just Memorial Day?"  Holidays and vacations are over, schools from pre-K's to universities are back in session, and businesses and organizations are already looking toward Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I'm thinking how appropriate it is that the week after Labor Day on which we celebrate work and working that we literally go back to work in many ways.

One day last week when I was still on vacation and taking a long walk I found myself waiting at a crosswalk along with a man on a bicycle.  We exchanged greetings and he volunteered that he was headed to work.  He said, "I sure wish I had the day off."  Then he quickly added, "But I sure am thankful I have a job."  

The "preacher" in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes tells us I know that there is nothing better for [people] than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live;moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. (Eccl 3:12-13)

This word "toil" implies that our work, or for some people the process of finding work, is not always fun and rewarding, that it can sometimes be laborious and even troublesome.  

So, this week or next when we find ourselves whimsically daydreaming of lazy summer days of rest and recreation and we are suddenly brought back to the "same old stuff" the "toil" of our workplace, or job searching, it is good for us to remember that God's gift to us is for us to " and drink and take pleasure in all [our] toil." 

This is how we, along with the man on the bicycle, can say, "I sure wish I was still at the beach, or the mountains, or wherever on vacation.  But I sure am thankful I have a job!" 

Ours is a plight of toil and pleasure to " happy and enjoy [ourselves] as long as [we] live."      

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Worship Attendance?

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 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.  The 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!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Grateful for Good Friends!

This week I'm on my 18th annual S3 (Study, Sabbath, Service) Retreat with 3 colleagues and friends, Skip Dunford, Bill Owens and Jeff Sockwell.  The four of us met in the summer of 1989 at Greek School as we began studying at Columbia Theological Seminary.  Graduating together in 1992 we moved to different parts of the country to begin serving as pastors.  A few years after that, we decided to get together for a week of lectionary study in Montreat, NC, and as the saying goes, "the rest is history."  After 25 years the bonds of friendship are as strong as ever.  It's good to be with good friends! We're having a great week of stimulating conversations, golf, hiking, and spending a few hours in service at a local food program.

So, having shared this, and in lieu of my regular offering, I offer for your reflection a daily email I have received for the past few years called "Daily Gratitude" by Wes Hopper.  Here is today's message of "Daily Gratitude."

"I love the smell of the 
 Universe in the morning!" 
             Neil deGrasse Tyson

I think it's great that Tyson's quote is
capable of expressing the joy, beauty and
optimism that it does. Can't you just
feel the excitement of a new day in what
he says?

I like it even better because of its history.
Tyson has taken a deeply negative and
nihilistic quote and turned it into poetic

The original quote was from the 1979
Vietnam war film, "Apocalypse Now"
and was actually said by Robert Duvall
as "I love the smell of napalm in the

The point of the movie was that the
prolonged and inhuman violence of war
left people teetering on the edge of 
insanity. Or over it.

Most of us have a choice very day - do 
we face the day with the optimism of 
Tyson, or something more like the 
pessimism of Duvall's character? 

The difference is in what we focus on,
because what we focus on is what grows 
in our life. 

Do we greet the day with joy, do we see
beauty and opportunity, do we know 
the Universe is there to help us, are we 
glad to be alive?

If so, then we too can love the smell of
the Universe in the morning!

Take a deep breath!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vacation Vignettes - Stop. Look. Listen.

"Be still and know that I am God!"
~Psalm 46

"Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence."
~1 Kings 19


This morning while walking along a DC sidewalk I came upon two women, one pushing a baby carriage and the other walking a dog on a leash (both quite common in our neighborhood.)  The uncommon thing was that the dog decided it was time for a rest, stopped and simply lay down right in the middle of the sidewalk.  The whole party took a break in the shade until the dog was ready to go again.  Dogs have a lot to teach us "always on the go" humans.


A couple of weeks ago while hiking down a mountain trail, having just seen some amazingly breath-taking vistas of snow capped mountains reflected in alpine lakes, I met a couple who had just visited a beautiful waterfall which is a popular lower elevation destination.  When I said good afternoon, they pointed up the trail and asked me, "Is there anything worth seeing up there?"   It occurred to me that often times what is "worth seeing" may take a little more effort, or it could also be just around the next turn, and even right in front of us.


Earlier this week we were on a public beach enjoying the sand, sun, and surf.  The sounds of the beach were familiar, and pleasant: children laughed (and sometimes cried) as they played in the water's edge, there were snippets of conversation as people walked past our chairs, also the occasional drone of small aircraft that towed the next advertisement banner. Seagulls announced to their friends the most current feeding location, and of course there was the ever-present, hypnotic rhythm of breaking waves that somehow blended the entire cacophony into a spell-binding, semblance of silence.  Then, permeating it all was the identifiable, amplified bass beat of unidentifiable music.  The spell was broken.  I wonder now if perhaps my "sounds of silence" were as annoying to them as their music was to me, and how easily we are distracted from hearing the world around us. 

"Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? ... ‘Do you not yet understand?" 
~Jesus - Mark 8

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Meanderings on a Golf Course

I'm taking a few days vacation and today I was grateful to be with some close friends at a practice round of the PGA Championship Tournament in Louisville, KY.

I had never attended a professional, much less major, golf tournament before today.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts.

1- Logistics! I was amazed at the planning, organization, imagination and implementation that turns a golf course into a venue that moves, feeds, entertains and otherwise meets the needs of thousands of people while the golfers move casually from hole to hole getting to know the course and preparing for the actual tournament.  

2- All of this reminds me that we take for granted so many of the logistics in our modern world that are behind the services, products, and institutions that make our lives comfortable.  Take a minute and express gratitude for all of the people, systems and logistics that provide food, clothing, water, transportation, government, and education (the list is long) for us.

3 - Next, as I watched the golfers, many of whom I've seen on TV and read about on sports pages for years, I was reminded that they, just like other professional such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, teachers, and salespeople (again the list is long) are dedicated, practice their skills, take pride in their work, sometimes make mistakes, and above all have fun and enjoy what they do, taking time between holes to sign autographs and pose for photos. 

4 - Finally I am reminded of the sometimes incomprehensible disparity in our world.  As thousands of people like me and my friends, not to mention the millions watching on TV this weekend, watch and enjoy a sporting event, people on other parts of our planet are experiencing unimaginable violence, pain, heartbreak, and death as conflicts and wars rage in their homelands.

Just a few observations and reflections while hanging around a golf course today.

Listen to Capitol Hill Presbyterian Sermons. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Musings on Kierkegaard

This week I am participating in a Pastor/Theologian Retreat with 10 other minsters and a seminary professor.  We are spending part of our days hiking and conversing along the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park and another part in more formal conversations around several pre-assigned books.  One of the authors we are discussing is the 18th century Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard.  We have been reminded of how influential Kierkegaard is on our modern western understanding of the world even to the point of coining phrases and ideas that are now common place.  Here is a partial list:  "Leap of faith."  The "Masked man."   We are "people not numbers."  "Subjectivity is truth."   "What labels me negates me."   "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."   "Life must be understood backward, but lived forward."

Below are a couple of my favorite Kierkegaard parables for you to ponder:

"A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it's a joke."


"There was a little town of Ducks. Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes it place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible (Ducks, like all other creatures on earth, seem to have their own special version of the Scriptures.) He reads to them: “Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!” All the ducks shouted “Amen!” And they all waddled home."

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Sometimes I am asked if I really do believe in One Eternal Presence of God that encompasses all of Creation, then how do I understand and experience the fear, hatred, and violence in our world?  I must confess that in recent days I've asked myself the same question.  Sometimes I do feel like the agnostic fleas below.

Very little seems to make sense when innocent people are shot out of the sky, communities and families bombarded and destroyed, children seek safety only to be met by  military troops, and a man is murdered on a city sidewalk by those who are supposed to protect.

The truth is there are no logical, reasonable answers to the age old questions of theodicy, or the problem of why a good God would allow evil.  Every religious tradition seems to have its particular perspective and teachings some of which include elaborate mythologies of cosmic, spiritual battles between good and evil forces, with the good always winning out in the end. But these mythologies and theologies seem to always fall just short of a truly satisfying resolution.

Another truth is that regardless of our ideological or theological explanations of evil; fearful, hateful, and violent acts still persist, and as a result we experience suffering.  Humanity has a knack for causing ourselves and the natural world pain.  It is true that when we harm another we equally, if not more so, harm ourselves.

When I get caught in this paradox of good and evil I am reminded of how the teachings of the world's religions continually call us back to a simplicity of living in love that Jesus says is "Loving God with our whole lives, and loving each other as we love ourselves."  To me this means recognizing that God "Is" eternally present throughout all of Creation, in every person I meet, every flower I see, every molecule of water I drink, and every breath of air I take.

Does this make pain and suffering go away?  Of course not, but it does allow an ember of hope to glow within the most seemly hopeless situations.  It reminds me that the worst things in life often contain the seed of the next good thing.  It also reminds me that when we fail to recognize the God in each and every fellow human being and the entire created order we open the door to fear, hate and violence.

So, perhaps in the end the ultimate question of theodicy is not really a God problem but a people problem.  And the answers lie within our own actions.   
Love God (God is everywhere).  
Love neighbor (Everyone is our neighbor).  
Do unto others as I would have them do unto me (We are all in this together).

An Invitation to Participate in a Ramadan Iftar
tomorrow evening, July 24, 2014.

Important Reminder!  Just one week left.
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If you haven't already subscribed as outlined below please do so now. 

One Eternal Presence will be using a new email delivery system beginning in August. If you wish to remain on the emailing list you must take a minute to subscribe. Please follow the link and complete the simple process which will include a verification email to activate your subscription.    SUBSCRIBE HERE

FYI - there is no need to unsubscribe to the present service as that will take place automatically on August 1 if you do not subscribe to the new service.   Actually unsubscribing now will prevent you from receiving it through July.

If you have any questions please let me know.

Thanks to each of you and I look forward to many more weeks and years of sharing with you.       


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stone In My Shoe

Today very soon into my morning walk I noticed a stone in my shoe.  At first I thought, "it's not that big and will probably work its way somewhere into my shoe so I don't even notice it."  So I walked on listening to a podcast in my earbuds.  Unfortunately, the stone stayed right in the middle of my shoe and with every step I took it became larger and larger, but I kept walking.  That's when I noticed I had not heard the last five minutes of the podcast because I was thinking about the stone in my shoe.  In my imagination the stone had become a boulder, much like this one:

I finally interrupted my pace, paused the podcast, sat down and unlaced my walking shoe to find this:

How often do we do this very thing with events in our lives?  How often do we make a "mountain out of a mole hill" or a boulder out of a tiny pebble?  How often does a small irritation become a major problem because we didn't address the small irritation in the first place?  I think if we are honest with ourselves the answer to all of these is "Too often!"

It just so happened that when I went back in the podcast to hear what I had missed while contemplating my "boulder" I heard this quote from author Tony Robbins to which I add my own words in red, "Five years from now, if you remember at all, you’re gonna laugh or smile at whatever’s stressing you out now, so why wait?!?” 

So, what's stressing you now?  Is it a boulder or a tiny pebble?  What will it look like in five years?

My guess is that it's probably a tiny pebble worth at least a big smile, if not a chuckle!   So, why wait?

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One Eternal Presence will be using a new email delivery system beginning in August. If you wish to remain on the emailing list you must take a minute to subscribe. Please follow the link and complete the simple process which will include a verification email to activate your subscription.    SUBSCRIBE HERE

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Thanks to each of you and I look forward to many more weeks and years of sharing with you.       


Wednesday, July 9, 2014


When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes and said, ‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’ And their eyes were opened.
~ The Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 9

I've been thinking about faith recently and exactly what does it mean to be a person of faith.

As best I can determine the word "faith" (pistis in New Testament Greek) appears in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke 24 times.  In every instance Jesus observes and acknowledges faith as an active agent in others that leads to seemingly impossible results, usually healing and wholeness, or what we would refer to as a miracle.  Jesus commends people for their faith and also scolds some for lack of it.  

In every instance faith is something profound within the person that leads to action.  Jesus never refers to faith as adherence to doctrine, ritual, or custom, nor does he define it.  Jesus leaves the definition of faith to be determined by the results of its presence or absence. 

Once when Jesus disciples had some problems with an exorcism this little exchange took place:  

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’   
Matthew chapter 17.

All of this seems to prompt the questions, is there evidence of faith in our world and our lives, our "communities of faith", or "faith based communities" ?  

Are there stories of healing and wholeness?  Are mountains being moved into seas?  Are we or not "people of faith?"

If I were on trial for being a "person of faith" according to Jesus criteria would there be enough evidence to convict me?

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One Eternal Presence will be using a new email delivery system beginning in August. If you wish to remain on the emailing list you must take a minute to subscribe. Please follow the link and complete the simple process which will include a verification email to activate your subscription.    SUBSCRIBE HERE

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Thanks to each of you and I look forward to many more weeks and years of sharing with you.       

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Love and Compassion

"Love your neighbor as yourself."
~ Jesus (and countless others)

For the past six months or so in Saturday Morning Mindfulness that meets at our church we have been spending a portion of our time exploring love and compassion in our lives.

The exercise we do is pretty simple and straight forward.  While in a mindful awareness (simply sitting relaxed, still and silent) we remember a time when we felt unconditional love and acceptance in our lives.  This could be a long standing relationship with another person, the devotion from a pet, a fleeting encounter experienced in a smile or eye contact with a stranger, or even a moment in nature when we felt connected and accepted for who we are. In the exercise we call this remembered feeling our "benefactor."

After identifying our benefactor, whoever or whatever that may be, we imagine ourselves bathed in the light of our benefactor, and then that light resting and glowing deep within us.  We relax in that feeling of total, unconditional love and acceptance of who we are.

The next steps of the exercise invite us to share this light of unconditional love with others as we imagine and envision the light of love within us going out to someone else with no strings attached.  We imagine the same unconditional love and acceptance that rests and glows deep within us as also resting and glowing in others.

We do this first with someone close to us with whom we already have a loving relationship.  This is the easy part.  Then we identify a neutral relationship in our lives, perhaps a person we see regularly on the sidewalk, in a frequently used business, at the gym, or in our place of worship, and we extend our light of love to them.  Finally comes the difficult part which is to extend our light of love to someone with whom we have an adversarial relationship, someone who has harmed or hurt us, someone who we truly dislike.  In all cases we project the unconditional love and acceptance of our benefactor to others without the expectation of anything in return.

Finally we return to the light of love and acceptance within us and rest in it for a moment before ending the exercise.

I invite you to find a few minutes today or sometime soon and try this simple mindful practice of experiencing love and practicing compassion in your life.  The more you do it, the more you will begin to recognize and feel the love within you, as well as the countless opportunities to share that love with others, even people you don't know, and especially people with whom you are in conflict.

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Thanks to each of you and I look forward to many more weeks and years of sharing with you.