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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!