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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

You Only Die Once!

“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”   ~ William Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar

"Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it"  
~ Jesus, Luke 17:33

Remember the old James Bond novel/movie titled, "You Only Live Twice?"  The basic premise of the title and story is that Bond fakes his death in order to infiltrate an enemy plot.  Of course the title is a play on the phrase, "You only live once."  In reality both are somewhat true.  We do only live one lifetime, but within this lifetime we have numerous "second chances" to re-imagine how we go about living our lives.

The same can be said of death.  Each of us will die only one time.  However our lives are made up of many deaths as we "die" to former ways and embrace new ones.  A primal example of this for the vast majority of humanity is learning to walk.  In learning to walk, the necessity to crawl literally disappears and dies. The appropriation of language may be another example.  The point is there are many natural deaths throughout our lives.

Unfortunately we also have a penchant for imagining unnecessary deaths. These are the fears of our demise that never transpire, fears that often times keep us from exploring and fulfilling the potential and possibility of claiming our true humanity. In this vein, Mark Twain is reported to have said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." 

Of course this is not encouragement to do foolish things and intentionally endanger our lives or the lives of others. It is, however, invitation to let go of the "risk aversion" that seems to have permeated our collective and individual consciousness.  Why not stop living the "thousand deaths" of fear we encounter daily.

What are we afraid of anyway?  Death?  Jesus, not to mention the whole of creation, reminds us that death is a given.  By totally accepting the fact of our "one death" we find freedom from the many deaths, however great or small they may be.   Perhaps this is the way to let fear die once and for all so we can get on with truly living.     


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You Never Know

The last time we ate at the Columbia Restaurant in Tampa's Ybor City, Peg and I were in Tampa in 2009 for a conference/retreat which was part of our anniversary celebration that year. Little did we know the next time would be to meet our daughter, Jayme, there for dinner six and half years later - and we would live in the Tampa Bay Area in Clearwater.  You never know.

The same can be said for just about anything we do, or anywhere we are. Look back in your life five years, or even two, and ask, "Did I have any idea I would be where I am in my life today?" And the "place" need not be physical. Perhaps our different place is a shift in attitude, or perspective, or belief. It could be the loss of someone close, the renewal of a friendship/relationship, the discovery of a new talent, or a reawakening of lost passion for life.  Whatever it is, one thing is for sure, we are not the same person we were then.

Here's a twist. We also won't be the same person tomorrow or five years down the road. Things change. And when they do, we humans have two wonderful qualities that allow us to not only survive change but to flourish in it. We have the ability to dream and envision our future, and we have the ability to adapt to whatever circumstances come our way as those dreams and visions unfold. In doing so we plant seeds for the future, either consciously or not. And because we may not be aware of the seeds we are sowing, we may be surprised at what eventually grows. Who knows - maybe we were sowing such seeds nearly seven years ago while enjoying a weekend respite and a good meal in unique restaurant?        

Recently I've had a persistent phrase rattling around in my mind, "We know what we know - until we know something else." And of course you never know what that "something else" might be.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Shape of Absence

We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But, actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.  ~ David Whyte

The quote above comes from a beautiful and captivating conversation between English/Irish Poet-Philosopher, David Whyte and Krista Tippett on Ms. Tippett's radio/internet show, On Being.  The idea and image that absence has shape never really occurred to me and now captures my imagination.

To me, and I suspect to many others, absence usually means empty, nothing, not here. For someone to be absent means they, you, or I are not present.  However, if as Mr. Whyte suggests, absence has shape we begin to imagine what this shape looks like and what fills it, and as he says "...what you're going to pass on and leave behind you..."  Looking at the big picture, "What is a person's legacy?" 

However, there are smaller shapes of absence.  What about when we simply walk out of a room or leave a building?  What do we leave behind?  How about simply passing someone on a sidewalk or even on a highway at a much faster speed?  What is the impression or shape we leave for those who stay?  Is it pleasant, kind, positive, cheerful, encouraging?  Or, do we leave a trail of fears and tears?

Of course all of the small shapes end up becoming the substance of our larger shape of absence. The truth is, like it or not, we leave a shape of absence.  What that shape looks and feels like is determined by whether or not we are actually engaged and aware while present.  The way in which we are missed and remembered is in many ways equal to the way we participate here and now.  This is also the way we miss and remember those whose absent shapes we experience and eventually inhabit.

As the season of Easter continues, perhaps one way to explore Jesus' resurrection is by embracing the empty tomb as the shape of Jesus' absence.  Jesus leaves a shape of love, compassion, forgiveness, and justice which we are invited to enter, inhabit, and live.  By doing so we then create similar shapes of absence for those whom we encounter along life's way.  Is this perhaps what Jesus means when saying, "Follow me?"  Isn't he inviting us into the shape of his absence?   

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Have you ever had a day when it seems like your whole world is screaming "Say, 'Uncle!?'"  I'm having one today, which is why those of you who subscribe to this blog by email are getting it on Wednesday afternoon rather than the usual Wednesday morning. 

Let me begin from three weeks ago on Palm Sunday when I said in my sermon that what we commonly refer to as Jesus' "Triumphal Entry" into Jerusalem was a actually a "Surrender."  I went on to talk about how we as Christians are called to surrender our fears, especially our fear of death and our need to control our lives.

Fast forward to today.  I awoke this morning full of anxiety, I'm embarrassed to say, over the weather and a baseball game.  Well, not just any old game, but the home opener tomorrow for the Washington Nationals which Peg and I have looked forward to for weeks.  In comes the weather - 100% chance of cold and rain for most of the day in DC!

So I began my early morning routine which these days starts with a guided meditation followed by at least three regular written daily meditations and affirmations that come by email subscription.  Then I take a long walk and listen to a podcast.  This morning every one of these sources had a common message - "Surrender!" Give up the need to control circumstances that are beyond control and make good choices to change my thoughts and perspective.  In other words, all of my "inspiration" for today basically said to me, "PRACTISE WHAT YOU PREACH!"

So, tonight I'll pack layers and rain gear and look forward to a great couple of days in DC and Baltimore with family and friends - and maybe even a baseball game.