Pentecost 23

Pentecost 23
My Psalm 23

June 30, 2014
Ramadan; Recipe

He was a college graduate, soft-spoken, well-dressed, and very professional in his work. Cordial but not over-friendly, my new coworker seemed as out of place to the others in the office and I felt. Very kindly he showed me where the office supplies were kept, and then offered to answer any questions I might have. Not the most auspicious beginning of a deep friendship but it was enough. To my surprise, the only thing people held against him was his faithfulness to his religion.

Most of us have a holy time in our spiritual walk. For some it is a meditative time; for some, the season of Advent; for others, the penitential season of Lent; for some Hanukkah. No one laughed when another coworker who attended the same church I did and I moaned about giving up something for Lent. Everyone loved the Advent calendar someone put on each desk and the daily bit of candy received when the calendar window for that day was opened. So why get bothered by a man who came in early, left ten of fifteen minutes late every day and always had his work done? The same people that took two morning and two afternoon smoke breaks felt it improper that this man took two or three prayer breaks. He was Muslim and so, during the day, would pause for his daily prayers.

“Do unto others” often means something we are not prepared to do, even though most of us would agree it is a great rule to try to follow. However, when it gets right down to it, we somehow never see the other person’s perspective. The Islamic coworker had his own office when I started in the department but soon reshuffling took place and he was put out into a larger room, his desk at the back of the grouping. He would quietly roll out his prayer rug and kneel beside his desk but still, people would not resist trying to engage him while he was in prayer. I had a private office and so, after a week, stopped him one morning as he picked up his prayer rug and took it from him. “It goes in here,” I told him, walking back to my office. He followed, puzzled. I gave him back to him and told him, if he didn’t bother me sitting at my desk while he prayed, I’d be honored if he used my office whenever he liked.

We became even closer and shared religious opinions, debated, and respected our own faith and the other’s beliefs. He gave me a copy of the Koran in English to read, explaining that one really had to read it in Arabic to really “get it” but reading it in English should prove interesting. Whenever I cooked food and took to the office, usually a breakfast treat for an early morning meeting, I made sure it complied with his religious tenets since no one else had culinary restraints due to their faith or diet. In short, we treated each other as we would have liked to be treated…..and were. We were two people with two strong beliefs in two Abrahamic religions. I think Father Abraham would have been pleased.

We are now in the season of Ramadan for our Islamic brethren. From sun rise to sunset, they do not eat, paying penance and giving deep meditation to their faith. From June 28th to July 28th, they will partake of this ancient tradition, marking their devotion and engaging in the introspective, peace-finding beliefs that mark Islam. There will be no big parade or brightly decorated windows. They will be respectful, peaceful (if they are truly faithful), and they will experience their faith at its most individual and deepest level. I hope you will honor those you know who are Islamic as they go through Ramadan. It is, after all, what Jesus of Nazareth commanded us to do – for all people, for all times.

Recipe –Savory Squares
This recipe can be made with sausage or, if you are feeding an Islamic friend (Muslims do not eat pork.), ground beef or perhaps turkey. I should note that I deliberately waited until after sundown to post today’s blog in respect for our Islamic friend. Enjoy, please! [Remember that Jewish friends that eat “kosher” do not combine dairy and meat. However, this is great when using only vegetables and/or vegetable burgers!]

1 cup biscuit mix: either dry biscuit ingredients according to your favorite recipe or a prepackaged biscuit mix
1 cup milk
3 eggs
12 oz (1 ½ cups) grilled or sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms, sliced squash – your choice!
1 pound browned meat: sausage, ground beef*, ground turkey*
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce
8 oz grated cheddar cheese
*season beef and turkey to taste – salt, pepper, etc.

Prepare: Brown the meat and sauté or grill the vegetables. Drain both very well. Let meat and vegetables cool for five minutes and then add 6 oz of the grated cheese and stir well. Beat eggs and add milk. Add dry biscuit ingredients to eggs and milk and mix well. Pour the biscuit/egg mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Combine the meat/vegetables/cheese mixture and pour into the baking dish. Cover with the remaining 2 oz of cheese and bake in a 375-f-degree oven for approximately thirty minutes or until cooked. Cut into squares and serve with fresh fruit or a green salad. Bon Appétit!

My Psalm 23

My Lord is a great God.
There is nothing I will ever face
That He cannot defeat.
He will protect me and comfort me.
I may be lost in a jungle of hatred;
I may fear for my life.
God will be there with me.
He is my refuge.
He is my protector.
He is my God and I am never alone.

Pentecost 22

Pentecost 22
My Psalm 22

June 29, 2014

Social Faith

Today is Social Media Sunday in the Episcopal Church of the USA. Parishes are encouraged to develop a social media presence, something along the lines of learning to speak the language of the people which, in today’s society, includes social media. On a more personal level, however, parishioners are being encouraged to tweet during the service, take a selfie in the pew, etc. The overall intent is to spread the good news of the gospel.

I haven’t a problem with Social Media Sunday and think any parish that has not already set up a website is really preparing to close their doors, not just for the night but forever. Whether you like computers or not isn’t important; they are here to stay. Obviously, if you are reading this, you have a computer or know someone who does. At the very least, you know how to operate a computer at your local library.

It should be just as obvious that so do I. I also have a twitter account and a FaceBook page. I would not say I am a social media hound or even enthusiast. I use it and understand a bit of it. It is, however, the communication tool of the 21st Century and anyone wanting to communicate can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist. All those kids that ended up in typing 101 because they flunked the pretest for advanced chemistry have an edge on those of us who did not take typing. They might not be getting the last laugh but they are communicating better. Communication not only gets things done, it moves the world and faith forward.

My foray into computers was rather uneventful. Actually it was decidedly uneventful, to the point of being a failure. However, that failure proved profitable. Being a school teacher in one of the three lowest-paid states, I had just enough money to keep the bank from closing my checking account once I paid all my bills. I did not have enough to qualify for free checking. My using the automatic account card, though, did. I did everything correctly but still managed to crash the system each time I attempted to use it. Once, after church, a bank vice-president followed me from the parish coffee hour to a nearby ATM and watched me try to take out the minimum allowed. He concurred that I was doing everything correctly and then sighed heavily as the machine had its meltdown. The bank promised me free checking if I promised not to use their automated system. Clearly, I felt, computers and I were not compatible.

I managed to continue my free checking, with some preplanning of my needs, and got along quite happily until being hired by the federal government. A computer somewhere in the vast computer system that was the human resources department of the Department of Defense decided to turn my twenty-two years of playing piano and twenty years of playing organ into forty-two years of “keyboard education” and that meant I was qualified as a computer systems analyst. No matter that I was not even thirty years old yet and could not possibly have more experience than I had time on earth, the computer had decided it and so it was. Talk about some quick on-the-job training and praying!

This morning I began online, counseling and supporting someone whom the Episcopal Church in her area has treated poorly. Because of her strength, those who would rather follow than lead fear her and have treated her like most people who are scared – they bullied her. I do not use that term lightly or without forethought. When people of faith ridicule others for not thinking the same, when they refuse to allow someone else to help because they “aren’t in the crowd”, they refute everything the Episcopal Church and the Bible proclaim.

We are about to enter the third year of a three-year initiative in the Episcopal Church promoting “Invitation.” I asked an Episcopal priest, not long after the initiative began, who he was inviting to the Church. He replied: “People just like me; People I know.” When I pointed out that such an attitude would eliminate most of God’s children, he look surprised. None of us are exactly the same and apparently God loves that. He didn’t make just one type of aquatic animal or just one mammal. We have a plethora of flora and fauna, mountains and valleys. Even the weather varies, sometimes from extremes all within a few hours in the same town. God likes diversity!

We cannot assume, as the DOD computer did, that all should be the same. One keyboard is definitely not just like every other keyboard. I press C-E-G on a piano and get the happiest chord in the world, the same tones that casinos use because they evoke happiness. Press a C-E-G on a computer terminal keyboard and you get “syntax error” and nobody is happy when that appears. We should not assume a new way or new person isn’t valuable. We should listen and then try. All of God’s creation has value.

The best advertisement for God is the kindness, love, and welcome we show to all. We are his best social media. Our behavior must be inviting and our selfies must reflect His love.
My Psalm 22

Dear God, where have you gone?
My brothers and sisters in Christ mock me;
They shut doors in my face.
They show me no compassion.

Where is the fault in me, O Father?
I am your Child, your creation,
Just as they are yours.
Do they not see that?

You are the Lord.
All is your creation, made by your hands.
Your image is in all.
Your creation reflects your love and it is good.

I am not a clone.
They fear their uniqueness;
Mine makes them uncomfortable.
Where are you in them?

I sought to spread your love.
My arms ached to be of service to your children.
They deny me that right
While much is left undone that I could do.

You, O Lord, have promised us love.
You will use me.
You will deliver me
From the persecution of their fear.

The bullies will perish;
The faithful will prevail.
Your loving children will triumph.
The future belongs to the faithful.

Pentecost 21

Pentecost 21
My Psalm 21

June 28, 2014
Win, Lose, or ….

The World Cup is currently happening. Several years ago the United States of America hosted it. My family and I happened to be traveling during the games and stopped at a turnpike hospitality center. The place was full of World Cup enthusiasts from every nation participating, I think. We sat leisurely and just listened to the glorious sound of the different languages and dialects. My youngest leaned over and asked an older sibling if we were at the United Nations. His brother told him “No, this is just what America really looks like when we stopped trying to talk Hollywood.”

This year it is Brazil’s turn to host and I’m sure somewhere in that colorful country a small child is marveling at the various languages being heard just as my child did. People are enjoying different cultures and foods while supporting their favorite soccer team. Officially designated as “association football”, soccer is much more than a European version of the game of football so well-known and loved in the USA. Soccer is about the numbers more so than a win or lose label. Thus, even though the American team lost their match to Portugal, they remain in competition. Football is all about whose has the most points. IN that way it is similar to the old saying “He who has the most toys wins”. Of course, being that person isn’t a compliment but in football it is.

Soccer is more like life. There are days when you win and then there are the days, much more plentiful, when you seem to lose. Basically, most of us consider ourselves lucky if we come out even; in soccer, that would be the tie. A tie counts in competition soccer; it does not in football.

The outcry from Americans when the American team tied speaks to out mentality of the guy with the most toys winning. It is nothing to be proud of and yet, in football, in it everything for which one is proud. Last year the winning coach of the number one team got a salary increase to something like five times his boss, the university president. No wonder students get confused and think the college’s main priority is the team and the winning. Forget the academia; let’s play ball!

Columnist Daniel Ruth with the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa FL, isn’t big on the World Cup and dares to publically ridicule the intensity of its fans. When one fan’s team lost and the fan declared the day to be the worst of his life, Ruth mocked the fan. Of course, when someone pitched a no-hitter against the Marlins, the Florida baseball club decided to sell unused ticket stubs as if to celebrate their defeat. Maybe Ruth felt the rioting by both Kentucky and Connecticut fans during the Final Four of basketball was a proper response to a sports event. Juries in Florida return with a verdict and riot police are called out. Yet Ruth finds a wearied fan vocal upset at his team/country’s loss heartbreaking extreme?

Games are played and the outcome is that someone wins and one or more lose. It is called competition. In life, though, it is sometimes not as clear what is a win and what is really a loss. Sometimes when we think we have lost, we’ve really just given ourselves more time for a win. At the end of the day, if we can say we broke even or that it was a draw or tie, we’ve also really won.

We tend to get so worked up over the win/lose column, that we ignore everything else. The player with the most homeruns in a game is often on the losing side. The football player who just made history with the most rushing might also be on the losing team. Even in the Olympics, the best athletes don’t always end up wearing the gold medals. They are, however, aware that just by being there, by showing up, they have already won.

God/Allah/Creator does not insist that we win every minute. The Supreme Being, the Mother of All, the Creator Father, just asks that we show up. We aren’t to “dial in” our living but to go about each play, each move, with intent in faith. The score might read tie or even loss but the victory is in the living. It really is true: It’s how you play the game that counts. And, Mr. Ruth, when you don’t show up and play with all your effort, it really might be the worst day for someone. It’s all in how you play the game that counts and in how you live your life. Hand in hand, faith by faith, it’s how we treat each other.

My Psalm 21

The laurel wreath will wither eventually.
The gold medal is heavier than I ever thought.
The Oscar will collect dust just as easily as any vase.
The bronze plaque will not polishing as some point.
My trophy is a dirty old sweatshirt, spattered with paint and a child’s dinner.
And none would have been possible without you, O Lord.
Each day is a gift you give us, to enjoy your creation.
Whether we win or lose, we have your love.
Your love strengthens, supports, sustains.
We are victorious because you had the victory.
You are the greatest, O God.
We give you thanks and praise your name.

Pentecost 20

Pentecost 20
My Psalm 20

June 27, 2014

One Ringy Dingy

We had our new puppy approximately three days when I realized it did not know his food came from the kitchen; he was unaware of his name; he seemed as surprised as I was when he went to the bathroom; and he thought I was his personal waiter/valet/entertainment. He did, however, after three days, know the sound of a doorbell. Since ours had stopped working two weeks before we brought the dog home, he had learned that from television commercials. A puppy that paid no attention at all to either music or the television had apparently understood the “ding, dong” popular as an introduction to a variety of commercials. I either had a brilliant dog or he had quickly grasped the concept of how to get a response and the importance of such.

My first association with a telephone is from my earliest childhood. We lived in a city and most homes had a telephone which was often on a party line. Party lines taught people respect since several families would share the same number. If you picked up the receiver and someone was talking, then you put it down and waited for several minutes. Whoever was on the line would hear the pick-up and try to wrap up their call as soon as possible. Occasionally the phone would ring for the wrong family and either the party calling hung up and tried again or someone would take a message and then pass it on. People seldom listened in on another’s call because, well… respect.

My cousins lived for the most part in rural settings so not all had telephones in their houses. They considered themselves rather lucky. No one disturbed them in the middle of the night with a wrong number and if someone wanted to tell them something, they had a visit and share good times. One cousin had a telephone that did not have a rotary dial. You simply picked up the receiver and an operator answered. I had spent time at my father’s office and had used the switchboard there as well as the rotary dial phone at my home but, to me, the phone with the operator was marvelous! I thought the telephone operator had to be the smartest person in town!

Telephone switchboards were manual during my childhood. An operator sat in front of a high-paneled desk. The back panel consisted of incoming and outgoing trunk lines connected to rows of female jacks which identified separate extensions of the switchboard. On the table portion of the desk were keys, lams, and cords. Each cord circuit had a front key and a rear key, a front lamp and a read lamp, and a front cord and a rear cord. The front key served as the “talk” key while the rear key was used to ring the telephone. AS a call was received, the jack lamp would light up and the operator would then place the read cord into the corresponding jack. The operator would then ascertain who the caller desired, put the front cord into the correct extension jack and the two could converse. I’ve left out the keys that had to be switched but, as complicated as it sounds, I often worked the switchboard as an elementary youngster. It was a great highlight of visiting the workplace to be able to sit at the switchboard and utter the answering spiel for the office. More modern PBX systems exist and most are now computerized but I still think the telephone operator was a great job.

Necessary to be a telephone operator was a pleasing voice, the ability to remain cordial, and etiquette. Regardless of the color of the skin of the caller, the value of their clothes, their address or the value of their car, they all were greeted the same.

Prayer gets the same type of response. I’ve never read of any belief system that felt praying at the most expensive address in town granted you a swifter response than praying in a local park, public library, or a derelict building which had fallen prey to rats and pigeons.

“One ringy dingy…two ringy dingy. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?” The line was made famous by Lily Tomlin in her portrayal of the telephone operator character Ernestine on the 1970’s television show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”. Ernestine was not the modicum of telephone etiquette but her nasal tone and upswept 1940’s hair-do somehow endeared her to millions of viewers each week.

Somehow, our imperfect, human life endears us to our Maker. He/She overlooks our faults and answers our call, each and every time. How often can we say we do the same? Do we value our time more than showing compassion? Where will such a choice take us?

My Psalm 20
In the midst of chaos, God hears me cry.
Amid the churning turmoil of the world,
My voice is heard.
He will give me what I need;
He will take care of me.
He is never too busy to answer my call.

Material things may shine brightly;
They will tarnish and break.
Faith and love are everlasting.

Praise be to God
Who hears our every word.
Thanks be to God!

Pentecost 19

Pentecost 19
My Psalm 19

June 26, 2014
Anticipation

Henry David Thoreau once said: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.” Perfect, sure, right, clear, pure, true. Those are adjectives used to describe the Creator, the Supreme Spirit, Allah, God, Yahweh, G-d, Mother Earth. Some might even use them in describing Jesus although others would say if Jesus was a man, then he could not also be a God, etc., etc., etc. But is there an expectation of those words being used to describe us or something about us? Would we want them used to describe us?

Perfect. Most would say that humans cannot be perfect, although generally that statement is more a defense than a real belief. Many spend millions trying to achieve physical perfection. I have never heard of anyone critiquing a star on the red carpet at a Hollywood gala saying: “Oh, dear, look at Miss Star-of-the-Moment in that coffee-stained, lime and pink dotted bodice with that far too short purple and orange striped mini skirt and bright yellow boots covered in mud. Of course it is understandable that she looks horrible; she’s human.” In 2008, the YWCA USA organization issued a statement paper entitled “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women, YWCA”. They published some fairly amazing statistics. For instance, a woman spending fifty dollars a month on a manicure could instead invest that fifty dollars a month in a retirement account. If the account earned eight percent interest to be compounded annually, in ten years the woman would have earned herself over nine thousand dollars. They also quote mental health professional Maggie Vlazny: “Self esteem is a core identity issue, essential to personal validation and our ability to experience joy.” We tend to expect perfection in others and are critical to their humanness.

Sure. While self-esteem comes from within, outside factors validate it or destroy it. No matter a person’s job performance and their ability to do the job, personal appearance has also been proven to be a deciding factor in people receiving pay raises. Perception is how we process stimulus. It is based upon what we know, our past and our present. A hungry person is seldom as cordial as one who has just satisfactorily eaten their favorite food. If in our past, every dog we ever saw was vicious, then we will assume all dogs are vicious, an incorrect assumption but correct when considering only the dogs from our past. Of course, that assumption does not consider the reason for the dogs’ behavior. There is only the certainty that one’s expectation of a vicious dog will be correct.

Right. Trompe-l’œil is an art form in which the artist paints something that isn’t really there. It is a specific art technique dating back certainly to the Greeks and perhaps farther back that uses realistic imagery to create an optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions. In architecture a similar technique is called forced perspective. While tromp l-oeil has gone in and out of fashion in art and murals as well as the use of forced perspective being the architect’s saving grace when needing to build something larger than life on a small budget, it should not become a way of life. Sadly in some political circles it has, without apology, some even boastful of their deceit in being “right”.

Clear. Clarity is a necessary thing when moving forward. It is also necessary when involved in communication. A translator might end up causing a war if it was not clear as to the context of the word. For instance, translating the word scale could get a bit tricky and result in a lack of clarity. The word scale can mean the flattened rigid plate forming a part of the body in an animal, an instrument used for measuring, a metal sheathing attached to a piece of artillery which protects the gunner, a series of notes differing in pitch arranged according to a particular pattern within an octave, a specialized leaf, a think flak of epidermis, an indicator with graduated marks, to climb by means of a ladder, a specific reference standard approved by an organization or governing body, relative magnitude, a regulated pattern….one word, many meanings, not so clear without proper context.

Pure. While any young child would correctly define “pure” as being clean and without harm, most of us want it to be evidence-based proof, a definitive answer that will never waiver, cause harm, and hold up to the test of time but more importantly to the ravages of man. Good luck with that and “he who is without sin” can really expect purity. Most of us just cast stones, in our impurity.

True. Interestingly enough, the word “true” is really one of the world’s simplest words in definition. It means that with which one is in agreement. There are no volumes of standards to meet, no evidentiary rules with which to comply. You simply have to believe it for it to be true. Perhaps we should return to the word’s origin in etymology. Originally it meant “having good faith” or “steadfastness”.

What we do screams what we believe. Most of us think our actions hint at our beliefs but that is incorrect. The man who scurries past the street musician without throwing a dollar in the hat but spends two thousand dollars annually for a symphony membership so that he can brag and hobnob with the upper echelons of society is screaming that he really could care less for music. The woman who fails to see the homeless in our society as being regular folk who simply haven’t a place to hand their hat is not a compassionate soul. The truth of our actions, in our effort to be perfect, clearly illustrates the inconsistency in our truth and purity of motive but emphasizes our sureness in the making materialism our god instead of having faith. Every person is beautiful but we must work at showing and living that. If we are to show God’s love, we must believe in His glory of ALL creation – not just that which the plastic surgeon can carve.

After all, the same sun is as beautiful in its rising as in its setting. What counts is that we simply anticipate its beauty and novelty without critique. Surely, it is true, perfect, clear. It is only right that we acknowledge its truth.

My Psalm
This Psalm concludes with one of my most beloved scriptures and I balk at an attempt to rewrite it. First I would like to quote its closing verse:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.”

My Psalm 19
Help, O Lord, to see your glory in all.
Help me not to be critical or lazy;
Help me to show your Love.
May all I do, think, and say
Reflect your glory, your strength, your faith in man.

Pentecost 18

Pentecost 18
My Psalm 18

June 25, 2014

To the Victor… Many defeats

Ask who is the greatest example of persistence in American history and most people will answer Abraham Lincoln. His story without embellishment is a great tale but through the years, folklore has obscured fact. Lincoln was a leader, a capable leader. Contrary to modern political leanings, though, he was not perfect and neither is the pop culture biography most know about him.
Lincoln was born in Kentucky but it was a slave state and Thomas Lincoln, the father of young Abraham was not a fan of slavery. His church opposed it and Lincoln wanted to compete as a farmer fairly, not with someone who employed salves. Legal land rights in the 1800’s often were disputed and seldom surveyed. Many average citizens found themselves sued by absentee residents who claimed ownership of the land, usually after the simple farmer had already cleared it for farming. Thomas Lincoln took advantage of available, legal land in the neighboring Indiana territory and moved his family willingly, not losing the family homestead but freely moving to a better and properly, legally owned plot. On the new farm, the tall, healthy young Abraham happily worked the family farm like most children in rural settings. His chores supported the family but to claim he supported his family is hyperbole.

Abraham Lincoln’s mother did die when he was age nine but women seldom lived a long time during the 1700-1900’s. Complications from childbirth were the leading cause of death for women and even today rank among the top five reasons for the early death of women worldwide. Lincoln accompanied a cousin in the delivery of provisions from Illinois to a New Orleans businessman and worked for the businessman until the business went under. Lincoln lost his job but not because of his own lack of business acuity.

In 1832 Lincoln lost a legislative election, the only time he lost to a direct vote of the people but later that year was elected captain of a volunteer militia company. Typical of the period, Lincoln went on to become a lawyer through individual study and courtroom observing. His application for law school was not accomplished though no record of why exists. Certainly his becoming a lawyer in the manner he selected was not deemed illegal nor unusual for the times. He joined a friend in a business venture which could not compete against a larger store in town and the business did fail. Within the year, the business partner died and Lincoln eventually paid back both his debt and the partner’s but the sheriff did seize some of Lincoln’s property as payment. However, also within two years of the store closing, Lincoln had a position as US Postmaster and also worked as a surveyor.

Two years after his first attempt, Lincoln again ran for state legislature and won. A year later, a love interest and good friend died. He took a month to visit an old friend but then returned to surveying, served in the state legislature, and conducted a rigorous reelection bid. All of this proves claims of his having a nervous breakdown implausible. Reelected to the state legislature in 1836 and 1838, Lincoln was licensed to practice law in 1837. He was named as a presidential elector in 1839 and campaigned as a Whig party elector during the 1840, 1844, 1852, and 1856 presidential elections. He won a seat to the House of Representative from Illinois in 1846. He did not run for reelection in 1848 due to party guidelines which encouraged party members to step aside after one term. Upon leaving Congress, he allowed himself to be considered as a commissioner of the General Land Office but lost the appointment which was made by the Secretary of the Interior who selected a Whig party member from another part of the state. In 1856, Republican attendees at their national convention put Lincoln’s name into nomination as a Vice-Presidential candidate. Lincoln was unaware of this and was not in attendance. He was not elected but did not have a bad showing for an unknown nationally, receiving thirty percent or 110 votes out of the 363 cast.

The 1858 election for US Senate resulted in Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debating and lending their names to a new form of debate. If the Republican Party had won control of the Illinois state legislature, Lincoln was considered to be the Republican’s choice to replace Douglas. Although Lincoln won over fifty percent of the popular or people’s vote, his party failed to gain control and Douglas was reelected. In 18660, Abraham Lincoln was elected president and was reelected in 1864. His life is the story of most leaders, people who are probably best described as being “Energizer bunnies”. They stumble; they sometimes fall; yes, they even fail. What they do not do is give up. They continue to fight the good fight in the ongoing thing called life.

The exact degree of Lincoln’s faith is an argument historians continue to have today. Living in a time where less than twenty-five percent of Americans were official members of an organized church, Lincoln never officially belonged to one denomination or faith. However, he strongly believed there was a God and that man was an instrument to be used in doing that God’s will. In September 1862 during the Civil War, Lincoln wrote: “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against, the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party—and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By His mere quiet power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

By today’s standards, Lincoln would probably not be considered “good enough”. His is not a story of perfection nor did he have the perfect profile that would go viral within twenty-four hours. He did things his way according to his belief of right and wrong. He believed in the goodness of man and of God. He loved his country and felt a true American continue the struggle. He neither apologized for his commonness nor felt himself better for it. He did his best…continually.

We are not all the same nor do we need to be. We each have our own talents and the world is better because of them. Whatever our strengths, though, the will to try, and the courage to persevere should never be ignored or forgotten. It is something we all can do and need to do. The victor is not the one who wins. The victor is the one who never stops trying, whose faith and beliefs give him/her strength.

My Psalm 18

To you, my God, I give all glory.
It is hard to remember to do that
In the midst of daily strife.
I walk the paths of righteous and stumble;
I strive for goodness but fall short;
Detours would deter me from doing your will.

Sometimes my own vanity is my greatest hurdle.
You grant me mercy and forgiveness;
You give me strength.
Your love feeds my courage.
Your mercy forgives my weaknesses.
In you do I trust.

I know you are by my side.
When adversaries block my path,
You show me a new way.
Yours is the genius, O Lord;
Yours is the glory.
I am but the hands with which your work is done.

I continue to live;
Another day slips onto the horizon.
Just as the sun is your creation,
So am I and you care for all of your creation.
The glory is yours, O God, as the brambles fall away.
You alone are God; the victory is yours to own.

Pentecost 17

Pentecost 17
My Psalm 17

June 24, 2014
Delivery

Childbirth is how we all arrive. The situations are different and no two are exactly alike. Every single human being ever to walk on this earth and sadly, even those that perished before they could walk, all got here through childbirth. It is the process of humans being delivered.

The process is not easy but neither is it usually complicated. Even when there are complications, those are generally forgotten in the joy of the event. While there is pain, the reality of the process of childbirth has not stopped humans from procreating.

When we give birth to other things, though, we forget our arrival. We tend to expect our new project to be smooth and without issue. The reality is that most days are Mondays – the day where everything that can go wrong usually does. Life is messy. Life is chaotic. Life is all about birth and rebirth, our delivery of one day and then, twenty-four hours later, delivering another.

Psalm 17 contains what very well may be the first use of the cliché “apple of the [your] eye”. You know what it means – being the bright, innocent, chosen one. Even in the decades of the writing of the psalms, the phrase referred to innocence and protection. After all, if someone is the apple of someone’s eye, then they are protected because they are as precious as the fruit of life that sustains.

By His death we are delivered. With His love, we deliver ourselves to grace. The delivery, though, is just the beginning. WE need to live our beliefs and do it such that others see those beliefs. We need to guard our faith and choices so that others are delivered to goodness through them.

The believer is not promised a life of luxury. The believer is promised salvation at the end. In-between there will be trials, tribulations, and tears. Difficulties and decisions that are not easy are part of the package as well but in the end, we have eternal glory. In the end we realize that those few moments of distress during the delivery that is our life are lessons that strengthen and teach. The rewards are not just at the end but in the process, the journey. Yesterday’s lesson through struggle is today’s light that leads us forward.

My Psalm 17

I am innocent of deceit, O Lord.
My prayers are sincere.

You grant me mercy and pardon.
I pray you see my truth, please.

I call upon your name, O God;
In the light of your love, I see my eternal home.

Guard me, dear Lord as I am hunted
By those without grace who seek to defeat me.

As your child, Lord, I am the
Apple of your eye.

Protect t me from those that are as a
Splinter in my eye.

By your promises I rely on your protection
And in the end I will fly away to glory in your arms.

Pentecost 16

Pentecost 16
My Psalm 16

June 23, 2014
A knot of love; the ties that binds

There are so many things that define us and separate us that we sometimes forget the basic things that bind us. Knots are one of those things most cultures have in common. Archeological digs have unearthed bone needles with openings on one end or notched ends that were ancient methods of using thin animal sinew and/or plant fibers to construct a knot.

The Chinese dictionary “Shuo Wen Chieh Tzu” defines a knot as “the joining of two cords”. Knots go back at least seventy thousand to one hundred thousand years in Chinese culture. Of course, only the utensils for making these knots remain since the knots themselves were organic and degradable. There is evidence of these knots and their importance in the culture. Bronze Chinese items from 450-220 BCE and Buddhist carvings from 300-575 ACE as well as silk paintings from 200-the first decade after the Common Era illustrate such. Literature of the periods and private letters also note the inherent and integral place that knots held in the lives of the cultures.

This knotted cord culture was tied (pardon the pun!) to their spirituality of the people as well. The term for “rope” has a similar pronunciation related to terms used for “spirit” and “divine”. Knotted cords or ropes were part of the worship ceremony and daily ritual with these knots being cherished for their meaning. Knotting was not only practical in daily life, it was important in their religion and in paying homage to their ancestral heritage.

Knotting was also a means of communication and a method of record keeping. A symbolic representation of historic events, the size of the knot and its girth often indicated the importance of the event being remembered or archived. Thus the simple knot was a means of utilitarian purpose, religious and spiritual worship, communication, and a historical record.

The knot also had aesthetic expression. Traditional Chinese garments were enhanced with knotted sashes as well as embroidery which consisted of a series of knots. Musical instruments were adorned with knotted sashes as were lanterns, jugs, mirrors, and even swords. At least eighteen different types of basic Chinese knots exist today. One example is the “mystic knot”. Its endless and repetitive pattern evokes one of the basic truths of Buddhism which is the cyclical nature of all life. Together with other examples such as the Celtic knot, the mystic knot created an atmosphere of well-being, good luck, good health, and harmony.

What we often forget, though, is that a knot joins two ends, two different parts. No matter the color or texture or fiber used, the knot joins together what has been apart. Without that separation to begin with, there could be no joining. Just as faith and our spirituality serves to connect us and bind us together in times of trouble, the simple knot connects us with who we are when we might be at risk of being lost.

In the book “My Neighbor’s Faith, edited by Jennifer, Howe Peace, Or N. Rose, and Gregory Mobley, there is an essay written by Laurie L. Patton. She talks about being a confident, twenty-something in a strange land and unable to fully communicate in the language of the people. She finds herself on a road alone as darkness falls in northern India while her traveling companion sets out to find more gas for their scooter. Trying to be inconspicuous as she waited, Laurie had sat on the side of the road, pulled her sari close around her head and watched the daily life of the area pass her by on the road. “Sewing in Silence” tells the story of what happens when two women approach her from the cane fields behind her perch on the roadside. The two women say on either side of her and looked out on the people passing by. After almost an hour, Laurie realized they were there just to be with her. They did not speak her language nor she theirs but all three understood the simple smiles they shared. Laurie eventually pulled out her embroidery, her way of meditating, and made a French knot in the cloth. She urged the women to try and they all three laughed at their attempts. Then the women showed her some knots. They exchanged only about five words in the almost two hours that they sat and knotted but what they shared was real, connecting, and beautiful. Soon her companion returned with gas and help and once again her journey continued. As she writes: “The compassion of presence, a teaching in all religious traditions, has no need for words.”

We are bound together. Some of our ties are religious, shared denominations or beliefs. Some are heritage-based, either geographical or physical. Some are knots, things that seem to be endings that become beginnings. The compassion of presence, the way we show love, how we are present in the moment is the bridge that connects us, the ties that binds.

My Psalm 16
You are my shield, O God.
In you is my trust.

Constant is my faith;
It ties me my heart to my soul amid life’s messes.

You are my heritage,
My counsel, my heart.

Your words are my compass;
Your love, my balm when life packs a punch.

You are my life raft, a bridge of love and safety
On the waters of life.

I rejoice in the
Glory of your goodness.

Pentecost 15

Pentecost 15
My Psalm 15

June 22, 2014

GPS: The road leads to …

It is a common theme in current events today: tanks blocking roads; refugees crowing into neighboring countries; loyalties used in defense of heinous crimes, brother against brother. One group is given strict rules for living in an area or face death while others pretend to pray for peace while assembling bombs. Our direction seems a bit skewed.

The science of navigation has had many stages in the development and history of man. Simply put, navigation is the science of moving, of getting from point A to point B and further. Though speaking specifically about computers, the website “yourhtmlsource.com” succinctly defines the importance of navigation: “The importance of your navigation structure cannot be over-emphasized. Without some sort of navigation, a site [person] loses all sense of structure and organization.”

Somewhere around 3500 BCE, man began building and sailing boats large enough to require navigation. Until then, people stayed close to familiar territory and used known locations and terrain to know where they were. Once on the water, similar navigational practices were employed. Boats were put out to sea during the day and stayed close enough to land to identify locations. As man ventured farther away from the shore, he relied on the positions of the son during the day and the North Star at night to know his direction. Although some mariners studied the stars and used constellations for direction, there was no way to determine longitude and the stars only gave estimated latitude positions. Thus time became a critical factor in navigation, a form of something called dead-reckoning still used today.

Critical in sailing was the depth of the water. Egyptians developed the sounding reed somewhere around 1500 BCE to measure shallow water and the wind rose which measured the eight different wind types, names based upon the countries from which the winds seem to originate. By employing a combination of all these techniques, the trading vessels attempted successful journeys. Most historians agree the first trans-oceanic voyages were not planned but mistakes due to vessels being blown off course. The thirteenth century saw a great many improvements in navigation and man began to explore the world. Today we no longer use paper maps and road signs but rely on a system of satellites that comprise global positioning systems. These can be accessed by cell phones and car radios.

We no longer are dependent on the weather or familiar objects but are we really moving better, safer, more efficiently? The art of navigation was to have people travel safely and successfully. Their destination became like the home port they left, a sanctuary. Though originally a religious term, the word sanctuary quickly became to mean a safe haven, a place where people felt welcomed, respected, loved. After all, why bother to move if you were going to a dangerous place where you could be killed?

The art of welcoming travelers became a sign of a culture’s position in the world. Successful, productive cultures welcomed the traveler. The population that could not offer hospitality was shamed and cast out. Today the Presbyterian Church is defending their vote to withdraw their business with three companies in Israel and base this decision not on the companies themselves but on the politics of the Nation of Israel. At the same time, the moderator of this national conference went on national television speaking of his Jewish brothers. Also on the program was a rabbi who, in summary, said it was impossible to feel welcomed by such action. In the rabbi’s eyes, the Presbyterian Church was no longer a place of sanctuary for their “Jewish brothers”.

In 2008, Alan Richman wrote an article about politics and religion being strange bedfellows. He discussed how politicians were using their religion as a means of identification…until something was said within their religion that might lose votes. What is our internal navigation system? Do we adhere to the tenets of our belief system or are we quick to abandon them to stay “popular”. Has popularity become the new North Star? Is materialism replacing the sun as the source of life or in how we define life?

Lighthouses are found on coasts in most countries. Earlier this year many countries were awarded monetary grants to establish and/or update their lighthouses as part of a global compliance of a United Nations convention. I have written before about lighthouses and will not repeat the whole piece here. However, it is worth noting that those tending the lighthouses are offering sanctuary and usually it is to total strangers. No matter their location or faith, they are offering life and hospitality in the best sense for the best possible outcomes.

Is GPS now an acronym for Greed Profiting Self? Whatever happened to the God-Purposed Soul? The Good Peoples Savior? When we can prepare the road for all to travel and navigate with love, then we will be headed in the right direction.

My Psalm 15

Are your feet clean?
Is your garment worthy?
Lord, we get too particular in offering your hospitality.
We view with cynical eyes;
We forget to look without hearts.
Those who prepare to be a haven of hope
Live your Word.
Let us be a sanctuary.

Pentecost 14

Pentecost 14
My Psalm 14

June 21, 2014

Jainism
Deliverence

The river was full of clear flowing water for centuries. It curved and had narrow places so that people on either side could cross and mingle. Once every hundred years or so, the snow cap would melt and the river would flood over the crossings. Sometimes it took three years or more for the water to completely subside and the people cross again to their neighbor’s side. One day the water flooded and took longer than usual to subside. By the time it had, differences had arisen between the two groups of people. Once identical, the twin cultures were now different. Those differences led to conflict and eventually war. Even though they shared the same beginnings, they now only saw the differences. They could not be secure in their differences but lashed out and fought. Their land became war fields and their religion a source of conflict not comfort. Derision replaced faith and led to the killings of many on each side. Respect was trampled by greed and only when distant warriors offered help was their any semblance of peace. However, when the warriors returned home, ridiculed by many for even coming, the two groups returned to their pattern of killing instead of celebrating kinship.

Jainism, an ancient Indian religion that is one of the oldest in the world, tells of six blind men touching an elephant. One describes the object he touches as being a column; the second describes a rope; the third, a tree branch; another, a hand fan; the fifth, a wall; the last, a solid pipe. How, one wonders, could all six men have such different descriptions if they all touched the same thing? The first touched the leg; the second, the tail; the third, the trunk; the fourth, the ear; the fifth, the belly; the sixth, the tusk. Jainism uses this parable to explain the theory of Manifold Predictions. IN describing this parable, the thirteenth century Indian philosopher argued that immature people often deny obvious truths and are led astray by what they do know and therefore refuse to accept what is unknown to them. He emphasized the importance of obtaining the full picture, the picture of the reality in truth and considering all viewpoints.

One the national religion of all Indian kingdoms, Jainism originated somewhere before the fifth century BCE and began to decline in the eighth century CE. The name comes from the Sanskrit verb “jin”, meaning to conquer. The named references the struggle with passions and bodily pleasures versus ascetics or the Spartan necessities of life that do not detract. WInners of this battle are considered conquerors or “Jina”. Followers are called “Jaina”, laymen who continue to strive to win the battle. IN explaining the doctrine of truth, Jainism relies on its most important and fundamental doctrine of “anēkāntavāda” which refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, and to the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view. In Jainism, no single point of view is complete.

The six blind men and the elephant is a parable also told in Buddhism. However, this time the men assert the elephant is either like a pot (the blind man who felt the elephants’ head), a winnowing basket (ear), a plowshare (tusk), a plow (trunk), a granary (body), a pillar (foot), a mortar (back), a pestle (tail) or a brush (tip of the tail). Buddha uses the story to proclaim that man can only see his point of view and no other. The Hindu tell the story to discourage dogmaticism saying that one who has seen the Lord only see Him that way and cannot understand the way another might see Him. A Sufi Muslim poet told the story as an example of the limits of individual perception. His parable ended with a lament that the group might have seen the whole elephant and recognized it, if only they had a lamp and had gone in together.

A nineteenth century poet retold the story his way. John Godfrey Saxe used the tale of “Six men of Indostan” and concluded it thusly:
“So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!”

There is, as you might imagine, the reverse of the tale. The joke is of six blind elephants attempting to discern what a man is like. The first elephant felt the man proclaimed him to be flat. The other five agreed after feeling the man and they walked away as a group in agreement. Apparently, the animal kingdom is better at living together and deliverance from difference than man is, even though he also is of the animal kingdom and supposedly the highest rung.

Perhaps the German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg summed it up best: “We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” Current events might lead one to assume Godlessness reigns around the world and there is no hope. When we work together, truth will light the way. Discerning that truth might seem impossible but really, nature is always there. We just need to make sure we see the whole picture and don’t forget our beginnings. After all, we are all mankind….and all are probably still a little bit flat in our thinking.

My Psalm 14

Tribesmen kill their own for want of a different scarf.
Politicians inflame for want of another vote without veracity.
Children are starving while others are gluttons.
We forget that the man on the corner is just like our father or brother.
We ignore the woman selling her soul to buy bread for her children.
Is anyone doing good?
Do we ignore the kindness because it has no glitter?
We need to dance to the heartbeat of the Creator
And not the rhythm of the world.