Pentecost 54

Pentecost 54
My Psalm 54

Evidentiary & Cognitive Theory

Adam Beck trained as a psychoanalyst but was constantly asking: “What’s the evidence for that?” Theologians have been asking that question for centuries as have agnostics and atheists. Interesting, I feel, that this is the one unifying thing – the principle of evidence. Basically, evidence is anything presented in support of a statement. That said, however, there are all types and sizes of evidence – scientific, circumstantial, and, in Beck’s case, rational.

Legal evidence must conform to a set of standards. The information presented must comply with established guidelines in order to be admitted into the court proceedings. In life, however, evidence is that which we give credence to or deem important. Beck’s critics felt his preoccupation with “rational” meant that some things deemed irrational were actually healthy but, since they were not considered valid evidence, were disregarded.

Cognitive therapists work with a client or patient in order to determine to root of their thinking, the reason for such, and then how it can be used to improve the person’s life or, if seen as a barrier, then ways to overcome it and alter such thought processes.

Recently, Ramadan concluded. Monday, July 28th was the end of the Islamic holy time, a fasting period designed for prayerful insights and reconciliation. Israel honored this end with more bombing on their Islamic neighbors, by continuing the persecution Jews were subjected to throughout their history. Have they forgotten their own religion’s evidence of despair? Does the ownership of weaponry belie the lessons of their own cognition? Where is the evidence that violence solves anything, especially where religion is concerned?

Theocracy is a system of government based upon religious laws. The Vatican, most Islamic countries, and Israel are all theocracies of sorts. They might also be called nomocracies but then again, since a nomocracy is a system of government based on the rule of law, so are most countries. Yet, many would not be pleased to be compared as similar, though the evidence says otherwise.

Both Christianity and Judaism speak of a Messiah. The Christian Church feels he has already come while the Jewish Torah proclaims he has yet to appear. According to some branches of Islam, the Madhi is a Messiah who will appear to redeem mankind before the end of the world. It is worth noting that many have claimed to be the Madhi.

Spend a great deal of time with various Christian or spiritual communities and you will be asked to define that which is “holy”. Recently believers have been encouraged to find their own personal “holy” – a time for meditating, a place of comfort, a group for study and growth. The Holy Bible is the ultimate reference for such. The Hadith is a collection of sayings and life works from the prophet Muhammad, gathered and interpreted by Islamic scholars and Imams. The Halacha comprises the collective rules that govern the Jewish way of life and is gathered from the Torah as well as Rabbinic laws and traditions. They provide evidence of that which is holy for each culture and religion.

Evidence also involves that which is hearsay, can be authenticated, has reasonable doubt, is relatable, should be considered or admissible, and finally that which is convincing. Some evidence is written, some is called demonstrative, some administrative, and some exhibited or physical. The best evidence, though, is that which we show by our lives.

To proclaim a nation has the right by its “Love thy neighbor” faith to kill innocent citizens whose only crime is to be different, is contrary to the evidence of that faith. Cognitively speaking, it makes no sense. For Islamic anarchists to give themselves the right to take human life indiscriminately is to ignore the basic principle of Islam as expressed in the shahadah: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is a prophet of God.” All three religions believe that there is but one God and He has no partner or equal.

Where in the current bombings between Israel and Gaza is evidence of their faith? Where indeed is evidence of Putin’s acceptance of the demise of the U.S.S.R. in his dealing with Ukraine? How we live is the evidence which the world will remember. What we do today is the evidence and legacy we will leave. The evidence of our faith is how we love our neighbors.

My Psalm 54

Dear Lord, father of all, Help me, please.
I seek your help.
I am in danger; I fear for my life.
We are under attack, O God.
We are your children and we trust in your aid.
Our enemies are close; protect us, please.
I promise to be faithful, to live by your words.
You have delivered me, O God, and the wicked will perish.

Pentecost 53

Pentecost 53
My Psalm 53

Evolution for Reunion

The concept of a reunion is not new. The first known use of the word was in 1610, based upon the Latin “re” meaning again and the French “union” meaning united. Churches began having reunions but called them Mothering Sunday or Coming Home Sunday in the 1600’s. In Anglican tradition, the fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday. Workers were given the day off to return to their home parishes. School reunions are a more recent type of reunion and include every type of school from elementary to university.

In 1512 the Protuguese navigator Pedro de Mascarenhas made a different type of reunion. Discovering a large group of island or archipelago located in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean previously visited by both Arab and European sailors, he renamed them the Mascarenes with individual island names of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. In 1642 the French settled Reunion Island and renamed is Ile Bourbon. Coffee became the cash crop of the island but later, due to a loss during the Napoleonic Wars, ownership passed from the French to the British. Vanilla was introduced and again agriculture turned the island into something of a paradise. However, slavery reared its ugly head and slave revolts negatively affected the island’s commerce. After World War II, the French government once again showed an interest in Reunion Island due to its proximity to Madagascar.

The island Reunion is a little microcosm of our planet Earth. There are tropical beaches and 3000-plus high peaks, volcanoes and forests. The geographical contrast is evident in its human population and the cultural diversity. The island could well be a blue print for the future if it can withstand the onslaught of globalization, consumerism and neo-colonialism. In short, all of Mother Earth can be found united, coming together as a volcanic island known as Reunion. The evolution from volcano to lush farmland, the cultural evolution from free native to slave to the European professional often found vacationing on what has become known as the Europe of the Indian Ocean reflects the history of this planet.

Our own personal histories undergo a similar evolution and, many times, we hasten back to where we once lived to be in reunion with others. Recently a question was posed: “Do we remain the person we were inside? Does the adult stray far from the child he’/he once was?” Seeking the answers to those questions is most likely the sole purpose of the reunion – any reunion.

June 1847 saw seven hundred people celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the College of New Jersey. Attendees at Commencement festivities often included previous graduates and in 1859, Alfred Woodull, a graduate in 1856, organized the first official class reunion, to be held triennially. He was guaranteed success with his place because it was college policy that anyone who returned to the campus for Commencement three years after graduation would be awards an automatic master’s degree.

In 1861, a Confederate Civil War regiment passed through the town where the college was located. The students were enthralled with the “skyrocket” cheer of the soldiers which served to imitate fireworks: “sis” for the zooming rocket; “boom” for the explosions; “ahhh” for the crowd’s response. Incorporating this cheer into the traditional alumni march to the commencement ceremony, the College called this part of the reunion the “Locomotive” exercise. Once the school’s colors became orange and black, the word “tiger” was added at the end of the skyrocket cheer. Today this reunion tradition is known as the P-rade, a combination of the school’s new name, changed in 1986, and the word parade. The Princeton reunion festivities rank among school reunions finest, though the awarding of automatic master’s degrees stopped in 1892. Now, people come back to illustrate their personal evolutions and celebrate the school’s.

Our personal evolution which is celebrated in the returning to our roots begs the question – How great is childhood? St Augustine is quoted as having once said: “Who would not shudder if he were given the choice of eternal death or life again as a child? Who would not choose to die?” It is a rather startling quote but the truth is that while most societies and cultures have throughout history been patriarchal, the historical family has been a gynarchy. Fathers in traditional families seldom contributed to the emotional atmosphere of the family unit nor did they actively participate in raising the children.

Perhaps then it makes sense that we return to our beginnings to show that we have indeed grown. Is our growth, though, a metamorphosis or merely part of our preordained life cycle? For some, the reunion is a chance to get back at those who had no expectations for their classmate. Sadly, the highly successful discover that rather than being happy at being wrong, their classmates see only yet another chasm between them – this time being opulence instead of acne or geeky habits. For others, the reunion is a chance to catch up and often, they discover that many would rather wallow in the past rather than share they are swimming in less-than-perfect lives. In other words, few share the reality of their present self.

For most, though, they return because it was an important part of their lives. Whether pleasant or painful, these were the people who influenced your growing. For some it is continuing along a predictable path and for others, it is a complete rebirth. Hopefully, though, what we take from our reunions is that life has been worth it and that we have become comfortable with our evolution.

Beginning from molten lava, Reunion Island became a thriving, oasis of diverse experiences. From childhood to adulthood, we too experience diverse opportunities. In our lives we are the rocket experiencing the “sis” of our efforts and the “boom”, living the results – good and bad – of our endeavors. The reunion gives us the chance to experience the “ahhh” even if we are the only ones saying it. The evolution of childhood is a path and as we walk we may try new ways to travel, new clothes to wear. Some might call this change; others might call it growth. The good might get better and they might just stay the same but in the end, the bad gets gone. The miracle of life is what we make it.

My Psalm 53

One looked around and asked:
“What have you done?
What is your worth?”

The Maker looked around and wondered:
Do any see?
Are they listening?
What have they learned?
Where is the growth?
Where is the sharing?
Where is the loving?
Why are they?”

The future is for those who see.
The Maker will redeem those for whom life has had purpose.
When we truly celebrate life in our living, then we will be reunited with love eternal and be joyful.

Pentecost 52

Pentecost 52
My Psalm 52

Judge and Jury

Last week I spoke about the etymology of the word “minister” and mentioned that I was amazed that word meant servant. Sadly, the church in the 21st century appears to have precious few ministers who truly are servants of their congregations. Prior to the research needed for the posting, I would have thought it was related to the word shepherd. Indeed, in my experience, most ministers feel they are the leaders of a sadly ignorant and very ornery herd.

The entire thought process regarding this was based upon a question from a friend. Summarizing, the question was basically “Why are ministers so judgmental?” If a minister is not a servant, then how did he/she get to be a judge?

The etymology or history of the word judge comes from the French “juger”. To judge someone means to give an opinion but it is not just anyone’s opinion. The opinion is to be based on intelligent, rational thinking, and – here’s the clincher – unbiased. He or She who would judge must make a good decision objectively. Could a minister even do that since one of the basic principles of religion is that we “all have sinned and oft gone astray”?

There are two other similar words that one might be forgiven for thinking come from the same root word as judge or judgment. They are jugular and jugar. Jugular, an important artery in the neck comes from the Latin “iugum” which meant yoke and later, throat. Jugar is a Spanish word which is derived from the Latin “iocare” meaning to joke or jest.

All three, however, would seem to be related when considering my friend’s question. After all, when judged by one’s minister, a person assumed to be benevolent, compassion, and forgiving, one would certainly feel as if they were being held by the throat, their spiritual jugular attacked. Expecting an unbiased response, such condemnation might appear at first to be a joke, the Spanish jugar.

The fact of the matter is that many adorn a clerical collar, either literally or figuratively, and then decide to be judge and jury. Even those whose faiths disdain the formal ministerial path, preferring citizen leaders, have fallen prey to this antithetical purpose of the clergy and their teachings. It would seem that whether it is a Christian minister, Islamic Imam, spiritual leader, etc., their purpose is to not spread a gospel of love and connectedness but rather to condemn.

The word condemn comes from the Latin and French “damnum”. Rather than a death sentence, it was a consequence such as a fine or penalty, a way of making right damages owed or paying the cost of one’s actions. The concept of damnation came from the Latin “damnatio”. This concept is something most cultures have in common. Ancient Egypt required citizens to recite the forty-two negative confessions of Maat to prove one’s innocence, weighing a heart heavy with guilt against the feather of truth. Zoroastrianism speaks of Frashokereti, a concept in which the righteous walk through a river of milke while the wicked burn in molten metal.

So how did ministers become judges? It might just be as simple as the etymology or origin of the word. As previously discussed, minister comes from the Old English “minister”, meaning a servant. However, the word minster is another matter completely. Minster comes from the Latin “monasterium” and Greek “μοναστήριον”, both of which mean monastery. Minsters were churches given the title and then assigned additional clergy with subsequent budgets to support such. The term today is given as an honorary title denoting a large or important church.

Rather than be a minister – with the “I” in the middle of the word – perhaps the answer is that many feel themselves to be minsters – honorable and important enough to forego the unbiased, compassion, serving aspect of their profession. Minsters and their role in the spread of Christianity, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon form, is both a matter of record and dissension. Often, they were areas of influence and political in their conversion of the Middle Ages citizenry to Christianity. Whether or not there actually was a deliberate plan in the establishment of such minsters, they did exist and were successful for a time. Churches that, in the twelfth century were solely dependent upon the minster system, had become independent parishes by the end of the fifteenth century. As people’s faith grew, so did their support of their churches and their ministers. Perhaps it is time for those ministers to work for the people.

Minister, Imam, Rabbi, Shaman, etc. and their congregations and/or tribes must work together. This is not just a problem of Christian churches, however. Radical imams are responsible for the world’s disjointed view of Islam. Rabbis calling for the deaths of Arabs are not practicing the love commanded by G-D in their Torah. It is time for all of us to return to the ministerial commandments of all our faiths. The only way we are going to have our souls sing the praises of our Lord and do respect of our Father Abraham is to develop the harmony necessary for a well-lived life of faith in service to others. Whether it is resolving the discords of various cultures and beliefs, learning to compromise on the spectrum in which we live, or learning the libretto of our respective beliefs, we must work together.

My Psalm 52

We say we care for the beauty of this place
Yet we slaughter nature’s finest to pave paradise.
We speak of inner peace
Yet we call for the killing of innocents.
We remember our own persecution
Yet we persecute others.
We preach love thy neighbor
Yet we condemn those who are different.
Have mercy on us, Father.

Pentecost 51

Pentecost 51
My Psalm 51

The Lost Art of Empathy

Paul Zak, author of “The Moral Molecule” made a startling discovery. Using a formula for drama developed by the German playwright Gustav Freytag, Zak found that narratives can act as a trigger in the release of neurochemicals such as cortisol and oxytocin. We’ve discussed oxytocin in an earlier post but let’s review and learn about cortisol.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone because it is released when the body is stressed. A part of the fight or flight response, cortisol has several useful functions. Secreted by the adrenal glands, cortisol aids in glucose metabolism and the regulation of one’s blood pressure. It plays a part in the body’s immune system, offering a quick burst of energy when survival is threatened. However, like most things, it is possible to have too much of a good thing and a chronic state of stress can lead to problems caused by the constant and/or higher levels of cortisol. Such problems can include impaired cognition, thyroid issues, blood sugar imbalances, a loss of bone density and muscle tissue, high blood pressure, increased abdominal fat, and overall lower immune responses such as inflammatory problems and slow healing. The increase in stomach fat has secondary consequences such as heart attacks, strokes, high cholesterol, and metabolic issues.

Freytag’s theory of drama development included exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement. Dr Zak’s brain scans proved that listeners would be moved to give generously to charities or scientific studies when the story captured their interest through an expository introduction to the content, a discourse which introduced and explained what was to follow, followed by attention-getting movement toward the crux of the story. However, the listener could not be left at the top of the mountain. The story had to slowly release the audience from the grips of the climatic peak, so as to not leave them prisoner to their cortisol reactions. The denouement, which literally means to untie, would resolve their concern and resolve the story in a satisfactory manner. The resulting satisfaction of the body as it rode the cortisol train up the narrative mountain and back down again would bring about the generous feelings. The story, when properly told according to Freytag’s formula, produced a sense of empathy.

Jonathan Gottschall explains it this way: “Human minds yield helplessly to the suction of the story. No matter how hard we concentrate, no matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds. A writer lays down words, but they are inert. They need a catalyst to come to life. The catalyst is the reader’s imagination.”

Maria Popova took the studies of psychologist Robert Adler and Dr Paul Zak to arrive at her conclusion: “Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry — and that’s what it means to be a social creature.”

What it means to be a social creature…That could very be the synopsis of most religions and spiritualities. It is the art of empathy that separates us from lower animals. The Internet recently buzzed with pictures of a pit-bull dog that carried its injured friend, a Chihuahua, to safety. Another viral video showed one species of animal dying of loneliness for its longtime companion with whom it had been separated. Once reunited, Mr. G, the goat, and Jellybean, the donkey amazed animal behaviorists and vets as they proved that the love between a goat and a donkey was life-saving. For those of us who believe our pets are simply personalities that walk around on four legs instead of two, this is nothing earth-shaking. For the science world, though, it is opening doors and triggering the release of cortisol and oxytocin, even among staid, emotionless researchers.

The key to the art of empathy, however, is listening to the story. To do that, we must first be quiet and secondly, pay attention. Ancient storytelling involved an actual connection between the storyteller and the audience. They were always in close proximity to each other. With the advent of motion pictures and later television, distance became a part of the storytelling. The digital age has increased that distance and called for a greater sense of artistry by the story teller. Still, the basic principles are the same. The five components suggested by Freytag one hundred and fifty years ago are still employed in connecting the listener to the story and creating empathy.

The challenge today is in getting the storyteller’s voice heard through the clamor of egos. We cannot be empathetic to another if we are only focused on ourselves. While seemingly unimportant to us, the stories of the network news are the stories of man and often predict our future. When presented with honesty and without too much dramatic elaboration, these stories remind us that all of mankind is connected. The future of one is the future of all. Empathy may very well be the saving grace of us all.

My Psalm 51

Forgive me, O God, for I am a sinner.
I care more for myself than others.
I have put myself on a pedestal.
Show me your way, O Creator.
Make new my heart;
Cleanse my soul.
Help me listen to your voice and not my own.
Let me love my neighbor.
The world needs my concern;
Let me hear its pleas;
Lead me to action.
Grant me a generous heart,
Willing hands,
A body of action.
Use me, O Lord, to do your will.
I will hear your words and live them, O God.

Pentecost 50

Pentecost 50

My Psalm 50

An Appropriate Sacrifice

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

The man speaking was irate. “I am telling to the parties – both Israelis and Hamas, Palestinians, that it is morally wrong to kill your own people,” he said. “Whole world has been watching, is watching with great concern. You must stop fighting. And enter into dialogue. “Whatever grievances you may have, this is wrong. Why are you continuing to kill people? There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other.”

Leo Tolstoy wrote, in “War and Peace” that “You can love a person dear to you with a human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love.” He continued with the thought that humans are not fit to serve as judge and jury as far as determining the world’s fate. ““It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”

Life was about love, Tolstoy felt. “Yes, love, …but not the love that loves for something, to gain something, or because of something, but that love that I felt for the first time, when dying, I saw my enemy and yet loved him. I knew that feeling of love which is the essence of the soul, for which no object is needed. And I know that blissful feeling now too. To love one’s neighbors; to love one’s enemies. To love everything – to Love God in all His manifestations. Someone dear to one can be loved with human love; but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. And that was why I felt such joy when I felt that I loved that man. What happened to him? Is he alive? …Loving with human love, one may pass from love to hatred; but divine love cannot change. Nothing, not even death, can shatter it. It is the very nature of the soul.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appears to agree with Tolstoy. As he addressed the world after a recent bombing in Gaza which appeared to target a United Nations refugee center, his words seemed to echo the history of the region, going back as far as the times of the original Psalm 50. “I am telling to the parties … that it is morally wrong to kill your own people.” AS Tolstoy wrote, “Kings are the slaves of history.”

Mankind is forever hiding fear behind bravado. Tolstoy described the various ethnicities this way: ““A Frenchman’s self-assurance stems from his belief that he is mentally and physically irresistibly fascinating to both men and women. An Englishman’s self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organized state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets. A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully.” I would add that those in the Middle East forget their common bond, their common history, and in doing so, desecrate their past, destroy their present, and deny their future.

We pretend we are enough to serve as a world judge. We hide behind our religions, faiths, beliefs, and spiritualities and leave the future to someone else. No religion calls for complete annihilation of a culture. No deity relinquishes his or her power to mere mortals. No definition of heaven includes a ticket that is paid for with the murders of innocents.

How are we living our beliefs? Why are we allowing ego and evil to color in-between the lines of the theories of theology and/or spirituality and practical application? President John F Kennedy once said: “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

My Psalm 50

I hear your call, O Lord:
You remind us of your mighty court.
The world is yours and it serves as our courtroom.
It reflects our disobedience to your laws.
As Moses gave, we have but ten to follow.
You promised help to those that obey and punishment to those that deny.
You ask not for sacrifices of life.
Life is a gift you gave to the world.
Life is the world.
You ask only for sacrifices of thanksgiving.
Gratitude is our gift to you.
How we treat others is how we treat the world.
The Commandments are clear and should be followed.
Woe to them that disobey and ignore your laws.
Sanctity of life is given to those who revere it.
We give thanks to you, O God and celebrate our covenant of life.

Pentecost 49

Pentecost 49
My Psalm 49

Spirit of …..

Recently the Internet has been awash with stories, speeches, and FaceBook postings about how faith is being attacked. While a person’s faith comes under attack by environmental, societal, and pop culture daily, almost hourly, the problem is most of these stories are not true. They are playing on the emotions of the majority to scare them into thinking they are under a massive attack. People are becoming “faithful” without regard to the doctrine of love but as a response to a propaganda campaign based on a doctrine of fear. The biggest threat to faithful living is not from outside forces but from ourselves.

Everything she owned practically had been destroyed. In her senior years she had to start over. Wearing donated clothing, she visited a church that had become somewhat famous in the area for their help with the hurricane survivors and reconstruction. Fund-raisers were held and monies sent to affected parishes. People took vacation time to go down and search for the dead and help the area recover, cleaning when homes could be salvaged and deconstructing those that could not be saved.

She followed the encouragement of ministers and parishioners to walk back to the parish hall and share in the coffee hour. The three women leaving the church right behind her showed her where the parish hall was and then insisted she go ahead of them for coffee. Once she had her coffee, however, no one approached her and she sat by herself at a table. The three women who had escorted her to the hall sat at a table right next to her, talking to each other. The hurricane survivor was surprised to realize she was the subject of their conversation. They were laughing at her donated clothes and the not-quite-right fit. No one else ever approached the woman and so she dumped the rest of her coffee in the trash and left. She never again attended church on a regular basis.

The call went out for donated blankets that the church might give to the homeless. One member had some blankets she had knitted and gave those. Later she was told that her blankets had been put aside for a rummage sale and had not been included in the ones donated for the homeless. “Those people don’t deserve such”, she was told. The next year the blanket drive came along and she purchased some blankets to donate. Again, her blankets were not included in those that went to the homeless.

The young mother hurried her children along each Sunday morning so that they would be ready for church and church school. For single mother, that meant washing socks and underwear out by hand most Saturdays. After the second month, she was told that the church had instigated a children’s corner at the back of the church and asked to move. Her children had energy and loved singing the hymns and listening to the readers. At the back of the church, her kids grew bored because they could not see anything. After a couple of Sundays she sat closer to the front but was asked to move. Feeling unwanted, she quit attending church.

Each service happens on just one Sunday. For the visitor, the congregation has just one chance to be hospitable. For the homeless, that blanket might have been the only defense against freezing to death. The church trying to keep noise from children to a minimum was denying its future to experience faith in worship. Time has always been both a gift and the enemy but never more so than today in the 21st century. Wars are begun in just one day. Accidents occur with just one text. People become drunk by just one more drink. The landscape of a town can change with just one storm. Children, looking for a place to belong, are talked into joining a gang in a single afternoon or after just one beating.

What does it take to be a Christian? What scholarly deeds must be accomplished to be good enough? What behaviors must be forgotten or adopted? Who do we invite into our houses of worship? Why are we there? What are we really worshipping? Whose voice are we really following? Where is our faith once we leave the church building?

In just one moment we can show the love of God or create chaos, pain, anger in another. We can ignore or we can act. We can reject or we can embrace. Just one moment is all it takes to remember that time is precious and we only have the present to welcome people into the arms of God. Just one moment is all it takes to realize that no one is just their outer self. Just one moment is all it takes to realize that beauty is something appreciated by all. Just one moment is all it takes to enjoy the next generation and remember that once upon a time we too exhibited a love of life that could not be contained. Just one moment is all it takes to remember we are all the family of man. It isn’t about the rhetoric and it certainly isn’t about scaring people or using violence. It is about going forward in the spirit.

My Psalm 49

Glory to you, O God!
Yours is the kingdom.
To you belongs all of creation.
We are nothing without you,
Those who put their faith in glitter
Fail to see the worth.
Those who measure by money
Are blind to the real riches of the world.
Those who collect property
Neglect to nurture and grow love.
Wealth is found in faith, O Lord.
In you is our future.
Only faith will survive the great passing.
The faithful will celebrate the riches of heaven
In your loving arms, O God, is our eternal prosperity.

Pentecost 48

Pentecost 48
My Psalm 48

Family of God

They had traveled from a land of green horizons and plentiful water to this brown, barren land. It was, however, a promised land of sorts. There was free land to anyone willing to homestead it and, as the youngest son in a large family, it seemed a sure way to start his own legacy. So the young man and his new bride had packed up their meager belongings and made the arduous journey. The soil was tough and challenged all who had come to claim their piece of earth. As his neighbors grew weary, the young man bought them out. As his family grew so did his land holdings.

All too soon, his children were grown men and so his divided up the responsibilities of the now large ranch. Son Number One had the responsibility of the houses on the ranch. It was his duty to prepare them for each winter, checking for cracks or worn-out pieces of lumber. Son Number Two was responsible for the fencing and the barns that held their prized cattle and feed. Son Number Three was given the care of the tools of their trade and served as the ranch blacksmith. All three shared with their father and sons the tasks of planting the wheat and hay as well as the vegetable gardens. It seemed an equitable division of labor to their father.

Soon, however, Son Number Three tired of the menial nature of his responsibilities. He wanted to be the homebuilder, the architect of design that people praised when visiting. After all, Son Number One made the decisions who got rooms added to their abode and who did not. Son Number Two would brag that his was the more important position since it directly involved the nature of their living. He had the best horses since his duties involved riding the many acres used for the herds of cattle. Son Number Three spent much of his time repairing the tools the other two used or caring for the horses. None were willing to recognize the connection between their respective positions, their integrated value in the family.

Fortunately, their father was a benevolent man and patient. As his sons grew in their discontent, he did not stop them from leaving but instead offered refuge to his now adult grandsons and granddaughters. Some chose to remain on the family ranch and would later prove to be great in their contributions. The children of Son Number Three, having learned to make implements from their father, became masters at making musical instruments. They used their talents to sing praises to their family and their heavenly father. The other grandchildren saw the value of their individual talents and the worth in combining them in their daily lives. Those who sought personal fame and glory only soon found themselves swallowed up by society and sadly, some succumbed to the trappings of it. For those willing to bask in the love of family, though, they found glory in the living.

Yet, the division caused by the three original sons lived on in the family stories. You see, Son Number One, in being given the duty of the houses, made his the largest although his family was the smallest. He squandered resources for his pride and in his haste, built a home that did not stand the test of time. It collapsed one night and some lives were lost. His god was his own ego and in the end it destroyed his legacy. Son Number Two did very well with his fence building and later helped design a neighboring city. Son Number Three, as the toolmaker, was given his mother’s family brooch to repair. Feeling dissatisfied with his place in the barn, he put it on a shelf for later and continued his rebellion. The brooch was lost and its exact location now is mere speculation. Also lost, however, was the valuable ruby encased inside the brooch. It was to be the family’s failsafe in times of trouble, given to the mother by her own family, worth a fortune if needed.

It is the story of a father who divided his earthly goods amongst his three sons. Sadly, human emotions such as jealousy and anger proved more valuable to some of the sons than their family. Their vision was so focused on themselves that they failed to see the larger picture, to recognize that their contributions, no matter how seemingly small, were equally important and necessary. Another father wisely gave his son-in-law a chance to prove himself a man but also gave his daughter protection, to be used when needed. She placed her trust in her husband and he proved himself worthy.

How often do we see only that which glitters and not the jewel beneath the seemingly rough, dusty stone? Every man has value and every connection weaves us into the fabric of man. All exist for a greater glory than we can imagine if only we acknowledge the talents and potential of each person, regardless of race, color, creed, age, and/or gender. We are all an ark of opportunity.

My Psalm 48
Great is our Maker.
Beautiful is his creation.
Travelers pass by and marvel; some fear such power.

Our enemies surround us.
They threaten and attack.
Our Maker has created us in His glory.
His creations can withstand attack.

We are connected by our birth.
We are the Maker’s own creations.
Nothing can defeat us when we are in communion with our Maker.
Our covenant will provide defeat to the wicked.
Praises be to God, our Creator who gives us life and victory!

Pentecost 47

Pentecost 47
My Psalm 47

Where do we live?

Where do you live? I mean, really live? Where do we live – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually? More importantly, where is the “holy” in our lives? Most importantly, what do others see in our lives? Do they see our beliefs?

There are certain towns that stand out when you hear their names. Some need only the city name and we instantly know where they are – Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and Seattle. Others are names repeated in different states. I grew up in a town that has identical name-twins in at least ten other cities, not counting townships and counties. Some names might seem unique but really aren’t. Take Acadia, for instance. Five states have towns named Acadia.

There are sixteen cities named Springfield in the USA. I always liked the name; it seems happy and hopeful. The Springfield I am drawn to is one I have never visited – Springfield, Massachusetts. Its name seems to fit – Springfield, Mass. A rather large metropolitan area, second largest in its state, Springfield’s nickname is “City of Firsts” – again a happy and hopeful designation that honors accomplishment and hints of more to come. I mean, if you have a first, there is probably a second right around the corner. Springfield is also known as the City of Homes, taking note of the many Victorian homes built during its history. Sadly, most have been converted or razed under the guise of progress.

Theodore Seuss Geisel grew up on Mulberry Street. During Lent we discussed “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street”. It is the story of a caring father who sees the world in realistic terms, in black and white, in facts and figures. It is also the story of an imaginative little boy named Marco. Where his father sees a bleak street in front of their house, Marco sees an avenue full of parading reindeer and elephants.

Lent encourages us to see an imagined self, a better self. Through our Lenten disciplines, we are to have hope that we will become better people and make the world a better place. Just as Marco and his father come together as Marco’s vision promises a brighter future, Lent offers us the hope of a better self and stronger faith. Theodore Seuss Geisel embarked on a new career with the publishing of this book, a career that would make him a household name, a career that evidenced his faith in himself and his world.

Easter offers us evidence of faith. Even if you do not believe in the resurrection story that Christians celebrate, Easter heralds the start of spring, a time of rebirth and renewal. The planning of seeds, the pruning of plants, shrubs, and trees…all are based upon hope and the belief that life will once again be reborn.

Pentecost puts the imagination of what could be and the hope of what will be into action. The cultivating of the garden and crops is based upon an imagined harvest believed possible. It combines faith in nature with faith in man. Just as the seed, soil, air, water, and sun come together like the four points of a compass, so must our dreams, hopes, faith, and actions.

Where in our lives is that faith, faith in our dreams? How does our treatment of others illustrate our sense of the “holy” in our beliefs? While many of us define “holy” as being something religious, in truth it is something that is good or worthy of devotion. Where is the holy in your life? Better yet, perhaps it would be easier to answer this question: Where is the joy in your life?

I suspect that last question is fairly easy for many to answer. After all, most of us know what makes us happy. That would be where our joy is, right? Is our joy where our holy is?

If what people see is an overworked, frazzled person wasting precious time and relationships in order to compete with another to garner the most “toys” – i.e., biggest house, fanciest car, snazziest clothes, where will they see your faith, that which is holy to you? If your lifestyle is not healthy, where is the holy in your slowing killing your body?

For many of us, we live in the rat race of society. We spend long hours working, prefaced and followed by long commutes. We often spend more time with our coworkers than our families. The family unit has become a child and an electronic device. With the average family of two parents and two or three children having at least ten to fifteen internet-ready devices, communication has been reduced to a fifteen second text or a quick tweet. Where and how are we living and does it reflect our faith? How are we living our rebirth and when are we showing our faith in action?

My Psalm 47

Jump for joy!
Sing of the Spirit!
Wear gladness as your coat!
Show the Lord His glory reflected in your life!
Praise the King of all in jubilant living.
The Spirit of Life is worthy to be in our lives.
Imagine the joy!
Believe in renewal!
Live the faith!

Pentecost 46

Pentecost 46
My Psalm 46

Blowing in the Wind

It sounds like the name of an oil additive for one’s car engine – OXTR. It is, however, a much-sought-after gene that might just explain how two people growing up in the same house with the same parents under the same rule can turn out so differently.

For years, people would answer “You either get it or you don’t.” In his book “Bound for Glory”, Woody Guthrie compared his political opinions to the newspapers blowing on New York City streets and in the alleys. On an April evening in 1962 at a music venue in the West Village of New York City, a young singer sang a song of two verses. He borrowed melodic lines from a Canadian slave spiritual and rewrote lines from Ezekiel 12:1–2: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Oh mortal, you dwell among the rebellious breed. They have eyes to see but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.” In defending the song’s title, the singer composer Bob Dylan would later say that the song’s meaning was “blowin’ in the wind” and that one either understood that and what it meant or one did not. He also spoke not only understanding the meaning but using it as a call to action, the call each of us should but often don’t answer every day. the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know . . . and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it’s wrong.”

The song has had a rich legacy. It replaced the poetry of Shakespeare in a Sri Lanka textbook. The movie “Forest Gump” character of Jenny sings it and war protesters made it an anthem in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Dylan even sang it for Pope John Paul II and the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul II agreed with the chorus, relating it to the winds of the Holy Spirit. In his book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams calls the opening line of the song the Ultimate Question: “How many roads must a man walk down?”

Are the roads we traverse random or do we select them? The concept of predestination would seem to answer that we walk a preordained path with all challenges mere lessons on our path to fulfillment. The concept of free will would seem to contradict that and imply that the choices we make are random and based upon a host of emotional, genetic, environmental, and intellectual processes.

Columbia University professor Duncan Watts has conducted the Network Project for a number of years, a research project similar to the popular six degrees of separation theory which states that all life is connected with rather small networks of relativity.

The concept began with the theories of Guglielmo Marconi concerning his radio work and referenced in his 1909 Nobel Proze address. Later Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a challenge to find another person with whom he could be connected using only five other people. Two University of Parish professors in the early 1950’s wrote a mathematical manuscript entitled “Contacts and Influences” which formally articulated the mechanics of social networks and degrees of connectedness. This led to the Milgram Experiment at Harvard in 1967 which attempted to measure the paths between people.

A successful movie, made more famous by the use of the title in this arena of research, has continued the discussion and studies continue today. Biases and theories such as “funneling” are bandied about, especially as use of the Internet and the concept of small world networking via computers had become the primary force for commerce.

Yet, for some, no matter how far they travel, they end up back where they started. It may be a reconnection with an old friend via FaceBook, retiring only to return to a beloved hobby once forgotten but now resumed, moving back to the old neighbor and trying to figure out if one really can go home again. For parents, sometimes it is watching your children repeat mistakes of the parents’ youth; the child preferring to learn on their own rather than use the wisdom of their parents past. Are these networks of connectedness? Is the hand of fate really the one in control or are these just predictable life situations that blow in the wind and, if one stands still, will again blow into one’s life?

Shelley E. Taylor, from the UCLA is the senior author of a new research that seeks to discover the connections between low self-esteem, optimism or the lack thereof, and something called “mastery”, the belief that one has control over one’s life. The gene Taylor and her colleagues identified is the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR). Oxytocin is a hormone that increases in response to stress and is associated with good social skills such as empathy and enjoying the company of others. Taylor acknowledges the environmental factors, social relationships, good parenting, and other genes will be part of the solution network. For now, though, OXTR can be a motivating force in the winds of our lives.

So as we travel the many roads of life, we need to remember that we might just once again detour back to the road we are walking today. Then again, we might just realize that the answer to the Ultimate Question, said to 42, is nothing more than part of a comedy sketch written by John Cleese. Better to use the connections in our beliefs and books of faith, giving thanks for all we learn and love. After all, what really counts is that we walk the road we are on with the best intentions possible. That way, no matter how many roads we walk, all we have blowin’ in the wind is goodness and love as the winds of the Holy Spirit embrace us and guide us.

My Psalm 46

You are my strength, O God.
The winds of life blow
And I am sometimes lost.
You will guide me home.
You shelter me with love.
You lead me to friends.
You never forsake me, O Lord.
Your promises are my anchor.
Praise to you, O God.
You are my rock, my shelter in the storm.
Your love and promises steer us home.

Pentecost 45

Pentecost 45
My Psalm 45

An Attitude of Ministry

The two were very involved in their respective faiths. For years they helped others, volunteered in various missions with their church, joined the groups, and grew their faith. One rainy afternoon they finished their shopping for a wedding resent early and stopped at their favorite bookstore for coffee, tea, and conversation. Soon they found themselves reviewing their past religious work and present increasing dissatisfaction with their respective rectors. Suddenly one remarked: “It’s like that Friedrich Nietzsche quote – ‘It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.’ A rector’s relationship with his congregation is a marriage of sorts.”

“Nuns refer to themselves as being a bride of Christ in the Roman Catholic Church,” stated the friend, “but never have I heard a minister being referred to as the groom of the congregation.” She paused for a moment. “However, If he is, then I think mine has divorced me. Why do they have to act like they are the “Be all and End all?”

Her companion nodded in agreement. “Don’t they realize that such behavior is off-setting and turns people away? I realize they have studied and are to be our shepherds, leading us, but really, they act more like Pharisees at times. We are all ministers, so says the church, but really, what does that mean? Let’s look it up!“

Selecting a religious historical text, the first read aloud: “For centuries women have lived as either nuns or religious sisters, the first living a cloistered life of contemplative prayer in service and the latter living a life of both service and prayer. These “sisters” exist in both eastern and western traditions of Catholicism, the Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christian faiths, Jains, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, and various other spiritualities and beliefs. Men in religious orders were considered shepherds, gentle guides caring for their flock.”

Her friend found a copy of the Virginia Seminary Journal of 1993 and contributed comments from Verna Dozier, in a sermon delivered in 1992 at the consecration of the second woman to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church. “Listen to this,” she exclaimed. “ Dozier spoke regarding the vocation of the faithful and the two “priesthoods” within the church. ‘The Church of God is all the people of God, lay and ordained, each order with its own unique vocation, the lay order to be the people of God in the world, to witness by their choices and their values, in the kingdom of the world, in the systems of commerce and government, education and medicine, law and human relations, science and exploration, art and vision, to witness to all these worlds that there is another possibility for human life than the way of exploitation and domination; and the vocation of the ordained order is to serve the lay order, to refresh and restore the weary souls with the Body and the Blood, to maintain those islands, the institutional church, where life is lived differently but always in order that life maybe lived differently everywhere.’ “

“Wow.” Both women looked at each other and then sought a dictionary. “We still don’t have the real meaning of what a minister is, just that we all are one, in one form or another.” Selecting a favored volume, they looked up the term minister and learned that the word “minister” has its roots in the Greek writings of the Bible. It is the translation of the word “diakonos”, which translates as “a waiter, servant; then of anyone who performs any service, an administrator.” Diakonos is really a combination of two words: “dia” meaning dust and “konos” meaning thoroughly. Later the two words combined to form the root word “diajon,” and the verb “dioko”, both which meant “hasten”. When used in a sentence, the meaning became that of service, such as the dust one stirred up when hurrying to do a task or when one hasten in pursuit of performing said task. In the New Testament of the Bible, the word was one who undertook a ministry or one who administered the calling.

The first laughed. “Well, since I would say being a spouse is like being a servant at times, maybe I was right on target with the marriage metaphor.” Both laughed and her friend agreed: “In all instances, with all the derivations of the word, the actions were carried out by a servant. Thus, a minister is one who is a servant. We are to be servants of God, as His children, and to be servants to each other. None is better than another. I just wish our respective ministers had been taught that.”

A great deal of time and energy is spent by church leaders regarding declining congregations worldwide. Perhaps a more productive question to ask is not “Why are people not coming?” but “How have we served the ones we have?” “How have we shared the love to each and every member, not just the ones who write the biggest checks?” “How can I be your servant?” Hopefully, our faith and spiritual leaders will stir up the dust as they hurry to reach each and every member, calling them by name just as God knows and calls each of us – not in judgment but in love.

My Psalm 45
Wedded to you by faith, O Lord,
I sing your praises to all.
Sons, take up your duties and be of good service to all.
Daughters, spread your joy of life in all you do and to those you meet.
Worry not abou the future;
Leave the habits of old behind.
Today join we join as one for all that is to come.
Ours is to help another and not worry about self.
We put our trust in you, Lord God Almighty.
We are one in our faith, united by love.
Nothing can separate us from our God
And our faith is strengthened daily by service.
We put our faith in your calling, O Father.
We celebrate your love.