Pentecost 85

Pentecost 85
My Psalm 85

The Revised Church: A Better Me

Recently I received via FaceBook an opportunity to review a video. It was made by a man who offered that he knew what Jesus meant. He was not interpreting scripture. He was positive he knew that Jesus was think we needed enemies.

Also recently I was asked about a somewhat new policy in the Episcopal Church based upon the often-referred-to-as-‘the new prayer book”. Rendering an opinion on this revised Book of Common Prayer is much like passing through a neighborhood with warring gangs. No matter where you walk or what you are wearing, you will become a target. In short, there is no right or wrong for all and no matter where you stand….You are wrong! I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also will much sincerity.

The website posted an article on August 17, 2013 written by David Murrow entitled “Why Traditional Churches Should Stay Traditional”. The article was very well-written and talked about a church that attempts to be inclusive to all varieties of those worshipping. Once a month it has a more contemporary service and the music is “Praise” anthems accompanied by a guitar.

The writer mentioned that most in the congregation do not know these hymns and few sing along, even with the aid of a giant screen that lowers with the words on it. The writer also said the guitarist did not keep a steady rhythm. Interestingly, one of his compliments about this church [which is not his home parish but is a parish in the town where he and his wife live] was that “the people are friendly, but not overly so”.

The writer of this piece compares a church to a radio station and encourages the church to stay within its “genre”, to “do what you do best”. He concludes by stating: “What has this got to do with men? Guys appreciate a quality worship service — but they are not very forgiving of anything hokey or half-baked.”

Liturgical composer and acclaimed folk mass historian Ken Canedo traces the roots of the folk mass back to Gregorian chant, although it received the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church with Vatican II. It began in the Roman Catholic Church and slowly grew in popularity and acceptance. Gospel songs became upbeat and rearranged as churches opened their doors to all of God’s children, not a select few of a particular color or social status or neighborhood.

The writer asked “What has this got to do with men?” Fortunately for mankind, the worship service is not about perfection nor is it only for men. The focus isn’t even humankind. The Eucharist is about God and connecting with Him, recognizing the history and elements of our faith and denominational doctrine. It is a time of meditation, confession, supplication, appreciation, and connection.

Hebrews 12: 1-2 compares a spiritual life to running a race. One gets nowhere in a race by standing still or doing the same thing over and over again. Amos and Malachi also address the issue of stagnant churches and stagnant believers. We are all very lucky that God is open to change and forgiving, since many of our daily attempts at living can end up “hokey or half-baked”.

Where would we be today if medicine had decided not to try new things, new procedures, and new cures? How comfortable would we be in our churches if we had none of the advantages of the Industrial Revolution? How many people would come to coffee hour if you had to brew it over an open fire because there was no electricity? I have worshipped in historic churches dating back to the 1730’s. They are lovely with their box pews, etc. They are also chilly, drafty, and the candles needed for light are a great fire hazard.

When we resist learning new things, we limit ourselves. When we limit ourselves, we limit God. No one is born knowing the Nicene Creed or Lord’s Prayer. We had to learn it to love it. When we learn to appreciate the language and music of all God’s children, then we will love our neighbors as ourselves. Religion may be traditional but we are called to be contemporary in living our faith. It’s called growth.

Faith is personal. First and foremost, it is yours and I sincerely hope you find the faith, those spiritual beliefs that expand your world and give you comfort. Somewhere, sometime, someplace, the right positive way to lie is out there for you. It is not just like mine nor should it be. You and I are not the same. What is the same is kindness, love, personal calm, peace.

The thing is, faith is not something to be savored in the privacy of our own souls. It is meant to be shared. The successful host does not always throw a dinner party with just their own personal favorites. They offer a smorgasbord in the hopes that the guests will find at least one thing appealing. We need to acknowledge that what appeals to us might be offsetting to another and provide a variety. One might not like the combining of popular music and prayer but no one can deny the intense faith of the U2charists so popular in the first decade of this century nor the graciousness of the group U2 in allowing their music to be replayed through churches across the world with copyright permission.

Church is a means of communication, like the aforementioned radio station, but it is not just for listening. It is for hearing, talking, living, breathing, using, showing, and yes, even evolving. “When I was a child I spoke as a child.” As an adult, I need to find strength in my faith to be a better me, to walk in the assurance of God and His love and live in peace, especially with those who have a different palette than I. Like instruments in an orchestra, we have the ability to play many different types of music, whether Beethoven or Bernstein. It is when we do that together, that we find the Lord’s favor and purpose. In God’s arms, there is a place for us – all of us.

My Psalm 85

God and Creator, Great Spirit and Father Confessor:
We come to you seeking favor.
We pray to you seeking assistance.
We worship you seeking mercy.
We honor you seeking grace.

Revive and refresh us, O Great One.
Help us to not only receive but to give
Your steadfast love, faithfulness, and peace.

May the lives we lead reflect your Being.
May the adjectives of faith
Become the adjective of your children’s actions.

I pray we truly become one in the Love and one in harmony with all.
I pray we remember we all live in your heart together, united.
Man is the symphony of God’s presence on earth.
I pray we sing and dance in joyous jubilation.

Pentecost 84

Pentecost 84
My Psalm 84

Glory Be!

Life is messy. That is not the first time I have ever said/typed that and it will not be the last. Life is messy. Stuff happens. We plan and organize and do our very best and it turns upside down with everything ending up falling apart. Being spiritual, having faith, can help us see past the mess. It can give us the recipe for making lemonade, lemon meringue pie, lemon tarts out of the spilled lemons in our lives. Much like that delicious lemon pepper grilled chicken that is as delectable warm with roasted veggies or chilled and chopped in a lovely Caesar salad, faith shows the advantage of a little sharpness and sour in our life and provides us a lovely way to digest the day’s events.

Charlie Burke, author of “The Inner Power Emails” maintains that “Success is a skill. Happiness is a skill. Gratitude is a skill. Like all skills, they must be practiced clumsily before they can be done naturally. So, if you’ll devote ten honest days to the practice of feeling true gratitude and happiness, I can promise you a dazzling new skill. A skill that just naturally attracts success like a magnet draws iron. Because nothing attracts good fortune and success like a joyous, grateful heart.”

Mr. Burke has a Gratitude Exercise which Catherine Pratt of describes this way: “For many who take the challenge, this truly is an eye opening experience. You may suddenly realize how many negative thoughts you have during the day or you may discover how many wonderful things are happening to you but you never really gave them a second thought before. This exercise will cause your mind to shift from the negative to the positive. Each day, you will begin to notice the good things because your mind knows that it will need to come up with 10 things to write down later”.

Maybe you are one of those who hated the movie “Pollyanna”. Not surprisingly, it is one of my favorites but I do understand how completely unpopular it is to like it. It is far more “stylish” to act arrogant or as a martyr rather than having the disposition of a clumsy, happy puppy. We can be far more comfortable in our misery than in our gratitude for mundane things because the misery is comfortable. Pain is a much-worn cloak for many people. It happens naturally. Happiness and gratitude are thought processes and, quite frankly, some would prefer not to think.

Recently a good friend of one of my children committed suicide. While it is hard to remember that the act of suicide is really about the pain and ultimate decision to succumb to that pain of the one who has died, it is impossible not to recognize that suicide takes more than just one victim. When a person commits suicide we are forced to deal with its messiness and resulting grief and pain. Gratitude is hard to find in those situations, though it is because we are grateful for the person that we grieve. Often we overlook the happiness of the relationship to focus on our pain instead of allowing our joyous memories and smiles to be our healing balm.

What about those who “live” a suicide? Those people who insist on dwelling on the inevitability of life and its aches and pains and live daily feeling that there is no point in improving their diet, their lifestyle. These people are inflicting the same pain on their loved ones as the person who took their own life; it just seems differently to them because they also are forgetting to look for the daily gratifications and strive to live healthier to achieve more.

Melody Beattie describes what living a life with an attitude for gratitude can do for a someone: “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Maybe you had a dreadful childhood. Maybe you witnessed unseen acts of terror. Maybe you find yourself living someone else’s life. There is still room for gratitude. Reviewing the past can be painful but if you are alive to do it, your pain is a testament to your strength and resiliency.

The college student was doubled over with pain and he found himself in the college infirmary for the fourth time. The doctor at home had given up finding a cause and claimed the student was just trying to get out of the academic pressures of college. The campus medical staff looked deeper for a cause of the obviously stress-related ailments the student presented. After spending time with the student, they discovered a great difference in the student and the student’s roommate’s lifestyle choices. Upon reflection, the student admitted feeling perhaps some guilt over possibly being responsible for not giving his roommate adequate support for his choices. Since the roommate visited every day, the doctor pointed out that the roommate obviously cared and felt a deep friendship. The student began to understand that it was a true friendship in spite of their differences and that the roommate’s decisions were his and his alone. Gradually the symptoms began to reside. By focusing on their appreciation for the other, the roommates continued their deep friendship. Their lives played out very differently but their continued friendship and attitude of gratitude is alive today!

Life is not about remembering the past with pain but about gaining strength from it and moving forward. At the end of the day, accept Charlie Burke’s challenge to find ten things you can be grateful about and you will find you will rest better. It might seem hard to start but really it isn’t.

Here are two examples of how I could have thought of things, how I did and some truths about what might seem great but alas, has some messiness. Friend going to Paris in three days: Negative – Darn! I never get to go anywhere. Positive: What great stories she is going to tell and, of course, this is the perfect excuse to have some French fries (I’m trying to avoid fried fast food.) The reality is my friend might have to cancel her trip due to the volcano in Greenland. Fortunately, none of my plans for the upcoming week will be cancelled because we haven’t a volcano in our town! Secondly, we have some powerful storms heading our way. Negative – The dog sometimes has storm anxiety and I just know he will be all over me and not letting me do anything if the storms are too severe. Positive – I won’t have to water (let God pay for the water this month!) the yard and garden and if the dog sits on me, then I can catch up on some reading instead of housework! Reality – We are in a near drought condition but our temperatures are lower than that past week so the rain is needed and most likely will not produce any tornadoes. I won’t have to sweat cutting the yard but neither will I have an excuse to not do inside housework!

Life is not one-dimensional. Even the messiness and most painful things we experience can have positive, lasting benefits. We simply need to admit the messiness and then move forward, appreciating that we can move forward. No matter where it is, how large or how small, with faith and a deep sense of spirituality, our own little resting place we call home, our own life can indeed be lovely.

My Psalm 84

Dear Lord and Father of all,
The good, the bad,
And the ugly that you probably think is gorgeous:
Thank you.

For life’s lessons hard fought,
For life’s experiences bought with pain and gain;
For life…simply life.

Thank you.

Pentecost 83

Pentecost 83
My Psalm 83

Serving Our Enemies

It is a tale as old as time. A man married his love and they had two children – a girl and a boy. Sadly, the mother passed away and the father remarried. This time, though, he chose poorly. His new wife was not a loving step-mother as some are but rather a jealous one. Her jealousy grew and grew and the children lived in fear for their lives. One day they summoned the courage to go to their grandmother’s house. She fed them a snack and told them to find the forest witch. She was the only one who could help.

The children went in search of the witch who lived deep in the forest. Finding her, she told them to become her servants or else she would have them for supper. Scared, the children did as she asked. The girl spun the cloth and the boy carried the water and did the harder chores. The forest animals gave them advice and they were able to escape the witch with the help of the animals, some magic, and the trees. The children left and ran home, beseeching their father to love them. He made their wicked stepmother leave and they all lived happily ever after. Or so the Russian tale of Baba Yaga says.

While most of us haven’t a wicked stepmother or parent, we all have encountered those less than desirable coworkers or bosses. Even a school-age child can name at least one classmate that had given them cause to feel sad or bullied. Hopefully, if they turned to a responsible adult, they would receive help but in today’s world, we often hear “It’s not my problem” or “Sorry; can’t help you.’

When the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was asked how the people should treat their enemies, he gave the example of a stranger helping one of a culture that discriminated against him. We know it as the parable of the Good Samaritan. An injured man lies on the side of the road. Three of his townsmen, his neighbors pass by him and offer no aid. Then along comes a man of a lesser class, a man most would never have helped. This man not only renders aid, he pays for a night’s lodging and food for the injured man.

The story of Baba Yaga is an old one in Russian folktales. Sometimes she is flying on a broom; other times she is said to have two heads. Wherever she is, there is chaos, evil, and pain. The name actually comes from Finland. When Russian soldiers arrived there, they found statues known as Babas. The stories began with this golden babas and then spread. In Finland, as in many ancient cultures, the older women were considered the wise ones. After all, they gave life in the form of birthing children and protected the future of the tribe or clan by ministering to the sick and feeding everyone. Although originally representative of life, ,the concept of magic and evil began to be associated with the babas. In folktales, the Baba represented a person’s fate, the moral dilemmas we all face in life.

Unlike the witches of German fairy tales, the Baba Yaga flew without a broom. Rather, she sat in a mortar, much like what pharmacists use to grind up pills. They might be evil but they never lost their reputation of being wise and the mortar implied that they could also be of assistance and render aid. Usually the stories of our enemies had morals, lessons to learn. The Baba Yaga served to teach that if you are good and wise, listen to your elders and use your intuition, you will be rewarded. However, if you are cruel and unkind, you might find yourself burned to a crisp or eaten.

Hopefully we no longer believe such stories except as entertainment. So how do we learn from our enemies? How do we love our neighbors, even when we don’t like them very much? Who exactly is our neighbor? The man from Nazareth answered that last question while telling his story of the Good Samaritan. Everyone was one’s neighbor, especially if one came into contact with him. We learn from our enemies by loving them. When we treat them with respect, compassion, and generosity, then we are teaching ourselves how to be of service.

While no one is absolutely certain where the name Baba Yaga comes from , Baba is Russian for old woman or grandmother and Yaga is a word that means “finding fault”. How often do we do just that with our enemies? In fact, it is the act of finding fault that often makes someone our enemy. One of the most interesting things about Baba Yaga is that she is neither all good nor all evil. In short, she is very much like most of us. None of us are perfect; neither are we completely evil, without a chance for salvation. When we decide to consider our enemies as guests in our lives, then will we live a life of faith. Working together, we can escape the wickedness of our ways and find love.

My Psalm 83

You know my life, O Lord.
You know what I face;
You know how I am persecuted.
Grant me strength to love my enemy.
Give me compassion to render aid.
Help me help myself, Lord
By helping others.
Be righteous to us all, O God.
May we all come to know you and live together.

Pentecost 82

Pentecost 82
My Psalm 82

Judgment and Peace

Recent events in the news have been based upon judgments. These judgments have resulted in a lack of peace. Whether an assumption based on incorrect perceptions or a fanatical dogma, actions based upon fallacies have resulted in spreading chaos and fear.

Interestingly enough the words judgment and peace actually have a great deal in common. A judgment is the ability to make a decision based upon careful thought. Peace is the lack of violence, a state based upon careful consideration. See the connection? Both require careful thinking and careful consideration.

How do we achieve that? The world’s history is full of instances where people made incorrect judgments, even false accusations. Usually the results were localized wars but on occasions those have turned into worldwide global conflicts. While civil wars of the past may not have involved other countries, today’s economy is a worldwide event and the conflicts of one region ultimately end up affecting us all. We are one world, one planet, one race.

What happens we people judge? People begin to act with fear. According to American clergyman Tullian Tchividjian, “The deepest fear we have, the fear beneath all fears, is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It’s this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life.”

The Roman Cicero combined these two things in speaking developing great character. “It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” Careful consideration requires reflection and a true will to do right. Sometimes we must make split-second decisions but we need to do so based upon actual events and not perceptions from the past. We need to rid ourselves of past hurts, past whispers of ancient discriminations. Harboring ill feelings towards a nationality or ethnicity is not using sound judgment and it certainly will not lead to peace.

Buddha explained it this way: “To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” Seemingly a student of Thomas a Kempis who thought peace must begin internal before it could be external to the soul, Jawaharial Nehru stated: “Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.”

In her article “10 Steps to a More Peaceful Living”, Kate Lawrence advocates ten steps toward living with fewer judgments against others and the reward for a more peaceful existence. The first step is simplicity which advocates the old saying “Less is more”. Next comes humility which proposes we recognize the value in every job, not just those with big paychecks or prestigious titles. Intention is next and it requires us to think about why we undertake each and every action as well as its consequences. Next Lawrence discusses something she refers to as “Death and the Personal Self”. Eastern philosophies believe in many lives of one soul and Lawrence feels that this leads to a lack of fear regarding death. Perhaps most effective, though, is her advocating the death of one’s ego, the personal self that becomes an arrogant motivator for all our actions.

Lawrence continues her guide for peaceful living by discussing judgment. Dividing it into two steps, she discusses conflict resolution and less blame for mistakes. Often it is not a lack of knowledge in resolving conflicts that we need but rather the inclination and desire to do so. Many times, and this harkens back to the death of personal self, the ego becomes the hurdle and resolution becomes an elusive dream that flies away without being attempted. Then the subject of generosity is introduced. Lawrence gives examples of Buddha and a Tibetan lama but she could have also quoted the “Turn the other cheek” adage and “Love Your Neighbor” directive from the Christian faith. Kate Lawrence concludes with three things that are more personal habits than perhaps actual guidelines: yoga, vegetarianism, and a commitment to peaceful living.

We have the power within us, within each of us, to bring about peace. We have to stand tall and respond in peace with love and concern for all. When we live with faith and careful thought, we will make the right judgment and have the peace we all seek to live strong.

My Psalm 82

You are our Creator, the Maker of all.
You know us better than we know ourselves.
Some are strong and some are weak.
You love us all in spite of ourselves, Lord.
Grant us mercy and guidance.
Help us repair damages caused.
Enable us to build and rebuild when we destroy.
Endue us with compassion and generosity.
May we walk in your shadow and
Dance in your love.

Pentecost 81

Pentecost 81
My Psalm 81

Who are we? Why are we?

Walt Whitman once wrote: “We contain multitudes.” He was not referring to any dissociative mental disorder but rather, the varied parts of the whole that comprise one’s personality. I a world where there is so much destruction and death based upon identity, I think it important that we define who we are.

Cultural identity is seen as a good thing. It connects the past and the future while giving those living in the present strength and courage. National identity is what a nation relies on when it is threatened. People who strongly identify with their nationality are more willing to defend it. Religious identity or spiritual identity, though, can be constricting and sometimes imprisoning.

Though Whitman was speaking about each individual, the same quote aptly applies to any church or temple. “We contain multitudes.” Any belief is predicated upon its past, its traditions, and the interpretations of both. Whether the spiritual mantras of ancient monks or a newly released version of the Bible or a biofeedback used for spiritual enlightenment, one’s belief system evolves and is influenced by such multitudes.

J.L. Usó-Doménech and J. Nescolarde-Selva from the Department of Applied Mathematics, University of Alicante in Spain argue that the term “belief systems” is somewhat misleading. They illustrate that science cannot prove nor disprove these beliefs that have resulted from centuries of living on this planet. They explain it this way: “Belief systems are structures of norms that are interrelated and that vary mainly in the degree in which they are systemic. What is systemic in the Belief system is the interrelation between several beliefs. What features warrant calling this stored body of concepts a belief system? Belief systems are the stories we tell ourselves to define our personal sense of Reality. Every human being has a belief system that they utilize, and it is through this mechanism that we individually, “make sense” of the world around us.” They maintain that those areas that result in the greatest controversies are the areas in which we feel our belief system most challenged.

The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett explained it this way: “In beliefs we live. Beliefs constitute the base of our life, the land on which we live. All our conduct, including the intellectual life, depends on the system of our authentic beliefs. In them lies latent, as implications of whatever specifically we do or we think . The spirit is formed by beliefs.

So what about those people who only want to believe what they can see or touch or taste or smell? Are their beliefs any more or less than those whose beliefs are based solely upon feeling? After all, a great many religious tenets are based on hearing or reading and then feeling. Those beliefs cannot be proven in a court of law. They are proven in the heart and carried out by the mind. Are they any greater than those who want concrete proof?

Swiss Psychologist Jean Piaget developed a theory of cognitive development which took the thinking process from infancy through adulthood. Advances in his theory led to something known as postformal thinking, which combined relativity and integration of various input in determining an opinion. However, not everyone agrees with this hierarchy calling it simplistic or failing to consider the importance of language in cognitive development.

Suppose you say you believe in something you cannot prove. Someone is bound to ask you why you believe it. What would your response be? In his book “Theology for a Troubled Believer”, Diogenes Allen discusses the Christian belief and how it is based upon a book written when everyone thought the world was flat. IN his book he discusses the chief difference between the Egyptians and the Greeks. Because they were always asking “Why?”, the Greeks were considered children by the Egyptians. Knowing that, we can read their translations with a little more patience when the narrative or story seems to get bogged down in the “who beget whom” chapters. Allen paraphrases Rene Descartes’ famous quote, “I think; therefore I exist” with an explanation of his own beliefs: “I pray, there for I believe…whether I understand it or not!”

Some people, however, are uncomfortable in believing that which might prove false. Their sense of self is predicated upon reality. They are successful because they have material evidence that proves it. Their large house, fancy car(s), expensive vacations…all are testament to their achieving status. They are visible outward signs of their efforts, their time spent on earth.

Religion says we matter because of our Great Leader’s love for us. In that we all have equal status, regardless of our address or the labels in our clothes. That love, though, cannot be tasted nor heard. It might be evident in the food on our table but that food might also be because someone earned the money to pay for it. It is a fact that those who boast the most might also have the least self-esteem. If you do not love yourself, it is hard to believe an invisible deity could.

Traditions also provide us with a sense of identity. Changes to the manner of religious service or changes to a doctrine often cause a sense of panic, a loss of identity for many. While they might agree with the principle behind the change, they resist the change itself because it has no meaning as of yet for them. Historically empires existed when ruled by tradition. When the individual gained an identity based upon self, then the ruler’s power became weaker. The strong patriarch who decides everything for his family has more power than the rationally ruled family in which both parents have equal and shared power.

Religious systems felt that evil could enter when power became shared by the masses. Most denominations have been slow to ordain women though none claim that women could not understand the teachings of God and minister to mankind as ordained ministers. Much of the reluctance is more based upon tradition than actual scripture context. Once the Anglican Communion threatened to expel the Episcopal Church for ordaining women forty years ago but earlier this year The Church of England authorized the ordination of women to the position of bishop. Some in the Communion still protest women in clerical collars but many now proudly welcome them. Thus, a great deal of change has occurred in the past forty years.

Edward B. Toupin describes it this way: “Since we are what we believe, we can change who we are by enhancing our belief systems. To overcome your fears, you must first determine if the fear is based on something learned through experience or taught to us by parental voices. Fears that are taught or passed down to us can be more prominent than those we learn from personal experiences because we don’t know why we fear such things. We can overcome fears through rational thinking if we’re able to learn why such situations occurred that caused the fear. But, if we don’t know the basis, we won’t look further because we fear what we “might” find.”

In a world where one’s identity seems to be cause for revolution or annihilation, it can be scary to proclaim one’s beliefs or to change those traditions. It takes courage to have faith and it takes living one’s belief for a belief system to have merit. There will always be a difference of opinion and no one should be ridiculed for being or thinking differently. What we need to remember is that, as Whitman said, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

My Psalm 81

We can be stubborn, Dear Lord.
We can be set in our ways.
We think we know everything.
We think we know best.
We judge and complain.
We fail to look beyond our differences.
We ignore our strengths.
Help, O God, to learn from each other.
Help us to listen more than we devalue.
Help us to realize our strength is in diverse paths
Which all lead to one destination.
Forgive our tunnel vision, Lord.
Help us to see with your eyes and love;
Hear with your ears of understanding.
Let us recognize the difference is the same.
We are all your children. We all have value.
In you is our home.

Pentecost 80

Pentecost 80
My Psalm 80

The Faith in Goodbye

I remember when my grandmother suddenly died. My two children were both under the age of four and driving to pick them up at day care that day, I worried and then prayed about what I was going to tell them. I stopped at a stop light and suddenly realized I should do what I always did. I should not assume they thought like an adult but simply answer what they asked. After all, they did not see her every day and had no reason to specifically ask about her. I figured I would have at least twenty-four hours to get my own grief worked out. I walked in feeling better than I had in the past seven hours since she had passed away. I would greet them, hug them, and we’d go home just like any other day.

Sitting at the same stop light where I had figured out what to do, heading home, my oldest suddenly asked: “Where is my Granny?” I had a ready answer for “How is Granny?” I would simply reply “She’s is feeling fine” because, after all, no one hurts in heaven. My darling child, however, asked the sixty-four dollar question man has been asking about death for all of time. Claiming I needed to concentrate on traffic and driving, I said we would discuss it at home and started singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”.

The conversation we had at home, the conversation I had dreaded all day long, proved to be the most cathartic experience of my entire life. I told them she had died which meant her physical body that got cuts and scrapes had worn out but that her personality and soul was very much alive in heaven with God. I told them that we could visit her in our hearts but not in person. That night they said their grace at supper and added a hello to their Granny.

The following Sunday at church our rector knelt down to my oldest and said he had heard her Granny had gone on a long, long trip. Stunned because I had told him about our wonderful explanation and conversation about her death, I simply stood there holding my child’s hand. Said child looked at me and then at the rector. She responded: “Her died. Her’s in heaven.” The rector shook his head saying that no, her great-grandmother was just on a very long trip. Again my oldest replied: “Her’s dead. Her’s in my heart (hand over her heart), and her’s in my mind (hand touching her forehead), but her’s dead.” Once more the minister told her she was incorrect, that our beloved grandmother was merely on a long trip. My child, known for being a bit precocious and not fearful, released my hand and put both of hers on her hips. “You got her address on that trip?”

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that a favorite theme of mine is that our faith and spirituality should give us strength. At no time is one’s belief system ever more present and needed than when facing death – no matter the manner, expectation, or timeliness of it. My grandmother had lived a long life and died with little pain. She outlived her husband by nineteen years and was ready to meet her Maker and be reunited with her husband and other family members. It still hurt; it still left me feeling bereft; I still grieved. Faith, however, was the process by which I was able to continue, to move forward, and to live that life she wanted me to live.

Recently, the world dealt with receiving the news of a much-loved actor’s suicide. Whether it is by suicide or by accident, by a lingering illness or by a sudden, swift physical event, death is always traumatic. There is the shock, even when somewhat expected, which is usually followed by anger. Regardless of how a loved one dies, their passing often leaves a legacy of guilt, those shoulda, coulds, woulda thoughts based upon “If only”. Whether the result of something like cancer or suicide, the death of someone we valued usually leaves us in despair for not being the superhero that saved them. The resulting loneliness and sadness of the loss can lead the ones left behind down paths of negativity, crippling despair or collapse.

Having a deep-rooted faith can be the strength for moving forward. Reaching out to people is vital. Having a support system is required for daily living but especially when dealing with loss. Just as each one of us is our own person, we all grieve differently. For me, when confronted with the minister saying unexpected things, it was to be that courteous, respectful young lady my grandmother had encouraged me to be. For my child, it was a somewhat sardonic retort that reaffirmed the faith that said grandmother was in heaven.

My children did a much better job of dealing with reminders of my grandmother than I did for that first year following her death. They saw each reminder as a sign from heaven that she was still with us. Children have their own wonderful sense of timing. They instinctively know when to move quickly, like in line for a snow cone, and when to drag one’s feet, like when it’s time to take off that favorite t-shirt and go to bed. They had no qualms about missing their great-grandmother. Their honesty in their grief and their joy in their remembrances were a life lesson for me.

The old farmer proudly displayed the wooden box his grandson had made for him in his shop class. “This is for my seeds” he explained. “I got four trays that all fit in nicely.” The farmer knew that just because it seems as though life has gone, much still remains. Child is father or mother to the man. When our friends and family pass on, they will be missed but more importantly, they will be remembered. Their presence on earth, like our own presence on earth, was and is a seed for the future. We carry on in their name according our beliefs, making their memory a legacy for tomorrow.

My Psalm 80

Dear Lord,
Mankind is an orchard and we are each one tree.
Our orchard cannot exist without other trees
Yet not all will live to bear fruit.
Restore us to community, Lord,
When one withers away.
Restore us to good health when we stumble.
Grant us your comfort when needed, O God.
Heal us with your love;
Teach us to move on.
Some provide fruit;
Some provide shade;
Others will become the fertilizer for the soil of our growth.
Let our faith bear fruit
And the World bear witness to your glory.

Pentecost 79

Pentecost 79
My Psalm 79


Obscurity; extinction; death. Some would say this is the fear of mankind and yet, it is also its history. For those Jews during World War II who faced the attempt of one man to wipe out their culture and religion, it seemed as though they would all be dead. Their entire culture was about to have the sun set on it as six million were killed by the Nazi regime under the leadership of Adolf Hitler.

I don’t wish to get all caught up in a creation versus evolution debate right now. For one thing, neither side can really justify nor prove in a court of law that the other is completely wrong. Take a moment and reread my last sentence. I did not say they could not prove their case. I said they could not completely and undeniably disprove the other’s point of view.

I enjoyed watching Court TV when it was on the air and while I understand the concerns with cameras in the courtroom, I think they do more good than harm. I originally began watching because I wanted my children to gain a better usage of the English language and expected the lawyers to provide that. Regrettably, they fell short in my expectations and I discovered they might have passed the LSAT’s and law school as well as the American Bar Exam but very few were excellent English grammar and oral recitation students. Still, they all did one thing to the best of their ability and that was to attempt to disprove what the other side was saying.

Therefore, put aside your own preferences for believing in the original first twenty-four hours of the very first man and woman and look at mankind one hundred years after that. How did we get from there to here? How did we learn to live in our environment? Whether you believe Adam and Eve looked like Hugh Jackman – in any of his movie roles – and Heidi Klum – in any of her Halloween costumes – or they crawled out of the ocean and learned to walk upright, you have to agree that they were affected by their environment, just as we are today in the twenty-first century.

Several years ago I lived in an area hit by multiple tornados. The entire power grid was knocked offline for five days in our area. While practically no hobby of mine required electricity or refrigeration or heat and though I had plenty of nonperishable foods and the temperature was a lovely moderate one, I realized within three hours how much I loved the creature comforts electricity and refrigeration provided. Camping may be fun on vacation but when one does it daily in one’s house, it is not as much fun. My hobbies might date back to the seventeenth century but my preference for living was definitely twenty-first century! Why? It is because I am a product of my time and lifestyle. I have been affected by the world around me. I have evolved into the person I am. [Hopefully tomorrow will find me evolved in a better sense.]

We are constantly learning about early man and our evolution from near extinction at times to where we are today. A podcast entitled “Nature” broadcast on July 2, 2014 that German research had uncovered evidence that Neanderthal man consumed more vegetables than previously thought. The average man who claims to be a “meat and potatoes kind of guy” can no longer blame it on his heritage. Science has also discovered the reasons Tibetans are able to avoid hypoxia, a problem with breathing at higher altitudes. Their bodies have evolved in such a way as to cope with the thin air.

What about faith and spiritual beliefs? Do these evolve? In his book “The Evolution of Faith”, Philip Gulley feels that faith should always be seen as a work in progress. Gully is a well-known Quaker minister who wrote the book “If the Church Were Christian”, a guide in which he advocated a flexible belief that would enable the believer to successfully face to the challenges of living in the modern world.

Gulley asks: “But what if there were another way? What if God wanted us to grow and change, both in our theology and our beliefs? “ Instead of looking for answers from the world, Gulley invites the reader to develop his/her own apologetics, a belief system open to change.

We often hear people say “the good ole days” but in reality, more infants died, more mothers died in childbirth; fewer people lived past the age of fifty years; people living on one side of the country seldom if ever saw family on the other side. In short, the “good ole days” had their shortcomings. A cancer diagnosis is still a very scary thing and hopefully avoided with healthy living but it is not the death sentence that it was fifty years ago. We have evolved in the fields of science, medicine, technology better than we have in interpersonal relationships.

Most of how we respond to others is based on a belief system, even for agnostics and atheists. We must be open to changing and growing if we are to persevere in life. Growth is seldom easy and yes, sometimes it is painful. It is, however, an absolute necessity, is we want to see the sunrise of tomorrow.

My Psalm 79

Dear Lord, maker of all, father/mother of all:
We have failed.
We have taken what you gave us
And we have not been wise with it.
We are suffering, O Lord.
We plea for your mercy and grace upon us.
We need your help, Lord.
Please help us so that we might return to your favor
And proclaim the goodness of life in all ways to all things and all people.
Please do not fail us, O God, as we have failed you.

Pentecost 78

Pentecost 78
My Psalm 78

Virtues: Carpe Diem!

We all have them. We express them differently but I firmly believe we all have them. Sometimes they are like a song that you know. Maybe you have sung it the same way forever and ever but then you hear a different arrangement. It is still the same song and yet, it is its own composition.

Virtues are a great deal similar to the familiar song. Virtues are a positive characteristic. Sometimes called a moral excellence, a virtue is a positive trait or quality characterized as being good. The ancient Egyptians called such a concept Maat and it included truth, balance, order, law, moraliry, and justice. Maat was personified as a goddess who controlled the starts, the seasons, and the actions of mankind as well as the other deities. The counterpart of Maat was Isfet who symbolized chaos, lies, and injustice. While Maat represented virtue, Isfet represented vice.

Classically, there were four cardinal virtues: temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Most would agree that those are indeed good things to have and ways to live. To live by those traits, though, can be tricky. No one virtue can stand alone. Prudence is concerned with knowledge and not action. Yet, prudence must be a part of all action if it is to be productive and moral. Knowing when to temper punishment with praise, when to act with courage and not recklessness, knowing how to administer justice….These all are virtuous acts if done properly and with prudence.

Aristotle described this in his “Nicomachean Ethics”: “At the right times, about the right things, towards the right people, for the right end, and in the right way, is the intermediate and best condition, and this is proper to virtue.” Aristotle defined a virtue as a “golden mean”, that perfect point between excess and deficiency. Many people reach for the golden mean when donating to the homeless. You don’t want to simply walk up to a homeless person and give them a thousand dollars and yet, you don’t want to ignore them either. Generosity can be a virtue that fits nicely in the middle of being stingy and being excessive. Similarly, courage should be the golden mean between abject cowardice and foolhardy behavior.

Confidence is a golden mean most of us struggle with each and every day. It lies between crippling low self-esteem and arrogant narcissism and vanity. Aristotle saw virtue as the key to succeeding at being human. He felt virtue to be the key to not only surviving life but to thrive at it. Virtues are those things that enable us to create lasting relationships, succeed at a career, and find happiness.

It is said that doing something for twenty-one days will make it into a habit. The Virtues Project is all about making virtues a habit. Their statement reads: “ Virtues are the very meaning and purpose of our lives, the content of our character and the truest expression of our souls. For people of all cultures, ethnicities and beliefs, they are the essence of authentic success. Virtue means power, strength, inner quality. Virtues are the content of our character, the elements of the human spirit. They grow stronger whenever we use them.

What is The Virtues Project? Quoting their website: “It was Easter weekend in 1988 when Linda Kavelin Popov, her husband Dr. Dan Popov and brother John Kavelin were discussing the state of the world over brunch at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. They decided to do something to counteract the rising violence of children toward others and themselves. They believed that violence is a symptom and meaninglessness is the disease. They spent a summer of discernment reflecting on what would give children a sense of meaning and purpose. Tapping into Dan’s years of research in the world’s sacred traditions, they had an “Aha! Moment”. They discovered that virtues are at the heart of meaning in every culture and belief system, from indigenous oral traditions to the world’s Sacred texts.”

The first client for their project proved to be the leader of one of Canada’s indigenous American Indian tribes, one of the First Nations as they are called in Canada. The Virtues Project is now in over 52 countries. They explain their success: “Each of us has both Strength Virtues we can rely on, and Growth Virtues that are the challenges of our character. A lifelong learner never gives up hope that at any moment, we can awaken a virtue by choosing to live it.”

We will not all portray the same virtue in the same way. Diversity has been a part of Creation from their beginning and evolution has simply enhanced it and taken us steps closer to perfecting it. However, nature and our world will not be continuing if we do not all develop virtuous living. We must treat each other with respect in order for the planet to thrive and live harmoniously with happiness for all.

My Psalm 78
Dear Creator,
You have given us a planet;
Yet we seek others.
You provided us food;
Yet we taint it with chemicals.
You gave us beautiful flora and fauna;
Yet we destroy it with pollution.
You offered us a Prophet;
Yet we forget His words in our daily living.
You love us in spite of everything;
We treat your children, made in your image, as trespassers.
Help, O God, do develop virtues for living.
Help us improve ourselves.
Lead us into the future with goodness.
Help us not destroy the future.
Guide us from gluttony to appreciation and respect.
May we learn the daily habit of gratitude, Lord.

Pentecost 77

Pentecost 77
My Psalm 77

Unseen footprints

We all hear them: those voices of our youth, those murmurs from the past. Sometimes they berate us, reminding us we are human. Sometimes they urge us to take a chance and live outside of the predictableness of our daily life. Sometimes they simply remind us that while our life might not be perfect, there is still much for which we have to be grateful.

Hun Sen once said “lessons of the past should steer us towards ensuring lasting legacies for generations yet to be born.” AS one of the world’s longest ruling prime ministers, Hun Sen’s opinion is an interesting one. Before becoming Prime Minister, He once served in the Khmer Rouge but later joined anti-Khmer Rouge factions. His time in his native Cambodia is not without controversy. In his early 60’s, this man who serves one of the world’s only countries whose king is a trained classical ballet dancer, has not succeeded in putting to rest the voices of Cambodia’s past as it moves forward. Just this week he was quoted as calling a human rights aid worker “an idiot”.

Throughout history, man has given advice on how to move forward. Many great leaders felt the only course of action was to attack. After all, if one is attacking, one is doing something. Others have felt it far better to improve the quality of life for all involved. After all, happy people seldom revolt. Unfortunately, happiness is but a fleeting moment and fear lives in most.

While we all have dreams and hope for the future, they often are drowned out by the clamor of the voices of the past, the unseen footprints of experience that constantly proves our shadow. In his book “The Zahir”, Paulo Coelho addresses the past and the future: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.” “Study the past if you would define the future” said the philosopher Confucius.

Certainly the past can teach us but often it serves to be a reminder of pain, of failed attempts, of things not yet resolved or accepted. Robert Longley has written a beautiful poem about this entitled “lessons from the Past”:
“Whispers migrate through the halls
Responding to forgotten calls
It seems that man has come so far
Yet forgotten how to reach the stars
In days now past in years before
You have a glimpse of what’s in store
Though nothing is as it will be
Most of man must wait and see
Some can see those things today
It’s they who soon will lead the way
To take man down a different path
To flee the course of heaven’s wrath
The light of sounds return is soon
To charge the halls of sun and moon
And teach the lessons of the past
That man may reach the stars at last.”

Joseph Benziger said: “We should know the difference between cherishing the lessons of the past and living in the past; likewise the difference between being prepared for the future and being worried about the future.” It is an often used cliché but true – a butterfly must give up everything it knows in order to become its destiny, a beautiful butterfly.

So often we prefer to remain the cocoon of our past. After all, we know it; it is comfortable; it is safe or so it seems. What the butterfly may or may not know is that it cannot continue to live in its cocoon. The cocoon cannot continue to sustain its life. It must make the transition into its future.

Faith and spiritual beliefs are often what enables a person to move forward in a positive manner. The belief that we have a purpose, that we can accomplish something greater than the past and present enables us to take that jump from that past into the future. It gives our present living a bridge for us to journey across and connects our past life to a future one.

In her book “The Comeback Season”, a love story, author Jennifer E. Smith sums up how we can all move forward, gaining strength from the footprints of our past as we walk into our future: “She understands now what she, in all her worry, had forgotten. That even as she hesitates and wavers, even as she thinks too much and moves too cautiously, she doesn’t always have to get it right. It’s okay to look back, even as you move forward.” For those with religious or spiritual beliefs, their footprints do indeed have a shadow, the unseen footprints of our God or Great Spirit.

My Psalm 77

Dear Mother/Father of all,
You are the compass of our souls.
We pray that we might go forth
With grace and mercy,
In love and generosity,
Forever moving toward unity and prosperity.
May the expectations and potentialities of life
Envelope us all
As we travel the road to peace,
Remembering the glory is Yours and not ours.

Pentecost 76

Pentecost 76

My Psalm 76

Rainbows: Happiness or Anger?

Look up the word happiness and most dictionaries will define it as a state of feeling good or positive. Research further and somewhere, at some point, you will see that happy people are suppose to be generous, joyous, even charitable. Usually, my commentary for the day has some relativity to the psalm; however, it is not focused on the psalm. Today will be different. Today’s psalm is a summary of what should be and what is in the current political climate of many parts of the world.

Matthew Henry’s “Concise Commentary” on Psalm 76 states: “Happy people are those who have their land filled with the knowledge of God! Happy persons that have their hearts filled with that knowledge!” Ii is interesting that so many people worldwide describe the believers that worship with the psalms not as happy but rather as being judgmental. Whether in the Middle East or in local political contests within the USA, the largest country founded for religious reasons in the world, religion is used more as an excuse for suppression of others rather than as a source of happiness.

Henry continues in discussing Psalm 76: “God’s people are the meek of the earth, the quiet in the land, that suffer wrong, but do none.” Does that mean the believers of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are suppose to be doormats for the rest of the world? How did the leaders of the Crusades, the pilgrims immigrating to the New World, the Turkish invaders, even more recent attempts at conquest justify their actions in light of Psalm 76 and others like it? Were these attempts at finding happiness and glory for their God?

Carolyn Gregoire, writing for the Huffington Post, quotes Harvard psychiatrist and Columbia-trained Buddha scholar Joe Loizzo is discussing happiness and the contemplative sciences. “There’s a growing understanding that we need to move back in the direction of the contemplative traditions — the ancient wisdom that says slow down, pay attention, be kind, be at peace — whereas our modern wisdom has said that we need to just push forward and move into the future. We’re realizing that’s not sustainable for us either as a civilization or for our individual minds and brains. It’s wearing and tearing us down just like it’s wearing and tearing the planet down.” Our quest for happiness, inner peace, and defining our faith is killing us and the planet.

Recently, over the past two decades, a great deal of psychological research has centered around the concept of happiness and the quest people undertake to achieve it. Several interesting things to note have surfaced. There are varying degrees of happiness and too much happiness is not always a good thing. Many people experiencing great success or a sudden influx of cash inhibit themselves from enjoying it fully. Like the old saying, they end up “waiting for the other shoe to fall” and the other shoe is a negative situation. This keeps them from enjoying their current happiness.

There are also good times to be happy and times when it can be detrimental. For instance, being overcome with the beauty of nature and creation could make you delighted to turn a corner while on a hike and find yourself approaching a large wild animal. Instead of turning around and getting away from the dangerous situation, your happiness might lead you to go closer and possibly end up in danger. The same is true for a false happiness derived from substances such as alcohol or other rugs, even something as seemingly harmless as caffeine or tobacco. These drugs interact with our synapses and affect our feelings, effecting our emotions. The person who has a daily nightcap to relax does achieve a sense of happiness and relaxation but that is because the alcohol is a depressant, not because it is helping them achieve a sense of happiness or alleviating any source of the stress. What they perceive as happiness is just a masking and delaying of their real situation.

The above example of the nightcap is one example of the wrong way to achieve happiness. The nightcap cannot change anything and therefore is not a true path to happiness or resolving an issue. Always seeking happiness for happiness’ sake is another incorrect path and often leads to more negative emotions. Trying to “be happy” begs the question of how much happy is enough and all too often, there never is enough happiness, hence the unhappiness.

There are also different types of happiness and some could be considered harmful or just plain wrong. Hubristic pride, more commonly known as vanity or narcissism, is a common incorrect type of happiness. The person who defines happiness as having the most possessions will soon find themselves unhappy because there will never be enough. Having a snazzy, fancy car may be nice at the outset but soon one realizes it is still just a car. Eating an entire plate of brownies may seem like a well-earned indulgence but, in truth, the brain responds more positively and with greater happiness to small rewards spaced out. Not only does the brain get greater satisfaction from the “less is more” concept of rewards, the body also finds it healthier. Having great wealth does not lead to happiness. Spending what one has wisely does.

Consider the rainbow. Rainbows are beautiful and almost always invoke a sense of happiness to those seeing them. They are similar in concept to the wonderful beach house or lake house that people dream of for vacations or retirement. The reality is that the rainbow only follows the rain and rain seldom invokes feeling of great happiness or calm in people. When we envision ourselves on the sand or deck of that lovely waterfront home, we forget about the angry mosquitoes or sunburn that accompanies it. Often the anticipation is of greater happiness than the reality of the purchase or event.

So what makes the difference between happiness and a negative emotion like anger? Research and history attest to the fact that most of mankind cannot predict what will make one happy. A focused approach on combining passions and purpose, however, does provide long-lasting happiness. So why aren’t more of us happy and why all the strife and conflict among people who are supposedly happy?

The appeal and, some would say, the purpose of religion is to make the individual part of the whole. When people have a purpose, a higher purpose, they are happy. When man or woman feels they are contributing to something outside of themselves, their life takes on greater merit. In short, though the rain may cancel plans for an outside activity, most of us realize the rain provides nourishment for that outside environment in the first place. The rainbow is the bow on the package, the icing on the cake. When we accept the journey of our life not in garnering the most prestige or toys but make our purpose for the greater world’s good, then we become not an individual but part of something much greater. That is when we experience true happiness.

My Psalm 76

You are my reward, my joy, O Lord.
In you is my peace, my calm.
May I walk by your teachings,
Thinking not of myself
But of my neighbors and enemies.
May I look toward You, O God.
In You is all I need.
Let me know that after the dark comes the dawn.