Mirror Image

Mirror Image

March 18-19, 2018


“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”   Mark Twain spoke golden words when he said that.  How often do we look in the mirror and think we are not as good as we should be?  What happens when we are too full of ourselves?  When are we being prideful and when are we practicing self-respect?


Many would say that pride and self-respect and the same thing while others have written that they are two different sides of the same coin.  I have no worldly wisdom here.  Let me say that before we go any further.  As stated many times before, I am on a quest.  If I was perfect and/or had all the answers, I would no longer being seeking.  I would have arrived.


In my humble opinion, pride is fine as long as it does not include a sense of betterness, of being on a higher plane of existence than anyone else.  I might even go so far as to say there are many times in which pride and self-respect can be synonyms.  However, pride that elevates one’s personal worth to being “better” than another is wrong.


Self-respect means seeing the value in one’s existence.  That existence will not be perfect and it will have its challenges.  It will be a journey and like most journeys, have its detours and delays.  However, the journey will have a purpose and value.


The Reverend Peter Marshall once said Americans should not look to their Constitution as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted but rather as an opportunity to do right.   When you live with intentions, you live with purpose.  Anyone who lives with a purpose has to have self-respect.  You cannot and should not separate one from the other.


The dilemma about self-respect and building it is not a new challenge.  In his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides spoke of it.  “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”

When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us.  That reflection is just an outer covering.  What we should respect is the deeper self the character within the outer shell.  Joan Didion explains:  “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”
Life is not for the weak or lazy.  It takes courage and it requires an intention to live.  When we accept those two gauntlets that being born shoves on us, then we can live and build our self-respect.  Author Adrienne Rich agrees.  “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”


The reward to really being the image we want to see in the mirror is the best prize of all.  We gain self-respect and control over our being.  No one can ever deny us that.  You will never be without yourself when you can respect yourself.  Happiness requires that we have some measure of self-respect.  Be happy and start building your own bed of self-respect.  Life is much easier when you look into the mirror and can smile at your own reflection.


Stewardship of Prayer

Stewardship of Prayer

March 14-15, 2018


Stewardship is often defined stewardship as raising money, getting pledges of tithing from membership which creates a stream of income for the coming year.  Recently a friend was facing an upcoming surgery and mentioned needing to make certain church attendance was on the agenda, needing to have God on their side for the operation.   Many view their attendance at their house of worship as a stewardship of prayer, a type of “praying it forward” to earn brownie points for those times they mess up or do not live their faith.


Let me explain the term “brownie points” in case you are reading this and are unfamiliar with this popular slang term.  Like most slang terminology, there are several opinions about its origin.  In the 1960’s a system of brownie points was created in the Girl Guides/Scouts program.  In order to earn a badge, Brownie Guides or Scouts had to complete a certain number of tasks concerning the particular badge in question, usually six tasks.  As each undertaking was completed, they were said to have earned a “brownie point”.  [I was a proud Brownie Scout and yes, I earned all the badges.]


After World War II the practice of issuing stamps based upon the amount of purchase became prevalent in many retail businesses.  The stamps would be accumulated and then exchanged for household items that were often a luxury for the average household.  The first such stamps were brown in color so the consumer was said to earn Brownie points while supporting the local economy.  In New Zealand a utility company still uses what it calls Brownie points in their marketing. 


Although the earliest reference of brownie points in print is found in a 1960’s article in California as a man spoke about his wife earning brownie points, a sexist attitude I have to dislike, it is much more likely that the real credit for the term belongs to an American railroad superintendent, George R. Brown.   In 1886, Brown developed an innovative system of merits and demerits for railroad employees who worked for the Fall Brook Railway in New York State.   His system of rewarding and punishing employees was written about in business publications and it garnered great fame as other railroads began using it.  Railroad employees referred to the merits and demerits as “brownie points” and the slang term worked its way into our common vocabulary.


An important thing to remember is that brownie points are imaginary and are not free.  One earns them either through effort or by paying a monetary price.  Their imaginary existence is the result of action.  I am not a deity to which anyone offers prayer so I cannot speak with authority but I am fairly certain that the concept of “praying it forward” is far less effective than the generosity of spirit involved with “paying it forward”, a concept suggested by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book “In the Garden of Delight” in which a person does a good deed for a stranger instead of the original benefactor from which they received something favorable.  Paying it forward might be considered giving it back while praying it forward is more of a savings loan program.  Paying it forward involves at least two or more people and usually can become a bit contagious with others following the example.  Praying it forward is an idea predicated on the belief that one will need extra favor due to a mistake or intentional wrongdoing.


Many donate or tithe based upon the knowledge that they are not perfect and will need forgiveness from their supreme spirit to which they believe they are accountable.  This use or practice of giving money as a type of “fine paying” treats forgiveness and being blessed as something that can be bought.  Indeed, there are some denominations and religions that still purport this concept.  It is, in fact, the reason many suicide bombers detonate their bombs; they believe it is the ultimate payment for the ultimate resting place for their soul.


I will not even get into the theology or lack thereof of such concepts.  The fact is that stewardship has really very little to do with money or even earning favor.  How often have you visited a busy shopping mall or large office complex and seen someone mopping up a spill or emptying the waste cans?  While the majority of such cleaning is done by a custodial staff after hours when the general population is not present, there are those little mishaps that require constant attention.  This is the real definition of stewardship, the caretaking of the establishment.  Do we stop to thank those stewards, those custodians or do we simply walk around them, maybe acknowledging their presence with a quick nod or the briefest of smiles?


Almost every culture has a flood myth and during Pentecost one year we discussed several of those, the most famous of which is the story from the Abrahamic faiths of Noah and the Ark.  What we fail to realize is the stewardship required of Noah and his family in this story.  Anyone who has had a household pet or lived on a farm or ranch knows the efforts required by owning animals.  Imagine doing that on a boat in the middle of nothing but water.  The mucking out of cages and stalls, the sweeping up of shedding hair…you get the picture.  All of a sudden the mythology of this story takes on a very different meaning than simply a man saving his family and two of each species so they can repopulate the planet.  Providing sustenance, a source of staying alive, a healthy environment…these are the realities of stewardship.


What sustenance do we give our prayers and how do we keep our prayer life alive?  While many times there are those on-the spur-of-the-moment prayers, how do we provide for those deeper meditative prayers and do we create a healthy environment for those?  Do we make very necessary quiet pockets within our day to engage in a prayerful dialogue, one in which we can listen?  Before we start to worry about earning brownie points, we first need to really engage in prayer, real active prayer.  Regardless of our spiritual leanings or direction, we can go nowhere until we have stewardship of our praying. A vehicle without petrol or gas will go nowhere and even an electric car needs recharging after its first drive.


Literature is full of examples of the Devil, the ultimate evil spirit, the nemesis for most faithful people.  Before you tell me you are too busy to be a good steward of prayer, let me remind you that Milton’s Lucifer and Goethe’s Mephistopheles were considered the most interesting of all the characters in the plays they inhabited.  Delightful and witty, their evilness does not appear as repulsive but rather charming and charismatic.  Yet, they represent the most evil of all, that which separates us from God – “I am the eternal spirit of negation” Mephistopheles explains to Faust in Goethe’s play.


It is that “I haven’t the time”, the subconscious “NO!” playing in our heads that keeps us from actively taking control of our praying and our prayer life.  Anywhere can become a sacred space as we discovered last Advent 2014 with the series that explored all the different sacred spaces on earth.  It is up to us to create that sacred space in our own lives, that time no matter how brief and that place no matter where it is that allows us to be faithful stewards of our praying.  We have no need to pray it forward.  We simply need to pray.

Street-side Prayer

Street-side Prayer

March 12-13, 2018


Someone asked me about the people who “pray on the street corner”.  You know what they are talking about.  In large cities all over, people set up a mini pulpit of sorts.  Their congregation is anyone who passes by.  The other night I heard someone describe the experience of walking past such a corner.  “They stand there screaming “Repent!”  I end up feeling guilty and I am not ever really sure why!”


Some would call this a type of prayer, this evangelical display.  Others simply call it annoying and a few might even go as far as calling it “crazy”.  Many feel we need more “overt Christians” but I am not certain standing on a street corner and shouting out scripture and what happens to sinners is gets the message across.


I really don’t know if these street preachers accomplish much but they definitely are not afraid to let others know what they believe and I commend them for that.  I also don’t know if what they are doing really falls under the category of prayer.  Most of these faith peddlers consider themselves to be Christian so let’s use their religion to describe their actions.


Many Christians use the following acrostic when praying: A.C.T.S.  Each letter represents one of the four elements of prayer.  “A” is for adoration; “C” stands for confession.  Many prayers begin with a description of the deity being addressed, an adoration that recognizes the deity’s place and role in our lives.  The confession part we all understand albeit many of us seldom confess what or all we should.  “T” represents thanksgiving while “S” is for supplication.  These latter two are self-explanatory with thanks often given less than confessions.  Most humans are very good at prayers of supplication, prayers that ask for something.


There are those theologians who believe the A.C.T.S. acrostic also illustrates the priority one should give each facet of prayer.  This is often a characteristic of a denominational belief.  [I find it interesting although I am not certain I agree with those theologians.]  Certainly there are more prayers of supplication than elements of adoration and thanksgiving.  Usually one’s prayer life is more along the lines of S.C.A.T. with the “a” meaning ask again and “T” meaning tearfully.  Regretfully, the old adage “No news is good news” is how many thank their deity – No prayer means all is good.  I really think that is missing the point of prayer. 


Many have pointed out that the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer supposedly given by the man known as Jesus of Nazareth who Christians believe to be the son of God, contains no thanksgiving.  The “hallowed by thy name” is an adoration.  “Forgive us our sins” is certainly a confession and there are supplications – “Give us this day our daily bread; Thy will be done on earth.”  Perhaps the second part of the confession is a type of thanksgiving, “as we forgive those” but I really doubt it.  Perhaps the acrostic is a bit incomplete and thanksgiving is something to live, illustrated instead of prayed.  Truthfully, the fact that we have a deity to be pray to should be reason enough for giving thanks.


But what about those street corner praying faith peddlers?  We all are corner prayers.  We come to a crossroads and what do we do?  We pray.  Life requires us to make choices and as we stand between two or more things trying to decide, we pray.  Hopefully we aren’t judging others as they pass, screaming “Repent!” but we do stand on the corner of life and buy our actions, peddle our faith. 


Life is not for the weak or spineless.  It takes courage and deliberate action to live a faith-filled life.  Being connected is something uncomfortable; it makes our lives busy and, at times, non-complacent.  We pray for many reasons but in most of them, it is because we are standing at the corner of life. 


If you find yourself in a large city, on a corner needing to cross the street, you have to not only look at any traffic signals but also listen for traffic and look to see if any vehicles are coming.  Prayer is not a monologue.  We need to listen and act.  We have to engage and then follow through, crossing the street and continuing our path in life.  No matter who we are, praying on the corner as we stand on the crossroads of everyday life is a great way to avoid traffic and then move on down the road we call life.





Who Are We…Really?

Who are we…Really?

Feb 12-13


In 1974 a politician serving on the national level was discovered in a compromising position with a burlesque performer.  Being a member of the conservative political party, he claimed he was just supporting the woman’s career and was doing so with his wife’s support.  In the next several months the true affair was revealed, a relationship that had involved a pregnancy and an abortion, all the time while the politician campaigned against abortion and touted his own family values.  This was a watershed moment for national politics.  Up to this point, their private lives were just that – private.  In a nation that proudly disavowed an aristocracy or ruling monarchy so that all could be considered equal (and held equally accountable by a justice system that supposedly was blind to class, politicians had been given a free ride based upon their stature as … well, politicians.


After a wave of sexual misconduct and corruption revelations following the 1974 Tidal Basin incident, Congress created ethics committees for each chamber and formal processes for reprimands, censures and expulsion. The Arkansas politician involved decided to end his political career amid the negative press coverage of his affair also demonstrated that powerful lawmakers could face consequences for their sexual misdeeds ― even if they were consensual affairs.


In a recent article for the Huffington Post, Paul Blumenthal wrote:  “Congress is currently grappling with how to respond to a new wave of sexual misconduct allegations. The effort is occurring amid a national outcry over accusations that powerful men ― not only in politics, but the media and the entertainment world ― abused their positions to harass, assault and rape women, girls, men and boys.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was accused of kissing radio news anchor Leann Tweeden against her will, and he was photographed groping her while she slept in 2006. He has since resigned his Senate seat.  Then news broke that 88-year-old Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) allegedly made repeated sexual advances to women on his staff. He reportedly settled in 2015 a wrongful dismissal complaint filed by one of them.   Several women alleged that Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore either sexually assaulted them, kissed them or made unwanted advances while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.  Moore lost the Senate race and is said to be pursuing legal action against his accusers. 


Blumenthal also wrote:  “Absent an imminent election, the public sector has few levers available for ousting a lawmaker from Congress (or a president from the White House, for that matter) for sexual misconduct — fewer, certainly, than the private sector has at its disposal for dealing with miscreant CEOs and the like. No lawmaker has ever been expelled for sexual misconduct, and many facing such accusations have simply declared that they would not seek re-election.  But more and more, lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct are resigning from office. A survey of past cases by HuffPost determined that six of the 11 resignations from Congress since the mid-1970s that stemmed directly from sexual misconduct have occurred since 2006. This trend began after a second watershed moment in Congress’ history of dealing with sexual misconduct.”


The 2006 reporting by ABC News that Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had engaged in sexually explicit instant message conversations with male teenage congressional pages brought up another issue – power over the powerless.  . At least 10 men came forward to allege that Foley had sexually harassed them or made inappropriate sexual comments to them when they were underage pages. Foley ultimately admitted he had a consensual sexual relationship with a former page once the page was of age.  Foley quickly resigned from office, but the true scandal was not just about the personal failings and misconduct of an individual. Foley’s pattern of abusive behavior toward underage pages was known by powerful congressional leaders and staffers, and they swept it under the rug. That’s where it stayed, until the instant message conversations leaked to the press.


Clearly those in a position of power need to be held accountable but we must make sure that in doing so, we do not ourselves exercise our own discrimination or misuse of power.  Righteous indignation is perfectly understandable and accountability must be ensured but how do we do that?


Earlier this week an Ohio Republican state legislator who consistently touts his faith and his anti-LGBT stances resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office.  Representative Wes Goodman, who is married, was reportedly seen by someone who is not a staffer having sex with a man inside his Riffe Center office. The witness told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe of the situation early Tuesday afternoon, according to the Columbus Dispatch.  Dittoe told House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger, who met with Goodman. Shortly after the meeting, Goodman resigned due to “inappropriate conduct.”


Wes Goodman had made his religious beliefs a major part of his political campaign and life.  He was famous for speaking about what he termed “natural marriage” being between a man and a woman. His campaign website outlined his views on family: “Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio’s proud history and the key to Ohio’s future greatness. The ideals of a loving father and mother, a committed natural marriage, and a caring community are well worth pursuing and protecting.”


Goodman said in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch: “We all bring our own struggles and our own trials into public life. That has been true for me, and I sincerely regret that my actions and choices have kept me from serving my constituents and our state in a way that reflects the best ideals of public service. For those whom I have let down, I’m sorry. As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I sincerely ask for privacy for myself, my family, and my friends.”


It did not take more than ten minutes for Facebook to be full of his opponents and those in the LGTBQ community to start pointing fingers at the hypocrisy of Goodman’s words versus his actions.  My question is this?  Where is our compassion, our humanity in dealing with such revelations?


I think it boils down to living what we profess to believe.  It is not a problem known only to one group of people, one political party.  Society has created the environment that prevents people from living authentic lives.  The media is full of images that contribute to the emphasis on sex and its supposed accompanying power.  We the public encourage this from the media by watching and buying those products, programs, books, fashions, etc. 


Joe Camel was possibly one of the most effective advertising campaigns in the twentieth century.  The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was seeking an advertising campaign that would rebrand their Camel cigarettes as being right for younger people.  The plan worked a little too well. 


On May 28, 1997 the Federal Trade Commission released the following statement:  “The Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, the Federal Trade Commission charged today. The campaign, which the FTC alleges was successful in appealing to many children and adolescents under 18, induced many young people to begin smoking or to continue smoking cigarettes and as a result caused significant injury to their health and safety. The FTC charged that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the seller of Camel cigarettes, promoted an addictive and dangerous product through a campaign that was attractive to those too young to purchase cigarettes legally. In fact, the FTC said, after the campaign began the percentage of kids who smoked Camels became larger than the percentage of adults who smoked Camels….The agency is seeking an order that would bar Reynolds from using the Joe Camel campaign to advertise to kids and would require the company to conduct a public education campaign discouraging young people from smoking. The Commission also may order further relief, such as corrective advertising or other affirmative disclosures, after the trial on the case has concluded…. Consumers who smoke cigarettes risk addiction and long term health problems including cancer and heart disease,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, “and the earlier they begin smoking the greater the risk. That is why it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.”


Where is the outrage today about the barrage of suggestive material, music, and media that encourages the behavior we are seeing in the highest office of this country?  IN its statement of 1997, the FTC concluded “R.J. Reynolds has conducted one of the most effective advertising campaigns in decades. Joe Camel has become as recognizable to kids as Mickey Mouse. Yet the campaign promotes a product that causes serious injury, addiction and death. It appeals to our young people. It is illegal and should be stopped. Joe Camel must grow up or go away.”


Perhaps that is the crux of today’s sexual allegations.  Are people trying to use sexual acts, consensual and harassing, as a means for staying young?  Or have we just decided that whatever a politician wants, he should get?  Have we forgotten why we have a constitution with elected officials instead of a monarchy based upon inheritance and family?


I have no easy answers and, quite frankly, do not think there are any.  What does concern me is the religious community’s response.  Being a religious community involves a sense of compassion and humanity and this week, in response to Rep Wes Goodman, there was precious little of that.  Where is our own compassion when dealing with those who have fallen short and strayed from a path they themselves claim to follow?  Can we not see the need for humanity in these situations, kindness and charity for both sides? 


Before you starting yelling at me, let me be honest and fully disclose that I have never been a sexual perpetrator but I have been a victim.  I would wish it on no one, not even an enemy, to be so victimized and yet, I must rise above any feeling of hatred to find my own humanity.  Who do we wish to be?  Vindictive haters or compassionate in holding others accountable?  I do think we can be accountable and loving without condoning the illicit behavior.    The choice is ours.  I do think we are better as a race than to allow the incorrect, illegal, and inconsiderate behavior of others to pull us down to lower level of behavior than anyone would want.  The selfish behavior of others should create insensitivity and unkind responses of our own.  Very few, if any of us, are perfect.  We hope and seek understanding for ourselves.  I just think we owe it to others to give them the same respect.  Perhaps that is the definition of being mature – the ability to show concern to those who have not earned it but are still just are human as the rest of us.  I firmly believe perpetrators should be held accountable.  I just happen to believe and hope there is a humane manner to do so.


Lay Down to Build Up

Lay Down to Build Up

Advent 10

Year in Review 2017


A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”


The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.


Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.


How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”


Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.


Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.


“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.


Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.


When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped.  We are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.


Advent is a time of preparation and many feel charitable at this time of the year.  It is important to remember that a gift is not a bribe nor is it payment.  It is simply a way for us to cherish each other and honor the life of the recipient.  It is at this time of the year that the light of goodness needs to shine its brightest.  When we cherish our world and those in it, we also cherish our being.  That is a great gift indeed. 



Intention and Disconnect

Intention and Disconnect

Advent  6

Year in Review 2017


One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community.  Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct.  I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers.  Why?  Because, in my humble opinion, often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace.  I firmly believe our purpose in living is to cherish – each other, nature, all things connected to life.  Many times, the religious communities are the very institutions that define grace and yet, sometimes, they are its worst enemies.


Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.


Here is a quote from the Beyond Intractability website:  “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe.  Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists.  … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.


“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition.  Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”


Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives.  Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.


In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white.  Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional.  In other words, no one person is all anything.  In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.


To be certain, some things are either right or wrong.  You cannot murder someone halfway.  A person is either killed or alive.  However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide.  Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.


So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer?  Absolutely not!  Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside.  They are, I believe, most necessary to life.  Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace.  Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile. 


Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord.  “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”


We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different.  However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day.  Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better.  Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.


Recently, I had a family member pass away.  I requested my religious leader to hold a fifteen minute prayer service as requiem for this person’s passing in order to honor their life.  It would have been that last thing I could do to cherish this person’s living almost a century on this planet.  For the past four months, this religious leader has been too busy to find fifteen minutes.  Clearly he does not cherish my membership in his religious community.  Someone else less determined might take his actions to be a condemnation of their living as well.  We hear of suicides and wonder why.  Usually it is something as simple as a person not feeling cherished, not having had grace extended, and seeing nothing in their future.


This religious leader has been so busy doing his charitable works that he forgot charity truly begins at home.  It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  This proverb or aphorism is thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who wrote somewhere around 1150 ACE “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs” (Hell is full of good wishes and desires).  Life seldom goes according to plan but we still need to have intentions with follow through.  Otherwise, all we are left with is a disconnect and that not only might alter someone else’s life, it usually has an effect on ours as well.  Grace is a simple act of kindness that shows the recipient he/she is cherished.  Life is precious and worth at least fifteen minutes of our time.







Advent 5

2017 in Review


Advent is the first season on the liturgical calendar and it is so named because believers were to prepare for the greatest gift – the gift of a child who would become their savior.   Here is an excerpt from a sermon by Augustine, a North African pastor from the 4th century regarding this gift.


“The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without   whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.


“The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.


“To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years.  He did this, although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake, had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”


Most of us receive gifts rather frequently.  Perhaps it is wrapped up in a pretty package or it may simply be the holding of a door or a quick smile.  The thing is… We all receive things from others.  St Augustine wrote of the connections that life has with each of us in the paragraph that spoke of one who is powerful needing nourishment; of one who created all food being hungry; that one who is nothing but truth being the subject of falsehoods, etc.  We all need each other for life.  We also seldom deserve the gifts we receive.


One of the most precious gifts we can offer someone is to pray for them.  Prayer is not something that people of just one faith do.  Most spiritualities have some sort of prayer.  I began this week participating in a mindfulness meditation group and it occurred to me that this was a gift we all gave to each other – a period of calm and quiet, of coming together for the betterment of each other.  Prayer is another form of this, of showing grace and love for one another.


Recently I attended a training of sorts in which everyone participated in a survey of their talents, likes and dislikes, and how they employed such.  The purpose of the survey was to discern how we were using those talents and other skills we had developed through our lives in living our faith.  Most of us, if backed into a corner and asked, would probably claim we are making good use of that with which we have been given and learned and developed.  I say “backed into a corner” because, honestly, nobody really wants to have to make such a personal assessment call, do we?  To do so leaves open the chance we might not be using all of our skills, etc.  We might be living in a lazy sort of way.  We might discover we are living for ourselves instead of for others.  We might not be living our faith.  We might not be hospitable in our faith.


People who had spent their professional careers in administration were surprised to discover that they did not rate high in their personal assessment in that area.  Others were happy they scored high in leadership.  The entire group was proud most scored high in hospitality.  They began listing the ways in which they invite people into their place of worship and the success of such.  Listening to everyone speak, not only a habit of mine but I believe also a talent I possess, it occurred to me I was not defining the terms on the survey the same way everyone else was.


Faith was defined by some present as “being” faithful, not really the active “act of believing”.  I was asked my highest score and it was faith.  “Really?” was the response I received.  “You don’t take part in every activity; how interesting.”  If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that Easter of 2014 as well as at other times, my Christian brethren have called me to task for not emphasizing the Christian doctrine enough.  Indeed, I call this more a blog involving spiritual and religious concepts rather than a Christian journal of living.  Again, I think it comes down to definition. 


My definition of a supreme deity is one who is all-encompassing and that means He/She is Christian and Muslim, Jewish and Hindu, Buddhist and Wiccan, etc.  I think I can believe in my own Episcopal credo while respecting the right of others to believe in theirs.  My God is big enough to be the God of everyone, with different names and worship practices.  In my humble opinion, faith is the interaction of belief.  It is true that I do not score one hundred percent attendance at every activity at my own place of worship.  Sometimes I am out in the community living and practicing my faith; sometimes I am doing other things that most of them might be doing.  Is it only faith if it has to happen at one specific address?


Someone in the group was relieved to discover they scored highest on leadership and was not only happy in their relief but expected it.  “I like to be out front and get credit” the person explained.  This is a person who is very much a hands-on, busy person and not one that simple delegates.  This person is down in the trenches so to speak, getting their hands dirty and often covered in sweat.  Their comment, then, was a surprise to me.  We all like applause, even those that say they do not.  Being appreciated is a quality we all share and we share it with others in the animal kingdom.  That is why a dog wags his/her tail.  There are even some plants that respond well to positive reinforcement.  There is nothing wrong with liking appreciation.  Still, it is not guaranteed nor is it part of the definition of leadership. 


Mindy Gibbins-Klein, the founder of REAL Thought Leaders defines leadership as “having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own.”  Nothing is said about getting credit.  This definition involves other people getting credit for what they do and while, they should give credit to the person who motivated them, they might not do so.  Perhaps the person who wants to get credit should stop thinking about being a leader and spend more time on being a doer who works in fields that use a byline. 


Every definition of leadership I found involved guiding others to work in such a way that they were given credit.  Kurt Uhlir, CEO and co-founder of Sideqik summed it up best:  “Too many people view management as leadership. It’s not. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, helping to lift others up and working toward a common mission [to] build influence. True leadership comes when those around you are influenced by your life in a positive way.” 


As I mentioned before, the skillset that most delighted the group was that of hospitality.  We think of hospitality as throwing a good party but that is not exactly how it is defined.  Hospitality centers more on the relationship between host and guest rather than the event itself.  A hospitable person is one who is considered generous, not necessarily a great event planner.  To throw a great party or event involves an entirely different set of skills – organization, knowledge of caterers, space planning, decorating sense that accommodates the purpose for the event and not just the combination of colors, meal planning, entertainment, etc.  The group at the survey event defined hospitable as opening the doors and wearing a smile…on their faces.  No one mentioned how guests felt when they left.


That brings us to prayer.  How hospitable are we in our prayers?  We pray for our friends and family and the friends of friends and perhaps the acquaintances of friends and our coworkers and their friends and family.  Do we pray for those we dislike?  Do we pray for those we despise?  Or do we just write some people off as being evil and dismiss them from our prayers all together?  Should those “evil people” be at the top of our list to pray for or are we right to leave them off?


There is an old Irish blessing that includes those we don’t like…or rather those that don’t like us.  “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.”  It takes a great deal of faith to pray for those we consider to be evil and yet, they are the very ones that need our hospitality.


What about leadership in our praying?  We have all said a prayer that included the desired outcome.  I am not smart enough to tell you if that is correct or not.  I try to pray “Thy will be done” but I do admit that at times, I want to know what that will is.  It might just be that the best outcome is not what I want.  Can I truly be a real leader in my own prayer life to let that happen?  Am I really that faithful?


I will leave you to ponder your own skillset when it comes to prayer.  In closing, I will give you another Irish blessing.  “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”  This is a prayer I can pray for everyone…and feel good about it afterwards – a prayer that is hospitable to other people and myself.


Life needs more hospitality, more relationships than solo acts, and more motivations than condemnations.  In our daily living and in our prayers, we need to focus more on how we make people feel than in how we feel, in extending grace to others rather than be concerned with just our own feelings and image.  


I close with the most hospitable prayer and gift of written grace that I know:  “May God give you…For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise, and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer.”