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.




March 17, 2018


Having recently had eye surgery I am reminded of a quote from Harper Lee about the value of reading:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  Breathing is an essential part of our living.  Without it, we have no life.  Harper Lee was correct, though, because we often overlook it.  It is so much a part of our living that we forget its importance.  Self-worth is much the same way.  Until we love ourselves, we do not allow ourselves value.  Unless we first love ourselves, we have no true self-worth.


Joybell C. is an author, writer, and community developer. She also sits on the board of the Scientific Journal editorial board. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she also is excellent at keeping the focus off of herself and very much on her work.  She is, I believe, a great example of someone who values herself and her work and knows the difference between the two.  “Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you.  What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.”


During the liturgical season of Lent we tend to go back to our roots, so to speak.  This series is about cultivating a better self, growing a better being.  One of the best writers on this subject is Shannon Adler.  Shannon Adler is not some great scholar or a cosmopolitan literaturist from a distant continent.  She is a regular woman with the same challenges in life we all face.  What is so great about her is her ability to make lemonade from life’s lemons.  She knows her self-worth and that gives her the courage to see beyond the hurdle and stay on track.


What I have described as self-worth, Adler would probably call dignity.  She has quite a few definitions for this:  “1. The moment you realize that the person you cared for has nothing intellectually or spiritually to offer you, but a headache.  2. The moment you realize God had greater plans for you that don’t involve crying at night or sad Pinterest quotes.  3. The moment you stop comparing yourself to others because it undermines your worth, education and your parent’s wisdom.  4. The moment you live your dreams, not because of what it will prove or get you, but because that is all you want to do. People’s opinions don’t matter.   5. The moment you realize that no one is your enemy, except yourself.  6. The moment you realize that you can have everything you want in life. However, it takes timing, the right heart, the right actions, the right passion and a willingness to risk it all. If it is not yours, it is because you really didn’t want it, need it or God prevented it.   7. The moment you realize the ghost of your ancestors stood between you and the person you loved. They really don’t want you mucking up the family line with someone that acts anything less than honorable.  8. The moment you realize that happiness was never about getting a person. They are only a helpmate towards achieving your life mission.  9. The moment you believe that love is not about losing or winning. It is just a few moments in time, followed by an eternity of situations to grow from.  10. The moment you realize that you were always the right person. Only ignorant people walk away from greatness.”


Self-worth is not something we can purchase, no matter how many times we try.  It is not the latest fashion or snazziest vehicle.  It is neither the biggest house nor the most friends on Facebook.  It is not even guaranteed if you repost that blurb on Facebook or Twitter or share your latest and best snaps on Instagram.  It is, as Adler says, “the moment you realize that you were always the right person”, that “happiness was never about getting a person”, and that “no one is your enemy, except yourself”.


What do you see when you look in the mirror?  I did not ask what do you think you should see but what DO you see?  I think selfies are so popular because we are striving to see ourselves from the eyes of another.  We seek to see what the objective eye of the camera sees.  Of course, we are interpreting that vision through our own eyes so it still is blurred but we continue to try, taking picture after picture.


I recently came across a picture of our family pet taken when said pet was just a tiny baby.  It was his first day with our family and the picture was taken at the pet store as we purchased the necessary items to become his caregivers.  “Goodness!” I thought.  “If I had known I looked like that, I never would have walked out of the house!”  Needless to say, I thought I looked less than desirable.  Yet, we had been approached by an animal rescue group, an international group, to adopt said pet.  Clearly, regardless how horrible I thought I looked, someone thought I looked caring and responsible.


Perception is everything when we view a reflection of ourselves.  “You can be the most beautiful person in the world and everybody sees light and rainbows when they look at you, but if you yourself don’t know it, all of that doesn’t even matter. Every second that you spend on doubting your worth, every moment that you use to criticize yourself; is a second of your life wasted, is a moment of your life thrown away.”  C. Joybell C. speaks a great truth in these statements.  “It’s not like you have forever, so don’t waste any of your seconds, don’t throw even one of your moments away.”


Writer Elizabeth Gilbert makes an important point that we often forget:  “Never forget that, once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you saw yourself as a friend.”  For most of us that time was when we were children.  Children have this undoubting talent for embracing life, embracing passion, and finding joy.  We need to tap into that part of ourselves we think we have outgrown and embrace it, reflecting a zest for life and ourselves.


“Let’s tell the truth to people. When people ask, ‘How are you?’ have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don’t want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.”  This advice, written by Maya Angelou in her “Letter to My Daughter”, is right on track but very hard to do.


Value yourself to live honestly and realize that if someone doesn’t share the value you bring to the world, you probably do not need them in your orbit.  Be yourself – honestly and joyously.  You have value.  You are worth having value.  Most importantly, in the words of Malcolm X, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.”


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.





A Defining Moment

A Defining Moment
Feb 28, 2018

Two weeks and about nine hours ago, seventeen families went about their daily rituals. Clothes were donned, breakfasts gobbled down, parents went off to their jobs, some started their daily chores, and children went to school. They came from all local ethnicities and walks of life. Their common bond was in their routines and their shared location. Those mundane moments of February 14th were probably sprinkled with expectation of the day being Valentine’s Day as well as Ash Wednesday but at that time of the day, it was the routine that took precedence, None realized that those mundane moments would become defining moments, the last they would share with their beloved high school students.

Time stands still when you are in the middle of such moments as experienced during the shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida that day. Time takes much too long if you are a first responder trying to render aid or a parent trying to locate one’s child. Those defining moments become echoes as we strive to recover from such a tragedy and the philosophy of who we really are becomes self-evident.

In the nineteenth century philosophy became something of a tongue twister at times. According to Arthur Schopenhauer, “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” Georg Hegel believed in what he called a “system” of philosophy but maintained that reality was a historical process, examples of changes in the Spirit as a whole. Ludwig Feuerbach believed almost the opposite of Hegel. He believed in no spiritual realm and felt reality was, in the end, immaterial.

Interestingly enough, these different viewpoints formed the basis for a huge shift in political thinking and laid the groundwork for the history of the twentieth century. A student of Hegel rejected an individualistic state of nature and believed that mankind’s life was social. Thus, human nature was an expression of labor and activity, all done for the benefit of mankind or, in the trendy term of the period, society. He expressed Hegel’s theories in terms of material rather than spiritual terms. History to this student was a series of class struggles and his vision for the future was to create a classless society. His name was Karl Marx.

Born to German Jewish parents who then converted to the Lutheran faith, Karl Marx believed “criticism of religion is the foundation of all criticism.” Marx wanted to make history a science and believed that in doing so the problems of the past could be alleviated. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Throughout its history philosophy and religion have been together – as friends and as enemies. Since the beginning of philosophy was man’s quest to determine what life was, what the world was, and what mankind itself was, the various creation theories and/or myths that exist had to be considered, studied, and related. It is simply impossible to separate philosophy from belief and yet, for the most part, they seem to be at odds with each other.

For many, philosophy strives to explain an anguished existence in an irrational world. For others, philosophy seeks to prove what they believe through faith. Thus is the question for today: Is philosophy what we believe or is what we believe contradictory to the study of philosophy? For some, the study of philosophy is blasphemous. For others, it is a refreshing proof of their beliefs.

As we try to answer that question, I ask you to consider how you show grace rather than how we live as the answer. Philosophy is the science of thinking but life is the art of doing and what we believe is evident in what we do. If I say I have love for my neighbor, based upon Christian beliefs, then I cannot hate those who are different. If I say my life is dedicated to Allah, then I must live the peace the Qur’an speaks of in my daily living. If I believe I am a child of persecuted children of Israel, how can I fail to have sympathy and empathy for others who are persecuted, even if they are of another faith? In all of these examples and if you consider yourself to be a spiritualist, then what part does grace play?

Karl Marx is famous for having said “Religion is the opium of the people.” Having absolute certainty is one’s knowledge might also be said to be addicting, even lead to the ego-driven state Marx so harshly wished mankind to avoid. We all believe in something. Does our manner of living and interacting with society bolster their beliefs and make them evident, defining us correctly, or do they seem at odds with our words, making a mockery of both our faith and our living?

In 1726, Daniel Defoe wrote in his book “The Political History of the Devil”: “Things as certain as death and taxes can be more firmly believed.” In 1789, writing to a friend in France, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in giving an update on the newly formed country and US Constitution: “…nothing is certain except death and taxes.” All we can be truly certain of is what we are doing.

There are many ways to define living and most of them do involve spiritual and/or religious beliefs. However, what really matters is that we have tried to live as we believe. Whatever our philosophy is, we need to make sure that it ascends to the primary core of our actions, that it is the reason behind those actions. Then our personal philosophy will be one we support and believe. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: ““Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”

As is my habit after mass tragedies, I have not posted for several days. I do this out of respect for those who perish but also for those who survive. Mostly I do not want to profit from someone else’s grief. We must speak out, though, against the policies that allow such tragedies to continue. Our actions after such events must combine intelligent thought, grace, and compassion. Most of all, we must move forward in respect for the fallen to ensure that such events are prevented in the future.

I propose to you that to whom and in what manner we show grace defines who we are. The purpose of living is not to collect the most objects, toys is you will, but to do the most kindness to others. The worth of a person is not based upon their bank account but rather upon the goodness they leave behind.

Expressing Grace

Expressing Grace

Jan 19-22


The empirical approach to anything means to collect data through observation.  Empirical research is that research which has been obtained using empirical evidence. If it sounds like I am repeating myself, it is because I am.  I want to make this way of defending and supporting a concept very clear.  The empirical approach is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience and it can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively.  

The concept of grace is not something one can definitively identify.  Much like probability, the concept from which we have borrowed an approach to discuss grace, one’s perspective bears a great deal of weight in our discussions.  Empiricism values research more than other methodologies.  Empirical evidence, the record of one’s direct observations or experiences, has four basic goals:  go beyond simply reporting observations; promote environment for improved understanding; combine extensive research with detailed case study; prove relevancy of theory by working in a real world environment. 

 In other words, we need to not just observe but really think about what we observe and provide a clear and objective perspective that includes some fact checking.  Then we need to pay attention and try out our resulting conclusions in reality.  So today’s post is a four-part series where we will do just that with three different real-life observations of grace. 


Case Study Number One

A Kansas City organization is raffling off a tiny house.  In May a tiny house, a house typically under 800 square feet in size, was dedicated by the Veterans Community Project in Kansas City, Missouri.  Heralded as the start of a planned tiny home community, the house will provide transitional housing for homeless veterans. 

ynn Horsley, writing for the Kansas City Star newspaper explained what the Veterans Community Project is.  “Some military veterans who want to help struggling and homeless veterans have started a program to build tiny houses on a vacant piece of land in south Kansas City. The first tiny house will be dedicated Monday.  “We identified too many veterans suffering from PTSD and addictions who were going untreated and not doing well in traditional shelters,” Chris Stout, president of Veterans Community Project, said in a news release. “We decided as vets that we had to do something to help.”

Stout, an Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, teamed with retired Marine Corps veteran Kevin Jamison, Navy reservist Mark Solomon and others to form their nonprofit organization. They are passionate about helping homeless veterans who don’t qualify for other veteran housing programs, and they pledge to connect residents with other services to aid their recovery.

A 240-sqaure-foot home was raffled January 1, 2017.  It was the product of collaboration between Veterans Community Project and Zack Giffin (co-host of Tiny House Nation) and sponsored Honeywell.  Labor was provided by local homeless Veterans, Zack Giffin, and Veterans Community Project, many of Honeywell’s veteran-employees.  Materials were provided by Home Depot and 2×4’s For Hope. Tools were provided by Milwaukee Tools. Additional labor was provided by the Carpenters Union, Teague Electric, United Heating and Cooling, and UAW Local 249.

Homelessness is a growing problem among the USA’s returning veterans.  Some have difficulty finding employment while others bear the psychological scars of combat.  Veterans Community Project is raffling this home to raise funds for Kansas City’s Veterans Village. All proceeds from the raffle directly contribute to the Veterans Community Project’s mission to end Veteran homelessness.  Not only can we observe the grace of those involved in this organization but also the grace of those purchasing raffle tickets as well as the volunteers who built this and other such tiny homes.


Case Study Number Two

Benevolence is a buzz word at various times of the calendar year.  While the Scrooges among us may claim people participate for the advertising and spotlight such action affords, the empirical evidence of race should not be ignored.  Nor is such isolated to just one area.  In Concord, California an auto body shop used the holiday season to spread some good will and grace by giving away refurbished cars to the needy in 2011.  Mike’s Auto Body is not just a mom and pop operation.  They have fifteen locations in the San Francisco Bay area so you might think they could well afford to be gracious. 

They have extended their giving program, however, and the customer helps decide who the recipient of such grace can be.  The thinking behind the Mike’s Auto Body’s Community Give Back Program is that by giving back, it can open your eyes to what’s really important and perhaps inspire you to “share the wealth” with others while making your local community a better place for everyone to live.  Mike Rose’s Auto Body in 2016 donated 3% of the parts and labor of auto body repairs to the local non-profit organization of the customer’s choice, whether it was a school, charitable cause or other non-profit organization.  The list of available recipients was diverse and included all facets of the local communities in the area and charitable organizations.  As their website states, this business wanted to work with their customer base to give back to an organization or group “that’s close to your heart, because we want to help them and this is one way that we can do it together.”  What a great example of grace in action! 


Case Study Number Three

Another observation of grace is from Athens, Georgia.  Each year an annual Holiday Benevolence Market, an alternative to traditional Christmas shopping that provides an opportunity to learn about and support local nonprofit organizations is held in downtown Athens.  At the Holiday Benevolence Market, shoppers can purchase items that the nonprofit agencies need, in the name of someone with whom they would ordinarily exchange presents, such as a friend, relative, teacher or coworker. The market has been part of the holiday season in Athens for more than 20 years, hosted by Athens-area faith organizations in support of an array of local nonprofit organizations.  Shoppers can select symbolic gifts ranging from $5 to $150 and make a single payment at checkout. The market has become a popular idea for teacher gifts, church staff appreciation gifts and stocking stuffers, and all donations are tax-deductible. Representatives from the agencies will be on hand to share information about their missions. 

The empirical evidence of grace in this event is very clear.  The Holiday Benevolence Market began in 1994 as a joint venture between First Presbyterian member Mary Burton and the First Presbyterian Outreach committee.  In 2003, other Athens congregations joined.  Patrons are given a “shopping list” that includes all of the agencies represented and items that can be “purchased.” The list includes a range of prices. For example, a shopper might buy a box of nails for $10 that will be used in building a Habitat for Humanity house. Or, for $100, a child can be sent to the Extra Special People summer camp for a week.  “We are very excited to continue the tradition of the Holiday Benevolence Market,” the Rev. Margaret Davis, co-chair of this year’s event, said in a news release several years ago. “Through the years the market has raised from $15,000-$20,000 in support of the missions of these local agencies, and we hope to reach that level again. We are grateful to First Presbyterian for hosting and to the 10 congregations which are participating in the market. The united effort of faith communities to support Athens nonprofits serving those most in need is a powerful testimony of faith to our city.”  This event combines the diversity of mankind with the needs of the local community is living not only grace but also the joy, community, and hope of the season. 


Case Study Number Four – Past History

This case study takes a look back at grace in history and looks at grace from an axiomatic view.     Axiom comes from a Greek word meaning authority and the word itself is best defined as “that which is seen as fit”.  Today axioms are those items which are seen as self-evident, those truths which are taken for granted.

The atrocities of war are horrible and one of the reasons for avoiding war if at all possible.  There is no grace in war although many times simple acts of kindness become self-evident during the course of a war.  The young Jewish teenager known to the world as Anne Frank lived a life as the recipient of grace, at least for a short time.  Denied the right to immigrate to the United States by the USA, Anne Frank’s family needed a place to live, a place safe from the Nazi soldiers who were corralling all those of the Jewish faith and forcing them to live and die in concentration camps.  For a period of time, the Frank family hid in the attic of a benevolent family.  They received grace in staying alive because of this family but upon discovery, all grace ceased.  Anne Frank kept a journal which her father later published.  Both Anne and her sister died while in horrid captivity at a concentration camp, just weeks before they would have been rescued by Allied troops.

The world was horrified as the true meaning and reality of the Nazi concentration camps came to light.  The media was severely handicapped in the 1930’s and 40’s by the lack of technology and news did not travel within nano-seconds like it does today.  As the Allies regained control, truth bore witness to the depravities and atrocities that man could inflict upon one another.

The journal of Anne Frank bespoke of the grace she found after the life she had lived and taken for granted was taken from her.  It is a warning to us all to never take grace for granted because someone might let their ego convince them grace is a useless commodity which has no value. 


Today, however, is another age.  In the twenty-first century, we have the ability to connect with others around the world in the blink of an eye.  We have no excuse to ignore the lack of grace when mayhem, chaos, carnage, and destruction reign down on the innocent.  We cannot and should not assume an axiomatic stance toward grace.  When mass killings occur, there is no grace to be found. 


Hopefully, grace is always present and we all need to strive in our daily living to make it more abundant.  Grace is the giving back to others, often strangers, out of gratitude for what we ourselves have.  Perhaps the greatest evidence of our own true worth is when we are able to help another while going through our own personal storms.  Grace is not only for those times where we feel we have too much.  Grace is for every day, an expression that gives our own life purpose and meaning.








Guns and M&Ms

Guns and M&Ms

Jan 23-24


In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of living, over the years people have been rudely taken out of their daily lifestyles to become the target of terrorism.  People who had hurried past each other suddenly became part of a team they never wanted to be a part of, a team which now has a place in history.  They have become the victims of policies that allow gun ownership to be too easy.  Additionally we do not insist on responsible gun ownership and storage nor do we fund mental health programs from the simplest means such as available social workers in all schools to mental health clinics in every county.


In the book “Praying for Strangers”, author River Jordan states:  “I can be a woman who prays for strangers but remains completely blind to their bruises.”  How many people did you pass today?  Now, answer me this:  How many people did you really see?  With all the sensory overload in our busy lives, we often become indifferent to the people around us, the people the inhabit our living. 


In the final minutes of their lies, people often report that it is not the material things they have in their lives that matter.   What matters are the people.  The very people we often take for granted or simply seem to not see often give our life definition. People we may have ignored or simply have not really seen might just be the one thing that helps define our living.


We need to step out of our busy lives to really live.  We need to share our living with others.  Our blindness to those around us translates into inaction on our part in giving of our selves.  What we forget is that by giving of ourselves, we give them the most precious thing – our attention.  Writer Kathleen Norris talks about our lives having a liturgy of their own and that each life has a sacred rhythm unique to each of us.  Far too often we go through our lives with the mute button pressed down when it comes to hearing the rhythm of those we love and care about.


Too many people go through their daily living with blinders on, not really seeing the person standing next to them.  We share common ground and yet act as if we are alone.  We should connect with those around us.  For many, prayer is living, the action of being part of the whole because prayer connects us together.  When we pray for someone we are giving them attention and creating a connection to ourselves.


An often heard response to the call for better gun legislation to prevent such violence as has occurred in the past three days with school shootings in the USA is the following mantra:  “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” If taken at face value, that sentence might seem like a true statement.  The fact of the matter is that without the availability to guns, people cannot kill with a gun.  Yesterday a student, a fifteen-year-old teenager walked into his school and injured more people than the number of years he had lived on this earth.  Could he have hurt several with a knife?  Maybe but certainly the odds of those injured and killed would have been much more in their favor if they had only to run from something being held that had a range of just an arm’s length.


Yesterday I bought some groceries which means I walked down at aisle in the market that had candy on it.  Candy in and of itself on the shelf did not cause me to gain any weight.  I did not consume calories by simply walking past the bags of M&Ms.  To have those added calories in my system, I have to be able to purchase that candy and then use/eat it.  M&Ms sitting on a shelf will not cause me to gain weight.  They posed no threat to the diabetics who walked past them either.  One cannot own an elephant or a tiger in the United States without proper permits and proving said animal will be taken care of properly.   One cannot operate a car without first passing a test and having insurance in case there is an accident.   It is, however, as easy to purchase a gun in some states as it is a picture frame or a roll of toilet paper.


The victims of gun violence are now a part of a team, a team that is crying out for better gun ownership.  No one is safe from being a possible target.  Last year members of Congress were playing an early morning baseball pickup game and became victims.  While there are many motivating factors for these incidents, one thing is clear.  Without access, far too easy access, people who need mental health help are making horrible choices that result in tragic consequences.  We should and must take action.


Prayer is action.  Action can take on a different form than just prayer and should involve those in your own daily living, not just victims of terrorism or natural disasters halfway around the world or across the country.  It might be the offer of a ride somewhere.  It might be organizing a group dinner for those with no family during the holidays.  It might be buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line or even just a smile.  The thing to remember is that life is all about action.  


Such action saves us from being indifferent to others.  It creates a web in our lives that unites us with the rest of mankind.  It is not just about the person we are praying for or the actions we undertake.  Ultimately these actions benefit most the person who does them.  Such action opens our eyes so that we see not only the need but the pain.  It acknowledges the want without blame or guilt. 


We all make decisions about action every hour.  What will I wear?  What will I eat?  Where will I go?  How will I do this task?  It is time to think outside the box of our own being and ask ourselves what action can and should we do today to help another.  After such attacks fear is an easy pit in which to fall but fear is not action.  Fear is a negative emotion.  Fear causes us to become inactive and hide.  We need to take positive action and move forward.