Friday, October 31, 2014

The Theology of Pie

The air has cooled and it’s time for cooking.

Soups . . . favorite hearty dishes to comfort . . . and pie.

I absolutely love pie and even more, I love to bake pies.  It’s just so satisfying to make something so lovely that smells and tastes so good with your own hands (although I confess I do cheat and use Libby’s instead of making pumpkin mash by hand).

I’ve learned that the secret to a good crust is a light touch, neither stirring nor rolling the dough too much.

That ‘just right’ sweet spot is a tricky thing to find and takes (at least for me) years of practice.  Maybe that’s what living a faithful life is like – lots of practice bringing increasingly fruitful results.

I hope so.

I hope when God sees the pie of my life, I hear those wonderful words Paul wrote so long ago: well done, thou good and faithful servant.  

May it be so, Lord, may it be so.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In Need of Allies

We are all in need of allies.

To be an ally requires sacrifice, thoughtfulness, awareness, intention.

To have an ally – what does that require?  Humility enough to ask for the help, I suspect.  Willingness to match our pace to the one we’ve asked to walk with us, perhaps.  Ability to recognize our own need for such, a certainty.

In the world of nations just now, the United States needs Turkey as an ally, but it is not at all clear whether Turkey needs the United States.

And to be an ally always seems to involve a cost-benefit analysis, at least in the world of nations.

But what of the world of individual relationships?

Where then is the cost?  Is it fair, right, appropriate, to count the cost?

Well, Jesus tells those who would follow him to count the cost before taking even the first step – his point being, as I would gather, that there is always a cost.

Knowing, then, that there is a cost to the other in walking alongside, in being an ally, how can I ask anyone to take on such a role for me?  Is it ‘fair’ to ask for help knowing in advance that the help will be costly to the other?

But are we not made to walk in tandem?  To help as, where and when we can?

Bonhoeffer speaks of Christian fellowship as burden bearing.

That rings so true to me.  It also rings true that all of we Christians – not just the professionals among us – are to be burden bearers, each with the other.

Does this change my understanding of burden bearing?  Perhaps.  Perhaps it is just taking turns the way we did when we were kids.  Sometimes I’ll follow you, sometimes you’ll follow me.  Sometimes I’ll help you and sometimes you’ll help me.

But allies do more than simply help or provide succor.  Allies are advocates of a sort – the ones who do not stand silently by when bad stuff comes to town.  Allies walk alongside, provide practical aid, raise their voices in protest.

There, surely, is the greater cost, given the great resistance of humankind to such activity in all but the rarest of occasions.

Which brings us back to the beginning – allies – where to find them?  How to ask them?  How to be one?  If these were easy questions, one suspects, there wouldn’t be much need for allies in the first place.

So I am left to wonder – who have been your allies?  Did you ask them for help or did they merely appear at the needed time?  Have you been an ally?  How did you know you were needed?  What prompted you to act this time when you had not, perhaps, acted before?  What did it cost you to be an ally?  What did you gain from having an ally?

Those are the questions I’m asking today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What If There Is No Life Anywhere Else?

What if life is the exception rather than the rule?

It certainly is in our neck of the woods – there’s nothing we would recognize as life for millions of miles – at least in our own corner of the universe, we are singularly alone.  It doesn’t make us special – it makes us lonely.

Often we like it that way.

Sometimes we don’t.

But if we stop and look real close, down-to-the-dirt close, we begin to notice some things and it turns out we are not so alone after all, as worms etch their way into the dirt, ants scurry about their busy business, beetles prindle along, crickets chirp, tree frogs sing, birds dig and scratch, bears leave their I-was-here gifts, deer munch on acorns, eagles and other predator birds soar above it all, deigning to drop down only for a snack.

This place, this earth, teems with life.

It is an embarrassment of riches.

Like many today, I have long assumed that we are a mere speck on a dot on a hair on a flea of a very small part of a very large universe, where life is teeming.

But what if I, what if we, are wrong?

What if, as Fermi is said to have exclaimed in sorrow, I suspect, as well as frustration, but where are they?!?, or more precisely, where is everybody?

Statistical reasoning would say that there should be thousands upon thousands of planets with life capable of communicating with others ‘out there’.

And yet we have heard from no one.

No one.

So, to borrow from Fermi, where are they?

Science has actually named this phenomena the Fermi Paradox – that is, the contradiction that (1) the universe should be teeming with other life; (2) a good bit of that life should be fully capable of communicating in ways that we would be aware of at this stage in our own development, but (3) there are no signs of such life anywhere that we have detected, so where are they?

Theories abound – as they’re wont to do when we actually have no idea what we’re talking about.  Maybe we really are alone.  Maybe the universe really is teeming with life.  We just don’t know enough to know – yet.  And maybe we never will.

But as someone who loves Star Trek in every iteration, as someone who fancies what might be ‘out there’, as someone whose mother’s greatest dream has always been to travel the galaxies, I am left at sea with the idea that we might be utterly alone here.

That does not make me feel special.

It makes me feel bereft – like Fermi, wondering, where, oh where, are you?

*Read The Fermi Paradox for a good discussion of various theories.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Take Your Camera Outside

On one line, the other rang, a message left, a call returned, with the added bonus: take your camera outside.  Hurry.

Ending the other call, I grabbed my cell (turned off) with camera in one hand, house phone in the other, and scurried outside, hitting the cell on button with the one hand, dialing back the friend with the other as I scooted outside, impatiently telling the cell (which takes forever in this time of instant access) to hurry up and come on, as my friend answered her phone.

Where is it? I ask.

Sorry.  It’s gone.  You missed it.  The setting sun lit up the whole sky.

There were traces of glory.  Bits and pieces, leftovers on the table of God’s sky.  Clouds and light of the sun from behind the mountains bidding its quiet farewell for the night.

I felt not impoverished but enriched for it having been there.

Sure trees make noise whether I’m there to hear them or not.

And sunsets leave fingerprints whether my eyes behold them or not.

And it is glory abounding.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Lens of Love

Matthew 22.34-46 (NRSV)  When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:  “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit[d] calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?  If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”  No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The Lens of Love

In Matthew 21, Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly . . . goes straight to the temple and overturns the tables of those who would sell access to God . . . heals and cures those in great need . . . and is confronted in anger by the religious leaders of the day.

Thus does the conflict come out into the open . . .

The religious leaders challenge Jesus’ authority and he challenges their integrity.

At the core, the disagreement, the fight, about the very identity, integrity, and nature of God’s own self, which God’s people are to reflect with their own lives.

Cynicism has clouded the leaders’ eyes; self-interest their judgment – for this Messiah comes with a different message.

What is the greatest command of all? he is asked.

The command of love.  It is the command by which all others are to be understood: Love God; love each other.  Love with everything you’ve got.  

The exchange is epic.  Some get it.  Some don’t.

The difference, I suspect, is the lens of love.

If we look at Jesus, if we look at each other, through the lens of the law unfiltered by the lens of love, we reduce God’s ways to a checklist.  Do this, don’t do that, and you’re in.  Fail and you’re out.

The problem is that a checklist, while easy, misses the hard work, the gritty get-down-in-the-mud doing, the walking-with messiness of loving.

Jesus does not cure the sick because they are good.  He cures them because they need a cure.

Jesus does not condemn the leaders because they’re bad.  He condemns them because their righteousness has made them blind and unkind.

Jesus does not close the doors of heaven tight against the unworthy; he flings them open for all.

The lens of love is the only way to understand the law for what it is – a means of navigating life in ways that help rather than harm humanity.

Take a law and make of it a rule and impose it to the point of harm to another human being and we miss the lens of love and make of the law an idol – substituting the law for the one who gifted it to us.

Thus does Jesus mourn for those who would so worry about who gets to be with whom in heaven that they would miss the enormity of the resurrection promise: the dead now live!

Thus does Jesus shake his head when leaders worry that paying taxes to Rome (which takes them by force) means you’ll go to hell.

Thus does Jesus, when asked about his authority, ask whether we can see God’s authority when it stands before us, always with the lens of love, deep compassionate love, love that cares and does not count the cost, love that witnesses the true nature of God, love that admits freely it does not know everything, needs much, has much to learn, and errs, always, on the side of the ones humanity so easily dismisses, erases, ignores.

Thus does Jesus turn away from the wise leaders to look directly into our eyes – the eyes of his followers – and say – gently, ever so gently, now you see?  Now you understand?  

Now you go – go and do likewise.  Heal the sick.  Welcome the outsider.  Walk with the outcasts.  Dine with the lonely.  Do what the impulse to Love would have you do.

And remember – if it is not of Love, it is not of me.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I Held a Cup of Sunshine in My Hand

I held a cup
of sunshine
in my hand

its tender warmth

was it
the mug’s love


for I know
the difference
the warmth
of love
and my
love of warmth]

Friday, October 24, 2014

For Love of a City

Watching a random television show last night set in New York City, there was a scene of two folks driving their car down a city street not the sort you see as a tourist – a street of old warehouses and few people.  The marvelous skyscape was mere backdrop, not the main character at all.  Yet it was there.

And this country dweller was moved to love of people – the masses of people who make a city possible –

the architects and builders, the menial and grand laborers who actually give birth to a building so tall it bids me look at the sky to take it in.

the people who thought of, designed and built cars . . . and telephones that evolved into cell phones and the many technologies people around the world use today . . .

hospitals where people work and serve every day to make other people better when they leave than when they came in . . .

clothing that warms and protects and creates beauty as surely as a painter before a canvas . . .

And they did it all, for better as well as worse, cooperatively, working with others side by side.

I can and have done none of these things.  But I have profited from them all.

The same species that kills and destroys also builds and creates, dreams and imagines, and in the doing, changes a world.

I find that spectacular.

There is much to love in a city, even for a country gal.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Browning of Things

The browning of things has begun . . .

the leaves are moving in constant sway
to the winds – time, change, is in the air –
as east to west and back again, maples
and elms, oaks and birch, surrender their
color ecstasies to the browning season

the ground is littered with the detritus
of love – crunchy, fun, kicking-up-heels –
love – of life and cycles and repeatings
as east to west and back again, maples
and elms, oaks and birch, surrender their
life clinging to the browning season

inside onions in butter, hamburger in oil
chicken with a bit of garlic, surge and
simmer and get that good skillet brown
as east to west and back again, maples
and elms, oaks and birch, surrender their
claim to tourist fame to the browning season

as outside fawns turn without effort from
golden butter (the color we name for them)
to brown laced with a bit of black up the spine
the better to hide, to blend, the better camouflage
as east to west and back again, maples
and elms, oaks and birch, surrender their
lives in a final bid at the hoped-for resurrection
of things, come spring, the thing hoped for
come browning season

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Of Wooly Worms and Such

Last Sunday I was in West Virginia for a family reunion, which reminded me of another like gathering I hosted back when my grandson Rowen was just a tiny little guy.

He was fascinated by a wooly worm.  He pointed at it and laughed.  He put his finger close to it, almost touching it, then he’d pull back and laugh some more.

But when I picked up the furry critter and put it in his hand, he threw it down and burst into tears, only a few moments later to start the whole thing over . . . pointing, almost touching, laughing.

Rowen was flirting with the wooly worm . . . like many of us when it comes to God, Rowen liked the idea of the wooly worm much more than he liked the wooly worm himself.

Like many of us when it comes to God, Rowen wanted to get close to the wooly worm, but not too close . . .

The question begs to be asked, what is it that we so fear from something or someone we instinctively know is inviting, interesting, even fun?

Why do we pull back . . . from wooly worms?  From God?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

14 Things I Want to Tell Folks About to Be Married

I'm performing a marriage ceremony this afternoon.  The weather doesn't look promising for the planned outdoor event, but no worries, we have a back-up plan.  But these days of such promise always get me to thinking about what makes a marriage work.  We hear so often about the failures.  But there are many success stories out there as well.  

Here, then, are some of the things I hope people entering into the grand adventure of marriage know, take on board and keep:

1. No, I cannot tell whether you will succeed or fail as a couple.  Chance are neither can you.  The  
one thing that seems to mark the difference is that both people are people who keep commitments, for the fact is that there will be days when it’s easy to stay together, but there will be just as many when it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.  Sometimes the promise is the only thing that holds.*

2. There are three rings rather than two.  Visualizing the covenant aspect of marriage, where God is the other party to the compact, friend Jim White pointed yesterday to three wagon wheels fused together as his vision of marriage – there are three rings, not two, he observed.  Jim’s right.  God is in the mix.  Always.  Forgetting that is costly.

3. Be sure you like each other.  Love and desire are fine things.  But if you do not, cannot, like the person, you cannot, you will not, last.

4. Matching values matter.  You don’t have to be identical.  You can even be very different.  But your values, the core things you hold dear, should match.  It’s a pretty painful life to spend with someone who thinks what you hold dear or sacred even is silly, foolish, unimportant or something to be daily trounced.

5. You can’t cure each other.  If there are blindingly obvious problems, they will not get better.  They will, in fact, get worse.  Neither of you are the cure for the other.  Marriage is not a hospital.  

6. Don’t forget to dance – often.  Have fun together.  Laugh together.  Dance together.

7. Don’t make the other person your ‘half’ of anything.  If you are not already whole, they cannot, contrary to Jerry Maguire, complete you.  It isn’t their job, it isn’t within their ability and it’s a recipe for disaster to expect.

8. Your failures are no one else’s fault.  Never blame each other for what you have done or failed to do.  Regardless of circumstances or context, your choices are just that: yours.  Own them.

9. Words matter.  Use them wisely, lovingly, judiciously, always.  Ditto for refraining from using them.  Keeping silent is the best option when all you’ve got to say is hurtful.

10. Money doesn’t.  Unless you let it.  Fights about money are always about something else:  power, control, security, felt needs, fear.  Respect, mutuality, shared values, these are what you’re really searching for when you fight about money.

11. Only God can be your god.  No one person can fulfill all your expectations, desires, wishes, needs.  So have other friends.  And do not make of your spouse an idol, for he or she will surely disappoint if you do.

12. Trust is something given as well as something earned.  Actually, trust is more about grace than it is about merit.  We trust not because someone is trustworthy.  We trust because we are trusting.  If there is no trust, if there is jealousy, insecurity, questioning of every motive, every action, there is no trust.  And the absence of trust is a killer of any relationship, especially a marriage.

13. Believe, desire and work for the best for your mate as well as for yourself.  Always.

14.  Forgive often.

*I am speaking here not of abusive or extreme situations, but of ordinary marriages with ordinary challenges.  For even then, living side-by-side with the same person, year in and year out, is hard.  Really hard.

Friday, October 17, 2014

There's a Balm Somewhere

There is a balm in Gilead 

or so goes the song,


where on earth is Gilead?

Somewhere in modern Jordan

among the mountains

where trees did grow

whose resin provided

a healing – a balm – 

a soothing salve – 

there, then, is the geographical

of our Gileads, our safe, healing

places, our sacred, set aside

spaces, our finish-line

races, our no-more-put-through our

paces, our sought-for-in-the-crowd



wither Thou art,

O God,

there be my Gilead

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Was Jesus Naive?

If we say that the Golden Rule is naive, we are saying that the man who laid it down is naive.  And that man was Jesus.

The irony is that we seem to actually believe that Jesus lived some easy life with no understanding of the dangers we face, forgetting that Jesus died as a victim of torture of the worst kind; that Jesus was the defendant in a show trial; that Jesus was himself murdered in a public, shameful, excruciating way.

We forget that the man who laid down the Golden Rule for us also laid down his life for us.

We forget that he knew suffering, he knew death, he knew shame, he knew anger and he knew temptation.

I think what we’re really doing is turning our backs on the demands of our faith in favor of its gifts, as if the two could be separated.

And where, oh where, is the disclaimer that the rule we call golden (as in something to be valued or treasured) not be observed when we are in groups (as in how we behave as a nation)?

Jesus knew what we face, the challenges of our lives.  He always has known.  Perhaps the earth journey was simply to show us that he’s always known, so we’d get it, the way a parent may share an episode from her youth with her teenager, to show the teenager that she really does understand.  Maybe.

Whether it took a trip to planet earth to redeem us or whether it was an elaborate object lesson or something else entirely, of all the things Jesus was, naive was not one of them.

What we call the golden rule was part of his father’s business – the very family business that we, his followers, have inherited.

There are other businesses.

But this one is ours.

How we are to conduct that business is very clear.

We can come up with all the reasons in the world not to follow it.

But then, we’re about somebody else’s business, aren’t we?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fear Makes the Wolf Bigger Than He Is 2.0

This, then, is addressed (primarily) to people of faith.  In Christianity, Jesus says quite directly and specifically,

fear not.  

So do angelic messengers.  So does God.

In other traditions, there are exhortations away from fear as well.

God does not fear.  God, as we would understand, can and does, mourn, repent, rejoice, laugh.  But God does not fear.  And God exhorts us not to – fear – but notice what is said and what is not said.

What is not said is that there is nothing to be afraid of.

There are wolves.  

Next to God, they just aren’t all that big.

And that, perhaps, is how the saints among us, ancient and modern, can stand up against their own fears with calm and even with joy – because next to God, a wolf is a small thing indeed.

Or maybe even more accurately, they simply see with a clarity the rest of us lack – the clarity that recognizes the wolf for what he is, but never, ever, ever, for more than what he is.

When I am frozen like a deer in the headlights, I am focused on the object of my fear to the exclusion of all else.  Literally, I can see nothing but that fear.

When, however, I am focused on God, I can see nothing else, including my fears.  And because I do not see them do they evaporate.

I may well be in real danger.

But I do not have to be afraid.

Wolves walk the land – every day.  But they do not, they cannot, dictate my actions, my responses, unless I allow it – unless I stop looking at God and look only at them.

For when I awaken and direct my gaze to my Lord, it turns out that a wolf is just . . . merely . . . only . . . a wolf.

No less.

But no more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fear Makes the Wolf Bigger Than He Is

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.  –German proverb

So today does the news continue . . . !EBOLA! . . . ISIS . . . !EBOLA! . . . Hong Kong . . . !EBOLA! . . . stock market plummets . . . !EBOLA! . . . mid-term elections . . . !EBOLA! . . .

I do not intend to dismiss the very real health concerns raised by ebola.  Nor would I dismiss the very real sorrows and pains of those or their loved ones who have suffered this dread disease.

The point of the German proverb about wolves, however, comes to mind: there actually is a wolf.  And wolves are dangerous.  There’s nothing to be gained, however, by making the wolf bigger than he already is within the confines of our minds.

Heart-freezing fear turns we human beings into our lower, primal selves, where reason and logic do not hold much sway.  And it’s all well and good to suggest that the primal protects us.  But the primal cannot accurately interpret data.  Just ask any deer foolish enough to get ‘caught’ (frozen like a . . .) in the headlights of an oncoming car.  Two steps to the left and the deer is fine.  Standing frozen in place is just a primordial recipe for sure disaster and certain death, because the deer is freezing to blend in with its habitation.  Its primordial self seeks to avoid the predator.  But a car isn’t a predator.  And there is no blending in on the highway.

All over the United States, I suspect, conversations like a recent random bridge-table remark I chanced upon, are happening, where someone will suggest that we quarantine pretty much all of Africa, at least from coming here, with no awareness of irony at all when confronted with the virus-ridden children of the United States and the question of whether Africa should insist on their quarantine as well.

There are wolves.  And they are dangerous.  But most of the time, they aren’t nearly so large as we would make them in the shadow-puppetry of our minds.  And we would do well to remember that and just calm down.

Frightened people are foolish people.  They overreact rather than merely react.  They stand stuck, frozen in place in the face of their oncoming annihilation, when a step or two to the left (or right, lest someone read a political intention into my choice of direction) would make all the difference.  They destroy the thing feared, as if that would destroy the fear.

And fears continue to walk the lands.  And all is not well.  Nor will it be, so long as we continue to allow the wolf to grow into a monster on the wall, forgetting that he is a mere wolf, after all.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Being a Pacifist in the Middle of a Blood Bath

Even fellow CPTers (Christian Peacemaker Teams) are writing about how hard it is to reconcile their pacifist ideology with what to do to provide real help to real people in real danger from real violence in light of recent events in Syria and Iraq.

I think the word ‘ideology’ is actually the problem.  And I speak only for myself, which is, I think, at the heart of the issue.

I do not proselytize pacifism.  It is simply who I am.  My views and, I hope, my actions, are shaped by this.  But what you do with that is up to you.

It goes something like this in my head: I am not a Yazidi and I am not stuck on a mountaintop with people surrounding me who wish to kill me.  Thus it is not for me to say what they should do.

My pacifism leads me to live out the reality that for the dangerous places in which I find myself, for myself, violence is not, cannot be, the answer.

That does not mean that I do not have violence in my heart.  I do.  It is precisely because of the violence in my heart that I am a (work-in-progress) pacifist – because I know that my violence towards others has absolutely nothing to do with love, not even love of self, and everything to do with satisfying that peculiar hunger that lives within me.

My pacifist understanding leads me to take the route of non-violence, even in resistance to violence from others.  So my mountaintop dangerous experiences are just that – dangerous.  But my response to them is a response of non-violence, even should that mean my own death, for I am convinced that God values the one who would do me harm as much as God values me.  And knowing this with absolute certainty, I cannot be the instrumentality of their demise.  I simply cannot.

For me, this also means that I would never desire that any person act in any way to preserve my life at the expense of their own or someone else’s.  That is a burden I simply cannot carry.  And I know it asks much, perhaps too much, of others, who may well feel that they have become the instrument of my demise by not acting violently towards this proverbial other, should the situation ever come to pass.

But this is not hypothetical for me.  I mean it.  When I joined CPT, I did the work of counting the cost, including the cost of my own life.

In practical terms, what all this means for me is this:

1. Even if it’s a question of me or him, I choose him.

2. If you have to choose me or him, choose him.

3. That might not be your own choice and I will honor that as best I can in the circumstances – because this is not ideology – this is life and it is messy and my choices are not (necessarily) yours.  What does that mean?

a. it means that I still will not kill another person, even if to save you.  I would put myself between you, but I won’t take their life.  I am not who you want with you as a bodyguard or even as a fellow combatant if violent response is what you require as part of the deal.

b. if you’re asking for the help of someone else who will use violence to your aid, I won’t get in your way, for that is your choice rather than mine to make.

I admit to being surprised by fellow CPTers who are particularly troubled with their pacifism because of the recent actions of ISIS.  They are horrific.  But haven’t the behaviors of violent actors always been horrific?  Did it just get real for the first time for you?  Because it’s been real for me for a very long time.  That doesn’t make me smart or special.  But it does make me clear – if this thing we call pacifism is merely ideology, then it deserves to be thrown out with the trash.  The cost of such a way of life only gets paid when there is violence – unjust, horrible, life-threatening, life-taking, cruel, violence.  The question for me has always been – what is to be my response?  And the answer, at least for me, remains unchanged – I will help, but I will not kill.  Perhaps that makes me useless.  That is not my judgment to make.

But consider this about the recent events in Iraq:

1. These things did not happen in a vacuum.  They never do.  This crucible moment was preceded by countless crucible moments in Iraq before, moments which did not even call for violent solutions, during which we did nothing.  If PM Maliki be the problem, his position is one we established and thus do we reap the whirlwind we created.  I am left to wonder why it is so much harder for us to simply work towards an honest form of government interested in the welfare of its people and so much easier for us just to drop bombs.

2. ISIS has been coming for a long time.  Why the surprise?  Even in immediate terms, the world has known for months about their increasing incursions into Iraq.  And largely, we did nothing.  Where, one might ask, are the UN Peacekeepers?  Where the barriers?  Where the practical steps for evacuation from a coming war zone?  Where the stockpiling of supplies for humanitarian aid?  If this is a crisis, it is one we helped create by our large indifference.

3. Where the world’s outcry when PM Maliki and his folk engaged in similar behavior towards their opponents?  Iraq as a nation has not had one moment of rest since the 1990's and the sanctions imposed not on its leader but on its citizens.  How would one reasonably expect anything but chaos and its attendant horrors with a land that has resources others are rapaciously hungry for and the countries of the world aligned around it to use it as their own version of the O. K. Corral?

4. What have the countries around the world done to offer to take the refugees?  They’re on that mountaintop for a reason.  Fleeing a fearsome enemy, they had nowhere else to go.  And why not?  Why are they themselves not being airlifted out?  Because we, the world, won’t have them.

5. Our prejudices want to have it both ways: we want to condemn Muslims around the world, or certainly in the Middle East, as being barbaric monsters while our condemnation focuses on their victims, most of whom are other Muslims.  Which is it?  Are they barbarians?  Or victims?  Or is the truth much simpler – like all of the rest of us, they’re both?

6. Economic, social, and political upheaval create the perfect storm for the worst of humanity’s behaviors to have free reign.  Everything we have done in Iraq for decades has been towards the certain conclusion that we will and have created a failed state.  We cannot claim surprise at the result.  The cry now for the necessity of violent solutions overlooks each and every step down this path we have taken to its inevitable conclusion.  Perhaps weapons are now our only choice.  But that hasn’t always been true.  And weapons will be a poor solution for the long-term welfare of all Iraq’s peoples.  There is always a what next? phase.  Have we given that any thought?  It would seem not.  Which simply repeats the previous pattern and if we do nothing differently, the same results will certainly attain and only the acronyms will change.  We can do better than that.  The question remains whether we will.

I wrote this about 6 - 8 weeks ago and decided not to post it at the time.  Since then, the United States, along with some partners, has sent air attacks raining down on Syria and Iraq, too much for some, too little for others.  And hostage demands and executions have continued.  Today one family has publicly said, while asking that their son be spared, that the price demanded by those holding him is a price they cannot meet.  Actually, they have said it is a price they cannot ‘accommodate’, which is a different matter all together.  I understand what they mean.  At least I think I do.  Prayers continue that the killing madness come to an end.  And that includes bullets and armaments stamped ‘made in the USA’ fired from ISIS hands as well as our own.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I Had Me a Bowl of Color

low-hanging branches of gold
dance in the wind waving their
invitation to come out and play

browning leaves carpet the
still-green grass with the
crunch of that perfect first bite

invited, enticed, seduced, I step
out into the magic of it all – this
fall – and I had me a bowl of
color for breakfast today

Friday, October 10, 2014

I Agreed with Rush (and the sun did not fall from the sky)

The opinion poll as news, Rush Limbaugh pronounced yesterday on his radio program, is nonsensical.  I happen to agree.

Of course, that’s probably the point at which Mr. Limbaugh and I part company, being poles apart on most things political.

But his point is an important one, I think: the news media does no one a service by soliciting our opinions and then reporting them back to us as if it were news to tell me what I think.

Of course, this tendency is not limited to media outlets.  The, in my view, by-far worse example is governance by opinion poll.

What does it matter, as asked yesterday, whether I think ebola or the enterovirus is the more dangerous.  There actually is a way to factually ascertain which is the more dangerous.  Asking me is not the way.  And my opinion will not change the facts.

This is but one problem in governing by opinion poll: I, the voter, am not the best expert from whom to solicit advice for any topic with the sole exception of one: what I think.

But what I think, as a voter and a citizen, while relevant to political discussion, discourse and decision, is not determinative.  It is merely one of many factors and, I would posit, perhaps the least important of all.

For the simple fact is that I might be wrong.

And we are a representative republic, N. O. T. a democracy.

It is an important distinction and we the people seem to have forgotten it.

A representative republic has built into it the recognition that majority rule is not always best.

A representative republic presupposes statesmanship as a craft that is learned, practiced and perfected.

A representative republic presupposes that our representatives will actually listen to each other.

A representative republic presupposes that our collective wisdom is actually superior to our individual wisdom.

Of course, that presupposes that wisdom is actually something desired by the nation as a whole.

So how about this.

How about WE, THE PEOPLE, who hold the truth that we don’t always or even often know best to be self-evident, IMMEDIATELY STOP – cease, desist, refrain, from answering all these confounded opinion polls.

Let’s stop worrying so much about what we think and about being heard and worry more about doing the hard work of governance – by making informed choices in our voting, by taking the time to learn what the big questions of government actually are, by listening to our opponents, who just might have something to teach us (yes, for me, that includes Rush Limbaugh, even when or perhaps especially when I do not agree with him), by rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.

Make no mistake about it.  Good governance requires work.  Effort.  Commitment.

And the work, commitment and effort are ours.

There is no amorphous ‘they’.

There is only us.

We have the government we’ve worked to have.

So if we do not like it, it is up to us to get busy.

And getting busy is not limited to electing our favorites.

Getting busy includes getting behind those with whom we disagree in common cause for our collective good.

It presupposes that those who disagree with me love their country as much as I do.

It presupposes that the work of being a citizen matters.

It presupposes the basic and fundamental understanding that bitching about something is not doing something about it.

We cannot afford to be front porch whiners, complainers, kvetchers.

And hey, this governing thing also requires, I suspect, stepping back in appreciation for all our many blessings, recognizing them for the gifts they are.

That is the pathway of humility.

A little dose goes a long way.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oh Happy Day

As I drove home last night, tunneling through the leaves cast in greys by the darkness, I reflected on my day and sighed the contentment of happiness.

This perfect gift of a day, this gift of God, wrapped in love and tied with the bow of surprise, unfolded in ways I had not planned – all the better.

Laundry danced on the lines, dried by sunshine, whipped into shape by the wondrous winds of fall, bringing that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction it always does.  If I think of purity as a Christian at all, it is like this – clean laundry on a crisp fall day.  The doing of the laundry I had planned, but the redoing, the rehanging, as piece after piece flew off, I had not.  It made me laugh, this fighting the wind – does not the wind always win?

Then there was raking leaves with two little citizens of this burg I call home, creating a pile for jumping larger and larger with each jump.  A great fan of leaf jumping myself, this time I was content to watch their jumping, running, laughing, gleeful faces and call myself blessed.  And even the tears of a small boy filled my heart, the tears shed in sorrow at the leaving, this little one who enjoys my company as I so enjoy his.

They were an interruption to my own plans, these little ones, as I agreed to watch a little girl as her mother took her baby boy across the mountains for yet another doctor’s appointment in this child’s harrowing journey towards health and wellness (Lord, may it come soon), happy to be able to serve in a small way, having the time to give, the day to share.

A friend stopped to chat.

Women spoke of important things into the night.

Prayers were shared.

Hope was spoken into being.

Poetry was shared.

Children gathered around a table and it was the joyful feast.

Another friend named the pleasure of my company out loud.

And the moon so bright it cast shadows shone on a land at peace with itself – oh, lucky, happy, blessed we.

Nothing particularly extraordinary happened, yet it was all wondrous.

A happy day indeed.

May you be blessed with the happiness of days spent well in the company of those who bring joy by their presence.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Applebutter Day in the Mountains

One large copper kettle


Two large stainless kettles


Hundreds of large jars of apple sauce


Cinnamon – lots of cinnamon


Three motors formerly used to run turkey-house curtains


Three thing-a-ma-jigs with rubber fan belts


One permanent lean-to built shed-style with farm leftovers


Three farmers


One great neighbor


Lots of church women


Countless bottles & funnels and labels


One raconteur with an anit-Obama bumper sticker in his pocket


McKendree Methodist Church apple butter

Rosalee ran Angelika and me up to McKendree this morning to check out the applebutter making operation – one of McKendree’s big fundraising projects for the year.

The smells – heavenly.  The atmosphere – pure country.  The end result – tasty.

In some ways I miss the old-school style – with the long wooden paddles for stirring and pennies thrown in the copper pots to prevent sticking.  But I’m not the one doing the stirring.

And you have to admire the common-sense ingenuity that made from spare parts and willing hands three automatic stirring machines.

The smell of applebutter in the making on a cool fall day, sun shining off the fall leaves, fills the air with magic, and that’s a recipe worth following.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Is Wilma There?

The phone rings late last night.

The female voice on the other end starts talking (not uncommon around here) and I listen, trying to figure out who it is.

Unsuccessful, I finally ask, “I’m sorry.  Who am I talking to?”

“Oh.  Is Wilma there?”

I tell her she’s got the wrong number, this is the church number and then she asks me if I’ve got Wilma’s number.

The funny thing is that I know who she’s asking for.

Just to be sure, I ask, “Wilma Obaugh?”

“Yes,” she answers.

“I don’t, but let me look it up real quick.”

Turns out she had the right number, but had just hit a wrong button.

And then we talked a bit ourselves, about the drop in the temperature, whether it would frost, old fingers hitting wrong buttons – the light conversation of two women late at night with nothing but time and a little grace for a stranger on our hands.

I hope she got ahold of Wilma – I know she’ll be glad to hear from her.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Through the Eyes of a Child

Good, faithful friend, neighbor and bringer of magic to little boys, in the ways of men and tinkering, riding, loud, moving, mowing, grinding, things – Larry, who died, left his mark in so many ways.

One small boy, my grandson, calls Larry his friend, for the times when Larry took him riding and mowing grass, letting him believe he was doing the steering (maybe he was - who am I to say otherwise?), and earning himself hero status in the process.

When Rowen’s parents let him know that Larry, whom he had visited just a few weeks back, had died, he called me to tell me he was sorry.  We talked about Larry, this small boy of my heart and I.  And we spoke of other things.  And I suggested he might make Larry’s family a card, to which he readily agreed, evidence in his desire (an unusual thing) of his own loss, his own caring.

And I am touched beyond measure, loving even more (if that be possible) this tiny boy who carries my heart.

I am perpetually astonished at the world seen through the eyes of a child, for children do know the important things – playing with friends, shouting for the sheer joy of existence, weeping openly when they are sad, making a card to say sorry – moment by moment do they live.

And that, I suspect, is as it should be.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wrapped in Color

Thanks, Laura LaPrade!

A house sits 

by a symphony
of color

Master Artist
is showing off – 
again –

it is fall 
in the Highlands
and hearts

at the hope
in dying

and all
is well

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Who Is My Neighbor?

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Yesterday evening, standing around in Larry’s front yard amongst so many family, friends, and even neighbors, mourning his passing, engaging in small talk, they came and came and came, many with food in their hands – the offering of solace and comfort that is so common here in the form of a casserole dish – one conversation paused to consider what, or better, who, is my neighbor.

Jesus’ answer seems pretty clear to me: my neighbor is anyone who needs me – not merely needs, but needs me.

There is that of proximity in neighbor – and around these parts, where so many of us live so far apart physically, one can start to believe that he doesn’t actually have neighbors.  My answer to that, at least for now, is that if I’m close enough to see the smoke from your place in the sky – that is, close enough to come when you need help – I am your neighbor.

In Larry’s case, close enough to see the need could be pretty far away, for the man who sent his daughter across the road to help a family with a sick child (these mountains can be pretty rough on young tummies) with a bag (in case it happened again), some paper towels (there’s always a mess) and an offer to bring her over to his house to clean up, or the man who went on countless fire calls, driving the truck with the same haste as if the one on the other end, the one needing the help, were of his own family.

Larry Smith was a man who had enough imagination to see the need and in seeing the need, to see the neighbor.  He wasn’t unique in these parts – there are plenty of folk who see and heed the need.  So no, Larry wasn’t unique.  But he was special.  And he will be missed.