Is Your Rain Barrel Ready?

In Central Virginia, we were beginning to hear talk of drought. Voluntary water usage “rules” were being introduced.

Then, in the past several days, we have received much needed rain. You can already see greener greens.

As Jonathan and I walked Cocoa this morning–we in panchos, he getting soaked–I thought of how this pattern of drought/rain mirrors my spiritual life. I have experienced spiritual droughts before, times when I really wondered, “God are you there?”

And then the rains came–in the form of a friend unexpectedly caring for me, or seeing a child reach out to an adult clearly needing love, or reading some wisdom that broke through my resistance, or hearing someone speak of God in a way that reminds me that God never leaves.

Sometimes, these droughts last a long time–one of mine went on for about four years–and sometimes they last only a day or two (which might not seem like a drought, but in the moment life is very dry and brittle).

Jesus reminds us that “God’s rain falls on the just and the unjust.” So healing from drought is available to all.

What matters is that we have our rain barrel–our heart–ready to receive.

What Matters Most: Money or People?

Stimulus has become a dirty word for many. They think it is wrong to spend money to help the economy, because the most important thing is to stop government spending. 

They worry about the ballooning federal deficit–and the concern is legitimate. Of course, I don’t remember former President Bush, and many allies in both parties, worrying much about the deficit a few years ago when they were handing out tax cuts all over the place.  

But today, many of them are really worried. Now is the time, they say, to focus on the fiscal deficit. Forget the national jobs deficit.

One way is to cut funds for the unemployed, including ending a $1 billion program to directly pay the salaries of unemployed people so they could get jobs in government, nonprofits, and small businesses. Many governors, including Republicans, have used the program creatively to get some important things done and also help people move from “welfare to work” (that description is from Mississippi’s Republican Governor Haley Barbour).

The foundation of any nation worthy of being called one is not its money but its people.

According to Alan Axelrod, Gandhi insisted that “the litmus test of any proposed action was how it would affect the most vulneralbe individual imaginable. The test was therefore human and particular, never ideological and general.” That sounds a lot like Matthew 25, “whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

When will we learn to value people more than money?

My Need Today

I am an introvert. That means that I draw strength from time spent without other people (and does not mean I don’t like people–I could not be a pastor if that were so). I cherish quiet times–even busy times–without other people. 

Achieving the balance I need in my life–sufficient time by myself and sufficient time with Jonathan, other family including Cocoa, church family and other friends–is not always easy.

There are mornings I want to walk with Cocoa by myself, but at the same time I crave more time with Jonathan. Some days, we have so little time together–our schedules are not all that compatible. So I weigh these competing needs as best I can, asking God to help me discern my greatest need. Of course, I am never truly alone: God is always present.

This morning, we–Jonathan, Cocoa, and I, and God–are walking together.

Thank you, God, for always being there, and helping me know what my need is today.

God Loves (Even) Haters

The folks from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka KS are coming to Richmond this Sunday. They will bring their message of “God Hates Fags” . . . . and Jews and Muslims  and Catholics . . . . and families of dead soldiers . . . . and now Protestant churches.

Three churches in Richmond–West End Assembly of God, St. Paul’s Baptist Church, and Trinity Baptist Church–are on their picket schedule. I wrote to the pastors of these churches, expressing sympathy and support. Two of them responded, thanking me. One wrote that he considered it sort of  “a badge of honor–to be targeted by the Westboro hate group  for preaching the offensive message that ‘God loves everyone.'”   

The churches are planning no direct response; they will simply go and come from worship, studiously ignoring the hate, focusing on God’s love. The response is understandable. I, for one, will honor their plan. I encourage others to do so.

And yet, clearly our community is being invaded by people who, for reasons I do not understand at all, believe–BELIEVE–that God is a God of hate, retribution, and violence. It feels like a violation of everyone in Richmond.

Their planned picket of VCU has been replaced by a debate between their attorney (and member) and a local attorney. Their topic: the case currently before the Supreme Court about WBC’s constitutional right to picket military funerals. The event is at VCU, 4:00 – 5:30 pm. More details are at 

Legal and constitutional questions are important in our life together. But so are moral and spiritual concerns. Which is why I pray for the well-being of the Rev. Fred Phelps and the members of Westboro Baptist Church.

God loves (even) haters.

Outrage, and Hope

The failure yesterday to overcome a filibuster in the Senate–resulting in a postponement of the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (the military ban on open and affirming LGBT military personnel)–is outrageous. No doubt about it.

Senator McCain led the filibuster

Once again, Washington games managed to stand in the way of justice–and a strong majority of American citizens.

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around. Fingers point to President Obama, Senator Reid, and other Democrats (including Virginia’s own senior Senator, Jim Webb). I am disappointed in all of them.

But they did fashion a compromise to pass repeal. Sadly, some Republican reactionaries mounted a filibuster. Without the filibuster, repeal would have passed.

And of course it will pass. If the courts don’t throw it out first. It is a good sign when the other side has to resort to a filibuster to thwart the majority.

The movement toward full equality for LGBT folks is messy, but it is inexorable. It has a momentum now that will not be stopped. It may be slowed, even experience real setbacks, but it will not be stopped.

In the midst of my outrage–its outrageous that valiant soldiers are forced to live lies in order to serve their country–I remember, yet again, that we are winning.

Where Is the Peace?

Sometimes, things just don’t make sense.

Sam McCroskey, sentenced to life imprisonment

One person bludgeons four people to death in their home and and is sentenced to life imprisonment. Another person arranges and pays to have two people shot and is sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Admittedly, in the second case, the people killed are family, not strangers. But in that second case, the person–a woman–has an IQ of 72, meaning she is barely able to reason as an adult. And, of course, life in prison is no joy. But it has to be better than dying before your time.

How do we get ourselves in this fix?

I want to be transparent. I am unalterably opposed to using the death penalty. I was taught, “Thou shalt not kill,” and I believe it. Jesus said to love your enemies–and that does not seem to include killing them. I don’t understand why we kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.

Teresa Lewis, set to die Thursday

But even if I supported the death penalty, I think I’d squirm in this situation. Can we really hold this woman accountable to the extent that we can justify taking her life? And if she is expendable, is not the man equally so?

There is no peace in this.

No Confusion Here

A friend of mine recently celebrated two years of recovery in AA, a blessed time free from the daily scourge of drinking and using drugs. I am very proud of him, and many others I have known over the years who reclaim their lives from the demon of addiction.

Addiction may seem to clarify life–everything becomes about getting and using the drug of choice–but in reality it creates enormous confusion. When we live our lives in thrall to a thing, a substance, it eventually causes everything else in our lives to fall apart.

My friend experienced that disintegration–he hit his bottom, as folks in AA say–and he realized something one of my mentors says, “God is not the author of confusion.” The alcohol and  drugs had been the god that led him to disaster. God saved him, and showed him a different path, which, among other things, brought him back to church.

You may or may not be an active or even closet addict–many of us at least have some tendencies in that direction–but there is probably something that is sowing confusion in your life. It is not God.

Today, I draw courage from my friend, knowing I too can focus on God and let go of the things that are not God in my life.

A Love Triangle that Always Works

The Pastoral Care Ministry Team and I spent some time last evening talking about a “ménage à trois.”

Oh, not exactly the usual sense of that term, but still a “love triangle.” That is, we explored what it means, when we engage in caring for another person, that God is present with us and the person for whom we are offering care: care giver, care receiver, and God.

Later, as I sat with Jonathan reviewing our respective days, it occurred to me that God was present in our family room. “We are not alone here,” I thought. Of course, Cocoa was nearby, too, but for a moment or two I really felt God’s presence.

It was just an ordinary evening in our home, nothing particularly dramatic or difficult–both of us tired from long days, but still feeling blessed to be together.

What would it be like if I recognized God’s presence in each encounter of every day? Would not I be more at peace? Would I not see divine qualities in the other people that I never noticed before?

And what if we each did this, and it spread beyond us to others? Might there be more peace, more joy, more trust, more love,  in the world?

A New Kind of Holy Object?

Recently, I stopped wearing my distinctive, long,  dangling earrings.

The transition was not difficult, but I knew I did not want to let the holes in my ears fill back in from lack of use. So I began trying to remember to wear them once in a while.

Then, during a meeting with my spiritual director, we discussed prayer beads and other aids to prayer. Later, I wondered, “Could my earrings be used like prayer beads?”

So I tried it. It was great. I have always felt inspired by God to wear showy earrings. Here I was, wearing them during my most intimate time with God!

But sometimes I would forget to put on a pair before praying. I didn’t like getting up to go back to the bedroom, especially in the morning when I might disturb Jonathan, to get them.

Then, more inspiration. If they are prayer earrings, then why not keep them in my study, by my prayer desk, near the cross on the wall and other religious items? So, I moved them, holy objects that they are, to my home prayer space, still on the ingenuous frame my daughters made for me years ago (see picture).

What joy, each time I pray, to choose which pair to wear! God and I have some fun with that.

Let Us Prove God Right

It was a sad day nine years ago. A day that caused anger in many of us. A day borne of anger in others.

Today is a day to reflect–how can life we different? How can we reduce the anger, the hatred, the violence?

There is wisdom in what Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote many years ago.

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness, and a willingness to remain vulnerable.

Truly faithful people, whatever we call our God and striving to live the truth we proclaim, do not seek to increase suffering. There is enough already. Our task is to alleviate suffering, helping to create peace and love and joy.

God believes we are up to the task. Let us prove God right.