An Ounce of Prevention

Recently, some folks have been looking at me strangely, even asking, with a note of concern in their voice, “How are you feeling?”

I know why they do this, although I really wish they would just ignore the strange red blotches on my face. I want to forget them.

They occur because three nights each week for the past few weeks I have been applying Fluorouracil 5% Cream to my face. And I will keep doing that for another six weeks, even though I know that the red blotches will get bigger, and even begin to look like scabs or eczema.

But I have to stop ignoring people’s concern. I heard two different people wonder if I have skin cancer. I don’t want the wonderful people in the church I serve to think their pastor has cancer.

This is especially true because I am applying this topical cream to rid myself of pre-cancerous skin growths–in other words, I am  preventing cancer. My dermatologist has said that if I do not apply this cream now and let it bring the growths to the surface where they are sloughed off, then in five to ten years I will have skin cancer. And it will be an ugly mess to remove.

So, I look diseased today, but the cost of some stares, and the occasional unpleasant irritation, is worth it.

An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.

Spend More? Prayer Is Free

According to early accounts, Black Friday was a success this year. That means that the Thanksgiving weekend produced enough sales for merchants to see the possibility of making some profit for the year.

I am glad for them. No one wants to see more businesses fail. In fact, we want them to succeed, and new ones to start up and thrive.

However, I also–and my internal curmudgeon may be showing again–am distressed at how Thanksgiving has become so laced with profits. I want more prophets in Thanksgiving.

My vision for the United States is a land of prosperity alright, but the bedrock of that is spiritual strength, not material success. We will not build the nation God calls us to build on the quicksand of market strategies. We will only build that nation on the bedrock of God and our faith in God (by whatever name you call God).

I am not reading the atheists out of this, not by far, but I do believe that the people of God must rest our visions, our hopes, our achievements, on the God we claim to trust.

Go ahead, spend more, if you can. But let us not forget that prayer is free–and those profits are enormous.

In God We Trust–What About the Rest of Us?

As usual, there is a lot of noise about sex, but little wisdom. I refer to the furor over new security procedures at airports.

Yes, it is at least partly about sex–a subject Americans are mostly unwilling to engage directly. “No way they’re gonna touch my ‘junk,'” said one man. He sounds like one of those straight men who is sure every gay man (apparently we lack any taste or discernment or self-respect) wants to bed him.

Others are worried that the full-body scans will reveal private parts to investigators. When was the last time you went to the doctor? I went last week for my annual physical, and well . . .  my doctor and I got pretty intimate (if you know what I mean–wink, wink).

The reality is that terrorists want to harm us. Personally, I am willing to undergo more indignity if it will help keep them from succeeding.

Of course, the vast, vast majority of airline travelers are not terrorists, or even sympathetic to them, but until we develop better technology–and it is coming–this appears to be the best we can do.

In the meantime, let us trust that these professionals–people we charge with an impossible job of finding the terrorist needle in the haystack–will be as careful and respectful as possible of each one of us. And that “the government” is not trying to build a database of pictures of everyone’s sex organs–or any other nonsense that is out there.

Maybe it is about trust. We say as a nation that we trust in God. I often doubt that. And I am pretty sure we don’t trust each other.

Who Will Laugh Last?

Right now, the debate in our country seems to be all about money.

However, I do not believe money is the heart of our nation. I seek to serve God first, not Mammon.

Nor do I believe that the markets can fix everything. I–and hear comes the true heresy–do not even believe markets work better than government. Each does some good things well, and each also creates problems.

One area where we really need government to act is in setting some coherent, comprehensive energy policies. The private sector just keeps pumping oil–drill, baby, drill, is still the mantra of many even if they have to say it more quietly after the BP disaster–while we need it, and the government, investing  massively in alternative energy development.

Why? Does anyone seriously doubt that we need to reduce our dependence on oil from unstable parts of the world? Does anyone seriously doubt that scientists have a strong consensus that fossil fuels are rapidly destroying the ozone layer, leading to horrific consequences?

Sadly, many leaders do doubt the scientific consensus. For example, the incoming Speaker of the House said recently, “The idea that carbon monoxide is a carcinogen that is harmful to our environment, is almost comical.”

The humor escapes me. Nor do I think the last laugh will be his.

Debate Not Over, But We Will Win

For many of us the matter of marriage equality–AKA same-sex, or same-gender, marriage–is settled. No debate.

We just keep working for it to become a reality in Virginia, and everywhere in the world. Personally, I know the day is coming when we will win.

In the meantime, others continue to argue against equality, calling forth strenuous negative arguments based on religion, the U.S. constitution, social custom, and morality.

If you want to hear a lively, civil, debate on the subject, the First Freedom Center has just the event for you. This Sunday, 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm, four speakers will debate the topic, “Same-Sex Marriage in Religion, Public Policy and the Constitution.” The event will be held in the VCU Commons Theater, 907 Floyd Avenue.

Speakers include Delegate Bob Marshall (co-sponsor of the anti-marriage Marshall-Newman state constitutional amendment) and Eric Huszar–against marriage equality–and Sarah Warbelow (State Legislative Director for the Human Rights Campaign) and Cameron Hunt (VCU Queer Action, active Episcopalian seminarian-to-be and staffer for People of Faith for Equality in Virginia)–for marriage equality.

It should be a good bit of theater. However, as much as I want to attend, I have a previous commitment. The irony is rich.

I am meeting with a lesbian couple who want me to perform their wedding at MCC Richmond–because their pastor is unable to do so at their church!

The Two ‘Spirations

The last few weeks have been pretty hectic for me, especially in church as we geared up for congregational annual meeting and began to wrap up our annual giving campaign for 2011. Both turned out really well, and I feel good about all the work.

As I reflected on it yesterday, I was reminded of the old story of the “two ‘spirations.” You must have both if you want to achieve something worthwhile. If either is missing, you won’t make your goal.

Inspiration is vital. Just working hard, plodding ahead, is never enough. You must have regular, ongoing inspiration.  

But inspiration without perspiration inevitably leads to failure. There are moments in any good endeavor when it can feel impossible. The odds can seem, and often are, daunting. That is when perspiration comes in.

An old mentor of mine spoke of it a bit differently, but the point was the same. He said that without prayer and sweat nothing good ever got done.

Well, I know I prayed a lot over the past few weeks, and I really did sweat!

What in your life needs a little more prayer and sweat, a healthy dose of the “two ‘spirations?”

Is It the Right Time?

The fall colors have turned out to be pretty spectacular around Richmond. After a real lack of rain, many feared muted colors. But the display continues to be spectacular. I have noticed that orange leaves seem especially vibrant this year.

But another display is beginning as well.

Even before all the leaves have fallen–the trees look pretty full to me yet–I saw my first lighted Christmas tree on Friday. Cocoa and I were out walking before daybreak, and as we walked by one house I noted their Christmas tree glowing brightly.

Oh dear.

I know the stores have been displaying Christmas for some time now, but I was shocked to see a home tree so early–well before Thanksgiving.

Maybe my internal curmudgeon is showing, but I really like Christmas to come after Thanksgiving–just like I prefer Thanksgiving to occur after Halloween. I believe life is generally more rich when there is an order to things.

I know that I can no more control when our neighbors put up their Christmas tree than I can control when the leaves change color.  But I am relieved that the trees seem to know when the time is right. Maybe we could learn from them.

Did I Say That? Oh, my . . .

I receive a lot of emails. Most of them are okay, even welcome.

But some I don’t enjoy receiving–including a fair amount of spam. But even emails from friends can be upsetting sometimes.

I try to keep this rule for myself as I compose an email: would I want to receive this email? It usually stops me from hitting “Send” when I have just typed an angry or emotional response to a message I have received.

Another rule I try to follow: would this message be better received if I actually spoke to the person? This is especiallyimportant for me when I am communicating a message with emotional weight.

I recently came across this wisdom. The man who penned it, Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotzk, died in 1859. So he was not addressing email. But it seems applicable.  

All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, and all that is written should not be printed.

Or as an old codger in the cartoon strip, “Shoe,” said–in response to the question, “How did you get to be so wise?–“It’s simple. Whenever I think of something stupid to say . . . I don’t say it.”

Blessed Are the Rich. Woe to the Poor

The Sunday gospel reading on November 7 was from Luke 6; Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” He also says “Woe to those who are rich.”

Many in Congress seem to have it backward.

They want to extend tax cuts to the richest two percent of Americans–to maintain, and perhaps increase, the growing inequality between that group and the rest of us. Did you know that the richest one percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from nine percent in 1976? Did you know that from 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of the total increase in U.S. incomes went to the richest one percent?

And did you know that even the rich would receive continuing tax breaks on the first $250,000 of their income–that’s a tax break of $61,000. So everyone is getting a tax break–except, of course, those too poor to pay taxes. What many in Congress–and its not just Republicans, although they are leading the charge–want to do is to give these rich folks continuing breaks amounting to $370,000.

Just think: if these rich folks–whom I think would not actually miss the money–shared that $309,000 (difference between $370,000 and $61,000) with the nation, it would amount to more than $800 billion over a decade. We could pay down the national debt quite a bit, and even manage to extend unemployment insurance to those still chronically out of work.

Who will guide us in these decisions? Tea parties? Politicians seeking favors from fat cats? Ideologues who never met a tax they did not want to cut or corporate welfare they dislike? Or Jesus and the Hebrew prophets (from whom Jesus drew inspiration)?

God, You Deserve that Much

Part of my prayer routine is to write these words each Sunday morning, as I begin a new round of scripture meditations in a prayer book called Sacred Space

                                   God, you are, therefore I am. You are with me, and within me. And I am with you, and within you.

The other day I noticed something. I capitalize “I” but do not capitalize “you.”

This got me to thinking, “Do I value myself more than God?” Do we, as a culture, do that? Have we become so self-preoccupied that we no longer give personal pronoun precedence to God?

Of course, we capitalize the word God, but then I capitalize Robin, too.  

Then, I remember that in the old days “He,” referring to God, was capitalized. “Him,” too. But modern usage stopped maintaining that custom. Even when I use “she” or “her” in reference to God, I do not capitalize (probably some traditionalists would faint if I did, for reasons other than capitalization).

I have decided to return to the old way. In my meditation book I now write:

                          God, You are, therefore I am. You are with me, and within me. And I am with You, and within You.

 That feels better.  God, You deserve at least that much honor. And much more, of course.