Happy Birthday, Robin!

The Robins Gorsline

Today is a special day for Robin Gorsline. Actually two Robin Gorslines.

Robin Irene Gorsline celebrates her 28th birthday today, and Robin Hawley Gorsline celebrates with her–a proud, loving father grateful that his youngest is doing so very well.

I remember well the day in 1982–in Boston–when Judy Gorsline gave birth to this new treasure. Although Judy and I had already agreed to divorce, we both loved this new one and were grateful to bring her home safely to her growing sisters.

It was not an easy time for us, but Judy and I loved our daughters, and were determined to help them grow into strong, vibrant young women. Our dreams have been amply rewarded.

I am thrilled to be with Robin on her birthday–something that has not happened for some years–and to share this with her sisters and so much family.

Of course, I wish Judy could be joining us. Actually, knowing her, she will be. And I know she shares my pride and joy.

A Rich Life

I am getting ready to leave in the morning for a quick visit with my family in northern Michigan.

Robin & Nancy

I am so excited to be seeing our three daughters, and son-in-law, as well as my beloved sister, Nancy, and her family. I am sad that Jonathan is unable to join us, but know it will be a good visit.

I was supposed to fly out Sunday afternoon, but the snowfall prevented that. The earliest flight I could get was Tuesday morning, effectively losing a whole day of an already short visit (I return Thursday night).

Still, I am glad to be doing this, certainly because I miss my family–and because I have been having feelings of homesickness for Michigan.

Richmond and Virginia are truly home to me now (and for the rest of my life, I think). I know Jonathan feels the same way–but I do have Michigan in my blood. Even though I grew up in southeastern Michigan–40 miles northwest of Detroit–I have fond memories spent in northern Michigan during my youth.

How blessed I am.

Such a rich life–filled with love and adventure and good work, and most of all, God.

Merry Christmas! Bon Appetit!

Last night, I spent some time preparing two of my required holiday foods.

I know I am not alone in feeling that an important part of Christmas (and Thanksgiving) is having certain foods. For example, I can’t imagine either holiday dinner without butternut squash. When I was growing up in Michigan, my father raised them so we had them often, but they tasted best on those two feast days.

But traditions evolve. One I have created involves collard greens.

I never had them until I lived in New York. I didn’t even know how to spell the word correctly. For a long time, I thought it was spelled “colored,” because as a child I was told that Black people ate them (of course, the word used was not “black”). A couple of years before we moved to Richmond, Jonathan and I ate in a Jamaican restaurant in Brooklyn famous for their collards. I was hooked at the first bite. I have been fixing them ever since, and especially when feeding a large group (like the MCC Richmond Christmas Day potluck).

So I cannot imagine Thanksgiving or Christmas without collards. I think mine are pretty good–especially because as a vegetarian I don’t use fatback or other meat products for seasoning. Instead, liquid smoke does the trick, along with a healthy dose of red pepper (and a couple of other things I keep to myself).

I know how blessed I am to be able to go to the store and buy these two favorites, and then to have a stove and all the necessary ingredients to prepare them. So, in addition to eating them with delight and gusto, I pray for the day to come soon when everyone in the world can eat their favorite holiday foods–and eat well every day.

Merry Christmas! And Bon Appetit!

The Yin Yang of Life

Today is the winter solstice, the day of shortest daylight. It also marks the beginning of movement toward the day, six months hence, of the longest daylight.

It is typical to see dark as the opposite of light, night as the opposite of day. But that presumes that each is a fixed reality, a concrete thing.

It is not so. Each is meaningless without the other. Indeed, it may be more accurate to see them as a process, always in movement, to and fro, even swirling around each other.

It is like gender in that respect. Our society is set up on the conceit of two fixed, “opposite” genders. You are either one or the other.

It is not so. No one person is entirely all male or all female. And as we age, some men tend to develop more female characteristics, and women to develop more male ones.

Why do we have this need to get things fixed, battened down, especially creating opposition when none exists (or at least it is more complicated than a binary)?

I am sure the psychologists and psychoanalysts have theories that explain all this. Speaking from a faith perspective, I can only say that such need for certainty, for fixedness, comes from not trusting God.

God is so much bigger and more complex than any lockbox into which we try to put  . . . . God. And God’s world is the same way.

So, let’s ease up, and enjoy life the way God intends it to be.

Nine Famous Notes

Growing up, I was never a big fan of Peanuts, the cartoon strip by Charles Schulz. But one thing I always liked was the focus on Beethoven around the time of his birthday.

So, when I looked at calendar this morning, I thought, “Today is Beethoven’s Birthday!” Indeed, he would be 24o today, December 16.

Of course, Beethoven is far more than a foil for some cartoon characters. According to Wikipedia, he is considered “the most crucial figure in the transitional period between the classical and Romantic eras in western classical music, and remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.”

There are many famous Beethoven themes and pieces, but undoubtedly the most well known are the five opening measures of his Fifth Symphony.

Every time I hear them, I am touched. I feel a certain excitement coursing through my veins. I remember something Stephen Covey wrote, “To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.”

Beethoven’s music touched, and touches, many souls.

I certainly do not possess Beethoven’s magic, but today I shall try to touch some souls in my own way. It seems the least I can do.

Happy Birthday, Ludwig!!!!

Either/Or

A wise and old friend said to me long ago, “You are an either/or kind of person or a both/and kind of person–one or the other, one person can’t be both.” Of course, she smiled as she said it.

She was trying to help me overcome a bad habit of seeing the world in black or white terms–something was either “X” or “the opposite of X.”  I don’t do that much anymore.

As I have grown older, I have more and more come to see how complicated life is, and how there are more than two sides to most questions.

Still, some things either are–wrong, tall, peaceful, etc.–or they are not. The old saying–“You cannot have your cake, and eat it, too”–is true. But there are other things more important than that.

Emmet Fox says, “You cannot have power in prayer, and the luxury of resentment and condemnation, too.” Or “build a new consciousness and a new body, and live mentally in the dead past, too.”

Sometimes, either/or is just the way it is. The good news is that God always is available to guide us.

What Color Is Your Christmas?

Yesterday, I spent the day on a journey with a person I do not know well. That journey took us to some hard places. And at the end of the day, I left her in a less-than-desirable apartment to return to my comfortable home.  

However, these new accommodations are incredibly better than the ones she left in the morning.

I kept thinking of worship from Sunday, how we focused, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, on joy. The color of that Sunday is pink–its hard to not laugh, or at least smile, when you see pink.

One of the things we did yesterday was to go to a thrift store where she could pick up some clothes. I watched as she went delightedly around, finding a pink and purple coat, and some stylish, as well as functional, items.

As I watched her flipping through racks of clothes, I thought of other folks for whom the hard-to-ignore celebration of Christmas brings more pain than happiness–people in grief over the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or grieving the suspicion of an unemployed person that there will not be another job. Some people call this “Blue Christmas.”

Pink, or blue, Christmas is meant to be a celebration of Christ, of God breaking into our world with hope, peace, joy, and love. I pray it is so for my friend, and for everyone else, too.

Power-Sharing

Yesterday, I sat with four other people in our sanctuary at MCC Richmond for almost an hour, praying. I did the same thing the week before (with some of the same people and some different ones).

Based on my experience, I plan to spend my Wednesday noons praying as I did with them. The power we shared was real. It changed me.

I sometimes forget how powerful prayer can be, especially when it is shared. But these past two Wednesdays have made that power very real.

We prayed for the world, for our nation, for our state, for our metropolitan city, for our church, for ourselves, for others in need. We used printed prayers, and prayer request lists, and we also spoke from our own need and hearts.

The words are important, but equally so is the silence between them. The silence allows us to hear God, just as we hear each other. And even when we are not silent, there is something healing about the quiet of the sanctuary around us.

One thing is clear to me: when we gather in the quiet of the sanctuary, with the intention to be in conversation with God and each other, we are healed, and we help with the healing of the world.

Amen.

A Strange, Yet Powerful, Symbol of Faith

One of my seminary professors said, “Faithful people often do the right thing, even before their leaders figure out what that is.”

A great example of this truth is shown by Roman Catholic AIDS workers in Africa. Well in advance of the Pope’s recent stumbling comments about condom use by “male prostitutes,” and the clarification by Vatican authorities that this could include people who were trying to protect themselves and others from disease, these valiant caregivers have been handing out condoms.

“The people in the trenches have been allowing people to use condoms for 10 years now,” says Sister Elaine Pearton in South Africa. “We don’t hand them out [indiscriminately] for people to make balloons out of,” she said, laughing. “But if someone needs them to protect themselves from a deadly hazard, we just give them a box.”

In reality, the Roman Catholic Church is not nearly so monolithic as the Pope and the hierarchy want to believe–and hope the world believes. On every continent there are faithful Catholics gathering in house churches led by lay women and men, there are churches where priests incorporate indigenous religion into the approved liturgy, and their are women and men religious giving out condoms–not to mention the large number of laypeople who use birth control in complete disregard to church teachings.

The Holy Spirit never stops helping folks witness to their faith.

Love Like God?

The other day I was stuck for a few hours at the garage where my car is serviced. 

I had a feeling this would happen, so I took a good book, some newspapers, and my laptop. I also knew that I would have to endure the lobby television.

I did some work on my laptop, and some reading. And I practiced my still-developing skill in tuning out unwanted noise.

When I first arrived, however, an evangelizing preacher and his wife caught some of my attention. Mostly, they and their guests did not appeal to me.

But I heard two pieces of wisdom that I will never forget. Here is one: Its not enough to love God, we have to love like God.

I’m sure others have said it, maybe I have even said it sometime, but in that moment it got right inside me. I thought, “I love God, alright, but the fruit of that love is to do as God does. How well do It do that?”

Then I thought of the church I serve: we come to church because God loves us, and we love God, but the point of staying is to learn, and to help each other, to love like God. How well do we do that?

I can fall into the trap of thinking television evangelists don’t have much to say to me. But I forget that God is working through even those with whom I often disagree.