When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.


On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.

 

Running and Dancing for Life

My friend Kelly inspires me.  Not just because she lost over 100 pounds.  She has created ways to encourage and empower others to become healthier too.  As a mom she raised a daughter with diabetes and for 20 years served as a coach for other parents supporting their diabetic children.  I invite you to read and think about ways you can become healthier and how you too can encourage and empower others.

Thanks to Kelly Pheulpin for being the guest writer for these next two issues of GreenPreacher.  As you read I think you too will be inspired by the discipline, wisdom, playfulness and compassion that she brings.

My Journey from unhealthy to the better happier me:

‘Sitting in the office waiting for my doctor, I already knew she was going to bring up my weight gain again: I gained another 10 pounds. Finally she knocked on the door and came in, her look of disapproval had my stomach sinking. “Kelly, if you don’t learn how to control your diet you will be giving yourself insulin in addition to Rachel. Who will take care of her diabetes if you’re not around?” This was my wakeup call.  Yes, I have an amazing support system in my husband, but could he be successful all alone? Did I want to chance it? Was losing weight and be healthy so hard to obtain? I was going to find out. 

Kelly, seated right pre-Zumba
Kelly, seated right pre-Zumba

Following my appointment I went directly to the YMCA and signed up for a membership. Now what? I started by trying out the treadmill, elliptical, swimming, and weights. Nothing held my attention, how was I going to succeed if it felt like so much extra work? In talking with one of my girlfriends she told me about a class at the Y she was loving, Zumba. She said, “You adore dancing, so I bet you will also enjoy this.”

I met up with Jess the next night to try a Zumba class, though I didn’t hold much hope that it would be my key to success. When class started, the music was pumping and the instructor began moving, her smile and movements where contagious. When she cooled us down 50 minutes later I couldn’t believe I had just worked out for an hour it didn’t feel like working out. It felt like a dance party. My clothes were drenched, but I felt good. I had found my workout.

I started attending class 3 to5 times a week trying out all the different instructors at the Y. After three weeks I had lost 5 pounds and I was excited, I knew I had found the start to my healthier me. Jess and I continued to meet for Zumba but also walked 3 times a week on the treadmill. It was like our “coffee hour”. There was  one day I saw Jess running on the treadmill and I was very envious. I had always wanted to run but my asthma prevented it (according to my doctors). I explained this to Jess and she suggested trying it one minute at a time, and if I found that I couldn’t breathe, then they were right. Then she pointedly asked me: what is the harm in trying 1 minute at a time? She was right one minute at a time was the way to go!

I downloaded the ‘Couch to 5K program’ in October of 2011 and started following it faithfully. In early November my family encouraged me to sign up for my first 5K that they were all running. I was nervous and thought, “How will I do this? I’m only on week 3 of the program and running up to 5 minutes at a time.” My cousin, who is an avid runner, also encouraged me to sign up see how it goes. So against my own better judgment, I signed up. Race day came in early December and I wasn’t at the point in the program where I could run the whole 5k but I was going to do my best. I was able to run almost the entire 5k! It took my about 50 minutes to complete but I did it. At this point I had lost 25 pounds and was feeling like a new woman but I know I had more work to do. 

Next step in my journey: nutrition. I had spent most of my adult life educating others about healthy diets for themselves or their loved ones living with diabetes but I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. “Lead by example” became my new mantra. I started setting mini-goals for myself such as if I lost x amount of weight I could do or buy something special. One of the smartest mini goals I made was when I lost 60 pounds I decided I would go for my Zumba license so I could help others exercise and be healthier. 

photo-kelly-zumba
Kelly in black. Dancing with joy and dropping the pounds.

One of my proudest moments on this journey was feeling confident in my own skin to demonstrate all the Latin dance moves I learned for my Zumba instructor test. I was licensed to teach in early 2012.’

Next installment:  ‘No One Left Behind’…Kelly begins a new runners club where the slowest runner sets the pace…and everyone ‘wins’.

When Jesus was Homeless and a Refugee Too

Donald Trump was elected in part by tapping into the fears of a white culture which is projected to cede majority status by 2040.  This along with rapid changes in the economy and shifts in social norms left many feeling dislocated.

Mr. Trump seized upon the fear by creating scape goats. With broad strokes he identified Mexicans as ‘pouring over our borders’ and sending ‘rapists, murderers and drug dealers’.   He’s called for a national registry of Muslims and a halt to accepting immigrants and refugees from Islamic countries.

Of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country,  he’s called for mass deportation.  In Nov. 2015 he called for a ‘Mass Deportation Force’ to deport or incarcerate those deemed to be illegal.  In November 2016 he set a policy within his first 100 days in office, to begin deporting 2 – 3 million undocumented neighbors with police records.

The result will be families and communities torn apart.

By making undocumented neighbors and refugees our collective enemy, Mr. Trump can divert attention from underlying issues that confront us: A globalized economy, environmental stewardship, inequality of: wealth, education and health care.

How are faith communities responding to such fear based rhetoric?

Many of my fellow Christians have embraced Trump’s message.  Evangelical leader Franklin Graham (son of Billy) has gone so far as to say that ‘Donald Trump’s election is of God’.

Really?  What are we to make of the following passages:

God calls people of faith to remember that they once were strangers in a strange land and they must, must welcome the stranger as an expression of covenant faithfulness (Leviticus 19:33-34)

  We must “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)

  We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27)

The church I serve, First Baptist in Beverly,(https://www.fbcbeverly.org) takes such passages to heart.  We’ve chosen to reject fear and embrace those whom others would cast aside.  This Christmas season we’ve placed a banner by our entrance:  Immigrants & Refugees Welcome.

photo-refugees-welcome

This banner is our response to the anti-immigrant/refugee/Muslim rhetoric that has coarsened our public life.  Inspired by the Christmas story in Matthew 2:13-23 we remember that Mary and Joseph were homeless when Jesus was born.  That the Holy Family fled persecution by King Herod and found refuge in Egypt.

Today untold millions are seeking refuge from violence, violence, misery.  Minority groups within our own nation feel under threat.  How can we not offer welcome?

We don’t know how the next few years will unfold.  But we do know that we are guided by an ancient story that has captured our hearts, expanded our imagination and graced us with courage.

Courage to say ‘yes’ to love and ‘no’ to fear.

Christmas is coming yet again.  Hope reigns. Praise God!

(For more information on how you or your faith community can get involved for causes of justice: http://faithfulamerica.org/  or, https://sojo.net or, http://cwsglobal.org or, check out Beverly Multifaith Coalition on Facebook or,  look for partners in your local community)

 

No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.

photo-zen-meditation

Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.

 

In Praise of Moose

This past week I walked a portion of the Long Trail in Vermont.  For five days I backpacked with my cousin Tom from Lincoln Gap to the base of Camels Hump.

Nine years ago I took up backpacking in the mountains of my then home in Oregon.  For several years I packed with friends in the Eagle Cap Wilderness along the Idaho/Oregon border.  We climbed and camped at the 12,000 foot level.  I thought I knew what tough packing was like.

But the Long Trail is different.  The tallest peaks I climbed were in the 4000′ foot category.  But instead of the gradual switchbacks of a broad Oregon mountain this trail is essentially vertical.  Climbers scramble over glacial boulders and a twisted labyrinth of roots and stone.  Going down is no easier than up.

Photo of Tom on Long Trail

On the Long Trail you have to be mindful lest you fall. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn would likely praise the Long Trail. He’s all about being present to where you are:  ‘When you walk know you are walking’.

The Long Trail heightens your senses.  On one of the few relatively flat stretches I entered a mix of forest and wetlands.  Scattered along the trail were perfect piles of moose droppings.

Moose droppings or the colloquial ‘moose shit’ are perfectly round balls of one inch in diameter heaped in impressive piles along the trail.   Walking my senses were on alert looking for a moose in the flesh.

photo of moose crap

I didn’t see a moose.  Only the tell-tale sign that I was in the land of moose.  I know this  because I was not simply passing through.   I was fully present to my surroundings, my antenna was up my senses on alert.

Like the good Buddha Baptist that I am, I knew where I was.  I was on the Long Trail.  I was walking through the home of moose.

The Long Trail is not for the faint of heart.  It focuses ones attention.  It makes you feel fully alive.  The trail reminds you of where and who you are.

Be distracted at your own peril.

 

 

 

This Too Shall Pass

Today I walked through a cemetery on my way to work.  I walked through rows of stones with the names of individuals and entire families.  Some stones were grand and ornate.  Others small and simple.  Some hundreds of years old could still be read.  Other stones were worn smooth, the names of the dead no longer legible.

Photo of central cemetery

I wonder about the purpose of such stones.  To immortalize us?  To provide a place for people to grieve, remember and perhaps find comfort?  Yes.

Yet we know that in time we will be forgotten.  Those who gather to grieve our passing in time will also pass.

For some reason I find this comforting.

To know that we are not immortal is to insert into our lives a dose of humility.  The world does not revolve around you and me.  Once we are gone the world will continue to spin and people will live their lives.  Our achievements will be forgotten. Our mistakes too.

Being aware of our own mortality allows us to set aside grandiose thinking and to live more fully in the present.  To be more gentle with ourselves and with others.

Humility can allow us to accept and savor the gift of being alive.  In Buddhist teaching this is ‘living in the now’, being fully immersed in the present.

Some years ago I was kayaking in the Tongass Wilderness in Southeastern Alaska.  We paddled through a series of islands that is home to the Tlingit an indigenous people who have lived in the Tongass for thousands of years.  http://www.everyculture.com/North-America/Tlingit-Religion-and-Expressive-Culture.html

With permission we paddled to an island that was a burial site with totems.  Each totem told the story of a member of the tribe.  Some were large.  Others small.  Clan affiliation and achievements were carved into each  totem.  The totems still standing were approx. 100 years old.  Others lay on their side.

photo of totem pole

Each totem was rotting away in the wet, relentless weather of the Pacific Northwest.  No effort was made to protect or preserve the totems.  Each was built to last a few generations and then simply rot and return to replenish the earth.

The Tlingit believe that no one is remembered for more than a few generations.  The impermanence of the totem teaches this lesson.  Yet the Tlingit believe that while life on earth is impermanent, in death they  return to their Creator.

As a Christian I believe something similar.

I don’t believe that when I take my last breath that it will be the end.  I believe (as with the Tlingit) that I too will return to the source of all that is good, lasting and true.  My tradition teaches that not even death can separate us from the love of God.

In the meantime, my walk through the cemetery reminds me not to take myself too seriously. To savor this moment of being alive. To do as much good as I can while I can. To know that this too shall pass.

 

 

Hate Crime in the Neighborhood

We live in an increasingly polarized society. The hate speech in this presidential election season seems to have ginned up talking at and about one another, rather than talking with one another. It’s been said that prejudice comes when we ‘pre-judge’ without getting to know another’s story and perspective.

Here in Beverly, Massachusetts my friend Alison and I recently hosted an evening of conversation entitled: ‘A Rabbi and a Baptist Minister walk into a bar…’ It was intended as a light-hearted way to enter into the serious work of building bridges of understanding. Alison is the rabbi at Temple B’nai Abraham and I’m on the pastoral staff at First Baptist Church.

Over a glass of beer or wine we invited members of our congregations to write down questions that we’d both respond to and then open up for wider conversation. We gathered to understand and respect our differences. We also quickly found that we have much in common. After an hour or so we said, ‘let’s do this again’!

At the end of the evening it seemed like a modest step in the long journey of building understanding, respect and friendship.

A week later I saw on the news (myfoxboston.com) that Temple B’nai Abraham had been vandalized. A dollar sign and the words ‘Merry Christmas’ were spray-painted in large letters on the exterior walls near the back door of the temple.

Temple B'nai Abraham

“It’s probably a seven on the Richter scale of stupid,” said temple president Alan Pierce. “It’s hateful, it’s hurtful, and it’s something that needs to wake up the community as to why this happens.”

Rabbi Alison Adler said, with other recent incidents of anti-Semitism occurring locally and globally, she was not surprised by the incident.

“Even if it was a stupid decision by someone, I think what we want to talk about… are the underlying things it might cause,” Adler said. “I think the conversation isn’t just going to be about the vandalism, but really about what propels concerns or fears.”

The temple was targeted once before, in 1989, when a swastika was painted on the front of the building, Mr.Pierce said. “We made the decision to cover it over, but not cover it up. Acts of anti-Semitism or racial intolerance or bigotry or gay bashing are happening in the schools and happening in people’s homes and it’s affecting all of us.”

This is personal for Rabbi Alison and her community at Temple B’nai Abraham. It’s personal for me too.

Vandalism has defiled the walls of the beautiful temple just one block from my house. Hate speech has been inflicted upon friends with whom I broke bread and shared a beer just a week ago. It grieves me that Alison and her family who welcomed my wife and me into their home for Passover, are the victims of hate speech with a Christian subtext. This is personal.

passover with Rabbi Alison

What is the antidote to intolerance? I think it begins with moving outside our own circle and recognizing that there is no ‘them’, there is only ‘us’. The antidote to prejudice is getting to know someone from a different circle, with a different perspective.

The antidote is as simple as sharing a meal.

It’s not about building walls it’s about tearing them down. It’s about building friendships. It’s about coming together.  Who are you planning on getting to know?

When a Hero Dies

Dan Berrigan is dead at 94. A Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped to shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison. Along with his brother Philip (also a priest) a defining point was the public burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md. Their action inspired protests, marches, sit ins, the public burning of draft records and other acts of civil disobedience across the nation.

photo of Dan Berrigan

In 1980 Daniel Berrigan was again arrested for taking part in the Plowshares raid on a General Electric missile plant in King of Prussian, Pa. Here Daniel and Philip and others rained hammer blows on missile warheads. They then poured a vile of their blood on the nosecones and waited to be arrested. In 2006 Daniel was again arrested for blocking the entrance to another nuclear missile facility. This is but a sample of their willingness to pay a price for their beliefs.

The Berrigan brothers actions were rooted in the Hebrew prophets and the teachings of Jesus. They took to heart the words of Isaiah:

“God shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.’

The witness of the Berrigan brothers fueled debates around kitchen tables and in houses of worship. My politically conservative Dad argued with our pastor, Fred Buker about the Vietnam War. Fred was a veteran who had become a critic. The witness of the Berrigan’s angered my Dad and inspired our pastor. Such is the work of a prophet.

Dan and Philip Berrigan’s activism was rooted in the pages of Scripture as it was for Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and obscure figures like my childhood pastor. The words of Scripture, when taken to heart, have the ability to transform the hearer. To take us from selfishness to selflessness, from war mongering to peace, from fear to hope.

Some years ago I went to hear Daniel Berrigan, then in his 70’s. He said: “Tonight you are going to love what I have to say. And, you are going to be pissed off by what I have to say. The words however won’t be mine. You will be both inspired and angered by the words of Jesus and the prophets. You will be equally inspired and discomforted by the places these words can take you.”

photo of Dan Berigan as old man

Daniel Berrigan inspired and offended many within and beyond his Roman Catholic tradition. He inspired and at times pissed us off. Such is the work of a prophet.

Heroes come and go. The words of faith remain. Who among us will give voice to these ancient words? Who will take up the mantle of a prophet?

Cracked Pots

The Kintsugi pot, is the ancient Japanese practice of mending a cracked, chipped pot with a sealant. Originally cracked pots were sealed with melted lead, allowing the pots to hold water, rice, barley. In time the seemingly imperfect pieces were deemed to be beautiful because of the cracks and chips. Later, artisans would melt gold and silver to seal the cracks ensuring that the works became pieces of art.

photo Kintsugi vase

Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk, believes that ‘our human imperfections/brokenness opens us up to receive God’s restorative grace. In his book ‘Falling Upward’, Rohr explores the spirituality of the two halves of life. In the first half of life we are generally clarifying our identity. We ask question such as: What am I good at? What am I passionate about? What values are important to me? Who to I belong to? Who will go with me? Such questions help us determine our identity.

“By the second half of life’, writes Rohr, ‘we’ve been humbled’. We’ve been humbled via poor choices or by circumstances beyond our control. Rohr suggests that by being humbled we become open to asking new and challenging questions: What is really important to me? What do I really believe about God, about life? (Not, what do others tell me I should believe, but what do I really believe to be true?). Knowing what questions to ask and wrestling with the question until an answer is found or an insight gleaned, is the gift that comes with falling on one’s face.

The paradox of growing older is that through our mistakes we can begin to glean wisdom. This surely isn’t true for everyone. I know people well on in years, who cling to childish ways of seeing and being. I know people who cling to bitterness and resentments going back more than 70 years. Such persons remain broken and profoundly wounded, trapped in their past. If they were a pot they would remain fractured and useless.

cracked-pots

But for those who do the hard work of growing beyond their pain, for those who wrestle insights and lessons from their brokenness, such persons become a source of inspiration and encouragement. Such restored persons encourage others who also struggle to move beyond a poor choice or painful circumstance. Friends in recovery from an addiction know what I’m talking about. An AA or NA meeting is full of cracked pots that have become beautiful precisely because of the hard work each person does to stay clean and sober. People in recovery know that their restoration to health is due not only to their hard work but also the support of community and their ‘higher power’.

Do you know a broken person who inspires you? Who inspires you because of their imperfection and because of their courage in overcoming difficulties and the hard won wisdom that they’ve acquired? Who are the Kintsugi pots in you life? Are you a cracked pot that has become beautiful too?

Is Religion Irrational?

The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) famously said: “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Russell was a champion of humanitarianism and freedom of thought.

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.

A few semesters ago I served on a college panel on the topic of cosmology. My role was to offer a theological perspective. With me were professors representing chemistry, physics and biology. Each panelist spoke of creation with theories going back to the Big Bang, approx. 13. 8 billion years. Not holding to a literalist Biblical interpretation of the creation story, I had no problem listening to and accepting the science of my fellow panelists. One offered the provocative theory that there may have been a Big Bang before the Big Bang. New instruments had picked up energy waves suggesting a pre-Big Bang. Try to wrap your mind around that!

Photo Hubble One

I am a ‘cosmological theist’, in that I believe/sense that great mystery called God, is in the midst of this ever-expanding cosmological study. The poetry in Genesis 1: 1, 2 reflects the awesome and humbling nature of the cosmos: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’

The poet who wrote Genesis, reflects the truth that the most sensitive scientific instruments and most brilliant scientific minds, can only begin to glimpse the intricacy and grandeur of the cosmos. Photos from the Hubble telescope reinforce this sense of wonder.

The common ground between science and religion is a shared sense of awe, that which many call the mystical. The mystical refers to those ‘aha’ moments when we sense that we are part of something greater. Rather than being random we see the mystical at work in the delicate dance of molecules that hold life together rather than flying the cosmos apart.

photo Hubble Two

Religion for all its human construction serves a purpose when it helps unite us to the mystery that transcends our imagination.
Bertrand Russell might suggest that mine ‘is an infant’ notion. Perhaps. Yet for me, an openness to that realm we call mystical/spiritual doesn’t limit but rather expands my mind, imagination and dare I say ‘my heart’, to embrace that which is greater than anything we can possibly imagine. In all humility all I can say is ‘Amen’.