Saturday, March 31, 2012

This Is My Commandment

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12
If you are facing conflict in your personal life, your professional life, or in your church congregation, you are not alone! There is division and dissension among Christians and in churches across the United States. The key issue in every dispute is not whether conflict will happen, but how we will respond to it when it does happen.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Politicization of Environmental Concerns

7 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; 8 or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. 9 Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?  10 In his hand is the life of every creature  and the breath of all mankind.  11 Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? 12 Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job Ch. 12

Sustainability and Sustenance (Musings on Life In Burma)

It’s February of 2008.  We are living our last few months in China before returning home to live in the USA.  It’s now or never.  We get our visa and book our flight to Burma – now known as Myanmar – for our Chinese New Year Holiday.  Several days after beginning our journey, we arrive at the airport closest to Lake Inle, in the Southern Shan State of Myanmar.  Our guide, Ko Zahn, greets us warmly and asks if we would like to see Pindaya Cave, which has one of the largest single collections of Buddhas in the world.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Conditions of Forgiveness

A few days ago, I wrote [here] about the requirement of Matthew 6:12 that we forgive, as we have been forgiven.  And then, a few days after that I wrote [here] about the requirement in Matthew 5:23-24, that we affirmatively seek out those whom we have wronged and ask for their forgiveness.   When read together, the effect of these two passages is even more striking than either one read alone. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Sin of Self Sufficiency?

What do you put your faith in?  I think all of us, to one degree or another, tend to put our faith in idols.  Is my idol money (based on the myth that having enough money can save me from not having enough)?  Or, perhaps I might idolize physical beauty or fitness (based on the myth that keeping fit can save me from infirmity)?  Both of these ideations, and many more, are based on the notion that we can save ourselves in some way, shape, or form.  And they are all wrong.  I was reading Isaiah Chapter 57 today.

To those who put their faith in things besides God, the prophet exclaims (specifically, in verses 12 and 13):

I will expose your righteousness and your works,
and they will not benefit you. 
When you cry out for help,
let your collection of idols save you!
The wind will carry all of them off,
a mere breath will blow them away.
But whoever takes refuge in me
will inherit the land
and possess my holy mountain.

Anything we put our faith in, besides God, is an idol.  On the other hand, how could any rational person say that a bit of idolization was a bad thing?  For example, who could possibly clam that it wouldn't benefit us to have some savings for a rainy day, or to keep physically fit?  To some, faith in God might seem idiotic.  Or, perhaps more charitably put, a bit naive.  Of course we should do what we can to protect ourselves from financial calamity or from an early death from heart disease, right?

I propose that the problem for modern day, First World inhabitants, is not that we may have financial savings or fitness goals, but rather what we put our faith in.  Do we think these things can save us?  Do we think that financial security or physical fitness are the primary factors which will determine our success in life?  If we do, we need to think harder and better about what it is that is important in life, really and overall.

I suggest that instead of focusing on what we give up when we lack savings or health, or any other thing we are tempted to idolize, instead we need to be more aware of the valuable things we give up when we substitute the temporary and visible for the permanent and intangible.  When we seek to depend on ourselves and on our temporally based idols, we give up immense possibilities for inner depth, compassion, and community that comes from reliance on things outside our own control, reliance on Others to do God's will.

Father Richard Rohr, speaking about modern day idols, has written,

"I would say that our real failure is not so much greed (although it is that, too) as self sufficiency, arrogance, and superficiality. Inner depth, compassion, and community died in many of us. We might call the thing that died a capacity for simple presence--presence to ourselves, to others, to the moment, and to inherent joy. That is the death of the soul for sure, and eventually of society."

hand and rosary

Gain perspective.  Trust God.  Rely more on community, on generosity.  Develop deeper understandings.  Be present, simply present.  Pray about this!

Excerpt from the article, A Crisis of Prosperity: Could Small Again Be Beautiful? by Father Richard Rohr (accessed March 20, 2012).  AP Photo of a penitent man bearing a cross made of a cactus, by Gregory Boyle, accessed HERE
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Monday, March 26, 2012

A Good Rule

I had just finished college.  Just before starting my first job, I had made an appointment with the eye doctor.  While waiting in his waiting room, I picked up a Life Magazine to read it.  There was a spread in the magazine about a nun in India.  Her name was Mother Teresa.  The interview contained this quote.  It was not separated out from anything else she said, but it struck me so much that I wrote it down and then memorized it: 

“Do your work as if everything depends on it.

And then leave the rest to God.” 

Daily, that seems to put things in perspective for me.  I hope you find it inspiring, as well.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Forgiveness (a poem by Ann Weems)

a poem by Ann Weems

I was wrong,
self righteously
So interested in being understood,
I didn’t understand.
So anxious to be right,
I didn’t see your pain.
How is it then
that you’re the one
to bring the flowers? 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Choose Life! (Reflections on Deuteronomy 30:19)

Somehow the term “pro life” has been co-opted to mean a code word for anti-abortion. According to that view, this eight-celled embryo is entitled to all rights of personhood under the U.S. Constitution: 

Choosing life is much broader, however, than such a narrow construction of the word “life” might imply.  Consider, as just one example of “choosing life,” the words of Deuteronomy Chapter 30:

Friday, March 23, 2012

Our Perpetual Duty

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.  Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.”

Leviticus 25:23-24

Vincent Van Gogh, Die Ernte (in Provence), 1888,  National Museum of Amsterdam

A few weeks ago, guest blogger Kienan Mick made a few observations regarding the relation between capitalism and sustainability  (HERE).  Among other things, he pointed out that the economic  cost of anything needs to include its cost over the long haul, for future generations.  A calculation of value that fails to include this cost does not reflect the true cost of a practice.   Writer Haruki Murakami (HERE) similarly pointed out that it is a moral error for a society to pursue “efficiency” without regard to more fundamental values that guide our choices about how we want to live and what we want to stand for.   He points out that what is “right” is not always what is expedient or efficient.  In fact, to do the right thing may sometimes be downright unattractive.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Feast of Justice (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part V)

So far, my personal musings in this series on the Fast of Isaiah 58 have dwelt on the aspect of what we are to do by way of fasting and our proper attitude for purposes of the fast.   But there is another, and I think very comforting, aspect of Isaiah 58.  That is, although we have clear obligations, God also makes promises back to us.   In fact, what God promises to give me, should I keep his word in Isaiah 58, seems bigger than anything I might give up.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Update on Ryan Boyette, Sudan, and Nuba Mountains

A few weeks ago I wrote more extensively about the feared genocide in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan (click HERE for that post), and about a warrior for nonviolence who has stayed behind to help Sudanese document the atrocities their own government is committing against them, Ryan Boyette.

 This blog post is an update. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bounty of Forgiveness (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part IV)

To illustrate the difference between the acceptable fast and the fast that is abhorrent in Isaiah 58, my blog post yesterday  contrasted the pious, righteous elder son and the broken, penitent younger son in the story of the Prodigal Son.  The relation of the parable of the Prodigal to the Fast of Isaiah 58 is that, in both, the attitude of the penitent is the proper attitude.  When we acknowledge that all we have is not the result of our own works but rather flows from the grace of a loving and just God, our attitude toward all the rest of the world is transformed.  No longer do we self-righteously assert our entitlements.   Rather, we see the bounty of God’s love to us for what it is:  a gift; and it is a gift we want to share.  This attitude results in peace in ourselves, peace in our relationships with others, and peace within our society. 

Today, I’d like to point to a real-life story of how this has worked in the lives of two specific, modern people, Peter Woolf and Will Riley. 

woolf and riley
(photo from Daily Mail article, infra.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Fast of the Righteous (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part III)

The focus of my Lenten blog post today is on the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.*  In contrast to the younger brother, the elder brother has been the poster child.  He is the reliable, trustworthy son who gave up any ambition of wild city life, if he ever had any, to tend the flocks, take care of things on the family farm, and do exactly as Dad needed
him to do (okay, injecting some imagination here,  but bear with me).   I

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Acceptance of Grace (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part II)

A few days ago, I quoted Isaiah Chapter 58 as suggesting the proper attitude for our fasting during Lent.*  That chapter contrasts fasting with an improper attitude, which God hates, with the proper attitude that one should have for a fast.  Strikingly, the activities mentioned as illustrating proper attitude toward the fast (share food with the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, clothe the naked) have nothing to do with our own consumption of food. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prayer of Thanksgiving

by Ann Weems*

O Lord, you flower the gardens for us
and make green the wastelands
The mountains burst forth with streams of water

Peace At the Altar

The penitent in the photo below chose a different spiritual practice during Lent than the practice I chose, but I imagine there are things we could agree on. 

Given that there are many possibilities about what it means to approach an altar and make an offering, I think it's worth having a discussion about what, exactly, we are doing when we examine ourselves and seek atonement during the Lenten season.  

penitent man

Friday, March 16, 2012

“But Lord, Why Me?”

“God Appears to Moses in Burning Bush,” St. Isaacs Cathedral, St. Petersburg, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever felt called or inspired to do something, but worried that you were not quite up to the job?  If so, this post is for you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Lesson from Fukushima

I once had a classmate in ethics class named Dan.  One day, he and I had a conversation about the fact that when there is a car wreck in our society, we scuttle around to clean it up as quickly as possible, and what this says about the ethics of our society.  By putting our highest priority on getting traffic moving again instead of, say, letting people know what has happened in that spot or creating a memorial or ceremony to acknowledge the tragedy, we say much about the ethics of our society.   In US culture, we are saying we value efficiency over, for example, finding causes of the tragedy or allowing bystanders to participate in a community of mouring.   As Dan explained, "every decision is an ethical decision," even  including how we clean up a mess.   From this ubiquitous example concerning the ethics of cultural decisions, I lead to a more singular case in point, Fukushima.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Link Between Forgiveness and Peace

It is said that holding a grudge is like eating poison and then expecting the other person to die. As we all know from experience, it’s very easy to hold grudges. Yet, we know there are very damaging consequences to our entire being when we fail to forgive. There are mental consequences, emotional consequences, and physical consequences. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pray for Peace

Today, on the 20th day of Lent, I read from Pope John Paul’s speech on the occasion of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 2002: 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fasting for Lent (The Fast of Isaiah 58, Part I)

Today is the 19th day of Lent.  Lent is the forty day stretch during the Christian liturgical year that falls between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  A key spiritual practice observed by Christians during Lent is to turn away from evil or injustice, turn toward God, and to make personal atonement to God for our sins.  Wikipedia states of Lent:  “The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial.”   Catholics are adjured physically to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, if possible.  The key is not, however, the physical abstinence but the spiritual attitude. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Justice and Peace Shall Kiss

“love and faithfulness meet each other;
justice and peace kiss each other”
(Psalm 85:10)
The concepts of peace and justice are closely connected. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously once said, “Without justice, there can be no peace.” 

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Most Powerful Weapon

Dr. Martin Luther King on Nonviolence
Interviewer:  “Do you truly believe that nonviolence is the sole answer to injustice and oppression?”
Dr. King:  “Very definitely.  Very definitely.  I feel that organized nonviolence is the most powerful weapon that oppressed people can use in breaking loose from the bondage of oppression.” 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women’s Reproductive Rights

Today is San Ba Nu Jie.  LOL, you are probably asking, “What is that?!”  San Ba Nu translates directly from Chinese as “Three Eight Woman,” but it means March 8th Woman.  March 8th is always … (drumroll) …
International Women’s Day!
In Chinese, a “San Ba Nu” is what we Americans could more or less refer to as a “liberated woman.”  But to call a woman a “San Ba Nu” is not a compliment.  It is an insult.  In Chinese culture, a “March 8th Woman” is

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Wind

“He let loose the east wind from the heavens and by his power made the south wind blow.”
Psalm 78:26
Photo courtesy NOAA
The Greek word for “spirit” is the same as the Greek word for “wind.” 
Today, as I dwelt on what it means for us to listen for God, and how we can discern God’s voice, I ran across this YouTube video by the German band Forseti, with haunting music and lyrics.  (Interestingly, according to

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Listening to God

The sheep that are my own hear and are listening to my voice; and I know them, and they follow me.”
John 10:27
(Louis Robbe (attr) Schafherde in hügeliger Landschaft)
These days, there seems to be a cacophony of religious voices, all saying different things. 
In matters of faith, only one voice matters.  How will we discern that voice? 
Psalm 46 says: “Be still and know that I am God.” 
Be still.
We modern folk are such poor listeners.  We label each other, we talk past each other, we judge each other, we jump to conclusions, we stop listening.
We want to be heard, we want everyone else to listen to us, we talk to whomever will listen.
No, really, I mean it!  Stop talking (mentally even) and … just …
This song (linked below) reminds us just to take it in, and to give it back.  Not to tell others or to tell God how it is or what we want, sometimes not even to tell God what we need. 
Sometimes, we are just to
And, if we respond,  our response is to “lift a hymn of grateful praise.” 
Nothing more, nothing less.
Heather Prusse sings For the Beauty of the Earth
In thought,  word, and deed, let us praise our God.  As it is said in Psalm 19:14:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

Plastics In Our Oceans

Plastic is a serious problem in our oceans.  The photo below is not pretty.  I feel sad for posting something that looks so grotesque and offensive, but I feel readers need to know the truth.  As I hope is obvious, this bird died from a tummy ache caused by all the plastic it ate and could neither digest nor get rid of.   I hope it’s the most awful photo I ever put on my blog.   We who use (and dispose of) plastics need to know the consequences of our actions. 
dead bird plastics

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ocean Acidification

Remember the photo of the earth viewed from the moon? 

It reminds us that even though the earth seems limitless, it is not. 
It is like a boat, and we all share it.

Or, it’s like a terrarium or, it’s like a fish tank.  I personally am hooked on the fish tank analogy because of an experience I had first as a child and then as an adult, both involving fish tanks.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Smack Down the Hate and Fear Drivers in Politics

Democracy cannot fix what ails the world.  Only people can do that.  Democracy is but a tool.  But if we allow democracy and free speech to be misused and abused by those in power, we will lose a vital tool. 
Hear what Michael Higgins, President of Ireland, has to say in response to those whose allegiance is to power rather than to truth, people who incite fear rather than faith.  He specifically names Sarah Palin, but I can think of more.   Can you? 
Michael Higgins v. Michael Graham, in epic smackdown to tea party politics.

What can we do about this?  Let’s just say that democracy, if it is to work, depends on participation by all its citizens, not just on their voting once in awhile.  When was the last time you participated in selection of a candidate for inclusion of their name on the ballot?  When was the last time you made a comment on pending legislation?

The last time I went to a precinct meeting of a polical party, one other person and I sat on a park bench and talked.  That's not how it should be!  Democracy is not a TV, spectator sport!  Those people appearing on TV were placed there by the people attending those precinct meetings!

If you and I are not participating in the game -- if the moral middle has opted out of the system for whatever reason -- then we shouldn’t be surprised when the debate is controlled by the wingnuts!  The sad thing is, if we don't participate, we are dooming our democracy to death by starvation.   

Get Involved!

Whose Earth?

"The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." Psalms 24:1

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

(Photo by Mark Schmerling)

“The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” Lev. 25:23-24.

Q:  What can we do about this?

A:  Turn off some light bulbs

(and take other actions to conserve energy)

B:  Support the use of alternate, sustainable sources of fuel

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Girl Effect Fact Sheet

Something is not right in the world, is it?  Generally speaking, if one wants things to change, one must figure out what to change.  This leads to


As women have gained power and influence in the world, societies have changed.  This has begun to be noticed.  In general, sociologists began to notice, the higher the status of women in a society, the higher its overall statistics.  Across the board.  Life expectancy, health, education, etc.  Why? 



Learn about it!  I quote now straight from the Fact Sheet at as follows: 

Little research has been done to understand how investments in girls impact economic growth and the health and well-being of communities. This lack of data reveals how pervasively girls have been overlooked. For millions of girls across the developing world, there are no systems to record their birth, their citizenship, or even their identity. However, the existing research suggests their impact can reach much further than expected.


When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990.)

An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)

Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers. (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207–27.)

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.  (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)

Population Trends

Today, more than 600 million girls live in the developing world.  (Population Reference Bureau, DataFinder database, [accessed December 20, 2007].)

More than one-quarter of the population in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa are girls and young women ages 10 to 24. (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision,”, and “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2005 Revision,”

The total global population of girls ages 10 to 24 — already the largest in history — is expected to peak in the next decade. (Ruth Levine et al., Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda [Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2008].)

Educational Gaps

Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school.  (Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries [Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005].)

Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls. (Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” [December 1999].)