Light as a Feather

Posted: October 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

Just recently I traveled to Nova Scotia to attend the Celtic music Festival, Celtic Colours, on Cape Breton island. This long-standing festival brings in the best from the Celtic music scene and gathers them in one place and time. It was outstanding. Until the hurricane moved up the coast and inundated us, that is. But that is another story.

We stayed at a B&B on the northern coast of Nova Scotia on the way. The innkeeper, June, had just lost her husband little more than a month before. She was a descendant of those hardy Scots who immigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries to Canada. June did it all. She tended the property and grounds, cared for the guests and fed them.

In the morning I arose early before any of the other guests and made my way downstairs, book in hand, searching for a little space for quiet time and a cup of coffee. What I found was June already up and preparing the breakfast. The big cast iron skillet held the frying bacon on the stove top at the same time that bread was baking in the oven. I pulled up a stool to the kitchen counter and warmed my hands around the coffee cup as I breathed in the smells of breakfast on the way.

Since I noticed June wearing a cross and had seen some other spiritual themes in her home I felt comfortable in sharing a bit of what I was reading with her, a book that explored finding the mysterious presence of God even in the midst of adversity. After I read a short quote June thought for a moment, looked out the big double doors that led to her back yard and the marshy bay beyond it. “You never know what’s out there,” she said. And then she shared a story.

“I lost my husband about a month ago and my three grandchildren took it really hard. But of the three the one granddaughter was just inconsolable. There is nothing I could say or do to comfort this sad little girl. Then one day, maybe two weeks ago, she was with me at the house when we heard this loud screech from the back.

Being situated on the seacoast June was used to the calls of birds, but this was different.

“I asked my granddaughter to come with me and we went out into the back yard. We heard another screech, looked up, and in the tree twenty feet above us perched a bald eagle. We just stood there, looking, frozen, and he looked back at us.”

What the family knew was that her deceased husband was a free spirit, and his totem, his animal mascot on this planet, was the eagle.

“We just stood there for maybe a minute and then he lifted off with those powerful wings and screeched as he flew out and away toward the sea. We just watched him and my granddaughter lifted up her arms as though giving some hug to the sky. As he departed he left behind a down feather, that silky wisp of down under the feathers, and it began to slowly, slowly waft down toward us, floating earthward, twirling, and gentle as a breath it came to rest in the palm of one of my granddaughter’s outstretched hands.”

They took it inside and June placed it in a shadow box that would reside in her down-feather-in-handgranddaughter’s bedroom. And that was the end of her grieving.

“You never know what’s out there,” June said. “You have to keep watching and waiting and trusting.”

You remember the old Chinese tale:

Once upon a time a horse wandered into a village and a farmer thankfully took him as his own. All the villagers said, “How wonderful!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

When the farmer’s son fell off the horse and broke his arm all the villagers said, “How terrible!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

When war came and they were drafting young men into the army the boy was spared because of his broken arm and the villagers said, “How wonderful!” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.”

There is too much randomness, unanticipated variables and chaos to really know if something is going to be good or bad in the end. You often don’t know until later and even then the whole story is yet to be told.

We just returned from a holiday in Nova Scotia and it was wonderful. But a storm came and we had to escape and that was terrible. But we ended up going other nice places we hadn’t planned and that was wonderful. But we ran into lots of people who were baffled and amused with American politics of the moment and that was terrible. Maybe.

I don’t have a glass ball to predict the future. Unanticipated consequences are always presenting themselves. But I have the idea that Donald Trump has been a gift to everyone involved in this political process from top to bottom. Now he’s a strange gift. In fact, most everything he is and says and encourages is like the negative of a photograph; by viewing the negative the positive is seen by contrast.

For the Democrats Donald Trump is a gift because he appears to be handing them the election. Whatever weaknesses Hillary Clinton possesses are simply eclipsed. The Dems haven’t earned this; they are being handed this like the team that wins because of the errors of their opponents.

Donald Trump is a gift for the GOP for a much more complex reason. He is actually handing them their future … if they will take it. For a host of inexplicable reasons he became their nominee. But because of that they are having a moment of painful clarity. Like the negative of that photograph they are already asking what they need to become in contrast.

This is very important to the health of the whole country. We need two or more dynamic parties to provide balance. Donald Trump may actually be helping the GOP to rediscover their party of reasonable principled conservatives. We have many examples of those leaders from history. There are future capable conservative politicians – especially those from the next generation – who can fill that bill. Because of Donald Trump they may choose to move away from the precipice and, though they don’t know it yet, Donald Trump may be their painful future gift.

This should give all of us pause. We need to consider a way out of this ridiculous polarization. I have a friend who has a bumper sticker for one candidate on her car. Just this week she pulled up to a stop light beside a vehicle bearing the bumper sticker of the other candidate. Because their windows were down on the nice day the other driver took the liberty to shout at her at the intersection. That’s the atmosphere we have now. It’s toxic.

We need to find the moral will to move forward with the best good for the most people, to be true to our ideals and garner the best from all our principled leaders. We need to cultivate a new generation of pragmatic problem solvers who know how to work together, get it done, and make balanced and wise decisions with integrity.

At our best we really do fine things as Americans. We must remain committed to to creating a more perfect union. I am confident we will. I hope that in retrospect we will look back and see what important part this strange political season has played in making it so.

But, as the Chinese farmer said, “We’ll see.”


God, Form and Improvisation

Posted: September 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

This is the weekend during which 25,000 people converge on Columbia, Missouri for the annual Roots and Blues Festival. Attendees will gorge themselves on Deep South blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rock and Traditional music. The non-stop procession of artists keep the air alive with tunes and improvisation. The juice of these music forms depend on that give and take between form and freedom, structure and novelty, the predetermined and the spontaneous.

Broadway Christian Church is a proud sponsor the the Sunday Gospel celebration at the Festival. Each year a major Gospel artist is featured. This year it is the Blind Boys of Alabama. Doesn’t get any better than that.

And for the second year our local group, Broadway Blues, will take the main stage on Sunday to play a hour-long set. We’ve spent several months preparing. Now we get to enjoy it!

As to form and freedom, structure and improvisation – that’s a perfect way to think about the way the enormous, creative, free, mysterious God is at work in the world and at work with us. There is a field of sacred energy that is eternal, essential, and foundational in this world. And within this massive and life-sustaining field there is room for improvisation by the free God and free creatures. It is at that intersection that ongoing creation takes place.

Could it get any better, to sit in on the jam session of the universe?

Time Travel of the Mind

Posted: September 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Some may know that I am an EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Practitioner. EFT utilizes the natural energy field of the body to clear the emotional results of trauma and other difficult emotions. It is remarkably effective and long-lasting.

I have also been training in an advanced form of EFT known as Matrix Reimprinting. MR makes use of the multiple levels of consciousness we hold, especially regarding time (our perception of past, present and future). Drawing on the insights of quantum physics MR knows that mindful healing of invisible wounds of the past may be visited and addressed now.

As most of our psychic pain is retained in emotional energy centers in mind and body, we access them primarily through the stories in our memories. When these energetic aspects of our past selves are visited and addressed in a mindful way they are released and cleared.

One of the great and delightful discoveries I have made is that our energetic selves of the past actually tell us what they need to heal. And reconciliation and harmony can be re-established when we connect our present selves to our past energetic selves. I believe this is the basis of what the Rabbis mean when they say that we can’t change history but we can heal the past. You can’t change what has happened but you can change everything about how it is experienced, viewed and felt.

We so often give a nod to the Christian notions of healing without really believing that healing is an actual phenomenon that takes place now. We relegate healing to a past epoch when the Spirit was moving. But it is moving now. In fact, moving in us. It always has been.

Just before bedtime I turned off all the lights and checked the front door. As I looked out onto the porch through the window I saw a new animal friend helping himself to a snack at the cat bowl. We have received all kinds of visitors – raccoons, dogs, cats, birds – but this was our first skunk. He was quite polite and mannerly, not nearly as raucous as some of the other guests.

Skunk FinalI of course did not draw his attention, tap on the window, or open the door. Best let him enjoy himself without distraction. But I wasn’t the only one watching.

Out on the sidewalk, no more than eight feet away, was Mary the cat. She was the picture of stillness, not flinching, not moving a muscle. She watched with attentive calm. She neither fled nor bristled. She waited. And when the skunk pushed away from the table he turned to see Mary. I wondered what would happen next.

Nothing exciting, that’s what. Instead of walking on toward Mary he turned right, dropped off the porch and headed along the house toward the woods. They had both respected the requisite distance necessary for both to feel safe and went their own ways without incident.

Every creature has ways to defend itself or elude threat. They all sense when danger is coming their way and prepare to fight or take flight. Some just freeze, immobilized. Most of the time, unless an animal is hunting as a predator, it responds aggressively when it feels threatened. If an animal has been hurt and anticipates more it becomes hyper-vigilant about any source of threat around it, lashing out quickly and without much warning. The most abused animals often become the most aggressive.

There are several alternatives to handling hyper-charged standoffs in which one or more of the parties feel threatened. One way is to use more force to subdue the real or perceived threat. Another is to flee and passively find other ways to survive. But another pathway is that of mutual respect, adequate resource and insuring a margin of safety.

It is possible that some day the two legged, big brained creatures will evolve to the level of the skunk and cat. They will insure that all are fed, that none feel afraid, and a margin of respect is maintained for all. This will not be easy for this species. In addition to being advanced in so many remarkable ways, including the ways they can care for one another, they remain a planetary menace. They still don’t know how to handle standoffs on the front porch. They don’t know how to avoid them in the first place. And it may be the end of them.

Those who have ears listen to the parable of the skunk and the cat.


The setting: the little river town of Rocheport, Missouri.
The occasion: Sunday morning worship on Father’s Day.
The uniqueness: motorcyclists from the congregation pulled up with engines revving.

The story from the Gospels was about blind men seeking sight from the healer, Jesus.
The story from life had to do with handling your bike in sharp curves.

Each of the two stories cast a new light on the other.

“Do You Believe I am able to do this?”  Mt 9:27-31
Timothy L. Carson                                  June 19, 2016

In the story before this morning in Matthew’s Gospel two blind men seek out Jesus and ask for healing. Like any one of us, they want more than anything to see, to feel normal again, to stop hurting, to find some kind of peace in their lives. They are like so many others in the Gospel stories who sought out healing and wholeness, relief for suffering, and the reassurance that they are loved and not alone. And they are more like us than unlike us.

Like us they witnessed great suffering and tragedy. Like us they witnessed tremendous injustice and the fruits of human evil. Like us they watched as love ones perished and were helpless to do anything about it.

One of the interesting things about the story is that Jesus turns the tables and asks them a question in return. He asks them if they think he can do it, which is a perfectly reasonable question. It is also a question that gets to the heart of the matter.

It is a remarkable question because it clarifies right off the bat whether their request of him was a serious one. Do you believe that such a request can be granted? If not, why are you asking me?

Still the skeptic in all of us wonders. We know of plenty of illnesses that are not cured. We know that we all go sooner or later. And we even have our doubts about spiritual healing, whether something as non-material as this has real influence on our actual health. Is this just a metaphorical story about opening eyes and spiritual sight? Or is it really about healing eyes that can’t see?

These are the questions moderns ask. We want scientific proof. We see through the lens of a materialistic world view; there is nothing real outside of what can be seen, measured and tested. No wonder we are skeptical when we hear such stories. No wonder we’re not sure how we would answer Jesus’ question. Do we believe he can do this? Not just then, but especially now.

One thing remains for certain: Unless our faith and resolve is there we will not be able to receive what is offered, no matter.

Kathy and I took off this week and headed out on a motorcycle tour. We chugged around southern Missouri and into northern Arkansas. Some of the best biking roads are in those places; there are wonderful hills and valleys, curves and turns and great scenery to boot. If you are a biker on a trip like this, a trip on two wheels through the winding roads of Missouri and Arkansas, you have to come to terms with taking the curves.

Of course, most of this is just simple physics. As you make a curve your velocity and the centripetal force casts you out away from the center you are circling. Depending on the severity of the curve, if you keep going the same speed you’ll be cast off the road into the ditch. As opposed to a car you feel this force on the two wheels of a motorcycle. It’s not enough to simply turn your handlebars in the direction you want to go; that won’t work. You have to exert and equal and opposite force toward the center. On a motor cycle you do this one way: you lean.

How much you lean depends on the curve and your velocity. If you go into the curve fast you have to lean far. If there are two of you aboard you both have to lean because all of the matter in the turn – the bike and two bodies – are affected equally.

Now back to the lean. As I said, unless you are willing to lean you will be cast off the road. In serious racing the bikers lean as much as 75 degrees – they can touch their elbows to the ground. That’s not me. But anyone easily leans 45 degrees.

Here’s the thing: it seems unnatural to lean that far over if you are standing still. You will just fall over. But not moving through a curve. You have to know, you have to believe, you have to act in spite of everything your former experience has taught you: Don’t lean like that, you’ll fall over! But that’s not true when you are moving around a tight curve at 50 miles an hour. You have to lean or else.

When you are a new rider people tell you that. You watch videos and see them doing it. And then it comes your turn to try it out for yourself. Low and behold that’s exactly what has to happen.

And then you experiment with the sharpness of the curve and your velocity, your speed. Your lean – the equal and opposite action to the centripetal force – is gauged accordingly.

Of course you have to have good rubber on your tires and a road surface that has good traction – not slippery, covered with water or oil. All that comes into play, too.

When you are a novice you find it hard to believe in the lean. You hold up and hold back. You second guess yourself. You panic. You freeze. You’re afraid to lean. You try to wrestle the bike rather than lean. You slow down or, even more deadly, you brake (which takes away the very velocity you need to plant the traction of wheel against pavement). You are afraid to give yourself to the lean.

But here is the natural miracle and wonder. There is a balance point right at the razor’s edge of the centripetal force that’s casting you outward and your lean toward the center. When you arrive at that balance point everything is effortless. You let go and let the bike take you around. You lean, find the balance point, surrender to it, let it go. And when you get to the end of the curve the bike sets back up vertical because you have rebalanced to move forward in a straight line.

When Jesus was asking the blind men if they believed he could do it, he was asking them if they were willing to lean into the curve. Because if you’re not willing to lean we might as well stop right there because things are only going to go badly for you. But if you are willing to lean – to lean into the force – you’ll find your balance point and all kinds of things become possible.

Leaning into the force is the prerequisite to finding your balance, your harmony, and your way out of the curve. It doesn’t make everything a straight line. But it does make the curves possible.

And isn’t that what we what, to make what seems impossible, possible?

Those men trusted Jesus enough to come to him without seeing, without knowing the outcome, calling on his mercy. And he, in turn, called on their willingness to lean into the curve. When both are in play all kinds of miracles take place.

Get ready, get set, lean……………………!

If you want a book that brings the fruit of vast experience in the geopolitical dimensions of the Middle East, this is it: And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2016). The author is Richard Engel, long time chief foreign correspondent for NBC news. Engel brings a perspective built on decades covering the Middle East. He also brings a historic view of the region that includes centuries of development. This book is a salve against reductionists who offer simple explanations not anchored in actual history.

The twenty pages of introduction boil down long complex eras into understandable narratives that shed light on why Iraq has been divided into its several religious/ethnic sections since the Europeans carved up the Middle East following WW I. He elegantly clarifies just why Al Qaeda-become-ISIS did not move into Iraq in league with Saddam; quite to the contrary, secular dictator Saddam repulsed and repressed all religious  fundamentalist movements. No, they came and come to repel the American invasion and occupation, simple as that.

If there is one book with which you can educate yourself about this region through the past thousand years, this might be it. That is certainly the case for me. Only a voice of realism and experience can write:

“For twenty years I saw the big men at their prime, and chronicled their downfall and the mayhem that followed…I suspect a new generation of big men will return. No people can tolerate chaos forever. Dictators will offer a way out and many of the exhausted and brutalized people of the Middle East will accept them, and I suspect Washington will as well.”