To: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
From: President Barack Obama, United States of America
RE: My impending trip to address the Knesset of Israel

Just a courtesy note to say that I have arranged a visit to your Knesset next month. It would be swell if you were there, being the head of state and all, but it is not really necessary. I have decided that since diplomacy is now being conducted by our legislatures it is find to sidestep the administration. As a matter of fact, I was so very appreciative that members of your Knesset, members of your opposition party, invited me. I have a humdinger of a speech ready to undermine almost everything you have been working on in foreign policy in recent years. There is moral urgency to this speech because I believe it is important and your opposition believes it is important even if you do not.

Oh, by the way, it probably has not eluded your attention that this visit coincides with upcoming elections in the USA. The things I have to say will excite our base and help get our party’s politicians elected. We are using your Knesset, your country’s decision making body, to accomplish our own goals. Thanks for that. So even though it appears as though your own opposition is ringing your chimes, they ultimately don’t matter, not to us they don’t – it’s really about America! Don’t you see the beauty of it all? I make the powerful statement by simply sidestepping the head of state.

I send you this little note because, well, I like you Benjamin. Since you did this to me earlier – came at the invitation of a congress that wanted to use you to oppose my foreign policy, even though that is the rightful province of the Administration, ambassadors and the State Department – I thought I would just return the favor in a friendly kind of way. Kind of with a wink, I guess you’d say.

See you in Jerusalem! What? You won’t be attending? For goodness sake, why not?

When I encountered EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) several years ago I was skeptical. How could tapping on the body’s meridians while surfacing intense centers of emotion release people from suffering? I had long experience in the stock and trade of general pastoral counseling. Was this just more foo-foo from some new agey edge? To my surprise I found out differently. EFT was exceedingly effective with many blockages of mind, body and spirit. And worked in a relatively short period of time.

Though EFT falls under the whole umbrella of “energy psychology” it actually has ancient roots. It relies on the body’s centers of energy as known and utilized in China and India. With ties to both yoga and acupuncture/acupressure, EFT directly interacts with the field of energy that comprises every living thing. The energy itself – when allowed to flow in the presence of challenging or painful aspects – does the work. In this regard it is closely aligned with prayer, meditation and other healing arts.

Practitioners work with clients to tap on themselves while talking through difficult emotions of all kinds. This in turn frees the energy system to release and correct these painful blockages of energy. The result is remarkable freedom – that frequently impacts our bodily pain response. Anyone can do it but trained and skilled practitioners help people address the hidden layers that continue to act beneath the surface.

For the past several years I have been in training for EFT certification. Having completed all that I am now a certified EFT Practitioner. This mostly means that I weave it into my other work with people when it seems appropriate, though some people will come seeking EFT specifically.

For a person of faith and a Christian in particular, EFT is a contemporary healing modality that is consistent with my understanding of physics, the human being and spirituality. My joy comes in witnessing the healing power that unfolds, whether in healing past memories or working with those with PTSD. God is good and provides so many paths to healing and wholeness. How blessed I am to have found another one.

Certified EFT Practitioner Intermediate - 1

The Tale of Two Cats

Posted: February 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

In addition to reading our sacred texts we must also become proficient at reading the text of the world, of our experience. It also has its characters, plot, themes, conflicts and truths. If we have eyes to see or ears to hear, look and listen.

We have two cats that frequent our house. One is our long-time house cat, Baxter, a large, tranquil, secure, affable boy who never met or feared a stranger, whether human or beast. The other is a tiny stray cat whose name, we were told, is Mary. She is obviously the runt of the litter. Her life outside, fending for herself among all manner of threats, has made her hyper-vigilant, bonkers, crazy afraid. It’s how she has survived.

Baxter is happy just being in the same room with you. If he has his food, water and litter box and he gets some attention between naps, he is good to go. Mary shows up at the door and doesn’t know if it is safe inside or out. She paws to get in out of the cold and whines to get out, to take flight, whenever she feels trapped. She is a mass of contradictions.

On the rare occasion that Mary feels safe enough to jump up on the couch and curl up and give herself a bath, she allows me to stroke her. I have learned that one touch does not fit all. The firm rub down I give Baxter would terrify Mary. She is not only smaller – a fourth of Baxter’s twenty-two pounds – but she is more emotionally fragile. I have to use a deft, delicate touch with her, almost letting her close the interval between my hand and her body.

In the same way that any two horses or two hawks require a different touch to handle them, so do these two cats. One is easier than the other. One is more high-maintenance. But if you are going to handle both you need to know the differences and change your approach accordingly.

People are like that, of course; one size response does not fit all. One person wants a bear hug while the next extends a handshake at arms length, a safe moat outside their castle wall. For one person only straight to-the-point talk will do. Their neighbor would be shattered by such candor and needs instead a gentle, gradual word. This person needs lots of attention and that person is just fine with a little. If you are a teacher you motivate one student this way and another that way. So it goes.

If you are a pastor and have served several congregations you know that a different touch is required for each one. Their distinctive personalities require different approaches, a special, acquired touch for each. Like Baxter and Mary, they respond differently to particular leadership styles, depending on who they are and how they developed.

And then there are different cultural sub-groups within a society. They come from different places and have different histories. Some are more like Baxter, having lived a fairly charmed life with access to most everything they need for safety and happiness. Others, like Mary, have suffered adversity out there in the world the likes of which the house cats cannot comprehend. Why would you assume that you relate to them in the same way?

Each cat, each person, each group requires its own touch. If love requires anything of us it is that we expend the time and effort to know what is needed. And then, as far as is possible, we try to make a home for both, for all, figuring out what it is that makes each one feel safe, loved, and valued. We will not always succeed or succeed to the same degree with every one. But the trying is the thing and knowing that we did try.

Selma

Posted: January 20, 2015 in Uncategorized
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MLK Selma to Montgomery

Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King lead marchers in Selma

Like many others I recently found myself in a darkened theater reliving a story of fifty years ago, the story of the activism, hatred, sufferings and sacrifices in the heat of one of our nation’s most dramatic transformations. Selma became emblematic of the thorniest racism and discrimination in the land. It was enforced with sheer brutality. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many leaders of the civil rights movement attempted to conduct strategic protests non-violently, something difficult for me to comprehend the older I get. It is no wonder that the name of the city itself, Selma, carries enough freight to serve as the title of the movie without any other word modifying it.

Selma Brutality

Police brutality to the peaceful marchers

Of course, the retelling of the story awakens us from any amnesia about segregation and its fruits. We remember that though the law of the land insured rights to all citizens they were partial rights, sculpted to the preferences of a white dominant culture that systematically repressed the voting of black citizens. That repression curtailed participation in almost every other civic aspect that conveyed power, like serving on a jury, for instance.

However important was the reminder of the obstacles to and content of this movement and the way that moral conviction galvanized the public into political action for change, a great deal of the impact of the film, for me, was found in  the vast complexity and ambiguity of attempting anything good or righteous.

Living is hard and living well is harder. Doing the right thing does not mean that you don’t make mistakes along the way, that human failings don’t come into play, or that leaders are always courageous and never flinch. To the contrary.

Selma Bridge

The march from Selma across the bridge to Montgomery

As we were escorted through the suffering of King and his family, we witnessed the worst of their doubts and fears. Part of our cinematic journey helped us demythologize the hero figure; we moved from romantic ideal to encounter with a brilliant leader who was flesh and blood, who struggled and made progress with uneven stops and starts, who improvised as he went, whose spiritual nature contended with his humanity. That is the person I want to know. That is the person I want to know made a difference in the same way that all of us, by degree, can make a difference.

You don’t want to miss Selma.

Ida

Posted: January 3, 2015 in Uncategorized
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I had heard about this Polish film that portrayed a young novice in the Convent on the way to taking her vows, but had never seen it. I can’t imagine how I could have missed such a treasure.

The setting is post-WW II Poland. Ida, the young orphan-to-become-nun is making a last visit to any living family, an aunt. During her visit she discovers, of all things, that her family background was Jewish. And so the search for how her parents perished began. The short version of that long answer is that they perished as a result of the antisemitism of the 3rd Reich.

Of course, her aunt’s early question persisted throughout the story: So are you going to be the first Jewish nun? Ida had to make sense of not only that – and make some decision – but also come to terms with her family history, her heritage.

After finding the remains of her family and burying them with respect and honor, she finds her way back to the convent, though not to vows … yet. She has some exploration of her life to make before that. But her aunt makes her way toward another kind of exit from this world, out of a fourth story window. It was inevitable.

At the end of the movie Ida is making her way down a road leading in the general direction of the convent. She is wearing her head covering. We assume she is going back for good. But will she? Will she become the first Jewish nun?

Ava Remembers Her Canaries

Posted: January 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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The most recent issue of Image Magazine (Winter 2014-15, #33) included a remarkable poem by Emily Rose Cole, one based on a narrative set in 1888 that presents the complexities of a father-daughter relationship. Titled “Allegheny Country, 1888: Ava Remembers Her Canaries,” the poem presents Ava’s love for her canaries and her father’s real reason for having them in the first place, as a fail-safe detector of gas in the mine.

After a beautiful description of Ava’s passion and her father’s practicality, we discover how one night she stealthily slipped out of the house to set all of the birds free. That little act of liberation cost her a whipping, but that’s not all. As she later reflected on her on her deceased miner father she wrote:

“What I have left of my father –
on my back: five raised ridges from his belt buckle;
in my breast pocket: a yellowed newspaper clipping,
his face smudged in ink, and a headline seared on my lips
each night before sleep: Mining Explosion Kills 17.”

Our decisions, our actions, even compassionate ones, are too fraught with complexity to know the entirety of their consequences. Good intentions for one may unknowingly spell doom for another. And there are those times when we must choose, make a tragic choice I would say, between one horror or another, between canaries or miners.

The thing about being a moral being is that one must choose even if it is by not choosing. We sometimes must commit some harm in the attempt to help. The fact that we must choose doesn’t rationalize our part or responsibility in making the choice. But it does help us understand it. The love for canaries created another kind of loss.

Life is not tidy. We have guiding principles, of course. But what do we do when two ethical principles stand at cross-purposes?  Do we carry the yellowed clipping of that story in our breast pocket forever? Or do we somehow offer it up as an offering made in the attempt to walk this life?

Recapturing Joy

Posted: December 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

(The following meditation was shared at Broadway Christian Church, Columbia, Missouri, December 14, 2014)

We have a Christmas tree ornament on our tree that is glorified pipe cleaner art; the fiber is twisted in the form of that word, JOY, and then covered with some kind of glitter. And that’s it, the word joy. This week as I stared at the tree it winked at me and insisted that I spend some time thinking about it: Joy.

We talk a lot about joy this time of year. Bunches of carols include the word. Angels do flip flops insisting that it’s coming our way. The writers of the Bible insist that joy is more than an emotion; it is a holy substance, like a pear. It actually exists in the universe and you can pick it off the tree.

So I gave joy more than a passing thought this week. I asked myself about what it is and the ways it appears. It seems in short supply for so many people. I don’t know, maybe for most people.

I was at lunch with my daughter and started the inquiry there. So, I asked, what is the difference between happiness, on the one hand, and joy on the other?

She thought one might be short-term and the other long-term. Hmmm. Then she said that maybe not, because you could have either of them for short or long times, depending. So how are they different?

I answered that I thought happiness was grounded in external circumstance, like I’m really glad they had the right tree on sale and we bought it and put it up in the same day. I am happy because I finally got out of debt. I am happy because all the kids that are going to go to college have and I’m done with that phase. I am happy because my child is happy at Christmas. I am happy because somebody dropped by some delectable holiday cookies to my house. I’m happy because it was a tasty meal and a nice show. I’m happy because we grilled out at the lake and it was enjoyable. All these things fill me with happiness, a sense of pleasure in the way things are.

But happiness is often grounded in some external circumstance or happening. For that reason it can be fleeting. Once the particular experience has passed by so may go the sense of happiness. And I begin to put the wheels in motion to rack up something else I think will make me happy.

What’s more, I can be happy with the way the stars have lined up in my life at the moment but a gnawing sense that I still don’t have a deep down joy. What is that joy?

This is what it means to me: The deep down joy is a sense of belonging to everything, being connected to everything, and in a spiritual sense to be in the flow of God’s presence. I believe that’s a natural God-given natural state if we receive it, like the tranquility of Adam and Eve in the garden before things blew up. So why is it so very elusive for most people?

Here are some things I realized as I looked at the pipe cleaner ornament that spells joy:

I think that joy, this inward sense of being in the flow of the spirit, gets blocked, gets cut off. Sometimes this blocking is temporary, but for some people it seems to be life-long:

I think that feelings like sadness, guilt, anger or fear block natural joy from surfacing. These feelings also hang on our tree like pipe cleaner ornaments.

Unless we take them off the tree one-by-one, examine and then dismiss them, they continue to hold sway over is. Until we take them off the tree, the joy ornament can’t get through the depression or rage or remorse or worry; the thick curtain of those emotions prevents the singing of Joy to the World, and singing like you really believe it is true. Some people live their whole life with a tree decorated by those words and in the end it becomes their reality, they become those words on their tree.

One starting point to recapture joy is to undecorate our tree by taking down the sadness, guilt, anger and fear. That takes time and patience but we have powerful spiritual resources at our disposal to do it.

We have resources like forgiveness, humility, love and faith. The practice of these virtues almost always neutralizes sadness, guilt, anger and fear.

When it comes to taking down some ornaments and leaving other ones up we need to let loose our faith power. Here is a question: Do you really believe that God wants you to live indefinitely with sadness, guilt, anger and fear? As a life sentence?

Or do you take the angel song according to its word, that “I bring you tidings of great joy?” It has to be one way or the other because joy won’t tolerate all the others and the others won’t permit joy to rise.

So here is my suggestion. If it is long overdue for you, take down the pipe cleaner ornaments of sadness, guilt, anger and fear. Take each one off the tree, one at a time, and bid it farewell. Tell them that the tidings of great joy don’t have any room for them anymore. Then wrap them up in tissue paper, tape them in a box, tie a weight on them and sink them to the bottom of the ocean.

So you see, as much as we put things up during Advent it’s really important to take some down. In fact, the whole of Advent is exchanging some ornaments for others. If you will, if you will remove the ones that need to go, then you will make room for joy. If you put away sadness, guilt, anger and fear then joy may abound. You won’t need the substitutes that masquerade for joy. You can have the real thing.

I know it sounds overly simple but the question still bears asking: Do you choose joy? Will you actually give yourself permission to receive it?

So often we have told ourselves or others have told us that we can’t have it or we don’t deserve it or it doesn’t exist. What I have to say this morning is that those imposed barriers are all untrue. The promise of faith dismantles those assumed beliefs that keep us sad, guilty, angry and afraid. It offers joy instead.

One of the things I dearly love about the Biblical story from Isaiah 35 is its raucous imagery.

In place of the desert, sand and wasteland appear growing things like flowers. Nature itself is rising up in applause, clapping its hands and making a joyful noise. Such a joyful thing, to have new birth springing out of the wilderness places, like a flower springing out of a crack in the rock.

And this is the other side of joy we can’t miss. The desert doesn’t have to disappear before joy shows up. Like my earlier conversation with my daughter at lunch, there is a difference between happiness in external things and deep joy. The flowers of joy can bloom even in the unhappiness of the desert.

And that, of course, is the angel’s proclamation, that joy pours over the plains and the hills, that ultimately God reigns, the world is full of the presence of the Spirit, and that very same spirit is in us. Joy sometimes breaks forth because it is impossible to extinguish. It comes in its own way and in its own terms, unexpected and delightful. And the very best thing is when surprises us, like a crocus in the desert; it was never really gone, just hiding.

When I sat in front of my tree and gazed at the pipe cleaner ornament, JOY, it chose me as much as I chose it. And once it captured my attention and I gave it all there was, as far as I was concerned, there was no other ornament on the tree. The only thing I saw was this word, JOY, hanging against the background of green. And that’s how it is with joy itself. Joy often comes to us in the midst of desert and even despair. It arises when we had given up on having a share for ourselves. And then, at just the right moment, under the cover of night, it appears. When it does there is nothing else that is needed. Regardless of how happy you may or may not feel, regardless of competing ornaments that have needed to come down for the longest time, it comes anyway.

When it does simply receive it for it is an unearned gift of God. Go for a swim in it, bask in it, and let it wash over you. And you will know something of the flower within you that never has been gone, but only waiting for the right time to bloom.