Celebrating the Life of My Mother-in-Law

woman of valorThis is what I had the honor to share at my mother-in-law’s Memorial Service on Saturday.


We’re here today to celebrate the life of Irene (Mickie) Taylor. And, what a life to celebrate! Ninety-nine years of love and caring. As I began to reflect on her life, I was drawn to portions of Prov. 31. I’d like to paraphrase these portions beginning at verse 10, “She wears strength and beauty and she laughs at the future.

“She opens her mouth with wisdom and the learning of kindness is on her tongue. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.”

The ‘she’ that the writer was speaking of is Eshet Chayil. Those two Hebrew words are the first 2 words of verse 10. They have been translated many ways. Some translations say a “worthy woman.” Others, an “excellent wife.” Still others, a “wife of noble character.” While these may indeed characterize Mickie to an extent, there is another way to interpret Eshet Chayil. A “Woman of Valour.”

The word valour carries with it a kind of macho, male connotation. However, several synonyms show this to be an appropriate description of Mickie. Some of these synonyms are pluck, courage, bold, spirited. Anyone who knew her knows these words can surely describe her. I’d like to take a look at some other Women of Valour whose lives reveal some of these characteristics.

There was a woman who lived in what is now Iran. For whatever reason, her father-in-law thought it would be a good idea to pack up the family and move. So, they traveled to a place in the vicinity of Northern Syria. After a while her husband came to her and said, “God spoke to me and told me to pick up stakes and head south.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that by now this woman was beginning to wonder what was going on. But, she listened to her husband, they packed up all of their belongings and moved on. This woman’s name was Sarai. And, she was definitely in a trying relationship. After all, she had been perfectly comfortable in Ur of the Chaldean’s. Then just as she was settling in at Harran, her husband is hearing voices and the family was on the move…again.

After some time in this new land, Canaan, there was a famine. So, the family moved to Egypt where there was food. Her husband, Avram, made another not so grounded decision. He told Sarai that she had to tell everyone that she was his sister. He was afraid that, because of her beauty, someone might kill him in order have her. Well, that didn’t work out so great. Pharaoh found out about her and took her into his harem. God came along and bailed Avram out and Sarai was returned to him. The famine ended and Sarai and Avram went back to Canaan. Some time later God came to Avram and made a covenant with him to make him a Father of Nations, so God changed Avram’s name to Abraham. God also changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah moved around in Canaan because they had no land of their own. At one point they stayed in a certain place where there was a king named Abi-melek. Abraham apparently didn’t remember the trip to Egypt. He again told his wife to say she was his sister. Maybe Abraham thought that since things worked out so well before, they’d work well again. The story repeats that Sarah was taken into Abi-melek’s harem. Bad things happened and God came to the rescue. This was the second time that Abraham had placed Sarah, his wife, in harm’s way. And, the second time she followed his lead. That says a lot about Sarah’s character. Mmm, maybe not so much about Abraham’s.

Finally, Sarah became pregnant. She bore a son and he was named Isaac. Isaac was adored by his mother. After all, she was 90 years old! And, Isaac was her first born. What joy she experienced! When Isaac was older, however, Abraham said that he heard from God that he was to sacrifice this beautiful son that had been promised. How much he told Sarah about this, we don’t know for sure. But, the next thing we hear about Sarah was of her death.

Sarah surely had many trials being married to a difficult man. Yet, she persevered. She showed real ‘pluck’ throughout her life with Abraham.

For most of her married life, Mickie, too, had to show that same pluck. Every day she and Gene would get up and she would drive them to work. After a full day at Flexo Products, she would drive to Columbia Gas and pick Gene up. She would then drive across the street to a pub where she would wait in the car while he ‘unwound’ from his day. They would drive home where she then prepared a meal for the family. It was hard. She persevered through many trials. However, when asked what had attracted her to Gene, she said that he was kind. She was able to see the very best in people. That integrity and inner strength of character allowed her to not only be tolerant, but to be extremely gracious. And, that grace spilled over on to all of us who knew her. Truly, like Sarah, Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Another woman lived at a time when her people had been deported far from their homeland. Her name was Esther. Through a number of events, this woman was noticed by Xerxes, the king of Persia. He took her into his harem. There, Esther became Xerxes’ favorite. As the story progressed we find that Esther’s uncle, a guy named Mordecai, uncovered a plot to assassinate Xerxes. He told Esther, who informed the king, giving credit to her uncle. We see here a glimpse of Esther’s commitment to her family and her people.

A little later a man named Haman rose up in the court of Xerxes. He enjoyed the honor and adulation of everyone who was subordinate to him. Mordecai, however, refused to honor him. It became known that Mordecai was a Jew. So, Haman petitioned the king have all of the Jews throughout the realm put to death. When Mordecai heard of this, he went to Esther and asked her to intervene. Now, it’s important to understand, that at that time anyone who entered the presence of the king without permission did so on pain of death. This held even more strictly for a woman. Yet, Esther prepared herself and, taking her life in her hands, she entered the inner court. Xerxes saw her, and “he was pleased.” Esther asked the king to come to a banquet that she was holding to honor Haman. (A wisdom that we aren’t privy to til this point.) On the second night of banqueting, Xerxes asked Esther what he could do for her, up to half his kingdom. She answered, saying that her petition was for the king to spare her people. She told him that she was a Jew and that Haman had orders to kill all of the Jews. The king reversed his decree and had Haman killed instead.

Esther was willing to forfeit her life for her family and her people. Regardless of any obstacles, she was truly courageous. Mickie absolutely would do anything for her family. She saw herself as the glue that held them together. No sacrifice was too costly. No discomfort too extreme. And, she could be very adamant about that. I remember once when Hope and I were dating, I brought up the possibility of Hope graduating from high school early so that we could get married. Mickie, in no uncertain, (and I might add colorful), terms let me know that was never going to happen. I’m sure many of you can relate a time when she drew a line and said, “No further!” Discussion over! Esther was definitely Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

Finally, I want to tell you a story about a young woman. She was about 14 years old. She had been brought up and trained to be a good Jewish wife. All of her expectations and dreams revolved around this future. After all, in a very patriarchal culture, her options were limited. She lived in a time when a woman was little more than property. First to her father; then to her husband. These roles were strictly enforced by religion and culture. One day a man showed up saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” He explained to her that she was going to give birth to a son. Wait a minute! She wasn’t officially married. In fact, she had a fiancé who would be oh so ticked about his virgin wife becoming pregnant. Not only that, her family would be publicly shamed. They had promised Joseph a virgin. Not only would she not be that, she would bring an illegitimate child t, too. This young woman, brought up in a strict, religious home knew the repercussions of all of this…stoning to death. Yet, her response was, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”.

We don’t usually contemplate this. Mary’s response could have sealed her death. But, she trusted this messenger. No, she trusted God who sent this messenger. Mary’s response caused her to later praise God saying,

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is HIS name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

Mary Lou mentioned to me that Mickie was as ‘born again’ as anyone she ever knew. I don’t think that Mickie would put it that way. She would simply say that “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”. Her faith in God never wavered. She loved the fellowship of saints. She loved the opportunity to worship God in spirit and truth. Mary was Eshet Chayil. Mickie was Eshet Chayil.

There are many more women who were Eshet Chayil that I can’t say a lot about. There was Deborah who helped lead her people in their struggle with the Canaanites. Tamar, who was cheated by Judah and who boldly confronted him for the birthrights of her sons. One of whom, Perez, was an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth, who was also called Eshet Chayil, whose boldness continued the lineage of Jesus. Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Junius the apostle. Lydia, the first convert to Christ in Europe. Lois and Eunice, the grandmother and mother of Paul’s true son in the faith Timothy.

I could go beyond the Bible and cite Joan of Arc, Marie Currie, Mother Theresa and many, many other Eshet Chayil who have formed us, protected us, nurtured us and passed on faith, courage, integrity and strength of character.

Eric S. Kingston shares:

A woman of valor makes the world change

Her strength is the content that guides through the days

Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams

Valor is something that’s defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray

She stands up to the challenge no matter the way

It can’t be held back or defined by her age

Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor’s not held by the young or the old

But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold

It’s merit and honor that hold no disguise

Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One’s eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul

As she changes, creates and turns light into gold

Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad

— A Woman of Valor —

May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul

That nurtures and blossoms and forever unfolds

And holds in its essence new life and new gain

Yes, A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change

A woman of valor makes the world change.

There is no doubt that Irene has taken her place as Eshet Chayil.

Happy Imbolc!

ImbolcHappy Imbolc! This is the day that our Gaelic forebears celebrated as the turn from deepest winter to the beginning of spring. In the U.S. we celebrate this as Groundhog day. It is the mid-point between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox. New birth is coming!

Imbolc is considered a pagan holiday. So, those of us who have been a part of the Christian community either don’t know about it, or dismiss it as pagan. (It’s not worth our consideration.)

However, I think that we do creation a disservice by dismissing this. The pagan and indigenous communities seem to be more in tune with the true workings of the cosmos than those of us who claim to know better. They understand the cycles of life. And, they respect them. They celebrate them. For crying out loud! Here in the Northern Hemisphere it’s cold and bleak and gray and too freakin’ cold! What’s not to celebrate about the turning point toward warmth and new growth?

But, many of us. Especially, those of us in the Protestant persuasion consider this beneath us. It’s not in the Bible, so it can’t be good.

Protestant can look back to our birth…the reformation for much of this thinking. At that time we became “people of the book.” We tossed out the title “people of tradition” and leapt headlong into a different way of thinking.

We looked at the Biblical text and ‘voila’! We read that God had created all things and had made humans the masters! How cool! We’re the boss! We can control and exploit all of the resources that the Earth can provide FOR OUR BENEFIT!! Yea, God!

But, there is another way to look at things. Genesis 2:15 states, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” In the Hebrew the language is a little clearer. I mean, what does it mean to “cultivate” and “keep” it?

First, the word to cultivate can also mean ‘to serve.’ Surely, ‘till’ and ‘cultivate’ are part of the meaning. But, by far, the references are to service.

Second, the expression ‘to keep’ has as it’s primary meaning to watch and guard. Other meanings are to stand guard and protect.

For so much of our history since the reformation we have viewed the Scripture to say ‘subdue’ the world. But, is that what God has really desired?

Paul, in Romans 8, wrote that the whole of creation is groaning…waiting for the daughters and sons of God to stand up and be recognized. Even Jesus taught about an unfaithful servant who abused his fellows. In Matt. 24:42 and Luke 12:37, Jesus taught about a certain servant who, realizing that his Master was gone for a prolonged period of time, began to abuse his fellow servants. The Master of will return at a time that this wayward servant doesn’t expect and will punish him for his waywardness.

How much more will we, who have the Scripture to enlighten us, be punished for the way we have abuse the Good Creation of God?

Imbolc and the other so-called ‘pagan’ celebrations can teach us all a lot about how our world actually works. We can find life and purpose in them. That doesn’t mean that we embrace the deities and practices of pagans. But, it does mean that we listen to and respect the natural cycles of the world in which we live. The world that God loves and has redeemed.

Is it really OK for Christians to Celebrate Halloween?

Snoopy on punkinWell, here it is All Saints’ Day. The day after All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. This Christianized Pagan holiday has been around for a long time. Back in the day, the Celtic folks celebrated this holiday. Only then, it was called Samhain,( pron. Sah-win). It pretty much was a time to celebrate the end of the harvest and the beginning of a new year. It is said that these people considered this a ‘liminal’ time. That is, a time when the veil between the world of spirits and fairies and our physical world was very thin. This allowed those from the other side to more easily enter our world and interact with us. This is similar to the Mexican celebration of “dia de los muertos,” or the Day of the Dead. Far from being a theme for a bad zombie movie, people celebrate by offering flowers and sugary goodies to those who have passed on. Many actually go to cemeteries so that they can be closer to their deceased relatives. It is a time to remember and celebrate their lives.

So, why do so many Christians find harm in these celebrations?

I remember when my children were young, we wouldn’t allow them to dress up and go trick-or-treating because we were taught by the fundamentalist cult we were a part of the Halloween was demonic. It was a night that Satan and his minions were honored. So, or course, as true Bible believing folk, we had to shun that lest we catch some sort of dreaded Halloween cuties. We even took them out of school on the day when their classes had their Halloween parties. You know that you can’t allow candy, cupcakes and cider to threaten your eternal soul.

We did, however, allow them to be involved in church-sanctioned alternatives. You know, Harvest Celebrations and such. They could dress up as Bible characters or some other ‘safe’ character. My son dressed up as Curious George one year. This made the sting of being some kind of weirdo a bit easier for them to take. At least, that’s what we thought. I found out years later that our separatist practice had a very negative effect on both of my children.

Since leaving that Fundagelical world behind, I’ve found a new freedom to engage with our culture rather than hide from it. The holidays and celebrations that are part of our culture allow us to be part of a larger community of people. They provide an opportunity to rub elbows with neighbors and other people we may not usually spend time with. After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?

Halloween also gives us a chance to remember and honor our ancestors. We in the West are so hung up on death and disease as horrible things that must be stamped out, that we miss the opportunities to grab hold of our mortality…our humanity. I have had some of my most spiritual experiences while walking through a cemetery. There’s nothing to fear there. But, there is much that can be gained as our imagination reaches back through time and space to meet those who went before.

So, can real Christians find truth and meaning in the celebration of a Pagan holiday? Follow this link to Samantha Field’s blog, Defeating the Dragons. I have to agree with her. And, with all of those other souls who find life while celebrating the dead.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you!

The Wise Men…Who Were They?

wisemenOne of the stories that has become part of our holiday season is the story of the Magi. It’s been romanticized to the point that the story we tell today bears little resemblance to the story written by Matthew. It now has three kings from the East bearing gifts to the infant Christ. They have even been given names! Tradition in the West has graced them the monikers Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. They are depicted as riding their camels across the desert ‘following yonder star.’ In some places, even the crèche has them standing around with the shepherds and animals. It’s a nice story. It’s a warm and emotional story. But, it’s not the story that Matthew tells.

Matthew’s story is one of international interest. It also has touches of courtly intrigue and deception. It starts with the statement, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea…” The writer doesn’t give us a time frame for this. It’s just sometime ‘after.’ Later in the chapter we learn that Jesus may have been as old as two years. But, that’s a story for another day.

The Magi were most likely astrologers from the region we now know as Iraq. These people had a relationship with the heavens that has been lost to us today. At some point they recognized some new celestial event. They called it a ‘star.’ Through their training and practices they discerned that this ‘star’ hailed the birth of a new king of the Jewish people. Perhaps they were sensitive to this because there was still a fairly vibrant Jewish community left from the Babylonian captivity half a millennium earlier. In any case, they thought that a new king of the Jews would be in the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, so they loaded up their caravan and headed west. It’s highly unlikely that there were only three Magi in the caravan. And, they would have been traveling with an armed escort as well as servants and supplies.

They arrived in Jerusalem and began asking where the king was. Well, of course they were directed to Herod the Great. They told their tale to Herod, who was not happy about this. Matthew tells us that “when King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.” I can understand why Herod was disturbed. He was ruthless in his pursuit of power and prestige. He spent millions building cities and edifices for the glory of his name and legacy. He was probably the greatest builder of his day. He was also a man who would not hesitate to have someone’s throat cut if he thought they were a threat to his position. Caesar Augustus is reported to have said that it would be better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons. This was the person to whom the Magi reported. The rest of Jerusalem would be upset and worried if Herod was upset and worried. No one knew what he might do, but they all knew what he was capable of. And, there was the problem of Rome. As a vassal state, Palestine could come under Rome’s scrutiny if a new ‘king’ suddenly appeared on the scene. As we see from the end of the gospel, claiming to be the ‘king of the Jews’ did not have a great retirement policy.

Anyway, Herod had his people figure out that the new king would be born in Bethlehem. He sent the Magi out to find him and report back his location. At this point Matthew states that the “star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” Apparently, after the star originally appeared, they must have lost sight of it. They knew it was about the Jews, so they traveled there. But, now, having left Herod’s presence, the star reappeared and they could not contain their exuberance. When they found the house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were staying, they “bowed down and worshiped him.” They presented the child with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Royal gifts for a royal child. As they slept that night, the story reports that they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. They decided to return to the East by a different route and left.

Now, I could stop here. That’s pretty much the story in a nutshell. But, I think that there are some things to be learned about God and God’s love for humanity as a whole. I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that God chose to announce Jesus’ birth to those who were marginalized in society. Those who had no voice or who were considered unclean or ‘outsiders.’ First, the choice of Mary and Joseph to be parents. They were not upper class folks. Joseph was a craftsman and Mary was a child herself. Second, the shepherds. These people could not even testify in court because their word was considered to be as worthless as their vocation. Third, the gentile Magi. Not only were they outsiders, they worshiped the heavenly host and other gods. They were idolaters! Yet, God chose these people to welcome the Word of God into our world. The Magi used their own, dare I say, God given talents to discern what God was doing in the world. Pagan astrology and knowledge led them to worship Jesus. After they came and bowed before Jesus and worshiped him, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod. What I found interesting was that we are not told how they happened to receive this dream. In the two instances where Joseph received divine instructions through dreams, we are clearly told that “the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.” There’s no such caveat in the Magi’s dream. Could it simply be that the writer did not want to reveal such a close association between the God of the Jews and these gentiles? Perhaps. Or, could it be that there was another way that dreams are communicated to people other than God? I’m not speaking of something dark or demonic. But, perhaps something natural, that because of their training and practices, the Magi they were sensitive to? God works in many mysterious ways.

How should this inform how Christ-followers should respond to others? We see that God seems to prefer communicating with the poor, the marginalized and the ‘other.’ The wealthy, powerful and privileged are left on the outside wondering what’s going on. The ‘other’ includes those who do not think nor believe like ‘we’ do. And, apparently, that’s OK with God! Perhaps we should take a lesson from God and learn that God is accepting of all people wherever they live and whatever they happen to think and believe. They do not need to become like ‘us’ for God to love and accept them. If God can ask the Magi to join in God’s plan for the world and send them on their way in peace, why can’t we?

The Nativity – Revisited

NativityThe caravan moved slowly up toward Jerusalem. It had been a long journey from Galilee through Samaria. We could not travel very fast because of the young, pregnant woman. Most of the caravan stopped in Jerusalem. We, however, had a few more miles to go to get to our ancestral home of Bethlehem.

We entered the town and located the home of Joseph’s cousin. Entering, we greeted those already gathered. “Shalom! Baruch hashem Adonai!” “Peace! Bless the name of the Lord!” Unpacking our donkeys, we noticed that there were a lot of people already present. It seems that the whole clan had answered Caesar’s demand that we return for this census. Joseph helped Mary up to the living quarters while I got fodder for the donkeys. As I turned to climb the stairs I saw Joseph gesturing angrily.

“No guest room?! My wife is going to give birth at any moment! You must make room for her and the child!”

“No, we cannot. There are too many people. We cannot have one room given to her alone.”

“Wait,” one of Joseph’s aunts said. “We can fix a place for her down below. There is plenty of fresh straw. And, we can put blankets down to help make her more comfortable.”

Mary, being young and new to the family looked at Joseph and nodded. She was already suspect, being pregnant already. She did not want to give the family any more reason to look down on her.

Evening came. Mary was having contractions every few minutes. One of the aunts acted as midwife. They made Mary as comfortable as possible.

Joseph was upstairs with the rest of the family. He was pacing the floor. One cousin scolded him, “Sit down and relax! Everything will be fine. This is not the first child ever born!”

But, everyone knew that many first pregnancies did not end well. Especially, when the mother was as young as Mary. In addition, both Joseph and Mary were anxious about the child. That strange man that had appeared nine months ago had said some very strange things about this child. As the birth drew near, the young parents wondered what kind of creature was about to enter their world.

It seemed as though Mary had been laboring for hours. With a final push the child arrived. With a cry, the child took his first breath. The midwife lifted the child and tied off the umbilicus.

“It’s a boy!”

Joseph gave a sigh of relief. The others began to pour bowls of wine and a party celebrating the birth of a first-born son began. They sang and danced and drank. When Mary was cleaned up and the child wrapped in clean cloths, Joseph was summoned to come down. He looked compassionately at Mary. She was so strong and brave…no longer a child. Joseph reached into the feeding trough in which his newborn son had been laid. He picked him up.

“My son, Yeshua!

A little later I looked up and saw a small group of people entering the house. By the staves that they were carrying I could tell that they were shepherds.

“Who let this rabble in?” I thought. Shepherds were not usually welcome among respectable people. They walked over to where the child lay sleeping.

“We were out in the field tending the sheep. Suddenly, there was a great light in the sky! We feared that something was going to take our sheep and harm us! Then, we heard a voice saying that a child had been born…here…in Bethlehem. The voice said that this child is the Messiah who we have been waiting for!”

Another shepherd spoke up saying, “Then there was a great host praising God! They gave God glory and said that peace was to reign between God and those whom God favors!”

We poured bowls of wine for the shepherds and continued to celebrate throughout the night.

However, Mary had a puzzled look on her face. She said nothing.!

May God Bless you all and Merry Christmas

Reflection on the Incarnation

Hand of GodThe past month and a half has been a time of deep reflection and introspection for me. The Ignatian exercises have taken me on a journey in which I’ve been compelled to visit my humanness in the light of God’s grace and mercy. Some of what I’ve experienced has been in the realm of Darth Vader…the Dark Side. As I’ve sat with Jesus and allowed his gaze to penetrate into the depths of my heart, I have realized my complete identification with the whole of humanity and the world. I am no different than anyone else. I am not exceptional in relationship to any other member of God’s good creation. We are all part of the whole that God called ‘tov me’od’…very good.

As I began to live with my own humanness, which includes all the crap that I’ve done to myself and others, I had a palpable awareness that God was smiling. Far from what I have been taught by people, that God is angered by our shortcomings and failings, I felt complete acceptance. I began to realize that through God’s pitching God’s tent among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God learned first-hand how frail we are. Compassion and empathy grew within God’s heart and God really and truly has become our advocate through Christ. How this all works I haven’t a clue. What I do know is that God is glad to be with us…no matter what.

This morning as I was contemplating the Incarnation, I was directed to consider the world and all of its inhabitants. I thought about the nearly 7.2 billion people who inhabit this planet. We all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or any other perceived differences are part of God’s shalom community. We are, in some way, related one to another. So, my thoughts wandered to those who are lonely. (In a world with more than 7 billion people the idea of loneliness boggles my mind.) In that context, we have failed the lonely. I think of the young man whose struggles with his sexuality ultimately cause him to give up and take his own life. We have failed him. The young woman who experiences separation from all, including herself, so that she turns to cutting in order to feel anything. We have failed her. To the other young woman who is afraid of the New Year holiday because she may be alone. We have failed you. I see the bodies of young children being buried because they did not have the necessary food and water to survive. We have failed them. I feel the pain of the homeless people freezing on our city streets. We have failed them. I view the sectarian violence that destroys lives and mars the image of God in each person. We have failed them.

Then, I wonder…does God feel failure, also? Has the reality of the Incarnation allowed God to feel and experience the depths of human depravity and inhumanity? I begin to glimpse a sliver of God’s compassion. I see that God…Emmanuel…feels empathy for/with us. Is there hope, then, that the failure can be turned to triumph? As I reflected on this, I heard that inner voice that I’ve come to identify as the voice of Christ say, “I am forever human. I know the way that we should go. Compassion, love, justice. Always seeking the good and illuminating the bad.” (NOTE: NOT condemning!) “Embracing each person, community and culture as expressions of God’s own image.”

With that, I wish for all of us to experience and celebrate the Incarnation of God at this time of year. I think that the folks who think that there is some sort of war on Christmas need to walk away from that. Rather than shouting, ‘Put Christ back in Christmas,’ I would encourage us all to BE the Christ in Christmas.

Remembering the Class of ’73

This past weekend was our city celebrated Homecoming. There was the requisite high school football game on Friday night. On Saturday people gathered for a parade and other activities. Sunday morning the local Kiwanis club served their pancake breakfast to the hungry masses. This year, however, there was an additional event. It was the 40 year reunion of the Avon Lake High School class of 1973.

Forty years since a group of people, many of whom had grown up together, walked onto the football field dressed in maroon and gold caps and gowns.  Forty years since we sat anxiously awaiting the proclamation that we were free to go out and seek our fortunes. Forty years had flowed by since we hugged and slapped each other on the back. Forty years in which many of us had raised families and watched our children graduate from high school. Forty years that had passed by in a heartbeat.

We had a fairly good turnout for the event. Classmates came in from all over the world to attend. One good friend of mine had just arrived from Kuala Lumpur. Another from Atlanta, GA. Still others from New York, North Carolina and Chicago. I was surprised at how many of us still lived here and had never connected. Yeah, there are a few folks that I see from time to time at the local stores. But, out of all the people from our class, I can count on my fingers the number that I have seen and talked with. On that day in June of 1973 we all walked away from one another with our diplomas and our dreams.

The next day my wife and I told our daughter about the reunion. She responded that she probably would not attend any of hers. She said that she really didn’t have too many friends in her class, so why bother. I have to admit that I had shared a bit of apprehension about that myself. I don’t have too many fond memories of my years in high school. It was a time of transition and change. Awkward young teens growing and developing into young adults. New experiences and responsibilities strive with childhood security and comfort. There is a desire to fit in and be accepted. Yet, there is also, the need to explore individuality. For many this makes one’s image a matter of great importance. What to wear and who to hang out with are things obsessed about. Add to all of this raging hormones and a dash of teenage angst and the whole high school experience can become something altogether forgettable.

At the reunion, however, I found a group of people who had grown and matured. The lines that had defined us had long since dissolved. Where once there were jocks and freaks; greasers and bandies, now there were just people working day to day making a living the best that they can. I saw people that I had loved and cared about secretly, because they weren’t ‘cool.’ Now we were all free to embrace and affirm one another. Businesses, bills, children, responsibilities, and aging parents have worn the rough edges like waves battering granite cliffs. The years have produced lines of erosion etched into our faces. These things have leveled the playing field. We were, at last, equal. Equally worthy of honor and respect. Equal in our quest for immortality through the next generations that we have brought into existence. That night I saw classmates, peers, sisters and brothers.

The most difficult part of the evening was remembering those who could not be with us. The folks that planned the event set up a special table with the name tags of those who have passed on. I’m sure that everyone else felt as I did. We’re simply not old enough to be feeling our mortality like this. The really hard part was realizing that many of these people had passed through the veil in their youth. Seeing some of the name tags ripped open memories that I had thought were healed. I guess they will never completely heal. And, that’s a good thing. Our memories keep us in to connect us with the realities that we once lived. The guys in auto-shop and the math/science geeks are all part of what has made us who we are. Our memories continue to shape us even as our original experiences did. So, we raise our glasses in gladness and hope. To the class of ’73…God bless and Godspeed.

What are some of your memories of school?

Milestones…

Milestones. Wikipedia defines it as “a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary.” The purpose is to provide some point of reference along a road. They serve the multiple purposes of letting travelers know that they are on the right path and to reveal distance travelled toward a given destination. The Hebrew Bible has a term for this, also. In 1 Sam. 7 there is a story about God securing victory over Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. The prophet Samuel set up a stone to mark God’s provision and called it ‘Ebenezer,’ which can be translated as “the stone of help.” He placed it as a memorial…something to help people remember what had happened.

Today I have a milestone that marks my progress in the Way of Jesus. This is the 200th blog post that I’ve written. Holy Smokes! Whodathunkit? Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure to publish my thoughts and musings in the most public forum that humans have ever enjoyed. I’ve been read by people in Russia and Europe; India and Asia. These words of mine have been dispersed throughout the U.S. Yes, God has provided for me in this endeavor. I am extremely grateful to our Good Creator for granting me this privilege.

So, today as I sit in my office with incense burning and enjoying a wee bit ‘o Irish coffee, I say ‘Thank you!’ to those who have put up with my rants and raves. To you who have taken the time to share my heart and mind. Especially, I thank those who are my friends and still like me after they read what I write. (No easy task, I assure you!) I intend to continue on this journey, placing other milestones along the way. I so love all of you who have chosen to join me. God Bless You Real Good!

June 26, 1976

That was the day, 37 years ago, when Hope Taylor and I stood in front of a guy in a robe and said, “I do” to each other. ringsThirty-seven years… They’ve not been easy years. But, that robed guy told us that they wouldn’t. There are a lot of folks out there that say struggle makes one stronger. They hold up the image of the butterfly fighting to gain freedom from its cocoon. Once its endeavor is over, it spreads its wings with new found strength to fly. After nearly 4 decades, have we emerged? No, not completely. There’s still more story to come. Are we stronger? Yeah, I think so. Have we changed, metamorphosed? Definitely. With the support of family and friends, and especially, with God’s Spirit, we’ll be around to grapple with this marriage thing for a few more years.

A Date with Ladyfinch

Sitting in my backyard on a warm, summer evening. A good book in my hands and my favorite potent potable on a table next to me. The sun was warm, but not too hot. There were clouds building to the West, harbingers of storms moving in from the western Great Lakes. At this moment, however, all seemed good and right with the world.

As I read, I kept one eye on the bird feeder in the yard. It’s not much. An iron post with two hooks. On one is an Oriole feeder filled with home-made nectar. These beautiful orange and black birds are like so many people, they have an insatiable sweet tooth. One cup of white granulated sugar in six cups of water. Put it out and watch the fun!

On the other hook hangs our seed feeder. A not quite cylindrical glass container with a ‘roof’ and a seed tray into which the seeds flow from three openings under the glass. We get many visitors. Besides the ‘regulars,’ the Sparrows and Grackles, (I can’t get these folks to stay away. They show up and throw the seeds all over the ground), there are Cardinals and Blue Jays. Occasionally, I’ve seen Flickers and Red-Headed Woodpeckers. And, of course, there are the Finches. The two varieties that frequent or buffet are the Goldfinch and the House Finch.

Of these two, the House Finch is the most regular visitor. They usually show up in small groups, a male or two and two to three females. The males have red-hued feathers on their heads and necks. Many times they arrive and bless us with a song before they jump onto the seed tray and collect their wage. Having been a practicing musician, I know how that works. You show up, play and collect your money. These pipers, however, work ‘cheep.’ The coloring of the females is rather non-descript. Browns and grays with some darker streaks. They don’t seem as vocal as the males. But, I’m no ornithologist. My observations are somewhat limited.

On this particular evening, I looked over the top of my book and pulled my readers down on my nose, the better to see the feeder fifteen feet away. A female was sitting in the seed tray looking rather comfortable. This struck me as unusual. Birds commonly land on the feeder and stand on the edge of the seed tray, grab a snack and fly off to enjoy it. Sometimes, they stand in the tray. But, always, they stand. All of these birds are a bit on the skittish side. Standing, they can quickly escape any threat. This female was sitting! Well, at least as near as birds can sit. She quietly nestled herself into the tray and leisurely picked away at the shelled bounty around her. For no less than five minutes we enjoyed the evening together. I, in my lounge chair, she lounging in the feeder. We were like two old acquaintances gathered in a living room. No words were spoken, but communication took place. She told me that she was grateful for the snacks. “This café provides some of the best black sunflower seeds in the neighborhood. Oh, and the millet is to die for!” I told her that she was more than welcome. “I am delighted,” I said, “to offer you the hospitalitie du maison, my dear Ladyfinch.” My still, quiet presence soothed her apprehension and fear. Her presence and posture told me that she felt secure. Even with a human in the room!

In those few moments I experienced a small taste of Creator’s blessing. I imagined a time before time when the Native People roamed this Turtle Island, a world where all of Creator’s children lived in harmony. Ours, however, has become a world of dysfunction and destruction. Fear has leeched into every cell; every molecule. We even fear and war against the sun, moon and stars. The small creatures of the world fear humans and each other. We humans fear the small creatures…and each other. We are afraid that the economy will falter, or worse. Some are paralyzed by a fear of stepping out of their homes.

Has it always been this way? Some say no. They say that there was a paradisiacal garden very long ago. However, humanity, attempting to grasp at the Divine, brought ruin and destruction. Others say that the cosmos has always been a dangerous place. The fears and phobias that we strive with are deeply ingrained in our very DNA from tens of thousands of years of trying to survive. I’m not sure. One thing I am sure of, for about five minutes on a warm, summer evening Ladyfinch and I shared peace and contentment.

What experiences have you had interacting with God’s good creation? What kinds of things cause you to fear? Feel free to comment without fear.