Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Memories...Out of the Darkness

(I wrote this last week for an assignment in my writing group. It's about today.)

If no pain, then no love. If no darkness, no light. 
If no risk, then no reward. It’s all or nothing. 
In this damn world, it’s all or nothing. ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~Desmond Tutu

      The ringing telephone shattered the midnight silence. An almost-strange voice, choked with emotion, filled my ears with even stranger words- “This is Jamie, Shannon’s brother. I am so sorry…Carl was diving with Dan in a zenote in the Yucatan…he drowned. I am so very sorry…” the rest of the words lost in the roaring in my head, the dreadful tearing sound of my heart breaking, the harsh rasping of my sobs as tears streamed down my cheeks…as I sought for and grabbed at sanity in a world suddenly gone mad.

      There was more conversation, I know…some details about official things- the authorities and cremation and death certificates- the minutiae of any death, even one which happened thousands of miles and a heartbreak away. And then that caring, emotion-filled voice was saying, “Shannon is in Tennessee, caving. I must fly up there to tell her in person. She can’t hear this over the phone.” And my own grief was momentarily crowded out by the awareness of the impending effect of this life-changing event on Carl’s fiancĂ©, Shannon. I had lost my eldest son…she had lost the love of her life…both of us broken in ways few else could or would- or would want to- understand.

      Another fleeting thought- poor Jamie…her brother not only was breaking this difficult news to me but he was going to bear it to Shannon upon his own shattered heart. He and Carl had been friends, too…they had gone diving together, had shared more than a few beers…this loss was impacting him deeply…only at this moment, my breaking heart was beating so loudly that it drowned out all other sounds…all other thoughts.

      The call ended- I have no memory of how. Indeed, the gaps loom large as I try to recall that time. I only know that I roamed the house like a lost child, weeping, unsure of where to turn or what to do next. My youngest son, Paul, was asleep in his nearby bedroom, blissfully unaware of the way in which his life would be impacted at the light of day. And how would I tell Mark and Hope that their beloved big brother was gone, his often larger-than-life presence in their lives ripped away? What would I say? What could I say? I only knew, at that moment, that I was drowning and needed someone to take hold of my hand to keep me from going under, never to resurface.

      And so, I reached for that dreadful telephone and called Charlie, a dear pastor-mentor-friend, shattering his sleep with my cry for help. “Charlie…my son, Carl, has died. I don’t know what to do…” my voice hoarse with emotion, choked with tears, even as he tossed me a lifeline with his words: “June and I will be right there.” No hesitation…none. “We’ll be right there.” And I could take a small, hesitant, gasping breath of hope.

Carl Allen Sutton, Jr. August 31, 1964- February 26, 1993

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

poetry...thoughts for today...

just live!
Moral certainties make my hair
stand on end, especially when expounded
by those who seem to thrive on drawing
battle lines and boundaries…
whose goal seems separation and one-upmanship
instead of reconciliation and compromise.
Absolutes invite hypocrisy, as we have
often seen among the “famous” of our day,
as revelation of another’s feet of clay is
met by judgment, anger, and buoyed by
a sense of superiority by those whose own
humanity has yet to be revealed.
Life, my friend, is messy and confusion-
and far too short to make it about
“either-or”, “for-against”, “us or them”…
no “one size fits all” garment covers
every situation…no simple set of rules
applies- unless it is the “rule” of love.
For life’s complexity demands our openness…
our acceptance of people different from
ourselves…our unwillingness to change
our minds and hearts when living proves
us wrong…
           Improvise! Life cries. Create! Imagine! Celebrate!
                    LIVE!!! Just LIVE!!!

Let’s talk about prayer.
What if- instead of God intervening
in our lives in response to our prayers, our pleadings,
our requests- God/the Divine/the Ineffable Holy
provides the medium through which
our prayers move?

What if we believed, accepted, lived into the 
truths of which quantum physicists speak? that 
all of life is connected, entangled, linked, and 
when I send my love, my care, my blessings, my concern 
to you via my “prayers”, my thoughts and energies 
are traveling the link, using the connections, reaching 
you in truth because of these mysterious, mystical, Divine

Does that make it any less prayer?
Or any less the work of the Divine?    
                I wonder…

Re-ligare, that early Latin word
from which “religion” and “religious”
come, meant- in those early Latin days-
      to re-connect, to re-member
          what has been dis-membered…
      to return to our deepest, truest selves,
          remembering what we already know.

How, then, has religion become
something which divides,
      which dis-members
         the family of humanity,
           pitting sister against sister,
           brother against brother, 
         tribe against tribe, until even
           heaven has its teeth set on edge by the
           cacophony of warring certainties,
                each striving for the hearts and souls
                of humankind…
                each certain that its answers
             are THE answers…

      while angels weep and
        all creation bears the battle scars
        of humans run amok,
        as the loving, reconciling voice
        of the Divine One
        goes unheard.

holy, holy, holy
Have we “made” Jesus divine in order
to explain his full holiness and dedication
to a life with God?
And is this a way to let ourselves off the
hook from developing such a deep, true
relationship with God ourselves?
When will we recognize and acknowledge,
I wonder, that we are all holy, created
as we are in God’s own image? So much
easier to see some as holier-than-us…
so much less demanding to see holiness
as something far beyond our grasp,
beyond our ability to ever achieve- as if
the God of Creation is not continuously,
perpetually, eternally reaching out to
us in love and compassion.
Denying our own holiness denies the
mystery of the mundane…the sacred
in the secular…the incandescent wonder
of incarnation- God dwelling within each
one of us, calling each one of us into
relationship, unique and wholly holy.
Yet we seek and search, wail and
wonder, “Where is God in all this mess
of life?” missing the truth- that God is
everywhere! And our holiness comes
from immersing ourselves in the God
Who is Everywhere.

For what does God expect of us-
if indeed we can put it that way- 
but to “do justice, love kindness, and
walk humbly with God”…to be fully who
we are meant to be, created to be-
each and every one of us. For if we
do not see God everywhere, in
everyone, are we not denying the
all-pervasive reality of God’s holy
presence in, through, and under
all creation? I wonder…

decision-making power
Who decides how things are
“supposed” to be? Who has made the
determination that having white skin
is better than having black? That
being male and having testicles is
preferable to being female and
having a uterus which can bear life?
That bringing a child into the world
to be neglected and abused is morally
superior to choosing to not have it at all?
That by denying something you do not
want to believe is true over and over and
over again, you can make your opinion

Who decides what is truly “true”? For
once some believed (some still do)
that slavery was right- denied that people
with a darker skin were even really
“human”, seeing them as unthinking,
unfeeling creatures. Once some
believed (some still do) that women
were the property of men, fit only to
do the bidding, bend to the will of
father or husband, denying their 
intellects, denigrating their minds.
Once some believed (some still do)
that homosexuality was a sinful choice-
seeing those whose sexuality was
different from their own as threats
to home and hearth and family.

Who make the rules and sets the limits,
doles out punishment or reward? Who
determines which religious path leads
ultimately to unity with God? And who
decides that my path, my thoughts,
my beliefs, my ideas have less validity
than yours? or his? or hers? or theirs?
Who decides???


Monday, May 21, 2018

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear...

In August of 2003, I wrote a Pastor's Column for a local newspaper, a
column about fear and the power of love. In going through some of
my writing this weekend, I can upon it and, especially in light of the
powerfully beautiful sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal
Wedding, I share it with you now, aware of its timelessness and

     We have become a nation of fear-filled people. Never before can I 
remember so many people being afraid of so many things- and I was born
during World War II and have lived through Korea, the Cuban Missile crisis,
and Vietnam. Never before do I recall watching businesses spring up in 
response to the fears we have- things like gated communities and home alarm 
systems and car alarms and complicated product packaging systems. Never 
before have I watched the evening news with the awareness that playing upon 
our fears seems to be the basis for so much of what we are being told and 
shown: stories about murders in our neighborhoods- be very afraid of your 
neighbors, they seem to say; stories about child abductions- there is no one 
you can trust, they seem to say; stories about weapons of mass destruction- 
someone somewhere is trying to end our way of life, they seem to say; stories 
about people who don’t look like or act like “us”- but of whom we should surely 
be very afraid. All stories designed to play on our fears and keep us off balance.

     Now don’t get me wrong. Of course there are unsafe things and unsafe people in our world, in our lives. Of course we are wise to exercise sensible caution and take sensible precautions. But to LIVE in fear, to face each day fearfully and with great trepidation, seems to fly in the face of what scripture tells us.

     Isn’t it interesting that most of the time, when God sent a “messenger” or “angel” to humankind, the first words out of the mouth of the messenger were, “Don’t be afraid!”? And in one of my favorite Bible stories, Jesus walking on the water after the feeding of the five thousand, his first words to the terrified disciples were, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” When Jairus approached Jesus to heal his sick daughter, Jesus’ words to him in the gospel of Mark are, “Do not fear; only believe.”

     Psalm after psalm was apparently written in response to and from the heart of a fear-filled person, and so offer us comfort, encouragement, peace. My personal favorites are Psalm 27:1: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” and Psalm 46:1-3” “God is out refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”

     In the midst of this amazing world of God’s creation, we are being called. I think, to live in community and in communion with one another and with all of the natural world. Fear only complicates the relationships to which we are being called. Fear breeds more fear; it clouds the lens through which we see the world, making all a very dim shade of gray and blotting out the colors of life. Fear causes us to forget that we are called to live in gratitude; to see our lives as a “gift”; to accept all that comes our way as an opportunity for learning and growing. And it makes u believe that we are entitled to having it all “our way”…that nothing bad should ever happen…and when it does, we didn’t deserve it!

     Fear, in so many ways, relieves us of our responsibility for the reason our 
world IS the way it is. It lets us off the hook to try to make it any better; it excuses us from trying to make better, healthier, wiser choices; to raise our children to be responsible, caring, unprejudiced people; to welcome the stranger in our midst. And it flies in the face of the words of I John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Can we live in love? And can we let that love cast out the fear 
which so fills our lives? With God’s help, we can surely try.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

More Poetry...

“it is a puzzlement”
We seek easy answers...quick solutions…
always in a cultural, collective hurry
to find “the way”, whether to
    lose weight or
    guard the borders or
    defeat terrorism or
    prevent teen pregnancy or
    cure breast cancer or
    raise children or 
   be the Church…

When will we realize, do you suppose,
that, each of us- each and every one
of us- is part of the solution?
Not the whole- for no one person’s
wisdom is that complete- but part…
each of us bringing our own small but
necessary piece to contribute to the
complex puzzle that is life together.

right & wrong
Why do we so fear being wrong?
Why do we so need to be right?
Is it because we operate from
the shaky premise that acknowledging
another’s rightness means accepting
our own wrongness- seeing life in
terms of right & wrong instead of
                   possibilities and

Why indeed do we want to paint
the world in black and white at all
when before us lies an incredible
palette of brilliant colors, with hues
of infinite variety and endless

Fellow traveler on this winding road,
have you nor seen? have you not heard?
All nature cries out to be seen and appreciated…
all humanity cries out to be understood…
all creation echoes the holy truth that
    each belongs to all and there is no
    clear stopping place between us,
    no line of demarcation, nor
    line drawn in the sands of time...
for if God is All in All,
    then that includes us- you and me and they-
    the elephants and wildebeests,
    the otters and racoons,
    the towering redwoods and creeping ivy,
    the flowing rivers and booming seas…
                            and there is nowhere that God is not…
                                                      and who is right
                                                      and who is wrong
                                                      pales in the wonder
                                                      of that reality.


All religion boils down, I think,
to two beliefs:
    there is some ultimate significance
    in the universe
    there is some way of being connected to it.

That "ultimate significance" we call by many names,
for no one name can capture all the essence or
explain the unexplainable...
no word or set of words, no description will suffice...
but each of us settles on that one word which
resonates within the soul...
    and most often I choose "God" though
    "Spirit", "Breath", and "Source of Love"
    tumble from my lips at times, while
    at others there is no name at all-
                                  only silence.

As for connection, we must each find our own
connecting place, the place to hang our hat
of faith, or, in desperation, grasp a hand to
pull us out of life's perpetual mires...that link
which often stretches to the breaking point
yet holds us fast, reminding us that life is
not a sure and certain path laid to our own
expectations, but a risky business, filled with
blind corners and hidden perils- and
surprising joys.

And so, in faith, I stretch out my hand again today
    to touch and be touched,
    to hold and be held,
    to accept and be accepted,
    to love and be loved.
and breathe a prayer- Ah!
                            It is enough.

Friday, May 18, 2018

brought to life...

brought to life

Something has sealed
the door of your heart.
Some pain has made
you slam it shut,
       believing you can keep ou
     the fear and hurt...
       believing you can hide
       from life itself...
       believing you can let
       the flame which flickered
       on the hearth go out.

Then, with a mighty roar,
a resounding slam which
     shatters the lonely, self-imposed
     silence, the door is blown open 
     by the great wind of Love.
The last flickering embers
are stirred into flame,
     your defenses fall away,
     and you stand, stripped naked,
     in the presence of Life's holiness, 
     warmed by the fire of emotion which
     floods and fills you...
                       taking great, gasping gulps
                                       of the fresh air...                                                                                                

Mirror Image...

mirror image

Who is she,
that woman gazing back
from the mirror, whose
lined face and white 
hair and bag-rimmed
eyes hold a vague familiarity-
and yet seem strangely,
sadly alien?
Where is the smiling girl
who once peered back,
whose skin was fresh and
smooth, whose eyes were
clear and blue, whose days
were filled with purpose and
the seeming clarity of
knowing who she was?
But did she, really?
As she raced from task to
task, donned role after role,
meeting expectation after
expectation- most not
her own- I recall her longing
to stop, to step back, her
yearning for a deeper sense
of who she really was.
And the woman in the 
mirror smiles- and I see my
life etched upon that blessedly
familiar face. I see a sense of
peace which seems to stay, 
even in the midst of life's
unending tumult. I see the
person I have become
while negotiating the daily
storms, my only paddle
a wavering faith that the sun
will  shine again- sometime,
And I smile back, tears
streaming down my life-battered
face- "Good morning, dear one.
Welcome to a new day."