Thursday, May 31, 2012

Here and Now...

Life takes on a different rhythm when you are sitting in a hospital room, either waiting the return of a loved one from surgery or being part of a team of folks who are encouraging, caring for, and uplifting that same loved one during their post-op recovery period. The hands on the clock move oh-so-slowly as time creeps from morning to afternoon to evening, the hours filled only with the routines which are meant to enhance the healing process.

Here at Inova Medical Center in Falls Church, VA, with my sisters, one of whom is the patient and the other of whom is a co-encourager, I am filled with an ever-increasing appreciation for and awareness of so many things: the fragility of life; the wonder of my own good health; the glory of each morning’s sunrise; the gift of helping friends and caring family, both far and near; the amazement of sisterhood; the joy of side-splitting laughter; the reality of aging and all it holds. Here on the Gynecology Unit, surrounded by rooms filled with other women who are being cared for by a phalanx of female nurses, CNAs, and mostly female doctors, I feel a part of a fierce regiment of women who are dealing with the many ways in which our female bodies can betray us, can require special and specialized care. Here in this sun-lit private room- quite spacious and facing a glorious stand of trees which enhance the view with their natural beauty- I find myself resurrecting long-dormant nursing skills as I become part of the team which is responsible for the health and well-being of a women we love and care about, my youngest sister.
Two walks around the hallway, pushing the IV pole; two bouts of inhaling deeply via the spirometer to open resistant lungs; glass after glass of water, in the hopes of encouraging a lazy bladder to resume its vital work…this is the shape of Kathy’s morning, and so, ours. And now, as she dozes, tired by the activity, the oh-so-essential activity, I can recall the little girl she once was, the little girls we all were…sharing life together in the little brick house on Norway Street, in the much larger brick house on Wilshire Drive. Family dinners; trips to Mom-mom and Pop-pop’s on Sundays after a morning at Sunday school and church; summer drives in the countryside, ending at Mack’s Ice Cream; the annual Church Picnics with friends and neighbors; going to the Isaac Walton League with our dear friends, the Leases, to picnic and play and swim in the creek with the other kids; vacation trips to up-state New York and Wildwood and the Poconos and the West Coast; swinging on the big backyard swing Daddy built and jumping into the pile of leaves we had earlier raked; tobogganing down the hill behind Leases’ or, even better, down Reservoir Hill with Dad- these are but a few of the wonderful memories which surface as I gaze out the window, while the woman from housekeeping cleans and, across the room, Susan crochets cotton dishcloths.

Life takes on a different rhythm when only one thing really counts at this moment; when only the health and well-being of a loved one, a precious sister, is the focus of care and concern. The focus narrows…the world gets smaller…and yet, it is as if an entire lifetime of memories and loved ones, of joys and sorrows, is centered on this very room, at this very moment, when past and present converge. And for this moment, it is enough.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lessons before Dying...

I have been surrounded by death these past couple of weeks, with three of our residents at the Lutheran Home dying in close succession. And this evening, I am quite emotionally exhausted after attending 3 funerals in as many days...only to find that another one of our residents seems to be nearing the end. More on that later...

Over the years, I have attended and officiated at innumerable funerals and I am biased enough to admit that I believe the Lutheran funeral service is quite beautiful and very meaningful...
and I have received comments to that effect by non-Lutheran attendees at many of the funerals I have been privileged to conduct. None of the three this week were Lutheran funerals and each was totally different from the other two...and I left each with very different feelings and reactions.

The first was held at an AME Zion church, a lovely little place with a beautiful cemetery. The sanctuary was filled, and the spirit of the service was a mixture of celebration and tears, filled with music and laughter and singing and tributes to the dear woman who had died.
I could see her family from my vantage point and feel certain that they were comforted and uplifted by the service, which felt like worship to me...even though the tradition was very different from my own, my spirit was buoyed and I left with a song in my heart and on my lips..."Soon and very soon we are goin' to see the King..."

The second was a graveside service for a gentleman who was not with us too long and though I arrived a bit late (traffic was much worse than I expected for late morning), I did note the path lined with American flags to honor his military service, the flag-draped coffin, and heard with appreciation the lovely old tunes played on the bagpipes by the fully-arrayed piper. Though quite brief, this more somber service seemed to be what the family wanted and they appeared comforted by the words of the minister and the plaintive sound of the pipes. Though I left in a quieter mood than the day before, I felt that this man had been honored and remembered in a way which would have pleased him.

And then there was today. The service was for a woman who had been larger-than-life, not in stature but in her attitude toward living, in her approach to each day. Known as "The Diva" by the staff at the Lutheran Home, she prided herself in having her hair done, her nails done, and her makeup and jewelry in place. Her smile was as briliant as her jewelry and I am certain she never met a stranger.
Guess you can tell she was one of my favorites (I know, we're not supposed to have those, but I'm human, after all.) As her COPD worsened, as she had several hospitalizations, I spent a great deal of time with her and we talked...or rather, she talked and I her feelings about dying, to her sense of loss at not being able to attend the funeral of her son who had died about 18 months her not wanting to let go of her daughter and grandchildren until she was sure they would be all right. And she cared deeply about her roommate, whose health seemed quite fragile and who was more quiet and withdrawn, drawing her into activities and sharing conversation with her...two aging women walking life's last path together, as close as sisters.

The funeral was held in the chapel at the funeral home...windowless, out any religious trappings, and with piped-in music playing, the setting left me feeling ill-at-ease, and as the service progressed, I found myself thinking over and over again, "This is not Opal...this is not her..." Where, I wondered, was the sense of joy and celebration her life engendered? Where was the sharing of stories, producing laughter and tears? Where was the acknowledgement of how much she would be missed by those of us who had cared so lovingly for her? I wanted color and light and balloons! or butterflies! and flowers- lots of flowers! I wanted laughter and a feeling of hope. I wanted the sense of Ms. Opal's presence, of her large, full, joy-filled life. Instead, I heard a few reminiscences shared by a young pastor who had obviously not known her well, and then what amounted to an "altar call", as those of us in attendance were admonished to mend our ways and search our hearts and confess our sins so that we might be assured...yes, assured, of our places in heaven. I can only hope and pray that her family was comforted by this somber, colorless service, because I know that I left saddened by what felt like a lack of tribute to a remarkable, colorful, full-living woman. 

Yesterday, upon returning too work, I visited with a woman who is nearing the end of her journey, and spent some time talking with her daughter, who told me stories about her mother...stories which were filled with meaning for her- and for me, as it gave me a much fuller picture of this woman I have only known as an old woman in her nineties. Her daughter painted a picture of a feisty and determined young woman, widowed at 25 with five chidren to raise. And raise them she did, doing whatever needed to be done to keep the family together, even as well-meaning family members wanted to split the children up. "I only hope I can be the kind of woman my mother has been," were the words of this loving, faithful daughter. We talked a little about the family's decision to refuse any measures to prolong life, understanding and appreciating that their mother has lived a long and full life and is now nearing the end of a long, difficult, and wonderful road...and I affirmed their decision. "We love her enough to let her go," her daughter told me.

And down the hall, at the other end of the building lies another woman, nearly the same age, being kept alive via a feeding tube, because her family is unwilling to acknowledge that what this dear woman has is not life any longer but simply existence. I know, I know...I'm treading on dangerous territory here. But isn't death a part of this life journey? and doesn't it come to all living things? Is is really so fearsome that we must fight it tooth and nail, hanging on at all costs, even when existence consists of only pain and suffering and holds no quality at all? Isn't the basis of our Christian faith the belief in resurrection? in the conquering of death? And isn't Love all about willing the best for the loved one?

I admit I am tired. It has been a long week, enmeshed as I have been by the intimate presence of death, by the rituals surrounding it, and by the decisions we make regarding it. And I know I've been rambling...even as I shed yet another tear for Ms. Opal, Mr. Bud, and Ms. Ida. Go with God, dear in peace, and hope, and love...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ah, Perfection...

Two perfect days, filled with nothing special- except…
    getting up without an alarm clock…
    eating meals on the screened porch…
    every window in the house open, inviting in the cleansing breeze…
    the continuous symphony of birdsong and wind chimes…
    completing one book and beginning another…
    the cleansing ritual of doing laundry…
    a visit to Starbucks, another to Barnes & Noble…
    wrapping birthday gifts for my best friend and two of the grands…
    cooking wholesome, simple, delicious meals…
    a phone conversation with a dear friend, the first in several years…
   venturing to the new Whole Foods Market…
   amazing, glorious weather with sunshine and blue skies...
   and hours of silence, free of human voices, human sounds, except at a      
   breathing deeply, my breath a prayer for my precious sister, preparing for surgery; for my friend, Mary, undergoing radiation therapy; for my children…for all the dear departed…
   sitting quietly in the rocking chair, soothed by the motion, and breathing
breathing…breathing. Such is the shape of perfection…nothing special, everything special. Thanks be to God.

PERFECTION: a parable

Once there was a monk who was out walking in the woods on a particularly lovely day, when he happened to stumble upon a sleeping grizzly. Startled from his slumber, the bear began to pursue the monk, who gathered up his robe in both hands and began to run as fast as his legs would carry him. He ran and ran and suddenly ahead of him, he saw a cliff where the land dropped off to a river below. Coming to a screeching halt at the very edge of the precipice, he looked down to see hungry crocodiles on the riverbank. But the angry bear was closing in, so the monk did the only thing he could think of- he leapt, certain he was leaping to his death, with a prayer on his lips.

Imagine his surprise when his fall was broken by a bush growing out of the cliff face and to it he hung on for dear life. With an angry bear above and the hungry crocodiles below, he was contemplating his terrible predicament when, suddenly, there in front of him he saw a gopher gnawing on the stem of the bush. He broke out in a cold sweat as the impossibility of his situation became eminently clear to him but, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something red and colorful and beautiful- a strawberry plant growing out of the hillside bearing one lovely, succulent-looking ripe strawberry. And, with the angry bear above and the hungry crocodiles below and the gnawing gopher in front of him, he reached out his hand and picked the berry and, bringing it to his mouth, took a bite. And, with the angry bear above and the hungry crocodiles below and the gnawing gopher in front of him, with strawberry juice running down his chin, he murmured, “Delicious! Delicious!”

Now, that’s perfection.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Juggling Act...

It’s Saturday morning, and I am sitting in the customer lounge at the Honda dealership waiting to have my car serviced. A couple of days ago, the little wrench lighted up on my dashboard, accompanied by the symbols A 13 which, combined, mean oil change, tire rotation, and cleaning and resetting of brake calipers. Who knew?

Actually, on the day the little wrench began glowing it felt like just one more thing…one more plate I had to keep rotating or balancing in the air, in addition to all the others. My life right now, you see, feels a bit like those jugglers who left me breathless as a child, the ones appearing on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday evenings who managed to keep numerous plates spinning on rods, all the while tossing ten pins or balls into the air, while an assistant on the sidelines kept tossing additional items into the mix. I recall these amazing jugglers (most often men) moving rapidly, their attention divided yet completely focused on each task at hand, moving rapidly around the stage, like perpetual motion machines, keeping everything going, perfectly balanced- and only rarely did something fall. My own applause joined that of the audience as I remember thinking, “How in the world does he do that?,” little knowing that life would call upon me to take up my own juggling act more than once in my life.
 And now is one of those times, as I am attempting to balance care for my sister, recently diagnosed with cancer; care for my son, discouraged by the fruitless job search and tired of living with his mom; care for my job as chaplain at the Lutheran Home in Winston-Salem, as elderly residents fail and die and attachments sadly end; care for the little congregation outside Lexington where I have served for the past 17 months; care for the women’s discussion group from my church which looks to me for organization and leadership; all without neglecting my other children and grandchildren, my friends, and- oh, yes- myself. Can you just picture those plates spinning, those balls flying in the air as I reach out to catch each one, only to toss it aloft again? Can you see me running across the stage of my life, frantically trying to make sure none of these vitally important plates falls?

Of course, the one which most often does is self-care. I have not attended a yoga class in two weeks, though I’ve been practicing a bit at home on my own. I am eating pretty well- no wheat, no dairy, no sugar- but walking daily is just not fitting into life right now. At the end of a long day, I must confess to too often vegging in front of the TV, mindlessly watching “Law and Order” reruns instead of reading one of the many book in my Kindle or on my shelves. My writing is nonexistent and my poetry has been relegated to the “few and far between” corner. And as I re-run the past several months of the video of my life, I see far too few times for fun and play and laughter.

But for the past several mornings, a little Carolina wren has been visiting my backyard deck, sitting on the rail and singing for all he’s worth, producing an incredible amount of sound from that tiny body. The serenade lasts and lasts and lasts, usually ending only when I exit the back door to go to my car, at which point he flies off into the trees, flicking his tail as if to say, “Hope you have a good day. I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you,” reminding me of Jesus’ tender admonishment to “regard the birds”. Somehow these lovely feathered creatures manage to survive in an often-hostile world, manage to build their nests and raise their young and find food sufficient to keep them alive- and still find time to sit on my deck and sing. And I dare say, worry is not part of that daily experience, since we humans are the only creatures who worry.

So, here I sit…breathing deeply…writing the words of my heart to you and you and you…sipping the decaf soy latte that is my morning treat. Here I sit, letting the cares of the day slip away or at least be put into abeyance as there is nothing else I can do at the moment. Here I sit, knowing that my car is in good hands, that this small task will soon be completed, rendering my car fit for the first of many trips to Arlington to be with my sister. Here I sit, thankful for the sunshine and the blue skies and the tiny Carolina wren who so beautifully began my day with glorious song…and, at this moment,  it is enough.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Compassion...for a Change

Sometimes, what seems to have become generally-accepted behavior in our society runs completely counter to what I think/believe/know from experience. And such is the present seeming inability or unwillingness to see a change of mind or heart as a good thing, as a growing edge, as a sign of maturity and openness to being changed by new information, by new life experiences. Instead, in our world, especially in the highly-charged world of party politics, heightened and exaggerated by the media, to have a change of mind is seen and touted and criticized as “waffling”, as being “wishy-washy”, and becomes a place of political vulnerability and perceived weakness.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have changed my mind innumerable times over the years, altered my position in the light of new information, taken a different road because the road I was traveling was leading to a dead-end. And I have had to admit I was wrong more than once…to eat the proverbial humble pie as I have backed off from what had been a zealously-guarded position. I have seen this always as a good thing…from letting go of my Sunday school ideas of faith and the Divine to letting go of my much earlier Republican positions (gleaned from the ideas and beliefs of my parents) to growing and developing into a person who joyfully and, I hope, graciously, accepts all people as created children of God.

But even more importantly, doesn’t this heels-dug-in position run counter to what people of faith are called upon to believe? After all, at the heart of the Christian faith- and other faiths, too- is the possibility of transformation, of new life. And that, we confirm, can happen only after the death of the old…in Christianity, we call it resurrection. In our “new life”, we leave behind what has kept us bound and welcome into our head and heart space some new idea, making a change of direction. Instead of finding a change of mind and heart objectionable and making of it a focus of contention and criticism, shouldn’t we instead see it as a sign of hope, a sign of growth and development within the individual?
In this election year, I am hoping and fervently praying that we the people will be able to move past our stubborn ideologies and warmly accept those who open themselves to permit the winds of the Spirit to blow through their hearts and minds…those who are not afraid or ashamed to admit that previously held ideas were stultifying and even life-draining…those for whom compassion and justice for all trump the need to be “right”. In this way, perhaps, the One Who Loves can really find expression in our living, our decision-making, our choices, our interactions with one another. Perhaps we can truly operate from a place of respect and consideration for the rights and opinions of others instead of dwelling in continual judgment and criticism and divisiveness. From my mouth to God’s ear…

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Tribute to Mothers...

Making home a lovely place, and
     safe and warm
Opening arms and heart to
     welcome and include
Taking time to listen, to wipe a
      tear, to kiss a hurt
Healing with her touch, letting
      HOPE be her watchword
Even when things seem hopeless
      and dark clouds hide the sun
Remembering and reminding
      that you are her beloved child,
      no matter what

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Immersed in Words...

"In the beginning was the Word..."
"In the beginning...God said..."
The Gospel of John reflecting back on the words of Genesis, valuing and venerating words...the spoken and the written and the lived out. And for all my life, I have been a "word" person...a reader and writer and speaker and singer, relishing and cherishing words, the delicious taste of them in my mouth and oozing from my pen; valuing highly the gift of the use of language.

Words surround me in stacks of books and shelves of books and DVDs, in my journals and volumes of poetry, both read and written. But it has only been in recent years that I have begun to surround myself with words in other ways: wearing jewelry which "speaks", bearing words of encouragement and strength and power, as well as filling my living space with words which enlighten and inspire...
yet another way in which the Word is fleshed out.

And in this way, the phrase, "the Living Word" has taken on new meaning, as has the notion of Divinity as that in which I live and move and have my being. Now, quite literally, I find myself immersed in and surrounded by words...words which take on life
in the ways in which they fill me, breathe into me, guide and direct me, encourage and enliven me.

Now, I realize that this would not be everyone's way, but I have found, continue to find, that living with words which I see as well as is just one more way I am reminded of the many-faceted God of creation and creativity, and I celebrate the Word made visible, the Word enfleshed by artists and craftspersons, as well as the Word expressed i my own pen. And I marvel at the wonderful, mysterious ways in which God appears, invokes, invites- if we but take the time, give the attention, to notice and hear and truly listen.

The dining room wall

My sunny study

Above the dining room windows

The living room settee

On the hearth- a reminder

Sunday, May 6, 2012

One Pastor's Reponse to Amendment One...via Acts

I read a startling statement this week: “The dominant religious tradition
in our society is to worship the family.”  Interesting, isn’t it? TV
preachers exhort us to embrace ”traditional family values”-  whatever
they are- and whose tradition are we talking  about anyway? and
campaign to defend the family from perceived  threats. Churches
market themselves as being “family friendly,”  and see “family ministries”
as not only being a sure fire growth strategy but as integral to the nature
and purposes of the Church.

However, the emphasis on families and family life can be quite alienating
for some people. If perfect happy families- one mother, one dad, and
children- are the ideal image of the Christian life, not everybody is able
to measure up.For some, the experience of  family life has been one of
oppression and fear, or even outright brutality. For others it has just
been awkward and disappointing. For still others, it has turned out to
be an impossible dream…And for countless others, the shape of their
family just doesn’t fit the "perfect" mold.

In the story from Acts 8 we encounter just such a person; someone
  who was finding himself on the outside of the family-focused Jewish
    religion. We are told he was a high ranking public official, a man of
      considerable political accomplishment, a high official in the court
        of Queen Candace of Ethiopia, and probably quite wealthy as a
          result. But he was also a man with a hunger to find his place in
            the life of God, and he had travelled a long way to make a
              pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God.

We are not told what had happened when he got there,
  But we are given enough detail to know that he would not have
    been made welcome. We are told that he was from Ethiopia, he was
      an African; therefore, a gentile, And there were ethnic barriers to
        full participation in the worship that took place in the Jerusalem
          Temple. Gentiles could only go into the outer court, so this man
            could come only so close to the center of the religious action.
               Mosaic law barred him from coming any closer.

But he was not only an African.
This man was a eunuch; that is, his
  genitalia had been completely removed, probably as a child in slavery.
    This was a common practice in that day and time and, actually,
      eunuchs were often the preferred candidates for various positions
         of political authority, precisely because of their inability to father
           a family. They were especially favored as the high officials of
             female monarchs and this man we meet was a high official in
             the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia.

However, although being a eunuch may have had some political
  advantages in Ethiopia, it certainly had no social or religious
    advantages in Jerusalem, where producing offspring was an essential
      part of Jewish culture and religion. A eunuch, being unable to father
        children, was both pitied and despised, as well as being regarded
          with deep suspicion for his abnormal sexuality. His social
            acceptability had literally been  “cut off”. And when it came to
              religious participation, he was legally “cut off”.

The law of Moses in Deuteronomy was quite explicit on this: “No one
  whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted
    to the assembly of the LORD”
       (Sorry for the explicit language, but it IS there in scripture…)
         So, although he believed in Yahweh and loved the Hebrew
          Scriptures, though he clearly desired to be part of the great
            company of God’s people, he could not. The Scribal law had
              effectively constructed a huge wall in front of people like him,
                with a sign on the gate which said “Keep out, God does
                   not want you”…kind of like the placards carried by the
                    followers of a certain Kansas pastor some years ago
                      proclaiming, “GOD HATES GAYS”.

So what was he doing making a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem? 

  Wouldn’t he know that he would be refused entry? Well, probably. But
    he would also be, in all likelihood,  a man with a pretty strong desire
      to find a place of belonging, a place of acceptance, a place where
        he was not cut off on racial and sexual grounds. And perhaps he
           had found reason to think that the God of Israel  might accept him.

When we meet him, as Philip draws alongside his chariot, the Ethiopian
  is reading the writings of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. And starting with
    those words Philip explains the good news of God’s love and
      acceptance made known in Jesus the Messiah, himself often an
        outsider, an outcast among his own  people. Can you imagine the
         eunuch’s joy when Phillip shares this new interpretation of the
           Jewish faith with him? Beginning with the Isaiah’s account of a
             suffering servant, Phillip spoke of a God who vindicated the
               servant’s just cause by raising him from the dead so that his
                 name and his cause, would live forever. In the preaching of
                    Phillip,  the man hears about a different God, a God who
                       loves and welcomes everyone who believes, no matter
                         what their ethnic or religious heritage (or race or
                           sexual orientation or, indeed, the state of their

The story is remarkably brief here. We are told that Philip explains the
   good news, and then immediately we are told that the African eunuch
     spots a waterhole by the side of the road and asks if there is
        anything to prevent  him being baptized right now.  And there
            wasn’t…so they stop the chariot and Philip baptizes him on the
               spot, the eunuch becoming part of God's people, not through
                circumcision, but through faith in Jesus and the rite of
                   baptism, in which we relinquish our future into the hands
                      of Christ, and are raised with new God-centered life... 
                        And in the background of the story, Luke, the
                           theological innovator, is telling his hearers that
                              because God loves those outside the circle, so
                                   should they. And so should we.

It is telling how the Ethiopian asks the question, isn’t it? “Is there
   anything to prevent me?” He is so used to hearing the promises and
     then being cut off from access to them, that it is as though he can’t
        quite believe that the same thing isn’t about to happen again.
           That’s what happens to outsiders, to those who are seen as
               “less than” over time…discouragement…hopelessness…the
                  certain expectation of being excluded. But it doesn’t.
                     This time he is welcomed into the family of God's people.
                        This time he is not refused the rite by which a person
                           is adopted into the family…without restriction… 

And that is crucial to the point Luke is making- that those who are racially
  or sexually or socio-economically different from us are not offered an
    acceptance that is in any way  conditional on their willingness to
      behave like us. They are welcomed and accepted- PERIOD.
        This new family is not founded on conformity to the established
          family values, but on the new value of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
             And for those of us who have been loyal followers of the
                established family values, those who hav not found them-
                  selves on the wrong side of the racial or sexual or
                     behavioral norms, that is a challenge.
You see, we are being called, in no uncertain terms, to make sure we
   don’t turn the new family of God into a mirror of the old exclusive
      families of favored bloodlines and clear boundaries and exclusive
         inheritance rights. However, like so many things in life, this is
            easier said than done. If we have grown up with a particular
              way of living life, of thinking about the meaning of our lives,
                 it can be very threatening to be exposed to other ways of
                    life, to other ways of other ways of living
                      and being. We feel safeest among those who know us
                        and understand not only our language, but also our
                           basic assumptions about what is important and
                              acceptable and what is not…people like us.
And this means that when we find ourselves encountering people who
   look and speak differently than we do, who clearly have quite another
      set of values or another lifestyle, we become uncomfortable, or even
        afraid. Why? Perhaps because the existence and perseverance of
           these ‘other’ ways, these ‘other’ people, implicitly calls into  
              question our own ways, our own assumptions about life…
                 and as a consequence, our own foundations may feel less

Admittedly, asking people to open and welcome and accept those very
  different from themselves is like asking them to break out of a cocoon,
     or to leave the safety of their mother’s womb. Change, letting go of
        what has been, is HARD, after all. Yet . . . this is precisely what
           God calls us to do. God says “If you really know me, if you
               really have my love down deep inside of you, then you'd
                 want these 'others' to share in that love. And you'd be
                    willing to open yourselves to the rich ways in which my
                       life is manifested in their strange and beautiful ways...”
                          not just accepting and welcoming but celebrating
                             the incredible uniqueness- and connectedness-
                                manifested among the children of God…
                                  recognizing that there is not an “us” and “them”
                                     but only a “we”.

This loving, caring, accepting God sends us out beyond the circle to
   bear the fruit of love and justice in a world which has ceased to
      believe that these are possible. And we can do this because we
         carry the love of God with us, and the lovee of God is powerful.
            It is the power of the resurrection, which is stronger even
                than death.
And for those who come to this story from the other side, the “out side”,
    cut off by dysfunctional families or broken marriages or homosexuality,
        by disability or lack of opportunity or any other reason, this promise
           resonates with even more hope, as with the Ethiopian eunuch,
              and brings the realization that there is nothing separating
                 them/us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So together let us examine our lives. How much do we trust in the
   abiding love of God- a love which promises to hold us in life, even in
      the midst of alien territory? While it is absolutely true that God ask
         us to do an impossible thing, God seems not to be as troubled
            as we are by impossibilities. You see, God has promised that if
               we stay connected, then we will be given the power we need
                  to do that impossible thing…to not only welcome and accept
                     the outsider, the OTHER, but to celebrate them in the
                        totality of who they are, finding within ourselves the
                            desire and the energy and the love to go out from
                               our comfort-zones into more difficult territory.
And for those of us already living “outside” the usual, acceptable
   societal boundaries, that promise of God means that we are connected…
      abiding in…fully accepted by…the One who Loves without limits.
         And today…every dayTHAT IS THE GOOD NEWS!!!
             Thanks be to God!!!! Amen