Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bagging it

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Yesterday the City Council passed an ordinance that will impose a 20-cent charge for plastic or paper bags in grocery stores and drug stores beginning January 1st. There has been considerable chatter about it lately. One City Council member reports that his office has received about 4000 letters, cards, and E-mails in support of the measure and about 400 against it. This is reportedly a record amount of correspondence on an issue for his office.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in our bookstore as this topic has been on the minds of the local residents. I’ve changed from automatically placing customers’ purchases in a bag to asking them if they want it in a bag as I am reaching for one. Surprisingly about half of the customers refuse a bag saying something along the lines of “I don’t need one for this purchase.”

The local customers seem to be ready, eager, to give up the extra merchandise bag. I did not expect such a change in thinking by so many so quickly.

In the years to come, with the major changes that will be needed by the industrial countries, perhaps everyone, in order to overcome the damage that we have been causing and are continuing to cause to the environment, more lifestyle changes will be needed. Certainly much bigger lifestyle changes are needed than simply remembering to carry your own shopping bag into a store. It seems to me that this change in bags is just one of the beginning baby steps of drastic changes that we will need to make in order to prevent the environmental changes that will diminish the carrying capacity of humans of the world. I eagerly await the day (not in my lifetime I’m sorry to say) when half of the buildings and homes will have solar cells on their roofs for capturing sunlight energy and wind farms will be common place while we zip around in electric vehicles, reducing our population with fewer births, eating locally grown sustainable foods and feeling empowered by shopping less for personal merchandise while sharing our wealth to eradicate hunger and disease throughout the world. I think that our local populace is more ready to begin (not to make all of those changes this year, but to begin exploring the options) to make the changes than the powers-that-be are aware.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008
By John

There is a new book that I have just begun and about which I am excited. Put Down Your Sword: Answering the Gospel Call to Creative Nonviolence , by John Dear (oh, what a difficult name to have to live with!), Wm Eerdmans Publishing, 2008, paperback. The title comes from the author’s report of Jesus’ last action. At the time that Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane one of his disciples reportedly drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of those who was arresting him. Jesus said, “Put down your sword.” Even when Jesus was being arrested he resisted violence and killing. His disciple was about to kill the arresting guard. In another short chapter the author describes Jesus’ resurrection. John Dear states that if he had been Jesus he would not have come back to life to see those he had worked with. Everyone of them had fled from him at the crucifixion. “if it were me, I wouldn’t have wanted to come back at all. I would have been angry, hurt, and resentful. I would have wanted nothing to do with those former friends. I’d have nursed a grudge for a few thousand years before I came back!”

In another short chapter John Dear argues that to follow Jesus means to be radically opposed to war, killing and all that goes with it. “I don’t think that I can truly honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus and at the same time support the ware on Iraq, of the death penalty, or global warming, or corporate greed, or U.S. imperialism, or the School of the Americas, or the oppression of Palestinians, or the systematic oppression of Darfur and Haiti, or the development of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos. Or sit back in silence while these injustices rage.”

That is strong stuff. That is the Gospel that Jesus lived and we are not living. This book is challenging me to reconsider my shallow commitment to Jesus’ life.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My first cell phone

Saturday, July 19, 2008
by John,

Yesterday I purchased my, our, first cell phone. It will be delivered next week. That is an interesting step in Nancy and my technological lives. We have made the conscious decision, up to now, to not own, or more accurately, not be owned by a cell phone. Talking on the phone is okay for me. There are times to talk and times not to have to talk, times to not be interrupted by a phone call. Nancy and I have both enjoyed being away from home and knowing that we will not be interrupted in whatever we are doing by a phone call. But, things are changing.

Mainly, I am preparing to begin volunteering driving my EV to deliver senior citizens to their medical appointments on my days off. I did that for a few years. Then I stopped and worked with teenagers at the boxing gym. In my humble opinion teenagers can always benefit from more personal attention from adults and I was glad to work with them as a volunteer in their afternoon boxing classes.

While reading Bishop Gene Robinson’s book, In the Eye of the Storm, I was reminded gently but urgently that we all can do more to help others than we are doing. Robinson’s book is very good on many levels. Just one of those resulted in my reexamination of my volunteer activities. The result was that I have given up my participation with the youth boxing program. They have an excellent instructor whom, though it was fun to help, actually did not need my help as much as the low-income seniors need assistance traveling to and from their medical appointments. Transporting them is something that I can do and they are mostly enjoyable, frail, elderly individuals. Besides, my EV does not use gasoline, just electricity, and most of that in this region comes from hydropower and remains relatively very inexpensive.

It is much more important for me to have a cell phone when driving the seniors to their medical appointments. In case of a malfunction with my car, or an emergency with my rider, having immediate communication is vital.

I plan to use the cell phone only infrequently, when needed. I expect that our lives will not change because of the presence of the cell phone. I will not be talking on it while shopping, driving, or in the presence of others. I think that is one reason for the Off button on the phone (or whatever button it may be that turns the thing off). As long as I control the cell phone and it doesn’t control me, then we may have an acceptable relationship. I think that I can, if need be, put it in a drawer at home and not use it.

John B. the politician

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
by John, (John Marshall, not John B.)

A knock at the door at dinnertime. “Oh, no. What could this person want?” (That’s part of life in the city.)

“Hi. I’m John Bxxxx and I’m running for the State Legislature in this district.” (“Oh… no. Maybe I shouldn’t have answered the door.”)

Within a minute he asked if I had any issues that concerned me. “Well, I have one issue that is concerning me this week, this month…” It was my description of the work our ministry-which-is-the-store has been struggling with to change to the new state law (July 1st) concerning Destination-based Sales Tax collection. Instead of charging sales tax to all WA State customers based on the location of our store we now “get” to collect sales tax based on the location of the buyer. With about 340 different taxing districts in the state it has been a major challenge to create a method to determine the specific taxing district for each customer, charge the correct sale tax, and then report the sales for each taxing district in the state to the Dept. of Revenue each month.

John B. had only vaguely heard about this new taxing structure. I explained it to him briefly. He surprised me with immediately suggesting some legislative measures that could reduce the burden on the smaller businesses like ours.

I was, and continue to be, impressed with John B.’s ability to first, listen to my description, and second, to respond creatively off the top of his head. Both reactions do not fit my preconceived opinions about politicians.

Politics has not been something that I have participated in previously. Actually, I’ve avoided politics, politicking, and politicians throughout my life. This guy, John B., has been on my mind the last few days.

He later invited me to a “small business round table” meeting yesterday. Because of John B.’s first impression I was curious enough to attend. Okay, there were only seven of us who attended the meeting in a small restaurant yesterday morning. I now think, “What can so few people do in such a huge bureaucracy as the state government?” It was interesting being there. I saw a different slice of the world.

I’m not planning to jump in to politics, but it will be interesting to watch John B. and where he and this goes. Yes, I have put one of his signs out by the curb in front of my house. That is more political commitment than is normal for me.

Church hiatus

by John,

Tomorrow will be my last day at the church congregation that I have been attending for mostly 8-9 years (I actually forget how long).

Church is too far away. It takes a gallon of gas each way to attend church. Now that is over $8.00 each Sunday and too much to pay. There is also the guilt I feel about driving so far, using that much fuel, putting out that much carbon dioxide, to drive to church.

I have really loved the congregation. What they do fits in “my book” as being mostly right, and they are the only local congregation that I have found for which that statement is true for me.

What do they do right? First is their commitment to the Child Learning Center. About half of the building is used by the child center five-days a week. The church is committed to that a level of outreach that makes me feel good. It goes to kids, most of whom can’t afford the fancy, expensive child day care centers. Secondly, the congregation takes what it does in the rest of its life, its worship, hospitality, and community interaction not too seriously. It is very important but not limited by seriousness. We/they enjoy worshipping together. They enjoy tweaking the liturgy for different times, events, and seasons in order to keep it vital, interesting, and alive.

One congregation that I tried to worship with did not work for me because, in my humble opinion, they were worshipping the worship service. Every little portion of the service was planned with elaborate, even arcane detail, and with hierarchy of organization. It often seemed to me that God was fit in to the worship service but was not the main activity. There was much more “aren’t we good at worship” than there was of praise to, thanks to, and petitioning for God’s help in that congregation.

Others that I have visited appear to me to use plastic worship. They go through the motions but it does not come from their souls. And others seem to be using the old, familiar liturgy but with little connection between it and the worshipers. It is like a morning routine in the bathroom that one does without too much involvement or commitment.

Another of my concerns of the worship service is when we-the-congregation are applauded and patted on the back for what we are doing. The “we are so good” message does not fit with my understanding of Jesus’ response to those around him and the Church. He was always pushing at them, encouraging them to change, and caring for the lost, the lonely, the unloved, and the unfed. That is what, in my humble opinion, we need to model in all of our activities with the church and worship. One of my tests for that is at the Eucharist and who gets fed first. The Eucharist is a shared meal and celebration. So, why do the hosts of the meal eat first? In every other social event that I see the hosts feed everyone else and then take care of their needs afterwards, or at the minimum, they serve everyone and then we begin eating together. For me, the liturgy of the Eucharist must do that too.

I love the music at the church I have been attending for these years. It is a significant reason that I have continued to travel so far to worship with them. They/we play with the music as we do with other parts of the service. The question is always there, “What can we do to this piece of music that will make it more relevant, more interesting, more meaningful for this service?” Sometimes that means taking a hymn that was originally a Welsh drinking song and giving it more of the sound of a Welsh tavern. It means adding gaiety to a hymn of praise. It means choosing music from a wide range of resources other than the standard hymnal. It means never, ever dragging a hymn by singing it so slowly that we forget the message and what we are singing.

I’m going to miss “my” church. I do not know where I will find a better fit, but I am committed to finding one that is much closer to home, one that I can drive to in my electric vehicle.

Three holies, one God

by John,

Some thoughts about the Holy Trinity from Trinity Sunday last weekend:

The description of the Trinity as "three holies, one God" sprouted from the children when they were discussing the Trinity with our priest just prior to their leaving for Church School near the beginning of the service. "Three holies, one God" seems to me to bypass the traps of trying to explain God in too many details, ineffable as God is.

Part of the sermon reminded me about the fighting throughout history over religion and who has "it" right. It seems it is always that we have it right and they have it wrong where "we" and "they" are very fluid and dependent upon who is describing it.

Bloodshed. Lots of bloodshed has been shed over doctrines, religious in general, Christian in specific, throughout history. This makes me think that all of the hand-wringing today about a break in the Anglican Communion is really quite tame when other much more violent events in the history of the Church are recalled.

During coffee hour I asked our priest about the bishops that did not, could not, agree with the forming definition of Jesus and the Trinity during the Council of Nicea. I know that history tells us that those bishops left Nicea and formed the Coptic Church in northern Africa. I asked "Since Constantine, during that historic meeting in Nicea, had locked the church to keep all of the bishops inside until such time as they all agreed, when at the conclusion of the Council, when the definition of Christ and the Trinity had been decided, and any bishop that refused to sign the statement was killed, on the spot, how did the dissenting bishops get out of the church so that they could create the Coptic Church?" He replied that they left a couple of days early, before the Council had completed their work and when the direction that the discussion was headed was obvious to them as well as repugnant. They may have escaped through a window!

During the sermon another statement our priest made was that the whole point of the Creed is to get us to do mission. It’s a good thought. I've not heard that before. I wonder if that is really the underlying point of the Creed. If so, then it has certainly lost its emphasis in the Church that I have attended and studied.

Good Shepherd aphorisms


by John,

An aphorism I learned during last Sunday’s sermon. It was Good Shepherd Sunday.

Four shepherd lessons for the sheep:

Stick together

Follow the Shepherd

Stick together

Follow the Shepherd

Most of us sheep need to be reminded more than once!

(My test for the quality of a sermon is whether I can remember it Sunday evening, or on Monday. This one remains with me on Tuesday.)

"No Problem?"

(This is not an April Fools piece. This is just the day when it has finally perked to the top and out of my head and life is too short to wait for a more appropriate day.)

Our use of words is important. It informs our own thinking as well as communicating with others.

The response to “Thank you” changes when a person replaces “Your welcome” with “No problem.” The first one is an acceptance of the thanks, in my humble opinion. The second one sloughs off the thanks with a term that means… what?

We do it with religious/faith/spiritual words too. The words that we use inform ourselves as well as others.

There is what I think, what I feel, and what I believe.

To my mind, this week, what I believe relates to my religious faith and my grounding of ultimate reality. What I feel describes my emotions about a situation or person. What I think refers to realities of this world that I accept as fitting my worldview.

What I may think about the Iraq war helps describe what I see, read, hear is happening and my/our response to it. My emotional response to the Iraq situation expresses my feelings about it.

I accept both evolution and human causes of global warming as fitting the data, the research, and my perceptions and understanding of the world around me. Do I believe in evolution or the human causes of global warming? No more than I believe that we will have soup for dinner tonight. It is what I think and not what I believe.

I do not feel that Christ died and was resurrected. It is part of my faith and beliefs. I believe that Jesus the Christ acted in that way. Whether it is historical fact or metaphor matters little to me because either way it fits my faith and my response to God.

What I think about in the world changes as information about it more fully explains it. When 99% of the scientists surveyed interpret the data to show that humans have influenced global warming, then my acknowledgement of that situation changes to acceptance of it.

What I feel about a situation or person can also change depending upon changes in the situation or person. I can admire a governor one day and feel betrayed by his revealed actions another day.

Can my beliefs change? The apostle Thomas (doubting Thomas) changed his belief in the resurrected Jesus when Thomas placed his hands on the wounds of Jesus that came from his crucifixion. If Thomas can change his beliefs when circumstances present themselves, then surely I can change mine when I am confronted by the actions of Christ in our lives, of the work of the Holy Spirit, or of learning more about the Creator’s universe.

Atonement or not?

There is another side to the stories around Good Friday and Easter. Did Christ die for our sins? That is, was Jesus’ death required by God as a sacrifice for all of us so that God would not judge us by our sins? Does God need to have his “only begotten son” killed specifically so that the rest of us will not be judged, condemned by God? This is a hugely popular view, opinion, and statement by the Church. (And I oversimplify it here.) I don’t like it. I don’t like a mother who tells her young son that she needs to kill the boy’s dog, or brother, in order to pay for the awful bad thing that the boy did. This is not the action of the loving mother or loving God that I know. Christ’s sacrificial death that redeems us from our sins is the principle of the Atonement. It is very popular. I do not want to accept it.

I really like the loving God who not only overcame death to show us that death does not hold us captive as dead forever, but when he came back to the world that killed him he did not seek revenge.

As I see it, a normal American today would have reacted differently. There are two, to me, “normal” responses to being put to death today and then returning to life in this world.

The biggest, most popular reaction today in the U.S. as I see it would be revenge. Christ would have come back and “gotten even” with those who put him to death. He would have made their lives a living hell. And, I think that if anyone could make a person’s life a living hell, then God could have succeeded at that incredibly well.

The other choice, as I see it, is to go away, leaving Jerusalem, leaving Israel. Perhaps like the “witness protection plan” where one could begin a new life with a new identity, perhaps to show God’s love all over again to a new community, one that this time might listen to him.

Christ remained with those to whom he first worked and lived. He did not enter the witness protection plan, and likewise, we need to work with those with whom we live and worship.

That Christ did not “get even” with revenge for his death shouts loudly to me. It speaks much louder to me, showing me what God is like, than does atonement for my sins. Through the past year I have often come back to “but God did not come back after death with revenge in God’s heart, but with love and compassion.” We could, should, do the same. We do not need to avenge the wrong of the person who upsets us while driving a car, or insults us by calling us names, or saying things to our friends about us that are not true, or by hurting us physically. Getting even isn’t what God-in-Christ did. We don’t have to get even with Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda for the deaths that occurred on 9/11. As some have said, “an eye for an eye leaves us both blind.” The God that I worship and acknowledge does not get even. I try not to, too.

Not Quite What I Was Planning

Sum up one’s life in six words. An article in yesterday morning’s newspaper was about a book that asks the reader to sum up one’s life in six words. The book, Not Quite What I Was Planning, contains more than 800 of the best submissions compiled from a contest in November 2006 at SMITH magazine. (We are not offering this title on our website or in our store at this time.)

My first reaction was, “What a silly idea. It is too minimalistic to try to reduce one’s life to six words.” And cynically, “Yes, let’s just continue to simplify everything and encourage minimal thinking. No wonder the world is in such a …”

Then I thought that it is kind of like the mental game about deciding what few items you would decide to take with you if you were going to a deserted island. “What items would you pack in a small suitcase?” “If there were a two or three books that you were allowed to take with you to a deserted island, what would they be?” These exercises help us to consider what is important in our lives and that is a worthy endeavor.

Such a mental game is okay. Perhaps attempting a six-word description of your life may be okay too.

I wonder what your six-word description would be.

These aren’t epitaphs for the grave marker.

They are an attempt to succinctly state what is important in life.

Here are some that I have come up with:

God is love. I am human.

I am here. Can I help?

More about you. Less about me.

You’re okay. I’m okay. Let’s go!

God is here and that’s sufficient.

Abundant thanks to God from me.

Family, Ministry, Community. Relationships help us.

Who is the equivalent today of a Samaritan?

Yesterday’s Sunday Eucharistic reading in the Revised Common Lectionary included the story of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Who today would be considered like the Samaritans in the time of Jesus?

The Samaritans were certainly faithful and religious. They were also considered by the Jews to be completely wrong and, at least, “gone astray.” Could anything good come out of Samaria? Nothing, according to the Jewish community in which Jesus lived. Yet, in the Gospel reading for yesterday Jesus not only talks with a woman who is Samaritan, a woman with five previous husbands and who is living presently with a man who is not her husband, it is the longest discourse recorded about Jesus in conversation. Does Jesus revile the woman for her sinful ways or for being a Samaritan? No. Not at all. Actually, it is she who is the first to understand that Jesus is the living Messiah. She “gets it” well before Jesus’ disciples “get it.”

Who would be the Samaritans of today? It seems to me that for the majority of the Anglican Communion it would be the Episcopal Church USA. We are accused of falling away from the “true faith,” especially by the larger contingent in the “Southern Cone.” We are the despised ones of the Anglican Communion’s most vocal majority. We are so unworthy that primates of the Southern Cone refuse to break the bread of the Eucharist with our leader and have refused to attend meetings where our Presiding Bishop participates.

The message that I receive from the Gospel lesson about the Samaritan woman at the well who converses with Jesus is that Jesus does not condemn her, but instead continues to talk with her. If Jesus can choose to keep a dialog going with her, then perhaps Jesus will keep a dialog going with us. Perhaps we can evangelize as she did to her community about the identity of the true Messiah.

Welcome to the Wisdom of the World

Sometimes Joan Chittister’s thoughts are just too good. I have to limit my reading of her Welcome to the Wisdom of the World. This morning, waking before I needed to get up, I picked up the book again. It was one of those, “Oh, if I’d read something else I may have been able to fall back to sleep” events. Chapter 23: “What is Happiness?” From a Sufi story is the admonition, “This too, will pass.” (p. 152) The king asks for something that when he is unhappy will make him joyful, and will also, when looked upon when happy, it will make him sad.

So much of my angst, concern, worrying is about things that will pass. And, so much of the joy in life that I want to hold on to forever will also pass.

I will keep the memories. I will look forward to the changes that are coming, whatever they are, for good or bad, helpful or harmful. I will try to keep it all in mind and in the knowledge that all is transitory, except for God’s love.

Through the great happiness’s and great sadness’s I do not want to be immune or to avoid feeling the feelings that come with the events. I want to be aware of my feelings about them while also knowing that the events will not last.

Perhaps I can add to Chittister’s thought. “This too, will pass, and I will try to be aware of my feelings while it is here, then be able to remember it and the feelings later.”

Soul of a dog?

I’ve been working with a person on the topic of body language. It has evolved to considering our space that surrounds us, extending out from us for several inches. You know, it is that space that when a stranger gets too close and makes us feel uncomfortable. That person may have, seems to me like “has,” pressed into the part of me that extends beyond my skin. I’ve been discussing with this friend whether that space around us is part of our soul that dwells in us. Sometimes it seems that our soul extends beyond ourselves, perhaps when we hold another person up in prayer to God.

A couple of days ago we were visited in our store by Ahngus, a Standard Poodle Service Dog. Ahngus was good enough to bring his other half, the woman who needs his Service. What a personality is Ahngus! He exudes a loving presence. Each of us was drawn to Ahngus as we walked about the store.

Why am I drawn to be near to Ahngus? I am not drawn to inanimate objects. What makes that dog special? Could it be? Could it be that Ahngus has a soul? Could it be that Ahngus has a soul something like ours, that extends out beyond his body and that our souls draw comfort when near the soul of Ahngus?

I don’t know.

There are some individuals to whom we are drawn more than others (pregnant women, babies, and some other adults). Is it that their souls extend beyond them in a very positive manner while other individuals’ souls are shrunk inside them?

This may be the usual realm of conversation for deep theologians. Mostly likely I’m far from reality on this topic (and many others!). But, it seems to fit me, and my theology, at this time.

Louis L’Amour stories

This offering is about an author and books, but not about books we offer in our store. It is unusual, but I do sometimes read books that are not on our shelves.

I like Louis L’Amour stories, books, for a few reasons. His writing is so tight, so good, that I find the stories hard to put down. Each paragraph is interesting, and that takes special writing skill. The most recent book of his that I am reading, a used copy, really old—published in 1983, Santa gave it to me this Christmas—is as engrossing for me as his others have been. What I have found interesting in his writing style this time that I had not noticed before are the chapters. In writing, I know that each sentence is a group of words that makes sense on its own. And a paragraph is a collection of sentences dealing with a single topic. In L’Amour’s books each chapter is a little scene, all presented as a nice little unit. A stranger comes in to an encampment is one chapter. The 10 or 12 year old boy meets a special girl at school. A mysterious man enters a shop, asks provocative questions without giving information about himself, and then leaves. One especially troubling night alone in the desert. Each one is a chapter. They fit together to make the story flow into a book.

His stories are mostly about men or boys-becoming-men in the western U.S. in the middle of the 1800s. The characters were, in the loose term, cowboys, but they were much more.

The stories are about men who are especially strong, brave, skilled. They do fight, both with guns and with their fits, at times, but the stories are more about the strong determination to survive and succeed during hardships. The heroic women in the stories are also strong-willed, and much more aware, effective, and skilled than women in those times were considered to be.

The author combines the story line of events, in this book about the growing up life of a young boy into manhood, with the author’s philosophy on life and encouragement to better oneself. The following quotes are not about the story line. They are instead a description of the author’s philosophical message. Perhaps the message will encourage you.

From The Lonesome Gods, by Louis L’Amour, Bantam Books, 1983, paperback.

Page 164

Show them, Johannes! Become somebody! Do something! Make something of yourself!
Listen to the men who come here. Listen well. Education is by no means confined to schools. Listen to such men talk, hear their philosophy, their ideas about the country, about business, trade, shipping, politics. Listen and learn.
Some people only learn by reading, others by doing or seeing, some by hearing. Learn however you can, but learn!
… all of them. They are men who will make this town into a city. They have ideas, but they do not merely have ideas they put the ideas to work.
You can become bigger, stronger, better than you enemies. You can defeat them by outreaching them, by becoming a more important man, but also by becoming a better one.
All life is base on decisions. Decide now on what you’d like to become and what you would like to do. The two are not necessarily the same, although sometimes they can be.

Page 178.

At another time she had said, “Do not be afraid. A little fear can make one cautious. Too much fear can rob you of initiative. Respect fear, but use it for an incentive, do not let it bind you or tie you down.”

Louis L’Amour does not write about church issues or Christian spiritual issues that are my normal reading fare. He does not write about science and religion that I also enjoy. His books are a good escape for me. I can spend hours engrossed in one of his books. They will not change the world but they are good to read and mostly encouraging to me.

The Three Wise Men

I’ve been thinking about last Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Matthew’s pericope about the “wise men” traveling to find baby Jesus. (Matthew 2:1-12) Maybe if I write it down I can then put it aside.

Parts of the story don’t fit an accurate news report of facts. The magi, with no reference at all to them being “three kings” travel, following a “star” to Jerusalem. In opposition to our popular myth, they are not lead directly by the star to the stable where Jesus was lying in a manager. Instead, the story relates that they visit King Herod and ask him where the infant king of the Jews was located. King Herod consults with chief priests and scribes to find out where the tradition said that the Messiah was to be born. They tell the king that it is in Bethlehem.

Then the wise men leave Herod and follow the star, again, to Bethlehem, to the place where Jesus lay. Then it states that they went into the house where Jesus was.

The star gets them to Jerusalem and then they don’t follow the star but stop and ask the king for directions. After the meeting they see the star again and travel on to Bethlehem, now that they know that is where they are to go. And, Jesus is in a house, not in a stable.

Are these true parts of a historical narrative, told by the reporter on the scene? Or, are they part of the metaphor of the story about Jesus’ life and effect on people?

Can I doubt the accuracy of the reporting of the events as historical and still keep my faith in Christ’s birth? How does this portion of Scripture inform my faith in God, in Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One of God?

So far I am comfortable with the wise men story being less than historically accurate while still keeping my faith that Jesus was truly human and truly God, at the same time, in the same “package.”

The story of the wise men give me more to chew on about how to handle the narrative of Scripture and what it tells me about the historical accuracy of some events while it reinforces my faith in God.

Christmas 2007

As a result of the influence of the book I Will To You: Leaving a Legacy for Those You Love, by Herbert Brokering I have been writing more. I’ve been putting down on computer files some of my life events and my feelings associated with them. As part of that I have also been writing a weekly letter to my teenage granddaughter. I figure that most teenagers need all the emotional support that they can get. My granddaughter lives 800 miles away, which makes the letters a necessary alternative to weekly visits. I share part of this week’s offering with you here. Perhaps… well, who knows?

Merry Christmas, V!

I’ve been thinking the past few days on the “true meaning of Christmas.” We hear that term frequently used at this time of year. Perhaps it is used in a sentence like this, “Let’s get back to the true meaning of Christmas,” or “All of this shopping misses the true meaning of Christmas.”

Here is my humble view of the “true meaning of Christmas.”

First let’s begin with what it isn’t. “Christ died to save our souls” is not part of Christmas. You may think that it is part of Easter but that misses the mark, too. This statement can actually be one meaning of Good Friday (three days before Easter). It is not one that fits me and my Bible reading this year, the theology of atonement, but it is certainly a popular theology. Easter’s message is that Christ overcame death and was resurrected to new life and tells us something about death and life.

The Christmas message is about God’s love for us. How much does God love and care for us? God showed us by having Christ, the anointed One of God, come and live among us, truly and fully God while also truly and fully human. Not understandable but accepted in faith.

This anointed One came to live with us in a very specific way. He was born from a real, human mother. Was “God with Us” born and raised by a rich, successful, politically powerful family? No. It was just the opposite. He was born to parents who were not rich or important in the eyes of the world, in a little backwater village in a politically unimportant part of the world.

This tells us that God cares for the poor, the unimportant, and the normal-everyday person who lives in politically unimportant parts of the world.

Did Mary and Joseph and the people of Galilee deserve or earn the right to have Christ, the God among Us, be born, grow up, and walk among those unimportant people from that unimportant part of the world? No. Not at all.

It’s called “grace.” Grace is the unearned, undeserved gift. The gift of Christmas is that God cares, loves, each one of us, not because of what we have done or how important or rich we are, but just the opposite. There is no way that we could earn the right for God to come among us, to love us as we are, but that is what God did in the birth and life of Jesus the Christ.

The birth of Christ, the meaning of Christmas, is the story of how much God loves us in our normal, walk around in old clothes, with our hair a mess, without a shower or deodorant, when we feel unsuccessful or useless. When we feel like a failure. God loves us when we gripe and complain and say hurtful things, and do hurtful acts to others. God came to us in Jesus the Christ to tell us how much we mean to God, how much God loves us as we are.

So, V, how do we respond to God’s grace of unaccountable love for each of us? I think that we try as much as we can to act the same way. We try to love and accept every “other” that we meet with love based not at all upon what they deserve but we love each one just because they “are,” just because that other person exists, even in the smelly body, but worse, with that personality that drives us nuts, that we can’t stand, who assaults all that has meaning in our lives. We love each person because she/he is, no matter what else, a loved child of a loving God.

And, that is a big enough challenge for me to attempt in my life each day.

This reminds me to be generous to each person I meet each day. I may keep my guard up to keep me safe from harm from some individuals while at the same time I love them as a child of God. It is an interesting balancing act but it is well worth it to me as I try to follow God’s lead in loving in grace, not because someone deserves it but just because someone “is.”

Merry loving Christmas, V!


Our hobbies are important. In my view of life and theology, what we do with our spare time matters to our community, as well as to our body-mind-spirit lives.

For the past several years my hobby has been, in my humble opinion, good for the planet, the community I live in, and for my whole self. The project is completed. I’ve been thinking, wondering, poking around, looking for another, or next, hobby.

I have completed the conversion of two little pickup trucks to run on battery power. Electric vehicles. 100% electric EVs. The projects have been fun, very creative, challenging, and rewarding for me. My current (pun-able, but not intended) EV is our daily commuter and is humming along reliably.

What to do next has been a question of mine for the past few months. If I convert another vehicle I may get into the rut of being a converter mechanic. When that happens the fun diminishes as the routine increases. To my mind it then becomes less of a hobby.

My ancestors were railroad workers. I’ve enjoyed trains throughout my life, both full-size working behemoths and model trains. Perhaps as an adult I could begin the challenge of creating my own model train set up in the basement. I have the space for it, most of the tools, some of the skills including enjoying creating simple electrical circuits. This sounds like a promising new hobby-challenge-adventure.

The negative side to it is the answer to my question, “What good does it do for our community, society, or culture?” Having a model railroad display in my basement does not seem to be something that will benefit the community.

I am presently contemplating, chewing on, turning over in my head, whether this possible new hobby fits my view of life, theology, and needs for a hobby. The challenge of simply deciding about this possibility becomes an activity that occupies my mind. The deciding is almost a hobby in and of itself. Or at least, that is how I am envisioning it now.

I do not find a record in Scripture of Jesus’ hobby. It seems that in his time on earth people did not have hobbies. What does that tell me about my contemplating a hobby? That Jesus didn’t have electrical power in his community does not mean that we can not have it in ours. Given our technological age I think that we can use technology to improve our lives and the lives of those around us more so than did the faithful in the first century of the Christian era. Having a hobby is probably okay. But, can, should my hobby feed only me without feeding the community in which I live?

More pondering needed.

Happy New Liturgical Year

The First Sunday in Advent (today) is the beginning of the liturgical church year. Happy New Year!

Today the Gospel lessons we read in church change, as the year changes. Good bye Luke. We’ve listened to you for the past year. Hello Matthew, as we begin the New Church Year.

“Emmanuel” from Hebrew, meaning “God with us.” We sing in Advent the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Through the word Emmanuel we express that God is with us.

God is with us. We are not alone. God Almighty is with us.

God is with us. The Great I Am is. Not “was” but “is” with us. We don’t have to go to a special place, like a church building because God is with us wherever we are.

God is with us. Although God is transcendent, throughout and more than “in” the universe, God is also with us, right here, right now. “With” as in among, and inside us. Before we speak God is listening. God is answering before we are finished asking.

God is with us. Us, you and me and all of us. Right now. Right where we are, God is with us. “Emmanuel” does not mean “God is with just some of us.” “When two or three are gathered, God is there.” In community. God is with us and "us" includes how many? All of us? Every one of us? No strings attached? The inclusive God who does not check for ID cards or membership cards?

Advent is the time of waiting, of preparing for the coming of the Christ who is already with us, within us. It is kind of like the family together getting the house ready for the big celebration (like Christmas). The family is there preparing for the celebration and the family will be there during the celebration. We prepare the house and the food for the celebration with the family. Then we turn the corner, the time arrives, and we begin the party. And, we have been together before, during, and after the celebration. In the same way Christ is with us as we prepare for the coming of the Christ.

Happy New Year!

Halloween Spirits

As part of my support of my 17-year old granddaughter I write letters to her. I try to send one each week. The following is a portion of this week’s offering.

I want to reflect with you on the spirit side of Halloween, or on spirits no matter what day of the year it is.

I have no doubt that there is a spirit world. I have difficulty locating specifically where in the universe the spirit world is located. It seems to be very close, as if in the same room sometimes, but it is clearly not visually here most of the time. In my humble opinion I suspect that the spirit world is located, as best as I can describe it, in a parallel universe that is very close to us and our universe.

Certainly I accept as true from those whom I trust who have experienced such things, that there are souls that are known to us “on the other side of the curtain,” in the other spiritual realm, in the parallel universe if that is what it is.

I am not at all interested in meeting and communicating with a spirit from the “other side.” I know of some who have. Mostly it scares me to contemplate the activity. Christ and the angels began most introductions with “do not be afraid.” Yet, I am uncomfortable imagining the appearance of a spirit in the same room as I am in.

There have been one or two cases of what may very well have been visits from angels in my life. One fellow in particular who stood at a gas station and talked with N and me, invited us to turkey dinner that evening, a few minutes after the engine on our car caught fire when we were on vacation in Oregon. Although we thought that he walked down the road when he left us, less than a minute later there was no sign of him.

My customer/friend Skip relates that a fellow stopped and talked with him while he was at an outside café in Spain. The man told Skip things about Skip that no one else knew. Then he gave Skip instructions to do something specific with his life. Then this person left and Skip has not seen or heard of him since.

Do images of spirits appear in people’s bedrooms at night? I don’t know. Not in mine. N’s mother, a few days before she died, while in a nursing facility, described people that she had seen “on the other side” and was distracted from our presence by looking, peacefully (very unusual for her) at the foot of her bed where neither of us were, as if she was looking at another visitor that we could not see in the room. And my grandmother, shortly before her death, while bed-ridden in a nursing home, told of seeing and talking with her beloved and deceased husband. My friend M, certainly has the ability to “see” things that most of the rest of see. She knows other people’s thoughts. She can tell if an accident victim’s soul has left the body or whether it is worth it to try to resuscitate that person at the scene of an accident as she works with the local fire department.

I trust these events as recognizing something that is real and is also outside our ability to prove.

These things fit well with my view of God, of Christ and the Holy Spirit being always very present, very local. As the young fish said to the older fish, “I’ve been swimming all over looking for the ocean. Where is it?” Meaning that the fish was in the ocean but it was so close, so present, that the young fish could not recognize that he/she was swimming in it, was being buoyed up by it, was swallowing it.

For me, God may very well be out there in interstellar space, but I know that God (ungendered, beyond gender, as much as you are so much more than the little toenail on your littlest toe is part of you as a young woman but by no means all of what it means to be the unique young woman that you are) is closer to me than my next breath. “God, where are you?” is not a question that I need to ask, or have ever asked (as far as I can remember).

There are twin days for me in my yearly calendar, Halloween and the following day, All Saints Day. They both, in my mind and theology, are complimentary days where we are reminded of the souls and spirits of those who have passed on before us. And perhaps also of entities that have not died and risen to new life but that have just simply (?) existed in the spirit world all along. I enjoy celebrating and acknowledging each of the days while at the same time not being interested at all in trying to contact souls or spirits in that other realm. (The Church celebrates two days, All Saints Day and the following day, All Souls Day. I prefer to transfer All Souls Day to Halloween. It fits me and the days better.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Stem Cell Debate

Caution: The following offering is lengthy.

I’ve been reading a book that is changing part of my thoughts about abortion. The Stem Cell Debate, by Ted Peters.

In college I studied early human embryos in some detail. When the egg and sperm meet the new zygote has a unique genome, which is its own individual set of genes that are similar to each parent but not exactly like any other human that has ever been. Since my college days I have considered the zygote to be a new human being.

Certainly the woman/mother has the right to do to her body what she wants. It is her body. But when she is pregnant she is not the only one, she is not the only human body that is directly involved. The woman has a right to decide what happens with her body. I have also always contended that the developing embryo, the new human, has just as much right to make the decision about what happens to its body as does the woman who is carrying it. I have always thought that the woman gets to decide, but after she is pregnant it is too late to make the decision because by then it is a group decision, hers and the new human inside her. “Go ahead, woman, make the decision about whether or not you want to be pregnant, but do it before the new human is living inside you” has been my response.

The book I have been reading concerns the ethical and moral choices that are involved in stem cell research. It is quite technical, using scientific language to describe events and relationships. I haven’t read good, technical, biology books in many years, so it is pleasant to dig in to it again. And, reading this book has resulted in me changing my opinion in some respects about the role and rights of the zygote-embryo-new human.

When the zygote (the new human embryo) is a single cell, yes, it contains a unique genome. When it divides into two, and then four, and then eight cells, each of those cells contain the identical genome, as will every nucleus in that human being when it is an adult. (Yyeee, wellllll, pretty much anyway. As our bodies age, with millions, billions, and trillions of cell divisions, some errors do crop up. No doubt in my body some of the nuclei have splintered chromosomes and some genes have mutated. That, too, is part of life and of aging.)

At the two-, or four-, or eight-cell stage there are times when the cells do not remain glued together. If they separate into two groups of cells, then, if both develop to the maturity of birth, there will be identical twins born, two kids with identical genomes. Rarely, but occasionally, the embryo, before the blastocyst stage (the little ball of cells that is somewhat like a tennis ball with one side pushed way in, making kind of a baseball catcher’s mitt, or a sack) the cells come un-glued and create three, four, or more identical twins.

Ted Peter’s book cites evidence that until the embryo is implanted in the uterine wall, and has developed the primitive streak which will become the backbone, at 12 to 14 days, the embryo retains the ability to separate into more than one individual. After implantation the ability to separate into more than one individual is lost.

If, at conception, when the sperm and egg join, there is then a single human being, what happens when that embryo divides and makes more than one human being? They are not still one individual. (They are a committee, or at least a community!) My thinking is changing –how far it will change I do not yet know—I’m thinking that perhaps the embryo before the primitive streak at 12 to 14 days, may not be an individual human, only a unit that has the ability to become a single human being.

This author describes another aspect of the developing embryo. At our present understanding of embryology the zygote grows to the blastocyst stage (the ball of cells that is folded in and his inner cells and outer cells, which is the very beginning of cell differentiation in the developing embryo), then it stops growing. From this stage in development the blastocyst needs to implant in the uterine wall, then receive hormones from the mother before it will continue to make more cells, to develop, and soon reach the primitive streak stage on its way to becoming a baby.

Another question concerns ensoulment. When does the developing baby develop or receive its soul? (Big and important question.) Certainly to me, once an embryo has a soul it is a valued, human being. When does that occur? If it occurs back when it still can divide and become more than one human being, then both twins, or triplets, or whatever, would have the same soul. I don’t think that will work. So ensoulment must occur sometime after conception.

Certainly to me, once an embryo has a soul, it is as valued as is the woman in whom it is growing. In the days, months, and years ahead I hope to figure out when ensoulment occurs. Knowing that will certainly help me know when a unique new human exists. Knowing that will help me decide about stem cell research as well as my opinions on abortion.

Others have told me, at various times over the years, that the thing growing inside a woman during pregnancy is not a human until it is born. Up until the time of birth, as I understand the thinking of those who have told me this reasoning, a woman can abort the fetus and not cause harm to human life because it is not yet human.

To that argument I have a couple of replies. My aunt was born six weeks prematurely. Does this mean that she was not a human at birth? Did she get to become a human being six weeks before others have? Why do women mourn the loss of a thing, when there is a miscarriage and the fetus dies before birth if it is not a human yet? The description of it not being a human until it is born does seem reasonable to me.

Today I am thinking that the developing life inside a woman becomes a human at the time of ensoulment, when the soul enters the embryo. I don’t know yet when ensoulment occurs. I am leaning toward accepting that ensoulment occurs around the time of implantation in the uterine wall.

If the blastocyst, that occurs prior to implantation, does not have a soul, and can divide and create more than one individual human, then it seems to me that stem cell research can proceed on the cells before implantation.

There are some other concerns. The “harvesting” of egg cells is a difficult procedure. To get eggs out of a woman is pretty tricky, risky, painful, and has other complications. The obtaining of egg cells from a woman is part of stem cell research and needs to be considered carefully so that we do not abuse or take advantage of women, especially poor and desperate women who may accept harvesting of their eggs for poor reasons such as for money, or through intimidation. Another concern is who will be the beneficiaries of stem cell research. Will the benefits be available only to rich white people, yet again taking advantage of those who are not rich and white? Or will the benefits be available equally to everyone? Because there is so much money, huge piles of money, involved in this research, and the early results will be very few, it will be difficult to offer the results in an equal manner.

First day with Blogger

This is my first day with Blogger.
I plan to move some of my posting from our store's website to this location soon, tomorrow (unless we are too busy at the store on Saturday, the last day of our annual Summer Sale).