Monday, December 30, 2013

The Good News

We need to spread the Good News.
Jesus came to tell the world that God loves us all.  In those days, the Jewish people believed they were the chosen ones and that only by following Jewish law could a person find favor with God.
The Good News was and still is that we are all chosen and all Children of God.
Even more important is the rest of the Good News and this is the part that is often lost in the translation of the message.  Jesus told us and showed us how to save the world.  Love God.  Love our neighbor as ourselves.  This is our salvation and the salvation of the world.
For several thousand years, man has been muddying that message;  first in defining God and next with defining which neighbor to love as ourselves.  Piety and righteousness are far removed from the Good News and often Jesus taught that this would not gain favor with God.
We first need to let go of the notion that God has a chosen people - not Jew - not Christian - not Protestant - not Catholic - not Muslim - not Buddhist - not Hindu - not you and not me.  God loves all equally and unconditionally.  Put down your stone.  Quit looking for splinters.
We cannot define God in human terms or in human ways.  We need to bow to that knowledge and simply view "God" as the source of all things and a part of all things.  Be in awe of that!  It is infinitely complex and infinitely simple.
If we can do that first, we begin to see everything around us in a different light.  Nothing and no one is separate from God.  We are all part of the whole.  The glue that holds the whole together is love.  Anything other separates us both from God and from one another.
We may each come to our understanding of "God" in a unique way and by a different name.  Look for the glue (love) and the salvation - one source and that source is bound in love.  This is the truth.  This is the Good News.  This is how the world is saved.  This is our salvation.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Head Boppers

Not long ago I thought about writing the story of a church in some small town where the parishioners decided to make huge foam hammers and bop one another on the head as a reminder of the need to get right with God.  So, every Sunday morning they all carried their big foam hammers into the sanctuary and bopped one another on the head.  No one really remembered how this head bopping practice started but it went on for a while every Sunday and they felt God had inspired and blessed the practice.
One Sunday morning the pastor suggested that they needed to spread the message and bop heads wherever possible.  So, the congregation began taking their huge foam hammers to the streets of the little town and began bopping the heads of anyone who came close.  This became accepted practice in the little community and went on for many years.  Some were not happy about it but the church was powerful in the community and so no one complained.
Then one day someone spoke out against the head bopping practice.  They did not appreciate the significance and though it may have been a harmless huge foam hammer, they felt it was an annoyance.
Before long, the issue was front page of the newspaper.  There were letters to the editor - for and against.  And very soon the issue came before the court with non-head bopping believing citizens seeking to prevent the practice of bopping heads willy nilly throughout the community.
The head bopping parishioners were outraged that anyone was offended.  "You are infringing on our religious freedom," they insisted. They rallied and marched carrying their huge foam hammers saying God would reign terror on the little town for their disobedience.
The people who did not believe in head bopping also rallied and carried huge umbrellas as a symbol of the need to protect their heads from bopping.
After months of testimony, the court ruled that head bopping could not be done to anyone who did not wish to be bopped.  And the ruling was fairly popular in the community - especially with those who didn't believe in head bopping.  But it was not at all popular with those who felt they were called by God to bop people on the head with their big foam hammers.
After the ruling, the head bopping parishioners were very upset. "This has been our practice for many years and must remain so."
"People should be allowed to have an opinion", they said as they realized their head bopping days were no longer accepted as normal and necessary.
So, how should the story end?  Perhaps the huge foam hammers need to stay within the sanctuary of those who share the belief in the significance of head bopping.  The actual reign of terror would then end in the little town.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rational and Reasonable

As many predicted, including dismayed Supreme Court Justice Scalia,  marriage equality is being contested in many states across the nation.  One court after another is beginning to rule in favor of marriage equality.  If you are interested in learning more check out this site:
Cases are currently pending in Alaska, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  Other cases have had initial rulings and are in various stages of legal wrangling.
Why are opponents of Marriage Equality loosing these battles?  Because there is no rational, reasonable argument against marriage equality that can hold up in court.  There is no evidence of social harm or personal harm caused by same sex marriage.  In fact, plaintiffs are proving just the opposite - that there is great personal harm in denying marriage equality.
Long believed myths about gay and lesbian people don't hold water in court.  These myths are believed less and less by society at large.  As these myths unravel, all institutions clinging to the myths will be pressured to begin making rational, reasonable decisions.  It's been interesting to watch as the myths are less believed, those desperate to fight marriage equality are beginning to tell more exaggerated stories in an effort to be convincing.  Instead, they are destroying their own credibility.
Over the next decade I expect to see churches carefully examining the full context of the scriptures they have held as evidence to deny acceptance of marriage equality.  Anyone who has actually read the Bible knows it cannot be followed literally.  It has to be viewed in a larger context.  As a result, churches will examine themselves in a full context as well - seeking understanding of their most important purpose and mission.  The change will be incremental and gradual but it will come in most mainstream Christian churches.
Of course, sadly, there will remain a minority group that will continue to attempt to spread a Ugandan style of "kill the gays" rhetoric or Russian "don't speak of gay" policing.  That is the fruit of intolerance and lack of equality.  On this issue, the choice is clear and there is no place in the middle.  The days of accepting oppression are over.  It can't be covered in a pretty package called religious freedom.  Religious freedom does not oppress.  If you believe oppression is an important part of your religious practice, you don't believe in religious freedom.  That argument might work to rally like minded people behind anti-gay rhetoric but it isn't an argument that will work in court.
You have the right to speak about and practice your religious beliefs for yourself.  Likewise, people have the right to speak out against what you say.  You do not have the right to legislate your religious beliefs simply because you decided that's how God wants it.  If that is really how God wants it, there will be a rational and reasonable explanation that will hold up in any objective court.  God's rather perfect that way.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Moral Compass?

Recent headlines continue to highlight the religious institutional struggle with accepting marriage equality.  The Methodist church has threatened to strip a pastor of his ordination because he performed the same sex marriage ceremony for his son.  A Catholic school has fired a teacher because he will soon marry his same sex partner.
Their explanation for these actions is that homosexuality is not in line with church teachings.  Those who believe they must take this moral line insist it's because of scripture.  But it is not about scripture.  There are 3 to 4 times the number of scriptures denouncing divorce.  Romans 7: 2-3, Matthew 5: 31-32,  Mark 10: 2-12,  Luke 16: 18, I Corinthians 7: 10-15, I Corinthians 7: 39 are just a few.
My point in listing these is not to criticize divorce.  Whom you decide to share your life with is a personal decision and you have the right to choose.  Both the Methodist and the Catholic churches appear to have accepted that and do not lament about divorce.  In both these churches you can marry, divorce, re-marry and hold leadership positions.  What the scriptures say have nothing to do with it.
One argument I've heard is that divorce is a one time mistake and is not a recurring sin.  However, that argument is not scriptural.  Read the scriptures listed above.
Churches attempt to be a moral compass assuming a leadership role in determining what is culturally acceptable and what is not.  That is not all bad and every culture needs a moral compass.   That moral compass needs to be firmly based in teachings of love and compassion.  Telling people they cannot love whom they love - whether an issue of divorce or an issue of same sex relationship - is NOT based in a teaching of love and compassion. 
Yes, you can argue God is to be obeyed and quote scripture after scripture.  And the next person can quote scripture that YOU are not following.  The Law and obedience path is an endless cycle of failure.  And that was the whole point of Jesus' message.  Law is not the path to God.  It is impossible to lead a life that follows scripture literally.  If churches are going to survive, they need to get over that way of thinking.
I do believe the truth is in the teachings of Jesus.  You are most likely to see those truths if you also look for the same threads in the spiritual teachings of other beliefs.  If we could all land together and focus on those common truths, we would stop fighting over issues that divide us and cause one another harm.
Marriage equality is just one of those issues.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A speck

How do you rank yourself?
Around some people - reading their words - hearing their words - I want to ask.  How do you rank yourself?
I'd be most interested to hear the answer from those who seem most certain that they have life's answers.  I'm most curious about those who "know" so much and are quick to point out how others are not measuring up.
Recently one of those people lamented about a criticism they had faced.  It had clearly shaken him and I mused.  How often I have seen him dish out searing criticism and when he faced it, he was distressed and somewhat dismissive about it.  I believe he ranked himself quite above that.  But he was having trouble processing it because it came from someone he respected.  He could not easily dismiss this person.
There are some people who simply rank themselves above most everyone else.  Having a positive relationship with them is totally dependent upon your accepting that ranking.  If they sense that you do not, they will dismiss you.  If they cannot easily dismiss you, they will seek damage.
I believe that people who rank themselves in such a way and are so protective of their position on the mountaintop, are driven by a deep seeded fear.  There is a lot of Wizard of Oz behavior going on.  Pay no attention to what's behind the curtain and simply listen to the booming voice.
We've all got a little curtain thing going on.
Humility, civility and empathy are things we should be ranking in ourselves.  We can get far too caught up in our own self importance.  Reality is that we are each just a speck of sand.  At best we can create a ripple of good that goes out and carries on.  That's not going to happen if we are focused on self importance.  That's just a ripple inward that satisfies you for a speck of a moment and goes nowhere.
So ripple in or ripple out?  If you are most important - ripple in and make yourself quite happy - for a speck of time.  OR ripple out and watch a multitude of ripples continue.  Rank that.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Civil Disobedience

One of the most powerful tools to push social change is civil disobedience - a non-violent refusal to accept a law in the face of injustice.  In Montgomery County PA, D. Bruce Hanes defied Pennsylvania law and began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  Rev. Frank Schaefer defied Methodist church law and officiated at his son's same sex wedding.  Both believed they were defying unjust laws and acting on greater authority.
Hanes believed he was acting on authority of the Supreme Court and his oath to preserve the constitution. Rev. Schaefer believed he was acting on the authority of Jesus Christ.  Both knew they were headed for a direct conflict with those who feel they must protect laws preventing same sex marriage.  They chose civil disobedience.
As we watch their stories play out in the court systems - secular and religious - we are seeing history in the making.  This is a new twist.  No matter the outcome in their particular cases, more civil disobedience will follow.  What is appealing about these two cases is that they acted as though the unjust law did not exist.  They simply did what they believed was the right thing to do.  Of course they knew there were laws that would be applied to their actions and were supposed to prevent them from doing what they did.  They did it anyway.
To the best of my knowledge neither is personally gay.  They stood and they acted on behalf of others.  This takes great courage, conviction and heart.  No one would have thought less of them if they said their position prevented them from taking this stance or acting in this way.  They personally had nothing to gain and much to loose.
These are interesting and amazing times.  It's encouraging to see examples of such courage.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Once Upon a time, I had a new boss....

Just over a decade ago, I had a new boss.  Our company was undergoing enormous change and we were all under great pressure.  As tough as it is to have a new boss, it's even more difficult when you know your very job is also on the line.
We had a huge opportunity to demonstrate excellence for the company.  My new boss was certainly looking for a chance to shine in his new position.  He offered me a challenge and listened to how I would meet that challenge.  We launched the plan.  If we failed, we would fail in front of nearly 300 people including those who decided the fate of our jobs.  We rehearsed endlessly, staying up late rehearsing the night before the event.  I swear I pushed a single button 1000 times before he called it a night.
The next day, the event went off without a hitch and everyone involved in the preparations was called into a room with the top brass to assess the event's success.  They offered applause to my new boss and he literally stepped aside and pointed to my team.  In my career, I had never had a boss who did not take the limelight for himself.  In that moment, my whole perspective of the relationship between a manager and his or her subordinates was transformed.  This man was a builder of something bigger and longer lasting than one moment in the limelight.  And for more than a decade, we worked on bigger and better things for our company - together.
I never dreaded seeing him or getting a call - any time of the day or night or on a weekend.  I knew - I trusted - that if he called, it was important and it was always for the good of the company as he believed when he called.  I did not worry about ulterior motives or poor judgement or poor timing or any other concern.  Always I trusted that we had a job to do and would work together to that end.  I  trusted that he would hear my concerns, value my perspective and let me use my skills to best serve the company.
I am thankful for having that experience.  I am hopeful that I will have that experience again in my career.  I am determined to offer those who work for me, that same experience.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Advice from Molly Mutt Paws and Timid Tobey

Molly Mutt Paws and Timid Tobey Sheltie have a lot of good advice about dealing with relationships and I realize I should pay more attention to what they know.   Well, a few I may need to discuss with them further.

Molly says:
1)  Always be excited to see your human even if they were only gone 5 minutes.
2)  It's ok to ask for things but don't get too disappointed if the answer is no.
3)  Don't leave messes.
4)  If you do leave a mess, blame Tobey.
5) If you really, really want something your human doesn't want you to have, take it and apologize later.
6)  Practice a really sad and sorry look.  It's very effective on humans.
7)  Be willing to go anywhere, any time.
8)  Have a dedicated pouting area.
9)  Be persistent if your human is ignoring you.
10)  Don't worry about yesterday.

Tobey says:
1)  If you don't want to do something, act clueless.
2)  Even if you're scared, try really, really hard to get closer to nice people.
3)  Pick someone you trust (Like Molly) and try to do whatever she does.
4)  Be playful as much as possible.
5)  Have a safe spot where you can hide or kick back and spread out.
6)  Look at things through a veil sometimes.  It's very interesting.
7)  If you don't want to get close to people, at least talk to them.
8)  If your human won't pet you, get under their hand and move around.  Pretty soon they get it.
9)  Let Molly win but let her know you could win if you wanted.
10)  What's yesterday?

Saturday, October 26, 2013


As a nation, we need to get exited about science and exploration.  When President Kennedy inspired the nation, telling us we would go to the moon, setting that goal did much more than create a space program. It inspired our nation to dream big.  That shared national dream changed our culture.  It created a national pride that wasn't focused on war, or religious battles, or party affiliation.  We would be the first to go to the moon and back.
School curricula developed around the space program. An entire industry that might otherwise have been focused on war, turned to supporting the space program.  We watched as a nation and felt we were all part of each success.  The entire world watched as we actually landed on the moon.  In stature - in our minds and around the world - we grew in measures far greater than the cost of the space program.
I was fascinated by the space program.  While I never wanted to be an astronaut, I believe it inspired me to want to explore the world around me and to ponder those much larger questions.  I'm quite happy when I am imagining and considering larger dreams.  There is more out there - something bigger - and if we search for it, it will change how we see the world.  It's an unending exploration.
I wonder about the impact of the dream to go to the moon. In the 60's and through the 70's, there seems to have been an explosion of free thinkers.  If we could go the moon, why couldn't we overcome segregation?  If we could go to the moon, why couldn't we overcome poverty?  If we could go to the moon, why couldn't we overcome women's equality issues?
People began to act on their bigger dreams.
By the 90's, the nation grew weary of all those dreams.  We no longer watched every space mission together as a nation.  We acted as though segregation, poverty and women's equality issues were old news and no longer important concerns.  We don't dream together about solving greater problems and have no shared mission on which we can agree.
Our national culture has changed dramatically to one that is largely driven by protecting the status quo and even rolling back any progress made in terms of race, poverty and women's equality.  Our motto has become "All for one - and that one is me."
Until we can again get exited about exploring, this trend will continue.  The issues we face need to be examined as a scientist would examine them - fact based and free of emotion.  We need to have a shared vision and end goal.  We need to dream and we need to explore.  We need courage.
Imagine what would happen if President Kennedy was telling our nation today that we would go to the moon and back.  A corner of our mass media machine would immediately attack the idea and constantly talk about how crazy, wasteful and impossible it would be.  Then a large block of Congress would do all in its power to shut it down.  More than likely, the vision would go nowhere.
That's our culture today.  We are a nation going nowhere.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Hard Heart

If you listen to or read about near death experiences, there is a universal message within.  They talk about a light and a feeling of pure, unconditional love.  They know they experienced the presence of God.
I know of none who said God yelled at them and then sent them back to fix anyone on earth.  Rather, they came back with a new understanding of what love is really about and a deep sense of peace.  Their hearts are open and kind.  Their soul has been touched, experienced the presence of God and they are forever changed.
As we walk our own spiritual path, we need to be mindful of our heart and soul.  There are many who skew religious teachings in a manner that requires developing a hard heart to follow.  Their inspiration is not coming from God.  They have created God in their own image to justify their hard heart.
We see it in how they behave and in the results of what they do.  They create fear, division and destruction.  We see it in the halls of Congress.  We hear it on "Christian" radio.  It's preached from some pulpits.   Fear - division - destruction - punishment - a calling for a hard heart.
We generally don't realize our hearts are being hardened.  It's a long slow process. 
The first step is the belief that you are specially chosen or you have chosen to be specially endowed by God.
Next is to develop the belief that you are obligated and privileged to lead others to follow the same direction.
Once these two steps are well established, you become part of a protected class.  Now it's easy to be convinced that most anything is permitted if the name of God is stamped on it.  There's often a euphoria attached to it.  Winning battles in the name of God. 
There's a constant need to whip up the frenzy and keep the focus on "God's work".  If voices of opposition and reason say you are going too far, stay away from the actual issue and focus on how they are impinging on your religious freedom.  Become a victim and hang onto it with all your might.
Your heart is now hardened.
You have lost sight of God.
It's time to seek the light.  First, realize that God is a part of everything and everyone.  Everyone and everything is special to God.  (Boy, that's a rough one for me sometimes.)  We need to walk humbly in recognition of the "awe" of God which is all encompassing, unconditional love.  Don't be a conduit of fear, division, destruction and punishment.  Battle for understanding.
Walk away from the hard heart.  Protect yours from becoming hard.

Monday, September 23, 2013

There but for the Grace of God...

The first 15 years or so of my adult life were pretty much dependent on programs I'm hearing called government handouts.  My first few years of college were at a State University.  My tuition was paid through state grants and I earned money with work study programs.  After serving in the Air Force, I went back to college using the Montgomery bill where the government matched with $2 every dollar I had paid in.  I went back to a State University and was again eligible for state grants and work study.
My first jobs were funded under Human Service Development grants and Job Training grants.  Along the way I had much help and support from family and sometimes needed food stamps to eat.  Years I went without health insurance and by the grace of God did not need it.
I didn't get the dream job right out of college.  I struggled and clawed my way and sometimes made bad decisions.  By luck, I got the job I have now with good benefits and decent pay.  Many of the people I graduated with and many whom I taught (under the Job Training program) have not been so lucky.
I'm not smug enough to think others did not have my same experience because I was smarter or worked harder.  And I'm not foolish enough to think that what is happening to other professional people in their mid 50's will not happen to me.  I'll be very lucky to retire from the job I now have.
I wonder if I loose my job through no fault of my own and I cannot afford health insurance as I may struggle to find another job, will I be called a slouch - a taker - an under achiever?
For about a decade of my early career, by today's conservative standards, that is what I would be called.  I probably wouldn't even have a job because the programs that employed me then have been slashed.  And if I wanted an education, I would need to take on student loans that would follow me for years.  The same years I was lucky to find jobs paying little more than minimum wage.
I just don't understand the whole "self made" mentality.  And I don't think it's because I've been a big taker all my life.  Maybe I'm just more aware of life's roadblocks and how difficult they can be to overcome.  I tend to think, "there but for the grace of God", instead of "Oh God, there's another one."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Truth can be a sword

Truth alone is not the only factor in determining if we should say something or not.  How we say it and the spirit in which we say it are just as important.
Here's an example:  a guy sees his sister and says "You look terrible in that dress".  His wife pokes him in the ribs and he says bewildered, "What? It's the truth".  The wife may totally agree that his sister looks terrible in that dress but that is not why she poked him. She poked him because he was blunt and didn't consider his sister's feelings.  Obviously, his sister saw something else in the mirror.
We get ourselves in trouble a lot that way.  Truth can cut like a sword and most often there are ways to say things - truth - that doesn't need to cut.  Sometimes we might be better to say nothing at all.
In the case above, can you picture the sister reacting with "my brother hates me"?  How did she jump from his opinion about the dress to hating her.  Two reasons:  She did not see his statement as true and he was blunt - critical.
I've done it and probably most of you reading can think of similar situations.  We say something that may be quite true but it's said far too bluntly.  The other person does not see that same truth when they look in the mirror.  Then they believe you hate them, especially if they are very sensitive about what you said.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are saying "What?  It's the truth." - it's not the truth that got you in trouble.  It's that you are seeing something different than they see when they look in the mirror.  You said it too bluntly or should not have said it at all.  Once the person's feelings are hurt, it's very hard to walk back what you said.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Pope of Hope

I am inspired and full of hope with the words of Pope Francis.  The world has a new spiritual leader that sounds a lot like Jesus.  He talks about love, compassion, and non-judgemental behavior.
"You are not Catholic, why do you care?"  you might ask.
I am Unitarian and believe in the human race as one.  If some are struggling, it affects us all.   I see great importance in all spiritual leaders.  They can lift the world up if they deliver a message that leads to behavior based in true compassion and understanding.
There are hints of this message in what Pope Francis says.  I can learn something from this man.  And larger than that, millions around the world will be listening to this man.  I don't expect him to change the entire way that followers interpret the Bible and don't believe that is what he feels called to do.  But he is calling the church to behave differently and get focused on the core vision, mission and values of the church.  He is calling the spirit of the church into action as compassionate followers and asking us all to recognize that we don't own God.  God is part of us all.
Many may feel compelled to dial back what he is saying - to try to hang on to the more exclusive and divisive views of the past.  That's understandable.  Pope Francis' message is nearly as radical as Jesus, the Rabbi's, message was to the Jews.  Jesus told the Jews that God loved the Gentile too.  Jesus told the Jews that laws would not save them.  I hope the world is better prepared this time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Rest of the Story...

Why do I always question and keep searching for the "rest of the story"?
Why don't I just believe and be settled in it as many can be?
When I was a child, I did.  I loved Sunday school and church.  I loved following my mommy as she lived the Christian teachings I heard sitting beside her on the pew.  I may have written about this before, but I am reminded tonight of the moment everything I believed to be true was challenged.   And I realize that moment has caused me to continually question and seek deeper meaning.  I am always driven to ask what the rest of the story might be.  I always wonder if the words really mean what they seem to mean because once I believed with total conviction that they did.  But they did not.
At 8 I learned there is something more to the story than the words reveal.  I learned that there are things we cannot understand in this lifetime.  At 8 I learned that you can believe something with total conviction because that is what you have been told.  But believing it does not make it true and no source on earth makes it so.  Even calling on God in exactly the manner you have been taught, will not make it so.  Someone missed the rest of the story.  I didn't stop looking and listening at 8.  I kept at it, Sunday after Sunday.  Church camps, working at church camp, youth ministries, Newman Center and on and on.  And so far, no one on earth has provided the answer for me.
I don't question God.  I question man's understanding of God.  I've grown to enjoy the journey and the search for greater understanding.  I also understand I am human.  Once I am beyond being human, I fully expect to hear the real "rest of the story".  Oh my, will I be full of questions.  Then I imagine being full of answers in an instant.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reaching the Other Side

It's not only language that limits our ability to communicate, but also images we hold in our mind.
Not long ago I was talking with a friend about a book and she said something about the main character that led me to say, "but she was black."  My friend said, "no, she was blond with blue eyes."
So, I went back to the book and sure enough in the early pages there was a description of a blond, blue eyed woman.
I tried to understand why I had pictured the character so different in appearance.  The character was a veteran, worked in law enforcement, lived at the beach....  Why did I not visualize this character close to how the author had described her?  It took me a few days to figure it out.  I once knew a black woman by that name.  To this day when I think of that book, I still picture the main character as a black woman - even though I now know that's not what the author wrote.
I've been in classes where we had to try to describe what we were seeing so that someone else - not seeing it - could draw it.  The results are interesting and it can be a very frustrating experience for both participants.  What would happen if the communicator's instructions were recorded and three very different people were the ones trying to draw the image?
Really understanding one another can be very difficult.  We don't always understand where the break down happens.  If one party hits the communication stop button, all hope of understanding is gone.
We get an image in our our mind that we just cannot get past.  It becomes debilitating.
Recall the last big argument you had with your spouse or someone in your family.  You said or did something - they said or did something - maybe word bombs started flying and probably at some point someone hit the communication stop button.  
Stepping back can be good if we are sorting things out.  But sometimes what happens is that we build a wall.  If communication stops here, the spouse becomes an ex and the family relationship is estranged.
Breaking through that wall is difficult, the larger it's built.  Usually the wall gets a label - something that sounds impossible to overcome.  Reality is that there are few issues that cannot be overcome with a lot of love, understanding and communication.  Recall the last argument with your spouse or family member that you actually worked through.  Didn't it feel great when you reached the other side!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


There are so many things I keep thinking about as I process all that I read in the book "Religion Gone Astray."  First, the title is appealing to someone like me who is distrustful of religious institutions.  Sadly, that may mean the important messages conveyed won't be considered by those who are quite certain there is nothing at all wrong with their religious institutions.  In fact, the title alone will likely cause them to dismiss the book entirely.
It should be noted that after a decade long journey together none of the three - the pastor, the rabbi or the imam - converted to another religion.  Their journey together was not about conversion.  It was about finding common ground and shared spiritual values.  To do that, they had to take an honest look at the historical context of their religion, the historical context of their own views, and seek the central important values of what they believed.  They had to examine their own misconceptions.  They had to examine the shortcomings of their own religious group.  Then they could begin to understand the perspectives of others.
This is very deep, tough work.  We are good at pointing out the shortcomings of another persons belief system but not so good at seeing the frailties of our own.  Beyond that, are we able to look at a foreign belief structure and find our common ground - appreciate the good that is there for us to see?
We cannot grow if we don't see where we may fall short.  We cannot aspire to more if we are not open to see something different.
I am thankful for this book and the challenge it has presented.  If you believe your religious belief is beyond question, I challenge you to read this book.  If you are right, the short pages of this book will mean nothing to you.  It's not about converting you so you need not fear.  If you are truly a person filled with the desire to learn to love better, read this book.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Find 10 things - Gratitude!

Not too many years ago I determined that I needed to wake up each morning thankful for 10 things and go to sleep each night thankful for 10 more.  At that time my life was shrouded in a cloud far from the life I wanted to be leading.  I wanted to see the light.  I wanted to walk in the light.  I wanted to be the light.
I wasn't inspired by one single source of information but rather a collective of information from various sources and memories of other dark times.  Always it has been gratitude - focusing on what was meaningful and positive - that has taken me to a better place.
At first it was very challenging.   I was counting toes and fingers and eyes and any other simple thing I would find to be thankful about.  But that was good.  I go back to those from time to time with a greater appreciation of awareness of how very much we take for granted.  Thinking of my Dad and dialysis, I am thankful for healthy kidneys.  Thinking of others I am thankful for a fairly healthy memory.  And as my thankfulness has grown I see things anew.  Outside of my designated thankful moments, I say 'Wow, look at those stars!"  I thank the people around me more.  I am even more thankful for those who challenge or provoke me.  Everything has become an opportunity for thankfulness.
I don't always remember to do this but hang onto it more closely than I ever have in my life.  And the more I practice it, the better life becomes.
Some say that life cannot be all "warm and fuzzy".  That is true.  But we are each in full control of what we do with each moment.  We are in awe of those who face great odds and find a way to overcome them.  I believe it is centered in gratitude.  If we can find a way to be thankful beyond all, we can conquer all.
Everyone has a story to tell.  Be thankful to hear it.  Everyone does something better than you.  Be thankful for the chance to learn it.  Every challenge we face has opportunity for growth.  Be thankful to discover it.  When you face a challenge - count those 10 before you make any rash decisions.
An attitude of gratitude will take you far.  Then count 10 more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Need for Community

The human species needs a sense of community.  Tribes, clans, nations all reflect that need for a collective sense of wellness.  We join churches and join clubs in need of being around people with similar beliefs and interests.  Within these communities we chart history, mark milestones, and develop traditions.
Studies have shown that these community relationships are as important as our family and close personal relationships.  The stronger and larger community ties make us healthier and happier.
Short of death and physical torture, the most severe punishments involve solitary confinement, excommunication, shunning, shipping off to a penal colony.
If you wonder why GLBT people want to live openly authentic lives, this is why - Community.
At one time I did not support the notion of gay marriage.  I thought it foolish to want to mimic an institution that has not be so successful in recent years.  But now I believe we need a return to what marriage is supposed to be and it does not matter if it is same sex or not.  The ritual of marriage should not just be something private between two people.  It is an important community foundation.
Finding a life partner is a really important thing.  Our friends and family should be part of that process.  When they are not, we don't have as broad a view as when they are part of the process.
Think of friends or relatives who were dating someone who was totally wrong for them.  If they married that person, what happened?  Think of others that you felt were totally right for one another.  Did they separate later?  Were family and friends involved in their lives?  Did they trust their friends and family to be involved?
I am sure everyone would agree that we all want a life companion.  That is the most important commitment of marriage.  Just as important is community and the community's commitment to support and encourage that marriage.  I'm a better person when I have friends and family near encouraging me to tackle a problem a different way or to choose my battles more carefully.
Many people believed that shunning GLBT people - making them outcasts - would serve as a deterrent.  Most people now understand that becoming un-gay is not going to happen.  The next step has been - ok, you're gay, so do you have to make a big deal out of it? 
Look at it from the need for community and you may understand.  It is a big deal.  To build a stronger society, we all need a sense of community and acceptance.  That's what GLBT people are fighting for - a sense of community and full acceptance.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The God of Institutions

For thousands of years man has justified violence and atrocities against fellow man in the name of God.  The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the forced conversion of native Americans with the motto "kill the savage.  save the man" are prime examples.  Even Hitler used the name of God as justification for creating a "pure" race as he sought to not only eliminate Jews but also disabled persons, homosexuals and just about anyone that did not fit as Arian. 
In order to carry out these atrocities, all involved had to harden their hearts.  Sadly, history tells us that it is not too difficult to harden the hearts of humans by repeating the same rhetoric over and over again.  If we can be convinced of some greater good, usually through fear, we will  overlook the horrible outcomes of following the line of rhetoric.  The fear usually revolves around "the others" posing some threat against us.  The fear is then often followed with a self righteous dose of doing whatever is done for the good of the person targeted.  "Kill the savage.  Save the man."
In reality, it's all about power and control.  Many go along with the actions simply for self preservation and nearly always the goal is institutional preservation.  The tribal instinct sets in and an institutional allegiance prevails.  There is no greater source of institutional allegiance than convincing the masses, the institution has direct authority from God.  Once that allegiance is secured, the masses no longer seek reason.  They harden their hearts to anything that is not in line with the institution they love.  They will also believe even the most irrational rhetoric without questioning its authenticity.
At some point the institutional rhetoric grows so irrational that external and internal forces begin to push back.  This is when the true spirt of 
God begins to speak to the masses.  If you struggle to know which is correct - listen carefully.  Look for heart.  Look for love.  Listen and watch for compassion.  A true prophet has no need for lies.  All that he or she says will be true.  The fruits of their labor will not be destruction.
Watching the remembrances of the civil rights marches a half century ago, I was reminded that the violence against peaceful protests convinced a nation that the institutional position was wrong.  The tireless efforts of thousands of freedom workers, began to speak to the spirit of the masses and changed the course of this nation.  We began to realize that justification for inequality was based on lies.
We need to constantly question and challenge the positions of our institutions. Just as we need to constantly question and challenge ourselves spiritually, we need to grow the spirit of human kind.  Our institutions reflect a collective understanding of the world.    If we do not challenge ourselves, we stagnate.  Our institutions will not grow if we do not work to grow our collective understanding.  That requires an open heart and an open mind.
Educate yourself.  Listen for lies wherever they may be derived.  Protect your heart from hardening.  
While I have great hope and a deep belief that universal truth will prevail, I'm disheartened most by political and religious leaders who spout lies to support their positions.  I'm disheartened because I know that masses of people are too easily deceived and too easily willing to follow without question.  The evidence is that these people have been elevated to positions of power and control.
Evangelist Pat Robertson, beloved by many, recently told a whopper story about HIV positive gay men supposedly wearing secret rings intended to mix blood with unsuspecting people that shake their hands.  To their credit, the Christian Broadcasting Network vetted the information and removed his comments from the posted broadcast but he and others are likely repeating this madness as evidence of the dangers of homosexuals.
A Catholic Bishop recently stated that children of homosexual couples are more prone to suicide.  Again, no basis in fact.
A Republican politician recently stated that rape kits clean a woman out so there is no risk of pregnancy.  Totally false.
When the argument turns to lies as justification of inequality, I know which side of the argument I need to be standing.  This is a sign that groups are cloistering and feeding on themselves to pursue their goal.  Our spirits do not grow in that kind of environment.  Universal truth is Universal.  If it is void of truth - void of love - void of compassion - void of understanding - the source is not God.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Something greater

There are so many ways we separate ourselves from one another.  We have a tribal instinct that carries from the stone age.  Perhaps that is the true core of "sin" - the need for segregation and separation.  Segregation and separation is the antithesis of God - the Great Spirit - the universal "I AM".   No matter how hard we try, we are not separate and cannot live harmoniously in segregation.
The very air we breath each day has been shared with millions of humans, plants and animals for millions of years.  Every action we take, every word we speak, every thought or prayer creates something that will carry just as a feather is carried in the wind. 
As much as you may hang onto the pain of a transgression, the next person may as well.  And so it grows.  The tribal instinct will drive the calling.  Gather in those who are likewise minded in hanging on to cause for separation and segregation.  This is the source of wars of nations.  It begins in a tiny spark and grows into a raging fire.
If we want to change the course of the world, it has to begin with our own actions, our own words, our own thoughts and prayers.  We truly need to become the change we want to see.  We have to do unto others what we would have others do unto us.
It's much harder to put out a forest fire than it is to put out a candle.  But the forest fire started with one spark - a tiny flame.  Be the spark that lights a fire to warm and not destroy.  Use your hands to heal not strike.  Use your words to sooth not stain.  Use your thoughts and prayers to gain understanding not grow pain.
We are all part of something greater and we are all called to something greater.  The more we seek to be one with that greater force and see that we are one, in that need to connect with that greater force, the more we will find harmony and peace.  Focusing on anything other is "sin".

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The last shall be first

Jesus used stories about everyday life to convey deep messages.  It's important to explore and understand the context of the message.  What is so amazing is that they cross space and time and cultures.  And we can read them at one time in our life and see one message or perhaps not understand at all, but after we have a greater context, we see new meaning.
Recently I was reminded of the parable of the field workers at harvest time.  A landowner passed a group of men standing, presumably in the normal place that field workers waited to be hired.  With much work waiting to be done, they were still standing in the middle of the day.  Toward the end of the day, the landowner saw them again and decided to ask why they were not working.  "No one would hire us," they replied.  He sent them to his fields to work the remainder of the day.
At the end of the day, the landowner directed that these last workers be paid first.  The workers who were there all day, were paid last.  All were paid the same wage.  The workers who had been there all day were outraged.  The landowner chastised them.
As the moral of the story, Jesus said that in heaven the first would be last and the last would be first.
Through the years I have heard many interpretations of this story.  Most common is that our works gain us nothing in God's eyes.  But if you study the whole of Jesus' teachings, this cannot be correct.  We reap what we sow.  We are our brother's keeper.  Heal the sick and feed the poor.
We need to consider the whole of Jesus' teachings and all that we have learned about the human condition.  If it was harvest time, with much work to do, why would any worker be left behind?
The field bosses go to where 20 or 30 hopeful workers gather each morning hoping to be chosen to work the harvest for a day, a week or maybe more.  Recall the playground kickball team selection.  The biggest, fastest and strongest are chosen first.  The boss might look at the guy with a crooked nose and believe he is a fighter so he may cause trouble.  The littlest guy is always picked last.  The guy with holes in his shoes is dismissed as not able to travel the rough terrain.  Boss after boss passed them by.  They were not chosen.
Still they waited.  They waited as the mid day sun beat down on them.  And with each passing hour, there was less hope of being hired.  Still they waited through the heat of the day.  They stood waiting.  Many bosses must have passed them more than once but finally this ONE, asked "Why are you not working?"  And when he heard their answer, he understood.
The little guy is never chosen first.  The guy with holes in his shoes knows how to make the best of all that he has.  The guy with the crooked nose is not a fighter.  His daddy broke his nose in a stupid drunken rage.  The landowner saw something that none of the bosses before him saw and he himself had missed earlier in the day.
The landowner righted the wrong done to these men.  They would have worked all day for him, had they been given the chance. 
They were rewarded for their diligence.  They were rewarded for their heart and for having faith - beyond reason - that they would be hired.  They remained ready to serve long after most were already chosen and most would give up hope of being hired.
And what of the workers who were angry?  We should all applaud the righting of wrong.  They thought they were above the others.  The first shall be last.  The last shall be first.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Our connected world

There's supposedly only 6 degrees of separation between you and anyone else in the world.  That's an amazing thought.  So you know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who knows Nelson Mandella or Queen Elizabeth or the King of Jordon.  And it's quite likely you have a much closer connection to a large percentage of people in the world.  But six degrees is supposed to be all it takes to make the connection.
So, it is quite possible that a story you tell, if compelling enough will reach the ear of someone you could hardly imagine.  Unless it's really compelling, it probably won't reach the Queen but....
In small towns we joke a lot, and sometimes complain, that everyone knows everyone.  And many here in Venango County, like me, have a whole lot of relatives and old friends.  The connections are important to keep in mind.  You can never go wrong if you are kind in what you say.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Divine Providence Prevails Always

I believe the most important part of living a spirit filled or spiritual life is applying your beliefs to every aspect of your life.  Talking the talk is not the same as living a spirit filled life.  We have to walk the walk.
My goal is that wherever you may see me - at a sporting event, singing, at work or tinkering in the basement - I am consistent in my behavior and actions.
I'm constantly striving to ensure my actions in any situation are consistent with my core beliefs.  The standard is simply the Golden Rule.  It's not easy, especially in difficult situations.  There are times when it is very hard to put ourselves in the other person's shoes - especially if they are doing things and saying things we would not.
While some are energized by conflict, my inclination is to try to resolve it as quickly as possible.  I'd much rather walk away from a fight than escalate it.  Especially when it's obvious the other person has no interest in resolution.  I've lived long enough to know that the door to resolution is not closed.
Divine Providence will take care of it in time.
I don't always get it right but I can measure progress in many ways and I won't stop reaching higher.  The greatest gift family and friends can give me, is to help me understand better how to grow.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Small Miracles

Recently I was reminded of a book I read some years ago called "Small Miracles" - a collection of short stories about miracles that happened in people's lives.  They are great uplifting stories about hope.  I like to read those kinds of stories when I'm traveling or feeling a need to lift my spirit.
In the introduction, the author encourages us to seek small miracles.  They are happening every day in our lives but we need to tune our spirit to recognize them and we need to learn that we can attract miracles to our lives by learning to believe.
As an experiment she encourages us to choose something small and simple as our miracle.  It has to be something we can truly believe will happen with no doubt associated with our thought of it.  She said hers was to believe that she would see pennies wherever she went.  She made that her miracle belief - stated it - and didn't give it another thought.  UNTIL - She started seeing pennies everywhere she went.
So I thought about it and decided that pennies were too common.  I would see dimes - heads up - everywhere.  Sure enough I was seeing dimes -heads up - everywhere I went.  I hadn't thought about that book and the dime experiment in years.  But I have been thinking about miracles lately - small and large.  Suddenly I was reminded that they can and will happen.
I jumped in the shower one morning last week.  I heard a ping hitting the tub floor.  After getting the soap out of my eyes, I discovered the ping was a dime IN THE TUB that had fallen from SOMEWHERE.  Heads up by the way.  Once I got over the "Where did that come from?" reaction, I remembered my small miracles experiment years ago.   And I knew this was a slightly bigger miracle to remind me that miracles do happen if we just believe.
Once again, when I am walking about, suddenly a dime - heads up - appears in my path.  I love the reminder that even bigger miracles are in my path.  I do believe.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Be thankful in relationships

More often than not, it's expectations that cause rifts in relationships.  We focus on what we are not getting and how the other person needs to adjust to us and our needs.  We determine that we are not valued in some way.  It's expectations that are at the root.  Maybe the expectations are justified and maybe they are not.
If we allow those feelings to grow into anger and frustration, they begin to take a life of their own.  We are no longer thankful for the other person.  We no longer respect them.  We no longer see their concerns or needs.  We become focused on ourselves.  We become engrossed with self pity.  And we begin to look for all the ways they do not meet our expectations.  Next we look for allies in proving they are deficient.
We really need to get to the root of why our expectations have not been met.  Sometimes our expectations are very rational and reasonable and sometimes they are not.  Quite often, they are not worth the storm we cause trying to get the other person to meet them.  Sometimes, the other person is clueless as to what our expectations are or perhaps we don't realize that we have unrealistic expectations.  If it is all about what the OTHER person needs to do, it's a red flag that it's YOU that needs to adjust.
Sometimes we just grow angry at someone for something they have nothing to do with but they remind us of something else entirely.
Relationships can be challenging.  Family - friends - co-workers - bosses - it's really all the same.  We have expectations.  They have expectations.  We all want to feel valued.
If you approach any relationship with anger, resentment and feeling that the other person needs to adjust to you - something is out of kilter.  If it is a relationship that is important to you, start with being thankful for what you have.  Never stay in a place of anger and resentment.  Let it go.  If you are truly justified in your anger and resentment, let the relationship go and shake the dust from your shoes.  If you want the relationship and value it - show it.  Be thankful.
Be thankful for their strengths and what they have to offer - what they have already given you.  That shift in attitude will generate respect and an ability to open positive dialogue. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Would Jesus Do?

For many years I have felt that our religious institutions have lost their path.  In particular many Christian churches have focused less on teaching values than teaching and trying to create Christian laws - those black and white dividing lines of right and wrong.  That's not what Jesus taught.  That's not how Jesus taught.
Jesus taught values not law.  In fact, his specific message on earth was to tell us the volume of religious laws established before him were not the path to God.  He summed it up with just two laws - Love your neighbor as yourself and love God above all else.
It seems sometimes people have focused on the love God part with an extra - and God thinks like I do.  In fact, it seems they love God because God justifies them.  But the love your neighbor part - well - God does not love sin and you might be wearing a sin sign God can't see past so I don't either.
Jesus did not teach us to be outwardly focused in condemnation.  He taught us to heal, to serve and to lift one another up.  He taught us that we are all part of one tree and we all have a part to play.  He taught us to be based in love as the core value.  He taught us not to judge or condemn and divide but rather to reach out and to walk in the other person's shoes.
Our religious institutions should be helping us learn how to walk that path - the path Jesus taught.  It requires discipline and growing our spirit to connect with our neighbor and with God.  It means we have to learn to listen and to walk with our neighbor like Jesus did.  We cannot understand if we refuse to hear.  We cannot see if we refuse to look.  And the truth is not black and white.
I have hope that we are emerging from this dark age of spiritual growth.  This weekend I picked up a book called Religion Gone Astray written by a Pastor, a Rabbi and an Imam who travel the country together talking about interfaith issues.  As it says in the book summary:  "They identify four common problems areas of the Abrahamic faiths:  EXCLUSIVITY:  Staking Claim to a One and Only Truth  VIOLENCE:  Justifying Brutality in the Name of Faith   INEQUALITY OF MEN AND WOMEN:  The Partriarchal Stranglehold on Power and HOMOPHOBIA:  A Denial of Legitimacy."
I believe these are truly the core issues to overcome and perhaps in that order of importance.
If we can overcome those key problem areas, we really would be doing what Jesus would do.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Intrinsic Spritual Disorder

People do not say they are gay so that you will envision sexual behavior any more than people saying they are married is intended to create images of romantic trysts. GLBT people are growing more open and vocal in hopes that you will understand the bias we face and how that impacts our private lives.
The reason things are changing for GLBT people is that we are no longer nameless and faceless.  We no longer accept religious judgement as acceptable justification for imposition on our private lives.  It's much easier to subjugate and marginalize nameless, faceless people.
The world is blatantly heterosexually biased granting special privileges to protect heterosexual relationships.  These privileges are based on sexuality and blanketed by marriage.  Meanwhile, GLBT private lives are legislated in many states and countries to ensure that we don't enjoy those same privileges.  It creates unnecessary hardship.
Inheritance, pensions, health care, taxes, social security, shared property, decision making during illness and in death are all impacted by this bias.  If we remain nameless, faceless people, you will not hear these stories.  You will hear only myths and stereotypes.  Because you know us, it's growing more difficult to be convinced that we should be rounded up and placed in a concentration camp as one US religious zealot has proposed.  It is more difficult for US legislators to consider jail sentences for homosexuals as has now passed in Uganda.  It is more difficult in the US to make even the discussion of social equality illegal as just recently passed in Russia.
Once people begin to realize that we are not so different and that these bias' affect our private lives unjustly, attitudes change.  If you ask me what I do in bed, I will tell you 'I sleep' and nothing else is your business.  It should not be your business to deny me equality.  Invoking the name of God to justify your bias is a sign of intrinsic spiritual disorder.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Who are your heroes?

Who are your heroes?   What qualities do you admire?  Who would you like to be more like?  Who inspires you to be better?
Our chosen heroes tell a lot about us.
I think of the young mother of two who despite illness was a Brownie leader, community volunteer and delivered library books to shut ins.  And the 5th grade teacher who saw and encouraged creativity that lead to the right career.
I think of well known heroes who worked tirelessly for healing, justice and equality - 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, 100 years ago and 50 years ago.
They were all clear in their purpose, their vision and their core values.
When my spirit is shaken, I am reminded to refocus on purpose, vision and values.  I think of the people I have most admired.  What would they be telling me?  What ARE they telling me?
Refocus on purpose, vision and values.
I'm very protective and determined about purpose.  I've learned we need to be very careful what we drink with our eyes, our ears and our spirit.  I won't watch movies that are violent for violence sake.  I won't watch movies focused on cruelty.   I seek reliable sources for news and information and avoid sensationalized stories whether told by the left or the right.  Healing, justice and equality are my favorite subjects and in that order of importance.
I can't imagine any one's mission statement or statement of purpose being "To be as sarcastic, condescending, judgmental and divisive as I can be on a daily basis."  Oddly that seems to gain talk show hosts an audience and that is how they succeed.  But then, what is the vision?  What is the expected outcome in being successful in their mission?  I guess for a talk show host, the answer is that they can make a lot of money.
Would anyone choose this as a personal mission?  "To be as sarcastic, condescending, judgmental and divisive as I can be on a daily basis."  What is the expected outcome - the vision of success?  What core values do you need to have to drive such a mission and vision.  Who are your heroes?  Do they poison or do they heal?

Monday, July 22, 2013

It's about empathy

My last blog post is one of the most viewed blogs I've written so far, even though I added no labels that would typically bring more viewers.  Not quite sure why, but because it was, I feel I need to follow up with some thoughts that may be informative.
When I see a bumper sticker that says "Marriage = one man, one woman", it might as have a subtitle that says "And you gay people cannot have what I have."  I can actually picture the person in my face saying, "Don't you even think for one minute you are equal to me."
I see that because of years of attitude directed at me.  Even someone I have known all my life, as I expressed empathy at her painful divorce, said I could not possibly understand her pain because hers was a marriage.
What if the bumper sticker said "Marriage = one white man and one white woman"  or "Marriage = one black man and one black woman".  Or "Marriage = one protestant man and one protestant woman".  The underlying message of those words would infuriate some people.
It is the underlying message that hurts.
As my friend Janet kindly commented on the last post, it's about common sense.  It's about empathy.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Snap out of it!

Sometimes people have heard and repeated something so long, they don't think about what they are saying.  It's one of those derived beliefs that is so ingrained in their DNA that it escapes reason.
A few weeks ago on one of the morning shows a right wing politician suddenly burst into a defensive
"I am not a bigot" statement when questioned about his anti-gay positions.  Oddly, no one had called him a bigot on the show but it must have been a word following him around.
As they explain it, it's not that they are anti-gay, it's simply that gay relationships are not equal to straight relationships and should not be treated as such.  But that is not anti gay, it's just the way things are supposed to be.  "We love you.  Just don't expect the same things we straight people have."
It boils down to to a desire to regulate sex.  It's ok to be be gay if you remain celibate and do not expect the same rights and privileges in selecting a life partner as straight people have.  In other words, it's ok to be gay as long as you accept a self imposed solitary confinement as a life sentence.  Or, better yet, just marry someone of the opposite sex.  It's just about sex right?
It's not personal.  It's just what gay people need to do - apparently for their own good.  On top of that, it's God dictating this so it is unquestionable.
I DO question that God has dictated such a thing.  Don't try to tell me the Bible has specified this.   The Bible is full of conflicting information.  If the only place you are looking for answers from God is the Bible, your God is awfully tiny to contain all in one little book.  You have to read more than that to be considered an expert in Physics.  If you believe you are an expert on God because you read the Bible, don't bother me with your dictum.  God gave you a brain.  Use it.
Yes, I take this issue quite personally.  Telling me that my relationships are not equal to yours insults me.  Telling me that God does not see me as a wholly functioning person deserving of the same rights and privileges afforded straight couples insults me. 
If you and the organizations you support work to deny me equality in the United States, in Pennsylvania and in Venango County - you are ANTI.  You are against me.  You are working to deny my happiness.  You are working to deny my freedom NOT to practice your religious beliefs.
The crazy part to me is that my having equal rights has NO impact on straight people.  They will continue to have all the rights and privileges they have always had.  This anti-gay position HAS had an impact on me for far too many years.
Don't tell me you love me and then tell me I cannot expect happiness with the person I choose.  That is outrageous.  I am increasingly outraged each time I hear it.  It is cruel and insulting.
I feel so sorry for young people, who like me many years ago, internalize and accept this cruelty for their lives.  Everyone deserves a chance at happiness.  It's time for our churches and government to wake up.  Snap out of it.  It's not healthy to subjugate people and impose odd standards that create hardship.  Snap out of it!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A message to the better you!

On a number of occasions I have felt the call to write to one reader.  To say - if you are seeking an answer to your question here - you already know the answer.  Your instincts are correct.  Trust yourself.
Long ago a friend told me 'If someone asks you a personal question, they probably already know the answer.'  I believe she was right.
Next I would tell you as I did a few young people recently 'We always have choices.  We may not like them.  But we always have choices'.
Often we feel trapped.  Sometimes ashamed that we believed in something that we should not have believed in.  That is the course of life.  Good people - optimistic people - are deceived.  It has happened to many good people. 
I can testify that even better people stand on the other side.  Be true to yourself.  Be true to your values.  If you hang onto to those, there will be sweet answers to your challenges.  A year from now you will be amazed.  Don't stay in a swamp.  You deserve better!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Love is patient

Back in March, I wrote about Marriage Equality and made some guesses about how the Supreme Court would rule on DOMA and Prop 8.  (March 29 - "The issue of Marriage Equality".  I wasn't far off about the ruling but I am surprised we are not seeing as much immediate right wing backlash as I was expecting.
Maybe it's because the court ruling did not go so far as to say that same sex marriage was a constitutional right.  They ruled on the side of states rights and that the Federal Government cannot discriminate when someone is legally married.
There will be many more court battles ahead.  One that I have not heard discussed is if one state has the right to say someone married in another state is not recognized.  The next is if someone is married in one state but the state they are living does not recognize their marriage, does the federal government recognize the marriage?  Do they file joint taxes?  Do they pay inheritance taxes?  Are they eligible for the many Social Security benefits offered married couples?  Does their employer have to recognize them as married for insurance purposes?
Those against marriage equality will double down on the states.  They will continue to work to overturn marriage equality in states that now have it and they will continue to to try to have more laws passed in the states that don't to triple ensure they will not pass marriage equality legislation. 
A lot of attorneys on both sides of this issue are going to make a lot money.  A lot of legislative time will be spent in states and in the US Congress arguing both sides of this issue.  Many churches are going to continue to be torn and focused on this issue.
In the end, people are going to love who they are going to love.  No amount of fear mongering, Bible banging, legislation or other forms of retaliation are going to change that. 
For centuries the world tried to turn left handed people into right handed people.  It was not acceptable and certainly wasn't considered something that people were born to be.  Now science is proving that being gay is as natural to some as not being gay.  But once a whole lot of rhetoric has been built around a notion, it's a long time changing.
The reason will be ultimately decided in the courts, is that courts are somewhat more geared toward logic and reason.  But even Judges have their own fears to overcome.  So, hang onto your hats folks.  It's going to be a long and interesting ride before we see marriage equality.  But it will come.  It will come because love always wins over fear.  Love is patient.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Our awesome connection

Often I am touched with a powerful sense of awe.  It's an overwhelming feeling of humility and at the same time a great connectedness to that greater force.  It can happen when I'm singing and hear another sweet voice harmonizing with me.  It can happen when I stare at the stars on a perfect summer night.  It can happen when I see Molly Mutt Paws cock her head as I tell her some odd thing.  I feel it when suddenly words and music dance in my head that I must write down.  I just know that my spirit has been connected to something more.  I feel small and large at the same time.
When I travel to foreign countries, I marvel.  I see ancient things and wonder.  Why was I born now?  Why was I born in Franklin Pennsylvania?  Time and space are so large.  We are so small.  Our life on earth is so short.  And yet, I am a part of all that ever was and all that ever will be.  I am a tiny speck in the universe but I am part it.
Everything we do leaves an impression that carries on somehow.  Everything - every thought - every deed - every word.
We are part of one giant continuum.  It does not matter what you call that.  You may call it God or nature or Woooogaaa if you like.
It is the alpha and the omega - The omnipotent, omnipresent.  It is part of everyone and everything that ever was and ever will be.  It is the simple, universal and undeniable truth.
Everything we say - everything we do - everything we think creates something in the universe that carries on somehow.  We may never know how - good or bad.
I believe that understanding needs to be at the core of everyone's personal spiritual journey.
For me it is very humbling and comes with a feeling of great awe and great responsibility.
We are at the same time a tiny speck and part of something endless.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Learning about Chinese Philosophy
Two of my favorite places in China were Laoshan Famous Mountain with the 3000 year old Taoist temple and Lingshan where the Grand Buddha overlooks the mountains and lake in the distance.

 While sitting at the foot of the Grand Buddha with my host group, Mr. Peng asked our interpreter, Jacey to explain Buddhism to me in a few short sentences. As she told me his request, she expressed that she wasn't sure she could. I said, "Let me try to tell you what I believe Buddism is about. Buddhists believe in respect for all things and all people. They believe that it is each individuals responsibility to find their path in life and that we should always be seeking to be better in all we do." As Jacey relayed, the group nodded and smiled. Mr. Feng, my local host, said, "You understand Buddhism well." Later that evening over dinner we all had a wonderful discussion about eastern philosophy.
Their written language is steeped in philosophy. It's fascinated me for many years. For example, the Chinese word for crisis is two symbols. Apart the symbols have their own meaning - danger and opportunity. Together, they mean crisis. It's the idea of yin and yang - that two seemingly opposite things are interconnected. It is deeply rooted in Taoist teachings.
In western philosophy, teachings and religion we tend to think black and white, good and bad, right or wrong. Meanwhile, the eastern thought will seek greater context and is not so quick to pass harsh judgement. As in the example above, a crisis is not necessarily bad - there is an opportunity if you seek it. Our job is to seek and learn.
During my time in China, I saw that, just as in the US, not all follow and take these philosophies to heart. But I spent a great deal of time with people who really do. I saw it in their actions and felt it in their spirit. They were humble, kind and gentle always watching for an opportunity to be the best at whatever they were doing at the moment. I saw it in how they were treating the people around them, how they were treating me and how they were approaching their work.
One day Mr. Peng said, "Our Buddha taught much the same as your Jesus Christ." It is true. And as I have thought of Christians I most respect I can say the same of them as I say about my new Chinese friends. They are humble, kind and gentle - always watching for an opportunity to be the best at whatever they are doing at the moment. The biggest difference I see between the two religious philosophies is that Buddhism is centered on self actualization. Buddha won't save you. He teaches you how to reach God. You must learn it. It's inwardly focused and works outward. Christianity is outwardly focused. We are powerless to find God and must be saved. No matter how we act or behave, it's the salvation that is the key. Overcoming the external force of sin is only accomplished by submission. There also tends to be a focus on pointing out and combating other people's sins - many seeing that as their responsibility as Christians.
As my hosts asked my thoughts on philosophy, I told them I am not a typical Christian or a typical American. I wasn't sure they understood. So I said "I think I was Buddhist in a past life and was born into a Christian family so I could try to understand Christians." That - they understood and it brought much laughter.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's not your Grandfather's China - not even your Father's China

Earlier this month I dug a hole to China. Ok, not really. Actually I flew there to work for 3 weeks. My mission was to videotape our company's 8 factories spread from Mongolia/inner Mongolia to just north of Shanghai. Even 30 years ago I would have thought it was a very aggressive schedule and arduous task but I am very happy I took on the challenge. By the end of the first week my apprehension about my stamina, language differences and the cultural challenges melted away. If you have never been to China (like me) or have not been there in the last 5 years, you would likely be amazed. I traveled many miles by car - very comfortable and new SUV's - the new High Speed trains, and domestic flights. New interstate highways - some toll roads - connect all the major cities with road signs in both English and Chinese. The airports were all new, again with signs in English and Chinese. Beijing is the largest airport I have ever seen and quite easy to navigate. I was humored that the safety announcement on the domestic flights were spoken in both English and Chinese with me the only Anglo on any of the flights. The high speed trains are lovely with big comfortable seats generously spaced and as we flew down the rail there was a gentle side to side rocking motion. I saw miles and miles of farm land - endless flat land in some areas with beautiful rolling hills in others. As a business traveler whose visit was much anticipated, I had an experience that no tourist could enjoy and I may never experience again. Our company only recently purchased half of these factories and they are in locations that are not high tourist areas so I was the first or second American woman they had ever met and in most cases, the first with whom they had ever shared a dinner. As a result, they treated me like a queen and were most anxious to talk with me - through our interpreter. When I realized the dynamics, I felt a deep responsibility to not only represent the company in a good light but to represent all American woman. That part humors me because, as many of you know, I am certainly not a typical American woman. Each time I arrived at a new location, tradition dictated that they greet me with a dinner. This was always in a private room with 8 to 12 people seated around a large round table. In the center was a big lazy susan. The highest ranking host sat opposite the door. Across from him (all but one time a man) was his designated driver. To his right was his most honored guest. To his left was his second most honored guest and it worked out from there. Then dishes began filling round table - at least 10 courses - of the best local foods and they were pleased to describe each. Arriving there were always noodle dishes for luck. Leaving, dumplings to show that it was a good visit. Fortunately, I noted I got a lot of dumplings at the end of each visit. I have many stories to tell about the people, cultural differences and similarities, philosophies shared, foods, places I was, the music.... Just in case you cannot tell from the words above - I loved the experience and found the Chinese people kind and charming. Stay tuned - I'll be writing much more.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lifting Me

Life is full of challenges. We have good times. We have not so good times. What I tend to remember most is who was there. I remember who made the difference. I remember - even if you only lifted me for a brief period of time. And I remember you even if the tide turned and you no longer lifted me. Often I wonder why. And I wonder why I once lifted you, then I could not. Life is full of challenges. I remember how you made me feel - each step of the way. I am on the shorter side of life now. I may still wonder about the why's of life but I am more certain about the importance of lifting one another. It is, I believe, the one universal truth - our purpose is to lift one another. If we can learn to be driven by that one sole purpose in all we do, we will have served well. Every choice we make - every step we take - every thing we say - our purpose is to lift one another so that we all reach higher ground. I want to stand on that spiritual ground - that higher ground - where we lift all those around us. We challenge all around us to lift one another. I want to be surrounded by those seeking higher ground. I want to be surrounded by those who challenge me and lift me. Best of all - I am. You are!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The best we can do

I was very touched by a Roger Ebert quote this week.  To paraphrase:  He said that kindness was at the heart of his political beliefs and our purpose is to spread joy where we are able.  Making someone else unhappy is a crime and making ourselves unhappy is the beginning of crime.
I would change that to say that kindness is at the heart of my religious beliefs and our purpose is to spread joy.  Making someone else unhappy or making ourselves unhappy results in sin.  Jesus did not say "Go forth and spread the bad news - You sinners - you."  He did not say "If you see a splinter in someone's eye, go after it and make laws about it."
We should ask ourselves these questions before making decisions, "Is this based in kindness?"
"Will this result in making others or myself unhappy?"
We are all faced with complicated issues in our lives.  It's tough enough to figure out what we, ourselves should and should not do.  But if we focus on the splinters of others it just makes them and us very unhappy.
Walk softly.  Seek kindness and love.  Use your abilities to spread joy.  That's the best we can do.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The issue of Marriage Equality

Well, the Supreme Court arguments last week are now history and we wait for their decision.  I'm guessing they will punt on Prop 8 saying there was no standing and the case should not have been appealed once the State of California was no longer interested in defending it.  Those who pursued the defense had no legal standing to do so.  That will mean the last court ruling in which the State of California was defending Prop 8 will be the final decision.  If that is how they rule, the case will have little effect beyond California in the march toward equality.
I think they will make a decision concerning DOMA.  While the Attorney General was no longer defending it (the executive branch), the House of Representatives was so I don't think they can punt based on standing.  My guess is that DOMA will be ruled unconstitutional but I'm not sure if it will be the 14th amendment or that the Federal government overstepped states rights.  That will be the most interesting part.
The biggest argument against marriage equality was centered on the notion that procreation is the central purpose for marriage.  If the only benefits of marriage revolved around children, that could make some sense but most of the benefits of marriage have nothing to do with procreation at all.  In the DOMA case, one plaintiff was an 83 year old widow who was forced to pay over $360,000 to the IRS in order to keep the home she and her wife had shared for more than 40 years.  If she had been married to a man, she would not have needed to pay that - even if they had no children.  Procreation is not the central issue.
The inheritance tax issue is just one of 1100 benefits married couples enjoy - most having nothing to do with procreation.  This is an issue of fairness and equality.
Judge Scalia asked when it became unconstitutional to discriminate against gay people.  I would say as soon as the constitution was drafted.  It's simply taken this long for enough people to speak up and say so.  It's taken this long to overcome the fear of repercussions like loss of a job, and even loss of life.  When discrimination is prevailing and accepted, it takes great effort to overcome.  We've had to hear the real stories of real people who have been harmed by the effects of discrimination.  We've had to overcome the myths and lies that justified the discrimination.  And we have had to force the issue until it could be raised before the Supreme Court.
I marvel at the notion some claim, that marriage will be forever re-defined if equality is granted.  I cannot imagine any two fully committed people feeling any less committed by someone else's marriage.  But if they feel they need some clarification, let them say they are "Mormon married", "Johavah Witness married",  "Methodist married", "Catholic married" or "Bible Baptist married".  That should make a clear statement.  It won't mean they are any more or any less committed in marriage.  It also should not give them any more or any less Federal benefits.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Something in the Water...

The past several years have been rather amazing for LGBT people.  Just this year, public opinion shifted to favor marriage equality.  More states have enacted marriage equality legislation.  The military has eliminated its "Don't ask, don't tell policy".  DOMA will be argued before the Supreme Court.
It seems every month a well known celebrity is breaking silence and openly discussing their own same-sex relationships.  Jodi Foster, Suzi Orman, Anderson Cooper and many more are no longer afraid that their careers will be ruined if they are known.
Is it something in the water?  Has the secret "gay agenda" finally taken hold?
No, there's nothing in the water and if LGBT people have an agenda, it's simply to have the same rights afforded straight couples. 
"Every gay person must come out.... Once they realize we are indeed their children, we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all." -HARVEY MILK
It's long been believed that approximately 10% of the population is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender.  If you know 1000 people, 100 of them are likely gay or lesbian. Within your family, 1 in every 10 are likely LGBT.  If you did not know that, it's because no one talked about it.  We all bought into the myths, the lies and the innuendos and everyone remained silent.
Just as Harvey Milk predicted, as more LGBT people are breaking their silence, the myths, lies and innuendos are being destroyed.
It will be very hard for some people to shed those myths, and to stop believing the lies.  For some, these are deeply held beliefs intertwined in religious teachings.  These people will continue to believe the world is flat until and unless they walk around the world and don't fall off the edge.  It will be the next generation who make the greatest strides.
Meanwhile, put your seat belts on because the greater the push for change, the greater those resisting change will push back.  We're going to hear some interesting, and sometimes odd, discussion as we get closer to the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA.  Both sides have fought very hard and no one likes being on the loosing end of an argument.  No matter which way the ruling goes, there will be outrage.
It's important for everyone to understand that LGBT people are not going away and will never go away.  The majority of Americans now understand that LGBT people have lived under a cloud of myths and lies.  Those myths and lies cannot be re-applied.
If you're hanging onto those myths and lies, you may as well believe the world is flat. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Would you?

Would you want the person you love beside your hospital bed in times of crisis?
If something happened to you, would you want your spouse to pay taxes in order to keep your shared property?
If you are married, consider all the financial details of your life - tax status, paying bills, bank accounts, health insurance, pensions - a simple marriage certificate affords you certain privileges that aren't questioned.
Would you want me - or anyone else - to decide whether or not you can share those privileges with the person you choose?
I was very slow to advocate gay marriage.  Through the years I developed a rather jaded view of the whole idea of marriage.  But as I've gotten older, I see many very practical reasons to fight for full equality for GLBT people - especially marriage.  It's time.
Most rational people are over the religious argument.  If you view it in the full context of the Bible, it doesn't hold water.  Not one person who argues for a literal interpretation actually follows all parts of the Bible literally.  The religious anti-gay position is purely based on long held bias and belief in exactly the same way that slavery and segregation were religiously based for many years.
It's time for religious communities to move to a position of love, compassion and understanding.  I'm happy that I am seeing that transition in my lifetime.
It takes a while to shed deeply ingrained beliefs.  It always has and it always will. We have to admit that we were wrong.  It's especially hard if you were certain that God was telling you one thing and now you have to admit that you didn't get the right message.  People of the church have always had a hard time with this.  It was heresy to say the world was not the center of the universe or that the world was not flat.
In the name of religious freedom, protected by our constitution, if you want to believe that homosexuality is a sin - that the world is the center of the universe - that the world is flat - you have a right to believe that.
I'm willing to bet you would not like the government making your religious choices for you.  Don't make other people's lives miserable by imposing your religious views on their financial and personal life decisions.
The world is not flat and your religious view is not the center of the universe.  It doesn't belong at the center of mine.