Headscarfs, Yamakas and Crosses

Last night I attended a local civic event which recognized one community member and one non-profit organization for their commitment to the communities in which we live.  It is always nice to see people recognized for their vision and commitment and the work they do to make the communities in which we live better for everyone.  But, what caught my attention and got me thinking was not the laudatory remarks about the honorees or the proclamations made by local politicians, but the guitar player in the band that had been hired for the evening.

Remember this was a purely secular event.  And, the music was selected so that middle aged people could dance to it.  What stood our for me and made me look twice was that the guitar player wore a yamaka, a rounded skull cap worn by observant Jewish men mostly, but not exclusively, at religious services.  And, more than that no one seemed to notice.  I am sure wearing the yamaka was meaningful to the guitar player, but it was a complete non-event/non-issue to everyone else in the room.  And, I am sure the same was true for any and all of the women whose jewelry included a cross on a necklace.

But, here is what I wonder…
What if one of the people in the band had been a Muslim woman who had made the choice to wear a headscarf?  How many people would have noticed that and made comments about it over their cocktails before we were called to dinner?  Is there anything different about her choice to wear a headscarf or his choice to wear a yamaka or her choice to wear a cross?  I don’t think so.  My guess (hope?!) is that for each of those individuals, more than just being a symbol of religious identity, their yamaka or headscarf or cross serves as a reminder to the wearer that they are called to serve God in how they live.  Maybe we all would do well with such a reminder.

The Providers

Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with one of the doctors I see annually. Practicing good “bedside manner” and, I am sure, looking for other indicators that might affect my health, he asked how the church where I work was doing.  In a few sentences I tried to say all was well, but also describe the pressure organized religion of any variety or stripe is under saying that much of my professional training and experience did not match the emerging trends.  A bit surprised by my response, he said, “It sounds like the medical profession facing incredible change with no clear direction.”  Then, when I turned the question back towards him he said, “When I decided to be a doctor I thought I would be a professional. Now I find I am a provider.”

I walked away from my appointment thinking about his comment.
Is that what is happening in and to so many professions – clergy, doctors, teachers, etc? That instead of being seen and treated as professionals who have a particular training and skill set and expertise, we are now seen as providers and those who buy or receive our services view themselves as the professionals who purchase what we have to give?  I don’t want to diminish the issues and concerns or the changes that need to take place in any of our professions, but I do think my doctor’s observations are on the mark and the change in perception/understanding he put into words is a part of the challenge we face.

Just A Sunset


Years ago, when my family lived in Wisconsin, one our favorite vacation destinations was Door County.  Door County is the finger of land that extends out from the city of Green Bay into Lake Michigan.  If you love the outdoors, Door County is the definition of beauty. Bay on one side.  Lake Michigan on the other.  Lakes and forests and small towns in between.  Our family hiked and swam and explored during  the day, but in the evening we would find a spot along the shore and watch the sunset.

One of the small towns actually had a small park named Sunset Point. A small grassy area along the bay and a short walk down a path from the parking lot, it was a wonderful location to watch the sun set.  Whenever we could, we made our way to Sunset Point where we gathered with other sunset lovers sitting quietly as together we watched the sun go down and night descend.  One evening when we were there, another family walked down down to the clearing and looked around.  Then, in a tone of voice that was a mixture of disappointment and disgust, the father broke our silence when he said, “It is only a sunset.”

Only a sunset?
Look at it!
The mystery and miracle of a nondescript star and a small planet locked in an incredible day-in, day-out dance which they have preformed over and over again for more years than any of us can really imagine that not only produces an startling array of colors, but spawns life.
Your life.
My life.
All life.

Yesterday was Earth Day.
And, today is as well.

Look For The Helpers

Even from a distance…
New York to Boston…
New York to West, Texas…
New York to Washington, D.C…
New York to China…
Last week was a tough week emotionally.
The Senate vote on gun control.
A fertilizer plant explosion which destroyed and devastated a community.
An earthquake that has left thousands homeless.
The terrorist bombing and manhunt in Boston.
By the end of the week I, like many others, found myself both tired and tired of it all, and closing down emotionally and somewhat numb wanting to turn it all off and to turn away. But, that is not how I want to live and not what I believe.

Once again, it was/is the wisdom of Mr. Rogers of children’s television fame that helped me turn the corner.  This quote from his book Mr. Rogers Parenting Book circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter and other online social media.  “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”  

It stands as a reminder that what we look for matters.
And, what we see matters.
If we only look for the sensational and the violent and the destruction and the worst we can do to each other, then that will be all that we see.
But if we look for the helpers
If we remember the names of those who stepped into the breach instead of the names of those who caused the devastation…
If we celebrate and do our best to emulate those who do what is right despite the potential cost and those who extend themselves for the sake of another…
Then, that is what we will see.

Too often the news focuses on the sensational.
Maybe they think that is their job.
If that is the case, then it means it is up to you and to me to look and to see and to name the helpers whenever and however and as often as we can.
And, maybe even to be one ourselves.

Follow The Leader

follow the leader


Tomorrow morning in our worship service I am going to play Follow the Leader with the children who are there.  We will clap our hands and jump up and down and turn circles and pat our heads.  And then, when I have them all wound up, I am going to ask them to sit down and talk with me about what we have done.

Isn’t church at its best…
Or a synagogue or a mosque or a temple for that matter…
A place where we gather to learn to play Follow the Leader?
Where we come to be reminded of our bravest hopes and our best values that are wrapped up in that which we know and name as God?
Values like compassion and kindness and the common good.
Hopes like peace and justice and enough for all.
And then, having been reminded…
Having caught a glimpse of that Dream of God…
Of where God is going and what God is doing…
To walk out the doors
And into the world doing our best to play the game.
Follow the Leader.


Learning to Skip…Again

Yesterday as I was walking our dog, I walked down the sidewalk behind a Mom and her son who were on their way to school.  The mother was carrying her son’s backpack while the little boy alternately walked holding his mother’s hand and letting go to skip ahead or to walk along the curb like he was walking on a balance beam.  Joy filled both that moment and each of the little boy’s steps.  I watched with a smile on my face as I took in the scene and remembered when I walked down that same sidewalk with my son on the way to school.

I don’t skip much anymore.
At least that way.
But in thinking about that little boy on his way to school I realized that a part of life is about not forgetting how to skip.  If I no longer skip down sidewalks, I need to at least be sure my heart skips along when I hear a cardinal call from a tree or watch my puppy wrestle with a stick or watch a young boy dance his way to school with his mother.

Maybe as I grow older skipping has something to do with paying attention.
Paying attention to where I am:
And who is around me;
And the fullness and wonder of life in that very moment.

And, then, in whatever way I am able…
Saying Thank you.

Okay Days

Some days are just okay days.
And, that is okay.
But, too often, I live trapped in the fallacy that each day is to be full and meaningful;
And that each day I am to be engaged and focused and productive;
And happy.
And then when I am not, I think something is wrong
with me.

But that’s not true is it.
Some days just are.
And on some days I just am.
What I think I need to learn is this…
That on days like that (and probably many other days as well),
I need to be patient with myself;
And grateful for the day as it is;
And open to what the day has in store for me
Whatever that is and however I am.

Not Quite There, But Thinking About Easter

If Easter is only about what happened to Jesus;
It is then all pretty easy and safe;
Kept all in the past;
Using the past tense of verbs
That don’t connect then with today.

But, if instead
Easter is about what happened to them;
And the choices they made;
Those who cowered in fear as they watched him die:
And who fled for their life the first chance that they had;
Then it is also about me
And the choices I make.

If that is the case
Easter is anything but easy.
Instead challenging us with hope which runs strong
In the direction of life.

Walking With A Limp



A number of years ago a friend told me a story…
They were wrapping up their time in Nicaragua during which they had helped to build a home for a family.  As the group members were reflecting on their experience and on what they had learned, one person held up a pebble and his shoe.  He said, “I am going to keep this pebble in my shoe as a reminder that as long as there are children who go to bed hungry and as long as their are families who live in sub-standard housing, I should never feel completely comfortable.”  I was reminded of this story when I read this written by Abraham Joshua Heschel in the book I am currently reading.  Heschel writes, “[Humanity] is too great to be fed upon unispiring pedestrian ideals.  We have adjusted our ideals to our stature, instead of attempting to rise to the level of our ideals.  [We] have royal power and plebeian ideals.”

Which makes me wonder…
Do we work too hard at being comfortable?
Do we turn away from each other?
Do we shut our eyes in an effort to ignore the reality of the headlines in the news?
Do we turn inward to what we can safe guard and protect and control?
All in a misplaced desire to be comfortable?

But, if Heschel is correct that desire for comfort is our undoing limiting our dreams and causing us to lower our ideals.  It is that discomfort; that unease; that unsettledness which reminds us that the world is not yet as it could be or should be. That we are not yet as we could be or are called to be.  At least, that is, if you believe that me that all should have enough and all should have a place.

In a culture that values comfort sometimes above all else;
Maybe we are called to live purposefully with discomfort.
Maybe we all should walk with a limp.

Maybe I Have Been Asking the Wrong Question

question mark


One of my favorite quotes is this:
“If they get you asking the wrong questions they don’t have to worry about the answer.”

As a result of a book that I am reading – Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings – I realize I probably have been asking the wrong question and, therefore, not finding what I have been looking for.  In an effort to pay attention to what I think  is important or to move beyond what appears on the surface I have been asking:
“Where is God in this particular circumstance or situation.”
I ask my question with the best intentions in an effort to remind myself that even the most ordinary moments have the possibility of being tinged with the Holy.
But, maybe I have been asking the wrong question.

I think what I need to begin to ask is this:
“God is present.  What do I need to do to be more aware of, more open to God in this moment that I have.”
The difference between the two questions may sound like semantics, but here is what I think is the difference.  When I ask “Where is God?” the assumption is that God is hiding.  Playing a type of holy hide and seek with me and my job is to find God.  But, if I ask “What do I need to do to be more aware of God in this moment?” it is an acknowledgement that God is everywhere and always present and that my responsibility is openness and awareness and acknowledgement.

I wonder…
I think I will try asking what I think is the right question and see what I discover.