Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Happy Best Friends Day!

Is it bad that I don't have one best friend? Apparently today is national (unofficial) Best Friends Day. Who knew? I learn something on social media every day! But I can't say I have just one best friend, because each of my close friends is "the best" for me in their own, unique way. 

There's the friend who calls out my bulls**t.

If I'm feeling confused or badly used, she's the one I call because she's really good at identifying the source of the trouble. When she perceives something I'm missing, she shows me another view. She values the same kind of feedback from me. We also play and enjoy socializing, but those heavy discussions glue us together.

There's the friend who has known me forever.

She knows my family, hometown, childhood, and all three of the husbands I've had. We've been there for nearly all the important events in each other's lives and always will. We spend little time together now, but she literally understands where I'm coming from. The bond we share is deep and unbreakable.

There's the friend who likes to do things. 

If either of us wants to see a show, listen to live music, check out a new shopping center, go to the gym--pretty much anything fun--we ask each other to go. We have a lot in common and talk freely about everything. She helps me enjoy being in the moment because that's what we focus on...doing something active and fun, talking about what's happening now.

There's the friend who makes work awesome.

We met working knee-to-knee in an office, and I learned how great teamwork can be. To be productive and provide great value, learning from and trusting one another, with no stupid drama, whilst supporting each other as human beings and becoming true friends, is work heaven. We've chosen to work together on many projects. We also show up for each other's happy and hard times outside of work--because we are friends.

There's the friend who kept me in her life after the job/club/neighborhood ended.

It's easy to be friends when you see each other regularly; even easier to let that friendship expire after one of you leaves. I adore the friends who didn't let that happen. Some time passes now between visits, and that's okay. It takes effort to stay friends when you lose proximity. You have to find new times and places to get together, invite each other. For these few very special friends, it's so worth it!

There's my dog. 

He has to be included because he's my constant companion and I really enjoy his company. We can be together all week and not tire of each other. And he's there for me; when I'm sad, sick, or tired, he stays close. When I'm up, he's ready for action. He's my errand buddy, play mate, and stress reliever. He has other friends...our cat, my husband...but when I call he comes running.

I count my husband, sister, daughter, son, cousin, and adult nieces among this select group of best friends. They're closest to my heart. Thank God they've been willing to let our relationships grow beyond the early roles we played, and become friends who like each other and want to be together.

There are more: Precious in-laws and former in-laws who became not just relatives, but friends. Friends of family members (especially my parents' friends who are even more dear to me since my parents have passed on). Friends from school days--waaaay back--whom I rarely see, yet when we get together the chemistry is exactly the same and we pick up right where we left off.

Together, these friends meet every need and make me feel loved in ways no one person could. I appreciate them so much that writing about it has made me choke up with emotion. And you know what? There's room in my life for more.

Okay, maybe I don't have a best friend. But I have the best friends I could ever want.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Brother Against Brother

President Barack Obama is briefed on the Paris terrorist attacks by Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in the Oval Office, Nov. 13, 2015. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Press Secretary Josh Earnest attend. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Islamic terrorists killed more than 100 civilians in Paris, France last week. Sadly, some Muslims around the world including no doubt some in my hometown, approve. Others condemn it publicly. 

This conflict has deep, deep roots and a very wide canopy of branches. The Abrahamic religions, including the one I participate in, are brothers that have been trapped in fratricidal wars for hundreds of years. Their wives, children, and neighbors are not-entirely-innocent casualties. No one knows how to end it. 

Many of my Christian peers think there's nothing to do but prepare for the End Times described in the Book of Revelation. They see all majority Muslim nations as enemies, who should be weakened as much as possible through economic sanctions and military action. That's one reason they hate President Obama, who tried to improve relations with Muslim countries early in his presidency. They see the nation of Israel as the only ally the US must never forsake, because Israel has God's favor and will prevail in the end.

Many Islamic jihad groups, e.g. ISIS, likewise "talk very specifically about how their actions and strategies are directed specifically to bringing about the end of the world." Their beliefs about the End of Days are based on prophecies in the Tanakh and Quran correspond to those of fundamentalist Christians and Jews, except of course they believe Muslims will go to Heaven.

This ideology is pervasive in my culture and heavily represented in our federal government

I don't think End Times ideology should drive international relations, but I recognize its power. Given that so many people of all three Abrahamic faiths believe in End Times ideology and therefore prefer to hasten wars rather than make peace, I doubt anyone, even the President of the United States, can overcome it.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Old strategies, New techniques

The United Church of Christ Facebook page linked to a blog post by Steven Mattox,, contending that modern American churches are "diluting church" by subsituting marketing gimmicks for "divine communion". The author takes aim at a variety of what he calls "distractions," from videos to leather couches, arguing that these things make parishioners too comfortable and pull focus from the message of Jesus.

The editorial made me think about several things relative to the worship experience. My first thought was that religious leaders have always used showmanship to, as I like to describe it, "draw and awe" the congregants. Off the top of my head I can think of many techniques for doing so.

Gory animal or human sacrifices, using natural light in moonlight/sunrise/sunset rituals, chants and songs, group recitations, fire, water, special foods and drinks, grand architecture, art works, instrumental music, burning incense and other things, adding or removing clothing, rising, kneeling, prostrating, handshaking, reading aloud, dancing, call and response speaking and singing, bathing, cutting skin, walking, climbing and descending stairs or a steep incline, decorating with colored gems or glass, using precious metals and stones. These multisensory experiences serve to evoke particular emotions that the leader wants participants to feel while they are being led through religious events and teachings.

I have observed that most churches develop a sense of identity and come to a point where they want to be known for one thing or another. You could call it branding, as the author does, but I think it happens naturally in most churches. A church's claim to fame usually results from some sort of charismatic leadership.

My church, for example, is known for excellent music. That's a direct result of one very talented, long-term music minister, backed by solid support of the senior minister who was also there a long time. Although those two people are now gone, the congregants still want and demand excellent music. They selected the new senior minister and music minister with that in mind, and are willing to pay for the staff and resources such a program requires.

Our worship music is extravagant, it draws new people, and its explicit purpose is to inspire awe while worshiping God. Other than the lyrics, the music program doesn't have anything to do with serving the poor, feeding the hungry, or loving the unlovable. Its role in my church might be tangential to Jesus's message, yet is central to the act of worship, especially in our traditional services. Some people may feel put off by that and choose to attend a simpler service. Many, however, feel inspired and empowered by the music, and credit it for helping them feel closer to Christ.

In thinking about how a church decides to sell its strengths or prioritize a particular value for its congregants--whether that's music, a comfortable atmosphere, or whatever---I disagree somewhat with the other author. He makes a good point, that sharing Jesus's message should be the main purpose for doing church. But I think he judges newer techniques to be "shallow" compared to older ones, when the techniques are simply ways of implementing the same old strategies churches always had. What's inherently worse about projecting text on a screen compared to reading it from a hymnal? What's bad about coffee shops and couches, compared to picnics on the lawn for old-fashioned church socials? I would argue nothing is wrong with these newer techniques. They are probably more appropriate for churches that have ten times the number of members (or more) of typical churches a few decades ago.

I agree with his view that a church which operates just to be popular and profitable is a sham. This is something people have always had to watch out for, and Jesus was certainly critical of those hypocrisies in his own community. Overturning the money-changers' tables was one of his crystal-clear messages on that subject. I just don't think the modern "draw and awe" techniques are in themselves evidence of that pitfall.

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Getting hit from the rear by another car is a singularly dis-empowering experience, at least for me. It's happened four times now so I've had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the experience. For over fifteen years I've been taking a prescription drug for chronic pain due to whiplash. You don't forget about it when you have to take a pill every day to cope with the effects of your wrecks.

When something didn't turn out perfect, Mom always wanted me to look for the lesson. If I got a B on a report card she'd ask, "What could you have done to make it an A?" If a friend hurt my feelings she'd prompt me to analyze my behavior to figure out what brought on the insult. She didn't mean any harm, indeed she meant to help, but I developed an inflated sense of responsibility that easily devolves into  self-blame for stuff that is not in my control. It took some firm talk from my minister and therapist to convince me that it's not always about me, and to quit feeling guilty for things other people do.

So after being rear-ended at a stop light, I automatically tried to understand what I did to bring it on. Then a few years later it happened again. State Farm dropped my policy even though they had never paid a dime, reinforcing my self-blame tendencies. The customer service rep who took my bewildered call said I didn't do anything wrong, just "happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time one too many times." To this day I don't know what to do with that statement. All of my wrecks happened in my hometown in the afternoon or early evening. What's the right place and time to drive?

Later on I was sandwiched in a 5-car pileup; I don't count that as a rear-ender. Several years later I took another hit at a red light. And it happened again a couple weeks ago as I waited, with brake lights and turn signal on, to make a left turn. It's been ten years but when I saw that SUV's grill rapidly growing bigger in my rearview mirror, the dread was all too familiar. With oncoming traffic on the left and more traffic zipping by on the right, there was nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait for impact, hoping I don't get shoved into another vehicle. The other driver said to me, "I never saw you until I hit you."

I've thought about this a lot. What's the lesson? Hell if I know!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Good behavior or Good news?

I'm pondering the ideas in a Washington Post blog post about contemporary Christian sermons and worship services. The ideas are summed up in the author's claim "The  heart of the Christian faith is Good News not good behavior."

How much of faithful living is about trying to live up to the ideals of one's religion, and how much of it is about accepting the grace that lets us off the hook because noone actually can? I feel tension every day about that.

For me, those feelings are resolved when I imagine God being much less interested in my mistakes than I am. In other words, the universe is swirling around doing its thing in a context so much larger than I could ever imagine, I need to remember that I have a real but very tiny role in it. In other, other words, it's not all about me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

What a Wedding Creates

Our daughter married a wonderful man a few years ago. Their anniversary is at this time of year, and I've been thinking about the wedding and what it meant to our family.

By committing themselves to a future together legally, spiritually, and emotionally, they created a brand-new web of relationships that didn't exist before. I am grateful that the host of people who accompanied each of them into their relationship-- relatives, friends, co-workers, mentors--are healthy influences and people of goodwill.

They established a positive climate for everyone in this new web, by making their wedding ceremony and reception activities as much about the supporters gathered there as it was about the couple. Our daughter's wedding was a wonderful event; I look back on it with pride and awe. More important, it created a new community with the potential to bless hundreds of lives in new and powerful ways.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ministering to Animals and Pet Owners

Do animals need and deserve attention from the church? If so, how would one go about providing such a ministry? My home church has been exploring this for several years. We have an Animal Ministry and today I saw pets in the pews with their owners, enjoying our regular 11:59 worship service. What an unconventional and mind-expanding sight! A special blessing for animals was held outdoors in the courtyard after the service. Last week, our church held a pet memorial service to comfort people who mourn and miss a deceased pet. I really appreciate my pastors' inclusive concept of ministry. They constantly expand my view of compassion and service.