2023 Words: Practice Gratitude

 I had the privilege again this past Advent to create liturgies for the lighting of each advent candle for our church. When we got to the third Sunday and the candle of joy (12/11/22 post) I asked some of my fellow fans of Dr. Brené Brown to help me find what she has said about joy.  My friend Jean Wright came through with this gem from Dr. Brown: “In our research we found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy had one thing in common: They practiced gratitude…A wild heart can beat with gratitude and lean in to pure joy without denying the struggle in the world.  It’s not always easy or comfortable – but what makes joy possible is a front made of love and a back built of courage.” 

There’s an old joke about someone asking how to get to Carnegie Hall. The answer is “practice, practice, practice.”  Well, apparently the way to get to Joy is also, like any other life skill, to practice. Since I am by nature a skeptical, glass half empty kind of person, learning gratitude for me is something that requires lots and lots of practice. Practice is hard.  Playing scales on the piano is work. Practicing on the putting green for hours is not nearly as much fun as hitting the crap out of a ball on the driving range.  But no one will master the piano or lower their golf score without those basic practices.

It is no coincidence that my friend Jean Wright’s daughter, Katy, recently shared her wisdom about gratitude that she learned from podcasts with Kate Bowler and Kelly Corrigan who indirectly address the practice of gratitude by dividing life experiences into two categories, the “happies” and the “crappies.” The trick, of course, is paying at least an equal amount of attention to the former as we do the latter. 

One of my mentors in grad school, Dr. Bill Brown, developed a rhetorical theory that helps with this task. He calls it “attention shifting,” which I will oversimplify here by saying it means intentionally shifting our focus or attention from one thing to another. I was reminded recently of another related skill for keeping things in perspective and practicing gratitude when my wife and I attended a high school production of “Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” produced by the excellent Theater Arts Department at Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, OH. Our great nephew Ryan Buckley has been part of that program for all four of his high school years, and we have enjoyed many plays there; but one scene in this production really resonated with me.

The Kindergarten play is based on the book by the same title by Robert Fulghum. I have read most of Fulghum’s stuff; so this story was familiar, but I must have been ready to hear it again. It’s a little long for a blog post, but I am going to include it here in full because it is so good.

Fulghum writes: “In the summer of 1959, at the Feather River Inn near the town of Blairsden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California.  A resort environment.  And I, just out of college, have a job that combines being the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping out with the horse-wrangling at the stables.  The owner/manager is Italian-Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment.  He and I do not get along.  I think he’s a fascist who wants pleasant employees who know their place, and he thinks I’m a good example of how democracy can be carried too far.  I’m twenty-two and pretty free with my opinions, and he’s fifty-two and has a few opinions of his own.

One week the employees had been served the same thing for lunch every single day.  Two wieners, a mound of sauerkraut, and stale rolls.  To compound insult with injury, the cost of meals was deducted from our check.  I was outraged.

On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11:00 P.M., and the night auditor had just come on duty.  I went into the kitchen to get a bite to eat and saw notes to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut are on the employee menu for two more days.

That tears it.  I quit!  For lack of a better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.
I declared that I have had it up to here; that I am going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and go and wake up the owner and throw it on him.

I am sick and tired of this crap and insulted and nobody is going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it and who does he think he is anyhow and how can life be sustained on wieners and sauerkraut and this is un-American and I don’t like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat it one day for God’s sake and the whole hotel stinks anyhow and the horses are all nags and the guests are all idiots and I’m packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to the pigs.  Something like that.  I’m still mad about it.

I raved on this way for twenty minutes, and needn’t repeat it all here.  You get the drift.  My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly-swatter, the kicking of chairs, and much profanity.  A call to arms, freedom, unions, uprisings, and the breaking of chains for the working masses.

As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman, the night auditor, sat quietly on his stool, smoking a cigarette, watching me with sorrowful eyes.  Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman.  He’s got good reason to look sorrowful.  Survivor of Auschwitz.  Three years.  German Jew.  Thin, coughed a lot.  He liked being alone at the night job–gave him intellectual space, gave him peace and quiet, and, even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted to–all the wieners and sauerkraut he wanted.  To him, a feast.  More than that, there’s nobody around at night to tell him what to do.  In Auschwitz he dreamed of such a time.  The only person he sees at work is me, the nightly disturber of his dream.  Our shifts overlap for an hour.  And here I am again.  A one-man war party at full cry.

“Fulchum, are you finished?”

“No.  Why?”

Lissen, Fulchum.  Lissen me, lissen me.  You know what’s wrong with you?  It’s not wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”

“So what’s wrong with me?”

“Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.

“If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire–then you got a problem.  Everything else is inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.

“Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems.  You will live longer.  And will not annoy people like me so much.  Good night.”

In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

* * *

Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes with a truth so hard.  Years later I heard a Japanese Zen Buddhist priest describe what the moment of enlightenment was like and I knew exactly what he meant.  There in that late-night darkness of the Feather River Inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

For thirty years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I’m ready to do something really stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks:  “Fulchum.  Problem or inconvenience?”

I think of this as the Wollman Test of Reality.  Life is lumpy.  And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump.  One should learn the difference.  Good night, Sig.

As I reflect on the year 2022 it is very easy for me to see the entire year through the lens of the last couple of months which have been rather crappy for me. Following my 76th birthday at the end of October my 77th trip around the sun began with an unexpected hospital stay because of a very serious urinary tract infection. That urinary infection has turned out to be one that is very hard to get rid of and has been bothering me off and on for about seven weeks now. Because of that it has been easy for me to throw a pity party for myself if I forget to keep my focus on the larger scheme of things. This illness is just an inconvenience. Other than the time I spent in the hospital and I a few days after that, I have been able to continue my normal daily activities. Those activities included the aforementioned opportunities to create Advent liturgies for worship in our church. And by sharing those liturgies in my blog, they have also been used by a number of other readers and worship leaders, for which I am grateful.  I even got a bit of a chuckle each week during Advent when I noticed that the number of clicks on my Advent liturgies always seemed to go up about Thursday or Friday. I remember from my days of active pastoral ministry those were the days of the week when I suddenly realized I needed some help with worship resources for the coming Sunday.

I also realized this week that part of the attention shifting/gratitude practice is keeping my focus on the big picture and not just what is immediately in front or behind me. By paying too much attention to my recent illness I had completely forgotten about an amazing therapeutic golf program I became a part of this summer. That program is quite appropriately called “Fore Hope.“ In brief, this program pairs a wonderful volunteer “caddie” with each golfer. These caddies help the golfers with whatever that individual needs, from loading clubs on the golf cart, putting the ball on the tee, hunting for wayward balls, or literally holding the golfer up while he or she swings if there are balance issues. Having the opportunity to be a part of that program has given me a lot of hope and a new lease on life because I have been able to do something that I dearly love, which I thought was gone forever because of my health concerns. It has enabled me to play golf again with my son, and for the first time with two of my grandsons, and to my surprise as an introvert it also made me a part of a whole new community of friends.

I played my last golf with that group in mid-October and could not have written a more satisfying script for that evening. It was chilly, as October evenings are want to be in Ohio, and I almost wimped out and didn’t go; but I am so glad that I did. You see it turned out to be one of those magical times on the golf course when every putt found its way into or very close to the cup. And what is so special about the Fore Hope Golf community is that everybody is a cheerleader. We don’t keep score; so there is no insidious competition, and when any player makes a good shot everyone genuinely affirms that accomplishment.

But here’s the thing—about three weeks later I was flat on my back in the hospital and in the ensuing recovery from that experience, because I did not practice gratitude, I forgot all about the sheer joy I felt sharing those days on the golf course with my new friends. So for me, at least, an important part of the practice of gratitude is paying attention more often to the happies, and not letting the crappies which come along for all of us knock those moments of joy out of my awareness.

Thank You 2022 Readers

2022 has certainly been a roller coaster ride in many different ways. Many of the intangibles in life are impossible to quantify. That’s why I am drawn to have some hard, countable things in life, and thanks to WordPress this blog is one of those things. In that regard 2022 has been an incredible success for peacefullyharsh, and I have all of you readers to thank for that.

When I started writing these posts 11 years ago I was thrilled if I had 50 views per month of my posts. In fact it took me 4 years to break the 1000 mark for total views in a year. That was 2014, and now 8 years later 2022 is on track for over 12,200 views, a 20% increase over last year’s previous best record of 10,057. Those views in 2022 came from 103 different countries on six continents. I am so humbled and grateful that our sometimes troublesome technology makes all that possible.

One of my many blessings in 2022 was to discover “The Cottage,” a blog written by theologian Diana Butler Bass. I highly recommend her provocative and inspiring work. For her final post of 2022 Diana listed the posts from “The Cottage” that have attracted the most readership. Her top five are much more profound than mine, but she got me wondering, mostly for my own curiosity, what my top five posts of 2022 were.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the five posts from peacefullyharsh that had the most views in 2022. I’ve included the date each was originally posted in case you want to look any of them up:

1. Schism: Ecclesiastical Divorce, posted September 12

2. Respectful Disagreement, February 12

3. Dis-united: Realism vs Aspirations, May 30

4. Prayer of Lament as War Begins—Again! February 23

5. Things I Never Asked My Father, June 18

Thank you, dear readers, and to you all my wishes and prayers are for a blessed new year of peace, joy, hope and love.

Uncle, Brother, and Friend

Even in the busy holiday season as Ecclesiastes tells us “There is a time to be born and a time to die.”  My uncle Gary was one of those whose time to die just happened.  He did not want a funeral service, but I felt a need to write a brief tribute here to mark his passing. 

Because my mother had five younger brothers I have always been blessed with lots of uncles.  As of this week only two of those five uncles are still living.  I have not been geographically or emotionally close to any of the five for many years, but the death of the youngest, my Uncle Gary, this week has touched me more than expected.  I have only spoken to Gary a few times in the last 50 plus years, but there was a time when he was more cousin/brother/friend than uncle to me.

You see Gary, who was “Butch,” as he grew up was only four years older than I.  When she heard about Gary’s death my sister Sue said, “Ouch, Gary was awfully close to being a part of our generation.”  Technically, she’s right.  My sisters and I are all baby boomers, and Gary was not, being born in 1942.  But personally Gary/Butch felt like he was part of my generation as we were growing up.  He was the only one of my mother’s siblings who was still at home as I grew up.  So when we visited my grandparents Butch and I would explore the barn or the woods on their farm together.  Because he was always there the nickname my sisters and I had for our grandmother was “Grandma Butchie.”  

My mom’s family was big on nicknames.  Her dad, Alma, was ”Hooker,” although he was just “Grandpa” to me.  In addition to “Butch;” my mom, Sarah, was “Sadie” or “Sal.”  Carl was “Bud;” John Franklin, “Hank;” and Forrest, “Frog;” Now, only. The latter two are alive, but this blog is about Butch.

It’s funny what memories survive over 70 years.  I’m sure there were many other things that Gary and I did, but here are the recollections that have stuck with me.  I had a great big problem with homesickness until I was at least 12.  In truth it was still hard when I went away to college when I was almost 20, but at least then I didn’t have to call my parents and ask them to come get me.  My earliest memory of time with Gary was probably when I was 8 or 9.  I was supposed to spend the night at Grandma’s farm.  When my mom delivered me to the farm one afternoon Gary and I ran off immediately to explore the woods that was maybe a quarter of a mile from their farmhouse.  My mom was talking with Grandma when we took off for the woods, and all was well until I saw her driving off from where we were in the woods.  I’m sure she was thinking it might be better to leave without a big good-bye scene, but I was devastated she had left without letting me know and started running toward the road in a futile attempt to catch up with her.  Later that night I was so homesick my grandma had to call my parents to come get me.

Another memory seems like a scene out of time so far removed as to be hard to believe.  My grandparents did not have indoor plumbing until I was in my teens.  Their water came from a pump outside and their bathroom was a two-holer outhouse.  You heard that right, and yes I remember sitting side by side in the outhouse with Gary doing what people do in a privy.  By this time I’m guessing he was about 14 and I 10.  It was in that outhouse that I got my first sex education from Gary.  Living on the farm, he had the advantage of first hand learning about sex from the animals they raised.  I doubt that the education I got from him was 100% accurate, but it was better than any I got anywhere else till I got to a college biology class.  I also remember running naked from the outhouse to the house, something my parents would have been horrified about.  But my grandma who had raised 7 kids, 5 of whom were boys, just smiled as she watched us from the kitchen window.  

Gary and I actually attended the same school for a couple of years.  When I was in Jr. High our Jr. and Sr. High Schools were housed in the same building, which as an aside was the same building my mother graduated from almost 20 years before.  Old Blume High School was showing its age, but our very far-sighted school board had planned very well for the baby boom that my class initiated; and they built a brand new high school that opened when I was in 8th grade and Gary was a senior.  By that time Gary was nearly an adult and I was still his much younger nephew.  At least that’s my speculation based on how he appeared to be too “cool” to acknowledge his scrawny and too smart for his own good little nephew when our paths crossed at school.  

After that Gary and I lost touch with each other.  I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t even know what he did after high school.  I was much too busy with my own life and plans to go on to college and beyond and unfortunately turned my back on that part of my life and family.  My parents moved 60 miles away from my home town while I was in college, and I am sorry to say I felt superior to my relatives because I had two degrees and most of them did not have even one.  I think Gary was also a victim of a family feud that occurred when my grandmother died.  I never knew what it was all about, but it left in its wake a never-healed division resulting in brothers not speaking to brothers.  

And now as my parents’ generation is almost all gone I realize the loss is mine for not staying more connected to those family members.  The education they could have given me about a blue collar life style would have been at least as valuable as any grad school class I took in helping me connect and communicate with a diverse and important part of the larger community we all belong to, even if we fail to realize it.  

So Rest In Peace, Uncle Gary.  Regrets for the connection we lost, but much gratitude for the good times we had as carefree youth.  

Greed: The Deadliest Sin?

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

I have long wrestled with the realization that our U.S. economic system is based on greed, one of the seven deadly sins. Nowhere is that tension between Jesus’ values and our culture’s more obvious than this time of year where we devote one day to celebrating gratitude in the midst of the biggest season of consumerism that begins earlier every year. The struggle is symbolically portrayed in the scene above re-created by our niece from a picture she saw somewhere.

Jesus’ words above from the Sermon on the Mount can’t say it any more clearly. “You can’t serve God and money.” It’s an either/or, and yet we are still trying our best to prove him wrong. We are far more likely to follow the polar opposite maxim of Gordon Gekko, portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie “Wall Street.” Gekko actually said, “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right.” That line has been shortened in popular memory to it’s very essence, “Greed is Good.”

Choices about our basic human and cultural values are hard because they are so important, and in this case Jesus is a prohibitive underdog. He is up against a multibillion dollar advertising industry telling us 24/7 that we are what we wear, drive, live in, and how we look. Our consumer goods are made to be obsolete sooner rather than later so we will fill the landfills with last year’s gadgets. No one repairs things anymore; we just toss them in pursuit of the latest device, clothes, or vehicle.

Choice between God’s way and humanity’s foolish pursuits is what Joshua addresses the Hebrew people about on their long journey to the promised land: “ if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15).

Please know I am preaching to myself as much as to anyone else. I love my Apple gadgets and the new car I bought a year ago. I know my iPhone and Apple Watch were made by abused Chinese workers. And yes, I also know I am the keeper of those very sisters and brothers who made these toys I take for granted every day. It pains me to be reminded of that injustice, but so far not enough to do anything about it.

I don’t know if greed is the deadliest sin, but I do know it has been the root cause of most of the injustices in human history. Slavery, colonialism, genocide, nationalism, wars of conquest, systemic racism, sexism, and every economic, government or religion system that perpetuates the power of the haves over the have nots have greed for wealth, power, or control at their core. I don’t have a solution to this basic human flaw that goes clear back to Adam and Eve and their sons, but I do know the first step to addressing any injustice is to admit we are part of the problem.

I don’t agree with a lot of what Marianne Williamson says, but I thought she hit a home run with this quote that popped up on my Facebook page today: “Hate has talked so loudly for so long. Greed has talked so loudly for so long. Love has got to stop whispering.”

Jesus said the same thing this way: “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” (Luke 12:3).

This year may the gratitude of Thanksgiving inform the way we approach the Advent season. And as we light the Advent candles may we remember to not let the true light of the world to be hidden under a bushel. It’s time for love to stop whispering!

Awe, Mystery, and Disgust Part II

I am still processing the act of nature I witnessed in my back yard yesterday when a hawk

decided to drop in and have what I now believe was one of our many wild rabbits for dinner. In fact just looking at this image still gives me chills even though I didn’t witness the actual attack.

When I heard on the news today that this is the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine I could not help drawing the comparison to what the hawk in my backyard did to what the hawk in Moscow has been doing to Ukraine for half a year.

It is way to easy to be distracted by all the political foolishness in our own backyards and forget the war crimes and senseless violence the Russians are inflicting on our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. But it is a great disservice to the hawk I saw yesterday at my house to compare it to Putin. The hawk here was doing what hawks do naturally to survive. That’s what raptors do. But there is no natural or just reason for what Putin continues to do to Ukraine.

Cleaning up the remains of my hawk’s dinner was disgusting, but what is happening in Ukraine turns my stomach even more. Are we humans no better than that? Christ have mercy!

Mystery, Awe, and Disgust

My mind, per usual, has been focused on macro and micro events in the world around me – a teachers’ strike, global warming, my own physical and mental health. And then I looked out in our back yard a few minutes ago and saw a very large bird which I mistook for a chicken at first. When said bird heard me wondering out loud what it was doing in my yard it took off before I could get my phone out to snap a picture.

When the bird took to flight it became very obvious it was no chicken. It was some kind of hawk. My birding skills are not developed to the point that I could tell you what kind of hawk, but it was big. Not 3 minutes later I noticed a tiny hummingbird darting back and forth drinking from our feeder designed for just that purpose.

In those few moments I was struck by the mystery and magnificence of creation. One of the tiniest birds and one of the largest, at least in our part of the world, right there almost simultaneously in the small part of God’s universe we are privileged to call home.

And then I decided to walk out into the yard to see what the hawk had been doing. From what I had observed I thought he or she had been feasting on some other unfortunate critter. I was hoping it was one of the mice, chipmunks, or moles that are a nuisance to us. But what I found in the grass were the very gross remains of some much larger animal or bird. There was not enough left to identify what had been alive a few minutes before without DNA analysis.

I’m not sure what to make of all that. It struck me as a rather profound example of the cycle of life and how fragile and temporary our being here really is. I feel like I witnessed something messy and yet sacred and beautiful. And yes I will prepare and consume the steak I am grilling tonight with a renewed appreciation for one of God’s critters who gave his life so I can partake of his body in that mysterious chain of life.

Wilson!!

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18)

The recent pandemic has reinforced our knowledge that it is not good for humans to be alone. Our daughter-in-law is a very strong and self-aware introvert. Several months into the pandemic she joked that even a committed introvert like herself had to admit that she was missing human contact. Far more seriously we know that the hiatus from play dates and school has had serious mental health consequences on many children and youth who are behind in their social development and their ability to communicate in ways that are not mediated by technology.

Yes, it is true that technology has helped bridge the human contact gap in significant ways with virtual learning and digital meeting apps like zoom, but anyone who has spent much time using those tools will tell you that kind of meeting or teaching and learning is just not as good as face to face contact.

I was reminded of a wonderful movie that explored the theme of human loneliness when I found this golf ball in my bag last week. I led a men’s retreat several years ago where we watched the 2000 Tom Hanks film, “Cast Away” and then explored what the movie said about the human experience.

In that movie Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a harried FedEx executive, who is cast away as the lone survivor of a company cargo plane crash in the Pacific. The good news is he survived the crash. The bad news is he is washed ashore on a small deserted island where he is totally and completely alone. He manages to survive for years by creatively making use of a few items in packages that wash ashore from the plane crash.

One of the seemingly most useless items that floats into Noland’s island home is a brand new Wilson volleyball. No net, just the ball, and while beach volleyball is a real sport, it does require more than one person. That ball however soon becomes the most important factor in helping Noland maintain his sanity as multiple attempts to sail off the island in makeshift boats end in disaster and even a suicide attempt fails.

Noland discovers a way to meet the need for “human” contact without internet, cell phone, smoke signals, or even written communication. He turns the Wilson volleyball into Wilson, his friend and companion. He paints a face on the volleyball and regularly talks to Wilson about his plight. In the most poignant scene when Noland finally manages to push and paddle beyond the breakers and put out to sea on a makeshift sailboat, his buddy Wilson is washed overboard by a large wave and slowly drifts further and further away. Noland can only cry plaintively, “Wilson! Wilson!” as his faithful friend disappears from his sight.

Our men’s retreat was held at a church camp, and one of the men found a Wilson volleyball in a closet in the lodge where we were meeting. That ball, of course, became our mascot for the weekend, sitting with us as we discussed the film, coming to meals with us, and sleeping on one of the bunks in the dormitory-style room where we slept.

Now I have my own Wilson Jr. golf ball sitting on my desk to remind me again that it is not good to be alone. (And, it helps our bond that I played some very good golf with my Wilson, and he didn’t desert me like so many balls have by disappearing into the woods or splashing down into a water hazard.). Please understand, as an introvert I still regularly need and enjoy solitude. Zoom does make many things easier or even possible, like book clubs, meetings over distances without time-consuming and expensive travel, and especially regular contacts with distant friends.

But nothing, not even a lovable volleyball, can meet our basic need for human contact. My therapist says touch is the first and most basic form of human communication. Research has shown that infants who receive an adequate amount of loving touch not only thrive, but those who are not held and touched literally die.

We can see this phenomenon in other species, many of whom mate for life. Unfortunately many Americans have lost sight of the need for meaningful human contact. Our myth of rugged individualism has turned far too many of our human interactions into a transactional, self-centered dance of using people for our own profit and benefit.

Our consumer driven economy and our fear of an always uncertain future have convinced too many of us that we can never have enough material wealth to feel secure. Perhaps the silver lining in our current inflationary anxiety is that we will learn like Chuck Noland did to be satisfied and live with what we have. Powerful story telling like “Cast Away” is a way of teaching us those life lessons vicariously so we don’t have to actually be stranded on a desert island or isolated in a pandemic to learn them.

Respectful Disagreement

Like many wiser minds I have been very troubled about the state of our nation and the world in general. In particular I’m most concerned about the chasm of polarization that seems hopelessly wide and deep, making any productive discourse almost impossible. This impasse is a huge impediment to resolving everything from American culture wars to Vladimir Putin waiting to pounce on Ukraine.

It may seem naive or trite, but what the Judeo-Christian world knows as “The Golden Rule,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” seems like such a simple solution to most of the world’s problems. Knowing that words similar to Matthew 7:12 or Leviticus 19:18 appear in other world religions I googled that phrase and, please excuse the pun, I struck gold on my first try. Here’s what I found:

The Saturday Evening Post: cover, April 1, 1961 was a Rockwell collage of a group of people of different religions, races and ethnicity as the backdrop for the inscription “Do Unto Other As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Rockwell was a compassionate man, and this simple phrase reflected his philosophy.
“I’d been reading up on comparative religion. The thing is that all major religions have the Golden Rule in Common. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Not always the same words but the same meaning.” – Norman Rockwell

Here are Norman Rockwell’s notes on the way that the Golden Rule is expressed
in different religions…

Such a list is an example of what some contemporary theologians (e.g. Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox) would call cosmic or deep ecumenism.

All of that is wonderful wisdom, but I want to share with you a concrete example, a snapshot in time if you will, of what that kind of mutual respect looks like in action. In response to my blog entitled “Leading with Your Head,” (Jan. 30, 2022) I received this comment from a friend and colleague, Rev. Phyllis Fetzer. She wrote,

Hi, Steve, I enjoyed this blog post and thank you for the reminder re: being holistic and not just “leading with our head.” I mean no disrespect when I point out two things about your digression re: traumatic brain injury suffered by (football) players: (1) It’s not a “maybe;” it’s almost a certainty that players will experience damage to the brain. One recent (respected) study showed traumatic brain injury in 110 out of 111 players; that’s basically 100%. (2) May I gently point out to you (and hope that you would do the same to me) that having a lifelong habit of watching football doesn’t mean that that habit can’t change, right? Thinking of other ethical areas where people have said, “I just can’t change because it’s been this way my whole life.” E.g., men referring to women as “girls”. We *can* change in light of new learning, yes? I hope and think that you know that I respect you very much, and am also aware that I’m sure that I have (an) ethical blind spot(s) in some other area. Thanks for the good post.”

Wouldn’t the world be a much kinder and more productive and loving place if we could learn or relearn to disagree constructively and respectfully. I can tell you I certainly receive that kind of feedback with open arms and an open mind rather than putting up my defenses when I feel attacked. And I hope I have learned to live by that old golden rule just a little more thanks to Phyllis.

Advent 4: Love

Just as expectant parents prepare for the miracle of birth, decorating the nursery and buying supplies for their newborn, so we prepare our hearts to receive this greatest gift of all, the miracle of God’s love.

God does not need a labor and delivery room because God is the one in whom we live, and move and have our being. But when we are wounded by others or weary from struggling against the forces of evil we sometimes forget God is close enough to taste the salt of our tears.

Today we are tired of the bad news that bombards us every day.  We are tired of senseless violence, tired of natural disasters, tired of fearing an invisible virus, and oh so tired of separation from loved ones and interruptions to our normal lives.  

[Light Candle] And yet we light this candle of love again on this short December day because we know God is always here and everywhere.  We rejoice and hope and love, not because all is well in our weary world, but because it is well with our souls.  We are warm even this close to the winter solstice because we are wrapped in God’s eternal love.

And so we pray: O Holy One, even as our days grow shorter the candles of hope, peace, joy and love burn brightly.  Even in the darkness we see the star of Bethlehem leading us to the greatest gift of Love the world has ever received.  We know you will be with us this week even if all the gifts have not arrived, even if the guest list is missing people we love, even if we are in quarantine; because nothing can separate us from your love.  We can’t begin to explain this holy miracle, but we light candles and sing praises anyway because we feel your love in the depths of our souls.  For that gift we give you thanks and praise.  Amen

Advent 3rd Sunday: Joy

As we get closer and closer to Christmas we can feel joy spreading like a wildfire from the candles of hope and peace.  This joy is not the fleeting satisfaction we call happiness.  Joy is not a pious catch phrase, but an eternal flame that cannot be snuffed out by the cares of a weary world.

These candles here will not burn forever, but true joy that lives in our souls endures eternally. It survives flood, famine, pandemic, and unbearable sorrow.  When our bodies are too tired to carry on, the songs of joy still ring in our hearts.  

Today we light this candle of joy because the Christmas story reminds us that Emmanuel means God is with us always and everywhere.  [Light candle]

And so we pray: O come Emmanuel and ransom our weary world held captive by fear. When we are calm in the midst of chaos it is because your eternal joy is in us. We dare to be joyful because the tiny babe of Bethlehem has shown us victory over all the things that frighten us. No matter how many variants the forces of evil change themselves into; we know that you, almighty God, can transform our suffering into joyful praise. You have taught us that no matter how long our mourning in darkness may last, joy will come with the dawning of a fresh new day filled with hope, peace and love. And so today we offer you our songs of praise for the one who is Joy to the World. Amen