Approved Message

There are lots of ‘approved messages’ out there these days. Since we can no longer be assured that political messages are created by those running for office and their parties, it has become necessary for the candidates to be heard saying: "My name is __________ and I approved this message." It made me wonder what messages I would approve being said about me, about who I am, what I stand for, what I believe.  We also know from watching these ads that much of what is ‘approved’ is an attack on the rival candidate. This way of doing politics….which originally meant ‘the good of all the people’….is an unfortunate reality of our times. It seems we can’t really know much about a person without the process of comparison, even if that comparison stretches the truth or clothes itself in innuendo or false facts.

What are the approved messages of your life? What are the approved messages that your daily living sends into the world? Into your work environment? Into your family life? Into your circle of friends? Who are you and what do you really stand for? These are essential life questions. But they are ones we probably spend little time reflecting upon. If someone created an ad about your life, what would it say? Would you feel good about approving it?

I read these words in my morning prayer today: "Restore me in the image of your love this day that the longings of my heart may be true. Restore me in the image of your love this day that my passions for life may be full." These words by J. Philip Newell seem to me to be a beginning of a message I would like to approve. Let me be an image of love in the world this day. Let my heart be filled with longings that are filled with truth. Let me be passionate about all that will bring fullness of life, not only to me but to all.

It seems it is important to write the messages we would approve for ourselves and not allow others to write them for us. What messages are you approving with your life this day?

Passage of Time

"All my life’s a circle, sunrise & sundown, Moon rolls thru the nighttime til day break comes around. All my life’s a circle, still I wonder why. Seasons spinning ’round again,years keep rolling by. Seems like I’ve been here before, can’t remember when. I get this funny feeling, we’ll be together again. No straight lines make up my life, all my roads have bends. No clearcut beginning, so far no dead ends." ~Harry Chapin, Circles

There are many ways we mark the passage of time. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We watch the seasons change from the greening promise of spring to the beauty of autumn leaves changing to brilliant reds and golds and finally to the brown that sends them cascading onto the first snow of winter. Some people make an ‘X’ on their calendars to mark off another day accomplished. Sometimes these passages of time can feel exciting and full of promise. Other times they bring great sadness and loss.

A couple of weeks ago our oldest son celebrated his 21st birthday. It was a great reminder of the passage of time. How did this young, energetic blonde-headed boy become an adult right before our very eyes? And while he speaks of his age as if it is ancient, how is it that I don’t feel any older at all? I guess the passage of time is lined with the membranes of grace.

Yesterday I held the new born son of a young woman that I used to babysit for when she was in third grade. His newness in the world was written all over him from his fuzzy cheeks to the way he would squint his eyes at the light that must seem so bright after nine months in dark, watery safety. We talked and I observed the same quiet, strong spirit alive in her that I witnessed in her as a child. But here we were. Three generations sitting quietly together marking a passage of time. I felt blessed to be aware of its significance.

Writing these words I am reminded of the ancient Celts who did not think of time as linear, as passing, but as continuous like a circle. Their sense that all time is existing in this circular nature, that those who have gone before and those who are yet to be are among us, softens the edges of the feeling of passage. There is even more grace in that notion. The saints who lived are still living and  time is not divided into losses and gains.

That young girl who inspired me with her strength and wisdom lives in the young woman who now cradles her newborn. The energy and exuberance of our first born son now shines forth from the sparkling blue eyes of the 21-year-old man ready to take on the world. And so it goes. Round and round, not passage of time as much as sacred circle in which we all travel, floating in grace.

Have a blessed weekend……………….

Human Arms

"We put our arms around each other
a pair of ordinary tax-paying human arms
not to rest them
but to harden them
a pair of ordinary concrete-accustomed
and marketed human arms
a pair of ordinarily needing
a par of ordinarily hugging
human arms
we put them around each other
they are health-insured and ordinarily dressed
a pair of ordinarily love-interpreting
human arms
how strong they are
sovereign, independent-
no matter where
no matter what the hour
no matter what the season
suddenly and for all time
human arms
without speculation
we put them around each other
as if to show that their powerlessness
doesn’t exist."
         ~ Marianne Larsen, poet

Human arms. While I was leafing through a book of prayers compiled for the year 2000 and the approach of the new millennium, I came across this poem. Marianne Larsen is a Danish poet and her words conjured up the beautiful image of arms interlinked and the power of that image. I recognized that the image itself caused my heart to slow, to soften and brought a sense of calm to my spirit.

You see, I have be listening and watching, as many have, the dire messages in our media. It is easy to go to the panic place, to react quickly, to isolate. It is a natural animal reaction to fear and danger. But there is a powerlessness in that. It is a reaction that gives over our power as a collective community of gifted, creative beings to an outside force.

Instead I want to be a part of a community that comes together to solve, to strategize, to dream of ways that can help us heal the wounds of where we find ourselves as individuals, as a country, as a world. Fear will not do that. Panic will not do that. Isolation will not do that.

Human arms, human hands, human hearts, human spirits, linked together is the only thing that has ever solved the world’s most difficult problems. These days I plan to surround myself with the brightest, the most compassionate, the most creative and wise, the most humble people I know. Together I pray we can eat together, pray together and look with hopeful eyes toward a future that is unknown but still held gently in the arms of the Holy.

I pray our leaders, in their own ways, can do something similar.

Story Chair

I receive a quarterly newsletter from a group in Seattle called Earth Ministry. I love looking through it for interesting articles on faith and care of the Earth. There are always challenging articles,poems and prayers written by people who are passionately trying to connect their faith and their daily life. They are trying to create their ‘life’s work’ based on how they see the Holy in the world. This is important and challenging work.

My eyes fell on a fall gathering they call "Story Chair". It is described as ‘an intimate,seasonal gathering honoring leaders in the community and inviting them to share how their faith informs and guides their life and their work.’ Reading the title made me think of the really large green Adirondack chairs that are placed around the Twin Cities as objects of art in various green spaces. I imagined the storyteller crawling up into the monstrous chair to tell his or her story,lifted up to the seat of the chair with the help of the rest of the community. The Story Chair would be the focus of the community for that moment as people listened deeply to the movement of the Holy in the life of this loved one.

Last week at one of our worship services I quoted an article I had read from another magazine. "Every morning we wake up at the intersection of faith and contemporary life, and we offer them Christ." I explained to the community that, while this magazine was written for church professionals, these words applied to everyone. Each morning we plant our feet on the ground, if we are blessed to do so, and we walk into the culture in which we have been born. A culture that for the most part we did not create but are a part of nonetheless. How we take our inner life and mold it with our outer life is the art of being human. This work is not for the faint hearted. There are many obstacles, many things to trip us up, many situations in which we would simply like to turn our backs and pretend that it is another time, another place, a simpler time(or so we imagine) or a time in which someone else is in control, certainly not us. Living faithfully, however we name that, in our time and our world, is the gift and the challenge each of us face. It is the task of integrity and authenticity to which each of us is called.

I wonder how I might tell my story if I found myself sitting in the Big Green Story Chair. How would I articulate my faith intersecting with contemporary life these days? How would you? How would you tell your story to the rapt listeners looking up with craned necks and hopeful eyes? The contemporary life we all share is complicated. We often think our lives are more complicated than those that went before us. I would venture to say that is probably not an accurate assumption. But since it is all we know it is our only barometer.

I would like to believe that if I sat in the Story Chair I would end my story by quoting the words of Annie Dillard which have always inspired me:" Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead—as if innocence had ever been…. But there is no one but us. There never has been."

At the end of my story, I hope my friends would lift me gently from the Story Chair. There is, after all, much to be done. And there is no one but us.


"This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine."

These words written in 1934 by Lloyd Stone reflect the first stanza of a hymn that is a favorite in my faith community. Set to the tune Finlandia by Jean Sibelius, it is the song most often requested by people. It is a beautiful tune, regal and heart moving. But I believe it is the words that people want to sing. They want to claim their love for this country, for the area of the country in which they live and to pay homage to the land that has shaped their view of the world, their understanding of the presence of the Holy.

But I think there is also the wonderful sense of humility in the lyrics that we all want to try to live up to. The recognition that our land is so precious to us but so are the lands of others to them. This morning on MPR’s Morning Show they played several songs about Lake Superior. I found my heart tugging in my chest as I listened to the love songs to this Great Lake and thought of the times this summer when I walked its shores and stared out at the expanse of powerful and ancient wisdom that make up its waters. A person who has never experienced this mighty lake would not have reacted in the same way just as I could not feel the same love and affection for, say, a lake in China or any other part of the world. But my belief if that, just as I can be moved to tears by the beauty of this body of water, so others all around the world find that deep meaning in the land that surrounds them, that defines them, that they call home.

Today marks the autumnal equinox in which all over the world for the most part, humans will experience an equal amount of daylight and darkness. Today we will be held in the same amount of light and the same amount of night light as those who live in countries with which we are at war. Those fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be held today by the Sun and the Moon just as we are held.Though this is always true,  he equinox is the great equalizer in some ways. What if we all marked this day by honoring this astronomical similarity rather than focusing on the ways in which we are different? What might happen? How might the world change? How might we change? It is humbling thought.

"My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine."

This evening as we end our day and say goodbye to the day in which we are all equal in light and darkness, perhaps our prayer might be for those in lands far from ours who love their home as much as we do. And that prayer might begin the peace we long to see.

The First Rule

"The first rule is simply this:
live this life
and do whatever is done,
in a spirit of Thanksgiving.
Abandon attempts to achieve security,
they are futile,
give up the search for wealth,
it is demeaning,
quit the search for salvation,
it is selfish,
and come to comfortable rest
in the certainty that those who
participate in this life
with an attitude of Thanksgiving
will receive its full promise."
     ~John McQuiston II, Always We Begin Again:The Benedictine Way of Living

My eyes fell upon these words today while leafing through this book I return to now and again.Given the conversations that I have had over the last couple of days and those I have listened to on radio or television, these words were somehow comforting, insightful. Many people are focused on the financial crisis we are facing as a country and that is spreading rapidly into the rest of the world. The news is unsettling, disturbing and once again,at least for me, points at the many ways we are connected that don’t seem readily obvious to us. Many people have been caught in a mortgage nightmare and a spiral of greed on the part of banks and lenders that is staggering. The rest of us are going on our merry way without the full knowledge of, yes-it is true!, we are all in this together. I have been reminded over and over of the Native American image of the Web of Life….when one part of the web is hurting or damaged, the whole web is shaken and involved. When will ever learn this message? Isn’t this what we are experiencing? Those people who were given loans that the lenders knew they could not afford and those that offered them, have succeeded in reminding us that we are surrounded by invisible lines of connection. Their pain is our pain. Their fear is our fear.

So John McQuiston’s rewriting of the rule of St. Benedict caught my attention. Striving for security is a futile pursuit, he says. The search for wealth? Demeaning. Salvation……a selfish desire. But Thanksgiving, now we are on to something. The gifts of life that come to us, whatever they are, call out for our Thanksgiving. And in living this gratitude paved road, life becomes a journey of hope and promise. Living with this kind of intention also has potential to change our lives…..positive change,miraculous change…..the kind of change that truly makes a difference.

Those that understand this situation better than I report that things are going to get better. It will simply take time. My heart goes out to those who have less time than others, those who may feel this pinch for the rest of their days. My prayer is that in this experience we will learn to remember……what harms one part of the web, harms the entire web.And we are the web.

Have a blessed weekend……………….


Nearly every morning when I arrive at the church I am greeted by our receptionist with a "Good Morning." I respond, likewise and then I say "How are you?" and her answer? "Blessed!" I know that she says this even when she does feel it. But I never think of it as being inauthentic. I believe she holds the idea that to state her blessedness, not only states a deep knowing of God’s presence in her life, and that even on bad days to proclaim oneself as blessed helps the feeling to grow and materialize.

Understanding our blessedness is a true gift. It helps keep the world in perspective. It helps keep our troubles in perspective. It opens us to the pain and sorrow of others and it allows our compassion and empathy to grow. Understanding our blessings helps us to live a life of gratitude, naming to ourselves and those around us the depth of goodness that comes into our lives each and every day.

The writer and artist Jan L. Richardson writes: "God of the ages, to whom the hours are nothing and everything: may I know each moment as a sacred guest to be welcomed, to be savored, to be sent with a blessing." When we proclaim ourselves as blessed, we also affirm our connection with the Holy in that moment. Welcome You who lives in this sacred moment…come into my life. Let me feast upon my time with You. Let my daily walk be a blessing that leaves footprints in the world.

How are you today? Blessed? Somehow after allowing that to be our answer to this routine question,answering simply, ‘fine’, seems so boring and untrue.


Yesterday was a day filled with meetings and places I needed to be. It was so full that I never made it to my computer to register the experience I had in the early morning as I drove to work. I have many routes that I can drive on any given day. Yesterday I decided to take a different bridge which brings me first through downtown St. Paul and along the beauty of Summit Avenue on my way to my office in Minneapolis. This is what I often think of as the ‘leisurely route.’ My experience yesterday turned this drive into something deeper.

As I came off the High Bridge that connects St. Paul with West St. Paul, I stopped at the red light that measures traffic on West. 7th Street. At this corner is The Salvation Army. The corner was bustling with people who had perhaps eaten breakfast there or slept there, I don’t know. All I saw were many ages of people, many with back packs, some with take away food containers, standing about ready to begin their day. I watched as one young woman on a bike was being playfully followed and spoken to by a man. At least I hope it was playful. It was difficult to know. Groups of 2 or 3 began walking away from the center headed toward downtown, perhaps to the Dorothy Day Center where lingering seems to be tolerated more. I wondered what their day held. Were they mostly homeless and jobless or did they represent the many who work but can’t make enough to meet their daily needs. I continued to wonder about the young woman.

Moving on up Ramsey Hill I came on to the historic Summit Avenue, flanked by the University Club anchoring the top of the steep hill and all the mansions built by the founders of Saint Paul. These homes are so beautiful, so spacious, so expansive, one wonders how a regular family of perhaps only four people could find one another in all those rooms. I have favorites whose flowers I watch grow and change over the summer season. I love this ride…looking at the landscaping, the specific details of architecture, the fine stonework and intricate woodworking. These homes represent people who have been successful and have lived elegant lives.

The quandry I found myself in was how to make sense of a world that holds these two extremes.And I recognize that these extremes are relative given the living conditions of others around the globe.  How do we embrace a world that cannot creatively solve the problems of homelessness and poverty when so much of the world has far more than they need? I recognize all the judgments and pitfalls that live in this thought process. I do not know the people I witnessed on the street or those who live along Summit. I cannot possibly know the circumstances of their lives. But my brow still furrows and my heart aches that somehow, as a society of the most privileged people on earth, we cannot figure this out.

I pray that the young woman is safe and that her day reflected, in at least some small way, the sunshine of the beautiful September morning.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit:for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness:for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful:for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart:for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers:for they shall be called the Children of God." Matthew 5:3-9


I have my work cut out for me today. Why? Here’s my horoscope:"If you’ve been wondering when you’ll meet that life-changing person, today offers the best chance of the month. Get out and be friendly. Someone has been waiting to meet you, too."

Wow! This opens up a vast realm of possibility. How might my life be changed? Who is this person? How will I know them? Will they know me? I’ll have to be on my toes, really observant, so as not to miss this moment, this life-changing person.

Now, truth be told I only put a small stock in my horoscope. I simply find it fun to read every morning. But I do like the idea that we meet people who change our lives all the time. People who inspire us. Those that challenge us. Others who fill us with great hope and those that make us commit to more fully live out our values in the world. Sometimes these are famous people we hear speaking who call us in some way to rise to the best of who we are. But most often those life-changing people are regular, every day people living extraordinary lives with courage and humility and deep sense of connection to others. They are parents, grandparents, children, teachers or friends. They change our lives by their commitment to traveling life’s journey with us through thick and thin, through joy and sorrow. They encourage and uplift, dry tears and share our laughter.They teach us by their example and accept us with grace.

The advice of my horoscope still stands. It is still a good idea to ‘get out there and be friendly.’ Someone is waiting to meet us…and we, them. It is in those chance meetings that we can once again form those relationships that will change our lives and make them stronger… person at a time. This is not a once a month experience but the gift that is offered to us each day. It’s good advice that doesn’t come from an ability to read the stars. It comes from an ability to read the human heart.

"We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a
vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a
series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over."
— Samuel Johnson

Light Hearted

"Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God."  Karl Barth

It seems we are living in serious times. There is much to be troubled about, much to lament, much to worry over. The economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the upcoming election, the state of education… name it. There is plenty to occupy your time. As a self-described intense person, I can spend the majority of my days listening to and studying the climate of our culture….oh, yes, there’s climate change to worry about, too! Like minds attract one another, so it is not surprising that the majority of my friends also represent a certain intensity of personality. Together we can whip up quite a stew.

So it was a moment of grace this morning when I had a close encounter of a light hearted kind. I was driving on 494 East when what should pull up beside me at 60 miles per hour but the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. I looked over and laughed out loud. Tucked inside the hot dog shaped, bright orange car were two people chugging along as if they were riding in a normal sedan. I was forced to pull into the lane behind them. With this completely different view, I laughed even more. "I’m following a hot dog on the freeway!", I thought. Then just as quickly as you can say ‘mustard’ , the lanes on the bridge near Woodbury that’s been under what construction for what seems an eternity switched and the Wienermobile moved into the lane behind me. "I’m being chased by a Wienermobile!"

I thought about the people driving that sausage car. It seems to me it would be very difficult to take yourself too seriously driving such a vehicle. I thought of my friend who is probably equally as intense as I can sometimes be. To keep a lid on that intensity he wears two different socks. He says when he is in the midst of a serious discussion, when he wants to be perhaps more self-righteous than he ought, his eyes will wander to his mismatched socks. They remind him of all his frailties, all his imperfections, and he remembers to hold the seriousness of the world with a light heart.

The Wienermobile took the 94 East exit and headed toward Wisconsin, hopefully spreading laughter all the way across the border. It is true that there is much to be serious about in the world. But there is also the room for laughter, for silliness, for mismatched socks and crazy, wacky cars. It’s Friday and the weekend looms ahead. May we each have enough seriousness to make us humble and enough laughter to keep our hearts light with joy that is over flowing.

Have a blessed weekend………….