“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” The Dalai Lama

For some reason I have been thinking about kindness lately. To put it plainly, I realized that I have been in several settings in which kindness was in short supply, where people chose hurtful rather than helpful words. I recognize that it had begun to nag at my soul. So when I was at a restaurant yesterday and I was about to move a chair to sit down and a young man turned and smiled at me and, instead, moved the chair for me, I somehow was stunned by his effort. It seems simple enough, I know, but with all the jagged edges that were sticking out of my skin, it seemed the sweetest, gentlest of actions. I was melted by his kindness.

Sometime last week, I listened to a report on MPR about the civility or lack thereof in our culture right now. There were many reasons given for this phenomenon not the least of which was our ability to communicate with others via email and other social networks which don’t require face-to-face connections. It feels quite safe to say whatever comes to our minds and hit send without any personal censoring. We react quickly, sometimes rashly and pass on our words in the blink of an eye. All without the benefit of seeing the flinch of another, the grimace that crosses a face, or even the tear that might roll down a cheek. With all the positive ease this form of communication brings to our lives, this is one of the true downfalls.

Kindness. Who comes to your mind when you think of ‘kindness’? A parent? A teacher? A neighbor? Your child? A dear friend? Have you known the kindness of strangers in your life? Have you been extended the hospitality of kindness? I hope so. I hope there are many people that come to mind who have been bearers of kindness. Sometimes it is a surprising gift, like the young man who moved the chair, his face all full of smiles. And then there are those times when you know you will be walking into kindness. You look forward to it, like a special holiday meal, anticipate its healing properties.  I can think of a couple of retreat centers I have frequented where kindness seems to seep out of the very walls.

This morning I learned that one of the kindest men I know had passed yesterday from this life to the next. It was a blow. He was someone who walked into a room and kindness seemed to float off his words, his movements, his very being like proverbial fairy dust. Though he was older and had had tenuous health, it was still difficult to hear of his passing, to imagine the world without his signature grace and goodness.

Kindness. It can seem an elusive thing most days. But, perhaps,the real lesson is that we each carry this magic fairy dust. The discipline is to use it. Often. And always.

Staying Alive

“Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors or scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of  staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thought to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.”
~Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

This was the scripture one of my colleagues read for devotions at our staff meeting yesterday. In the course of all I did during the hours that followed that meeting I kept thinking back to these words, this interpretation in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. What a ‘carpe diem’, seize the day, message! It made me question the little things that wanted to nag at my spirit, to let them go in favor of embracing the last and only chance at this gift of a day.

While most people are somewhat familiar with the words of Ecclesiastes 3, ‘for everything there is a season’, most don’t read through much of the rest of the book. They know this text, not so much from Sunday School, as from the lyrics of the Byrd’s song ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ and subsequent remakes of that recording through different generations. Ecclesiastes is a part of the Wisdom literature in the Bible, words meant to provide wisdom and guidance for life in the real world. And Ecclesiastes 9 does this as good as any self-help book you might pull off the shelf at Barnes & Noble: “Seize life! Eat and drink heartily. Put on your best and brightest clothes. Today is God’s gift, never to be relived. Take what the day brings and find a place of gratitude in it.” In  my opinion, it doesn’t get much better, or wiser, than that.

Of course, like any good piece of wisdom, it does point out the obvious. This day is our ours to create and live and what we make of it is the currency we use in exchange for the hard work that goes into it. I recognize that I read these words from a place of privilege and that there are those who do not have much say in what their day will hold, may not have the chance to eat or drink with gusto if at all, have no choice in what clothes they wear. This understanding makes this scripture even more urgent to me. And of course, there is that bit about being in the ‘company of the dead’. Sobering, huh?

So, today is already on its way, this gift from God is already unfolding before us. I’ve yet to decide what I’ll wear today but I promise it will be colorful and may even be completed with a scarf. And as I eat my lunch, I plan to savor each bite as if it were my last. I plan to pay attention to the relationships in my life that bring me joy and offer love in return. At day’s end I hope to be able to hand over the hard work of this day as payment for staying alive.

It simply seems like the wise way to live.

Blueberry Prayers

On Friday I had the blessing of being invited to pick blueberries with close friends. The invitation included a beautiful drive south, through the hills and bluffs of Minnesota’s river valley along the shores of the Mississippi and through the corn and soybean fields that are the lifeblood of farm families. The whole trip was a testament to the gifts of beauty and of summer. As we curved and jogged off the main highway toward the Rush River Farms, farmhouses and animals….cows, horses, ponies, even a sweet, little donkey….seemed to greet the city dwellers. “Welcome to our world! Come and rest awhile.”, they seemed to say.

Upon our arrival, we saw that we were not the only people who woke up and thought that picking blueberries was the thing to do that day. Cars lined the makeshift parking lot that, in the winter, must be nothing more than the entrance to the barn and the side yard. Children played on a tire swing hung from a huge oak tree nestled in the backyard of the farmhouse. “Why did they put a swing here?” I heard one city boy ask. What better place for a swing, I thought, as I took in the view of the green, rolling hills?  Swinging from that tree must feel like flying!

As we approached the blueberry fields, I noticed three different places where Buddhist prayer flags flew in the early morning breeze. The flags, tied to stakes in the ground, formed a canopy to the entrance of the fields and ringed the shelter where our berries would eventually be weighed and priced. Their bright primary colors…red, yellow, blue, green and white….were now faded from the sun and frayed from the wind. But they still held a peaceful, steady presence over the berries and the hands who picked the luscious fruit. I wondered what prayers had been infused in those pieces of fabric, prayers for a good crop, for sunshine, for rain, for temperatures that made for a bountiful harvest. All, prayers of hope.

If you pick alone, the act of picking berries allows for quiet time, for noticing your own breath, the sweat that forms at your temples and the nape of your neck. It can become a meditative time. It also allows for over hearing the conversations of those around you. Two women one row over lamented the aches and pains of growing older. Their conversation was punctuated with laughter directed at themselves. A family on my other side talked about the games they were playing with guests at their home. “Can you play that game in French?” the mother asked. The sound of young voices speaking French followed. Amazing!

But perhaps the best words I heard came at the height of my picking. A new crop of pickers arrived and as they made their way into the field one young girl could not contain herself. “Look! Look! It’s a Blueberry Wonderland!”

And indeed it was. A blueberry wonderland created through hard work and, no doubt, sacrifice, held in the gentle breeze by good weather, ripe conditions,countless prayers and a life based in hope.

For a look at Rush River Produce check out their website and don’t miss the You Tube video.

Last Child in the Woods

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” Rachel Carson

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the final hour or so of our church’s Earth Camp at our retreat center, Koinonia, near Annandale. I arrived around lunch time to find a group of campers headed back from the dining room to their cabin. Instead of walking along the paved path, they headed directly into the woods. When one young girl saw me walking from my car, she threw up her hands and waved. “It’s me! Emma!” I see her nearly every Sunday. And yet she must have thought that, here in the woods, I would not recognize her. I greeted her and the other campers and watched as they turned and walked into the grove of trees, their feet making a silent path on dirt, stone and dead leaves. Over the last few days, they had become children of the woods.

A little later, as we gathered for a closing worship time, I asked the campers to tell me what they had experienced, what they had learned, what new thing had come to them over their days at Earth Camp. I heard tales of fishing, boating, swimming. I heard about how they had learned about recycling, how to use energy more responsibly, how to be more careful about their garbage. Others talked about how they had learned to walk more gently on the Earth. One girl said she had been frightened of the daddy-long-legs that had been near her bed but then learned that they ate the mosquitoes. She swore they had saved her from being bitten!

When I watched their young faces light up with the stories of new friends and all the fun they had had, I felt so grateful that these young ones had been given the gift of being in the woods. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, writes about saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. He speaks of all the children who never have the chance to walk aimlessly on wooded paths, observe birds and other small animals in their natural habitat, experience their human connection with a daddy-long-legs. He says: “The child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.”

As I helped these children load their now dirty belongings into the vans that will take them back to well manicured lawns and city and suburban neighborhoods, I felt a sense of hope. Hope for the children and for the Earth. While not all children will have the experience of watching the small toads hop from shore to water home or see the Great Blue Heron land its enormous body on a nest just feet away from where they are swimming, these twenty-seven children had. Their band-aided knees and bug-bit arms and legs showed the signs of an encounter with nature. And it was good, very, very good. Perhaps they will tell their friends and next year a whole new crop of children will head to the woods to learn, to have fun, to be changed. The connections will be made again and reinforced that we humans are guests on this precious planet. We share our present and our future with creatures with many legs, enormous wings, and fragile lives.

And we are all in it together.


"We take pictures because we can't accept that everything passes, we can't accept that the repetition of a moment is an impossibility. We wage a monotonous war against our own impending deaths, against time that turns children into that other, less species: adults. We take pictures because we know we will forget. We will forget the week, the day, the hour. We will forget when we were happiest. We take pictures out of pride, a desire to have the best of ourselves preserved. We fear that we will die and others will not know that we lived." The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

A couple of weeks ago I read this compelling novel about a young woman, a professional photographer, who is walking on a beach with her fiance's six-year-old daughter. The woman sees a dead seal pup and stops to take a photo. When she turns back, the six-year-old has vanished. The novel explores the search for this child placed in the care of someone 'not quite her mother'. But more than that, it explores memory. How does memory actually work? Why do we remember some things and not others? As humans, how does memory serve us, fail us? What can we do to preserve memory or jog it when needed? All fascinating questions.

Toward the end of the novel, I was taken aback by the paragraph above. Its truth goes straight for the heart, doesn't it? I was probably taken so with these words because it brought into the light a strange part of my personality with which I have struggled. I love to go into antique stores, love looking at the china, furniture and even clothing that has been held dear by people and been preserved for our use and our memory of what we often perceive of as 'simpler' times. I am fairly certain that perception is not true. But the one thing I cannot bring myself to look at in these stores are the boxes of old photographs. These images of the people's lives placed in cardboard boxes for total strangers to rifle through disturbs me. I want to buy them all, take them home, fill albums with them. 

With the use of digital photography,taking pictures comes so easily to us these days. We can take a picture, zoom in, zoom out, take the red out of eyes, crop pictures, in an effort to create the 'perfect' image. But we all know life is not like that. Sometimes we look goofy, our hair askew, eyes closed, our mouths in a sideways position, not quite a smile or frown. Unlike our ancestors who had to remain very still, perhaps travel long distances to 'sit' for a photo, we take them and discard them with the push of a button. A quirky little thing our family does is to keep some of those 'bad' photos, the ones in which we don't look our best, and preserve them in little books called 'The Beautiful People'. They bring such laughter as we look through these albums. They remind us that we are not always at our best, that looking disheveled and unattractive is all a part of being human, of living a life.

At times we will take out picture albums and begin to look through them with our children or with friends. Looking at the images of us as younger, sometimes thinner people, always brings the eventual storytelling. "Remember that?" "What was I thinking wearing that?" "Oh, wasn't that a lovely day?" "Didn't she look wonderful?" On and on the memories and the stories will unfold. In their telling we remind ourselves of who we are, who we once were and, if we are lucky, we pass the story on to another generation who might continue its telling. The photos are the catalyst that connects with some experience that has been planted in the cells of who we are. That experience lays waiting to be conjured up and relived, retold, passed on. For as long as people have been picking up rocks and charred sticks and painting their stories on the walls of caves, it has been true. We tell, and we try to capture our images, so we will be remembered, so we can remember.

Do you have an old photo album that has remained dusty on a shelf? Is there a drawer packed with pictures you have been waiting till you have time to organize in an album? Perhaps it is a good time to take a look at those photos and remember. Remember and tell someone the story of that special day, that special person. The gift of memory is one of the true acts of being human and one to be celebrated. Because, indeed, this moment can never be lived again.


"A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature." Henry David Thoreau, Walden

There are many things that I believe I can claim to be true.
One of them is that the ability to stare at nearly any body of water can, for
the most part, cure what ails a person. I have pulled myself up at the shore of
these curing waters over the last two days. Visiting a friend’s cabin, I have
spent much of my time either sitting on the dock or on the overstuffed couch
inside the cabin staring through the window at the glassiness of Little Boy
Lake.  The first few minutes of staring
is often just spent taking in the lay of the lake…..cabins to the right, YMCA
camp to the left, sailboats anchored like birthday candles on the surface of
the water, trees in various shades of green in their full, summer glory, a few
fishing boats here and there. It can often take an hour or more for the monkey
mind of my daily life to switch off, until I can allow the vision of the lake
in its stillness to begin to seep into me. 
Eventually, if I can allow myself to be present to the water long
enough,  I can begin that slow movement
into breathing with the lake. Watching the wind make its shifts on the water, I
can feel my own breathing slowing, changing, as I perhaps remember that
waterworld in which I, in which we all, had our beginning.

With more than 10,000 lakes dotting the Minnesota landscape, one of the gifts of
summer is that, with little effort, we have the opportunity for ‘lake staring’
within reach. Even city dwellers need only go a few miles before arriving at
water’s edge. There is something about being present to the water, about
allowing the shape and condition of the lake to wash over the state of  being human that is transformative. When I
think of the many healing stories of Jesus, I am reminded that so many of them
happened by the lakeside. While the disciples may have found themselves in
desperate straights, riding out storms or eating on the beach, they seemed to
always be changed by the encounter of Jesus on or near the water. Perhaps the
scripture writers left out the parts where staring was involved!

 Last night we sat and observed four loons who seemed to
simply be riding on the water. Their rhythm of bobbing and diving became a
focal point. As the day was drawing to a close, their black shiny bodies and
white accents of feathers shone against the glistening water. Their red eyes
were attentive to the human ones who were sharing their environment. They were,
no doubt, skeptical.  Every now and then
one would lift its body slightly off its water bed and flap its wings as if to
resettle into a more comfortable position. I found myself breathing with their floating
and gasping at their water dance.  What
does it mean to share space with such a gorgeous creature? It seemed such a

After two and half days I will return to the regular rhythm
of my daily life, to the lists of what needs to be accomplished, to meetings
and laundry and all the tasks of being human, of living my life. If I am lucky, some place deep
inside I will be able to recall the gentle lapping of the lake, how the time
spent staring helped to heal my soul. If I have stared well, I might even be
able to breathe the rhythm of lake once again




"Though a tree grows tall, the leaves return to the root." ~Malay proverb

In one of our cars we have the luxury of satellite radio. I will not use this space for commentary on some of the inane things that cane be found on some of these stations. It is not a car I drive often, but when I do, I always turn it to the folk music station. This station plays everything from the traditional to the obscure songs that are considered the 'people's' music. Music that tells the stories of hardship, struggle, love, and war. Music that can be sung by large groups of school children and small circles of intimate friends nestled around a campfire. In this music you can hear where people came from, both the literal place and the political and faith home, in short what makes them 'tick'. The music always reflects the deep held values of the songwriter and, by association,the singer.

The show I was listening to contained a retrospective narrated by Pete Seeger. He was telling how the song 'This Land is Your Land' came to be a sort of national anthem for many, particularly school children. These children, as they grew into adults, had that song planted in them in a deep way, in some place where songs go to take root and inform who we are as people.It was interesting and enlightening to hear his wonderful voice, aged and wise from years of offering his songs to the world. At the end of the show, a radio voice interrupted with the tag line of the show:"Don't forget to water your roots." I laughed.

Roots. What a wonderful image! I thought about my own roots. I have roots that hold me to the earth that are my small town, southern Ohio roots…..the roots that grew me into an adult. Further back, I have the roots of my Welsh ancestors….roots that planted a love of music and poetry so deep it seeps out of my pores, when denied access to what nourishes them can send me into a depressing tailspin. I have my faith roots, born into a Christian household, baptized Presbyterian, defected to United Methodism….roots that tie me to the hope of the church,no matter how I might struggle with the institution at times. I have my Minnesota roots, those I forged when I moved here and ones that now hold my heart in place……roots that help to make me weep over the beauty of Lake Superior and the sound of a loon's call. I have the roots of my family, my friends….roots that remind me of the connections that will not desert me even when I might deserve to have backs turned, when I become too full of myself, too out of touch with what really matters. So many roots that needs to be watered.

What are your roots? Have you taken time to water them lately? It is important work. It is, I believe, our human work to remember where we came from as much as where we are going. It is this nurturing that provides our vision, our understanding of our place in the world, our commitment to making our lives and the lives of others somehow better. This weekend promises to be a hot, steamy one. It might be a good time to think about your roots, what needs watering, and to take time to nourish what lies at your root. The whole world may be the better for it.


"When people rethink their personal stories, they begin to build a sense of connection and responsibility. They recognize that their actions can matter…..They learn to view their personal stories as intertwined with history." Paul Rogat Loeb

Yesterday I got to do one of my favorite things. Sitting with colleagues over lunch, we brainstormed ideas around our fall church-wide theme of 'story'. This theme was chosen mostly because the scriptures that will be used for fall worship center around Jesus' parables. Our hope is that we can encourage people to write, tell, and share their own stories in an effort to create deeper community and to be open to the way their faith story shapes who they are and how they see the world. I am so enlivened by the process of sitting with others and 'having at' any particular question or idea. Being present to the many ways any one person hears and processes a thought or idea just fills me with energy. It's better than the strongest cup of coffee to get me going!

It was wonderful to recognize how people move toward their dominant way of communicating and learning in these conversations. How the visual people use 'seeing' concepts to describe what they are thinking and the auditory people use 'hearing/listening' ones to talk about the same subject. It is also interesting to notice those who are more conceptual, thinkers, and those who tend to be 'feeler's who speak with heart language. And in the end, how we are all enriched by being present to such good, open conversation where nothing has to be black or white, right or wrong. Everything is simply shared. It becomes a nearly Utopian moment for me.

As we talked about the power of story in our human lives, the one idea that kept surfacing was how all our stories are intertwined in some way even when we don't realize it. One person talked about how, if it were not for the fact that we all worked in a United Methodist Church, we would not be sitting having lunch together. There would be no reason why our lives would have intersected, save this fact. And that that fact was connected to the greater story of the Christian faith of which we are all connected. Even when we are not in agreement or alignment with the official parts of the doctrine of either institution, we are still connected to one another and to all those who claim these groups to be a part of their story. It can be a heady thing to spin out the invisible lines of connection that hold us together. And when we add our human story to the even broader and greater story of Creation, our intricate connections with the non-human elements of what surrounds us, what makes up our lives can become mind-boggling.

Our Native American brothers and sisters and other indigenous cultures tell stories to remind one another of this web of which we are all a part, the connections that are to be taken seriously and held gently. These are the stories that shaped the consciousness of the generations of these humans, the stories that were told to small children and held sacred by the wise ones whose work it was to preserve their way of life and connection with the Holy. They, too, are parables…..stories that teach a lesson.

 We would all benefit from the reminder of the ways in which we are all apart of the Sacred Web of Creation. Yesterday was an example for me of how one idea can lead to another and another and another. How laughter is contagious. And how good conversation, shared over food, can remind each of us that we are not merely individuals traveling life's path, but that we are a community of people creating stories together. Stories to be told, savored and shared.

Goals of Summer

"Summer is the time when one sheds one's tensions with one's clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.  A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all's right with the world."  ~Ada Louise Huxtable

This morning as I walked out the door I detected the faint scent of fall in the air. I shook the thought and smell out of my head. It is too soon to be turning the corner toward autumn. There are still too many things to do to savor the gifts of summer. I have not picked raspberries yet, or blueberries. I have not seen the North Shore in its summer finery. I have not had nearly enough ice cream cones or watermelon or red, juicy tomatoes. There is still too much to squeeze out of these precious days.

Summer is a time of opportunity. A time to try new things, master a new skill. Like the person inside a house I walked by on my walk today. The sounds of novice drumming filled the air. Bang! Crash! Ta-dum-ta-dum! All in broken, tentative rhythm. For this person it must be the 'summer of learning to play the drums.' I was reminded of the different summer goals I've set for myself over the years: learn to sew, do a swan dive,drive a car, read all the Nancy Drew mysteries, twirl a fire baton, learn the hula-hoop. Hour after warm hour I remember working to perfect these new skills that require the leisurely time only summer can provide. Do you remember similar things from your own childhood or adolescence? 

Further along on my walk, I was greeted by a cheery "Hi!" Two fresh faced four year old girls were lining up a croquet set and a bag of tennis balls at the edge of the front porch. "Guess what?" the one with Pippi Longstocking braids asked. "We get to have a picnic tonight. We get to decorate the table and we are planning all the games." I had never seen these two girls before  in my life and yet  they talked animatedly about the summer fun they were preparing. One girl had some red, blue and yellow face paint that had now merged with her sweaty, little skin giving her face the appearance of a melting rainbow. They beamed their excitement and anticipation of tonight's festivities toward me. For them, it could be their 'summer of planning parties.' 

Today marks nearly the middle of July, a midsummer marker of sorts. There is still time to set a summer goal. What might you use these warm and long days to accomplish? Is it time to dust off the piano keys or pick up the guitar again? Has your bicycle been out of the garage yet? Have you always wanted to enter something in the State Fair? (There's still time!) Or what about that monstrous novel you've been wanting to read(or write) forever?

There's no time like the middle of July to grab summer by the horns and fulfill a long held dream. Come September the drummer down the street may be in band. What goal would you like to accomplish in what's left of summer?


Happiness. I have been thinking alot about happiness lately. I have even been asking people if they are happy. Try it some time. You get surprising results. I am not sure what prompted this examination of happiness. Perhaps it was the recognition that I don't, perhaps, laugh as much as I once did. It was an odd discovery about oneself. I think of myself as happy most of the time. But when I realized that, in truth, I do not laugh as often as I once did, it was a kind of wake up call. So, I have been doing a personal survey of happiness.

"Happiness grows only in the sweet soil of time." writes Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath. "As our time is eaten away by speed and overwork, we are less available to be surprised by joy, a sunset, a kind word, an unplanned game of tag with a child, a warm loaf of bread from the oven. But for all our striving and accomplishments, our underlying need for happiness does not withdraw and disappear. So we pursue happiness on the run, tying to make our lives more and more efficient, squeezing every task into tighter increments, hoping to somehow 'get' our happiness when we are able to fit it in." That pretty much sums up my daily life. How about yours? 

Yesterday I was zooming through a neighborhood in St. Paul when a lawn sign caught my eye. "What if there is more to life?" the sign read. I nearly threw on my brakes, hoping to read the smaller print that lay below the large, bold letters of this compelling question. What could this possibly be an advertisement for? Who would put this sign on their lawn? I looked for others like it as I sped along, hoping it was some kind of neighborhood conspiracy to wake us all up to ourselves. What if there is MORE to life? And just what is 'more'?

Well, I suppose everyone would answer the 'more' question differently. For some, more is knowing they have enough food to feed their children and the money to pay their rent.  But I think the source of this question is more existential than that. I have a feeling it ties back into my own happiness question. What does it mean to live a life well, one that brings happiness? What does it mean for you? 

It is said that the Buddha equated the spiritual life with a life of happiness. He was often known to offer blessings of loving kindness with the words "May you be happy." Oddly enough,on the 4th of July I happened upon a copy of the Declaration of Independence and read the words written by those who dreamed our country into being, lifting high the goal of 'the pursuit of happiness.' Our very existence as citizens of this country was shaped by the notion of happiness.

These warm summer days can provide time for ruminating over many things. What better thing to allow our minds to roll around in than the state of happiness? Are you happy? Are you making room for happiness to walk in and ask you to dance, to make you laugh? If you, too, have been considering your own happiness, I invite you to join me in the pursuit of this spiritual life. And may our searching contain a few good belly laughs. 

May your weekend be filled with laughter……..