Photo Challenge: (Climate) Change in Progress

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This week’s photo challenge from WordPress is to “show us change in progress.” Sad to say, these cheerful photos of bumblebees sipping nectar reflect profound change . . . climate change.

Bumble Bees in Trouble

Bumblebee on Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) in my Maryland garden

You see, scientists say that bumblebees are abandoning their southern habitats due to the warming climate, but they are not expanding their northern range. In other words, they could be squeezed out of existence.

And when bees are in trouble, the crops and wild plants that depend on them for pollination also suffer. And who is at the top of that food chain? Yeah, the species that builds coal plants and fracks for oil.

“We play with these things at our peril,” says bee ecology expert Jeremy Kerr of the University of Ottawa. “The human enterprise is the top floor in a really big scaffold. What we’re doing is reaching out and knocking out the supports.”

Kerr says that the shrinking bumblebee habitat is clearly related to climate change, and he’s amazed at how fast it’s happening. In the past forty years, some bees have retreated more than 185 miles from their southern homes. They’re also escaping to higher alpine altitudes — but all is not well in the mountains, either.

Another study shows that the deep, tubular flowers that alpine bumblebees prefer aren’t surviving the warming temps — up 3.6 degrees fahrenheit since the 1960s — so the bees now have to rely on more general foraging. Amazingly, in just forty years, the tongues of bees have shrunk 24%, which enables them to drink from different flowers. The pace of this change is “dramatic,” reports study author Professor Candace Galen in the journal Science.

“The finding of rapid adaptation is a glimmer of hope for bumblebees, whose populations worldwide are declining,” Professor Galen says.

And we can sure use the hope.

I’m hoping there is another type of change in progress, too, brought on by the straight climate talk from Pope Francis last week. It’s the old-fashioned concept of repentance, defined as “to feel such regret for past conduct as to change one’s mind regarding it.” The word is derived from the Latin “to think again” or to “re-think.” In ancient Greek, it’s translated as “to turn around.”  All of this would be appropriate for humankind when it comes to our environment.

Greed, denial, and creaturely comforts are tough to turn away from, but I think the Creator of the Bumblebees is up to the challenge, and so I pray: Great Lover of the Bumblebees, please change our hearts and minds and make us instruments of peace instead of purveyors of destruction. Amen.

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower

Bumblebee on New Hampshire wildflower







Eucharist Moon: A Blackjack Poem

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Blood moon, sacrifice for us.

Slide into our shadow, and

Give up the whole of yourself.



A blackjack poem has 3 lines of 7 syllables each, for a total of 21.

Photo courtesy of NASA.


The Republican Debate


CNN guy: Mr. Trump, Jeb Bush called you a poop-head. Are you, in fact, a poop-head?

Mr. Trump: I am not a poop-head, he’s a poop-head. I’m a billionaire. I have a lot of casinos.

CNN guy: Mr Trump, Senator Rubio says that you don’t know your posterior from a hole in the ground when it comes to foreign leaders and global policy. What do you have to say to that?

Mr. Trump: Do so, do so! Anyway, I’m gonna hire people to learn all those dude’s names when I’m president.  Smart people. And I already know all the hedge fund managers. I’m rich.

CNN guy: Mr. Trump, Senator Paul says you’re irrational and he wouldn’t feel safe if your finger was on the nuclear trigger.

Mr. Trump: He’s just a scaredy cat, plus he’s fat. Oh wait, that’s the other guy. And Carly’s ugly. Nobody would ever vote for a fat guy or an ugly girl or a sissy-pants whose scared of a little nuclear trigger.

Ms. Fiorina: Can I respond to that?

CNN guy: No, only Mr. Trump is allowed to talk for the first hour and a half, while I paraphrase what everyone else has said about him and ask for his response.

Ms. Fiorina: But he called me ugly, I should be allowed to respond. Besides, I’m rich, too, and I also drove several big companies into the ground.

Mr. Trump: Not as big as the companies I drove into the ground! My casinos . . .

Ms. Fiorina: If I was president, I’d buy lots of tanks and guns and planes and then everyone would know who was the boss. Me. Me. Leadership, that’s me. Throughout my leadership career as an important and influential leadership CEO . . .

Governor Christie: Shut up, you guys. Nobody cares about your stupid companies and careers. George Bush let me be a prosecutor once, so there. September 11th. September 11th. And I have casinos in New Jersey, too. September 11th.

Mr. Trump: Shut up, Fatso.

Governor Huckabee: Wait, did somebody say something about guns? I like guns. I like guns more than all the other guys up here. Hey, how did that girl get up here? Is she a gay or what?

Senator Rubio: I can speak Spanish.

Jeb Bush: My wife is Mexican.

Senator Cruz: I’m a Cuban!

Governor Christie: September 11th.

Senator Paul: Can I say something about Iran?

CNN guy: No. Stop it everyone, we were talking about Mr. Trump. Now Mr Trump, please give us your expert opinion on autism and vaccines . . .


Photo credit: Reuters

Reading, Writing, and Stargazing

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Kim Davis and car cameras, Serena Williams and Syrian refugees, Donald’s hair and Clinton’s emails . . . and September 11th, of course. Opinions and predictions, rages and laments. Words, words, and more words. Aren’t you sick of them? I sure am.

You might have noticed that I’ve taken a little break from blogging lately, after three years of being fairly faithful about it. Why add to the noise and hub-bub, when I have nothing insightful to say at the moment? And I’m hoping that my creative energies might build up to dramatic and explosive levels if I put a cap on the well and quit releasing little blips of creativity every week through my blog.

No great bursts of brilliance yet, but I’m certain there’s one bubbling up. Or not.

During this blogging hiatus, I have started writing Morning Pages again, the thirty-minute stream-of-consciousness-just-keep-your-hand-moving practice extolled by author Julia Cameron and other writing mentors as a way to access your subconscious and release your creativity. There might be something to it: I’ve recently drafted two personal essays that have potential, assuming I can muster the discipline to slog through the editing and polishing process. Attention Deficit Disorder lends itself to blogging, but not as much to focused writing projects requiring multiple revisions. My master’s thesis nearly killed me.

Julia Cameron also recommends a whole week of abstaining from all forms of reading, but I’ve always thought that impossible, if not outright insane. Who would do that? And why would that help my creativity? Every time I get to that chapter in Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I conveniently misplace the book. (ADD helps with that, too.)

Hence, I was surprised a few weeks ago when I got a strong inclination to quit reading fiction for a time. It’s torture, really, but it feels like the right thing. I get lost in novels, which is wonderful and relaxing and healthy, but it can be taken to the extreme. Right now I need to be more disciplined and intentional about my time and my reading. I want to focus on my new pastoral role at church, and I’ve been teaching some challenging writing workshops. So it’s strictly non-fiction for now, mostly spiritual, but also an outstanding memoir by Tobias Wolfe, This Boy’s Life.

I’ve been reading about prayer (I suppose some might call this fiction), and am learning a lot. But I can get trapped in my brain, and there’s a danger of my spending too much time studying prayer and forgetting to actually pray. So I’m also setting aside contemplative time for meditation and labyrinth walking and star gazing. Rough life, right?

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. I’ve missed you guys this past month. I’ll touch base again when I have some words worth saying. Peace to you.

Whiling away the time...

Whiling away the time…

The Naked Pastor


The pain was sharp and paralyzing, and I doubled over and clutched my chest. “How old do you have to be to have a heart attack?” I gasped to my older sister.

“Older than twelve, honey,” she said smiling. “I think you’re just nervous about starting junior high tomorrow. It’s heartburn or something.” She headed to the bathroom for Tums.

This memory keeps popping up lately, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve just started a new job. Transitions are tough for me, and they awaken familiar angst. Even as I write this, a voice in my head tells me that it’s not a real job, that I’m not getting paid, that it’s only part-time, that I’m kind of a fraud. Just like my twelve-year-old self heading off to seventh grade dressed in fishnet stockings and a miniskirt, playing the cool teenager, but knowing inside that I was a fraud, just a knee-socked, saddle-shoed elementary school kid in disguise.

The fraudulent feeling is in full fling as I start my new position as a pastor. An “unordained pastor” in an independent community church, I was simply commissioned by my congregation to help lead, not educated at Divinity school, not given any fancy vestments, not awarded any letters to put after my name. The words exegesis and systematic theology mean about as much to me today as the words calculus and civics did to me the night my sister diagnosed my adolescent heartburn.

Seriously? You're the new pastor??

Seriously? You’re the new pastor??

The not-good-enough-fraud discomfort is second only to my fear of not belonging when it comes to transitional angst. 

In June of sixth grade, I walked to school with a pack of neighborhood kids I’d known all my life. The following September I was waiting at a bus stop with a bunch of rowdy older boys I’d never met before. Only three kids from my elementary school transferred to my junior high, and none of them were in my homeroom. I threw up in the girl’s room that first day.

Today I’m sitting in a writing class with a roomful of Divinity school graduates, mostly ordained pastors, who are speaking Greek – literally – and I’m flashing back to not being able to open my locker or figure out how to change classes. I might as well be cringing naked in the gym shower room.

In What Do We Trust?


On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law making the statement “In God We Trust” the nation’s official motto. A few years before, he’d added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

President Eisenhower, courtesy Eisenhower Presidential Library

Over the ensuing decades as the U.S. has become more secular, Eisenhower’s religious language has been the subject of an ongoing debate.  America’s founding fathers were fairly clear about the separation of church and state — on the other hand, they talked about God all the time, and “In God We Trust” has been on our coinage since the Civil War; Eisenhower simply added it to the paper currency.

I don’t have a strong opinion on the language. As a mature adult, I no longer have to have an opinion on everything, and that’s a relief. I’ll let others argue about it. Besides, what would our motto be if we re-wrote it today?

“We Trust Nothing and Nobody?”

“We’re Better Than Everyone Else?”

“Bombs R Us?”

“We Can’t Agree on a Damn Thing?”

“Shop Till Ya Drop?”

“We Want More Stuff, Screw The Planet?”

Transcending Our iPhones

So I’m not weighing in on President Eisenhower’s action on July 30, 1956. I do, however, have a strong opinion on his apparent motivations. In a Flag Day Speech in 1954, he explained that by putting “under God” in the pledge, “. . . we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

I have to agree with Ike that our nation could do with some transcendence, now more than ever. I wish that my fellow citizens had a transcendent belief in something beyond themselves, their cemented opinions, their rights, their money, their electronics, their sacred iThings.

I believe that if we spent significant time in prayer and meditation, opening our personal and collective hearts to the universal source of goodness and love, then we might learn to listen to — and even care about — our neighbors and maybe even non-Americans, and our country would not be so screwed up. Probably wouldn’t hurt to get outside and contemplate the beauty and power and order of nature, either. People are just so angry and vitriolic these days, and I think that’s a spiritual illness.

But that kind of transcendence doesn’t seem to be what Ike is getting at. No, he’s looking to “constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons” to be a “powerful resource” for our nation. Sigh. Those bombs bursting in air and that bald eagle’s sharp beak and talons.

Spirituality is Not a Weapon

Here’s the thing: spirituality is not a weapon. The Bible tells us that the fruit of true spirituality is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, all that good stuff.

Connecting with the Spirit is not about winning, it’s not about fighting. I know a lot of Christians who talk about “victory” and “battles” and “putting on armor,” but that’s a mindset and language taken from a warlike culture thousands of years ago. Of course, Christians aren’t the only religious folks who have this mindset. We’ve all had our fill of “holy wars” and beheadings.

But Christians like Eisenhower — people “under God” — ought to be able to get beyond this dualistic, divisive worldview. Jesus transcended all that self-absorption and came with a different message: Spirituality is about surrendering, relinquishing our warlike competitive egos, and relying on the strength of Love (for God is Love) to be peacemakers in the world. Jesus surrendered his very life without a fight, showing us what God is like. How very un-American of him.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” says Jesus. “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” says Jesus. “Send in the drones,” says one nation under God.

flowers and Dayspring 026

A Place of Peace

Dwight Eisenhower was raised Mennonite, a peace-loving sect that he rejected when he joined the military. (He later became a Presbyterian.) It’s possible that his warlike spirituality mellowed later in life: the chapel on the grounds of the presidential library where he and his wife Mamie are buried is called an interfaith “Place of Meditation.”

Maybe America will mellow later in its life, too. Just imagine if our peacemaking budget were even the teensiest fraction of our defense budget. That’s the kind of “force” I want us to be in the world.

Maybe someday our motto will be “In Peace We Trust.” Maybe I’m delusional. But — maybe I’m not. In God I trust.

flowers and Dayspring 051

I’m a blogger for peace. Check us out:



Birthday Grief Update: Laughter and Love


In honor of my brother Biff’’s sixty-sixth birthday, I’m gifting you with a short update on my grieving process. (Honest, short.)

When I started this blog three years ago, I did not plan for “grief and death” to be the largest and most popular category. I’m not sure what the vision was, but it wasn’t that. Still, I really had no choice: if I was going to write, that was all I could write.

Over the past nineteen months, I have reached out in desperation and bled all over these pages, only praying that my experiences might help someone else. So I deeply appreciate the people who have told me that my vulnerability during this time helped them grieve.  

I am also grateful to the people who have shared their own stories of loss with me. It’s so important to know we’re not alone. Solitary grieving kills, trust me — it killed Biff.

My main lessons so far:

  • you may feel like you’re losing your mind, but you’re not;
  • you should pray for wisdom and do what feels best for you because everyone’s grieving is different;
  • you should also listen to the people who love you most, because sometimes you can’t see what’s best for you
  • talk (and write) about it as much as you need to — your real friends (and readers) will stick around.

Thanks for sticking around.

Today I Am Well

Today I can tell you that I am well. I will never be “over it,” but I’d say that I am more than three-quarters of the way “through it.” I am happy most days. I have survived what I thought was unsurvivable. So if you are in the throes of grief, take courage. It will get better.

I laugh again, perhaps not quite as much as I used to, but a lot. Yesterday, someone told me I was a “cheery” person. I like that.

I have conversations where I don’t mention my brother. This is nothing short of a miracle. I no longer feel compelled to say things like, “oh – apple pie – that was Biff’s favorite,” or “Biff always liked the rain,” or “Biff had a sweater that color.” I’m sure that my friends are as relieved about this as I am.

I no longer have to tell checkers at the drug store, strangers in the produce aisle, and tellers at the bank that my brother died. His passing defined me for a long time, and was forEVER the answer to “How are you?”

I can choose when to entertain thoughts of Biff, rather than having them pounce on me and pierce my armor. Sometimes – and this is quite recent – I even smile when I think of him. There seems to be a gentleness seeping into my grief. The lasting love is starting to outweigh the acute loss.

I’ve lost a teensy bit of the larger perspective one has during times of grief, which probably isn’t good. I get annoyed at traffic, I grouse about humidity, and I get impatient with people for not doing what I think they should do. For a while, nothing seemed to matter when measured against The Loss. Now, stupid stuff matters again. I no longer live in the metaphysical.

Over the Rainbow

My relationship with music remains complicated. I prefer silence; it’s safer. Music can shoot directly through your consciousness and into your heart, and I don’t need that kind of heartache. Plus, music was an integral part of life with Biff — there are some musicians I doubt I’ll ever listen to again.

Even so, with the exception of Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole’s achingly beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, it’s now rare that a Biff-song will catch me off-guard and cause me to flee to the ladies’ room in a restaurant or pub. (And when is that 1993 song going to be taken off everybody’s playlist???)

Then there’s Christmas — the anniversary — but we won’t think about that because it will come and it will go and it will all be OK.

So I just want to give a shout-out of amazement and praise to the Power of Love that I call God for getting me this far, for teaching me so much, and for surrounding me with the most wonderful friends and family who have listened and listened and hugged and hugged and waited with me for the laughter to come back.

Thank you.

And happy birthday, dearest Biff – I look forward with joy to seeing you somewhere over the rainbow!

1451345_10202673589991568_1331444760_n.me and biff

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