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Archive for February, 2013

The priest, professor and renowned spiritual writer Henri Nouwen was famous for a lot of things such as his living with a severely handicapped child, and for one of his many books, The Wounded Healer, that is must reading for clergy of all denominations and no denomination. He delved deeply into the dynamics of grief and suffering in his living and his writing--but people of deep Christian faith live ultimately in their joy. Here was Father Nouwen's playful side.

The priest, professor and renowned spiritual writer Henri Nouwen was famous for a lot of things such as his living with a severely handicapped child, and for one of his many books, The Wounded Healer, that is must reading for clergy of all denominations and no denomination. He delved deeply into the dynamics of grief and suffering in his living and his writing–but people of deep Christian faith live ultimately in their joy. Here was Father Nouwen’s playful side.


Here’s a quotable quote on Lent for the continuing 40-days of holiness here, followed by pictures of a solemn funeral procession in the streets of San Ignacio Sunday:

“Lent offers a beautiful opportunity to discover the mystery of Christ within us. It is a gentle but also demanding time. It is a time of solitude but also community, it is a time of listening to the voice within, but also a time of paying attention to other people’s needs. It is a time to continuously make the passage to new inner life as well as to life with those around us.

“When we live Lent attentively and gently, then Easter can truly be a celebration during which the full proclamation of the risen Christ will reverberate into the deepest place of our being.”

— Henri J.M. Nouwen

Click here for more on the gentle priest and master of spirituality who taught and lectured in the world’s most renowned divinity schools and churches while venturing into some tough places and taking on some tough ministries in the trenches.

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“Reading in a spiritual way is reading with a desire to let God come closer to us . . .
“The purpose of spiritual reading is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us. Strange as it may sound, spiritual reading means to let ourselves be read by God.”

— Nouwen, in “Here and Now”

A funeral march to the cemetery in downtown San Ignacio, typical of the processions in neighboring countries  Mexico and Guatemala and so many others. Click on the pic to enlarge for a better look at the sign.

A funeral march to the cemetery in downtown San Ignacio, typical of the processions in neighboring countries Mexico and Guatemala and so many others. Click on the pic to enlarge for a better look at the sign.

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Thoughts for Day 5 of Lent, since Lenten Sundays don’t count in the 40 days:

A stream of living and holy Belizean water.

A stream of living and holy Belizean water.

The heart is deceitful about all things,

it is exceedingly weak.

Who can know it.

— Jeremiah 17: 9

Remember when the WWJD bracelets were all the rage? Children and youth ministers ran with that spiritual fad.

I don’t suppose there’s terrible harm in wondering what Jesus would do in a given situation, and it probably can be a helpful way for some people, especially kids, to frame a sticky situation they are in.

But the problem with it–and it’s a big problem–is that we have no clue what Jesus would do if he were in a situation like one we land in.

Jesus was always turning conventional thought and wisdom upside down. More often than not, he answered people’s questions to him with questions. He was not the convenient and oversimplified “Mr. Answer Man” that we would like him to be in a culture that is increasingly comfortable with oversimplifying everything–including a very complex and mysterious Christ.

I wonder what Jesus would say about WWJD bracelets.

Maybe he would say something–something quite harsh–about so many people making so much money off of WWJD jewelry, bumper stickers, t-shirts and other merchandise.

When it comes right down to it, we should wonder with all the humility we can muster–being mindful of our own deceitful hearts as pointed out in Jeremiah–what Jesus would do–and remember that ultimately–God only knows WJWD.

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Photo from photographer Steve McMurry's  blog "Silent Language of Hands."

Photo from photographer Steve McMurry’s blog “Silent Language of Hands.”

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

— John 20: 24-25

I’ve always been fascinated by faces and hands.

Maybe this stems from my upbringing in rough-and-tumble Texas and growing up around old farmers and cowboys and domino players down at the dark, dank pool hall in Navasota where I used to drop in and listen to the old men hold forth with stories when my mother or grandmother thought I was down looking at the comic books at Elliot’s Drug Store.

Although, I did spend a lot of time at the drugstore’s comic rack too.

So my vice was offset by my virtue.

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But it was much more interesting at the pool hall looking at those wrinkled or grisly and stubby-whiskered faces of the domino players and watching them slam the rocks around with those sun-baked hands of theirs.

There was also a lot of time spent with my elderly grandmother and her landlord, the old spinster Miss Trannie, and time spent with scores of other old characters, men and women, with faces and hands that fascinated me.

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I’ve often wondered what those healing hands of Christ looked like, the powerful hands of a carpenter that were transformed into the delicate hands that released so many people from so much misery.

They had to drive spikes into those hands to snuff out that power, which couldn’t quite be snuffed out.

That doubter Thomas got the shock of his life when you-know-who showed showed up to show him those precious hands.

"Then [the resurrected Christ] said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”'"

As a lifelong student of hands and faces, what I’d have given to have seen the look on that face.

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Give us this day our daily tortillas: My friend Rosio has a great location for a tortilla stand at the busy intersection of Benque & Bullet Tree Roads in San Ignacio, where there are a couple of popular taco stands opposite each other on Bullet Tree as well. Rosio's stand is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and she is a tortilla making machine--I've never passed by her small business when she was not completely focused on making more delicious, piping hot corn tortillas. It's a marvel to watch her work with those hands. Even when she sells a batch (the going price for corn tortillas in Belize is 10 for $1 BZ dollar, which is 50 cents U.S. She can stop, sell, take the money from a customer or a few customers and get right back to making more tortillas with fluid motion.

Give us this day our daily tortillas: My friend Rosio has a great location for a tortilla stand at the busy intersection of Benque & Bullet Tree Roads in San Ignacio, where there are a couple of popular taco stands opposite each other on Bullet Tree as well. Rosio’s stand is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and she is a tortilla making machine–I’ve never passed by her small business when she was not completely focused on making more delicious, piping hot corn tortillas. It’s a marvel to watch her work with those hands. Even when she sells a batch (the going price for corn tortillas in Belize is 10 for $1 BZ dollar, which is 50 cents U.S. She can stop, sell, take the money from a customer or a few customers and get right back to making more tortillas with fluid motion.

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Check out the pictures of Steve McMurry, a wonderful observer of hands and faces, here.

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For all its image as a Paradise on Earth--for being  a playground for rich people and Hollywood types who buy whole islands here--Belize is a poor, developing country. Most Belizeans have to buy used clothing at the many used clothing stores like this one. And much of the used clothing is donated from travelers or expats like myself. Clothes in Belize are sold by the pound, by the way.

For all its image as a Paradise on Earth–for being a playground for rich people and Hollywood types who buy whole islands here–Belize is a poor, developing country. Most Belizeans have to buy used clothing at the many used clothing stores like this one. And much of the used clothing is donated from travelers or expats like myself. Clothes in Belize are sold by the pound, by the way.

THOUGHTS FOR LENT, DAY 4 . . .

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Matthew 26: 6-13

1. Yes, Jesus said, “For you will always have the poor with you.”

Unfortunately, many Christians take that verse as license to do the minimal for the poor. Or they take the defeatist attitude that it’s proof, right from the mouth of Jesus himself, that we’re not going to eradicate poverty in the earthly realm.

But as to the former, you can’t turn to a page in the bible, from front to back, without finding a scripture calling on all people of God not just to take care of the poor and provide for them, but to be in friendship with them.

God incarnate was not born in a palace of wealth and power. Jesus was born into a poor family in a barnyard. The Wise Men who took gold to him were stunned to find that this fellow “king” was not of a family of the gold standard.

AS to the latter, that we can’t do much about poverty and even Jesus said so, the hitch is that Jesus clearly calls us to advance the Kingdom of God and Heaven here on earth. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Nobody in Kingdom of God is supposed to suffer from hunger, lack of shelter and other life necessities. If we know anything at all about God’s will, we know that God’s will is for mercy and justice, including mercy toward and justice for the poor among us.

Poverty probably can’t be entirely alleviated, although, God only knows what 1 billion-plus Christians could do if they came together to wipe it out. But what is gained, and how is the kingdom of God advanced, by doing nothing or little at all to alleviate it because “the poor are always with us?”

2. Jesus, being the good Jew and rabbi that he was, was not speaking spontaneously when he noted that the poor will be with us always.

He was referencing from the Torah, from Deuteronomy 15: 11:

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.”

That’s God speaking, commanding hospitality and service to all “the needy in your land.”

3. The quotation from Jesus in Mark’s gospel is different from Matthew above, and goes like this:

“For you always have the poor with you and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish, [my italics for emphasis] but you will not always have me.” (see Mark 14:3-9)

Show kindness to the poor, meet and befriend the poor, hear the poor and their stories, for the birth stories of Jesus himself are enough evidence to support God’s will for us to be in service to and with the poor.

Lent is a good time to sacrifice a meal now and again to feed one struggling for enough food.

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“In the morning, while it was still dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

— Mark 1: 35

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Thoughts for the day on this Day 3 of Lent:

1. Christ Jesus, like a parent raising and nurturing children, walked on God’s green earth to do the most demanding and important work ever–being there for the children of God, and being there with love and healing for them in their brokenness and fear.

God’s children in Jesus’ time were broken up awful bad. Those great unwashed masses were whipped down by life every day, if only because the times were so primitive and uncivilized.

There weren’t even any malls or Wal-Marts and just finding and putting together a meal could be an entire day’s challenge.

2. People in the time of Jesus also were whipped down by religious control freaks on one side and by the ever-watchful Romans on the other. So these people Jesus surveyed and served in such masses were children severely lacking in dignity, self-respect or self-esteem. As word about Jesus spread, they flocked to this charismatic healer seeking the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wholeness and good health that they saw in others saved by Christ, or that they heard about.

3. Like clamoring little children, these masses of God’s desperate children were always stopping the Lord and wanting or asking or demanding something. And like the model parent that he was, he took the time to stop and listen, even if he didn’t tell the kids what they wanted to hear. He was too full of love and the truth to simply tell them what they wanted to hear.

4. So you think your job as a parent or at the workplace is hard. Jesus came to save the world. Tough duty. But of course, he with his fully developed God consciousness and his praying without ceasing was up to the task.

But let’s remember that Jesus took time to withdraw to solitary, desert places in order to pray and tune in to what the Father/Mother who sent him out into the world had to say. Even Jesus in his humanity could only withstand so much working and doing, doing, doing all the time.

5. We need quiet time and solitude, withdrawing from everybody around, to get spiritually as well as physically re-energized and refreshed. We need some time to ourselves for prayer and meditation so that we can hear the “small, still voice of God” sometimes.

We need time just to be still and be, because Lord knows, our days are consumed and burned up by enough of the frenetic doing, doing, doing.

“He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind . . .

“and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake . . .

“and after the earthquake fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. . .

“and after the fire a sound

of sheer silence.”

Excerpt from I Kings 1: 11-18,
Elijah’s meeting with God at the mountain of Horeb

Park at San Ignacio, Belize: Find yourself a place of peace and just "be" awhile. And all those problems--let God have them and let it be a while.

Park at San Ignacio, Belize: Find yourself a place of peace and just “be” awhile. And all those problems–let God have them and let it be a while.

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Cheers. And Happy Valentines Day.

ee cummings, who could never find the CAPITAL LETTERS key on his typewriter.

ee cummings, who could never find the CAPITAL LETTERS key on his typewriter.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/11427?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Poetryfoundationorg+Newsletter&utm_content=Poetryfoundationorg+Newsletter+CID_27ba938b03af2d2cd6fe58a5231749ae&utm_source=Campaign%20Monitor&utm_term=love%20is%20more%20thicker%20than%20forget%20by%20E%20E%20Cummings

E.E. Cummings, with all that weird and clever and whimsical and fierce originality of his, is one of my favorite poets.

It helps that he had a lot of the qualities that I, for one, value in people: a fierce commitment to originality, creativity, inventiveness and “thinking out of the box,” as we say these days. Also, he was handy in much of his work at puncturing the pretenses and conceits of narrow-minded people–he hated “small minds of all kinds,” as one critic puts it. (And those of narrow minds are a vastly expanding tribe in America today; he would be having a field with his fancy for satire).

Click here to hear him read this at The Poetry Foundation, which has other great love stuff today. (and click here for more on him)
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Poetry has to be read and heard to be appreciated to the full measure; some people never get that–I’m always a little amazed that they missed that in Poetry 101. They never appreciate poetry in the least till they hear a great poet or poetry reader make music by vocalizing the lines and words on paper. They were probably passing around dirty little Valentine notes when the teacher explained the need to read poetry ALOUD.

with no further of that old ado

heres(the print version

of ec Centric word smithE and ECUMMINGS

love is thicker than forget

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love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
E.E. Cummings, “[love is more thicker than forget]” from Complete Poems 1904-1962, edited by George J. Firmage. Copyright 1926, 1954, 1991 by the Trustees for the E.E. Cummings Trust. Copyright © 1985 by George James Firmage. Reprinted with the permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poetry (January 1939).

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YOUR LENTEN THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:

Fast from idle gossip;

feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from words that pollute;

feast on phrases that purify.

— William Arthur Ward

(Day 2 of Lent, 2013)

Pastor Angus Cayetano at First Methodist Church in the capital city of Belmopan, Belize, making the sign of the ashes at the church's evening Ash Wednesday service I attended.

Pastor Angus Cayetano at First Methodist Church in the capital city of Belmopan, Belize, making the sign of the ashes at the church’s evening Ash Wednesday service I attended.

“The purpose of Lent is . . . above all, a preparation to rejoice in His love. And this preparation consists in receiving the gift of His mercy–a gift which we receive insofar as we open our hearts to it, casting out what cannot remain in the same room with mercy.

“Now one of the things we must cast out first of all is fear. . .

“Fear narrows the little entrance to our heart. It shrinks up our capacity to love. It freezes up our power to give ourselves. If we were terrified of God as an inexorable judge, we would not confidently await His mercy, or approach Him trustfully in prayer. Our peace and our joy in Lent are a guarantee of grace.”

— My main man the mystic Mr. Merton (see here).

First Methodist in Belmopan, the smallest capital city in the world. (And, unlike most capital cities, surely the most peaceful and laid back.)

First Methodist in Belmopan, the smallest capital city in the world. (And, unlike most capital cities, surely the most peaceful and laid back.)


Belmopan is a master planned capital that was created in the middle of inland, western Belize after Hurricane Hattie (1961) thoroughly crushed the former capital of Belize City. The little city (Pop. 20,000) is encircled by a giant loop they call "The Outer Ring.&quot or Ring Road. The joggers and walkers from all over the world in the embassy town take to the roadsides on the ring when the 5 o'clock bell rings. It makes for a nice fitness track.

Belmopan is a master planned capital that was created in the middle of inland, western Belize after Hurricane Hattie thoroughly crushed the former capital of Belize City. The little city is encircled by a giant loop they call “The Outer Ring” or Ring Road. The joggers and walkers from all over the world take to the roadsides on the ring when the 5 o’clock bell rings. It makes for a nice fitness track. This photo was taken just off the ring a ways, and down from The Methodist Church near the George Price Memorical center.


The late George Price, who worked pretty much his whole life for independence from the Brits, is the revered "Father of Belize." Definitely a man of the people and a devout Catholic who lived a monastic, celibate life. He didn't do well at all in seminary, though, and dropped out well into the process, floundered around trying to find himself and finally took to politics and plunged whole-hog into it in what was then "British Honduras." He got as political chops first as the Mayor of Belize City.

The late George Price, who worked pretty much his whole life for independence from the Brits, is the revered “Father of Belize.” Definitely a man of the people and a devout Catholic who lived a monastic, celibate life. He didn’t do well at all in seminary, though, and dropped out well into the process, then floundered around trying to find himself and finally took to politics and plunged whole-hog into it in what was British Honduras before Independence Day. Price developed his political chops, rose up to be the Mayor of Belize City before he became a peaceful and amiable but formidable force for the Brits to deal with.

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Bell Tower at St. Ann's Anglican Church.

Bell Tower at St. Ann’s Anglican Church.


ST. Ann's Anglican, which has a close ecumenical relationship with the Methodist Church in Belmopan. But then, Anglicans and Methodists are spiritual cousins because Methodist Movement founder John Wesley rebelled against the Anglicans be never left the Anglicans and was an Anglican priest as long as he lived. I've always loved the irony of that--the man who co-founded with his brother Charles what quickly evolved into The Methodist Church was a priest in the Church of England.

ST. Ann’s Anglican, which has a close ecumenical relationship with the Methodist Church in Belmopan. But then, Anglicans and Methodists are spiritual cousins because Methodist Movement founder John Wesley rebelled against the Anglicans be never left the Anglicans and was an Anglican priest as long as he lived. I’ve always loved the irony of that–the man who co-founded with his brother Charles what quickly evolved into The Methodist Church was a priest in the Church of England.


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Meanwhile, back in the party town of San Ignacio--so much for the peace and quiet of Belmopan--methinks I'll get my motorcycle washed, get a cold bottle of water  (Rubio Water hasn't made it here yet but they do have good bottled waters here*) and cool my heels at the Welcome Center a while. Hope you're enjoying winter.

Meanwhile, back in the party town of San Ignacio–so much for the peace and quiet of Belmopan–methinks I’ll get my motorcycle washed, get a cold bottle of water (Rubio Water hasn’t made it here yet but they do have good bottled waters here*) and cool my heels at the Welcome Center a while. Hope you’re enjoying winter.


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*Chill out about the Rubio ribbing–it’s just a joke, people.

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(This is the first in a series of reflections in the 40 days of Lent. Some may be quite brief, and some, like this Ash Wednesday edition, may require some time to read and reflect on.)

* * * *

“Two things are certain in life: death and taxes.”

— Anonymous

* * * *

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”

— From Phil. 2: 5-11

* * * *

Ash Wednesday is a most humbling day for us Christians, if only because, for one thing, it’s a reminder to us that someday, we will be dead.

I may have lost about half this posting’s readers with that opening, but if you’re still with me keep reading–it gets even darker.

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Look, the reason Christianity endures, like the Judaism with which it is so tightly bound, is that it doesn’t flinch from the darkness of pain and suffering and death, no matter how much some Christians (and preachers, for God’s sake) want to make church and God out to be our feel-good, be-happy-and-prosper insurance agent that we sign up with, with God’s guarantee of reimbursement for our good behavior here on Mother earth. The big payoff in this insurance contract is a relatively pain-free and ever-prosperous life here, and place in the mansion when, to quote an old-time religion hymn, the roll is called up yonder.

Meanwhile, we have the cross we wear as costume jewelry to protect us from bad stuff happening to us here.

There’s a lot of that kind of “prosperity theology” out there, but it’s not the fullness of gospel theology.

Yes, the life of faith is all about light and joy and all the goodness and richness awaiting us now and later. Yes, it’s all about a feel-good, light-filled Christmas and sugar plums and happy days, absolutely! By no means am I suggesting that we should walk out of a church service or bible study depressed and bummed out, or believing that God doesn’t have our back. To the contrary–we do worship and seek God to be lifted up, not to be let down. To have light and escape the hardships or darkness of life a while. We do church and read the bible and do all the Christian things we do to build upon our relationship with this God so great, who is with us in good times and bad. This is what we as Christians affirm and believe and take our hope in for a place up yonder. (Nothing wrong with that old-time religion either.)

That said, it was out of an airless, pitch-dark tomb that the spirit of the fullness of joy in life materialized, with this miracle of transformation and resurrection preceded by our savior suffering such god-awful torture that we can’t begin to fathom the pain he felt.

Ash Wednesday and the Holy Days of Lent are reminders that joy and sorrow are ever connected, like day and night, the light and the darkness, and sometimes overlapping like the twilight and the dawn.

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Marking the first day of the fasting season leading to Easter weekend, the Ash Wednesday ashes signed on our foreheads, in the shape of the cross in the ancient sign of penitence and humility, remind us that from dust we were made and to dust we will return. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

The ashes remind us that even though we may have our youth and vigor and feel invincible, that anointed hour is coming when we will simply be no more. Our death may be in a matter of moments and may be so far in the future that it’s hard to grasp the inevitable fact that it is. And yet we know that death is in fact more certain even than taxes or anything else.

That is a humbling fact of life indeed. But I submit that it’s also necessary to face up to the fact of it and grasp it in order to live to the fullest.

Entrance to home on a hill in San Ignacio, Belize.

Entrance to home on a hill in San Ignacio, Belize.

One of my mentors in chaplaincy training was leading us chaplain wannabes one day in a discussion on how to stay engaged with somebody in debilitating grief wrought by illness or injury, or in the wake of a death or a diagnosis of impending death. By this time we had been fully oriented to what a chaplain or pastor must do in order to “stay in the room” with people when the air is heavy with intense or bitter grief–and that is to be a non-anxious, non-judgmental, calming presence, fully present and engaged with the one or the many in the room who may be doubled over in pain and suffering.

My mentor, who was the head of pastoral care in the teaching hospital where I trained, said something that pierced me to the bone when she told us, “If you’re going to be a chaplain, if you’re going to help people process their pain and grief and face up to suffering and death, you must accept the fact that some day you are going to die yourself. You are going to be dead and gone from this earth.”

That really pierced me, puncturing the deepest fear of mine and the deepest fear, I would dare say, that we all have, which is the life-inhibiting fear of death. I mulled on her very blunt words, and thought of my own death and non-existence in this world–a thought too grim for most of us to bear up to for more than a few moments. And I ain’t suggesting that it was easy and pleasant for me either.

But by holding the thought of my own immortality for a while, I was jolted into far fuller acceptance of my own immortality.

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For me that piercing marked a Liberation Day of sorts, as the puncture released so much of my fear and anxiety of suffering and death, and, more importantly, greatly diminished much the fear and anxiety of being with others laid low by grief from illness, injury or death.

Note that I said it diminished much of my fear and anxiety. I don’t mean to suggest that I am 100 percent fear-free and don’t have anxiety in a room full of people who may be, literally, rolling around on the floor in grief. We’re going to have discomfort and anxiety in the presence of someone who is grieving no matter what.

But I’m free enough of the fear of suffering and death that I can monitor and manage my anxiety and keep my head, for the most part, enough to be with people in their grief. I can “stay in the room with them,” as chaplains say, and allow them the grief and flood of tears to which they are entitled. Grief is a healing agent and has to be allowed. Tears are gifts from God. And in this regard, as Christians, we can all be chaplains of sorts.

We Christians can all be better ministers (and we Protestants are called Protestant because with Luther we believe that we as Christians are automatically ministers) by grasping that someone who is grieving is entitled to their grief and pain. The best thing we can do is just be there, not trying to fix or rescue them with platitudes and making them feel better at a time when talking nonstop at them, to alleviate our own discomfort and anxiety, won’t really make them feel much better. Because we won’t really be sharing their pain, and sharing one’s pain is real compassion. “Suffering shared,” a German proverb goes, “is suffering halved.”

Timing really is everything, and there’s a time just to sit and hold someone’s hand and be a quiet presence there to listen to what they have to say without interruption, without our own high anxiety bumping up against their anxiety.

All of which brings me back to Paul’s wonderful scripture about Jesus “emptying” himself of his high and mighty sovereignty in order to be a servant to us mere mortals in his incarnate personhood.

By consciously “emptying myself,” to the best that I humanly can, of my of own fears and anxieties, judgmentalism and biases and all the other trash that can pile up and stand like a barrier between me and a person in front of me who is in pain, I make space within me for the same Trinitarian Spirit, the one that led Jesus, to fill my tank with the full measure of love and compassion.

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Any of us can be incarnational and more pastoral and compassionate with those who hurt if we’re willing to humble ourselves, to empty ourselves of our own emotional, psychological and mental “trash.” This is why we need spiritual disciplines such as prayer, and Bible reading and fasting and worship and all the rest that we do–that we do, if we’re doing it right, for the sake of our spiritual development and maturity. That’s really the goal in this Christian walk, is to grow into full-grown adulthood to the greatest extent possible.

It’s helpful to remember that the fully developed, mature, God in the flesh was a grownup, free of any childish pettiness of the sort that drives us to so much self-interest and conceit, to gossiping and putting others down as a way of puffing ourselves up.

Spiritual growth is about overcoming our “superiority complex.” It’s about dropping our “sin-icism” and making room for hope.

To be good, spiritually mature and pastoral “ministers,” Protestant or Catholic or any other kind, it helps to admit to ourselves that we are just as weak and broken and whipped down in life as any one of the 7 billion other of God’s children who are trying to navigate life as best as they can, or as best as they know how given the environment they grew up in.

By being incarnational–in emptying ourselves of “the selfish ambitions and conceits” Paul mentions in Philippians, and humbling ourselves in the way that Jesus did in emptying himself of his divinity (while at the same time concealing his divinity–so many paradoxes in faith)–we can really love the one we’re with.

And I don’t mean in the sense of the famous hippie love song from the sixties. Seeking that kind of love doesn’t fill any emptiness in life anyway.

So may we begin this fasting and season of spiritual growth and discipline by being reminded by the ashes of our immortality–but also by seizing an opportunity to start life anew.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer ends with the worship presider saying,

“Return to the Lord with all your heart; leave the past in ashes and turn to God with tears and fasting, for He is slow to anger and ready to forgive.”

Ash Wednesday is an opportunity to empty our inner trash, to burn it up and, as the Anglican book says, to leave the past in ashes and turn wholly to God–all for 40 days more fully engaged with Christ.

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NOTE: ULTRA-VULGAR, TERRORIST LANGUAGE FOLLOWS. BUT HOW CAN YOU SUGAR-COAT THE HATE SPEECH OF ONE GIVEN SUCH PROMINENCE AT WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE A DIGNIFIED ASSEMBLY OF OUR NATION’S LEADERS?

GOD BLESS AMERICA AND THE ILLUSTRIOUS CONGRESSMAN FROM TEXAS STEVE STOCKMAN.

GOD BLESS AMERICA AND THE ILLUSTRIOUS CONGRESSMAN FROM TEXAS STEVE STOCKMAN.

“Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. . .

“Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch!”

— Ted Nugent,
speaking to fellow patriot-fans at a concert
while toting one of the deadly weapons that
keep him warm at night

FROM AMAZON PROMOTION OF THE 'OUT OF CONTROL" ALBUM: After surpassing 6000 concerts in 2008, Ted is currently invading the USA on his, "Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead" summer tour 2010, visit WWW.TEDNUGENT.COM for more info. The incomparable guitar genius & firebreathing intensity of TED NUGENT have carved him a permanent place among the legends of rock. Hailing from Detroit, the guitarist's prodigious talents, earshattering volume &… Read more in Amazon's Ted Nugent Store

FROM AMAZON PROMOTION OF THE ‘OUT OF CONTROL” ALBUM: After surpassing 6000 concerts in 2008, Ted is currently invading the USA on his, “Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead” summer tour 2010, visit WWW.TEDNUGENT.COM for more info. The incomparable guitar genius & firebreathing intensity of TED NUGENT have carved him a permanent place among the legends of rock. Hailing from Detroit, the guitarist’s prodigious talents, earshattering volume &… Read more in Amazon’s Ted Nugent Store

Many are outraged that rocker Ted Nugent, who is best known for having zero musical talent but a certain savage charisma–as well as being what Sean Hannity once called “a great American”–was invited to be a special guest at President Obama’s big speech.

Yes, Ted Nugent might just be the most hate-filled, anti-Christian, loud clown–and one consumed with blood lust–in America, but as ultraconservative Christian patriots who excuse him at every turn would say, “he’s OUR hate-filled, anti-Christian, blood obsessed clown!”

Dignity and decorum follow him follow him wherever he goes, so I can’t imagine why even many Republican Party leaders (dignitaries?) are quietly disturbed that Repubican Congressman STeve Stockam (a Texan–wouldn’t you know it) is giving him a place of honor and allowing him to make a total mockery and circus out of what is supposed to be a dignified government event. Maybe all the social studies teachers out there can show clips of Ted drawing all the media attention he’ll garner for a lesson in civic pride or something.

This comes at a time when President Obama’s popularity keeps rising and after he finished off the GOP conservative candidate, by the time the final, official tally was in, in landslide territory.

Oh well, all of America–and unfortunately the whole world that looks to America for mature and dignified leadership–will be tuned in. It’ll make “great TV,” as they say.

I’m sure that the always dignified gentleman and full-grown, mature adult President Ronald Reagan must be smiling down with pride on Ted and the party and country that he loved so much.

God bless us all. (And please help us.)

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Ride 'em Vaquero!

Ride ’em Vaquero!

Feel free to share your story of that vehicle from hell you always threatened to take a sledgehammer or, better yet, an axe to. In Belize they just act on that impulse and pile up the parts in the yard somewhere. Mi amigos here invited me to take a few wacks with the axe but I think I'll stick to wood chopping.

Feel free to share your story of that vehicle from hell you always threatened to take a sledgehammer or, better yet, an axe to. In Belize they just act on that impulse and pile up the parts in the yard somewhere. Mi amigos here invited me to take a few wacks with the axe but I think I’ll stick to wood chopping.

MY FRIEND THE RASTA "RAZZ J," WHO MAKES WONDERFUL JEWELRY HE SELLS ON THE STREETS OF SAN IGNACIO EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK, MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT, TO SUPPORT HIS WIFE AND 3 YEAR OLD GIRL OVER IN THE NEARBY ESPERANZA VILLAGE. HE'S ONE OF THOSE STREET CHARACTERS YOU WILL SEE NO MATTER WHAT TIME OF DAY OR NIGHT YOU ARE IN THE HUSTLING, BUSTILING CENTRO (CENTRAL) AREA OF SAN IGNACIO.  I DIDN'T RECOGNIZE HIM ALL DRESSED UP WITH A TIE ON (FOR MARDI GRAS WEEKEND FESTIVITIES) AND HE SAID TO ME, "WHAT'S UP, PASTOR PAUL?" THIS LED TO ABOUT A 10 MINUTE CONVERSTATION I HAD WITH THIS MAN STANDING ON HIS HEAD. ONLY IN BELIZE.

MY FRIEND THE RASTA “RAZZ J,” WHO MAKES WONDERFUL JEWELRY HE SELLS ON THE STREETS OF SAN IGNACIO EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK, MORNING, NOON AND NIGHT, TO SUPPORT HIS WIFE AND 3 YEAR OLD GIRL OVER IN THE NEARBY ESPERANZA VILLAGE. HE’S ONE OF THOSE STREET CHARACTERS YOU WILL SEE NO MATTER WHAT TIME OF DAY OR NIGHT YOU ARE IN THE HUSTLING, BUSTILING CENTRO (CENTRAL) AREA OF SAN IGNACIO. I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE HIM ALL DRESSED UP WITH A TIE ON (FOR MARDI GRAS WEEKEND FESTIVITIES) AND HE SAID TO ME, “WHAT’S UP, PASTOR PAUL?” THIS LED TO ABOUT A 10 MINUTE CONVERSTATION I HAD WITH THIS MAN STANDING ON HIS HEAD. ONLY IN BELIZE.

Until next time, happy trails, buckaroos. (In the photo: Hummingbird Highway between the capital city of Belmopan--the world's smallest capital city--and the Caribbean coastal area of Punta Gorda down in southern Belize. It's known as one of the world's most scenic highways.)

Until next time, happy trails, buckaroos. (In the photo: Hummingbird Highway between the capital city of Belmopan–the world’s smallest capital city–and the Caribbean coastal area of Punta Gorda down in southern Belize. It’s known as one of the world’s most scenic highways.)

And oh—one more thing I forgot to mention on this Transfiguration Sunday:

P1020813

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