Archive for October, 2014


“Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

That saying resonates with us because it jolts us back into separating the wheat from the chaff, the meaningless stuff from the stuff that matters.

But there’s never any shortage in the world of big stuff to sweat over–real stuff but also imaginary stuff manufactured by the media and the other, usual suspects, like the gas-bag politicians.

(Somebody wake me when this election’s over: this could be the year of the Dallas Cowboys, proving once again that there is a God and that God is good.)


The Bible says 365 times (yes, 365–an interesting number): “Fear not!” We find God constantly commanding us to have no fear of anything or anyone except God Himself/Herself. And even that biblical fear is not so much about fearing as much as revering.

God knows that we’re prone to deny ourselves love, grace and peace of mind out of fears that are imagined and exaggerated in our restless heads. And yet our real experiences in life show us over and over that the things we work ourselves up the most about with worry and fear are the things that never happen. It’s the unexpected things in life that throw us curves and put us on our knees before the God that we so suddenly and desperately call on to help us through some dark and truly fearful valley.


And yet we live in a time now when even the most devout Christians deny themselves the overflowing cup of grace and peace of God to be found in daily living because of the pervasive fear tactics of those with the big megaphones (media, politicians, TV evangelists) who make lots of money and gain lots of worldly power keeping us all jacked up with irrational fear and tension.

In his book Whistling in the Dark, His Greatness Frederick Buechner wrote with his usual, simple eloquence of how the news can divert our attention from the little things that actually matter in a routine day.

    “When the evening news comes on,” Buechner said, “hundreds of thousands of people all over the earth are watching it on their TV screens or listening to it on their radios. Disasters and scandals, scientific breakthroughs and crimes of passion, perpetual wars and the perpetual search for peace—people sit there by the millions half dazed by the things that go to create each particular day. Maybe they even try to make some kind of sense of it or, if they’re not up to that, at least try to come to some sort of terms with it, try to figure out how it’s apt to affect them for good or ill.

    “There is also, of course, the news that rarely if ever gets into the media at all, and that is the news of each particular day of each particular one of us. That is the news we’re so busy making that we seldom get around to sitting down and thinking it over. If it takes some extraordinary turn we might, but the unextraordinary, commonplace events of each day as they come along we tend to let slip by almost unnoticed. That is, to put it mildly, a pity. What we are letting slip by almost unnoticed are the only lives on this planet we’re presumably ever going to get. [My italics for emphasis.]

    “We’re all of us caught up in our own small wars, both hot and cold. We have our crimes and passions, our failures and successes. We make our occasional breakthroughs. God knows we are searching for peace. It’s all apt to happen so quietly and on so small a scale we hardly realize it’s happening. Only an unanswered letter. A phone conversation. A tone of voice. A chance meeting at the post office. An unexpected lump in the throat. Laughing till we cry. But these things are what it’s all about. These things are what we are all about.”

Such things are what it’s all about–talking with a buddy about the Cowboys game at the post office; or sharing the news of our child’s accomplishments with a friend over coffee; or calling someone who’s been laid low by genuinely bad or scary news: such are the commonplace and events and encounters that we might not recognize as stuff that matters in fostering a healthy, balanced life and life in a healthy, balanced community.

Catch the spirit of God’s love and grace and tender little mercy bugs–it’s not hard to catch.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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So here’s my thoughts on the Ebola situation in Dallas and in West Africa–and I hope you’ll take the time at least to view the Methodist video down below to hear West Africans talk about the horrific situation they face . . .

Nurses, other caregivers and support staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas organized and participated in a support rally earlier today outside of the facility's emergency department. They shared stories of their experience at Texas Health Dallas, offering prayers and words of encouragement for their patients and one another. I'm sure the chaplains--God bless chaplains who do ministry in the trenches outside church walls in hospitals, hospices, war zones and elsewhere--were involved.

Nurses, other caregivers and support staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas organized and participated in a support rally outside of the facility’s emergency department. They shared stories of their experience at Texas Health Dallas, offering prayers and words of encouragement for their patients and one another. I’m sure the chaplains–God bless chaplains who do ministry in the trenches outside church walls in hospitals, hospices, war zones and elsewhere–were involved.

It’s hard to imagine the real, utter suffering–not to mention the fear–that’s widespread in three countries whipped down by Ebola in West Africa. The suffering escalates by the day.

In the U.S., meanwhile, there has been, as sad as it was, one death, and two cases in which two nurses are responding well to the best medical care in the world.

So the impact in America has been bad, but minimal in the big scheme of things.

To minimize it for perspective is not to diminish the grief surrounding the one death and the two cases of severe illness. Nor am I suggesting that we in America shouldn’t be concerned and well informed about the deadly virus. There’s a lot of solid, educational information being put out by the media and others. My friend and former Houston Chronicle colleague Dianna Hunt and her colleagues at the Dallas Morning News, for example, have done some excellent, responsible reporting on Ebola in their own back yard in Big D. (For newcomers to the blog here, I was in newspaper journalism far more years than I was in hospital and hospice ministry.)

But there’s sure been too much of the other kind of reportage in the general media on one death in one hospital–a hospital with which I’m very familiar. Doctors and caregivers at Presbyterian Hospital (“Presby,” as the locals in Big D have always known it) saved my brother’s life when he suffered a bad heart attack.

In addition, I considered doing chaplaincy training at Presby in Dallas years ago, having interviewed with the hospital’s chaplain supervisors and being offered a residency with them. I opted instead to train with the Methodist Health Care System, another major, Dallas hospital. I also worked for five full years on a 3 pm to midnight shift at one of the city’s Baptist hospitals (Baylor) in the ER and ICU units.

So the Ebola situation hit close to home, since Dallas was my home for much of my life and hospitals were my pastoral “churches outside the church walls” for a number of years.

The Dallas situation also feels personal in the “struck-close-to-home” way simply because I have such an affinity with doctors, nurses and the many, many other caregivers everywhere who go about the high-stress, often heroic business of saving lives and healing the sick, day in and day out. I spent enough years as a chaplain assigned to emergency rooms and intensive care units, working side by side with those heroic caregivers as they worked ridiculous hours doing the most demanding work imaginable, to marvel at their tireless dedication.

Far be it for me to defend Presby Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for any mishandling of its now infamous Ebola cases. But I will say I’d still feel plenty confident receiving critical care there today or any time.

Methodists in Liberia passing out information flyers as part of an Ebola education program sponsored by the Methodist Church of Liberia and United Methodist Communications USA

Methodists in Liberia passing out information flyers as part of an Ebola education program sponsored by the Methodist Church of Liberia and United Methodist Communications USA

What seems to be overlooked in all the sensationalized media coverage, political posturing, finger-pointing and general fear-mongering in the U.S. is that three survivors of Ebola have survived and are well because of the treatment they received in American hospitals. My guess is–and my hope is–that Ebola in my country is not going to break out in any massive, widespread way before it passes. Nor will it spread much beyond the three countries in West Africa, excepting some isolated cases here and there in advanced, Western countries.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but I’m convinced there’s reason for hope that it’s contained and will remained contained to a relative few, isolated cases.

The people in three countries in West Africa, meanwhile–where Methodists “on the ground there” report a mood of despair and suffering because of issues like hunger as well as the disease–need more of our awareness, thoughts and prayers–and donations too.

So check out the video and please consider joining me in a donation to UMCOR, or some other credible aid source of your choice, to alleviate the suffering of brothers and sisters in West Africa.

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Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren

Pastors live in a web of complex relationships. If they become close friends with members, problems can arise. If they don’t, problems can arise. If they are open about their doubts, mistakes, and struggles, problems can arise. If they aren’t, problems can arise.”

— Brian McLaren

An appreciation of one of the toughest “jobs” in this world of broken and wounded people, who all stand in need of God’s endless love, grace and tender mercies (and that’s each and all of us who get catapulted into this seemingly graceless world)–from Brian McLaren, who’s been there.

Read it and then you may want to give your pastor a hug of appreciation, but be careful–somebody will probably assume the worst about that innocent hug. (It may be better to send a note of appreciation for his or her endless days of work in service to God and others at that.)

    Pastors know things that are painful to know. Pastors keep confidences even though doing so leaves others to assume the worst. Pastors are routinely insulted, cussed out, lied about, or lied to. Pastors face expectations that range from challenging to oppressive to depressing to maddening to ridiculous. Pastors have to make tough choices balancing the needs of individuals and the needs of the community, needs of the congregation and needs of the staff, not to mention their own needs and those of their families. Pastors are called in to deal with life’s toughest realities — death, divorce, illness, prison, domestic violence, drugs, racism. Pastors have to keep congregations of diverse people together — even when political campaigns and culture wars try to divide them. And I haven’t even mentioned the challenges and responsibilities of preaching.

    Pastors live in a web of complex relationships. If they become close friends with members, problems can arise. If they don’t, problems can arise. If they are open about their doubts, mistakes, and struggles, problems can arise. If they aren’t, problems can arise. If their only income comes from the church, problems can arise. If they have multiple sources of income, problems can arise. If they address or engage with political issues they care about, problems can arise. If they don’t … You see the pattern.

    Meanwhile, when unethical or unwell pastors do terrible things, all the good and honest pastors also become the subject of increased scrutiny, even cynicism.

    No wonder pastors get worn down.

    And they’re often so busy helping others that they don’t even hear a little voice inside them crying for help.

    I was a pastor for over twenty years, and nothing I have ever done before or since has been more difficult.

    If you have a pastor who is doing a good job, be good to them. Let them know. When others lob grenades of criticism at them, speak up. Write a note. Say a good word of encouragement.

    If you are a pastor/priest/minister/whatever, doing good work for God, your congregation, and the common good — I don’t care whether you’re liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox, gay or straight, man or woman, single or married, denominational or nondenominational: thank you, God bless you, and please, take care of yourself because the church needs you and the world needs you. Your life and work deeply, truly matter.

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Here’s a great oldie from the Rev. Johnny Cash, an ordained and utterly authentic, gospel-preaching, gospel-folk-country-singing Baptist preacher, with a sermon wrapped in a song as relevant today as it was back in the day. . .

Teach your children well.

Teach your children well.

“Man In Black”
Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.


I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.


I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.


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For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”

— 1 Corinthians 11-23-25 (NIV)

The Best Supper, by Jan Richardson

The Best Supper, by Jan Richardson

Today is “World Communion Sunday,” an observance that was started by a Presbyterian Church in 1933.

1933–a year in which world events didn’t make for much hope for a better world, not unlike 2014.

Keep the faith and practice it.

And here’s a blessing for this occasion from the multi-talented United Methodist minister Jan Richardson. Learn more about her here.

    “‘Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

    ―Mark 10.15-16

“And the Table Will Be Wide”
A Blessing for World Communion Sunday

And the table
will be wide.
And the welcome
will be wide.
And the arms
will open wide
to gather us in.
And our hearts
will open wide
to receive.

And we will come
as children who trust
there is enough.
And we will come
unhindered and free.
And our aching
will be met
with bread.
And our sorrow
will be met
with wine.

And we will open our hands
to the feast
without shame.
And we will turn
toward each other
without fear.
And we will give up
our appetite
for despair.
And we will taste
and know
of delight.

And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
And everywhere
will be the feast.

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Today is National Poetry Day.

Let it be that.

“Buddhist Economics”
The instructions are clear
Stop talking, stop thinking
Look into where unchecked talking and thinking get us
Chaos, horror, violence, war, economic collapse
Suffering beyond comprehension
The challenge is to stop
To come back to the quiet place in your mind
Stop scheming, planning, acquiring, consuming, controlling, competing
Invest in the present moment
The place where you already have everything you need to be happy
Don’t lose your freedom in our economic disaster
Enjoy the failure of capitalism
Buy shares in the wilderness
Enjoy silence, the trees, the flowers, the birds
Justice will come from listening deeply and letting go
Value space and time, not your bank account
Invest in your breath, your steps
Sell our shares in fame, fortune, sensual pleasure
And look at how wonderful the natural world is
The forests, the mountains, the rivers, the smallest insects
Smile at the blue sky, the laughter of our children
And walk with peaceful steps in our beautiful world

— David Percival

"Buy shares in the wilderness"

“Buy shares in the wilderness” (photo from a bluff over the Mopan River, BZ)

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