Antidote to Unhappiness: Thanks Giving

Growing up Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. Christmas seemed to have high expectations with accompanying stress. But Thanksgiving was simply a time for adults and kids to gather around the table and eat well.

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is my Dad and his two brothers, Freddy and Bob cooking the Thanksgiving meal while the women visited and the kids played. They didn’t cook every Thanksgiving but every few years they’d make the decree that ‘this year the boy’s are cooking’. I still remember the smell of the turkey wafting from the kitchen filling the living room with anticipation.

The last Thanksgiving the three brothers were together was 2000. I remember working with several cousins alongside Bob, Freddy and Norman. The location was a rented Masonic hall kitchen. In the main room approx. 50 family members gathered. My daughter Katelyn then age 7 had travelled with me from Oregon to spend this holiday with her east coast family. It was a special time to celebrate the ties that bind us one to the other. Stories were told, great food enjoyed, jokes cracked and board games played.

By the next Thanksgiving both Norman and Freddy had passed away. While that Thanksgiving was 15 years ago it remains one of my favorite memories.

Thanksgiving meal

Each Thanksgiving is an opportunity for memories to be made. The common element in each gathering large or small, is the choice to be grateful. It has been said that the antidote to unhappiness in life is the choice to offer thanks. The choice to take time to be mindful of the gifts, the blessings in life.

Scientist tell us that the regular practice of being grateful improves one’s health both physiologically and emotionally. Being grateful lowers your blood pressure and elicits dopamine, the pleasure sensor in one’s brain. When we choose to practice an attitude of gratitude we simply become happier.

Surely there’s a lot of pain and cause for worry in the world. Yet, there’s also much to be grateful for. Today for example I made a new friend, saw a drop dead beautiful full moon rising over the marsh grass outside Boston and spoke with my brother on the phone. It’s been a good day and I choose to mark such moments by being grateful.

Thanksgiving is a day that reminds us to pause, break bread with family, friends and sometimes strangers and take a moment and say ‘thanks’. The 14th century monk and mystic, Meister Eckhart said it all: “If the only prayer we ever offer is thank you, that would be enough”. And to that I say Amen!

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Refugee Crisis Meets a Crisis of Conscience

We can’t escape the images of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Eritrea and the list goes on. Certain photos have become iconic: A baby boy’s body washed up on a Greek island; an anguished father holding his exhausted child. Some nations like Hungary have placed razor wire, others like France and Germany struggle to make room for hundreds of thousands of the displaced.

Syrian Dad and child

Then last week a terrorist cell brought carnage to Paris. 128 murdered/ executed, 350 plus wounded, a city and nation traumatized. One assailant was believed to be a Syrian.

The response of many around the world was fear. Fear that the tide of refugees contain terrorists. Fear that we need to put up barriers between ourselves and those who are different. Fear that we too are at risk.

In the United States Donald Trump has climbed to the top of Republican presidential poll waving the flag of fear. He’s called for an insurmountable wall being built along the Mexican border. He’s called for mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, most from Mexico.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the wake of the Paris attack has called for a halt to efforts to welcome Syrian refugees. He’s called the current 18 month vetting process insufficient. Nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Democrats voted with the Speaker. Over half the Governors support further restrictions.

Fear has a way of constricting the mind and the heart. Many who have voted to remove the welcome mat are people of faith. What are we to make of this?

Jesus understood the power of fear. He understood what it means to be a homeless refuge. In response he told a story whose hero is a Samaritan, an outcast. At a time when an emphasis was placed on religious orthodoxy and racial purity the Samaritan was neither. They were outcasts. Looked down upon by those in power.

In his story in Luke’s Gospel 10: 25 – 37 Jesus tells of a man beaten, robbed, stripped naked and left to die in a ditch. Along comes a religious leader who sees but chooses to walk by. Next is a political leader who also walks by.

It is the Samaritan who stops, binds up the man’s wounds and takes him to an inn. There he pays for the victims lodging and medical care. Jesus ends the story by asking the listeners: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” They replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise.”

Good Samaritan pic

It is one thing to say or do the right thing when there is little cost. But as we wrestle with how to respond to the refugee crisis this isn’t easy or cost-free. My faith tradition puts it this way, ‘this is come to Jesus time’. We either believe in Jesus’ wisdom or we don’t. We either believe in the power of love or we give in to the power of fear.

This is the time when we as Jesus followers are called to push back against the fear peddlers. We are called to set aside our fears and step out in faith. We are asked to place our faith in a 2000 year old story that promises to show us the way forward. Will you walk with me?

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My Mentor in the Christian Life

Kent Harrop:

Don Hutchinson passed into God’s eternal love yesterday. As I write this I am now serving a church in Massachusetts. I along with countless others will always be grateful for Don’s loving witness. Don and his life partner Lee, two gay men, refused to live in the closet and lived their life with grace, humor and courage. Don loved Jesus, walked in the way of Jesus and like Jesus expanded our hearts and minds by his gentle, courageous and loving example. Thank you Don. Say hello to Lee for us in heaven. ~ Kent Harrop

Originally posted on Green Preacher:

Don Hutchinson 2For twenty years I’ve been mentored in the Christian life by Don Hutchinson.  During this time I’ve had the great privilege of being Don’s pastor.

Don is a gentle soul who has been a prophetic voice for the full inclusion of our gay sisters and brothers into the life of the church and as full citizens in society.

Don and his life partner Lee Swantek worked to bring down walls of division and prejudice within the church and wider community.  Don and Lee were the ‘go to guys’ within the congregation and wider community when anyone had a need.  They regularly volunteered to drive people to medical appointments in Salem and Portland.  Through their generosity of spirit they showed us what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

 Don and Lee were committed spouses for 42 years until Lee’s death from cancer several years ago.  The depth of their love was…

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Stuff Happens: Ten Dead and Seven Wounded in Oregon

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked to respond to the massacre of ten and wounding of seven students at Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon. Specifically he was asked whether stricter gun laws were needed. He said: “Look stuff happens, there’s always a crisis and the impulse is to do something (more government control) and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

In recent years a lot of murderous ‘stuff’ has been happening. According to the web site Mass Shooting Tracker which tracks events in the USA where 4 or more people are shot in an event, there have been 994 mass shooting events in 1004 days.

Most of us thought that the murder of 24 children and staff in Newtown, CT in 2012 would be the tipping point for tightening up on our lax gun control laws. But we’ve learned that the NRA is a powerful barrier to gun restrictions and to date has controlled the political debate. The NRA offers an extreme interpretation to the 2nd Amendment where there are essentially no limits on access to weapons and the harm they can inflict.

To understand the effectiveness of the NRA we need only follow the money. The NRA has received 39 million dollars in recent years from the 12 billion dollar a year firearms industry. The NRA as a primary lobby for the gun industry spends millions of dollars to support and defeat members of congress. Thus far the NRA has effectively controlled the debate in Congress and has muted resistance within the Democratic party and is seemingly in complete control of the Republican narrative, hence Jeb Bush’s lame response to yet another mass shooting, ‘stuff happens’.

NRA president Wayne Lapierres response to the mass shooting is to arm more people. Donald Trump leading in the Republican polls calls for arming every teacher. It’s enough to hang one’s head in despair for common sense.

vigil in Roseberg

Yet, throughout history there has come a tipping point when enough people have awakened to the need for change. This was true with the great justice movements in US history: Abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights. Underlying these great historic events were years of effort and seeming failure until that time arose when enough people came together to usher in change.

I believe that in time reasonable gun controls will become the law of the land. In time enough of us will no longer accept the fear mongering of the NRA and the gun industry. In time we will no longer accept the resistance or inaction on the part of our elected officials.

Enough ‘stuff’ has happened. Enough lives full of promise have been extinguished. It’s long past time for a change. Will you add your voice and efforts and tip the scale? Will you say no to fear and yes to reasonable laws? Laws that allow us to send our kids to school and walk our streets with a greater sense of safety? We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for, the answer rests with us.

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Spirituality of Extreme Weather

Source: Spirituality of Extreme Weather

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Spirituality of Extreme Weather

I grew up in New England where extreme weather is the norm. We can have hot humid summers that rival an Ecuadorian rainforest. Heavy rains can so soak the earth that water seeps from basement walls and rises from basement floors.

Winter however is where New England often smacks you upside the head. I remember the blizzard of 1978 but nothing prepared us in the greater Boston area for 9 feet plus of snow, that accumulated from a series of blizzards in February and March of this year. It was epic and brutal.

Blizzard of 1978

I grew up in New England but for twenty years lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Willamette offers a generally moderate climate with occasional moments of weather related drama. For the most part it is a pleasant climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape flourishes and flowers emerge in late winter. In the valley there are generally two seasons, wet and dry.

Over a year ago I returned to New England and have lived through a full cycle of the four distinct seasons. For me this cycle has been a spiritual journey. There’s something about living through an extreme winter that encourages one to appreciate the spring and savor the summer even with its humidity. There’s something about being smacked upside the head by 6″ of water in my basement last October, that invites me to savor the warm, dry and beautiful days that accompany these initial days of Autumn.

While I will always love the beauty of Oregon I find that New England has attuned me to the weather and my surroundings in a deeper way. I find that a change in the weather is also bringing about a change in me.

I am more aware of the birds migrating south for the winter, more dialed in to the tides and the wind as I regularly launch my kayak in the ocean. Today I went for a long run because it was sunny and dry and I know the opportunity to do so is fleeting.

Monks and mystics teach that being awake is essential to be awakened by that great mystery we call God/Creator/Spirit. Being awake physically, emotionally and spiritually opens one up to lessons and gifts that otherwise might be missed.

Thich Nhat Hahn the Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to practice mindfulness. He offers a lovely mantra to be in the moment: ‘Breathing in I calm my spirit; breathing out I smile. (Inhale) Living in the moment; (exhale) this is the only moment.’

Living in New England helps me to live in the moment. Partly because I don’t know what the next moment (weather wise) will be. And, as I live in the moment I find there is much to be aware of and thankful for.

If I forget and begin to live in the past or the future, a Nor’easter storm off the ocean, a blizzard or a breathtakingly beautiful morning (as it was this morning) will grab me by the lapels and say ‘listen up and look around!’

3000 years ago a Hebrew prophet named Isaiah said, ‘Listen and your soul will love’. New England weather requires that we keep attuned to what is going on around us. And, if we are attuned enough, we may very well discover that something new and life-giving is being awakened within.

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From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

Source: From Scarcity to Abundance: Refugee Crisis, Part 2

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