Celts and Geese

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s haze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. ~ Wendell Berry


In Celtic spirituality a goose is the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  For the Celts raised on the windswept cliffs of the Irish Sea it is the goose that survives and thrives.

For the Celts a wild, loud, sometimes aggressive goose is a more fitting symbol of that great mystery called Spirit.  Whereas tradition depicts a dove, it is a goose which honks with an explosive energy and flies on wide, powerful, expansive wings.

Wendell Berry the Kentucky farmer and poet believes that wild geese flying over remind us ‘that what we need is here’, that the mysteries of life surround us…seed and earth and honking geese…awakening us to the gift of now.




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Buddy Bench

Think back.  You are 13 years old in Middle School.  It’s Gym class and teams are being chosen.  The best athletes are chosen as team captains.  One be one they begin to choose who they want on their team.

You aren’t particularly fast or tall and your hand- eye coordination isn’t all that good.  You watch as your classmates are chosen and you hope (and pray) that you won’t be last.

Remember what that felt like?  If you were fortunate enough to be the one selecting or the one usually chosen first, you too remember the lesson: Don’t show weakness.  Don’t fall behind.  Don’t be chosen last.

Of course such feelings don’t end with a 7th grade gym class.  The longing to fit in, to not lose face, to be accepted by others persists.

This past weekend I watched as a group of middle and senior high youth built and painted a bench.  This bench is special.  They call it a ‘buddy bench’.


The buddy bench is being placed at several church camps.  The bench is for anyone who feels alone, struggling, sad, alienated.  It is intended to be a safe place. Where you can sit and draw strength from the words of love and encouragement that have been painted by your peers.

More than words, the buddy bench is an invitation for people to come and sit with you.  A place to sit and remind one another that in God’s eyes no one is chosen last.  In God’s eyes each of us is beautiful, strong, gifted, unique.

Why?  Because each of us is a child of God.

Ever felt like you didn’t fit in? Ever have someone break your trust?  Ever been cast aside?  Ever been picked last…or, not at all?

This buddy bench is more than a place to sit and rest.  It is a metaphor that calls us to reimagine our place in the world.  To see oneself and others as worthy too.

In this unusually nasty political season where our so-called leaders revert to bullying, shaming and blaming their opponents…it’s good to remember that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Good to remember that we each deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.  To know that there’s a place on the ‘buddy bench’ for you and me.

Note:  For directions to  see a Buddy Bench at Grotonwood or Oceanwood Camps  in Massachusetts and Maine,  go to: http://www.tabcom.org


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Donald Trump Meets The Paper Bag Princess

I posted this blog in May 2016. Unfortunately the topic remains painfully relevant. Yesterday an audio tape of Mr. Trump was released from 2005 where he voices sexist and predatory behavior towards women. On the recording Trump said. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women ― I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the ____,” Trump added. “You can do anything.”

During this presidential election we can have honest differences on public policy. But I hope the vast majority of Americans will demand that our elected officials, particularly for the presidency will model respect and decency toward all people. I think the Paper Bag Princess would have a few choice words for Mr. Trump.

Green Preacher

Twenty years ago I was a Dad with two young daughters. I knew I couldn’t protect them from all the foibles of society. What was within my control was to be the best Dad I could be. To offer them a healthy male role model. I knew that they were fortunate to have a wonderful role model in their mother. The wild card was me.

I had the power to do good or do harm. I knew my daughters were growing up in a society that too often objectifies girls, defining how they should look. I knew too that society can place limits on the dreams of girls and boys.

My hope for our two daughters was that they would grow up to be strong, confident, adventurous, curious and compassionate women. We’ve encouraged our girls to dream big, trust their instincts and have a heart for those on the margins.

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Hope for a Post-Christian Era

We in the USA, live in a ‘post-Christian’ era. This refers to a movement over the last 40 years away from organized Christianity. There are many reasons including a growing distrust of institutions in general and religion in particular.  Some of the distrust is deserved i.e. systemic cover up of decades of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church; conservative churches being co-opted by right-wing politics; liberal churches who’ve lost their spiritual mooring.

The results are seen across the nation and readily evident here in New England.  According to the Massachusetts Council of Churches on any given Sunday only 25% of our neighbors are attending a house of worship of any type.

Churches for the most part are growing grayer and in time becoming smaller. For millennials approx. 30% nationwide  say they identify with ‘no religious tradition’. This %  is increasing at a rapid rate.

Some say ‘good riddance’.  Not surprisingly, I don’t agree.  For all the imperfections of the church, I still love it.  I love that it is one of the few places where diverse ages and backgrounds gather.  I love that the wisdom of Jesus continues to cut to the heart of what is good, lasting and true.

I see many churches looking in the rear view mirror.  They aren’t looking back to Jesus but rather to a fading memory of the way church life was practiced 20 -40 years ago.

Such churches focus on comfort, familiarity and being in control.  They become hospices, lovingly overseeing the comfort of the beloved until the doors eventually close.

Last week I attended a reunion of the seminary that nurtured my call to ministry 30 plus years ago, Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS).   ANTS recently sold its campus and is affiliating with another seminary. Bottom line the number of students has shrunk as the churches they serve have grown smaller and grayer.

Looking at the religious landscape, one might think that all is lost.

Thankfully, there is a timeless quality to the Christian story.  Easter is all about life over death, hope over despair, love over hate, courage over fear.

Let me offer one such story:  In Sahuarita, Arizona, 40 miles from the border with Mexico is Church of the Good Shepherd.  My friend Randy Mayer serves as the pastor http://www.thegoodshepherducc.org Good Shepherd is a multi-cultural, growing congregation deeply rooted in the story of Jesus.

Good Shepherd on a daily basis sends a small fleet of trucks into the Arizona desert.  The trucks drop off water for migrants fleeing poverty and often oppression. On average 300 bodies are found in the southern Arizona desert each year.  Their bodies have no identification and are buried nameless.


The people of Good Shepherd know that these travelers have names.  They know them as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Such a bond transcends government policy and the threat  to build even higher walls.  Their compassion is rooted in a story Jesus told in Luke 10: 25-37.  A seemingly simple story with profound cultural and political implications.


Jesus was never about building an institution. He was all about a movement.  A movement of the heart that builds bridges of understanding.  A movement that restores us to health and harmony with God.

The antidote to irrelevance for the Christian church is in remembering the story of the One who brought us into being.  It was true then.  It’s true now.


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Room of Failure

I recently caught a snippet of an interview where a person referred to her garage as ‘my room of failure’.   She went on to say:  “I look around my garage and see everything I’m not good at, all the items I don’t know where to put, all the hobbies that I never get to.  I look around me and all I see is failure”.

This resonates with me.  When I lived in Oregon our garage was incapable of holding the two cars it was designed for.  Over 20 years of raising children we collected family photos, toys, school craft projects, trophies.  Such accumulation carried emotional ties that I wasn’t ready to sever by giving the stuff away or sending to the dump.

Eventually we moved to Massachusetts and carried much of our emotion laden stuff and general clutter with us.  It cost effort and money to do so.

Now we are in a house half the size.  We have a small basement and no garage.


While we downsized by 1/2 we still have too much stuff to store.  In addition to the emotion laden objects we also have my tool bench.  Another area of failure.

I’ve accumulated tools that for the most part I don’t know how to use.  Those that I do know how to use (screw driver, ratchet set, drill bits) often have missing pieces or are jumbled up in boxes.  When I look at my tool bench I’m reminded of what I can’t do or can’t find.

A professional organizer would tell me that disorganization and emotional clinging gets in the way of my living in the now.  An organizing guru (they seem to be everywhere) recommends the following steps:  Make a list of what I love (keep);  what I’m somewhat emotionally connected to (take a photo of my kids 3rd grade painting and get rid of); what I need (screwdriver, pliers, drill) and what I don’t (that box of empty picture frames, 30 year old hockey skates and box of slightly used coffee mugs).

As my jumbled, cluttered basement goes, so goes my life.

The pros say that as we jettison our stuff we begin to feel lighter emotionally.  As we donate, put in recycling or into the dumpster we make room for our heart, mind and imagination to expand.

On a spiritual level I know this to be true. When I do make the time to de-clutter I sense that my heart and soul open up.

Within me there is tension.  A part of me that wants to accumulate and hoard.  Another part that wants to let go, get rid of, make space for.

Which part of me will win?  Depends on the day.

How about you?



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How to Heal a Nation

We lament the loss of civility in our culture.   Our current political season offers many examples but is not an outlier.  In the early days of our nation John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were locked in a particularly nasty campaign for president.  Jefferson questioned Adams sanity and Adams raised a rumor of Jefferson fathering illegitimate children.

If mudslinging is part of our political and social psyche it isn’t the entire story.  A few days ago we remembered the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack on September 11th.  We remembered our collective trauma in seeing so many innocent people murdered.  We remembered too the beauty that arose from the ashes,  as strangers and neighbors across this country reached out to one another with countless acts of kindness.

Cindy McGinty lost her husband on that day.  In the years that followed Cindy says: “My community loved me back to my feet. I think of the neighbor who mowed my lawn for eight years. The taxi driver who took me on countless errands and refused to take my money.”

We think of Jo Jo Esposito the Staten Island fireman whose battalion lost half of its members on 9/11 .  He’s become a surrogate father to the children of several firefighters, including his own family members who died that day.  ‘There’s no manual that prepares you for this”, he said, “you simply try your best to do the right thing.”  Over the course of 15 years this surrogate dad has walked brides down the aisle and attended graduations and birthday parties.   He did it out of love for his friends.

On the anniversary of 9/11 we remember the trauma and all that was lost.  We remember too how it also brought out the best in us.


During this uncivil political season it serves us well to remember the positive lessons from 9/11. The antidote to fear and coarseness is simple kindness.  The reminder that we are all in this together.  That our strength as a nation is in the quality and depth of our character, our  capacity to take care of each other.



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No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.


Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.


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