A Special Wedding

Susan and Jerry
Aren't they pretty and don't they look happy?

I do love a good wedding, and really, most weddings are good weddings. But this was was unusual. Alivia and I were got to help Susan and Jerry wed on Saturday. These two love the stories. All the stories. They Processed to music from the Hobbit and recessed to the theme from Indiana Jones. They quoted Dr. Suess and Douglas Adams in the ceremony. The reception had themed tables from the X-Files, Star Trek, Star War, Harry Potter, Dr. Who, and My Little Ponies.  During the course of the reception Tribbles multiplied around the room. But my favorite detail was that the Tardis centerpiece kept disappearing and re-appearing on different tables.

At the top of the Ceremony, Alivia boldy declared that "Mawaige! Mawaige is what brings us together!"  I was proud of her.  I got to do the homily.  This is what I said.

One of the many things that I like about the two of you is your shared love of story and Mythos. Many of us in this room share this with you. Why do humans take such delight in made up stories about Quests, explorations and battles between Good and Evil? I think it is because we all know that these stories are essentially true. There is a dark side of the force and it is tempting. We are called to the stars. The Truth is out there. Anyone can find redemption.  And Love does, in fact, Trump Death.

I believe Humans come into this world not only with amazing adaptable hardware but also with some pre-loaded software. Some of this shows up in our stories. Sure, We pass these stories down verbally, but they wouldn’t stick if they did not resonate so deeply with our souls. These stories rise up in every culture and in every age. You couldn’t wipe them out if you tried. Science keeps reinforcing their basic truths. The two of you know this.

And so you start out today on a Quest. Not to destroy something - but to create something. You are going to try and build a loving life together – this is your grail. It is entirely ok that you don’t really know how you are going to do this. If you know where you are going and how to get there – it is an errand – not a Quest. It is ok that you do not feel entirely prepared. Help will show up on the way. It is more than ok that you have a reality based, friendship based, starting place. Here is a secret about True Love. It doesn’t fall out of the sky and hit you on the head. It isn’t a spell or a Jedi Mind Trick. And it isn’t rare. “What you think this happens every day”?  Yes, yes I do. True Love is common as dirt. It is in the air we breathe. It is built into our DNA. It is available in some form to everyone.

But you have to believe in it. You have to choose Love, as both your destination and path. You have to plant and sometimes build it. You have to nurture and maintain it. You have to protect it. You have to make it first in your life and put everything after it.

I’m getting old. I’ve learned a few things. Many of them the hard way. You will learn that way too. But I have three little gifts/suggestions to give you for your path.

1     First - Stay together. Talk to each other first, about everything. If you find yourself talking to someone else about your deepest stuff more or sooner than your spouse, make a course correction. Don’t spiritually or emotionally leave him/her. Not for a minute, not for any purpose.

2     Second - Susan, remember when you were little and sang This Little Light of Mine in Sunday school ? - teach Jerry that song (not now) Here’s a little light. Take the Light with you. Shine the Light on everything. No secrets. None. Together you make up the image of God. If you stay together you can deal with anything. If they manage to split you up, they can lie to you, and convince you of nearly anything. Expose everything to the Light.

3 Third - Be ready to be transformed. Love that doesn’t change you for the better is not Love. You will be different people 25 years from now. But if you choose Love every day between now and then, you will be better people, who love each other better.

You know how they describe an epic story of challenge and redemption? If it’s really good they say it’s a story of “Biblical Proportions.” There are good reasons for that. Where do you think they got the idea that Love can beat death?  I consider John the Revelator to be the greatest science fiction writer of all time. You know what he said about you?  In one of the little letters, he said “Right now, you are children of God, what you will become remains to be seen…” We are all used to this children of God stuff. 2000 of Christendom has made us numb to it. When a guy in AD 100 or so said “Children of God” you know what everyone heard? Hercules.  Right now you are superheroes. You have untapped superpowers of Love, and forgiveness and resilience. If you let the Light of Love be the gravitational center of your life you will You will become something better than a superhero. You are ultimately unstoppable and invincible if you make the right choices. And Love is always the right choice.

You have a quest to start. Better get going…




Morris Dees on George McGovern

October 21, 2012

Dear Peggy,
It's a sad day for our country. I just learned that my great friend George McGovern has died at the age of 90.

Senator McGovern was a true American hero.

As a pilot during World War II, he helped liberate Europe from the Nazis – once saving the lives of his crew by safely landing his damaged bomber.

But that was just the beginning of his heroism.
George McGovern and Morris Dees during
McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign.
After being elected to the U.S. Senate in the 1960s, he took a strong but highly unpopular stand against the Vietnam War. If only our leaders had listened.

His anti-war activism was just one facet of his political career.

The man I knew was a fierce and unwavering champion of society's most vulnerable – a kind, compassionate and principled man who believed deeply in justice and devoted his life to creating a level playing field for all. A child of the Great Depression, he fought poverty and hunger, both at home and abroad, with a rare vigor.

I first met Senator McGovern as he was preparing for his 1972 presidential campaign. It was also shortly before Joe Levin and I launched the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we were right in the middle of a lawsuit that would desegregate the all-white Alabama Legislature.

Because of my admiration for Senator McGovern – and because he shared the same values as you and me – I was proud to serve as his finance chairman when he ran for president. He lost to Nixon, as we all know. But looking back, I think a great many Americans would agree that the country got it wrong that year.

I saw Senator McGovern many times in recent years, and he visited my home in Montgomery, Alabama, on a number of occasions. He was a powerful advocate for the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center, believing passionately in our fight for justice and tolerance.

We owe him our gratitude for everything he did for America. I'll miss him.

But we can draw inspiration from his life and what he stood for. Thank you for standing with us. Senator McGovern would be proud.


Morris Dees
Founder, Southern Poverty Law Center


Nursery of Truth


When may be babies when it comes to the Truth
But we are Badass Babies!

Second Post - Well, This is News 


Benchmarks of Adulthood

A lot of people seem to like to worry about whether Millenials are reaching the benchmarks of adulthood on time. Or anything close to on time. I sometimes worry about whether the ones I love are ok today, and going to be ok, but I do not worry much about arbitrary benchmarks. Mostly because I feel that I have a tenuous connection to them myself. I feel about adulthood like I feel about the middle class, by some measures I am middle class, but barely and I know I could fall out of it in a few weeks or months if the weather changed.  When my dad left the planet after 88 years I was 48. The scariest thing about it for me was the elimination of the practical and emotional safety net. I didn't feel completely ready for the call to The Bigs. When the marriage of 30 years exploded a couple of years later the already faded and shredded security blanket sported a new and big hole.

I have tried to step up. I take my swings. I schmere a bit of voodoo chicken blood on my bat. I pray a lot, and when things work out I cross my heart, kiss my fingers and point to the sky.

Then there are days like today.  I had a big grown-up day scheduled in Portland. Daughter #2 was in the house and I had a nice breakfast with her. I thought I was on time, prepared - time to eat my oatmeal. Before I walked out I mentally went over whether I had what I needed for the day. Good.

Then I got half way to Portland and looked at the gas gauge. I was almost out of gas. I reached for my back pocket and realized that I did not have my wallet. No License. No credit cards. No cash. I also did not have my phone.  Fortunately, rummaging through my daytimer (yes, while driving) I found a small-bill cash donation for one of my small charities. I stopped and bought a gallon of gas for the car. I made it to my first appointment.

Then I had to suck it up and seek out some help. I drove to Marge's house, but Marge wasn't home. Carl was. So I had to admit my status to Carl. Of course Carl could help. Carl is a grown-up and a kind one. Now I have enough samoleans to buy some humble pie.  Actually I am at the Side Door Cafe, waiting for the people who think they are meeting with a grownup. I ordered the special of the day the "Salmon of Knowledge Sandwich." Figured it couldn't hurt. Of course, I am picking the capers out of my sandwich, because the Salmon of Knowledge helped me to remember that I am a fussy eater and don't really like capers.

So darlings, If that critical voice in your head harps at you about not making the benchmarks, and if the central casting of your subconscious voices that ugly with my voice, please remember that you are not really hearing from me. I think you are doing just fine. It's me I am worried about.



So There I was... In the hands of TSA

So There I was ...

At Midway, coming home from a great ministry gig.  I had been in the land of my mother's people, and it had been a time of deep personal connection as well as good work. I was heading home happy.

I prefer the lesser of the two Chicago airfields. I usually get in and out quickly and can take back streets to my brother's house. It was a Sunday morning and everything was light and smooth. The rental car and the big bag had checked in easy and I was early going through TSA.

Because of the emotional tethers of the week I had more family heirlooms on my person than I would normally carry. In my little shoulder bag I had my Grandfather Hubbell's preaching Bible. It is seven decades old now, and the onionskin pages are loose to their binding, But the worn leather feels like unction in my hands.  I wrap it loosely in fabric to travel, never let it out of my sight and it goes out rarely and only for good reasons. I also had my Grandmother Hubbell's diamond lavalier. It was the only diamond the woman ever owned and it is tiny, and the setting is fragile. I had worn one and carried the other on a visit to their graves and to ground me while preaching.

Just for balance I had My grandmother Senger's silver and mother-of-pearl cross that she was given on her honeymoon in 1905 - I usually wear it, but not when going through TSA. She was a Chicagoan for much of her life.

To add to the breakables there was a brand new coffee cup that I had found while God was telling me a joke during my stay. And there was a antique Japanese fan that delighted me.

Not being a dummy, the mother of pearl pocketknife that was my father's last gift to me was in the big bag with my liquids.

I was personally metal free and I expected to breeze through the checkpoint. I am an expert at hopping in and out of my cowboy boots.

I carefully positioned my little bag on the conveyor, de-shoed, and made the "I surrender" gesture for the back-scatter device.  I came through and reached for my boots and bag. And noticed the confab at the X-Ray screen.  Screener called in a second. They conferred and then looked me over - I smiled a cheerful smile.  And then the man with the blue gloves picked up my bag and waved me over to the special look-see table.

The gent was an older black man who central casting could have sent to double for Morgan Freeman. He was wearing the TSA regulation frowny face. Wordlessly, He started to go through the bag. I had the regulation case of sudden nerves and babbled.

"So I can't imagine what looks hinkey in there. I'm a seasoned traveler. Put all the metals and liquids in the checked bag. I know I'm not allowed to help with this, but if you could tell me what you were looking with maybe I can give you a clue..."

He pulls out the make-up bag and opens it with a bit of disdain. Seeming to say "I don't really like pawing through ladies personal things."  He looks at me. He acts like he thinks we are wasting our time. He finds some bobby pins - he sighs. "Probably these pins here ..."  he says.

Then his eyebrows go up.  And he gives me a look. And with two pincher fingers he lifts out the knife. Daddy's knife. The one I was sure was in the big bag.

"Oh, rats! - that's not supposed to be in there..."
"No, ma'am, it's not..."
"Crud, that's precious to me. That is the last thing that my late daddy gave to me. - Aw, man, what are my options here?"
"You surrender the knife and go on.  Or you have me put the knife back in the bag and I walk you back to the airline and the bag gets checked."
"Can I take some things out and carry them in my in hands?"
"Nope - the bag is mine, or the knife is mine. You watch me carry it out, but it doesn't go back in your hands."
"This is scary!  Your'e asking me to give up the precious thing or risk a bunch of other precious fragile things to the handlers. I don't think I have the courage to check that bag." I was thinking about the destruction of the preaching Bible, and I was about to let the knife go. Grandparents before parents. My heart was pounding. I bet my eyes were a little wild.

And then Mr TSA lowers his voice, leans closer, looks me in the eye and says in a sudden baritone profundo -

"Daughter, the opposite of fear is not Courage. It is Trust. How much Trust do you have today?" And the whole area got kinda fuzzy in my peripheral vision, and I froze as those words echoed in my soul.

The opposite of fear is not courage - it is trust.

I say "That's not a regulation TSA bulletin is it?"

He smiles at me.

"Trust" I say, "I'll go with Trust."

"Good Choice" and he put my knife back carefully in my makeup bag and walked me back to the airline, and he got to go to the front of that line and gave the bag to the agent, who checked it in.



Empathetic Exegesis

 This is the introduction to this Sunday's message. It gives you a peek into how we are working with scripture at Freedom Friends.

And Much Cattle

An Empathetic Message About Jonah
For Freedom Friends Church
Sept 30, 2012

This morning we are going to look at the story of Jonah. It’s a very short story and it won’t take us long, so I want to take the time first to talk a little about how I use scripture and a way of using scripture that we offer here at Freedom Friends Church.

If I am any kind of theologian - I am a narrative theologian. That means that when I talk about God I usually tell stories. I have just found that this works best. People don’t argue with you so much when you can tell a good yarn. I like it because it uses my imagination, which has always seemed like one of the places where I am closest to God.  When I use my imagination to talk about spiritual things, God and I co-create. This is fun.

When I am being a student of the Bible or any other work of theology I try and use the very same imagination from the other end. I try and put myself into the story and listen to see which parts of it resonate with my experience. I try and listen to God while I am in the story and see if God has something for me in it that I wouldn’t have gotten from studying it from the outside. I try and identify with the characters. 

I try and view the world from through the lens of the story rather than view the story from the lens of my world. 

Our Friend Vail Palmer is writing an important book documenting this very thing. He calls it empathetic exegesis. He says that this is how Quakers have used scripture from the beginning. That they identified with the people in Scripture personally and deeply.  Vail suggests that this is a singular way of looking at scripture.  I love this because it frees me from two things I find very frustrating. One is the way I was trained the view the bible - literally. People wanted me to believe that everything in the book happened just in the way it said, and to take the book as a complete and practical guidebook for my life. This started not working for me when I was 7 and used a stack of National Geographics to try and count all the animals and make them all walk to Persia and fit in Noah’s boat. Didn’t work then. Doesn’t work now. And it is a weird guidebook if you try and take it literally - trust me.

Then I grew up and found about the modernists and textual critics and at first they offered me some hope. They said I could read the Bible and use my brains. This seemed like a great idea. But they seemed to want to spend enormous amount of brain energy arguing with the literalists, and then with each other, about just exactly how much of the book wasn’t true in any way. They took it apart like a lego castle. I loved the Bible, but I knew I didn’t want to argue about it.  And I couldn’t help but feel like they were missing the boat too.

Then  when I had given up on the preachers and professors I met a cowboy poet. And he was always tellin’ tall tales about how God worked in the world through grizzly bears and such. One day after a great story I asked him. Was that story true? And he said. “Pert near true.”  Ooo - this seemed shiny and dangerous, so I asked him. “What does pert near true mean?” And this is what he said. “Pert Near True is a story that is so true that it doesn’t matter a lick whether it ever happened or not.”  That man liberated me that day. Now Vail has come along and is giving me and that poet scholarly back up. I appreciate this.  I appreciated it when they told me that the point of Quakerism was to get back to the very feet of Jesus and let him talk to you, maybe tell you a story. Gave me hope that maybe I could be a Quaker after all.

So this morning this is what I want to invite you to do with me. We are going to crawl inside the old story of Jonah the reluctant prophet, and see if we can find anything true in it for us. See if we can identify with any or all of the characters.  See if we can hear the truth. Whether or not it ever happened.