A price tag for happiness?

This last week we read the parable of the rich farmer (Luke 12:13-21) who has a wonderfully abundant crop and doesn’t know what to do with it (clearly giving it away doesn’t even cross his mind). He eventually decides to and tear down his grain bins to build bigger ones so that he can sit back and relax for a few years. But God says to the farmer: ‘You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. To whom will all your accumulated wealth go?’ Jesus goes on to say, “This is the way it works with people who accumulate riches for themselves, but are not rich in God.”

It was almost as if the farmer thought there was a price tag he had just met for being happy, secure and comfortable. He’d just won the lottery. Life was good! And then… psych! All gone!

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Now, we remember that this is a parable, a story Jesus told to make a point. So, what’s the point? Clearly it isn’t that as soon as you’re too greedy with your wealth that God will take you out of the game, or we wouldn’t have so many million and billionaires around! Jesus is clear in verse 15 that we should “Avoid greed in all its forms. Yes, ALL its forms. People are not just greedy with money, but with time, love, themselves and stuff.

Why should we avoid greed? Jesus doesn’t spell it out, but here are a few things I’d suggest: an attitude of greed keeps us from ever being satisfied or happy (there is really no price tag for happiness), it keeps us from living and enjoying the moment, and it is contractive, not expansive for our souls. An attitude of greed buys into a belief in scarcity rather than abundance.

In the book, An Other Kingdom, the authors talk about believing in abundance in the face of uncertainty. But they readily admit that this thinking is a “stretch of the imagination.” We see and hear all around us of people who don’t have enough, the poor, the homeless, the folks of Louisiana who’ve lost their homes in flooding, the folks in California who’ve lost their homes in the wildfires.

Our culture and our commerce has capitalized on the fear of not having enough, the fear of scarcity. In our advertising and our TV shows, in the push to compete with the Joneses, to be the best and have the most. There are time-saving devices, ways to buy love and keep love and find love, ways to live forever, look younger, and nip and tuck until we are beautiful. We’ve been brainwashed to believe that if we don’t have more we fail, we lose. We’re told we should be afraid of running out.

But what if… WHAT IF the fear of running out is not a reality, but a perspective? I know this may be hard to grasp because it feels like a reality. But WHAT IF whether we see our lives as rich and full is a perspective? What if this “reality” of scarcity isn’t really reality, but is simply one point of view, one mindset, one perspective? And we get to choose.

There was a 92-year-old petite, well-poised and proud woman, who was fully dressed each morning by 8 a.m. with her hair fashionable coiffed and makeup perfectly applied (even though she was legally blind). Her husband of 70 years had recently passed away making it necessary for her to move to a nursing home. (Most older people I know rail against this with a huge fear of the future and a huge loss of their independence and home and life as they knew it.)

Well, the day had come and after many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, the aide provided her with a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window.

“I love it!” she stated with the enthusiasm of having just been presented with a new puppy.

“Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room… just wait.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged… it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it… it’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away just for this time in my life.”

Many people only see lack and loss in these situations. They see and therefore experience scarcity and the fear that comes with that. But then there are those special people who live with a different perspective and bring light, hope and joy to others.

Being rich in God means living with an attitude of abundance, not scarcity, in whatever situation you may be in. When we have that close relationship with God, a trust in the basic benevolence of the universe, and knowledge that there is so much more than meets the eye, we look at wealth, stuff, love, time and even beauty in a different way. Being “rich” means something completely different when one comes from a deep connection with the Divine.

Love & Light!



Who am I?

In the call story of the prophet Jeremiah, there are two amazing lines:

Before I formed you in the womb, I chose you.
Before you were born I dedicated you.
                                                         (Jeremiah 1:5)

In Jewish, Christian and other religious traditions, the essence of who we are is with the Divine long before we are born. Eternal life is not, as we have been led to believe, about life after death. Eternal life with God has always been and will always be. The very core of our beings has always been and will always be.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Yet if someone were to ask you, “Who are you?” or “Tell me about yourself?” how would you respond? Would you say, “I have been with the Divine from before I was born, I am part of the Divine now, and shall always be even after I die. I am stardust and moonbeams, dirt and ashes, water and fire. I am love and compassion. I am a piece of the whole. In the deepest part of me I am known and I know and it has always been so.”

Um, no. In describing ourselves we’re mostly likely to tell people about our roles, relationships, work, skills, hobbies, character traits, illnesses or even addictions. But we are so much more!

There is a Buddhist meditation called “Who am I?” that is designed to get people past all of these superficial definitions of Self and help us remember that we are more than. The gist of the meditation is to ask yourself over and over again “Who am I?” until you get past all the transitory pieces and begin to recognize our true selves which are connected to the Divine and everything else in creation. Rabbi Rami Shapiro describes it in a beautiful way when he says, “You arise from God the way sunlight arises from the sun, the way a wave arises int he ocean. The “I” that is your true Self and the true Self of all predates time and creation like an acorn predates an oak…”

James Hillman’s acorn theory suggests that just as the acorn has within it the “map” of its destiny to become the oak tree, so does each human have encoded within him/herself an identity – call it the soul – as part of the primordial instant of all creation. Hillman states that “each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” At birth we forget who we are and our life’s assignment is to remember ourselves and who we were created to be. If we will listen, our souls work to teach us and guide us through our life experiences to become who we were created to be.

Sue Monk Kidd tells a story about being a novice gardener and, not knowing any better, planting her tulip bulbs a foot deep. A gardener friend eventually informed her that a few inches would have been sufficient! Yet, they managed to push through all that dirt to grow and bloom. Kidd draws the connection between the bulb and the true Self. She says, “The Self is already within us, an imprint of our wholeness and divinity.” Seeking realization, our true Selves must push through the dark layers of our false selves to come into the light. Our false selves take many shapes including, the need to please, perfectionism, fear of commitment, emotional distance, anger, negativity, addiction, fear of risk and failure, and the need to be in the spotlight.

Our true Selves, as an emanation of the Divine, manifest as light, joy, peace, compassion, justice, non-judgment, hope and love. The world will try to make us who we aren’t, but our true Selves, the seed planted deep within us, will continue to nudge, annoy and frustrate us to be who we are. Listen!




God, could you speak up?

It feels like the world is just getting louder and louder. So, seriously, when I want “a word from the Lord,” I want it loud and clear. The story of Elijah reminds us that what we want and what we’re going to get may very well be two different things.

(For the full audio, click here.)

In 1 Kings 19:1-15a, the people have turned to pagan idols, most of the prophets of Yahweh have been killed, Elijah has royally pissed off Queen Jezebel, and he is fleeing for his life. Next,we find Elijah hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb (where the prophets always encounter God), and personally, I think Elijah is ready to turn in his resignation and retire. Then God tells him (my paraphrase) “Hey, Elijah, go stand on the mountain because I’m about to pass by!” And just as he’s about to step out of the cave a whirlwind hits, then an earthquake and then fire. Is God just showing off? Thankfully Elijah hadn’t made it outside yet!  Well, after all the commotion dies down, Elijah hears God whisper, “Go back the way you came.” Sigh.

The whole story is a little too far-fetched to take literally, so, what’s the metaphor? What’s the message?  And, by the way, how did Elijah know that God wasn’t in the whirlwind, the earthquake or the fire?

Here’s my take on it… perhaps the world is like the whirlwind and the earthquake and the fire. Perhaps the typical state of affairs in life is chaos and confusion, loud noise and distraction, fires to put out and crises to avoid. God doesn’t even try to compete with all of these things by being louder, and Elijah seems to know deep within what is God and what isn’t. As a prophet, I suppose, Elijah has trained his heart to know when the Divine has a message. Instead of rushing out into the chaos, Elijah waits in anticipation and listens intently for the voice God, and so the faint whisper isn’t lost to him. But how many times is it lost to us?

Many people have become very uncomfortable in silence, uncomfortable stopping and waiting and listening. Noise and bequietandlistenbusyness cover up our emotions and our fears, they distract us from ourselves and that still small voice that emanates from within. We use our own personal whirlwinds, and those of society, to drown out our honest thoughts, mask our true feelings and obscure the voice of God. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.

At times we may be worrying about situations in our lives, so we decide to spend more time in prayer. But our prayer tends to be us talking, and talking, and talking. We’re apt to only listen to those things that will confirm what we already think. We don’t want to be surprised by God.

If we really want the connection with God, if we are willing to take direction from the universe, then we need to cultivate a listening heart… one that quiets down and pays attention.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar, in her poem Messages from God, basically says there are two ways to approach this: either you believe that the universe has messages for you and guides you, or you don’t. If you don’t believe it, then we are each alone in the world without input from the Divine in any way, shape or form. The world and the universe are mute.

If you do believe the universe sends you messages, then going through life can be as exciting as a treasure hunt and we will keep our eyes and ears open for those messages, coincidences and synchronicity.


Stitch (formerly Cherry)

Let me use getting our puppy as an example… watch and see how easily this flowed. We’d been looking online and sort of convinced ourselves that the right puppy would find us. Julie and I were out walking one night and a woman on a bike stopped and asked us what happened to our last dog (oddly enough neither of us ever remember seeing her before). We explained that Rosie had congenital kidney problems and we had to put her down, and she asked if we were looking for another dog. We said, yes, we’d been looking at rescue sites online and made a few inquiries. Then she suggested that we try Lucky Mutts and gave them a glowing review. So, we got home, checked out the dogs at Lucky Mutts and found three puppies that seemed to fit our requirements due to arrive in Milwaukee in 5 days. We filled out the application, got a call the next day for a woman to come do a home visit. She brought her daughter (who happened to know my daughter) we had a good conversation, and were approved by the next day with one of the dogs (Cherry) on hold for us.

In the meantime, we had filled out an application with another rescue and the foster mom of the puppies we had applied for called me. She said she’d seen I was a pastor and had just been on our website! She was very excited and very persuasive about the puppy, Peep, she was fostering. We decided to go see both Peep and Cherry and then make a decision.

We met Peep first, and she was very cute and sweet, albeit a bit distracted and almost disinterested in us. We told Peep’s foster mom that we just didn’t know and still had to meet the other puppy. She said, you’re a pastor, you know to let the spirit lead you and you’ll feel which one is the right fit. (Apparently I need someone to remind me of this.) Well, we left and oddly none of us really felt like Peep was “it,” though there was no specific reason why.

When we got up to Milwaukee, they brought Cherry out to us and as we sat down in the grass to meet her. She immediately jumped up on each of us and gave us hugs and puppy kisses. The choice was obvious and instantaneous. Isn’t it amazing how all of that came together! I would have loved a big bold sign pointing to the right dog – THIS ONE! But when we were all called to pay attention, and we did, we knew.

Linda Douty says, “The task is to house our own portable sanctuary in the hallowed center of who we arethat place where we become so familiar with the sound of that still small voice that we can hear it in the MIDST of the whirlwind, in the very ebb and flow of our daily lives.”

How do we know when the still, small voice is talking? Well, what moves you? What brings tears to your eyes (in a good way)? What calls you to action? What excites you? What do you have a passion for? What stops you in your tracks? What makes you lost track of time? When these things happen, it may very well be the voice of God, and it behooves us to stop and listen carefully to what is being whispered in our hearts.

Rabbi Kedar says, “The world of the spirit speaks to you in a hundred voices. Listen with the heartbeat of your soul.”

Love & Light!