“You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching”

You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching                                                                                                                                                                                          Yogi Berra
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.                                                                                                                        Jeremiah 29:11 

We have a robin who has built her nest in a wreath on our front door. This must have been a good idea for her, since she is the second bird who has built a nest in that wreath this spring. It is not, however, a good idea for us. She had built the nest pretty quickly, and we really only took notice after she had laid her eggs. We decided that we would give her as much privacy as one can, given that the nest is on a door that does need to open periodically.

We decided to use other egress out of the house when we would leave- usually the garage, or the door to the deck. She has become as comfortable as a bird can be under the circumstances, living just on the other side of our door, and always visible through the windows on the door.

The other day while working in the front yard, I upset her and her boisterous mate who jealously helps her guard “their territory”. They squawk, yell, chirp and make whatever other bird sounds that signal – I suppose – fear and anger.

I thought about this from another perspective. This is my house, and they are mad because I am present on my own property. I mean them no harm. In fact, we have gone out of our way to give them a safe place, undisturbed (generally) for them to prosper. If they only knew that we are trying to help them and protect them so that they can launch their little ones into the world.

Yet they are skittish, angry at my presence, and feel threatened when we get too close.

Then I thought about how we sometimes treat God in his creation. We sometimes fail to remember his love and protection for us, even becoming angry at him when our plans go awry. He means for us to prosper, even when we don’t understand the situation.

Prayer: Thank you for your plans, your ways, which are higher than our ways, Amen

 

Do Unto Others…

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get”                                                                                                                                                                                  Matthew 7:12 (The Message)

The other day I was thinking about wearing masks, and why that action seems to spark some emotional reactions in people. Scientists tell us that there is value in wearing masks, and that it cuts down the opportunity of spreading the Coronavirus, depending on the quality of the mask. As we begin to open up the economy, and we certainly need to, it seems that wearing masks would just enhance the safety of that plan.

However I understand that with everything, there are several aspects of our nature in play. We are physical, spiritual, and emotional in our make-up. We therefore need to pay attention to all these parts of us as we make decisions.

For me, I believe in the safety of wearing a mask when I am interacting in a store. I also believe that all behavior is communication, so when I wear a mask, I am making a statement. I am saying by modeling mask wearing, that this is a reasonable thing, and I endorse the idea.

In my own mind, I also see the spiritual aspect of this. I am helping to protect others. I am doing unto others as I would have them do unto me. The mask is not perfect protection for me, but it is helpful to others.

I know that there are emotional arguments by some that perhaps contend that “nobody is going to tell me what to do”; or “this is government overreach”; or “that is a political statement”; or “I’m not sick, I don’t need to mask”. I am sure there are other emotional reasons that people have that result in them deciding not to mask. Who knows, maybe they just forgot to wear it.

I understand also that there is a small percentage of people who cannot wear masks for other reasons- they feel suffocated perhaps, or simply have such negative physical or psychological reactions that they feel too uncomfortable to wear a mask.

Whatever the reasons of others, I plan to typically wear a mask in stores because I believe that there is collective benefit in that behavior.

When we can change the narrative about a behavior, we can make it more acceptable. If we can believe that wearing a mask is good for others, and that it is also good for the nation’s commerce, that may increase the percentage of people who wear masks.

Wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is a caring statement. I wear a mask because I trust that it helps others. I hope others wear one because I believe it helps me.

Prayer: Thank you for the divine plan that we are to care for one another, Amen

Justice

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream                        Amos 5:24

This is hard. As I sit to write today’s reflection, I don’t know where to start- yet I feel that I need to. Our beloved nation faces daunting problems everywhere we turn. The COVID-19 crisis has wrecked health and the economy. Now, the incredible public viewing of the death of an African-American young man- another one- has revulsed the nation.

Cries for justice fill the air, and rightly so. The Minneapolis police officer who did this act was recently charged with 3rd degree murder and manslaughter. Some say that this is not a high enough charge for the heinous act, however, prosecutors are tasked with bringing a charge that is likely to bring conviction. Even if the officer is convicted, however, will that bring justice?

Once you have seen a video like we saw on the death of George Floyd, you cannot “unsee” it, as much as we would like to. It stands as the latest example of brutality in an American history of it toward African-Americans.

The vast majority of America’s police officers are dedicated, caring people who daily risk their lives in trying to bring peace and order to their community. Some of them fail.

Those who have gone to the streets in protest have reason for anger. The long history of racism in America stands as a running thread that defies our ability to provide true justice.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. often used the quote from the book of Amos about justice.

 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

The preceding words to that verse describe how God sees justice. God does not care for religious ceremonies, songs of praise, offerings, or other trappings of worship.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
 Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream

If we fail to provide justice to people, those who are oppressed and marginalized, God does not care for anything else we have to say.

Prayer: Lord, help us to seek justice. Help us to see people how you see them, Amen

Fragile, But Strong

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well                                                                                                                                               Psalm 139:14

During this COVID-19 health crisis, we have all been challenged in various ways- in changed lifestyle, in coping with isolation, social frustration, loss of job, perhaps even grieving a death. There will be, and have been, profound changes in our society because of it, some of which will be helpful and culture changing. Currently, however, we are still essentially in the middle of it. Or, perhaps, as Churchill once stated early in World War II, “…Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Wherever we are in it, we must come out of it with positive changes in our attitudes about life and about other people. The very nature of the illness shows itself to be insidious and at times baffling. We know that this virus, as do all living things, tries to prolong its own life. It invades its host and does its best to reproduce itself and proliferate.

Our bodies, “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the Bible says, fight this virus, and all such invaders with ferocity. The fact that some people are able to fight off the virus from the brink of death is amazing and gratifying. The fact that some people, seemingly healthy and vigorous, succumb to it, is terribly sad and discouraging.

Our bodies are incredibly strong and formidable, and at the same time, fragile. That same phenomenon exists in all types of assaults on our bodies. My daughter, a trauma surgeon, works on people who have been grievously wounded, and sees them recover from massive injuries. At the same time, some people will die from a seemingly innocuous little infection that turns into a septic disaster.

Life is precious, life is a gift. We had nothing to do with our conception, our life was just…a gift. So, what do we do with this precious gift we have been given? We cherish it, we try to preserve it, and we are grateful for it. We honor it fully by finding meaning in it greater than ourselves.

So, COVID-19, you came to destroy by overrunning our bodies. We respond with an increasing appreciation for life, and we will overcome this crisis.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of life. Our bodies, fragile and strong, are amazing. Help us to persevere and grow in that life you give us, Amen.

This Day in History…

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart                                                           Psalm 15:1-2

Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. The life of Sojourner Truth is fascinating- a heroic story that really cannot be fully appreciated in modern times. She was born into slavery, not in the deep-south, but in New York, where she was enslaved by a Dutch family.

She has a painful story- all slavery stories are painful and shameful- but her response was a God inspired miracle. She was not born with that colorful name. She had the given name of Isabella Baumfree. She took the name Sojourner Truth on one Pentecost Sunday when she heard a call from God to speak her truth- God’s truth- to the world.

How does this happen? An African-American woman, born into slavery in the middle of America’s great battle over that evil practice, becomes a famous voice in that struggle.

She was an example of meeting God in the place of obedience, then letting Him take over and do the things we cannot do. When we respond to what God would have us do, knowing that we cannot do it, but trusting that He can, that is where miracles happen.

I believe that principle works. We cannot see the end game of what we are called to start. I cannot imagine that Sojourner Truth could have possibly conceived that we would be commemorating an extemporaneous speech of hers 169 years later. She simply obeyed what God had given her to do. She did it, then God did His work.

A salute to Sojourner Truth, who would say to me, “Don’t give me the glory for what God has done”.

Prayer: Thank you for people who respond to your voice, and how you use that for miracles, Amen.

 

Physics and Faith

So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead. But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.”                                                                                                    James 2:17-18 (Good News)

I have a love of science, and I am fascinated by physics and chemistry. However, I am a complete amateur at these subjects, and my fascination with them does not mean that I understand those topics well. In high school, I was just glad to barely pass physics, the final exam in my senior year. I tossed the physics book into the trash can as I was leaving the building, glad to be finished with that course! As I got older, I was drawn to the subject, and now I love to read about it- now that there is no grade attached!

I think that principles of physics are true in every area of life, including mental and emotional health. There is a certain beauty and truth about the idea in the law that states

 … the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

Isn’t that cool? The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun, and indeed, that is true. Energy and matter can be transformed one into another, but we are not going to create energy. That has already been done. We are living off the sun’s energy, created long ago, in this “closed system” of our universe.

One of Newton’s Laws of Motion states-

…an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by a force

This law is true of human behavior as well. The principle of inertia says that unless I do something, add a force, supply some energy, I will stay at rest. Unless I make some decision to act, and then do it, I will stay at rest. In order to feel better, to lift my mood, I must add energy- act on my decisions. I must act to improve my mood and situation. It seems obvious, but how often do we wait for “some one” or “some thing” else to change so that we can feel better? Yeah, we all do that sometimes.

So, the principle is true in physics and human behavior. Do, then feel. It works, it’s a Law of Physics! J

Prayer: Thank you for the beauty and genius of creation. Your ways are indeed higher than ours, and I am amazed every day the exquisite plans of yours, Amen

Rejecting Evil

 Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil                                                                                                                                      I Thessalonians 5:19-22 

Earlier this month, on May 8, we commemorated an event that had happened 75 years ago. That was a celebration called VE Day. I trust that we still look with pride and appreciation on this day, because it was the celebration of victory in Europe in World War II. The celebration was especially exuberant, because war had been raging in Europe since September 1, 1939. The world had endured nearly 6 years of bombings, invasions, privations and mass killings. Every country in Europe was affected by this terrible war, especially Poland and Russia, and, of course Germany itself. The British people suffered nightly air raids which virtually destroyed several cities and killed thousands of civilians. Europe’s Jews, of course were persecuted and murdered in the most detestable and ghastly ways. In short, evil had overtaken the continent.

World War II cost millions of lives all around the globe. It destroyed communities, economies and cultures. It cost billions of dollars and untold mental and emotional distress.

Nazi evil was defeated, but not destroyed. There are remnants to this day of evil perpetuated by the ideas of racial superiority and hatred. Such ideas are evil, and there is a cost for combating them. We must recognize them for what they are, and not be complicit in accepting them. Evil can appear in ways that look innocuous and even enticing. We need to always be aware of the insidious creep of evil.

The Bible verse quoted today is from I Thessalonians chapter 5 where we are encouraged to allow the Spirit to guide our thoughts, and to hold on to what is good, and reject evil.

Today, we still have evil in the world- usually a lot more subtle than Hitler’s outright genocidal mania, but evil nonetheless.  Our collective response 75+ years ago was to combat it at high cost.

“…hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

Prayer: Help us to discern evil, to reject its poison, and deliver us from its presence, Amen.