Passing the Torch

Reflections on the Journey

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You’re Thankful for THAT?

Everyone agrees that thankfulness is a banner of victorious living. We elevate gratitude into-the-light21to a cardinal virtue, especially at this time of year, our voices rising in song: “Give thanks with a grateful heart!” and “Come, ye thankful people come!”

If we count our blessings instead of sheep (kudos, Irving Berlin), most of us begin with obvious gifts: food, shelter, loved ones. It’s like stepping up Maslow’s ladder of need, relishing the view from each rung. We may even do so with a prayerful awareness that these basic needs are lacking in the lives of others. A colleague of mine, Rev. Traci Smith, calls this Gratitude 101.

I, too, am thankful for this surface abundance in my life. Yet, on this Thanksgiving 2017, I am grateful for treasures born of deeper struggles.

I love this quote from Anthon St. Maarten (an unlikely reference). “If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.”

Today, I hold two of these pearls—these blessings—in my hands. Jesus would call them pearls of great price.

One represents my recovery from alcoholism. Early on, as I attended meetings and absorbed the wisdom of others, I heard a phrase that startled me: “My name is ________, and I’m a grateful alcoholic.” What?! You’re grateful for a disease that causes blackouts, ravaged relationships, poisoned bodies, the suffering of incarceration and rehab? How could those two words—grateful and alcoholic—be spoken in the same breath? Now I know. The Twelve Steps brought me to my knees, offered rebirth through surrender, and today I am eternally grateful for a path that leads to serenity.

The other symbolizes my journey in parenting a special needs son. It requires herculean doses of patience, a quality that was never my forte. But today I am abundantly grateful, not only for this daily character shaping, but for the privilege to see life through Kristoffer’s eyes, to affirm forever the dignity and worth of every human being in the Kingdom of God.

Last month, I shared a classic of Christian literature at a men’s breakfast: Corrie Ten Boom’s story of the fleas in Barracks 8 at Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp for women. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were imprisoned for harboring Jews. Betsy taught her sister to be thankful even for the fleas that infested their cramped and filthy quarters. Why? You can read the story and its stinger ending here.

What I didn’t share with those men, but do so now, are some of Betsy’s final words before she died in that squalid prison. They shout to me across the decades.

“We must tell people what we have learned here. We must tell them that there is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”

I ask you a question, my friends. When you count your blessings, are there some that would cause people to say “You’re thankful for THAT?”

I hope so.



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Every Story Matters

For years, CBS ran a program called “Everybody Has a Story.” Host Steve Hartman threw a dart at a U.S. map, flew to that city, opened a phone book, put his finger down and called that household. If the individuals were willing, Hartman highlighted their life stories. Before leaving, he asked them to throw a dart for his next destination.  156227-34744 with wordsWhat a marvelous illustration! It shows two things. First: the struggles of being human are something we all share, no matter our age, race, or background. Second: our stories matter, especially when someone really listens.

But listening is a dying art. We fixate on our TVs, computers, or smart phones. With sound byte mentalities, we wish people would just get to the point. We formulate responses before others finish, cutting our attentiveness to zero.

Paul Tillich once said, “The first duty of love is to listen.” People long for someone to hear them. In our raucous world, open ears and hearts provide an oasis of acceptance. And the benefit to us can be astonishing. Our worlds expand! Here’s an example.

One day a short African-American man with a warm, near toothless smile came to our church. He was homeless, sleeping in his car, and wondered if I could help with lodging and food. When I agreed, he said, “Thank you, sir!”

That’s when I saw the military bearing in his shoulders; I heard the respect in his voice.

“Are you a Vet?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. I served in Desert Storm with the First Mechanized Infantry.”

“Tell me your story,” I said. Then I listened without interruption.

What followed was a harrowing page of American history, and it was my privilege to hear every word.

Raised in New Jersey, William Milburn inherited his family’s tradition to join the military. He enlisted in the Army National Guard after high school. When he got laid off from a factory job, he decided to go active duty. Eventually he was transferred to Fort Bliss, assigned to the First Armored Division.

In August of 1990, William was a front-line tank gunner when the U.S. invaded Iraq. As he spoke, I could hear the roaring jets, the deep booms as William locked onto distant Iraqi targets and destroyed them. Those traumatic memories still open fresh wounds.

“We saw trucks, jeeps and tanks with mangled, blackened bodies. The smell of death is horrible, pastor. I was a soldier, but as a Christian, any loss of life is terrible. I remember looking at one body draped from a jeep and thinking ‘man, that guy had a family.’ It was war. I did my duty. But it was still so sad.”

William received bronze stars for his valor. I told him I couldn’t thank him enough for his selfless service to our country. I’m happy to tell you he is back on his feet, working hard, enjoying life with a new girlfriend.

So think of this as you shop, work, and travel. Every person you see has a story. And sometimes the people we pass over the quickest have the most mind-blowing tales of all. A homeless veteran taught me this lesson.

All I had to do was listen.

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Five to Seven Days: Lost Maples State Natural Area, 11/9/17

One in water“Five to seven days,” says the park ranger,
a time for peak foliage,
autumn leaves in their nova.

So brief…so limited…
like a Monarch’s sole migration,
or a sunset lost at sea,
or my daughter’s first breath,
her tiny fist held in my grasp.

Still…Trunk and leaves
five to seven days, repeated
season after season,
eon after eon,
like Monarchs over virgin continents,
sunsets on primordial waves,
or the cry of the human species
from a cradle endlessly rocking.

“Five to seven days,” I whisper to myself.Single Tree

So brief, yet eternal,
like my life…
like yours.

In memory of Linda Evans, who died far too early of brain cancer on the morning of Thursday, November 9, 2017 – Requiescat in Pace


A Medal for Two

“There must be acceptance and the knowledge that sorrow fully accepted brings its ownMedal for Two photo gifts. For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.” – Pearl S. Buck, from The Child That Never Grew, written about her daughter with Down’s syndrome.

It’s the track and field regional finals of the Special Olympics. The stadium at the University of Texas, Arlington, is electric with the shouts of friends and relatives. An army of compassionate volunteers crowds the field, lining up runners, tracking the winners, cheering contestants in the spirit of the Special Olympics motto: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

I watch as these cheerleaders position themselves at the finish line of the 100 yard dash, one for each lane. When the gun sounds, they focus raptly on their athlete; for just a divine moment, that boy or girl, man or woman is the most precious human being in the arena.

The diversity is amazing, from preteens through adults, spanning a wide gamut of impairments. We shout our encouragement for all of them, especially a young man in his late 20s. Left in the wake of his peers, he jerks, not walks, towards the tape, his arms clutching a Woody doll from Toy Story. In any other setting his painful progress might be pitiable. But this celebration of life meets him with thunderous applause.

Parents are supposed to remain in the stands, but as the time nears for my son, Kristoffer, to compete, I rebelliously slip onto the field. Smiling like a seasoned volunteer, I elbow my way to the end of his lane. I can see him now, tall and lanky, lane four in a heat of boys that look much stronger, much more substantial than he.

Like most parents, my adrenaline is pumping, nerves on edge. The gun sounds, and with that flash of noise, my mind transports back to Kristoffer’s birth…

October 22, 1997. Even as he emerged for his first breath, it was obvious: Kristoffer was different. The nurses cast surreptitious glances at each other and the doctor, then pasted on smiles for public consumption. But the masks had slipped and I’d seen beneath them. I’d glimpsed the looks of compassion and pity.

Facing the reality that you have a “special needs” child carries all the hallmarks of grief. Denial is pervasive as you await a diagnosis. Kristoffer’s condition was not a known syndrome, which number over 750. He has a chromosomal translocation. I saw the dyed sets of his DNA, the blueprint for his life, so infinitesimally close to symmetrical. But there it was – that microscopic smidgen of genetic material that had broken off one side and attached itself to the other.

It made all the difference.

When the reality started settling in, I felt a wave of grief. I agonized that my child would not have all the possibilities of an “ordinary” life. As a Presbyterian pastor, I tried to buffer this grief, aware of a great paradox within me. The clarion call of my preaching is that the last will be first, and that ultimately the meek will inherit the earth. I have urged others to love outsiders, aliens, the disenfranchised. I have also seen firsthand that children with all their mental capacities are born every day into crushing poverty, intolerance and bloodshed.

But the litmus test of truth, the intimacy of grief, was now mine, and all the glib answers of my preaching failed me. I gave in to what I felt was a selfish reaction. My son would never receive a degree, let alone graduate cum laude. He would never walk the halls of power. He would never discover a scientific breakthrough, play in Carnegie Hall, or step to a podium to give a lecture. He would never start his own business, write a book, or excel in a recognized art.

Heck, I realized he might never learn to talk or read, make friends, or find a suitable woman to share his life with. And work? Where? At a Goodwill Store? Bagging groceries at a sympathetic Safeway? Sweeping floors at a State-run group home?

The geneticist wasn’t encouraging.  With the bedside manner of an IRS agent in need of retirement, he gruffly informed us that the prognosis was very guarded. Kristoffer might have to communicate using pictographs rather than words. Of special concern was the lack of a soft spot on his head, which was already on the border of microcephaly. If his skull did not expand to accommodate brain growth – a condition called craniosynostosis – he would require multiple bone-splitting operations and a plethora of stints.

Donna and I listened in numb silence. At that stage of my life, I was a worrier, conjuring every possible disaster. Though I preached Jesus’ famous “Do not worry” passages from the Sermon on the Mount, I too often succumbed to fear. Donna, on the other hand, cut off dreaded thoughts before the tentacles developed, not because she had learned the art of letting go, but as a survival tactic. She’d been down so many times in her life that she just soldiered on. Somehow we balanced each other.

We needed that balance desperately as we walked through this valley together. I learned to let the expectations of normalcy be cremated in my mind. From the smoke emerged Kristoffer James Van Tatenhove, son of my loins, one of the loves of my life. I began to “Father” him as best I could, slowing down to communicate at the most elemental levels. I began to walk through the grief by walking closer to him.

For personal reasons, I had taken a break from being a pastor. However, I still assisted in mission and outreach at the First Presbyterian Church of Palm Springs, California

God knew we needed that congregation and put us there at just the right time.

Let me explain. In my decades of ministry, I have grieved for people who endure trials in this life without a community of faith to support them. The Palm Springs church wasn’t perfect; it had its own history of divisions and conflict. But they knew how to love us when we craved it the most.

One Sunday fresh after Kristoffer’s diagnosis, I tearfully asked for prayers for our family. The pastor, Jim Griffes, called the four of us – Donna, Kristoffer, my stepson, Keenan, and me – to stand in the center of the sanctuary near the Communion Table. He then called one of the elders, Jayne Humberger, to come forward and lead a laying on of hands.

Jayne was barely five feet tall and carried a lot of extra weight, but when it came to intercessory prayer, the woman was a lightning rod for the Spirit.

I held Kristoffer in my arms as the rest of the congregation flooded unabashedly down the aisles to gather round us. It was a circle of love, the communion of saints, and for the first time in months, I could feel the tightness in my chest begin to dissolve.

I don’t remember Jayne’s exact words as she laid her hands on Kristoffer’s head. But here is what they meant…

Loving God, you are the Great Physician, and anything is possible for you.
…We have heard the human prognosis, now we pray for a miracle.
…We know how much you love Kristoffer; we know you had a plan for his life even while he was in his mother’s womb. Make that plan clear to all of us.
…Most of all, we pray for your will to be done in this family, so that every trial they face will be shaped by your love and grace as a testimony to the world.
…Give them peace, God, not as the world gives, but only as you can.

What constitutes a miracle? Each of us will answer that question for ourselves. But I left that service in a miraculous state of mind, full of conviction that God did indeed have a plan for my son, for me, for our entire family.

This certainty was cemented later in the week as I saw Simon Birch, the film adaptation of John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Simon goes to ask a critical question of his pastor. With his stunted growth and obvious disability, he enters the pastor’s study, plops down on the other side of his desk, and speaks.

Simon: Does God have a plan for us?
Rev. Russell: I like to think He does.
Simon Birch: Me too. I think God made me the way I am for a reason.
Rev. Russell: Well, I’m glad that, um, that your faith, uh, helps you deal with your, um…you know, your, your condition.
Simon Birch: That’s not what I mean. I think I’m God’s instrument – that He’s gonna use me to carry out His plan.

Later, when Simon gets discouraged, he goes back to the same pastor.

Simon: I want to know that there’s a reason for things. I used to be certain, but now I’m not sure. I want you to tell me God has a plan for me, a plan for all of us. Please.
Rev. Russell (Finding it difficult to respond with a good answer): Simon…I can’t.

I remember feeling infuriated at that pastor for his lame excuse of a faith. If he had been an actual character with offices nearby, I would have stormed through his door with a stream of invectives. For myself, I clung fiercely to my belief that Kristoffer would exceed the doctor’s predictions. I vowed once again to have the patience and courage to seek out and nurture his gifts, no matter how small. I would help him carve out a unique future despite his limitations!

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Patience has never been my strong suit. Anyone who knows me will attest to that fact. As I tried to teach Kristoffer basic life skills, my frustration would quickly peak. It was so hard to separate the strands of what was happening. It still is. How much of his learning difficulty was due to his condition? How much was due to his stubborn lack of applying himself? How hard could I push him? How would Donna and I balance our parenting styles? She was prone to over-protection; I was driving him, intent on helping him make the most of himself despite his disability.

Meanwhile, life happened. Like so many other parents around the world, we adapted to the daily realities of our new family constellation, many of which were stressful.

  • Visiting specialists to help with Kristoffer’s slurred speech.
  • Confronting schools so they would not shelve him as hopeless.
  • Searching for friends would who would overlook his disabilities and provide some sense of normalcy.
  • Calming him at night as he cried out in his sleep, always at the crescendo of some crisis he could never articulate.
  • Helping him interpret the onset of sexual feelings with realistic expectations.
  • Gently leading him to basic self-sufficiency while others kids his age were preparing for college.

But there were also the surprises of joy.

  • His vulnerable and fresh way of living in the present.
  • The unexpected hugs he gave to people in churches I served.
  • His impulse to give you a kiss on the cheek when you needed uplifting the most, led by uncanny intuition.
  • His gentleness with other children.
  • The discovery that though he was academically limited, he was nearly an autistic savant when it came to playing XBOX games.

Again I ask you, what constitutes a miracle?

It is now 2017 and Kristoffer has far surpassed that original grim diagnosis. Sure, he can only read at a limited level, but his receptive language – what he understands from others – is nearly at par. He communicates much clearer than we ever hoped for. Recently he graduated from high school and attended the senior prom, milestones we had only dared to believe would occur. He is currently engaged in job training, and his supervisors are hopeful that he will find gainful employment.

But to me, the greatest miracle is how Kristoffer has brought acceptance to our family: acceptance of him, acceptance of others, and acceptance of our own inadequacies. It is deeper and more powerful than resignation. It is that life-affirming acceptance of sorrow that Pearl S. Buck spoke of. It is that acceptance that Kubler-Ross so aptly described as the resting place at the end of grief. And though it may not impart joy, it does pave the way for a new happiness and wisdom.

So, for any of you reading this, I urge you to consider acceptance as a foundation for your life. Listen to these words recorded in one of the stories of AA’s Big Book.

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of life—unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until…I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

May I make a few suggestions?

  • If you’ve been focused on trying to change someone else, accept them as they are and see how freeing it is.
  • If you have a heavy load caring for a spouse or parent who is gravely ill, accept the task as a temporary privilege and see how your outlook changes.
  • If you are agonizing over a failure in your past, accept it now as exactly what you needed to shape who you are today.
  • If you are facing an illness of your own, accept the care of physicians, friends, and family. Let God redeem the moments of this precious day you’ve been given.
  • Most importantly, accept the love of God, to whom you are infinitely precious. Let our Creator’s inexhaustible grace give you the peace of self-acceptance, the peace that passes understanding.

Back to that day at the Special Olympics…

Kristoffer is racing towards me, his ungainly legs now striding like a gazelle. Will it be enough? I look to his right and left and it’s impossible to see who is leading. Suddenly I want him to win so badly it’s like an ache in my bones. I want it as vindication, as a justifiable revenge. It unsettles my soul. But just as quickly, the motto of the Special Olympics fills my mind: Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt. With a deep breath, I let go and revel in the celebration of life unfolding before me.

Ahhh, my son, my brave son, who has taught me the gift of acceptance, who has blessed me with a new knowledge of being human. Kristoffer, you will always be a winner to me.

He breaks the finish line and I give him a huge embrace.

“Way to go, Kristoffer. That was awesome! You’re the man!”

One of the volunteers takes him from me and moves him towards the ongoing awards presented after each heat. I stand to the side and watch as Kristoffer nears the daises for Bronze, Silver, and Gold. I have no idea how he finished. I am simply basking in the joy of this event that elevates the dignity of being human.

They announce the results for his heat. The Bronze, the Silver…

“And for the Gold, Kristoffer Van Tatenhove.”

He bends down to accept the medal and as he straightens up his eyes search the crowd and lock onto mine. I don’t know who is prouder, him or me. I snap a picture that is now enshrined in my heart.

It’s a medal for Kristoffer. And in ways that are still being revealed, it’s a medal for his Dad as well.



Drop the President from 10,000 feet? Really?

Yesterday, a leader in the Presbyterian Church (USA) posted something on Facebook he thought was cute. While on a tour of Washington D.C., the guide mentioned that things were in place for the President’s arrival by helicopter. The guide said that Trump would drop in between the White House fountain and the White House. My Presbyterian brother asked if we could drop him from 10,000 feet. Reportedly, the bus erupted in laughter.

I commented, “Interesting that we live in a culture where someone can joke about killing the president and others just laugh.” He replied, “When the President is a joke, what do you expect?”

What do I expect? Damn good question!

I expect us, as followers of the Prince of Peace, to model something different. I expect us to discipline our tongues as Jesus’ brother James admonished. I expect us to have an allegiance that goes far beyond the corrosive division spreading like cancer in our nation.

I do not support Trump. I am opposed to his policies on the environment, immigration, and health care. I won’t even get into examining his character revealed in one tweet after another. I am working locally and internationally to counter his Administration’s policies.

But his election has had a curious effect on me. Rather than radicalize me, it has drawn me further into the center. Why? Because like never before, I see the toxic underbelly of what we call the “progressives movement.”

It’s too easy to traffic in memes about peace and justice. It’s too easy to fly a banner that quotes Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

The real test is to live it out. I have been listening and watching, and here is what I see. We progressives can be just as controlling and insistent about our world views as any fanatic on the right. Our comments, like the one I mentioned above, can be just as incendiary as right-wing bigots. We call for others to repent of their racism, classism, and homophobia, but fail to remove the planks in our own eyes, thus contributing to the disease eating America from its core.

I’ve been guilty of it myself, and I am sorry.

A few weeks back I linked to an article by David Brooks in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt.

“Some people treat the Trump White House as the ‘Breaking Bad’ serial drama they’ve been binge watching for six months. For some of us, Trump-bashing has become educated-class meth. We derive endless satisfaction from feeling morally superior to him — and as Leon Wieseltier put it, affirmation is the new sex.”

I’m going to work on recovering from my addiction to political controversy and polarization. I can only hope that my other brothers and sisters who are Christian leaders will do the same.

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Look! A Cougar!

Can you name something a significant other has taught you, a gem of wisdom conferred through words or example?

One of my wife’s many contributions to my life can be summed up in a simple exclamation: “Look! A cougar!”

I first heard it on a drive through the San Jacinto mountains of southern California. We were on an early date, prompted by our mutual love for the outdoors. The high-altitude road was bathed in thin sunlight, towering Ponderosas and Black Oaks lining the shoulders.

We came around a bend just as a squirrel scampered across the pavement. “Look!” Donna said, “A cougar!”

“What?” I said. “Where? All I saw was a squirrel.”

“Exactly,” she replied with a smile. “If I said, ‘Look, a squirrel,’ you’d hardly be interested. But a cougar? It made you look more closely, didn’t it?”

And here was her lesson in a squirrel’s nutshell: look at the ordinary as if it is extraordinary. Take time to notice and absorb the beauty in life’s small details.

Cliché? Perhaps, for some of you, but it was a lesson I needed, and she knew it. As a cleric, I had often waxed eloquent about the need to live in the present. “Consider the lilies” was one of my favorite admonitions from Jesus.

But my frenetic inner dialogue, fueled by a hyperactive metabolism, compelled me to move too fast. Even my time outdoors was spent cataloging memories, taking photos, “bagging” peaks to add to my list.

Slowing down, luxuriating, settling into this infinity of the present: it wasn’t easy. Sometimes it still isn’t, but inexorably, like drips of water forming a stalagmite, it has changed my life. It’s why I share this age-old salutation with everyone I meet: “Carpe diem, my friends!”

How is your mindfulness of each passing day? Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran, once said, “In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” This dawning can happen any moment, because it contains what we need to know peace, banish fear, and experience this Presence called “God.”

Many of us know the story of Brother Lawrence, son of a poor French family in the mid-1600s. His lot in life was so desperate that he joined the Army just to secure hot meals and a bed. Stationed at a lonely outpost in the winter, he had a life-changing experience. He was gazing at a barren tree standing in a field of snow – no leaves or fruit – but the thought that come springtime it would again flourish with greenery made him realize that our Creator’s grace and promises are with us always.

Lawrence later joined a monastery in Paris, and because he lacked formal education, he was told to labor in the kitchen, cooking, doing dishes, mopping floors, cleaning the walls. There, at the bottom of the pecking order, he resolved to experience – once again – the truth he had glimpsed in a frozen French landscape.

The result? A legacy of mindfulness passed on through a compilation called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” I close with his words, overtly Christian, yes, but followed by a simple summation.

“The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

Look! A pot! A mop! A cougar! A moment to be seized and savored!

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This (Re)incarnation! This one!

In 1970, George Harrison released his magnum opus, All Things Must Pass, to universal acclaim. Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone called it an “extravaganza of piety and sacrifice and joy, whose sheer magnitude and ambition may dub it the War and Peace of rock and roll.”

What always struck me is that Harrison’s Hindu faith rang out clearly over American airwaves. My Sweet Lord contained chants to Krishna, and Give Me Love prayed “Give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth.”

Ahhh…there it is…keep me free from birth…

Liberate me from the tedium of endlessly starting over, the travails of failure and rebirth. I long for release from these wearisome character traits that plague me repeatedly, undermining my freedom and joy as a human being.

For most of us, the spiritual concept of karma makes sense – the notion that for every action there’s a re-action. We reap what we sow is a truth found in proverbs around the globe.

Does this spiritual axiom echo in eternity? The vast majority of us – even those lauded for our sterling characters – will die as unfinished works of art. Too often we take repetitive and destructive behavior patterns to our graves. If there is an afterlife, will we receive a gift of peace and rest? Or are we fated for new incarnations to get it right, to push these Sisyphean karmic stones up hills of our own invention and finally hurl them into the abyss?

Ultimately, I believe the question is more critical for this life, right now. Are we resigned to thoughts and actions that spin us in the hamster wheels of our minds? As a pastor for 30 years, I have performed hundreds of memorial services, and on too many occasions I thought “How foolish to live an unexamined life, to tolerate these insanities that dictate our life’s scripts!”

Like you, I have my own. Patterns of impatience and self-entitlement. The futile need to exercise control. Expectations that ferment into resentments. Fears that borrow trouble from the future.

It’s getting better. My own spiritual pathway is helping me experience what we 12 Steppers call daily reprieves. I recently collaborated on a book about The Twelve Steps as a path to freedom for all of us. Read it freely at this link.

But I want my Cinderella Liberty to last longer. Much longer. So, at this point in my journey, I sing with George: “Keep me free from birth.” There are so many disciplines to help us recognize and overcome our character flaws on a daily basis. Meditation, centering prayer, recovery programs, therapy, spiritual regimens from many traditions, the counsel of trusted mentors and spiritual guides. We must use our willpower to employ these tools.

If we listen to the still, small voice inside us, it says, “Awaken. Be free now, not after death. Become as self-realized as possible in this (re)incarnation. This one! Learn to shed the cultural and genetic overlays that blind you from what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven – not a future reality, but present, right now, within you.”

Whatever your notion of eternity, hear these words attributed to Marcus Aurelius and spoken by Maximus to rally his troops in The Gladiator, “What we do now echoes in eternity!”

Let’s do this, my friends.