“Legend has it that one evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old man replied: ‘The one you feed.'”
This story, which I found most recently on a blog by Karen Kwiatkowski, reminds us of an essential truth: we are co-creating our lives with God as we go along; a crucial part of that creation is what we choose to emphasize and build on. When we are in a time of challenge or suffering, do we choose to feed the place inside us that screams out in fear? Or do we do our best to feed the place that offers us reassurance and hope? When we are faced with times of decision, do we draw on the best of our values or do we allow petty concerns or anxieties to speak for us?
We are a mixture of emotions and beliefs. To deny that is to deny our own human nature. Of course we doubt and bicker and resent and fear — but we do not need to be prisoners of those emotions. We acknowledge them, because to deny them is to give them too much power. Jesus also had to make choices throughout his life. He was tempted, and angry, and confused at times. Yet he showed us how to stretch beyond those limits into a life rooted in love. We also can choose to act out of the best of us — and in doing so, we feed the “good wolf” and help create lives of courage and compassion.
How are you feeding the person you want to be? What are you reading, watching, listening to? I hope each one of us will take opportunities to savor the goodness of our lives and to open our hearts more fully to the Spirit of Love. We are co-creators. We cannot always choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose who we are and how we want to respond.
May we each feed and be fed by the Force of Life which continually offers us hope and another opportunity to choose.
Thanks be to God, Kim
June 22, 2011
The cake on the table was covered with sugar roses: purple, green, yellow, pink. The words in the center– “Happy Birthday!” — reminded us that we were celebrating a very special time. But more beautiful than anything else were the names that were written across the cake: Millie, Kathleen, Bob, June, Betty, Mary, Opal, Evelyn, Shirley, Lois, Margo. Names of friends and loved ones who were “90 or Better” during this past year, whose total ages added up to more than 1,000 years!
As I stood and looked at the cake, I was struck by the power of those names; they brought to mind each individual, each one uniquely gifted by God, each one a precious gift from God to the world, unlike any other. More beautiful than the roses were the names of these well loved friends, and as I said each one silently, I sent up a prayer of gratitude for their lives and their love.
When the Hillcrest Ministry Team met recently to reflect on their work with teenagers at Juvenile Hall over the past several years, we learned that the names of each of these boys is still a potent and living presence in our midst. Each time we are with them, we take some time to speak individually to the boys, asking for their prayer requests, and taking their (first) names home to pray over. Paul has been the keeper of the prayer lists, typing them up and then distributing them to the other members of the team. I never thought about what happened to his computer list after he sent the names out to us. I suppose I just assumed he deleted them, making space on his hard drive for newer information. He told us, however, that he has never deleted one of the names or any of the prayer requests. The reality of each boy and each individual life is so profound to him that he keeps them, knowing somehow that to hold them in that way is to continue to hold them in prayer. They are real; they make a difference; they are remembered.
After 9/11, the New York Times started printing the names, pictures, and brief biographies of each person who had died in the attacks. They started very soon afterwards to publish these remembrances, and I, who didn’t know any of the people involved, still found myself drawn each day to read through the bios, to look at the pictures, and to lift the names in prayer. Every day after I was done reading the paper, I took that section, gently refolded it, and placed in the bottom drawer of my dresser. The drawer grew fuller as the days and weeks went on, and it occurred to me that I might have to get rid of some of the papers, after all. But I never did. They are there still, held in that quiet place, a place where each person is named and remembered, even by this stranger.
Names. They are powerful reminders that each person is specially created by God, with an identity uniquely his or her own. Every name represents a person whose presence in the world reflects a particular facet of the Divine. So when we speak the names of our friends, our family members, those whom we have met, or those strangers whose lives have touched ours, let us speak them as if we were saying holy words, for we are. Thanks be to God!
I stood in the pulpit of my home church recently. As I looked out at the friends and family members gathered, I thought of all the times we had sung hymns together, prayed together, listened to sermons together, and been for one another a place of calm and acceptance when our lives got chaotic. The occasion of my return was not a regular Sunday morning service. It was a memorial service, and I was struck with how right it seemed to share this time of grief with people who grieved with me. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen some of these folks in almost 30 years, or that we didn’t have a lot in common any more. I suspect many of the gathered worshippers voted very differently than I did in the last election. But for that afternoon, in that setting, all that separated us was lifted, and we were united in a common sense of loss, of love, and of faith.
Why do people choose to come together in communities of faith?
That is a profound question, and we are in the process of looking at that in this congregation. Why take time out of our days to look prayerfully at our lives with others or to listen to words written down by people centuries ago? Why choose to be with people whose ages and stages differ from our own, or whose life experience is very different? In a world of too little time and too many obligations, how do we choose our commitments and our relationships?
Each of us must determine the role that our faith and our fellowship will play in our lives. And sometimes it is confusing. For me, the memorial service was a glimpse at the way in which faith communities can help us honor the spiritual dimension of important passages in life. Every birth, every baptism, every wedding or ordination, every life transition and even the transition from this life to the next — these are the events that our family of faith can help us to mark, as we stand with one another through each milestone. We gather together because we share a belief that every element of our lives is holy, and that belief links us to one another and through one another to something bigger, something deeper: the Source of all Life.
This Sunday we will celebrate the many milestones experienced in our community in the past year. Did you know that one of our families celebrated the baptism of a new baby this year? Do you know our newest member? Can you guess how many 90+ birthdays we have to celebrate this year, not to mention graduations and weddings and anniversaries? We are truly blessed to be able to celebrate the memorable moments of our lives with one another, and to support each person in growing into the person God created us to be.
Please join us on June 12th if you can. We will sing and pray and rejoice that God has done such a thing as planting this community of faith in our lives! We will give thanks that no matter how big or how small, every part of our lives is valued and held with love.
Thanks be to God,
June 1, 2011
This week’s message:
The Law of the Garbage Truck
One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us.
My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!”
This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, ‘The Law of the Garbage Truck’.
He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment.
As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they’ll dump it on you. Don’t take it personally.
Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets.
The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.
Life’s too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so….