Tending the Soul’s Garden

The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail. 

Isaiah 58:11

I keep it no secret that although I enjoy gardening, I am no master gardener.  In fact, any plants that go into my back yard are mostly on their own once they go into the dirt. I occasionally water.  I don’t fertilize. I rarely prune & groom. And…my garden looks about like you would expect!

And here’s the deal.  Our faith is very similar. You get what you put into it!

Image result for small flower garden
Nope. This image is definitely NOT from my garden! 🙂 Photo copied from Pinterest.

If we only occasionally attend worship, and especially when we expect or even demand to be entertained or inspired, then chances are we are anticipating a bountiful crop from an untended vine.  What I’ve noticed for myself, too, is that when I walk away disappointed with a particular worship service, I have had to admit that I have been leaning on Sunday mornings to be my only spiritual nourishment.

It’s just not enough.

Experiencing the Holy, noticing Divine synchronicity, feeling spiritually grounded happens when we actively tend to our faith.

This means in addition to attending worship that we commit to a daily spiritual practice like intentional prayer time (not just praying on the fly, which has it’s own value but doesn’t enable a deeper time with the Holy).  We read a devotional each day that offers words of wisdom that may find their way into the day in unexpected ways.  We listen to religious or spiritual music as a wonderful way to nourish the soul and reflect on our faith.  As I’ve written before in the past, even seeking a Holy message in secular music can be satisfying, if not a surprising way to tend to ourselves. And equally important, we spend time with other spiritual sojourners (in a prayer and share group or Bible Study). Often God speaks to us through their witnessing, their prayers, their understanding of scripture. As we receive encouragement and support in our own walk and can, in return, provide the same to others on their own spiritual journey. We grow together!

So…How’s that tending the soul going in your life?  Is your spiritual garden in need of some TLC…some weeding or watering or fertilizing?

What I continue to learn in my work as a hospice chaplain and in my own life, is that when our faith is tended to, when time is being spent in prayer, and study, and fellowship, there is a resiliency, a core strength that grows, enabling us to endure the hardest of times and delight in the best of times.

And with that I say, “Let’s get going!”

Put on those gardening gloves, get into your spiritual garden, and start tending to it.

You will be grateful you did!


Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

I have recently been using Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver in the Bible Study I co-facilitate for parents of school-age children.

compassionThe second chapter of this book speaks of Compassion and the act of truly seeing someone. Honestly, it did not resonate with me when I first read it. It seemed rather mundane. I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay. Notice people. Pay attention to the stranger. Show compassion to the outcast. Blah, blah, blah.”

It felt a bit basic, like Kindergarten Christianity.

By the end of the week, however, this chapter eerily struck home. On that Thursday our local and national news channels broadcasted word of yet another mass shooting. This time the tragedy unfolded at the Umpqua Community College just over an hour south from where we live in Oregon. With my own 18 year-old son having just started at our local community college, I felt a deeper pit in my stomach when the names and especially the ages of the victims were read.

It is still unimaginable.

Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks a Pharisee who has generously dumped judgement on a woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party and proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon, the host, while busy labeling the woman a sinner had himself neglected to show such hospitality to Jesus (Luke 7:36-50).

Do you SEE this woman? Do I?

Copenhaver argues in Chapter Two that Jesus’ question comes with risks. If we choose to see the woman, really see her, we might “need to move beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions“. We might “have to stop simply labeling her a sinner,” “relate to her as a person, as one soul to another,” and “respond to her with compassion” as Jesus did.

Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see these people?

In a recent report about the Umpqua shooter, it is suspected in part that he carried out this heart wrenching, violent act to gain notoriety and be seen. In a since-deleted internet comment he left regarding the August shooting in Virginia he concluded, “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

He is not the only one who ever sought the limelight.

Let’s face it.

So many of us long to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and deemed worthy.

We post our selfies to Instagram, share inspirational memes on Facebook, and tweet our daily comings and goings in an effort to be seen and validated. I have realized for myself that too often I am more interested in how many people liked or commented on something I shared than in what others have posted.

Blame quickly followed the reports of this mass shooting: too little gun control; not enough guns in each law abiding citizens’ hands; too many attacks on masculinity by too many feminists; too little mental health services. I even read vaccines and medications to be the ultimate culprits.

I, however, can’t help but believe that this horrific attack was due in part to the missing sense of community in the life of shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer. Who were the core people who truly saw him and related to him as a human being, “one soul to another?” Where were the individuals with the Christ-like vision to see him with compassion?

I would wager that such people in his life were few and far between.

Sadly even in the wake of his death, most are unable “to move beyond the stereotype or preconception” of him as autistic, or mentally ill, or bi-racial, or a loner, or the child of a single mother.

loserWe prefer to label him a loser, as I’ve read in many on-line comments, or lay blame at the feet of his mother for her failures in raising him better or his father for not being a bigger part of his life.

Simon, the Pharisee, could only identify the woman who tended to Jesus as a sinner. He was unable to see her with compassion. He wanted nothing to do with her loser-self and was annoyed that she was usurping Jesus’ attention. It was all about him.

And today 2000 years later, nothing’s changed.

Individual needs seem to trump what the community would benefit from as a whole. On most days I see a society that is leaning more and more toward division, public shaming, disrespect, and disregard.

We would never dream of seeing mass shootings as a communal problem.

It is too difficult or impossible to consider the impact or consequences of how we treat one another. We can’t bother to compassionately see one another, especially the outsiders or outcasts. I’m questioning these days if we even know how. We fire off our personal world-wide-web opinions with no regard for the targeted people involved. (A reason, I believe, Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. He channels and personifies this growing attitude of disregard and disrespect.)

I listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame, yesterday as she addressed our 21st Century problem of cyber-bullying. She spoke of being one of the first to endure it and how today, even more so,

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe my initial thought of Copenhaver’s chapter on compassion as being Kindergarten Christianity wasn’t too far off or wrong. Perhaps as a society that has developed a compassion deficit and empathy crisis we need to go back to the basics, the kind we learned in kindergarten.

KindergartenPatti Ghezzi, in her article on Kindergarten Social Changes, admits that Kindergarten has become more about 5 year-olds being academically prepared for 1st grade.

Still,” she writes, “a primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children to work together, share, accept each other’s differences, solve problems by communicating, and enjoy playing with each other.”

Let’s hear that again class:

A primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children

to Work together,

to Share,

to Accept Differences,

to Solve Problems by Communicating

and Enjoy Playing with Each Other.

Come on people!

As a society we must acknowledge our current compassion deficit and empathy crisis and face down this destructive emotional epidemic by returning to the Kindergarden basics of cooperation, sharing, acceptance, communication, and play.

To embody more compassion and empathy requires we return to a more tender time, as children eager to embrace the world, open to the power and possibilities of community.

Let us then intentionally choose to truly see one another—

the so-called saint and the presumed sinner,

the liberal and the conservative,

the neighbor and the stranger,

the Muslim and the Christian,

the Citizen and the Immigrant,

the socialite and the loner.

May we rise above “the stereotypes and preconceptions” we have for the Other.

Let us refrain from the habit of slapping labels on people and instead relate to each other as human beings, “as one soul to another,”  as we compassionately and empathetically engage one another in the world.



Homelessness and Humility


homeless Are you like me?

Too often I am uneasy waiting at a red light while a homeless individual begs for money.

My family and I moved to Oregon a year ago and there are still days when I am shocked to witness the size of the homeless population.

My first month here I drove passed a man on numerous occasions who held a cardboard sign in each hand. “Rock” was written on one sign;  “hard place” on the other.

Well put. So many men and women on the streets are stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

I’ve taken the time to speak to a few of the homeless I’ve encountered.  One man shared that he was injured at work and evicted before his first disability check could arrive.  Another shared that he hated begging, but his work as an indoor painter had slowed down. True stories?  Perhaps.

Honestly, I don’t trip on whether they are telling me the truth or not.homeless dog and owner

Rather than judge, my faith calls me to be compassionate and to SEE these people as fellow human beings.  Have poor choices been made?  Probably.  Is drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness a factor.  Certainly possible.

Could I just as easily be in his or her position?  Absolutely.

I am keenly aware of how close my own family could have been to being homeless.  On several occasions, had we not had credit cards or family and friends to help out, our fate may have been quite different.

Even our move to Oregon found us on the edge of disaster when the house I had rented turned out to be too moldy to live in.  With no where else to go,  we stayed in a hotel—all of our belonging still in the rental truck—wondering how soon it would be before we’d find another place.  What an incredibly stressful situation even with the funds and friends to keep a roof over our heads in the week it took to find a home!

Opportunity Village

In October our church held a four-week forum in which  individuals who know homelessness first hand and those who work on their behalf spoke with church members.

Mike, who recently moved into a 8×12 unheated, micro-home in Eugene’s Opportunity Village, shared a powerful testimony during a Bible study on humility ( Luke 18:9-14). With Mike’s permission, our pastor offered his words in a sermon:

 “‘I suppose those who live in big, warm houses might think, ‘I am glad for Opportunity Village, but I am also grateful that I am not living there.’ And since I live in Opportunity Village I have a tendency to think, ‘I am so glad I am not like others who must suffer through the cold on the streets.’ But then I think to myself, ‘it wasn’t long ago that I was on the streets just trying to live and get along.’ So the perspective offered to me from this passage is that I should always try to do something for my brothers and sisters on the street. So every day I try to gather up some food to give them something to eat.’ And that is what Mike does each day.” (Humility at All Times In Everything: Rev. Jonathan Morgan)


That’s the key. From out of Mike’s humility, his compassion rises.

Let us do likewise.

Discomfort could very well be a natural reaction as we encounter those who are homeless in our communities, but may our hearts remain ever free of pride and arrogance as we extend a helping hand.

Let humility be the ground from which our compassion springs forth.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b


How are you walking the walk?

“I needed clothes and you clothed me,

I was sick and you looked after me,

I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:36


I can’t wait!

In September, I will be one of about 25 volunteers who will warmly welcome about the same number of women to their very first Kairos OutsideKairos Outside is a special weekend retreat designed to support the female loved ones of men and women who are or have been incarcerated.

I am so thankful that I was able to attend as a guest in 1996.  More than that, I am so blessed that my faith has grown and eyes have been opened to the power of God’s amazing grace throughout my many years of volunteering as a team member.

As a team, we work for months preparing for the retreat weekend by praying, creating, organizing, bonding, planning, and praying some more as we follow and trust in God every step of the way.  We are an interdenominational gathering of Christians whose goal is to bath these women in God’s unconditional love.  We believe the strongest way to do this is to “listen, listen…love, love.”

We want them to know that there is a community of individuals who loves them as they are.  We understand that their lives are not easy and that they are or were in the past “doing time” along with their incarcerated family member or friend.

We realize that they have dealt with isolation and rejection, anger and hopelessness.  Often they’ve been haunted by the poor choices they’ve made. They’ve have had dreams dashed and futures put on hold.  These women have been prejudged and looked down upon because they are involved with or related to someone (a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend, child, friend, or parent) who is a felon.

Our hope for our guests on the weekend is that they will find the support they need through small group interactions.  It is a genuine support that continues long after they return home as they participate in future Kairos Outside events.

If you feel called to share this same unconditional love with inmates, Kairos Inside, an equally powerful program, is for you.

Wouldn’t you love to experience this for yourself—either as a guest or as a team member?  I highly recommend you check out the  website for Kairos Prison Ministry and see what they are doing around the world and perhaps even in your very own community.

Being a person of faith doesn’t mean solely “believing.” You’ve got to walk the walk.

Faithfulness involves taking your faith and using it to transform the world for the better. (Hmmm…makes me wonder if the Westboro Congregation believes they are doing just that. See my recent WTF?!? post for more on these misdirected people.) Anyway…

Go out and make a difference in the world!

Share God’s transformational love

in whatever ministry/volunteer program to which you are guided.







When searching for a religious/spiritual place to call home…

“If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division,it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone.”

— ‘Abdu’l-Baha —