123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Happy Holidays”.

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Festivus!

It’s all just rather tiring isn’t it?

I’ll be honest with you I don’t have the energy to get worked up over whether or not you say “Merry Christmas” to me. The “war on Christmas” is drummed up outrage to keep us distracted from the real issues in our world and in our communities.

Did you know there were hundreds of families and kids who go hungry in Otoe County every day? Did you know that there are elderly folks in Otoe County who no one will visit this holiday season? Did you know there were veterans living here in Otoe County that feel left out and left behind? Did you know that for quiet a few people the holidays are the loneliest time of year and the grief they feel is magnified by the joy others feel? Did you know that there are people right here in Nebraska City who can’t afford to heat their houses?

I read a quote from author, Steve Maraboli, the other day it said,

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

So instead of yelling at the cashier because they didn’t say the right thing to you, or talking to the manager about how there isn’t a Christmas tree in the window of their store, or there is one, or writing a letter to the editor about what a heathen place we live in and if we only said the word Jesus more we’d be better off; just stop, take a deep breath, and go about your day.

Every time you get angry that about some perceived “war on Christmas” or you even hear the phrase, “war on Christmas” I want you to put some coins in a jar, or a dollar bill, or some amount of money. At the end of the season I want you to take that all the money you’ve put away and I want you to give it to the charity of your choice.

Steve Maraboli reminds us of the story that was told by the one that Christians celebrate this season. The call that every time you clothed the naked, fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, and visited the prisoner you did so for Jesus the Christ.

I don’t believe Jesus wanted us to yell at cashiers who were just doing their job, I don’t think that’s a good model for our children who watch how stressed we become over the holiday season.

I do think that Jesus called us to love our neighbors as ourselves, even if our neighbors do things differently. I do think that Jesus called us to help those in need. In our world, our county, and our city there are plenty of people in need.

Maybe if we focused our energy on helping those in need rather than worrying what words they use to greet us, we might be able to actually do what Jesus asked of us.

One last quote that I thought was helpful (and a little funny):

“Being an atheist is okay.

Being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay.

Being a Christian is okay.

Being homophobic, misogynistic, racist, or otherwise hateful person in the name of Christianity is not okay.

Being is a reindeer is okay.

Bullying and excluding another reindeer because he has a shiny red nose is not okay.”

Merry Christmas!

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: My in-laws came to visit and we had a blast celebrating all our holidays in one week.

Not Favorite: Faux outrage over unimportant things.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “The Season of Thanks”.

This is the week of the year that we have decided to be thankful. We celebrate Thanksgiving with turkeys, mashed potatoes, dressings, and that one dish that no one can make as good as Grandma. We celebrate a fairy tale of Pilgrims in wide brimmed hats and big buckled shoes breaking bread with Native Americans in headdresses and moccasins. We wake up early on Friday morning, or go out after dinner on Thursday evening, to push and shove to get the “best deal” for another load of things that we keep buying in hopes that they will make us happy or our kids happy or will finally bring us fulfillment.

We do this every year and on December 26 we’ll say, “I’m not going to do that again.” It reminds me of the times you might wake up after working out too hard, or partying too hard, or staying up too late. You wake up sore, bleary eyed, and tired saying, “Wow, that was rough. I’m never going to do that again.” Yet we do it, over and over and over. We never get off the hamster wheel of consumption and pushing down our feelings with food, drink, and presents. We never actually stop what we are doing or how we are living, we just keep consuming, because that’s what our society tells us is the most important. GO SHOP! It will boost the economy, which will provide jobs, which will provide opportunity for everyone. If we only shopped more we could save our country.

Today, my heart breaks for our country, because I’m not sure it can be saved.

This week the issues in our country and how we deal with one another are being blasted all over every news station. People are protesting in cities all over the country, from Ferguson, to Los Angeles, to New York City and I don’t blame them. Regardless of whether you believe that what happened to Mike Brown is just or not, it’s impossible not to see that something is wrong with our country and as much as we’d like it to be different, people aren’t treated equally, white privilege exists, and racism still controls much of our attitudes toward people that look different.

I could show statistics and tell you anecdotes from all over the country about the way that people of color are treated differently in the United States, but I’ve had those conversations and if you don’t think it exists then no amount of arguing is going to change your position.

This week in the Christian calendar is the beginning of Advent; it is the start of the season that will conclude in the celebration of God coming to the world in the form of a baby we call Jesus. The season is a time of expectation and hope, a season of darkness and waiting, a season of fear and the unknown.

This is the season in which we live, this is the world that we occupy, the place where the violent death of an unarmed teenager can stoke the fires of passion that lead us to change. Even in the fires and the looting and the seeming unraveling of our country I have hope.

Hope that leads us through Advent.

Patricia E. De Jong says, “Hope is what is left when your worst fears have been realized and you are no longer optimistic about the future. Hope is what comes with a broken heart willing to be mended.”

May your heart be broken this season and may you be willing to be mended. Mended so that we can move forward together, acknowledging the real barriers we have to overcome in order to be the “shining light on the hill” that the Pilgrims envisioned. A friend of mine on Facebook posted a quote from one of her professors, “When people want to work together, they’ll overcome any obstacle. But if they don’t want to work together, they’ll use anything for a barricade.” Let us be people that want to work together not people that seek to control the conversation.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: Spending this Thanksgiving week with my family in West Virginia.

Not Favorite: Having to drive 14+ hours to have Thanksgiving with my family.

123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “You Are Enough”.

Are you ready?

Next week starts the onslaught! Shopping, cooking, going to parties, mandatory overtime, end of the year reports, company Holiday parties, kids’ recitals, dinners at church, decorating, you name it we will try to do it in the next month and a half, by New Year’s Day we will be exhausted, if we make it that far.

As we enter into the holiday season, I know for me things can get a lot more hectic and it never feels like I have enough. Enough time, enough money, enough gifts, enough rest, etc., etc. It’s already starting and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. We bemoan the idea that stores put out decorations for Christmas before Halloween but that is just a symptom, not the problem. The problem, as I see it, is that we have been conditioned to think that we need to do everything, be everywhere, buy everything or else we are not good enough. Good enough parents, employees, spouses, friends, or family members. I want to say to you today, “You are enough.”

Even if your child doesn’t get the latest and greatest new toy or gadget, you are enough. Even if you don’t make it out to that sale to get the “best” deal on those new towels, you are enough. Even if you don’t get your special pie baked for that family event, you are enough. Even if you miss some of those parties, you are enough.

In our world, we are constantly bombarded by messages that we come up short. To be honest, there are many days that I lay in bed before I go to sleep and I think about all the places I could have done more. I could have spent more time with my family, I could have spent more time at work, I could have spent more time at play, and on and on. Somedays it keeps me up long past my bedtime. Right now I am writing this column in my basement before dawn as far away from my family as possible because they are still sleeping. I woke up and thought about all the things I needed to get done and I couldn’t go back to sleep. It has already started.

I once heard it said, “The things that are most important are often at the mercy of the things that are least important.”

For me, in these last few months of the year, the things that are most important are the same as they have been for the first few, God, family, work (hopefully in that order). So I invite you to remember, as your calendars start to fill up over these next few weeks, to try and keep focused on what is most important for you. Do your best to resist the external pressures of life that pull and push you to do things that are of no importance to you but you have been told should be important. Do your best to say, “No” to some things, find the things that bring you joy (not that temporary feeling of happiness, but the deep, down to your bones feeling of fulfillment that comes with joy). Finally, and most importantly, remember that YOU ARE ENOUGH.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: My church hosted an event called Table Talk at the Keeping Room on Tuesday, November 18. It was a great conversation and fellowship around the question, “What is faith all about?” We hope to do more in the future, hopefully monthly.

Not Favorite: Never feeling like I have enough time to do the things I want to do and am supposed to do.

c1e69-123I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Tell Your Story”.

As parents, one of the most important things we can do is to tell our children our stories. Stories about our own childhood, stories about our parents, stories that remind us who we are and where we came from. Sometimes those stories bring us joy, sometimes they are hard to tell, but passing on our stories is critical for our kids to know who we are, and who they are. Lord Acton once said, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

In fact, throughout the course of most of known history, these stories were passed down orally, that is an elder in the community would gather the community around and tell the stories of the community. If you read the Bible, I hope you do, especially in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament you’ll find that they are written as if someone were telling them from memory. The tribes that are native to this country passed on their traditions this way.

In my family, every time there is a wedding or a funeral or any type of family gathering invariably there’s a point, normally after a meal, when we are sitting back when the stories start to come out. Some of them are new, some of them are old, but always they paint a more detailed picture of the person we are celebrating or give me insight into why I am the way I am. It’s some of my favorite time with my family.

It’s also a tradition with my friends when we get together, which is getting less and less, especially with two of my friends from West Virginia. We’ve known each other for a long time and have had some times and every time we meet the first 2-5 hours are spent reliving stories from the past. This annoys our wives greatly because they have heard the same stories over and over again.

It’s safe to say that I love to hear stories and I love to tell stories. A lot of what I do at the church is about telling stories, telling the story of the church I serve that has been here since 1855, listening to the stories of its members, telling the story of the Gospel, not only through my word but my actions as well, listening to stories about how people’s faith and the faith of their parents and mentors has shaped them. When I’m out in the community, I get to hear stories of individuals, groups, victories, and losses. That’s why you might see me all over the place.

I am convinced that our stories are connected. We are bound together by and with our stories. My story is part of your story, your story is part of my story, our story is part of other’s stories, and all of our stories are part of God’s story. By sharing our stories, our ideas, and our selves with each other we offer an opportunity for us to learn from and grow with each other. It also allows us to know where we came from and give us a vision of where we might be going.

There seemed to be a lot of changes on the horizon for Nebraska City and for the most part I think that is a good thing. We need to continue to share our stories with our kids, with our friends, with those around us because we never know what part of your story will captivate others to live a better story.

As one way to help start a conversation, to start a chance for people to share their story First Presbyterian Church is sponsoring “Table Talk” at the Keeping Room on 717 Central Avenue Nebraska City, NE on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 from 6PM-8PM. We will be asking the question “What is faith all about?”

This is designed to be a conversation, a way to share ideas and stories, a group of spiritual seekers who love good conversation, good food, good wine, & good beer. Come join us for a casual conversation about significant topics along life’s spiritual journey.

I invite you to join us and share your story.

At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.

Favorite: The excitement of renewed energy around Nebraska City.

Not Favorite: It’s a pretty good week.


This is from one of my colleagues who is able to articulate some of my grief far better than I.

This is good, this is challenging, I wonder if there is a way to invite the protest into the service some way. I don’t know (which is something I’ve been saying a lot recently).

Originally posted on Reflectionary:

vespers_header3_nov2011Today, I’m on the wrong side of something I care about.

After church, kathrynzj and I are headed out in a hurry to drive the 350 miles to Smith College, attempting to arrive in time for Smith College Christmas Vespers tonight at 7:30, the second of two opportunities today for the campus and community to enter liminal space while hearing beautiful music from the choral groups, pondering meaningful interfaith readings of scripture and poetry offered by students and faculty, singing carols together and generally experiencing the season of Advent through word and music. It’s a cooperative effort of the music department and the Dean for Religious Life. It’s a service, not a concert, so there is no admission fee, but a significant free will offering is collected each year, all of which goes to support the local homeless shelter, the Hampshire County Interfaith Winter Cot Shelter Program.

If you want to…

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Was Blind But Now I See


Some unbelievably powerful words from my friend, colleague, and seminary classmate.

Originally posted on The Lansford Reporter:

I have been meaning to begin a blog for years.  Inspired time and again, then delayed time and again.  This is the Lansford Reporter, a paper out of Lansford, Illinois which, you will learn at some point, is not a real place.  This is going to be a blog of fiction and about fiction.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.

But not today.  And, precedent-setting, not my first entry.

Today as I sit and try to understand all that is happening around me in the light of our nation’s responses to the deaths first of Michael Brown and then Eric Garner, I decided that I needed to begin with this.  It is political.  It is religious.  It’s also about who I am.  Most importantly, it’s about who I’m not, and why that’s important to the world.

For years, as a child, my favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace”. I especially loved the last…

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Originally posted on Tidings of Comfort and Joy:

IMG_0581New Orleans Saints fan here, Mr. Watson. “Who Dat!” and all that.  I wish I could be a bigger fan of your very thoughtfully-expressed words on the “Ferguson Decision,” as you call it.  Many friends and family members — from conservatives to progressives — really liked sharing your article. None of my black friends weighed in, though.

Were you trying to create some “fair and balanced” neutral ground?

Thank you for your deep and heart-felt expression. I share some of your feelings about the “Ferguson Decision,” but for somewhat different reasons:

I’M ANGRY that injustice does continue today and every day. Stories from previous generations are being repeated today, not seem to be continuing today.  I’m angry that black lives are still being disproportionately taken by white police.

I’M FRUSTRATED with the trite blaming of  “pop culture, music and movies” for violence against police officers and the illusion…

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