Archive | October 2018

How Many Candles?

burn burning candle candlelight

Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

How many candles do we need to light?

Will there be enough wax

To hold the slender wicks of all our prayers?

How many tears do we need to shed

To cause the ocean to overflow

With the torrents of our grief?

 

I want to light a candle

For every single soul

For the children

For the elders

For all those at risk

For all those who are targeted

For who they are

Or what they believe

I want to light a candle

For all those who have not survived

 

Can our candles burn any brighter

With their fierce and furious love?

Can the molten wax we create

Burn through a world of hate

Of greed and blatant disregard

Of all that makes life holy?

 

Our prayers can flow like lava

Erupting through the darkening sky

Angel wings can beat within our hearts

Soaring high in the warming air.

So many candles of love we have

Lit by an eternal flame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daily Bread (Week 27)

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Halloween is coming and our kids came over to carve pumpkins last weekend.  They all live in apartments, so they left the jack-o-lanterns for us and our neighbors to enjoy.  It was the first time carving pumpkins for both of our sons’ girlfriends, as neither one was raised in the U.S.  They had fun – and it was fun seeing the fun they had.  This is what sharing different cultures should be like – fun.  Where did we learn the fear that so many display toward immigrants?  It has always been here I know, but I hate it.

Last night, before class, a few of us got into a conversation about choice and abortion.  A class member said he protested outside the Planned Parenthood offices every month, because he did not believe in abortion.  I told him that I had friends who served as escorts at other clinics where the demonstrators were aggressive and sometimes violent. I mentioned the shootings at the clinic in Colorado, and the doctor (George Tiller) who was murdered while attending church. My friend said his group wasn’t violent and I said good, and I asked him if he was also against the death penalty.  What I did not say, and would have said if I had thought quickly enough, is that is safe abortions are not available, women and girls will die, because they will take whatever desperate steps they think are necessary, with quacks, coat hangers and poison.  I am old enough to remember what it was like before Roe vs Wade.  I don’t want to return to those days.  Life is more important.  Comprehensive sexuality education and free and easy access to birth control are the solutions if you want to reduce abortions.  Abortions rates (and teen pregnancies) are proven to decline in places where those are available.  The conversation was a cultural exchange, not as fun as the Halloween pumpkin carving, but not violent or hostile either.  On a day when public figures and news organizations were the target of terrorist bombs, it was refreshing to just talk and exchange opinions respectfully.

Words matter. Our class topic included the negative self talk that is part of struggling to lose weight.  It is hard to stay positive, to lift up hope in such scary times, but I do believe it is the only way we will survive.

The scale surprised me this week because I had a small weight loss despite the fact that I was prepared for a gain.  It seems like I did fine at the retreat and at the dinner out we had with the kids.  (Thai food works, or at least Chicken Ka Prow worked).  I also signed up to have the test that will measure my resting metabolism rate. (RMR – the calories a body burns just existing.)  Knowing this number, which is different for everyone, should help me calculate more precisely how many calories I should consume in order to continue to lose weight without kicking my metabolism into starvation mode.  I’ll let you know how it goes in a couple of weeks after I get the test done.  I will need to do the test later as well, because the RMR number goes down as weight goes down.  More facts, more data.  I can’t get enough of either.  Oh and more love, more hope, more courage; I can always use those too.  Be well.

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down 1.7 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for  240 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 59.3 pounds.)

Daily Bread (Week 26)

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I missed class this week because I was attending a gathering of UU Ministers at a local retreat center.  What a joy and a challenge it was! It is always a joy to gather with beloved friends and colleagues – those I have known for years and others that I just met this week.  The program was excellent and included a lot of prayerful singing – singing is something I don’t do well, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.  I particularly enjoyed some of the conversations I had with the newer ministers and seminarians.  They hold the hope for the future, not only for our faith, but for the world.

No one understands a minister better than another minister.  While resting in the embrace of that mutual understanding, there were also challenges.  We are human and part of the larger culture and are not unaffected by the wider systems of power and privilege that bring such harm to those who are trying to survive on the margins.  I had to do my “Jeremiah” thing during a discussion of white supremacy where I witnessed a few “micro-aggressions.” It is so important to at least name those when they happen.

I am also realizing that I am completely out of patience with the “hurt feelings” of those who feel victimized when someone names the harm they have caused to others.  No one expects perfection.  If you blow it, when you make a mistake (and you will), apologize, and then SHUT THE F___ up and move on.  No one you have harmed wants to hear about how guilty you feel about it or how your intentions were pure.  Process those emotions with others who have similar identities to yours if you need to do so, but don’t redirect the attention of a larger group to your emotional distress.  Don’t make it about you.  This is work, very hard work indeed, that really needs to be done, again for our faith and for the world.  The blessing I felt is that everyone there at least wants to do the work, even we bumble and stumble along that journey toward justice making and beloved community where all are truly welcomed in the fullness of who they are.

The other challenge, for me at least, was the food.  (This is my weight management blog after all.)  The retreat center served very healthy, and mainly organic, food, so it was much easier than it might have been.  It was also super tasty.  I stressed some though, as I was not able to weigh or measure anything and I had to guess at the calories.  The lunches were vegetarian, so protein was harder to find and manage with no lean meat available.  It was also hard to pass by the awesome desserts and say to no to the social  hour wine.  I stayed strong on those last two, however, and next week’s weigh-in will tell me how well I did on estimating calories.  This was my Tuesday night dinner plate:

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Baked chicken with pesto sauce, roasted cauliflower, and a smidgeon of salad.  The salads were all pre-dressed, so I was careful with them.  My guess was around 340 calories.

I am also thinking about taking the test in the next few weeks that will tell me about my metabolism – how many calories I burn just breathing.  Knowing that number will help me calculate with more precision just how many calories I should be eating each day. It is not good to go too low because too few calories can slow your metabolism permanently and make long term weight loss more difficult.  Too many calories, and you don’t lose any weight.  The program includes one free metabolism test, and subsequent ones cost $50.  The recommendation is to wait and do the test when your weight loss slows, but I want to do it before then.  If it turns out I need another one later, I can just pay for it.  Given the investment I am making already – in money, time, and attention, I am not going to quibble over an extra 50 bucks if it will help.

There are maybe a couple of weeks left of swim season, before we need to close the pool for the winter.  I hope to catch up on my exercise goals this week.

 

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down ? pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for  240 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 57.6 pounds.)

Opening the Good Book UUCM 10-14-18

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Sermon Notes:

Read any good books lately?  I have one to recommend, but like any good book, it is important to read it with a questioning mind and an open heart.  What does a particular book tell me about my own life?  Are the characters and situations believable?  Most important, from a religious standpoint, is the message of the book uplifting?  Does it contain something that has at least the potential for making me a better person for having read it?

 

Jewish and Christian scripture, the Bible, is one of the six sources from which our living tradition of Unitarian Universalism is drawn.  There are references to Biblical stories everywhere in our culture, including in our music.  If we don’t understand those stories, we can be at a cultural disadvantage.

 

The right of individuals to interpret sacred scripture for themselves, whether that scripture is the Bible or Doctor Seuss, is fundamental to our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition.

 

Have you ever cried in church?  I have. Sometimes the tears are good, and in times of grief or disappointment, just letting them flow can be very healing. We cry when our hearts are touched, and we can cry when we feel like we have found a place to belong, where all of all we are is welcomed and embraced.  Rev. Marcus spoke about that a few weeks ago.

 

But people also cry in churches because their church is hurting them, telling them that they are somehow less than worthy, less than whole. They may be told that God doesn’t love them just as they are if they are gay.  They may also be told that they are less than worthy if they happen to be female. All that is in the Bible after all.

 

This morning we are going to try and unpack some common misunderstandings about the Bible. I hope you learn something new and I hope it might help you resist anyone who may be wounding your heart with their literal interpretations of scripture.  We are going to open up that good book and take another look and see if we can find the Gospel there.

 

The word Gospel comes from the Greek and means quite literally “good news.” It does not mean absolute fact, something that can’t be questioned.

 

If you study it, you will find that while the Bible may contain some good news, especially for the poor and oppressed, and much human wisdom, it is far from fact. It is not literal and to interpret that way is, dare I say it, fake news.

 

My Old Testament professor in seminary, a Franciscan priest, was fond of saying that the Bible is not history, it is not science, and it should never be used as a club.

 

 

The Bible, he said, is simply a collection of the stories of a particular people and their struggles to be in right relationship with the divine, with God. It is full of metaphor and full of inconsistencies.  It wasn’t written down all at one time; and God didn’t dictate it.

 

Biblical scholars, using modern methods, have determined that the bible is in fact a collection of many stories, most of which were originally oral traditions, and almost all of which were edited and changed over time.

 

And there is not just one Bible, a fact that many Biblical literalists don’t know.  The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of 24 books. The Protestant Old Testament contains all the same books, but arranges them differently. The Roman Catholic Old Testament is larger than the Protestant version; containing 15 additional books. The Greek Orthodox Church includes even more, and the Ethiopian Church yet again more.

 

So, if someone tells you that they follow what is in the Bible, it would not be at all unreasonable to ask, “Which one?”

 

Most of those individual books have also been edited.  Some are clearly combinations of different earlier versions.

Scholars have determined that there were originally as many as five separate and distinct written versions of the material in the Torah that were combined at a later time.

 

Have you ever wondered why there are two versions of the creation story in Genesis?  Genesis one describes creation as happening in seven days and God creating both man and woman in his image at the same time.  It is in Genesis 2 that God takes a rib from Adam to create Eve.

 

From the story of the flood to the tales of Abraham and Sarah, from the parting of the Red Seas to the listing of the Ten Commandments, to the genealogy of Jesus, there are both repetitions and differences in what the Bible says.  So, if someone tells you they believe what the Bible says, after they tell you which version, you might want to ask, which part of that version?

 

You also might want to ask them, if they say the Bible is the literal truth, if they think men really have one less rib than women.  Did anyone else ever try to count their own ribs and those of an opposite gender friend or sibling?  I did. It was very confusing.  It also wasn’t particularly easy and I don’t remember even getting a firm number.

Pull out an anatomy textbook later, or ask your doctor if you still aren’t sure.  We aren’t going to engage in rib counting this morning here in church. If you want, I suppose you can do that later, in the privacy of your own homes.

 

It is also important to read the Bible from a historical perspective.  Human sacrifice was common in the ancient desert world.  First born sons were often sacrificed and sometimes murdered.

It was one of the plagues suffered by the Egyptians, and King Herod was said to have killed Jewish babies trying to murder the infant Jesus. If you read the story of Abraham and Isaac with that understanding, maybe the point wasn’t a test of Abraham’s obedience to God, but instead was a message that God values life. Don’t kill the children. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Divine.  Leave your arrogance behind.  That is the message I like to take from Scripture.

 

There is so much in the Bible, ancient as it is, that can have relevance for our modern lives. If you grew up in a large family, or if you have more than one child of your own, maybe you know about sibling rivalry. Starting with Cain and Abel, there are so many stories about this.  Joseph and his jealous brothers when he got a new coat, Jacob when he stole Esau’s inheritance, and the older brother who is hurt when the prodigal son returns and is celebrated.  Those stories can help illustrate the challenges of parenting.  How can we treat all of our children both fairly and as individuals?  It isn’t always simple.

 

There are also stories in the Bible of alcoholism and abuse.  Noah, of the ark fame, after the flood, was drunk and naked and his son Ham saw him and told his brothers.  For telling, Ham was cursed and exiled. So many secrets we are asked to keep, and when you have the courage to tell them it is a risk and we may be punished.

Ham is the hero for me in that story.  He told the truth and in fact was set free from that dysfunctional household.

 

Then there is the story of Judith.  It is in the Catholic Bible, but not in the modern Protestant or Jewish scriptures. Holofernes was an evil and abusive conqueror who brought Judith to his tent to rape her, but he passed out drunk first. Judith then took his sword and cut off his head.  I am not for capital punishment, but in those times, it was a fitting response to a drunk who wanted to commit sexual assault.  Today, we seem to make them Supreme Court justices instead.

 

I just mentioned that the Book of Judith is only in the Roman Catholic Bible.  There was much controversy in the early Christian church over what writings should be included.  There was a lot of very diverse material floating around as well as some very different oral traditions.

 

Some writings were lost for more than a thousand years, but scholars were aware of their existence because of historical records that made reference to them.

 

You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Judas, and the Gospel of Mary, from which Anne read a portion earlier.  Often referred to as the Gnostic Gospels, they were discovered in 1945 in Egypt.

 

These writings reflect the incredible diversity of Christian belief in the earliest years.

 

 

 

So, when someone tells you women should be silent in church because it says that in the Bible, maybe you might want to quote from the Gospel of Mary where Levi calls Peter hot headed because he does not want to listen to Mary.

 

You might also ask them why Paul felt the need to tell women they should be quiet.  Most likely they were speaking up and he wanted to silence them.  Many men are still trying to silence women, especially those who are saying #metoo.

 

I haven’t gone into the whole issue of translations, but it is pretty clear that Jesus didn’t speak King James English.  He didn’t even speak Greek.  Anyone who speaks more than one language knows very well that translations are, at best, approximate.

 

When in a silly argument with someone who says that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality, I like to quote Luke 17:34 from the King James Version, the favorite translation of conservative Christians.  The verse reads, literally:

“I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.”

Now, when you interpret that verse literally it is pretty clear that at least half of the gay people go to heaven, isn’t it?

I don’t suggest that you leave here today and go out and start arguments with biblical literalists. But if it interests you, do some reading about modern biblical scholarship.

But what I most want to leave you with today are some more questions.  What is yourholy text, and what good news does it contain?

 

Do you find meaning in scripture; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or perhaps another tradition?  Do you find it in poetry, in nature, in connections with other people?

 

Each of us must find our own truth.  We find it in our own lives and in the lives of others that we come to know.  We find it in the world around us.  It is also helpful to read, to study, and to learn what others believe to be true.

 

But in the end, we must each make our own peace with the meaning of our own lives, and our own peace with whatever we mean when we say the word God.

 

There is some gospel, some really good news, however. We don’t have to do any of this alone. There are other souls engaged in similar journeys.  Maybe we can learn from one another.  Maybe people can stop using sacred texts like the Bible to justify their own bias and bigotry.

 

Maybe other people can stop being afraid of what the Bible says and understand that it is not literal and is not meant to be a club to beat you about the head, but is instead a collection of stories told by people trying to understand their lives and the world they lived in.

Isn’t that what we all are trying to do?  Amen and Blessed Be.

Daily Bread (Week 25)

Now that I have fully transitioned back onto real food, I am going to recycle this gross shaker.  It is not like I didn’t rinse it after each use and wash it with soap, but the residue from the shakes simply did not come out.   When I used the dishwater, the gunk got baked on.

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It makes me wonder what the inside of my stomach looks like.  Kind of creepy, but the program worked, so I am not complaining.  I have lost a significant amount of weight and am primed to continue losing until I reach a weight that works for me and keeps me healthier.  The Kaiser recommendation is to continue to use 3 products a day for the rest of my life.  I have decided to ignore that.  Once I finish my last 3 shakes I am done. The shakes are too gross to me at this point and the bars, while handy in a pinch, don’t seem necessary for every day.  Costco also sells protein bars for half the cost of the Optimist products.  Eating every 3 hours or so makes sense to keep hunger at bay, but I think I can do that eating somewhat more natural food.  (Are low-fat mozzarella cheese sticks real food?  They are a handy protein though.  Hummus, fruit, all of those type of choices can work just fine.) I certainly don’t want to discourage others who might make different choices about the products, but this is what feels right to me.

This week I have been pondering how my body feels.  It is smaller.  I have more muscle and less fat.  I am stronger.  My skin even feels smoother.  My ankles are no longer swollen and the lipodermatosclerosis in my legs is way less painful. I can open the solar pool cover all by myself, something that wasn’t possible 2 months ago. I will need to buy some new clothes soon as most of my old ones are way too big.  I actually feel thin.  I am not thin, however, and anyone else, looking at me, would still see me as fat.  But I FEEL thin.  When I last worked for the federal government, there was a lot of talk about reinventing it.  We also talked about “right-sizing” rather than “down-sizing.”  I never understood the differences as we went through round after round of hiring freezes which caused service declines, but the term of “right-sizing” makes some sense in my current situation.  I want to get to a size and a weight that feels healthy.  If I feel good, I don’t really give a damn what other people think.  I am too old and have been through too much in my life to start worrying about other people’s opinions now.  We talked about goals this week in class. We got the always important reminder that we are the most important person in our lives and that we need to continuing prioritizing our own well-being if we want to be able to help others.  My motivation remains that of improving my health.

I took a class in seminary where we were assigned the task of doing a theological reflection about a core life issue.  We got extra points for tying the reflection to a scripture from a religious tradition of our choice.  Working on that assignment, I realized that the story of the prophet Jeremiah really spoke to me.  He was one of the dudes who kept speaking truth to power, calling the wealthy to help the poor, etc.  They kept throwing him down a well, but he never shut up.  Speaking the truth is important, even if those in power don’t listen and don’t care.  Even in the bottom of a well, you can create ripples that can change things several millennia down the road.   The walls of the wells that confine us will eventually crumble.  Speak your truth.  Never give up.  Rock on Jeremiah. Rock on Anita Hill.   Rock on Christine Blasey Ford.

 

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down 4.3 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for  330 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 57.6 pounds.)

Daily Bread (Week 24)

This last week, I ate out for the first time in almost 6 months.  Twice!  It is the facilitator’s fault.  She passed out menus from fast food restaurants last week and asked us to try and find healthy choices.  I did better, I think, with Thai food (chicken/cabbage/red curry) and the grilled kanpachi with veggies I had at a decent fish restaurant.

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I forgot to take a picture of my actual meal, but it was pretty much like the above, except the cauliflower was roasted not creamed.  I did have the chimichurri sauce which had olive oil. It is impossible to figure out the actual calories when you eat out, but I did try and be smart about it.  No rice or bread, and I avoided heavy sauces.

I think I stayed within my calorie budget, but I only lost .3 pounds last week.  That is OK.     Any loss is better than a gain, which is kind of the opposite of the rest of life.

We did nutrition this week in class, macro mainly, carbs, fat and protein.  I have been watching my carbs for years, to keep my blood sugar from spiking, so that is routine for me by now.  We need carbohydrates of course, and I am trying to get most of mine from the complex range, vegetables and a few whole grains.  Life is complex, but white bread and potatoes not so much.    I yearn sometimes for a simpler life, but it is not what my body needs when it comes to food.

I am also starting to thinking about going completely off the Optimist products.  (They recommend using 3 a day for the rest of our live!) I hate Nestle, the evil corporation that makes it, and the products are far from healthy natural food.  I think I can do better with snacks of string cheese, hard boiled eggs, fruit, veggies and other brands of protein bars in a pinch.  I am still in the thinking stage on that, but I have never been one for eating a lot of processed or packaged foods.  The Optifast products are definitely in that category.

This week has been hard emotionally. I have been very triggered by the US Supreme Court nominee and the Republican defense of sexual assault. I wrote the following poem this morning.

A Holy Rage

I remember this feeling

Tightness in my chest

Fists clenching

Panicked tears.

 

The day my father was baptized

Was the day I stopped

Attending church.

It took me 30 years

To go back.

 

They knew what he was like

But it did not matter

I did not matter

They never asked me

They never cared enough.

 

Another drunken abuser

Is about to stagger into more power

Where he will no doubt

Abuse us all.

 

Where is our sacrament?

Where is our blessing?

Where is the salvation,

For the victims,

For the survivors?

 

I tell you this:

I am no longer a child

I know the truth

I will remember

And I will not forgive.

My rage is holy now.

 

May all our rage be Holy. May we do what is good for ourselves and for each other.  May we be tender with the (so many) wounded among us.

 

L’Chaim!

(My stats for the last week – down  .3 pounds, drank over 7 gallons of water and exercised for 300 minutes.  My total weight loss so far is 53.3 pounds.)

A Holy Rage

I remember this feeling

Tightness in my chest

Fists clenching

Panicked tears.

 

The day my father was baptized

Was the day I stopped

Attending church.

It took me 30 years

To go back.

 

They knew what he was like

But it did not matter

I did not matter

They never asked me

They never cared enough.

 

Another drunken abuser

Is about to stagger into more power

Where he will no doubt

Abuse us all.

 

Where is our sacrament?

Where is our blessing?

Where is the salvation,

For the victims,

For the survivors?

 

I tell you this:

I am no longer a child

I know the truth

I will remember

And I will not forgive.

My rage is holy now.