Thursday, September 13, 2018


     In my first reflection I talked more about Congregational vision. I think it is just as important for each of us to have a personal vision for our lives. Most job interviews ask a standard question, where do you see yourself in five years. Most people really don’t know how to answer that question. The truth is it is a false question because no one really knows where they will be in five years. It is asked to see how you will react to it, to understand your vision for your life. I would usually tell people to answer, I would hope to have opportunities to grow and learn new skills, and add value to the organization. 
      I think that is probably a good vision for anyone in general. To grow and learn new skills and add value to the world.  The farther out we look for our vision the harder it can be to discern. I think its good to periodically reflect on how we envision our future.Tonight is the first night of the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah.  Rosh HaShanah is the beginning of the The Jewish High Holy Days which will end in 10 days with the holiday Yom Kippur. As I look back over my years of sermons, I note that I have on more then one occasion preached about Yom Kippur the day of atonement, but have never talked about Rosh Hashanah. That probably says something about me.
      Religiously Rosh Hashanah is believed to be the anniversary of the day that Adam and Eve were created by God. Historians believe culturally it was set at this time because it was the beginning of the sowing and harvest season in the Middle east. It was a way for Jews to set themselves apart from the ancient Greeks and Romans who set their new year later in the spring.  It was not until 45 bc that the Romans changed the New Year to January 1st.  Being raised in the Jewish faith, this is one time of year I intentionally stop to reflect upon the upcoming year.  My Buddhist training has taught me not to become attached to hoped for outcomes. But that should not prevent us from working towards hoped for outcomes.  
     The key to creating a vision is to determine the why. Why do we hope for a specific outcome. If the why is strong enough it is easier to find a way to make that vision a reality.  And with reflection we learn to be open to changing our vision. When I was young I had no vision I was going to be a minister. And later in life when I first decided to become a minister. I had no idea my journey would take me to Iowa. 
I think it is important in thinking about our vision to start with determining what our values are.
Not what values we are taught or raised up to believe.
Not what values we hope we will have one day.
But day in and day out what is it that you value by your actions.
By consciously doing this we realize that over time our values have changed.
And by consciously discerning this we can choose a new vision for ourselves. 

As Rabbi Howard Berman says
“Rosh Hashanah proclaims Judaism’s revolutionary teaching that history is not cyclical and static—as other ancient cultures believed—but rather, that human experience is dynamic and evolutionary—always progressing toward new heights and greater revelations of Divine truth. For each of us, personally, this means that we need not be bound by the limitations, patterns and regrets of the past… but rather, that there is always an opportunity to make a fresh start, and begin anew.”

     And so I encourage you to reflect on what patterns have been unhealthy for you. What ways can you start anew and then I encourage you to start anew. So I offer you this jewish prayer
“May this New Year, 5779, bring healing and renewal… joy and health…life and peace…
to us and to all the world.” May it be so”

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Movies that Move Me

Writer C.S. Lewis said “As humans, we seek an enlargement of our being.We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to (our)self. … We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. … We demand windows.”
Movies can be a window to other worlds. Every week is a little different here. For those who follow me on my blog JWORLD  you know I love movies. Other then sermons, it is what I post most about on my blog. Movies have been a big part of my life. On a very practical level, at a young age it was a place to go that was air conditioned where no one would bother you.
Also I was lucky, in the Bronx, there was the Lowes Paradise Theatre
This ornate theatre at the time had cut outs in the ceiling with stars and just being there was magical and gave me a window to another world, where things could be beautiful, where imagination was encouraged and even occasionally the hero would win in the end. I think there is a little sentimentality for me in going to movies in that they bring up those emotions from my childhood.
 Now of course there are plenty of movies that are just escapist, A good movie though can help you see the world beyond your own, can help you better understand the world we live in and can help you develop skills and values to improve your life. The experience of going to a movie is different then television. The fact that you are seeing it with others, reminds you that others are experiencing the same thing at the very same time in that very theatre, throughout the state, throughout the country even throughout the world, and that in some small way connects us to others. Movies are a one shot thing. (which is why with rare exceptions I disdain sequels).
In approximately two hours you can travel in time to bring you to the creation of the universe and/or into the future for exploration of the galaxy. In those two hours time can speed up and you can span a lifetime and see the trajectory and consequences of a decision or life, and that can help inform us in our lives our well. 
One of the most important things about movies, is that it allows us to see and be connected to lives and worlds other then our own.  It allows us to see the differences as well as the commonalities of human experiences of love, life, struggle, and death.  As I thought about this, I thought what movies could I share with you that would help you understand the environment I grew up in in the Bronx as a way for you to understand the context of my life.  Its not that easy. I realize they are only shadows or stories, or snippets of reality, but stories are all we have. There are movies that have the Bronx as a setting but are just fantasies that are really nothing like it, like Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx or the Warriors. Even a thought provoking movie such as Finding Forrester that tells the story of JD Salinger type writer living in refuge in his Bronx Apartment who ends up mentoring a young African American student in writing is set in the Bronx, but it could be anywhere.  Here is a short clip 

“The rest of those who have gone before us, can not steady the unrest of those to follow” 
Sometimes one line can make a movie for me.
This movie speaks of friendship, integrity, how helping each other allows us to unlock our potential, and the realization that we cannot escape or hide from our past and our suffering, we can only engage it and try to find meaning and move forward through deepening relationships in our lives. And although this movie didn’t reflect much of my experience in the Bronx, it probably means more to me then it does others because I spent summer days in the house that Ruth built and I understand what it means to not have someone see my potential.  There are other movies   that show the Bronx, and its inhabitants in a slice of life story, such as Fort Apache the Bronx, Or Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, which both did realistically capture a snapshot of the mood during one place and one time and from one perspective. Two movies that I would say captured the Bronx from the perspective that I grew up in. Both starred Chaz Palminterri who grew up in the Bronx not far from where I did. The first one is a Bronx Tale with Robert DeNiro.  It tells the story of a young man who from a young age is lured by the life of crime and his father a bus driver trying to keep him on the straight and narrow and in this scene speaks to the ethics of how we earn our money and what constitutes tough.  

This is an ok movie, and This movie shares the same challenge many families face and it shows examples of courage and  later in the movie also points to the fragility of life and how one decision we make, or how one persons intervention can change your life.
It constantly calls us to question how to maintain our morality in an immoral world and the consequences of our choices. Those morally ambiguous movies are the ones I like the best.
The movie that probably best projects the environment I grew up in was the movie called A guide to recognizing your saints. It actually was set in the borough of Queens not the Bronx, but it more then any other movie depicts my experience of living in an outer borough of NYC. 

Its summer, its hot!! People are pretty matter of fact in New York.  I knew and met many characters similar to the ones depicted in this movie. The movie shows the randomness of life and death.  it shows how our upbringing often shapes the trajectory of our lives without our even realizing it. It showed the yearning for more out of life, or at least the  yearning for something different, to break out of the rut of the cycle of our lives, and the tension that causes and how often we are held back by our allegiances to friends and family. (You went to coney island with someone you just met – with the inference that exploring was risky, and that he should stayed home with his long time friend) This one scene shows how just one person connecting with us or our connecting with another person can point to another world beyond what we know, beyond what we have been taught, sometimes it takes someone showing us or modeling for us that it is ok to cross boundaries, whether physical or the arbitrary boundaries in our minds.   
             I  loved the juxtaposition and metaphor of how we look at travel. He had never travelled to Coney Island by train, but this other person had come from another country.  Sometimes going even a short distance can seem like going to another country. Whether its going cross town or letting go of your presuppositions about how things are or how they should be, and opening ourselves to new ideas new ways of being, and new perspectives, although you may be risking the known, the journey will expand our universe.In the end we see the arc of the characters life, and the same story that sometimes we have to leave the place we are to find ourselves, or leave the place of mind we are in to find a more fulfilling life. But no matter how far we travel, we can not run away from our grief.
At some point we have to face it, if we are to have peace within. Clearly this is a theme that touches me and others who lived in such an environment.  
So I have through movies given you a window into my world. I ask you consider what movies are windows into your life, or what movies have provided you a window into another life, another world. And although it has improved recently, I understand the truth that there are not as many American movies that have lead characters or stories that are centered around People of Color and Women. And for far too long White Actors have played roles meant for People of Color. We have to face that and we have to demand change. Just good Oscars so White and you will understand. Another thing we need to face and understand and we face it every week and I ask you to be open to it as well, is our support for social justice and this community through our weekly offering. This month 50% of our offering will be going to support the Sanctuary Task Force Once you have had the chance to donate I invite you to come down to mark a joy or sorrow in your life.

Part II
IN looking outward, movies speak for those who do not have a voice, they allow us to develop empathy by seeing others lives, their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their sorrow, their joys. This point to the fact that movies can also be used to help us develop our inner life and our moral values.  They can show us stories of courage and overcoming adversity. They can show us we are not alone in our fears and anxieties, and we are not alone in asking the deep questions of life. Movies can be visually beautiful and starkly realistic. Movies can be morally ambiguous and they can be definitive and judgmental. 
They can allow us to experience emotions that we often keep hidden through years of protecting ourselves from pain. I still today always cry everytime Eliot realizes ET is still alive or when Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams after his long journey of self discovery  asks his dad to play catch. Theologian Paul Tillich once said that
“in the proximate, the daily, the apparently small, there is hidden in truth the metaphysical; the here-and-now is the place where meaning is disclosed, where our existence must find interpretation, if it can find an interpretation at all.”  
Movies can help us look inward. To balance what we see against our own interpretation of the world. And sometimes they help us better understand how to make our way in the world. I keep a separate youtube list of movies that inspire me that every now and then, when I need a pick me up I will play.  Here is just a sample.

Writer Brett McCracken writes “cinema is more than just a window. It’s also a magnifying glass. It focuses our attention on everyday reality in a way that makes us see everyday reality for what it really is: magnificence and curiosity.” Let us see everything for what it is. Let us look for the beauty within each other. And the next time you go to the movies, look a little deeper, open a little wider and look through the window to see yourself and the world around you in a new way.
May it be so.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Shabbat Service Reflection at 2018 General Assembly

The Torah portion for today is such a challenging reading as well as a telling one for us as individuals as well as congregations and as an association. The book of numbers tells the story of the Jewish people  wandering in the wilderness after achieving their freedom from slavery in Egypt. They were searching for their homeland continuing the story from the book of exodus. Throughout the journey in the wilderness there is a constant what the Bible calls murmuring, we might say complaining. There was an insurrection that was violently put down, and at one point even Aaron and Miriam challenged Moses for leadership. Even after Moses learned to delegate authority, people struggled with any form of hardship, even proposing going back to Egypt. It is natural to fear the unknown, Some people prefer the harshness but certain existence of how things were, but we if we are to be who we were meant to be we have risk a little uncertainty.
Different then the book of exodus when God was very forgiving to the people when they murmured, In Numbers God was willing to wipe out the people due to their complaining . The only thing that saved the people from God’s wrath was Moses holding fast to the hope for the people.  But even Moses (just like ministers occasionally) gets frustrated, with the people complaining and strikes the rock instead of talking to it to provide the water to save the people.  For this Moses is banned from ever entering Israel. Lets give Moses a break ok, He was working 70 hours a week, preaching and teaching and probably even creating a newsletter on tablets for the people. Now we can look at this story as how a large group of nomadic people learned to govern themselves, that is probably some truth to that.
But I see a beautiful story of overcoming insurmountable obstacles it is the story of sticking with it, it is the story of despite doubt and hardship continuing to move forward.  
I have to admit, growing up Jewish in the Bronx in NYC, I did not have a lot of experience with the physical wilderness. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes but My idea of wilderness was going to the Bronx Zoo.  Now my wife Jan on the other hand grew up camping her entire life. So after we dated a while she suggested we try camping for a weekend.  And being the willing suitor that I was I agreed.    After we had procured all the proper equipment for tent and fire building and the mandatory marshmallows, we headed out on the highway to unknown territory.
Then it started to rain….and then it started to rain harder. I’m talking Noah and the flood kind of rain.
I saw this as a sign of impending doom,
but I hung in there.  We finally make it to the campground and check in and as I get back into the car to drive to the campsite, mind you it still pouring down rain, our car is stuck in the mud.
But I remained calm, and I still hung in there.
I said to myself, I’ve seen something like this on tv. 
I can handle this.  That will impress her.   So I start rocking the car back and forth and then I tell jan to hit the gas and you guessed it, as the car lurches out of the mud all the mud just flies all over me head to toe.  At that point, I swallowed whatever little pride I had left and said we are going to a hotel tonight. But I washed myself off, hung in there and came back the next day and put up the tent in the rain and Jan created a fire in the rain which really impressed me.  I spent the rest of the weekend communing with nature and had a wonderful time. Maybe not the land of milk and honey, but it was nice
Sometimes doing new things, learning new things, can be difficult or messy.
It takes us a while to figure out how things work.  We often though when doing new things find a reservoir of skill and determination that we never previously knew we had.  Now for many years thereafter and later on with our children, we went camping often, and things got easier over time,
but it never would have happened it I first hadn’t agreed to go along on the trip into the great unknown and if I hadn’t stuck in there, despite the setbacks, despite the rain, despite the mud.
Sometimes we just have to stick with it and believe that it will get easier and live into that future.
So the wilderness can be seen as a place we need to travel through on the way to our destination, as a test, as a place to receive revelation, as a place to find enlightenment,
            The wilderness does not have to be a physical place but can also be a state of mind. 
Some people do not want to leave the comfort of the status quo, but to find transformation we have to journey into the unknown Its hard, muddy work.  We have to risk getting dirty and being uncomfortable. But this story of Moses and Hebrew people tells us, if we are ever to reach our destination, we need to stick together, even when we sometimes don’t agree with the direction. It may take us longer,  but if we are ever going to fulfill our destiny as a religion we have to stick together, and have faith in each other.
At  the end of this story, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam all die before the community reaches their destination. This message tells me that eventually old ideas and ways have to die if we are going to make room for new ideas, and new ways and new people. That is the hardest thing I think, to leave behind the skills that got us to where we are.
So I encourage you to be open to change, because another truth is the things we need to get us out of slavery, the things we need in the wilderness through the hard times, are not always the same skills we need to create something new.
May our journey bring us wisdom, may it bring us peace, may it bring us healing. I would rather die free in the wilderness with you than be a slave in and to the past. Let us go and find those who are fleeing, let us all gather and let us walk together into an uncertain future, a future where we can build the world we dream about. Let us all find our way home.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Theology is Boring - (or is it?) thoughts on study leave as I try to distract myself from reading.

I know, I know, I am a minister. Theology is the foundation of my vocation. I am not that type of minister I say. People look strangely at me and wonder, as if their world had tilted off its axis. It is not that I don’t like theology, but most who write about it feel the need to prove how educated they are with multisyllabic words  (see what I did there 😊). I read book after book. In reality it is more like slogging through it. Certainly some of it is my ongoing contemplation and argument with every line that I read. That can be exhausting. Why? How did you come to that conclusion? What does that mean? I debate myself in my own mind before I go  on to the next sentence. It makes reading a book a journey.  

In truth everything is theology. Every walk, every movie, every conversation, every event I attend is a view of the world from a theological perspective. What is the purpose of this or that. What meaning can be derived from the experience. What mystery of the universe can be unlocked from every observation. What is the metaphor of every interaction. It is exhausting and beautiful and just how my radio waves are tuned in. 

But reading one more book of the erudition of Spinoza’s ethics, (which is really just a way for him to hide his atheism) and Augustine’s Confessions (really next time keep it to yourself – its done so much damage just because you had to justify leaving the woman you loved and your son at your mother’s insistence to marry for position and power and that led to ongoing misogyny within the church) or even new challenging perspectives on the Scriptures (How long has it been and we still have not figured out “thou shall not kill” – its pretty simple) will make me catatonic. 

No I want to read a simple poem, see a beautiful flower, pet my cat (I really need to get a dog), roll on the floor with my grandchild, watch the sunset and hopefully rise the next day. This is my theology – Life and living it. (and of course writing and talking about it). Thanks for reading and listening to me. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Speech at Families Belong Together Rally June 30th

My friends I think sometimes our country has lost its moral way.
Then I see you, and I hear these stories.
Let us remember that we determine our fate,
the actions we take or the lack of action is a choice.
I ask you to choose action to side with our immigrant and refugee siblings.
I invite you to side with children and families,
I invite you to side with love.
It seems incredulous, that I have to say we need to take action to side with children and families.
I am thankful that the very first article in this country’s bill or rights states “
Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 
Well I have a few grievances with the government. 
Friends it is time to fight for our moral and ethical values. These are my demands

One, We need to end the inhumane practice of this government’s policies of Family separation and Reunite families now.  Plain and simple. This is inhumane, immoral, and the fact that we even have to teach this baseline morality to government officials shows our country has fallen into the moral and ethical abyss. Can we never learn from our past. We separated children from our indigenous siblings, we separated children from our African American siblings when we enslaved them, and now we are separating children from refugee families.
Let us support children, not abandon them,
Let us love children, not traumatize them,
Let us side with children, Let us side with love.

Second, We need to end this inhumane practice of family detention.
The fifth article of the bill of rights says no person, not no citizen, no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; Children and families deserve due process, not indefinite imprisonment.
Children do not belong in cages and internment-like camps.  
Family incarceration is not the solution to family separation.
It seems the practice of continuing to imprison and destroy families of color from slavery, to jim crow to Japanese American internment camps, to mass incarceration, to now refugee imprisonment continues today.
Give them due process, I ask you to side with love

Third, End ‘Zero Humanity policy of this governement.’ Reverse the policy that created this crisis and chaos to begin with. Parents should not be criminally prosecuted for doing what all parents have done throughout history, which is bring their children to safety.
Let us remain that safe haven for families facing persecution, and let us do what we can to end that persecution, not add to it.  
I ask you to side with love. 

Last for today we demand Comprehensive Immigration Reform
We must have a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million refugees who are already here, our neighbors, part of the fabric of our community, whose children our children go to school and play with, people working hard to build a better life for their families.
That is the dream of America
I invite you to side with love and build that world that we dream about.

So what can we do. We must choose to act!! 
Your showing up here is a start, it tells the leaders of this community and throughout the country where our values are. But it can not end there.

We can and we should continue to communicate with our elected officials asking them to denounce this government’s immoral policies on refugees and to create policies that will create a welcoming community for all.
But that is not nearly enough.

We must vote in November and encourage everyone we know to vote for candidates who support our values. No election has been more crucial to the future of our country. I encourage you to vote with love in your hearts thinking of these children
But it can not end there.

I invite you to Work with local organizations in the community that are doing the work of racial and immigration justice, Palomares, LULAC Moline,LULAC Davenport,  
NAACP Davenport and Rock Island, Quad Cities Interfaith, One Human Family. Progressive Action for the Common Good and Boots on the Ground just to name a few.
Get involved. Locally we can impact our community.
But it can not end there.

If our government officials don’t listen, or continue to obstruct and suppress voting, we may have to take stronger actions. The time is coming again for acts of civil disobedience if our government does not respond to we the people. My congregation has offered to be a sanctuary for refugees. I invite you to talk to your place of worship to do the same or to join the sanctuary coalition helping other religious organization who have and I personally commit to helping you with that. We may have to shut down streets, business, even the government, if they do not listen to the grievances of the people.

Do not be afraid. The work for love is never easy and it requires sacrifice, but it is necessary.
We are fighting for the soul of this nation,
we are fighting for children and families,
and we need to go the distance.

Lastly the most important work we have is to maintain hope in the face of adversity.
We have to maintain hope and have the faith that what we do matters.
Even in the uncertainty, especially in the uncertainty of not knowing how or when change will happen,  we must have the faith that we can build a better world where all are safe. ,
Let us find our way together out of the abyss.
Thank you my friends. May you be blessed and may you be a blessing to others.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Isn’t that cute. Who doesn’t love a Panda sneezing.  So I have to say as much as I love the internet and may even consider it a blessing, it is how shall I say interesting sometimes.
There are hundreds of youtube videos, no exaggeration some lasting an hour long that are compilations of people sneezing, that’s it, just sneezing for an hour and it had a million hits.  What an interesting world we live in.   
The reason I showed this is because my first memory of the word bless was when I was young and I think this is probably common to most of us, after I sneezed someone would say God Bless you or bless you.  Its almost instinctual, we say it often without thinking. In fact it has just become an act of being polite. But being who I am, even as a child, I would always ask the question but why. But why? The answer just because, or because I said so, never did satisfy me. Whether it was about religion, or why do we have hour long videos of sneezing or the one I will answer today, why do we say bless you after we sneeze. I am blessed with curiousity
Some believed that your soul was your breath and you could lose your soul by sneezing.
Some believed that sneezing created an opportunity for demons to steal your soul.  
The phrase God Bless You after sneezing is thought to have been formalized by Pope Gregory I in the late sixth century. The Roman Empire was in the throes of a devastating plague, which the symptoms included coughing and sneezing. Gregory suggested saying God bless you after sneezing as a prayer to protect them from an death.  In that case a blessing was used to ward off illness and death. My parents would use the word Gesundheit a German/Yiddish word that roughly translates “to your health”  which to me sounds better then I hope you don’t die or lose your soul.  
We don’t often use the word blessing here. Its true certain words come with baggage.
We seem to infer meaning to the word blessing as to be asking for a supernatural or mystical power to bestow upon us good fortune.  For me a blessing is an act of intentional gratefulness.
Even the simple blessing of the food at a meal.  Buddhism calls their food blessing the five contemplations. That is all a blessing is, to be intentional about contemplating our actions and our gratitude for what we have in life and what we hope for those who we bless.
Matthew Fox In his book “Original Blessings writes
“Blessing involves relationship: one does not bless without investing something of oneself into the receiver of one’s blessing. And one does not receive blessing oblivious of its gracious giver. A blessing spirituality is a relating spirituality.” 
It is an intentional act of letting someone know that others care for them. Too often we lead isolated lives and everyone struggles at times in their own ways, and just knowing that someone else cares about your well being can be life affirming. And  to remember actually helping someone is a blessing.
In our meditation group on Tuesday night we end with a lovingkindness meditation, and part of it I ask people to visualize someone they know who needs lovingkindness. Why don’t we try this now. If you are willing, close your eyes and Visualize someone you know in your life or someone you know who needs lovingkindness and now repeat after me.
May you be filled with lovingkindness
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be well
May you be happy. (open eyes)
Doing this, first reminds us that we are not the only person in the world that needs lovingkindness.
It reminds us to remember that there are others in need as well.
It is also a calling for us to remember to act with  compassion towards others knowing they are struggling in some way.  Whether it is at the checkout line at the grocery store, your child your parent your partner, or your fellow congregant. Even as we have seen recently in the public square, people who outwardly appeared to have it all, and have it all together were struggling deeply.
Wayne Muller in his book sabbath asks us to silently bless others. He says
“Just imagine going through your day looking for excuses to wish people well or think the best of them rather than looking for threats and assuming ill connects us to others, helping us acknowledge common struggles and hungers.”
If we are busy blessing others as opposed to cursing others, it changes our perspective of the universe. It can lead us to be calmer and less angry, it can lead us to be kinder and less vindictive  It can lead us to feel more connected to others and feel less alienated.    Lastly we should remember to bless ourselves.
I find that is the hardest to do for most people.
It is  a reminder that each of us in our way is a unique beautiful soul with a spark of the divine within each of us. 
If we see the divine within ourselves, it also makes it easier then to see it in others. And vice-versa
We are often so filled up with self doubt and loathing, noticing our own imperfections more easily and more often then others. This is a leftover hangover from our puritanical cultural background of original sin and the need for redemption. Growing up in the Jewish tradition, and in truth in most religious traditions there is no concept of original sin.
In Judaism, the story of adam and eve biting the apple is not a story of disobedience, but a story of fulfilling human destiny to acquire wisdom. Even in early  Christianity sin and redemption were not a focus. It is not in the teachings of Jesus, but rather Paul and really didn’t take hold until the fourth century  with the Christian Theologian Augustine and then coopted and indoctrinated by the Roman Empire to keep its subjects in check.
It is why I love the title of the book by Matthew Fox “Original Blessings”   We are all born with blessings or with goodness. By offering a blessing to ourselves or another person we are not offering a supernatural wish but rather we are inviting one to see what is already within them. To see our best selves, to see our relationship to life as a natural and beautiful part of this universe,  to see ourselves in our soul in our raw unvarnished and untarnished natural state of goodness, and by doing so, we will move away from indifference and to engagement with a life of meaning and compassion. If we have the courage to engage and widen our understanding we will see ourselves as part of the larger universe and when we do, we will be able look upon the ourselves, each other, and the planet with awe , wonder, love and compassion.
And this is not some new age concept, this is as old as humanity itself. It is right here within each one of us waiting to be uncovered, waiting to be discovered.  The desire to not merely survive but to live fully, and by doing so, we can live with the wholeness of who we are, and that my friends, that is holy. In the Jewish Scriptures in Deuteronomy chapter 30 after the Jewish people were expelled from their land by the Babylonians, Yahweh gave the Jewish people the following blessing with I share with you today
“Open up your heart…to love, with all your heart with all your soul in order that you may live. Surely, this instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you,
nor is it beyond reach.It is not in the heavens, that you should say who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?
No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.  I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, if you would live, by loving.“
There is no need to be in exile from yourself.
You can start on your journey home to your true self, right here, right now.
I hope you can find it in your hearts to let others love you for who you are, and for you to love others for who they are. By doing this, you choose life.

As we now enter into our time for the offertory and joys and sorrow, I encourage you to silently bless yourself and to contemplate who could use your blessing and silently bless them.
Once you have had a chance to make an offering, we invite you come down and to light a candle to mark a joy or sorrow in your life. Let this  sacred time begin

Part II  Richardson, Jan. The Cure for Sorrow:  The Healing That Comes (sorry the formatting is off)
“I know how long you have been
waiting for your story to take a different turn,
how far you have gone
in search of what will mend you
and make you whole.
I bear no remedy, no cure, no miracle
for the easing of your pain.
But I know the medicine
that lives in a story that has been broken open.
I know the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves
away with fingers clutched
around the fragments we think are none but ours.
See how they fit together,
these shards we have been carrying
how in their meeting they make a way we could not find alone.”

In the song we heard by the Pretenders she sings “, I'm alive like you. I’ll stand by you”
This is so true, If you are alive inside it is hard not to feel emotional as our values and our rights are being decimated. Separating children from their families, just one of the many acts of inhumanity we see on a daily basis from our government toward our black and brown siblings. Many of you stood in witness at the courthouse in Davenport as our neighbors were jailed because of their place of birth. “
Many of you marched with each other yesterday in the Pride parade supporting and celebrating  the LGBTQ community even as other members in the community are spewing forth profanity and homophobic statements and the supreme court of this country supported discrimination based on sexual orientation. We need each other to keep hope alive. That is what we do, we journey with each other to brave new worlds, to explore new ideas to cross new frontiers in search of a better way of living, we do this together because it is not something we can do alone. Just like the need to bless others, we need others to journey together to that place we have never been and never seen, but a place in our hearts we know we can call home.
We stand on threshold waiting to move on to something better but so often we hesitate.
The unknown, the untested, the  seemingly impossible. Just the thought of crossing this threshold can raise our emotions. Sometimes it is excitement and hope but it can also raise fear and sadness. We know with everything decision we make there is something lost and something gained. By moving forward into the unknown, we choose to give up the status quo, the known, maybe even the safe. Crossing the threshold requires trust. Trust in ourselves to listen to that still small voice within that calls us to a new horizon. Whether that new horizon is a new idea, a new job, a new relationship, or even a new attitude towards ones existing ideas, jobs or relationship. And it requires trust in each other that we will support each other on the journey.
 It takes courage to take that first step, but I promise you when you do, your life will become more authentic. You will no longer shrink into the shadows, for you know who you are and what you believe and your values will be in harmony with your actions. And by doing so, I can assure you will feel alive and you will live a full life. No matter how long your life is.
So I invite you to consider all that you are blessed with in your life. (even if it is for a roof over your head and food on your table, something not everyone even here can always assure) For some it is writing, others speaking, or listening, or singing, or working with your hands, or parenting, or engineering, or teaching, or healing, or creativity, or accounting, some are natural gifts, some are learned, some are blessings of birth and circumstances, but however you obtained them, whatever they are I encourage you to look within yourself, and find your blessing and then you must ask how can I share my blessing, for an unused blessing, a blessing that doesn’t see the light of day shrivels up and dies, but if it is watered like a flower reaching for the sun it grows,
and then we must ask, how can I use my blessing to make the world better. For the world is full of lessons of how people used their blessings for destruction and devastation.  Let us intention
nally use our blessings in good life affirming, loving ways. And when you have doubts, and fear and confusion remember you are not alone. Together we can pass that  threshold of wonder and awe together and because we are together, because we have found each other on this journey of life, that in and of itself is a blessing. May it be so.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Movie Reviews - Black Panther, Deadpool 2 and Han Solo

Black Panther    An 8 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

I wanted to let this one sink in a little. It was in a way, as I observe the reactions to the movie,  a seminal moment in movies for African Americans and as I write that I should say, for all Americans.  This is a superhero movie focused on Africans, staring people of African descent and celebrating African culture. This in and of itself, makes it a movie worth seeing. One of the nice features, is that It showed powerful women, in strategic thinking, military planning,  and scientific leadership positions. It also showed that clearly different tribes with different cultures and custom, lived together within a certain covenant, and it appeared at least that resources were shared among all.  I think the most interesting plot point in the movie was the question of how a people in the diaspora are affected by their experiences in the diaspora, and how that affects their world view compared to people who live in their ancestral homeland. The movie showed a loyalty to nationalism and tribalism, but also dealt with the question of whether to and why we should help those beyond our own borders. It showed the need to honor our ancestors, but not to be bound by their experiences or wisdom. Lastly on the most basic level, it was an exciting superhero movie. If I had one quip with the movie, (and I would welcome feedback on this) it is why would a society that is clearly evolved continue to choose their leader by physical combat and which despite having promoted strong female characters, always seemed to be men. I imagine due to its success, we will see a Black Panther 2 and I for one am looking forward to it and similar movies.

 Deadpool 2. A 4 out of 10 on the JWO Scale

Really, one should know what they are getting into when they go to a Deadpool movie. The story line here was to be generous convoluted. If you have read previous reviews of mine, you know I hate time travel movies. And again Marvel writes defaulted to it in this one. At least the first Deadpool we had the origin story. This one like the first one included overwhelming gratuitous violence. There was of course witty repartee, a couple of new super heroes (domino was cool) and the clever mockery of creating a misfit superhero group x-force (which of course was ruined by time travel) that made the movie somewhat bearable. The mark of the Deadpool movie is the self absorption of the main character and his conversation with the audience. It was unique in the first movie, but by the end of the second movie, I just found it pedantic. The best part of the movie, and I would say the part that made it worth the price of admission, was the scene at the end of the credits (which Marvel is famous for which at this point is annoying that I have to wait, but I do) The ending scene was laugh out loud funny. I mean I literally started guffawing out loud. Plus the closing song was really cool too.

Han Solo – 7 out of 10 on the JWO scale

I liked this.  Not a great movie, but a really good movie that I think fills in the narrative of the Star Wars Universe of movies. We get some of the backstory of Han, as well as his relationship with Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and the Millennium Falcon. We also find out what the Kessel Run is (if you have watched the Star Wars movies this will make sense.) This was not so much a big screen action adventure epic, as it was a suspenseful caper movie. Throughout the movie I found myself wondering who was allied with whom and who would betray who.   Also the general theme of rebellion against oppression, as well as how oppression co-opts and corrupts people,  was a constant theme throughout the movie. Lando’s robot L3-37 was a breath of fresh air. Without giving away any spoilers, the issue of how artificial intelligence robots and humans interact is also a small feature of the movie. I found the movie thoughtful and enjoyable and  finding out more about characters I have come to learn about over the years was very satisfying.