Monthly Archives: August 2011

I have noticed something about our dog, Cocoa, the two-year-old wonder poodle.

A typical scenario is this: Jonathan and I take him walking many mornings together, but sometimes Jonathan heads for home while I extend the walk for another 20-30 minutes. As soon as Jonathan moves away, Cocoa sets off a howl and pulls to go after him. He goes with me–I have the leash–but he keeps looking back toward Jonathan. 

Then, as Cocoa and I keep going, we encounter a neighbor jogging or walking another dog or someone walking alone, and Cocoa’s attention shifts. Jonathan is forgotten, and now Cocoa is pulling and making noises wanting to connect with  the new item of interest.

I know Cocoa likes to walk with me. When there are no other distractions he is very happy, wagging his tail, looking up at me, rubbing against my leg.

But if he has a second option, he wants that. He wants what he does not have. I have begun to call it “Cocoa’s Law.”

Thing is, I know this is not limited to Cocoa. I have some of the same tendencies. I know other people do, too. When I mentioned Cocoa’s Law to a fellow dog walker, she said, “How human of him!”

Why is it that we are so often not satisfied, even with things we really like (or love)? Why is it that the negative in a situation becomes so much more important than the positive?

Are we really that perverse? I admit I often am.

Maybe I should call it Robin’s Law, or just remember it seems to be human (and canine) nature. But I wonder: shouldn’t I be doing better than Cocoa?

I was in court today.

I was there to support my friend. She made a mistake, indeed she has made many in the past few years, but now she is living a new life.

I was blessed to be there, to talk with her and her attorney before the judge arrived, to feel her anxiety but also to share her hope in the future.

Something really struck me for the very first time. I have been in court many times but for some reason today I noticed how similar courtrooms and church sanctuaries appear.

There are the rows of seats, all facing forward, with the eye inevitably drawn to the center spot where the judge sits. There are the seals of the Commonwealth and the city above the judge on the wall. Then there are court personnel–the clerk who sits next to the judge at a lower level, and the deputies who stand in front of the bench to direct people where to go and what to sign. One of the deputies is the disciplinarian, reminding people not to talk and where to sit. She even tells people they violate the dress code (no shorts allowed in this courtroom).

In a church, of course, the cross is the focal point for worship–and in our church the choir takes center stage below.  There is no judge, but there are worship leaders. They are there not to maintain order but to help us worship. They want us to make a joyful noise!

My friend was spared some serious penalities. She will not go back to jail. She will be able to move forward on her dream.

But the courtroom, while it looks similar to a church sanctuary, is not where her dream will be nurtured. That happens in church. The courtroom is about the past, the sanctuary is about the future.

Strange how things that can look so similar can be so very different. I am grateful to be in church!

On an emotional level, I was glad when President Obama authorized help to the Libyan rebels, and worked with NATO to provide continuing military support.

However, I joined many others who were concerned that we were getting ourselves bogged down in what seemed to become an endless, and quite possibly hopeless, civil war. Many in Congress felt the President had exceeded his authority.

Today, I want to thank the President. He took a huge risk, and it seems to have worked. The hated dictator is on his way out. The Libyan people can breathe again, after 42 years of repression.

Generally, I am not a subscriber to the theory that the end justifies the means, but in statecraft it is often the best we can do. Jefferson certainly exceeded his authority in buying Louisiana, but I am glad he did. Lincoln overrode habeas corpus protections in war, but it may well have saved the Union.

On the other hand, FDR exceeded his authority, at least in my view, when he locked up scores of Japanese, and it did no one any good.

Whatever your view, and whatever your politics, we can in this moment, I hope, feel joy for our Libyan siblings. And pray for them to be able to rebuild their tattered homeland.

What do you do when a friend sends you what feels like a “Dear John” email?

I don’t mean a boyfriend or girlfriend or partner, but a friend, somebody you like and you think of as a friend, who sends you an email that sends a message of “See ya around.”

As a pastor, I am used to people coming and going. Sort of used to it, anyway.

If I am honest, it still hurts when people just stop coming to church. It even hurts when people tell you why, but that hurts less. In that case, you at least know they care enough, maybe even respect you enough, to tell you what’s on their heart. I am always willing to listen.

I know, as a pastor, I sometimes say or do things that can lead some folks to feel angry. I so wish they would talk to me, rather than just nurse the anger or talk only to others or just leave.

I frankly do not know which is worse–the silence from those who say nothing or the sting of those who write cold-sounding email goodbyes.

Well, actually, I do know what is the worse: their absence. That is what causes my heart to hurt.

Warren Buffet is my newest hero.

I have long admired him for his savvy, and his plainspoken ways–even when I have disagreed with him. And I surely admire him for this honest, forthright talk about how the rich need to pitch in and help the country.

In case you did not see it, he wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times on August 14. It is well worth your time to read it, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html?_r=3&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212&src=ISMR_HP_LI_LST_FB

The basic point, as he has said elsewhere, is that we are all in this mess together, and some people have more resources than others to help. He also is clear that the shift of wealth over the past 20 years or so has been a bonanza for a small number of Americans–and a disaster for the rest of us.

To charges that such talk is “class warfare,” Buffett said, in 2006, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Thanks, Warren, for telling the truth. And I don’t know if you’re religious or not–probably not–but I can say this: Jesus would be pleased.

As a society, we’re not always very good at caring for people who have been victims of injustice.

The latest example for me is the difficulty that some former service personnel–who were discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–are encountering when they try to re-enlist in the armed forces of our nation. Of course, they have to be in the right age range, properly fit and able to perform, and without any other disqualification–but if they are, should they not be given some special consideration?

The law was unjust, it has been repealed. One way to heal the error of our ways is to make amends where possible. So far, the Pentagon is not budging–probably afraid Congress will scream.

And the military brass are not alone. When we release prisoners who have been incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, most jurisdictions simply send them out on the street, perhaps with a pair of pants and a shirt and cash for a bus ride somewhere. The legal system, acting on our behalf, made a mistake–often a really big one. But I doubt there is even a formal apology, let alone help to get started on a new life.

Virginia is doing the right thing, by making education available to those harmed by Massive Resistance in the 1950s, but that took 50 years. Fortunately, some were young enough at the time of this horror to be able to claim benefit now.

But so many oppose affirmative action, claiming it is favoring one group at the expense of another. Another way to see it is that those who have been the victims of oppression need a hand up to get started on the road of success. But, to do that requires that we admit as a nation that we held people down long after we were supposed to know better.

When we do wrong, an apology is a good place to start. And when the apology is coupled with actions to make amends, it begins to feel real.

Something about a golden rule applies here, I think.

For the very first time I am beginning to like my health insurance carrier.

For a long time, Anthem has seemed like mostly a paper-pushing, bureaucratic organization–not unlike what many people consider the federal government. People often complain about what they say is government intrusion into health care. Frankly, that’s the way I felt about Anthem–a corporate version of how some see government. I resented having to jump through their hoops, and my doctor having to jumping through their hoops, to get the care I need.

But recently, Anthem announced a new program, Complex Care, which is making a difference in my health. It involves consultations with a nurse, and other professionals, to help me manage my own health. This is good for me, and it also is good for Anthem–reducing their costs by reducing the demand I put on the health care system.

My biggest health issue right now is losing weight. Indeed, weight control has been an uphill struggle most of my life, even as I know that losing weight would pay enormous dividends in my overall well-being.

So, in addition to periodic consultations with a nurse, I am working regularly with a dietitian. She helps me set realistic goals, and most importantly, provides useful, very concrete, guidance on how to eat more sensibly. This is already making a difference–better daily habits, smaller portions, a more balanced diet.

I have long had a spiritual director–a professional who helps me strengthen my spiritual life, who helps me connect better with the divine. Now I have a food director, someone who helps me strengthen my resolve and my skill in treating my body with the respect it deserves.

Note: Over the next few weeks, I am going to write more about this, because Complex Care is changing my life. And I believe it has ramifications for how we understand the need for health care changes in our nation and the world.