Living Well


545The other night, Roger and I took the opportunity to go see “Wicked”, one of our favorite musicals. It is, in some sense, a prequel to the well-known “Wizard of Oz”; and tells the story of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba – how Glinda became the ‘good witch’, and Elphaba became the ‘wicked witch of the west.’

The show is dazzling in every way – sets, lighting, special effects, costumes, and the incredible musical score. We had seen the show before; and I know the score very well, having listened to it countless times, and sung one of the songs a few times in performance. So I was ready to experience it all again, looking forward to the special moments I remembered from the first time we saw “Wicked.”

The house lights went down, the orchestra began, and we settled in for a special evening. And while the cast and crew and everyone involved provided a magnificent performance, I found that I was drawn into an element of the story I hadn’t pondered the first time I saw it.

I have been dwelling in a deep soul-place, of late. The swirl of questions have, in part, been about the nature of being human – and my struggles with how I live with my own limitations, sharp and painful emotions, less-than-desirable responses – and how these things measure up against my longings, my prayers, my dreams and hopes. So from this deep place of reflection, I began to experience the story unfolding before me on the stage.

Elphaba was born green and possessed special powers. She wanted nothing more than to meet the Wizard of Oz with hopes that he would “de-greenify” her, and help her to find a place of acceptance among her community and within herself, and a useful purpose for her powers. In the meantime, Glinda – beautiful and self-centered – sought to help Elphaba fit in; not for Elphaba’s sake, but because it helped Glinda to elevate her status and sense of herself as all good.

We know the ending of the story in one sense – Glinda becomes the beautiful and revered ‘Good Witch’; and Elphaba becomes the terrifying ‘Wicked Witch’. But really, who was good and who was wicked? Were Glinda’s beauty tips, her underhanded maneuvers to get rid of a suitor by encouraging him to dance with the girl in the wheelchair to ‘please Glinda’, her willingness to sacrifice what was right with what was expedient and self-serving – were these things good? Was Elphaba’s desire to fit-in, to find a community, to tell the truth even if it meant being ostracized, to ‘defy gravity’ by rejecting the impulse to conform – were these things wicked? Did the community of Oz help to characterize Glinda’s goodness and Elphaba’s wickedness by seeking the easy way – scapegoating Elphaba for all that was happening that was ‘bad’, and assigning all their hopes for restoring order to Glinda?

It is a story told again and again. I came away from the performance energized by the wonderful performances, the energizing and inspiring music, and grateful for a night out with my husband. I also came away with a powerful framework for reflection. How is it that we, as people in community, define one another? How do community’s values, needs, fears, define each of us and our sense of self? What is good? What is wicked? I’m grateful to the ‘art meets life’ moment that watching “Wicked” provided for me. ‘I have been changed . . . for good.’


Living Well

How to Make Peace in the World

jooYears ago, while on vacation, I happened upon a framed quote that captured my attention. I stood and looked at it for a long time, trying to burn the image and the words into my memory. I was at the beginning of my vacation and, hoping to stretch my vacation dollars, decided not to purchase the quote – concerned I might find something else later in my vacation and be out of spending money before I got there. (Yes, yes – I can get controlling about this)

As you might imagine, when I got home from vacation and was thousands of miles away from the store that was selling the framed quote, (and I had some money left over), I realized that it felt important to me to purchase it. So, thanks be to the internet, phone calls, and international mail service (yes, it was in another country), I ordered and received this important treasure.

You see, the quote is an old Scottish blessing – and I love things Celtic. But more importantly, the words – for me – simplify the enormous challenge we all live with. How is it that any one of us can have any agency and influence toward bringing peace to the world? I’m not a politician or in the military. I don’t work for an NGO in another country. I’m not a doctor or a member of the UN. But, I learned, I have a daily opportunity to help bring about peace in the world. Here’s what I learned from the wise ones in Scotland:

If there is righteousness in the heart,

there will be beauty in the character.


If there is beauty in the character,

there will be harmony in the home.


If there is harmony in the home,

there will be order in the nation.


If there is order in the nation,

there will be peace in the world.


So let it be.

I have come to learn it is my daily, hourly task to cultivate righteousness in my heart. I will do it differently from anyone else. This is not self-righteousness, mind you. This, to me, is daily tending the garden of Love within, planted by God and nourished by the choices I make to cultivate that Love.

Each of us has this garden of love, of righteousness, within. So go – cultivate your garden – and make peace in the world.

Living Well

Touching Life and Death

I subscribe to just one magazine – “The Christian Century.” I have so little time to sit and read. There are books that beckon, emails to respond to, Facebook posts to check on. It took me a long time to even subscribe to “The Christian Century.” But once I did, I found that I read it cover to cover – each issue – every two weeks. The articles and features challenge, enlighten, amuse, stir, and keep me enlivened and inspired in my life as a minister and woman of faith.

In recent issues, there has been a series entitled, “Ministry in the 21st Century” – interviews with pastors in their early years in ministry. As the shape and scope and vision of Churches is undergoing close examination and great flux and change, it has been interesting to me to read what new pastors are thinking and believing and experiencing.

The June 26 issue of “The Christian Century (TCC)” included an interview with Lisa Yebuah, a United Methodist minister in Raleigh, NC. As I began reading Lisa’s responses to the questions posed by TCC, I – at first – found myself feeling a heightened awareness of her use of ‘religious language’ – something that feels challenging to me as I deepen my own awareness of what seems to put people off to ‘organized religion.’

48584441But then I got to Lisa’s response to the last question: Describe an experience that made you think, “This is what church is all about.” Here is her reply:

Watching our church family prepare for the funeral of a sweet eight-year-old girl. This will forever have an impact: now I know what the church is capable of in moments of despair. The parents had made arrangements for a green burial. They decided to entrust the preparation of the body and the burial itself to members of our church community. The church family received this charge as a gift and a privilege.

The girl passed away at home. After the proper authorities came and left, a medical doctor from our church rushed over to examine the child. There was nothing clinical or sterile about her approach. She handled the body with the gentleness of a mother examining her newborn child for the first time.

The child’s body wasn’t prepared by a funeral home. Instead, women from the church gathered at the house and prayed over her and bathed her. They dressed her in a favorite dress and her beloved red cowboy boots. And the casket wasn’t chosen out of a catalog. A carpenter from our church built her a simple pine box. This was later decorated by the children of the church and the girl’s classmates. Their pictures and well wishes were the most beautiful adornment I had ever seen.

On the day we celebrated the child’s service of death and resurrection, I stood in amazement, looking at the gathered community and at their hands – holy hands – used for touching life and death and life more abundantly.

Full sentences don’t come to me right now. Only snips of emotions and thoughts and ideas and hopes and prayers . . .

Love . . . intimacy . . . witness . . . real . . . touch . . . love . . . power . . . openness . . . honest . . . close . . . holy . . . messy . . . love . . . confidence . . . life . . . life . . . life . . . yes

Living Well

When I Sit on My Porch at the End of the Day . . .

. . . the world seems simple and tranquil; and all things seem possible.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I hear birds calling out to one another; I hear the goats next door bleating as they are fed their dinner; I hear the hum of traffic on the highway nearby.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I talk quietly with my husband, and sip satisfying wine, and process the thoughts and events of the day.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I’m awed again by the tiny birds who built nests in our hanging plants – so industrious, so focused, so deeply responding to their biological imperative to multiply that they are unaware that my plants are struggling to survive with the intrusion of nests and our reticence to water in case it harms the babies. Isn’t that beautiful?

44747When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I am sitting at the top of a hill and looking out to the hills in the distance. I see an exquisite variety of trees in full vigor, and am grateful that they work hard to transform the CO2 we so profusely produce, into O2 that we so fundamentally need.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I have time to become aware of things that I never notice otherwise: the sound of the boy across the street playing basketball; the way the setting sun casts its light on the hillside; the way the mother bird flies into her nest – just a few feet away from me – and settles in; the way the air smells; the way I feel whole.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I find it is difficult to understand why it takes the time and deliberations of the highest court in the land to figure out that people who love each other should have the joy and delight of marrying and having the freedoms and privileges that marriage offers . . . everyone.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I think about my life – my joys and sorrows; my challenges and accomplishments; my hopes and dreams. And all seems possible.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I am overcome. The world is so incredibly, exquisitely beautiful. And I get to be alive in it.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I say ‘thank you’ for all that has been; for all that can be; for all that is to come.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day . . .