Big Brains…

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was taking on some new reading and already the threads of that reading have been converging!

First, bias and technology. I’ve been doing a lot of study over the past few months about diversity in the classroom – microagressions and bias, particularly. In other areas I’ve been reading about technology in the classroom. And in others about recent neuroscience and how it plays out in the classroom.

Last weekend, all of those seemed to converge in a faculty research event! What if we could find a way to merge some of those… what if… what if…. what if…

Second, politics and compassion – or less succinctly but more accurately: Faith in Action and Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life! Faith in Action is a way our church supports folks as they put their faith into action in the world in a variety of ways. Some marched in the Climate March, some are seeing documentaries, some are praying, some are giving, etc. etc. etc.!

Karen Armstrong’s 12-step book is about the underlying theme of compassion in all the world’s religions but particularly in Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And the more I read, the more I wonder what if living out our faith in the world became an act of compassion… what if… what if… what if….

Third, our big brains. One of Armstrong’s points is that humans developed larger brains on top of the small reptile brains of our ancestors. And as our brains got bigger, we had to be born earlier before our heads got too big! So humans are basically born prematurely, requiring more years of nurture before we are able to live on our own.

And then, because our brains are able to do more, we learned how to get beyond survival so some of us had time to think about philosophy, create religions, develop more complicated lives. But that all depended on class distinctions where some folks had leisure time while others worked for them. Which takes me to another book I’m reading lately – Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market – where the life of gentility was created out of the ownership of other human beings and a horrifying lack of compassion.

Finally, this morning, I’m reading a NY Times article that someone mentioned in yesterday’s discussion group about Armstrong’s book: We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment. The author said that we call ourselves Homo Sapiens but that isn’t very accurate because we aren’t really very “wise.” What we should better be called is “homo prospectus” – people who contemplate the future. People who ask what if… what if… what if…

The article ties to almost all the rest of this rambling post – to recent neuroscience, to the need all of us have for time to think in larger ways than just survival, to what it means to be able to plan, which apparently makes all of us happier (and maybe more compassionate?) people!

I’ve yet to sort through what all of this means but I’m sensing that I’m doing some Homo Prospectus work, some prospecting into my future. Hopefully, it will include a large dose of compassion to overcome bias and class distinctions, a good bit of happiness, and, always my faith in action!

As always, I invite your big brain to think along with me!





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Ants…. and the appropriate reaction…

As I sat down to write something here today, I glanced out the window and saw… an ant crawling across the wide windowsill. A few seconds (and a dead ant) later, I sat back down and updated a page. Then I glanced out the window again, and (yep.) more ants.

That the ensuing can of ant spray was almost within arms reach should tell you something. It would take a month of blogs to give you all the details about our ant problem but I like you, so I won’t do that!

What I will say is that my reaction to this relatively small problem in my life, is outsized. I want to wail. And it seems that my life, lately, has been full of these small irritations that get an outsized reaction.

Or maybe I notice them more because of all the political brouhaha that’s going on. Things are happening – or not happening – that if we were more level headed about, wouldn’t get the huge headlines. But huge headlines kill the ants, er, sorry… huge headlines sell the news! So huge headlines get written.

And then our emotions follow the headlines, not the reality, until we want to just walk around with a container of ant spray in our hand all the time. Ready to take down anything that crawls.

Like the latest executive order about “religious liberty.” The order doesn’t do anything, the Johnson Amendment that it supposedly addressed didn’t do much anyway, and the vast amount of Americans (8 in 10) don’t really want their religious groups involved in partisan political campaigning! But the headlines from all sides, before and after the signing, were in huge type font – making everyone, from any political or social or religious perspective, anxious.

I praying the ants will go away. I’m also praying that the political situation will settle into something with a little less hype and hysteria. But most of all I’m praying for the kind of faith that helps me keep my problems in perspective, to be that non-anxious presence in the midst of it all, to stay grounded in the love of humanity that God has for all of us. And I’m praying you can find that, too.



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Adult Reading

I grew up surrounded by books. My parents were avid readers and my aunt ran a branch of the public library in her home! I remember the thrill, as a young child, of climbing into the “book-mobile” and choosing some of the books that would fill the library shelves till it returned.

I also remember choosing one book over and over again. The setting of the book was the area where I grew up, a rural area along the old route of the PA Canal, and I never tired of seeing those familiar pictures.

As an adult I imitated my parents and read avidly, both for pleasure and education, occasionally still reading the same books over and over again. But in the past two years, I’ve been adjusting to reading in a small group, which is definitely a learned skill! Finding the right book, gauging the groups’ tension level, managing my own expectations…. And reading any book before I recommend it!

So, needless to say, my reading load has jumped – and it’s brought both joys and challenges. Lately, Aviya Kushner’s Grammar of God was a delight! And Michael Eric Dyson’s Tears we cannot stop: a sermon to white America was a challenge.

I think I experienced most of his five stages of white grief (part of his prelude to the sermon), although not in his order. Probably denial (his second stage) came first and only in the last half of the book did ignorance (his first) find a place. In between, I imagine he’d say there was more than enough appropriation, revision, and dilution (his stages 3-5).

But the last quarter of the book was where I found something to both correct ignorance and to push the other forms of white grief into the background. In his benediction, he lists ways in which white folk can actually do something about race relations in this county – and one of those ways was simply to educate ourselves by reading black authors.

I consider myself and my life fairly diverse but I was shocked that I had read so few from his four-page long list! So I guess it’s time for some real adult reading… moving away from my old familiar favorites, into new territory, and creating new favorites along the way.

I hope you’ll read along…





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It’s a sad morning, personally and globally…

I’ll be leaving the apartment early tomorrow to attend a memorial service for a church friend for the past decade or so. And then I’ll hop on a train and head to Pennsylvania for the memorial service for another friend – this one a part of our lives for 30 years or more!

But today my personal sadness is challenged by the world’s sadness, and memories of other similar times…

I remember an elderly parishioner in my early years of ministry who still suffered from having inhaled mustard gas in WWI. For decades he had had breathing problems but at the end of his life, every breath was a struggle.

And I remember people I’ve known who had been under missile attack. For some of those the scars were also on body parts but others bore mental and emotional scars that, like the breathing problems, could follow them for the rest of their life.

I also remember all the other times when I’ve heard, late in the evening, that our country has attacked another. I remember what followed those news reports and the sadness that unfolds behind them.

And one final thing I remember: how many government-sanctioned deaths happen every day. Please join me in a prayer for peace, for security, and for human decency, throughout our world.

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The last days of winter…

Last week, I ran on the track wearing just a sweatshirt. Today, I’m sitting by the space heater and contemplating how my week might change after tomorrow’s threatened 12-18 inches of snow! Grrrrrr….

Except…. this morning, I read The Translation of Raimundo Luz: My Farewell, by Scott Cairns (from David Impastato’s book, Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry).

In Cairns’ translation of the poem, Luz is being changed. All the negativity he wishes to show – the rage he is shouting, the fist he is shaking at his own image in the mirror – is being transformed into praise and a blue petal-scattering maraca! It’s the goodness of the world, and the promise of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that has captured his attention away from his complaints.

In the face of that example, how do I complain about snow? How do I complain about rescheduling my week? How do I complain about any of my small unexpected challenges? I have to laugh at myself for taking any of this seriously!

And, yet, even as I type this, there are many serious situations happening in our world and country. I can’t just shake a few flower petals at those life-threatening problems! But I also know that I can’t just complain forever – verbally or physically or even prayerfully!

So my question for pondering this week of Lent, is: how do I – how do we – praise the goodness of God’s created world rather than rage at the evil? And how do we do that in a way that translates our negative complaint into positive life-giving action?






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Oh, my goodness….

I was once a very organized person… You might doubt that if you look back at the date of the last blog I posted here! Christmas Eve? What have I been doing since December 24th!

It seems I have 1) forgotten to put updating this website on my calendar, 2) not bothered to check back here even when I got a notice from WordPress that someone recently followed this site, and 3) haven’t had a minute to stop to think about how much I really like being connected to all of you this way!

It’s been a busy season – and promises to continue to be that. I’m preaching tomorrow on our human need for Light in the Midst of February. Then in the next few days I’ll be leading a faculty webinar on Valuing Diversity – and giving a presentation to college administration about using smart classroom technology. All three are things that I just love to do: preach, teach, and use technology!

I’ve also been participating in some webinars about online courses. One of the things that has surprised me is how many of the “experts” have been doing it for such a short amount of time. They talk about 3 years or 5 years as if that were a lifetime – when I’ve been creating and leading online workshops and courses with BeADisciple for, I think, eight years!

Which leads me back to my three favorite things: I have a session of the Spiritual Gifts course for Lay Servants and Lay Speakers opening on Monday morning. While I don’t preach to participants there, at least not very much, the teaching and technology are fully present!

What is it that you love to do? Do you get so busy doing it that you forget things like updating a website – or even the people you really love being connected with? If so, I invite you to join me in grabbing a cup of tea, taking a little break, and breathing deeply. Who knows what fun things might be waiting for all of us in the next few days!



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It’s Christmas Eve!

Natalie Merchant is singing “Go Where I Send Thee,” the turkey is stuffed and waiting in the fridge, one of my favorite people is holding small children on his lap for the last day this year…. It must be Christmas Eve!

There’s a handful of presents wrapped and waiting, white lights are glittering around the windows throughout my apartment, cranberries are bubbling on the stove… It must be Christmas Eve!

A quilted square with my grandchildren’s handprints from 14 years ago hangs on my office door… It must be Christmas Eve! promises that the rain will stop in time for me to pick up a bottle of wine, mushrooms, and grape tomatoes at Costco…. It must be Christmas Eve!

My sermon for tomorrow is written and edited! The red velvet shirt that will hold the lavalier microphone is clean! Redeemer Episcopal, two blocks away, has 7pm and 11pm services tonight – surely I’ll make it to one of them… It must be Christmas Eve!

We’ve already had such rich holiday celebrations – an Advent-long meditation workshop that has filled my heart with peace – a family celebration with food and fun and conversation – a beautiful Candlelight Choir Service last week. It almost feels like Christmas should be over, but instead there’s tonight’s celebration – just Santa and I – and tomorrow’s worship service and feast in larger community… It’s only Christmas Eve and there’s already been joy and beauty and love in abundance, with even more in the hours ahead!

Now, if I could just remember to live like this throughout the year: to remember the blessings of the past while anticipating the ones just about to come… Then it would be Christmas Eve all year long!

Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!




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