An Open Letter to My Community

We’ve gone from the horror of the images out of Paris to a week of anti-refugee talk from media and politicians that is not only distasteful but contrary to the teachings of the biblical witness.

Sadly, we’ve been down this road before. Our immigrant-founded nation is filled with historical periods of fear and disdain of the newcomer. From fear of the Irish to the rejection of Jewish immigrants in the 1930s we too often reject our neighbors in need.

Giving in to fear has also created a context in which we blame Syrian refugees, victims of the same terrorist group as those in Paris. At a time when Syrian refugees need us the most, instead of loving our neighbor, we choose to fear them.

Our human inclination to be fearful is not new. There is a reason “do not be afraid” is such a common phrase in both testaments of the Bible. Like our ancient forebears, we need to be reminded to live into the people God dreams we can be.

When asked, “what is the greatest commandment?”, Jesus replied, “…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:29b-31 CEB)

Jesus named these two because loving God and neighbor are foundational. We show our love for God in our love for others. When we share items with our local Food Pantry, we show love for God. Similarly when we show compassion for Syrian refugees we show love for God.

Our stories of faith are brimming with commands to be hospitable to our neighbors. Immigrants, strangers, and aliens are frequently named as those who are worthy of our loving embrace. Whether we approach the Bible literally, as some do, or critically, as I do, hospitality for strangers is an expectation of the divine.

The most disturbing aspect of the hateful rhetoric spewed toward Muslims, Syrian refugees, and others is that too many of the speakers claim Christianity as their faith. It can be argued, given our history, that hospitality for the stranger is not an American value. However, claiming the Christian faith and not welcoming the stranger takes mental and spiritual gymnastics that are inconsistent with the biblical narrative.

The best of Condon is about compassion and love for our neighbors in need. As we move into Thanksgiving week and the Advent season that precedes Christmas, the writer of Deuteronomy reminds the faithful, God “…loves immigrants… That means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19 CEB)

Let us love our neighbors as ourselves by opening hearts to Syrian refugees. In so doing we will share our love of God.

Cookies of Fear

Cookies of Fear
Source: Church World Service
Source: Church World Service

When distressed, we tend to use whatever tools we have to try to alleviate our condition. For example, if I have a headache I will take two tylenol. That is unless all I have in the cupboard is ibuprofen, in which case I’ll take ibuprofen.

We tend to use the things we have at our disposal to solve problems. Toddlers, for example, will sometimes resort to hitting or biting when feeling threatened by another. They use these strategies because they do not yet have the social skills necessary to remedy the situation.

I have multiple tools to cope with personal stress. The healthiest are getting rest and exercise. A good vigorous walk or run does miraculous things to my ability to cope with challenges. Regular sleep results in a more rational and loving me.

Though I know this, too often I turn to the cookie in the cupboard to deal with stress. Briefly, the cookie makes me feel better. Soon, however, it actually makes things worse. I feel bloated. The sugar disrupts my mood.

The suggestion that our nation refuse to accept Syrian refugees or accept only Christian refugees, as some have suggested, is a cookie. Rufusing our sisters and brothers may make us feel safer for a short time but it only breeds more hostility and bigotry.

Rather than gorging on cookies baked in the oven of bigotry and fear by opportunistic politicians, this is a time to slip on our running shoes and exercise our social skills, our hearts, and our faith. We need to look inside ourselves for the divine love with which we have each been created and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-30).

A Prayer After Paris

For the people of Paris, we pray but we also pray for the invisible peoples whose

Image from social media. Origin unknown.
Image from social media. Origin unknown.

daily lives — in our own nation and across the globe — are enmeshed in violence.

We confess that too often we turn a blind eye to the pain that our choices cause. We confess that too often we grieve most for those involved in tragedies that remind us of our own vulnerabilities. We grieve for those who look and act like us forgetting that all peoples are your peoples.

As we focus our compassion on France remind us this day that our every action allows us the opportunity to expand love or contract love, to hear & see the divinity within another or disregard their humanity.

Remind us today that in the midst of the grieving you are present, saddened by the failure of your people — all of us — to live as we were created to live.

Move us.

Offer us the grace of one more chance to sow love and justice in a broken world of our own making. Open our hearts to changes in our own behaviors.

May our every action ripple out love, peace, and justice until all of creation is as you dream it can be. Amen.

Seeking Certainty

Seeking Certainty

I wish I knew.  I want certainty.
I need to know. Yes, I need to know.
How can I prepare if I don’t know?

“Show me the way!”
I shout at God.
“Tell me now! I must know. Now!”

If I just listen more closely.
Maybe, if I quiet myself.
This path? That path? Certainly, not the other path?

Certainly not.

Today, I know where my foot should fall.
Here. Yes, here. I’m sure it’s here. Positively.
Yes. Yes. Yes. This is it.

Or is it?

Doubt. Fear.
I don’t want to be hurt.
I don’t want to make a mistake.
I really do want to do what God wants.


But what if this path is too rocky?
What if that one disappears among the muck?
What if I’ve got it wrong. It’s not like the signs are in neon.

Why turn either way? Why not stay right here?
I love it here.
Really, mother. I love it here.

I wish I knew.
Is there a path for me at all? Do I matter?
What if this path –the one I already know — is ordained for me?


Is the sandy path down near the beach my path?
Maybe the rocky one that leads to the clouds is mine?
Perhaps this linoleum trail I’ve been on is mine?


Mine. Mine. Mine.

I need to know my path.
How can I prepare if I don’t know?
I have to pack after all.
Do I fill the Samsonite with shorts & tanks or jeans & hoods?

I mentally torture myself trying to determine the path.
This one? That one? Another one?

“Show me the way!”
I shout at God.
“Tell me now! I must know. Now!”

But what if the divine doesn’t work that way?
What if I have choices?
What if I can  feel the calf-burn of moving up sandy dunes if I want?
What if  the pinch of tiny rocks in my mountain hikers is my choice?
What if the drizzly fog freezing on the smooth rocks is my preference?

What if?

What if any one of these paths is mine?
What if any combination of many paths are mine?

Perhaps, just perhaps the spirit is revealed upon any trail,
any trail upon which I come alive!

Maybe any one of these paths and more are ordained for me if I choose.

I think maybe, just maybe.

Maybe that is what it means to be created in the image of God: to have choices before me and to make whatever path I traverse a place where I bring myself, wholeheartedly, and brimming with love to share.

White Edges

LInes. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
White Edges. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

White edges,
keeping us on the straight & narrow,
showing us the proper way.

Navigating the painted lines,
we puff up in pride & righteousness
when we stay within their rigidity.

“I follow the rules!

“I’m the right kind of person!”

“You gotta stay inside the lines
if you wanna avoid hell!”

White edges,
permeable in reality,
impenetrable in thinking.

White edges,
keeping us from the grassy meadow,
forested enclave, and expansive view.

White edges,
separating us from new ideas,
our creative essence, & the divinity within.

White edges,
keeping us away from fellow sojourners,
from warm hearts & cozy hearths.

Navigating the painted lines,
staying within their safety,
we lose our way.

“I’ll be safe if I stay within the rules!”

“The right kind of person stays away from the boundaries!”

“God only loves me if I stay within, avoiding mistakes!”

White edges,
impenetrable only in our minds,
only in our hearts.

Focused on rigidly staying within,
we lose sight of what matters:
the expansive divinity of love.

My Daughter-in-Law

My daughter-in-law and daughter exchange vows. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
My daughter-in-law and daughter exchange vows. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

She married my daughter on Saturday. Though we have long considered her part of the family, I’ve struggled to tell others how important she is to me. I’ve been without a simple label that communicates who she is to me.

Calling her “my daughter’s partner” or “my daughter’s girlfriend” only explained who she was to my daughter.  The awkwardness of “my daughter’s significant other” did little to uncloak my love for her.

Add my fear of the bigotry of anti-LGBT sentiments to the failure of our language too often caused me to stutter. I’m ashamed to admit I sometimes avoided expressing my love for her because of fear of bigoted Christians.

I love that young woman. During a short period of time years ago when she and my daughter were apart, I went into a mild depression. Yes, she’s that wonderful! She’s also that perfect for my baby girl!

For twelve years, I’ve been marginally successful at expressing my love for her to others. And then this year, the law finally caught up with love, allowing two soulmates who met in college to marry.

I am thrilled to call her my daughter-in-law!

Now when I tell someone about my daughter-in-law, they immediately know that the relationship is deeper and more important to me than a random friend of my daughter. Not only did the Supreme Court finally validate the legitimacy of love between my daughter and her beloved, they validated my love for her. My daughter-in-law is connected not just to my baby girl, but to me.

I love my daughter-in-law!

No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation

No, Virginia, God Doesn’t Condemn Anyone to Eternal Damnation
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Fire Line. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

I struggled to keep my eyes on the freeway as I drove westbound. Across the Columbia River on the Washington side, I could see flames rapidly advance across the drought-parched grasses. That was a mere ten-days ago.

Because of diligent firefighters, the fast moving fire was fully contained within a week but not before over 4000 acres burned including a large portion of the familiar trails of Columbia Hills State Park.

Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Lush No More. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 This photo was taken in September of 2015 in the same valley as Lush Days (below).

As I traveled those trails yesterday, the smell of burn filled my nostrils. The monochromatic ground contrasted with singed trees. Familiar locations looked alien to my eyes. Were it not for the memories of the shape of the earth, of the scalded yet surviving trees, I would not have known this place.

Is it any wonder that dualistic thinking imagines a Hell filled with fire and its destruction? The wrath appears final. The color removed, life can seem hopeless after a fire.

Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 This photo was taken during July of 2014.
Lush Days. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
This photo was taken during July of 2014 in the same valley as Lush No More (above).

But hopelessness and permanence are not the nature of the earth.

The Heaven versus Hell crowd fail to observe the world as it is. Creation reflects the energy, the creator, the divine spirit I call God. Creation and Creator are not binary or unchanging.

Quite the contrary, the burnt landscape I traversed yesterday will undergo a resurrection in the spring. If the Rowena Fire from last year is any indication, the resurrection will begin before the end of the year. (See The Lichen and Leaves of Hope.)

Survivor. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Survivor. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

The nature of the One who connects all that is with all that is, the nature of the divinity within and between us all is not binary or dualistic at all. The nature of God is not about harsh judgement, angry retribution, Heaven and Hell, and certainly not about eternal damnation.

The nature of God and creation is about a path that begins at birth and continues through death to resurrection. This is the lesson of the Christian narrative of the life and teachings of Jesus — the biblical witness.  Love overcomes even death. Love does not condemn creation or humanity to fiery Hell. It can’t; if it did it wouldn’t be love but hate.

Nature's Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.
Nature’s Monochrome. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
A burnt area is devoid of all color in Columbia Hills State Park following the Horsethief Butte Fire in September 2015.

Between Here & There

Between Here & There

Photo by Neil Moralee. Creative Commons License, Some Rights Reserved.
Photo by Neil Moralee. Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Between here and there, I chewed gum and sipped my iced tea. Between there and here, I listened to an audiobook before streaming music on my smartphone.

Nearly here, I exited the freeway.

The hybrid engine shifted to electric as I slowed. Adjusting the volume of my music, I read the cardboard sign as I came to a stop. I looked at the man holding the sign. His beard was more brown and black than my red but it featured the same expanding grey.

I reached over to the passenger seat for my wallet. Having broken my twenty as I came across the toll bridge, a ten, four singles, and a five occupied my wallet. I clasped the five and handed it to the man saying, “Bless you.”

That was when I saw a human being.

“Thank you, God bless you,” he responded with appropriate courtesy. Then he looked at the bill and exclaimed with excitement, “Wow! Thank you! God bless you!”

Given the joy in his voice, I wondered for a moment if I’d handed him a fifty but I never carry that much cash.

Between here and there, I was reminded of the sin of economic injustice wrought by the myths of rugged individualism and making capitalism an idol. On the corner of there and here, Jesus sported a scruffy beard and held up a cardboard sign.