Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 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.


The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Anne FrankFor those of us who are not on the front lines, not required to provide health care service during the pandemic, not work in jobs that are risky, our time of sheltering at home presents a different kind of challenge. We may have to contend with our own boredom, the loss of social interaction, or the interruption of life patterns. We may not like the ways our ordinary freedoms have been curtailed. Masks may be irritating. And the longer it goes the more certain psychological effects are felt: isolation, lack of direction, uncertainty about the future. Wondering about school.

However real this is – and it is real – it pales in comparison to other kinds of sheltering at home which are more urgent, the kind of necessary sheltering in which life is up for grabs: War that brings hiding from combatants. Blackouts to avoid the bombs from above. The power grid going dark in the middle of winter. Slow starvation. The Vietnamese living in tunnels as B52s dropped their payload on them.

In the midst of the rising genocide of the 2nd World War, Jews hid from Nazis who did everything in their power to exterminate them. In large part they were very successful in implementing their project, the “final solution.” If families were not able to flee to other countries before the borders were locked down, if they were not able to hide and remain undetected, they were captured, summarily executed, or sent to concentration camps. Such was the story of the Frank family and those who hid in Amsterdam with them.

Anne’s journal – and the later edits of it when she imagined a future book telling the story – reveals a world of horror told through the mind of a girl who went into hiding when she was thirteen and stayed until she was fifteen. It includes many of the preoccupations of any adolescent. But it also itemized the deprivations, military actions, racial profiling and death that stalked the Jewish community. We read the lists of Jewish laws that curtailed all freedoms and segregated Jews in every aspect. There are the tensions experienced among people living in close quarters for long periods of time. We are filled with fleeting hope as we hear the good news of the Allies advancing.

Anne and her family did not make it; they were betrayed, apprehended and sent to the camps. Her journals – left behind – were saved and later carefully published for the world to experience her story from the inside.

As I read Anne’s Journal, I realize how very shallow are my concerns about sheltering in place. I am not hiding. There is no imminent threat outside the door. What I experience is at most a psychological or spiritual challenge, some uncertainty about the unknown future. But I am not wondering if the Gestapo will find me or if some collaborator has informed on me.

Everything is relative. Just reading about the kind of sheltering required of the Frank family provides real perspective. My little concerns are just that, little. That realization provides room for compassion toward those who truly suffer in so many ways, and at the same time provides a merciful deliverance from self-preoccupation and the downward spiral into self-pity, a descent that can destroy us as surely as a virus can.


If there is anyone who models the evolution of the spirit, allows for old worlds to fall away in order that new ones take their place, it is Barbara Brown Taylor.

In the latest Christian Century series on “How my mind has changed” she did it again. You can read it for yourself;


Solitude as Art

Posted: June 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

“Solitude as Art” is the title of James A. Smith’s editorial in the latest issue of Image Magazine (105). It is an outstanding piece.

He states at the beginning, “We have lost loved ones; lost confidence in our institutions; lost both community and privacy; lost sanity and the simple things that give joy. Many of us have lost the mental bandwidth to dream and make. Can we find something in all this loss?”

And then he pivots. He turns to Stephen Batchelor and his book The Art of Solitude. The premise is stunning and timely: Just because you’ve been forced into solitude, even with those you love, that does not mean you know what to do with it. In fact, Improperly armed, it can work against you, undermine you, shred you. More demons of the restless soul may appear than angels. Solitude can be a graveyard.

“There is more to solitude than being alone,” Batchelor writes. “Solitude is an art.”

Which means that unless a cultivated inner life is not already developed before the pandemic strikes, that forced isolation can be more curse than blessing. But if one already works with the quiet spaces of the spirit those same spaces might represent an interior castle, to borrow imagery from Teresa of Avila.

The best outcome of the art of solitude might be a paradox. Again, quoting Batchelor:

“Here lies the paradox of solitude. Look long and hard enough at yourself in isolation and suddenly you will see the rest of humanity staring back. Sustained aloneness brings you to a tipping point where the pendulum of life returns you to others.”






picklesIt’s the first of the most elementary questions considered by any freshman philosophy major: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Why indeed? I asked the same thing of pickles.

Why is there a pickle rather than not a pickle?

First of all, we have to backtrack to the source. Why is there a cucumber rather than not? And why vegetables rather than none? And why plants rather than none?

So many pickles start their lives as cucumbers (but not all because you can pickle anything). You might wonder about the intervening steps that moved identity from one to the other. Of course, many cucumbers remain as they are, unaltered. I ate one just yesterday in my salad.

But neither cucumbers nor pickles voluntarily give themselves to my cause. We have not asked for their permission or consent. The cucumber was grown to eat and was eaten. If the meaning of its existence exceeds more than my need for eating it, I cannot say a word about what that might be.  We now see through a darkened glass.

The pickle, whether dill or sweet, is another matter. It comes as the direct result of the natural order of things being altered by human freedom and creativity. The cucumber is changed by adding other natural substances – dill seeds, cloves, garlic, mustard seed, celery seed, black peppercorn, and other spices of one’s choice to a vinegar and water brine. Over time it transforms a cucumber into the lovely pickle on your hamburger. Human creativity combines a variety of natural elements to make something novel – a pickle.

I had one for lunch just today.

Was my delicious, sour, crunchy pickle from God? Well, yes, by every element that came together in its creation.

But how do you explain the role of the humans who did the mixing – mortal or divine? Yes. Both. The pickle is a co-creation of God and humanity. And since human consciousness, especially the capacity of creation, exists as a part of the collective, universal consciousness, that’s divine, too.

So God made pickles. And we steward them.

And why is there a pickle rather than not a pickle?

When you tell me why there is something rather than nothing, then I’ll fess up.

My Fellow Americans:

It would trivialize our present course of events to say that America is passing through difficult times. Of course, we are. But difficult times are not the same for everyone. For many Americans these difficult times are not new; they have repeated over and over again throughout time. The death of this one black man beneath the knee of white authority in Minneapolis is, however terrible, not unique. His death is part of a repeating story, a moral abomination that began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow and segregation, and has been enforced by unequal laws and regular vigilante violence through our history. Sadly, the hard won successes of the Civil Rights movement have only been partially achieved. Our work is not over and we are compelled to move toward a more perfect union.

America is indeed passing through difficult times, more difficult for some than others. Together, the pandemic with its death, grief and loss of employment, and the suffering and death of George Floyd and others before him have left us shaken and sad. We so feel the depth of this injustice and loss. And most importantly, people of good will everywhere want to remedy it.

There will be no peace without justice, and we know that. People should be expressing their outrage and grief and many have taken to the streets to demonstrate the seriousness of this cause all across our nation. This right to free expression is safe guarded under our Constitution. But more than that, we know that this is a moral issue. The ones who have transgressed will be held accountable. Every police department everywhere will need to reexamine its own culture in relationship to the community, especially communities of color. We also know that the destructive actions of some in law enforcement in no way represents the majority of these public servants.

We thank all leaders who are counseling safe, orderly and peaceful marches. We also know that the extremist groups that want to tear us apart with their hateful rhetoric and destructive actions do not represent the majority of our citizens. Violence undermines the strong message of justice that needs to be heard and acted upon.

As we go about the hard work of healing the painful wounds of our people in their many dimensions, I call upon all Americans to join together as we move together:

Join together to honestly address the most difficult aspects of our common life.

Join together to find a better way forward.

Join together to support all those who feel the weight of loss.

Join together to overcome any of the remnants of hate and discrimination.

This is not the American way and we will overcome it.

Though simple words can neither correct all error nor make the way forward clear, I trust that we will make it through as we encourage one another to call upon our higher angels, to draw upon our best inclinations and not the worst, to reach toward the original and never-fulfilled vision that our land will be one of justice and liberty for all.

This is our solemn hope and fervent prayer.

God bless us all as we strive for exactly that.

When we chose our daughter’s name, Savannah, I was just slightly aware of its biological overtones; it was a place where the forest met the plains. In later years I discovered another term that was more specific – the ecotone.

An ecotone is a region of transition between two distinct biological communities. The interesting thing about an ecotone is that it is defined by its overlaps, much like some of the crossover spaces in a Venn diagram. The space where they overlap is qualitatively different because it includes divergent elements simultaneously. So does an ecotone.

As a space at the margins, an ecotone contains elements of all the biological communities that overlap. As such, it often hosts unique interconnecting species and multiple varieties of plant life. It is rich with possibility.

The same kind of space may be created at the borders, margins and edges of human communities, especially when those communities are in constant or critical conflict. We call it a third space, a designated space where two may come together under new meditated terms. And as a result the two communities are able to create something new.

In the recent social unrest, the result of repeating and long-term violence on the part of white people in roles of authority killing or oppressing people of color, immediate polarization formed. Though the thing opposed was oppression, battle lines were formed. This often include actual and metaphorical lines between police and protesters.

Extremist groups always exploit social unrest by throwing gasoline on the fire; they want to ratchet up conflict for their own purposes. So, outside elements agitated and set actual and emotional fires to make it more than peaceful protest.

When extreme polarization takes place between social groups and competing narratives, what is often most needed is an ecotone, a third space where, as Rumi has said, “When your notions of wrongdoing and rightdoing are over, go to a field and I will meet you there.” In other words, I’ll meet you in the Savannah.

We saw evidence of this on the part of many people in the protests throughout the country. Most conspicuous where police who created an ecotone through their own behavior – walking with protesters, taking a knee with protesters, having a meal and conversation with protesters. They created a third space and said, directly or indirectly, “We are with you in your grief and concerns; we think it’s wrong and want it changed, too.”

Other people created third spaces of social conversation where the many voices could be heard and hearts healed. Courageous mayors stood before their people, named the unmistakable evil, and pledged to change. That changed the landscape.

When ecotones are fostered new life may grow in unexpected ways. Most of our great transformations are created at the edges, in the margins and in the places where forest meets the plains.

May we find them. May we search them out. May we create them. May we invite others to join us in that field.

In the year 1968 I was in High school in Wichita, Kansas. In addition to everything else that preoccupied a young adolescent male, the world as we knew it was exploding around us. Vietnam. Civil Rights movement. Kent State. The murders of MLK and Bobby Kennedy. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The old world was breaking down. The new, unknown one was being born amidst violent labor pains.

At school we had race riots. The place exploded. Lock downs. Fights in the hallways and cafeteria. The National Guard was called in. They had to bus us home mid-day, twice. Anarchy reigned.

It so happened that in the midst of those race riots I had a trumpet lesson at Wichita State University with Walter Myers, the principle trumpet player for the Wichita symphony. I was way out of my league and must have known somebody to get me into his studio.

Imagine a young highschooler trying to process race riots with his trumpet teacher. When he asked how I was doing I ranted on about what was happening, the ravings of one who hadn’t much thought things through. I remember during my rant watching Mr. Myers walk over to his window, turn his back to me, and look out toward the commons. And once I was done, he quietly said, “All this is the result of generations of racism and discrimination. What we see now is the culmination of generations of hatred.”

So ends the lesson. The moral lesson, that is. And then the trumpet lesson began.

It stopped me in my tracks, his simple statement. And they rumbled around in my young head, these words of a wise mentor. It was indeed the culmination of a long, painful and continuing story. It never took much to light that fuse.

Only later did I put together our legacy of slavery, the KKK, Jim Crow, segregation and ongoing discrimination. Only later did it occur to me how much blood was spilled to right those wrongs. And yet, the wrongs continued. They do today.

The riots we now see in Minneapolis are not about nothing; they are about the public lynching of a black man by white men in power. It is a repeating story. It happens over and over and over again in a multiplicity of forms. So when the cafeteria in my high school, or the streets of Ferguson or the fires of Minneapolis ignite, we shouldn’t be surprised. As Mr. Myers said, “All this is the result of generations of racism.”

As bad as riots and looting are, we have to ask ourselves over and over: Why is this happening?

And then we have to stop making excuses. White people started and have continued this American plague. We are the ones who must stop it.

When you watch the murder of a black man on the pavement, the knee of a white officer on his neck until he dies, you are witnessing a modern day lynching. Not everyone does this, of course, including policemen. But white culture excuses, allows and enables it to continue. Justice is not equal. And we know it.

Compare, two things, if you will: the execution of a black man under the knee of a white man with a black man taking a knee in a football game to protest the ongoing genocide of black people. One is born of violent hatred. The other of indignant peaceful protest. We know which one is moral, though we often attack the protester more than we do the ones committing the violence. The Black Lives Matter movement is about this – recognizing open season on black people. Surfacing it. Not letting it go.

Call this a four-century long pandemic of racism. Every so often there is an outbreak and we have to create a social pause and administer vaccines, waiting for the next outbreak.

It doesn’t take much to ignite a fuse. And the pile of black powder is enormous. It has been growing a grain at a time.

So remember when you watch the latest footage of riots in Minneapolis that it’s not really about the riots. It’s about what causes the riots. People fighting for their lives.

Imagine what it would be like if, like Mr. Myers, we took a moment to gaze out the window. There is more out there in the void than we want to admit, so much that is oh so uncomfortable. But if we dare face it, the work can begin, including urgent work on our collective tarnished souls.