Saturday, May 16, 2009

Evangelism Through Storytelling

Since our ancestors could first communicate, we have gathered together to share our stories.

We have passed along wondrous tales of creation and tragic stories of love lost. We have repeated impressive accounts of heroism, and simple legends of family history.

When our ancestors lived closer to the land and to each other, such storytelling was imbued with ritual and occasion. Members of the tribe would gather around the fire to hear their genealogy recited aloud by an elder or by a master storyteller.

Listeners would track how their own lives, or the lives of their ancestors, interwove with the lives of other tribe members, as everyone's ancient relatives had once played out similar life dramas together.

As a custom, some cultures' storytellers repeat the same tales over and over because each time we hear it, we return to the story as a different person, viewing the plot and characters in a new light.

Hearing these stories repeated is a way to gauge where we have been and where we now are on our path of personal and spiritual evolution. It also helps our younger generation to learn these stories in order to pass them on to forthcoming generations.

When we hear others tell their stories, we can laugh at their humorous adventures, feel the thrill of exciting encounters, see parts of ourselves in one another, and learn from each other.

Though many of these formal traditions are lost, we do not have to be without. We can begin new practices within our own extended families of listening to one another's hearts with family and friends, as well as strangers, sharing our stories.

A dear friend one mine did this recently, sharing some storytelling with a woman he met at a pizza cafe. He opened the door to conversation and listened to her own story, moving him to tend to her as he was able to. Her story led him to plant the seeds of compassion within a community as he begins to share her story with hope and faith that others will listen, in order to create change and growth in that same community.

By building these practices of storytelling and sharing, we give ourselves and others the opportunity to draw ever closer in our shared human experience and spiritual journey, pleasing God in His desire to share His own story of unconditional love, and prompting us to share our own gift of truly unconditional love.

With love & light --- and a story to share,


The Evangelism of Storytelling

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forgiving Ourselves

Sometimes we make mistakes and do or say something that hurts those we love. This often happens because we are relaxed and comfortable with these people and we are not as cautious as we are in the presence of our employers, teachers, or strangers. We can let our guard down and respond in a way that is hurtful. This pains us because we are doing this to someone who we care very much about.

Learning to accept the things that we perceive as wrong can be a difficult task. Often we have been brought up to accept that it is normal to feel guilty about our actions and that by doing so we will make everything seem alright within ourselves. Even though we might feel that we have a reason to make up for the choices we have made, it is much more important for us to learn how to deal with them in a healthy and positive way, such as through forgiveness and understanding.

When we can look back at things that we have done and really assess what has happened, we begin to realize that there are many dimensions to our actions. While feeling guilty might help us to feel better at first, it is really only a short-term solution. It is all too ironic that being hard on ourselves is the easy way out.

If we truly are able to gaze upon our lives through the lens of compassion, however, we will be able to see that there is much more to what we do and have done than we realize. Perhaps we were simply trying to protect ourselves or others and did the best we could at the time, or maybe we thought we had no other recourse and chose a solution in the heat of the moment. Or, perhaps we were just wrong and harsh in our reaction. Once we can understand that dwelling in our negative feelings will only make us feel worse, we will come to recognize that it is really only through forgiving ourselves that we can transform our feelings and truly heal any resentment we have about our actions.

Giving ourselves permission to feel at peace with our past actions is one of the most positive steps we can take toward living a life free from regrets, disappointments, and guilt. It is then that we can focus on finding the inner balance that will prevent us from repeating our mistakes. The more we are able to remind ourselves that the true path to a peaceful mind and heart is through acceptance of every part of our lives and actions, the more harmony and inner joy we will experience in all aspects of our lives.

With love & light,


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Share God's Unconditional Love With Everyone

Late one night last September, I walked through the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, tired and eager to be on my last bus home. A young man approached me with a worried look upon his face, a bus ticket in his hand, and a challenge – he and I understood different languages.

I was able to discern that he was lost and needed to find his way to the bus that would carry him home to the comfort and security of loved ones. His ticket was stamped to Paramus New Jersey, so I motioned for him to walk with me and we set off to find his departure gate. A request for assistance from an officer yielded little more than being sent off in the direction of a pointed finger, so I asked a gentleman who was waiting on line for his own last bus home where to find this particular gate. He explained in detail where it was and off we went, but only to encounter locked doors as the building was slowly closing down. We backtracked and paused for a moment to try to find our way. I’m not familiar with the caverns of this structure, and that was apparent to my new friend. Also apparent was his increasing worry as tears seemed to well in his eyes. The young man who gave us such specific directions noticed us, left his place in line and offered to walk with us to show the way. We each had just a few minutes before our buses rumbled off and the building closed.

We found the gate, confirmed the destination, and asked the driver to be certain that his passenger leaves the bus in the correct town. I gave him a calling card of mine, which has my name, cellular number, and email address, alongside a design of a Celtic cross. On the flip side of the card is a phrase that will be familiar to you;

“Share God’s Unconditional Love with Everyone”.

Our navigator, Charlie, noticed the design of my card and asked about it. I explained that I had these cards printed so that I could offer myself as available to people who I meet along my way. He asked for a card also and we rushed off in hopes of making our buses in time.

The next morning, I received the following email:


It was good to see a man of the church live his faith. I gave up religion a long time ago, but I just might step inside a church today.

All the best,


That note placed a smile deep inside me that will last forever.

We often feel that we don't have the time or energy to extend ourselves to others with the small gestures that compose what we call common courtesy. It sometimes seems that this kind of social awareness belongs to the past, to smaller towns and slower times.

Someone who lends a helping hand when we are in need makes an impression because many people just walk right by. Even someone who simply makes the effort to look us in the eye, smile, and greet us properly when entering a room stands out of the crowd. Common courtesy is a small gesture that makes a big difference.

An essential component of common courtesy is awareness and common sense-looking outside ourselves to see when someone needs help or acknowledgment. As a courteous person, you are aware that you are walking into a room full of people or that your waiter has arrived to take your order. Then, awareness leads to action. It is usually quite clear what needs to be done - open the door for someone struggling with packages, move your car up two feet so another person can park behind you, acknowledge your sister's shy boyfriend with a smile and some conversation, apologize if you bump into someone. A third component is to give courtesy freely, without expecting anything in return. People may not even take notice, much less return the kindness, but you can take heart in the fact that you are creating the kind of world you want to live in with your actions.

I'm deeply moved that Charlie might just have stepped inside a church that day. However, it brings me tears of joy that he understands how the Spirit of God's unconditional love lives inside us and that we have the power to share that, changing our world one person at a time.

With love & light,


In Line With The Spirit

In Line With The Spirit - Staying On Track

In a world where we have routines for nearly everything, our route to work, our physical fitness regimen, and our weekday schedule, it's amazing how often we forget to create a routine for meeting our spiritual needs. We run around in an attempt to be at our many appointments on time and meet our many obligations. In our efforts to be as productive as possible, however, our spiritual needs tend to take a backseat. After all, taking care of our spiritual needs doesn't directly pay the bills or tone our abdominal muscles. We may even wonder who has time to meditate or write in their journal when there are more pressing matters to tend to. The truth is that nurturing ourselves spiritually is what gives us the energy and grounding that we need to make sure that our lives stay on track in order for us to be productive at home, work, or the gym.

How we choose to nurture ourselves spiritually is a personal choice. For some people, meditating once a day may be what is needed to stay centered. Writing in a journal allows us to stay tuned in to our feelings. Having a routine for nurturing our spirit that we do each day feeds energy to our souls and can serve us well if our life suddenly takes an unexpected turn into a difficult period. This kind of routine grounds our spirit in our body so that we move through each day.

The Book of Common Prayer offers the Daily Office, which is a wonderful way to prayerfully meditate. This can be time consuming for some of us and become a daunting chore. However, The Book of Common Prayer also offers Daily Devotions, beginning on page 137. These are brief devotions that take only a moment. There is one for Morning, Noon, Early Evening, and Compline.

Prayer is a very special gift. It is one that can neither be lost nor taken away. I am thankful when I am asked to pray for someone, as it is an invitation for me to be intimately close with God and it connects evangelism to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Each morning, I receive a Bible Verse followed by a reflective thought and a prayer. I have a list of names to which I forward this to by email. As I do so, I pause briefly with each name and I think of that person. That is a moment when a beautiful verse from Scripture resonates from within.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
The Lord lift his countenance upon you,and give you peace
Numbers 6:24-26

I welcome you to join this list and to offer it to others who might like to benefit from such an enriching addition to their daily routine. Please email me with the name of each person and an email address. Including the name helps me to be intentional in prayer for each person.

With love & light,


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hello Peace ... "Hello Salaam, Hello Shalom"

Hello Peace ... "Hello Salaam, Hello Shalom"

Listening & Living the Life of Evangelism

Often when we have the experience of encountering someone whose life seems so completely different from ours, we can almost imagine we have nothing in common. However, if we go more deeply into listening, we might see that we all have many of the same things going on in our lives. It is as though our different lives are in essence the same gift, wrapped in an infinite variety of containers, wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. We experience some level of loss, grief, happiness, excitement, anger, and fear. Perhaps we have money issues of one kind or another, and most everyone struggles with difficult choices.

Last year, the Evangelism Leadership Team that I chair hosted a luncheon during which Ryan Connell, a recent High School graduate, visited us to share his stories of the time he spent in the West Bank of Israel. As an 18 year old High School graduate from Stroudsburg, PA, Ryan traveled to the Middle East on a peace mission. However, he also had a goal of his own; to "bring the love of Christ without using words, but by using the universal language of love."

This is right in line with sharing God's unconditional love with everyone, which combines all faith traditions.

God's Unconditional Love.

It was there that Ryan visited the tents and homes of people far away from his home in Stroudsburg and listened to their stories. There were times that the language barrier hampered his attempts to understand them, but he knew that those he heard found some sort of relief in being able to talk and to cry as he listened. Some of these stories brought me to tears as well.

This is what evangelism is about ... listening and sharing ... one beggar teaching another beggar where to find food.

That is what we are called to do.

Ryan and his colleugues encountered many angry people and much danger. They encountered aggressive checkpoint soldiers and abgry citizens.

A colleague of his showed a group of angry young boys that their aggressions toward soldiers could be worked out through physical exercise rather than violence. Ryan noted that this was done without his friend being able to communicate in a spoken language that the boys understood.

Ryan's colleauge approached the angry boys with the typical urban American approach of walking toward one briskly with hands held up and palms forward while shouting "What's Up?!", grinning and walking in a side to side step by step.
We've seen that approach in popular comedies and in Budweisser Superbowl commercials ... "WASSUP?!?!"

The end result was that these boys went from hurling rocks and shouting curses at soldiers to running relays and shouting “What’s up?!” at them.

Imagine the perplex confusion as the soldiers attempted to process this new behavior.

It is this sort of "lifestyle evangelism" that St. Francis of Assisi speaks of when he suggests that we "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."

The idea here is to live the Christian lifestyle with the hope that people will see Christ and God's unconditional love through our actions.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to shine the light for other people to see. He never asked us to be salespeople for lights and bulbs.

If we show our love of God through our lives, people will notice that and follow. People will see God through our actions.

At Morning Prayer, we offer the General Thanksgiving, beseeching the Lord to "give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days."

This lifestyle lives on in another piece which Ryan shared. He also spoke of a single telephone line connecting one side of the wall which separates the Israelis from the Palestinians to the other. It all started with a wrong number. An Israeli woman named Natalia Wieseltier misdialed a telephone number one day and accidentally telephoned a Palestinian living in the territories.

One day in November 2000, Natalia Wieseltier tried to telephone a friend from her home in Tel Aviv. She dialled the wrong number - but it was the best mistake she has ever made. The call went through to a Palestinian man living in Gaza. The intifada had just started and relations between Israelis and Palestinians were at their lowest point in years. But the man spoke some Hebrew, and instead of hanging up he and Wieseltier started to talk.

"I asked him how he was and he said, 'We're afraid - there's a curfew and there's no one on the streets; my wife is having a baby and we can't get to the hospital.' Then he said he was surprised a Jew talked like this. I was saying nothing special, I was just talking. I left him my number, and the next day he left a message on my answer machine."

She called him back, and he passed the phone to his brother and his uncle and Wieseltier spoke to them, too. They handed on her number to friends in Ramallah and Jenin. "I realised it was something magic, just talking to these people like this. It was so direct. Then I realised that they all probably thought there was only one freak in Tel Aviv who would speak to them." So she gave their phone numbers to her friends.

The result is one of the most remarkable stories of hope and reconciliation to emerge from the Middle East conflict.

Wieseltier and a friend, Shmulik Cohen, met with Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Orthodox Jew whose son was killed by Hamas in 1994 and who has become a leading peace campaigner. Frankenthal heads the Families Forum, which promotes dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost a relative in the fighting. Together, he, Wieseltier and Cohen set up something even more ambitious: a telephone hotline that Palestinians and Israelis can use to speak with someone on the other side.

Billed as "Hello, Salaam! Hello, Shalom!", which in English is "Hello, Peace!" the hotline was launched that October with two weeks of radio, billboard and newspaper advertising. So far, hundreds of thousands of people have called the line from across Israel and the Palestinian territories, people living everywhere from refugee camps to affluent suburbs. In total, they have talked for more than 1,000,000 minutes.

To use the system, you call *6364 from either side and you are put through to an automated answer system: "Press 1 if you wish to talk to an Israeli, 2 if you want to talk to a Palestinian." You are asked if you would like to speak to someone on the other side and if you want to open your own box so that others can speak to you, and then if you would rather speak to a man or a woman, or to someone of a particular age group. A computer searches the database and patches you through. After that it's up to you - you can talk, end the call and leave it at that, or you can exchange numbers and carry on a relationship beyond the Hello, Shalom! system. Thousands of people have done so.

One of them is Nadim Asmar, a Palestinian student from outside Bethany who heard about Hello, Shalom! on the radio. He has telephoned seven Israelis, four of whom he has exchanged numbers with. "I had been wanting to talk with Israelis but I didn't know how," he says. "Israelis and Palestinians have become increasingly separated over the past few months. We've become very far away from each other."

Making the first call can take considerable courage. "I tell you, my hand was shaking," says Asmar. "I was thinking, what will they say to me? Will they call me a terrorist? But they didn't. In fact they were very nice." It has, he says, transformed his views of Israeli people. "I thought they were selfish, that they didn't understand what was going on here or didn't want to know. But I was wrong. Like us, they want to live, they want to travel without fear of being blown up . . . First of all, they're human beings."

Our lives show up differently for each one of us because we each learn in different ways. We each learn about work and love, with experiences that are tailored to our particular perspective. Even as it appears that some people have it easy while others are in a continual state of struggle, the truth is that we are all learning, and it is very difficult to tell, when looking only at the exterior of a person, what’s going on inside. This is one of the many things that can be so valuable about cultivating relationships with people from all walks of life. As we get to know those who seem so different from us, we get to really see how much of life’s challenges and joys are universal. We begin to look beyond the packaging of skin color, clothing preferences, and socioeconomic differences, hairstyles, and the cars we drive to the heart of the human experience. It is important to honor and value the differences in our packaging, but it is just as important to honor the gift of life inside each one of us, and the fact that, no matter how different the packaging, the gift inside is the same.

Live the life which is evangelism.

With love & light,


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Gardens of Our Lives

I went out with a dear friend last night with the specific intention of just having some "fun time" and not getting into any deep conversation about my life. That idea didn't last long and I soon found myself sharing some very hefty weights that I've shelved for some time. I often store things away in my mind and my heart, opting to focus on other people's concerns. I find much comfort in that. Some things are just too much to bear alone and when we pray about them, God often chooses to tell us to work with one another in applying salve to our wounds.

We know that He wants us to tend to one another.

So, I shared my burdens and life felt all the much better after the tears. I woke in the morning and nature was at its kindest. The temperature was cool, but comfortable, and the birds were all about their business offering soothing melodies. My Japanese Maple seems to have bloomed overnight and apples are forming on the Apple Tree which will soon provide tasty little treats for the deer who visit it once the apples fall.

All of this made me think of how we plant seeds, the seeds of our life's concerns and needs, into the hearts of those who tend to us and cultivate us in order for us to grow the gardens of our lives in order to share our fruits with others.

So, I decided that this would be a fine day to get to work on my tomato gardens. I find no greater pleasure than getting my hands into the earth and working with delicate seedlings that need care in order to grow and produce their gift of food to share. This is one of the many gifts that my Mother has given to me and shared with me.

Growing a garden of food at home is an experience anyone can enjoy. The most modest apartment offers a window to hang a basket of rosemary or host a cherry tomato plant in a pot on the windowsill. They enhance our connection with the cycle of life. The green and blooming colors and the scent of the edible delights we grow decorate our view while tempting us to enjoy the outdoors. As we tend to these plants and nurture them to become a strong, healthy garden, they reward us by literally being able to taste the fruits, or vegetables or herbs, of our labor while helping us to more consciously participate in the circulating energy of nature.

As we slowly and simply begin with these delicate seedlings, we learn to dance with nature's intricate orchestrations of growth and life. We learn to heed the seasons, soil, sun, frost, and shade. We become more than a mere spectator of the cycle of life. Instead, we step into the role of co-creator with God and we enhance what we nurture. No matter how large or small the size of the garden, we benefit from growing our own organic, fresh, and nutritious food while also reveling in the depth of flavor and texture that comes from plants that have been well tended, nurtured, and loved. In the way of my tomato gardens, God rewards me with an abundance of tomatos that I can share with others, which is the greatest joy for a gardener.

One of my fond memories of my childhood is of a gentleman, Roy, who worked at a Funeral Home near our house. He would walk past and pull green beans off the fence of my mother's garden. Clearly, these creations of nature provided a healthy and tasty gift from God for all who walked past the garden ... and continue to do so.

There is a great pleasure in sharing what we cultivate. As we appreciate the food we've grown, we recognize the care that farmers put into the produce most of us buy at the supermarket. With this new understanding, we can acknowledge the roles that other living creatures fill as participants in cultivating the cycle of life. This also helps us when we offer a prayer of thanksgiving at the start of each meal, offering a blessing to every hand which served us, from the field to the kitchen, to the chef, to our server. In doing so, we give thanks and praise for all, and life becomes the banquet that is is.

We also learn to peacefully coexist with the animals and insects that share (perhaps too great) an interest in our gardens.

Even at that, we look at these creatures with a smile and accept that we also provide for each of them .... all God's creatures, great and small.

One must certainly marvel at the fact that the vegetables grow over the fence and reach out beyond our borders. Isn't that what God asks of us also?

As we grow our own food, we participate in nature's cycle of life and form a bond with Mother Earth, allowing for a sense of freedom and pride as provide for ourselves and share with others. Gratitude fills us as we marvel at the beauty of nature and the majesty of God's universe that orchestrates such wonders.

When we allow our appreciation of life to expand, we harvest so much more than just tomamtos. We harvest a love of nature, community, and our ability to share, provide, and appreciate.

We unearth the opportunity to share our harvest with friends.

This is what makes the taste of our tomatos all the much sweeter, and so we we share that sweet, savory goodness with all.

With love & light,


Progressing With Patience

Doing The Best We Can In These Difficult Times

It is not always easy to meet the expectations we hold ourselves to. We may find ourselves in a situation such as just finishing a meditation, yoga session, or having listened to some calming music or read an enlightening book, and harsh realities suddenly confront us and present a challenge.

It is then that we often have difficulty retaining our sense of peace and balance. A long line at the store, slow-moving traffic, or any other stressful situation can unnerve us and leave us wondering why the tranquility and spiritual equilibrium we work so hard to cultivate is so quick to dissipate in the face of stressors.

I have recently found myself to be "short" in conversation with my mother and others, when asked how life is progressing in these difficult times. I just don't want to be confronted by those stressors.

We may feel guilty and angry at ourselves, or even feel like a hypocrite for not being able to maintain control after practicing being centered. However, being patient with ourselves during these times will help us more in our soul’s journey than frustration at our perceived lack of progress.

Doing the best we can in our quest for spiritual growth is vastly more important than striving for perfection.Just because we are devoted to following a spiritual path, attaining inner peace, or living a specific ideology, does not mean we should expect to achieve perfection. When we approach our personal evolution mindfully, we can experience intense emotions, such as anger, without feeling that we have somehow failed. By simply being aware of what we are experiencing and recognizing that our feelings are temporary, we begin taking the necessary steps to regaining our internal balance.

Accepting that difficult situations will arise from time to time and treating our reaction to them as if they are passing events rather than a part of who we are can help us move past them.

"This too shall pass" is a favorite mantra of mine. I can recall waiting for a bus, exhausted and eager to sit, or enduring a hardship and wishing that it would just be over with already. In the same manner, I've often looked forward to a happy event, only to have it end too soon These things do pass in time, and we need to be aware of their existence - lest time itself pass us by in a wave of emotion and reaction.

Practicing this form of acceptance and paying attention to our reactions in order to learn from them makes it easier for us to return to our center more easily in the future. Since our experiences won’t be similar to others’ and our behavior will be shaped by those all those experiences, we may never stop reacting strongly to the challenging situations we encounter, and that is okay.

Even if we are able to do nothing more than acknowledge what we are feeling and that there is little we can do to affect our current circumstances, in time we can alter our reaction to such circumstances. We can gradually learn to let negative thoughts come into our mind, recognize them, and then let them go. We may never reach a place of perfect peace, but we can find serenity in having done our best.

In these trying times, I wish you patience & quiet faith.

With love & light,


The Sun Is Always Shining

This past week was "Earth Week". I was able to break away from the day to day stress of life and spend a little time enjoying the wonders of this great world. I took some time Friday afternoon to enjoy the beautiful 85 degree weather and bask in the sun on the pier in midtown Manhattan, taking the time to reflect a bit.

These are very difficult times that we are living in. Most of us are suffering from financial hardships, which can often affect our relationships with others.

Many of us weep deeply inside as our hearts hold the hands of loved ones as they succumb to health ebbing away.

It is then that it is so easy for us to miss the beauty that surrounds us and forget to take time to give thanks to God for our life here and all that has been granted us for our pleasure.

There are times when the harshness of life's realities causes us to lose sight of the light.

It is at these times when just the thought of the sun can help us. Its warm, glowing rays brighten our thoughts and it is good to remember that - despite appearances - the sun is shining right now, even though we may not be able to see it at this very moment.

If clouds block our view, they are only filtering the suns light temporarily.

If darkness has fallen, we know that the sun is still shining at that very moment somewhere not too far away, and it's only a matter of time before it will shine on us again.

When we remember that the sun is shining, we know that things are still in motion in God's great universe.

Even when life feels like it is at a standstill, if not a free fall, all we need to do is have faith and wait for the time when everything is in its perfect place. Or we can choose to follow the sun and continue doing our work and shining our own light, even when we can't see results.

Remember that Beatles song?

"Tomorrow may rain so, I'll follow the sun"

By "following the sun", we exercise our patience in faith, making sure we are prepared for when opportunity knocks and all other elements are in their right and perfect places..

The sun also reminds us that our own shining truth is never extinguished. The Light of God, our light, shines within us at all times, no matter what else occurs around us. Although we have have our own clouds that temporarily filter our light from within, we know that our light is shining somewhere, not too far away.

Though the sun gives us daily proof of its existence, sometimes our belief in our own light requires more time. If we think back, however, we can find moments when it showed itself and trust that we will see it again.

Like the sun, our light - the Light of God - is the energy that connects us to the movements of the universe and the cycles of life and it is present at all times, whether we feel its glow or not.

So, once again, I wish you love & light,


Let The Sun Shine In !