The Sun Stands Still


I missed the eclipse this year. I didn’t travel to the  “belt”, I didn’t get the sunglasses, I didn’t do anything but notice an odder shade of shadow accompanying the day-time clouds as I walked from my physical therapy appointment to home.

But now the winter solstice is here. And it reminds me of “standing still”, or more appropriately, of “holding.” I think this year I am going to dispense with emphasizing the candles and the holly and the light and the darkness.

Stuff takes time. Life takes time; life rolls on.  Too often my sense of time is framed by  a series of small, discreet events.  I see the world as leading up to this or that task, and when the task is happening, it is  all but over. The world “stands still” until I complete this goal, whether it be going to the grocery story or graduating from a degree program, for example.

I get a mild case of performance anxiety during moments of public speaking, for example “but it will be all over in just 45 minutes!”

Solstice, for all the emphasis that we put on darkness, light, hope, is not about these alone. After all, the folks in the southern hemisphere are experiencing summer solstice.

The very word “solstice” means the “sun stands still.” More appropriately,  It appears to pause. 

Pause, and listen to the the delicious truth that wanders into that pause.  The sun is incapable of pausing, truly.  But we have choice.

Brightest Blessings, be at peace; drink joy. Pause.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Front End Premium




It seems that for a long time now, about 80% of snail mail that arrives at my household are direct mail appeals. And the escalating war of the front-end premium has now reached epic proportions.

A front-end premium the classic and most familiar example being return address label stickers –   is anything a charity sends you as enticement to open the package or create a sense of obligation.

Dream catchers, pens, Tibetan prayer-flags, nickels, and calendars. Enough calendars to create a rip in the time-space continuum, it seems.  I like the cute animals a lot-especially baby endangered frogs. Although it seems like a waste of money at times- all this mail, really, in the aggregate, hundreds of thousands of pieces – campaigns are as much about teaching about the organization as they are about  getting donors  in the door and moving them up. Some of them can even be converted into higher levels of giving after they have given their first gift, and occasionally a person who gives a small amount each year can leave a very large bequest.

A creative, very bulky package we received came recently from an organization that supports children. The kit came with Christmas cards and matching envelopes, Christmas stickers, gift tags, and of course a letter and even some ornaments. What struck me  was that in addition to telling the story of the organization, you were encouraged to use the Christmas-y stuff inside to send small gifts to the charity alongside or in place of the gifts you would normally give to people on your holiday gift list.

But It’s been a long time since I worked with direct mail campaigns and transitioned into the life of being a professional minister. The “front-end” premiums I see now reminded me of the myriad of ways we  welcome newcomers to a faith community.

Meeting a faith community is like receiving a good “front-end premium”-  a human-powered gift basket that unfolded for you before you signed the membership book, and continued to give to you for months after.  How did what you received there in the first few weeks or months you attended compete with all the other “offers” for your time? Did you go home with a  nice solid idea of what you would encounter there? Was their follow through, perhaps a gift, perhaps a phone call,  something that reminded you tangibly of how you hoped to heal or grow in that place.

Newsletters- we may receive so much detail –  or maybe there is not enough?

If the human “front end premium”  works-  by this I mean the various ways you were engaged –  you brought your friend to the community (attached your “gift” sticker, and passed on your love and support for the organization) and then realized that your deep well was not only watered by your interactions there, but strengthened your ability to live.

In the end, careful and well-managed “front-end” introductions to the community can go a long way to introduce you.

But is the stickiness of human connection that is the cement.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Penny a Pound…

I grew up eating a lot of tomatoes, learning at one point how to can tomatoes, and appreciating the bounty and deliciousness of summer delivered to you from just a few yards away from your doorstep.

But earlier this week, I participated in a march led by the  The Coalition of Immokalee Workers  with members of my home congregation, The Fourth Universalist Society, because it’s astounding to me how long this fight is taking.


This organization of field workers from Florida, and their partner, The Alliance for Fair Food has made great strides in insuring that those people who do the back-breaking labor of getting food to the supply chain from the fields, to growers, to large corporations like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Subway or Stop & Shop are free from gross exploitation.

The Immokalee workers come from one center of the Florida growing region, known for tomatoes among other crops.

Because domestic workers and farm workers are not covered by labor laws in this country such as those that endure safety and allow for unions, they organized to bring about the “penny a pound” system.  Corporations have signed on pay a penny per pound of the produce they receive to set up a body that independently investigates complaints of abuse – particularly sexual violence against women in the fields and modern-day slavery conditions.

But there is one hold-out corporation – Wendy’s corporation. For several years, Wendy’s has refused to sign on to the Fair Food agreement.; they source their tomatoes from Mexico, and have enacted heir own “code of conduct”

The march started at a Wendy’s restaurant on 45th and Third Avenue, and went several blocks to the offices of Norman Peltz, Chairman of Wendy’s board, on Park Avenue and 49th.

28 members of the Immokalee coalition, came from Florida. including Sylvia Perez and many others, including the youth-children of the workers.

The focus of this march and rally was to highlight women. A traveling exhibit up at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and Columbia University in the previous week told their stories.

Wave after wave of allegations about sexual assault, harassment, and predation of women has been permeating the news –  largely about the celebrities and politicians.  But the food we eat is also touched by this exploitation and violence against women, who are often harassed in the fields and on the job in fast-food restaurants.

As Ruth Messenger, former New York City democratic politician and current president of the American Jewish World Service, the food of Wendy’s tastes like injustice to us.

Why put it in our bodies?


Posted in Uncategorized, Workers Rights | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ode to the Mets, losing again



When the daffodils  return to Queens

We will be back,

To listen once more for the “twack”

of home runs thrilling the night,

And our mighty heroes: Thor, and DeGrom, Cespedes and Wright

And Mr. Met will stoke the cheers as everyone buys beer

from vendors with buttons displaying calorie counts (thanks, Bloomberg)

Wait till next year,  Wait till next year- for isn’t it true,

oh Orange and Blue?

For although another loss makes us cranky,

We will never, ever,  be Yankees!



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Turning the Wheel

The Year Turns, and the night draws its cloak closer and wider around us. Harvest is still possible and it is within Life’s capacity to give us  sustenance as we honor those labor to bring from Her.  The Wheel turns, and though the dead are mourned, healing is still possible, and with it Life’s capacity to cast off, even in death, the seeds of a new beginning that will slumber until Spring. The Wheel turns, and in our souls, let us examine who we are and where we want to be, where we have missed the mark, where we have flourished. Remember that is a shared turning- not a road for us alone; our table, full or empty- we share with countless others,  living and dead, seen and unseen. The Wheel Turns- may your Winter be blessed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Ecosystem of Gun Violence

A virus attaches itself to an animal. It can replicate quickly, or it can lie dormant. It does not present as a killer until the symptoms of the illness it transmits are seen, and even then, the carrier of the virus is under no obligation to seek treatment even if the  animal has the consciousness or the means to do so. As a result, many may die from spreading infection.

Twenty inches of rain fall. A river swells and breaches its banks, drowning the surrounding houses, destroying lives.

An “act of nature.”

This is the destruction we ascribe to “natural” causes.

But what about human nature? What about human “animals”?

Of all the ways in which people die in this country, very few have become as controversial and divisive as gun violence, particularly gun violence by rampage killers such as the one who opened fire at Umpqua Community College two weeks ago and killed ten people, injuring nine.

Do we need gun control- universal background checks, am emphasis on gun safety, a ban on assault weapons? Or do we need to focus more on access to mental health care? The arguments usually fall into either one camp or one another.

Image by Maria Maarbes, courtesy of Shutterstock.

Image by Maria Maarbes, courtesy of Shutterstock.

We know that for all of those who die because of high profile mass shootings- whether those that are motivated by the racial hatred — as in Charleston, South Carolina this summer– or by other causes, there are countless more that are murdered because of other crimes, and because of the realities of violence born from poverty and oppression.

In his press conference, Obama urged news agencies to compare for themselves how many Americans have died from terrorism, and how many from gun violence in the past ten years.  CNN reported that the disparity is  a staggering one. One  American is killed by terrorism for every one thousand killed by gun violence. And yet, no substantive changes in legislation.

What is embedded in our cultural ecosystem that makes mass shootings  so commonplace? Why must the cycle of hurt, pain, and tragedy continue, inflicting unimaginable sorrow on those affected?

In many parts of the country, including, apparently, in Roseburg Oregon in which the shooting took place, hunting culture predominates, and guns for that purpose are a way of life. This is not something that can be swept aside or merely heaped with scorn. Hunting, too, is a part of human history, can be done in a sustainable way and, most importantly,  will not soon drift away.

On CNN when Bradley Cooper interviewed a couple whose daughter had been injured in the event, asking what they would say if President Obama spoke to them, they seemed to indicated that given the chance they would tell him that problem is not with guns, its mental health care. For them, The carrier of the “illness”, the mental health of the shooter, is at the root of the problem.

Mental health systems are often inadequate in our country. They are geared towards stopping people when they are about to harm themselves or others and often less successful in abating the slow deterioration of spirit and soul that leads up to the point of violence. Stigma, an inadequate number of doctors and counselors, and many other factors still affect mental health care despite some advances in health insurance parity.

In the argument about the nature of violence and rampage killings in the United States, there are no binary explanations. It is not an “either/or” but a “both, and.  The gun lobby is not the sole cause, and to be sure, millions of people who may be lumped into the category of “mentally ill” never result to violence on a grand scale.

Acts of violence are not separated emotionally and psychically by distance, either. If it happens in another state or even two neighborhoods away, we are all still damaged, we are all affected.  Our prayers may turn in that direction for a time, and but then get distracted by other events.  The rising toxin of violence still spreads over the landscape.

I was reminded recently of a famous report about the impact of the reintroduction of wolves back into Yellowstone Park. When a small wolf pack was reintroduced into the park in 1995, nearly seventy years after being wiped out, a series of changes occurred in the ecosystem. A cascading series of effects occurred. Grass returned to certain valleys in the park because the deer population were now forced to alter their habits. This in turn led to more trees and changes in the amounts of smaller species, like rabbits and foxes, which in term brought more bald eagles back, and beavers, which ultimately even affected the way rivers ran into the park.

In the end, the interdependence of life in the Yellowstone meant that everything was connected. All aspects of living, dying and surviving are interdependent.

Similarly, in the culture we create- the social culture– we need to understand that there are no binaries. There are no either/ors. There is only a chance to act.

We need common sense gun control, to prevent humans from hunting one another unnecessarily. And we need to rethink mental health systems, and remove  stigma so that those who are prone to violence can get the help they need.  Everything is interconnected.

Unlike many biological pathogens, and unlike many violent storms driven by nature, the means to stop this mass killer are directly within our grasp. May the Goddess grant us the compassion, wisdom, and will to find and use them quickly.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Neighbors and Strangers

Who is a neighbor? Who is a stranger?

These are the questions that confront anyone who volunteers for accompaniment work for with the New Sanctuary Coalition. The people I volunteer to accompany to their immigration check-ins are often, at first, strangers to me- people who are navigating the often byzantine system of regulations which often keep them marginalized and uncertain about the future- not just their own, but their families as well. Yet, they are also my neighbors. They are part of the city I live in. The most ancient moral precepts of social justice call upon us to be witnesses to those who are strangers, and to reach out to and associate our neighbor’s welfare with our own. And that is what makes New Sanctuary Coalition and its work so essential to the current condition of our nation’s immigration policy.

I have met several people through the New Sanctuary Coalition. Several have young families that might be split apart. One gentleman is working as a counselor, attempting to give back and pass on what he learned from his life’s experiences. Another wants to work in the field of economic development, transforming local communities. From these experiences, it became clear to me – as was never so clear in a seminary class- that the prophetic and the pastoral are one. We can protest and demand legislative systems to reform the immigration process, but the real impacts of the crisis are felt in individual lives and stories, in moments and sometimes hours tensely waited in a crowded room for your name to be called and your story to be heard by a judge or officer.

In pursuing my religious avocation, I have seen much that has redirected the way I think about my social location, the condition of the world, and what gifts we are given to work with in order to effect change. In activist work, there are so many ways in which the tide can be turned that are unexpected, small, and unnoticed. By bearing witness in a pastoral way, to someone life, or being silent when one previously jumped in to dominate a conversation. This is the activism that does not show up on twitter feeds or on the front pages- but it is active and engaged all the same.

Let us never forget to make the stranger into our beloved neighbor, and let us start by listening- not to respond, necessarily- but to hear.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment