Cocoa’s Law?

I have noticed something about our dog, Cocoa, the two-year-old wonder poodle.

A typical scenario is this: Jonathan and I take him walking many mornings together, but sometimes Jonathan heads for home while I extend the walk for another 20-30 minutes. As soon as Jonathan moves away, Cocoa sets off a howl and pulls to go after him. He goes with me–I have the leash–but he keeps looking back toward Jonathan. 

Then, as Cocoa and I keep going, we encounter a neighbor jogging or walking another dog or someone walking alone, and Cocoa’s attention shifts. Jonathan is forgotten, and now Cocoa is pulling and making noises wanting to connect with  the new item of interest.

I know Cocoa likes to walk with me. When there are no other distractions he is very happy, wagging his tail, looking up at me, rubbing against my leg.

But if he has a second option, he wants that. He wants what he does not have. I have begun to call it “Cocoa’s Law.”

Thing is, I know this is not limited to Cocoa. I have some of the same tendencies. I know other people do, too. When I mentioned Cocoa’s Law to a fellow dog walker, she said, “How human of him!”

Why is it that we are so often not satisfied, even with things we really like (or love)? Why is it that the negative in a situation becomes so much more important than the positive?

Are we really that perverse? I admit I often am.

Maybe I should call it Robin’s Law, or just remember it seems to be human (and canine) nature. But I wonder: shouldn’t I be doing better than Cocoa?

Grateful to be a Pastor, Not a Judge

I was in court today.

I was there to support my friend. She made a mistake, indeed she has made many in the past few years, but now she is living a new life.

I was blessed to be there, to talk with her and her attorney before the judge arrived, to feel her anxiety but also to share her hope in the future.

Something really struck me for the very first time. I have been in court many times but for some reason today I noticed how similar courtrooms and church sanctuaries appear.

There are the rows of seats, all facing forward, with the eye inevitably drawn to the center spot where the judge sits. There are the seals of the Commonwealth and the city above the judge on the wall. Then there are court personnel–the clerk who sits next to the judge at a lower level, and the deputies who stand in front of the bench to direct people where to go and what to sign. One of the deputies is the disciplinarian, reminding people not to talk and where to sit. She even tells people they violate the dress code (no shorts allowed in this courtroom).

In a church, of course, the cross is the focal point for worship–and in our church the choir takes center stage below.  There is no judge, but there are worship leaders. They are there not to maintain order but to help us worship. They want us to make a joyful noise!

My friend was spared some serious penalities. She will not go back to jail. She will be able to move forward on her dream.

But the courtroom, while it looks similar to a church sanctuary, is not where her dream will be nurtured. That happens in church. The courtroom is about the past, the sanctuary is about the future.

Strange how things that can look so similar can be so very different. I am grateful to be in church!

Thank You, Mr. President

On an emotional level, I was glad when President Obama authorized help to the Libyan rebels, and worked with NATO to provide continuing military support.

However, I joined many others who were concerned that we were getting ourselves bogged down in what seemed to become an endless, and quite possibly hopeless, civil war. Many in Congress felt the President had exceeded his authority.

Today, I want to thank the President. He took a huge risk, and it seems to have worked. The hated dictator is on his way out. The Libyan people can breathe again, after 42 years of repression.

Generally, I am not a subscriber to the theory that the end justifies the means, but in statecraft it is often the best we can do. Jefferson certainly exceeded his authority in buying Louisiana, but I am glad he did. Lincoln overrode habeas corpus protections in war, but it may well have saved the Union.

On the other hand, FDR exceeded his authority, at least in my view, when he locked up scores of Japanese, and it did no one any good.

Whatever your view, and whatever your politics, we can in this moment, I hope, feel joy for our Libyan siblings. And pray for them to be able to rebuild their tattered homeland.

Goodbye? Say It Isn’t So

What do you do when a friend sends you what feels like a “Dear John” email?

I don’t mean a boyfriend or girlfriend or partner, but a friend, somebody you like and you think of as a friend, who sends you an email that sends a message of “See ya around.”

As a pastor, I am used to people coming and going. Sort of used to it, anyway.

If I am honest, it still hurts when people just stop coming to church. It even hurts when people tell you why, but that hurts less. In that case, you at least know they care enough, maybe even respect you enough, to tell you what’s on their heart. I am always willing to listen.

I know, as a pastor, I sometimes say or do things that can lead some folks to feel angry. I so wish they would talk to me, rather than just nurse the anger or talk only to others or just leave.

I frankly do not know which is worse–the silence from those who say nothing or the sting of those who write cold-sounding email goodbyes.

Well, actually, I do know what is the worse: their absence. That is what causes my heart to hurt.

Warren Buffett Tells the Truth

Warren Buffet is my newest hero.

I have long admired him for his savvy, and his plainspoken ways–even when I have disagreed with him. And I surely admire him for this honest, forthright talk about how the rich need to pitch in and help the country.

In case you did not see it, he wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times on August 14. It is well worth your time to read it, “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich.”

The basic point, as he has said elsewhere, is that we are all in this mess together, and some people have more resources than others to help. He also is clear that the shift of wealth over the past 20 years or so has been a bonanza for a small number of Americans–and a disaster for the rest of us.

To charges that such talk is “class warfare,” Buffett said, in 2006, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Thanks, Warren, for telling the truth. And I don’t know if you’re religious or not–probably not–but I can say this: Jesus would be pleased.

We’re Sorry–What Else Do You Want?

As a society, we’re not always very good at caring for people who have been victims of injustice.

The latest example for me is the difficulty that some former service personnel–who were discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell–are encountering when they try to re-enlist in the armed forces of our nation. Of course, they have to be in the right age range, properly fit and able to perform, and without any other disqualification–but if they are, should they not be given some special consideration?

The law was unjust, it has been repealed. One way to heal the error of our ways is to make amends where possible. So far, the Pentagon is not budging–probably afraid Congress will scream.

And the military brass are not alone. When we release prisoners who have been incarcerated for crimes they did not commit, most jurisdictions simply send them out on the street, perhaps with a pair of pants and a shirt and cash for a bus ride somewhere. The legal system, acting on our behalf, made a mistake–often a really big one. But I doubt there is even a formal apology, let alone help to get started on a new life.

Virginia is doing the right thing, by making education available to those harmed by Massive Resistance in the 1950s, but that took 50 years. Fortunately, some were young enough at the time of this horror to be able to claim benefit now.

But so many oppose affirmative action, claiming it is favoring one group at the expense of another. Another way to see it is that those who have been the victims of oppression need a hand up to get started on the road of success. But, to do that requires that we admit as a nation that we held people down long after we were supposed to know better.

When we do wrong, an apology is a good place to start. And when the apology is coupled with actions to make amends, it begins to feel real.

Something about a golden rule applies here, I think.

Thank You, Anthem!

For the very first time I am beginning to like my health insurance carrier.

For a long time, Anthem has seemed like mostly a paper-pushing, bureaucratic organization–not unlike what many people consider the federal government. People often complain about what they say is government intrusion into health care. Frankly, that’s the way I felt about Anthem–a corporate version of how some see government. I resented having to jump through their hoops, and my doctor having to jumping through their hoops, to get the care I need.

But recently, Anthem announced a new program, Complex Care, which is making a difference in my health. It involves consultations with a nurse, and other professionals, to help me manage my own health. This is good for me, and it also is good for Anthem–reducing their costs by reducing the demand I put on the health care system.

My biggest health issue right now is losing weight. Indeed, weight control has been an uphill struggle most of my life, even as I know that losing weight would pay enormous dividends in my overall well-being.

So, in addition to periodic consultations with a nurse, I am working regularly with a dietitian. She helps me set realistic goals, and most importantly, provides useful, very concrete, guidance on how to eat more sensibly. This is already making a difference–better daily habits, smaller portions, a more balanced diet.

I have long had a spiritual director–a professional who helps me strengthen my spiritual life, who helps me connect better with the divine. Now I have a food director, someone who helps me strengthen my resolve and my skill in treating my body with the respect it deserves.

Note: Over the next few weeks, I am going to write more about this, because Complex Care is changing my life. And I believe it has ramifications for how we understand the need for health care changes in our nation and the world.

Jesus Still Loves Tax Collectors

The stock market is going through gyrations. Economists are wringing their hands.

After all the drama over raising the debt ceiling, many are now saying the President and Congress were focused on the wrong thing. Debt reduction (and even elimination), while important long-term, is secondary to getting the economy going again in the near term.

Now they tell us.

Congressman Cantor continues to show his true colors. He is most interested in not raising taxes, in the short term and the long term. Debt reduction, while important in the short term and the long term, is secondary to not raising taxes.

Jesus telling Zacchaeus the Tax Collector to come down from the tree so Jesus could eat with him

Did you know that not raising taxes, or better yet, lowering them, will, in addition to creating millions of new jobs, cure cancer and usher in eternal life?

That’s bad news for tax collectors. But, still they can be comforted by the fact that Jesus is their friend.

Thanks for the Journeys

One of the great privileges of being a pastor is how often I am honored with the heartfelt truths of people’s lives.

Sometimes, these truths are glorious, causing me to sing praises to God for helping them be realized and spoken. At other times, the truths are painful and hard to hear, and see. Yet, even then, I give God thanks for the courage and honesty of the one who speaks and/or lives the truth.

Truth-telling. That is what I experience so often.

In these moments, there is no “spin,” there is no shallowness. In these moments, I know we are on sacred ground.

Many years ago, when I was resisting becoming a pastor, I told Jonathan that a main reason was, “I don’t want to have to listen to all those ‘whiney’ people!” He knew better, and kept encouraging me.

The truth, my truth, is that I hear very little whining. And even it has redeeming qualities–if we can’t whine now and again, it will be hard for us to tell the bigger truths.

So, thank you, God, for showing me people who are honestly on their own spiritual journeys, and for allowing me to accompany them.

To Be a Dog or Not To Be a Dog?

Cocoa turned two on Monday, a day we celebrated by giving him a new toy, some special canned food (he usually eats kibble), and even a card (which we did not let him chew).

He is adorable, of course, and we are grateful every day for his presence–loyalty, liveliness, playfulness–and cannot imagine why we waited so long to get him.

Still, he is a dog, and is not a perfectly behaved one at that!

One thing I have noticed, especially when I am walking him, is how distractable he is. A jogger, a bicyclist or a walker (with or without dog)–any and all of them draw him immediately away from me and whatever was occupying him before they appeared.

But as I have thought about it, I realize I have some of that, too. I notice other folks do as well.

Just the other day, I was talking to someone at church and another person walked in and the person with whom I thought I was engaged in significant conversation simply walked away from me. I never did finish the sentence I was uttering when the person left me.

We are a distracting society–so much noise everywhere, so much demanding our attention. I certainly know I have plenty of Cocoa moments myself.

If only I could be as cute as he is. Then I wouldn’t mind not being that much further up the evolutionary chain.