Friday, October 30, 2009

Slow Food and Slow Eating

I recently had dinner at Recipe Restaurant on the Upper West side of Manhattan. This restaurant uses local ingredients and is part of the "Slow Food" movement. We all know what fast food is, but have you heard about “slow food”? According to “Slow Food is an idea, a way of living and a way of eating. It is a global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment.”

The Slow Food Movement embodies three basic principles. First, food should be good in the sense that it be from healthy plants and animals and taste delicious. Good food builds community and celebrates regional diversity. Secondly, food should be clean-- nutritious for humans and grown in ways that respect the environment. Finally, food should be fair—available to everyone and produced by workers who are treated fairly

There is much wisdom to be gleaned from Slow Food. For, one of the ways that food can feed our souls is to simply slow down our consumption of it.

There is a vast difference between dining and eating. When we dine, we pay attention to all aspects of a meal. We are conscious of the aesthetics of space we are in, how the table is set, the presentation of the food. Manners govern our dining behavior as we wait for the hosts to start eating before we begin. When dining, we make an effort to converse with those who are at table with us. Because we’re engaged in conversation, we eat more slowly and gratefully.

In many ways, what I’ve just described is eating with mindfulness. When we eat mindfully, we eat more slowly as we savor each bite. We are attentive to the aromas, the color and texture of the food and, of course, the taste. We pause between each bite and reflect upon its flavor.

When eating mindfully, we are also eating gratefully. A table grace is a wonderful way to begin a meal. To give thanks to the Source of all food and life seems appropriate. When eating in restaurants, a silent grace will help center you and make the meal a more soulful experience. This gratitude also includes those who grew the food, packaged it and prepared it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Meal Is About More Than Food

Last night I enjoyed a dinner with two long-time good friends. We dined at a restaurant we've been going to for more than 20 years so everything was familiar and relaxed. The table conversation was lively with repartee, teasing and discussion about family, politics, and life.

Sharing food and conversation during a meal isn’t simply a social interaction. When we share a meal together, something deeper and richer occurs. At times, we realize that we aren’t only sharing food and words, we are sharing ourselves. This is how a meal becomes a soul-nourishing experience. As Henri Nouwen writes:

"The table, the food, the drinks, the words, the stories: Are they not the most intimate ways in which we not only express our desire to give our lives to each other, but also do this in actuality? I very much like the expression “breaking bread together” because the breaking and the giving are one."

A meal shared with close friends or a loving family is one of the great experiences of life. When we’re at table, we can be fully present for each other and live in the moment. Laughter is one sign that the meal is soul-nourishing. When we’re truly enjoying ourselves, we are connecting with others on a deeper level.

On the other hand, a meal where those at table are angry with one another or where there is unspoken tension is a soul-sapping experience. We’ve all experienced “painful silences” during a meal and it’s not pleasant. Even worse are meals where harsh words are exchanged.

I’ve experienced both kinds of meals and so have you. That’s why we do whatever we can to make our meals good experiences. Yet, despite our best efforts there will be unpleasant meals. When those occur, a good dose of detachment and non-reactivity can make such experiences at least tolerable. At its best, table fellowship feeds body, mind and soul.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"A Serious Man"

Last night I saw the new Coen brothers movie, "A Serious Man." I'm a fan of their work, especially "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "No Country For Old Men."

This was a dark and difficult movie to watch. Loosely based on the story of Job, the main character, a professor named Larry Gopnik, suffers a series of disasters worthy of Job. Set in Minneapolis in 1967 it purports to be a farce about a middle-class Jewish family. However, I left the movie thinking, "I don't get it."

Yes, there are funny moments (a few) and painful moments (many), but there is not much depth and angst in Larry's suffering. Like Job, Larry consults "friends" in the form of two rabbis to shed some light on the question, "Why me?" but their answers are platitudinous and woefully inadequate.

Unlike Job, Larry refuses to lash out at those causing his suffering. The message of the movie (if it has one) might be: bad things happen to good people and good people don't fight back.

While I found the movie painful to watch, the issues it raises about the nature of innocent suffering are real and relevant. If you're looking for answers to the question "Why me?" you won't find it here. But if you're looking for the question to be raised in a painfully insufferable way, this is a movie for you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Subtle Power of Water

The gentle rain this morning has reminded me of the importance of water in daily life. We encounter water each day in the form of a bath, shower, or hand-washing. As a rower, I spend four mornings a week atop the water (but hopefully not in it!). Not only am I in or on water, I drink it. Without water, we cannot live.

Water is a powerful symbol in many religions. In Christianity, water is used ritually in baptism as a symbol of God's love. In Islam, water is used in ritual washing before prayer. Ritual washing is also part of Hinduism. In Taoism, water is the primary symbol of the Tao (or "Way").

The Tao Te Ching includes this verse about water:
"The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao."
(Chapter 8)

Water is infinitely supple, yet incomparably strong. Over time, water is one of the most powerful forces, even more powerful than earthquakes. The Grand Canyon stands as a stunning testimony to the power of water in the form of the Colorado River to cut through even the hardest of rock.

Without water, life cannot continue. Because of its power to sustain life, water is a perfect symbol for divine grace. Yet, I take the water I drink, bathe in, and row upon for granted much of the time. Every time we touch, taste or see water is an opportunity to give thanks for this amazing gift.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Driving As A Spiritual Adventure

This past weekend, I took two trips that involved about 10 hours of driving. On Saturday, my wife and I drove to the lovely village of Litchfield, CT to browse shops and have lunch. On Sunday, I drove to Saratoga Lake, NY for the Head of the Fish rowing regatta.

Both drives were through peak fall colors. The Sunday drive included the picturesque Taconic Parkway, a scenic road through forest and farmland. There were many "ohs" and "ahs" in praise of the scenery and I found these drives spiritually nourishing.

In addition to beautiful scenery, there is another reason why driving can be spiritually nourishing. When you're heading out of town on the open road, there is a sense of joyful freedom. There is both the relief of getting away from the stresses of daily life and the thrill of seeing new places and new sights. You feel as if you're embarking on a new adventure like the early explorers who set out into the American wilderness.

Driving can be either boring or exciting. Everything depends on the attitude we bring to this activity. I guess you could say this about almost every activity of life. However, I believe our attitude especially affects driving, whether we find it soul-feeding or soul-sapping. I think the key is whether we view driving as a means-to-an-end (i.e. getting to our destination asap) or whether we see it as an activity through which we can have a deeper connection with God’s creation.

I try to view driving in the latter way, although I don’t always discover a spiritual connection while driving. Like any activity, experiencing the spiritual dimension of driving takes practice. But, at its best, driving can be a spiritual adventure.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Hate to Wait

Right now, I'm waiting for a plumber to come and fix a shower faucet. I was given a two hour window and it's already passed. So, I wait...

When it comes to waiting, my attitude is, "I do not like it, Sam I Am!" Maybe it's because I'm part of an "I want it now!" culture. In our high tech world, so many things happen immediately. You can go between websites in nanoseconds; you can IM and text instantaneously; you flip a switch and a light comes on.

Upon reflection, I must reluctantly admit that my problem with waiting is probably due to an inflated sense of self-importance. Do humble people hate to wait? I can't imagine Buddha or Jesus or Gandhi looking at their watches (or sundials) and getting frustrated with some extra down time.

I'm not quite as impatient when waiting for someone I really want/need to see: a doctor, a dentist or a good friend. The psalmist wrote, "Wait upon the Lord." Yet, if the waiting time drags on past some unspecified internal deadline, I become frustrated or angry.

What if I used this waiting time to do something positive or creative? Like praying or thinking or reading or writing. In fact, I am writing this blog while I wait. That's progress!

How we deal with waiting is a dead giveaway of how important we believe we are. Learning to wait is an exercise in humility. Because so much of life is spent waiting, we (I) need to learn to wait patiently and creatively.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lasting Happiness

My good friend, Dr. John Tamerin, recently gave a talk at the Fairfield (CT) Happiness Club titled, "Happiness: A Clinical Perspective Based on Being in Psychiatric Practice for 40 Years." The quotes below are from the introduction.

"First, you must realize that happiness is a gift. Most important, it is a gift which you can give to yourself, but it is a gift which needs to be refreshed on a regular basis. The kind of happiness that merely happens TO YOU will not last. Lasting Happiness requires effort.

"Every person who seeks my help as a doctor is in pain and everyone who sees me would like to be happy. Happiness, however, is more than the absence of pain. A wise Rabbi in Jerusalem addressed this issue when he asked me: 'What is the opposite of pleasure.?' I gave the predictable answer- 'Pain.' He said, 'No, the opposite of pleasure is comfort because if you insist on being comfortable you will never achieve pleasure (i.e. happiness) because happiness involves both effort and the willingness to confront discomfort and even pain in order to pursue true joy and meaning in your life.'

"His point and now mine is that to achieve happiness you must be willing to make an effort and to confront challenges and occasionally even demons. The path to happiness is not comfortable. Happiness does not just happen! It is not bestowed on any of us simply by being in the right place at the right time. That is merely good luck.

There is great wisdom in these words. Lasting happiness doesn't "just happen," but is a decision that involves effort and a willingness to risk pain and discomfort. Lasting happiness requires self-knowledge, gratitude and a welcoming attitude towards life. Lasting happiness is not based on the changeable circumstances of life, but on nourishing the inner self, the soul.

Nearly everyone says they want to be happy, but not everyone is willing to put forth the effort and to endure the pain that lasting happiness requires.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rowing in the Dark

For the past several weeks, our rowing workouts have been in the dark when we begin at 5:30 a.m. Today, with sunrise at 7:11 a.m., we started and ended in the dark (although it was a lighter predawn when we finished at 6:50).

There is an element of danger in rowing in the dark, mainly that of crashing. There are many obstacles to be avoided: rocks, buoys, docks and (especially) other boats. Although we have bow and stern lights on our boats, there are are multitude of lights that make it difficult to distinguish between an oncoming boat and a light on the shore.

Rowing in the dark requires trust. First, you need to trust the coach near you in a launch to tell you when you're steering off course. Secondly, you need to trust the person steering in the bow (in the case of a double or quad) or the coxswain (in the case of a four or eight) to not crash.

Rowing is a sport that teaches trust and reliance on others. Even when rowing in daylight, you must have faith in your crewmates (that they are rowing hard and well) for a boat to go fast.

The trust needed in rowing is a good analogy for life. To enjoy a full and fulfilled life, we must develop trust in those persons we are close to and rely upon. Sometimes, we need to be able to trust strangers (as in the case of flying on an airplane). For much of life is lived in the "dark" where we can't see the way ahead clearly.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Necessity of Nesting

Lately, my wife has been in a self-acknowledged nesting mode. Now that we are "empty nesters" she has been busy preparing our sons' former bedrooms for guests. This has involved much cleaning, culling, reorganizing and some redecorating. She receives great satisfaction from the results of these activities.

We usually associate nesting with women, but do men nest as well? Of course! An article I read in today's New York Times "Science Times" section brought home this point. In "At Home In Solitude As a Spirit Recovers," Dana Jennings describes his recovery from treatment for aggressive prostate cancer: surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy.

While Mr. Jennings body has recovered, his spirit has not. Therefore, he is nesting by taking pleasure "in the most gentle rhythms of daily life": taking long walks, meeting a friend for breakfast, getting a haircut. He has especially been enjoying some solitude.

When we experience a any kind of catastrophe-- physical, emotional or spiritual--nesting is so necessary. We need to do those things that help our inner selves, our souls, recover and heal. The healing of a soul is much like physical healing: it takes time, attention and self-care.

Nesting requires an awareness of what truly feeds, and heals, our souls. Such awareness takes time and effort to develop. But, once we know these things, the challenge is to do them. So, three cheers for nesting!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest

One of the great contributions of Judaism to religion is the Sabbath. The word Sabbath means "rest" and comes from the first chapter of Genesis where God rested on the seventh day of creation. The idea is that if God rested on the seventh day, so should we. The fourth of the Ten Commandments is to "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."

The idea of an entire day of rest and renewal seems alien to our busy schedules. When confronted with "free" time, we want to fill it with doing something. There is always one more email to answer, one more phone call to return, one more errand to run and one more chore to accomplish. The idea of simply and quietly being is so out of place.

In his book Sabbath: Restoring the Rhythm of Rest, Wayne Muller contends, "Our relentless emphasis on success and productivity has become a form of violence. We have lost the necessary rhythm of life, the balance between effort and rest, doing and not doing. Constantly striving, we feel exhausted and deprived in the midst of abundance, longing for time with family and friend, longing for a moment to ourselves."

The tradition of observing a Sabbath offers a time for rest. Whatever our spiritual tradition, we can make some time in our schedules for reflection and renewal. It can be an hour, an afternoon, or even a walk. Taking such time off allows the essential goodness of creation to nourish our tired and depleted souls.

I have found that when I create some sabbath time in my day, things go better. I have more energy, am more alert, and enjoy what I'm doing more. How do your create sabbath time in your day?

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Easy Answers

My Religion 101 students yesterday seemed unengaged and depleted of energy. Maybe it was the depressing weather outside (cold and rainy) or maybe it was that "time of the semester" (midterm). Whatever it was, I wasn't going to ignore it.

So, I stirred things up by having the class divide into groups of 3 or 4 and come up with three answers to the question: "How can the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved?" Boy, did the energy (and noise) level increase! Suddenly, these unengaged students became involved in the activities of thinking and talking.

Nearly all of their answers to this question had already been attempted: get leaders from the two sides to negotiate, get the world community to bring pressure on both groups, use economic sanctions to bring about change. Both the "one state" and "two state" solutions were mentioned.

However, one group's answer was different. They said that all Israeli and Palestinian children should be required to take a Religion 101 type course to help each side understand and develop respect for the other's religion.

While using education to resolve this long-standing Middle East conflict might seem naive and idealistic, I think it's an idea worth trying. Educating children to have an appreciation and respect for the religion and culture of their "enemies" might work in the long run. At least it could prepare the way for negotiations.

If anyone has a better idea, I'd like to hear it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Green Is Good (in more ways than you think)

A recent Dutch study found that people living near parks, gardens and other green spaces have better health and lower anxiety than those living in urban "concrete jungles" far from green spaces. This study was based on the review of 345,000 medical records.

An October 14 Bloomberg News article by Kristen Hallam titled, "Living Near Green Lowers Anxiety, Depression Rates, Study Finds," reports that better health is likely due from access to fresher air and opportunities to exercise, relax and socialize.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, asserts, "The role of green space in the living environment for health should not be underestimated." The link between green spaces and health was strongest for children and persons with low incomes because they are less mobile and spend more time near home.

I always enjoy finding a scientific basis for one of my firmly held beliefs. Our souls are fed by being in places of natural beauty like parks, gardens and forests. Being out in God's creation is nourishing for body, mind and soul.

However, I wouldn't want to limit the benefits of being outdoors to the color green, for nearly all the colors of the spectrum are found in nature-- deep blue oceans, purple mountains, red and orange sunsets, white clouds, golden leaves, and brightly-colored flowers-- and these can be soul feeding as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Wonder of Cathedral Pines

On the second day of my two-day hiking trip, I journeyed to northwest Connecticut to hike Mohawk Mountain. My hike started in the Cathedral Pines Nature Conservancy. This was once the premier stand of white pines in New England. However, a rare Connecticut tornado blew down most of these majestic trees in 1989. There are still a few acres of these giants of the evergreen world. The photo on the right is from the Nature Conservancy website.

While hiking among these huge evergreens, I felt as if I were in an ancient forest. The oldest of these trees are up to 300 years old-- older than the U.S.! I half expected to run into Treebeard (the tree shepherd from Lord of the Rings).

I stopped several times and stared up in awe at the tops of these wonders of nature that can reach a height of 150 feet. It reminded me of visiting Muir Woods several years ago, even though the Redwoods there are much taller and older. The oldest living trees are reportedly Bristlecone Pines, the oldest of which is called Methuselah and is over 4,600 years of age.

It's good to be reminded that there are living things much older than we are. I find this both reassuring and humbling. The reassuring part is that life predates me and will outlive me. It's comforting to know that life continues. The humbling part of seeing ancient things is the reminder that we're not the center of the universe. The creation is so much older, larger and grander than we are. We're part of its grandeur, but not the whole of it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hiking Mount Greylock

On Columbus Day, I took the day to hike to the top of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet. The day was excellent for hiking: cool and clear. When I started hiking, the temp was 35 degrees. However, the trail was uphill all the way to the summit and I quickly warmed up. The photo above is of Mount Greylock and fall colors from

I took the Hopper Trail to the summit, so named because it parallels a deep ravine that looks like a grain hopper. The trail took me through tunnels of fall colors. The leaves are at their peak in this part of Massachusetts this week.

At ½ mile from the top, the Hopper Trail joined the Appalachian Trail. There, I was joined by hundreds of residents of the town of Adams located at the Eastern base of Greylock. They were doing the annual Adams Ramble. The mood was festive as everyone huffed and puffed up the last steep ascent.

The views from Greylock were worth the ascent. I could see the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Adirondacks in New York. On rock monuments there were several quotes from Henry David Thoreau, who ascended Greylock in 1844 and penned these words:

"As the light increased, I discovered around me an ocean of mist, which by chance reached up exactly to the base of the tower and shut out every vestige of the earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of a world, on my carved plank, in cloudland. . . . As the light in the east steadily increased, it revealed to me more clearly the new world into which I had risen in the night, the new terra firma perchance of my future life. There was not a crevice left through which the trivial places we name Massachusetts, or Vermont or New York, could be seen, while I still inhaled the clear atmosphere of a July morning - if it were July there. All around beneath me was spread for a hundred miles on every side, as far as the eye could reach, an undulating country of clouds, answering in the varied swell of its surface to the terrestrial world it veiled. It was such a country as we might see in dreams, with all the delights of paradise."

In nature, Thoreau found genius, divinity and the sacred. For him the natural world was a palette on which the Divine Artist had painted a masterpiece. I, too, find in nature a place of spiritual refreshment and renewal. At the end of my 11 mile hike my overwhelming emotion was that of gratitude.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Lately, I’ve been working on being more mindful of what’s going on around me and within me. The concept of “mindfulness” comes from the practice of Buddhist meditation and focuses in particular on an awareness of breathing.

However, I've tried to expand the concept of mindfulness to include nearly everything I do. For, to be mindful is to pay attention to the spiritual dimension of life.

Here’s an example. I love to hike. There are several ways you can look at hiking. You can view it as exercise, especially when you are hiking uphill. You can see it as a race to get from one place to another as quickly as possible. You can understand it as a competition and try to hike faster than everyone else.

You can also understand hiking as a spiritual experience. As you hike, you can look at the beauty of the trees, the rock formations, the streams and the wildlife. You can breathe in the smell of the woods. You can notice how the sunlight filters through the trees. You can look up at the vast sky above. If you come to a vista, you can stop and look over the treetops for miles and have a sense of eternity.

While hiking, you can also notice what is going on within yourself. How hard are you breathing? How hard is your heart beating? Are you feeling tired? Are you carrying your anxieties, worries and concerns with you? Are you feeling a sense of freedom or joy?

To be mindful is to be deeply aware and it can make all the difference in how we experience an activity.

To be mindful is to be fully present in the present moment. Mindfulness places you in the here and now. It takes you from doing to being. Mindfulness is a spiritual discipline.

Frederick Buechner writes, “If God speaks to us at all... I think that he speaks to us largely through what happens to us…if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, then I think we come to recognize that he [God] is speaking to us…”

So then, let us look and listen carefully to what is happening to us. For being mindful is a way of connecting with the holiness and sacredness of life; it’s a way of connecting with God.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gifts From Judaism

I've started teaching Judaism in my Religion 101 class. The impact of Judaism on world history and thought is nothing short of remarkable. It birthed the two most populous world religions: Christianity and Islam. Arguably, it was the first thoroughly monotheistic faith. And, the Torah (especially the Ten Commandments) is the basis for Western law.

However, I believe the greatest gift of Judaism is the portrayal of God in intensely personal terms. The God of the Hebrew scriptures is powerful and transcendent, and the Creator of all that exists. Yet, this same God is described as walking in the cool of the evening in the Garden of Eden, having conversation with humans, and caring deeply about the fate of his creation, especially humans.

As Huston Smith puts, "The God of Judaism is more like a person than a thing (my italics)." This is a God we can relate to and have a relationship with. This is a God who cares, loves, forgives and is with us in times of need.

Contrast the God of Judaism with the gods of the Romans and Greeks. The gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus were basically indifferent to humanity because they were so self-absorbed. Contrast the God of Judaism with Brahmin, the chief god of Hinduism, who is an impersonal universal spirit.

I prefer to think of God in personal, rather than impersonal, terms because I can have a relationship of love and trust with a personal God. As a Christian, this personal God is most powerfully manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, the God in Jesus Christ is the same God whom the Jews have worshiped and praised throughout the centuries.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Waken In Me a Sense of Joy"

The leaves are beginning to change in our part of Connecticut. Right now, gold is the predominant color but reds and oranges are starting to emerge. What a glorious season autumn is! Visually, I find it to be the most compelling of the seasons. The photo on the right is from

In his book, Guerrillas of Grace, Ted Loder offers a beautiful autumn prayer:

O extravagant God,
in this ripening, red-tinged autumn,
waken in me a sense of joy
in just being alive.
joy for nothing in general
except everything in particular;
joy in the sun and rain
mating with earth to birth a harvest;
joy in soft light
through shyly disrobing trees;
joy in the acolyte moon
setting halos around processing clouds;
joy in the beating of a thousand wings
mysteriously knowing which way is warm;
joy in the taste of bread and wine,
the smell of dawn,
a touch,
a song,
a presence;
joy in having what I cannot live without--
other people to hold and cry and laugh with;
joy in love,
in you;
and that all at first and last
is grace.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story?

Last night I saw Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. As you might expect, it touched on typical Moore themes: fairness, the gap between rich and poor, corruption, greed and injustice.

Although I liked some of his earlier movies ("Roger and Me" and "Bowling for Columbine") more, I felt that "Capitalism" was well done and provided Moore with a bully pulpit on some important issues.

Much of the movie focused on the misery of job losses and home foreclosures as a result of the recent economic collapse. You couldn't help but be moved by the heart wrenching interviews with families evicted from homes. This was contrasted with those who were profiting from this dire situation.

The spiritual message I took from the movie was "be compassionate." Compassion is probably the highest spiritual value in the major religions. Compassion is called by many names-- charity, love, alms giving, justice for widows and orphans-- but the common thread is empathy and the willingness to act to relieve suffering.

The word compassion comes from two Latin words that mean "to suffer with." When we are compassionate, we feel the pain of the other and enter into it for the purpose of helping alleviate it.

Because of the huge volume of pain created by the Great Recession, I find myself experiencing "compassion fatigue." The needs of those suffering seem so overwhelming, it's hard to know where to begin. I believe that we're not called to solve all problems, but to do what we can where we are. Compassion provides both the empathy to see the need and the motivation to act.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"Chores" Rhymes With "Bores"

When you think about it, much of our non-work time is taken up with various chores: cooking, cleaning, gardening, shopping, doing laundry and the like. Chores rhymes with bores. For many of us, boring is an accurate description of our attitude toward taking care of the minutia of daily life.

As a teenager, I had two chores that were exclusively mine to do: taking out the trash and mowing the lawn. Taking out the trash only took a few minutes each day, but I would invariably forget to do this until my mother reminded me. My response to her reminders was, “I’ll do it in a minute.” Often, many minutes would pass with the trash still sitting there and I would need multiple reminders. When I got into my later teen years, I realized that I had a mental block to doing this simple chore. As I look back on my procrastination, I think part of it was a rebellion against authority and part was being easily distracted from doing something I didn’t want to do in the first place.

My attitude toward doing chores changed when I lived on my own for the last two years of seminary. When you live alone, all the daily chores fall on you. There is nobody else to blame if they’re not done. When the dishes weren’t washed, the kitchen got messy. When the trash wasn’t taken out, it would eventually stink. When the bathroom wasn’t cleaned at least weekly, it would become gross. I came to see chores as one of life’s necessities and developed a tolerance of them.

What changed my attitude further was having children. I was woefully unprepared for the amount of work a parent must do for their children. I had never changed a diaper in my life, but now did so several times a day. I had never fed a baby, but now I was preparing bottles, feeding and burping babies. There was so much to do, it was overwhelming at first. With twins, the amount of work was doubled!

Doing the many extra chores that children necessitated helped me connect these tasks with the love I had for them. This made doing chores, if not enjoyable, at least meaningful. Purpose and passion are keys to discovering the soulful dimension of work. This is so very true of the vocation of parenting.

The concept of meaningful chores is relevant even if you don’t have children or live alone. Connecting chores with how they make life better for a life partner or with how they make life better for yourself is a way of seeing how they are an expression of love. Even if chores are unlovable, they can be concrete demonstrations of love.

Monday, October 5, 2009

On Winning 8th Place...

Yesterday, I rowed in a Men's eight at the Riverfront Recapture Regatta in Hartford, CT on the lovely Connecticut River. This is now the 3rd largest one-day regatta in the U.S. with over 1,500 rowers. The photo on the left is of a Norwalk River Rowing Assn. men's eight from a previous year (I'm second from the top).

We had a beautiful, clear day with temps in the 60's and little wind-- perfect conditions for rowing. The 3.2 mile course was upriver against the current. Our Norwalk River Rowing Association eight rowed the course in little over 24 minutes, good for 8th place out of 10 men's eights.

Because we're used to finishing higher in the pecking order, some of us were disappointed with our finish position. However, upon reflection I realized that we all rowed as hard as we could, as well as we could, and were exhausted by the end. In rowing lingo, "we gave it 100%, leaving nothing on the water."

So why the disappointment? I think it had to do with our expectations. In the past, we had finished nearer the top rather than the bottom. Therefore, we expected to finish higher. Our expectations went unfulfilled.

A rowing race is a good metaphor for life. Sometimes, even though we work hard and do our best, we come in 8th place. While we should be content to have done our best, it turns out that others' bests are better than ours. This is no reason to feel disappointed or discouraged. This is life.

It is difficult to not evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. Yet, if we are to enjoy life and thrive, we need to stop living by comparing ourselves to others. The only comparison that matters is self-comparison. And when we've done our best, it's good and right to affirm that our best is good enough.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Religion in the Workplace?

Yesterday, one of my Religion 101 classes had a vigorous discussion of whether or not religion has a place in the workplace. About half the class of 40 students felt strongly that the separation of church and state should extend to one's work. They felt that meditating, praying or doing any other religious action that coworkers might see should be verboten.

The other half of the class felt that, within limits, religious expression in the workplace was OK. The litmus test to be applied was whether one's religious expression was offensive to coworkers. For example, it would OK to wear a cross, star of David, or other religious symbol, but not to talk about your religion (unless you were specifically asked).

My view is that we can't take out the religious part of us and leave it at the office door. Our religion is too deeply a part of who we are to be able to totally suppress it. However, we shouldn't impose our religious views on others uninvited. We should respect the religious diversity of where we work and not express our religion in ways that make others uncomfortable.

What I thought was interesting about the class discussion is how strongly the students defended their viewpoints. The discussion became pretty heated at some points. This shows that religious feelings are often deeply held and vigorously defended. What is your view on religion in the workplace?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In The Blink Of An Eye

Things happen fast in our world. Through the Internet, communication occurs at the speed of light. Email has replaced snail mail. Blogs have replaced newspaper editorials. When something newsworthy happens, word of it spreads instantaneously through cyberspace.

In the wake of daily deaths as a result of war, earthquakes, tsunamis and other destructive events, I’ve become painfully aware of something else that can happen with lightening speed: death. Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can result in instant death.

Several years ago I remember being both amused and irritated with a church council member who said, “We need to plan for the future because Bob could get on the wrong plane and, suddenly, we don’t have a pastor!” I was 32 years old at the time and death seemed in the distant future.

Yet, I know this comment expresses a truth, not just about me but about all of us. Life can end in the blink of an eye.

There are at least three ways we can respond to this truth. One way is to deny it. We can live with the illusion that our life will go on for our allotted four score years and death is far in the distance. Our culture’s obsession with looking youthful, extending life and being healthy is part of this death denial.

Another way is to accept this truth and appreciate how precious and fragile human life is. We can be grateful for each day of life, and for each day of life of those we love. Living with the knowledge that life can have a sudden terminus can free us to live enthusiastically and boldly.

To view this truth through the eyes of faith gives us yet another way of responding. Paul expresses this “third way” in his letter to the Corinthians: “Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…”

Paul is pointing to the promise of resurrection and new life. Death is not the final end of life, but a new beginning. God’s ultimate power is to bring new life out of death.

Affirming this isn’t to deny death. Yes, we will all die and some of us will die too soon or too late. Yet, however long or short our life may be, God’s love embraces us eternally. Death is God’s loving embrace.

The hopeful message of Christianity is that God’s love is stronger than death. And nothing, not even sudden death, can separate us or those whom we love from God’s love. Through faith, the blink of an eye is transformed into the twinkling of an eye. Just as death happens in an instant, so does new life.