Archive for February, 2008

Race, Politics and the Spirit

February 19, 2008

By John Morehouse

I came to Chicago just after Harold Washington won his second term as the first African American Mayor of Chicago. I can remember the powerful feeling of this victory, all the sweeter since no one thought he would win the first time, defying as he did the powerful political machine of the Daley family. The University of Chicago is located in the heart of Chicago’s south side, except for the neighborhood of Hyde Park where the University and its many schools sits like an oasis in the black sea of poverty, the South Side is home to some of America’s gutsiest politicians, including Harold Washington. Washington came to office defying the machine by telling it like it is. They didn’t want to hear from a black man, telling them they were corrupt and broken. He won his first term by a margin, his second by a landslide. Harold Washington had defied a political machine to raise the hopes for a city, half of whom were African American. Four days after his second inauguration, Harold Washington died of a heart attack at his desk. Chicago returned to a white mayor. (Climbing a Great Mountain: Selected Speeches of Mayor Harold Washington edited by Alton Miller)

We have come a long way since then. Now there are many more African American mayors than before, now we have black congressman, now we are considering a black candidate for President of the United States. If Harold Washington or even Martin Luther King were still alive though, I know they would be worried. Because we are still a racist nation. For a while there it looked like Obama could dodge the race card but then came NH and a vote that defied what people in the polls claimed. The race issue is still alive, as much as the female issue I might add, and we still have spiritual work to do if we are to overcome it. I am not endorsing any candidate here. In fact, this is really above the politics… I am asking instead what do we have to do to make race a non-issue, or gender or religion? As Timothy Eagan wrote in the New York Times:

“For a while, it looked like Obama could be the rare African-American leader whose race was nearly invisible – and he may still be. He’s post-Civil Rights, Oprah-branded, with that classically American blend of a mother from the heartland and a father from a distant shore. And after that Iowa victory speech, people felt something had passed into our collective rear-view mirror, without actually saying what that something was.

Now it looks like every mention of race – from the overblown dust-up with Senator Hillary Clinton this week to the calculated comments comparing him to Sidney Poitier – is bad for Obama. A victory in South Carolina, with its heavy black vote, will be seen as one-dimensional.

He needs people to look at him and see John Kennedy, or The Beatles, or Tiger Woods in his first Master’s tournament. He needs people to see youth, a break with the past, style under pressure.

When they see black this or black that — even a positive black first — it’s trouble.” (NYT 1/17/08)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow once penned that “The racial issue we confront today is not a sectional problem but a national problem. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Delivered at the Conference of the National Urban League, 1960 as quoted in I Have a Dream: Writings and Selection that Changed the Word MLK Writings).

And justice is our moral concern. In fact, I would argue that in the Free Church, justice is the expression of our faith.

What will it take to overcome “the racial issue” now these many decades since MLK has passed on?

It will take us renewing our call to, as Harold Washington would say “climb that great mountain of hope”. We are not going to see it simply dawn upon us, we will have to take this to our neighbors and friends, and say for instance “I see no reason why race has anything to do with Obama’s candidacy.” To challenge the racism of those we know who say he can’t be elected, and in fairness to say the same thing of a woman, Hillary Clinton, or a Mormon, Mitt Romney. If we believe as we do in the inherent worth of a person, than their race, gender and religion, while they inform their actions, are not grounds to reject their abilities.

What will it take to hold up what Dr. King called the “network of mutuality”?

Standing down fear comes to mind.

We have the power, each of us in this room, as we prepare to cast our vote and we are talking with those we know to echo these words, regardless of who we see as the ideal candidate, “judge them by their character”. It is our spiritual imperative to challenge this racism today. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

But there is one other dimension to overcome racism or any other ism in politics today. We must remember that our civil liberties are deeply ingrained in our civil religion.

We need to challenge any infraction of civil liberty as the backdrop to overcoming prejudice in our social and political lives. Any of the candidates we will be choosing in November need to be measured against their stand on civil liberties. This is our moral concern. And it goes so far beyond the identity of the candidate her or himself.

I would be asking any candidate black or white, male or female, Mormon, Jew, Christian or Unitarian, “what are you going to do to protect our freedoms?” What I don’t want is for the race issue to become a smokescreen for the real issues facing our great nation; security of food and shelter, the rights of all to dissent.

We are morally responsible for questioning what is happening here. Not as a right but as a responsibility. And if you think well, that is all well and good but my personal life is mess, try protesting and see how it helps you cope with your own life. We are all of the same cloth. It just depends on where you look at the pattern. You can look at the individual threads and see they are frayed or you can look at a piece and see that it is bright and worth fighting for.

This is the right of conscience and the true use of democracy in our congregations: to work towards the freedom of all people to be whom they are, to express their truth and to have their consent. It is not so much whether we follow our by-laws and procedure but rather whether our moral laws call us to freedom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. like Harold Washington strived to overcome racism by the character of his actions: providing for the poor and protecting the civil liberties of any of us to speak out, this was their platform beyond race. It is our spirit as well. It is required of any of us.

I recently took a cab ride and the driver, a Latino, started talking about the presidential race. “You know, imagine that, a woman and a black man running for president. But really what difference should it make, you know. What not Bill Richardson, a Latino? When do you stop looking at their bodies and start changing this mess? You know.” Wise words from someone making $15 an hour.

When indeed. Shelby Steele, a conservative African American and author of The Content of our Character: A New Vision of Race in America was on Bill Moyers last week and talking about Obama and the race card in politics. He had some interesting things to say about how Obama, like Oprah Winfrey, accommodates to our white culture. That was enough to worry me. Then he said this: “(there was a) survival mechanism (depending) on slavery and segregation. And we are still using it. We will get tired of that. Our children…will get even more tired of it. And will understand I think that the challenge of the collective is to produce individuals. “(Bill Moyers Journal, 1/11/08).

I may not agree with Mr. Steele’s politics but I share his dream: that we will get beyond race and judge people by their characters. I just think it will take a long time, it’s a tall mountain. But it starts with us as Unitarian Universalists. Are we prepared to stand against racism, to discount it as a measure of character in this political year? Are we prepared to demand instead candidates who uphold the needs of the marginalized and the right of all to dissent? Are we prepared to engage our neighbors and friends in a conversation that goes beyond race, perhaps beyond politics to the Spirit of human worth that is so intrinsic to our faith? I want to believe we are.

In one of Dr. King’s last speeches to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he united his call for desegregation with the need to battle poverty for all and an end to the Vietnam war which he saw as a machine keeping the status quo in place. He talked about “divine dissatisfaction”; its not enough to be satisfied with the way things are, being part of a faith means working towards the satisfaction of God, to make the crooked straight and the high places low, to make the wrong of any “ism” right by our efforts. He knew this was a task far greater than one lifetime, a task we are all still engaged in as people of faith. (ibid MLK).

The day before he died Dr. King spoke in a Mason Temple in Memphis, TN where he pronounced: “..I’ve been to the mountaintop…..I would like to live a long life…..I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know….that as a people we will get (there). (ibid, MLK)

We are still climbing. It’s a tall mountain. While I share Dr. King’s vision, I am tempered by the more down to earth words of Harold Washington “We are climbing a great mountain and we’ve taken the first firm steps. We may not reach the summit in our lifetimes, but men and women of good will a century from today will look back on …this movement and say: ‘I wish I had been a part of them. They had the courage to fight. The will to win. The sought goodness and they did good.” (ibid, Miller)

I pray that it can be said of us, that we to had that courage, sought goodness and did good.


Is Someone Calling?

February 10, 2008

By Rev. John Morehouse

Between our house, the office and our cell phones, we probably deal with somewhere near 140 phone calls a week. Occasionally, these calls are of a mysterious nature. Several weeks ago for instance, I received what was obviously a collect phone call on a fully automated system. I couldn’t understand who the caller was on my voice mail. I replayed the message over and over again, still no way to figure out who called. I followed the instructions to retrieve the message from AT&T but still could not retrieve the message. Generally, collect phone calls are fairly important to a minister; they usually indicate an emergency or just some lost soul with no place left to go. Calls from jail are always collect. I pursued the mystery, calling up the company and asking how I might retrieve the message. “I’m sorry sir” came the reply, there is no way to tell who called once it goes into the automated system. And while we have caller i.d. it only said “unavailable.” How fitting!This was really beginning to bother me. I don’t know why, usually I just have to move on. Who was calling? Avon, girl scout cookies, God? Who then? Who knows maybe aliens?All of this mystery got me to thinking about how often we might be missing the cues not only from people in need but from the larger cosmos around us. How many of you have stopped on a walk outside and listened to the sounds around you? How many of those sounds can you identify?

I flew to Maryland to celebrate my youngest grandson’s birthday. Snow on the ground, grey, bare trees, I remembered why I live in California. Back East I rose early and went outside. Winter has a different sound there than here in LA. I listened intently to the sounds around me, the cars, the birds, the planes and I mused how it might have been for some human progenitor 20,000 years ago. What was she listening to? To be certain, a quieter world. And for those sounds that she couldn’t identify did the earliest homo sapiens imagine an invisible force? Archeology seems to think so; our earliest religions are now thought to have been burial rites connecting the known of life with the unknown of death. As religion developed it brought meaning to where we go after we die and then moved on to where we came from, and why we are here. In the last thousand years or so we have demarcated that search to the known within the realm of science and the unknown mysteries of religion. It has been an uneasy alliance. Science demanding proof and religion relying on imagination and faith. And while science has been blazing forward in our quest to know and hear more of our universe, religion has been playing catch up. Trying to make historically bound doctrines such as the resurrection fit a modern world.

Michael Murphy, the founder of the Eslan Institute in California has assembled a team of serious scientists to study the connection with our fragile place in the cosmos and our spiritual drive. Murphy suggests that the overwhelming evidence of evolution is suggesting that we are part of a great arc towards a consciousness that will not only unite humankind, a thousand years from now but possibly connected us with a larger cosmic community.The story of evolution suggests that we are moving, destined perhaps, towards a great spiritual end. Perhaps nirvana, heaven, atonement, or communion with other life. Now before you think I have gone off my rocker hear me out. First the case for evolution, fundamentalist understandings aside, our universe is about 14 billion years old, at the current rate of expansion we will either expand to nothingness or begin to relapse in about another 14 billion years. Our lonely planet is 4.6 billion years old. The first 3 billion years were taken up in planet formation; cooling, oxidizing and reforming. In the last 900 million years life began. First as single cell beings, then jumping to multicelled organisms, then to breathing multi organ beings, finally to fish, reptiles, mammals and us. It has really only been in the last 50,000 years that we have achieved any semblance of intelligence and only in the last 20,000 years that we have been what I would call aware; capable of meaning making.

What is it that pulls us forward as a species? Does the universe have a “telos” Greek for message it is sending to us not as individuals but as a species? I believe it does. Not because I have heard the voice of God, though I have certainly felt the power of her presence urging me onward. Not because any great prophet has said so, Jesus, the Buddha or Mohammed. No, not because of any proclamation but because of the insatiable need humanity has to discover. I believe that we are being called, pulled forward by a force of cosmological proportions, not measured by what you and I see in our short lives or through our senses, but in the march of generations to connect with a larger and larger universe.

When we knew nothing of any worlds beyond our own we were arrogant enough to assume that this is all there is. And human history is about one group conquering another only to loose what they thought they had gained. Here, the Buddha was correct. We are bound to suffering and life by thinking that meaning is found in what we have. Death levels that illusion for us all. For my money, the really important thinking and work to be done in finding meaning in our lives; resides in loving one another and looking for a connection to the larger universe. The really cutting edge spiritual growth will be in hearing the call of the cosmos and making sense of it in our own life.What am I talking about? While I am not talking about a phone call from God. Someone shared with me an experience they had as a child walking past a Pentecostal church in Florida during a funeral. There was a great deal of singing going on and he went up to the open door to see what was happening. The deceased laid for viewing before the altar. One of the ushers seeing the young boy invited him in and walked him down to the casket. There was the man all dressed with a telephone in his hand. The usher exclaimed in all seriousness, “God called and he answered”! True story. In fact, telephones in caskets were quite popular back in the 1930s. Only trouble was the line was dead!

No, this is not what I mean, although faith in the afterlife is one way of answering the call. But there is another way to heed what I believe is the call to our ultimate destiny as human beings and that is ETI. Extra terrestrial intelligence. Now before you put on your Nikes here, let me explain. I have been a serious student of ET for sometime. Not the UFO stuff but the serious scientific inquiry into the possibility of life elsewhere. A real connection to something larger than we are. Let me start by saying that to date there is no evidence of ET. Period. Not because we haven’t tried. NASA before the Reagan cuts, and now several university and private institutes (see SETI) are engaged in a serious and systematic scan of the known galaxy for radio waves. There have been hundreds of unexplainable signals after a serious culling for other reasons but none of them has repeated itself – a requisite for the scientific method – still we are looking. There is a lot to listen to. Of the roughly 400 billion stars in our galaxy, (just one in billions) researchers believe that only 3% or 12 million are sun like stars, and only a fraction of those will have the distance to create the conditions for life, somewhere around 100,000 solar systems. Let me say that we do now have evidence that other planets exist. Our most recent catalog is about 57 planets in nearby stars. Let me also say that probability of life on the other planets is high. Carbon and water, the two most necessary elements for life exist in abundance. Mars is believed to have oceans worth of water in its crust and Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons is all water. Primitive one celled organism fossils have been found on asteroids. Life most definitely exists out there and some of it by the sheer probability of the numbers of stars, is intelligent probably more intelligent than we are. If our planet is 4.6 billion years old and the universe is 14 billion years old there was more than enough time for another planet to spawn and evolve another species of intelligence. And it would even take that long. Look how far we have come in the last 1000 years, the last 100 years, the last 10 years. Computer capability doubles every 18 months. Assuming we are in a mediocre system around a mediocre star, it follows statistically that there are other civilizations beyond us. And more than likely these civilizations will have outgrown war.It is towards that discovery and the knowledge that we will gain from that contact that I believe we are, as a species drawn, by some unseen hand. Before I attempt to suggest to you what that hand might be let me lay to rest your fears that all of this is determined and we are just pawns in some great cosmic chess game. The Jewish Kabala, the great mystical arm of Judaism has a wonderful saying: All is determined, but free will is given. The age old debate between those who say all life is predetermined, eat drink and be merry and those who are, like us, fierce individualists that believe only we can determine our course is missing the point. The march of evolution, the almost certainty that there is a larger intelligence beyond us (dare I say “Intelligent Design”?), the attempt of myth and poetry and religion to give context to this larger reality says to me, yes, we are part of a much bigger scheme of things than we can ever see. The earth is curved, if you travel west you eventually become east, returning from where you started. But you can’t see that. So it is, I believe with us, we can’t see how we fit into this larger destiny but that doesn’t mean we aren’t a part of it.

In our daily life, the life that earns money, deals with kids, money and sex, the part that has fears and joys and knows suffering we are like a single being on this planet. Sure the planet curves but that doesn’t affect our lives at this moment. At this micro-existence we call life, our choices do make a difference. And we do have the power to decide. We are free. Just as Adam and Eve were free to disobey God and eat of the tree of good and evil, so too are we free. And those decisions make a difference, good or bad, in the physical world. Perhaps even beyond this world, like the Hindu law of karma, each action, good or bad has a reaction, like ripples in a pond.But Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden of Eden for that freedom. And something in them, in all of us, is drawing us back. Not to what was, but to what could be. A garden of new knowledge, new wisdom, new hope. This is why I believe we are connected together in a much, much larger scheme. We are destined to find that garden, or perhaps to see the garden all around us. Someone or something deep within us, generation upon generation is calling us home.So is the Goddess ET? Intriguing thought. If so that we must have a bad connection. Of the roughly four billion channels we would need to listen to hear a signal, our current technology can only listen to a mere 2 million at once. This will change. But perhaps it won’t be radio waves, it might be light, in fact infrared light might be flashing at us right now even if we can’t see it. What would they think of us? Our earliest T.V. signals are from I love Lucy, now reaching 30 light years away, roughly 50 million miles, only to about the nearest dozen stars in our neighborhood.It’s hard to imagine God as ET broadcasting live from Alpha Centurai, a mere four light years away. Rather I find that God’s place is more subtle than even the stars. The Sufi mystic Rumi put it better: Divine, within, without, all in all. The drive to connection (which is after all what religion means) is for me, God. Not a place or person but a condition. We are drawn by a destiny of what the ancients called atonement. To be one with what is.

What does this mean for you and me? Not much. We will go on with our lives, making difficult choices to real life problems. Seeking love and acceptance and courage. But it is my hope, than for just the occasional moment you might ponder your inevitable connection to a universe where you, far from being too small to count, do count by the very fact that you wonder what is out there. We are not alone, said the little boy dying, we are definitely not alone. The Spanish mystic Jose Ortega Y Gasset said it best: It is not primarily in the present or in the past that we live. Our life is the activity directed to what is to come.I believe someone is calling. And we are, in some small way, answering the call by simply being and living on this earth.

The Pretense of Accidents

February 5, 2008

Rev. John Morehouse

It was inevitable. If you drive on LA Freeways long enough you will be tempted to find a metaphor on all that concrete. It all started with an accident. Not a very serious accident – and I know that there are very serious and deadly accidents on the road – but just an accident between a man and woman. I only drove by it slowly, like so many others rubber necking and slowing us all down. A real fender bender, but for the brief 30 seconds I saw them, they were laughing. Not cursing, not shouting, not glowering, not hunched over their insurance cards, but laughing. Who knows maybe they were high school sweet hearts or old friends? But maybe, just maybe, something happened between them in this accident that changed the way their world looked. A pretense to something new.

It got me thinking, how many times has a so-called mishap, even some very serious accident or misfortune led us to a new place in life. I lost a business and found a new life and love. Someone losses their job through no fault of their own and finds a new career. Love stumbles, we fall, and someone new is on the ground with us.

What is it about the occasional misfortune that turns the world around? Deepak Chopra, not my favorite author but sometimes insightful enough claims “there are no accidents. There is only cause and effect, the cause may be far away but the effect comes around” (From The Way of the Wizard). This is also known as the law of karma. The great Hindu idea that nothing happens by chance, and every event that happens to us, good or bad, is the result of some past action on our part good or bad in some long gone previous life. But lest we excuse every accident as some unwritten law of the universe let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not completely convinced that karma is always at work. Not all accidents, especially the very serious ones, seem to have a redemptive power. I only ask us today to be open to the possibility that something new may come from the unexpected. How you see the result of those accidents is up to you. At best, some call positive unexpected coincidences serendipity; a word that means unexpected good fortune. Others, such as Chopra, call them synchronicity, the universe conspiring to bring events into play towards a certain outcome. However you explain the lessons of accidents doesn’t really matter so much. What matters is that you see the lessons in the accidents, the unexpected mishaps themselves.

Meg Barnhouse, my colleague and one of the funniest people in America tells another accident story: She was driving by a car wreck being tended to. “Emergency service people were putting a woman on a stretcher. They were tender, attentive, capable. She was being taken care of. Traffic was being directed competently around the wreck. It would be cleaned up, hauled away. Taken care of. A fire truck was parked beside the ambulance, its chunky lights flashing. Standing by, just in case a fire happened. So they could take care of it. This was one well taken care of situation. I wanted to be on that stretcher. I wanted capable people to take care of everything. It looked restful. I was tired. I was the kind of tired you get at the end of a month long project…I was the kind of tired you get when you have ten different people feeling in their heart that you should have done it differently. Their way. The kind of tired you get when your house is messy, your grass is too long, your car is cluttered and your gas tank is empty, along with your bank account. A tiny piece of me thought it would be restful to lie down on clean sheets, be fussed over in a clean hospital room, have people bring jell-o, chicken broth and straws that bend…..Usually I think it’s a good day when I don’t have to take a ride in an ambulance and I get back to that state of mind pretty fast. I talked to a friend of mine who used to work in an emergency room and she said what happens when you come in is that fast moving people with big scissors cut off all your clothes. That didn’t sound restful at all. She suggested that I pay for a day at the spa where helpful, calm people would fuss over me all day long. I’d rest but no one would have to cut off my clothes with scissors. I would be cheaper than a hospital stay and I could come home afterward.” (From Did I Say that Out Loud).

Really. How about it? Are we accidents waiting to happen? Sometimes the accident can be a real wake up call. I had some health issues last fall. I took a stress test and was off the chart. Drive me down to the ER. It was not quite an accident but pretty close. I have started to get it together. Finally. Losing weight. Eating better. Three months ago I was diabetic, now I am no longer. I had BP of 145/90 with medication, now its 124/78. Meditation is a daily practice. I make mistakes but I don’t try to do as much as I used to. I am finally learning what my teacher Bo Lozoff meant when he said we have to learn to move “out of the fast land and into vast lane.” (From It’s a Meaningful Life: It Just takes Practice) A pretense to an accident.

But even if it does, that accident can sometimes save our life. When has the struggle redeemed you? Even now if you are in that struggle, can you imagine being redeemed? Thomas Moore called these moments of redemption “treasured tragedies.” Simple failures are not a sign of unworthiness but a sign of our humanness. “If realizations most often come from accidents perhaps we need to be a bit more accident prone”. (From The Soul’s Religion).

Can you think back to when you were a child? How did you learn? Accidentally! What makes us think we are any different? We are a Breakthrough Congregation now nationally recognized for being truly extraordinary. At the minister’s retreat this week someone asked me “How did you think we do that?” I had to think about it for a moment. We didn’t plan to be extraordinary. Sure we had a plan, but thank the stars we weren’t conceited enough to make the end of it all some glory! We just wanted to make our vision real. I have to say, it was all almost by accident. Yes, in many ways we are how we are by accident, by trial and error. And how did I become your leader? Let me tell you, many mistakes. Ten years ago I was rather arrogant and unwilling to listen. Yes, in my last ministry we built a multimillion dollar building but I and others struggled along the way. I made many mistakes. When the fates and vagaries of the universe brought me here, I learned from the accidents. Now, I try to listen more, try less to bend reality, and, most of all believe in you, my people. How often has the first half of our life, full of mistakes, been a pretext for the second? How can you imagine your life still coming together, as accident prone as we all are?

Even a near miss can teach us so much; about the fragility of life, the randomness of fate, and the fact that only we, people caring for one another, can really respond to the tragedies of life.

Have a little faith in yourselves and in each other! We do learn from even the worst situation. Not always but often enough. To make mistakes and learn from them. Even at the end of life.

I close with this very important story. My colleagues, John and Sarah Gibb Millspaugh share what happened: At the end of October we went to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to camp and celebrate our one-year anniversary. The park was practically deserted, as most other campers cancelled their reservations due to the nearby wildfires. But we checked and learned that the smoke was blowing in the opposite direction of the park, so we went.

On our third day of camping, our actual anniversary, breakfast at our campsite was interrupted by a noise from the highway a couple hundred yards away. I thought it sounded an awful lot like a crashing car, so I ran towards the road to see if I could see anything.

In a dry creek bed by the road, something large and metallic glimmered in the sun. John and I arrived on the scene to find a car ripped open, and no driver or passenger in sight. We eventually found the sole passenger of the car, the driver, lying unconscious and covered by brush. John uncovered his broken body and gently held him. Amazingly, he was breathing.

While John tended to him, I sought help. Cell phones didn’t work, and no one else was in the campground. I flagged down drivers: some stayed to help and others drove on to call 911.

After about 10 minutes, the man stopped breathing. John knew CPR the best out of the four of us who had gathered by that time, so he administered it. Finally, 20 minutes later, medical help arrived in the form of fire department paramedics. Sadly, they confirmed what we already suspected: the driver was dead. We later learned that the man’s severe head injuries would have killed him even if paramedics had arrived instantaneously.

Fortunately, our training as ministers helped us stay reasonably calm and present to the situation, doing what needed to be done; still, we were shaken by the experience of running from a celebratory anniversary breakfast to being the primary caretakers of a stranger in the middle of a desert, holding him as life passed from him. Thankfully, we knew about Critical Incident Stress Debriefing—a process that can help process trauma and reduce the severity of any post traumatic stress. If you are ever in a traumatic situation, please seek out this kind of professional debriefing—fire departments, law enforcement officials, and emergency personnel should always be able to refer you to a trained person who can offer it. The debriefing helped us tremendously. (From “Reflections on the Side of the Road” preached by the Revs John and Sarah Gibb Millspaugh, Tapestry UU Church, Mission Viejo, CA)

The trauma group that John and Sarah worked with stepped in, met with the two of them and then arranged for John and Sarah to meet with the dead man’s family. He left behind a wife and three kids, he was trying to make a sales meeting. The whole family was there when they arrived. With the TIPS person by their side, they gave the details of the end of his life. Even in such a tragedy, it meant so much to know that he didn’t die alone. When they found out they were ministers, the room exploded in emotion and relief. His final minutes had been in the presence of care and love and the holiness of love. It was immensely powerful.

Even the most terrible accidents have the possibility of redemption. The point is to be open that possibility. Rumi put it this way: “What if a king had sent you into a country to do one task but you did one hundred other tasks, trying hard to remember the one you missed?” (From “One Hundred Tasks”) How are we supposed to know that one task if not by accident? Or are mishaps, as Chopra suggests, “an echo of a life yet to live?” Seekers are offered clues all the time. Ordinary people call them coincidences. I am asking you to be extra-ordinary, to look beyond the misfortune. To try to find the meaning beyond the meaningless, a pretense to something truly beautiful even if living in the moment of greatest messiness we call life. May our blessings endure and our struggles lessen. And may we find love and strength to carry on.