Cherish Your Friends

This past spring as part of my Lenten discipline I took on something instead of giving up something. I had been thinking a lot about past friendships from college and graduate school and I realized I missed those people in my life. I decided I would take time to reach out and hopefully connect with six friends with whom I had lost contact. I was interested then to read of a study that encourages people to make those phone calls or send a text or email. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people often underestimate how much their friends and old acquaintances appreciate hearing from them.

“If there’s been someone that you’ve been hesitating to reach out to, that you’ve lost touch with perhaps, you should go ahead and reach out, and they’re likely to appreciate it much more than you think,” said Peggy Liu, the study’s lead author. The researchers conducted a series of 13 experiments with more than 5,900 participants to see if people could accurately estimate how much their friends value them reaching out and what forms of communication make the biggest impact. In these experiments, reaching out was defined as a phone call, text, email, note or small gift. The experiments found that initiators significantly underestimated the recipient’s reaction to the check-in.

“It’s often less about these kinds of grand overtures that we can make in our relationships and more about the small moments of letting a friend know that we’re thinking of them,” said Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert who was not involved in the study. A recipient appreciated the communication more when it was surprising, such as when it was from someone the recipient did not regularly contact or when the participant and recipient did not consider themselves to be close friends, the study found. “When you feel that sense of positive surprise,” Liu said, “it really further boosts the appreciation that you feel.”

Relationships, including friendships, can be one of the strongest predictors of how healthy we are and how long we live, and they can boost our overall well-being. During the pandemic we certainly found that when we are disconnected and isolated from our friends and loved ones we suffer from increased anxiety and depression. We know that friendships require nourishment and after leaving college and graduate school I had starved the relationships which had meant so much to me. Most of the six friends I reached out to live in other states and one lives out of the country. I was able to see the friends that live here in person and the others I spoke to on the phone. With each one it was fun to hear their voice and catch up on where they are at in life. Just as the study found, each person I talked to appreciated the fact that I had reached out to renew our friendship. My intention now is to feed those friendships and keep them alive. Who are the friends that you might reach out to?

What on Earth is a Christingle?

I grew up making Christingles at school and at church, and I have continued that tradition ever since. Despite perhaps being the only Christingle in Arizona, the light shines just as brightly, and its meaning remains just the same

Mercy’s Beam I See

Advent has always been my favorite season in the Church calendar. Singing in all of those Advent Carol Services as a child whilst holding a flickering candle clearly made an favorable impression… despite the piercing cold!

The theologian Walter Bruggemann reminds us that while Advent is a time for getting ready, “getting ready time is not mainly about busy activity, entertaining and fatigue.” He goes on to explain his thought on how to be prepared in a spiritual sense for the coming celebrations of Christmas is about also being “abrasive, in that our preparation is also linked with asking, thinking, pondering and redeciding”. Abrasive is at first glance a curious choice of words, but by “abrasive” he means that the season of Advent is best approached by making a conscious and perhaps even uncomfortable decision to rebalance and reorient our lives, refocusing on how we can live our lives fully in tune with God. When experienced with an open heart and mind, the season of Advent aims to provide insight and perspectives for us to welcome God’s light into our lives in the person of Jesus. Over these past couple of years, carving out that space for pondering upon how God’s light shines into the darkness and difficult parts of our lives becomes even more vital. And so instead of being unbalanced in a perpetual state of getting ready so as not being really ready for anything – I hope you may join with me in being mindful of how we use or time between now and Christmas. To find the right balance of preparation and contemplation as we ponder, watch and wait. Perhaps I’ll start by revisiting the words of Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn ‘Christ whose glory fills the skies’; “Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by thee; Joyless is the day’s return, till thy mercy’s beams I see, till they inward light impart, glad my eyes, and warm my heart.” May we all see beams of mercy and light this Advent season.

Only God Can Make a Tree

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

– “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

This poem is what my mind kept returning to as I visited San Antonio a few weeks ago. I was there to see my Aunt and do some sightseeing around the city and my eyes and heart were drawn to the beautiful trees there. More than once I had the urge to climb the branches of a few of them, but resisted only because I may have gotten myself kicked out of places like the Alamo and the San Jose Mission if I attempted such shenanigans.

There were beautiful tall oak trees all over with their large armed branches twisting and turning as they reached ever outward and upward. Within their twiggy fingers they held air plants which reminded me of tiny unfinished birds’ nests.

At the Alamo there was a huge pecan tree that was planted in 1850 by the explorer and rancher Peter Gallagher. It is the oldest tree on the property and is called a “pampered princess’ by the Alamo horticulturalist because it is treated so well by all the caretakers. Being over 80 feet tall I would say this pampered princess is very well taken care of and adored by more than just the squirrels.

I have always found myself feeling closest to God when I am in nature and amongst the trees. There is something about a large ancient tree that not only reminds me of the Creator, but shows me who I should strive to be as well. Standing strong and sturdy against the elements. A sentry, offering a place of respite without judgment in the shade of its leaves and the strength of its limbs. Reaching skyward towards the sun with a quiet grace knowing, that no matter what happens, all shall be well.

Nature is a spiritual place created completely from seed to towering tree by God and for me it is sometimes the best sanctuary for prayer. May we all be able to appreciate and enjoy the blessings we can find every day in nature.

Commemorating Veterans Day

Each year in November the commemoration of Veterans Day gives us a time to stop and pause to remember and honor the sacrifices of those who have served in our armed forces. And what could be more appropriate than to read and reflect on excerpts from the following article “What is a Vet?” by a veteran, Father Denis Edward O’Brien. (I found the article among papers saved by my late husband Ed. Both he and Father O’Brien served in the U. S. Marine Corps in the South Pacific in WWII.)

Some veterans bear visible signs of their service, a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye, a piece of shrapnel in the leg—or perhaps another sort of inner steel: The soul’s ally forged in the refinery of adversity. Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can’t tell a vet just by looking. So what is a vet?

  • He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn’t run out of fuel.
  • She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang
  • He is the POW who went away one person and came back another—or didn’t come back at all.
  • He is the three anonymous heroes in the Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean’s sunless deeps
  • He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket—palsied now and aggravatingly slow—who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when nightmares come.
  • They are ordinary and yet extraordinary human beings—individuals who offered some of their most vital years in the service of their country, and who sacrificed their ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice their own.

So remember each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say “Thank You.”

As we remember veterans no longer with us with gratitude in our hearts and reach out to thank veterans still in our lives, we commemorate this Veterans Day with a special, heartfelt thanks to all veterans in our Beatitudes Campus community. Thank you for your service, indeed!

Japanese Kintsugi

Awhile back I broke a favorite vase of mine and I tried as best I could to put it back together again. It brought to mind the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty after his fall. I kept the vase although it didn’t look the same and I couldn’t use it for it’s original purpose. Perhaps it looked ok from afar but upon closer inspection you can see where it was broken and repaired. I thought of my vase when I learned about the Japanese artform called Kintsugi. It is a beautiful form of ceramics which has much to teach us. When a vase or bowl or cup is broken, artists gather up the broken pieces and glue them back together. It is how they put them back together that is steeped in wisdom and beauty. They mix gold dust with the glue and instead of trying to hide the cracks they own them, honor the, even accentuate them by making them golden. They celebrate the cracks as part of their story. Kintsugi ceramics are stunningly beautiful and it is believed that once repaired in this ancient method, Kintsugi pieces are more beautiful, and more loved than before they were broken.

According to art historians, kintsugi came about accidentally. When the 15th-century shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl, he sent it to China for repairs and was disappointed that it came back stapled together. The metal pins were unsightly, so local craftsmen came up with a solution — they filled the crack with a golden lacquer, making the bowl more unique and valuable. This repair elevated the fallen bowl back to its place as shogun’s favorite and prompted a whole new art form. Recently, a resident gave me a book called Life is Messy by Matthew Kelly who asks the question, “Can something that has been broken be put back together in a way that makes it more beautiful than ever before?” Kelly laments how quickly and easily our society throws broken things away because we cling to the false notion that we have to try to keep everyone and everything from being broken. He says, “I marvel how God doesn’t use straight lines or right-angles in nature. We invented right-angles and straight lines to prop up our insecure humanity. The perfection of nature is marked by crooked lines, brokenness, imperfect colors, and things that seem out of place. The perfection of creation is achieved through its imperfection. And so it is with human beings. Your imperfections are part of what make you perfectly yourself. If we put on the mind of God, we discover one of the most beautiful truths this life has to offer: Something that has been devastatingly broken can be put back together in a way that makes it more beautiful than ever before. It is true for things, but it is even more true for people, and it is true for you. This is the source and the summit of hope.”

Scripture agrees that like the kintsugi crafters who repaired the shogun’s bowl with gold long ago, imperfections are gifts to be worked with, not shames to be hidden. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Owning the fact that we are all clay jars allows us to be free and human in the way God intended. Each of us is subject to chipping and cracking and likely to contain imperfections but it is those cracks and imperfections that give us character and beauty.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore. “Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice. “We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”

Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house. Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?” “We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.” “Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better. Because Pooh and Piglet were There. No more; no less. (A.A. Milne, E.H. Shepard)

This is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. The goal is to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help. Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues. It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

Did you know?

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.
  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
  • Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:
    • 4.8% of all adults
    • 11.8% of young adults aged 18-25
    • 18.8% of high school students
    • 46.8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students

If you or someone you know are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)

You also have crisis resources available here on campus that will connect you to the treatment and support you need. Call Chaplain Peggy (X16109) or Chaplain Andrew (X18481) or Josephine Levy (X16117) and Jessica Meyer from Success Matters (X16110) or speak to any staff member and they will help you find the support you need.

The Jewish Holidays in September

September 2021 is an interesting month regarding the Jewish Calendar. The Jewish calendar year is 5782 and theoretically dates from Adam and Eve, if you go through the bible with all the years listed for the generations. There are four major Jewish holidays that occur this month. Three of them are described in Leviticus chapter 23. The first is Rosh Hashanah, literally the Head of the Year, as the Hebrew word Rosh is “head” and Hashanah is “the year.” Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown September 6th and is celebrated on the seventh and eight for Orthodox Jews and the seventh for Jews who live in Israel and Reform Jews. It is interesting that Rosh Hashanah begins on the first day of Tishrei, the seventh month of the Hebrew Calendar and is the beginning of the ten Days of Awe which end with Yom Kippur.

The Beatitudes High Holiday Jewish service, celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, will be conducted in the Life Center Boardroom on Friday, September 10th at 1 pm. The service will be led by Phil and Hannah Adelman.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown on the 15th of September. Leviticus does not use the name Rosh Hashanah and only indicates that is a day of the blowing of the horn. The name for this day was first used in the Mishnah which is a Jewish text written in the first 200 years of the common era. The Mishnah describes the use of the ram’s horn as it was a ram who was sacrificed in place of Isaac by Abraham. Hence, the Shofar or rams’ horn is blown in services on Rosh Hashanah. Yom Kippur is the end of the days of awe and is normally spent in the synagogue praying and fasting. The Yom Kippur fast begins prior to sundown on the fifteenth and ends, traditionally, after sundown on the sixteenth. During this 24-hour day the Jewish fast consists of complete abstinence of food and drink.

Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles, begins on the evening of the 20th of September (14th of Tishrei) and is a seven or eight-day holiday. It commemorates the harvest and traditionally we build a wooden structure, which is covered in palm fronds or other branches from trees. Many Jews eat their holiday meals in the sukkah. Simchat Torah, rejoicing with the Torah, begins at sundown September 28th. It is celebrating with the Torah and ends the annual cycle of reading the Torah in the Synagogue. On this holiday the final chapter of Deuteronomy is read, and the beginning of Genesis is read. The Torah, which is a scroll containing the 5 books of Moses is rewound from the end to the beginning and every synagogue and temple in the world begins the annual reading the Torah on Simchat Torah.

Article written by Phil Adelman, Beatitudes resident and posted on his behalf by Beatitudes Campus

Optimistic Realism

I find that to be a worthy challenge to be an optimist AND a realist. To learn to hold those two opposing but equally true things at once. We can grieve all that we’ve been through and also find the strength to deal with the ongoing reality. We can grieve those we’ve lost. We can lament, and fight and struggle with our pandemic fatigue while also finding hope in today, in the reality here and now as we seek to live each day to the fullest.

@nina_p_v via Twenty20

One Step Enough For Me

And yet his words are a prayer not for supernatural problem solving, nor even to grasp the entirety and complexity of whatever befalls us, but simply for the guidance and support to simply take one more step forward on our pilgrimage of life.

Dimensions of Wellness Fair

While the categories of wellness overlap and influence one another, some examples of physical wellness will include Mobile Valley Physicians, Oasis Outpatient Therapy, Dispatch Health, our own Fitness Director, Mike Smallwood, Zounds, Premier and Costco Hearing, mobile dentistry and more.

Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia

As we approach the New Year, much of what we see and hear on the media is looking back on what was the best of the year 2019 and what was the worst!  I am sometimes uncertain as to whether looking back, dwelling in the past, is helpful or not, however, I was enlightened by an article written by Tim Adams suggesting that looking back improves the look of tomorrow.  “Long considered a disorder, nostalgia is now recognised as a powerful tool in the battle against anxiety and depression. Is it healthy to dwell in the past? Up until about 15 years ago, most psychologists would have suggested probably not. The habit of living in memory rather than the present, of comparing how things once were with how things are now, was for several centuries thought at best a trait to avoid and at worst a root cause of depressive illness. Nostalgia was the soldiers’ malady – a state of mind that made life in the here and now a debilitating process of yearning for that which had been lost: rose-tinted peace, happiness, loved ones. It had been considered a psychological disorder ever since the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home— nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.”

Since the turn of this century, however, rather than being a malady, researchers have found that memories can help us feel good about ourselves, make sense of our journey and root us to our history.  Nostalgia is both a driver of empathy and social connectedness, and a potent internal antidote for loneliness and alienation—a fact which has led to the beginnings of nostalgia-based therapies for illnesses that include clinical depression and perhaps Alzheimer’s.  Some of this research is historical. Researcher, Tim Wildschut, was intrigued by the strong anecdotal evidence of women in concentration camps during the Holocaust who “responded to starvation by waxing nostalgic about shared meals with their families and arguing about recipes and so on.”  A concentration camp survivor said: “We used our memories to temporarily alter our perception of the state we were in. It was not a solution, but the temporary change in perception allowed you to persevere just a bit longer. And that could be crucial.” Nostalgia helps build resources like optimism or inspiration or creativity.  In difficult situations, nostalgia grounds you and gives you a base on which to evaluate the present as a temporary state, and in doing so it perhaps builds resilience. 

I had no idea that nostalgia held such power!  As you look back upon this past year and reflect on memories of your life, I hope that those memories strengthen you to look forward to tomorrow with hope and joy.  Happy New Year!

Remembering the 1919 Event

What is a lynching? By definition, it is a premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group. It is most often used to characterize informal public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, convicted transgressor, or to intimidate a group.

The Blame Game

The Rev. Brad Munroe, the Executive Presbyter of the local denominational body of which I am a part (part of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A), has rewritten the Serenity Prayer for the 21st Century. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept that others
may misunderstand, misinterpret, and misjudge
my motives when hearing the narratives I speak,
the courage to listen with grace, humility, and compassion
for other’s motives when hearing the narratives they speak,
and the wisdom to know when to speak and when to listen,
always seeking charity, clarity, and conviction from all.

In a recent article, Brad writes about the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAR) which is a term psychologists use to describe the phenomena of attributing ill motives to others while assuming pure motives for oneself. For example, if someone cuts us off while driving, our first thought might be “What a jerk!” Conversely, consider the last time you were suddenly honked at for drifting into a different lane.  You may have had an immediate alibi (e.g. the sun was in my eyes, my kids were distracting me) that explained your behavior based on a situation.  You didn’t immediately come to the conclusion that you were an inconsiderate or incompetent driver. Because of the Fundamental Attribution Error, we tend to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people. We’re inclined to ignore situational factors that might have played a role. 

A particularly common example is the self-serving bias, which is the tendency to attribute our successes to ourselves, and our failures to others and the situation. You might have noticed yourself making self-serving attributions at times. How often do we judge others harshly while letting ourselves off the hook at the same time by rationalizing our own unethical behavior? The Fundamental Attribution Error is so pervasive that I guarantee you will see it in action over the next week if you keep your eyes open.   If we were to add up how many times the FAR is made in the meetings we attend, the gatherings we go to, the conversations with family and friends, we would likely find reasons why our life together needs an injection of “the courage to listen with grace, humility, and compassion.”

Some helpful remedies and things to consider are:  watch out when you make generalizations and don’t be too quick to draw conclusions about the character and capabilities of others, assume the good will of the other person, and envision yourself in the shoes of the other person and imagine their challenges. Unquestionably, there are genuine jerks and incompetent people we run across in life.  Given our inherent tendency to ascribe negative traits quickly, we will be better off by considering alternate explanations before we jump to conclusions.  Those folks that are truly deserving of negative labels will have ample opportunity to validate our suspicions!

Lost and Found Again

This past week I read about an international research project conducted by Science Magazine. Hundreds of “lost” wallets containing large and small amounts of money were placed in locations around the world where they could easily be found, with the aim of the experiment being to see what would happen next. Would one nation be more honest than another? Would a particular age demographic be more honest than another? Would anybody turn in any of the wallets at all? Well the results have been surprising to read. Fascinatingly, the study revealed that the more money there was contained in a lost wallet- the more likely it was to be handed in to the fictitious owner, whose contact details were also left inside. For those of you wondering, Switzerland had the highest overall wallet return rates. China had the lowest, and the U.S. ranked around the middle of the 40 countries, at 21st place.

The project reminded me of those various parables that Jesus told about things being lost. Jesus’ teaching using allegorical stories is recorded in all four gospel texts, including stories about lost sheep, lost coins and lost children, with his intent and focus being to help us to understand the joy of God in the lost being found, and the rejoicing in heaven over those who find true fulfillment and joy in their lives by living fully into a relationship of faith and love with God.

According to the Science Magazine study, and contrary to what many might suppose, it would appear that civic honesty is still alive and well. It’s easy to be despondent about a perceived decline in what one might refer to as neighborliness and honesty, but the research certainly suggests that, when it comes to our society, all is not lost. And as we read in Jesus’ parables about the enduring and boundless love of God, it becomes clear that neither are we. May all who walk the pilgrimage of faith, and who search for meaning and purpose find voice for our hearts desire in the words of Martin Luther King’s favorite hymn; “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand. I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m alone. Through the storm, through the night lead me on to the light, take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.” May all those who feel lost find a home amidst God’s love.