What Pastors Need to Know about Spiritual Directors

by Teresa Blythe

There was a time when ordained ministers served mostly as local church pastors. That is no longer the case. As churches shrink, specialized ministry becomes the first choice for many of us.

Although specialized ministry encompasses a wide range of “outside the church” professions such as chaplaincy and non-profit work, I am writing today about spiritual direction. At a recent convocation of specialized ministers of the Southwest Conference UCC we talked at length about how local pastors and specialized ministers could better understand one another.

I am aware that many local pastors are familiar with spiritual direction from either having a director of their own or feeling guilty because they haven’t gotten around to finding one! But pastors may not know all you need to know about the care and education of the spiritual director. Here are five things I think you should know:

  1. We are educated for this ministry.  Anyone who does spiritual direction for a living or as a “side hustle” should have graduated from a training program. (I say should have because the profession is not regulated nor does it have any standard certification process that all spiritual directors must complete.) If we are ordained to the ministry of spiritual direction, as I am, we have the requisite M.Div. plus the extra training it takes to learn how to do the most highly regarded form of spiritual direction—the evocative method (you share, we mostly listen and draw your attention to where the Spirit may be at work in you). If we are ordained you can be sure we have gone through our denomination’s sometimes rigorous process of becoming ordained to specialized ministry with all the accountability and standard of ethics that goes along with that. One does not have to be ordained to be an excellent spiritual director, but training is essential. I will go out on a limb and say that unless you are a quite elderly religious professional who became a director before there were training programs, you must go through a training program to be any good at the ministry. These programs vary greatly, and frankly that is a problem for the profession, but a certificate of completion usually guarantees that the person has learned the basics. By the way, lots of local pastors attend these training programs and become spiritual directors. They find it gives them a new and helpful lens in which to work pastorally with their congregation.

  1. We are usually contemplatives by nature. While pastors vary widely in temperament—from the jolly extrovert to the pensive thinker-types—most spiritual directors are gentle, quiet and contemplative. The practice of spiritual direction demands patience and stillness of heart in the director. We spend a considerable amount of time listening to our directees share their sacred stories. Good spiritual directors always listen more than they talk. Because of our contemplative nature, we are good at helping activist pastors and churches calm down and savor the slow work of God. If you have a spiritual director in your midst, I hope you are calling on their special gifts for pastoral care, education and showing up as the “non-anxious presence” in times of conflict.

  1. We want to have a collegial relationship with you. Spiritual directors suffer when we live and work in isolation. We need contact with you for fellowship and camaraderie. We can offer you a listening ear when you need to share about a confidential matter (even if you are not one of our directees—we usually don’t mind informally putting on the director hat for you now and then). We are especially aware of issues of boundaries in ministry. Because the spiritual direction relationship is unique and highly confidential, we are usually pretty strict about boundaries. Many pastors have appreciated bouncing ideas concerning the personal limits they set with parishioners off me. And I’m glad to help.

  1. We sometimes need your help. Since many of us are introverts and contemplatives, we are (as a group) not great at marketing ourselves and our work. Any marketing we do is of the “soft sell” variety. If you respect our work, then please talk about it with your clergy friends, parishioners and staff. Encourage us to contribute to your church newsletters, offer classes or show up at some business meetings to observe and reflect what we notice. I know I have benefitted greatly from the support I get from the local church where I now am on staff part-time. In fact, if you need help with pastoral care and visitation you might consider hiring a spiritual director. It’s not exactly the same work we do in direction sessions but it translates well.

Another way you can help us is by understanding the nature of the work we do. Spiritual directors are responsible for staying deeply in touch with the Spirit so that we can be of service in our one-hour sessions.  So if we don’t take you up on all those great suggestions I just mentioned, it’s because spiritual direction work can be emotionally taxing. And we are taught to know our limits and not become overwhelmed with busywork, so we guard our work time carefully. It’s nothing personal. Pastors could learn some things from us about taking charge of one’s work schedule.

The best way you can help a spiritual director that you know and like is by finding out if we are taking on new directees and if we want referrals from you. Most of the clients we receive are from word-of-mouth. Let us drop off a set of brochures or business cards with our contact information so that when you encounter someone who wants or needs spiritual direction, you can offer them a name.

  1. We want to be your spiritual director. Provided we are not working for you or are close friends with you (or your family), we’d like to work with you in direction. Religious professionals make up a lot of our clientele and they tell us it’s the best $60 – $80 dollars a month they spend. We know your special needs and have heard a lot of stories about life as an employee for a volunteer organization! We hold a great deal of compassion for pastors and the peaks and valleys you encounter. If you are not in spiritual direction, I highly recommend you check it out. The history of spiritual direction dates back over 1500 years when it began in Catholic religious orders. For hundreds of years it was a practice that priests enjoyed. It’s now a practice for all, but especially for clergy!

These are just a few thoughts about how the specialized ministry of spiritual direction can work hand-in-hand with traditional parish ministry. You may have questions or some creative ideas of your own to share. I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net and let’s talk.


Climate Change Deniers

by Don Fausel

Usually I don’t have any problem falling to sleep at night. But the one thing that keeps me awake is after I’ve spent time researching about climate change deniers. When I do get to sleep I usually have nightmares more scary than the 1984 movie Nightmare on Elm Street. When I wake up I’m a little more reasonable and realize that climate change can be solved. It’s a matter of “facts” and “claims”. Facts are unarguable and proven; “claims” are arguable but contain evidence as well, but are not proven.

As a matter of fact climate change it’s not just a “claim” as the deniers would have us believe. Rather, it’s an established scientific fact. Don’t take my words for it! What I want to do in this blog is to give some of the scientific facts, which most scientists agree with, as opposed to the “claims” that most deniers rely on.


Let’s begin with a piece from the New York Times titled, Liberal Biases, Too, May Block Progress on Climate Change, by Eduardo Porter on April 19, 2016. I chose this article because it demonstrates how the diverse positions between the left and right, can impair factual information about climate change. As the article suggests, the people on the right, are identified as individualistic and couscous of big government, and in their view, the scientific consensus takes an opposite position. According to the article, “The people on the right like private businesses, which they see as productive job creators. They mistrust government. It’s not surprising they will play down climate change…” The people on the left tend to mistrust big corporations, and see them as dishonest and harmful. “When science is aligned with big corporations the left immediately perceives the technology as not benefiting the greater good, but only the benefiting the corporations.”

Basically, the authors are suggesting “…those attitudes about climate change have little to do with education and people’s understandings of science.” We don’t need better science, but that somehow “…scientific facts from deeply rooted preferences about the world we want to live in, on both sides of ideology divide.”

It’s not new information that Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers “…and their scientists are being investigated by the attorneys generals for whether they committed fraud for denying the role of fossil fuels in climate change, even though while its own scientists were aware of the connection.” If you want to know more about how the tobacco companies and the deniers of climate change, read the book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming. You might be surprised of how many of the same attorneys that represented the tobacco companies were the same attorneys who were hired by Exxon Mobil when they had to be defended for keeping information about the damage the coal and oil companies kept for 20 years. As Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) reminded us “In America, it is unlawful for companies to lie to their stakeholders.” Shame on them! And if you can get the book Scientific Proof that Exxon and Kochs Distorted the Public’s Understanding of Climate Change, you’ll get more recent information.


Here’s an article from Live Science by Tia Ghose titled 9 Real Ways the Earth Could End. All though it was written in 2013 the content is up to date. Note this article is from scientists not from someone running around the street shouting “The end is nigh!”

The first ways that the scientists believe is a threat to planet earth is Global Warming. The other eight ways that could end the earth are available in the article above.

It’s interesting that Global Warming is at the top of the list that it is identified as “The mother of all apocalyptic fears, climate change is the biggest threat facing the planet, many scientists say.” As we know from positions of those who go by facts vs. claims above, not everyone agrees with the scientific fact. To back that up, here is information from NASA’s website titled: Scientific Consensus:Earth Climate is Warming Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”  The article is followed by statements from 18 scientific associations, along with links to their published statement and a selection of related resource.

If you looking for the congressional deniers from your state who think climate change is a hoax, here is a brief video by Bill Moyers: When Congress Deny Climate Change and Evolution He takes on radical-right congress men and women for denying the science behind evolution and climate change. The video clip shows “Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) chairman of the investigation for Science, Space and Technology Committee of the US House of Representatives, who says “…evolution is a lie straight from the pit of hell and climate change is a hoax.”  

And if that isn’t enough, Here Are the 56 Percent of Congressional Republicans Who Deny Climate Change.  You can see where your congressperson stands on climate change.


Climate Change and Denial: Heads in the Sand, by Haydn Washington and John Cook. With a Foreword by Professor Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt. The good news from Washington and Cook’s book is that it gives you a sense that climate change can be solved, when we cease to deny that it exists. It also gives you a good perspective of the denial industry that is fighting and funding for the fossil fuel companies. We’re saying “keep the coal in the ground” and their saying “more coal for jobs”. It seems that they are not aware that the solar industry is reaching record growth.  See:  California Solar Industry Job Growth Reaches Record Level

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm. The book cover reads: “This book offers the most up-to-date examination of climate change’s foundational science, implications for the future, and cleans energy solutions that can mitigate its effects. It offers authorative answers to the topic’s most vexing questions.” The author Dr. Joseph Romm is one of the country’s most influential communicators on climate science and solutions.  


Sitting In It

by Amanda Petersen

Ever have one of those weeks?

What does this bring to mind when someone asks you that? Does your mind go to a week filled with upset and trouble? Does your posture and mood change the moment you get a chance to share? How does one sit in the “I wish it were different” and practice “This is the way it is”?

The key word is to sit in it. Again the contemplative journey invites the person to slow down, not solve or ease the pain right away. Instead, the invitation is to get one’s bearings, own where they are, live in the tension. It is so easy to find ways of numbing out. In fact, once one is aware, sometimes all that can be done is to admit they are numbing out right now. Learning to sit in that tension of “I’m not where I want to be right now and I want to immediately get up and fix it” is a deep, deep spiritual practice. So is listening to the questions that come up from that staying still. I think the biggest gift in learning to sit with an imperfect life is, instead of running from it or fighting against it, one can use their energy to be free and learn from it. In a sense, “here you are again dissatisfaction, tell me about yourself today.”

Teresa of Avila spoke of reptiles one must deal with when entering the Interior Castle. Reptiles are the pieces of life, like dissatisfaction, that distract from the Love and Enoughness of God. At first it feels like they are everywhere, yet once on the journey for a while, they only pop up occasionally, not to distract, but to remind the journeyer to listen to their life. Something is calling them to pay attention to the tension of some distraction.

When dissatisfaction or the reality of an imperfect life becomes more of a truth than a problem, or when one gets comfortable in the uncomfortable, then true movement towards Love and Enoughness can happen. There are so many things in the world to create a sense of dissatisfaction that there will be plenty of opportunities to practice. The next time you find yourself in “one of those” weeks or feeling dissatisfied, try just sitting in the uncomfortable and listening to the deeper questions. Let me know what you notice.

As always, you may turn to one of our spiritual directors and coaches to help you hear the deeper invitation.

The Farthest Place on Earth

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

The Christmas of 1997 I was 19 years old and preparing to travel from Tucson, Arizona to Willowvale, South Africa to teach school as a missionary. I actually didn’t even have knowledge of where Willowvale was on a map. I had very little experience traveling and I was giddy with excitement to head out to the farthest place on earth I could imagine. Christmas Day was the usual gathering at my grandma’s house with my mom and my brothers. My Uncle Mike, my mom’s brother, was supposed to be there too. He lived in town and we saw him quite a bit. He wasn’t there. I remember feeling bummed about that because I was excited to tell him the news.

As the day went on, I knew there were frustrating phone calls happening and I had gathered my uncle was on the other end of those calls. I watched my grandma nervously tending to the phone and then to the meal she was making, nervous whispering with my mom about whatever was happening. My grandma often had worry on her face, but this felt a bit different. When the phone rang next I answered it. My uncle was on the other end of the line, his words slurring and his tone angry and loud. When he realized it was me, he softened a bit. He wished me a “Merry Christmas” and then he told me to tell grandma to come get him. I knew he was drunk and I knew he was making Grandma upset. I said we weren’t coming to get him and hung up. My mom was on duty next. Her conversations were not a whole lot better. The phone was ignored a few more times as we ate dinner.

These interactions weren’t unusual behavior.

I had actually just seen my uncle the week before. He arrived at our house wearing shorts, a tank top, and sandals at 11 pm on December. I was talking with a friend on the phone when he knocked and was very annoyed to see him standing there. He was slurring and asked me for a coat and water. I got him the water and found him a sweater. I wanted to get back on the phone with my friend. It was a rushed interaction. I remember saying something about my “crazy uncle” to my friend, my tone dripping with judgment. That wasn’t unusual behavior from me. I shamed others easily back then.

It was hard not to have Uncle Mike there on Christmas and it was hard to watch my grandma worry about the best thing to do. The calls stopped for a bit and then started again after dinner. My mom answered. He was hurt. He had fallen through his glass table and needed to go to the hospital.

I went with my mom and my grandma to Uncle Mike’s apartment. He was bleeding and had a shirt wrapped around his arm and hand. He saw me and asked that I be the one to help him down the stairs. I remember feeling scared for him. For all my judgment I adored my uncle and a lot of my anger and ire was because I hated to see what he did to himself. Back then, I thought he could just stop it if he wanted. I thought he was acting this way on purpose and it was too much.

The rest of the Christmas night we spent in the emergency waiting room. I was cold and aloof, arms crossed over my chest and staring at the floor. My grandma and mom were near each other. I realized that Uncle Mike did not know my big news. I told him I was going to South Africa to teach school. My uncle had this sweet smile spread over his face and his voice had an ease and lilt that was uncommon for him when he was suffering. He was proud of me. He told me. I saw it. I felt it.

I have a hard time recounting what happened next because nothing really happened, yet something changed. I remember getting this swell in my chest, sadness and love for my uncle as I took in our surroundings. There are not a lot of things more sobering than being in a sterile institution on a day of intended joy. I looked at him and smiled again. He laughed a little and shook his head. I laughed a little and shook my head too. The judgment fell away and I scooted next to him and leaned on his shoulder. I realized for the first time that Uncle Mike hated this more than we did. He was in pain and did not know how else to fix that pain.

A horse-whispering awesome friend of mine, Chris Edwards, taught me this: Everyone’s behavior makes sense to them at the time, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

All of the things we do are an attempt to meet a need within, and my uncle sure had a lot of pain he was living in and a lot of solutions that no longer worked at all. He had been trying to find ease for a long while; most of my life I witnessed this.

I first heard that my uncle had bi-polar disorder when I was eleven. They didn’t call it that, though. They called it “manic-depressive”. The medical model used language that said mental illness WAS the person. Here’s the difference and it’s an important one: “my uncle is bi-polar” versus “My uncle has bi-polar disorder”. The first makes the person’s only identity be the mental health disorder while the second sees my uncle as a person with a disease. We don’t say “Ed is a heart attack”. We say “Ed had a heart attack.” We have diseases, illness, etc. We are humans with these conditions and the same is true for mental illness.

At age 11, I had witnessed a change in my uncle gradually and then dramatically. I saw him turning in circles quickly and I heard him say his belief that if he stopped spinning, a tornado would happen somewhere. He was making himself exhausted and dizzy because his mind told him he was controlling the weather. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt.

In my teenage years, I would spend time with him while he spoke of prophecies about the end times and his belief of the rapture, desperately wanting to make sure we would all make it in the afterlife. Remember that night he showed up the week before Christmas and asked for a jacket? He left my house and trudged up to up at the top of A-Mountain in our town of Tucson. His feet were cut and scraped because sandals were not made for this journey. My uncle had a chemical disease and he was attempting to treat that chemical disease with alcohol. He lived with bi-polar disorder and addiction on a daily basis.

Uncle Mike’s brain created so many scenarios that absorbed him into his own mind, leaving the world behind. I think we mistakenly call that selfish and don’t realize what a painful state it is to be left in your own mind, to make sense of the world all around, pushing away those who love you and who you love, alienation and pain being the unfair trade that gets made.

That Christmas night of 1997, my uncle was patched up at the hospital. I said my goodbyes to him and he to me, fully expecting to get time together in a year or so, after my mission work. I left about two weeks later to South Africa, having finally found it on a map and understanding where my plane would land. My grandma wrote to me all the time as the year progressed and I heard about Uncle Mike. He had been on some medication and it was seeming to be a bit better. I was heartened and my grandma seemed the same in the letters. If you had asked me about him then I would have expressed hope and gratitude based on the outside view of what “better” looks like.

About ten months into my life in South Africa, I got the phone call and was told it was an emergency.

Have you had this call? The two sentences of pleasantries, the tension in the voice on the other end. Some of us may have been asked to sit down before the caller continued on. Others may have heard the caller say “I have some bad news”. I have no idea what my mom chose to say to start.

I remember very few words as a sense of panic rose in me.

Uncle Mike.




I ran for a friend who came to sit with me as my mom told me again, calmly, lovingly. This time I heard the other words: “Your Uncle Mike lit himself on fire and was found still alive. The fire was put out. He lived a couple days. We made the decision to end life support. Uncle Mike died on October 5th.”

Recounting this to you, so many years later, still takes my breath away. The internal pain he must have been in to take this action is overwhelming to me. I will say that the trauma of how he died likely increased the incredible pain we all lived with in the days, months, and years to follow. I remember taking my grandma’s car to the gas station for her to pump gas because she could not stand the smell of gasoline. Her tears were endless for her son and the painful way he died. My grandma never fully recovered and died a few short years after he did.

It has taken me a long time to be able to talk of my uncle’s death. I knew he was in a great deal of pain. The few times I had tried to talk about it outside of my family, I was met with some form of judgment. I heard the word “selfish” a lot when I talked about this. I knew, though, this had nothing to do with selfishness. This was some serious pain he was in. It would take lots of time to navigate the social messages about his death and suicide in general. I made it my life’s work to understand these things.

Here is what I know now:

My uncle Mike died from suicide and his death was not a selfish act, it was not a crime he “committed”, and it was not a lack of fortitude or strength. The brain is an organ like any other organ. Suicide is a potential outcome from the disease of depression and, if is treated, it can often be preventable. If the disease of depression is coupled with the disease of addiction, it increases the risk of completed suicide.

I have the disease of addiction and I have the disease of depression. For a while there, I was scared I would have the same outcome as my uncle had as though his death from suicide meant something about my future. It was as though I thought I had to make a decision to NOT die from suicide since he died from suicide.

That is a myth, dear ones. My increased risk is not because he completed suicide, it’s because genetically I am more predisposed to depression and addiction. It’s as simple as that. It’s not some taboo that I must now choose or not choose. It’s the potential end of a disease process for which I seek treatment.

Why is that important to know?

The stigma around suicide increases the likelihood that people who are having such thoughts will not seek help. I am sure I do not have to drive home the point that this increases the likelihood of attempts and completed suicides. What a difference the sliver of light can make in such a dark, lonely place.

My uncle died on 10/05/1998.

You can likely imagine that 10/05 is a hard day for me and my family. And it is. Yet, something else happened on that day just eight years prior to his death to make that day something we had been celebrating.

On 10/05/1990, my mom stopped drinking. I was 12 years old and was aware of the degradation and torment she was in due to her addiction. My mom got recovery first time asking for it. She admitted she had a problem and started a path of sobriety. I watched someone in deep emotional pain lay claim to a life with options and love. She had to work hard at it. She had to change so many things to stay on that path. I know I did not make it any easier for her, often flinging my resentments and anger her way. She was steadfast.

October 5th:

I lost an uncle who I loved dearly

I gained a mother seeking a path that would lead to wholeness

I saw a potential end of a disease that caused my uncle so much pain

I saw a potential beginning of a life that caused my mom so much joy

I learned that the loss of a dear one from suicide creates so many layers to sift through

I learned that the life of a dear one through recovery gives me so many foundations to stand on.

My mom introduced me to resiliency, seeking Spirit, believing I can and should do better. My mom showed me the way out and she was one of my first calls when I needed help years later.

My uncle is still with me in all the permeations of life he lived. When I think of him I remember he laughed easily and often (the Mulvaney Machine Gun laugh — I have it too. You’ll know it when you hear it). He enjoyed golf and often made me watch it. I always grumbled, but it is something I still put on in the background when it’s on because it soothes me. He soothed me. He was a chef with incredible talent. He was loving and kind to those vulnerable around him. He was fun to play with and learn from. He was proud to be my uncle.

He was human and disease happens to us humans.

It’s been almost 18 years since my uncle died. I still think of him all the time. The word “selfish” never once pops into my head in relation to him. How could it?

If our behaviors are an attempt to get a need met, what does my uncle’s death tell me?

It tells me that his co-occurring condition was so painful within him, death by fire seemed like a better choice.

That is not selfish.

That is suffering.

When we know that, we have new options. The reason I knew to call my mom and admit that I needed help is that my family does not cloak this in shame and stigma. I knew if I had depression, I would not be shunned. I knew if I had thoughts of suicide I needed to talk about them and not keep them locked inside. I knew that mental illness and addictioncause a person to go inside themselves, away from all who can help and who love them.

Christmas Day 1997, I leaned on my uncle’s shoulder as he waited to get some relief from the external pain he was in. I thought about this trip I was getting ready for and the plane that would take me farther than anyone else I knew had ever gone, the farthest place on earth in this big, wide world. I did not realize the farthest place we could ever go on earth is actually within ourselves, locked away believing the shame and pain of mental illness and addiction is reflective of weakness in character. And I did not know my Uncle, Michael Owen Mulvaney, had already made this trip alone.

You are not alone in this.

If you are considering suicide, please tell someone.

Check out some of these resources. Reach out to folks who get it.

Keep talking. Keep breathing. Keep being.


September is Suicide Prevention month. Here are some resources for you and anyone you love:


Image credit: Davin Franklin-Hicks

“Top left is me and my mom Teri and the same next to it. Bottom left is me and my uncle Michael Owen Mulvaney and the one next to it is him as well.”


Values Voting

by Abigail Conley

Election season is in more than full swing. Occasionally one of my friends with a poorly curated list of Facebook friends will post something about who to vote for. At that point, I’m just there for the comments.

My own political affiliations are complicated, to say the least, but I won’t go into all of those. Suffice it to say I don’t talk about politics with my family for the most part. Every once in a while we’ll go down that road of values voting. It’s at least more civil than the Facebook explosions I occasionally get to watch. There are always two things that come up immediately: same-sex marriage and abortion.

I could hash out the ins and outs of those with no problem. However, I’m far more worried that those are the two values that are compelling your vote.

Let’s be clear: I think gay people should be allowed to marry, divorce, adopt, and everything else right along with the straight people. Ditto for trans folks. And if you want to talk about the biblical model of marriage, let’s go for it. There’s nothing quite so thrilling as prooftexting for this former fundamentalist, even if I know it only goes so far and is unconvincing in the end for most people. We can do the same with abortion. At the end of the day, we’ll probably still disagree.

Also, there are other deeply Christian values that demand your vote if you want to be called by the name of Christ.

Let’s talk about those. Actually, let’s talk about one.

As a Christian, the love of Christ compels you to care for the vulnerable among you.

Full stop.

And worth saying again: as a Christian, the love of Christ compels you to care for the vulnerable among you.

You. In everything you do, you are compelled to care for the vulnerable if you call yourself a Christian. That includes all your resources: your time, your money, and your vote. (If you are among those who thinks that it is the church’s job, not the government’s job, to take care of people, great. Let’s have your five billion dollars and make a game plan! You’ve got friends who can throw in a few billion more, right? Each?)

Because I’m a former fundamentalist who still likes a good prooftext now and then, here are a few things to consider:

  • “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)
  • “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” (Luke 14:13)
  • “For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish…” (Mark 14:7a)
  • “You shall not  deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.” (Deuteronomy 24:17)
  • “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:5)
  • “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'” (Matthew 25:35-36)
  • “‘Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.’ All the people shall say, ‘Amen!'” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

Time and again, scripture reminds us to care for the vulnerable among us. In fact, read through the prophets if you want to hear lots of curses rained down on those who don’t care for the vulnerable among them. If that is not part of your faith, then your faith is not Christian. Then, we’re left with the question: in our time, who is most vulnerable?

  • Children, of course: the poorer they are, they more likely they are to go to underfunded, crowded schools. They don’t get enough to eat or healthy things to eat. They are, by merit of being children, vulnerable. Let’s face it, you could drop kick a two-year-old with no problem. (You shouldn’t, but you could.) By merit of being children, they’re dependent on someone else for, well, most everything.
  • Women: yes, the elderly women named as widows are vulnerable, but keep in mind that women still earn far less than men. Women whose male partners aren’t present are penalized further. Women are more likely to raise children on their own. Women are more likely than men to be victims of intimate partner violence.
  • Immigrants and refugees: move to a new place because your home is no longer safe. Surround yourself with people whose language you barely understand. See if you feel vulnerable. Never mind that many people are fleeing things those of us in the United States couldn’t imagine.
  • Elderly people: I mean, don’t you go check on your grandma?
  • People of color: you’ve heard about the crime that is driving while black, right?
  • The poor: here’s a lot of overlap with the other categories of vulnerability, but fewer financial resources mean more vulnerability. Choosing between food and toilet paper is no one’s idea of fun. Getting evicted because you had to pay for a car repair might be worse. Being sick and unable to take off work to go to the doctor or buy a $5 box of over the counter something doesn’t sound great either.
  • LGBT folks: I said I wasn’t going to talk about same-sex marriage, but yeah, you can’t talk about vulnerability without talking about LGBT folks. Homeless youth are disproportionally LGBT. Trans folks are murdered at an alarming rate.
Of course, I’m speaking broadly about groups here. For every case, there are a few people who break the rule, but many more who prove it. We have a culture with plenty of vulnerable people in it, often made more vulnerable by the systems we perpetuate.

If we even stopped the list at the clearly biblically ascribed categories of vulnerable people, you still have plenty of people to be concerned about. So here are my questions for you:

What are your values? Who has informed your values? What has informed your values?

Does Jesus inform your values?

Do people who like to use Jesus’ name without paying attention to what he said inform your values?

The answer might have a lot to do with your vote in a few weeks.


by Karen MacDonald

One of my spiritual practices (the one I manage to engage in regularly) is to take a moment five times a day, stop what I’m doing, and breathe a prayer aligned with the time of day, opening my attention to Spirit.  So in the morning when I get out of bed, I stop the indoor morning chores that I usually step right into (Tucker the cat’s insistent yammering for food, sometimes at 4:30 a.m., is hard to ignore), and step outside.  Whatever my wake-up mood (if it is indeed 4:30 a.m. by Tucker’s alarm clock, the mood is likely surly), being outside in the waking day lightens my heart.  The sky shows hints of dawn, a curve-billed thrasher whistles a loud good-morning, the air is fresh.

This morning during my patio prayer, I realized anew….I’m in love with Earth and All My Relations.  The sky, the sprawling mesquite tree in our front yard, the Santa Catalina Mountains in our north view, the hummingbirds that sip from our feeder by day and the bats that make a sugary mess of our feeder by night, the amazing ants that doggedly build their colonies, the coyotes that occasionally skirt my path during morning neighborhood runs—everything is beautiful, a living show of Life.  All of these are my relations in this web of life.  (Well, mosquitoes are perhaps my least favorite cousins in this Life family.)

Everything and Earth itself are living beings, and we’re all related by virtue of the Spirit of Life that permeates all.  (As well as by virtue of the elements formed in and shared by stars of which we’re formed—we are indeed made of stardust)  All of it is beautiful and vibrant, and I love it.  Creation fills my soul, moves my heart, inspires my mind, embraces my body.  The word that comes up most often in my morning prayer as I greet the morning outside is


A way we can cherish creation is by “Standing with Saguaros.”   A creative collaboration between Borderlands Theater and Saguaro National Park in Tucson, its purpose is to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this year.  Act 1 of the project invited people to find out: “If you stood with a saguaro cactus for an hour, what would you discover?”  Some discoveries of saguaro-standers: “It gives you a whole feeling.”  “I felt gratitude.”  “I kept thinking of [the cactus] as my friend.”

(The other two acts of Standing with Saguaros:

Act 2—“The Saguaro Minute” podcast on KXCI Community Radio @ 91.3 FM, kxci.org;

Act 3—Dance/theater performances in Saguaro National Park, November 2016)

If we paid rapt attention to all the beings around us—cacti, ants, sky, birds, mountains, coyotes, people—

What would we discover?

How would our spirits be touched?

Where might the Spirit of Life be revealed?

What would we do differently?

How might we be moved to respect, to protect,

to cherish?

The Wolf and the Dog

by Amos Smith

In every human heart there is a dogfight between a wolf and a dog.

The wolf represents the wounds we harbor, the betrayals, the humiliations, the scars from childhood through to adult life. The dog represents the shining moments—the beloved people in our lives who make all the difference, our accomplishments, and strengths.

Which animal will win the fight?

It depends on which one you feed.

When I recount the wounds in my life, the travails, the broken relationships, et cetera, brood over them, and analyze every detail, I drag. When I focus on the highest points in my life, the people who were and are utter gifts, my many blessings, when I enunciate the words “thank you,” fresh air rushes in!

The choice is always and forever ours. We can nurse our wounds (feed the wolf) and grow bitter or count our blessings (feed the dog) and get better. Every day every adult in America can think of three reasons not to get out of bed in the morning. And every adult has highpoints that they don’t highlight enough. The people who have made all the difference in my life are lined up on the window sill in my church office. Just gazing on them lifts my spirit.

This choice of emphasis is also true of local news. Do we count the number of under-privileged kids at Keeling School, or do we count the number of kids whose reading scores came up as a direct result of volunteer reading tutors from Casas Adobes Congregational, UCC?

Philippians 4:8 ties in well… “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about these things.”

This may seem fluffy and sentimental… a “count your blessings” feel-good essay. I beg to differ. This is the key to the spiritual warfare of the heart.

There is a fight going on in my heart and yours. Which canine will you feed?

A Transgender Trinity

by Karen Richter

Have you ever noticed what happens in the gospels when Jesus gets asked a question? The people ask “Jesus, THIS or THAT?” and his reply comes from the side always like a quick and sly slanting pass, pushing the question back on his audience. How many times does Jesus respond to a question with, “well… let me tell you a story about that…”? He has a tendency to leave everyone a bit bewildered, especially the disciples.

  • Who sinned that this man was born blind?
  • Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
  • Why does this Teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?
  • Are you the One we have been expecting or shall we wait for another?

In his responses, Jesus begins the training of the disciples in non-dual thinking. Duality thinking that we find so natural and easy is the tendency in the human brain to see things in opposing pairs: good and bad; dark and light; male and female.

Easy, right? If I write the word up, you think “down.” It’s the way our brains are on auto-pilot.

Getting past this is tough work, and I have a lot of empathy for the disciples. In our own time, the Holy Spirit has taken over our training in non-dual thinking.

And the gentle leading of the Spirit over the generations is a gift to us – a gift that includes a strange and wonderful idea: that God’s nature is simultaneously 3 and 1. This seemingly esoteric and even outdated dogma can stretch us into new ways of thinking, if we let it.

There’s an Episcopal mystic whose books I sometimes muddle through – Cynthia Bourgeault. She talks about Trinity as PROCESS rather than PERSON. In other words, the Trinity is about how to think about things rather than about creed and doctrine. Trinitarian thinking is a reconciling approach that interweaves what at first appears to be a dichotomous choice. This kind of thinking is a spiral upward, beyond the either/or. When we get to an impasse – a problem, disagreement, decision – when we feel stuck, it’s an opportunity to look for a reconciling path, a third way.

And it’s this Trinitarian thinking, this PROCESS of sitting with mystery, that is so helpful when talking about gender. We have long misunderstood gender as an either/or scenario, driven by chromosomes and anatomy. The lived experiences of our friends tell us that we are wrong.

Knowing when we are wrong is useful information. What do we do next?

Well, moving away from the gender binary is a SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. If I have friends reading this, they are laughing at this point because I sort of think everything is a spiritual practice.

As with most spiritual practices, getting beyond the gender binary is about building a pause of awareness before our response. When we practice listening to others, when we practice holding open the question of another person’s gender (often this looks like letting go of our curiosity), when we let go of the need to put people into little boxes marked M and F, when we are willing to be vulnerable, willing to admit we’re going to get it wrong sometimes and we hate getting things wrong, when we practice – we train our brains to take a deep breath.

Breathe, and let go.

Over and over.

With much practice and patience, this makes us into a gentle welcoming people. We grow into the welcome that we profess, with trans and gender non-conforming people and with everyone!

A pediatrician friend and I were talking recently about kids who are late bloomers, shorter and smaller than their peers. She said that with her late blooming patients, sometimes there’s an appointment, after a period of growing, that their height and weight finally appear as dots on the standard growth chart curve. And they pause for a little celebration: “Yay! You’re on the chart!”

Just like the disciples, we’re beginners in the Trinity way of thinking – that kind of nondual thinking that led Jesus to respond to questions in that wacky way we love so much, the nondual, Trinity-shaped thinking that can be part of our learning about gender. WE ARE BEGINNERS, but we’re on the chart. Thanks be to God.

Notes and sources:

Cynthia Bourgeault’s book is The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.

For fantastic transgender educational resources, see PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project at straightforequality.org/trans.


by Amanda Petersen

Recently we have been asking people to leave their cellphones in a basket while events are happening at Pathways of Grace. One of the side effects I had not anticipated has been the realization that when I am not thinking about activity on my phone I become aware of the all the other “attachments” I have. It seems the phone is the first layer, yet there is a deeper layer under that.

The phone connects me to family, friends, work and schedules. With each text, email, and pull to social media, I easily connected to all of it. Yet when I leave my phone at home or in a basket at work, I notice those connections don’t end. My mind is spending a lot of time thinking about family, friends, work, and schedules without the phone. The only difference is that I don’t unconsciously and frequently connect and in so doing not really know how connected and powerful some of those connections are.  Without the phone, I notice that maybe I am spending too much time thinking about certain things and taking on more than I should. I also find that  rather than immediately connect, I can instead trust the person or situation to God and offer a prayer. In addition to all of that, I get to make a choice – to create some space between my thoughts and all the aspects of life. In doing this I engage the Divine on where my thoughts are being invited to go in a way that brings light and love.

Who knew that leaving a cell phone behind would be a type of contemplative meditative practice? I am very excited about some of the new opportunities happening at Pathways of Grace to take a breath and listen deeply to life. I invite you to have some phone unplug time and use it as a spiritual practice. Let me know what surprises you.

Build a Budget, Don’t Cut One

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons

As a Christian and as faith leader for the United Church of Christ in New Mexico, I know that the moral solution to New Mexico’s financial crisis is adopting a state budget that includes spending levels and increased revenue streams sufficient to assure the wellbeing of all New Mexico residents.

New Mexico’s financial crisis was not caused by wasteful spending; it was caused by not replacing lost revenues while repeatedly cutting taxes, resulting in an inadequate revenue stream. New Mexico’s budget no longer needs to be balanced on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

So where have state leaders’ previous efforts to cut their way to a balanced budget led?

New Mexico has the highest child poverty rate in the nation.[1]

  • 2 in 10 New Mexicans don’t have enough food;[2] 70,000 New Mexicans are helped with food each week.  That is equivalent of feeding the entire city of Santa Fe weekly.
  • New Mexico’s high school graduation rate is 47th in the nation; 40% of New Mexico high schools graduate less than 67% of their students.[3]
  • Our crime rate is 43% higher than the national average (and the highest in the country per 100K people)[4]
  • 44% of New Mexico’s released inmates are re-incarcerated
  • CRN Magazine ranks New Mexico 50th in quality of life;[5] while CNBC ranks NM 39th in its list of top states for business.

New Mexico’s elected leaders have under-spent New Mexico into being one of the bleakest places to live in America.

This is a solvable problem! Instead of considering only budget cuts in the search for a solution, we must consider every option. Eliminate previously passed tax cuts and adopt fair and adequate tax increases. And don’t take “veto” for answer!

To do otherwise is

to steal meals from the bellies of hungry ones
to wring dry already thirsty ones
to force families from their beds into homelessness
to close shivering ones out in the cold
to abandon sick ones and confined ones in their despair

Jesus told a story about times like ours. It’s a warning story foreshadowing a judgement day.

“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all [peoples] will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to [one side] and goats to [the other].[6]

41–43         [The One doing the sorting] “will turn to the ‘goats,’… and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44   “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45   “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’[7]

Nov. 8 is a judgement day too. When New Mexico voters fill read their ballots, they’ll ask themselves, “Which name here has made it easier to keep food on my table? Which candidate will quench my thirst for a better future? Which name is most likely to help me keep a roof over our heads, and have some left over to give the kids a nice Christmas? Who is most likely to remember I am a person – not a statistic or an issue – and will govern with real people like me in mind?

We will know the feeling that budgets balanced only with cuts, stab at the heart of our values. We will remember how long Governor Martinez plays politics with our well-being before she calls the legislature into special session to engage the crisis. We will recall if the members of the round house built a budget or simply cut one. We will ask ourselves, “How long before my family’s well-being is jeopardized -or further jeopardized – by business or politics as usual? And then we’ll make our judgments and mark our ballots.

There is yet hope! The words recorded in the Book of Isaiah point us to a new path if we will dare to take it:

If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

You’ll be known as [ones] who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

make the community livable again.[8]

[1] http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/new-study-finds-new-mexico-has-the-highest-rate-of/article_a81c6cd6-bc2b-55f5-a96a-7a90742d2379.html

[2] http://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2014/overall/new-mexico

[3] http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/articles/2016-05-24/see-which-states-have-the-highest-high-school-graduation-rates

[4] http://nicic.gov/statestats/?st=NM

[5] http://www.crn.com/slide-shows/channel-programs/300074347/the-best-and-worst-states-for-quality-of-life-personal-cost-of-living.htm/pgno/0/10

[6] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:31–33). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[7] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Mt 25:41–46). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[8] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Is 58:9–12). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.