by Abigail Conley

There are a few times in my life that Bible verses haunt me. Whenever I stay in bed a little longer, the verse my mother used to wake me up when I’d slept too long comes to mind, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want, like an armed warrior.” It’s both Proverbs 6:10-11 and Proverbs 24:33-34. It’s also an incredibly refreshing way to wake up.

Every time I walk past the people counting offering on Sunday morning, I think of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers. I don’t mention this to the folks faithfully counting the money each week.

The one that gets me time and again, though, is from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

I never thought that would haunt me. I’ve never cared a lot about stuff, really. Cars are modes of transportation and as long as they get from point A to point B with air conditioning and heat, I’m ok. Home should be reasonably comfortable, definitely safe, and have decent access to Target and grocery stores. I have no desire to own a purse that cost several hundred dollars. I think I’m pretty easy to please.

And yet, the haunting phrase comes, “Do not store up for yourselves…” It always stops there. Somehow, in the United States, being a responsible adult means storing up things. I feel strangely accomplished that there’s an extra stick of deodorant in the cabinet, shampoo and conditioner waiting under the sink if needed, a back up meal in the pantry. The other day, my partner and I went to Costco. “Do we have toilet paper?” I asked. Neither he nor I knew how much, so we got another Costco size package of toilet paper just in case.

It turns out, we had a brand new Costco size package of toilet paper when we got home. We have a storage closet on our balcony, ready to hold what won’t fit inside.

“Do not store up for yourselves.” Treasure, we might think, rules out the mundane things like toilet paper. I’m not sure it does.

Somehow, things like toilet paper are marks of success. When basic hygiene items aren’t readily available, we often think people are irresponsible. My mom is quite proud of the fact that in their 39 years of marriage, she and my father have only run out of toilet paper once. It’s a sign of a well-managed household.

The stashed toilet paper is part of a bigger picture, one in which my partner and I recently opened up IRAs, are paying off what little debt we have, and putting money into savings. We’re living into the middle class narrative of managing money and being prepared. The list of things we should do is long, after all.

I’m not sure how it fits with the Gospel, though. I’m not sure what it means when we literally have a storage room full of extra things. I’m not sure what it means that we have money in the bank “just in case.” We live in a place and time where the people who don’t have those things are looked down upon. We want to teach them how to better manage their resources so they, too, could save 50¢ on every roll of toilet paper.

“Do not store up for yourselves,” but surely Jesus didn’t mean being prepared for a rainy day, right? Could it be possible that our treasures are the most mundane things of all?

Erasing Illusions of The Other Not Easy, but Possible

by Greg Gonzales

Comments sections provide a blank, free speech forum where we can discuss an article, get into the nitty-gritty production details of YouTube videos, and share great ideas to transform the world — that is, in another universe. In this world of all possible worlds, the comments sections are reserved for posturing, political parrots, and pointlessly insulting others. Part of why people do this comes down to what David J. Pollay wrote: “Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up,they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.” Our nation’s trucks are overflowing — its people are overflowing — with rage, loss, and confusion. When we get caught up in an online argument, we’re not changing the world, but instead letting people dump their garbage all over us. Luckily, so-called “internet tough-guys” tend to hold normal conversations in everyday offline life. The best thing is to ignore the trash, and make real human connections outside the internet, where we can see each other, read body language, and face people directly.

For me, in March of last year, one of those places was at an airport bar, waiting for a flight. A fellow patron and I watched Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump paraded across CNN’s feed for a few minutes. We exchanged work stories and duties, and it turned out he was a Border Patrol agent. Of course, the conversation quickly turned to politics, as the news ticked on about Trump’s border wall proposal. The agent told me his decision was between Sanders and Trump, but he said he liked Trump for his sincerity and lack of political entrenchment, where Sanders is a career politician. Then I asked about the wall. “Trump isn’t going to do it,” he told me. “It’s just rhetoric.” As a border agent, he was against the wall, saying the barriers down there are about as effective as a physical barrier can get. Then we discussed other solutions, like tech and immigration policy (which he agreed were better solutions, after years on the border), until he had to get on a plane and never see me again. What I assumed would have turned into a bicker-fest actually helped us find some common ground. While we didn’t change each others’ minds, we did learn each others’ views, which is a big step in unifying two people with conflicting ideologies. We didn’t fight, we didn’t bicker, we just explained our views and moved on with life, both happier for having learned something.

It’s not easy to convince someone of a mistake, or a character flaw — change is hard, and we can’t force someone to change, but the world sometimes reveals the truth in astounding, painful ways. Allen Wood, a retired Army Sergeant who fought in Vietnam, wrote in a Facebook post about how he was taught to hate, growing up with a father in the KKK in southern Georgia. “I grew up in a racist society and I willingly participated in it. I cannot deny that I used the ‘N’ word many times. Maybe you grew up the same way. That was my world and I had to belong in it.” However, one day, he changed. “The truth came on a very very hot morning in Vietnam when we were ambushed by a small group of local Viet Cong irregulars,” he wrote. “A man almost gave his life to save mine. He did not stop to ask if I was white, black; Christian or not. I was his friend and buddy and he willingly placed his life between me and certain death.” Turns out his hero was a black soldier, but in this moment of crisis, preconceived notions of race didn’t matter. Wood’s arm suffered an injury, and his new friend, George, suffered an injury to his side. As Wood tended George’s wound, their blood mixed right there on the battlefield. “There was no hatred, no distrust. Just two men in a bad situation and wanting to survive. …. After that singular incident, watching his blood mingled with mine, I looked at the world totally different. George and I talked about our different worlds and were constantly struck at how, in truth, they were the same worlds.” Sometimes, to let go of hate, we have to see that we all share the same dark-red blood as everyone else.

Without a doubt, we all live in the same world, even if Socrates was right that “The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Reality may differ person to person, depending on individual brain chemistry and impressions and histories. After all, the world we see is relative to the tools we have in our heads and bodies. Even so, through careful conversation, through shared experience, we erase the illusion of The Other and find common ground. Take a breath, smile, ask for your fellow human’s name, and then ask more questions.

The Gift of Being Trans

by Davin Franklin-Hicks

I’m not a man because I have facial hair, though I do love having facial hair.

I am not a man because people perceive me as one, though I love the affirmation of that recognition.

I’m not a man because my parents call me their son, though I adore my parents knowing I am their son.

I am not a man because my wife calls me her husband and my son sees me as his dad, though that makes my heart full.

My manhood comes from accepting myself and living into my gender rather than denying truth.

My manhood comes from lived experience of white, heteronormative, dominant culture and my personal commitment to rejecting privilege,extending power out to those long hidden and long suffering.

My manhood comes from understanding power and potential abuse. And in making sure I stay as far from that line as possible.

All of these things are true for any lived gender experience. My manhood has nothing to do with other’s expectations of gender role performance.

My manhood exists as part of the intrinsic value of being fully who I am. As does womanhood. As does any personhood.

I don’t hesitate to cry as a man. No one ever told me not to as a child.

I don’t hesitate to tell my guy friends I love them and give them hugs. No one taught me that was weakness as a child.

I don’t hesitate to express emotions. No one ever told me this was bad when I was young.

I don’t hesitate to affirm someone’s lived experience as valid. As a kid, no one ever indicated that I should somehow know more about someone than they would know about themselves.

No one ever told me these things, that is, until my medical transition.

I then heard these messages frequently from well meaning guys who just wanted me to know the lay of the land regarding their understanding of manhood.

I actually got to skip masculine gender construction in my most vulnerable years. As well meaning people attempt to “teach” me about their understanding of manliness, I get to try things on and throw off the crap that doesn’t fit me.

I didn’t transition to live out western culture’s stereotypes of gender. That would be awful if I had. I transitioned so body, mind and spirit would have congruence. Authenticity was, and is still, the aim.

This dude loves to give hugs, loves to express emotion, loves to listen as you tell your lived experience.

My manhood has nothing to do with this culture, but has everything to do with my humanity. And yours.

Image credit: Creatista

Long Road to Compassion

by Mary Kay LeFevour

Shortly after meeting my wife Laura, 30 years ago, she told me the ultimate story of compassion where the Bodhisattva Quan Yin gives her arms and eyes to her dying father who had abused her throughout her life and had even ordered her beheading! I had recently received my Masters in Women Studies and my first thought was, “Wow, this Quan Yin needs to read some Mary Daly. She is one sister who desperately needs a consciousness raising group.” In 1987 I was an angry, fire-spitting feminist and if this was compassion, I wanted nothing to do with it.

Flash forward 24 years later to my first meeting with Ben, one of my new Clinical Pastoral Education classmates. We were sharing what our root religious traditions were and found we both had been raised Catholic. He told me quite frankly that he believed women and gays should never serve as priests in the Catholic Church and in fact he would leave the Church if that ever happened. I immediately thought, “Quan Yin, give me strength!”


A lot of life experience, seeking, and meditation has happened between my initial perception of Quan Yin as a dangerous role model for women and calling upon her to help me maintain compassion in the face of Ben’s fear and ignorance. Over time, I have come to love the beautiful ideal of the Bodhisattva who though they are able to reach nirvana, delays remaining in that transcendent state of freedom and continues to reincarnate out of compassion in order to help suffering beings reach their own enlightenment. I now keep a statue of Quan Yin on my altar to inspire me to strive towards the depth of compassion that the Bodhisattva embodies.


To my classmate Ben’s great delight, he found me an easy target for his sarcasm and sexism. In my mindless moments I take his bait and engage in fruitless debate about the patriarchal practices of the Catholic Church and in more mindful moments, I mentally roll my eyes and just smile. But I still found myself nowhere near the state of compassion as an expression of presence that does not hold attachment to outcomes. I just wanted Ben, as a weekly irritant in my life, to go away.

Laura watched my suffering and in her infinite compassion pulled out her Maharatnakuta Sutra and read this to me:

“Furthermore, there are four things that can cause a Bodhisattva to become a friend to all sentient beings:

  • To wear the great armor of patience
  • To benefit sentient beings without expecting any reward
  • Never to regress from great compassion; and
  • Never to forsake even those who often annoy and hurt”

Meditation on this sutra motivated me to keep trying to find compassion as I interacted with Ben.  I was committed to seeing through Ben’s persona of the sexist homophobe to his essential Self.

Over time I begin to see his other personas – the caring connector, the frightened boy who was continually criticized, and the Ben who yearned for warmth but was desperately afraid of appearing needy or vulnerable. I tried to hold all of his personas in my heart as Ben provoked me with his barbs. I wanted to see the enlightened being that lives beyond the personas. When Ben presents a case study (describing a recent pastoral visit) I give him positive feedback and would witness his warm connector persona appear.  At every positive comment, I see a relaxation in Ben’s shoulders and a shy smile. I feel his pleasure in being seen as the compassionate being he tries to be.

I begin to think there is a change in our relationship. That maybe my prayers to Quan Yin are being answered and Ben is softening around the edges and willing to show his essential Self. But I’m forgetting that true compassion has no expectation of outcomes and this lesson is brought home to me one Monday when after presenting my own case study that I felt was a successful spiritual care visit, Ben turns to me, smiles condescendingly as he says, “I found your pastoral visit to be….very superficial.”

Oy, Quan Yin, give me strength.

The Gift of Curiosity

The Cat Is Just Fine

by Karen Richter

Were you taught that curiosity is something to be squashed or tamed? that curiosity is somehow unseemly or rude? that instead it’s important to pretend that you know about things? Have we always valued expertise over curiosity?

I’ve decided to embrace curiosity and to encourage others to let their curiosity run wild.  It’s good for you…

Curiosity = openness.

I read a book recently about the questions that Jesus asked. He’s a little like your high school English teacher who always responded to a question with another question. Our scriptures are full of questions. Here’s a favorite of mine from the Psalms:

When I look at your skies,
at what your fingers made –

   the moon and the stars
   that you set firmly in place –
            what are human beings
            that you think about them;
            what are human beings
            that you pay attention to them?

It’s difficult to be spiritual if you’re not curious. This is a way (one way among many!) that our faith encourages us to be counter-cultural. In our accomplishment achievement go-get-it information economy, it’s good thing to have answers, knowledge, certainty. Our way of openness, humility, and curiosity seems a little strange, even a bit naïve or childlike.

Curiosity engenders humility.

When we know that there are things that we want to learn, we can be humble about the limits of our own knowledge. Jesus calls us to learn:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~Matthew 11

Curiosity reminds us to listen.

I find that a healthy curiosity about the spiritual path and experiences of others brings me to a listening posture.  This is the power of Humans of New York, listening projects, Story Corps, and human libraries. We all want to know what we have in common with others and in what ways our paths are unique.

Listening is hard work; curiosity can help.

Curiosity opens pathways to maturity.

What do you do with questions that can’t be answered with Google? I remember talking with a woman in a Bible study with me at our traditional United Methodist church in the Deep South… she was maybe 75 years old and described herself as a seeker. Learning, growing, changing in all of life’s seasons – what a gift!

What are you curious about today? What are you hungry for? Where are you stretching?

In our common life together in the Southwest Conference, where is our shared curiosity? Where are we striving to learn and grow? What are we hungry to become?