One constant in my life has been outstanding neighbors. I’ve had neighbors that have provided great conversations, companionship, good advice, childcare, animal care, emergency support, snow blowing, and shared resources. 

Early in our marriage, we had a neighbor couple ask to borrow our car. We were just getting started in life, money was scarce, the economy in tough shape, and our car was in worse shape than the economy. The last thing I wanted to do was risk loaning out the car. However, they were such good neighbors, I let them take it. A few hours later they dropped off the keys, thanked us, and went back to their apartment. I went outside a bit later to find four new tires on our car. Generous, wonderful neighbors has been my lot in life.

I was eight when I was removed from my mom’s home (without explanation) and moved to the home of my dad and step-mother. While this was generally a better situation, it’s difficult to measure which is worse — the neglect or the emotional abuse (or the interplay of those two things as multiple family systems collide in a child’s life). Certainly, one result is deeply rooted shame and the chronic feeling that everything going wrong in any of these systems is your fault. This stays with a person until it is worked through and I had a lot to work through. (See additional note #1)

We moved to a new neighborhood. Both parents worked during the day so I was home alone a lot, especially in the summer. We had a next door neighbor by the name of Mrs. King. Some of the neighborhood kids told me not to go into her yard or she would “yell at you”. My life revolved around baseball and my “wiffle balls” regularly went over the fence and landed in her yard. With stealth, I went into her yard to retrieve the lost balls. Sometimes, I couldn’t find them, but they would mysteriously appear back in our yard later that day. I remember a conversation with her where I apologized for a ball that went into her yard and she said, “You can come in our yard anytime you want.” (see additional note #2)

During those few summers, Mrs. King talked to me. According to my recollection, these conversations were nearly every day for 30-60 minutes. We talked a lot about baseball. Mrs. King not only cared about an eleven year old boy, she cared about what this eleven year old boy cared about. She talked, but mostly listened. She respected me as if I were an adult. I once heard she was unhappy about my home situation, but she never treated me like a project – she treated me like a friend. 

As I got older, I was home less and less and my conversations with Mrs. King diminished. As a young adult, I moved away to a new city, made significant changes in my life, and ultimately married. Guess who threw a bridal shower? Mrs. King and the neighbors. 

I didn’t fully understand all that Mrs. King did for me as a child in time to properly thank her, so I’m making a feeble attempt to do that now. It’s only fitting that I put this in baseball terms since that was a strong bond between us. If I created a Hall of Fame for Neighbors, I’m fortunate enough to have many members as part of that group. But it would be Mrs. King who would be the first inductee! A woman who never advised or tried to fix me, but always accepted me. A woman who in one sense “did nothing”, but actually “did everything” by giving me a voice day after day after day. And it was in finding my voice that I began to rise above the shame that weighed me down. 


Note 1: I have chosen not to blame others for a less than ideal childhood, while at the same time not denying or excusing the damaging behavior from some of the adults in my life. I even have some empathy for them since I know at least part of their stories and what they went through. Also, while there were significant weaknesses in my family system, there were also significant strengths. I still draw on the strengths and I try to turn the weaknesses of those systems into knowledge and progress.

Note 2: It’s interesting my first impression of Mrs. King was from the other kids – “she will yell at you” and how that changed after I actually talked with her. Everything else I know about Mrs. King to this day I learned through face-to-face conversations. What if we, more often, made up our own mind about people from direct interaction instead of basing our opinions and the relationship on gossip, reputation, and rumor?

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

A Case Against God

I bought a copy of A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf. She began the book by mentioning Christina Rossetti in her first entry1. Woolf says, “If I were bringing a case against God she [Rossetti] is one of the first witnesses I should call.” So, if Virginia Woolf was making a case against God, why would she call Christina Rossetti, a devout Christian poet, as one of her first witnesses?

Here’s an excerpt from Monday, August 4, 1918:

Christine has the great distinction of being a born poet, as she seems to have known very well herself. But if I were bringing a case against God she is one of the first witnesses I should call. It is melancholy reading. First she starved herself of love, which meant also life; then of poetry in deference to what she thought her religion demanded. There were two good suitors. The first indeed had his peculiarities. He had a conscience. She could only marry a particular shade of Christian. He could only stay that shade for a few months at a time. Finally he developed Roman Catholicism and was lost. Worse still was the case of Mr. Collins—a really delightful scholar—an unworldly recluse—a single-minded worshipper of Christina, who could never be brought into the fold at all. On this account she could only visit him affectionately in his lodgings, which she did to the end of her life. Poetry was castrated too. She would set herself to do the psalms into verse; and to make all her poetry subservient to the Christian doctrines. Consequently, as I think, she starved into austere emaciation a very fine original gift, which only wanted licence to take to itself a far finer form . . . . She wrote very easily; in a spontaneous childlike kind of way one imagines, as is the case generally with a true gift; still undeveloped. She has the natural singing power. She thinks too. She has fancy. She could, one is profane enough to guess, have been ribald and witty. And, as a reward for all her sacrifices, she died in terror, uncertain of salvation.2

Woolf acknowledges Rossetti’s marvelous poetic gifts. What concerned Woolf was Rossetti “starved herself of love, which meant also life; then of poetry in deference to what she thought her religion demanded.” Woolf, in my opinion, was not being critical of Rossetti, in fact, she’s sympathetic. She describes her story about Rossetti as “melancholy reading”. What Woolf seems critical of is a type of puritanical Christianity that encourages practitioners to starve love, life, and creativity. It’s sad when, in the name of Christianity, we diminish our life and the gifts we could give others.

The enclosed world of puritanical Christianity doesn’t seem to be as prevalent today as it was at the time of Rossetti. Much of the moral rigidity seems to have given way to a new kind of enclosed world marked by rigid and impenetrable ideology. This ideology goes beyond theological beliefs and has added dogmatism and divisiveness on nearly every topic from politics to science to social issues. It’s a way of thinking that goes beyond having opinions and ideas. In many cases, these ideas can no longer be discussed with civility or tested for accuracy without a severe reaction. This enclosed world also starves love, life, and creativity.

When, in the name of Christianity (or God or Christ or our church), only the people who believe like us have the truth — when we think we know what everyone else should think and believe — when we judge other people for making choices that are none of our business — when we parrot the cable news talk show hosts instead of hearing the other side of important and complex issues — when we’re consistently the most dogmatic person in the room or on social media — when our filter is so sensitive that we can’t have a conversation without correcting, misunderstanding, or resenting others — when we sideline learning, listening, receptivity, gentleness, humility, and discovery, we’ve entered into an enclosed world that starves love, life, and creativity. There is an Old Testament proverb that talks about the one who “takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion.”3 Let’s not be that person.

We should have our own opinions – even strong opinions. But, when we enter into an enclosed world of rigid and impenetrable ideology, we too, will be called to the witness stand — in another case against God. 


1This caught my attention because I’ve written about the song In the Bleak Midwinter which was based on one of Rossetti’s poems.

2Woolf, Virginia. A Writer’s Diary (Harvest Book) (pp. 1-2). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

3Proverbs 18.2 (NRSV)

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Emerson: Self-Reliance

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (Ralph Waldo Emerson: Self-Reliance)1

The Difficulty
We hear the phrase often “Don’t worry about what other people think”. That’s great advice, but unfortunately it’s not a simple “on-off switch” for some of us. I was reading Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance this week. He describes overcoming a preoccupation with what other people think as “arduous” .  The word “arduous” means difficult and the has the idea of a steep climb. In other words, it can be an uphill battle to quit worrying about what people think. It requires dedication, hard work, insight, and time. 

The Core Problem
We typically associate worrying about what other people think with stress, worry, and self-consciousness. That’s true and while these things are troubling enough, that’s not Emerson’s main point. He says, not worrying about what people think is the “whole distinction between greatness and meanness”. By “meanness” he means a life lacking quality and excellence. Constantly worrying about what others think diminishes the life we could have. 

Controlling People
Emerson continues by noting this “Self-Reliance” is difficult because “you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.”  Well – they don’t. But they will pressure you into complying with their way of thinking. While good advice and discovering multiple perspectives can be helpful, beware of those who are mostly interested in shaping your opinions to align with their thinking (and then “punish” you for not complying).  

Two Easy Things:

  1. “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion”. That’s because you get no opposition. You’re just thinking like everyone else thinks – even if it’s not right for you.
  2. “It is easy in solitude to live after our own” [opinion]. You also get no opposition because you keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. 

The Better Way: 
The “great” person, according to Emerson, is the one  “who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”  When we speak, we speak independently, candidly, and kindly. Some may not like our thoughts, but don’t let that diminish your life. 

1Ralph Waldo Emerson. Self-Reliance (pp. 13-14). Sanage Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Gentle on My Mind

I lack formal training in music other than a disastrous attempt to learn the clarinet in school. Or should I say, I was very successful at not learning the clarinet. Most of my music education came from having older siblings introducing me to music that would have been foreign to most of my friends. My brother and sister-in-law even took me to Woodstock (OK, not the festival – the movie at the drive-in theater). Woodstock was enriching even in the movie version. It combined great music with formal education (WHAT’S THAT SPELL!!!!!) Contains explicit language and a dose of patriotism by ending the show with the National Anthem. Alongside my training in Rock Music, our home had a steady diet of “variety shows” playing on TV (e.g. Dean Martin, Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, etc.). Add to this the protest songs I learned at summer camp and music became one of the great joys and learning experiences of my life. 

At one point, I started listening to Glen Campbell. For a short time, he was one of my favorites. I know that may not sound as cool as Woodstock, Country Joe and the Fish, and Jimi Hendrix, but I have fond memories of Campbell’s music. So, I was thinking the other day: I should listen to a couple of Glen Campbell’s songs again. Are they as good as I remember them? I listened, did a bit of research, and began to realize what an amazing guitar player Campbell was. As part of my brief exploration, I also came across an TV interview with Alice Cooper — yes that Alice Cooper – who actually does seem like “Mr. Nice Guy”. (TV station Fox 10 in Phoenix AZ — reported by Rolling Stone magazine).

Cooper said about Glen Campbell:

“He was one of the premier guitar players in rock and country. A lot of people don’t know the respect he had in the rock & roll world,” Cooper says. “Eddie Van Halen asked one time . . . ‘Could you get me a guitar lesson with Glen?’ Most rockers would go, ‘What?’ That’s the kind of guitar player he was. He was considered one of the five best guitar players out there.” (Rolling Stone)

Click here to watch a short live performance of Glen Campbell and his amazing guitar work. I encourage you to notice three things: 

  1. Who’s listening and watching. 
  2. Their reaction. 
  3. Glen Campbell’s guitar solo.

I never progressed beyond the clarinet disaster in gaining any musical talent. As an adult, I was even corrected for my clapping in church (I was off-beat or something like that). Fortunately, a kind musician friend reassured me that it was only because I was on “Island Time” that I seemed off-beat. It’s comforting to know that it was the other 300 people who were out of sync and I was a misunderstood artist.

Listening to Glen Campbell this week was another reminder how much music has enriched my life and that music has always been Gentle on My Mind.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Uncategorized

Prayer and Meditation Simplified

Meditation centers our mind. If Christian meditation is new or elusive to you, here are three suggestions to get you started. This can be done in 15 minutes a day.

Breathing: Close your eyes and breathe through your nose and deep into your side ribs for a count of four. You should feel your side ribs expand — pause for a count or two – then exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Do this several times allowing your breathing to become balanced and rhythmic. You can then go back to normal breathing but continue to pay attention to your breathing keeping it balanced between the in and out breaths. This exercise helps in meditation because it focuses our attention on one point – our breathing.

Recite the “Our Father”1: Some Christian faith traditions are apprehensive about reciting or repeating the Our Father because Jesus cautioned about “meaningless repetition” or “empty phrases”. His caution, however, was about spiritual “earning” or putting on a religious show through our prayers. Jesus actually taught a formula prayer: In the book of Luke when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. He said, “When you pray, say: Father . . . .”   Repeating the Our Father for five minutes can be helpful in centering our minds on God and his kingdom.

Silence: Finally sit in silence for five minutes. Silence is helpful in centering ourselves and hearing God. If your thoughts are flying all over the place don’t worry about it. This is normal and expected. As time goes on your focus will increase.

I encourage you to schedule 15 minutes a day to concentrate on your breathing, reciting the Our Father, and being silent. This will help you begin (or return to) your practice of meditation.2


1 Luke 11.1-4

2 If you’d like daily scripture readings to expand your meditation, visit This is a service of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library. This can be added to your calendar with a daily notification.

*For the original (and expanded) version of this post and it’s connection to Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle:

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Revised Posts
Recent Comments
Dave Small on Neighbors
Larry T on Neighbors
Dave Small on A Case Against God
Larry T on A Case Against God
Steven Broad on Gentle on My Mind