Courage and Cookies

img_6124This is Sara Emerson. She is a Baker. Today at Faire on the Square she was, for the first time, selling her baked goods to the public. She baked up batches of fudge and lemon muffins and chocolate chip cookies (which I purchased – delish!) in her apartment, lovingly packaged them, and set up shop for her debut in Watertown. I am in awe.

People who start their own businesses amaze me. It takes such courage. It’s such a risk. People sometimes tell me they can’t imagine giving a sermon or showing up to pray in a hospital room or leading a church council meeting. These are things I do, and they don’t scare me. But everything I do, I do within the context of a larger entity, and I’ve been handed the authority to do them. The buck doesn’t stop with me.

I suppose we all have to muster up the courage to do things that feel hard to us, and that “hard” is different for everyone. “Hard” could be talking with your brother about the presidential campaign. “Hard” could be saying hello to the person next to you on the bus. “Hard” could be admitting you are wrong about something.

This week, Bishop Steven Charleston wrote about courage, and his words have followed me around for several days, reminding me to stay in awe of the many kinds of courage that keep the word turning. I leave you with his thoughts (and encouragement to buy some cookies from Sara. Find her on facebook here).

I want to say a word about your courage. I am not talking about courage in the action hero sense, not the rare moments when human beings are called on to do some extraordinary feat of daring. No, I am talking about the kind of courage that does not depend on adrenaline, the kind of courage it takes to face life as it comes, to deal with illness, family struggles, deep disappointments and unexpected changes. The courage of being a parent or a partner. The courage of believing in something, the courage of being willing to try again. I want you to know how much I respect you, how much we all respect you, for having the courage to love.

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Bowling Together

IMG_5970I passed this lovely little “free library” while walking from Watertown Toyota to the church today. It made me think of my mom.

My mother had a natural gift for connecting people. And she took it for granted that neighbors should know one another. After her funeral, the man who had purchased the house where we used to live told me that when he and his family moved in, my mother made him the Keeper of the List. She handed him a list of everyone who lived in all the houses in the neighborhood, with phone numbers for all. He was charged with keeping the list updated and distributing it annually.

Robert Putnam  (In “Bowling Alone”) and other sociologists tell us that stuff like this blesses us with “social capital.” People who sit on their front porches and build little free libraries on the curb are healthier and happier. Connecting sometimes feels tricky. But when we do it — when we’re “bowling together” — everything is better.

Life, and most neighborhoods, are more complicated now than when I grew up in a cozy suburb in the 70s. But there are lots of excellent ways people are connecting with others around Watertown. Check out LiveWell Watertown. Join Freecycle Watertown or Nextdoor Watertown. Get a block party grant from Watertown Community Foundation. Come to my church or any of the other great faith communities in the town, where people are connecting over coffee, sorting treasures for a yard sale, or sorting donations for a food pantry or shelter.

What are your ideas for building delight, connection, and a sharing economy in town?

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Joy SWAT Team


I had the distinct pleasure of spending this week at our Vacation Garden School with 37 kids who were claiming their role as stewards of the earth. Loved it.

My favorite part came after lunch, when I headed out with the oldest kids, the middle schoolers, to do service work by gardening. These 13 wonderful young people spent the hottest week of the year toiling for others. They turned compost and built a trellis at a community garden. They planted seeds, weeded, and watered at the Lowell School garden. They improved the gardens of residents of Hall Street who are busy working and caring for young children. They potted plants and gave them away to delighted shoppers at the Watertown Farmers Market. They were like a joy SWAT team.

And here’s the most beautiful part: They loved doing it. They were glad to be taken seriously as useful, competent people. It revived their spirits to do something in the service of people in their community. Much as they love their minecraft realms and fan fiction writing, working together, in real time, with real live stuff, helped them awaken to their holy capacity. At a time in their lives when they are often told they are not ready, not trustworthy enough, not strong enough, they were thankful to be given meaningful tasks and trusted to do them.

VGS does not rely on any purchased curriculum. It relies on finding opportunities to connect, create, and celebrate with the people with whom we are in relationship. I am so thankful for the work the youth did this week and pray that they grow from strength to strength as they continue growing into the fullness of who they were created to be.

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Kale and comfort

IMG_5578It withstood a few cold snaps and then a long dry spell. Neem oil protected it from the threat of wee invaders. Chicken wire and bungee cords protected it from the threat of larger invaders. It’s an early harvest of kale, grown by our gardening team and headed for the Watertown Food Pantry today.

It’s “just” an armful of kale. But it’s a miracle, really. It’s a testament to life’s capacity to carry on, to assert itself in the face of challenge.

I’ve spent a lot of this week with people who are facing their own cold snaps and dry spells. They are looking for the emotional equivalent of neem oil and trying to locate some spiritual chicken wire in the face of some really tough stuff.

I’ve sent them to the psalms, my first response to most pastoral crises. The psalms remind us that life has never been a walk in the park. They give voice to the full range of human emotions. They hurl those feelings at God, even when they’re not sure God’s out there.

I wish I had a tool kit with neem oil and chicken wire that would protect people from the dark night of the soul. I don’t. I have healing oil, which reminds them that God’s deepest yearning is for their health and wholeness. I have prayers, which reminds them they are not alone. And sometimes I have kale, or a handful of another beautiful crop, to offer them sustenance. What I know is that the more we share this stuff, the more likely it is we can harvest peace, joy, and a good night’s sleep.

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A stage full of hope

IMG_5296All through the month of February, our church served as a collection spot for donations for Syrian refugees. People were invited to bring in clothing, blankets, toys, and other goods for those who had fled violence and oppression at home to save themselves and their loved ones.

When we agreed to be a collection spot, I had no idea what a powerful experience it would be. On many occasions, I was in the office when the doorbell rang and was the one to open it to find someone with arms — or a minivan — full of donations. Sometimes they had come from Target, where they purchased socks and children’s coats. Sometimes they had raided their linen closet at home. Sometimes (as in the photo above) they had spent countless hours knitting scarves or blankets as a spiritual practice, praying or meditating on the depth of suffering being experienced by those to whom these goods would go.

So many people expressed thankfulness for the collection. It gave them something to do with their heartache, their sense of overwhelm, their desire to connect with the suffering of those they could not see, had never met, but carried in their hearts. All of them were very much aware that their offering was a “drop in the bucket” of a ginormous, complex problem. But the vision of some real, particular person using the real, particular item they had selected or made was like balm to their souls.

Thank you to Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment for organizing the collection and inviting us to serve as a collection site. Thank you to those who filled our stage with beautiful offerings. Pray that our children don’t have to organize such efforts.



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What kind of power are you purchasing?

IMG_5205The Watertown skyline is changing fast, as new condos and mixed-use complexes pop up faster than you can say “Town Diner.” A drive down Arsenal Street features lots of big, half-finished structures where investors and contractors have high hopes for a big pay-off.

Meanwhile, on the west side, a different kind of new beginning is taking place. The payoff is less financial and more personal. It’s not as flashy, but I find it more inspiring than what’s happening on Arsenal Street. It’s the Power Café (corner of Main & Lexington St).

New business owner Ranit Schwartz (see photo) is helping persons living with disabilities gain vocational skills and experience as employees of the Power Café. I chatted with Ranit yesterday while enjoying a big mug of great coffee (organic, Furnace Hills Coffee, roasted by employees with developmental disabilities).

Do you long for real connection with real people in your neighborhood? Do you like spaces where children are honored with crayons and paper set out for them? Does your book group need a place to meet where you can get a freshly-made snack? Have you been praying for those on the margins in our society but not doing much to support them?

I love everything about Power Café. In the midst of our building boom, it feels like the unofficial HQ for a “Keep Watertown Real” movement. Go for the coffee. Go for the free wifi. Go to support the employees, who are people for whom employment is particularly life-giving and live-changing. Start by liking their facebook page. See you there.

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Woven Together

12485909_10153933321431942_6497874589716481622_oHere are some excerpts from the remarks I offered at Watertown’s Unity Breakfast on MLK Day. Thanks to the organizers, speakers, and especially the young people (such as the students above, who are explaining their amazing murals). It was a great event.

On Wednesday of last week, I drove about 20 miles on city streets in my car. I visited a public library and a bank. I ate in a restaurant here in Watertown. I went for a walk in my neighborhood.

At no point was I worried about being pulled over by the police. My choice to be out walking was not affected by fear of a stray bullet. Everyone I interacted with at the library, the bank, and the restaurant looked me in the eye and treated me kindly. I had enough money to put gas in my car, order a BLT, and pay a library fine. I had a paycheck to deposit.

My Wednesday was made possible by privlege. I have privledge that many others do not have: the color of my skin, my education, my American citizenship, my native language being English, and more. Privlege is power – power that I can use for myself, power that I can use to help change systems, power that I can pretend doesn’t exist or I can acknowledge and use to undermine, uproot, and unearth whatever is standing in the way of all the beautiful people of this earth having rights and freedoms, opportunity and justice…..

In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, King famously wrote, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

The calling that King left us when he was killed was to see that inescapable network of mutuality not as a burden, but as a joy, a wonderful gift. We become more fully ourselves as we build a world where all are free to thrive. We each become more beautifully human when we honor and protect the dignity of every human person. We are enriched and enlivened when our song reflects the fullest range of human experience.

At a time in our nation’s history when many are loudly and shrilly calling for less mutuality, when some are working to shred that single garment of destiny or deny it’s existence, let us weave a love that includes all.

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