Meninho

This is Meninho. We called him ninho (niño), for short.

Two months ago, Manny, our little boy schnauzer, died of liver failure. We were heart-broken. Bereaved. Grieving.

Nobody can ever replace Manny – his personality, love, and memories are too special – but, in time, the hole in our hearts can be healed through a new furry family member.

A friend informed us that her dogs recently had produced a litter. One was available. We went to her farm to meet and spend time with the puppies.

Meninho was one of seven. One died during birth. We just learned that the remaining six have developed Parvo. The last thing any new puppy owner wants to hear is a diagnosis of parvo. Parvo in puppies is a common disease with deadly consequences. Puppies ages six weeks to six months are the most susceptible. Meninho was six weeks old when we met him … we were to bring him home when he reached ten.

We were grief-stricken. Again.

Helping families to deal with the demise of a beloved pet was a major part of my ministry as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter in Northeast Wisconsin after retiring. Because they couldn’t understand, well-meaning people would ask, “Why does an animal rescue shelter need a chaplain?”

Current circumstances reminded me of the challenges, concerns, and considerations people experience with their pets throughout their too-short time with us.

Life would go on, for our family …

The best time to bring a new beating heart into your home after the demise of a beloved one was one of the struggles I tried to help people deal with during my time as a chaplain.

Others further explain why “pet-people chaplains” are vital:

● I probably spent more time consoling and counseling people upon the traumatic and heart-wrenching departure of a family member, albeit a four-legged one, than any other aspect of my ministry.

● A woman called the shelter to ask if there was someone she could talk to about a difficult choice regarding her nine-year-old cat. It wasn’t a life-or-death decision. Her cat was going blind. After its preliminary diagnosis and second opinions, the consensus was that the only hope to save the cat’s vision was at a specialized facility in Madison, the state capital. The procedure would cost about $5,000 … almost all the money she had in the world. Should she spend it on her cat? She made an appointment to speak with her pastor, whose response was, “Geez … it’s only a cat!” Alas, he just didn’t understand.

● People adopting pets and bringing new ones into their lives often want the pet to be blessed. Sure, some churches honor St. Francis (of Assisi), patron saint of animals and the environment, with an annual “blessing of the pets.” Up-close-and-personal, however, is something different entirely.

● Prayers over pets (sick or otherwise) and home visitations were frequently requested. Other times, disappointed and desperate, many wanted clergy to be there with them, holding their hands and hugging them closely, as they said “good-bye” to their family member departing for the rainbow bridge.

● Some deeply spiritual people wanted their houses blessed before (and after) pets entered and exited.

● Of course, many times were frequently spent visiting and playing and helping with the pets housed in the shelter.

Probably my most extraordinary moments as chaplain at an animal rescue shelter, however, were those spent in a variety of area churches, preaching about God’s love for all creatures great and small. The subject matter is rarely taught (or quickly passed over) in most seminaries and schools of theology.

Lions, leopards, bears (although no tigers), along with nearly 100 other animals, insects, and non-human creatures are mentioned throughout the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. And, while dogs figure prominently in several biblical passages, interestingly there is not a single mention of a domestic cat in the canon.

(You’ve heard it before: “What is dog spelled backwards?”)

What does the Bible say about animals?

In Genesis 9:3-4, God tells us that a person cannot cut off the limb of a living animal. In Exodus, the Ten Commandments remind us that we are supposed to treat animals with respect and care, particularly those who work our lands.

Psalm 147:9 shows us that God is concerned for all creation, including the animals: “He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” In Psalm 104:21, we see that “the lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God”; implied is that God feeds them. In Luke 12:6, Jesus says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”

And, who can forget these words from the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd …”

If God cares for creation and the animals, so should we.

In fact, it is God’s care for animals that probably explains our desire for pets.

We have inherited the part of God’s nature that cares for the animals. In the very beginning, we’re told, God blessed the people and commanded them, “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28).

When beginning my messages from the pulpit, I asked those in the pews if they remembered the story of Balaam and his donkey (Numbers 22:21-39).

After Balaam started punishing his devoted donkey for refusing to move, the animal was miraculously given the power to speak. It complained about Balaam’s treatment. Balaam saw an angel, who informed him that the donkey’s behavior was the only reason the angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repented, and was told to go on his way.

I reminded the congregation that, if God could speak through a jackass, God certainly could speak through me!

Disclaimer: I share these stories of our experiences not to complain or seek sympathy, but because we are North Americans acculturating to another country’s norms and expectations. Information in posts such as this aren’t found in tourist or relocation guides … nor asked about and answered in most Facebook groups. Hopefully, some will learn from my anecdotes and be better prepared for the grit and grist, the grain of living abroad.

Bruce is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine. Read the current online issue and subscribe to the magazine at no cost whatsoever: http://portugallivingmagazine.com/our-current-issue

The Serpent Was Right

Regardless of our current religious orientation, most of us are familiar with the Garden of Eden story … which begat the Christian concept of “original sin” and redemption through substitutionary atonement.

Christian religious traditions hold that the original sin has been passed down from Adam and Eve to all humanity. And that the only way to regain our right-standing with God is to accept Jesus as our savior, heaping all of our misdeeds and offenses upon him—the sacrificial scapegoat for us all.

But what, exactly, was the original sin? Disobedience? Doubt? Rebellion? Self-awareness? Self-centered egoism?

According to one chapter of the Bible, God warned our primogenitors, “… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:17, NIV).

Apart from the fact that there’s a second account of this story in which, rather than die, God recognized their transgression and proclaimed their punishments—pain in childbirth and subordination to men for women, and, for men, relegation to an accursed ground with which they must toil and sweat for their existence (Gen 3:17-19, NIV)—we learn that Adam and Eve didn’t die for what they did; with 56 children, they are reckoned to have lived about 930 years before their demise.

Therefore, the serpent was right: neither Adam nor Eve died after eating the forbidden fruit.

Yet the crafty old snake was the voice of temptation, dressed up in an all-too-human question: “Did God really say (that)?”

Eve, in effect, replied: “Yes. Those were God’s rules.”

But what some think of as the devil in disguise—the serpent—persisted: “You will not certainly die … For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).

For most of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, “die” was symbolic, as in separation from our intimate connection to God, which evangelicals and other Christians will tell you can only be redeemed through being “born again” with Jesus … aka (metaphorically, of course), a resurrection.

So, let’s return to my original question: What, exactly, was the so-called original sin? Was it disobedience? Doubt the God really said something? Rebellion against the established rules? Self-awareness and/or its offspring, self-centered egoism?

I believe it was self-awareness and egoism.

What happened after Eve enjoyed the tasty fruit and cajoled Adam into trying it, too? They recognized that they were naked and donned fig leaves as garments. Their son, Abel, killed his brother, Cain, out of envy. Humanity sold its soul in a variety of Faustian deals and bargains.

Egoism is a “doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action; a doctrine that individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions,” along with “excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Only by transcending our egoism can we truly understand and care about the welfare of others.

A Woman’s Place

Save me, please, from those teachings of the Apostle Paul insisting that women should be subservient and submissive to men, never teaching or being in positions of authority.

Malarky!

That’s not Jesus talking (Paul even admits that many of his words are his own, not Jesus’s) … nor is it even the Apostle Paul. We’re hearing from the old Pharisee Saul, whose upbringing – even to this day among the Orthodox Jewish community – taught him that women were lesser than men and, even during worship, must be seated on the sidelines, separated from the men.

Whenever I hear such foolishness about how a woman should dress, speak, walk, and look, I remind myself whence such poppycock derives and festers.

Women have a vital, integral, organic, and resourceful role in communities of faith—at least in the Scriptural stories, if not in Christian life as some know it today.

Let’s begin with the first woman mentioned in the Bible: Eve. Realizing her cunning, wit, and ability, the serpent asked her, “Did God really say …?” knowing that she could convince the dumbfounded Adam to do things her way.

One of my favorite heroes of the faith is Ruth the Moabite, who I often refer to when seeking to balance those spouting Paul’s opinions of “righteous” women.

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’” (Ruth 1:16)

Of course, she was talking to her mother-in-law, Naomi, not to any particular men … but her words were to form the foundation of godly relationships between husbands and wives, men and women, people whose traditions are based on the same God.

The Hebrew Scriptures also speak of Deborah, the first and only female judge cited in the Bible … of Bathsheba, possibly one of the first women to be “trafficked” by the manipulations of King David … of Esther, personally responsible for saving her people while in exile … and of Sarah, mother of the Jewish nation. There are many more: Rachel, Rebekah, Hannah, Leah, Jochebed (the mother of Moses) and Miriam, his sister, Rahab, the unlikely ancestor of Jesus, and others—each a strong and vital woman whose life added much to the faith

The Christian Scriptures, as well, tell the tales of many women worth knowing and emulating, beginning with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Who serves as a better role model for motherhood than Mary, a woman unique in so many ways?

Other prominent women in the New Testament include the other two Marys: There’s Mary Magdalene who, after Jesus healed her, ventured alongside him in his ministry, bearing witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. We’re also introduced to Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus, who hosted Jesus in her home.

Elizabeth’s faithfulness is meant to draw our minds back to Sarah and the thousands of years during which Israel waited for the Messiah to come. Mary of Bethany’s sister, Martha, was rebuked by Jesus for putting her hospitality obligations above learning his words. Nonetheless, she was still a devoted disciple of Christ and desired deeply to know and love Jesus, doing everything in her power to dignify him as the unknown king. And Priscilla was a powerful church leader in the book of Acts.

This Mother’s Day, let’s pay homage to women and think of May 9th as Women’s Day, because a woman’s place is never behind or beneath men … but alongside them.

Why else would it be a rib, rather than a lower part of the body?

Pastor Bruce moderates the interfaith, nondenominational, spiritual congregation — People of Faith Online — which welcomes everyone, everywhere!

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Back from the Dead: Mister Manny’s Miracle

Manny, Sheba, and Jackson

Just about two months ago, we took our three Miniature Schnauzers — Jax (the white one), Sheba (the black one) and Manny (the gray one) — to the vet in Castelo Branco for their annual inoculations and rabies boosters.

We live in Portugal now, since relocating from the USA about four years ago.

Anyway …

When the doctor examined Mister Manny, as we call our little boy, she became very concerned: his eyes and mouth were yellow, indicating hepatitis of the liver. She took blood tests and ultrasounds, which confirmed her diagnosis. To us, she said, “Manny is very, very sick. The liver is one organ that can’t regenerate itself or be repaired.” Handing us six different prescriptions — some pills, others to be given orally by syringe orally — she told us Manny did not have much time left and that we should prepare ourselves.

Mr. Manny

Over the next six weeks or so, Manny went from bad to worse: He didn’t eat. He drank lots of water. He was tired all the time. He couldn’t control himself. We went to our home in another area of Portugal, with our vet urging us to find a vet in the area quickly and to take Manny in. We did. This vet, too, told us that Manny was in very, very, poor condition and that the end was very near. By this point, the skin under his fur was beginning to turn yellow, too. After prescribing two more medications, she said, “You will know when it is time to take a different course of action.”

Needless to say, we were heartbroken. What we wanted and needed from the pragmatic vets was hope—something to hold onto. But they tell it as they see it here in Portugal.

All three of our dogs suffered from pancreatitis and had always been fed high-quality, low-fat foods. But this was different. Different and deadlier.

After the fourth visit following Manny’s initial diagnosis (and prognosis), his condition further deteriorated–despite the number of medications we fed to him. His sweet and outgoing spirit, along with all aspects of playfulness, were nowhere to be found.

We believed his time had come, after nine years.

Our little boy exhibited all the signs of end-stage liver failure. Hadn’t the veterinarian told us, “You will know when it’s time”?

Joana Rodrigues, his groomer and owner of 4Patas in Elvas, had come to love Manny and contacted us frequently to ask how he was doing. When we told Joana that we were planning to take Manny to the vet for euthanasia the next day … and then drive to Setúbal for cremation, she had another suggestion:

“The animal hospital in Portalegre should see Manny. How can one more opinion from another veterinarian hurt? If the vet agrees, the hospital can perform the euthanasia. They have an agreement with a crematorium in Lisbon to pick up the body for an individual incineration, returning the ashes to you in an urn.”

Portugal laws require a death certificate from the veterinarian and a “disposal” (of the body) form to be delivered to our local junta.

Despite our tears flowing like the Tagus River, we were quite impressed with the VetAl hospital facility and staff. Everyone — veterinarians, nurses, staff members — spoke English and were quite compassionate. After a few minutes, the veterinarian came out to the waiting room where she sat next to us, reviewing the treatment, medicines, and diagnoses Manny’s vets had provided.

“I will do as you wish,” she began. “But I must ask you if, first, we can keep Manny here in the hospital for three-four days. I understand everything his veterinarians have done … but they aren’t a hospital. We are. There are tests and procedures we can do here that they can’t. Will you allow us to try?”

Once again, our hearts skipped a beat. We drew upon the last bit of hope that we’d held in reserve and left Manny in the care of VetAl do Alto Alentejo.

Manny’s treatment consisted mainly of feeding him by IV and taking him off almost all the medications he’d been taking. And lots of prayer from many people attached to Manny.

“He’s doing much better,” the animal hospital reported to us by phone. “His swollen abdomen has gone down … he is eating, as well as drinking … he’s standing … and his excretory tract is functioning. You should come and see him.”

That we did.

Indeed, he was better. But still not the happy-go-lucky, active and spirited little schnauzer whom we’d adored for nine years now. The doctor told us that this was to be expected, as Manny was knocking at death’s door when we brought him there four days earlier. But he was obviously better … better than he was. Even if his little, misshapen body was bones and fur without flesh or fat.

Two days later, the veterinarians took new blood tests and compared the results with his earlier ones. Had the “bad” numbers gone down and the “good” ones up?

Manny continued to have elevated bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase values, but the doctor said that was quite normal at this stage of the disease. His Albumin and phosphorus levels, however, already were normalizing; his other vital levels were doing better, too. He no longer had a swollen belly, he seemed happy, and took strolls on the street led by hospital staff. And, unlike earlier, when we had to add fiber pellets to his food for solid stools, he was producing much better than he had in a while.

The hospital was very pleased with Manny’s progress.

We brought him home two weeks after we had taken him there to be given his last rites.

Honestly, we believed the vets at the animal hospital would tell us that Manny would never again be the same dog that he had been before his liver catastrophe. Nonetheless, he could survive and live a happy and peaceful life with us … although, for how long, we wouldn’t know.

The subject didn’t come up.

Instead, the vet went through the goodie bag prepared for our little boy containing his hospital records and laboratory tests, five different medicines (most different than the eight we’d been giving him earlier), and two cans of special low-fat, gastrointestinal food which we were to feed him – as much as he’d eat – twice daily.

Manny came home with two cans of food. He had developed an appetite–more during his afternoon feeding than the morning. Soon, we realized that we needed to get more … as quickly as possible. First, we went to Rockipets, our go-to source for specialty dog foods in Castelo Branco. They didn’t carry the brand, but could order it for us. Normally, the order would be delivered the next day. But this was Tuesday and Thursday was Corpus Christi, a national holiday. Everything would be closed and orders backed up. The delay could extend until the weekend–or later. We called our vet, who also was out of the food. “We only carry it by special order,” she said, promising to have it the following Monday when Manny was scheduled for his check-up and examination. Now, we were getting worried, as we heard the same story from every veterinarian we contacted in the Castelo Branco region. Out of desperation, we posted large pleas for information leading to the food on our two local Facebook groups. A good friend located four cans of it at her vet in Fundão, about 30 minutes away. We called to confirm and reserve the food, then jumped in the car and headed north on A23. Soon, we were back home with one large (400g) and three small (200g) cans, which lasted through the weekend.

Slowly but surely, little misshapen Mister Manny was returning to his former self. He followed us around, everywhere. He licked his big brother and sister, as they returned the love while they curled up together. He went out in the backyard to do his business, which was consistent and normal. He began talking to us again in that strange gargling voice, on its way to becoming louder and stronger. And with his historic “tap, tap, tap,” he’d use his paws plaintively, asking to be picked up and placed in our laps. Expressing some interest in his baskets of toys, he’d soon be shaking them ferociously and playing tug of war with the others.

People ask us, “How much did you spend on his health care?”

Truth be told, it must have amounted to about €1,500 (about US $1,850) … all things considered, since he had been diagnosed with a failing liver about four months ago. Much more expensive than human care, which is universal and subsidized by the government here. Still, if cost were the issue, we would have spent probably four times that amount in the USA. And, even if health care for pets isn’t covered in Portugal, it is tax-deductible. For us, however, providing the best possible health care – and hope – for our Miniature Schnauzer was worth whatever the price tag.

After all, Mister Manny went from being malignant to a miracle.

And, for that, we are indebted and grateful.

Whether the miracle lasts a month or years, the joy of having our lively little boy back with us again — after everything we’ve gone through — is well worth it.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Screeds and Other Confessionals

For the religious-oriented, a “creed” is, basically, a statement of faith. Partly rote and ritual, it serves as a public – not private – reminder and catechism of what we’re supposed to believe.

Among the earliest creeds is that of the Israelites. Known as the “Sh’ma,” it’s based on the words found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear: O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone (is one).”

Later, as the early church was to become the official religion of the Roman empire, the powers that be insisted that the beliefs inherent to that religion be uniform, consistent, and universal. Following discussion, disputes, and compromise, the Council of Nicea (AD 325) reached consensus with its “Nicean Creed,” one of the most popular statements of faith still recited by those in many churches.

Variations on the theme include “The Apostles’ Creed,” “The Chalcedonian Creed,” the “Brief Statement of Faith,” etc.

The “Shahada” (witness) expresses the very heart of the Islamic creed: “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”

By their very nature, creeds tend to be exemplary, unifying, and didactic … intending to be all things to all (religious) people.

Personally, I have a difficult time mouthing the words to any such creed. Why? For one, I don’t necessarily accept and believe everything purported to be true in them. For another, I believe that so-called creeds should be more personal and edifying to each of us individually.

Over the years, I created my own personal “creed” comprising statements about the faith that I verily believe. Here are the words:

I believe there’s more than our limited, finite, human existence can grasp.

I believe in the Spirit, “God,” the Creator of all.

I believe each of us is a purposeful strand of the Divine DNA.

I believe we have been miraculously engendered with eternity and its memories in our hearts and our minds.

I believe in the wisdom and martyrdom of the man called Jesus, whom history has named the Messiah.

•  I believe in a peace that transcends understanding which results when people come together to care and share with others.

I believe in inclusion not exclusion, compassion not judgment.

I believe many paths can lead to communion with our Creator.

I believe in equality and equilibrium, in the ultimate balance.

I believe in infinite love which, indeed, can “conquer” all hurts and evils, bringing us together and closer to the perfect paradigm.

This creed of mine is a patchwork quilt which has come together over many years.

And it continues to evolve.

Whether “right” or “wrong” doesn’t matter … because it’s what I (personally) believe.

# # # # #

Is Something Missing in Your Life?

Perhaps it’s a nagging void that needs to be filled with sense of purpose or promise. Maybe it’s the opportunity to share common, spiritual ground with others.Or, the greater good whose spirit calls us together.

Without a prescribed religious service or liturgy, we have no creeds, confessions, or collections … no pulpits, pews, or processionals … no altar calls, prosperity preaching, damnation-orientation, celestial choirs, books that we worship, or “holier-than-thou” critics.

Instead, we’re a home-based, nondenominational online congregation that’s spiritual rather than religious, organic over organizational, personal beyond institutional, here-and-now oriented … instead of hereafter.

We gather online to consider and celebrate the sacred journeys of our lives. All are welcomed, appreciated, and affirmed … no matter where in the world you are located!

Whether you’ve attended church (but feel alienated), or if you’d enjoy meeting other wayfarers seeking this type of progressive spiritual experience, please join us and other progressive people of faith.

Join us on Facebook at:
http://www.facebook.com/groups/FaithCommunityOnline

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Sermon: Beauty and the Beast

In his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, Peter Rollins tell us that, “Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this appraoch. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dutsy theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-ourse that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, the enclosed parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”

Here is “The Invisible Prophet,” one of my favorite topsy-turvy parables told by Rollins:

It is said that when God sent one of the greatest prophets to earth, the devil was so terrified that people would heed her message that he hatched a plan to ensure that it would never be heard. He decided to conceal her message as best he could. He looked far and wide for a hiding place that would be so impenetrable, so concealed, that no one would ever hear it. After a long and difficult search, the devil finally found the perfect hiding place: he concealed the prophet’s message in beauty.

When the prophet finally began her ministry, people would gather around to witness her legendary beauty and elegance. She moved with extraordinary grace, and when she opened her mouth the words sounded as if they had been carefully crafted by some divine poet and sung by a choir of angels.

When she spoke, the crowds would reverently murmur, “Isn’t she beautiful?” “How elegantly she moves,” “What grace and splendor she has,” and “What majestic poetry she crafts.” The great painters would sketch her form, and the poets used her as a muse. The critics would delight themselves in her carefully crafted words, and the sculptors would turn to their marble.

Her message was a difficult one, telling of an impending tragedy that would befall the earth if the people did not learn to love the planet, to live simply, to turn from selfishness and embrace humility. She proclaimed that whole cities would be leveled if people did not learn to love once more without limit, without return, and without borders.

Though celebrated as poetry, the prophet’s cries of condemnation were not heard. Her beauty and elegance eclipsed her message, until both she and her words disappeared entirely beneath her voice and form.

So it was that the people moved towards their destruction with dancing and celebration, with eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. Focused on her bountiful beauty, the wisdom within remained hidden through the ages.

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Sunday Sermon: The Cracked Pot

Reminiscent of the parable about the sower of seeds, the focus in this story is on the water and the vessel rather than the seeds. We learn that, to be fertile, not only must the ground be good and prepared to receive the seeds, but it needs to be nurtured and cultivated, as well. No matter our cracks, faults, or flaws, we all can produce beautiful “flowers” and bountiful “crops.”

“An elderly Chinese man had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck.

“One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

“For a full two years this went on daily, with the man bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

“Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the man one day by the stream.

“I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

“The old man smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

“Each of us has our own unique flaw(s). But it’s the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so interesting and rewarding. You’ve just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

“So, to all of my crackpot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!”

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Without a prescribed religious service or liturgy, People of Faith Online Congregation has no creeds, confessions, or collections … no pulpits, pews, or processionals … no altar calls, prosperity preaching, damnation-orientation, celestial choirs, books that we worship, or “holier-than-thou” critics.

Instead, we’re a home-based, nondenominational online congregation that’s spiritual rather than religious, organic over organizational, personal beyond institutional, here-and-now oriented instead of hereafter.

From Portugal and Spain, we gather online to consider and celebrate the sacred journeys of our lives. All are welcomed, appreciated, and affirmed … no matter where in the world you are located!

Whether you’ve attended church (but feel alienated), or if you’d enjoy meeting other wayfarers seeking this type of progressive spiritual experience, please join us and other progressive people of faith. Here’s the link to our group on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/groups/FaithCommunityOnline

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What Do You Call It?

The Portuguese have a word for it.

English really doesn’t.

You can’t define it; to truly understand its meaning, you’ve got to experience it.

It’s different than depression, distress, disillusionment, discouragement, despair. It’s wistful and wishing for the way things were … and ought to be … but aren’t anymore.

Although “melancholy” probably is its closest cousin in English, it’s much more than that: a longing, yearning, aching void.

It’s the heart swelling up and crying out inside. It’s a lump in the throat … anxiety attacks … a feeling of foreboding … brooding … bleeding internally … unable to heal the hurt.

It’s a slow burn about the utter unfairness of it all … coupled with an irresolute resolve to go on and make it through yet another day–despite the turmoil, trespasses, and travails along the way.

It’s caring so much and coping so continuously that we’re overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to do much more than sigh as we watch the world go by(e).

It’s abject and deject, anguish and agony, feeling victimized and caught up in an elusive web of betrayal beyond our control.

It’s something for which, elsewhere at another time, they’d prescribe mind-numbing drugs, psychotherapy sessions, and therapeutic confinement.

It’s sort of like the Yiddish word “Rachmones,” whose translations – mercy, compassion, empathy, understanding – don’t come close to what we actually feel when recognizing the trait in a kindred spirit: Namaste.

It’s a voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

It’s hiding in Anne Frank’s attic, knowing full well what the future holds.

Yet, it is part of the song and dance that are our lives.

The Portuguese sensitize these doldrums and call them “Saudade.”

For me, it’s a dark cloud hovering over us as I await what’s beyond … looking away and staying inside without precious connection to others … hoping it will pass sometime soon.

I feel like a psalmist, pleading with the Almighty to allow me to be joyful, yet unable to understand how and why we’ve become such drained and divided fragments of our fabric.

Then I remember that verse: “ … weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

So be it.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Sermon: WWJD About the LGBT

Driving across town, I passed a corner church near my credit union. A banner on the side of its lawn had “WWJD About the LGBT?” printed on it, inviting all to come and hear the pastor preach.

Curious, I listened to what he had to say.

To sum up his message: Christians should be on the same team–especially those attending his church. All humanity sins and has been separated from God, except for Jesus (who IS God and who wrote the Bible). Don’t doubt that the Bible speaks the authoritative voice of belief. And, while some of the clobber passages in Leviticus no longer apply anymore since Jesus dismissed them, other verses (Old Testament and New) refer to eternal “lifestyle laws” like alcoholism, gambling, promiscuity, men laying with men and/or women with women.

“If you are LGBT, I want you to come to this church!” the pastor urged at the tail end of his sixty minutes. “I want you to get to know us! I want you to come week after week! I want you to get to know the Bible and Jesus! I want you to feel at home and welcomed here, not judged!”

Hmmmmmmm …..

“BUT,” the pastor emphasized, “you can’t be a member of this church. We’ll ask you not to take communion or to participate with us financially. These are things we do as Christians here, as the church … but that doesn’t mean we hate you!”

Yeah, I’d sure feel comfortable at that church. (Not!)

Worship of the mean, old, imaginary, monster God in the sky that millions have feared for millennia hasn’t produced the best life experience or society possible on earth … or even close to it.

I suspect we can do better.

As can God!

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