Auld Lang Syne

Historians call it “the song that nobody knows.” And yet we’ve all tried to sing it. There are scores of Christmas songs, but New Year’s  just has the one: Auld Lang Syne.

“Auld lang syne” is the title and key phrase of a 1788 Scottish poem by Robert (Rabbie) Burns. The phrase literally translates to “old long since” and basically means “days gone by.” Or, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “the good old times.” The original five-verse version of the poem essentially gets people singing, “let’s drink to days gone by,” an appropriate toast for the New Year. 

As Scots immigrated around the world, they took the song with them. Eventually, North American English speakers translated Burns’ dialect into the common lyrics we know today, made famous in part by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians band, who performed the song on New Year’s Eve from 1929 until about 1977. It’s his version that plays after the ball drops in Times Square every year. 

Auld Lang Syne, along with making New Year’s “resolutions,” is a tradition recognized – if not practiced – all around the world.

I’ve given up on making New Year’s resolutions, which I don’t really keep (for long, anyway). Instead, I use this time of the year for reflection and meditation: the good and the bad, things I’ve done and haven’t, where—and who—I am now at this time, in this place.

It’s been four years since we left the USA and moved to Portugal, dividing our time between two cozy homes … one in Castelo Branco, the other in Elvas. We also have an even smaller vacation bolt — which we purchased 15 years ago — in one of the “pueblos blancos” of Andalucía (southern Spain), where we head twice each year for three weeks at a time … plus quick getaways whenever.

Any regrets? No, not really. Except for the major stuff, like exploding empires and an imploding world. I can’t honestly say we’re “glad” that we left the USA, although I can unequivocally state we’re glad to be here, not there. Watching the republic, this lauded experiment in democracy, knowingly unravel before our eyes is among life’s saddest spectacles … along with reactive (not proactive) efforts to confront the immeasurable havoc wreaked by record-breaking hurricanes, flooding, draughts, heat waves and chills, tornadoes and earthquakes, and unquenchable fires.

Nor the mind-boggling numbers affected by the Corona virus.

Looking back isn’t easy; but looking ahead is even harder. While we video chat every Sunday with my son, his amazing wife, and our (almost) two-year-old granddaughter, who knows if, when, or where we’ll ever get to hug them in person. They live just outside of Dallas, Texas, surrounded by tightly knit in-laws and we are resolute about not returning to the USA … especially to a state that’s become a litmus in limiting voting rights, where a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body is relentlessly restricted by handmaiden tattletales, and wiping the slate clean of books parents (especially) dislike has become a cause célèbre for librarians everywhere.

No, no, we won’t go.

Unfortunately, neither will our children and grandchild come to visit us in Portugal. It’s not an issue of money (we’d be delighted to pay their expenses) but more a matter of disruption and complications for them—especially in terms of work, family, and business.

We understand; they do, too. Not that we like it — nor do they — but there are more than principles and challenges involved.

Selfish we can be, but hypocrites not. Honestly, how could we go and turn a blind eye, ignoring life-altering evils for the sake of our personal satisfaction and contrivance?

Unlike a number of immigrants, we choose to live more of a typical Portuguese life than do others who emigrate. For some, that means living in “expat” communities surrounded by others like themselves—with all the bells and whistles, notions and novelties, they enjoy … all without learning the language or hobnobbing with the natives. They love that they get more for their money here.

Others, whom I refer to as “quintassentials,” are here for a simpler and healthier life, living on and off the land … with renewable energy and wholesome produce that sustains them without upsetting Mother Nature. They love that the cost of living is much lower here.

They’re not the same, you know, in terms of the bottom line: getting more for your money v. spending less on life’s essentials.

For us, however, we’re betwixt and between, neither there nor here. While we live in typical row houses in typical towns and villages populated by Portuguese speakers, we’re still — in many ways — different from the natives …

Take language, for instance. No matter how much vocabulary we master or practice we pursue, we’ll never speak like they do.

Blame it on our pronunciation. Or the fact that most Portuguese have a better handle on English than we do on their language. In school, they’re required to study English not as a “foreign” language, but as part of their core curriculum. With certain people, I’ve learned that it’s best to engage with them as they prefer – in English – rather than to insist on practicing our Portuguese.

Still, we can communicate. Ask lots of questions and reply to them. Complain. Deal with contractors and repairs. Joke and poke fun at our lopsided Portuguese.

Other matters – usually financial – also separate us, both from other immigrants and our neighborhood Portuguese. It’s our background. And our money.

We keep ourselves warm in the winters and cool in the summers with inverter aircon units, several of them in each house. Our neighbors might have one. Maybe. We’ve equipped our homes with furnishings and appliances that few Portuguese find reasons to need. Although using these gadgets and gizmos costs more in electric bills than our elderly neighbors receive in their monthly state pensions, we condone and rationalize it: after paying between $300 and $500 (or more) per month in the USA for electricity, we’re spending far less – €125-€150 during the five or six months of peak usage — in Portugal. Yeah, we tried using our kitchen fireplace and installed a pellet stove on the bedroom level … but the cost of the firewood and pellets added at least €60 per month to our budget.

Yet we feel a bit awkward and uneasy around our neighbors, who hear the almost constant hum of our plugged-in existence.

The past couple of years have been times of change and upheaval—both personally and globally. Climate crises hit as the world suffered through draught, fires, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, earthquakes, and abuse by humankind. Social upheavals, like most malignancies, took no prisoners. From nations united, we became societies divided. Covid, the first “pandemic” most of us experienced, took the lives of too many … even as it was added to the arsenal of politics and propaganda.

Like lots of our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, we learned that our “dream house” in Lousa, Castelo Branco, Portugal wasn’t (really), when the doctor told us that we couldn’t continue living there: Going up and down the 37 steps dozens of times daily between our street-level kitchen and upper-level bedroom was crippling my 72-year-old bones. And those charming cobble stone streets meandering throughout our quaint village became slippery and dangerous for someone without balance or sure-footedness (me) when walking the three dogs several times every day.

“It would be best for you to live in a single-level residence,” the doctor insisted … ideally one with a backyard (quintal) for the dogs.

Easier said than done.

We looked everywhere in Lousa, asking our Portuguese friends and neighbors for help in finding a proper residence. No luck. Everything needed too much work or was overpriced and still needed work.

After living there for three years, we had learned what we could deal with in a property … and what we couldn’t. As mentioned, it needed to be a single story. With a (small) attached backyard. In a nice neighborhood. We didn’t want to be on the main street anymore—too much noise, especially with all the church processions and festas. Preferably, the bedroom would be in the middle of the house, not facing the street. The rooms and divisions had to be of adequate size. And, of course, it had to be within our budget.

We found what we were looking for in Alcains, the next municipality over, and moved up the municipal hierarchy from village to town.

Meanwhile, much to our distress, we had been grappling with a case of liver failure in our littlest family member, Manny, our nine-year-old Miniature Schnauzer with a heart that melted ours. Despite all the tests, medications, veterinary consults, and hospitalizations, he passed across the rainbow bridge comfortably, in my lap.

We spent three months mourning and grieving our loss. But the heart is a lonely being, and we ached to fill the void Manny had left in our hearts. Nobody could ever replace him … but our newest furry family member, Toto, is an endearing ball of fluff whose unique personality has enchanted and endeared us to him.

Loss can also mean giving up, in the sense of losing something.

Learning that as EU residents, we didn’t need a separate bank account in Spain for our bills and taxes there, we closed our CaixaBank account – which, as “nonresidents,” cost us €35 every three months, compared to the €3.50 we paid in Portugal – and transferred all direct debits from Spain to our Portuguese account. One of the benefits of no trade barriers among the EU nations!

In the process of exercising creativity by birthing and balancing Portugal Living Magazine – a broad spectrum, English language magazine that covers all of Portugal, not just the Algarve – I was forced to learn how to tweet and post on Instagram. If only I could give up Facebook! But, what’s the alternative?

Life goes on, ooblah-di, ooblah-da …

With all its pathos and saudade, we continue to be in awe of Portugal, our small democratic nation, thinking of it as that “little engine that could.” Portugal administered at least 19,137,482 doses of COVID vaccines so far, enough to have vaccinated about 93.2% of the country’s population with two doses. Most of us already have had our third (booster) shots.

Where else can you find such determination in anti-Covid regulations that prevent crowds from congregating than a country that declares there shall be no retail “sales” between 26 December and 9 January? How many shop windows does one pass devoid of any “SALE!” signs? Or stores that haven’t removed marked-down merchandise from their full-price inventory?

The words of the song ring true:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For days of auld lang syne.

Now, por favor, let’s drink!

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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.

Both Sides Now

Both Sides Now

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall … I really don’t know clouds at all.”—Joni Mitchell/Judy Collins

Clouds have always been a metaphor.

On the one hand, we have people—entire populations—scratching the earth and cursing the “clouds” for their woe begotten perils and perishing resources. On the other, big tech companies own and reside in the clouds, as their titans fly high above them … quite literally, thanks to the likes of Sir Richard Branson and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos.

It’s increasingly the double standard: the haves and the havents, the sick from the healthy, people and their preferred politicos, conspirators v. resisters, demagogues and/or uniters.

Call it a bipolar dichotomy, if you will, where even the bad guys (i.e., ransomware attackers) are considered Robin Hoods by some, stealing from big business and the powers that be, shutting down their usury.

But it’s more than that …

How can some people have such unquantifiable riches that they take joy rides with clouds, while others—entire countries, in fact—are victims of deadly forces beyond their control?

Some blame it on Covid, which helped the rich get far richer and the poor even more destitute. The virus has strangled us all—economically, physiologically, politically, socially, morally, and even spiritually. We’re tired and anxious, because of all the ever-lasting limitations.

Turn on the news, any channel, and we’re besieged by chaos in different places: Haiti, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Turkey, Nicaragua, India. And the list goes on …

… including higher prices and inflation, making an unwelcome comeback, as we dig deeper to pay for our lives.

Consider the scapegoating, the unprecedented violence in cities and towns everywhere around the globe.

Unprecedented.

How often that word is now used: A condominium building in Florida collapses, while another in Hamas-occupied Israel is deliberately obliterated. Flash flooding in New York and London put these cities under water, while more hurricanes approach, ever stronger and more furious. Record high temperatures, hitherto unthinkable, are being reached in the most moderate climates … with unquenchable flames igniting hell fires and damnation.

Plagues: Water turning on the blood of droughts, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. The question of whether Bible stories can be linked to archaeological discoveries has long fascinated scholars.

Symbolic of the universe’s moral law, the preacher in me believes that the ancient plagues represent the Almighty’s expression of justice, as well as judgments upon those who refuse to repent of their evil, self-serving ways.

According to the New York Times, Republicans in more than a dozen states are seeking to limit ballot access and increase partisan control of elections. GOP legislators want to make it more difficult for people to vote, paradoxically leaving Democrats to object and flee—impeding a vote (without a quorum).

Will partisan politics and the puerile need for power ever be replaced by an emphasis on the greater good? Or, are we to be the epitome of Darwin’s survival of the fittest?

Can we truly have both sides now—maybe more?

Or will clouds get in our way?

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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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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Mother Nature’s Teardrops

I’m depressed …

Because of this relentless, obstinate, continuous rain.

Today marks the tenth consecutive day that rain – mist, fog, drizzle, downpours – is omnipresent across the Iberia peninsula … hovering intransigent, dismal, and unmoving.

The damp is everywhere, manifest in mold and mildew seeping through our walls. Swollen doorknobs and jambs pregnant with moisture protrude, disabling the opening and closure of doors, even as legs and arms broken decades ago remind us that they’re still hurting. Walls without windows to open (even in this weather) are wet. Clothing refuses to dry; umbrellas become the rite of passage.

Anyone who believes that the rain in Spain “stays mainly in the plain” obviously hasn’t been here in a while. Including the weather forecasters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, day after day! The rain is everywhere, crossing closed borders between Portugal and Spain.

Alas, whether vestige or herald, brief glimmers of sunlight hardly hint of days filled with cheery sunshine and overall brightness.

Perhaps it’s a government conspiracy, forcing us to stay inside, alone with our families, as the sun flees from new, more contagious variants of the virus?

More probably, it’s just the weather, whither here or there. After all, doesn’t everyone complain about the weather? Everywhere? It’s far better than complaining about people or politics! I’m beginning to feel sorry for the cows and sheep in the meadows, with nowhere to run or hide from these bloody torrential buckets and lingering, lackluster leftovers that won’t lift. With heavy heart, I hurt for those who are ailing (physically, mentally, or emotionally).

And me?

I just want to curl up and wait for it all to end: Covid. Unreasonable politics. Fearsome fulcrums of flooding, earthquakes, foolhardiness the world over.

But I can’t; I’m a pastor. It’s my responsibility to minister, lifting the downtrodden with words which belay belief. Not today, though. Instead, I will count my blessings:

• I have a roof (in fact, several) over my head.

• For a 72-year-old, I enjoy relatively good health.

• I love and am loved.

• There’s food in our fridge and freezer, even if we can’t go out to eat. In the pantry, there’s food for our furry family, too.

• We can stay busy – even entertained – at home. There are people to talk to, messages to share, films to watch, books to read, writing to ponder, floors and furniture to clean, food to be prepared, repairs to be made, problems to be fixed, dogs to fed and walked.

Which brings us outside as toys, yet again, of the weather.

Let’s think of Mother Nature crying, shedding tears for how we have hurt her. Let’s be grateful for all that we have, instead of what we’re wanting. Let’s appreciate the beauty cast even in the gray. Let’s hope, once again, that tomorrow will be better. Let’s promise to do one thing – whatever – to make it a bit brighter.

A wise man once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” to which he added, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Days of drizzle, countless clouds, nightfalls of rain.

Blessed be!

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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Protesting the Status (Quo)

Across the United States – in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Louisville, Kentucky; Baltimore, Maryland; New York City and Rochester, NY; Minneapolis, MN; Philadelphia, PA; California, Colorado, and elsewhere nationwide – people are protesting, calling for fairness, equality, and justice.

Mainly, they’re peacefully protesting systemic inequalities: racism, economic injustice, government inaction or overreach, lock-ups and lock-downs.

They can’t pay their rent or mortgages, forced to choose between putting food on the table or medicine in the mouths of their loved ones. They’re agonizing over the toll Coronavirus is taking personally and professionally. And they are unleashing their anger and frustrations on others.

Between April and May 1st this year, protests against government-imposed lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic led to demonstrations in more than half of the “United” States. Shortly thereafter, on June 6th, half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the USA for Black Lives Matter protests.

Mass shootings hit a record high last year (2019), violent hate crimes are on the rise, and police brutality continues, prompting increased polarization and protests.

Police – local, state, the National Guard and even the Border Control – are called in, often exacerbating the problems. Violence follows and incites more violence, as hateful White House rhetoric spurs outcries against what the president calls his “law-and-order” platform. The result, however, has been increased antagonism and turf-minding. Apart from verbal incriminations, weapons include gunfire and bullets, tear gas and other chemicals, buildings burned, blazing tempers and imported vigiliantes, vehicles battered and overturned. Lately, more than 104 separate vehicles have been plowing through crowds and injuring protestors.

The bottom line is that people – often neighbors, long-time friends, even family and churches – are taking sides and triggering showdowns, sometimes violently, against each other and the powers-that-be. You’re either with me or against me, depending on who you are voting for.

American citizens are trying to prevent other American citizens from voting. Not just trying to intimidate them into not voting, but physically trying to prevent them from doing so!

It increasingly feels like America is reaching a boiling point, more raging bonfire than flash in the pan. Already beset by a national recession and a deadly pandemic now surpassing 200,000 deaths, this week has stoked new fires, including a Supreme Court battle to fill the Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, Trump refusing to promise a peaceful transfer of power, mass protests after police officers faced no charges in the death of Breonna Taylor, and the swirling of literal fire tornadoes out West, while hurricane after hurricane pulverize our Gulf Coast . As American anger heats up, it’s incumbent that we bring a fresh lens to its origins and the core beliefs it threatens to topple, along with ways we can work together to douse the flames.

“Enough!” people are pleading, if not demanding. “Fix the problems!”

Trouble is, just as the financial gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, so, too, is the economic crisis. Many of the problems are difficult (if not impossible) to fix, because they’re so deeply rooted and systemic, driven by centuries of loot and looters, masters and slaves, carpetbaggers and indentured servants, inbred privilege and attitudes, government for the people becoming self-serving government, plebians and plutocrats, myriad moguls for whom more and much more are never, ever, enough.

Financial necessity has forced suburban populations to head for inner city food banks and health care clinics … creating a foggy, finite understanding of the implications inherent to why Black Lives Matter.

According to the Institute for Policy Studies, U.S. billionaires gained $565 billion additional dollars since March 18th. At the same time, surging unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Experts say the top 10% of households own more than 84% of stocks … so a rising market helps people who already are among the wealthiest in the nation. Analysts attribute this widening wealth gap to the stock market, while meager consumers suffer the effects at their local groceries and supermarkets.

If we have never seen such economic instability since the Great Depression, we haven’t seen such social distancing since the Civil War. Or climate change and pollution so quickly creating environmental consequences and our planet’s ability to sustain life.

How can we look at what’s happening before our very eyes and not realize that we’re leading up to an even more deadly Civil War, if not already in the midst of one?

Worse, the riots are occurring all over the world.

At least sixteen countries — ranging from the UK and France to Australia, Brazil, Japan, Kenya, and South Africa — have seen major demonstrations over police violence against Black or minority populations and related issues, such as systemic racism and the legacies of colonial empires. In France and South Africa in particular, the pandemic has served to crystallize the problem of police brutality: authorities enforcing lockdown regulations have used force disproportionately against Black citizens.

But new protests are also breaking out for reasons other than police violence and racism. Some are rooted in how governments have responded to the pandemic. Among them, Brazil and Israel stand out. Ecuador, which faces one of the highest per-capita death rates from COVID-19 among developing nations, recently saw thousands protest the government’s decision to close some state-owned companies and cut public sector salaries, in an effort to close a gaping $12 billion budget deficit.

Citizens in Iraq have resumed protests over corruption, high unemployment, and the violent repression of protesters, with demonstrators in central and southern Iraq clamoring for the removal of governors who they deem to be corrupt. In Mali, tens of thousands have demanded the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar amid persistent intercommunal violence compounded by economic stagnation, a dearth of political reforms, and widespread government corruption. Saudia Arabian women have protested for fewer restrictions on their rights, even as Syrians protest the killing machine of their country’s leader and the Lebanese protest the lack of responsible leadership from their do-nothing government. The separatist movements provoke perennial protests in Spain, even as the second massive shutdown in its capital and biggest city because of Covid-19 stoke the fires of discontent.

Protests, by far the largest and most persistent in Belarus since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, began Aug. 9th after an election that officials said gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Opponents and poll workers say the results, in which Lukashenko was tallied with 80% support, were manipulated.

In some countries, governments have capitalized on the chaos of the pandemic to persecute critics, criminalize dissent, ban public demonstrations, and further concentrate political power. Consider China and Russia, for example.

How can society achieve the consensus it needs to function if everyone regards rivals as “Nazis,” “traitors” or “enemies of the people”?

“Trump, the torchbearer, has at times fueled racial tensions and stomped on his perceived enemies, citizens and institutions alike,” writes Nick Fouriezos, senior politics reporter for OZY, an international media and entertainment company launched in September 2013 by former CNN and MSNBC news anchor, journalist, and businessman Carlos Watson and Goldman Sachs alumnus Samir Rao. Ozy describes its mission as to help curious people see a broader and a bolder world.

“Some have become radicalized by the president’s behavior, meeting fire with fire — from erecting guillotines to accosting Senators to defending violent looters as collecting what society owes them,” Fouriezos continues. “Meanwhile, the American Fringes have continually hijacked the discourse, worming their ideas into some of America’s most revered institutions. The loss of civility playing out on the national stage has had ripple effects, reflected in an apparent uptick in nastiness nationwide, with ordinary citizens bickering over face masks in stores, trolling each other on social media and facing off over campaign signs next door. In a multiethnic, multicultural and increasingly crowded democracy, respecting commonality while acknowledging differences has been the surest way of moving forward — but it has become a casualty of rising American anger.”

If political tensions are bringing the USA to the brink of a second Civil War, is what’s happening around the globe a harbinger of something bigger?

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail.

Stay tuned …

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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