Reindeer Games


They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

You know the story, or the song.  Poor Rudolph.  He was born different from “all of the other reindeer.”  His nose was so bright, one “could even say it glows.”  And just because he was different, he was shunned (on a good day) or mocked (on one of the usual days).  Reindeer, like children, can be cruel.

The picture above shows a little plastic Rudolph that can hang on the Christmas tree.  When I was a child, I had one just like it.  I can remember when the song came out, and how I loved to sing it.  It comforted me with the story of the misfit (with whom I identified) who became popular (something I always yearned to be).  When I sang the words, Then how the reindeer loved him, I would kind of choke up, imagining what that might feel like.

I rather suspect that the feeling of wanting to be loved by others is universal.  At a certain point in one’s growing up, the love of parents is not enough.  You want the esteem of your friends or colleagues, fellow students or fellow workers.  It’s the human need to belong.  To be accepted.  To be included.

This is what the church is all about.  Accepting others, without condition.  Including everyone within the circle of the beloved of God.  Church is the community of those who belong to God, because God has chosen them.

In the story of Rudolph, however, it takes a kind of miracle for Rudolph to be accepted at last.  The foggy night comes, and Santa needs the beam of Rudolph’s nose to drive his sleigh so that he can distribute gifts to all the world’s children.  It is the great reversal, that the one who had been kept outside is made the center; his defining characteristic, the red nose, has become Santa’s salvation.  Do you hear echoes of the scripture about the stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone?

And yet.  Does one need to have a special gift to be accepted?  Rudolph was ostracized because of his red nose, but what if he had come from a poor stock of reindeer, or if his mother had died giving him birth and he was a  poor orphan?  Would he still have been accepted?

Do I have to have a special gift for God to accept me?  If so, I think I personally am in trouble.  Do I really believe that God loves even the ordinary ones?  Like me?

But, wait!  No one is ordinary.  TV’s Mr. Rogers taught me that.  Everyone is special.  Everyone has a gift, everyone has something to offer that others can benefit by.  Everyone has a gift to share that doesn’t come from the Internet or the store.  Christmas is about sharing that gift, as Rudolph was willing to come to the aid of the Big Man in the Red Suit, and willing to join the other reindeer.  Sure, as their leader.  As the now Numero Uno reindeer.

The story of universal longing for acceptance has changed into a fantasy of being Queen (or Chief Reindeer) for a Day.  Then all the reindeer loved him.  Maybe.  But don’t you think some of them might have been resentful?  Maybe that’s the real surprise in the story: that when Santa called on Rudolph for help, the others were not jealous.  They welcomed him and his gift.  And Rudolph was forgiving.  He was delighted (pun intended) to share his gift and help Santa.

Christmas is always about being surprised – Mary was certainly surprised by the angel Gabriel, the shepherds out there on the cold hills outside Bethlehem had their sandals blown off (in a manner of speaking) when the angel appeared to them.  And, to bring it home to today, the gifts we share at Christmas are wrapped to disguise them so that when we open them, we’ll be surprised.

This year, entertain the notion that YOU are the gift the world needs.  Share yourself.  You just might surprise yourself.



This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND


The Minister of Levity Rides – no, Writes! – Again

There has been much in the news lately about the harassment or exploitation of women by the men who employ or supervise or in some way have power over them.  While many are coming forward – saying or texting “me, too! – others, fearing reprisals– i.e., loss of job, disbelief, personal attacks – still remain silent.

I have always had a hard time taking “guff” from anyone, especially men.  When my son and daughter were growing up, I tried to teach them to respect others, my son especially to respect girls and women and my daughter to expect and demand respect from boys and men.  The following narrative will demonstrate how seriously my son Tobe took my instruction.

When Tobe was in his mid-twenties, he had a medical condition commonly known as kidney stones; treatment required him to submit to ultrasound somethings bombarding his kidneys and breaking up the stones so that he could pass them.  On the day of the scheduled procedure, he asked me if I would drive him to and from the hospital, and I readily agreed.

After we got checked in, I waited while Tobe changed out of his street clothes and into a charming hospital gown.  When he was ready, I went into his room, and together we waited for the urologist to come in and talk to us.  It was not a long wait.  The doctor who entered was a tall man with a handle-bar mustache; he looked out of place at a hospital.  I could imagine him swaggering through the double swinging doors of an old-tyme western saloon.

Tobe introduced his doctor to me, and after a quick, dismissive glance in my direction, the doctor turned his attention to my son.  “Do you have any questions about the procedure?”  he asked.

Tobe said he did:  “Will it hurt?  Will I have any anesthetic?”

“That’s two questions, and both of them are yes.  If you didn’t get any anesthetic, you’d cry like a mother.”

Tobe looked at me.  His mother.

I looked at him.

I had heard the doctor.  Should I respond?  Yes, I should.

I turned to him and said quietly only one word:  “Dickhead.”

The doctor made no reply. There was a brief silence.

“Well then!” the doctor said enthusiastically.  “Shall we be off, Tobe?”

Tobe said yes, and we all left the room, with me heading toward the coffee shop.

Later, when Tobe and I were on our way back to his apartment, he said, “While we were in the elevator, the doctor said, ‘I can’t believe your mother called me a dickhead.’”

“Uh huh,” I said.

Tobe continued:  “And then I said to him, ‘And she’s  a Methodist minister!’”

On Making One’s Bed

I read somewhere recently that the habit of making one’s bed every morning is the sign of a mature person.  “Huh,” I thought;  “I am less mature than I thought.”

Not that I am a slob, mind you.  I smooth out the comforter over the pillows I have straightened, so that the bed looks decently presentable.  But I do not go all the way to pulling up the spread and tucking it neatly under and then over the pillows, arranging more pillows on top so as to look like those bedroom furniture advertisements I get too many of in the mail.  Okay, so maybe I am rationalizing my own laziness.  But the way I figure it, it is hard enough for me to crawl out of my warm, snuggy bed without the added burden (burden, yet!) of   trying to make the bedroom look pristine and presentable in case there are any news photographers in the neighborhood looking for a house to feature in the Sunday magazine.  No one will see my unmade bed but me (and maybe LouLu).

The world seems full of people who want to tell you how to be something:  mature, successful, rich, pain-free, cancer-free, thin, and – as if this were not bad enough, the world is also populated by folks who want to tell you how to be good.  For me, the word good has religious and ethical overtones.  More than once I have asked myself, when facing a decision, “What would Jesus do?”

I am not so sure Jesus would set a priority on making his bed every morning.  I am pretty sure Jesus had more urgent things to do, and woke up morning after morning prayerfully ready to let God lead him to them.

So, how about me (and you)?  What gets you up in the morning?  No, I am not talking about the alarm clock!  What sends you out into the world every day? Or what sets your daily agendas?  Retirement means you get to set your own agenda, and since I am retired, I just might not put making the bed very high on my list.  Who is helped by a neat bedroom?

Okay, each of us has to set his/her own priorities.  And perhaps high on my list is trying to live without unreflectively following someone else’s advice or trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of me.  I am of an age when I can set my own priorities for how I use my time, and the only rule I try to follow is that of faithfulness.  As the song says, “I’m gonna live so God can use me.”  I think about that every day, and try to live into it.

That said, I do make my husband’s hospital bed every day.  It’s an act of love.

Loulu and The Holy Spirit Come to Laurelhurst Park

One summer afternoon I took LouLu the Wonder Dog to the park/playground to chase the ball.  We stayed on the lawn somewhat adjacent to the outdoor play equipment; it was a sunny day and lots of kids were playing.

After retrieving the ball about a hundred times, LouLu got distracted by the children playing on the playground, specifically by the fragrance of cookie and cracker crumbs.  She dropped the ball and entered the forbidden area, found a small boy holding about half a cookie, grabbed it out of his hand, and ran off, leaving him screaming in terror of her big mouth and sharp teeth.  I quickly hurried over to get her and pull her away, leaving the mother to take care of her child.

Months later, LouLu and I were again at the park, throwing and receiving balls, each of us doing the thing we do best.  From a fair distance down the lawn I heard a woman’s voice calling to me:  “Hey, you!  You who own LouLu!”

At this point, LouLu had forgotten the ball and was sniffing in the bushes, at the other end of the grassy field from where the woman was calling.  I turned around to see what she wanted, and she began walking towards me.

She said in an angry voice, “I recognize the name of the dog.  She was the one who stole the cookie out of my son’s hands.  He was so scared, he wouldn’t come back to the park until today!  And who do we see?  You again!  If you don’t leash your dog, I am going to report you to the police!”

She was right.  There is a leash law in Seattle parks, and I was in violation of it.  So are a lot of people who take their dogs to the park, but that was beside the point.  I apologized profusely for my lack and  for LouLu’s eagerness, but the woman was having none of it.  She was mad as hell and she wasn’t going to take it anymore.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a little boy standing about where the woman had been when she first called to me.  “Is that your son?” I asked.  She said it was, and the little boy began hesitantly to come towards us.

By this time LouLu was almost through sniffing and was beginning to walk back towards me.  As the little boy came near his mom, and while I was still apologizing, I suddenly found myself asking the boy, “Would you like to pet LouLu?” He nodded.  I clamped the leash on her.  He walked slowly towards her, then  reached out his hand and stroked her furry head.  Then he looked at her face (by this time she was nice and mellow from all that retrieving) and said, “I forgive you.”

Out of the blue.

“I forgive you.”

I looked at the  mother.

The mother looked at me.

We both looked at the boy, still petting LouLu.

Something important just happened.  The Holy Spirit was at work, uniting us around a dog who just acted like a dog, not meaning harm, just a dog who loved cookies.

And the little boy had blessed and forgiven her.

It was a moment.

A moment filled with the Holy Spirit.

Easter 2017

We all know we will die.  And all of us, in different ways, know the deep grief we experience when someone we love dies.  Their absence rends a hole in the fabric of our lives. And into this hole comes the darkness of doubts. Do I really believe in the resurrection? Do I really believe that this life is not all there is?

I know something about those doubts.

My son Tobe (pronounced “Tobey”) died of cancer when he was 34 years old.  The cancer was stage four when it was discovered.  Although he died well – living intensely and courageously the last eleven months of his life – when he died, I grieved. He had invited me in to be with him on his last journey, and I was with him in the hospital when his oncologist said to him,  “Tobe, there is nothing more we can do for you.  We are going to send you home with enough pain relievers to keep you comfortable for the next three or four days of your life.”

The doctor left the room, and my former husband, his wife, my daughter, and Tobe’s girlfriend all went into the hallway, to sob and to comfort one another.  This was the day we were expecting but did not want to come.

I stayed at Tobe’s bedside and took his hand.  “Are you afraid?” I asked him.

He gestured with his fingers that he was about half  an inch afraid.

And then I heard myself say to him, “Tobe, you have absolutely nothing to be afraid of.”  I wondered where those words came from, and then I knew.

He died at his home, three days later, in the arms of the woman who loved him.

After the memorial service I was left with silence and a deep ache in my heart.

One night, just before falling asleep, I thought about Tobe.

And in my mind I said, “Tobe, where are you? Are you okay?”

And then it was that I heard his voice, his very familiar voice, answering me, saying, “Mother, what did you tell me?

“Tobe,” I said, “I know what I told you.  But I just want to know.  Are you okay?”

And the voice of Tobe came again, saying only one chiding word: “Mother….”

And I knew in my heart he was okay.

I don’t know what “okay” means, but I know how it felt to hear it.  He was alive in some way, and he was okay!

And is!

If I did not know the Easter story, I never would have believed that dream – or whatever it was.  But because of God raising Jesus, I believe that death is not the end for us.  As the hymn written by the Gaithers says, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.”  Because I believe Jesus lives, I believe all whom God loves will live also – and that God loves all of us, no matter what!

May your Easter be blessed with joy and blessed assurance.

A Confession for Lent

It is not easy to follow Jesus, who resisted the temptations in the desert wilderness. It is not easy, ever, to hear the voice of one’s own, tempting, shadow self and choose something else.

I recently had personal experience with this, and I want to tell you about it, as a kind of Lenten confession.  And because for me it was an experience of grace.

Next Sunday is my birthday.  And on that day, all four of my husband’s adult children are coming over – not to celebrate me at all, but to present my dear husband Ivan with a great surprise. Ivan’s older son David lives near a planetarium in North Carolina that is undergoing renovation.  By his generosity, David is going to endow the planetarium with enough money to name the new rotunda of this planetarium after his father, the eminent astronomer, Ivan R. King.  And the gift will be made by the whole King Family, all of whom will be gathering at our house Sunday afternoon to make the announcement to Ivan.  He will be pleased and absolutely delighted.  And I am also pleased.  For his work in astronomy, he deserves this honor and recognition.

But instead of being happy for him, I have been pouting around the house, grumbling under my breath, for his kids coming on the very day that will just ruin my birthday. It is MY day, and they should not be there.  I should be celebrating with MY family and MY friends.  And on and on.

Mutter mutter mutter.

Well, it is Lent, after all, and as I sat at my computer preparing for Ash Wednesday and choosing the readings for that day of repentance, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the computer screen.  And as I looked at it, a voice inside my head said, “Judy, is this the kind of person you want to be?”  I thought about it. Do I want to be mean-spirited?  Do I want to pout and spoil what might be the biggest surprise of Ivan’s life?  I will have had lots of birthdays—76 of them.  How many times will all four of his kids come to honor Ivan in anticipation of his 90th birthday, later this year, with such a beautiful gift?

What kind of person am I?  What kind of person do I want to be?

When I considered the questions, the anger melted, and I realized I wanted to be the kind of person who graciously welcomes my husband’s offspring and welcomes his celebration.  I want to be the kind of person who says, “It’s not about me – or at least, not all about me.”

The reflection faded, and I returned to work.

This stuff really works!

No Fishing


I was invited to lunch recently by my friend and favorite curmudgeon Maury, who loves to go fly-fishing.  I asked him what he did with all the flies he caught.  He threatened not to pay for my lunch.

I seem to have problems with the concept of fishing.

Take, for example, the story of Jesus saying to Peter and Andrew and James and John, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.” I really have a hard time with the language that equates inviting people to be followers of Jesus with fishing.

This is how I understand fishing:

You have a good line.

Then you put a sharp hook at the end of it.

You bait your hook.

You throw the hook out in hopes of snagging some poor fish.

When you get a tug on the line, you haul the poor sucker into the boat, whomp him on the head until he’s dead,  take him home, slit open his guts, and  then cook him for supper.


This is certainly not my understanding of what winning people for the church or for Jesus is all about!

You don’t throw them a line.

You don’t try to hook ‘em.

You don’t bait the hook.

You don’t pull them in while they’re fighting for their lives.

You certainly don’t bash them over the head and eat them for dinner!

So, dear reader, how do you follow Jesus’ invitation to win folks over, to invite them into fellowship, to be a vehicle for their call to join you in discipleship?

You tell me.  I welcome your responses.