Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freedom and Responsibility

It is almost July 4 once again.  Independence Day is also a name for it, of course.  Independence from Great Britain, with whom we now share a close relationship but back in the late 1700s we were really put out at our cousins across the pond.  Our ancestors who were here in those days decided that they could not put up with all the abuse and mistreatment they were experiencing at the hands of the Monarch--that King George--so they said, "Jolly Good that we just begin a new experiement and call it America!" or something like that.  They got out their muskets and rallied around the flag (thank you Betsy Ross) and got moving.  Now, I may not have all the factors in historical order but you all know the story.  America became the great "Idea" that all Americans would rally around and get behind.

When you begin to reflect upon what is the common thing that binds all Americans together, it is not race or ethnic heritage or even language, even though we claim to speak English as our common tongue, but we are bound together by an idea that our country can be what it is despite all the other differences.  We are a melting pot or tossed salad of cultures and languages and backgrounds and everyone is welcome here because no one factor is required of persons here in order for them to stay.  Yes, non native born persons must go through the process to become citizens but even after becoming citizens it is okay if they speak another language besides English or if they eat the foods common to their native land or if they practice a religion that they practiced before they came to our shores.  We just want everyone to fit it and get along and live peaceably with one another. 

Sometimes we do not agree with what a judge or politician or clergyperson says and in our country we have the right to disagree if we desire.  We can post our views on Facebook and tell others our opinion with no fear that the secret police will storm into our house in the middle of the night and arrest us because of our views.  Freedom of speech and freedom of religion give us the right to assemble and say what we wish and allow others that same right.

However, in recent months some in our land have begun to categorize entire groups of people as being evil or undesirable because they may speak a different language or dress differently or practice a different religion.  These persons lump together everyone that shares a common characteristic and brands them as "radical" or "demonic" or "undesirable" not giving each individual within the group the right to prove oneself as individuals despite the commonalities they may share with others in their group.  It seems like only a few years ago that there were persons treated this same way based upon their skin color.  They were made to use separate restroom facilities and drink at separate water fountains and not be present at places where persons of the dominant skin color were present.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s helped to change all that because of the courage of some persons to speak out at a time when the prevailing attitudes needed changing. 

Today, there are many of us who attempt to live in such a manner as to see all persons as persons of worth.  We attempt to accept all persons for the individuals they are without categorizing them based upon a factor that some would use to demonize them.  If America truly is a land of freedom, then it has to be a land of freedom for all persons.  All who live here must be afforded the same rights as others including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  Persons who practice a religion that is not one that we would practice must be allowed the freedom to worship as they choose.  Our Constitution guarantees all the freedom of religion and freedom from religion. 

America is a good land but there are often people who want to shape it so that it fits into a mold that they prescribe.  These people want to define who is an American based upon criteria that they choose.  We are Americans because we believe in the Idea called America.  We are people of many races and languages and cultures and religions but we belong to one another because we see this as the land that best fulfills what we think life should be like. 

Katharine Lee Bates made it to the top of Pikes Peak back in the 1800s, the story is says, and when she looked out over the vast plains below here, she was inspired to write the words that we sing "America, the Beautiful".  The last stanza of this beautiful song says, "O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.  America, America, God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."  This stanza reflects the idea that those patriots who fought for freedom from tyranny had a common dream, a dream of brotherhood that would unite us all.  That dream continues...a dream of love of neighbor that transcends the differences that we may have with one another.  The dream is alive in the land we call America and it is a dream that we all share, regardless of any other factor that we may possess. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Y'all Come

Growing up in the southern part of the USA and in Texas specificially, I found it natural to use the word "Y'all" and did not know until I was grown that this word was not used everywhere around the world.  I figured that if we used it here, then people everywhere must speak the same way as we did.  When I was growing up and began traveling to other parts of the world, I found that others substituted other words to take the place of "Y'all".  Some said "You guys" and others said "You'ens" and then some did not say anything at all, leaving out a word that was directed at more than one person at a time.  They either did not direct comments to others or they said the specific names of persons. 

The word "Y'all" is an inclusive pronoun.  It includes all those within hearing of the speaker.  It may be intended for a specific group being addressed or may include all persons.  "Y'all are all invited to come by later and have a bite to eat."  "Did y'all hear about the fire north of Houston?"  In both of these cases, more than one person is being addressed or the speaker wants to include others who may not be present but may have indeed been privy to what the speaker is asking about.

The word "Y'all" includes all possible listeners at times when used in public speaking.  A southern speaker who uses "Y'all" wants to be sure that all persons within earshot knows that he/she is included in what is being said.  "Y'all have to try that new restaurant that just opened."  The speaker wants all listening to know that the new restaurant is indeed a good one and that everyone should go there if all listening want to enjoy a good meal. 

"Y'all" is inclusive and no one is left out based upon specific criteria such as gender, sexual orientation, race, political persuasion, or any other factor.  Anyone who hears the word spoken is included.  The word "Y'all speaks of hospitality, of inclusion, of everyone being invited. 

There was a country music song back in the 1950s-60s called "Y'all come."  It was a country invitation given for neighbors to visit each other when they could.  "Y'all come, y'all come, you all come to see us when you can.  Y'all come, y'all come, you all come and see you now and then."  The song was a lively one that encouraged people visiting one another, as people did on a regular basis in that era.  It was not unusual for neighbors to drop in on one another on a Sunday afternoon or one evening and just visit and have coffee and the kids would play while the adults talked.  There was a standing invitation for people to visit one another and being together was encouraged. 

That is what we call "hospitality".  Encouraging others to feel included and welcomed is part of the Christian tradition.  It is part of the Middle Eastern tradition too.  People who were traveling across the desert had a standing invitation to stop at a tent for a meal or to spend a night because distances were great between villages and the desert was a dangerous place to be all alone in the night.  People welcomed one another in the spirit of hospitality because they knew that one day they would need the same welcome extended to them.  A welcome was given to strangers as well as friends because all travelers faced a common plight as they journeyed along. 

We want to be welcoming to all in the United Church of Christ.  In fact, our official motto is, "No matter who you are or where you are on the journey of life, you have a home in the United Church of Christ."  We want to extend that "Y'all come" spirit to all persons and make them feel welcomed to our churches.  Some are critical when we include all persons.  They do not think that a welcome should be extended to all persons but when Jesus was inviting all persons to come to him, he only set one criteria for inclusion in his family, that you be tired.  "Come unto me all you that are weary and I will give you rest."  There are a lot of tired people in the world and they come in every variety.  Those who are weary of the load that life places upon us are invited to come and rest and receive the cup of cold water that we can give them in the name of Christ.  That cup of water is given to all freely and everyone is invited to drink. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living Out the Great Commission

This week's Gospel lesson is Matthew 28: 16-20--very familiar territory to most active church-goers.  Jesus gathers his disciples on the mountain in Galilee and gives them his last words before he disappears.  Matthew does not describe Jesus' exit from the scene as Luke does in Acts 1 where Jesus gives similar but not exact language but both texts give a command from Jesus for Jesus' followers to get busy and spread the word.  Jesus tells those gathered on the mountain as Matthew tells it that they are to Go into All the World, Baptize all using the formula that most Christian denominations use, Teach all that Jesus has commanded, and to Remember that God's presence will always be with us.  So, the Great Commission is given and Jesus leaves so that his followers can get busy. 

When I went to seminary, I went as most of my fellows seminarians did, as a "second career" student.  It was common in the 1990s, and continues to be, that most people in seminary were people who had begun their working years practicing a certain skill or career and then somewhere along the way they felt the call to the ministry and left behind that trade and began retraining to be used in church service.  I had been a school teacher and counselor for sixteen years when I heard the call and went to seminary.  I was 37 years old, married with two children.  At first I thought going to seminary was too expensive and something that could not be done.  Thankfully, there were people who believed in persons like me and assisted to pay for our education so that we could learn and begin to minister.  I even got on the job training because I was a student pastor during my seminary years at the same time that I was a seminarian. 

For some of us, the word GO in the Great Commission meant leaving behind what we were doing already and making a big change in our lives.  Similar to what the first disciples did, most second career seminarians dropped their fishing nets or left the tax collection table and followed, not knowing where it would take them.  Going in response to the words of Jesus may mean that some follow with their bodies and make huge changes in their lives but it also may mean that if we cannot go physically then we give of our resources so that others can go in our places.  I think that is why some of those who gave money toward my seminary education felt called to give....they could not leave behind what they had in their lives so they would send someone to take their place. 

Being a student pastor gave me practical experience to go along with what I learned in seminary each week.  I was a seminarian Tuesday through Friday each week and a pastor Friday evening through Monday.  I would wrestle with theological issues with other seminarians and then come home to learn that a parishioner was ill or that someone had died or that a big church event was happening and suddenly I would shift gears and become the one they depended on as their pastor.  I was licensed by my denomination to perform weddings, baptize, serve communion, and do what was required for the congregation I served.  Ordination would come two years into seminary at the point where the church felt I had learned enough to qualify.  My student pastorate was a graying set of two congregations in rural Texas so I got a lot of practice in officiating at funerals but I also got to do several baptisms, both of which were gratifying experiences. 

Go, baptize, teach....teaching was what I had done for 16 years in Texas public schools so it seemed natural that teaching and counseling that a pastor would do would be something that I could do too and I have done plenty of both over the years too.  Teach all that Jesus has commanded is part of the Great Commission that we all do all the time in life.  Some of us use words to teach but all of us teach others daily what it means to be a Christian by the way we live our lives around others.  Those who are aware that we claim Christian as part of our identity notice the way we live and make judgments concerning our lives.  We demonstrate what we think it means to be Christians simply by being one each day we live. 

The Great Commission speaks to persons who are called to be pastors or in ministry in many ways.  It is to us the "sending forth" that we received giving us purpose and direction in life.  We charge into the task daily based upon our understanding of what we think needs doing in response to Jesus' words.  The Great Commission was not written only for clergy persons, however.  It was written to all persons who would be Christians.  It directs us all to be actively involved in sharing the love of Christ with others in our world.  It does not say to preach to everyone we see every day but it encourages us to live our lives as witnesses to God's great love that we have experienced.  The way we live around others will preach a sermon much more clearly than any words that we could say with our lips. 

Go into your world, teach all that you know that Jesus said about love and forgiveness and life, and remember that the presence of God is with you always, even to the end of the age.    

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Simple Things

Sometimes it is the very simple things in life that are very satisfying--such as chicken and potatoes.  I decided to roast some chicken with some red skinned potatoes tonight, both roasting in the same pan, the potatoes receiving some flavor from the chicken as it cooked (it had been grilled previously and was sitting in the fridge waiting to be used).  So, I put them in a roasting pan of the old fashioned variety and roasted the chicken for 30 minutes (as it had been previously grilled) and then let the potatoes go an extra 15 minutes.  Both were done and I placed them on my plate (I am dining alone tonight) and allowed the juices from the potatoes to be on my plate too.  I prepared a tomato and basil salad to go with it and poured a glass of white wine and then ahhhhhhhh, all was right with the world.

I remember a similar dinner that a couple had back in 2001 at a little cafe on a street called St. Germain in Paris.  They were very tired from looking around and sat down at a table and attempted to order a meal with the waiter and as their knowledge of the French language was tres petite they ordered the special which was written on the board standing near the sidewalk.  I think it said "poulet et frites" which sounded very glamourous to two tired Texans but it was just chicken and potatoes.  The couple sat at the table and watched Paris go by, up and down that boulevard, and then the meal arrived--each received a quarter of a chicken and potatoes accompanied by some bread.  The man had a glass of white wine to go with it and the woman had a famous French drink called Coca-Cola. (You know you are in a great country when Coke costs more than wine...go figure.)  It may have been only chicken and potatoes but the meal was magical.  The couple declared it was the best chicken and potatoes they had ever eaten.  Perhaps eating it in one of the most famous cities in the world in a sidewalk cafe had something to do with it but the satisfaction of that meal stayed with them for the years to follow.

As I ate my roasted chicken and potatoes by myself tonight, I thought about that magical evening now ten years ago.  The memory of that event seemed to be connected to the flavors on my tongue tonight.  I seemed to be able to connect with that wonderful European experience due to some memory jogging flavorful sensation right here in my own home. 

How many times do we think that simple pleasures are not as valuable as the big events of life?  We say to ourselves, "It is only a weekday meal.  It is nothing special" but there may be something contained in that simple meal that one day will jog our memory and we will have an emotional response connected to it.  We may laugh or cry or feel very mellow, as I did in regard to that Paris meal ten years ago.  We may find a delayed response of satisfaction connected to that memory and we may suddenly pause and give silent thanks for the event and the memory of that event. 

I love my friends and will love them across the years.  I will always remember the good times we shared around tables and in restaurants and in fellowship halls and in countries far and near.  Something one day will remind me of a specific time and place and I will be thankful that we had that time and experience together.  A shared experience with others binds us together for all time.  We can call up those memories and others cannot relate to them because they were not there to share them with us.  Perhaps the simple times are the best because we lodge them away in our minds and one day they surprise us and visit us once again to remind us of how good life has been to us.     

Thursday, June 9, 2011


When I was a United Methodist pastor serving a church that used the United Methodist Hymnal in worship, one of the songs that I liked to sing along with the congregation was called "Saranam, Saranam."  This was a hymn that had been translated from Pakistani with a Punjabi melody.  The word "saranam" which is said many times during its singing translates somewhat into "save me" or "refuge".  The song is a testimony that the singer can go to God in times of distress and find the help that is sought that will bring the person to safety and help.  The song has a very singable melody and expresses a confidence in God that is uplifting.

"Jesus, Savior, Lord, lo to thee I fly; Saranam, Saranam, Saranam; thou the Rock, my refuge that's higher than I: Saranam, Saranam, Saranam."  The word almost sounds like a mantra that can be repeated by one who is meditating or one who is praying.  O God, be my refuge, my rock, my hiding place.  There are times when we feel as if we need a place to hide away from the cares of life.  The overwhelming stressful times of life can cause us to be filled with fear and anxiety.  It is at those times when we can say "Saranam." 

Each of us is different from the other.  We all handle stress and difficult times differently.  For some, the small things in life do not matter but when a big event happens, they seem to fall apart.  For others it is the opposite, they may get upset at the driver that cuts them off in traffic but then hardly react when a death in the family occurs.  Some people are geared psychologically so that major trauma does not cause them nearly as much distress as it does for other people but the daily grind of life takes its toil on them. 

I remember an old gospel song from my childhood that was often sung as "a special" by someone during the church service.  Its words said, "How long has it been since you talked to the Lord and told him your heart's hidden secrets?  How long since you prayed?  How long since you stayed on your knees till the light shone through?  How long has it been since your mind felt at ease?  How long since your heart knew no burden?  Well, you call him your friend, how long has it been since you knew that he cared for you?"  I can still sing that song and it touches me becauses it reminds me that we need to talk to God daily and ask for God's presence to be made known in our lives.  God is always present with us but we often forget that God is nearby. 

Saranam--a strange sounding word from another culture, but a word that reminds us that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1).  God is the hiding place where we can be shielded from life's attacks and we can find strength for whatever may come to us.  May the God of peace keep your minds and hearts today and each day. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Living in Peace and Harmony

"How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity."  (Psalm 133:1)

I just returned from our annual meeting that we have for the South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ.  We have this meeting each June and we rotate where it is held around the five geographical regions of our Conference.  We met this year just south of Houston in the town of Clear Lake City which is where you will also find Johnson Space Center.  In fact, the hotel where the meeting was held is just down the road from the Space Center.  We have the meeting once a year so we call it "Annual Meeting" and representatives from all of the churches in our Conference are invited to attend.  Clergy and lay persons come to the meeting and for three days we do the business of the Conference (electing officers, approving the budget for the next year, hearing reports) worship together, and present and hear workshops about creative ways of doing ministry.  Most years I have attended these meetings they have been filled with peace and agreement by participants with occasional disagreements mainly over issues concerning the spending of money. 

This year's meeting, though, was filled with peace and harmony and I never heard one cross word or disagreement.  It was one of the most uplifting and inspiring church related meetings that I have ever attended of any denomination.  There was an excellent keynote speaker who made us laugh at the same time that she gave us a lot to think about.  There were well prepared and enthusiastic workshop presenters who challenged us to think differently about ministry.  There were musical groups, both in worship and in fun, who lifted our spirits and led us in singing and interactive group dynamics.  There was worship that helped us to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among us.  It was a wonderful respite from the daily cares of life. 

Being a part of such meetings makes me wonder why the human race has such a hard time getting along with one another.  If subsets of the human race can exist for a set period of time and work together for common goals, then why can't we as humans on this planet ever achieve the harmony and peace we desire on a broader scale or for a longer period of time?  There have been utopian communities that existed for longer time periods in which persons lived together and worked together and lived in peaceful coexistence.  Some of those communities no longer exist as they were but they left examples of how they brought about peaceful living for the time they were able to do so.  The Shakers are one example of this.  They established their version of utopia in several places in the United States and their members did live and work together for many decades but they had a rule that men and women lived separately and the community could not continue through new births only through grown ups who would join them so their numbers died even as their members did so.  Today, one can visit their communities that are preserved as museums and see their work and visit their buildings and know a bit about them but there are only about 2 or 3 surviving members living in the northeast US. 

The psalmist said it well--it is good and pleasant when people can be together and get along with each other.  It is a goal to work toward both as small groups and as nations on earth.  When people put aside their own desires in favor of what is best for the other then harmony can be achieved.  Wars most of the time are centered on what a certain nation or group or leader desires and the selfish ambition of achieving that goal becomes at the center of what is important.  When the human family decides that what is best for all is the most important thing rather than what is important for one particular nation or group, then perhaps we will begin to learn how to live together in unity. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Ascension Day!

It is too bad that many of us do not live in Europe, especially on a day like this.  Many Europeans, French citizens especially, have religious days off as holidays even if they do not plan to have any religious activity on those days.  Today is Ascension Day which comes ten days before Pentecost (also recognized as a holiday in Europe).  It marks the day when Jesus ascended into the clouds never to be seen in human flesh again by human beings.  The story is recorded in Acts 1 where Jesus takes the disciples onto the mountain and gives them their last instructions before he rises into the air and vanishes from sight.  "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  (Acts 1:8)  Then he was gone and the disciples were left to fend for themselves.  He gave them a job to do, though, before he left them. 

The task to complete was that they were to be "witnesses" to all of the world as they knew it in their day.  The scope of their sharing their story was to be to those who lived around them first of all (Jerusalem) and then to those who were in the neighboring towns in the province of Judea, and to people they really did not care to associate with (Samaria), and finally to the ends of the earth (the far reaches of the Roman Empire--that was all the earth they knew.)  Their task was to tell the story of Jesus to all those who lived in these areas because they had known Jesus in his bodily form and knew the stories about his teachings and the many works he had done.  They were first hand witnesses to the life of Jesus and only they could truly tell what he had done and taught.

So, here we are on Ascension Day remembering the story of the ascension of Jesus and what his last words were to his followers before he went away.  His words to them may remind us that we also are witnesses to all of our world and those who live in it.  How do we witness to our faith and to what is important to our lives because our faith has helped to inform and form us?  Do we use words or do our very lives speak about what we think in our lives that have in some way been shaped by the faith we hold and share?  Is it because of our faith that we live as we do and that our faith experience is responsible in part for our being who we are? 

Faith is a very personal thing to most people.  Very few people appreciate others who use "in your face" methods of "witnessing" to others about their religious views.  Most people appreciate a quiet understanding of how God has been involved in the lives of religious persons.  When people are overtly demonstrative concerning their religious views, it often makes others feel uncomfortable and may have the opposite effect that the disciple intended.  Faith is most often demonstrated by the way we relate to others making them feel welcomed and loved even as Jesus made others feel the love of God at work in his life. 

Go into all the world.....your world...and let others know that God loves them and that God wants them to love others....and use words if you must. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Meaning of Life

I have found the meaning of life.  It was revealed to me when I went out for my morning walk today.  It was not a Buddha-like experience wherein I was suddenly enlightened.  It was more like a slight a-ha just short of an epiphany.  I began to sing an old song that was once on the radio, the kind that gets stuck in your head and it is hard to get out, and all of a sudden I thought, "Yes, this is the meaning of life."  So, now that I have found it, I want to pass it along to you so you also can know the meaning of life or the meaning of life as it was revealed to me and as I interpreted it.  Those could be two different things so watch out. 

The song that was in my head was "Sweet Dreams' that was sung by Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics.  I only know the chorus so only that part spoke to me since I dont know the rest of the song.  It may negate the meaning of life as revealed to me so do not read or sing the rest of the song.  But, the part that spoke to me today is "Sweet dreams are made of these, you and I may disagree, travel the world and the seven seas, everybody's looking for something."  There is more, but let's consider this much to begin with.  I do not want to overpower you with too much meaing to begin with.

Everybody IS looking for something.  That is the main meaning of life.  Everybody is looking, searching, yearning, longing to find purpose (meaning) in life and when they realize that they are looking, they may actually begin to find something that they are looking for.  Everyone wants to feel needed, useful, to know that they serve a purpose in this world and when that need is fulfilled then they feel a level of satisfaction with themselves.  People who have no purpose in living or feel that way often live lives of uselessness or dissatisfaction.  They bounce from place to place or from person to person and may even decide that life is not worth living at all and end their pain.  Having a reason to live gives a person a reason for existence and a reason to get up in the morning.

You may not agree with me (the song says you may not...more meaning) because we all have different ways of interpreting life.  What gives meaning and purpose to me may not give it to you.  I really do not like our summers in Texas.  If I had my way, I would leave Texas about May 15 and not return until about October 15 (I think we call these people "snowbirds" or maybe "sweatbirds" if you live in Texas and go north in the summer).  If I ever do get to fulfill this plan, though, I cannot be a sweatbird that just sits around some apartment or campground where I may land in the cool north but I would have to have something to do while I am there.  I cannot simply waste time.  I have to be busy about the business of living and enjoying life.  Now, I may be actively exploring the land where I am escaping to (picture Colorado or Montana or even Vermont...ahhhhh) but I would not be sitting still rocking in my rocking chair and watching life pass me by.  Even if my wish could come true to escape Texas and the blistering, hot, humid days of summer here, I would have to find meaning in life in that other cooler locale or it would not be satisfying to me. 

So, Annie Lennox and the gang was right about that, I think.  Everybody IS looking for something and many search the world over (the seven seas) looking for it.  Many people think they have found meaning in a person.  The person may seem like someone with whom they can share their life and the meaning they want in it but soon they discover that their vision of life does not match the vision of life they hold.  This is where the rest of the song comes in.  "Some of them want to use you, some of them want to be used by you, some of them want to abuse you, some of them want to be abused."  Believe it or not, there are people of both kinds in this world.  Some who will take advantage of others, and some who want to be taken advantage of.  Many people do not realize this about themselves, on both counts.  Some people cannot envision that they hurt others but they do.  Some people do not know it about themselves but they psychologically welcome abuse and mistreatment because they allow others to mistreat them. 

Even in the church, we find people of both kinds.  Yes, there are church leaders who will mistreat others.  We know that from reading the stories in the news about religious persons who have sexually or physically or mentally abused their parishioners.  There are the innocent ones who could not know that these that they trusted would hurt them until it has happened.  There are also people in power in churches who use their power to try to harm colleagues and co-workers but thankfully there are safeguards in place to protect them if they will use those measures.  Too many times, people are afraid to blow the whistle, though, for fear that they will lose their jobs.  The Powers That Be in religious circles often hold the power that dictates whether a person will continue to minister or work in the church so one has to have incredible inner strength in order to call the abuser upon the carpet and bring about justice. 

Some people want to be used and abused and they do not realize that is their psychological disposition.  They may resent the abuser and want to escape but they cannot find the inner resources to be able to make a better decision for their lives.  That is where the church has to be the savior for them to pray for them and counsel with them and encourage them to find the inner strength to act on their on behalf for the good they seek.  As long as they decide to stay where they are and make no change, then life will remain as it is for them.  Sometimes doing nothing is much easier than acting for change and having courage for one's own life. 

So, who knew that suddenly, while walking along in our quiet rural Texas town, I would have life's very meaning dropped upon me?  It would seem that this special visitation would speak to me personally so as to improve my own life and perhaps it will, but maybe this lesson to me also is meant for someone else who needs encouragement in life, for someone who is in a hard place in life and needs to know that there is a better place to live, to grow, to find meaning in life.  Perhaps the meaning of life is revealed to us in our everyday living as we find places of service to our church and to the world around us.  Perhaps it is revealed in the quiet moments of life, in the breaking of the bread around the table with loved ones, in the times when we allow those songs to get stuck in our heads or when we pause to give thanks for what is important to us in life.