Help a Friend Realize His Dream!

I met Gus IRAGUHA through one of my colleagues. Though we live worlds apart – Gus in Kigali, Rwanda, me in San Antonio, Texas – we discovered our common passion for photography, I suggested that we collaborate on a project called Beautiful Rwanda! – Beautiful Texas! Here is a link to that effort.

Pursuing our dreams can be challenging for any of us. For Gus, the economy of his native Rwanda—slammed by the pandemic—has made his quest even harder. He has been struggling for years to carve out a niche as a professional photographer. Sadly, his progress was halted when two men attacked him on March 22, 2022, beating him and stealing his camera bag with all its contents. I have established a crowdfunding campaign that seeks to raise the money to help him purchase new equipment. It is sponsored by the nonprofit Rwanda Joy, which has helped Gus and others like him rise out of their poverty and survive the trauma of Rwanda’s unspeakable genocide in 1994. View Gus’s photos here and watch his promotional video completed just before the vicious attack. Anyone who donates to this campaign will receive a high-definition digital download of one of Gus’s best photos. Your support is deeply appreciated!

Here are some of Gus’s own words about the meaning and importance of photography in his life.

Because we grow and change every day and landscapes do the same, photographing my native Rwanda keeps memories alive. It has given me the opportunity to see myself when I was a kid—only a few months old – and how I am today. I would like to see my Mama when she was young, but that is not possible because are no images and she is gone.

We are always growing and changing. The food we ate 10 years ago is different today. The language we spoke three years ago is different now. If I document Kigali today and look at it in 50 years, it will certainly not look the same as today.

Photography has an incredible impact on our social and family lives. It impacts our political life as well. It does this by keeping memories alive and creating a chronicle of time. Photos serve an important role in our daily lives as reminders, as indicators. Photography helps us in so many ways. That’s why I have dedicated my life to it. For me, it is more than capturing images; it is the creation of a narrative, a shared type of language that is understood between the photographer, the viewer, and the society or community at large.

Bill’s Miraculous Conversion

Many of us remember the cultural hysteria that surrounded the discovery and spread of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. Despite scientific evidence that the virus could only be passed through semen or blood, many people panicked. Those who contracted the disease became pariahs, what Time magazine dubbed a “new class of untouchables,” a prejudice that hampered their medical treatment.

Adding theological insult to injury, intolerant groups of Christians spread the notion that AIDS was a plague visited upon gay people and drug users for their sins. They dared to say such things while cloaking themselves in Christ’s teachings, an aberration that still exists in America.

I was serving a large urban church at the time. One of our vocal members (call him Bill for anonymity’s sake) embraced and espoused this theory of divine retribution. He proof-texted the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah, claiming that God destroyed those cities because of homosexuality rather than inhospitality.

Meanwhile, I knew that HIV/AIDS had touched many people in our congregation through their friends and relatives, but they were reticent to publicly ask for compassion. They feared the stigma rippling through our society.

I talked to these folks and asked a question. Would they be willing to join others in a “coming out” evening, a public forum to share their experiences in solidarity? It would be a chance to counter destructive stereotypes, appealing for greater understanding.

I was warmly surprised by how many agreed to participate. Among them was a nurse who had adopted a baby born with the virus.

On that night, the church was full. Even the unfounded scare of contracting the virus couldn’t keep people away. There was a bit of sensationalism, even titillation, about the way we had advertised the event, and I was fine with that if it stimulated new awareness.

One by one, members stood and shared their personal stories. Some admitted having to unlearn their own fears and prejudice; others spoke of their unrestrained  love for family members and friends who needed them during a time of crisis.

When the nurse spoke of how she had connected with her adopted daughter, Chloe, it was especially moving. The agency she dealt with could not find a suitable parent. Who would want to take a child with HIV into their home given the fear of contagion and the prognosis of a tragically short life?

Chloe was with her, and as she spoke the toddler got down off her mother’s knee and began to wander along the center aisle of the church. I noticed Bill in a pew near the front, his eyes locked on the girl, his posture stiffening. When she came alongside him, she stopped and looked up at him. Then she did something I will never forget. She crawled on his lap.

Bill’s body lurched. You could tell he wanted to stand, knock Chloe of his knees and run for the hills. But then she rested her hands on his shoulders and squared her face to his, their noses nearly touching.

Most people in the assembly were aware of Bill and his prejudiced views. A hush came over all of us. How would he react? Would he create a scene that would forever mar the harmonious tone of our event?

Then something happened that we least expected. Call it a grace-filled moment of conversion. Bill wrapped his arms around Chloe and gave her the warmest of embraces. There was a collective sigh of relief and some people even clapped.

Fast forward. Bill became a lead deacon in our congregation. He was a changed person, a man on a mission. Our church had an unused manse on our property and Bill led a movement to get it certified as the only approved daycare facility in our city for children born with HIV. He helped form a ministry that provided hours of respite care for men whose companions were suffering the end stages of AIDS. Our deacons would relieve them for a few hours so that they could run errands, get some air, decompress.

One of the last times I saw Bill was at one of these homes. I had come to say a prayer with a young man who was in his final hours. I saw Bill from behind as he was leaning over the bed. He was helping to change the sheets, getting his hands dirty in the real and compassionate work of loving another human being.

He turned and said, “Hi, Pastor Krin. I’m glad to see you.”

“Not as glad as I am to see you, Bill,” I replied.

Every Story Matters

(I once wrote a weekly column for a newspaper in South Texas, collected in the book 52: Weekly Readings for Your Journey. I often recall this installment published on Veteran’s Day. It reminds us that every person has a story, and that some of these stories are from veterans who were caught in the crossfires of history. As a vet myself, I think of all of them today!)

For years, CBS ran a program called Everybody Has a Story. Host Steve Hartman threw a dart at a U.S. map, flew to that city, flipped open a phone book, put his finger down and called that household. If the individuals were willing, he highlighted their life stories which were often poignant. Before leaving, he asked the participant to throw a dart at the map to pinpoint his next destination.

What a marvelous illustration in this seeming randomness! It shows two things. First, the struggles of being human are something we all share, no matter our age, race, or background. Second, our stories matter, especially when someone truly listens.

But listening is a dying art. We fixate on TVs, computers, smart phones. Wired with sound bite mentalities, we wish people would just get to the point. We formulate responses before others finish speaking, cutting our attentiveness to zero.

Paul Tillich famously said, “The first duty of love is to listen.” In our raucous world, people long for someone to hear them. Our open ears and hearts provide an oasis of acceptance, and as we practice this art, we find that the benefits are reciprocal. Our worlds expand in astonishing ways. Here’s an example.

One day a short man with a warm, tooth-gapped smile came to our church. His dark skin was deeply weathered by the elements. He let me know that he was homeless, sleeping in his car, and he wondered if I could help him with lodging and food. When I agreed, he said, “Thank you, sir!”

That’s when I saw the military bearing in his shoulders and heard the respect in his voice.

“Are you a veteran?”

“Yes, sir. I served in Desert Storm with the First Mechanized Infantry.”

What followed was a gripping story, a page of American history, and it was my privilege to hear every word.

Raised in New Jersey, William Milburn inherited his family’s tradition to join the military. He enlisted in the Army National Guard after high school, and when he got laid off from a factory job, he chose to go active duty. Eventually he was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, assigned to the First Armored Division.

In August of 1990, William was a frontline tank gunner when the U.S. invaded Iraq. As he recalled those awful days, I could hear the roaring jets, the deep booms as William locked on to distant Iraqi targets and destroyed them. His traumatic memories still open fresh wounds.

“We saw trucks, jeeps and tanks with mangled, blackened bodies. The smell of death is horrible, pastor. I was a soldier, but as a Christian, any loss of life is terrible. I remember looking at one body draped from a jeep and thinking ‘man, that guy had a family.’ What was his story? It was war. I did my duty. But it was still so sad.”

William received bronze stars for his valor. I told him I couldn’t thank him enough for his selfless service to our country. I also invited him to contact me anytime, day or night, if he needed a listening ear. (Update: I’m happy to tell you that William is back on his feet, working hard as a certified nursing assistant, enjoying life with a new girlfriend.)

Today, think of this as you shop, work, or travel. Every person you see has a story, and often the people we pass over the quickest have the most mind-blowing tales of all. A homeless veteran taught me this lesson.

All I had to do was listen.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

A massive sinkhole opens beneath the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Buildings, freeways, and screaming people plummet through a time portal. They land 10,000 years in the past, where saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths are just a few of the surprises (and dangers!) they face.

Such is the premise of a new NBC drama called La Brea. I thought of it as I stood with others on the rim above Canyon Lake Gorge, a geologic wonder of Texas carved out by flooding along the Guadalupe River in 2002. 34 inches of rain fell in two days, setting off a torrent that sliced open the ground below the spillway, exposing limestone and fossils over 100 million years old.

Our guide points out some dinosaur tracks. An acrocanthosaurus,one of the largest predators to ever stalk the earth, once stood on this spot, perhaps scanning the terrain for prey.

Then we begin our descent, first to Area 51, a landscape strewn with square boulders that seem hewn from extinct quarries. Robert Rodriguez used this setting for his Predators movie.

“Bend down and gather a handful of sand,” says our guide. “Tell me what you see.”

I do so. Instead of sand, I find scores of tiny shells nestled in my palm!

“Those are remnants of an organism called Orbitolina Texana.,” she says with a smile. “You are standing on an ancient cretaceous seabed.”

Amazing! And it only gets better! We continue downwards to see exposed fault lines of the Edwards Plateau, remnants of collapsed caves, a waterfall, even a lagoon. In one  area, we examine scores of fossilized shellfish, including ancient sea urchins. It truly feels like a journey to the center of the earth (thank you, H.G. Wells, for the phrase!).

Then it strikes me that my fellow Master Naturalists are always penetrating deeper into the world, revealing its beauty and intricacy. On countless occasions, they have schooled me about the flora, fauna, and geology that surround us. I store their numbers on my phone. When I see an unfamiliar plant, insect, reptile, or bird, I capture an image or sound and text it to my peers. Their responses often include not only common and scientific names, but amazing facts about that species’ place in the ecosystem.

I’m currently writing a book about the influence of camps and conference centers, including their role as portals to nature. At Camp Gilmont in Northeast Texas, I spoke to Marie Nelson, Director of their Outdoor School for children. She reminisced about a naturalist and educator named Sarah Monk, one of their long-term volunteers. “Walks with Sarah” were a privilege, and when Sarah died, Marie wrote a tribute which I excerpt here. It stands as a tribute to all naturalist teachers.

Wake me early to see the dew on the spider web before it disappears.
Take me quietly down a trail into the woods and introduce me to the wonder.
Sit with me as a gentle breeze cascades through the forest like a waterfall.
Draw my attention to the flowers clothed in all of their radiance.
Take me by the lake to watch turtles bob to the surface for air.
Hold a dragonfly nymph as I study its special adaptations for survival.
Quiet me as a red-tailed hawk goes swooping overhead looking for its prey.
Show me the view to the west as the sun sets in vibrant purpose, orange, and pink.
Then watch with me as the veil of darkness blankets the earth.
Listen as the sounds of night surround us.
Open the classroom of nature all around me
and teach me how to study the gift of Creation.

Back to that day in the Canyon Lake Gorge. One of the attendees turns to me and says, “This is one of the most beautiful places in Texas!”

I smile and nod, even as my mind flashes to other exquisite environs: Palo Duro Canyon; the lush heart of the Big Thicket; Spicewood Springs and Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park; crystalline depths at the Aquareena, headwaters of the San Marcos River; shorebirds cavorting in the wetlands of Matagorda Bay; scenic gems like the Chisos and Santa Elena Canyon at Big Bend; ancient rock art of the White Shaman Preserve, perched above the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande Rivers.

So many breathtaking wonders in this state I love! So many places where we can journey to the center of the earth!

You can connect with me through my website here, Facebook here, or Instagram here

Loving Wastefully

Imagine an inner-city neighborhood on a sweltering summer day. A long draught has baked the pavement and buildings, coating them with dust. An enterprising resident devises a way to turn on one of the fire hydrants full blast. It gushes into the street as people of all ages gather to splash and play. It’s like the Ganges River in the middle of concrete canyons.

A man cries out, “You’re wasting water!” and a woman exclaims, “Exactly! Come and enjoy it with us!”

It reminds me of a well-loved quote from Bishop John Shelby Spong, who died a week ago today.

“If the word “God” can be identified with the Source of Love that flows through the universe, always enhancing life…then the only way we can worship that which we call God is by loving, loving wastefully. Wasteful love never stops to ask whether love is due or deserved, one simply gives it away. The more we can give love away, the more that which is ultimate, real and holy will be visible in us.”

As my friend and co-author, Heiwa no Bushi, says, “Love wastefully. Turn on both spigots and let it run until the soil is good and muddy, until there is a pool that forms where others can be refreshed.”

Yes! How many times have we joined others in singing the Old 100th? Praise God from who all blessings flow. How often have we been reminded to let these blessings pour through us to the world, so that we are conduits for God’s torrent of grace?

For this to happen, we must overcome those attitudes of heart and mind that cause us to restrict our flow, siphoning down the blessings poured into us.

Jesus addressed one of these primary restrictors. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Let’s be real. We all judge others. We justify ourselves with semantics, saying I’m just discerning, or I’m speaking truth to power, or I’m fighting the good fight.

OK. Yes. Amen. But SURELY every one of us, no matter our politics, theology, or morals can see how judgement erodes our common humanity. Even with noble intentions, we can easily foment division.

Judgment seems hard-wired into our human psyches. I imagine Cro-Magnon tribes already judging who among them was more beautiful, more athletic, AND who they needed to hate enough for violence. From time immemorial, we have certainly inherited the “sins” of previous generations. Just dip your mind into any news-stream on any given day. They literally reek of judgment.

Go even further. Think of how many people project this human proclivity for judgment onto their anthropomorphic images of God. Some point to this very passage from Matthew, settling on the words “you will be judged.” Jesus himself had to break the shackles of judgement, his life culminating in a crescendo of forgiveness even for his tormentors as he cried out, “It is finished!”

This teaching recorded in Matthew is not about crime and punishment, sin and retribution. It is an invitation to light and freedom. It is pure genius.

When Jesus says, the measure you give will be the measure you receive, think of it this way. If our Creator has placed within us a wellspring of love, an inner fountain to refresh every moment, then our judgments restrict the flow of this love not only for others, but for our own experience of joy!

To use a contemporary analogy, consider the ubiquitous smartphones in our culture, attached like appendages every waking hour. They exist within a bandwidth. When we judge others, we limit our ability to stream love from the Source, narrowing our experience from 5G to 4G to 3G to E. Finally, beyond the Edge is a life with no sustaining awareness of connection to our Creator.

Jesus implores us to experience a fuller measure of love that suffuses our lives. To use the image of water again, think of the words he spoke to that Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob. “The water that I will give will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

As Bishop Spong said, when we let this water flow through us to others, even wastefully, what is “real and holy will be visible in us.”

Amen.

Returning “Home” to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, by Rex Taylor Stewart

(Many years ago, I shared a summer of volunteering at Ghost Ranch, an education and retreat center in northern New Mexico that was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church until 2017. I worked alongside many new friends, including Rex Stewart and Carol Rogers. That experience and the Ranch itself cast a long and powerful shadow over our lives. When I saw through Facebook that the two of them had recently returned to that enchanting place, I asked Rex to share his impressions. His words speak to the age-old question: Can we ever really go home again?)

Recently, I was able to return to the beautiful high mesas of Northern New Mexico and the spectacular cliffs surrounding Ghost Ranch Conference Center. Every time I go there, I am transported back to my first glimpses of that sacred terrain. I was a college student in 1978 about to begin a summer of volunteering as part of Ghost Ranch’s annual college staff. The contrast of the yellows, oranges, reds, and browns of its cliffs and mesas reaching up to that impossibly brilliant blue sky took my breath away; I fell in love.

Later, I was to meet the love of my life, my partner and wife, Carol Rogers, who also worked on the college staff. We became part of an extensive network of friends and family who were all touched by Ghost Ranch magic, a place that unleashed my creativity and consciousness in ways that are hard to describe. Meeting people who valued others and the beauty of nature liberated me from my overwrought anxieties about trying to save the world. I learned to breathe deeply and soak in God’s creation as I hiked the landscape, swam in Abiquiu Lake, lay on the ground in my sleeping bag searching the night skies for shooting stars and satellites, and having deep conversations with new friends.

Four decades later, many of those friends are still close and cherished. Nowadays, however, they have moved away from the Ranch to create lives, careers and families of their own, just as Carol and I have done. Things have inevitably changed at Ghost Ranch since those early, formative days. Such is life—ever shifting and evolving.

And so, returning “home” to the Ranch no longer feels the same as when our old friends lived and worked there. No one there remembers us from our three summers spent working as volunteers in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Going back now feels like when I visited my childhood home in Iowa and introduced myself to the current occupants. Even though they graciously allowed me to enter and look around, it clearly was no longer my home, nor would it ever be again. There’s a sadness and sweetness in such moments, and it’s clear to me now that it is the people as much as the place that make our memories so dear.

What I have decided to do when I return to the Ranch is to put aside my expectations of reunion with beloved friends who knew us back then, even though that occasionally happens. I let myself fall in love all over again with the experiences of new people amid the timeless beauty of those cliffs, mesas, and grand vistas across the valley toward Pedernal, the flat-topped mountain Georgia O’Keefe loved to paint. Rather than looking for our old friends, gazing past the faces of those who are there now, I can meet and enjoy new acquaintances. One can never have enough good friends, right?

No, it will never be the same as it was. What is? Even the cliffs and pinnacles surrounding the conference grounds–recognizable as background scenery in so many Hollywood westerns—have changed in subtle ways over time.

Nothing ever stays the same, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Rev. Dr. Rex T. Stewart is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Youngstown, New York. You can visit their website here or visit Rex on Facebook here. Rex took the photos featured in this story.

A Part, Not Apart

On a recent visit to the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, my wife and I watched an Omnimax film called The Great Barrier Reef. Told through the eyes of Jemma Craig who grew up on a barrier island, it’s an urgent appeal to preserve this 1,400-mile ecological treasure.

As I sat there, it happened numerous times—those moments of wonder in the face of our natural world, even when transmitted through celluloid. Please forgive my repeated exclamations.

  • Tens of thousands of green sea turtles gathering at their largest rookery, Raine Island. They migrate up to 1600 miles to reach the exact beach of their birth. How do they do it? By relying on Earth’s magnetic fields. Each part of a coastline has its own magnetic signature, which the animals remember and later use as an internal compass. Awesome!
  • Pictures of endangered giant manta rays swimming together, some of them as big as 23 feet wide and weighing 6,600 lbs. Awesome!
  •  The reef’s many species of coral simultaneously releasing their mixture of eggs and sperm into the sea, as numerous as stars in the night sky. Awesome!

Like so many of you, I am drawn to nature because of its perfect intricacy, its reminder to just BE rather than DO, to humbly experience my place in the web of life. As a friend of mine says, this is what “stiches him into the fabric of the universe.”

These moments resonate from deep in my childhood. I remember walking on a hillside covered in wild mustard so tall it reached my forehead. I laid on my back and looked up through blossoms teeming with bees and butterflies, a sky of sailing clouds beyond them. The veil between observer and observed vanished.

I once read a compilation of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s writings that remains with me. He spoke of how our perception causes us to stand apart from the world rather than experience harmony within it. This disconnection is at the root of our cancerous treatment of the environment—bending it, shaping it, paving it to fit the contours of “progress.”

Krishnamurti’s words can seem odd to Western minds riddled with binary thinking. “There is no division between the world and you,” he said. “You are the world.” The key, he said, is in how we perceive, summed in these words.

“Can you see with your eyes the tree as a whole? Do you understand my question? Can you see anything totally, or are you always seeing partially? Are so we caught up in our own network of problems, our own desires, our own urges of pleasure and pain that we never look around, never watch the moon? Watch it. Watch with all your eyes and ears, your sense of smell—watch. Look as though you are looking for the first time. If you can do this, that tree, that bush, that blade of grass you are seeing for the first time. Then you can see your teacher, your mother and father, your brother and sister, for the first time. There is an extraordinary feeling about that: the wonder, the strangeness, the miracle of a fresh morning that has never been before, never will be.”

As a Master Naturalist, I join my fellow volunteers in passing on our knowledge of the natural world. We can catalogue flora and fauna; we can name those forces that shape the landscape and atmosphere. All this science surely deepens our appreciation of the planet. But perhaps the most vital thing we impart is to see our world through the perspective of harmony, a vision that instills a desire to cherish, protect, and nurture the gift of Earth.

There is so much dire evidence about the decline of our environment. We see it everywhere. On the very morning I am posting this blog, the U.N. has issued a new warning about the escalation of climate change.

Yet, I cling to the hope that more and more of us can be the change we want to see.

We can be a part, not apart.

My Head Got Stuck in the Clouds, by Desi Mo

“Get your head out of the clouds!” In other words, stop daydreaming, get real, be a productive cog in the daily busyness of life! Really? Perhaps we need to spend more time with our minds in the troposphere. Perhaps we should lift our eyes more frequently and let those shifting billows draw us into the present.

Ever since I met my friend, Desi Mo, through Facebook, she has taught me this lesson. We felt so much like kindred spirits that we crafted a joint blog a couple years ago called That Woman I Met on Facebook (link here). Recently, while enjoying her pictures and posts, I asked her to share a few words and images (scroll through the slideshow!) I encourage you to like Desi on Facebook and let her grace your daily feed with more beauty.

My Head Got Stuck in the Clouds, by Desi Mo

My head got stuck in the clouds
And I felt like I was floating
Gliding
Sailing
Melting
Blending

Oh, to be lost
Yet fully alive
Happily

It tastes like 
Savoring marshmallow
While my nose tickles
From the feathers
Of passing birds

I recall what
My siblings said
That I was always on cloud 9
Now I understand what they meant

Yet, it’s only now that I can feel
Truly feel
The softness of life
And it clouds my mind

Sometimes it even makes me
Feel dizzy
But I swear…

I just love it
In la-la land!

You? No Comparison!

If you truly don’t give a damn about what others think of you, congratulations! If you are so “at home” in your own skin that nothing causes you to seek external worth, rock on!

If, instead, you are like many of us who battle with bouts of self-doubt, read on…

Why do certain liberating truths need frequent reiteration? Why do we need to plant our feet repeatedly on the same foundational wisdom?

Why? Because so much of the world’s messaging conspires to undermine us. The sheer load and volume is staggering!

Grading systems, balancing sheets, images of what is beautiful, popular, successful. Skin colors and sexual orientations held up as normative.

Scripts for living—indoctrination under countless disguises—passed on to us as proper roadmaps by our tribes and families.

Religious dogma that demands allegiance.

Internet news-streams, predatory to our browsing, a bombardment of polarizing headlines. Be very afraid! It’s time to take sides!

Social media casting its desirability web of likes and follows.

Even small pieces of this external “coding” get internalized, it can lead to fits of self-effacement. Tabula rasa becomes tabula inscripta.

Certainly, benchmarks of excellence can inspire us to better our lives. What I’m talking about is when those standards create a sense of lacking that sours our enjoyment of NOW!

As I write these words, countless individuals are evaluating their lives by metrics that are ultimately superficial. I see this clearly in the life of a good friend. Listening to him with compassion helps me in my own struggles.

He’s a remarkable person—gifted with intelligence, awareness, creativity, a sense of adventure that guides him to remote places and experience. He has a devoted wife, children, and grandchildren. I often think of him as a Renaissance person.

And yet, at regular intervals, he finds his mental health unraveling. We have talked for hours about it and eventually it boils down to a single word…

Comparison.

He begins, like many of us, to measure himself against others—internalized notions of where he “should be” at this point in his life. He’s embarrassed to admit that some of it is tied to financial gain. At other times, it’s about how much impact his life’s work has had. On deeper levels, it reaches spiritual dimensions as he wonders why others seem more liberated.

He knows the standard advice. He knows how to make gratitude lists, enumerating the people and accomplishments that give his life value. But even in that process, he begins to contrast himself with others less fortunate. It’s the pernicious flip side; creating a sense of superiority to combat inadequacy.

Comparison. Or, to use that old-fashioned word from the Ten Commandments, covetousness in all its ugly forms, those cravings for external validation.

As I said earlier, some truths need frequent reiteration. Like this one. Share a version of it with your children, your students, your parishioners, your coworkers and neighbors. Hell, shout if from the rooftops! 

You are one of a kind, a divine creation, as unique as the whorls on your fingertips. Your particular experience and history are yours alone and can lead you to the fulfillment you seek. Follow your own path! Seize your own destiny! As Emerson wisely said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Back to those talks with my friend. I do my best to help him reclaim his sacred identity and settle into the present with a thankfulness that overflows.

But after our talks, a sobering thoughts enters my mind.

I imagine us on our death beds. No matter how many people surround us in those moments, we will ultimately make that transition alone. And if our lives really do pass before our eyes, we will see clearly the absurdity of EVER wasting a precious moment in unhealthy comparison to others?

Please. Hear it again.

You? No comparison!