The Common Good

Blog Posts By Joe Kay

Posted by Joe Kay 2 days 21 hours ago
The letter arrived at work about two weeks after baseball’s opening day in 2003. It had a Zanesville, Ohio, postmark. A return address sticker mentioned a Mrs. Howard Richardson.What‘s this about?Inside was a handwritten note along with a neatly clipped copy of my Cincinnati Reds season preview story from the Zanesville Times Recorder. I didn’t have to read far to get the gist.This Mrs. Howard Richardson — she wasn’t happy with me. Not at all.In beautiful cursive — the kind of handwriting you don’t see anymore — she pointedly took me to task for suggesting the Reds could be awful that season. I should be more positive, she insisted. It would help the players.“You get more flies with honey than vinegar!!!!!” she wrote. (Yes, underlined and topped off with many exclamation points.)The note was signed: Evelyn Richardson.
Posted by Joe Kay 6 days 15 hours ago
I was 6 years old, growing up in Cleveland. It was Christmas Eve. The traditional Slovak meal was ready on the stove — mushroom soup and pierogies. My mom, my younger brother and I were waiting for my dad to get home so we could eat.The waiting part was no surprise. My dad was an alcoholic. During the Korean war, he went off to serve as a paratrooper. He was wounded. My mom said the experience changed him. He brought some personal demons with him when he returned. Those demons seemed to emerge especially during the holidays. When my dad got off work, he’d go to a bar downtown near the butcher shop where he worked. The other workers would have a holiday drink and go home. My dad would stay and keep drinking. He couldn’t stop. Maybe he was trying to drown those demons. Who knows? While he was at the bar, we were home waiting. And getting hungry. Finally, my mom decided we would eat without him. After supper, my brother and I got into our new pajamas. We always got new ones for Christmas, the kind with the footies and cool designs like race cars or superheroes. Snug in our sleepwear, we sat on the couch and waited. My mom got very anxious, afraid that something bad had happened. Finally, headlights lit up the driveway. We looked out the front window. We could see a car, but it wasn’t my dad’s car. We could see two silhouettes in the front seat — a driver and a slumped-over passenger. 
Posted by Joe Kay 1 week 3 days ago
Figures in nativity scenes are pretty weird, aren't they? This is true of most manger scenes, whether we’re talking about the ceramic one under a tree or the statuesque one in a church or the plastic one on a lawn. First off, there’s Mary, always looking very fresh and calm and full of reflection — which is quite impressive considering that she just gave birth without any sedative. Then there’s Joseph, doing some kind of man-thing off to the side — holding a lantern or a large stick. He looks totally composed, too.And there’s the baby Jesus with a full head of hair, wide-open eyes and arms outstretched like he’s ready to belt out a song.Not to ruin anyone’s Christmas spirit here, but what the heck?If our manger scenes were realistic, Mary would be recovering from a painful labor full of sweat and blood, with a look on her face that’s anything but serene. And Joseph — wouldn’t he be a nervous wreck, too? His hand too shaky to hold a lantern?And about that newborn. Shouldn’t he be red-faced and screaming? Eyes clenched closed and wisps of hair stuck to the top of a head that‘s still odd-shaped from all the squeezing?Instead, we’ve sanitized and romanticized it. We’ve removed all the blood and sweat and tears and pain and goo. It’s no longer something real. We’ve left out all the messy parts. The oh-my-God-what-now parts. The I’m-screaming-as-loud-as-I-can-because-it-really-hurts parts. The oh-no-I’ve-stepped-in-the-animal-droppings parts. The real parts.
Posted by Joe Kay 2 weeks 6 days ago
The three of us put our cups of coffee on the counter and reached into our pockets for our wallets. The check-out clerk paid no attention to any of us. He seemed to be staring at someone or something in the back of the store.“We’re ready to pay,” one of us said.The clerk kept looking at the back of the store. A few seconds went by before he told us what had his attention.“I’m watching that boy over there to make sure he don’t steal nothing,” the clerk said.The three of us looked at the back of the store and realized the clerk was talking about our co-worker.Four of us were carpooling across Florida on a work assignment several years ago. It took several hours to cross the state. We stopped at a place called Yeehaw Junction off Route 60 to use the restroom and get some coffee.The three of us at the check-out counter were white, like the clerk. The co-worker accompanying us was black. The clerk assumed that because the three of us were white, we would understand and agree with his attitudes and assumptions about our co-worker – that he was dishonest because of the color of his skin. Needed to be watched. Couldn’t be trusted. Too dangerous to let out of his sight.
Posted by Joe Kay 3 weeks 2 days ago
But wait! What if we‘ve got it backward? To revisit that waiting-goes-both-ways thing: Instead of us waiting on God, what if God is waiting on us? John Dominic Crossan poses that question in his book The Power of Parable. He notes something that’s obvious: Jesus could be very impatient. He wasn’t one to just sit back and wait for things to change. As Crossan sums it up: “You have been waiting for God, he said, while God has been waiting for you. No wonder nothing is happening. You want God’s intervention, he said, while God wants your collaboration. God‘s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”There’s so much to be done — what’s important is to do it now. This moment is a gift. This opportunity to love someone else is too precious to waste. If all we do is sit and wait for things to change, then we’re like people trapped in a perpetual state of Advent. We never get to our own Christmas morning. We do nothing more than wait. And all the while, someone is waiting on us.
Posted by Joe Kay 4 weeks 2 days ago
James was playing cards with several other nursing home residents in a room that doubles as their dining area. The “stakes” for their game was a stash of candy from a Christmas party earlier in the day. He saw me and waved me over. James grabbed one of the candy canes in his pile and offered it with his right hand, the one that had L-O-V-E spelled out on the backs of his four fingers with a self-applied tattoo.“Would you like some candy?” he said.James was short, thin, in his 40s. His most distinctive features were those homemade tattoos on his fingers, hands and forearms. And the outline of a metal plate protruding from his lower right leg.An auto accident left the leg mangled. He didn’t have medical insurance to cover the enormous hospital bills. He couldn’t stand on the leg as it healed, so he lost his job as a cook. And soon, his apartment. He was living on the streets, sharing needles and drugs to deaden the pain in his leg. He wound up sharing someone’s AIDS as well.But that’s not why he was dying. He’d developed cancer. There was nothing they could do.I got to know James as part of my work as a hospice volunteer. He only slowly warmed to me — all that time on the streets made him wary of people and their motives. He didn‘t trust very much. But now he was offering me a candy cane.
Posted by Joe Kay 6 weeks 3 days ago
While driving to work the other day, I wound up stopped behind this car with a sign taped to the back window that said: “STUDENT DRIVER / PLEASE BE PATIENT / THANK YOU.”It made me smile.I remember being a 16-year-old behind the wheel of our family’s red station wagon, learning to drive with one of those handmade signs taped to the back window. I remember my dad sitting in the passenger seat and being very, very quiet the first time I merged onto an interstate with the semis whizzing past.Maybe that’s why when I see a car with a student driver, I don’t get upset if they take forever to decide it’s finally safe to make that left-hand turn. Or if they’re entering the highway at 35 mph and I have to slow down and accommodate them.Been there, remember that.
Posted by Joe Kay 6 weeks 6 days ago
A friend mentioned that he likes my blogs dealing with love and compassion and other themes without getting into religion specifically. He said that the mention of God can make things uncomfortable.My reaction: I know exactly where he’s coming from.The word “God” has become such a loaded term. We’ve made it that way; God hasn’t done it. And the truth is, I’ve found myself shying away from using the word at times because I’m aware it’s an immediate turnoff to some people. They have the same sort of visceral reaction that we get when we see one of those political attack ads come onto our TV set.We want to reach for the remote and change the channel.One of the reasons I started writing blogs was to try to strip away some of the nonsense we’ve attached to the name. And there is so much nonsense. You know what I mean:That God loves me more than you. God approves of me and those who are like me, but not you and those who are like you. God likes my religion and my way of life, but not yours. God is on my side in any disagreement. God approves of hatred and judgment and killing. God promotes crusades and inquisitions and holy wars.So much … 
Posted by Joe Kay 7 weeks 2 days ago
One of my days last week started with my usual wake-up routine — sitting in a chair, sipping my first cup of coffee, checking up on Facebook posts — when one of them made me smile.A long-time friend in Cleveland has endured 250 days of chemotherapy and radiation. He’d just received the results of his latest scan: No trace of cancer anywhere. Yes! Chuck noted that “the collateral damage has been great” from all the chemicals and radiation. He now stumbles around and has trouble typing, both temporary conditions. But he’s cancer-free.Stumbling, yet still standing. 
Posted by Joe Kay 8 weeks 2 days ago
I was browsing an elaborate Halloween store and came across an aisle of religious-oriented costumes. There were the usual ones: nun, rabbi, priest. And one I’d never seen before.Yes, you can go Trick-or-Treating as Jesus this year. There is a Jesus costume.What do you think about that?I’m guessing some people will feel offended; I understand and respect where they’re coming from. Others would see it as harmless and find some humor in it. (Hey, see the guy in the Jesus costume? He gave treats to the whole neighborhood using only two Swedish Fish.)I had a feeling there was material for a blog in all of this somewhere, so I took a photo, filed the idea in the back of my brain, and moved on to inspect the rubber rats and flying bats that are more my style.Eventually, a thought worked its way into the front of my brain:Why shouldn’t someone wear a Jesus costume?
Posted by Joe Kay 11 weeks 2 days ago
Henri Nouwen was a priest who taught at Harvard, Yale, and Notre Dame. He also was a talented and popular writer. Over time, he became dissatisfied in his role as a professor. He got an unexpected invitation to become chaplain for a community of people with intellectual disabilities in Toronto. He accepted and soon had misgivings.Henri quickly realized that the people under his care couldn’t care less about what he’d written or how much he‘d learned. They weren’t capable of reading and understanding his beautiful words.Henri was going to have to change. He would have to start living those words in a deeper way. And that’s hard. (I know full well that it’s much easier to write about things in a flowing way than it is to let those words flow through me in how I live every day.)He had an experience that drove home the point.In his book Life of the Beloved, Henri tells of a woman named Janet who lived in the community and was having a difficult time. So she asked Henri for a blessing. He responded in a rote way, putting his thumb to her forehead to make a sign of the cross — something he’d done countless times in his role as a priest.Janet would have none of it.“No, that doesn’t work,” she protested. “I want a real blessing!”
Posted by Joe Kay 12 weeks 1 day ago
I had a birthday over the weekend, and I was reminded of a funeral joke. (OK, so this is a little weird, but hang with me for a moment.) Here’s the joke:Three older guys are talking about what they would like the minister to say at their funerals.“Well,“ says the first man, “I hope the minister stands in front of my casket and tells everyone that I was a good man who loved his family.”The second man says: “I hope the minister stands in front of my casket and tells everyone that I tried to inspire others with my life.”The third man thinks for a moment.“I hope the minister stands in front of my casket and says, ‘Wait, look! He’s still moving!’”Yeah, bad joke. But it touches on something important nonetheless.We need to keep moving.
Posted by Joe Kay 12 weeks 2 days ago
It’s interesting how the word “grace” gets used a lot, even by those who don’t necessarily consider themselves religious. It’s a favorite name for a character that represents someone who is a gift to us — I’m thinking about Bruce’s girlfriend Grace in Bruce Almighty, or Eli’s reassuring encounter with a woman named Grace in the second season of the TV series Eli Stone.You can probably cite many more examples of characters named Grace in different movies, television shows, and books.We like to put flesh-and-blood on the notion that we are recipients of some great gift that arrives unexpectedly and is given freely. Someone or something that comes into our life and significantly changes it for the better in some ways.But what is grace? Who is grace to us?
Posted by Joe Kay 17 weeks 1 day ago
The television show Castle involves a mystery writer (Richard Castle) who helps a New York City homicide detective (Kate Beckett) solve tough cases. Beckett decided to become a police officer after her mother, a community activist, was murdered and the case was never solved.In one episode, Castle notices that Beckett keeps a stick figure in the top drawer of her desk at the precinct. It’s odd-looking. The sticks that form the limbs don’t match exactly. The head looks like one of those football-shaped coin purses. It’s all held together by what appears to be seaweed and twine.Castle wants to know the story behind it.Beckett tells how on the day of her mother’s funeral, she was really sad so her father took her to Coney Island, one of her favorite places. They walked along the beach in their funeral clothes for a long time. It became a special time for the two of them.At one point, they decided to gather items that had washed up on the beach and they made the stick figure.So, why does she keep it in her drawer?“He’s a reminder,“ Beckett says, “that even on the worst days, there is a possibility for joy.“
Posted by Joe Kay 18 weeks 21 hours ago
Let me tell you about the time I got re-directed by a Pepsi can.It happened a few years ago. I’d started rethinking a lot of things about my life — what I wanted to accomplish with it, how God played into all of it — and decided to write my thoughts as I went along.Eventually I got the idea that I could package my writing into a book that might help others who are going through the same things. Writers fantasize about some day having a best-seller; maybe this would be mine. I wrote and wrote and wrote and stepped back one day and read all of it and realized something.It was awful.I’m not so good at this type of writing. Expressing thoughts and feelings is a lot harder than reporting on events. Words are so inadequate. It’s so easy to cross the line between being helpful and being insufferable. At times, I sounded like a pompous ass.So, what to do?I went back and rewrote. And rewrote again. I decided to try to make it breezier and more conversational — that’ll do the trick. I read it again and realized that I now sounded like a breezy, pompous ass.It’s called writer’s block, and it felt like a dead end. Maybe I should wait a few years and try again then. Hit define and delete, give up the struggle and move on. That seemed like the best thing to do. Stop trying to create for now.I went jogging to mull it over.It was a beautiful autumn evening with a wonderful, warm breeze out of the south. I’d just finished my jog and was walking around the block to cool down, enjoying the wind on my sweaty face, when a sound got my attention.
Posted by Joe Kay 19 weeks 3 days ago
I was privileged to attend the ordination of a friend recently. For the first time, Michelle got to say the blessing over the bread, to break the bread and to give it to all of us with her hands.Many tears, much joy.As she handed me a small piece of the bigger loaf, I was reminded of how we, like the communion bread, are in the hands of others for so much of our lives. And how religion can be a thing of so much good or so much pain, depending upon whose hands it is in.In the right hands, it’s a pathway to the divine. In the wrong hands …It’s important that we always differentiate between religion and God. The two are distinct. God is always much bigger than any and all of our religions.
Posted by Joe Kay 20 weeks 2 days ago
Let me tell you about Steve the neighbor.When my sister and her family moved some years ago, they quickly learned that they had a lot of retired people as neighbors. Steve lives next door, a former postman who had to retire because of a balky hip. Big and strong, a little rough with the language — all part of his charm.Steve and two retired buddies on the street spend a lot of time together, grilling together, helping each other through the many challenges that come with getting older. And if anybody needs assistance with anything, they are there to help.They often say: “We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.“Steve knows when my sister’s children get home from school, so on snowy days, he’ll rev up the plow and clear her sidewalk and driveway so they can get through without getting stuck. He does it without prompting. Anything else I can help with? The garage door is shimmering? There’s a shrub that needs to be dug up? Be right there with my buddies.You know those people who make you feel better just because you’re around them? How their upbeat attitude rubs off on you? You leave them with a smile on your face? That’s him.As my brother-in-law puts it, Steve is a perfect neighbor. Concerned, but not nosy. Willing to help, but never pushy. No payment is accepted. The feeling that they’ve helped someone is thanks enough.They’re neighbors. It’s what they do.
Posted by Joe Kay 22 weeks 6 days ago
As a child, I thought the only good part of going to the doctor’s office was getting to read the "Highlights" magazine in the waiting room. The "Hidden Pictures" page was my favorite. You‘ve probably seen it. There’s an intricate line drawing that has small pictures cleverly embedded within the big picture. The challenge is to find them. There’s a list of the hidden pictures, and you search to find the comb that’s blended into the girl’s bangs, the carrot concealed in plain sight as part of a spoke in a wheel.
Posted by Joe Kay 23 weeks 4 days ago
Do you have a favorite superhero? I’ve always liked Batman. As a boy, I read all the Batman comic books. I like the cape and the cowl, the bat logo, the cool car with the flames coming out the back, the interesting villains.What I like especially is that Batman is a regular person. Other superheroes fly or run at supersonic speeds or stretch their body parts in ways that are very strange and make you wonder. Batman has none of those powers. He’s like us — well, regular except for the part about being ultra-rich and living in a mansion above a bat cave …The bottom line is that Batman fights for a better world using the things available to all of us: Creativity. Commitment. Courage. A passion to make a difference someone else’s life.He reminds me of the super hero in each of us.
Posted by Joe Kay 24 weeks 3 days ago
Listening to several Fourth of July discussions last week, I was struck by how many people think of freedom as the ability to do whatever they want. They think there should be few, if any, restrictions on what they choose to do or what they want to own.    
Posted by Joe Kay 26 weeks 2 days ago
My sister has one of those plastic playhouses in her backyard for her two boys. When she hosted a garage sale a few years ago, children accompanying their shopping parents would see the playhouse and join in.I remember looking over at one point and seeing five children playing together. Different ages, different sexes, different races. All strangers. All playing together.When they looked at each other, they saw a playmate.In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela noted that children have an innate openness that tends to get closed off as they spend more time in the world.“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote in his autobiography. “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Posted by Joe Kay 27 weeks 6 days ago
I came across a pottery booth at an arts fair a couple weekends ago. One of the engravings on the wall reminded us that “Everyday a new story begins.“Isn’t that true?Our lives are a story written day by day, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, choice by choice. Each day is a blank page awaiting our entry.A new plot twist. A new character. A few lines about grief. A paragraph about hope. An illustration of love.How will we fill the page?We get to decide our story, though not entirely by ourselves. Each of us has a co-author, someone collaborating with us.We didn’t write the first sentence to our story, the one that involves our birth. The co-author wrote that for us. All of our stories start with the same opening and the same word.Love. Period.
Posted by Joe Kay 29 weeks 2 days ago
Did you see what happened in Louisiana over the weekend? A 26-year-old man was driving his pickup truck over a causeway on Lake Pontchartrain. His truck plunged over the railing and into the water.What happened next is inspiring.
Posted by Joe Kay 29 weeks 3 days ago
You can smile at someone, but you can’t really smile with someone until you’ve cried with them, too. Shared their pain, their doubts, their questions, their uncertainty, even their despair. And their joy as well, those moments when your eyes fill with tears for a different reason. You end up smiling together with tear-stained cheeks. And those smiles matter the most.    
Posted by Joe Kay 31 weeks 1 day ago
It’s interesting how we tend to think of birth and death as opposites, two bookends with life in the middle. But we also know from experience that birth and death really are two different words for the same thing. They involve change, a moving from one phase of life to another.Birth and death and rebirth are parts of the very fabric of life.This moment, countless cells inside our bodies are dying and being replaced by new ones just like them. New ideas are being hatched in our heads, replacing old ones. Stars throughout the universe are using up their final fuel and imploding, sowing seeds for rebirth throughout the universe.All around us and within us, there’s a constant birth and death and newness.It’s what life is about.The same is true of our human institutions. Whether they’ll acknowledge it or not, they’re constantly going through the birth-and-death-and-rebirth cycle. It’s certainly that way with our religions and our churches.
Posted by Joe Kay 31 weeks 3 days ago
We all know heartache. It’s one of our shared experiences. We love someone, and our hearts ache with them and for them at times. Other times, we feel heartache because of them. It’s all part of it.To have a heart that loves is to have a heart that aches.One of the great stories about aching hearts involves a prodigal son. It’s a story about love and heartache — which means it’s a story about all of our lives.When the son returns home from spending his father’s money so recklessly and completely, he gets a totally unexpected response. Instead of being shunned or judged, he’s welcomed back with a tearful hug and a rowdy party.A hug and a party? How could this be?It’s what happens when someone loves you so much that their heart aches.
Posted by Joe Kay 33 weeks 23 hours ago
On my way home one day this past winter, I saw a woman standing at an intersection, holding a cardboard sign saying she had nothing to eat. Her face was red from the chilling wind. She looked forlorn.I stopped for the red light and grabbed my wallet to get a few dollars for her. Oops, all I had was a $20 bill. That’s more than I’d intended to give her.She looked forlorn. I couldn’t just drive past.I lowered my window and handed her the bill. Her eyes brightened. She grabbed my hand tightly with both of hers — she wore knit gloves that left her cold fingers unprotected. She squeezed hard.“Thank you,” she said, pumping my hand. “God bless you! Thank you! Thank you!”As I raised the window, I watched her step back, go to one knee, clasp her hands, look up to the sky and mouth the words, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Then she made the sign of the cross.At that moment, it struck me: I’d become the answer to her prayer.
Posted by Joe Kay 34 weeks 2 days ago
I attended a funeral last week and was struck by something that happened at communion.The church was packed for a loving man who had touched many lives with his kindness. People from varied backgrounds and faiths came to celebrate his life and support his family. The eulogy noted that he never turned anyone away.At communion time, several young adults from a different denomination got in line. When the first young man got to the priest, he received a question instead of a communion wafer. The priest said something to him. The young man looked surprised and shook his head. The priest traced a cross on his forehead and sent him away breadless.On a day of shared grief, the young man had given the wrong answer to the age-old question: Are you one of us?
Posted by Joe Kay 35 weeks 17 hours ago
The seasonal items aisle in the grocery store is a work in progress. Stuffed bunnies are being replaced by garden gnomes. Cans of sunscreen will soon inhabit the shelves that displayed egg-coloring kits a few days ago.    Easter is over.    Well, not completely. Boxes of purple and yellow Peeps are stacked on clearance tables in the middle of the aisle. Chocolate rabbits are available for half-price.    And tombs are being emptied.  
Posted by Joe Kay 35 weeks 6 days ago
Don’t you hate it when you accidentally slice the tip of your finger on one of your knives and the cut is deep enough to draw blood? Or when one of the cats gets a little too playful with the claws and you’re soon looking for a bandage?Nobody likes to bleed, even though bleeding is part of life. To live is to bleed. If we’re not bleeding, we’re not living.We all bleed lots of times, in lots of ways. We skin our knees and scrape our emotions. We often have to head for the medicine cabinet for a bandage. Sometimes, we feel like we need a tourniquet.There are the little, daily cuts that we all get. Someone says something that hurts our feelings. Something doesn’t turn out the way that we’d hoped, and we get discouraged. A project that we’ve invested so much of ourselves into gets rejected, and we feel rejected, too.It happens all the time.Sometimes, we wind up with a deep spiritual cut that needs to be stitched closed with the help of others. A relationship ends. A job disappears. A tumor appears. A storm blows through our neighborhood and destroys what we’ve built over the years.I admire those who learn not only to accept the blood-stained moments, but to embrace them. They develop a capacity to see beyond the momentary hurt. They recognize that bleeding is part of the grand process of life.And they bleed joyfully.
Posted by Joe Kay 36 weeks 2 days ago
Interesting fact: The term “breaking bread” goes back many centuries and crosses many cultures and religions. It’s a shared term for coming together in meal and friendship. The term applies today — you can find it in some urban dictionaries. For as long as we’ve been around, we’ve come together and connected over a meal. We enjoy breaking bread and telling stories, restoring friendships, and creating new ones.Bread has been a staple of diets for a long time, so it’s a natural choice to capture the essence of eating together. Also, it’s wonderfully symbolic. When we break bread, each of us gets one piece of a bigger loaf. It feeds our sense of connection.It’s not surprising that bread-breaking is a touchstone religious practice. For instance, it’s part of Jewish tradition. Two thousand years ago, a Jewish rabbi chose it as a way for his followers to remember their unity.Jesus spent the last years of his life teaching that everyone is responsible for everyone else and must live that way — feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for the poor. Breaking bread is a reminder that our lives are about more than ourselves.
Posted by Joe Kay 37 weeks 3 days ago
Last May, a family in our church offered the use of their garage and driveway for a weekend yard sale. Their entire suburb holds a three-day sale, and our youth group participated to raise some money.Rain and heat were in the weekend forecast, so church members offered to let us use their collapsible tents as shelter for the clothing and glassware, bicycles, and bobbleheads that had been donated for sale. You’ve probably seen such tents. They somehow fit into small carrying pouches — thank God for engineers! — and unfold into spacious tents.It took six of us to stretch each tent all the way open. Each of us grabbed a leg and started pulling until the metal frame finally snapped into place and locked. The toughest part was getting the frame to expand that last inch or so to make it lock.By the time we had all of the tents assembled, we were soaked with sweat. Stretching a tent to its limit is hard work!It’s also a popular metaphor these days.
Posted by Joe Kay 39 weeks 11 min ago
One night after working a college basketball game, I stopped to use the restroom before heading out of the arena and making the drive home. I pushed on the heavy, gray door and found that it was locked.    Uh-oh. This isn’t good.     Neither were my options.    I could wander around the arena hoping to find an unlocked restroom; they might all be locked by now. I could try to make it home — probably wouldn’t work. As I stood in front of the locked door trying to decide what to do, I heard a woman’s voice from down the hall.
Posted by Joe Kay 40 weeks 2 days ago
In the days before video games, we had tabletop games that were a lot of fun despite their built-in shortcomings. We had an electric football game with a vibrating field; sometimes, the players would go in circles or simply stop in place. There was a hockey game with long rods that were pushed and pulled to make players advance or retreat, then spun to make them whirl and shoot; occasionally, the puck would wind up in a dead space on the board.At those moments, you had two choices: Call a timeout, or raise your legs a bit to tilt the table and get the player or the puck headed in the other direction.Naturally, this was frowned upon. It was seen as cheating — giving yourself an advantage. If you got caught raising the table, you were penalized. A tilted table was considered unfair.In real life, we all sit at tilted tables.
Posted by Joe Kay 41 weeks 3 days ago
A few years ago, I was browsing a bookstore and wound up in the “Spirituality” section. While scanning the titles, I noticed something that struck me as ironic and funny.At one end of a shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic atheist. At the other end of the same shelf was a book by an ardent and dogmatic fundamentalist.Two books, same shelf.And in many significant ways, two peas in the same pod, no?The atheist and the fundamentalist needed each other as foils to sell their books and make a lot of money. They both had a vision of life that was black-and-white. Both thought they had infallible answers to life’s biggest questions.Matching bookends indeed.Don’t most of us live somewhere in-between?
Posted by Joe Kay 43 weeks 3 days ago
My flight home from Phoenix over the weekend got pushed back, so I wound up spending an extra night at an airport hotel. Also, I got an $8 food voucher from the airline. I decided to eat at the hotel.The restaurant was located on the top floor of the hotel with a nice view of downtown. There was a small bar near the entrance. A handful of hotel visitors were enjoying complimentary drinks and watching the Olympics on a flat-screen television.I was greeted at the door by Melody, a transplant from Erie, Pa., who doubles as a bartender and a server. When I mentioned that I had a food voucher, she offered condolences for my scrambled travel plans. She also offered me a free beer.Glass of red ale in hand, I picked a table in a corner of the restaurant, ordered a spinach salad and went back to reading a book about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the long struggle to get the country to live up to its ideal that everyone should be treated as an equal child of God.I couldn’t help but think about my 10 days in Arizona watching the state legislature debate and ultimately pass a bill that would allow business owners and individuals to refuse service to anyone on grounds of religious freedom. The impetus was a New Mexico case involving a photographer who refused to take photos of a gay couple.The bill was promoted as a religious liberty issue. Opponents pointed out that it was the definition of discrimination — people would be singled out for unequal treatment.
Posted by Joe Kay 47 weeks 9 min ago
I noticed a loose thread in a blanket the other day and was reminded of something my mom always said: Never pull on a loose thread. All that will do is make it worse. It’ll yank on the other threads and wind up creating a knot. Even if you do manage to remove the one loose thread without doing too much damage to the fabric, it’ll leave a space that starts the nearby threads working their way loose, too.Soon, the whole thing unravels. Removing even one thread from the fabric creates big problems.Isn’t it the same with us?Each of us is a thread woven into the fabric of our world. We’re looped around each other, pulled tightly to one another, intimately bound to one another. We’re so closely intertwined that we can’t be separated without making it all unravel.By ourselves, we are a thread. Together, we are a blanket.The weaver made it so.
Posted by Joe Kay 47 weeks 3 days ago
Have you ever watched a chick break out of its shell?My first experience with hatching was at the poultry barn at the Indiana State Fair. The building is the temporary home for hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons each summer. And they make quite a ruckus. There’s a constant din of crowing and honking and cooing and whatever other adjectives you care to apply. Colorful feathers drift through the air.As you walk through the front door, there’s a protected case for baby birds that have just hatched. And there’s an incubator full of eggs that are slowly being pecked and pushed apart by the little ones inside.If you have some time, you can stand and watch a miracle unfold, peck by peck.It takes hours for the chick to work its way out of the shell, sometimes an entire day. A 4-H volunteer sits by the incubator and records each chick’s progress during the exhausting escape from the shell into the greater world.The chick has spent its entire life in its protective shell. But now, the nourishment of the yolk is all used up. The chick no longer fits comfortably inside the oval confine. It has no clue what lies outside the shell, but it knows instinctively that it has to break out or it will die.Is that a good analogy for what we experience in our lives? Do we often find ourselves breaking out of shells?
Posted by Joe Kay 48 weeks 3 days ago
Light is important to us. Those of us who live in the Midwest are reminded of how much we need it during this time of year. The sun sets early. On so many days, our sunlight is tinged with gray as it seeps through the clouds.Light seems to be in short supply.All of the festive holiday Christmas lights have been put away, leaving the darkness unchecked. We recently had religious celebrations that involved lighting candles on our menorahs, on our advent wreaths and our dinner tables. Many people celebrated the birth of a Jewish rabbi who urges everyone to be a light to the world.Don’t wait for someone else to bring the light. Be the light.
Posted by Joe Kay 48 weeks 6 days ago
Prophets are always asking questions. Tough questions. Unsettling questions. Questions that they pose to themselves, then try to answer by how they live.Questions such as:What’s in our hearts? Are we concerned too much about ourselves and too little about others? Do we believe in love? Why do we give in so readily to bitterness and hatred?Why do so few have so much, while so many have so little? Aren’t we all diminished by the poverty, discrimination, violence, and the various injustices in our world? Why do we glamorize violence and weapons as solutions to our problems?
Posted by Joe Kay 50 weeks 3 days ago
My mom died in a nursing home five years ago this week. She spent the last 10 months of her life there following a severe stroke. Mary was buried next to her mom, Ann, at the top of a gently rising hill in a cemetery during a 13-inch snowfall in Cleveland.There was a lot of talk about hot chocolate that day.My mom always found ways to give something to others. Multiple sclerosis forced her to use a wheelchair, but she still figured out ways to give gifts. She took a ceramics class in her apartment building and made Christmas ornaments for family and friends. Some of them hang on our tree even now. A red-nosed reindeer that she made stands in our living room each December.After her stroke, she was very limited. One side of her body didn’t work at all. She was bedridden those last 10 months. Still, she found a way to give. When the attendants at her nursing home came around and asked what she wanted for each meal, she ordered a packet of hot chocolate with it.She didn’t like hot chocolate. Never drank it. But she saw an opportunity to come up with a gift. She saved the packets of hot chocolate and gave them to my sister Joanne, who has two boys. They would get the gift of hot chocolate from her.What a remarkable gesture, eh? Even confined to a bed, she found a way to give. 
Posted by Joe Kay 50 weeks 6 days ago
One of my favorite quotes of 2013 comes from Pope Francis. Asked what he would say about a member of the Catholic clergy who is gay, he responded with a question of his own.“Who am I to judge?” Francis replied.A good question for all of us, no?Our world is inundated with judgment. Social media can be a swamp of it. Recently, a television celebrity was judgmental about those who are different from him and got in trouble for it. Many defended his judgmental attitude and words.Which raises some important questions for all of us: Is it good to be judgmental? Isn’t life about making judgment calls and living by our values? Aren’t we all judgmental in some ways? We all make judgments every day, decisions about what we think is best to do in the various circumstances of our lives. We might see someone in need and decide to help. We might recognize one of our shortcomings and decide we’ll change. We might run into an unforeseen challenge and try to figure out the best way to respond.That’s all well and good. Being judgmental is a very different thing.
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 1 week ago
Have you ever given someone a gift knowing that person probably wasn’t going to keep it? You had no idea what to give, so you gave something — a sweater, let’s say, even though you knew the recipient had more than enough sweaters — along with a gift return receipt.That’s kind of how God gives, isn’t it? No, no, not the sweater part. The part about giving and then letting the others choose what they’ll do with the gifts.Isn’t that how God gives to us?And if we’re to be like God, shouldn’t we be giving the same way?This is a challenging question, but one that’s relevant at this season of giving. Do we give with no strings attached? Or do we give with conditions? Do we give only to those we deem worthy?
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 2 weeks ago
The Beatles first performed “All You Need Is Love” in 1967 as part of an “Our World” global television link, the first of its kind. The song was perfect for the occasion and became a hit. It’s got a catchy lyric and the chorus makes for an interesting debate even today.Is it true that all we really need is love?Many of us don’t feel that way. Many of us have a lot of other things filling our lists of what we need and value the most: self-sufficiency, independence, money, privilege, career advancement, our country, our family, our religion.Many religions don’t see it that way, either. They dote on theological constructs and codes of conduct for their followers. They devise lists of who’s in God’s favor and who is not. Their do-and-don’t lists rarely say much about love and its ramifications.They love rules instead.
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 2 weeks ago
Desmond Tutu tells a story of when he was nine or 10 years old and he stood with his mother outside a building where she worked as a cook. This was 1940s apartheid South Africa, where black people were considered inferior in all respects. A lanky, white Anglican priest named Trevor Huddleston walked by in a long cassock, saw his mother, and doffed his hat to her.The white man would have been expected to ignore the black woman, who amounted to nothing in her society. With one simple gesture, he went out of his way to tell her that her society had it all wrong and that she was equally valued and loved.That moment made a profound impression upon Tutu, who wrote about it in his book, Made For Goodness. What seem like very small, ordinary acts often have immense and lasting impacts. And every interaction that we have — even with a stranger on the street — can leave some sort of mark, either helpful or hurtful.
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 3 weeks ago
Much of our imagery of Advent is tied into the idea of waiting. Waiting for Emmanuel to come. Waiting for God to intervene. We’re in the middle of the night waiting for dawn to arrive. We’re waiting for something different to happen. One image is the pregnant woman waiting to give birth, which ties into the nativity story.We spend a lot of our lives waiting for various things. Maybe the question for Advent is: What are we waiting for? And when does the waiting end?So much of our religion has become about waiting. Waiting for heaven. Waiting for God to respond to a prayer and to change something. Waiting for God to right the wrongs. Waiting for God to set things straight. Waiting and waiting and waiting.What if we’ve got it backward? What if someone is waiting for us?
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 4 weeks ago
Scrooge is convinced that he has earned all that he has. His pile of money? It’s all that matters to him, and he believes that he built it all by himself. There’s no reason to show gratitude to anyone else.Be thankful? Bah, humbug.Could that be one of the reasons we’ve turned Thanksgiving into just another shopping day? We don’t recognize the gifts, so we don’t recognize the giver.
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 10 weeks ago
What would the world be like if we were all more alike? This isn’t just a philosophical question. In many ways, we live as though we wished others were more like us. We spend time with those who are similar to us and avoid those who seem to be different. We enjoy being around those who share our viewpoint and avoid those who challenge it. We accept the parts of others that make us comfortable and ignore or reject the rest.But what about our diversity? Do we embrace it, or do we merely tolerate it?Over time, I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of our differentness. I’ve gotten to the point where I think of this incredible diversity — within our universe, within our human family — as one of our greatest blessings. 
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 12 weeks ago
After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer.
Posted by Joe Kay 1 year 15 weeks ago
I realized that other parents are hoping that I will love and care for their children just as they do. There are so many moments every day when someone else’s child is in my hands. Do I recognize this? Do I choose to see them and love them that way?In reality, our hands are never empty, even when it feels like we’re letting go of someone so special to us. We open our hands and give our children as a gift to the world. And in the same moment, we find our hands filling up with so many others — the children of others, the parents of others, the brothers and sisters of others.Will we treat them with the same love and care that we give to our own children and parents and sisters and brothers? Will we treat everyone as family?