We Can't Afford Dirty Energy: Thoughts on Turkey, Appalachia, and Humility

Przemek Tokar/

Przemek Tokar/

Two weeks ago in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine explosion left 301 people dead. It was the country’s worst mining disaster, but it wasn’t the first — and it wasn’t the last, as multiple fatal accidents have happened in the two weeks since. The last time a mining disaster caught the world’s attention, we watched and waited and prayed during the rescue operation for the miners in Chile.

In Turkey, people protested in the streets of Soma — protested against Soma Mining for letting this happen, against their government for loopholes in safety rules. In response, the police issued a ban on protests and locked the city down. The ruling political party proudly announces that it has inspected that mine 11 times in the past 5 years; Soma Mining denies negligence. And the families of 301 persons mourn their losses.

This isn’t a faraway problem. In the United States, we don’t do as much traditional mining as we used to — instead, we do mountaintop removal. This has a human cost, too, in more insidious ways. The people living in Appalachia have higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, kidney diseases, skin ailments, and more. And the landscape, which has the fingerprints of God in it, is being blown apart.

Psalm 95:4-5 says:

“In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are [God’s] also. The sea is [God’s], for [God] made it, and the dry land, which [God’s] hands have formed.”

Supporting Cast: Why We Need to Be More Patient and Forgiving


Most of the time, we should be saying "new year, same old me." marekuliasz/Shutterstock

I had the idea for this blog post a couple weeks ago, but I thought it best to wait until around this time to release it. Just two weeks into the new year, this is usually the stage in which people are slowly becoming less committed to their resolutions.  

I know there is much disdain for the phrase "new year, new me." We all have family and friends who commit themselves to something on January 1st, whether it be to exercise more, eat healthier, become a better Christian, etc., and just days into the new year they have already failed to live out those commitments. The phrase probably should be "new year, same old me." This post is not intended to stroke the ego of our skeptics, rather, Lord willing, it will serve as encouragement to those who strive to better themselves.  

Although we struggle to stay faithful to our new found endeavors, thankfully we serve a God who is both patient and forgiving. Psalm 86:15 states, "But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness."

On Scripture: Happy are Those Whose Help is the God of Jesse (Psalm 146:5-10)

Photo courtesy of Odyssey Networks

Mourners remember the shooting at Sandy Hook. Photo courtesy of Odyssey Networks

After learning about Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook shooting a year ago this Dec. 14th, I’m thinking about scratching out the name Jacob in Psalm 146 and writing in Jesse.

Psalm 146, verse 5 says, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” I’m wondering if scratching out Jacob and writing in Jesse, at least in these upcoming weeks, might be a way of praying to transform anger and resentment into love and forgiveness. 

Jesse was a pretty amazing six-year old who loved adventures, mud, a golden yellow bear, and his big brother. His mom says he was “full of courage and strength,” so much so, that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy Jesse stood still and told his classmates to “Run!” In so doing, he lost his life. 

Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mom, returned home after the unthinkable tragedy only to find something wonderful Jesse had scratched onto the kitchen chalkboard: "Norturing, helin, love."  His mom knew immediately these were Jesse’s last words to her: Nurturing, healing, love. In her book, Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, Scarlett tells the story of her journey to forgiveness and hope as a legacy beyond anger and resentment. She begins, of course, with Jesse’s story.

Bobby McFerrin: Praying as He Sings

Photo courtesy haak78/

American singer and musician Bobby McFerrin. Photo courtesy haak78 /

He’s best known for his iconic 1980s feel-good hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but Grammy-award winning artist Bobby McFerrin explores a deeper side of life in a new album.

Titled spirityouall, the recording includes his adaptations of traditional African-American spirituals and devotional songs that he composed.

McFerrin believes music has a transcendent spiritual power.

Majesty and Tragedy in Oklahoma

Brett Deering/Getty Images

Debris covers the ground after a powerful tornado ripped Moore, Okla., on May 20. Brett Deering/Getty Images

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” And from those heavens descended a deadly cloud.

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants ...” The children of Plaza Towers Elementary?

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Indeed that is the question that troubles the heart of the faithful in times like these.

Can we still praise God? If so, how do we start? Can we possibly understand what happened in Moore, Okla.?

Don’t trust anyone who claims to comprehend the meaning of this storm. Don’t trust anyone who points with absolute certainty to a single cause for this storm. Don’t trust anyone who treats a tornado as anything but indiscriminate and cruel. These tragedies are not punishments or object lessons. Such natural forces do not reach their conclusion with a pat moral or a simple “they lived happily ever after.”

Spoonfed: Why We Need to Embrace the Messiness

 Marina Dyakonova / Shutterstock

Mother feeding her son at home. Marina Dyakonova / Shutterstock

I’m going to tell you something I do not do very well.  But, only if you will not tell the other mothers because I have listened to them talk, and apparently I am the only one not very good at this. Deal?

I'm not good at helping my children learn to feed themselves. I totally get in the way. Let me explain.

Well, actually, there isn’t much about it to explain.

I don't like messes. So, I feed my children … for too long. I sit a bowl full of spaghetti in front of them, and I get a little panicky.  I mean, have you ever found dried, crusted spaghetti noodles on the floor a week (or more) later when you're cleaning?  And what about the slimy, greasy residue left on the plastic tray attached to the high chair?  And then there's the highchair cover.  I did not realize you could take that thing off to clean it until my second child was two. Wow. That was amazing — what I found under it, I mean.

Never mind the fact that most of the food gets on the child and everything and everyone else … not in their mouths.

And, I mean, I'm also very concerned about my child’s dietary needs. Seriously, I think that is the biggest reason I insist on feeding them well into their third year. (Did I just write that?) They need me. They need me to spoon that mouthful of spaghetti straight into their teeny little mouth. That way I know where it goes — there is no guesswork.

Mother Teresa As a Psalm

RNS photo courtesy David Van Biema

Teresa's private letters revealed that she spent her last 39 years in internal agony. RNS photo courtesy David Van Biema

On Sept. 5, 1997, the world mourned when Mother Teresa, whose work with the poorest of the poor made her a global icon, died of a heart ailment at age 87.

Exactly 10 years later, the world did a double take, when a volume of Teresa's private letters revealed that the tireless, smiling nun spent the last 39 years of her life in internal agony. Jesus, she wrote, no longer seemed present to her, in prayer or even in the Eucharist. In letter after tormented letter she described an unrelenting spiritual "dryness,” a "torturing pain." Her smile was "a big cloak" of deception. She admitted at one point to doubting God's existence. Eventually she apparently became more reconciled to her condition; but as far as we know, she died with it.

Blindfolded Judges


n undated picture shows US peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, in the Rafah refugee camp. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

In the bright light of these days’ events it is helpful to be reminded of unalterable truths that transcend party conventions and oppressive governments. The political gatherings and increasing pain of the Middle East conflicts confuse the consciousness. They divert attention and trouble our slumber. Corporate callousness and individual hopelessness has set in and we have turned our faces to that which inures us from the persistent discomforting news.  

Pick your own, even if momentary distraction. For me it has been Washington National’s baseball in the drive for a championship and maybe a World Series appearance.  My spirit rises or falls on the team’s performances and batting averages of the Nats mini gods.

The biblical Job sought less superficial solace from his and the world’s sufferings. He responded to one of his “comforters” saying “when the land falls into the hand of the wicked He (God) blindfolds its judges” (9:24).

A Song for Each Kind of Day

Psalms, Vibe Images /

Psalms, Vibe Images /

Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul … except for … the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous—horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.


Faith is Certain and Endless

Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (

Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (

I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

With all of the scientific facts and astronomical data we are blessed with today, I can expect to wake up tomorrow and see rays of light shining through my window.

There is also no debating time. Our clocks, both digital and internal, continue to tick onward no matter the circumstances. These are inexorable certainties in life. However, these proven facts of our existence are limited. They are not the whole story.

There are things in life we neither can physically see nor explain, and yet we choose to believe anyway.

When our little siblings place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows, hoping to see a winged fairy deliver gifts in return, they are relying entirely on an unproven belief. When students choose universities to attend, they do not know what the outcomes of their decisions will be, nor can they predetermine their futures after school. But they continue to grow and experiment with life anyway.

Even the wisest of theologians and clergy have very few answers to the questions pertaining to God’s existence that enter our minds on a daily basis. All of these situations represent something many of us hold onto so dearly: Faith.