Book Review-Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life by Harold S. Kushner

Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life Harold S. Kushner
This audio book is read by the author. He has a soothing, calming voice that makes it easier to consider the difficult topics contained in this book. Kushner tackles tough topics like original sin which he rejects, helping others, revenge, forgiveness and how we practice our faith. He uses the Bible, personal experience, and modern examples to explore the topics.
In his chapter, “Forgiveness is a Favor You Do Yourself,” Kushner looks at forgiveness in a new way. He writes that revenge is not about justice; it is about power. He would encourage us to stop using those two words interchangeably. He writes forgiveness is active not passive. Two Scripture examples in this chapter are Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 45) and David and Michal’s inability to forgive each other in 2 Samuel 6. What if we were active in forgiveness? What if we stop trying to get revenge on our “enemies” and instead seek forgiveness? These are some of the difficult questions this book will leave you considering.
Many of the Biblical stories and verse he shares are not the most often cited examples pulled from the Bible. I appreciate that he opens up and discusses parts of our sacred text that we don’t often highlight. I enjoyed listening to this book so much that I used it in my most recent sermon. You’ll enjoy this book whether you read it or listen while the author reads it to you. This book is written so anyone can read it and understand it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be challenged in your worldview and your faith.

My New Spiritual Practice

My New Spiritual Practice

After reading Coffeehouse Contemplative, I contacted a local Spiritual Director. We had our first meeting recently. I asked her for a suggestion of a spiritual practice I could do regularly. From our conversation, she suggested I find a way to add Scripture and a time to slow down to my day. To make my new practice something I’d want to continue, I decided to include sticky notes too.

I write a Scripture verse on a sticky note and place it somewhere I’ll see it often. For me, this is in my hospice binder. I pause and read the verse multiple times each day. I can keep the same verse for as long or as short of a period of time as I want. When I was preaching a few weeks ago, my verse was from the sermon text. When I read a verse that I enjoy, I write it down.




I’m enjoying an opportunity to slow down and reflect on these Scriptures. So far, this new practice has been easy to keep doing.

What practices do you keep as you live your faith in your daily life?

Worship Words-Believe and Have Peace

In my work as a hospice chaplain, I am often asked to read a Scripture. Usually, the request is for Scriptures that are familiar, that are comforting, that answer the question what happens when we die. Again and again, I find myself returning to these words of Jesus. These words are familiar. These words bring comfort by reminding us of God’s love for us all the days of our lives and that God has prepared a place for us. Death doesn’t need to be feared. Jesus came to bring peace. Here is Jesus speaking in John 14.


John 14

Jesus the Way to the Father

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way.¹


Jesus says so much to his disciples (those listening then and us sitting here now) in this chapter. Jesus offers us words of comfort and instructions on how to live. Jesus promises us we will never be alone. Jesus leaves us with his peace which passes all understanding. And in the midst of these awe-inspiring words, some of the disciples speak.


Too often, we give the disciples a hard time for asking silly questions and making mistakes. I love the disciples because I see myself in them. They ask the questions I, too, have asked. Jesus has just promised a prepared place for the disciples and tells them they know the way. Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Thomas is asking for a map or directions so he knows where to physically find Jesus. What is hard for Thomas and us to understand is that Jesus is our map just not in the way that Thomas imagined. Jesus uses Thomas’ question to get even more profound. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Thomas is not wrong with his question. Jesus is our way and leads us in truth to life. Theologian, Gail O’Day, describes these verses in this way, “To recognize Jesus as the truth is to affirm that as the Word made flesh, Jesus makes the truth of God available to the world. It is to acknowledge that one’s relationship with Jesus is relationship with the liberating truth of God, that Jesus’ life and ministry are the ultimate witness to God’s truth. Jesus is the “way”, the promise of the possibility of unity with God, because in him one meets the truth of God…Jesus is life because Jesus brings God’s gift of life to the world. Jesus is “the way” because he is the access point to God’s promise of life”.² For all of us who identify as Christians, we know God because of Jesus. Jesus is, for us, the way to God, the truth we build our lives on, and the life we live now and in eternity.


The next disciple to speak, Peter, doesn’t ask questions, he makes a demand. “Show us the Father.” I wonder how Jesus felt by this point-knowing he didn’t have much time left with his disciples. Imagine yourself as a teacher. It is the last week of class and a student asks questions about something you covered months ago. And this concept was important. Everything you taught in the class hinged on the concept the student did not get. I imagine this is how Jesus feels. Come on, disciples; please listen because this is super important. I’ll go over it one more time. I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words I say are because the Father dwells in me. When I speak, you hear the Father. When I act, you see the Father. All this time we’ve spent together, I have been showing you the Father.

A third disciple asks a question, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’” Jesus answers-When you love someone and respond to that love with action, you see that person in those you meet and in memories you shared. A personal example of that-My best friend, Kristi, died more than four years ago from colon cancer. I don’t see her physically anymore. I do hear her voice giving me advice. I remember her when someone does something she would do or says something she would do. When I have pizza on Thursday nights or hear the Friends theme song, I remember her. The same is true for those of us who love Jesus. Because we love him, we look for him in others. Because we love him, we care for each other. Because we love him, we remember what he said. Others do not see him because they are not looking.


Jesus tells his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Love God. Love each other. That’s all. Why don’t the disciples ask a clarifying question here? Help us out disciples because this is a lot to do in a simple sentence. Loving each other is hard. I know I am hard to love. Now I do not know you all-I’m just basing this next statement off every other person I’ve ever known-you all may occasionally be hard to love too! Jesus didn’t leave us any wiggle room here. If we love Jesus (and like Peter will say later in this same Gospel-yes Lord, you know that we love you), then we must keep his commandments. Do we hear this as Jesus demanding we keep the commandments or as a reminder that living the commandments is how we live out our love for Jesus? We respond to Christ’s love for us by keeping the commandments. It isn’t easy. It is how we put our faith in action. So, we will continue to love each other and God.


This Scripture brings us comfort and leaves us with many questions. What does believing in God look like? What do we mean when we say we believe in God? In his book, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life, Harold Kushner³ argues that belief used to mean something different than it means today. Using the examples given by Kushner (115), here’s how today’s passage would begin. Cherish God and be loyal to me, or Care about me and love me. Our ancestors in the faith spent less time worrying about whether or not God exists and more time trusting in the goodness of God. That is the difference in the way some people hear these words. God doesn’t need us to believe in God’s existence. God wants us to be relationship with each other and with God. God wants us to rely on each other and God. So when we say we believe in God, we are saying we trust God, we rely on God, we listen for God, our whole life is lived as a response to God’s love for us. Saying I believe in God and meaning all these things may make it easier for us to live out the first line of this text. Our hearts are not troubled because we believe in God. Our hearts are not troubled because we love God. Our hearts are not troubled because we rely on God. And yet there is much in this world to trouble our hearts and upset the peace Christ brings. How do we answer that? We put our trust in God and we work together to lessen the troubles of each other. We love Jesus and we work together to keep his commandments. We listen and look for the Holy Spirit and we work together to live out our faith.


Advocate, Spirit of Truth, Holy Spirit are all descriptors used for the One who is with us even as Jesus returns to the Father. Other translations use  descriptors like counselor, intercessor, comforter, and strengthener. Jesus promises us One who will be with us on the journey in the way we need. When we need a listening ear and good advice, the Holy Spirit is our counselor. When we need to pray and have no words, the Holy Spirit is our advocate. When we need a reminder we are loved, the Holy Spirit is our comforter. When we need strength and courage, the Holy Spirit is our strengthener.


Also in his book Kushner said, “Religion is like love. The difference between religion as feeling or believing and authentic religion as how you live out your faith is like the difference between love as a teenage girl’s crush on her favorite pop singer and love as the relationship between a husband and wife who have shared years of good and bad experiences and know how to reach out to each other to gladden or to comfort. The first is a pleasant fantasy; the second is life-defining” (106-107).³ And this life-defining relationship is what Jesus was creating with his disciples. He taught with his words and deeds every day he was with his disciples. Hopefully, our faith is life-defining for us too. With the words of Jesus, the example of our ancestors in the faith, the pray-ful companionship of our fellow congregation members, we have a wealth of help available to support us in our continued faith formation.


In our country, we hear divisive messages everyday. We could be led to believe that we have nothing in common with our neighbor. Jesus tells us this is not true. All those we meet are our neighbors and we are called to love all through our actions, deeds, and thoughts. Kushner said this about belief-“Belief exists inside a person. As such, it has the power and tendency to separate a person from his neighbors, who believe differently. But authentic religion connects people rather than separates them into the elect and the misguided, the saved and those who walk in darkness. The primary function of religion…is to bring people together rather than to separate them, thereby increasing their joy and diluting their sorrow. For that to happen, one’s theology has to escape from the prison of self and translate into sacred deeds shared with others, deeds sanctified by having the fingerprints of God all over them” (117).³


This week I was sitting with a woman who is dying. She is a woman of strong faith and as she feels her own death coming nearer she has many questions. I read her the first few verses of this text and she asked how do I know that He has a place for me? And I said, Because God loves you more than you know and we can trust these words of Jesus. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”


We hear this Scripture at funerals. What is it about these words or what words are here that provide us (the living) so much comfort when we are saying good-bye to one we love? Is it that these are the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples as he was preparing to leave them? He knew the words of comfort they needed to hear. And to this day, these words bring us comfort. These words told the disciples what they would need to do when Jesus was gone. And they tell us, his disciples, what we need to do since he is gone from our sight too. These words of Jesus are a gift to his first disciples and his disciples today. They challenge us. They comfort us. They give us courage as we walk our faith journey. Amen.


This sermon was preached Sunday, October 9, 2016 at Community of Joy  in Salisbury, Maryland.

¹The Scripture is the New Revised Standard Version from

²Gail O’Day,”The Gospel of John” in The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 9. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1995, 742-743.

³Harold S. Kushner, Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2015.



I believe we all need to listen more to that voice inside of us that urges us to do kind things for others. Some call this voice your conscience. Some call this voice inspiration. I think the voice is the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to listen when the Holy Spirit nudges you toward kindness.
Here’s a recent example. I was looking through pictures on my phone. I saw one of a trip my friend and I took, and this picture made me smile. I sent it to my friend thinking if it made me smile I bet it will make her smile too. I felt something encouraging me to send her the picture. She responded with, “I am truly blessed to call you my friend! I needed this.” You might call this a coincidence. I call it God at work in our lives.
So I urge you to listen this week. Where are you being encouraged to share kindness? What is the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear? How can you lighten someone’s load or spread joy?
I’d love to hear your stories of how you listened and what happened.

Worship Words-Call to Worship for John 14

One- Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.

All- We believe and we have questions and we wonder what is happening in our lives and in this world.

One- Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

All-We love you and we try to keep your commandments.

One-Jesus said,”Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

All-We need peace in our lives. We are here in this place because we believe, we love, and we seek peace. Let us worship together.

The words in italics are from John 14 from the New Revised Standard Version.



Book Review-Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday by Jeffrey A. Nelson


Coffeehouse Contemplative: Spiritual Direction for the Everyday
Jeffrey A. Nelson
This is a book to savor and reread. This is a book to read as part of a book study at church or by yourself for self-reflection and growth. This is a book for new people of faith, seasoned clergy, and everyone in between. You need to read this book. It will feed your spiritual life.
“It is one thing for me to enjoy the thought of a spiritual practice, but it is quite another for me to begin observing it” (1). This book gives you the tools and the wisdom needed to move from the thought of having a spiritual practice to actually having a spiritual practice. With stories, Scripture, reflections and real-life examples, the author invites us to develop our God-given spiritual natures. We are encouraged to grow closer to God where we are now and while we are living our daily lives. “Not every moment is a sacrament, but every moment has the potential to be sacramental” (20). While the author encourages us to be open to worship in a church (see Chapter 8-Encountering Together), he encourages us to notice what is “of God” in our daily lives.
The author does not shy away from difficult faith questions. Where is God when all is wrong in my world? How can I pray when I have no time? Who is God to me? How can I grow closer to God? Who walks this journey with me? The author does not give us all the answers to these questions. He invites us into the conversation and asks us to continue the conversation.
This book has the potential to make you think. Reading this book gives you the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with God. This book may encourage you to change the way you see the world. I recommend you read this book and see how your eyes are opened to see people and the whole world differently.

Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity by Katherine Willis Pershey


This book is the story of a marriage, yet it is so much more than the story of a marriage. With honesty and humility, Katherine and her husband share the story of their marriage. This book is so much more than simply a memoir; their marriage story is interwoven with Scripture, history, celebrities, literature, and scholarship. The author tackles tough topics like death, sex, temptation, infidelity, egalitarian and complementarian marriages, economic and racial injustice, blessings, mercy, and the Apostle Paul. The author does this all while keeping you engaged (ha!) and wanting to read more about marriage and her marriage.

This book has forced me to confront my own feelings on marriage. Yes, I am married. Yes, my husband is amazing and I still love him 9 years after I said I do. Yet, at the same time, I’ve often disliked the institution of marriage. I love the covenant making-I dislike the state involvement-although I appreciate the tax break. This book has made me fall in love with the institution of marriage again. I hope you enjoy the story and I hope it inspires you to tell your story.

This book comes with a wonderful study guide (written by me), so you can read it with your book group or Sunday School class. So read the book and use the study guide

I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Playing in the Sand

As a kid, I loved playing in my sandbox. When you grow up in the Midwest, a sandbox is much cheaper than a trip to the beach. To this day, I love playing in the sand. I keep this tray of sand in my office. People will come to meet with me and spend their time making designs in the sand. It is relaxing.


This sand was originally used for a prayer station with my youth and now it brings a sense of peace to those visiting my office.
What do you keep near you that calms you? What items in your home or workspace bring you peace?

Pray with me
God of Peace, We are busy and need to remind ourselves to slow down. Help us to find ways to find peace and be peace! Be with us as we play in the sand. Calm us so we can hear your voice and be open to your leading. Speak for your servants are listening. Amen.

Earl Grey Creme


This is my favorite cup of Earl Grey. The addition of vanilla makes this a smooth and creamy cup of tea. It is delicious. I am looking forward to visiting Voila! and finding more teas to enjoy.

This tea was a gift from a dear friend who also gave me the delightful buttons in the picture.

“Coffee is not my cup of tea.” -Samuel Bolding

“Where there is tea, there is love.”

“Tea is liquid wisdom.”

“Tea is a cup of life.”

I am hoping your day is filled with love, life, liquid wisdom, and a cup of tea!

Worship Words-What Time is It?

This is my sermon from August 28, 2016 Sermon at Takoma Park Presbyterian Church


As I spent some time living with this text over the last week, it was fascinating to read this passage in different translations. When a passage is so familiar it can be hard to hear the words anew. So I spent time listening to the words, noticing what words changed and what words stayed the same. I reflected on how much words matter. How much our words matter. The words we think matter. It matters what we say outloud and what we choose to leave unsaid. Our words matter.


Hear now these words that matter from the book of Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13.


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, God has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.


These words come to us from the book of Ecclesiastes. This is not a book we spend much time talking about at church. In fact, if not for The Byrds’ 1960’s hit, Turn, Turn, Turn, we might think about this book of the Bible even less than we do now.


The first 8 verses of this text are 14 pairs of opposites, which the writer tells us we will do or have done to us in the seasons of our lives. How do we measure the seasons of our lives? The musical Rent offers these suggestions-

“In daylights, in sunsets

In midnights, in cups of coffee

In inches, in miles

In laughter, in strife?


In truth that she learns

Or in times that he cried

In bridges he burned

Or the way that she dies?

Measure your life in love”

Ponder how you measure your life as we journey through these 28 things for which there is a proper time.

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