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On the Purdue Pharma settlement….

In a week in which the Bahamas is reeling from hurricane devastation, when September 11 passes with all it carries, as our youth prepare to rally us in support of our planet and as our foreign and domestic policy continues to confound, many may not be paying attention to the story which has gripped my heart.

The news coverage of the pending settlements in the Purdue Pharma cases has made my stomach churn. Every time I have heard another story, I have felt my bile and tears both welling up. What is the cause? Aside from any personal resonance, I believe it has to do with the fact that we are using legal challenges to address an issue about human worth and dignity. From my public policy days, I remember that it is hard to put a value on human life—and it most definitely is. And yet when we are talking about 200,000 lives lost to the opiate crisis in the United States (and 81 last year here in Contra Costa County) loss of life also means loss of thriving while alive and the count and cost of the opiate epidemic is much larger if these costs are calculated. What is the cost of the loss of family connections? Of career plans and talents lost? Of mental acuity and health? Of physical health and safety as people? Of the loss of a sense that people are more than markets or commodities?

Those big numbers have human faces for me and I compare the pain and the agony I have seen on those faces to the pictures of the billionaires who have profited from this devastation. The single fact that has churned my insides is that the settlements will not address the wrongdoing involved by the leaders who separated profits from their humanity.

Religious leaders on my side of the theological spectrum don’t often raise questions in a moral frame and yet this is what my heart needs me to do. To say that no matter how many billions are paid out, something will not be complete until the many, many people who are complicit in this taking of life and snuffing out of the thriving in lives can admit that what they did was wrong.

A legal settlement of this type is important. And the message it sends is “don’t get caught.” The message we no longer seem to hear is “don’t do wrong.” And that feels much more ominous.

Smallest Slivers of Light

Last month when the moon cycled away into darkness, it seemed to take a long time for the smallest sliver of moon to reappear. In this time we are in when we seem to cherish our little signs of comfort, I thought perhaps I was just imagining this. Yet several people also remarked to me that they noticed that we had an unsually long string of moonless nights.

How delighted I was to see that infant moon rising over the Lime Ridge behind the church last week. Fresh and luminous, fragile and yet with a strong and radiant light which seemed especially beautiful in the absence of light. Every night since I have celebrated that moon—after meetings at night or during the last walk of the day with a dog in tow, I have felt a gladness and a lightening of the heart. Absence, it seems, truly makes the heart grow fonder.

And so it is that we especially need the light of connection and relationship, whether it is with the renewal of nature of the comfort of relationship. What is sit that you find especially precious right now and do you take a moment of gratitude?

That moon is now an adolescent, with greater power and confidence and yet for me still with a special aura because it was so awaited.

Gratitude is a great light which brightens the darkness of night.

Why Talking About Climate Change is Cheering

Okay, it seems counter-intuitive, however, I believe our new Climate Justice Team’s leadership and our planned conversation about the rising threat of climate change will actually be heartening this Sunday.

This weekend we will have the first of two forums (the other is September 22) to talk about the pending public witness statement about action on climate change. It feels good to have this before us in this week in which so much is in flux and too much of the news is again negative.

To know that this congregation is preparing to lift its collective voice in defense of our environment is encouraging and a breath of fresh air as once again, our summer warms up.

Educating and speaking up will help us do what we can do as we move through these days above 100 degrees when the only thing that seems hotter than the sidewalk is the rhetoric.

Participating in a discussion, democratically framed, about the common threats we face and our determination to not let them go unaddressed is an invigorating action in the face of the enervating onslaught of bad news. It says we remember that in our faith we do not wait passively for some all-powerful deity to change the world–we educate ourselves, work together and do what we can.

I will cheer for that.

Thanks, Leslie

Being a learner

With the recent arrival of our special guest, I have become aware of a serious deficit which is that I am not, at all, fluid fluent in Spanish. I say this with some of embarrassment, for it does not take much looking at numbers in our state and population trends to realize that this is a decision that I have made out of a place of privilege, ignorance and some kind of belief that communicating with my neighbors is not important. I can easily avoid any effort by saying it is too late now to learn, especially because I have never been particularly good with languages. For example, I have had a never-ending desire to learn Japanese, the other language of my heritage, and have never truly stuck with it. I can have a million excuses for why learning is awkward and unpleasant and uncomfortable for me and yet the fact remains, I now need Spanish on a daily basis and I do not have it.

What to do? I guess I have realized that learning can take place at any point. In our tradition, we believe in life long learning and I have seen it myself how those committed to this premise continue to take in new ideas, joys, information and ways of seeing the world right up to their dying moments. Who am I to say that it is too late for me to learn?

So…. I have downloaded an app, pledged to take even a few minutes every day and have begun the arduous journey of learning. And here’s the thing, I can find it joyful and enlivening rather than painful and embarrassing. In fact, it is a great break from the other pressures of my day to just take those few moments common knowing I am expanding my knowledge in order to connect with others better. Kinda fun to be a beginner, really, which reminds me of why the Buddhists praise that “beginner’s mind.” What a privilege to be part of a tradition, that allows us to be beginners at any age, that forgives us the awkwardness of learning and encourages us to grow.

Yours in learning,


Leslie’s Logos – August 2019

Think back on your favorite experiences of learning.  Who were you with? What was the setting?  And now think about a learning experience you had that you did NOT enjoy. Who were you with? What was happening?  For many people, these questions bring back recollections of student days and places where learning was a common goal and where it was acknowledged that all are learners.

Often our least favorite memories are ones when we got a “life lesson” –something we were taught that we weren’t looking to learn.  Sometimes our “teachers” used ways of speaking and acting that made us feel “called out” rather than “called in.”

The times in which we are living make change a constant and in this frame, if we don’t learn, we are destined to be constantly unmoored as we seek to return to a happier and easier time

This month when many of the youngest among us are returning to formal settings of learning, we could all take a page out of some book (or just leave it in the book and read it!) and know ourselves to be learners. I know for myself that when I see myself as a learner, I can better ride the tides and swells around me. When I see my role as to know what to do, I can make myself miserable. When I see my role as knowing I need to LEARN what I can, then life is much more of an adventure.

In this back-to-school season, let us all recommit to growth and expansion and the spirit of learning.

With gratitude, Leslie

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