Tuesday, May 27, 2014


I just noticed my page views counter on this blog and saw the number 10,001. It sorta blew my socks off. Granted, most people probably had the blog come up on some Google search for something but still, they stopped in long enough for the blog host to count them.
Although I write primarily for me, I'm always glad someone takes the time to even glance at what I've said. Whether you came by accident or on purpose, thank you for visiting. I hope the visit was a fruitful one and I hope you come back again. 
Thank you again for visiting.
And to visitor number 10,000, may a multitude of blessings rain down on you. Come to think of it, may they rain down on all of you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Roads and Paths

‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. - Matthew 7:13-21

It was an inviting little road, a smooth-packed dirt trail leading into the forest in the mountains of Virginia. I was young, out on my own with my first car and the invitation was undeniable. Driving through the lush woods with sun dappling the road, the trees and the undergrowth, it was one of the most beautiful places I could imagine. I drove on until, suddenly, the road rose a bit and as I neared the top I realized I couldn't see where the road went from there. I couldn't get out of the car because the underbrush was too thick, I couldn't see over the hood of my beloved Mustang, and I had absolutely no idea whether the road went straight once I'd crested the hill, turned to the right or left or even ended in a canyon a hundred feet deep. I must have fought panic and every scenario I could think of for what seemed like forever but which was probably closer to half an hour. Funny, I don't remember how I finally got up the nerve to put the car in first gear and ease my way over the top of the hill. I don't remember which way the road went but I made it home safely. I do remember saying "Thank you!" to God about a thousand times, though. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and all because of a narrow little dirt road leading to a mountain forest.

Most folks are happy to get on a freeway and nudge the speed limit (or even outright ignore it) in an effort to get wherever they're going faster. Wide, smooth ribbons of concrete and asphalt suit them just fine, never mind that the only scenery is billboards (electronic or otherwise), fences and walls with the tops of buildings showing above them. One other benefit of freeways is that there is usually room to maneuver if things start to get dicey. Of course, once an accident happens it usually sets up a gridlock that can last for hours, longer than it would have taken to take a smaller, perhaps more scenic route. Still, it's the chance one takes for the sake of getting there, doing whatever one came to do and getting home faster.

Driving on a one- or two-lane road, there are twists and turns. They seldom go perfectly straight for more than a mile or so, and often contain potholes and the like. Walls are at a minimum and there are few if any billboards to detract from the sight of houses with yards and kids playing in them, trees, meadows and the like. It gets a person closer to nature in a way. Of course, coming across someone coming in the opposite direction means one is going to have to back up to a relatively wider spot in the road before continuing on , but that’s just a risk a driver takes when they follow the lure of the road less taken.

One-lane roads are kind of like life, I think. Things pop up around the next bend or just over the next hill and those things have to be dealt with in one way or another. How deep is that pothole and can the vehicle straddle it safely? Can the vehicle pass over that rock with enough clearance or is there going to be a risk of damage to structures on the undercarriage that would cause the vehicle to become undriveable? What happens when a driver comes upon a bump in the road? Is it a warning to slow down or is it something else?

The narrow path Jesus talks about is similar. When it comes to faith, most folks want to be on a narrow path; they want the security of having the boundaries listed out for them and they want to be convinced that this is the only right path. If they meet a stranger on the road, chances are they will try an evasive action and hope that stranger isn’t some sort of brigand bent on mischief. But what if that stranger were Jesus? What if the head-to-head meeting were an invitation to reconsider, to see the narrow path as something else? What if it were an invitation to change the thinking and see the path widen a bit?

Christians believe that Jesus is the true path and that his teachings are clear about almost everything. To an extent that’s true, but often there’s a message we don't want to hear or find a bit too difficult to deal with so we edge around it and continue on our way. "Love your neighbor as yourself " is a big pothole, especially if the neighbor is nothing like us, looks different, has different beliefs and customs, has some illness or deformity or problem that makes them not really like us. The rock in the road might be to care for the poor, the sick, the widows and orphans and the imprisoned but we usually try to squeeze by that rock or climb over it if we must. In fact, we want to do anything at all other than deal with it and remove it.

We are each on a path, be it very narrow or rather broad, but each of us will run into obstacles and problems and messes that have to be overcome, repaired or cleaned up. We as Christians need to see Jesus a life preserver, the bridge over the rushing stream, the Samaritan who will help us, but we bear some responsibility for ourselves. "[F]aith without works is dead' (James 2:26b). Faith is the path but without action or works, we're just standing still. Sometimes we have to take a pickaxe in hand, or a shovel, or maybe get another person to help get rid of the obstacle, not just to clear the path for ourselves but for others.

Sometimes it’s the only real, reasonable thing to do. And, I have a feeling, Jesus thinks so too.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Hard Lessons

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. - Matthew 5:38-48

Every now and then I notice that the same subjects keep coming up in my reading, study, conversations and even thoughts. Sometimes I realize what's happening, sometimes it takes a while for it to sink in, but when it does, I seem to notice a little something-or-other being very catlike and stretching up with claws ever-so-subtly digging into my leg in a very blatant appeal, "PAY ATTENTION TO ME!" Reading this passage from Matthew gave me that feeling, so now to disentangle the claws and see what needs attention.

Jesus taught a lot of lessons in this one passage that we have today. First of all is the reiteration of an eye for an eye which says the punishment for crime or offense can only equal the offense itself, no more. It was an improvement over murdering someone for stealing a piece of bread. Jesus, though, took it one step further. In one of his “[B]ut I say to you” statements, Jesus spoke of a new twist: turn the other cheek, don’t fight back, walk away. It’d hard advice to hear, even harder to do, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. That “But I say to you” was his way of pointing out where he differed from the usual teachings, where he was presenting his Father’s will.

The second part is about loving your neighbor as yourself. Most of us struggle with that particular verse and concept because we know how hard it is, probably one of the most difficult things a person can ever do. Who wants to love somebody that has damaged or hurt them or even taken everything from them? But that’s were told to do and that’s what we have. Jesus gets really specific, though, and puts an even finer point on it. Jews were the chosen people of God but if they only paid attention to or loved those like themselves, they were no different than the people they looked down on, people like the collaborating tax collectors or the Gentiles.

When it comes to greeting only brothers and sisters, he notes that others do that just as many Jews did, namely sticking to their own folk. Jesus’ world wasn’t populated with just Jews; it was a multicultural place on a major trade route and a part, albeit remote, of the Roman Empire. There was a tendency for groups to stick together against outsiders but Jesus wasn’t having that. If Jews only spoke to Jews, they were no different than Gentiles who did the same thing. He himself crossed many cultural barriers during his ministry, talking to, teaching and healing Samaritans, the Gerasene demoniac, a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter, the servant of a Roman centurion and the list goes on. He stretched the boundaries between people, even when it scandalized his disciples and others. He greeted the world and tried to teach us to do the same, as difficult as it might be sometimes.

This passage encourages me to not just sit comfortably in my own faith in my own community in my own country and think that the rest of the world can get along very happily without my interest or participation. Jesus took an interest in people he culturally shouldn’t have and the difference it made in the lives of others was significant. Maybe the words and deeds of that one Jewish man didn’t shake the bars of the rest of the world, but in his area it certainly did. It was enough to attract the religious powers, even the governing powers, and eventually lead to his death. But in the period of his ministry, he definitely made an impact on more than just Galilean or Judean Jews.

Sometimes all it takes to reach across barriers is just a little conversation, a dialog perhaps. Maybe I can’t do much to change the world but maybe I can help put a small crack in the walls of insularity. Jesus opened more than a few cracks, so I have a great example to follow. Sometimes I have to join or even start a conversation, cross an unseen barrier or even just revise my way of thinking to make a difference not just in my own life but in that of the world around me.

That’s something to take with me this week and keep in the back of my mind. I need to look for ways I can contribute to the world and the world’s dialogs without trying to change others’ minds or forcing my own opinions or beliefs on them. Encouragement works a whole lot better than coercion, and I need to leave room for God to work.

I just have to pay attention and then act. 

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 17, 2014, without attribution.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Slightly Different Kind of Mother's Day

As I was leaving work Wednesday at lunchtime I turned on the engine of my truck and suddenly saw a very small black blur hightailing it across the parking lot and heading for the hills. Being one of those crazy cat ladies, I immediately recognized it not only as (a) a small black kitten but also (b) a feral kitten from a mother I’ve been feeding. The little booger had been underneath my truck since early that morning riding all the way from the house, sitting through about five hours in the parking lot and then, when I turned on the key, he bolted. That’s always upsetting; it’s happened before but it’s still always upsetting. The question was what to do next.
I figured was a lost cause for that day but I a listened and I even went back later in the afternoon to see if he had shown up again. I heard nothing so I thought that the kitten was toast. There too many predators and too many raptors around. The next morning I went to work early and walked around, listening for a sound, but I heard nothing. My head said there was no nope for that kitten but my heart hurt for the little guy too little to be out in the big, scary world all alone.
Friday morning not I heard the very loud, hurt and confused cries of a very small cat, but where was it coming from? Throughout the day I went out periodically check to see if I could see him, but he was somewhere in the neighborhood of the dumpsters which also happened to be the home of a rather dilapidated golf cart belonging to the owner. That kitten was somewhere but I couldn’t find him. I left some human tuna and a container of water near where the noise was coming from. After work I decided that okay, I was going to try Plan B.
I went home, got his mama, put her in a cage and took her to the office. My friend met me there with some additional foodstuffs (which I had forgotten to take with me) and we put some plastic pallet covers around the end of the exposed edges of the golf cart so that there was an enclosed area. Then we opened the cage and let mama out. Mama took a seat underneath the golf cart and meowed twice, having heard the cries of distress. She meowed twice and that was that. I managed to sneak a peek and the kitten was very happily nuzzled up against her, making up for having missed breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the last two days.
My first mistake was trying to slide a piece of cardboard underneath them to make it easier to retrieve them, or so I thought. Well, that discombobulated them and the kitten went back up to where he had been hiding under the golf cart. My friend came we attempted to locate and catch the kitten. One of us evidently had gotten too close to where he was and had run out from underneath only to get entangled in the plastic. Success! We got him in a cage.
Then we thought, well, it shouldn’t be too hard to get mama now as she was fairly tame. We stood the cage on end and opened the door just so we can have an opening case mama came out and we could grab her and put her in. We didn’t count on the determination of a very small kitten who wanted OUT. NOW.  
Needless to say, he escaped, so rather than chase him, we went back to trying to retrieve Mama, but when we looked underneath --no Mama. She had taken a powder. My friend located her outside the fence and actually followed her until she darted under a gate and ran under the friend’s car. Trying to be helpful, I tried to encourage her to go back to her kitten but she was having nothing to do with that idea. I didn’t realize that she could flatten herself enough to get through the holes of the block wall but she did. And off she went. Rescue plan C was a failure so we left some food and decided to come back Saturday morning and try again.
Saturday morning I was up at a 2:45am, worried about the kitten. Glomming onto the idea that my faithful Internet could help me, I googled humane traps and actually found that my local big-box hardware store had them in stock. At 4am I ordered a one to be held for me to pick up. I ran down to the store when it opened at 6am and found several people were interested in the fact that somebody actually was up and ordering something at 4 o’clock in the morning. Thank God for early opening hours.
I went down to the office got the traps baited with some food and water and covered it with an old sheet. My friend and I decided that we would let nature (and God) take over so off we went for our morning’s adventures. I checked back on the cage on my way home and found that some of the food had been eaten but the trap had not been triggered. Interesting. I re- baited the trap, checked to make sure that the trigger mechanism was in place and went home for a few hours. I came back about 5:30 pm and found it had not been touched. I was beginning to feel like plan C was not going to go well either but I decided to wait overnight just to see.
This morning being Sunday, I had planned to go to the grocery store before getting ready for church but I decided to swing by the office just on the off chance that the trap would work. If all went perfectly there would be two cats inside--a mama and a very small black kitten. By this time the cat had acquired the named Hagar and the kitten became Ishmael. The illusion was rather apt, I thought.
Arriving at the office I heard nothing, no meows no cries of distress or anything else. Oh, dear, I thought. Imagine my surprise when I looked over the railing down into the dumpster area and observed that the cat flap on the cage was now down and the sheet was covering the entire trap. Something had gone in and was still there. With almost a sense of dread I lifted the edge and saw two grayish-green eyes, some rather battered looking whiskers and the face of Hagar. She made no sound but she had eaten all the food. She made no noise whatsoever as I picked up the cage and walked to the truck. She meowed only once when I tried to fit the cage into the truck and once again as I was driving home telling her how glad I was to see her and how happy her kittens were going to be when they saw her, neglecting to mention Ishmael who’d been left behind. It was a quite different scenario than the first car trip on Friday where she registered her fear and discomfort in no uncertain terms.
I probably didn’t do it quite the way you should, but when I took the cage and put it on the ground, I could hear one of her kittens meowing. This was something she would want to investigate, I was sure, so I opened the door and off she ran. I looked up and watched as a little kitten came towards her and, lo and behold they met and off they went. Where the second of her stay-at-home kittens was, I don’t know, but at least one baby kitten had Mama back for Mother’s Day. She meowed for hours, probably looking for Ishmael, possibly searching for the third kitten, trying to get her bearings. After several hours I saw her nursing the remaining kitten and when I served dinner to the outdoor cats, she came and rubbed against my leg, allowing me to pet her and tell her what a lovely girl she was. Hagar is still a bit skittish, but she is home.
It’s an odd sort of Mother’s Day story. There may be one kitten that I’ve condemned to death by taking away his mama and her milk, but I’d given her back to at least one other. It doesn’t make it any easier for me, and maybe it doesn’t for her because no matter how many times she counts she only comes up with one and not three. Still, Hagar’s home, a kitten is with her and things will settle down sooner or later God willing.
Tomorrow, the search for Ishmael begins again.

The World of Walls

Reading from the Commemoration of Nickolaus von Zinzendorf

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. The companies of the singers gathered together from the circuit around Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. And the priests and the Levites purified themselves; and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.
 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up on to the wall, and appointed two great companies that gave thanks and went in procession. One went to the right on the wall to the Dung Gate; They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away. -- Nehemiah 12:27-31,43

The world, like the part in which I currently live, is a world of walls. There are walls around subdivisions and walls that separate houses. They aren't low picket fences of about three feet or so like the one around my childhood home, these are block walls five feet or more in height. They are serious barriers meant to keep out noise and most wandering animals, keep in children and family pets and also to preserve privacy. It's a kind of throwback to the towns and cities of the past where walls were necessary to keep the citizens safe and keep out wandering animals and brigands.

Nehemiah and the Israelites had just returned from the Babylonian exile. One of the first tasks was to rebuild Jerusalem complete with a protecting wall and gates. That accomplished, they held a great dedication and party to celebrate not just their return but their real beginning of a return to normalcy, or at least what they considered normal to be. It marked a new start in a new home that many of them had never seen before, but Nehemiah was there to fill them in, lay down the rules of not only good citizenship but the worship of and honor to God and the history of what had taken place. It took quite a while, but the people listened and assented. Of course, like a lot of times, they gradually forgot all those things they had embraced so happily that day, but that's human nature, I suppose.

Sometimes walls are good things, creating a safe area in which people can live and move relatively free from worry about their personal well-being. Sometimes, though, they are excuses to separate people from each other and the same for nations. The US spent $2.4 billion dollars to erect a fence across 700 miles of border between it and Mexico to keep out "illegals," most of whom sought to enter the US in order to find jobs to support their families but without having the months or years of waiting to get official papers which would allow them to do so legally.

The wall was also supposed to create a barrier to drug trafficking, but lo and behold, the drug cartels simply dug tunnels under it, flew over it, drove around it or came in by a different route. Meanwhile the poor who really only wanted to work a decent job with decent pay were stuck trying to swim rivers, cross hundreds of miles of desert, avoid posses and law enforcement, and/or try to scale the barrier. Many died, and, unfortunately, a lot of people think that was perfectly fine; they got what they deserved. That wall was there to protect us and not let in riff-raff, to their way of thinking.

Church walls can do the same thing. It can wall in ideas and attitudes while keeping the world at arm's length. Some have walls that serve to shelter graveyards and memorial gardens, and some have walls merely to decorate. What is important, though, is how wide is the entrance to the church and who is allowed to enter there?

Walls prevent people inside from interacting with those outside; that's part of their function. One side effect of this is that misunderstandings occur and often arguments or even wars begin. Each group is sure they are right and the other is wrong. Rather than having them come to blows over it, it's usually preferable to have both parties meet and talk, hopefully learning about the other and seeing the other as a part of humanity just as they are. What results are new trade agreements, mutual aid in time of trouble and even possible sharing of resources and information? The two parties don’t have to be identical in culture, belief or even appearance; they simply have to be willing to step outside their walls and meet the rest of the world fairly and respectfully.
This goes for the church as well. Where nations involve themselves in international dialogues, churches do theirs in interdenominational and even interfaith talks. It isn't about converting others to one particular belief system or denominational statement; it's about learning to live harmoniously with people who don't necessarily share the same POV or religious tenets. People could sit comfortably inside their church walls and never figuratively go outside of them, but that leads to a kind of flat faith, no matter how sincerely the belief system of that particular church (or parish or denomination) is held.

We live in a world populated with lots more people than just us. It seems like hubris to think we have all the answers and they have very few or even none. We've integrated beliefs and practices from other groups in the past, so it can be done. We should think about that next time we put up a Christmas tree. Meditation techniques from other spiritual paths can and are useful and used to increase the power and beneficence of our own personal and corporate Christian reflections. There are lots of possibilities for meeting on common ground but first we have to venture outside the walls and consent to be part of the conversations.

Jesus spent time in the walled towns and cities of the world in which he lived. He also spent time in the wilderness and in the small villages scattered about. He may have said to one woman that he had come for the Jews but that didn't stop him from changing his mind and helping her, a Syrophoenician woman, by healing her daughter. He didn't ignore the Samaritan woman, the Roman centurion, or the Gerasene demoniac, all of whom would have been considered outside the walls of conventional Judaism or even Judaism at all. Wasn't that interfaith dialog or was it the perfect example of it? Maybe that is stretching the point a bit, but the intent is what matters. If we never talk to the people around us, we never recognize them as our neighbors and allow them inside our walls and hearts where God has said they are supposed to be.

If nothing else, God is a God of diversity, the creator and sustainer of it. God's children come in many colors and sizes and cultures. If Jesus could cross what were thought to be solid cultural barriers-- like visiting Samaria, healing someone with connections to the hated Roman occupiers, call a collaborator to his side and speak and heal women of various cultures--then what does that say to us about staying in one place, sticking to our own community and family and insisting others do the same?

I have to venture outside to see what the world has to show me. I don't leave Jesus behind; he's got my back no matter what. But he has a lot of things to show me and a lot of maybe false information and belief to correct. I can't let him unless I open the gates to my walls or even tear them down. It's the only way. Really.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 10, 2014.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Staff of God

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out; fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. He said, ‘A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’ -- Exodus 17:1-16

Say the word "staff" and everybody usually thinks of the employees of a corporation or perhaps a group of officers in charge of administration. Watch Downton Abbey and you can see the staff trying to be unobtrusive while enabling the family upstairs to enjoy a pampered life. They are proud to be staff in a great house; it's a status thing. To be Chief of Staff indicates that a person is the head of a group of officers who assist in the administration of a company or an army. At one time Moses was driving himself crazy trying to do everything himself until his father-in-law, Jethro, told him to gather up a staff and delegate. It was a pretty good idea. Moses was much more efficient and a lot less tired at the end of the day, his routine tasks got done while he could spend time on the more difficult things, and he was raising up a new generation of leaders. It was a win-win thing.

There's another kind of staff, though, like the one mentioned in today's reading. This kind of staff was a tool common to many parts of the world and had a number of uses. It served as a walking stick to help one keep one's footing on rough terrain. Kings carried ornamental staffs to show their power and position. Shepherds had a staff to beat bushes to drive off snakes and predators or tap the flanks of sheep to urge them to move in a desired direction. Those staffs usually had a bend or hook in one end that could be used to lift lambs and sheep out of holes and crevices. Since Moses had  done a stint as a shepherd to his father-in-law's flocks, he had a sturdy staff at hand when he encountered a burning bush and the staff became more than just a chunk of wood.

A staff is only as good as the one guiding it. In Moses' case, God had a firm hand on it making it do a lot of things an ordinary staff in ordinary hands couldn't do. God turned it into a snake and just about gave Moses a coronary, but it taught Moses something: when God said to do something with the staff (or with Aaron's staff as well), it was going to be something important. In the first story of the reading, Moses had a problem with the Israelites. It's hard to blame them; it can't have been a lot of fun wandering around in a place with no restaurants, water fountains or other amenities around every corner. God told Moses to take his staff and go to a place and strike a rock on which God would be standing and there would be water. Moses did what he was told and the people had water to drink.

In the second story, Moses referred to his walking stick as the "staff of God." Standing on a hill overlooking a battle ground between Joshua and his soldiers against the Amalekites, when Moses raised his hand with the staff, the Israelites gained the upper hand in the struggle. When his hand got tired, though, and he lowered it with the staff in it, the Amalekite forces prevailed. The staff itself couldn't make Moses' hand untiring and steady, but it did seem to give renewed strength and power to the forces fighting below.

Sometimes God gives us a tool to use that we might not recognize as being there. It's probably not something physical like a wooden staff but it is something that is useful not just for us. Perhaps it is a skill or a talent or perhaps a passion for doing something that benefits us when we use it to benefit others. Sometimes a person is particularly called by God to a certain kind of mission and, in answering the call, becomes like the staff of God -- something or someone through whom God acts.
I think that even without the direct call, each of us has something within us that God can use as God did Moses' staff. We just have to wake up, realize it is there and utilize its potential.

We don't always need a staff to provide water for the thirsty. Look around. Where is a need that touches the heart? It doesn't matter that we are just individual people and, as individuals, we think we can't really make much of a difference. Look at Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or even the charitable works of someone like Bill Gates. One person can make a difference if they choose to act like the staff of God.

After all, "staff" isn't always a piece of wood; it is also an employee or support worker for a person or organization. God needs God's staff to bring about the kingdom and that staff is all of us.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, May 3, 2014.