Archive | October 2015

We Are All Blind, In Some Way

Mark 10:46-52

There was a blind man called Bartimaeus, who lived in Jericho. According to Jewish law at the time, blind people held a special position; he was cared for and there was nothing he was required to do. His fellow citizens had a religious duty to give alms, and that meant he would receive at least some money to live on. He couldn’t work and so he wasn’t expected to. His religious duties would have been very limited by his blindness. He could spend his days by the roadside — always first with the latest news, always able to call out to passersby for alms, always able to feign further disability if someone tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. Bartimaeus was certainly used to being blind, and he may have found some advantages in his condition. His blindness would not have been an easy thing to give up. I wonder if that darkness had not become so familiar to him, taken for granted, and even comforting. I wonder how much he had adopted the identity of “blind Bartimaeus,” and how much his blindness had become a part of his self-understanding. He had gotten used to this way of life. Did he really want to give it up?

And yet, one day, he did give it up. Mark tells us that Jesus was already on the road to Jerusalem, with not only His disciples but a large crowd of people following Him. Bartimaeus was sitting by the road outside Jericho when he heard many people approaching in the distance. He must have grabbed at the hem of a passerby to find out who was coming. When he learned a famous healer and holy man was approaching, did he struggle within himself, wondering if he dared ask for help? Wondering if he wanted to ask for help? Was he afraid that he might receive sight if he asked for it? Was he afraid he might not?

He must have been agonizing over his dilemma when he heard Jesus Himself approaching. And yet he cried out at once,

    “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)

Even when the crowd and the disciples tried to silence him, he shouted even louder,

    “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48)

To his surprise, perhaps to his terror, some people came and told him Jesus had asked them to bring him to Him. Bartimaeus threw off his cloak before he leaped to his feet, and ran to Jesus. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, Bartimaeus answered,

    “Rabbi, I want to see.” (Mark 10:51)

He chose sight over blindness. And in the next instant, he could see. He was blind no more. Jesus had healed him.

Imagine being able to see after so many years of being blind. . . what a wonderful thing.

Because Bartimaeus had so much faith in Jesus, he was healed of his blindness. And in gratitude, he joined the crowds that were following Jesus.

We can marvel at the grace of God, healing a poor blind beggar. But the grace was not just in the healing, in the granting of sight to one who was blind. No, the grace was first in the longing for sight, of hoping that Jesus could heal him, of renouncing his comfortable life as a blind man.

And what about us?

How are we blind?

Blindness does not have to mean not being able to see through our eyes.

We could be blind in our HEART, not feeling compassion for our fellow people.

We could be blind in the HEAD, not thinking of anyone but ourselves, not caring about how what we do affects others.

We could be blind in our BEING, not wanting to make a scene, following along with the masses without thinking about our own hopes and dreams – not thinking about who might be hurt.

We could be blind in our SPIRIT, not seeking and knowing the love of God. Not learning from the teachings of Jesus. . . cold-hearted and unfeeling toward ourselves and our community.

Not knowing who Jesus is, what he really means to us, we are groping for faith and hope and peace, yet afraid of the changes it might make in our lives.

But each and every day we have the opportunity to lose our blindness. We have the opportunity to accept the grace of God that will allow us to see the world with open eyes; see the worth of each individual person and the beauty of this earth – seeing everything through Jesus’ eyes.

If we’re not seeing individuals and situations with different, loving eyes, we’re really not following Jesus, like Bartimaeus did. We need to open our eyes, see our brothers and sisters as family, and open our hearts to God’s love.

May God grant us the grace to seek sight, and the courage to be blind no more.


Delivered to In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 25 October 2015

Here are Ohio’s options to address execution-drug shortage

The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. State officials have been engaged in a years-long odyssey to find execution drugs that are both available and likely to be upheld in court. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. State officials have been engaged in a years-long odyssey to find execution drugs that are both available and likely to be upheld in court. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

When it comes to executions, Ohio is in a bind.

The state has put all executions on hold for nearly two years as state officials look for a lethal-injection drug that’s both available and isn’t likely to be thrown out by a court as cruel and unusual punishment.

Earlier this week, Gov. John Kasich pushed back resuming executions another year, to 2017, to give officials more time.

Ohio ran out of its usual lethal-injection drugs two years ago because European pharmaceutical companies blocked further sales on moral and legal grounds. Since then, state officials have tried a number of tactics, all of which have run into obstacles.

First, they tried switching to a previously untried lethal-injection cocktail using drugs commonly found in hospitals. But the first – and only – time it was used, killer Dennis McGuire controversially took 25 minutes to die. When other states used the same drugs, they encountered even more grisly results.

Then, state lawmakers passed a secrecy law to encourage small-scale drug manufacturers called compounding pharmacies to make lethal-injection drugs for the state. But so far, none have been willing.

The state’s prison agency then looked to buy drugs from overseas, only to be told by the feds that it would be illegal.

Now, some state legislators say Ohio should consider going back to hangings, firing squads, or the electric chair.

“It comes down to: how much do Ohio’s legislators want to kill prisoners?” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

So what does Ohio do now? Here are the state’s options:

1) Continue the current search
There’s no shortage of the two lethal-injection drugs Ohio is looking to use – either pentobarbital or sodium thiopental. The problem is finding someone willing to sell them to Ohio for use in executions.

State officials could find a compounding pharmacy willing to make doses of the drugs, though so far all such companies in Ohio have refused on ethical grounds or fears they would be identified and stigmatized.

Or they could find a way to obtain the drugs from other countries, despite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s warning that it would violate federal law. Before a federal court ordered the FDA to monitor and block imports of execution drugs, Nebraska illegally bought 300 doses worth of sodium thiopental from India, though state lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty before any could be used.

Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told Buzzfeed that her agency has not communicated with Nebraska’s supplier, HarrisPharma, though she wouldn’t say if state officials purchased drugs directly or indirectly from the company or its owner. Smith didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking to confirm Buzzfeed’s story.

In a letter to the FDA earlier this month, the Ohio prison agency’s General Counsel Stephen Gray wrote that “it would be lawful and permissible” for Ohio to import execution drugs, as long as the seller registers with the FDA, notifies the FDA that it is selling the drugs in the U.S., doesn’t mislabel or adulterate the drug, and allows federal officials to inspect the shipment.

“Ohio has no intention of breaking any federal laws or violating any court orders in an attempt to procure the legal drugs necessary to carry out constitutionally approved and court-ordered death sentences,” Gray stated.

The prisons department has consistently declined to provide details about how its search is going. “As long as execution via lethal injection remains the law of Ohio and the Ohio Supreme Court continues to schedule execution dates, we will continue to seek to carry out our solemn duty,” Director Gary Mohr said in a statement.

Texas has been able to procure pentobarbital, though under a state execution secrecy law, it doesn’t have to say where it got the drug. State officials claim they bought the drug from a compounding pharmacy, though a lawyer for a condemned Oklahoma inmate alleged that Texas made the drug itself.

Texas has also admitted to sending three vials of pentobarbital to Virginia for executions.

2) Pick different lethal-injection drugs
Another option for Ohio is to keep lethal injection but find different drugs to use.

For example, it could look to get barbiturates such as thiamylal, methohexital. secobarbital, or phenobarbital.

Ohio also has the option of turning back to the drugs it used to execute Dennis McGuire in 2014: midazolam and hydromorphone. But while the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that midzolam is constitutional, its use in controversial executions in Ohio, Arizona, and Oklahoma makes it unlikely that it will be brought back in the Buckeye State.

But Dunham said if Ohio officials choose this path, they’ll still have to find someone willing to sell to do business with them. While Ohio was able to purchase new drugs for McGuire’s execution, Dunham said the media coverage about his death and other controversial executions has made drug makers far more wary about selling substances that could be used to kill people.

3) Change execution methods
Ohio lawmakers are now talking about dropping lethal injection altogether and reviving execution methods such as the electric chair and hangings.

“We’ve got plenty of electric and plenty of rope,” state Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, told the Associated Press.

Senate President Keith Faber, a Mercer County Republican, told reporters Wednesday that “If we can’t get the drugs that our [execution] protocol calls for, either we need to change our protocols or we need to think about other solutions.

“And there are a lot of people out there talking about other solutions. I’ve heard everything from using heroin to using nitrogen to going back to the electric chair,” Faber continued. “That’s a debate that probably we need to have.”

Ohio lawmakers so far haven’t taken any steps to move away from lethal injection other than set up a committee to study the issue. But other states have already taken steps to use different execution methods if they can’t find lethal-injection drugs.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma adopted the gas chamber as its backup execution method. Firing squads and the electric chair are now potential options in Utah and Tennessee, respectively.

Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman said while many state lawmakers talk big about the need to put heinous criminals to death, they’ve done an inadequate job of turning such feelings into workable policies.

“I think the General Assembly is rightly to be faulted for leaving us in this kind of state of limbo,” Berman said. “If they really have the courage of their death-penalty convictions, they ought to be willing to have a conversation about other ways for the state to kill people that they’ve condemned to death.”

But Seitz told Northeast Ohio Media Group that state prison officials didn’t tell lawmakers beforehand that they were encountering problems finding execution drugs and needed to delay resuming executions until 2017.

“We showed last year in December that we’re willing to do what they reasonably request in order to facilitate the administration of the death penalty,” said Seitz, referring to the execution secrecy law that legislators passed. “We make the laws, and we’d like to see the laws enforced.”

4) Abolish the death penalty
Though it’s unlikely that the conservative-dominated Ohio General Assembly will abolish capital punishment altogether, Berman said Ohio’s execution woes may embolden death-penalty opponents in the state to take action.

Some Ohio lawmakers – mostly Democrats – have introduced a number of bills in recent years to abolish the state’s death penalty. But none of them have gone anywhere, as legislative supporters say capital punishment acts as a deterrent and offer justice and closure to victims and their loved ones.

Despite the long odds, one ray of hope for death-penalty opponents is that an increasing number of conservative states around the country are opposing capital punishment, saying such a stance is consistent with their pro-life, anti-big-government philosophy.

In May, the GOP-controlled Nebraska Legislature voted to abolish that state’s death penalty, though a statewide referendum will now be held next year on whether to overturn that decision.


By Jeremy Pelzer, Northeast Ohio Media Group, on October 22, 2015 at 12:25 PM, updated October 22, 2015 at 10:00 PM
Here are Ohio’s options to address its execution-drug shortage

Traveling Together

Last week I talked to you about how we are all like geese; that by traveling together, we can make more progress and help each other, that we make the most progress in life if we travel together, taking turns in leadership, and lightening the load by flying together, and staying with each other.

Today, I would like to talk a little bit more about how we can continue to travel together and lighten each other’s load.

Albert Einstein once said:

    “Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.”*

All of us have a lot of emotional and psychological baggage that we carry around with us each day; stuff we inherited from our families and yet more baggage that we have added as we moved through life. The ‘baggage’ may be our own fears, disappointments, anger, prejudices, addictions – things that have been a part of us for so long that we don’t realize how they drag us down and negatively affect us every day.

We need to let go of that baggage so that our life’s journey will be more beautiful and less burdened. An old saying is that if you want to travel fast, travel alone, but if you want to travel far, travel in a community. If you remember from last week, a gaggle of geese can travel 71% further if they are flying together.

And if we want to really enjoy the travel – our life’s journey – we not only should travel in a community, but also take the time to smell the roses, enjoy the view, make new friends, find new loves, and have faith in ourselves.

But traveling together, that is getting involved with and committed to each other, has some risks. We may fear

    • that there may not be enough food, or rooms, or beds, or coats, or jobs, or attention for all of us (will there only be enough loaves and fishes to feed 4,999 instead of 5000, as Jesus did in Matthew 14:13-21);
    • that those we are traveling with may not like us;
    • that we are too fat, or too skinny, or too old, or not pretty or handsome enough;
    • that we have different opinions than the others;
    • that someone will find out our ‘secrets’ – our hidden past or deepest shame;
    • that we do not deserve to join the travelers – we are not ‘worthy’;
    • that we will meet someone we trust and love and they will desert us.

All these fears drag us down and keep us from enjoying, not only the journey, but the people who are traveling with us. It’s as if we have a 50-pound knapsack on our backs, bending us down so that all we see is the ground, never the beautiful blue sky with its white fluffy clouds.

When we get rid of our fears we can travel more lightly; we discover that there is indeed enough for all of us, that life is better when we laugh more often, and share one another’s disappointments and joys, and our tears are not so painful when shared. We learn that most people are basically good and want the best for each other; we learn from one another and grow spiritually as we live with shared love, responsibility and involvement with others.

No one has to go it alone; we are all here to pick each other up when we fall, hug each other when we are hurting, prop each other up when we are unsteady, become a community, a village, where everyone is special and loved. . . loved by each other and, more importantly, loved by God.

Jesus did not travel alone; he travelled with a mishmash of farmers and fishermen and tax collectors – a motley crew at best. But those ordinary people were who He chose to carry on His mission. . . ordinary people – just like you and me. And over 2000 years later, His teachings and examples of love still exist in the world.

We are all parts of a greater thing, a piece of a large pie called humanity. Each one of us is a lovely little swatch of colorful cloth that is being woven into a beautiful quilt. We cannot complete the quilt without each and every piece – each swatch makes the quilt more beautiful. We need to travel together.

In a way, In The Garden is a very good examples of this ‘cloth of life’. Each of us who come to In The Garden is an integral part of the community; each one of us contributes the best we have when we come together. We bring our pains and sorrows, our joys and happiness to share with each other. We come with our own thoughts and hopes and fears, but it is hoped that we leave a little better for having been with each other. . . we have been a community traveling on separate, but common journey through life. It is being a member of In The Garden that allows each of us to shed the old ‘stuff’ and move forward, lighter and happier.

So, let us keep traveling together, loving each other, noticing and praising the beauty of the earth, the special and unique needs of each one of us, and supporting one another’s journey. Above and around it all, let us always carry with us the knowledge of the love of God; remembering that through Him we know that we are loved and have everything we need to make our journey.

For did not Jesus tell us:

    “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:25)

    “And why do you worry about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28)

    “Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

Thanks be to God that we are His beloved children and He will take care of us.

*Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies

NOTE: inspired by Becca Stevens, Letters from the Farm, Morehouse Publishing, New York, 2015
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 18 October 2015

Let’s Drop the ‘Us vs. Them”

Although we still have four months until the presidential politicking ‘officially’ gets started with the New Hampshire primary, we are already seeing a growing disparity of opinion and a predominance of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. It often appears that those candidates and supporters who frequently proclaim themselves ‘Christians’, are also the loudest factions displaying argumentative and adversarial behavior. Civil discourse in the public arena is too often not ‘civil’; it has become a shouting match, each faction calling the other derogatory names and demeaning one other.

While we acknowledge that for those whose faith is important and a core of who they are, their actions are driven by their beliefs. Yet, it seems that those who proclaim their religion repeatedly are also the ones who are most suspicious of anyone who disagrees with them. They are intolerant and negative about any ethnicity, skin color, social or financial position or political leanings that do not mirror their own. They see the public as easily-labeled groups or factions each of whom represents ‘the others’ or ‘them’. If one studies the teachings of Jesus, this tendency to emphasize the differences in people is contrary to everything He taught us. One could say that turning others into ‘thems’ is the complete opposite of the core message of the Christian faith.

    ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:39)

Somehow, in this time of political and social polarization, both sides seem to have forgotten this second Great Commandment from Jesus. They display a lack of caring about the stranger, the brother, the sister, the mother, the father, the children, the unborn that do not join lockstep in their political philosophy. Rather than rejoice in any commonalities, both physical and emotional, that all human beings share, they emphasize differences, no matter how small.

Have we forgotten that we are all created in the image of God?

    So God created humankind in his own image; in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27),

and we are all beloved by God?

    “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4)

We have to hope that all people want to do the right thing, and that most people strive to do the right thing. Yet, when people begin to believe that what is good for all of us (healthcare, public education, food security, job security, affordable housing) is in fact sinister, and only approve of things that are good for ‘them’ and their perceived group, we have come a long way from the teachings of Jesus. There becomes a gap between how we live our daily lives and how we talk about our common life.

After at least three decades of this ‘us vs. them’ mentality, there is extreme stress on our democracy. Legislatures at both the state and federal level are non-productive, seemingly going out of their way to make sure that either nothing is accomplished or that laws are passed that marginalize and limit the inclusion of everyone in our society. This has left the American people feeling that they are lost and ‘no one is minding the store’. Daily we are bombarded by alarming events in the global economy, endless wars that no one really wanted, famine and misery for millions, racial and legal injustices, and great income disparity. Levers of government and social action are paralyzed. There seems to be no one who is willing to stretch out their hand and try to work together for the common good of us all.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. . . we, as individuals, and collectively, as followers of Jesus can and need to change this.

There is no actual ‘us vs. them’. This is a fiction created by organizations with a narrow self-interest to put roadblocks in the functioning of our society. All political parties, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, and tea party-er share the blame. If we are to be the United States of America – people living and striving to maintain a nation where all people are created equal, where all have the same rights, and all can pursue life, liberty and happiness, ‘us vs. them’ mentality must be exchanged for ‘all for one and one for all’!

It is time for those of us who follow Jesus to stop this madness of ‘us vs. them’. We must work to overcome the prejudice and animosity rampant in our lives that is dividing our country. We must talk civilly with each other, listen to disparate opinions, use compromise and common sense to develop consensus in a loving and Christ-like way.

The next time we think about ‘them’, we must remember the many ways we are alike as human beings; we must realize we share the same hopes, dreams, fears and yearnings. Look for the similarities, not the differences. Have a conversation to build understanding and you’ll will probably find that you are not so different from us.

We must begin. . .

    we must start the conversation.

If WE don’t do it, who will?
Written for The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH, 19 October 2015

We Are Like Geese

Fall is here – you can see the leaves turning and there is a nip in the air. But I also know Fall is here because I have seen. . . and heard the honking of a gaggle of Canadian geese beginning their migration south.

I am sure most of you have noticed that Canadian geese fly in a ‘V’ formation. And in fact, when I was recently in Ottawa, Canada, I noticed that they also swim in a ‘V’ formation. It is amazing thing to see a large number of geese flying across the skies in their formation, honking as they fly. As each of the geese flaps its wings, it creates an air lift for those geese flying behind them. In fact, this allows the entire group to fly 71% farther than if they were flying alone.

If a goose is not paying attention and falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position to lead the group. The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to earth to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. They fly, one behind the other, switching the lead so that they can create an air lift that allows them to fly further. If they can’t find their original group, they are welcomed to join any other gaggle that comes along.

Supporting each other and working together allows Canadian geese to travel between 400 to 500 miles, averaging about 55 miles per hour 12 hours a day, to get to warmer climates for the winter.

Now, you may be wondering why I have been talking about Canadian geese. In my mind, we, the people of In The Garden, are like those Canadian geese. We are a community, people working together to make progress and support each other.

Saint Paul said, in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:

    Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.

So, how are we like Canadian geese?

  • People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
  • In the Garden is a community where we care about each other, are a community, and support and encourage each other in our life journey.

  • Geese stay in formation with those headed where they want to go.
  • By coming on Sunday, we maintain and build our little community in the love of God, building relationships and experiencing fellowship. We are willing to accept each other’s help and give our help to each other.

  • Geese take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. Leading the gaggle is a difficult and tiring job for the leader. So, when tired, the leader drops back into the group and another goose takes the lead. Each one is dependent on the one in front.
  • As with geese, our community is interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources. We need and have people who help us worship, provide the food, and set-up and clean up each Sunday. We cannot do it by ourselves.

  • Geese honk as they fly, encouraging those in front to keep up the speed.
  • In groups like In The Garden, encouragement builds a better and more loving community. The Praising those who celebrate periods of sobriety or acquiring housing give encouragement to those who are still on their own journeys. Caring for those who are pained or suffering also provides a community that really cares about its members.

  • Geese stand by each other in difficult times, never abandoning a member until death.
  • Canadian geese mate for life, never abandoning their mate until death. And each member of the gaggle supports every other member. Just like these geese, the Core Team and the volunteers are always here for the In The Garden community.

We are very blessed to have a wonderful group of people who come to In The Garden; you have built a community that enriches us all. May we continue to meet, and pray, and eat together as children of God.

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH, 11 October 2015