Month: April 2021


In several previous posts, I’ve mentioned Reba, our service dog in training. Cathey and her friend Amy were Reba’s puppy co-raisers. They were given joint custody of Reba by Canine Companions for Independence.

CCI dogs are bred in Santa Rosa, California and at 8 weeks are shipped to volunteer puppy raisers all over the US. Reba arrived in Birmingham in November, 2018 with her litter mate Rudy, who also was raised in Alabama.

CCI has rigorous expectations for puppy raisers. The pups learn at least 30 commands and learn various social skills. In August, 2020, we delivered Reba to a CCI campus in Irving, Texas, for her to begin formal training. CCI dogs are placed at no charge to the recipient.

COVID-19 created some delays and changes in the “dog college” phase of the pups’ training. On April 28, Reba graduated with two other dogs, Junie and Savannah. All three CCI dogs have been placed as “facility dogs” with the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, TX.

Reba will be working in an oncology/hematology unit to comfort, encourage and motivate inpatient children. Her two classmates will be working with patients in an intensive care unit and with an outpatient oncology unit. These are the first CCI dogs placed at the Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin.

Beyond the tribe

The “big themes” in the preceding three posts (justice, universality and inclusivity) are practical ways to live into faith in its most mature expression. These themes help me experience liberation from my ego, from my tribal identities, and from underestimating the transforming power of the Universe. Here’s a mind check:

  • Has anger, guilt or grievance shaped my view of justice? Am I tempted to “keep score?” If so, on what basis? Can I get past my ego to a sense of justice and a practice of justice that is truly “blind,” or outside myself?
  • What is my most powerful tribal identity? Family; neighborhood, state or region; race; ethnic sub-group; nationality; gender; religion; political party; vocation; sports affiliation; hobby or recreation colleagues; or age group? Do any of my tribal allegiances keep me from being “a citizen of the universe?”
  • Has my comfort with the familiar kept me from participating in the healing power of transformation and the adventure of new life and growth?
From “Why Toxic Tribalism Is Destroying Our Society & What To Do About It,” by Zaid K. Dahhaj, Medium, February 18, 2018


Inclusivity is another big theme that I’ve decided to more fully embrace. Claude Whitehead (1918-2005) was a friend, colleague and mentor. We became co-workers when he was 58 and I was 25. He was beginning to enter an amazingly expansive stage of intense contemplation and activism.

As he moved into his early 60s, one day he said to me that some expressions of Christianity had become too insular for his comfort. He was gleaning insights and practices from a broader diversity of Christians, as well as from other religious (and indigenous) traditions. He was a life-long learner.

When I first met Claude, he was strongly partisan about many things. As he moved into what Richard Rohr calls the “second half of life,” Claude saw that exclusivity (i.e., “my way is the right way”) is a futile attempt to cling to a worldly illusion–be it about religion, politics, or any other endeavor.

I watched Claude become more inclusive and more gracious. He saw that inclusivity (i.e., unwavering respect for the other, in spite of differences) is a liberating “letting go” in order to receive a larger, in-breaking reality born of mature faith, or what Erik Erikson called “generativity” and “integrity.”

I learned about Erikson’s stages of development in the classroom. Then, I saw Claude move into and through the final two stages. He, and those around him, enjoyed his contagious journey into generativity, integrity and inclusivity. I want to be like Claude when I grow up.

From “Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development,” by Kendra Cherry and Reviewed by David Susman,, June 26, 2020


A key biblical insight is that the Divine is beyond any name. As a young adult, John Lewis was compelled to engage injustice via nonviolence, driven by what he called “the Spirit of History.”

As an old adult, I am compelled to keep growing, to embrace large themes. I see this growth as an experience of transcendence. For example, I’m thankful to be an American citizen, but I’m part of something much bigger.

This theme has been part of me at least since 1984, when I heard Edwin Moses say after the closing ceremony of the Olympics: “I just feel like I’m a citizen of the Universe right now.” I call this large theme universality.

I see growth as movement from the parochial to the universal. It means choosing science over superstition, building bridges between people rather than building walls of separation, and moving toward universal ideals rather than personal preference.

Universality is expressed through compassionate engagement, a kinship (“connecting the dots”) with all creation, and welcoming a timeless Reality that Charles Wesley called “pure, universal Love.”

Edwin Moses in a Moroccan fez, interviewed by Donna de Verona, ABC Sports, via YouTube


I’m grateful for all who listen with their hearts and share from their hearts. Life can be overwhelming. COVID ravishes India, gun violence grows, dangers abound in Ukraine, Syria, and other hotspots. Our challenge is to avoid paralysis and to ethically engage as people who have agency.

My world keeps getting reshaped by some big themes, like agency (I can do something); suffrage (it is a right), ecology (being a friend of the earth), healing (proactive, common sense mitigation of a pandemic), nonviolence (making peace within and as a peacemaker), and justice.

In Washington, hope is dashed as often as it is kindled, but I’m encouraged by Senator Tim Scott’s efforts to generate support within the GOP for meaningful criminal justice reform.

Last night’s Sixty Minutes featured Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. I was impressed with his clear understanding of the art and practice of justice. Two key prosecutors in the Floyd case were volunteers recruited pro bono from law firms–something they did for the country, and for justice.

From Ellison: “The state doesn’t seek revenge, just accountability.”

The Prosecutors,” interviewed by Scott Pelley on Sixty Minutes, CBS, April 25, 2021

Voting rights

The first US voters generally were white male landowners. Over time, the right to vote has become more universal for US adult citizens.

Each state determines its voting rules and procedures, with some rights guaranteed by the federal government. I first learned about federal oversight through the desegregation of public schools. After eight years in all white schools, my 9th grade class was integrated in the fall of 1965 (eleven years after Brown v. Board of Education). Racial barriers to voting fell more rapidly, beginning with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

A recent law passed by the Georgia legislature has put voting rights back in the national spotlight. People have been quick to take sides. Corporations and Major League Baseball have weighed in. The issues are more nuanced than the headlines indicate. Stacey Abrams’ responses to Senator John Kennedy provided cool-headed clarity around some of those nuances.

In the article referenced below, Stephen Fowler, a very respected reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting, explained the lengthy Georgia law in ordinary language. His objective analysis goes beyond the partisan headlines.

From “What Does Georgia’s New Voting Law SB 202 Do?” by Stephen Fowler, March 27, 2021, Georgia Public Broadcasting

Leadership matters

David Leonhardt wrote a thoughtful essay in yesterday’s New York Times about “China and the Climate.” In the 1990s, a Chinese chemist named Gao Jifan received a newspaper clipping from a friend living in the US. It was about President Bill Clinton’s plan to outfit one million homes with solar power. Gao was inspired. He started Trina Solar. He’s now a billionaire.

Gao has been puzzled by the radical shifts in US energy policy in recent years. Leonhardt wrote that “some congressional Republicans have been asking this week, why should the US act to slow climate change unless other countries do so first?” Beneath the ideological headlines, there are nuances–and opportunities for productive compromise.

Leonhardt makes the case for strong US climate leadership. I welcome that leadership. As Trumpian policies are reversed, the difficult task is to re-learn the art of compromise. The Hill published an essay by Quill Robinson that outlines the GOP’s “commonsense climate plan.” I’m trying to get beneath the partisan headlines.

Tomorrow: The search for voting rights consensus amid partisan heat.

From “China and the Climate,” by David Leonhardt, New York Times, April 23, 2021 (linked above)

Pack it out

“No trace ethic” is a way of life shared by hikers and backpackers. This ethic has been challenged by an increasing number of visitors to our parks and forests during the pandemic.

The USDA Forest Service has developed “no trace” guidelines to aid in the protection of back-country and wilderness areas to better protect the land and lessen the sights and sounds of our visits.

A rule of thumb is “pack it in, pack it out.” If you take something into a park or forest, be prepared to take it out. When “ecology” entered our vocabulary we learned there is no place called away, so “throw it away” no longer applies.

This year on Earth Day I wondered if there’s a Mars Day. Google didn’t know, but referred me to “Travel to Mars on Earth Day,” a virtual event led by two Mars astrogeologists (not to be confused with Martian astrogeologists.)

Did NASA make provisions for “packing out” the Curiosity and Perseverance missions to Mars. Has the “no trace ethic” been extended to our neighbor planet? In time, perhaps we can send a clean up crew to pack it out.

From “Travel to Mars on Earth Day,” American Association of Petroleum Geologists


Sometimes I think our country should have it more together. Then, I remind myself that we’re not that far removed from the 1965 Selma march, or the peak of the KKK in the mid-1920s, or even the end of the Civil War in 1865. When a society digs a deep hole like slavery, it takes awhile to climb out.

Sometimes I think I should have it more together. By age 70, I expected to be wise, mature, and brimming with self-actualization. I now know that Charlie Brown and Lucy were adults, not kids. I remind myself that I’m not that far removed from young adulthood, adolescence or even childhood.

I think I’m beginning to see what maturity might be like. I believe that maturity is, in part, moving beyond monolithic, dualistic, us-versus-them attitudes. John Lewis was more mature at 20 than I am at 70. That’s my key takeaway after the first four chapters of Jon Meacham’s latest book. It was sobering.

Reading about Lewis has given me hope that one day former peace officer Derek Chauvin and George Floyd’s family will work together–and inspire others to work together–for healing, reconciliation and justice. After Lewis was beat up at the Rock Hill, South Carolina bus station in 1961:

Lewis struggled to his feet, “woozy and feeling stabs of sharp pain above both eyes and in my ribs. My lower lip was bleeding pretty heavily.” He … declined to press charges. “We’re not here to cause trouble,” Lewis told the police. “We’re here so that people will love each other.” … “No child is born in hate,” Lewis recalled. “All children are born in hope, love, and innocence. It is a troubled world that teaches these vicious values.” …

Lewis needed a doctor, but he refused to leave the station before having a cup of coffee in the now integrated cafe.

From “What South Africa can teach the US about racial justice and reconciliation,” The World by Public Radio International, June 11, 2020


Walter Mondale (1928-2021) was ambitious without being self-centered. Jeffrey Roth’s documentary, “Presidents in Waiting” (aired on CNN in December) made it clear that Mondale reshaped the vice presidency.

Mondale had a great sense of humor. When he, as vice president, read the electoral college results in the 1980 landslide loss to Ronald Reagan, he laughed and smiled broadly–and received a standing ovation.

From a thorough article about him at the U.S. Senate website:

… he was uncomfortable speaking on television, unable to adopt the more relaxed and natural style that medium favored. Balancing these shortcomings were Mondale’s natural decency and seriousness. “The thing that is most evident about Mondale,” Hubert Humphrey once observed, “is that he’s nonabrasive. He is not a polarizer.”

Mondale found the road to the nomination tortuous and unendurable. … The time required to campaign kept a candidate away from his family, his job, and his rest. … On November 21, 1974, he surprised everyone by announcing his withdrawal from the race. Many lamented his decision as a sign that only someone “single-mindedly obsessed” with pursuing the presidency could achieve it.

From “Walter Mondale remembered for decency, sweep of accomplishments,” by Patrick Condon and Hunter Woodall, Star Tribune, April 19, 2021