Sunday, August 31, 2014


          The new school year is underway, and for the second morning in a row, our 15 year-old son, Mateo, is in a glum mood. Muttering in monosyllables and casting dark shadows around the house, he rushes out the door, impatient with his slowpoke parents. Despite feeling somewhat disgruntled about being back in school, he's still in a hurry to arrive there an hour before the bell rings, so he can visit with friends, and we're simply not moving fast enough for his taste.

            When he and Zet finally drive off, I find myself feeling angry and frustrated with Mateo's behavior as I head out for my daily walk through the neighborhood. I don't want to deny the depth of these feelings, but don't want to stay stuck there either, so I decide to amp up my workout. Interspersing the walking route with some lung-challenging, heart-pounding stretches of 100-yard wind sprints, I feel my mood shifting, and the clouds start lifting from around my heart.
            Heading back to the house, I encounter a brown and white striped feather lying on the driveway, a few feet from our front door. Preoccupied with my thoughts, I walk right by at first, giving it just a cursory glance. But then my brain slowly registers it as being a wing feather from one of the red-tail hawks that I vaguely noticed circling our neighbor's yard earlier. It demands attention.

            I return to the spot and stand still, mesmerized by the sight of this small, slender gift from the hawk, and from Spirit.  Taking a deep breath and feeling the full distance this plume fell, from the clear blue sky overhead to the dry, brown, drought-stricken grass where the feather lies nestled at my feet now, I stoop down to pick it up and examine it more closely. 
            "Step up higher," it seems to say to my soul. "Shift your vision. Take time to see your life from a higher, wider, larger perspective. Remember that no one or no thing can control your thoughts or actions. Take time to feel gratitude, not just for this feather, but for life itself. And for the love of your wife, son, family, community - and the many opportunities they all present for you to learn, to grow...."

            After thirty years of meditation, contemplation and spiritual education, I'm still not certain about the exact nature of this voice I'm hearing. And I don't know where this feeling comes from. But I do know enough to pay heed to the advice. To let go of my need to be "right" about my opinions of Mateo's behavior, or anything else. So that's what I do, to the best of my ability, with as much humility as I can muster
            Back in the house, I place the feather on my altar and offer a brief, silent prayer of gratitude. Then it's time to begin washing dishes and start tackling the things on my To Do list for the day, but at least I'm feeling much more at peace than I had been a few minutes earlier.  And, at least  for now, that's good enough for me...

With gratitude and blessings,

Saturday, August 23, 2014


          I lost track of the exact count a while ago, but I've officiated more than two hundred wedding ceremonies over the years. They've varied from fancy, formal affairs in big churches and posh country clubs to more casual gatherings in backyard patios, riverbanks, city parks and botanical gardens. The locations have ranged from a community center in Mexico City to a desert mountain ridge in Arizona, an island beach off the coast of Florida to a forest retreat in Georgia and an ancient, moss-covered chapel in the South of England. Some followed a relatively traditional format, a few were highly unusual, most were somewhere in the middle.

            What each event had in common was that the couples getting married want to create an inclusive and inter-faith tone for their special day. Maybe the bride's parents are Methodist, the groom's parents are Catholic, grandma is a Fundamentalist, an uncle is Buddhist and the couple is spiritually inclined, but not religious. Or maybe the groom is Lutheran and the bride is Wiccan, and neither one knows how to address their faith in front of their loved ones.
            The details differ widely, but the underlying dynamic usually involves the desire for wedding ceremony where everyone in attendance feels welcomed and included in the ritual, regardless of their faith background. So, having experienced or heard of my inter-faith work in the Celebration Circle, they come seeking support in creating such an event.

            The first few times this happened, I really struggled with the seemingly conflicting social demands and theological underpinnings of such wedding rituals. Fortunately, my good friend, mentor and retired minister, Dr. Les Pugh, gave me some great advice on the matter. He said that it is my job to focus on the Love that we had all gathered to celebrate by using inclusive language, and then allow everyone present to see/hear the proceedings through the filters of their own spiritual understanding and life experiences.
            Twenty-three years and many weddings later, Dr. Pugh's advice remains spot on. This was really brought home to me at one particularly memorable wedding, set in a beautiful Protestant church, followed by a lavish reception in an art museum. After dinner, a smartly dressed, middle-aged woman sidled up to me and said, "That was a wonderful ceremony, Pastor. I don't know how you got my New-Age hippie niece to agree to such a lovely Christian wedding!"
            A little while later, one of the groom's cousins pulled me aside and said, "Good job, man. It's amazing that you were able to get a Pagan ritual past all these Christians." Then as I was leaving, another elderly lady marched up to me and said, "I hope you won't take this the wrong way, sir, but I'm a life-long atheist, and I've always dreaded having to go to weddings and hear the preacher go on and on about God. But I must say, yours was the least-offensive wedding I've even been to."  

            Not only did that experience leave me grinning from ear to ear, it was also a heart-warming affirmation of the power of this interfaith path I've been traveling personally and professionally for so many years.
            Whether officiating a wedding, conducting a funeral, performing in concert or leading this week's Sunday Morning Circle, I always do my best to follow Dr. Pugh's advice. The people, places and details about the gatherings may change, but I believe our common desires remains essentially the same: to experience the Love we feel and long to express. The way I see it, that's my story, that's my job, and that's my purpose - and I'm sticking to it.

With blessings,

** And, here's something new, with special thanks to Penny Malone, our volunteer webmaster for many years, connect with Celebration Circle for some past Reflections and more on Blogger & Google Plus!

Saturday, August 16, 2014


  I'm still beaming in the afterglow of last Sunday's amazing success of two Celebration Circles taking place simultaneously in Austin (where I co-hosted a well-received, first Sunday Circle at the Toltec Center for Creative Intent with HeatherAsh Amara) and San Antonio (where Zet and our guest speaker, Hal Robinson, wove a very powerful gathering before a full house at the SA Garden Center).
         In the midst of another action-packed week, I'm also busy preparing for a special gig this Saturday night from 8:30-11pm at the Olmos Pharmacy. I'll be working with Rudi and The Rudiments (Kevin Lewis, bass; Kiko Guerrero, drums) to deliver an eclectic mix of original songs, improvised tunes and off-beat covers from the 60's-70's, all delivered with a folk-rock-rhumba-reggae twist. (The Pharmacy is a fun place located at the corner of Hildebrand and McCullough, with a relaxed atmosphere, lots of free parking and no cover charge. I hope you'll consider coming out to have fun, listen and help us spread the Circle vibe. For directions and details,
         So, I took the week off from writing a new column in this space, by re-visiting a piece I wrote a few summers ago, with the intention of reminding myself (and maybe you, too) of the wisdom of taking things at little easier at this time of year...


           It's another hot summer day; the humid heat hangs heavy over the sweaty city of Sauna Antonio. There's no breeze, and nothing seems to be stirring in the yard, as far as I can see. Apparently, the birds, bees, dogs, frogs and lizards alike know better than to make any extraneous movements, hiding beneath whatever scraps of shade they can find and conserving their energy for later in the day.
           Only we humans tend to act as if we're oblivious to the messages that Mother Earth is sending us at this time of year. Instead of slowing down, we simply turn up the AC, drink another glass of iced tea and zoom off to the next activity.

           But the circumstances of my life demand that I temporarily surrender to the gentle downward-pull of gravity, so I decide to lie down, take a short nap and recharge my batteries. While drifting off into reverie, an old story of unknown origin comes tiptoeing through my memory: 
           A successful young businessman was driving his shiny new, BMW through a residential neighborhood where parked cars lined the shady streets. In a hurry, driving a little too fast he was shocked to see a big rock came flying from the direction of the sidewalk and hit  his car door with a loud thud. 
           He slammed on the brakes and zoomed back to where the rock came from. Seeing a young boy looking him straight in the face, the driver jumped out and started screaming, "You little jerk! Do you have any idea how much it'll cost to fix this paint job?"
           "I'm sorry, sir," the child replied, "but I didn't know what else to do to get your attention. All the other cars just kept driving by when I tried to wave or yell for help."  At this point the driver noticed the tears in the boy's eyes, looking toward the sidewalk where another child lay sprawled out on the sidewalk, obscured by the row of parked cars. "It's my brother, sir. He hit a bump and fell out of his wheelchair. He's hurt and too heavy for me to lift up by myself. Could you help us?"
           Deeply moved, the driver helped lift the boy back into the wheelchair, wiped off the scrapes with his handkerchief, and asked if he could be of further assistance. "That's okay. I can handle it from here. We live close by. Thank you," said the grateful child, wheeling his brother toward home. 
           Slowly, the man walked back to his expensive car, where he stood staring at the dented door for a long time before driving off. He never did get that door fixed, choosing to keep it as a reminder to slow down and keep his eyes open so that life wouldn't have to throw any more stones at him to get his attention again...

           So here I sit in the shade of a hackberry tree, feeling the heat and doing my best to pay attention to what my surroundings are telling me:  "Slow down, relax, stop moving fast for awhile, long enough to listen for the quiet clues whispering all around you. And, please, be mindful of whatever unexpected flying objects might appear, asking you to pay attention!"
With gratitude and blessings,

Friday, August 8, 2014


I'm glad to be able to report three recent landmarks in the history of the Celebration Circle.
            First, I'm co-hosting a Sunday Morning Circle in Austin this coming Sunday, August 10th, at the Toltec Center of Creative Intent (TOCI), from 11am-noon. Over the years, a number of people have inquired about the possibility of starting a Celebration Circle-style gathering in other cities - but nothing ever came of it, until now.

            TOCI's founder, HeatherAsh Amara, and her teacher, don Miguel Ruiz, Jr., have long been supportive of Celebration Circle, serving as guest speakers, workshop leaders and generous donors on a number of occasions. Established in 2001, TOCI is a well-established spiritual community, which has a beautiful meeting space, a loyal following and a firm foundation on which to build a regular Sunday Morning Circle.
            We don't know exactly how this will unfold, or how it will be connected to the Celebration Circle of San Antonio. This weekend is just a trial run, and there aren't any other dates on the calendar at the moment, but presuming that this Sunday goes well, we're hoping it could occur on a regular basis in the future.

            The second landmark is that our beloved Executive Director, Zet Baer, was recently certified by both the Non-Profit Management and Leadership Certification Programs presented by Our Lady of the Lake University and the San Antonio Area Foundation (see photo above). While this recognition came primarily as a result of coursework she completed through these programs, it is also a reflection of her twenty-three years of experience in managing the business affairs of Celebration Circle with diligence, consistency and integrity. Congratulations, Zet!

            The third event was the wedding that Zet and I recently officiated in New Mexico for our dear friends and long-time members of the Circle family, Susie McAtee Monday and Linda Cuellar. We've had the good fortune to conduct more than two hundred weddings over the years, but this was the first legally-recognized, same-sex marriage ceremony either of us has conducted. Although it occurred out-of-state (as did the wedding of David and Toby Caris, who got married in Maine two weeks prior), I can't help but feel that this long-overdue, blessed event was made possible, in an admittedly small, but-still-powerful way, by the consciousness of Oneness and inclusivity that we have been fostering in the Circle.
            While the groundswell of support for same-sex marriage, currently taking place in churches and courtrooms throughout the country, is rooted in many different efforts that have occurred on many different fronts over the years, I'm proud to be part of a spiritual community which always supported this work.

            At first glance, these landmarks might seem totally unrelated - and yet I'm convinced that they all rise out of the rich, fertile soil that has been lovingly tilled, tended and amended in the consciousness of the "community garden" that is the Celebration Circle - one person, one gathering, one meditation, one committee meeting at a time.
            Thank you for whatever part(s) you have played in helping making these things, as well as untold future growth, possible. Your support is invaluable.

With gratitude and joy,
**Congratulations to Susie, Linda, David and Toby!!


Saturday, August 2, 2014


          It's been an unusually full and trying week, with some mighty strong demands on my time, energy, and resources - to say nothing of my heart. Thank goodness for the small moments that call out to my soul from time to time, inviting me again and again, to stop for just a few seconds. Some I take consciously; most simply arrive at random.

            Each, in its own way, induces me to see with new eyes, breathe in a new breath, and see new possibilities waiting to emerge. One such interlude became a short poem, as well as a brief, but fulfilling rest. I share it here in hopes that you, too, will take a mini-break sometime sooner rather than later:

Waiting for the light to change
at the busy intersection of Walk and Don't Walk,
an orange and black butterfly comes floating by.
I stalk it with my eyes
to see something - anything -- not manufactured
by human hands.

Zig-zagging here and there, it lands on the one blade of grass
growing through the cement sidewalk,
underneath a bus stop bench.

The butterfly stops to sit still and simply rest for a moment
and so do I.

With blessings and best wishes for your piece(s) of summer peace -- whatever form(s) that may take,