Blog by Associate Michelle Gray

On my mantle there sits a group of black metal letters; standing about three inches high, they spell out “imagine.”

Not only are they there because imagine is one of my favorite words (like Louisa May Alcott, I like good strong words that mean something); they’re there to remind me to pray.

You see, I always have believed John Lennon’s song “Imagine” to be a kind of prayer. That might sound unconventional, even controversial, but bear with me.

The song begins:

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace… 

Lennon gets right to the crux of the things that divide us, the things that make us appear different from one another, the things that separate us into groups of us and them. But if there were no countries, there would be no borders, no need for walls, no need for wars, no us and them, only we, living life in peace.

And no religion too…” Here is where it gets controversial, but again, bear with me.

When we consider religion to be particular systems of faith and worship, we can see our differences come in the ways we worship, the books we hold as sacred, and how we view our relationship with God. What the major religions have in common is a sense of community and what we were taught as “The Golden Rule” — to treat others as we would have them treat us.

Focus on that and the differences among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others fade to the background. Again, there is no longer us and them, only we, living life in peace.

The next verse:

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world

The Bible is full of references to material possessions and the obstacles they can present to our relationship with God and others. We want, we want, we want, and we feel we have to keep up with the Kardashians. And once again we are separated; into the haves and the have nots. But in a world where there are no possessions, there would be no haves, no have nots, no us and no them, only we, sharing all the world.

And the chorus:

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

And that is my prayer, that this is not just a dream, that some day, the world will be as one, in peace.

Posted in Associate Blog, News


Blog by Associate Colette Parker

The past five days have been emotional.

It all started with the news of the death of my friend, Don Bishop, who also happened to serve my small township community as police chief for more than five years and as a police officer for more than three decades.

It was the first thing my husband shared with me when I walked through the door on Ash Wednesday evening. Then came the flurry of news reports  — former police chief found dead in his home, police are investigating the death, it appears to be the result of a gunshot wound, it appears to be the result of a single self-inflicted gunshot.

My reaction: Noooo! I can’t believe this! My beloved Bishop (as I called him) was one of the most jovial people that I have known. Yes – he had life struggles (who doesn’t?). Oh my God! – what about his wife and children?

Full stop: “Lord, help. Please embrace his wife and children in your loving arms. Be with them in their sorrow and grief. Give them the comfort, strength, and courage that they need. Help them to know that they are not alone.”

Next: a bit of calm washed over me. Then, the question arose:  Why?

Trying to answer that took some processing. I concluded that while some of my possible answers to that question made sense, I would never really know why – I chose to accept the fact that I may never know.

What I do know is that he saw no other way out of his situation, that he bore a burden that became too heavy for him to carry.

Do I wish that something could have been done to lighten his load? Yes.

I’m going to miss his smiling face,  his voice on the other end of the phone, his sense of humor, his no-nonsense approach, his determination to protect those he loved and cared about. I am going to miss his very being.

Lesson: Life can be hard. We can’t see a person’s inner suffering. It behooves us to show compassion and to be kind – it could help lighten someone’s load.

I have resolved to look for ways to help lighten the load of at least one person each day. Will you join me?

(Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is the tenth-biggest cause of death in the United States—deadlier than traffic accidents and homicide.)

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Keep it Civil

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

In case you haven’t noticed, there are some people vying to become the next president of the United States.

How could you NOT, you might ask.

I don’t know, I might answer (lol).

I wanted to get that laugh in, hoping a little levity will help during this contentious time in American politics.

I know things can get ugly – name-calling, nasty barbs, harsh criticism, etc. – but abusive or venomous language does not have to be the norm. We can choose a different path by reviving civility in a time of deepening political divisions.

We can choose to accept the fact that not everyone is going to agree with our political views. We can choose to disagree without disrespect. We can choose to use respectful dialogue, which can translate into modeling the Golden Rule – recognizing  the respective dignity of others.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I can be as passionate as the next person about my opinions. But I hope they also know that I am willing to listen intently to someone who does not share my opinion.  I listen intently because I believe engaging in dialogue goes beyond exchanging views – it requires a sharing of reasons for the perspective; it requires truth-seeking.

Can the exchange be stormy? Yes. Disagreements can be unsettling. But they don’t have to be toxic, if we come from a place of integrity and common respect with a willingness to listen.

Opinions are important, but how we express them is almost always more significant than what we say.

Paulo Coelho (a Brazilian lyricist and novelist) puts it this way: The world is changed by your example not by your opinion.

What kind of example will you set when expressing your political views?

Posted in Associate Blog, News


Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I need some inspiration to propel me to keep moving forward.

Whether it’s the winter blues, our chaotic culture, the turbulent political climate, family turmoil, or something else causing confusion, discouragement, desperation, pain, sadness, or fatigue that makes our world seem like a dark place, we must always remember that there is light to be found if we look for it.

I used the word “inspiration” (instead of motivation) in the opening line because, for me, inspiration stirs the heart, mind, and spirit. It is usually during that “stirring” process that my passion and purpose is awakened – fueling me to move forward, forcing me to take account of my internal landscape.

Self-reflection (whether voluntary or involuntary) tends to take me to a place where I realize that the essence of who I am – the shining seed of my authentic self, the inner light that shines brightly – is enough to help me get through the darkness.

My experience has taught me that I might not be able to change what is happening and that I can’t control other people, but I can choose to handle adversity with grace, courage, and joy – I can choose to be a source of inspiration for others.

As a Christian, I take seriously the charge to bring light to dark places — to look for opportunities to lift up someone else. By allowing my own light to shine, I can help other people recognize the light that is within them.

If you are looking for some simple wisdom on how to be light in the world, I offer this inspirational quote from an unknown author:

Use your voice for kindness,

your ears for compassion,

your hands for charity,

your mind for truth,

and your heart for love.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

The Joy of Spiritual (Grand)Parenting

Blog be Associate Sal Ciferno, OPA

One of the greatest honors of my life befell me late last year.

My fourteen-year-old granddaughter asked me to be her confirmation sponsor. I was taken by surprise because my remembrance of confirmation sponsors was that they were gender specific and, as such, the field of qualified female candidates in our family is vast. It may be needless to say that my answer, in the affirmative, was spontaneous.

Forthwith, we began our journey — together with my daughter and her husband. We gathered documentation, attended classes to complete curriculum, and completed service hour requirements.

The next step was the confirmation retreat. While our candidates (including my granddaughter) spent the entire day in retreat, I (along with the other sponsors) participated for about four hours. We worked on team building exercises and communication skills. One of the suggestions for the retreat was for sponsors to write a letter of support to his/her confirmation candidate.

As I began my reflection on the content of my letter, many wonderful thoughts came to my mind. I immediately recalled fourteen years of growth and maturity and realized just how blessed I and my family are. I see a loving, lovely, kind, intelligent girl with a fantastic sense of humor and I totally love the person she has become.

With these thoughts in mind, I began drafting my letter, using 1 Chronicles 16:11… “Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His presence continually!” and Romans 12:9… “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” as the foundation of my message.

I began my letter by reminding my granddaughter of how much she is loved by me and her family. I expressed to her that my love for her is immeasurable and yet is nothing compared to the love God has for her (as He does for all of us); and, quoted my late pastor, Father Crumbley: “without His love we would all cease to exist.”

I incorporated 1 Chronicles by reminding her that during this time of confirmation, it is important to adopt a prayer life, because it is the fuel for love and strength. I shared with her my simple daily prayer: “bless us, keep us, make us holy”.

As I continued, I began to realize that my granddaughter walks a very straight line. Our conversations about school, bullies, mean girls, and drugs are easily accepted topics for her. She has a beautiful heart and truly cares about the disenfranchised. This is where I began to understand that my role as her sponsor is to teach and guide her in the acceptance of her spiritual life.

It is truly my belief that her walk is already in accordance with Romans 12:9 because her love is genuine; she abhors what is evil; and she holds fast to what is good.

So, as it goes in the world of grandfathers, I don’t believe that there is any prouder grandfather than I.

Posted in Associate Blog, News