Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sacred Work

building, rising, higher
tighter, closer, hotter,

Moving toward, sensing
the tide, ebbing, flowing,
a bit of
time –
nothing else but us.

The room, quiet, fades away
and in this place
sacred work
to be done –
we talk, listen, dance
toward the topic of the day.

On we go, leaning, listening,
gesturing, faces lit
heads nodding; yes --- no.

questions, thought
pondering, wondering
silence, comfortable
and the energy moves on
like a wave, high – low
sometimes receding, sometimes
breaking into foam with a roar
then falling back, quiet, finished.

Before I can take a step
on the outside,
I have to take a step
on the inside.

Later, still present,
echoes remain,
as we move


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Animals Around My Spirit


He was beside the road as I drove home,
his coyoteness in the moonlight by the river
his eyes bright coals in the brush
reminding me to be awake
to the night, to my journey
and my life.


He raced me up the hill that day, car versus dog,
the first day I’d been able to drive to school---
celebrating my accomplishment with his wagging tail
and his wet nose. No one else
celebrated that passage of life with me. No one else
cried when I dug his grave
and took off his collar.


She slipped away in peace, trusting me
as the needle plunged into her sick, poisoned body ---
trusting me with all her heart
to take care of her
the way she took care of me
the way she took care of our new son
the first day, at fifteen, he lived with us.

She taught him to be family,
to sit in the living room, she at his feet,
and be together, to be
loved, just for who he was—
it was the first time he knew love.

She knew that. She knew it all
and taught all of us well.


She touched her paw to my head, as she slept
and I read, in my favorite chair.
The house silent, except for the fireplace
and her occasional soft snore
and the turn of the page in my book.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Least Among Us

Neal Lemery
October 11, 2009
Nehalem, Oregon, United Methodist Church

Thank you, Scott, for that very kind and generous introduction. It is an honor to be here today.

I first want to thank Scott and this generous congregation for Scott’s work as a mediator for Justice Court. The program helps people enmeshed in emotionally and factually complex lawsuits to work on finding consensus and exploring remedies and outcomes that the law and a trial cannot provide. And, Scott’s wide range of talents bears much fruit in his work as a mediator. You do a great job, Scott.

Today, I want to explore with you the relationships between spirituality and the law.

As a lawyer, and as a judge, and also as a man who has a continuing and deeply evolving relationship with God, I am continually in the trenches wrestling with the role of the rule of law and the everpresent complexity of the Spirit.

One may imagine that the role of a judge is primarily a task of learning the law and applying the law to the facts of a particular case. My work on the bench is sometimes that, and some of the questions I face and must decide can be quickly resolved with a reading of the statute books, or finding a particular case law precedent from an appellate court.

Yet, there is the letter of the law and there is the spirit of the law, and there is the everpresent demand to seek justice and to apply justice.

And, there are the lives and realities of the people standing before you in the courtroom. These are often different rows to hoe in the gardens and weed patches of our legal system.

Theologically, one may think of the role of a judge in the context of Solomon, deciding who will have custody of a baby, and who chose between two women both claiming to be the child’s mother. Solomon suggested cutting the child in two with his sword, until the true mother cried out that the other woman should have the child, rather than have her own baby put to death.

Yet, the point of that story is not to define justice in terms of killing a child, but the deep love of a mother for her child. She loved her child so much that she would give up her child to another, so that her child could live.
Perhaps it is a good example of judicial wisdom, but this story is more a story of altruism, and self-sacrifice.

In Luke 9:46-48, Christ tells us this story:

An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he is the least among you all – he is the greatest.”

And, the child standing besides Christ is the metaphor for the sadness, the misery, the poverty, the addictions, the violence, the greed, and the chaos of our society. When these agonies are too much for us to bear as individuals, or, often, as a community, these agonies find their ways to the jail and to the courts.

In my work, and in my own spiritual journey, I keep coming back to this passage. For me, Christ is speaking very directly, very plainly. The greatest one among us is not the greatest one, Instead, the greatest one is the least among us all.

I’m a student of the Constitution, and of history. And, when I study what the Founding Fathers were trying to do, I know that they did their work mindful of these simple words of Christ. They lived in an imperfect, often unjust society. They were all white men, owners of land taken from Native Americans, and, often, slave owners. And, yet, the words they crafted, the principles they expressed, carry the spirit of those words of Christ.

In looking to find justice, and in looking to find the right thing to do, the right way to make the right thing happen, He tells us to look at the greatness within the least fortunate, the least loved, the least popular, the least able. And, in that person, there is the greatest goodness.

He calls upon us to put our perspective of things upside down, to look at our world from the opposite point of view.

When I take those principles, those teachings, those words, and hold them in my heart, only then do I find the embers of the fires of justice begin to rise. Then I begin to sense, I begin to know, what is the right result.

I see a lot of lost people. People who are adrift, wandering in the wilderness of our society. Not having a purpose, and not knowing where they are going. And, even worse, feeling that no one cares about them. And when people are in spiritual crisis, when they are starving for a spiritual meaning, they self-medicate their pain, their emptiness with violence, with alcohol, and with drugs.

And, when that first dose of self-medication doesn’t work very well, they self-medicate again, and the cycle deepens and spirals downward. The hunger, the longing doesn’t go away.

One young man, I’ll call him John, came into my courtroom last winter. It was one of those especially nasty days, sleet and snow falling, the day raw and bleak. We dealt with his drug case and his long list of unpaid traffic tickets, and his suspended driver’s license.

We got to talking and I learned he had spent the night on a couch in a drug house, his car had been repossessed. John hadn’t had a real meal in four days.

I took him out to breakfast and, as he gulped down his meal, he told me the story of his life. His father left when he was six. His mother had been in and out of jail, and he’s spent a few weeks there recently himself. He dropped out of high school, and could only find an odd job here or there.

Yet, John was a talented mechanic, and dreamed of becoming a diesel mechanic. He was good at that work.

I put him in touch with the Job Corps, and a local trucking company I had heard was looking for a good apprentice, and dropped him off at the Salvation Army, so he could find a real place to stay and get some food.

To look at John, you would think he had been living on the streets for weeks, which was true. Yet, inside of him was a young man with a big heart, and a driving ambition to make something out of his life. What he lacked was having people around him who believed in him.

Two days later, he stopped by. He’d gotten that job at the trucking company, and had called the Job Corps. He was going to enlist in that program. He knew he wanted to be a success and he was excited.

We kept in touch, and I’d send him a note of encouragement once in a while. He’d send me his grades from each semester, and a great note from one of his teachers. He was in the top of his class.

And, a year later, John stopped by to show me his diploma. The Job Corps was good to him. Even his mom was proud of him now. But, he was finally proud of himself.

Another young man I’ve met, Bill, was usually on the jail list for court. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I’ve been dealing with his family for several decades, and he was certainly no stranger to domestic violence and family members in and out of jail, and in and out of treatment programs.

To look at Bill’s record, and how he lived, you might think he had no future. In not too many years, you wouldn’t be surprised to know that he’d been to prison, or died of alcoholism, or from an overdose.

Yet, Bill has a spark of decency and ambition in him. I could see it when you got to talking to him about his kids. He really loved his kids, and he wanted them to have a life much different than his own. Yet, you could see the pattern of his childhood start to repeat in their young lives.

One day, Bill and I finally had a heart to heart talk. He couldn’t figure out why I was so concerned about him and how he lived.

I told him about the spark in him that I saw, every time he talked about his kids.

“You’re one of my kids, Bill,” I told him. “I care about you as much as you care about your own kids. And, I know you can live a better life, Bill. But, you need to decide you are worthy of your own love, and the love of God.”

I’ve grown up knowing that I was loved --- loved by family, by friends, by the community, and by God. Love was always in my life, and, I often just assumed that so much love is just a given in life. Everyone is loved, right?

But, for Bill, this was a new idea. He’d somehow never knew that other people might love him, and that he was worthy of love.

And, that is Christ’s message to us in this Scripture.

“For he is the least among you – he is the greatest.”

It turns our popular, 21st Century, view of our society upside down. After all, we Americans are supposed to aim to be the richest, the most powerful, the most influential. All of that is supposed to be great. It is the American Way.

And, as we deal with this economic recession, the inherent fallacy of that thinking becomes so very obvious. That is not what we are about. And, we are now beginning again to explore, in our hearts, where we need to be going as a country. The issues confronting us are literally standing at the side of Christ. He is standing in the midst of these issues, and calls upon us to deal with them, with compassion, with love, and with the love of God.

That work, my friends, is real spiritual work. And Christ is calling us to come to grips with what he is saying. “ For he is the least among you – he is the greatest.”

It is a great privilege to be here among you this morning. I thank you for your time. May God bless each and every one of you.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Leaf swirling, dancing across the bright blue
above the first pools of the early rain
in the fish-less river below,

The wind, again, cool now, smelling of wet dirt and drying leaves
next week’s storm
not yet even a thought here
along the moss on the old log
next to the trail.

Evening comes sooner, and dawn later—
Orion coming again in morning sky—
first coffee of the day now in darkness; inside by the fire—
cat on warm lap, after the frosty hunt
in the grass next to the now-empty tomato vines
near the gold and orange of the maple.

Filled jars line the shelves in the garage,
squash and potatoes drying on the floor,
tomatoes overflowing on the dining room floor, slowly

Folding socks, I also put away hiking shorts, to the back of the drawer
and pull out the stocking cap and long johns, just in case,
and go looking in the hall closet for that coat,
the one with Gortex, the hood, and gloves
in the pockets.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Being in Solitude

What is my relationship with solitude?

It is profound and deep. It is an integral part of my daily routine and my spiritual practice.

Our culture is filled with data, noise, mayhem and continual interaction. Yet, it is in silence that I engage my creativity, my strength, and my empathy to deal with others.

More importantly, I engage my essence, my true self. It is lonely, but with a positive connotation. I encounter my self, my energies, and a place where I access the energies of the Universe.

This communion does not depend upon a location, but rather is a state of mind, a state of being.

We are human beings, not human doings. So, I strive to “be”, not “do”, to be congruent with my own nature, my own essence.

Loneliness is not “bad”, not is it anti-social. Being in loneliness empowers me, allows me to be fully engaged, to be fully present with myself.

And, when I am so renewed and reconnected, it is then that I am more fully prepared to be in the presence of other beings, and to continue my work as a “being”.

I need time to contemplate, to fully absorb, to fully experience my feelings. And when I am not, I am disconnected with my self. It is when I am so disconnected that I become lonely. My loneliness is being apart from self.

In solitude, I am connected, I am nourished, and I am whole.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Afternoon Among the Stacks

The silence of the library
Slides loose among the bookshelves and slithers through
row after row of theology and psychology
waiting patiently for us to open their brown
ageing papers, and soak up their wisdom.

Last week, I opened one and its Greek letters
gave me no insight into the words of Jesus
that had come alive in the sermon I was writing.
He was alive, and yet the Greek symbols and the seventeenth
century analysis of a translation left me

I went back to my textbook, family systems and disagreements with
Freud, Jungian analysis and human validation process
seemed a bit more real,
coming alive when I thought about the family this morning
in a courtroom filled with the last hour of Vern
and how his caretaker had stolen his lawnmower
and his wife’s blue china.

My Starbucks drained, my e-mail checked, my Facebook updated,
and my watch telling me its time to go to class
and be challenged to put all of this into words
everyone else will understand.