Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones

Dear Mr. President,

Sticks and stones can break my bones,

But names will never hurt me

          I’m sure you remember, as so many of us do, the little ditty we so often chanted on the school playground whenever someone bullied us, insulted us, called us a name that was demeaning or unkind.  I suspect you remember, as well, as do we all, the courage it took to shout this little ditty aloud or to speak it softly to ourselves, knowing as we did that, as a matter of fact, “names” hurt every bit as much as sticks and stones.  Sometimes—often, in fact—they hurt a good bit more. 

          Mr. President, I am puzzled and dismayed by the frequency with which you so casually hurl insults and call people names that are demeaning and unkind.  Aren’t these are the very tactics of the playground bullies to whom we shouted the little ditty about sticks and stones?  The very tactics of kids or grown-ups who need to shrink others in order to make themselves look more powerful?

          Mr. President, you are in a position that is probably the most powerful position in our world, yet over and over again you act like the insecure bully of the playground and taunt those who disagree with you by calling them ugly names. Mr. President, I am writing to remind you that those names do hurt.   Really hurt.  They wound and leave scars that can take a very long time to heal.  They have wounded scores of people whom you have belittled, mocked, and humiliated.  They have wounded our entire country as well, as they have diminished our respect for each other and helped to deepen the polarization in our land.

          Mr. President, I did not vote for you.  I disagree with many, probably most, of your policies.  But because you are the President of the United States, I would like to be able to respect you because of the office you hold.  But I find it difficult, very difficult, to have respect for a bully.  To have respect for any bully, but especially for a bully who holds such a high office.

          I know many of your supporters smile away your bullying remarks with the wry comment, “Oh well, that’s just the way he is.”  I find this very troubling.  Would these same people say about the bullies in our streets, our schools, our neighborhoods, “Oh well, that’s just the way they are?”  I don’t think so.  We know all too well the harm that bullies perpetrate, the lives they damage and sometimes destroy.  And like your own wife, our First Lady, we’d like to see bullying diminished, not promoted, in our country.  We’d like to see people truly respectful of others.  We’d like to see people truly caring about others, even those whom they dislike or those with whom they have serious disagreements.  We’d like to see people putting away their sticks and stones and all the hurtful names they use to demean others—in the political arena, on the playground, in our homes, and in the workplaces of our daily lives. 

          So please, Mr. President, I pray that you will learn to exercise a respect for others.  The same respect that you want others to have for you.  I pray you will do your best to live into the full dignity of the high office you hold and, in so doing, be able to teach by example the way we ought to treat all those with whom we share this beautiful country, even those we dislike, even those with whom we disagree.


Carol Westphal

Farewell, Little Jon

(at our son’s cabin in the Berkshires)

We tuck you soft into the earth,

little Jon, holding close the memories

of your brief sojourn in our lives.

You dropped from your high nest,

landing just outside our mountain

window, nestled with your siblings,

three of them, but they were cold and gone;

the wind, the same that whipped

you from your nest,

had blown away their fragile lives;

but you lived on, and we re-nested you,

a box of leaves and twigs;

tiny quivers, feathers huddled

in a world so sudden empty, vast.


We named you Jon and dripped sweet water

into your wee beak, high-fived your first faint

wobbly cheep, each gentle fluffing of your wings;

watched later as you hopped so brave,

but hesitant, across the grass; fluttering

of tiny wings, feeble cries for mother bird;  

so close at hand, she was concerned,

but also so confused, distraught, and counting

only one instead of four, she scolded, railed

against the steely sky, then flew

her grief into the woods.


We found you, morning next,

outside our window once again,

as though you’d chosen us,

but you were lifeless now, so very still,

your final breath now spent.


And so we tuck you soft into the earth,  

whisper our farewells,

our thanks for all the richness

that you added to our lives,

your faint cheep, cheep,

that flutter of your tiny wing;

quiet moments of the heart,

how precious every tiny speck of life.

Hurting Jesus

Yemeni child

(The Telegraph)

Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Us:  “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

Jesus:  “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Us:  “But Jesus, how do we help you when you are so far away in Yemen?”

Jesus:  “Well, perhaps you could start by insisting that the current administration follow the lead of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress who have voted to STOP selling arms to Saudi Arabia in hopes that the proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran might be resolved through negotiations.  I don’t expect you to solve all the complicated problems of the world, but please do what you can to help alleviate the suffering the Yemeni children and I are experiencing.  I would be most grateful.”


migrant children in detention at our southern border


Jesus: “Again, I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Us: “Well, again, Jesus, what are we supposed to do?  The problem at our border is so complex, and our resources are limited, you know!”

Jesus:  “I know.  It is complex.  There is some bi-partisan movement in Congress to address the issue, but compromise from both sides will be needed to pass the needed legislation.  So, whether or not you support more funding for The Wall, I hope you will take the time to let your Senators and Representatives know that you want to see the children in Border Patrol Stations, that you want to see Me, cared for as well as possible as we await processing at your border.  They—I—need basic hygiene provisions, healthy food, and basic medical help.  Some of the border agents have been very kind to the children—to Me—but they simply do not have the resources needed.  Please be sure to ask for more funding for all our basic necessities.  Also, please ask for funding for more judges to process the children—to process Me—so that we can get on with our lives.  I want someday to be able to say to you ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’”

Pillars of the Earth

I found these little weeds growing alongside our driveway.

Pillars of the earth,

they seem to me,

these tiny weeds,

short, but standing tall,

holding up the mystery

of all that is, that was,

that is to be.


Or bell towers, perhaps,

their leaves the spiral

steps that carry us

from earthy dust to

white-marbled blue

of vast cathedral sky.


Or maybe minarets,

tiny spires, sturdy elegance,

a call to prayer, to offering of thanks

to garden gods for intricate designs

of all things small, for

holy winds that hum

through patterned stairwells

of our weeds and of our world.

Beauty All Its Own


A broken tree limb,

jutting out into the vastness

of the sky; empty, set apart

amidst the leafy greenness

all around; yet she hangs on,

a rugged beauty all her own;

endurance, courage, grit.


Another limb, this from my family tree;

Roger was his name, our uncle,

though we cousins never deigned to dignify

his uncle-ness; he was always simply Roger,

in all his simple-ness, sitting with his Bible

open in his hands, most times upside-down,

muttering his prayers in a gibberish

that surely made the angels smile.  

But, oh, we fiendish cousins laughed

and mocked him, feebled

as he was with Down Syndrome;

we’d poke and sometimes pinch his arm,

diminish him in any way we could,

then run from Grandma’s wrath;

but Roger beamed on us an almost constant smile,

a smile that hangs still in my mind,

a gift from Uncle Roger’s simple joy,

his gentle benediction; courage, grit,

endurance; a beauty all its own.

Manna for Desert Days

from Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

thoughts for Mother’s Day

          As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother, and he revealed that in everything, and especially in these sweet words where he says, “I am he; that is to say: I am he, the power and goodness of fatherhood; I am he, the wisdom and lovingness of motherhood; I am he, the light and the grace which is all blessed love.

          The mother can give her child to suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and does, most courteously and most tenderly, with the blessed sacrament, which is the precious food of true life.

Bunny Hunt

          “Where’s the bunny, Benjamin?”  I asked our almost 2-year old grandson many years ago.  He grinned slyly.  He knew, of course, where the little toy bunny was hiding.  He had just seen Grandma slip bunny under her bathrobe.  But–Hurray!  Hurray!  The search was on!  He and Grandma lifted the bell-pull hanging on the kitchen wall.  “Bunny not there,” he solemnly announced.

          “Is bunny in your pocket, Ben?”  We looked.  “Nope!  Bunny not there!”  Behind the refrigerator?  Under Ben’s bib?  “Nope!  Nope!”  Each yelp a little more gleeful.

          “Could bunny be hiding under Grandma’s bathrobe?”  A pause of wonder, and then, “Oh, there he is!”  A giggle, and then Ben quickly stuffed bunny back under Grandma’s bathrobe and immediately reached for the bell-pull.  Time to start the hunt all over again!

          A short while later I sat quietly in my study, savoring the charm of the morning’s bunny hunt.  On my little prayer table several candles burned.  The sad, penetrating eyes of Mary gazed at me from the icon of the Virgin of Vladimir, inviting me into a holy space of quiet reflection.

          Wouldn’t it be wonderful, I thought, if God could be found as easily as Benjamin’s bunny?  Wonderful if we could but lift the hem of God’s garment and catch—if only fleetingly—a glimpse of the glory—the glory, as the hymn sings, “in light inaccessible hid from our eyes.”

          Of course it would be wonderful.  But such epiphanies are rare in this life, and in most of our hours, most of our days, we are lifting the bell-pull and searching our pockets for that reassuring sense that God—though hidden—really IS and will one day be seen and found in all the majesty and mystery of God’s being.

          Can our search be as gleeful as little Ben’s bunny search?  Probably not.  Life is often too harsh, too painful, and we find ourselves groping only blindly and haltingly for the God whose elusiveness echoes through the emptiness of our days.  The cry of the psalmist of old becomes our cry, “How long, O Lord?  Will you hide yourself forever?”

          Saints of all ages have often sung this doleful refrain.  The hunt for God, has seldom, if ever, been easy.  Has seldom, if ever, been gleeful.  Nevertheless, in the midst of pain, darkness, and mystery, the hunt has always gone on.  The saints have persisted.

          Julian of Norwich is one of those saints.  As an anchoress in 14th century England, Julian listened to the sufferings and perplexities of those who came to seek her consolation and counsel.  Then, in the isolation of her enclosure, as she held these sufferings in her heart, she searched.  She searched through the scriptures.  She searched through her experience.  She searched through the experiences of others.  She searched the natural world in the confines of her small garden.  She searched for the One who alone could heal and restore wholeness to the broken lives, the broken world she saw all around her.

          Julian’s search was profound and prolonged, and she was rewarded with only a few brief epiphanies.  Yet throughout her lifelong quest, a spark of hope enabled her to hunt for God with some of the same joy that shone in the face of my little grandson as he hunted for the bunny.  For Julian believed, she really believed, that one day God would be fully found and that in that day, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

          Perhaps we can continue our search with Julian’s assurance tucked into the pockets of our souls.  Continue with the hope that when we reach the end of our quest, by God’s grace, the doleful refrain of the psalmist will be replaced with the words of this hymn, penned in 1880 by an anonymous seeker of God:

                                                 I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

                                                He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;

                                                It was not I that found, O Savior true;

                                                No, I was found of thee.


Note:  An earlier version of “Bunny Hunt” was published in the May, 2005 issue of Perspectives:A Journal of Reformed Thought.