Professional Coaches Highlights of Renewal Program

Thanks to a grant awarded in 2022 from the National Clergy Renewal Program funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., the First United Presbyterian Church, Las Vegas, planned an ambitious program of congregational renewal while its pastor, Rev. Katie Palmer took a three-month sabbatical for clergy renewal. And then the hills erupted in a fast-moving fire that consumed more than three hundred thousand acres of land, countless properties, and the livelihoods of many. Pastor Katie, as she is known by her congregation, knew immediately her place was with her church family and community, not going on sabbatical. The grantor organization agreed and allowed the church to reschedule the renewal plans and sabbatical to 2023. On May 6, FUPC will begin Tracking the Word: Embodying the Spirit in a period of renewal and exploration. At no cost to participants, the summer-long activities include –

• five professional coaches offering Saturday in-depth workshops and Sunday worship;

• three Saturdays of Try Something New Workshops led by practitioners in the arts of writing, journaling, poetry, music, drama, woodworking, glass painting, zentangle, and American sign language;

• and on Sundays not covered by professional coaches, lay leaders will provide alternative worship experiences that include movement, writing, Quaker practices, music, painting, drama, biology, and Taoist philosophy.

For a brochure and more information about Tracking the Word: Embodying the Spirit, go to Note there will be complimentary meals provided on the Sundays featuring professional coaches.

“Tracking the Word: Embodying the Spirit,” speaks to our desire to follow Christ’s tracks and to embody the Spirit not only in our work, but in the deepest part of our beings,” said Rev. Katie Palmer, FUPC pastor. “We never know where those tracks might lead, but we can commit to follow them faithfully.”

Activities begin on May 6 with the first professional coach workshop featuring John Stokes, and run through August.

Stokes, founder and director of The Tracking Project, Inc.,in Corrales, N. M., is a well-known musician, performer, writer, and teacher of tracking. Since 1980 he has worked and traveled extensively to bring awareness of the natural world and the integrity of indigenous peoples to interested people around the world. He will conduct two Saturday workshops. One on the riverwalk beginning at 1 p.m., and a second at the Presbyterian Church, 1000 Douglas Ave., beginning at 3 p.m.

In these workshops, Stokes will explore how The Tracking Project’s programs of natural and cultural awareness incorporate a wide range of skills—from traditional tracking and survival skills to music, storytelling, dance, peacemaking, and martial arts training. The name Arts of Life ® was chosen to describe these programs, which emphasize indigenous knowledge, the lessons of nature and the power of dreams and art.

Stokes will lead worship on May 7, and further expand on the topic of tracking and its spiritual applications. Call 505 425-7763 to make reservations for the meal following worship.

On Saturday, June 10, Jen Friedman, M.Div., will lead The Body’s Wisdom: The Art of Facing Change with Embodiment Practice beginning at 1 p.m., at Old Town Mission Community Center, 301 Socorro Street.Friedman, hospital chaplain and Leader of Dances of Universal Peace is an interfaith minister, chaplain and spiritual leader serving the growing community of seekers and practitioners identified as spiritual but not religious. She is known for sharing a deeply sacred presence and creates an authentic spiritual atmosphere to any ceremony or event she facilitates. She holds a Master of Divinity from The Iliff School of Theology and has a depth of spiritual understanding unique to her. Freidman has engaged rigorous study and practice in many faith traditions including Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. She is the executive director for Dances of Universal Peace, North America.

For the workshop, Friedman asks that participants embody their commitment to justice, non-violence, and peace with meditation and body prayer practice that honors the beauty and truth immanent in all beings. The Dances of Universal Peace are meditative, joyous, multi-cultural circle dances using sacred phrases from the world’s spiritual traditions and beloved songs from the peace movement. These are joined with live music and movement, to create embodied prayers that allow participants to touch the spiritual essence within and recognize it in others. Worship on Sunday, June 11 will continue the theme of The Body’s Wisdom.

On Saturday, July 8 at 1 p.m., M. Roger Holland II will present a workshop on Negro Spirituals: Songs of Freedom and Songs of Justice and continue the topic during worship July 9. Holland is a teaching Assistant Professor in Music and Religion and Director of The Spirituals Project at the Lamont School of Music, University of Denver. A graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he received his Master of Divinity degree, Holland also served as Artist-in-Residence and director of the Union Gospel Choir for over 13 years. In 2015 Union awarded him the Trailblazers Distinguished Alumni Award, the first given to a graduate whose ministry is music, for his contributions to the legacy of African American music. He received a master’s degree in Piano Performance from the Manhattan School of Music, also in New York, and completed his undergraduate work at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ, where he majored in Music Education with a concentration in piano and voice.

In the Saturday workshop, Holland will explore how the music and the history of Negro Spirituals served to sustain and inspire an enslaved community, and later become the bedrock of the Civil Rights Movement. Through a sociohistorical lens, not only will participants become acquainted with the history of slavery in America but will discover how Black Americans persevered and overcame oppression. Participants will discover how this historical music became the essence of the freedom songs that fueled a social justice movement and transformed a nation. 

Rev. Linda Loving’s Saturday July 29 workshop is designed to deepen understanding of biblical passages and breathe life and Spirit into readings of God’s word. Her sermon topic on July 30 will be For Such a Time at This. Loving has a BA in Theatre, University of Michigan, and Master of Divinity, McCormick Theological Seminary. In addition to serving many parishes around the country, she has also performed for more than 33 years JULIAN, a one-woman drama by J. Janda, which she has filmed in Julian’s cell in England. Loving has performed in professional theatre companies in the Midwest and Santa Fe and owns a business,

Loving said disciples and actors share a similar desire to embody truth and offer transformation to others. The workshop gives simple disciplines from a trained actor/preacher. “Delight in your own gifts – we all play ‘leading roles’ in God’s continually unfolding drama of Life and Love,” Loving said. Individual and choral readings as well as Reader’s Theatre will all be explored. “Some may choose to simply observe; all will find new ways to receive and love God’s word,” she said.

Rev. Seth Finch has been a pastoral leader at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque since 2008. He received his Master’s of Divinity from McCormick Seminary and a Master’s of Interfaith Action from Claremont Lincoln University. In 2018 he did his sabbatical focused on storytelling. His travels took him to New York to learn storytelling at “The Moth” mainstage; to Scotland where he participated in events at the Scottish Storytelling Center, and did research into his family story; to Northern Ireland to work with Padraig O’Tuama and Corymeela on how storytelling can help us work for peace; and across the Southwest to look at the story of the area’s culture.

Finch says of his Saturday, Aug. 12 workshop, “One of the things that most deeply binds us together as people and as communities is our shared stories. Stories guide our lives, who we think we are, who we think we relate to, how we live as people of faith. Learning to share our story and receiving the stories of others is a skill that helps us to build beloved Christian community.” In this seminar Finch will talk about what makes for a good story, how we tell our story, and reflect a little on what our shared stories look like. His Sunday, Aug. 13 sermon is entitled The Stories we tell Ourselves.

The FUPC season of exploration workshops and activates are free and open to everyone. For more information go to

No Promises

No resolutions for 2023. If the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that nothing is certain. The joy of today can be quashed in a heartbeat by unanticipated, sometimes horrific reality. No, I have not abandoned my faith and Pollyanna approach to life; like you, I’ve just seen one reality-check after another in these days of Covid, inflation, RSV, flu, insane politics, wars everywhere, travel meltdowns, homelessness in ever-increasing numbers, devastating natural disasters… GASP! GASP! GASP!

What we have also seen is the generosity of one human toward another. Strength beyond imagining in people who lost homes and livelihood to fires and flood and war and more, people who, despite their own challenges, stepped in to help neighbors. We are not past the impact of devastation. Therein lies a whole other hill to climb and hopefully overcome. In the case of the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak fire and subsequent flood, will insurance provide the means by which loss can be recovered? How or will FEMA help or hinder? What resources are available to get reliable answers?

The onslaught of lawyers promising the moon is mind-boggling! I’m not sure lawyers are the answer. Here is the link to FEMA if you don’t already have it:

Click below to open a two-page brochure with helpful information. The timeline extends into April 2023.

Below is my end-of-the-year poem. It is intended to be hopeful and maybe a wee bit helpful as we head into 2023. And really, when you think about it, January 1 is just another day. Be at peace with yourself and others, day by day.


There is reality in today,
hope in tomorrow.
Lean into the promise,
rest in the certainty
we live one day at a time
as best we can.
Let that be enough.
Some days will be wonderful,
some make us wonder –
how will I survive and thrive?
May the darkness of doubt
flee before the rising sun of hope
always on the horizon.

Unless otherwise indicated, all content on this site is created by me. I appreciate likes, shares, and comments.


Blue is the color
of sadness.
When the world seems
gilded with
a happy golden glow,
some grieve
others founder
on the shoals of loneliness.
Tragedy does not
take a holiday.
Take heart,
there is hope.
Someone cares.
That is the story
of the manger.

Unless otherwise indicated, all content on this site is created by me. I appreciate likes, shares, and comments.


we believe
we have so much
when in truth
time spools out
like thread
on a spindle
weaving together
with other threads
creating a tapestry.
Your thread,
my thread,
can break
at any time.
I pray to consider carefully
the choices I make,
the actions I take
so the thread
from my spool
adds goodness to
the tapestry of life
before it breaks.

Photo by Pixabay on

Unless otherwise indicated, all content on this site is created by me. I appreciate likes, shares, and comments.

Covid Cascade, an essay

It is clear there is more to covid than scientists realized with its evolving variants. Now we have something called Monkeypox, which somehow indicates it comes from contact with monkeys. And it does, sort of. To be better informed about Monkeypox, check out this article from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Photo by Lorenzo Martinez the night we were evacuated.

I am not going to embark on a discourse about viruses and their dangers/impact on society. What I want to ramble on about is uncertainties we all face and how we are changed for better or worse by circumstances beyond our control.

In the recent fires in our area, we were evacuated for eight days from our home. Not because the house and property were in danger, but because the air quality was so dense, we could scarcely breath. And we didn’t know our house would be unharmed, especially when we looked to the hills behind the house and saw great plumes of grey smoke and flames leaping in blended slashes of orange and red and yellow heat.

We’re weeks past the declaration of containment and we should feel at ease, but we don’t. We know many people displaced by loss who are further devastated by flooding that takes destruction to a new level.

And it’s not these destructive fires and floods that weigh on us. It’s the unsettling mountains of shifting dialog about where to go for help and whether or how much help will be available. In the middle and immediately following the fires, the outpouring of love and support were beautifully staggering. Food. Hot meals. A place to stay. Clothing. Resources galore. As time has marched on, the tragedy of many has been left behind. The kindness remains but it is woefully disconnected from the specific needs of those most impacted by the devastation.

The thing is, we have all been hit with multiple tragedies: covid, the deaths of loved ones, illness, a senseless and devastating war in Ukraine, people at our borders struggling and suffering, Monkeypox for crying out loud, violence at every turn, mass shootings, an insensitive and cruel political environment, global warming/climate change… I could go on, and so could you. In a recent sermon, Pastor Katie Palmer likened it to Russian stacking dolls. See a summary here. We are individually at the core of layers and layers of influences over which we have no control, but they affect us in unimaginable ways. No wonder we’re edgy.

The other side of that are the acts of generosity and neighbor helping neighbor, strangers stepping up to help, a community taking in those in need, powerful acts of kindness unselfishly given.

One thing we can agree on: thanks to firefighters and first responders the response to the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon fire was phenomenal and kept a horrific situation from being worse. The community took them in as well.

Personal loss is just that – personal. Typically, most of us have a support network to see us through dark times. Where do we go when so much in the world seems to be so wrong?

It may sound simplistic, but live as best you can. Help in the ways you can. Go to the polls come election time and vote.


Life is a quilt,
one created over time,
one square, one stitch
placed just so
over weeks,
months, decades.
Sometimes the stitches
knot up, tangled
in unexpected
life events:
death of a love one,
too much of this
too little of that.
And then
it smooths out
when new bonds
are made,
babies are born,
life goes on.
The quilt spreads,
covering the span of life,
bringing comfort
and protection.
The quilt of life,
the connectedness
that bridges divides.

Check the BOOKS tab to find out more about my work. Follow me at www.vandermeerbooks.com Author Central. I’m also a member of the Las Vegas Literary Salon, a group committed to sharing the work of local writers. Follow LVLS at Thanks for reading, commenting on, and sharing this post.

Writing: The journey continues

Hello, Writing Friends and the Merely Curious:

Write Now

My Personal Poem a Day Challenge is only in its sixth day, but I’m pleased to say, I’ve written a poem every day since May 1, after having written – along with a bunch of other writers – 30 poems in April. The May 6 poem was inspired by the aroma of cut grass and dandelions that wafted through the window as I drove home from town.

The smell of cut grass
shot color into my world
and my whole self smiled.

Being inspired in this way reminds me of the recent Dreams and Creativity seminar featuring Jan Beurskens sponsored by the Las Vegas Literary Salon. Writing inspiration comes from many experiences. Dream symbolism is something I’ve been trying to explore since the seminar, but I have yet to remember a dream after the fact.

Sight, smell and emotional response to something seen or experienced is more likely to get my brain firing with ideas.

Mary Rose Henssler, one of the Lit Salon team members, wrote a great “kick-in-the-pants” article on the Salon website. Sometimes, that’s what we need, a little jog to get our writing out of a self-created rut.

Prompts are great ways to stimulate one’s thinking. You might not even use the prompt, but it’s food for your fertile brain so you can come up with something more, something different. If you are stuck, Google ‘writing prompts’ or ‘poetry prompts’ and be ready for the deluge of websites that have tons of them.

Here are a few links to get you started:

700+ Creative Writing Prompts to Inspire You Right Now
500 Writing Prompts to Help Beat Writer’s Block
125 Of The Best Poetry Writing Prompts For Poets | Writer’s Relief
101 Poetry Prompts & Creative Ideas for Writing Poems

I know, daunting, isn’t it? But when you run through these, you see they represent a myriad of life experiences or ideas you’ve probably already had. It becomes doable to give the basic idea legs by adding your own experiences or creative thinking to the mix.

Writing is most often spurred by simply sitting down, and going at it. Writing is work. The more time you put into it, the better you get. You can spend a lot of time getting down the basics of grammar, plot development, character profiles, who’s the good guy and who’s the bad girl (or vice versa), but until you sit down and pound away at the keyboard, all that know-how will be for naught.

The greatest deterrent to writing is – I hate to say it – being afraid your work will never see the light of day, or laziness, only you can decide.

So, write, but after that – or in the process, look for outlets for your work. I have a writing friend who doesn’t believe writers should give their work away, that payment represents validation. “If you don’t value your work,” she says, “how will anyone else?” She has a point. And her next point is as important: getting published is hard work and you have to work hard at it.

Why am I writing a poem a day for 365 days? It’s writing practice, but my plan is to indie publish the best of the poems in a collection. Entrepreneurial publishing is gaining ground and I already have experience in the field. See my author page on this site. Click on the Books tab in the menu for links to the books I’ve written.

It matters not what you’re writing – fiction, nonfiction, poetry – the satisfaction you derive from creating a work from start to finish, is a reward all its own. Avoid apologizing for what you’ve written after the fact. You did it, maybe you made some errors or your work didn’t get the recognition (sales) you hoped for, let it be. Move on. Learn from your fumbles so your next project is an improvement over the last. Every new book, or article, or poem, or short story is its own creation.

There is a book on the market called Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success). I’m not recommending this book because I haven’t read it, but I like the title’s message. Write. Publish. Repeat.

What are your writing tips and tricks? What fires you up for writing. Enter your thoughts in the comments and I’ll share them in a follow-up post.

Happy Writing!