cornucopia and southwest airlines

CornucopiaDoug warmly welcomed the group and requested healing thoughts and prayers be sent out to our friend and neighbor, Betty Davidson for a full and speedy recovery from an aneurysm.

Kathy encouraged us to be a little bit better with a variety of thoughts and quotes on the theme of cornucopia.

The universe operates through dynamic exchange . . . giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe, and in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives. ~Deepak Chopra

See more of Kathy’s quotes from Dr. Paul Farmer, Maya Angelou, & Paul Coelho on the Inspirations page

As a prelude to a brief meditation, Ron recounted his week’s experiences from the highs of time with loving grandchildren to the lows of losing friends and shared a dream that brought a reminder of constant need to attend to our powerful egos.

Ross played a thoughtful selection of swinging tunes from the late 30′s:  Over The Rainbow, God Bless The Child, Pennies From Heaven.  How fortunate we are that Ross is so willing to share his abundant talent.

Terry shared thoughts on gratitude and happiness and her explanation of how conscious gratitude has brought her abundant happiness despite six bouts with cancer was truly inspiring!

And Erin found a way to turn a personal adventure on Southwest Airlines into an entertaining allegorical tale on the topic of abundance:

Not long ago I was at the San Diego airport, again, waiting for a flight. This is not a new experience for me, though this time was actually somewhat different. Normally, in order to accumulate miles and elite status, I fly United Airlines or one of its partners. But on this particular trip, flying to Reno, Nevada, United was much more expensive, with much less preferable flight schedules. So, I wound up, for the first time in a long time, on Southwest Airlines.

Just the thought of Southwest Airlines makes some people nervous – no seat assignment? Will I have to fight for my place? Somehow the opening of the Hunger Games comes to mind – with everyone fighting over his or her share of the cornucopia…

Being the somewhat privileged traveler that I am, I took advantage of paying an extra $12 to get bumped up closer to the front of the line – not the front, but at least not the back. Since I was only to be gone a few days, all I had was a carry on rolling suitcase – of the small, able to fit in the overhead style – and a purse. Actually, that’s what I fly with almost always. When I fly United I know that I will have room for my roller bag as my status gives me privilege in boarding the plane. But this time I was on Southwest and I could feel myself getting a bit nervous as the boarding time neared.

Boarding SouthwestThat was when I noticed it – or, rather them. A number of signs spaced evenly, with numbers on them. 1-40, 41-60, etc. I looked on my boarding card and saw the number A 39. Oh, I get it – that is how we line up. We don’t have seats, but we line up according to our numbers. Soon I saw people getting in line, so I did too, just ahead of the pole that marked ’40.’

That was when I began to notice something – in myself, but also in the other passengers. Or, rather, notice the lack of something. There was none of that sense of frenzy that accompanies boarding a United flight. None of that sense of heightened anxiety that I normally feel as the time to board approaches. Even though I know I have a spot toward the front of the line, somehow I feel the need to jockey for position. As do, it seems, the rest of the passengers, who often don’t let the families with children or those needing assistance to pass through, so closely are they guarding their spot.

Being me, I posted something about this to facebook, so fascinated was I with the vastly different vibe that was present as we began to board that Southwest flight.

Is it the fact that I have a number, a place in line, that makes it different? I wondered out loud. Is it that we all know our place and can’t really do anything to change it that makes this boarding process so much calmer than they normally are? It seemed counter-intuitive that boarding without a seat might be more peaceful than boarding with one. So, knowing you have a place in line is more important than knowing you have a place on the plane? That somehow didn’t seem to make sense.

And that was when it hit me – the difference. It wasn’t about having a place in line, or about having a place on the plane – those both are virtually guaranteed.

It was about stuff. Namely, luggage.

overheadYou see, the other difference with Southwest is that they do not charge for checking a suitcase. Most other airlines do. Not only do they not charge for bringing a suitcase, but you can check two bags on Southwest, completely free. What was different about that Southwest flight was that those who were waiting to board were not, in their positioning, trying to get on board before everyone else so as to have a spot in the limited overhead space.

It felt like a sort of epiphany to me. There was no fear. No sense of scarcity. What there was, instead, was a sense of ‘enough’ – a sense that I did not have to jockey for position to ensure my space, but that there was abundant room for all.

It made me wonder how much of our lives we spend like those United passengers, struggling to get our place to ensure that we have space for our stuff, that our stuff is secure, taken care of, vs. Those Southwest passengers who seemed content, trusting that there would be room for all.

Our theme this month is ‘cornucopia’ – I have to admit, I did not pick it. When I first heard it I thought, huh? So I asked for some more clarification from the person who suggested it.

You know, abundance, plenty, enough – as opposed to greed or hoarding or scarcity.

Wow, I thought. Now there’s a theme.

Of course we are near Thanksgiving and cornucopia’s are a well known symbol of that holiday – as is the feeling of needing to loosen ones trousers and lay down on the couch after eating too much turkey.

It got me wondering – do we live our lives out of abundance? Or do we live our lives out of a scarcity mentality? Do we trust the ‘enoughness of life? Or do we let fear lead us to hoard, to control, to worry that I won’t get my fair share? If you get more, does that mean I get less? If you win, does that mean I lose? And, is it easy to trust abundance when life is good? What about when life is challenging? What about when we are brought to the very edge? What then? Is abundance possible?

I’m an only child – let’s just say, sharing can be challenging for me. I actually act more like a child in a family of ten, worried when food to be shared is placed on the table that I won’t get my fair share. I’ve never gone hungry – this is not a fear based on any actual reality.

And, moreover, is it easy to talk of things such as abundance when we feel that all is going in our favor? Can we find abundance, a mentality of enough, of trust, even in the midst of the challenging times in life?

Linda & Jerry BonannoLinda and Jerry Bonanno bid us all a fond farewell with a beautiful Apache Prayer as they prepare to move from Baja, closer to family in Florida.

“May the sun bring you new energy every day.
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.”

We will miss them and wish them the same!

Thank you to Jim Hawkins for a great topic and as always to David Gee for his generous hospitality.  Thank you everyone for another provocative, entertaining & inspiring Not Church!

Please Don’t Cry

Erin Dunigan -  Photo by Marty Harriman

Erin Dunigan – Photo by Marty Harriman

Who would think that the topic of “Loss” could be anything but a little sad? We should know by now that any topic in the care and thoughtfulness of Erin would be thought-provoking and inspiring, help us dig a little deeper into long-held beliefs, make us laugh, and of course include wonderful metaphors from her passion for permaculture and gardening.  Afterwards, many were heard saying, “It was the best ever.”

We missed Bernie, Kathy encouraging us to “be a little better,”  Ron leading us in meditation,  and Steve’s final comments, but it was another great topic and another stirring Sunday overlooking the beautiful Pacific at David Gee’s Hacienda del Encanto.

Erin found a way to lighten the topic without glossing it over, Ross’s music was spot-on, Doug’s poem touching and Carmen’s presentation from the beloved Macristy of Mexicali , “To My Friends,”  all came together to help us see that there is more to loss than grief and crying.











Not Church Oct 12, 2014 Photo by Marty Harriman

Not Church Oct 12, 2014
Photo by Marty Harriman


September 14, 2014

Strawberries Ripening © Erin Dunigan

Strawberries Ripening © Erin Dunigan

For most of human history, it’s as if we have had long spring-times and only the briefest of summers, a lot of time to put down roots and sprout but almost none to mature. But now, around the world and especially in the developed countries, more people are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. Our normal life span, which stayed at an almost steady twenty years for most of human history , has leapt in an evolutionary eyeblink to seventy-eightyears in the West. Why is this so important? Think about how helpless we are as infants and children compared to other species. It takes us so long to be able to live without our parents’ support, so very long to develop our intelligence and adaptability and skills, to grow in our capacity for compassion and wisdom, good judgment, and discernment. To put it bluntly, it takes all of us a frightfully long time to grow up and many of us never do.

The sudden spurt in longevity over the last fifty years has changed the landscape for growing old. Doesn’t that make you wonder what these years are for? That’s precisely what I’ve been wondering for the past twenty years: How do I make the time ahead count? How can my generation and the ones coming after us not just fritter our later years away, not doze through our aging?  – Sherry Ruth Anderson, “Ripening Time.”

The question I bring before us this morning is a simple one – as we journey through the chronology of our lives, are we ripening, or are we merely rotting? The rotting, of course, is inevitable – the ripening is not.

The next question is, what will we do about it?

What does ripening look like? How does it happen?

BananasMost of us are familiar with the situation of fruit in our grocery stores – bananas that come from Ecuador, picked green – I’ve seen them there at the port in Guayaquil – and shipped around the world. This is done since a green banana travels much better than a ripe one. So, they are kept intentionally immature so that they travel better. Once they reach their destination, the ripening process can be induced – artificially. The primary chemical that is at play in ripening is ethylene – it is that which is fostered when you put your fruit in a brown paper bag to help it ripen. It’s enhanced if you put an apple core or a banana peel in the bag – increasing the ethylene and thus the ripening.

What’s the big deal? It seems to work, doesn’t it? The fruit can travel better, then it ripens on demand – sounds ideal.


tree-ripened-peachWhen fruit is allowed to ripen on the tree, or the vine, or the plant, it’s ripening happens from the inside. When fruit is picked too early – for commercial and cosmetic reasons – that process ceases, and the ripening that happens is from the outside in. This second process resembles the first, more or less. But if you’ve ever tasted a peach, picked right from the tree and bit into on a summer day you will know that though the process might seem similar, there is something categorically different.

It is sweeter. Juicier. Tastier.

So, you may be asking yourselves about now – have I come to a horticultural presentation, or to Not Church? What does this have to do with anything?

I’m glad you asked…

We are, of course, all aging. We are all getting older. Our culture is full of ways to convince us that that doesn’t have to be the case. That aging doesn’t have to be inevitable, that getting old is just another problem to be fixed with the right cream, the right powder, the right pills. You can stay young forever! That is the claim. That is the promise.

But is it the truth? Is it reality?

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for being young at heart, for enjoying life to its fullest – and I am the first one to hope that people, when they guess my age, get it about ten years wrong in the direction of 29.

unripened peachesBut do we really want a bunch of perfectly hard peaches lining the shelves of our world? Durable, sure. Not showing any age spots or blemishes. Not showing any of the inevitable bruises of life. But tasteless. Bland. Lacking sweetness. Lacking depth of flavor, of color.

kenny-rogersI can’t help but think of Kenny Rogers – whose music I love, but whose face has lost all expression, to quote a line from the Gambler – his eyes forced in a perpetual perkiness.

Is this what aging is all about? Or is there something more?

Many of you know Glenn, who can’t be here today as he begins teaching for the new school year tomorrow up in Palm Desert. Those of you who know Glenn know that he is quite the horticulturalist.

Sunflower © Erin Dunigan

Sunflower © Erin Dunigan

In my conversation with Glenn he told me this: “The entire purpose of a plant is to produce seed. The purpose for producing seed is the dispersal of that seed. Everything the plant is geared for, created for, is to promote the next generation. Plants, in that way, are always sort of forward thinking.”

I began to wonder – is it the same for us? Sure, of course, technically on a biologically level it is true – if someone is not reproducing we are not going to continue. But on a more mystical level, or a spiritual level, or a metaphorical level – is this true?

The entire purpose of a plant is to produce seed. The purpose for producing seed is the dispersal of that seed. Everything the plant is geared for, created for, is to promote the next generation.

Many years ago I was working with a youth group – I was just out of college, the students were young teenagers. We were on a work project in a poor rural area in the east. On our day off we headed to a local river to go white water canoeing. I’ve got to admit – I’m something of a chicken. I know I might not present as that, but it’s the truth. So, as I sat there looking at the canoes, and at the rushing river, I began to consider who I wanted in my canoe. The youth group leader, of course. He was more than a decade my senior, big, strong. But as the assignments were made I was shocked to realize – the younger students wanted to go with me for just the same reasons I wanted to go with the leader. Wait a second, I remember thinking, how did I turn into an adult?? It was a rather shocking realization, this sense that instead of the one receiving it was time for me to be the one giving, to step into that role.

Richard Rohr puts it this way: “Why would any of us ripen until it is demanded of us?”

Bernie Zimney (June 2014)Sherry Ruth Anderson in her book, Ripening Time: Inside stories of aging with grace suggests that we are at a time in our collective lives in which we are hungry for ‘elders’ – and into which we are being called to become those elders for others who will follow.

If it is true, what does it mean? What does it ask of us or invite us into?

How do we let ourselves be shaped and transformed – how do we let life ripen us if it will?


In my pondering and research on ripening I came upon a rather geeky chemistry related conversation. Is ripening a physical or a chemical change? I thought, “Who cares?” But being the inquiring mind that I am, I figured I’d read a bit further and see what it was all about.

The consensus is that ripening is a chemical, not a physical change. Again, you might ask, as I did, why do I care? A chemical change involves the alteration of the physical and chemical properties of the substance. You can’t get the original back through physical means. Once you ripen, you can’t go back.

Last month I shared with you a quote from an author named Shane Claiborne “Most good things have been said far too often and just need to be lived.”

It is not merely by listening, reading, or discussing ripening that we get there – if we stay at that level we are in danger of being like parrots repeating what we hear from gurus or teachings, without converting the intellectual knowledge into our own experience. The way for us to ripen is to convert these teachings, like the starches converting to sugar. Instead of being something we say, they become who we are. But this ‘becoming’ is not an end in and of itself – no, the ripening of the fruit is for the dispersal of the seed. This becoming is meant to be shared.

Two points I’d like to leave with you – the first is that often ripening is enhanced through wounding. A fruit that is gashed or otherwise ‘damaged’ in some ways is actually able to ripen better than one left untouched. Lest we think that ‘ripening’ is all butterflies, rainbows and puppies – hardly. It is a transformation of our very being. It is not without a cost.

The second is this – you know the phrase, one bad apple spoils the bunch? Well, it is actually true. But true in a positive way as well. Once one fruit begins to ripen, others in its vicinity also increase their capacity for ripening. Exponentially. It is, in a sense, contagious.

The entire purpose of a plant is to produce seed. The purpose for producing seed is the dispersal of that seed. Everything the plant is geared for, created for, is to promote the next generation.

As we journey through the chronology of our lives, are we ripening, or are we merely rotting? The rotting, of course, is inevitable – the ripening is not.

The next question is, what will we do about it?

[While you’re thinking, take a listen to one of Ross’s inspiring selections, Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night]

Common Ground

Most good things have been said far too often and just need to be lived. ~Shane Claiborne

We don’t think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. ~Richard Rohr

copyright Erin Dunigan

© Erin Dunigan

This month our theme is ‘common ground’ – how do we find, connect with, and cultivate that which brings us together even in the midst of so much that threatens to tear us apart?

Last month, for those who were here, we talked about belief – as you might imagine, we here in this place represent more than a few opinions on the subject! There was much conversation, and for many of us – myself included – it stirred up more than it smoothed out. I have to admit, that’s not always comfortable for me! I like things to be clean, orderly, wrapped up. Not messy. Closure. In fact, one time when I had a friend visiting she and I both caught me talking to myself out loud. I began the phrase, “I love me some…” and to her surprise without a pause said, “I love me some order.” Really Erin?? Order? That is not normally the type of word people use in that phrase!

But there is something compelling about a world that makes sense, isn’t there? Something tempting to want to eliminate the gray, the in between, the not yet. It is tempting to want a world without a bunch of loose ends straggling all over the place.

Treasures in Ruins © Erin Dunigan

© Erin Dunigan

And yet, when we look around at our world – especially in the last weeks, messy, awful, tragic, violent, fanatical is a lot of what we see, isn’t it? Regardless of what ‘side’ you take on issues that are currently garnering the headlines – the tragedy in Israel and in Gaza. The horror that is sweeping Iraq. The mobs in Paris screaming death to the Jews. The hatred that is being unleashed toward children who are fleeing violence and desperation – and the violence and desperation which is causing them to flee.

I’ve found myself quite weighed down by it all, as of late. Not to mention the things closer to home that remind us that life isn’t always what we intend it to be, that even in our own families, amongst our own neighbors or friends we are faced with challenges.

It’s made me wonder – what can I do? What is to be done? What can possibly be done?

Give More Than You Take

Give More Than You Take & copy; Erin Dunigan

The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me is, ‘How do we cure what ails us?’

For some the answer lies in a sort of circling the wagons and rejecting those who believe/think/act differently from them. How do we cure what ails us? We rid ourselves of those people. We rid ourselves of __________.

For others the answer lies in information. I have to say, I find myself guilty of this one. It must be that people do not know about ________, that is why they are behaving the way they are. If they only knew, then they would change, then they would be different. In our google, facebook world it can be tempting to think that the cure for what ails us is more information – knowing would solve it.

Perhaps the cure for what ails us lies in security, in protecting ourselves from whatever it is that threatens. More walls. More bombs. More fences. More vigilance. More brute force. In many ways we live in a world that has almost made an idol out of security, hasn’t it? Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying security is bad or misguided or problematic in and of itself – we need a certain level of security in order to live our lives. But the challenge comes in when security becomes the justification for everything else.

(And here I thought ‘common ground’ was going to be an easier theme than ‘belief!’)

I wonder, what is it that we are looking for, hoping for, seeking, when we find ourselves wanting to find common ground?

A place where fighting can cease. A place of peace.

But I wonder, what does common ground look like? Let’s find a place where you can agree with me? Let me convince you of my side? This is why so much of religious evangelizing is so annoying, isn’t it? The assumption that you need to come to the side of the one doing the evangelizing, rather than the other way around. I’m not so sure that’s common ground.

It’s what facebook often turns into, isn’t it? Let me post all these things about how I see a particular situation, so that I can convince you and win you over to my position. If you post too many things that I don’t agree with, then I just hide your posts so I don’t have to deal with them – and maybe you do the same to me.

But I think there has got to be another way. A third way, if you will. A way that is not me convincing you, nor you convincing me, but somehow us finding a way to honor, respect, and listen to one another.

Recently my friend Ron told me about a conversation with his son. They have differing views on the situation in Israel and Gaza. They are both well educated, thoughtful, intelligent – and diametrically opposed. And yet, Ron told me, after a two hour conversation they left – not having convinced or converted each other, but having understood each other better.

But isn’t that just a waste of time? What’s the point of that? Isn’t it pointless to spend all that time and not gain another convert? (Btw, that is often unintentionally how many church people view interactions with people outside the church…)

Speaking of church…one of almost the oldest stories in the christian and jewish scriptures is the story of adam and eve in the garden of eden. This one story has had uncaculable ramifications on so much of human history, as it is the account that tells of the story of what is known as ‘the fall.’ There are actually two creation stories, which are somewhat different in their details, but that is a story for another time. But as the story goes, God tells Adam and Eve that they can enjoy everything about the garden, this new paradise, except one thing – they cannot eat from the fruit of the tree in the center. They, of course, do, and the consequence is that they are cast out of the garden. This act is considered to be the original sin that now plagues all of humanity.

You may be wondering why you care – but here is why. Sin is not as we have been so often indoctrinated in our puritanical culture a list of bad things, or wrong things, or even a list at all. Sin, in its meaning, is simply ‘missing the mark.’ Think about that. Think about how that changes so many things that get said, promoted, etc.

Missing the mark.

In the case of the story of Adam and Eve, it is a choice that leads to disconnection. Prior to the ‘eating of the apple’ all is well – all is in harmony, all is connected. But the sin is to choose disconnection over that. To make a choice for disconnection rather than connection. And then to live as though disconnection is the reality, rather than the other way around.

It is separation that is the lie. Oneness is the reality.

I wonder, what is it that we long for? What is it that might cure that which ails us?

Is it not connection? Is it not someone who is willing to see the world through my eyes? To walk in my moccasins? To understand me, to hear me, to know me? Is this not what is behind so many of those facebook games or quizes – which Harry Potter character are you? Are you a true Californian? Or Southerner, or…?

In Spanish there are two words for knowing – saber and conocer. Saber is how you know facts. I know that it is sunday. I know that the sky is blue. I know that we live in Baja. But conocer is how you know people. Do you know Ron? Conocer is a knowing in relationship.

So, how do we find this connection, this being known, this common ground?

It’s easy. And terribly difficult.

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary.” Rabbi Hillel

Or, as Jesus put it, “In everything do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.”

The Golden Rule.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And do not do unto others as you would not want done to you. The rest is commentary.

What if, for a moment, instead of insisting on others meeting us upon our ground, we allowed ourselves to set that aside and chose instead to meet them on theirs? It takes an enormous amount of courage at the interpersonal level and at the international level. And it must be fed by compassion. Where courage and compassion meet, there is where we find connection.

So, what does it actually look like?

Maybe it means this week inviting someone to lunch, or over for a drink, or to go for a walk on the beach or to enjoy a meal. It doesn’t have to be someone who is your sworn enemy – but maybe it is someone who you do not know well, who you would like to know better. Maybe it means listening when you’d rather be doing something else. Maybe it means lingering for a time, being open to that which might unfold, rather than rushing to judgments or assumptions about others.

I don’t know what it looks like for you. But I know what it looks like for me.

The challenge I leave with us all today is to be cultivators of this common ground. Might we? Because, my friends, that is how we can change the world. It is, possibly, the only way. In being the change we wish to see in the world.

It is not easy. It is not without risk. It is not always fun. But I believe it can bring deep joy. For when we connect with the truth, the big truth, the truth that all things are one, that we are truly one, that separateness is the illusion, that is when we find peace. That is when we encounter love. We know it, not just as saber. We conocer it.