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on cracks, edge, and light

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

When I decided to quit my corporate job to attend seminary I also decided to spend the summer before I started school working in the Dominican Republic. I worked with an organization that was just getting started in the small mountain town of Jarabacoa.

It was a wonderful experience—and definitely a crash course in immersion for my up to that point classroom only Spanish knowledge.

Jarabacoa is a small town, with dirt roads, not unlike La Mision. As I got to know my way around I began to, each afternoon after work, go for a jog throughout the town.

Suffice it to say that this was not standard behavior amongst the local Dominicans, but after a few weeks of odd looks, I began to get invited, in the midst of my run, for coffee. I tried to politely explain that no, I couldn’t really stop, I had to keep running. Coffee in the DR is more like a shot of espresso with about a cup of sugar, so it may have helped the running, actually.

One afternoon I happened to be running past a primary school as it let out for the day. The children came flooding out onto the dirt road as I was running past. Some of them joined in with me, running along side me, huge smiles on their faces. It was beautiful, really.

It could have been a picture-perfect photo shoot for some sort of ‘save the children’ type organization, with Sally Struthers narrating as the camera rolled, me running, flanked by children, all of us smiling.

And that is when I saw it. The finger.

One of the boys, running along side me, with a huge smile on his face, was also, I realized, holding up his hand, giving me the finger.

So much for the photo shoot.

There is never a dull moment, living in another culture, is there? There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Recently I was reading a daily meditation by one of my favorite authors, catholic priest Richard Rohr. To be honest, I continue to be amazed at the abundant openness in his teachings, and how he continues to take the walls of doctrine and belief and push them out further, and further, and further, until there is this expansive spaciousness in the lessons that he shares. It is a good reminder to me that this welcoming inclusiveness has a place, even in the midst of the most organized of religion.

In this daily meditation Father Rohr quoted the Leonard Cohen song, ‘anthem.’ You may know it. The refrain goes like this:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

Richard Rohr goes on to say that “there is simply a crack in everything and so we should […]

By |2013-03-05T05:58:13-08:00March 11th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on on cracks, edge, and light

Cornucopia and Southwest Airlines

November 9, 2014

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.

That 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 […]

By |2020-01-31T16:17:05-08:00February 19th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on Cornucopia and Southwest Airlines

the heart of the matter

In the summer of 2002 I worked as a hospital chaplain. It was not by choice, but a required internship as part of my seminary training and preparation to become a Presbyterian minister. In fact, I had put off the internship from the summer before, deciding instead to take an intensive Greek course. Greek. As in, ‘it’s all Greek to me.’ That’s how excited I was to do the chaplain thing.

It’s not that I don’t have compassion for sick people, and not that I have a fear of hospitals in general. It was the death part that terrified me. Not even the dying part, so much as the dead part. I had heard stories of chaplains having to go to the morgue, to be with the family as they confirmed that their loved one was, in fact, the deceased. It terrified me.

Okay, it was the dying part too. I had never, at that point in my life, been with anyone as they died. I had no idea what to do. How to act. What to say. I had a friend who’s father had died a few years prior, and I vividly remember being with the family in the hospital as they awaited the inevitable. Their pastor was not available for some reason, so a rookie, stand-in pastor came to the hospital to console the family. All I remembered was how incredibly awkward and how, well, how inadequate he seemed to the task.

It was the fear of being that guy that I brought with me to Mission Hospital in the summer of 2002. But what I hadn’t counted on was that it would be life, more than death, that would end up disturbing me to my very core.

The story I’m about to read you, of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, is a disturbing one–perhaps one of the most troubling stories told about Jesus in the Bible. It’s not typically a go-to story if you’re on PR for team Jesus.

Mark 7:24-30

From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of  Syrophenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

I warned you–it’s kind of a random story, isn’t it? Sure, there’s the whole demon possession thing–that’s […]

By |2013-03-05T05:58:19-08:00February 12th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on the heart of the matter

samuel and summer tomatoes

Good morning. How crazy it is to see you all here. But how fun.

Many of you know that we are gathered here today at the prompting of Anna, on behalf of Doug’s mom Jenny, who, on her last visit to Baja from Pennsylvania, missed her Presbyterian church.  Conveniently enough, we just happen to have a Presbyterian minister in town.

Anna brought this up to a few of us, and asked if perhaps we could gather for some sort of church, and asked if I would be willing to lead us in this. “So wait, it has got to feel enough like church for Jenny to feel ‘at home’ but not so much like church that the rest of everyone would take off running in the other direction…” It seemed like a fun challenge.  I am, of course, a bit crazy.

So, this is a bit of an experiment. It’s a bit of a fine line to be walking, trying to use language that is open to all and doesn’t unnecessarily offend or exclude. That is our intent—please forgive us, forgive me, if it is not completely successful and know that the intention is to give us all space to gather together as a community and connect with that which is more. Some people call it God. Some chafe at the word. Some prefer Spirit or Life Force, Essence or Energy.  All language is limited, isn’t it? How can we possibly describe something of which we can only see glimpses? For me, rather than making me want to give up the whole endeavor, that tasting of a piece, but not the whole, encourages me to want to go deeper. So, take from today what you will. For all of this is simply the finger pointing toward the moon, but not the moon itself.

Most of you know that I love to work in the garden. In fact, you might be sick of hearing about the garden by now. Sorry. When I say ‘work in the garden’ it’s not so much the vision of a victorian woman in her bonnet with a basket, trimming flowers to put in a vase. When I say work in the garden it is more like a pick ax, a lot of rocky ground, and filthy cut off jeans shorts. I love working in the garden. In fact, that’s probably where I will be this afternoon—and I’ve got a lot of arugula, if you want to come pick some you are welcome to.

I haven’t always been a gardener. In fact, I can fairly accurately pinpoint the beginnings of my green thumb. It was the summer of 2004. I had just moved back from Scotland, to be near my parents for the summer, as my dad was in the last months of his struggle with cancer. As it happened, he had planted tomatoes that spring. One evening, as we sat down to lovely summer dinner on the patio, my mom brought […]

By |2013-03-05T05:58:33-08:00January 15th, 2012|Talks|Comments Off on samuel and summer tomatoes