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!

Ripening
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.

Except…

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?

DISCUSSION

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.

 

Of onions, marigold, St. Francis and Tianna – October 14, 2012

Most of us arrive at a sense of self and vocation only after a long journey through alien lands. But this journey bears no resemblance to the trouble-free “travel packages” sold by the tourism industry. It is more akin to the ancient tradition of pilgrimage –
“a transformative journey to a sacred center” full of hardships, darkness and peril.” In the tradition of pilgrimage those hardships are seen not as accidental but as integral to the journey itself.

-Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

St. Francis, Erin Dunigan Sermon, la MisionThis morning I’d like to begin with onions – doesn’t everyone think spirituality and onions?

Last week I decided that it was time to plant onions. You can plant onions from seed, or you can plant them from a seedling that is a little baby onion. I had a patch of ground prepared and wondered what it would hold. I decided that it would hold onions.

So I put them in – the right spacing apart, point up, in about two inches into the ground, covered. It was actually pretty easy as my gardening goes – normally I am pick-axing giant rocks out of the ground.

I moved on to do a few other things in the garden.

But then I walked back to the onion patch and looked at it. Of course I had only just finished. But I looked at it, this blank part of ground, thought of my grandmother, and I said, “Grow dammit!”

Erin Dunigan Grandmother, 'Tianna'My grandmother died when I was still very young – I was 7 when she passed away, so I didn’t get to know her for a long time, but the knowing that I had of her was very, very fond.

Not only do I have many fond memories of her from my own experience, but I also have the family stories about her that I learned later on. One of them had to do with plants.

Supposedly she was having a hard time with her house plants – they were dying, and someone said to her “You know don’t you, you are supposed to talk to your plants – that’s what makes them grow.”

Without skipping a beat my grandmother said, I do talk to them. I talk to them everyday. I say, “Grow dammit, or I’ll pull you out!”

We are talking today about harvest and about purpose and finding meaning.
You will also see, up here on the table, in addition to the book by Parker Palmer and a handful of onions, that I brought my grandma’s St. Francis bird bath – which is not really a bird bath anymore, but more of a succulent garden now.

My favorite catholic priest Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, talks about what he calls ‘birdbath Franciscanism.’

I’m assuming most people have heard of St. Francis – the first sermon he preached was to a bunch of birds – it is said that he preached to them, they listened there in the tree, and when he was done he sent them into the world and they flew away.

I have to tell you, no joke, this morning as I was sitting out on the patio, this one tree in the yard was completely full of birds – but they weren’t listening to a thing I said.

St. Francis was also was known for being a bit counter-cultural – he was born into wealth and privilege, but gave that up in order to be poor amongst the poor.

It is even said that at one point his father was very angry at him for this – and was trying to ‘reign him in.’ In order to show that he was walking away from it all, St. Francis stripped himself even of the robe he was wearing – giving it back to his father – and walked through the streets naked, praising God.

Now what Richard Rohr says is that a lot of times you can get this birdbath Franscicanism – oh, isn’t it sweet, he talked to the animals.

But the reality is, in the life of faith and spirituality and finding meaning and finding purpose (we come from different places and so we call it different things) – that life that draws us all here to this place, that we are seeking a deeper experience of – it is not always so pretty, it is not always like that travel brochure.

Of course, the search for our purpose and meaning can be lofty and wonderful but it can also be tough and difficult.

St. Francis, La Mision, Erin Dunigan SermonWhat you might not be able to see is that St. Francis also has a crack, right here, along his neck. One time he tipped over and hit the tile and his head fell off. For a while his head sat next to him in the birdbath, until someone finally thought that doesn’t seem right, and so glued it back on.

But he has a crack there, within him.

Most of you know that I have just been on a trip – I travel as a Presbyterian minister, photographer and writer – it is wonderful and I am so thankful for the opportunity.

Recently I was in Taiwan. I love being in other places. But I don’t always love the getting there and back – it can be a long plane ride, there can be jet lag – it can be kind of rough.

But my favorite part of it is to watch movies on the plane. I don’t have a TV, I don’t really go to the movies because after dark I don’t really leave the house. So I fly on airplanes and watch movies.

Normally I like to watch foreign films. But if you are on Asiana airlines, if you watch say a Japanese film, the words are in Japanese and the subtitles are in Korean – that did not do me a lot of good. I did watch one Hindi movie, subtitled in Korean – but it was Bollywood and so at least there was a bit of music and dancing in the mix.

I decided I needed to find an English movie as my Korean is not very fluent – I can say good morning, milk, apple and delicious.

So I found this film called the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – for the elderly and beautiful. Some of you may have seen it – some of you may have been in it! (If you haven’t seen it, when you do, you will know why I said that.)

It is an incredible film about this young Indian man, Sunny, who decides he is going to ‘outsource old age.’ He creates a brochure, a beautiful travel brochure, promoting his hotel. He sends it off to British retirees. They think it looks gorgeous – and plus, they can’t really afford to live out their retirement in the UK – and so seven of them decide, let’s go, to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It looks exotic. Appealing. Delightful.

As the movie opens we see each of these folks experiencing the excitement about the brochure and the possibility.

Of course, you know how it goes – they get there, and not only is it not exactly like the brochure, it is much, much different. One couple opens their room and birds fly out, one woman goes to her room and there is no door, there is a leaky tap – it is not exactly what the brochure made it out to be.

So, this one woman that is really having a rough time goes to complain to Sunny, the manager. She says, ‘I do not want this! I want to go here (pointing to the brochure)! I want to go to this hotel! Where is this?!”

Sunny responded back to her – “The amazing news is that this, in fact, is exactly where we are!”

“No it is not. This does NOT look like the brochure,” said the irate woman.

His response is one of the central lines that weaves itself throughout the film – “Well, we have a saying here in India, that everything will be alright in the end – so if it’s not alright, then it must not be the end.”

You can imagine it doesn’t go well with his upset client.

Further on as this opening unfolds, the guests are having dinner and Sunny welcomes them to their new home.

“Look around, you can see that you are all a bit long in the tooth – but here we have a place where you can relax and enjoy your last years.” One look around the room tells us that the guests are not so sure about this plan.

But what is amazing is that as the movie unfolds and as they let go of their ideas from that brochure, and experience the real Jaipur India, the real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, they find themselves planting in a soil that takes hold of them, and plants itself in them as they have taken themselves to that new place, to that foreign land.

It is beautiful to watch.

While I was in Taiwan I saw an example of that. He is a man named Pastor Chen. We met with lots of people, but Pastor Chen made a huge impression on me.

In Taiwan, when you are a Presbyterian minister and you are ready to take your first job, it is a lottery system, so they literally draw the names of the pastors, and assign them to churches that need them.

Pastor Chen made the decision that he would stay where he was sent. That would be it. He would plant himself there.

He was sent to an aboriginal (indigenous) area. He is not aboriginal, but he was sent to this area.

When he got there he found out that not only could the church not afford to pay him, they couldn’t afford to pay him, and that most in the church did not have jobs themselves. He quickly realized that he was going to need a job, and that if the church were ever to become self-sustaining, he would need to find a way to provide jobs for his parishioners as well.

It just so happens that there is a hospital nearby, a Christian hospital, started by Presbyterians. Pastor Chen became aware that the hospital needed a cleaning crew, and jumped at the chance to provide one. He quickly needed to gather this team.

They began the cleaning work – at first they were polishing the floors way too much and it was a bit dangerous. But they got into a rhythm.

Not long after the hospital came to him saying “You’re doing such a good job with the cleaning crew – do you also do fumigation?”

“Of course we do!” said Pastor Chen – who admitted to us that they didn’t know anything about fumigation. But they figured they could learn.

The hospital came to him again – we need some landscaping work, do you do landscaping work?

“Of course!” answered Pastor Chen – again telling us, they had no idea. He admitted that the first time around they pruned things back just a bit too much, but they learned.

As Pastor Chen recounted this story he said, “We learned. We grew.”

What started as an idea with 4 people now employs over 300 people – both those within the church and those outside.

It is also allowing the church to provide after school tutoring for the aboriginal children and helping the church to advocate on behalf of the people. Pastor Chen told us that the biggest threat to the aboriginal way of life is the threat to the environment brought on by globalization.

One guy. Who decided when he randomly got sent to this place, to stay where he was planted. It is 20+ years since he was planted there. It is amazing to hear the stories.

Of course there was difficulty along the way.

Of course St. Francis has a little crack that you don’t necessarily see when you look on 20 years later.

The life of faith calls us, invites us, draws us in to plant ourselves deeply, in place and to let place plant itself in us.

I’ve been reading lately about monasticism because I love St. Francis and because there are other modern day communities of folks who have dedicated themselves to a rhythm of life, to a way of going deeper.

That is one of the things some of us have talked about – we love Not Church, we love gathering, but how do we go deeper?

I think one of the ways we go deeper is by adopting this idea of a rhythm of life, a rule of life.

You don’t have to do it exactly the way they do it in monasteries – celibacy might not be an option for everyone, for instance – but hospitality might. Some of these monasteries, communities, are centers of hospitality that invite in the stranger, friends, and share meals together. Some of them have regular times of prayer and mediation.

They are finding ways to plant themselves deep in their soil.

One of my other favorite teachers, a rabbi named Jesus – you may have heard of him – the way he gave voice to this idea of the life of faith, often referred to as the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. I think it is easy for us to think, oh heaven that is after we die, clouds, harps and such.

But this is right here, right now, that which is seeping in and planting itself in our lives and in our very beings.

He talked about it like a mustard seed.

If you are a gardener you might not love this analogy – because you know that a mustard seed is tiny, but once it gets into the dirt, it takes over everything. In fact, it is sort of a pain.

But that is what Jesus used as an analogy of this life of meaning, permeating and finding its way through everything, so that all of a sudden you have beautiful vegetation and flowers and spice…

Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right, if you find yourself saying, hmm, I’m not so sure, what my meaning is, my purpose, in this season of Autumn that brings a sense of the season of autumn in life – everything will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright then it is not yet the end.

The other thing you’ll notice about onions, once they are grown, is that they have many layers. In a sense, the life of faith is like peeling away those outer onion layers, until you get to the center, to that which is ‘onion.’

We peel away that which is not – that which keeps us distracted or not focused or angry – whatever things are not going to last, until we find that core within – or it is found in us.

My grandmother saw herself as not really being such a green thumb. Not really doing much with that which she had planted.

She kind of was here, in a sense, by accident – she and my grandfather were set to move here for their retirement, but as the house was being built, my grandfather died. So my grandmother lived here for the last twenty years of her life in La Mision.

At first there was no electricity, for there wasn’t any yet on the hill. She didn’t know how to drive – she had to learn. And she didn’t speak Spanish – which she learned enough.

As I have spent time here and gotten to know the community, when I meet Mexican men about my age who grew up here, they will say ‘Dunigan? How are you related Anna Dunigan?”

She was my grandmother.

When I was a boy, she would give me a quarter for raking her leaves….
When I was a boy, I would come to the door to ask for a cup of water – knowing that she would also give me a cookie….

When I was a boy I had no shoes for school, and she gave me some….

She didn’t see the result of that then. She didn’t know that her granddaughter, who was only a little girl, would later be living in her house, meeting those little boys who had swept her leaves or eaten her cookies.

I called her Mama. That was my name for her. But everyone else I knew called her Tianna. Tianna was not her name – her name was Ann.

But as kids do, you just accept things, and it was only a few years ago that I realized, “You know, Tianna – it was even the name on her stocking- that name was given to her. Tia Anna. Auntie Ann.

She planted herself in this place, and this place renamed her. They gave her a new name. She was no longer known as Ann. She was Tianna.

Because of her I am here of course, but because of her we all are here, gathered together this morning.

Plant yourselves in this place. Let this place be planted in you.

And if it is not all right, that’s okay – because we know it must not yet be the end.

pruning, abiding and bearing fruit: repentance and the days of awe*
Sunday, September 9, 2012

“Grapes”

I remember, after I had been ordained–three years ago this October–though there were many emotions present, there was one with a very particular outlet.

I was excited, finally, to be able to have something to say that I ‘do’ when crossing the  border from Mexico to the US and being questioned by the border guards. Up until that point I had tried to describe it–well, I’m in the process of becoming a Presbyterian minister, but I’m also a photographer and a writer and I travel a lot–but now I could just say “I’m a Presbyterian minister.” Easy. Done.

Right.

My first time crossing, after being ‘official’ as a minister I drove up to the gate (this was pre-SENTRI pass for those who pay attention to such details) ready to give my answer.

Sure enough the guard asked me, “What do you do?” Almost too proudly I responded, “I’m a Presbyterian minister” to which his immediate response was, “Recite the 23rd Psalm.”

I blanked. Totally blanked. This was not what I was expecting from the US Border Guard.

“Yea though I walk thru the shadow of death…” I tried, starting in the middle and stopping far short of the end.

“Keep going,” he said.

“Well, I don’t have it memorized,” I had to admit to him. “Do you?” I asked him in return.

“Yep,” he responded.

“Well, you must be Catholic,” I replied, to which he, smiling, answered in the affirmative.

“I’m Presbyterian, we don’t have to memorize Psalm 23,” I responded, rather pathetically, I can admit.

He, smiling, waved me through as I, in my shame, crossed over to the other side.

The very next time I crossed, not to be dissuaded, I planned on the same answer–though I still hadn’t memorized the 23rd Psalm.

“What do you do?” the border guard asked me. “I’m a Presbyterian minister,” I responded.

“Do you have any drugs, tobacco or alcohol with you?” he responded.

Oh, so you must be Presbyterian too…

This month our Not Church theme is the Days of Awe. It is a phrase that references the Jewish calendar, a ten day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah, and ending with Yom Kippur.

It is said that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life, and on Yom Kippur those records are sealed. The time between, then, is a sort of ‘purgatory’ if you will in which one can, if necessary, attempt to change the outcome.

What is interesting is that the two days are not back to back, one right after the other.  They are separated by ten days, what are known as the Days of Awe. This ‘grace period’ in a sense, is a time of penitence, of repentance, of considering what one has done that is not exactly what might have been best, and what one might do, in the coming year, to change that.

The new year begins with repentance. Ten days of repentance. It’s not unlike the New Year, the January 1st one, being a time of making resolutions. Though with the Days of Awe there is more of a focus on this need to cleanse that which has kept one distant.

Many of you know that I like to work in my garden. I’ve given you a break from garden stories for the past few months, but you know that can last only so long…

Lately I’ve been planting fruit trees. Many fruit trees. At last count I’ve got 15. You name the fruit, I’ve likely got it. except for Quince, which I had to look up when the plant guys were trying to sell me a membrillo to see what that meant. Even having the translation, knowing that the tree was a quince didn’t help me much. I’m not sure what to do with a quince.

But mango, apple (yes, I do have both mango and apple planted in the same yard…we’ll see how that goes) peach, nectarine, plum, avocado, guava, pomegranate, pear, tangerine, lemon, lime, grapefruit and, most recently, orange. I’ve also got an almond tree, a pistachio bush, and two grape vines.

Not that long ago I posted a photo of my grape vine, newly purchased, and captioned it ‘grapes!’ A friend on facebook correctly pointed out that, in fact, this was not a photo of grapes, but of a grape vine (with not even a flower at this point) and that by calling it grapes I was expressing something that I ‘saw’ but that clearly was not yet realized.

Which, of course, is what I think the ‘Days of Awe’ are all about…

Jesus, himself a Jew, who, it happens, liked to tell stories from the garden, is said to have put it this way in the book of John–the most poetic and mysticalof the four gospels:

I am the vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit. (John 15:1-5)

Pruning, abiding, and bearing fruit.

It seems to me that the word ‘repentance‘ has got a bit of a PR problem.  I think that the idea ‘repentance’ can be a word we don’t necessarily like talking about. It too easily can bring up images of hate mongers, standing on the corner spewing vitriol, or protesting whatever they see as the current threat, while waving signs that say “Repent!”

If that’s what ‘repent’ is, I want nothing to do with it.

But in Hebrew, which is the language of the Jewish Scriptures, the word translated as repent is most often the Hebrew word Shoov, which, literally, means to turn. When I was in seminary, studying Hebrew one summer, my friends and I had to memorize something in the range of 40 words a day. The mnemonic which we used to remember Shoov was the image of your shoe, turning around. That’s free of charge. There was also another word,Ohell, which we remembered as “Ohell there’s a bear in the tent” but I can’t remember if the word means ‘tent’ or ‘bear.’ Since there are more tents than bears in the Bible, I’m guessing it was the former…

I also took Greek, which is the language of the Christian Scriptures, known often as the New Testament. In Greek the word for repent is most oftenmetanoia, or to change ones mind.

So repent literally means to turn around–to stop going in one direction and turn, or return, in the opposite direction. It is a changing of ones mind.

It is not so much about “Horrible me, I’m an awful person, what must I do to rid myself of my horrible-ness.” It is more like ‘pruning’ which is an entirely different concept altogether. I’ve seen it primarily in my bougainvillea.

Last winter I gave the bougainvillea what I would call a good haircut. So good, in fact, that people who saw it wondered if it would ever come back. It had been a few years since I had pruned it, and in the intervening time it had gotten rather ‘leggy’ and not very full. So I pruned it. It was not because I was mad at it, or because it is an awful plant and needed to be punished–I pruned it because I wanted it to grow well.  And this summer? The blossoms are abundant, the foliage is dense and green.

The Days of Awe give us an opportunity to reflect, to prune.

But the thing about pruning, and about bearing fruit is that they both, of course, assume planting. There is a Chinese proverb–the best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The second best time is today.

The thing is, if you want to eat grapes now, you don’t plant a grape vine. If you want to eat grapes now you go to the fruteria and, provided they are in season, which they are currently, you buy yourself some grapes.

Planting a grape vine is something different entirely.

Though I have 15 fruit trees, this summer I can tell you exactly how much fruit I ate from them: three nectarines and one plum. That’s it. Four pieces of fruit. Granted, they were delicious. The best nectarine you’ve ever eaten. A plum that was sweet beyond anything that you’d buy at the store. But, that’s something in the range of $50 per piece of fruit, if you do the math.

It’s not exactly a great deal. At least not yet.

Right now, in fact, it seems a bit absurd, really.

But give it time. It will most definitely seem absurd. But, I trust, for entirely different reasons.

For I remember, as a kid growing up, we had a plum tree in our back yard. There were three of us–my mom, my dad and I–and we could not possibly eat all of the plums that came from that tree in a given summer, making jam with some, and giving the rest away. In fact, I was born in June, and that summer the plum tree on Snug Harbor Road had a bumper crop. Let’s just say, my mom learned the hard way that what she ate, I ate. But, I like to think that the love of plums, fresh from the tree, was instilled within me from the very milk that I feasted on when I was only weeks old.

That was one tree, with three people. I’ve planted 15 trees. I hope you all like fruit…

The Days of Awe invite us into a time of reflection, of repentance, of turning away from certain ways of being, pruning if you will, and turning toward that which bears fruit, abiding.

We are invited to consider that which we need to let go of, that which binds us, that which keeps us from being who we already are.

The fundamental question asked, in the ten day period represented by the Days of Awe, is ‘will my name be written in the book of life?’

We are called to turn, to change our minds, to repent.

But, at the end of the day, the point is not the pruning. The point is to bear fruit.

Jesus, when he preached among the people, put it this way: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Turn. Return. Change your mind. That which you are seeking, it is not ‘out there’ distant in some far off place or for some future time. Believe. It is right here, now, among you, within you.

You are already who you are still becoming–like a Presbyterian minister who doesn’t know the 23rd Psalm. Like a fruit tree. Like a grape vine.  This process doesn’t happen over night or immediately. It is not instantaneous. There is a time, a grace period–the Days of Awe–a space between the New Year and the Day of Atonement.

It’s like seeing that young vine, still only a plant, no fruit yet to speak of, and proclaiming, “grapes!”