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Saturday, January 31, 2015

A walk, a protest, a death and more steps along the way

Today feels like one of those days that simply will not quit giving.  I can't catch my breath.  It started out slowly enough.  But as it started to pick up steam, the train began rolling down the track and has me holding on as if I'm on the outside of one of the cars and trailing along behind in the wind.  I decided to go out to one of the dunes not far from my house and take the dog for a leisurely walk around a little used lake.  It's really more like a pond.

The weather is freakishly spring-like for the last day of January, though the forecast looks as if rain will be back starting tomorrow.  The walk was peaceful, calm and beautiful.  

I was breathing in the freshness and the beauty and after the walk decided to drive up and down some of the other roads to see what might be there and where I might go for future explorations.  In doing so, I ran into a group of folks who were protesting big business takeover of some of the logging operations here in the area.
Let me introduce you to Rick and George, who were happy to talk to me about their protest.  Everyday the mill is open and shipping, they will be there to protest.  They claim this multi-million $$ entity only paid $6000 in taxes last year.  I have no idea whether or not I would agree with their beef, but I sure loved talking to them and applauded their grassroots efforts.

On the drive back home, I had to stop and enjoy this view of the McCullough Bridge that crosses into North Bend, Oregon.
In doing so, I checked my messages and Facebook and saw a post from Sharol Hayner regarding the death of her husband Steve.  He is someone who has a laundry list of accomplishments and degrees and jobs far greater than I ever will.  I only really met and talked to Steve once, when I was taking Dmin classes at Columbia Theological Seminary, but in that one meeting, it was not his credentials that impressed me, but instead, his spirit and faith and passion.  I also was moved by degrees more by the story Sharol shared from someone I DO know well, my former pastor, the Rev. Dr. Steve Harrington.  His words and the images she share don CaringBridge about the two Steves was so vivid, so real, so faith-filled, love-inspired, and hope-laden.   I simply sat in stillness with the words, the beauty of the day, the tears of grief that come when death comes too quickly, and the hope and joy that skips right behind that sadness in an image of life eternal that is around the bend, over the bridge, through the thickets, and beyond all of our greatest imaginings.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wanderlust or wanderlost?

The saying goes "All who wander are not lost."  I think in my case the saying would more accurately be, "all who wander want you to think they are not lost."  I am consistently losing my way.   I'm the poster girl for the benefits of GPS, tracking devices, direction and map apps, etc.  I remember the first time I walked a labyrinth.  The instructor/facilitator told us it was distinguished from a maze, partly because there is only one way in and one way out and there was no way you could get mixed up about how walk to the center and back out again.  WRONG!  I somehow managed to mess it up.

Mostly, I'm okay with this trait.  It's not something that really bugs me or feels like a significant deficit, nor is it a factor that has diminished my quality of life in any significant way.    In fact, it is much the opposite.  It is amazing what you find when you are willing to get lost or to take different routes or simply to just stop for a while because you have no idea where you are.  When I can do that, it reminds me that it is okay to be lost and it is okay to stay in the space for a little while until I find my bearings once again.  I notice things.  I meet people.  Unexpected things happen.

I can recall a day over two years ago when I was in the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was near the end of our 16 days in the Holy Land on pilgrimage, a kind of wandering, and while my traveling companions went to the Dead Sea and Masada, I felt I needed a day to myself.  I wanted to retrace my steps.  I wanted to find things on my own.  So, I started off fairly early in the morning and made my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It was already crowded but I spent a bit of time there to pray.  Then, I decided that I wanted to go back toward the Western Wall and especially to the Jewish Quarter, because we had not really spent much time there.  I went to a museum, I wandered around the shops and I got a bagel before things started to close up for the Sabbath.  This was when I noticed that nearly everywhere I went and every turn I made there was something locked.  I could not get in to the synagogue.  Everywhere I turned there was a blocked entry.  Other churches, businesses and the like were closed or closing.  I finally got tired of trying, even though the posted hours were later, people were clearly intent on starting their time of rest.  So, I began to make my way back to the Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters.   Just as I was getting fairly close to my hotel and a possible lunch, the call to prayer was sounded.  The narrow, uneven walk ways started to be filled with rushing men, women and children who were on their way to pray.    I started to get overwhelmed.  I was hungry, thirsty, tired and now feeling a bit claustrophobic.    On top of all that, with all the people and my feelings of lightheadedness, I was not sure where I needed to turn to get to
my destination.  I tried several of the different alleyways (the Old City is definitely NOT a labyrinth, but more like a maze), and all of them were dead ends or wrong ways.  I was not panicked, but I was frustrated.  Finally, I found a way that got me to go just outside the gates and walls of the Old City.  At this point, I was actually laughing at myself because it was classically me.    Since I was alone, had no idea when my travel companions would return, and there did not appear to be anyone to help guide me back, I decided to take the long and circuitous route on the perimeter of the city back to the starting point of my little adventure.  I'm sure it added at least an extra mile to my already long day of walking.

I remember thinking that this is pilgrimage.  I surrendered my agenda and my ideals about how I should get to where I was going.  I had to go far out of my way to gain perspective and find my way back.  I noticed things I would not otherwise have been aware.  Today, when I was walking the trails at Bandon Dunes and found a labyrinth,  as is so often the case, I was not able to find my way by following the map.  I asked directions but they weren't that helpful.  Finally, I found the road and I knew the general direction that would get me back to my car.  And I thought,  to myself, "yeah, right, all who wander are not lost.  I am simply working my way back home."

P.S.  As I was driving back from my wandering lost, this song came on the radio:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Is it Safe?

So, in preparation for traveling to the Holy Land on Pilgrimage, I entertain a lot of questions from family, friends and parishioners.  Where exactly will you be going? How long will you be there?  What do you do on a pilgrimage?  Have you been there before?  Who is going with you?  There are other questions too, but the main one that I get asked the most often is this one: "Is it safe?" or other forms of the question like "Will you be safe?"  "Aren't you afraid?"  "Is it dangerous?"

I'd love to just say to you that I laugh in the face of fear and that the thoughts of violence, protests, tear gas, rubber bullets or stones being thrown in some minor skirmish, has never even crossed my mind, but that would be a lie.  Sure, I've thought about it.  But I have made peace with the fact that there is something really wrong with the question.  I'm just not sure I know what safety is any more and I'm not at all sure that it is that important.  I must have written in a previous blog somewhere that I've never read or seen any evidence that Jesus was proclaiming that following Him was safe.  Furthermore, I've re-assessed what the concept of safety and protection versus freely living means for me personally.   You may remember that over three years ago I had surgery for uterine cancer.  A surgery that was to make me better, prolong my life and remove the imminent danger going on in my body.  All of that happened and the cancer was eradicated without extreme measures or further treatments of chemotherapy.  However, in the process of making me "better" or "safe" from further illness or maybe death, I contracted a staph infection that very well could have killed me.  As a result of that experience, I think every day after that seemed different, every experience I choose or risk that I take has a different color.  I'm not as willing to settle or be in a mode of waiting until "someday" and I'm also not so inclined to think that I can preserve myself for some future time.  I have no idea what shape my life will take.  I trust my life to only one safe haven...

Psalm 91 The Message (MSG)

1-13 You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
    spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
    I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
    shields you from deadly hazards.
His huge outstretched arms protect you—
    under them you’re perfectly safe;
    his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
    not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
    not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
    drop like flies right and left,
    no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
    watch the wicked turn into corpses.
Yes, because God’s your refuge,
    the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
    harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
    to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
    their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
    and kick young lions and serpents from the path.
14-16 “If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
    I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
    give you a long drink of salvation!”

So, is it safe to travel to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, New York City?  I have no idea.  
Will I be safe no matter what?  You betcha!
Are there 1001 reasons for me to go?  Absolutely.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Returning to the Holy Land and Returning to Me

"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  - T. S. Eliot

I'm going back.  I get to return to a place that literally stole my heart and soul two years ago.  I get to return with good friends, old friends, new friends and the love of my life.  But I am not going back to relive what I experienced two years ago in places like Galilee, Jerusalem, Nablus and Bethlehem.  I'm going to explore and start from the beginning.  I am not going on a trip, I'm taking a journey.  I am not going to go as a tourist, but as a pilgrim.  I'm going to walk, feel, pray, touch, receive,  and give.  I'm going to listen to others and for the heartbeat of God.

Tomorrow morning, I will join some 25 other pilgrims via the miracles of technology for our orientation to the Israel Pilgrimage that will embark on the physical part of this exploration on March 2.  I'm not sure how much of a miracle it is that I will be projected on a very large screen in the college lounge at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, but let's call it a miracle for now.  Naturally, the orientation is to review itineraries, agendas, expectations, anxieties, details and logistics etc.  But another part of the time together will be to share with one another why we are drawn to this particular exploration.  We each get about two minutes.  Two minutes !?  So, this is where I thought I would begin my blog of preparation, exploration, returning, arriving, and more.  Why am I drawn to this?  Why will I go someplace that I have been before?  What does this mean to me?  

Oh, there are so, so many reasons.  First, it simply is not a land, albeit so small in area, where you can see everything in one visit.  My time there in Fall 2012 was 15 days.  There is so much.  It is as if one is taking huge gulps of water and you just can't get it down before another fresh spring or fountain is before you.  You want to drink it all, experience it all, see it all, hear it all, but after some days, it just is too much.  One has to stop.  For example, I chose NOT to go to Masada and the Dead Sea with our group last time because I needed a day alone.  I needed to retrace my steps in the Old City of Jerusalem.  I needed to be able to talk to the Israeli museum receptionist, the Mall security guard, the restauranteur across from our hotel.  I needed to get lost, literally lost, in the Old City.  

Also, I want to experience it for myself, and not through the eyes of the media and politicians and even theological partners.  I need to "go and see" once more.  It is a matter of faith and a source of joy and heartache to be in places where three faiths intersect, battle, struggle, get along, help one another, kill one another.  I need this kind of risk in my life.  It does not feel like physical or personal risk that is of a bodily nature, any more than any other part of the world.  But it does feel like risk.  

Another reason for returning is people.  I go for the encounters and the connections to a people full of life.  People of all faiths.  I want to go to Safed, because contrary to our Galilee boat guide, even though I am a Christian pastor, I am deeply interest in the hundreds of  ancient synagogues, the origins of Kaballah and the views from the heights of that village.  Besides, who would not want to see this:

And oh my goodness, I go for the food!  The food is incredible.  I still remember the minted frozen lemonade, the search for the best falafel in all of Israel and the West Bank.  I can literally taste, smell and see the Shashouka, that dish that is reminiscent of ratatouille with tomato, egg and other deliciousness, that we had in Rosh Pina at a little restaurant called Ja'uni.  I also remember our adorable waiter and that he was from France.  This connection is not lost on me today.  

Perhaps more than any other reason for returning, I go to be changed.  I go to arrive at that gate and entry and place that felt like a beginning and see it again as if for the first time.  I'm not entirely sure how this is possible, but it is a goal and a prayer.  Our guiding passage for pilgrimage is from the prophet Jeremiah, and the Message says it like this, God’s Message yet again:
“Go stand at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for directions to the old road,
The tried-and-true road. Then take it.
    Discover the right route for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16

Maybe the most meaningful and daring and risky journey or exploration or pilgrimage is the one that one takes within oneself.   The journey of the soul.  I had never actually read on in the Four Quartets to what comes after the quote that began this blog.  I believe it connects beautifully to Jeremiah's text:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for 
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.” 

Just for starters, how can something be both unknown and remembered?
I go, I return, I come, I leave, I see, I saw, I meet, I forget, I wander, I stand still, I stand, I look, I ask, I repeat, I discover.  I start and I know.    

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's in a New Year?

Happy New Year!  We hear this phrase repeatedly for the first several weeks of the month of January. But what does this really mean?  I've always been one who has balked at resolutions, been repeatedly disappointed by the hoopla and high expectations of a romantic or uproariously great New Year's fete,  and some time ago I decided to just consider it a time to flip the calendar one more page and treat it like any other new day.  But then, that begs the question, how do I treat and handle each new day?  Do I have a way in which I reverence the turn of each calendar page?  Each sunrise?  Every morning that I wake?

I suppose these are questions that one asks in the "second half" of life.  I'm not so sure I have any answers, but I know for sure that I have wasted money, time, relationships, given myself over to too much eating, binging, consuming, and so on.  You get the picture.  I don't want to call it a resolution or even a goal, but maybe more of a mission in my life, a way of being in the world, that I would stop wasting.  Wasting time, wasting energy, wasting opportunities, wasting relationships and chances to know are ways that I would like to put behind me.

Instead, I want to replace wasteful living with abundance, living fully to God's glory, giving where I can and am able, taking less and risking more, staying less in safety and comfort and speaking out for justice and equality instead of sitting in my own comfortable privilege and the safety net of my circumstances, praying more and worrying less, breathing more deeply and sighing less, savoring and drinking in instead of over indulging.

When I was home for the Christmas and New Year break I went to my favorite religious art and book store in Oakland, Sagrada (if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and have never been, you should go!).  There on the wall, amidst all the icons and the crosses and beautiful art was a simple, calligraphied piece with a quote from St. Benedict, "In all things may God be glorified."  This seems to be a simple statement with HUGE implications.  I pray that in this new year, in this new day, in my life, that it may be so.