Accompaniment

I am constantly amazed at how dis-attached I feel from myself, others, and the earth when I do not live in rhythm with the seasons. The seasons are good teachers for us. They show us that change does come, that beauty –and hardship– is to be found in change. The winter is beautiful, but in a dormant kind of way. The spring is full of life it seems, but still brings a lethal frost. The summer draws us into long, enduring warmth but can overheat us in our epidermal exchange. The fall brings us more vivid colors than we could ever dream up by ourselves, but with the color comes death. The seasons remind us that death is a part of life, for it is as a natural a cycle as any; without death, we would not have life. The seasons are reminders of the good gifts that the earth gives: the harvest, the sunsets, the rain, the protective layer of Ozone.

It is good to live into the change of seasons, to tarry with them in their ebb and flow.

All of life is dynamic. It must be dynamic to stay in equilibrium. For if it becomes static, it is dead.

Though there is little about life that is immune to change, relationships of all kinds can ground us to weather the change.

That friend who is ceaselessly present especially when you do not quite know how to go on. That lover who fills you with more joy than you thought possible. That parent, whether kin or by choice, who believes that you can do anything. That sibling whose relationship with you has evolved from rivalry to friendship. That grandparent who tells you stories of your heritage, stories they have lived with courage, joy, pain, and even regret. That neighbor who works to live in community with you. Those colleagues who you spend more time with than some of your family members….slowly, they become family.

It takes courage and commitment to sustain a table conversation with someone that lasts a lifetime. The novelty of the person, however you know them, wears off and so does yours for them. What is left is a deep, sustaining aura that draws you in. Somehow, they sing a song that is similar to your own, if you listen closely enough. “I believe in you”, “I love spending time with you”, “you can trust me”, they sing. They forgive you when your flaws and insecurities fester like gaping, infected wounds and you respond out of the pain. You forgive the same way. You share tables with them on the holidays or at least send loving well wishes.

These folks do not make change any easier or harder; they just commit, whether implicitly or explicitly, to do the change with you. You and they become seasoned travelers together on the journey of life.

I think this is the way that the Creator God designed it to be.

Accompaniment.

May it ever be so.

Hence, I write.

With exhaustion lingering, I am recalling the quote “take action first and let the insight follow.” I have been waiting to blog until I had the energy and space to pen a revelation. Lo and behold, with this modality, I have written very infrequently. So here is a very succinct post to call out the scarcity that I continue to function within; the scarcity that prohibits my creativity is the greatest enemy of all. Hence, I write.

I write of the beauty of my life as it is and the burdens I carry from the enlightenment I receive from Divinity School. Today was beautiful in many ways, one of which being that it was the advent of fall. I could not have asked Creator God for a more beautiful manifestation of Godself than what was displayed today. The wind made itself well-known, but it was a gentle enough wind that I could smell the changing season. The sunlight was equally gentle, allowing me to see the blue sky without squinting.

The day held me gently while I wrestled with the Doctrine of the Trinity, American civil religion, sacrament, and sexism.

Love, life, resonance, passion, an ah-ha moment, laughter — all these things I felt today. It turns out that I actually have little scarcity, after all.

The Other Side of the Bench…

Here we are, at this bench
There is only one bench here to hold us
Its cracked red edges and rusty nails

We are here, exhausted travelers
Needing a place to rest.
Needing each other.

Will we share this bench?
Will we fight over it,
till we both fall exhausted on the ground.

The blisters on our feet,
the smell of our tattered clothes,
give witness to a ragged journey.

Will we claim separate ends of this bench,
or will we lean on each other,
sleeping the sleep of the exhausted?

If we are so connected,
why do we tarry,
in leaning on each other?

Why do we fight over this bench,
when there is room for all?

The Art of Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience wherein you were driving home from a busy day of work/ school/ or other draining activity and you realize that you arrived at home, but don’t remember getting there? It’s as if the body went into auto pilot mode. This most frequently happens for me when I’m conducting my morning routine. Did I actually brush my teeth? I can’t remember. What did I wear yesterday? No idea.

I realize that this is likely a coping mechanism to allow the mind to rest, but I also have experienced this “auto pilot” to be detrimental to my everyday life. A problem arises when I start going on autopilot and actually miss living.

Last summer was an eye-opening experience for me of realizing that I was dealing with an incredible amount of stress and was anxious and generally unhealthy as a result. After some time reflecting on that experience, I realize that there were several things in my life which did not resonate with who I am, what makes me come alive, and how I live my ethics/ core values. During the summer, I knew I needed to take some serious reflection time. I need to examine all the “yes'” that I had committed to without much thought. I had just finished a biology degree and was headed into seminary, so I figured it was as good a time as any to examine myself.

So I enrolled in a mindfulness group. At first, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and wondered what I had just gotten myself into. It turned out to be an incredibly enlightening experience. I realized that a great deal of my time was spent worrying about unrealistic worries; I learned to name these thoughts as “frequent flyer” thoughts. Part of the harm of these frequent flyer thoughts is that they took away from me actually living in the moment and enjoying it for everything that it was. By “living in the moment,” I mean actually tasting the food that I ate, feeling the joy of a hug, committing myself to a conversation without a totally unrelated running narrative going through my head, listening to the crickets singing, stopping to bathe in a sunset, giving attention to so many beautiful and good things that I have in my life.

When I first started trying to be mindful last summer, I literally challenged myself to pay attention to how it feels for a toothbrush to go over my teeth, how a hot shower feels, what summer squash & onions smell like cooking, to say a prayer and really mean it, and how a field of lightning bugs takes me back to childhood. Just like training muscles to lift weights, it took practice and continual attention. But it paid off for me.

For starters, I realized that I did not enjoy Captain Crunch at all.

And I really, really don’t fancy sugar in my coffee. No, thanks.

This is important.

Secondly, I began realizing that my energy shifted from being anxious to grateful. And I was able to gain much more perspective on things. I analyzed where I spent my time and was my time given to life-giving or energy-draining opportunities.

I think it also helped that I surrounded myself with folks who supported me in this mission and who also did this work themselves.

I still experience the “frequent flyer” thoughts and autopilot moments, but when I do, I am able to name them as such and give them way less time and weight. I feel more and I don’t let autopilot guide my relationships. This may seem small, but for me, it has been life-changing.

************

Have you experienced “auto pilot” mode? If so, what have you found helpful?

 

 

The Church at the US/ Mexico Border

The painted desert, the Sonoran, home of lumbering Pipe Cacti, coyote, sidewinders, rattlesnakes, mice, owls, eagles, desert primrose, hawks, roadrunners, sunsets that wrap the day up with a bang and towering mountains of the Santa Catalina range. The fragile Jan- June 2014 163ecosystem of the Sonoran is disrupted by roads. Roads used for transporting tariff-free goods from Mexico to the United States and vice versa, roads which welcome U.S. citizens to pass, roads which carry U.S. Border Patrol to remote parts so they may patrol the border. A visible, visceral wall lines the border as a tangible reminder of who is and is not welcome into the United States.

The Sonoran desert drew me into the conversation of US immigration policy; it called me to witness the human rights violations being committed within it; it called me to walk its trails of hope and hopelessness.

In the desert, I walked along migrant trails which were littered with socks, jeans, underwear of persons frequenting the trails in the hope of crossing the border undetected. I stopped at a shrine on the trail which was created by migrants who passed through and stopped for a rest and prayer to the Holy; there they left small crosses and pictures of St. Jude, the patron Saint of Lost Causes.

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes.

At critical parts of the trail, a humanitarian group called No More Deaths left water in milk jugs with messages written on them. Some said “this water is safe to drink” because they are often told by their trail guides, or coyotes, that the water has been poisoned. Jan- June 2014 135Some messages were those of hope and love. The dichotomy of the unforgiving desert and inhospitable wall was countered by pictures of St. Jude and gallons of water from persons who cared. It seemed to me like many folks in this country, legislators, citizens, officers have forgotten basic human rights. Over 6,000 basic human rights.

To date, over 6,000 bodies have been found in the desert and this count increases daily, especially as the summer temperatures soar well over 100 degrees.

It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I heard personal accounts of detained migrants treated like dogs as they ate their food off the floor in detention and stories of cells being incredibly cold. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I sat through two hours of migrants being charged with criminal offenses for coming over the border and being given about 45 seconds a piece with a judge to accept a plea bargain. Or maybe it was when these men and women came in the courtroom with their hands and feet shackled that we forgot human rights. It seemed like we forgot basic human rights when I stood in Nogales, Mexico where a US Border Patrol officer shot 16 rounds through the wall and killed 16 year old Jose Antonio for throwing rocks at him.

The Reverend John Fife.

Our paths crossed in Tucson, Arizona at Borderlinks, an organization committed to facilitating education for groups desiring to come learn first hand of the activities along the border. Rev. Fife sat down and told the story of the Sanctuary movement; he is a retired pastor and served at Southside Presbyterian in Tucson; in the 1980s, Southside responded to the human rights crisis of the US rejection of Central American refugees coming across the border. The US was complicit in helping create the toxic civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala by training military leaders and providing weaponry. Southside, under Fife, began the US Sanctuary Movement wherein Southside essentially answered Fife’s question of “what does it mean to be church in the particular context that we find ourselves?” Southside, along with

Wall between US & Mexico

Wall between US & Mexico

Quaker support, conducted night-time border crossings of many refugees and then housed them in the sanctuary of the church. On average, Southside would host 50-100 refugees a night. In 1982, Fife and others were indicted by the US Attorney’s Office and decided that they would go to the media to highlight this grave injustice and need.

When Southside went public with this, the response by US churches and synagogues was staggering. Within two years, 237 houses of worship across the United States had declared sanctuary and welcomed refugees coming across the border. Colleges and universities also joined in what became known as The Sanctuary Movement. Somewhere on the order of 13,000-15,000 refugees received Sanctuary during that time until eventually Fife and others sued the US Government and settled out of court; the government agreed to cease all deportations from Guatemala and El Salvador, giving asylum and work permits.

When faced with the question of why he spearheaded this movement, Fife said,

“when the government violates human rights, the church has to make the ethical move from advocacy to resistance. I have never figured out how to duck that move. There is a role for advocacy, but when so many lives are threatened and dying, you have to make that next move from advocacy to nonviolent resistance. Sanctuary became that ethical move.”

Fife went on to say that “the church is right in the middle of the empire and the largest section of the church has blessed the empire, but at the same time, there has always been a segment of the church who has moved to active resistance.” This resistance is something that Southside did not see as a choice, but an obligation because they were paying attention and giving voice to the immediate needs of the Tucson and surrounding communities.

What does it mean to be the church in the context in which we find ourselves?

We are reminded of ancient Hebrew hospitality in the writings of the Torah: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NRSV). We are reminded of Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan wherein a Samaritan, who shared the same heritage of the Jewish man but their tribes were enemies, saved a Jewish man. Here this story shows that hospitality was given by the least likely passerby, the enemy. And hospitality was withheld by the most likely passerby, a Jewish Levite and also a priest. We are reminded of the Writings of the Psalms, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalms 139:13-14a, NRSV). Here we see and believe that all persons, regardless of any identifying feature, are made in the Imago Dei.

So I ask, what are the borders that are drawn in our communities, and even in our own congregations? How are we complicit in blessing the empire? How are we challenging the empire? Have we well researched the US’s immigration policy and how difficult it is to achieve a US citizenship unless you marry a US citizen, are independently wealthy, a famous athlete, a scientist, etc.? Are we aware of the current trade policies, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that have significantly contributed to the desperate poverty in Mexico and Central American countries?

What is the role of the Church as a social movement? And is this role a prophetic voice?

If we truly believe that all persons are made in the image of God, then how can we, as a church, allow migration to be criminalized? How can we allow hospitality to be criminalized?

The Reverend Fife ended with saying, “I can’t imagine being the pastor of a suburban church for 35 years and asking myself, ‘what the hell did I do?’”

As a Baptist seeking ordination, I want to be able to answer that question with integrity after a lifetime in ministry. I want to be able to say that I lived my life and served in a church which sang, ate, and breathed radical hospitality.

May it ever be so.

Let Me Complexify This

Welcome back to the blog! After some writing absence (aka a period of an innumerable amount of writing assignments wherein I had little time to write here), I am back to the familiar presence of blog writing. I welcome hitting the “new post” button and being able to read your comments. Let’s sojourn together.

Complexity has been on my mind lately… primarily because I love categorizing… I categorize an idea as illogical or logical, sensical or nonsensical, feasible or unfeasible, unique or trite, authentic or a platitude. It’s so much easier to classify something or someone by one defining characteristic because getting lost in the complexity of nuances is tough and it requires much more energy than a quick categorization and write off. Let’s be honest… when one is tired after an arduous, frustrating week, it’s much easier to write a person off as a friend or enemy simply based upon his/her support for the war or Barack Obama or say, Taylor Swift. It’s easier to chalk someone of another faith up to “he/she just doesn’t understand the truth.” It’s easier label someone an illegal alien without considering his/her life story and what is at stake for him/her. It’s easier to demonize someone from the other end of the political spectrum than to listen to the rationale behind that person’s thought.

And I like the easy way out.

It’s easier to forget that this world and the people who inhabit it are extremely complex. And as easy as it may be to categorize someone, it is just as unhelpful. Because though the stereotype may be correct, when we use a label, we almost always lose something. We lose the fear behind the hate that he is showing, we lose the hours of grueling studying she put behind that grade that we are jealous of, we lose the excitement behind that idea that she just put on the conference room table, we lose the vulnerability that it must have taken him to admit he was wrong.

Acknowledging the complexity of someone is also acknowledging his/her full humanity.

It is the way of life but is often the least easy.

 Can you identify?

All the Cheers

2014 Graduates, here’s to you!

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the culmination of a chapter that has defined you long enough,
to the end of all nighters and ceaseless caffeine,
to the chest-tightening finals,
and the papers that just need 200 more words

to the many conversations about the world,
to the hours of scholarship and research,
to the months of searching for a major or writing a dissertation,
and the self-doubt that never quite leaves

to the new creases in your forehead
where your brow has been furrowed,
to the years where you sought to find
that which makes you come alive

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the silencing of your inner critic
as you receive that dean’s diploma,
to the fear that asks: ‘what now?’
to the new knowledge you now hold

to the professors who have given you
scholarship from their fields
so you may not forget that
an unexamined life is not worth living

to your people who have seen you through,
to your significant other who knows the
hours of study and tears of stress,
to the many prayers for God’s mercy and peace

Cheers to you, Cheers

to the new season that you enter.
Do not welcome this season with fear,
Do not call trepidation a friend,
Do not become crippled with doubt

Ask what makes you come alive,
Ask who is your best self,
Be fiercely protective of your self worth,
Guard it and give it away to no one

Do not assume that you can do this alone,
Embrace the interconnectedness of the earth and humanity,
Know that love is clay that we were molded from
And it will continue to shape you

Cheers to you, Cheers

As you welcome learning as a close friend
and you aren’t afraid of doubt in your faith journey,
For doubt keeps you asking questions
And you should never stop asking good questions

Do not turn a blind eye to injustice
Fight it.
Do not let philanthropy fool you into forgetting
the everyday need of your neighbor

Like it or not, the new season is here,
but the same problems exist,
So take your new found knowledge
and work to solve those problems

Cheers to you, Cheers

Know this is not all or nothing,
it’s just another piece of your story
waiting for you to embrace it,
fully present, fully alive

God is in you, above you,
behind you, underneath you,
and ahead of you. Fear not.

Here’s to calloused hands,
tired backs, mindful presence,
and loud laughter, and
revolutionary ideas.

You did it! You.

Cheers to you, Cheers!