I’m reading phenomenology. I know that’s tantamount to admitting insanity, but there you go. The thing about phenomenology is that, as the study of our lived experience, it requires digging down below the “taken-for-granted.” That is a skill not easily developed. It’s kind of like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. To a certain degree, the tradition admits, this is an impossible task. Nonetheless, it is what the phenomenologist strives to do, and one of the key tools in the toolbox is a sense of wonder. Wonder strips away what we expect and sees what our experience really is in all its naked isness. Wonder helps the phenomenologist get to the ground from which our pre-reflective experience of lived life springs.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Phenomenology is closely related to existentialism, a school of philosophy known for its atheistic thinkers (not all, but most of the biggies.) The spiritual traditions of the world deal in wonder. To “see the world as God sees it,” to use a Christian phrase, or to strip away all unconditioned thought, to use a Zen Buddhist phrase, or to live in the Dao, these are all spiritual language for a sense of wonder at the sheer naked isness of things.

And what phenomenology and the spiritual traditions both agree on is that this is the REAL reality—not the interpreted, agendafied ways we spin our experiences for social reasons. For the phenomenologist meaning emerges in the relationship between the subject and the pre-reflective experience of things. For the mystic it is to touch the face of the eternal. Maybe these are, in a way, sides to the same coin—and wonder marks the edges of the path.

Even the atheist is led into the mystery at the core of existence. What a wonder!

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People on the Move

World leaders came together at the United Nations Sept. 19 to adopt the New York Declaration, a document that commits countries around the world to protect the rights of refugees and migrants and to share the responsibility for the record number of people on the move. So reads a release from September 19th of the Episcopal News Service. (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2016/09/19/world-leaders-adopt-a-global-migration-compact/) Another excerpt: All 193 U.N. member states reached consensus on the declaration to develop by 2018 a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration; ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibility for hosting and supporting the world’s refugees; to commit to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants regardless of their status; and to commit to launching a global campaign to counter xenophobia…
Of the 21.3 million refugees in the world today, 1 percent might be resettled. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.19 million refugees will need to be resettled in 2017. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, President Barack Obama will co-host a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, alongside Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Mexico and Sweden. The leaders’ summit will appeal to governments to pledge increased commitments to resettle refugees.

I’m really glad that 300 years ago when my first ancestors came here from Europe the INS was not there demanding a visa, work permit or border crossing card and threatening to throw them back into the hold of the clipper that brought them over if they didn’t. Now, however, it seems that we feel entitled to this land we forcefully occupied, and that we have license to be afraid of those who would join us. So quickly we forget!

If there really is any will to comply with this then we need to restructure the INS. If not, what kind of hypocrisy flows through the pen of our highest elected official to sign the document? Jesus said, “Let your yay be yay and your nay be nay. Anything else comes of the evil one.” Just sayin’………

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Colin’s Conundrum

“Since the start of the NFL preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has chosen to sit or kneel during the playing of the national anthem. ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,’ Kaepernick told NFL Media in August. ‘To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.'” So says Yahoo News, that also reports that model Kate Upton has taken him to task about it, entering a nation-wide debate. So here is my contribution.

Between the real and the ideal there is always a gap, otherwise the ideal would not be an ideal, it would be the real. The ideal stands out ahead of us, the carrot that lures us into ever-new and (we hope) ever more faithful expressions of the ideal, but like the horizon, we never really get there. The National Anthem is a statement of an ideal. Francis Scott Key penned the words after witnessing the unsuccessful attack by the British on Fort Henry. He watched the battle from the deck of a British warship where he had gone to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes. He was successful in gaining his friend’s release, but was forced to stay onboard during the bombardment. The well-known image of the tattered flag flying proudly above the fort captures in the American imagination the spirit of freedom that inspired the Revolution in the first place, and in 1931 it became officially our National Anthem. The song describes not what we are, but rather calls us toward who we hope to be.

Kaepernick’s protest seeks to bring attention to the gap that persists between the real and the ideal. There certainly is a gap, and it stands as a great weight on social conscience. The nation the hymn idealizes holds liberty and justice to be the highest virtues, and there are still citizens for which this is not the case. The song talks about heaven and Kaepernick is showing us earth. I applaud his cause, especially when he refers to all “people of color.” Ideally, all of us have a color of some sort. Really, for some the color counts one way and for others it counts another. However, if the final word of our Pledge of Allegiance means what it says there is no distinction to be made on the basis of color of skin, age, gender, land of origin, sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Period!

Is it right for him to make that statement when and how he did? Apparently for him the gap is more compelling than the ideal. It’s easy to call him a pessimist, but when his actions start selling his jerseys like hotcakes and the debate goes viral maybe there is something going on that we need to face. Too many black men are being shot by police. Too many brown people are being fast-tracked back to the misery of their homelands without due process. Too many gays are being pushed over the edge by anxious people.

My faith teaches me two things: All people are neighbors, and the way to be a good neighbor is the golden rule. If my ancestors came to this land seeking a better life, why are some turned back now? If my ancestors were free why are some not free now? If the ideal really means anything at all we must constantly press toward it and resist the seduction of the status quo.

I would not have done it that way, but now that Kaepernick has made the statement let’s take it to its purposeful end.

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To control illegal immigration into the UK across the English Channel a 4-meter high fence topped in razor wire is being erected along a kilometer of roadway to keep people from boarding semi cargo boxes bound for the UK. It is being constructed by the British government under a treaty with France that allows England to exercise control over their common border on the French side. Sentiments in France now want a post Brexit England to take responsibility on their own shores. This exacerbates the immigration crisis that is convulsing Europe. The jungle camp of people seeking to cross illegally has grown to 10,000 people outside Calais and there is pressure on the French government to shut it down.

I found this graphic on the internet at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2271455/Revealed-How-immigrants-America-sending-120-BILLION-struggling-families-home.html:


It shows the flow of money being sent by family members of immigrants. There are some omissions, to be sure. Money is being sent to many countries in Latin America and only Mexico is shown. However, it does reveal what many of these maps show. There are places in the world where people want to live and there are places where they do not want to live. Why would someone not want to live in their home country? The reasons are obvious. Efforts to suppress these same kinds of movements on the earth between peoples reveal an attachment to an economic advantage (understandable.) It sets up a predictable tension between the haves and the have-nots, and we know where that one goes in the end.

As a Christian and as a thinking person, what should my response be? My faith tells me that God moved from the “nice place to live” (heaven) to live among us in the “not-so-nice place” (our world) so that we could become friends, and that eventually the distance between heaven and earth would be overcome. Of all the good answers put forth I’m sure that walls are not one of them.

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My wife and I just got back from camping. We took our dogs and a trailer up into the Black Range to the east of us and parked at a camping spot on the top of a ridge. We could look east up into the mountains and west out across the Mimbres Valley. We delighted to sunsets and smoky meals, and time with one another.

We did a lot of things. We took hikes with the dogs, we looked up wild flowers in our books, Karisse took a portable sewing machine and began working on a quilt, and I read a book on phenomenology. Phenomenology is a tradition of qualitative inquiry that seeks to get at the lived experience of a phenomenon. It’s all rather confusing and erudite, really, but it begs the question: What is the phenomenology of a camping experience with a loved one? We both agreed. Camping together makes us fall in love with one another all over again.

It makes me think of prayer. The life of prayer, if it is to be genuine, will always lead toward community, not away from it. Even solitary monks and nuns gather together for Sunday worship, and in their daily routines and disciplines the purpose is to clear out the clutter so as to make community with God.

Maybe I just spent the weekend in prayer.

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There is a discussion in Christian circles about just what it means to be ordained a minister. The Protestant side of the house usually argues that ordination is a local choice of someone who serves as leader and role-model, but there is no essential difference between an ordained Christian and one who is not. The Catholic side of the house argues for an ontological change in the person effected by God at the moment of the laying on of hands of a Bishop. Essentially, ordained people have undergone an indelible change in the rite of ordination and are fundamentally different from laity.

Recently a priest connected to my parish passed away. Since his passing I have been thinking about his life. One thing is clear: Wherever Fr. Gene was, he was always a priest of the church of God. His last couple of years were spent at the Veteran’s Home in Truth or Consequences, and it didn’t take long for everyone to call him “Fr. Gene,” always with affection and respect. He became the de facto chaplain to his fellow residents. When I took him communion on trips up to Albuquerque he would talk to me about different people—and always as one priest to another.

I remember well when I was ordained. Whether an ontological change occurred or not, my experience of the moment was life-changing. It felt like fire fell from heaven. I have not yet developed eyes to see the ontological reality of myself so I can’t tell if the fire left burn-marks that make me different or not, but my life has been different ever since. I don’t know what Fr. Gene was like when he was a civil engineer working for city government, but I know how he was after he was ordained. He was always the priest.

Somehow I think the world is supposed to be that way, and we go wrong when we pretend to be something we are not. I think the things that make people false or self-centered or dangerous to others’ well-being are not of their truest essence. Gene’s integrity as a priest was his small contribution to the healing of the world. I could wish no less for myself. And I could wish no less for you, whoever you are, that whatever your ontological or experiential reality is, (if there is even any important difference) at your deepest level, down below all the whims and winds of the times, you are always who you are. Our world depends on it.


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Long-term Candles

San Pedro Sula, Honduras — Three years ago, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world. The city of San Pedro Sula had the highest homicide rate in the country. And the Rivera Hernández neighborhood, where 194 people were killed or hacked to death in 2013, had the highest homicide rate in the city. Tens of thousands of young Hondurans traveled to the United States to plead for asylum from the drug gangs’ violence. So writes award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario in a New York Times opinion article published August 11th (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/opinion/sunday/how-the-most-dangerous-place-on-earth-got-a-little-bit-safer.html) She goes on to tell the story of a very brave pastor, Daniel Pacheco, who, using funds provided by the United States Government, bought the killing house of one of the gangs and turned it into a community center where children come to watch movies, play and share a meal. Homicides have dropped 62%.

The Teton Valley News recently published an article about a cooperative effort between St. Francis of the Tetons Episcopal Church and the Teton Valley Rotary Club to prepare youngsters to go back to school. They set up a Back-to-School Store. The parish also runs other programs, like “Back to Work,” for people reentering the job market and “Back to Health” for people needing all kinds of supporting assistance for medical needs. They sponsor a Boy Scout troop as well.

In this age of greater and greater socio-economic division in our society, with the railings of presidential candidates bent on consuming one another, it’s nice to know that in little corners of the earth good things are happening. I’d like to believe that these little candles in the wind really do more in the long run than political programs and pundit posturing. Somehow, when I think of Jesus healing a blind man here, a leper there, and a bent-over woman over there, I’d like to think he had the same strategy.

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