My father used to say that the trouble with time management is scheduling interruptions! Being the linguist he was, I think it was more a play on meanings than serious complaint, but it’s funny because it’s so true! How do you schedule moments when your schedule will be thrown out the window? How do you expect the unexpected? How do you pretend what you can’t imagine?
And the amazing thing is that we can pretend things we can’t imagine, like going to the sun on a space-ship, or square roots of negative numbers, or a hundred other things. True art gives expression to the inexpressible, and yet there’s something deep within us that responds to true art, something far beyond words.
In a leadership class today, I was reminded that interruptions are only interruptions if they distract from your ultimate goal, even if they deviate you from your immediate one. When you see them that way it’s easier to say no to them. And if they do serve your ultimate goals, they are merely a different path forward, not an interruption. So, the way to schedule interruptions, to expect the unexpected, and to pretend the unimaginable is to keep your eye on the final goal and hold the short-term goals in a soft, changeable light. It has to do more with an attitude grounded in a vision than anything else.
So, what is the ultimate vision? Perhaps it is merely to give witness to what we experience on the deepest level we know.
I have a collection of crosses that I have picked up over the years. They reflect spiritual traditions from places I’ve visited or lived, or that pique my curiosity and challenge my religious imagination. There are lots of them, including some other things like the reverse-image of “Jesus” that you can only see if you look between the lines, a dove and a butterfly in the shape of a cross. There is a reed Brigid’s Cross from Kildare, Ireland, and a ceramic piece that is really a Madonna that is cruciform. The centerpiece is only cruciform in shape. It is the triptych shown here in southwestern style done by a shirt-tail family member. Its images reflect First Nation, Hispanic and Anglo races.
I’ve got all these decorations, plus ordination certificates, etc., but the work of arranging them on the wall is a spatial-creative task that daunts me, so someone from the Church is going to do it while I’m in Honduras. She came in this morning and we discussed various pieces and how they might go up. I have every confidence that when I return from Honduras, I will walk into an office that is every bit mine and yet new and beautiful. (And the desk on which much of it sits now will be clear!)
Funny how it goes: A classical-age tool for dishonorable execution becomes a defining religious symbol that, filtered through the immeasurable stuff of human experience, emerges as religious art—both theological and aesthetically satisfying, as broad in its expression as the faith it represents.
Maybe the spaces that will lie between the pieces are as significant as the pieces themselves…
The kids are here—all 75 of them, at a Summer Camp program that the Hispanic congregation I serve hosts every summer. It’s noisy and a bit chaotic, but kids are having fun at God’s house, and that’s a good thing. The program serves many purposes. It gives kids a constructive program doing the summer. It gives parents somewhere safe to drop their kids off during two weeks of the Summer when they have to work. It gives other congregations of the Diocese a place to serve in a special way and to develop relationships that enrich, and it announces to the community something of the values of La Iglesia Episcopal de la Resurrección, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church: we like kids.
We do like kids. Last Sunday at one of the services a young mother put her month’s old baby in the aisle to crawl while I preached. We all acknowledged the little one quietly and went on with our business. Our rules regarding kids are quick and easy: Kid noise is good noise, and we only shush our own.
Kid-hood is a metaphor for our whole lives. Play, the creative release of energy into unformed spaces, is part of what makes us human, and the joy it brings is the joy of community. The new ideas it brings are the stuff of the future. We’re all just a great big kid trying to grow up and have fun at the same time. And we’re all trying to learn to share in the sand box, to stand in line for lunch, to stand up to bullies and for what is right, and to effervesce over a dandelion flower.
Karisse and a good friend and I spent most of the day sorting through our stuff. It involved unpacking most of two storage units, opening boxes labeled in certain ways, and then restacking everything in a way that wouldn’t come crashing down on us when we open the door next time. There were only a couple of things we needed, but we needed them, so like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, we went on it. Mexican food including a good flan for dessert helped to ease the burden of the work.
As we left, a young couple was sorting through their stuff. They only had one unit and it was only half full. I thought as I passed them in the hall, yes, when I was a young adult with small children, I didn’t have that much stuff, either. So, does
“stuff” pile up in your life with the years like birthdays, clogging your hallways and closets and garages? What is it and our lifestyle that we accumulate so much? Seems we got along fine without so much when we were young adults. I swear that when we finally buy a house it will not be bought big enough to accommodate all our stuff, but what serves our needs, and whatever doesn’t fit will be passed on to someone who really could use it more than we. First things first!
Maybe my soul is the same. With time I have garnered education, skills, and a reputation. I add to those time honing my natural-born abilities. I would like to think that I’m good at what I do. But in the end, it’s always tempting to rush around doing a lot of things poorly rather than a few things well.
First things first.
Today we return to our little apartment in Burlington, Washington. We haven’t lived there long, but that’s where our stuff is. We’ve been away for two weeks visiting family in Indiana, and now we’re going back to where our stuff is. We’re going home.
What does it mean to return home? After all, we’ve just spent two weeks in the ancestral home of our families, where we have siblings and cousins and memories. Yet, precious as these people and memories are, this is not where our life is. In a sense, our life is where our stuff is, and our stuff is in Burlington.
When I speak of our stuff I speak, of course, of material things we use to maintain life, but there is more essential stuff. It is what is used to maintain life of the soul. That “stuff,” the more you get into it, the less it gets, until one is left with only one thing, the Source of All. In the long run, the journey home is always this, no matter where on earth we keep our stuff.
We spent the evening last night with our niece and her family. They had recently returned from the Middle East. There is a soft spot in their hearts for the people of the Middle East, and they make these trips periodically, taking others with them. They connect with local Christian leadership and their flocks, sit in homes and listen to the stories of people for whom living their faith puts them on the edges of mainstream society. Two things happen: The people they listen to know that there are people in the West who have not forgotten them, who honor them for their courage. The people who do the listening have their minds and hearts opened up to the reality of life in the area, all the untold sides of what it means to live in the Middle East, such that they often find it impossible to return the their homes and their churches the same way they left.
Stories are personal—each of us lives our story as an individual, with the cast of characters around us that shifts and changes, taking our stories in directions sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned. But the other characters in our stories also have their stories, and together we tell a larger story of our communities and what it means to be part of them. Telling and listening to stories makes community, and without community we are only lumps of living flesh, just as a word with no content and context is only sound. Psychologists tell us that the very act of telling our stories in the presence of a genuinely empathetic person is one of the most healing things a person can ever experience. Giving another the same gift is a gift of life.
My niece and her family are building global community across some of the deepest divides the human race of today knows, one story at a time.
We had dinner last night with our niece and her family. Her husband teaches at a military academy and the two of them run a small family farm. Both of them grew up together in Africa, children of Protestant missionaries. African memorabilia decorate their farm house and their three adorable girls love to read Asterix, a French comic book. Their father even has two guinea hens running around the place. With great pride he showed me the family cow, his sheep and goats and told me all about his plans for the future. He is articulate, thoughtful and considerate, hard working and respectful.
At the dinner table he mentioned that he had read the Didache, a 2nd century Christian liturgical manual, and was struck with the resonance between his own ruminations and those reflected in this tome. He had launched himself into some Catholic writers on infant baptism and other controversial subjects between Protestants and Catholics. He has a Buddhist colleague with whom he visits about Zen and other Buddhist practices. Then he began to talk about an expanded sense of prayer, an activity, or rather almost inactivity, that is as receptive as it is expressive, a vastly important something that can pop up when least expected, something that somehow can touch and eventually define everything in his life experience….