Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Wilderness

If Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness and found it a place of battle against temptation, I have my own wildernesses. One of the wildest and most dangerous is my calendar.

My secretary does a great job of handling my scheduling, but I complicate matters for her by scheduling things myself as well. I’m reluctant to release ALL control of my time to another, even if it gets me into the bind of trying to be two places at once, or not having “travel time” between events. It’s hard for me to say that magic word (no) to some people (not everyone at lease!) which complicates things further. My father used to exclaim in situations like this, “If I could only schedule my interruptions!”

Every morning I sit for 5 minutes (that’s all I can manage) and focus on my breathing and my body, and Cooke’s Peak 30 miles away, standing in stark immobility in the chaos of my world, and I imagine that the inner core of me is like that—given entirely to the now and only the now, that gracious, divine eternal Now in which God dwells. My monkey mind jumps here and there, from passing thought to fleeting feeling, and if I am lucky, focused and disciplined, maybe at the very last second I will find that place of stillness, what our Buddhist friends call “is-ness,” the “now-ness” of life, apart from past or future. Jean-Louis Chrétien, French phenomenologist and theologian, reminds us that our monkey mind is pulling a sleight of hand on us. While it races between past and future, that racing is taking place now. While worried about something to come, the worry is taking place now. While smug about something past, that smugness is happening now. He claims that we only imagine that we are not living in the Now, but in reality we cannot escape it.

Maybe there’s bread in the wilderness after all!

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Love

In March of 1996, seven Trappist monks from the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas were murdered outside of Medea in Algeria. The story of the ordeal is artfully told in a movie I watched last night, “Of Gods and Men” (2010.) Fr. Christian, the prior, wrote this piece he called his “Testament,” in Advent, 1993, to be read after his death:

“When an A-DIEU is envisaged …
If it should happen one day–and it could be today–that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family,

to remember that my life was given to God and to this country;

to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure;

to pray for me–for how should I be found worthy of such an offering!

to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones that have been allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that evil which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have enough lucidity to beg forgiveness of God and of my brothers and sisters in the human family, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down. I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don’t see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.

It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the contempt in which the Algerians as a whole can be held. I know, too, the caricatures of Islam which encourage a certain Islamism. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience in identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are body and soul. I have proclaimed it enough, I think, seeing and knowing what I have received from them, finding here so often that direct line bringing the gospel that I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first church, finding it precisely in Algeria, and already in the reverence of believing Muslims.

My death, obviously, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of them!” But these must know that at last my most insistent curiosity will be satisfied. For this is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of his Passion, filled with the gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness in playing with the differences. For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in and in spite of everything. In this thank-you where, once and for all, all is said about my life, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, at the side of my mother and my father, of my sisters and my brothers and their families–the hundredfold given as he had promised!

And you, too, my last-minute friend, who would not have known what you were doing; yes, for you too I say this thank-you and this a-diary–to commend you to the God in whose face I see yours. And may he grant to us to find each other, happy thieves, in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. Amen! Inshallah!” *

Here is not a man who wished to live an easy and convenient universalism or an equally easy and convenient (but ultimately violent) exclusionism. Here is a man who sought, under incredible pressure, to live faithful to God’s law of perfect love.

* From the website:  http://lovingjustwise.com/martyrdom.htm

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On and Off

Yesterday I pondered whether, if I fell off my donkey in last night’s donkey basketball game I would fall off my ass or on my ass. The answer came as I discussed this with several people. I would be on my ass, either on or off my ass.

It is common among interculturalists to describe a person’s fluency in a foreign language in terms of their mastery of numbers and prepositions. One could say that quantities and relationships are the bones of society: How many and how do they relate? These two elements are profoundly influenced by culture. One might imagine that numbers are “hard science,” and are not susceptible to cultural variation, but close examination proves that is not the case. The Waorani people of eastern Ecuador have 4 words for numbers: one, two, three and lots. The Tsachi people with whom I was raised have 6, after which they borrow from Spanish until they get to 1o and 20, for which they have their own words. In another vein, ancient Israel’s relationship with God was always and never anything but communal. The individual, the “one” had meaning only in terms of the many.

Relationships, of course, are much more obviously culturally determined. In our Book of Common Prayer a phrase from Morning Prayer in English reads, “Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” In Spanish it reads, “Ni se arranque la esperanza a los pobres.” (Neither may the hope of the poor be wrenched [from] them.” The preposition best translated “from” is also used for the opposite, “to,” as in “voy a la casa.” (I’m going to the house.) Yet in Spanish the meaning is powerfully poignant and the meaning is close enough to the English for bilingual people to recognize each in the other.

When it comes to human relationships these two elements are of foundational importance. There is no relationship with 1, only with more than 1. We cannot continue to delude ourselves that we can exist alone. Walls as quickly keep people in as out. The prepositions we use to describe our relating are hugely telling. Do we go to or from? Do we live with or without? Do we stand close or far? Are we walking toward or away?

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Kids

Tonight I am going to do something I’ve never done before. Afterwards I will think about whether I ever want to do it again! I am going to join a bunch of other old geezers (I’m still a geezer in training, but they counted me anyway,) on donkeys to play basketball against a bunch of High School students. It’s a fundraiser for the local FFA Chapter. It puts me in a theological conundrum of biblical language proportions: If I get thrown, do I fall off my ass or on my ass?

Off my ass, definitely—otherwise my ego will be absolutely too wounded to enjoy it, and I intend to have a terrific time. It’s not about my ass, it’s about the kids. It’s about raising honest money for a good organization. FFA is so much more than just raising rabbits for the fair. It’s about leadership skills, self-discipline, poise and social confidence, teamwork and honesty and looking into the future past than the next Friday night party. I will gladly risk my ass for that!

There’s something inside me that loves these kids even though I don’t know most of them. It’s not so much that they are the future of the nation, though that is true. It’s more that somehow each one of them represents something of the image of God in the world by their very creation, something too holy and precious to waste that makes each of them pricelessly important. Yes, they will make mistakes in life. No, they won’t always live up to that image. But that does not derail the potential of that image any more than our selfishness derails the potential for good in the world.

Their future is worth a bruised ego!

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Becoming Wise

I just read an interesting article by Shelby Steele dated March 5th in the Wall Street Journal. Titled, “The Exhaustion of American Liberalism,” he describes how the liberal party in America has gone to seed, relying too heavily on worn-out appeals to white guilt rather than the reality of today. He claims in the end that “American liberalism never acknowledged that it was about white esteem rather than minority accomplishment.” I guess I’m no longer a liberal.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that white privilege exists. I remember just 10 years ago when a Black/Hispanic couple who came to me to be married because none of the other clergy in my city in central Texas would marry them because they were a mixed-race couple. Why is it that there is never any doubt in the official’s mind when he asks me about my country of origin when I go through customs checkpoints in southern New Mexico or Texas (even though I was not born in the US)? Why is it that de facto redlining still takes place in cities across the nation? Why is it that people of color are more likely to be poor than Whites? Soldiers of color in the Military (and I must add that our military forces are one of the most integrated segments of our society) still face abuse at the hands of small-minded White officers and NCO’s. Being homosexual or Native American or Asian will still get you kicks and bucks in the dark corners of our nation. It goes both ways. A member of the LULAC Council in Central Texas held to the end that I should not be allowed to join because I am not Hispanic—though I have spent more time in Latin America and speak Spanish better than he. Finally, check out this article written just last year: https://goodblacknews.org/2016/07/14/editorial-what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/. None of this is right. None of this is holy.

Steele does identify the heart the real issue. When guilt becomes about the person who feels guilty rather than the one wronged it has been hijacked by the ego and turns itself inside out. It is, as Steele rightly points out, the final abuse. If, as he claims, President Trump is not racist, his policies and pronouncements show a rather arrogant rejection of that false guilt. I am currently trying to wade through another book by a right-wing zealot. If he had his way the lessons of the Civil War, and the race riots of the 60’s would be swept under the rug as destructive to “the American way of life” as idealized in the 40’s and 50’s. He never mentions Jim Crow and the Klan only in passing. If it is on the wave of this rejection of false guilt that Trump rose to power the pendulum has begun to swing in the other direction. I applaud a swing away from false guilt, but may we not fail to learn from the past 50 years. I am not at all convinced that we will be so wise.

How do we become wise? The solution is not political (though political action needs to take place) and it’s not economic (though inequities should be addressed.) (Sorry, Mr. Trump.) The solution is as old as the stars and is always the bugaboo of human living. It takes setting aside the rule of the ego and looking across the table and being taken by the wonder of the person in front of you no matter who they are, in all their glory and pain, exactly as they are, and not as we would like them to be or fear them to be, and fighting to make sure they have the opportunities and possibilities that are theirs by virtue of being human. It’s called loving your neighbor as yourself.

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Honor

Today we bid final goodbye to an honorable lady. The wife of a rare breed of man, whose grandmother lived in a dugout in Oklahoma shortly after the rush, one of those honest, upright and honorable politicians who always worked in local government because, as he told me, that’s where you can do the most good, this lady supported him in his multitude of jobs, commissions and committees, their frequent moves, and as the mother of his three children. She was always conscious of her appearance, a proud and dignified lady. Her husband told me that for a time she did some modeling of high-end dresses, and at the end of the shows he would buy them for her! She always looked and acted the part, the gentle, gracious southern belle from Texas, and she never forgot her roots.

The two met while she was barely into high school. He gently waited for her, and she for him for five years while she finished her studies and he studied law. When they married he was 25 and she was 19. That was 70 years ago this coming June. Several years ago Alzheimer’s began to erode her formidable brain. He made her a promise that he would never put her in a place where she would be embarrassed. For three years she was virtually housebound, and he with her. Whenever I came by for a visit she was always gracious and courteous, and though I know that sometimes she wasn’t real sure who I was she never let on. She was of as rare a breed as he is.

Thanks be to God that I got to know her. We need more human beings of rare breed.

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Do Unto Others

I sold some stocks. Energy Transfer Partners is the firm that is pushing an oil pipeline through lands sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota. I realized that my wife and I owned a tiny fraction of that firm. If a group of Apache somehow discovered that they could bulldoze my church to put up a casino I would strongly oppose it. I will not own stock in a company that is doing the same kind of thing. At the same time, if my church were threatened in this way, I would not support violent demonstrations against it, either.

I could argue it on the level of dollars over the divine and that’s a valid argument, but in today’s world this kind of bullying, one way or the other, is not conducive to world peace. The Gospel of Matthew puts the Golden Rule in the mouth of Jesus, who adds at the end, “for this is the law and the prophets.” In other words, to follow the Golden Rule is to obey all 613 laws of Torah. The wisdom of the Golden Rule is clearly rooted in Christian and Jewish tradition—and Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainist, … you get my drift. It is part of that essential human wisdom that comes to us through divine inspiration that brings our inner and outer living into harmony, both individually and collectively.

The Navajo call it “hózhó”, harmony, the beauty of living in balance with the universe. Why, oh why does this have to become a showdown where in the end everyone loses? When, oh when can negotiators sit down with the warring parties and find golden hózhó?

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