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.

It Takes a Village

It takes a village to keep a dog!

Last night our 13-year-old Mini Longhaired Dachshund Aldo went missing on a trip out with the hawk. There was a tremendous wind, and we were in a bunch of trees. Calling and looking for him yielded no results, so I returned this morning. After combing the woods for sign—or even a body—and concluding he wasn’t there, I began visiting farm houses around. I ended up at a nearby vet’s office who gave me a number of someone who had found him. Simultaneously, my wife had listed him on a local website for lost pets. She got a call within minutes. He had been picked up last night in the wind and the rain by a Good Samaritan couple along the road about half a mile from where we had been. He was bathed and I assume fed. If he wasn’t claimed they were going to keep him and name him Winthrop from the wind they rescued him out of.

The poor old boy has never had a lot of synapses working between his ears (which are set rather close together.) Age hasn’t helped. I’m going to put a radio transmitter on him now to keep track of him.

It takes a village. It takes a village to keep a dog, to raise a child, to build a community and to save a planet.

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On Friday of last week, those who predict the weather said we were in for a winter storm that would dump 6 inches of snow on Seattle, and 1-3 in our neck of the woods. It started to snow Friday night, and except for what I guess was a slight pause in the middle of the night, it’s Sunday afternoon and still snowing. At its deepest the deck held 9 and a half inches. As a Christian minister, I read the Bible a lot. Biblical prophets sound sometimes like weather predictors: This and that will happen. But if you read the text more carefully there are usually conditions: If you do this, that will happen. If you are unfaithful to the covenant you made with God, you will end up going into exile. It’s more like describing the dynamics of what is going on.

Our preacher this morning, Chris Hoke of Underground Ministries was a prophet for us. He pointed out that when someone gets out of prison there are huge challenges that stand in the way of reintegration. For example, the person cannot get a driver’s license until all past court fees, fines and other assessments are paid. These charges have been sitting there, compounding at 12% interest during a person’s incarceration, often leaving them with enormous debt when they are released. It becomes so expensive to get a license that they drive without one (like, to get and hold a job)—which is the most frequent cause for them getting put back in prison. He reminded us that the roots of our incarceration system go back to slavery. The people in charge want them out—but don’t really want them out.

IF we want to lower our incarceration rate (the highest per capita in the world,) then we’re going to have to do something different. Chris’s program, One Parish, One Prisoner, asks congregations to work to roll away the stone keeping these men and women in a legal tomb, one prisoner at a time. We at St. Paul’s and Resurrección are going to do our part.

If I were to guess, I do not expect to reform our prison system overnight, but if we do our part, the person we help reintegrate will find a supportive community, and we will be changed for the better for the encounter.

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The snow is falling outside. I can’t really say it’s snowing, because there are at least 24 inches between lazy flakes. They whiffle down to get caught on the ice on the dog’s water dish and speckle it with white, or get lost in the grass. Parts to the west have enough to cover the ground, I am told, but not here. Snow is falling—it’s kinda snowing.

And I’m kinda awakening. We were talking last night in a book study group about race. I was told that black and brown people are still followed in stores to make sure they don’t—you know, do something they shouldn’t. It’s an expression of an assumption of suspicion based on the color of their skin. I find that appalling: My parents taught us clearly and intentionally that the way a person looks on the outside, and to an extent, how they behave, are not grounds for suspicion. And I find my naivete disconcerting. I’ve got an eye open, and I wonder how much more I’ll see if I open the other one.

I suspect that my siblings of color see a lot in that regard that I don’t see. I have a lot to learn. I also suspect, from what I’ve heard, that there are things that some of them don’t see either.

I hope I’m moving from “kinda” to “oughta.”

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It’s raining. Why shouldn’t it be raining? It’s February in the Pacific Northwest. We’ve had two inches of rain since the beginning of February and it’s not going to stop. I’ve taken to taking a Vitamin D pill in the mornings to remind my body that there is such a thing as sunshine. It’s OK, really. It feels very much like Quito, Ecuador during the rainy season, where I spent so many of my formative years.

It’s raining. Everywhere I turn there are references to Black Lives Matter, racial reckoning, re-writing of history to include stories of peoples previously excluded. In a sense I’m used to it. I grew up in a place where at least three stories were being told side-by-side in my life experience. Racial tensions certainly impinged on the intercultural relationships, sometimes with deadly results—though generally not directed at me.

It rained on me two days ago as I listened to 90 minutes of response to the insurrection on Jan. 6th by three African-American women. All of them are deeply involved in social justice activism. One was Ruby Sales. When she was 17, her life was saved when a young white Episcopal seminarian jumped in front of a sheriff deputy’s gun and took the blast intended for her, dying instantly. She has been active in social justice work all her life. She said that it is not right to speak of white privilege. “Being white is a death sentence.”1 She meant that when one people oppresses another they do so at the expense of their soul. Rain.

Rain can overwhelm us, swelling rivers and flooding the land, and sometimes in all of this I feel flooded. But ultimately rain is water—the water of life. Let it rain!

The Rev. Traci BlackmonRuby Sales, and Brittany Packnett Cunningham entitled “What Shall We Say to These Things? Crafting a Social Gospel for the 21st Century” (Recorded 1/12/21; 90 minutes).

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Balance seems a knife-edge in today’s political world, splitting an equally deep fall into the bottomless canyons of scapegoating and demonizing on one side, and of ignoring the truth on the other. From what I can see, the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday took place in part at the urging of the President, and a clear statement that this kind of behavior is not permitted must be made. People died. People broke good laws. People aided and abetted. The vast majority of them were white males. The question has been well asked: If the crowd had been mostly people of color, what would the fall-out have been? I dare say it would have been a very different story. Truth must be told. A lot of fingers are pointing to the top.

But both demonizing and scapegoating one person on one hand, or on the other, not being thoroughly truthful about our state of affairs, are escapes from the real issue—that we as a people are capable of this kind of violence. Collectively we established the white race as superior in the history of these United States, especially male whites. Collectively we are inching toward a reckoning with that original sin in the light of our ideal of equality for all before the law. Collectively we must acknowledge that we have a long way to go. Collectively we must recognize that there is still a pernicious gap between word and deed, between ideal and real.

I read a piece recently from a retired Episcopal bishop calling us to pray for Donald Trump. Perhaps as a liberal, this is my best discipline—to pray for the ones I would consider enemies, and especially the ones who would style me as theirs. Maybe then I can see them and myself truthfully, and I can recognize and face all the ways I have contributed to the gap. Maybe then, out of a deep love for the ones who differ from me, and a love for the country that idealizes equality, I can move toward justice and peace.

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Light in the Darkness

Yesterday I was out in a field at dawn. Thick fog lay over the land. Snow Geese honked their way 50 yards above me, passing as dark shadows in the haze. Swans glided in out of nowhere, like 747’s landing. The air was still. Over the course of three hours the fog slowly burnt away from the top down. Finally, a wedge of Snow Geese passed over, much higher this time. Their gleaming white plumage sparkled down at me. Now that the Solstice is passed, days are lengthening, and light is gaining ascendancy. Like the burning off of the fog, days will gain on nights for six months before the process reverses itself once more, turning the world around again.

A third pharmaceutical company announced their new vaccine against COVID-19 is about to be submitted for approval. More than a million people in the US have been vaccinated. The hope is that by the long days of Summer, the darkness of this disease will die back with the night, new strains notwithstanding. Some see a change in administration in Washington as bringing a similar promise. I count myself among them. Perhaps most significantly, the racial reckoning that this nation must face shows signs of beginning in earnest. I marked the day in the Summer when a poll registered a full 60% of the US population as backing the popular Black Lives Matter movement. It’s still 40% too low, but it’s over half—a significant marker. Though our children will most surely judge us on our failings, maybe we can go down as having moved in some significant way toward the shining light of the ideal of equality envisioned by the framers of this nation.

To do so, we must join together in ways we have not in decades. The light of clear thinking must show the vast difference between divisiveness and decisiveness. It must uncover again the value of the faithful opponent and the respect they are due. The light of the divine gift of existence that burns in every human being must be allowed to shine equally for all, as a more fundamental truth than the moral quality of their actions.

I welcome the light.

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Today is the shortest day and the longest night of 2020 for the northern hemisphere. It snowed here for the first time since last winter. It always seems a bit strange to me that this marks the beginning of winter, and it’s called “midwinter.” The astronomical beginning of winter doesn’t coincide with the experience of wintery weather. Of course, due to seasonal lag, the coldest days are ahead of us, but they will be longer than today. According to Wikipedia, this is lag is caused by the large amount of water that holds heat in the fall and takes a while to heat up in the Spring. No wonder astronomers want to tack the beginning of winter down to a specific hour on a specific day and let us experience whatever we are going to experience.

But on the other hand, the Solstice doesn’t feel any wintery-er than the day before or after (except today when a front blew through.) It’s a progression of getting darker and colder, and then getting brighter and warmer. This day we mark the shift, the turning point on the curve. Mid-winter: first day of winter. Progression: demarcation. Movement: stillness. Yin: yang. Open: closed. The dynamic tension of existence.

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Growing up in Ecuador, when we were in the city we enjoyed watching TV. There were only three channels available at the time, and we discovered cartoons. They were characters created by Disney and dubbed in Spanish. The networks called them dibujos animados (animated pictures.) Monday morning the clouds over Little Mountain were animated, like pictures, sliding across the sky, forming and reforming, darkening and lightening. It was as if the sky were alive.

Maybe it is. We define life in terms of our own experience—carbon based, with an organized body, in animated interaction with our environment. The word, animate, however, comes from the Latin root from which we also get animas, animal, and in Spanish, words for energy, motivation and in an archaic form, one’s very soul. Animas means to be in dynamic flux, to be alive. The opposite is death.

Animation is meaningless without a context. A ping pong ball can fly through a vacuum with no walls as far as it wants and one cannot track its progress unless it is seen up against something. Our animation is meaningless outside the context of our living, both social and physical. We derive our identities from our communities, and we derive the basis of our very life from the rest of creation. Animation is a collective thing. We live and move and have our being in community. To destroy the community is to destroy oneself.

But there is another deeper level that includes and transcends all the rest. The mystics all talk about a place of peace, the center of the dance where the dancers are still, at the very core and center of our being and of all existence. This is the place where frenetic animation finds rest. It’s not that animation as such has ceased, it has just come into communion with the largest and deepest context of all, the mystery of being where animation and death are held in dynamic unity. Some of us call that “God.”

No wonder the archaic Spanish word for soul: ánimo.

Picture credit: Paul Moore

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The Wisdom of Darkness

On my way back into town this evening there was a flag flying at half-mast. 79 years ago the United States decided to join in the armed conflict engulfing Europe and the far east after Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor on this day. There is a yearly remembrance ceremony in Hawaii, and it has been a tradition that survivors and veterans attend. This year, due to COVID-19, none were present for the first time, seeming to accentuate the darkening of the solar, social and economic days we live in. The darkness advances. Running from it is futile. There is no way but forward. One may as well embrace it.

And of course, embracing it is always the wisest path, for darkness never lasts. Time is a spiral that brings us back to the same orientations, yet at different places, year after year, life after life, eon after eon. Wisdom comes from looking across the arcs to similar times, recognizing the differences as well as the sameness, and seeing the larger flow.

And so, a nation hurled into a conflict it did not want to join, well remembers the day. The view across the arc would warn us against totalitarian tendencies in our own government as quickly as it would comfort us that such systems usually fall by their own weight. However, nothing is guaranteed. Inaction is as foolish as impetuousness.

Walk instead like the marine who leads the ceremony in Hawaii, with measured steps informed by time and practice, tempered by a constant willingness to humbly question, beholden to no one by fear or force. This is the wisdom of darkness.

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I went to the eye doctor today and after dilating my pupils and running all the tests needed, I left the building without the customary pair of plastic sunshades for my eyes. It’s raining in the Pacific Northwest. The cloud cover is such that it’s hard to tell just when dusk will set in without looking at one’s watch. The move to night will not be a harsh change. Darkness is upon us.

The darkness deepens as I note that the increase of COVID-19 cases in this county jumped by almost 50 over the weekend. Out of a total population of only 125K, that’s a lot. We’re getting the third-wave tsunami along with everyone else. My cousin is still struggling with lingering after-effects, and my 87-year-old aunt is in the middle of her battle. Darkness is upon us.

It goes even deeper when we look across the nation and see the deep cleft between coasts and midlands, rural and urban, left and right. When I hear the most strident voices it seems as if we live on two separate universes that share only a common geography. I know where I stand, left-of-center, but sometimes my relationships make me feel like I’m straddling an impossible abyss, stretched to the breaking point. Darkness is upon us.

In the spiritual traditions of the world darkness has two faces. The descent feels like death; it is really the acceptance of something already dead, a yielding, a surrender into the unknown. They all teach, however, that the tomb finally reveals itself as a womb. As surely as there was light, there will be light again. We cannot know what it will be like. We can only act with wisdom and compassion in the darkness. Those two virtues are the left and right stepping stones through.

With that knowledge, I can enter the darkness. “…all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”1

1 Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love (Kindle Location 614). Kindle Edition.

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