I’m on my way to Guadalajara, Mexico to teach a week-long class on the foundations of Anglican spirituality. I have a lay-over in San Jose, CA, then a connecting flight to the 5th largest city in Mexico. These moments bring into focus the web of connections that allow us to quickly go to most any metropolitan center around the globe.
I go at the invitation of the Anglican Bishop of Western Mexico, an energetic and visionary leader. We met at his consecration 3 years ago. This is my third visit to his diocese. Friendships create networks that allow our hearts to go pretty much anywhere in the world with just thought.
The airplane has a huge carbon footprint. Friendships are carbon-free for the most part. The two remind me that the web of creation includes and transcends both airlines and friendships, giving us the ground upon which we build both.
We cannot make one network destroy the foundation of another. What can we do so that airlines do not so destroy the world that a world-wide network of friendships is not destroyed?
This morning I woke up thinking about the cultures that have formed me. One of those is the Tsachi culture of western Ecuador At that time, the Tsachi cosmology held that there is a level at which pretty much everything is alive.
Out my window this morning I saw two kinds of seafaring vessels. One was a raft of sea ducks, mixed scoters, mergansers and Goldeneyes. The other was the US Turner Joy, a decommissioned US Navy destroyer that is now a floating maritime museum.
Life tells stories. What kind of stories do each of these vessels tell? The second tells stories of a people’s efforts to fend off perceived threats. The first, an ancient and adaptable pursuit of life in a world that is increasingly toxic, due to the actions of the humans who tell stories about the second. I am convinced that the ducks have more to teach us, and should be listened to accordingly.
In early December I fell (well, there are other more entertaining versions, but we’ll stick with the “camcorder” version for now) and ruptured a ligament on my thumb. I spent 10 days bandaged as seen, then about six weeks in an orthopedic cuff, post-surgery to reattach the ligament. Last Friday the orthopedist freed me from the cuff, warned me about not using it when I get into the “danger zone,” and then turned reflective. The ligaments of the hand, she told me, are like a gossamer web, impossibly thin, yet enduring for an incredibly long time. She used the word, “miracle.”
This morning I watched an online video about a glacier on the coast of Antarctica the size of Florida. Scientists melted a hole through it and dropped a probe almost 2000 ft. to the sea floor below and discovering that warm sea water is melting it at an unprecedented rate. If it melts completely, sea levels will rise by 25 ft. In another article I read that rising average air temperatures have dried out the air just enough to stress pine forests in California, making them more susceptible to the Pine Beetle. The bug is killing trees at an alarming rate, making tinder for wildfires that are ravaging the area. The draining of the swamps of Western Cedar and Douglas Fir in the Skagit River delta near where I live allowed for farming of some of the most fertile land in the nation, but stripped the estuaries of viable Chinook Salmon breeding grounds, the main food of the Southern Resident Orca of Puget Sound. On a more positive note, after the devastating effects of DDT on raptor populations, careful management and legislation has brought the Bald Eagle back from the brink. My own Skagit County supports one of the densest populations of them in the Continental US.
A pull here is a tug there. Butterfly wings and storms. The web is changing rapidly, but cause and effect are still functioning. The web of life is gossamer indeed, and it will persist. It just may not include humans in the future.
Last evening, just at sundown, I was out at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit, a wildlife reserve on the edge of Puget Sound. The tide was up, as was the wind, and most of the birds were ducks, pintails and mallards, who pitched and swayed in the waves. I endured about 10 minutes and turned to go home. As I approached my truck, a mature Bald Eagle came swooping over the hedge. It zipped passed me about 15 ft. away, headed for the dike and the water. It cleared the dike with about 6 inches to spare, and powered straight into the howling wind, beating almost effortlessly across the flooded bay, inches off the water. On the leeward side of the bay is a strip of beach with driftwood and other marine detritus, was a huge raft of ducks. As the raptor approached, it pitched up to about 30 ft., and the ducks lifted off en masse. An interpretive sign 20 yards from me blocked my view, but it looked for all the world like this bird of prey tangled with the wind to take a stab at supper 150 yards away.
Powers of flight are an interesting thing. Some birds are stronger fliers than others, and it has nothing to do with body mass. It has to do with genetics, body build, habits, environment and plain old exercise. Powers of the soul, however, are much more subject to volition. We choose to let someone get under our skin (yes, we really do.) We choose to be calm in the midst of a storm. We choose to respond out of our gifts rather than the offence given. Much depends on upbringing and training and environment, but mostly it’s formation—training in holiness (as St. Paul called it,) and exercise—putting time and effort into cultivating mindfulness and groundedness.
Picture credit: Paul Moore
When we lived in New Mexico I often wrote blog posts about Cooke’s Peak, 30 miles south east of our house. This morning I said my prayers looking a mile to the south of our house to Little Mountain. Instead of an 8000-foot bare rock, jutting up from the desert plains, Little Mountain rises just a couple of hundred feet up from the flat delta of the Skagit River and covered in forest. It’s a big rock that the glaciers left here millennia ago standing rather randomly among the flatlands around, in a stark contrast to the fertile farmland in which food and flowers are grown. People don’t farm there, they go there to hike, to see the sights, to visit one another, and to relax. Little Mountain is a different sort of place.
Martin Luther King, Jr was a different sort of man. He was a big rock raised by an ancient tradition in a flatland in which injustice and inequality were abundant crops that benefited a few at the expense of the many. He stood in stark contrast to that society, a solid rock in the midst of malleable soil, calling for a different kind of crop to be grown, one rooted in a much higher view of humanity. He was like the One he followed, a rock that causes many to stumble, but upon which the kingdom is built.
The new crops are being raised much more now, but there is still work to be done. African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ+, Trans, Natives, women, and even now white males, suffer at the hands of an unreflective soil that grows weeds rather than life-giving food. We need to stumble over the rock of the truth of the oneness of all, fall off the thrones of our egos, and find that, when we’re all down in the dirt together, we are a different sort of human being—one that, for the life of us, cannot see our divisions.
I just read on Facebook that the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota has just released its final slate of people standing for election for their next bishop. Two of the five are POC (People of Color.) The post was celebrating that one was a Latina and another was a First Nations member. I am thrilled for the diversity—I think it is a powerful testimony to the efforts our church is going to, to be inclusive. There’s plenty more to do, but maybe this is an indication of some systemic change.
However, I’m getting a bit tired of the term “People of Color.” On the outside, I’m a “Person of No Color,” a PONC. (Inside is a different story, but people don’t get that right away because, if you look at my reflection in the mirror, you just see an old white guy.) I get the social justice issue, and I’m all for it—I fight for it constantly and I beat at the borders my white privilege continuously, but just electing a POC to a position of power does not necessarily even address the race issue. I saw it time and again in the politics of Ecuador where I was born and raised. The “revolutionary party” promised to establish a “just society,” and when elected, what you got was just a change of people on top of the same oppressive system. Where do people of no color stand in a world of POC? And yes, that last sentence sounds a whole lot like white angst, and maybe it is, but dismissing it as merely white angst is precisely what I’m talking about. It overlooks a deeper justice issue. What I hope for the Diocese of Minnesota is that every one of these people would make a fine bishop, and some of them happen to be POCs because the process by which candidates were selected was not unduly skewed to favor PONCs.
Ultimately, I work and pray for the day when we no longer need the term. Maybe we could learn from our children. A colleague of mine, a PONC who was married to an African-American, related us what her daughter told her one day, “I’m brown. Daddy is dark brown. You’re pink. Pink people need to wear sunscreen.”
I feel like my long campout is finally over. I actually emptied the garage. Well, it’s not really empty, but it’s not full of packed boxes either. Boxes are opened, either emptied or sorted and repacked, stored in places where they can be found reliably, and the floor of the garage has our exercise machines and Karisse’s loom, and on the other side my shop and where I store my outdoor gear. Even though not all the pictures are hung on the walls in the house, something about having my stuff in its place gives me a sense that I have finally stopped the yearlong camping trip.
Part of being human is to live in the tension between camping and home. We are always on a journey to a place where we will no longer journey. We are always in motion toward a place of rest. In one of Charles William’s novels, The Greater Trumps, little figurines of the Taro dance incessantly around a circular playing board—except for one figure who stands in the center of the dance at rest. That figure is The Fool.
We say that the only constant is change. We say it with a little shrug of the shoulders, in quiet resignation, but there is deep wisdom here. To be at peace on the journey is to look the fool, but ultimately, it is the key to the dance.