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Place

Tomorrow we head home again.  We took five days to get to northern Indiana.  We’ve had five days here.  We will take five days to get home again.  Yesterday I had this sense that it was time.

Place is an interesting thing, however.  Our home in New Mexico is “place” to us.  We have lived there five years.  We feel at home there.  It is the place to which we return when we leave.  Our stuff is there.  Our workplaces are there.  We feel like we belong there.  On the other hand, we have both spent a lot of time in northern Indiana.  We have family here.   Both of my parents grew up here.  Karisse would love to retire to this area, buy 10 acres outside of town, and raise a big garden, a few chickens and goats and a bunch of fruit trees.  This is “place” to us as well.  Our oldest son and his wife are in Ecuador hiking in the mountains.  We spent many years there as a couple.  Ecuador is “place” to us also.

“Place” is a few squares on the face of the earth where for one reason or other the soil is familiar to our feet, the air is comfortable in our lungs, and the people around us are not strangers.  Anywhere can become “place,” but not all places do.  We are not capable of knowing “place” in every place with equal familiarity–we don’t live long enough.  We are given instead places in which to know “place” so that any place can become “place” when we need it.  We are given these places to let us know also that every place is “place” to someone, and therefore as sacred to them as we hold our “places” to be for us.

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Grunkle

I learned a new term today.  Our granddaughter told us that her mother, our daughter-in-law, termed it to refer to my brother in relation to her.  He is her great-uncle:  Grunkle.  I think I’ll use it, giving due credit, of course.

These kids are being bombarded with family up 4 generations and out to second-cousins.  I never had that.  Growing up in Ecuador, we visited the family once every 4 or 5 years when we came back on furlough.  We got to know our cousins, and that was about it.  These privileged kids, however, are getting flooded with family.

The problem is never in the having; it is in the knowing.  The problem of becoming human is not in having a human family; it is in the knowing the human family.  We too often see only our cousins and our second cousins, but we miss our third and fourth, once, twice and thrice removed.  We miss the fact that 6 degrees of separation is more than enough to connect us to anyone, and therefore everyone on earth today.

Now, every human family has a black sheep or two, and the human family is no different.  There are those we would rather not own in public, and usually for rather good reason.  The fact remains, however, that black sheep still belong to the family.  As one battered wife said about her husband, “Yes, he’s a jerk, but he’s my jerk.”

I do not condone the kind of behavior that divides humanity, and jerkiness is one of those.  On the other hand, when we recognize that the Hitlers and ISIS leaders and the obnoxious neighbor across the street are also part of the human family we begin to see ourselves with a bit more realistic compassion–and we can choose wisely corrective behavior rather than reactive vindictive behavior in the face of them.

We don’t need less family, we need to recognize that we already have more than we thought.

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Holy Chaos

I have escaped momentarily from games of the Belly-button Monster and throwing small socks at one another.  I’m sitting outside the camper with my computer writing this while Karisse defends herself against the onslaught inside.  I did it last night, as did she, by alternating who watched the grandkids while the other took a shower in the KOA showers.  These are moments of respite from the holy chaos of our adventures.

Three days ago we left Silver City with the camper, picked up all three kids at the home of our oldest in Midland, TX, and headed out for Indiana.  There have been moments when the noice was delightfully din-ny.  There have been moments when the din has been chaotic and angry.  There have been moments when all three of them were quiet, almost always when two of them were asleep in the car.  We’ve made it to St. Louis.  Today we make Indiana and family.  If we go by my niece’s house there will be two more little girls to add to the fray!

But it is a holy din.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  The noise of normal kids learning to be normal good kids is the noise of the world turning toward tomorrow.  Complaining is merely the squeaking of my often kid-less days owning up to the holy work.  Young parents are at it full-time, and we had our turn.  We didn’t appreciate it like we do with the perspective of some years.  Now it’s really the music of the future being born and I love it!

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Three “F’s”

Today we pack the camper and drag it to Midland, Texas, where we will see two of our three grandchildren.  We will spend the night with our son and daughter-in-law, and then the third grandchild will join us the next day.  We will gather all three of them up and head out to Indiana to see family and friends and to have a of fun.

Those aren’t exactly the three “f’s” I’m thinking about, however.  Family, certainly, for family reminds us of who is closest to us, but also the fact that we always exist in the context of relationships.  The wider the circle of relationships the larger is our sense of family.  Sooner or later we must admit that we are part of the human family, and part of the family of all creation, that God holds in heart and hand.  At that level there is nothing that is not family.  Our blood family is a microcosm of the family of creation.

Fun is the second, for that is what grandparents have with grandchildren. Life is hard enough as it is, and learning to live in the family of creation takes work.  Growing into the fulness of our humanity is the hardest thing we can do.  Fun reminds us that there is joy at the end of the road, and often along the path as well.  Finding that joy is half the work of growing up.  The hard work must be done, but always with a song in the heart.

Foolishness is the third “f.”  Foolishness and religion have always had an interesting relationships.  One sees it in the book of Proverbs, chapter 26, verses 4 and 5 that instruct us to answer a fool and not to answer a fool in verses side-by-side.  When foolishness is found within it is because the soul rejects wisdom, one of the primary virtues.  On the other hand, when foolishness is perceived from without it is the perceiver who may be the fool.  The Eastern Christian tradition has a long dialog with the “holy fool,” who seems foolish in our eyes but are really living out the radical wisdom of God in the midst of our own foolishness.  Going fishing with little ones, catching foolish fish, throwing them back and then laughing our heads off may very well be a wise thing to do.  Playing silly little car games may look foolish, but may very well be the wise thing to do.  Pretending that one can actually take three little children in a car together to far away places and return with one’s sanity is certainly a foolish/wise thing to do.

Maybe it’s the special gift of grandparents to be foolish and teach wisdom by it.

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Safety

Yesterday Karisse watched as a male Gambel’s Quail with 11 youngsters charged a Scrub Jay at the bird feeder, successfully driving the little marauder away. We’ve seen them be wary, and we have seen them charge them and push them back a few feet, but this daddy bird was especially protective of his little flock. Was he just genetically programmed to be more protective than other daddy birds? Did he have an experience with jays that made him especially wary? Nurture or nature, he ended up how he is, much to the benefit of his next generation of quail.

We are all like that daddy bird, really. Either by nurture or nature there are things that push us into the Danger Zone where we fight, flee or freeze. We cease to respond creatively or responsively because we’re on danger overload. We also have a warm and fuzzy Safe Zone where we know all the players and the rules are clear. In between we have a growth zone. Eric Law in his book, Inclusion, Making Room for Grace1 calls it the Grace Zone. This is the area where we can be stretched without breaking, challenged without reacting and pushed without immediately pushing back. For some of us the Grace Zone is quite broad, for some of us it is very narrow.

It occurred to me yesterday in a conversation with a good friend that we all want our country to be in the Safe Zone for us, but many of us feel pushed into the Danger Zone. I know that my attitude toward our government’s immigration policy is fired by the sense that I, too, grew up as a minority, and deep down I fear that I will no longer be welcome. It’s a fear—irrational, below the level of critical thought, but it’s there, and when I see what I see coming out of Washington that part of me feels pushed into the Danger Zone. Need I be there? Absolutely not. It helps me to know that others who grew up here have the same fear, but come to it from the other side. Their fear is of losing the Safe Zone that they feel they have worked so hard to build by the incursion of so many people who are so different. We are working in opposite directions toward the same goal.

Could it be that, instead of focusing on our Safe Zone feelings, we could all allow ourselves to be pushed gently into the Grace Zone where, even as we see that the direction we’re going is opposite, we share a common ground in the desire for safety? Maybe from this common ground we could negotiate a common path.

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1 Law, Eric HF. Inclusion: Making room for grace. Chalice Press, 2000.

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Mystery

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday. It is the last festive Sunday before “ordinary time,” in the Church calendar. “Ordinary” doesn’t mean “not special,” it comes from “ordinal,” the same root from which we get “ordained.” Ordained people are set apart for a special purpose in the church. Ordained time is time that is to be redeemed by our living. It means that all time is special; all time is a holy gift from the Great Giver.

Who or what is the “Great Giver?” Everything we can say about God is ultimately metaphor, something that looks at the Un-seeable obliquely so that at least we can get an idea. It reminds me of what Richard Rohr wrote in his latest book, The Divine Dance, “Remember, mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand— it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you!1 The Trinity is such a mystery. It is ever unfolding as we learn to live in ordinary time. To redeem something is to buy it out of hock. To redeem someone is to buy them out of slavery. Redemption is always the restoring of a relationship. The essential mystery of the Trinity for Christians is not how three can be one and one can be three, but in the relationship between the three. The very foundation of existence is a relationship. The ground of being is unity in diversity.

Anything and everything only means something in relationship. We cannot even conceive of matter that is not related somehow to something else—for even our thinking brings it into relationship with us as the thinker. St. Paul was right when he wrote in Romans 1 that everything we need to know about God is available to us in creation. Brought to completion on the metaphorical 6th day, creation is yet unfolding the nature of the relational (that is, Trinitarian) God who creates it. We, part of creation, are also unfolding into our living. The point of Paul’s argument is that we worship the creation rather than the Mystery that unfolds it. Worship of creation demands no real surrender. Redemption, on the other hand, comes through surrendering again to what was ours, coming back into a relationship that we have turned away from. Living in that relationship redeems the time and makes it special—”ordinary.”

The Church Fathers refer to this Trinitarian dynamism in terms of the divine dance out of which creation spins. Redemption is found in realizing that God is always and everywhere inviting us back into the dance. Now that is mystery!

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1Rohr, Richard. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Kindle Locations 350-352). Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

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Storms and Other Dangers

We had quite a rain storm last night. Typical of the area, it only dropped 16 hundredths of an inch of rain, but it did it in fine style. It came storming over the mountains and down on us with lots of wind and dark clouds, and swept out over the desert in a matter of 15 minutes. I had the loading door of my shop open while I did some lathe-work so I got the full brunt of it. The night before I sat with one of my people in Deming under his carport, drinking a cold one and talking when a similar event blew dust in our faces and impeded our conversation with the sound of rain on the metal roof. He told me with glee how he likes to sit out at watch the storms. One time the shock of a close lightning strike threw him out of his chair. Another time, frustrated out of his head, he stood out in the rain at 2 in the morning shouting, “bring it on, give it your best shot!” The sheer energy of a storm like this is either frightening or exhilarating, one of the two.

Danger is a two-edged thing. Fright and exhilaration are two sides of the same coin. A soldier told me once he came back from Iraq with nothing but a desire for the adrenalin rush of charging into a firefight. The knowledge that it may be your last moment on earth can paralyze you, or it can clear your head in a way that little else does. When we are reduced to the essential desire to live all the rest of life can seem like fluff, blown around by the winds. Danger is dangerous. It can become addictive, so that you seek it out for the sake of the rush, like my soldier friend. (He eventually found his soul again and saved his marriage, thanks be to God!) It is a true addiction because the rush diminishes when you seek it, and that’s the lie, because you never have to seek it. Danger is always a careless thought away in the inner world.

How many of us are ravaged by the storms of the soul, and find ourselves cowering in the corners of our hearts hoping the noise will go away? Who needs monsters under the bed when they are hiding under our excuses? The ancient Christian monks of Syria and Egypt did not escape the distractions of city life to flee from the battle, but rather to engage it. Far more liberating to the world is to engage the fight with our fears and our demons, surrender to the love that conquers them, and become the full human beings we are meant to be.

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