Siblings

Atahualpa Yupanqui, Argentine popular singer, sang:

 

Yo tengo tantos hermanos         I have so many siblings

Que no los puedo contar        That I cannot count them

En el valle, la montaña        In the valley and the mountain,

En la pampa y en el mar        On the pampa and on the sea,

Cada cual con sus trabajos        Each one with their work

Con sus sueños, cada cual        With their dreams, each one

Con la esperanza adelante        With hope before them

Con los recuerdos detrás        And memories behind

Yo tengo tantos hermanos         I have so many siblings

Que no los puedo contar1        That I cannot count them.

 

Here and in so many other of his songs he sang of life as it is, looking just beneath the surface and naming the unseen. When I hear this song I imagine the desert plains of southwest New Mexico as like the pampas of Argentina, and the Gila Mountains rising up like the Andes (not nearly so high, but that’s OK.) I, too, am his brother, of so many he cannot count them—because they number like the sand of the sea and cover the whole earth. Though the lyrics don’t really suggest it, one can stretch the image to include all living things, and one hears echoes of the Red Path, with the four-legged and the two-legged, all my relations. One hears echoes of the words of Jesus, “He who is not against us is for us,” and the Indian holy man who kept telling his disciples, “What you see is like bubbles in the water. They need the water but they are not water. Be the water, not the froth.”

 

We live in the world of “you or me,” but we also live in the world of “us with no ‘them'” whether we know it or not. It’s best to know it.


1Songwriter: Hector Roberto Chavero

Los Hermanos lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Gracious Grey

The sunrise has moved south of Cooke’s Peak now. It happened surreptitiously while I was occupied with kids and grandkids over Thanksgiving. In a month or so the moment will occur at the southernmost point of the cycle, then turn north again until by the end of June it is so far north that it doesn’t shine directly on me in my office when the sun surfaces. The two end points are clear, way-north and way-south, with (from my vantage point) most of the visible extent of the Black Range in between. In fact, the northernmost point is clearly in the mountains and the southernmost point is almost on the desert plains. It’s hard to imagine such different points of view standing in contrast to one another. But the vast majority of the year is lived in the middle, when the shifts in relationship between sun and earth are so gradual that it seems to be standing still, and yet the movement is there, drifting through the gracious grey middle-ground in which we live our days.

In today’s political climate the polar opposite ends are clearly seen. Hyper-right extremists are on the news as quickly as hyper-left extremists, each looking across the wide gap between them at the other and wondering how the other could even exist in the same world. But most of us live in the middle somewhere, complex combinations of feelings and convictions that sometimes contradict, and rarely fall into neat categories that line up together. In a word, the extremes do not describe the vast majority in the gracious grey middle-ground.

William Ury in his book, The Third Side, (Penguin Books, 2000) argues that when society gets polarized and unstable the middle ground offers a third side to the issues. This side listens closely to what is important on both sides, and even to what is unimportant, and comes up with a third way forward, where most of us can at least feel comfortable enough to buy in. I think it’s time for the rise of the Gracious Grey.

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Fire

Over the weekend migrants, frustrated by the long waits at the border in Tijuana, rushed the line and were tear-gassed by the U.S. border patrol. Threats at closing the whole border were floated in the media. The mayor of Tijuana wants help with the situation from the UN but is unwilling to commit city resources to the effort. Tensions are rising. There are American citizens who would like to storm the border from this side, some to keep people out using violence, and others to allow people in using violence. Everyone’s hair seems to be on fire.

The symbol of the Bishop’s Mitre is the symbol of the fire of Pentecost that sat on the heads of the first disciples, infusing them with power to preach, teach, heal and lead the budding Church into the unknown future. I just got off the phone with my bishop who is urging us as a Diocese to find ways to deal with the situation along our border in constructive and helpful ways rather than violent and destructive ones. Several good ideas are being tossed around, and people from across the nation are expected to come. His mitre is inspiring him to guide definitive action for good. His hair isn’t on fire, but his soul is.

At this time, perhaps more than any in the last decade, keeping a cool head and looking for quiet, yet effective ways of being compassionate and safe, of being generous and responsible, being humble and strong is what will carry the day. If it’s getting hot on the upper parts of your body perhaps you need a bucket of water. Then seek the inner fire of compassion, guided and informed by wisdom, and let that energy inspire your action.

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Consumption

I took both turkeys out of the smoker this morning at about 8. I had gotten up three times to add chips of pear wood to the burner, and the birds were dark brown, speckled with the thyme I had sprinkled on the night before, and almost falling apart. I look forward to the feast we will share as a community of faith this afternoon. We will consume abundantly together.

Consumption used to be a disease that could kill you, now it is a way of life for all of us. Consumption of itself is necessary for life—the disease was a condition where the body used resources faster than they were replenished. Our bodies are constantly consuming, and we consume to make sure the gas tank is full. Ritually, consumption has many different meanings as well. In my Christian tradition we consume a wafer and a sip of wine as a way of spiritually sharing in the body of Christ. We are fed spiritually as well as physically, understanding the two to be inseparable. It recognizes our need for the divine and for community, and it satisfies both needs.

When consumption becomes an end in itself it becomes a disease of the soul, where what is consumed is never enough to satisfy the deeper spiritual feeding that is longed for, lest we wither away and loose any real spiritual weight of meaning. When it is placed in its real context it becomes an expression of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Walls and Borders

There is a billboard that stands along I-25 just south of Albuquerque. It is split horizontally in two sections. The top, in glorious blue-sky and puffy cloud background, proclaims, “Heaven has a wall and strict immigration policies.” The bottom half, in hellish flames of red and orange, declares, “Hell has open borders.” I’ve seen the sign, and frankly it gives me a knot in my stomach.

On the other hand, political agendas aside, it can be argued that the billboard proclaims some profound truths. There are certain attitudes and postures that are antithetical to heaven. Overblown egos are going to have to squeeze down to size to get through the door. People who believe they are the center of the world won’t find the door because they aren’t looking for it. People who see others as means to an end rather than human beings with equal dignity and worth won’t want to go through the door. Scapegoating, passing the buck, turning a blind eye to the suffering of others, placing people in categories that dehumanize and justify abuse, and subsuming morality to economic or political ends all form bundles too large to go through the door, and those who carry them will have hard choices to make when they approach it. Confusing God with country, economic policy, a given way of life or the bottom line, hides the door from view. Speaking as a Christian, the failure to see Christ in the face of another, especially those who suffer (see Matthew 25:31-46) leaves one wandering around looking for the door in all the wrong places. Anything that does not seek reconciliation, restoration, community and freedom in love will by its own nature avoid the door. On the other hand, all of these attitudes and postures are more than welcome in hell. In fact, those who end up in hell will choose it, just as surely as those who end up in heaven chose it.

The knot in my stomach is not about this billboard’s potential theological implications. This is a blatant coopting of true religion for political ends. (See above.)

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Together

I just got back from the first ever Borderlands Ministry Summit in the Episcopal Church. It was sponsored by my bishop’s office, and brought together people from along the US/Mexican border, plus others from New York, Utah, Kansas and even El Salvador, to talk about what it means to do ministry along the border, what the current events mean for border ministry, and how we might be able to partner with one another. I was in charge of it, so as the weekend progressed, I found myself immersed in the micro-management level. I was deeply aware of every little timing glitch, miscommunication, etc. I was grateful for how people stepped into gaps they saw and filled in. What I didn’t really grasp until the end was the intensity of the energy being developed around this issue. People kept coming up to me and thanking me for putting it on. The good folks in Arizona want to host it next year (I hadn’t really planned on a repeat.) My own bishop was deeply grateful and satisfied with the results.

It’s amazing what happens when the right people are in the room. A synergy begins to emerge, and soon the gathering is more than the sum of its parts. People are learning from one another without being taught, encouraging on another without saying anything, sharing just by being with one another. The human animal is capable of transcending itself not just individually, but collectively. We are more than just more-of-us when we gather, either for good or ill—this time for good. No wonder we are drawn to one another! Being together is good for us, it makes us more than what we thought we were.

It still befuddles me that there are those live this human truth until you get to the topic of spiritual practice—then all of a sudden, they revert to a sort of hyper-individuality, whose only fruit is a kind of badly justified loneliness. It is no surprise that religious traditions around the world celebrate in gatherings. The gentle rhythm of separation and gathering is the breathing of a spiritual community, and without it we die.

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The Human Experiment

My sister just posted something on Facebook, of which the following is an excerpt. (The list includes almost 20.)

From the Gold Star Book the writer has selected the following material which he hopes will be of honor to the relatives of the boys whose lives were lost on the field of battle that the world might be made safe for democracy: (Used by permission of Indiana Historical Bureau.)

LEROY RANDALL, son of Charles and Sarah E. Randall, was born April 15, 1890, near Marengo. Entered service September 19, 1917, at English. Sent to Camp Taylor. Went over seas in May, 1918, and was killed in action October 10, 1918, on Ypres front. Buried in the American cemetery, Bony-Aisne, France.

 

Leroy was my maternal grandmother’s brother. I have a war-dead great-uncle buried in France. Now I want to go visit his grave. Why? Because he is part of my family’s story. As I get older and the sense of my own story lengthens, I find it reaching back into the world of my ancestors more insistently than before. On whose shoulders do I stand? Why is the scenery before me what it is? Why is it not what it is not? Of course, we know that The Great War that would make the world safe for democracy was a pipe-dream. WWII broke out just 21 years later to fight totalitarian governments. Totalitarian governments continue to this day and we have a President that seems to be trying to amass power rather than give it away. The democratic experiment in the modern age continues to be just that, an experiment. Striking the delicate balance between enough power at the top to rule with wisdom and justice and enough power at the base to keep it accountable is a constant battle, and my great-uncle died in the struggle. And that is part of my story; part of our story; part of the story of the global village of today. Perhaps it has always been part of the human story. (I think there is evidence of it in the Old Testament.)

If Leroy isn’t part of this story his death is senseless, pointless and tragic, and in a way it is anyway, but understood this way, that senselessness, pointlessness and tragedy is also part of the human story. The wisdom paths of the great religious traditions of the world seem bent on getting us to tell our story and learn to live with it in a way that somehow gives sense, a point and a vindication to our living without denying the truth of it.

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